Read BOOK II - SURREY of Robert Elsmere, free online book, by Mrs. Humphry Ward, on ReadCentral.com.

Farewell to the mountains!

The scene in which the next act of this unpretending history is to run its course is of a very different kind.  In place of the rugged northern nature ­a nature wild and solitary indeed, but still rich, luxuriant, and friendly to the senses of the traveller, even in its loneliest places.  The heaths and woods of some districts of Surrey are scarcely more thickly peopled than the fells of Westmoreland; the walker may wander for miles, and still enjoy an untamed primitive earth, guiltless of boundary or furrow, the undisturbed home of all that grows and flies, where the rabbits, the lizards, and the birds live their life as they please, either ignorant of intruding man or strangely little incommoded by his neighbourhood.  And yet there is nothing forbidding or austere in these wide solitudes.  The patches of graceful birch-wood; the miniature lakes nestling among them; the brakes of ling ­pink, faintly scented, a feast for every sense; the stretches of purple heather, glowing into scarlet under the touch of the sun; the scattered farm-houses, so mellow in colour, so pleasant in outline; the general softness and lavishness of the earth and all it bears, make these Surrey commons not a wilderness but a paradise.  Nature, indeed, here is like some spoilt petulant child.  She will bring forth nothing, or almost nothing, for man’s grosser needs.  Ask her to bear corn or pasture flocks, and she will be miserly and grudging.  But ask her only to be beautiful, enticing, capriciously lovely, and she will throw herself into the task with all the abandonment, all the energy, that heart could wish.

It is on the borders of one of the wilder districts of a county, which is throughout a strange mixture of suburbanism and the desert, that we next meet with Robert and Catherine Elsmere.  The rectory of Murewell occupied the highest point of a gentle swell of ground which sloped through cornfields and woods to a plain of boundless heather on the south, and climbed away on the north towards the long chalk ridge of the Hog’s Back.  It was a square white house pretending neither to beauty nor state, a little awkwardly and barely placed, with only a small stretch of grass and a low hedge between it and the road.  A few tall firs climbing above the roof gave a little grace and clothing to its southern side, and behind it there was a garden sloping softly down towards the village at its foot ­a garden chiefly noticeable for its grass walks, the luxuriance of the fruit trees clinging to its old red walls, and the masses of pink and white phloxes which now in August gave it the floweriness and the gaiety of an Elizabethan song.  Below in the hollow and to the right lay the picturesque medley of the village ­roofs and gables and chimneys, yellow-gray thatch, shining whitewash, and mellowed brick, making a bright patchwork among the softening trees, thin wreaths of blue smoke, like airy ribbons, tangled through it all.  Rising over the rest was a house of some dignity.  It had been an old manor-house, now it was half ruinous and the village inn.  Some generations back the squire of the day had dismantled it, jealous that so big a house should exist in the same parish as the Hall, and the spoils of it had furnished the rectory; so that the homely house was fitted inside with mahogany doors and carved cupboard fronts, in which Robert delighted, and in which even Catherine felt a proprietary pleasure.

Altogether a quiet, rural, English spot.  If the house had no beauty, it commanded a world of loveliness.  All around it ­north, south, and west ­there spread, as it were, a vast playground of heather and wood and grassy common, in which the few workaday patches of hedge and ploughed land seemed ingulfed and lost.  Close under the rectory windows, however, was a vast sloping cornfield, belonging to the glebe, the largest and fruitfulest of the neighbourhood.  At the present moment it was just ready for the reaper ­the golden ears had clearly but a few more days or hours to ripple in the sun.  It was bounded by a dark summer-scorched belt of wood, and beyond, over the distance, rose a blue pointed hill, which seemed to be there only to attract and make a centre for the sunsets.

As compared with her Westmoreland life, the first twelve months of wifehood had been to Catherine Elsmere a time of rapid and changing experience.  A few days out of their honeymoon had been spent at Oxford.  It was a week before the opening of the October term, but many of the senior members of the University were already in residence, and the stagnation of the Long Vacation was over.  Langham was up; so was Mr. Grey, and many another old friend of Robert’s.  The bride and bridegroom were much feted in a quiet way.  They dined in many common rooms and bursaries; they were invited to many luncheons, whereat the superabundance of food and the length of time spent upon it made the Puritan Catherine uncomfortable; and Langham devoted himself to taking the wife through colleges and gardens, Schools and Bodleian, in most orthodox fashion, indemnifying himself afterwards for the sense of constraint her presence imposed upon him by a talk and a smoke with Robert.

He could not understand the Elsmere marriage.  That a creature so mobile, so sensitive, so susceptible as Elsmere should have fallen in love with this stately silent woman, with her very evident rigidities of thought and training, was only another illustration of the mysteries of matrimony.  He could not get on with her, and after a while did not try to do so.

There could be no doubt as to Elsmere’s devotion.  He was absorbed, wrapped up in her.

‘She has affected him,’ thought the tutor, ’at a period of life when he is more struck by the difficulty of being morally strong than by the difficulty of being intellectually clear.  The touch of religious genius in her braces him like the breath of an Alpine wind.  One can see him expanding, glowing under it. Bien! sooner he than I. To be fair, however, let me remember that she decidedly does not like me ­which may cut me off from Elsmere.  However’ ­and Langham sighed over his fire ­’what have he and I to do with one another in the future?  By all the laws of character something untoward might come out of this marriage.  But she will mould him, rather than he her.  Besides, she will have children ­and that solves most things.’

Meanwhile, if Langham dissected the bride as he dissected most people, Robert, with that keen observation which lay hidden somewhere under his careless boyish ways, noticed many points of change about his old friend.  Langham seemed to him less human, more strange, than ever; the points of contact between him and active life were lessening in number term by term.  He lectured only so far as was absolutely necessary for the retention of his post, and he spoke with wholesale distaste of his pupils.  He had set up a book on ‘The Schools of Athens,’ but when Robert saw the piles of disconnected notes already accumulated, he perfectly understood that the book was a mere blind, a screen, behind which a difficult fastidious nature trifled and procrastinated as it pleased.

Again, when Elsmere was an undergraduate Langham and Grey had been intimate.  Now, Langham’s tone a propos of Grey’s politics and Grey’s dreams of Church Reform was as languidly sarcastic as it was with regard to most of the strenuous things of life.  ‘Nothing particular is true,’ his manner said, ’and all action is a degrading pis-aller.  Get through the day somehow, with as little harm to yourself and other people as may be; do your duty if you like it, but, for heaven’s sake, don’t cant about it to other people!’

If the affinities of character count for much, Catherine and Henry Grey should certainly have understood each other.  The tutor liked the look of Elsmere’s wife.  His kindly brown eyes rested on her with pleasure; he tried in his shy but friendly way to get at her, and there was in both of them a touch of homeliness, a sheer power of unworldliness that should have drawn them together.  And indeed Catherine felt the charm, the spell of this born leader of men.  But she watched him with a sort of troubled admiration, puzzled, evidently, by the halo of moral dignity surrounding him, which contended with something else in her mind respecting him.  Some words of Robert’s, uttered very early in their acquaintance, had set her on her guard.  Speaking of religion, Robert had said, ‘Grey is not one of us’; and Catherine, restrained by a hundred ties of training and temperament, would not surrender herself, and could not if she would.

Then had followed their home-coming to the rectory, and that first institution of their common life, never to be forgotten for the tenderness and the sacredness of it.  Mrs. Elsmere had received them, and had then retired to a little cottage of her own close by.  She had of course already made the acquaintance of her daughter-in-law, for she had been the Thornburghs’ guest for ten days before the marriage in September, and Catherine, moreover, had paid her a short visit earlier in the summer.  But it was now that for the first time she realised to the full the character of the woman Robert had married.  Catherine’s manner to her was sweetness itself.  Parted from her own mother as she was, the younger woman’s strong filial instincts spent themselves in tending the mother who had been the guardian and life of Robert’s youth.  And Mrs. Elsmere in return was awed by Catherine’s moral force and purity of nature, and proud of her personal beauty, which was so real, in spite of the severity of the type, and to which marriage had given, at any rate for the moment, a certain added softness and brilliancy.

But there were difficulties in the way.  Catherine was a little too apt to treat Mrs. Elsmere as she would have treated her own mother.  But to be nursed and protected, to be screened from draughts, and run after with shawls and stools was something wholly new and intolerable to Mrs. Elsmere.  She could not away with it, and as soon as she had sufficiently lost her first awe of her daughter-in-law she would revenge herself in all sorts of droll ways, and with occasional flashes of petulant Irish wit which would make Catherine colour and draw back.  Then Mrs. Elsmere, touched with remorse, would catch her by the neck and give her a resounding kiss, which perhaps puzzled Catherine no less than her sarcasm of a minute before.

Moreover Mrs. Elsmere felt ruefully from the first that her new daughter was decidedly deficient in the sense of humour.

‘I believe it’s that father of hers,’ she would say to herself crossly.  ’By what Robert tells me of him he must have been one of the people who get ill in their minds for want of a good mouth-filling laugh now and then.  The man who can’t amuse himself a bit out of the world is sure to get his head addled somehow, poor creature.’

Certainly it needed a faculty of laughter to be always able to take Mrs. Elsmere on the right side.  For instance, Catherine was more often scandalised than impressed by her mother-in-law’s charitable performances.

Mrs. Elsmere’s little cottage was filled with workhouse orphans sent to her from different London districts.  The training of these girls was the chief business of her life, and a very odd training it was, conducted in the noisiest way and on the most familiar terms.  It was undeniable that the girls generally did well, and they invariably adored Mrs. Elsmere, but Catherine did not much like to think about them.  Their household teaching under Mrs. Elsmere and her old servant Martha ­as great an original as herself ­was so irregular, their religious training so extraordinary, the clothes in which they were allowed to disport themselves so scandalous to the sober taste of the rector’s wife, that Catherine involuntarily regarded the little cottage on the hill as a spot of misrule in the general order of the parish.  She would go in, say, at eleven o’clock in the morning, find her mother-in-law in bed, half-dressed, with all her handmaidens about her, giving her orders, reading her letters and the newspaper, cutting out her girls’ frocks, instructing them in the fashions, or delivering little homilies on questions suggested by the news of the day to the more intelligent of them.  The room, the whole house, would seem to Catherine in a detestable litter.  If so, Mrs. Elsmere never apologised for it.  On the contrary, as she saw Catherine sweep a mass of miscellaneous debris off a chair in search of a seat, the small bright eyes would twinkle with something that was certainly nearer amusement than shame.

And in a hundred other ways Mrs. Elsmere’s relations with the poor of the parish often made Catherine miserable.  She herself had the most angelic pity and tenderness for sorrows and sinners; but sin was sin to her, and when she saw Mrs. Elsmere more than half attracted by the stronger vices, and in many cases more inclined to laugh with what was human in them than to weep over what was vile, Robert’s wife would go away and wrestle with herself, that she might be betrayed into nothing harsh towards Robert’s mother.

But fate allowed their differences, whether they were deep or shallow, no time to develop.  A week of bitter cold at the beginning of January struck down Mrs. Elsmere, whose strange ways of living were more the result of certain long-standing delicacies of health than she had ever allowed any one to imagine.  A few days of acute inflammation of the lungs, borne with a patience and heroism which showed the Irish character at its finest ­a moment of agonised wrestling with that terror of death which had haunted the keen vivacious soul from its earliest consciousness, ending in a glow of spiritual victory ­and Robert found himself motherless.  He and Catherine had never left her since the beginning of the illness.  In one of the intervals towards the end, when there was a faint power of speech, she drew Catherine’s cheek down to her and kissed her.

‘God bless you!’ the old woman’s voice said, with a solemnity in it which Robert knew well, but which Catherine had never heard before.  ’Be good to him, Catherine ­be always good to him!’

And she lay looking from the husband to the wife with a certain wistfulness which pained Catherine, she knew not why.  But she answered with tears and tender words, and at last the mother’s face settled into a peace which death did but confirm.

This great and unexpected loss, which had shaken to their depths all the feelings and affections of his youth, had thrown Elsmere more than ever on his wife.  To him, made as it seemed for love and for enjoyment, grief was a novel and difficult burden.  He felt with passionate gratitude that his wife helped him to bear it so that he came out from it not lessened but ennobled, that she preserved him from many a lapse of nervous weariness and irritation into which his temperament might easily have been betrayed.

And how his very dependence had endeared him to Catherine!  That vibrating responsive quality in him, so easily mistaken for mere weakness, which made her so necessary to him ­there is nothing perhaps which wins more deeply upon a woman.  For all the while it was balanced in a hundred ways by the illimitable respect which his character and his doings compelled from those about him.  To be the strength, the inmost joy of a man who within the conditions of his life seems to you a hero at every turn ­there is no happiness more penetrating for a wife than this.

On this August afternoon the Elsmeres were expecting visitors.  Catherine had sent the pony-carriage to the station to meet Rose and Langham, who was to escort her from Waterloo.  For various reasons, all characteristic, it was Rose’s first visit to Catherine’s new home.

Now she had been for six weeks in London, and had been persuaded to come on to her sister, at the end of her stay.  Catherine was looking forward to her coming with many tremors.  The wild ambitious creature had been not one atom appeased by Manchester and its opportunities.  She had gone back to Whindale in April only to fall into more hopeless discontent than ever.  ‘She can hardly be civil to anybody,’ Agnes wrote to Catherine.  ’The cry now is all “London” or at least “Berlin,” and she cannot imagine why papa should ever have wished to condemn us to such a prison.’

Catherine grew pale with indignation as she read the words, and thought of her father’s short-lived joy in the old house and its few green fields, or of the confidence which had soothed his last moments, that it would be well there with his wife and children, far from the hubbub of the world.

But Rose and her whims were not facts which could be put aside.  They would have to be grappled with, probably humoured.  As Catherine strolled out into the garden, listening alternately for Robert and for the carriage, she told herself that it would be a difficult visit.  And the presence of Mr. Langham would certainly not diminish its difficulty.  The mere thought of him set the wife’s young form stiffening.  A cold breath seemed to blow from Edward Langham, which chilled Catherine’s whole being.  Why was Robert so fond of him?

But the more Langham cut himself off from the world, the more Robert clung to him in his wistful affectionate way.  The more difficult their intercourse became, the more determined the younger man seemed to be to maintain it.  Catherine imagined that he often scourged himself in secret for the fact that the gratitude which had once flowed so readily had now become a matter of reflection and resolution.

‘Why should we always expect to get pleasure from our friends?’ he had said to her once with vehemence.  ’It should be pleasure enough to love them.’  And she knew very well of whom he was thinking.

How late he was this afternoon.  He must have been a long round.  She had news for him of great interest.  The lodge-keeper from the Hall had just looked in to tell the rector that the squire and his widowed sister were expected home in four days.

But, interesting as the news was, Catherine’s looks as she pondered it were certainly not looks of pleased expectation.  Neither of them, indeed, had much cause to rejoice in the squire’s advent.  Since their arrival in the parish the splendid Jacobean Hall had been untenanted.  The squire, who was abroad with his sister at the time of their coming, had sent a civil note to the new rector on his settlement in the parish, naming some common Oxford acquaintances, and desiring him to make what use of the famous Murewell Library he pleased.  ’I hear of you as a friend to letters,’ he wrote; ‘do my books a service by using them.’  The words were graceful enough.  Robert had answered them warmly.  He had also availed himself largely of the permission they had conveyed.  We shall see presently that the squire, though absent, had already made a deep impression on the young man’s imagination.

But unfortunately he came across the squire in two capacities.  Mr. Wendover was not only the owner of Murewell, he was also the owner of the whole land of the parish, where, however, by a curious accident of inheritance, dating some generations back, and implying some very remote connection between the Wendover and Elsmere families, he was not the patron of the living.  Now the more Elsmere studied him under this aspect, the deeper became his dismay.  The estate was entirely in the hands of an agent who had managed it for some fifteen years, and of whose character the rector, before he had been two months in the parish, had formed the very poorest opinion.  Robert, entering upon his duties with the ardour of the modern reformer, armed not only with charity but with science, found himself confronted by the opposition of a man who combined the shrewdness of an attorney with the callousness of a drunkard.  It seemed incredible that a great landowner should commit his interests and the interests of hundreds of human beings to the hands of such a person.

By and by, however, as the rector penetrated more deeply into the situation, he found his indignation transferring itself more and more from the man to the master.  It became clear to him that in some respects Henslowe suited the squire admirably.  It became also clear to him that the squire had taken pains for years to let it be known that he cared not one rap for any human being on his estate in any other capacity than as a rent-payer or wage-receiver.  What!  Live for thirty years in that great house, and never care whether your tenants and labourers lived like pigs or like men, whether the old people died of damp, or the children of diphtheria, which you might have prevented!  Robert’s brow grew dark over it.

The click of an opening gate.  Catherine shook off her dreaminess at once, and hurried along the path to meet her husband.  In another moment Elsmere came in sight, swinging along, a holly stick in his hand, his face aglow with health and exercise and kindling at the sight of his wife.  She hung on his arm, and, with his hand laid tenderly on hers, he asked her how she fared.  She answered briefly, but with a little flush, her eyes raised to his.  She was within a few weeks of motherhood.

Then they strolled along talking.  He gave her an account of his afternoon, which, to judge from the worried expression which presently effaced the joy of their meeting, had been spent in some unsuccessful effort or other.  They paused after a while, and stood looking over the plain before them to a spot beyond the nearer belt of woodland, where from a little hollow about three miles off there rose a cloud of bluish smoke.

‘He will do nothing!’ cried Catherine, incredulous.

’Nothing!  It is the policy of the estate, apparently, to let the old and bad cottages fall to pieces.  He sneers at one for supposing any landowner has money for “philanthropy” just now.  If the people don’t like the houses they can go.  I told him I should appeal to the squire as soon as he came home.’

‘What did he say?’

’He smiled, as much as to say, “Do as you like, and be a fool for your pains.”  How the squire can let that man tyrannise over the estate as he does, I cannot conceive.  Oh, Catherine, I am full of qualms about the squire!’

‘So am I,’ she said, with a little darkening of her clear look.  ’Old Benham has just been in to say they are expected on Thursday.’

Robert started.  ‘Are these our last days of peace?’ he said wistfully ­’the last days of our honeymoon, Catherine?’

She smiled at him with a little quiver of passionate feeling under the smile.

‘Can anything touch that?’ she said under her breath.

‘Do you know,’ he said presently, his voice dropping, ’that it is only a month to our wedding day?  Oh, my wife, have I kept my promise ­is the new life as rich as the old?’

She made no answer, except the dumb sweet answer that love writes on eyes and lips.  Then a tremor passed over her.

‘Are we too happy?  Can it be well ­be right?’

‘Oh, let us take it like children!’ he cried, with a shiver, almost petulantly.  ’There will be dark hours enough.  It is so good to be happy.’

She leant her cheek fondly against his shoulder.  To her life always meant self-restraint, self-repression, self-deadening, if need be.  The Puritan distrust of personal joy as something dangerous and ensnaring was deep ingrained in her.  It had no natural hold on him.

They stood a moment hand in hand fronting the cornfield and the sun-filled west, while the afternoon breeze blew back the man’s curly reddish hair, long since restored to all its natural abundance.

Presently Robert broke into a broad smile.

’What do you suppose Langham has been entertaining Rose with on the way, Catherine?  I wouldn’t miss her remarks to-night on the escort we provided her for a good deal.’

Catherine said nothing, but her delicate eyebrows went up a little.  Robert stooped and lightly kissed her.

’You never performed a greater act of virtue even in your life, Mrs. Elsmere, than when you wrote Langham that nice letter of invitation.’

And then the young rector sighed, as many a boyish memory came crowding upon him.

A sound of wheels!  Robert’s long legs took him to the gate in a twinkling, and he flung it open just as Rose drove up in fine style, a thin dark man beside her.

Rose lent her bright cheek to Catherine’s kiss, and the two sisters walked up to the door together, while Robert and Langham loitered after them talking.

‘Oh, Catherine!’ said Rose under her breath, as they got into the drawing-room, with a little theatrical gesture, ’why on earth did you inflict that man and me on each other for two mortal hours?’

Sh-sh!’ said Catherine’s lips, while her face gleamed with laughter.

Rose sank flushed upon a chair, her eyes glancing up with a little furtive anger in them as the two gentlemen entered the room.

‘You found each other easily at Waterloo?’ asked Robert.

‘Mr. Langham would never have found me,’ said Rose drily; ’but I pounced on him at last ­just, I believe, as he was beginning to cherish the hope of an empty carriage and the solitary enjoyment of his Saturday Review.’

Langham smiled nervously.  ‘Miss Leyburn is too hard on a blind man,’ he said, holding up his eyeglass apologetically; ’it was my eyes, not my will, that were at fault.’

Rose’s lip curled a little.  ‘And Robert,’ she cried, bending forward as though something had just occurred to her, ’do tell me ­I vowed I would ask ­is Mr. Langham a Liberal or a Conservative? He doesn’t know!’

Robert laughed, so did Langham.

‘Your sister,’ he said, flushing, ’will have one so very precise in all one says.’

He turned his handsome olive face towards her, an unwonted spark of animation lighting up his black eyes.  It was evident that he felt himself persecuted, but it was not so evident whether he enjoyed the process or disliked it.

‘Oh dear, no!’ said Rose nonchalantly.  ’Only I have just come from a house where everybody either loathes Mr. Gladstone or would die for him to-morrow.  There was a girl of seven and a boy of nine who were always discussing “Coercion” in the corners of the schoolroom.  So, of course, I have grown political too, and began to catechise Mr. Langham at once, and when he said “he didn’t know,” I felt I should like to set those children at him!  They would soon put some principles into him!’

‘It is not generally lack of principle, Miss Rose,’ said her brother-in-law, ‘that turns a man a doubter in politics, but too much!’

And while he spoke, his eyes resting on Langham, his smile broadened as he recalled all those instances in their Oxford past, when he had taken a humble share in one of the herculean efforts on the part of Langham’s friends, which were always necessary whenever it was a question of screwing a vote out of him on any debated University question.

‘How dull it must be to have too much principle!’ cried Rose.  ’Like a mill choked with corn.  No bread because the machine can’t work!’

‘Defend me from my friends!’ cried Langham, roused.  ’Elsmere, when did I give you a right to caricature me in this way?  If I were interested,’ he added, subsiding into his usual hesitating ineffectiveness, ’I suppose I should know my own mind.’

And then seizing the muffins, he stood presenting them to Rose as though in deprecation of any further personalities.  Inside him there was a hot protest against an unreasonable young beauty whom he had done his miserable best to entertain for two long hours, and who in return had made him feel himself more of a fool than he had done for years.  Since when had young women put on all these airs?  In his young days they knew their place.

Catherine meanwhile sat watching her sister.  The child was more beautiful than ever, but in other outer respects the Rose of Long Whindale had undergone much transformation.  The puffed sleeves, the aesthetic skirts, the naïve adornments of bead and shell, the formless hat, which it pleased her to imagine ‘after Gainsborough,’ had all disappeared.  She was clad in some soft fawn-coloured garment, cut very much in the fashion; her hair was closely rolled and twisted about her lightly-balanced head; everything about her was neat and fresh and tight-fitting.  A year ago she had been a damsel from the ’Earthly Paradise’; now, so far as an English girl can achieve it, she might have been a model for Tissot.  In this phase, as in the other, there was a touch of extravagance.  The girl was developing fast, but had clearly not yet developed.  The restlessness, the self-consciousness of Long Whindale were still there; out they spoke to the spectator in different ways.

But in her anxious study of her sister Catherine did not forget her place of hostess.  ‘Did our man bring you through the park, Mr. Langham?’ she asked him timidly.

‘Yes.  What an exquisite old house!’ he said, turning to her, and feeling through all his critical sense the difference between the gentle matronly dignity of the one sister and the young self-assertion of the other.

‘Ah,’ said Robert, ’I kept that as a surprise!  Did you ever see a more perfect place?’

‘What date?’

’Early Tudor ­as to the oldest part.  It was built by a relation of Bishop Fisher’s; then largely rebuilt under James I. Elizabeth stayed there twice.  There is a trace of a visit of Sidney’s.  Waller was there, and left a copy of verses in the library.  Evelyn laid out a great deal of the garden.  Lord Clarendon wrote part of his History in the garden, et cetera, et cetera.  The place is steeped in associations, and as beautiful as a dream to begin with.’

’And the owner of all this is the author of The Idols of the Market-place?’

Robert nodded.

’Did you ever meet him at Oxford?  I believe he was there once or twice during my time, but I never saw him.’

‘Yes,’ said Langham, thinking.  ’I met him at dinner at the Vice-Chancellor’s, now I remember.  A bizarre and formidable person ­very difficult to talk to,’ he added reflectively.

Then as he looked up he caught a sarcastic twitch of Rose Leyburn’s lip and understood it in a moment.  Incontinently he forgot the squire and fell to asking himself what had possessed him on that luckless journey down.  He had never seemed to himself more perverse, more unmanageable; and for once his philosophy did not enable him to swallow the certainty that this slim flashing creature must have thought him a morbid idiot with as much sangfroid as usual.

Robert interrupted his reflections by some Oxford question, and presently Catherine carried off Rose to her room.  On their way they passed a door, beside which Catherine paused hesitating, and then with a bright flush on the face, which had such maternal calm in it already, she threw her arm round Rose and drew her in.  It was a white empty room, smelling of the roses outside, and waiting in the evening stillness for the life that was to be.  Rose looked at it all ­at the piles of tiny garments, the cradle, the pictures from Retsch’s ‘Song of the Bell,’ which had been the companion of their own childhood, on the walls ­and something stirred in the girl’s breast.

’Catherine, I believe you have everything you want, or you soon will have!’ she cried, almost with a kind of bitterness, laying her hands on her sister’s shoulders.

‘Everything but worthiness!’ said Catherine softly, a mist rising in her calm gray eyes.  ‘And you, Roeschen,’ she added wistfully, ’have you been getting a little more what you want?’

‘What’s the good of asking?’ said the girl, with a little shrug of impatience.  ’As if creatures like me ever got what they want!  London has been good fun certainly ­if one could get enough of it.  Catherine, how long is that marvellous person going to stay?’ and she pointed in the direction of Langham’s room.

‘A week,’ said Catherine, smiling at the girl’s disdainful tone.  ’I was afraid you didn’t take to him.’

‘I never saw such a being before,’ declared Rose ­’never!  I thought I should never get a plain answer from him about anything.  He wasn’t even quite certain it was a fine day!  I wonder if you set fire to him whether he would be sure it hurt!  A week, you say?  Heigh ho! what an age!’

‘Be kind to him,’ said Catherine, discreetly veiling her own feelings, and caressing the curly golden head as they moved towards the door.  ‘He’s a poor lone don, and he was so good to Robert!’

‘Excellent reason for you, Mrs. Elsmere,’ said Rose, pouting; ‘but ­’

Her further remarks were cut short by the sound of the front-door bell.

‘Oh, I had forgotten Mr. Newcome!’ cried Catherine, starting.  ’Come down soon, Rose, and help us through.’

‘Who is he?’ inquired Rose sharply.

’A High Church clergyman near here, whom Robert asked to tea this afternoon,’ said Catherine, escaping.

Rose took her hat off very leisurely.  The prospect downstairs did not seem to justify despatch.  She lingered and thought of ‘Lohengrin’ and Albani, of the crowd of artistic friends that had escorted her to Waterloo, of the way in which she had been applauded the night before, of the joys of playing Brahms with a long-haired pupil of Rubinstein’s, who had dropped on one knee and kissed her hand at the end of it, etc.  During the last six weeks the colours of ‘this threadbare world’ had been freshening before her in marvellous fashion.  And now, as she stood looking out, the quiet fields opposite, the sight of a cow pushing its head through the hedge, the infinite sunset sky, the quiet of the house, filled her with a sudden depression.  How dull it all seemed ­how wanting in the glow of life!

Meanwhile downstairs a curious little scene was passing, watched by Langham, who, in his usual anti-social way, had retreated into a corner of his own as soon as another visitor appeared.  Beside Catherine sat a Ritualist clergyman in cassock and long cloak ­a saint clearly, though perhaps, to judge from the slight restlessness of movement that seemed to quiver through him perpetually, an irritable one.  But he had the saint’s wasted unearthly look, the ascetic brow high and narrow, the veins showing through the skin, and a personality as magnetic as it was strong.

Catherine listened to the new-comer, and gave him his tea, with an aloofness of manner which was not lost on Langham.  ’She is the Thirty-nine Articles in the flesh!’ he said to himself.  ’For her there must neither be too much nor too little.  How can Elsmere stand it?’

Elsmere apparently was not perfectly happy.  He sat balancing his long person over the arm of a chair listening to the recital of some of the High Churchman’s parish troubles with a slight half-embarrassed smile.  The vicar of Nottingham was always in trouble.  The narrative he was pouring out took shape in Langham’s sarcastic sense as a sort of classical epic, with the High Churchman as a new champion of Christendom, harassed on all sides by pagan parishioners, crass churchwardens, and treacherous bishops.  Catherine’s fine face grew more and more set, nay disdainful.  Mr. Newcome was quite blind to it.  Women never entered into his calculations except as sisters or as penitents.  At a certain diocesan conference he had discovered a sympathetic fibre in the young rector of Murewell, which had been to the imperious persecuted zealot like water to the thirsty.  He had come to-day, drawn by the same quality in Elsmere as had originally attracted Langham to the St. Anselm’s undergraduate, and he sat pouring himself out with as much freedom as if all his companions had been as ready as he was to die for an alb, or to spend half their days in piously circumventing a bishop.

But presently the conversation had slid, no one knew how, from Nottingham and its intrigues to London and its teeming East.  Robert was leading, his eye now on the apostolic-looking priest, now on his wife.  Mr. Newcome resisted, but Robert had his way.  Then it came out that behind these battles of kites and crows at Mottringham, there lay an heroic period, when the pale ascetic had wrestled ten years with London poverty, leaving health and youth and nerves behind him in the melee.  Robert dragged it out at last, that struggle, into open view, but with difficulty.  The Ritualist may glory in the discomfiture of an Erastian bishop ­what Christian dare parade ten years of love to God and man?  And presently round Elsmere’s lip there dawned a little smile of triumph.  Catherine had shaken off her cold silence, her Puritan aloofness, was bending forward eagerly ­listening.  Stroke by stroke, as the words and facts were beguiled from him, all that was futile and quarrelsome in the sharp-featured priest sank out of sight; the face glowed with inward light; the stature of the man seemed to rise; the angel in him unsheathed its wings.  Suddenly a story of the slums that Mr. Newcome was telling ­a story of the purest Christian heroism told in the simplest way ­came to an end, and Catherine leaned towards him with a long quivering breath.

‘Oh, thank you, thank you!  That must have been a joy, a privilege!’

Mr. Newcome turned and looked at her with surprise.

‘Yes, it was a privilege,’ he said slowly ­the story had been an account of the rescue of a young country lad from a London den of thieves and profligates ­’you are right; it was just that.’

And then some sensitive inner fibre of the man was set vibrating, and he would talk no more of himself or his past, do what they would.

So Robert had hastily to provide another subject, and he fell upon that of the squire.

Mr. Newcome’s eyes flashed.

’He is coming back?  I am sorry for you, Elsmere.  “Woe is me that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech, and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar!"’

And he fell back in his chair, his lips tightening, his thin long hand lying along the arm of it, answering to that general impression of combat, of the spiritual athlete, that hung about him.

‘I don’t know,’ said Robert brightly, as he leant against the mantelpiece looking curiously at his visitor.  ’The squire is a man of strong character, of vast learning.  His library is one of the finest in England, and it is at my service.  I am not concerned with his opinions.’

‘Ah, I see,’ said Newcome in his driest voice, but sadly.  ’You are one of the people who believe in what you call tolerance ­I remember.’

‘Yes, that is an impeachment to which I plead guilty,’ said Robert, perhaps with equal dryness; ’and you ­have your worries driven you to throw tolerance overboard?’

Newcome bent forward quickly.  Strange glow and intensity of the fanatical eyes ­strange beauty of the wasted persecuting lips!

‘Tolerance!’ he said with irritable vehemence ­’tolerance!  Simply another name for betrayal, cowardice, desertion ­nothing else.  God, Heaven, Salvation on the one side, the devil and hell on the other ­and one miserable life, one wretched sin-stained will, to win the battle with; and in such a state of things you ­’ he drooped his voice, throwing out every word with a scornful, sibilant emphasis ­’you would have us behave as though our friends were our enemies and our enemies our friends, as though eternal misery were a bagatelle and our faith a mere alternative. I stand for Christ, and His foes are mine.’

‘By which I suppose you mean,’ said Robert quietly, ’that you would shut your door on the writer of The Idols of the Market-place?’

‘Certainly.’

And the priest rose, his whole attention concentrated on Robert, as though some deeper-lying motive were suddenly brought into play than any suggested by the conversation itself.

’Certainly. Judge not ­so long as a man has not judged himself, ­only till then.  As to an open enemy, the Christian’s path is clear.  We are but soldiers under orders.  What business have we to be truce-making on our own account?  The war is not ours, but God’s!’

Robert’s eyes had kindled.  He was about to indulge himself in such a quick passage of arms as all such natures as his delight in, when his look travelled past the gaunt figure of the Ritualist vicar to his wife.  A sudden pang smote, silenced him.  She was sitting with her face raised to Newcome; and her beautiful gray eyes were full of a secret passion of sympathy.  It was like the sudden re-emergence of something repressed, the satisfaction of something hungry.  Robert moved closer to her, and the colour flushed over all his young boyish face.

‘To me,’ he said in a low voice, his eyes fixed rather on her than on Newcome, ’a clergyman has enough to do with those foes of Christ he cannot choose but recognise.  There is no making truce with vice or cruelty.  Why should we complicate our task and spend in needless struggle the energies we might give to love and to our brother?’

His wife turned to him.  There was trouble in her look, then a swift lovely dawn of something indescribable.  Newcome moved away with a gesture that was half bitterness, half weariness.

‘Wait, my friend,’ he said slowly, ’till you have watched that man’s books eating the very heart out of a poor creature as I have.  When you have once seen Christ robbed of a soul that might have been His, by the infidel of genius, you will loathe all this Laodicean cant of tolerance as I do!’

There was an awkward pause.  Langham, with his eyeglass on, was carefully examining the make of a carved paper-knife lying near him.  The strained preoccupied mind of the High Churchman had never taken the smallest account of his presence, of which Robert had been keenly, not to say humorously, conscious throughout.

But after a minute or so the tutor got up, strolled forward, and addressed Robert on some Oxford topic of common interest.  Newcome, in a kind of dream which seemed to have suddenly descended on him, stood near them, his priestly cloak falling in long folds about him, his ascetic face grave and rapt.  Gradually, however, the talk of the two men dissipated the mystical cloud about him.  He began to listen, to catch the savour of Langham’s modes of speech, and of his languid indifferent personality.

‘I must go,’ he said abruptly, after a minute or two, breaking in upon the friends’ conversation.  ‘I shall hardly get home before dark.’

He took a cold punctilious leave of Catherine, and a still colder and slighter leave of Langham.  Elsmere accompanied him to the gate.

On the way the older man suddenly caught him by the arm.

’Elsmere, let me ­I am the elder by so many years ­let me speak to you.  My heart goes out to you!’

And the eagle face softened; the harsh commanding presence became enveloping, magnetic.  Robert paused and looked down upon him, a quick light of foresight in his eye.  He felt what was coming.

And down it swept upon him, a hurricane of words hot from Newcome’s inmost being, a protest winged by the gathered passion of years against certain ‘dangerous tendencies’ the elder priest discerned in the younger, against the worship of intellect and science as such which appeared in Elsmere’s talk, in Elsmere’s choice of friends.  It was the eternal cry of the mystic of all ages.

‘Scholarship! learning!’ Eyes and lips flashed into a vehement scorn.  ’You allow them a value in themselves, apart from the Christian’s test.  It is the modern canker, the modern curse!  Thank God, my years in London burnt it out of me!  Oh, my friend, what have you and I to do with all these curious triflings, which lead men oftener to rebellion than to worship?  Is this a time for wholesale trust, for a maudlin universal sympathy?  Nay, rather a day of suspicion, a day of repression! ­a time for trampling on the lusts of the mind no less than the lusts of the body, a time when it is better to believe than to know, to pray than to understand!’

Robert was silent a moment, and they stood together, Newcome’s gaze of fiery appeal fixed upon him.

‘We are differently made, you and I,’ said the young rector at last with difficulty.  ’Where you see temptation I see opportunity.  I cannot conceive of God as the Arch-plotter against His own creation!’

Newcome dropped his hold abruptly.

‘A groundless optimism,’ he said with harshness.  ’On the track of the soul from birth to death there are two sleuth-hounds ­Sin and Satan.  Mankind for ever flies them, is for ever vanquished and devoured.  I see life always as a thread-like path between abysses along which man creeps’ ­and his gesture illustrated the words ­’with bleeding hands and feet towards one ­narrow ­solitary outlet.  Woe to him if he turn to the right hand or the left ­“I will repay, saith the Lord!"’

Elsmere drew himself up suddenly; the words seemed to him a blasphemy.  Then something stayed the vehement answer on his lips.  It was a sense of profound intolerable pity.  What a maimed life! what an indomitable soul!  Husbandhood, fatherhood, and all the sacred education that flows from human joy for ever self-forbidden, and this grim creed for recompense!

He caught Newcome’s hand with a kind of filial eagerness.

‘You are a perpetual lesson to me,’ he said, most gently.  ’When the world is too much with me, I think of you and am rebuked.  God bless you!  But I know myself.  If I could see life and God as you see them for one hour, I should cease to be a Christian in the next!’

A flush of something like sombre resentment passed over Newcome’s face.  There is a tyrannical element in all fanaticism, an element which makes opposition a torment.  He turned abruptly away, and Robert was left alone.

It was a still clear evening, rich in the languid softness and balm which mark the first approaches of autumn.  Elsmere walked back to the house, his head uplifted to the sky which lay beyond the cornfield, his whole being wrought into a passionate protest ­a passionate invocation of all things beautiful and strong and free, a clinging to life and nature as to something wronged and outraged.

Suddenly his wife stood beside him.  She had come down to warn him that it was late and that Langham had gone to dress; but she stood lingering by his side after her message was given, and he made no movement to go in.  He turned to her, the exaltation gradually dying out of his face, and at last he stooped and kissed her with a kind of timidity unlike him.  She clasped both hands on his arm and stood pressing towards him as though to make amends ­for she knew not what.  Something ­some sharp momentary sense of difference, of antagonism, had hurt that inmost fibre which is the conscience of true passion.  She did the most generous, the most ample penance for it as she stood there talking to him of half-indifferent things, but with a magic, a significance of eye and voice which seemed to take all the severity from her beauty and make her womanhood itself.

At the evening meal Rose appeared in pale blue, and it seemed to Langham, fresh from the absolute seclusion of college rooms in vacation, that everything looked flat and stale beside her, beside the flash of her white arms, the gleam of her hair, the confident grace of every movement.  He thought her much too self-conscious and self-satisfied; and she certainly did not make herself agreeable to him; but for all that he could hardly take his eyes off her; and it occurred to him once or twice to envy Robert the easy childish friendliness she showed to him, and to him alone of the party.  The lack of real sympathy between her and Catherine was evident to the stranger at once ­what, indeed, could the two have in common?  He saw that Catherine was constantly on the point of blaming, and Rose constantly on the point of rebelling.  He caught the wrinkling of Catherine’s brow as Rose presently, in emulation apparently of some acquaintances she had been making in London, let slip the names of some of her male friends without the ‘Mr.,’ or launched into some bolder affectation than usual of a comprehensive knowledge of London society.  The girl, in spite of all her beauty, and her fashion, and the little studied details of her dress, was in reality so crude, so much of a child under it all, that it made her audacities and assumptions the more absurd, and he could see that Robert was vastly amused by them.

But Langham was not merely amused by her.  She was too beautiful and too full of character.

It astonished him to find himself afterwards edging over to the corner where she sat with the rectory cat on her knee ­an inferior animal, but the best substitute for Chattie available.  So it was, however; and once in her neighbourhood he made another serious effort to get her to talk to him.  The Elsmeres had never seen him so conversational.  He dropped his paradoxical melancholy; he roared as gently as any sucking dove; and Robert, catching from the pessimist of St. Anselm’s, as the evening went on, some hesitating commonplaces worthy of a bashful undergraduate on the subject of the boats and Commemoration, had to beat a hasty retreat, so greatly did the situation tickle his sense of humour.

But the tutor made his various ventures under a discouraging sense of failure.  What a capricious ambiguous creature it was, how fearless, how disagreeably alive to all his own damaging peculiarities!  Never had he been so piqued for years, and as he floundered about trying to find some common ground where he and she might be at ease, he was conscious throughout of her mocking indifferent eyes, which seemed to be saying to him all the time, ’You are not interesting ­no, not a bit!  You are tiresome, and I see through you, but I must talk to you, I suppose, faute de mieux.’

Long before the little party separated for the night Langham had given it up, and had betaken himself to Catherine, reminding himself with some sharpness that he had come down to study his friend’s life, rather than the humours of a provoking girl.  How still the summer night was round the isolated rectory; how fresh and spotless were all the appointments of the house; what a Quaker neatness and refinement everywhere!  He drank in the scent of air and flowers with which the rooms were filled; for the first time his fastidious sense was pleasantly conscious of Catherine’s grave beauty; and even the mystic ceremonies of family prayer had a certain charm for him, pagan as he was.  How much dignity and persuasiveness it has still, he thought to himself, this commonplace country life of ours, on its best sides!

Half-past ten arrived.  Rose just let him touch her hand; Catherine gave him a quiet good-night, with various hospitable wishes for his nocturnal comfort, and the ladies withdrew.  He saw Robert open the door for his wife, and catch her thin white fingers as she passed him with all the secrecy and passion of a lover.

Then they plunged into the study, he and Robert, and smoked their fill.  The study was an astonishing medley.  Books, natural history specimens, a half-written sermon, fishing-rods, cricket-bats, a huge medicine cupboard ­all the main elements of Elsmere’s new existence were represented there.  In the drawing-room with his wife and his sister-in-law he had been as much of a boy as ever; here clearly he was a man, very much in earnest.  What about?  What did it all come to?  Can the English country clergyman do much with his life and his energies?  Langham approached the subject with his usual scepticism.

Robert for a while, however, did not help him to solve it.  He fell at once to talking about the squire, as though it cleared his mind to talk out his difficulties even to so ineffective a counsellor as Langham.  Langham, indeed, was but faintly interested in the squire’s crimes as a landlord, but there was a certain interest to be got out of the struggle in Elsmere’s mind between the attractiveness of the squire, as one of the most difficult and original personalities of English letters, and that moral condemnation of him as a man of possessions and ordinary human responsibilities with which the young reforming rector was clearly penetrated.  So that, as long as he could smoke under it, he was content to let his companion describe to him Mr. Wendover’s connection with the property, his accession to it in middle life after a long residence in Germany, his ineffectual attempts to play the English country gentleman, and his subsequent complete withdrawal from the life about him.

’You have no idea what a queer sort of existence he lives in that huge place,’ said Robert with energy.  ’He is not unpopular exactly with the poor down here.  When they want to belabour anybody they lay on at the agent, Henslowe.  On the whole, I have come to the conclusion the poor like a mystery.  They never see him; when he is here the park is shut up; the common report is that he walks at night; and he lives alone in that enormous house with his books.  The county folk have all quarrelled with him, or nearly.  It pleases him to get a few of the humbler people about, clergy, professional men, and so on, to dine with him sometimes.  And he often fills the Hall, I am told, with London people for a day or two.  But otherwise he knows no one, and nobody knows him.’

’But you say he has a widowed sister?  How does she relish the kind of life?’

‘Oh; by all accounts,’ said the rector with a shrug, ’she is as little like other people as himself.  A queer elfish little creature, they say, as fond of solitude down here as the squire, and full of hobbies.  In her youth she was about the court.  Then she married a canon of Warham, one of the popular preachers, I believe, of the day.  There is a bright little cousin of hers, a certain Lady Helen Varley, who lives near here, and tells me stories of her.  She must be the most whimsical little aristocrat imaginable.  She liked her husband apparently, but she never got over leaving London and the fashionable world, and is as hungry now, after her long fast, for titles and big-wigs, as though she were the purest parvenu.  The squire of course makes mock of her, and she has no influence with him.  However, there is something naïve in the stories they tell of her.  I feel as if I might get on with her.  But the squire!’

And the rector, having laid down his pipe, took to studying his boots with a certain dolefulness.

Langham, however, who always treated the subjects of conversation presented to him as an epicure treats foods, felt at this point that he had had enough of the Wendovers, and started something else.

‘So you physic bodies as well as minds?’ he said, pointing to the medicine cupboard.

‘I should think so!’ cried Robert, brightening at once.  ’Last winter I causticked all the diphtheritic throats in the place with my own hand.  Our parish doctor is an infirm old noodle, and I just had to do it.  And if the state of part of the parish remains what it is, it’s a pleasure I may promise myself most years.  But it shan’t remain what it is.’

And the rector reached out his hand again for his pipe, and gave one or two energetic puffs to it as he surveyed his friend stretched before him in the depths of an armchair.

’I will make myself a public nuisance, but the people shall have their drains!’

‘It seems to me,’ said Langham, musing, ’that in my youth people talked about Ruskin; now they talk about drains.’

’And quite right too.  Dirt and drains, Catherine says I have gone mad upon them.  It’s all very well, but they are the foundations of a sound religion.’

‘Dirt, drains, and Darwin,’ said Langham meditatively, taking up Darwin’s Earthworms, which lay on the study table beside him, side by side with a volume of Grant Allen’s Sketches.  ’I didn’t know you cared for this sort of thing!’

Robert did not answer for a moment, and a faint flush stole into his face.

‘Imagine, Langham!’ he said presently, ’I had never read even The Origin of Species before I came here.  We used to take the thing half for granted, I remember, at Oxford, in a more or less modified sense.  But to drive the mind through all the details of the evidence, to force one’s self to understand the whole hypothesis and the grounds for it, is a very different matter.  It is a revelation.’

‘Yes,’ said Langham; and could not forbear adding, ’but it is a revelation, my friend, that has not always been held to square with other revelations.’

In general these two kept carefully off the religious ground.  The man who is religious by nature tends to keep his treasure hid from the man who is critical by nature, and Langham was much more interested in other things.  But still it had always been understood that each was free to say what he would.

‘There was a natural panic,’ said Robert, throwing back his head at the challenge.  ’Men shrank and will always shrink, say what you will, from what seems to touch things dearer to them than life.  But the panic is passing.  The smoke is clearing away, and we see that the battle-field is falling into new lines.  But the old truth remains the same.  Where and when and how you will, but somewhen and somehow, God created the heavens and the earth!’

Langham said nothing.  It had seemed to him for long that the clergy were becoming dangerously ready to throw the Old Testament overboard, and all that it appeared to him to imply was that men’s logical sense is easily benumbed where their hearts are concerned.

‘Not that every one need be troubled with the new facts,’ resumed Robert after a while, going back to his pipe.  ’Why should they?  We are not saved by Darwinism.  I should never press them on my wife, for instance, with all her clearness and courage of mind.’

His voice altered as he mentioned his wife ­grew extraordinarily soft, even reverential.

‘It would distress her?’ said Langham interrogatively, and inwardly conscious of pursuing investigations begun a year before.

’Yes, it would distress her.  She holds the old ideas as she was taught them.  It is all beautiful to her, what may seem doubtful or grotesque to others.  And why should I or any one else trouble her?  I above all, who am not fit to tie her shoe-strings.’

The young husband’s face seemed to gleam in the dim light which fell upon it.  Langham involuntarily put up his hand in silence and touched his sleeve.  Robert gave him a quiet friendly look, and the two men instantly plunged into some quite trivial and commonplace subject.

Langham entered his room that night with a renewed sense of pleasure in the country quiet, the peaceful flower-scented house.  Catherine, who was an admirable housewife, had put out her best guest-sheets for his benefit, and the tutor, accustomed for long years to the second-best of college service, looked at their shining surfaces and frilled edges, at the freshly matted floor, at the flowers on the dressing-table, at the spotlessness of everything in the room, with a distinct sense that matrimony had its advantages.  He had come down to visit the Elsmeres, sustained by a considerable sense of virtue.  He still loved Elsmere and cared to see him.  It was a much colder love, no doubt, than that which he had given to the undergraduate.  But the man altogether was a colder creature, who for years had been drawing in tentacle after tentacle, and becoming more and more content to live without his kind.  Robert’s parsonage, however, and Robert’s wife had no attractions for him; and it was with an effort that he had made up his mind to accept the invitation which Catherine had made an effort to write.

And, after all, the experience promised to be pleasant.  His fastidious love for the quieter, subtler sorts of beauty was touched by the Elsmere surroundings.  And whatever Miss Leyburn might be, she was not commonplace.  The demon of convention had no large part in her!  Langham lay awake for a time analysing his impressions of her with some gusto, and meditating, with a whimsical candour which seldom tailed him, on the manner in which she had trampled on him, and the reasons why.

He woke up, however, in a totally different frame of mind.  He was pre-eminently a person of moods, dependent, probably, as all moods are, on certain obscure physical variations.  And his mental temperature had run down in the night.  The house, the people who had been fresh and interesting to him twelve hours before, were now the burden he had more than half expected them to be.  He lay and thought of the unbroken solitude of his college rooms, of Senancour’s flight from human kind, of the uselessness of all friendship, the absurdity of all effort, and could hardly persuade himself to get up and face a futile world, which had, moreover, the enormous disadvantage for the moment of being a new one.

Convention, however, is master even of an Obermann.  That prototype of all the disillusioned had to cut himself adrift from the society of the eagles on the Dent du Midi, to go and hang like any other ridiculous mortal on the Paris law-courts.  Langham, whether he liked it or no, had to face the parsonic breakfast and the parsonic day.

He had just finished dressing when the sound of a girl’s voice drew him to the window, which was open.  In the garden stood Rose, on the edge of the sunk fence dividing the rectory domain from the cornfield.  She was stooping forward playing with Robert’s Dandie Dinmont.  In one hand she held a mass of poppies, which showed a vivid scarlet against her blue dress; the other was stretched out seductively to the dog leaping round her.  A crystal buckle flashed at her waist; the sunshine caught the curls of auburn hair, the pink cheek, the white moving hand, the lace ruffles at her throat and wrist.  The lithe glittering figure stood thrown out against the heavy woods behind, the gold of the cornfield, the blues of the distance.  All the gaiety and colour which is as truly representative of autumn as the gray languor of a September mist had passed into it.

Langham stood and watched, hidden, as he thought, by the curtain, till a gust of wind shook the casement window beside him, and threatened to blow it in upon him.  He put out his hand perforce to save it, and the slight noise caught Rose’s ear.  She looked up; her smile vanished.  ’Go down, Dandie,’ she said severely, and walked quickly into the house with as much dignity as nineteen is capable of.

At breakfast the Elsmeres found their guest a difficulty.  But they also, as we know, had expected it.  He was languor itself; none of their conversational efforts succeeded; and Rose, studying him out of the corners of her eyes, felt that it would be of no use even to torment so strange and impenetrable a being.  Why on earth should people come and visit their friends if they could not keep up even the ordinary decent pretences of society?

Robert had to go off to some clerical business afterwards, and Langham wandered out into the garden by himself.  As he thought of his Greek texts and his untenanted Oxford rooms, he had the same sort of craving that an opium-eater has cut off from his drugs.  How was he to get through?

Presently he walked back into the study, secured an armful of volumes, and carried them out.  True to himself in the smallest things, he could never in his life be content with the companionship of one book.  To cut off the possibility of choice and change in anything whatever was repugnant to him.

He sat himself down under the shade of a great chestnut near the house, and an hour glided pleasantly away.  As it happened, however, he did not open one of the books he had brought with him.  A thought had struck him as he sat down, and he went groping in his pockets in search of a yellow-covered brochure, which, when found, proved to be a new play by Dumas, just about to be produced by a French company in London.  Langham, whose passion for the French theatre supplied him, as we know, with a great deal of life without the trouble of living, was going to see it, and always made a point of reading the piece beforehand.

The play turned upon a typical French situation, treated in a manner rather more French than usual.  The reader shrugged his shoulders a good deal as he read on.  ‘Strange nation!’ he muttered to himself after an act or two.  ‘How they do revel in mud!’

Presently, just as the fifth act was beginning to get hold of him with that force which, after all, only a French playwright is master of, he looked up and saw the two sisters coming round the corner of the house from the great kitchen garden, which stretched its grass paths and tangled flower-masses down the further slope of the hill.  The transition was sharp from Dumas’s heated atmosphere of passion and crime to the quiet English rectory, its rural surroundings, and the figures of the two Englishwomen advancing towards him.

Catherine was in a loose white dress with a black lace scarf draped about her head and form.  Her look hardly suggested youth, and there was certainly no touch of age in it.  Ripeness, maturity, serenity ­these were the chief ideas which seemed to rise in the mind at sight of her.

‘Are you amusing yourself, Mr. Langham?’ she said, stopping beside him and retaining with slight imperceptible force Rose’s hand, which threatened to slip away.

’Very much.  I have been skimming through a play, which I hope to see next week, by way of preparation.’

Rose turned involuntarily.  Not wishing to discuss Marianne with either Catherine or her sister, Langham had just closed the book and was returning it to his pocket.  But she had caught sight of it.

‘You are reading Marianne,’ she exclaimed, the slightest possible touch of wonder in her tone.

‘Yes, it is Marianne,’ said Langham, surprised in his turn.  He had very old-fashioned notions about the limits of a girl’s acquaintance with the world, knowing nothing, therefore, as may be supposed, about the modern young woman, and he was a trifle scandalised by Rose’s accent of knowledge.

‘I read it last week,’ she said carelessly; ’and the Piersons’ ­turning to her sister ­’have promised to take me to see it next winter if Desforets comes again, as every one expects.’

‘Who wrote it?’ asked Catherine innocently.  The theatre not only gave her little pleasure, but wounded in her a hundred deep unconquerable instincts.  But she had long ago given up in despair the hope of protesting against Rose’s dramatic instincts with success.

‘Dumas fils,’ said Langham drily.  He was distinctly a good deal astonished.

Rose looked at him, and something brought a sudden flame into her cheek.

‘It is one of the best of his,’ she said defiantly.  ’I have read a good many others.  Mrs. Pierson lent me a volume.  And when I was introduced to Madame Desforets last week, she agreed with me that Marianne is nearly the best of all.’

All this, of course, with the delicate nose well in air.

‘You were introduced to Madame Desforets?’ cried Langham, surprised this time quite out of discretion.  Catherine looked at him with anxiety.  The reputation of the black-eyed little French actress, who had been for a year or two the idol of the theatrical public of Paris and London, had reached even to her, and the tone of Langham’s exclamation struck her painfully.

‘I was,’ said Rose proudly.  ’Other people may think it a disgrace. I thought it an honour!’

Langham could not help smiling, the girl’s naïveté was so evident.  It was clear that, if she had read Marianne, she had never understood it.

‘Rose, you don’t know!’ exclaimed Catherine, turning to her sister with a sudden trouble in her eyes.  ’I don’t think Mrs. Pierson ought to have done that, without consulting mamma especially.’

‘Why not?’ cried Rose vehemently.  Her face was burning, and her heart was full of something like hatred of Langham, but she tried hard to be calm.

‘I think,’ she said, with a desperate attempt at crushing dignity, ’that the way in which all sorts of stories are believed against a woman, just because she is an actress, is disgraceful!  Just because a woman is on the stage, everybody thinks they may throw stones at her.  I know, because ­because she told me,’ cried the speaker, growing, however, half embarrassed as she spoke, ’that she feels the things that are said of her deeply!  She has been ill, very ill, and one of her friends said to me, “You know it isn’t her work, or a cold, or anything else that’s made her ill ­it’s calumny!” And so it is.’

The speaker flashed an angry glance at Langham.  She was sitting on the arm of the cane chair into which Catherine had fallen, one hand grasping the back of the chair for support, one pointed foot beating the ground restlessly in front of her, her small full mouth pursed indignantly, the greenish-gray eyes flashing and brilliant.

As for Langham, the cynic within him was on the point of uncontrollable laughter.  Madame Desforets complaining of calumny to this little Westmoreland maiden!  But his eyes involuntarily met Catherine’s, and the expression of both fused into a common wonderment ­amused on his side, anxious on hers.  ‘What a child, what an infant it is!’ they seemed to confide to one another.  Catherine laid her hand softly on Rose’s, and was about to say something soothing, which might secure her an opening for some sisterly advice later on, when there was a sound of calling from the gate.  She looked up and saw Robert waving to her.  Evidently he had just run up from the school to deliver a message.  She hurried across the drive to him and afterwards into the house, while he disappeared.

Rose got up from her perch on the armchair and would have followed, but a movement of obstinacy or Quixotic wrath, or both, detained her.

‘At any rate, Mr. Langham,’ she said, drawing herself up, and speaking with the most lofty accent, ’if you don’t know anything personally about Madame Desforets, I think it would be much fairer to say nothing ­and not to assume at once that all you hear is true!’

Langham had rarely felt more awkward than he did then, as he sat leaning forward under the tree, this slim indignant creature standing over him, and his consciousness about equally divided between a sense of her absurdity and a sense of her prettiness.

‘You are an advocate worth having, Miss Leyburn,’ he said at last, an enigmatical smile he could not restrain playing about his mouth.  ’I could not argue with you; I had better not try.’

Rose looked at him, at his dark regular face, at the black eyes which were much vivider than usual, perhaps because they could not help reflecting some of the irrepressible memories of Madame Desforets and her causes célèbres which were coursing through the brain behind them, and with a momentary impression of rawness, defeat, and yet involuntary attraction, which galled her intolerably, she turned away and left him.

In the afternoon Robert was still unavailable, to his own great chagrin, and Langham summoned up all his resignation and walked with the ladies.  The general impression left upon his mind by the performance was, first, that the dust of an English August is intolerable, and, secondly, that women’s society ought only to be ventured on by the men who are made for it.  The views of Catherine and Rose may be deduced from his with tolerable certainty.

But in the late afternoon, when they thought they had done their duty by him, and he was again alone in the garden reading, he suddenly heard the sounds of music.

Who was playing, and in that way?  He got up and strolled past the drawing-room window to find out.

Rose had got hold of an accompanist, the timid dowdy daughter of a local solicitor, with some capacity for reading, and was now, in her lavish impetuous fashion, rushing through a quantity of new music, the accumulations of her visit to London.  She stood up beside the piano, her hair gleaming in the shadow of the drawing-room, her white brow hanging forward over her violin as she peered her way through the music, her whole soul absorbed in what she was doing.  Langham passed unnoticed.

What astonishing playing!  Why had no one warned him of the presence of such a gift in this dazzling, prickly, unripe creature?  He sat down against the wall of the house, as close as possible, but out of sight, and listened.  All the romance of his spoilt and solitary life had come to him so far through music, and through such music as this!  For she was playing Wagner, Brahms, and Rubinstein, interpreting all those passionate voices of the subtlest moderns, through which the heart of our own day has expressed itself even more freely and exactly than through the voice of literature.  Hans Sachs’ immortal song, echoes from the love duets in ‘Tristan und Isolde,’ fragments from a wild and alien dance-music, they rippled over him in a warm intoxicating stream of sound, stirring association after association, and rousing from sleep a hundred bygone moods of feeling.

What magic and mastery in the girl’s touch!  What power of divination, and of rendering!  Ah! she too was floating in passion and romance, but of a different sort altogether from the conscious reflected product of the man’s nature.  She was not thinking of the past, but of the future; she was weaving her story that was to be into the flying notes, playing to the unknown of her Whindale dreams, the strong ardent unknown, ­’insufferable, if he pleases, to all the world besides, but to me heaven!’ She had caught no breath yet of his coming, but her heart was ready for him.

Suddenly, as she put down her violin, the French window opened, and Langham stood before her.  She looked at him with a quick stiffening of the face which a minute before had been all quivering and relaxed, and his instant perception of it chilled the impulse which had brought him there.

He said something banal about his enjoyment, something totally different from what he had meant to say.  The moment presented itself, but he could not seize it or her.

‘I had no notion you cared for music,’ she said carelessly, as she shut the piano, and then she went away.

Langham felt a strange fierce pang of disappointment.  What had he meant to do or say?  Idiot!  What common ground was there between him and any such exquisite youth?  What girl would ever see in him anything but the dull remains of what once had been a man!

The next day was Sunday.  Langham, who was as depressed and home-sick as ever, with a certain new spice of restlessness, not altogether intelligible to himself, thrown in, could only brace himself to the prospect by the determination to take the English rural Sunday as the subject of severe scientific investigation.  He would ‘do it’ thoroughly.

So he donned a black coat and went to church with the rest.  There, in spite of his boredom with the whole proceeding, Robert’s old tutor was a good deal more interested by Robert’s sermon than he had expected to be.  It was on the character of David, and there was a note in it, a note of historical imagination, a power of sketching in a background of circumstance, and of biting into the mind of the listener, as it were, by a detail or an epithet, which struck Langham as something new in his experience of Elsmere.  He followed it at first as one might watch a game of skill, enjoying the intellectual form of it, and counting the good points, but by the end he was not a little carried away.  The peroration was undoubtedly very moving, very intimate, very modern, and Langham up to a certain point was extremely susceptible to oratory, as he was to music and acting.  The critical judgment, however, at the root of him kept coolly repeating as he stood watching the people defile out of the church:  ’This sort of thing will go down, will make a mark; Elsmere is at the beginning of a career!’

In the afternoon Robert, who was feeling deeply guilty towards his wife, in that he had been forced to leave so much of the entertainment of Langham to her, asked his old friend to come for him to the school at four o’clock and take him for a walk between two engagements.  Langham was punctual, and Robert carried him off first to see the Sunday cricket, which was in full swing.  During the past year the young rector had been developing a number of outdoor capacities which were probably always dormant in his Elsmere blood, the blood of generations of country gentlemen, but which had never had full opportunity before.  He talked of fishing as Kingsley might have talked of it, and, indeed, with constant quotations from Kingsley; and his cricket, which had been good enough at Oxford to get him into his College eleven, had stood him in specially good stead with the Murewell villagers.  That his play was not elegant they were not likely to find out; his bowling they set small store by; but his batting was of a fine, slashing, superior sort which soon carried the Murewell Club to a much higher position among the clubs of the neighbourhood than it had ever yet aspired to occupy.

The rector had no time to play on Sundays, however, and, after they had hung about the green a little while, he took his friend over to the Workmen’s Institute, which stood at the edge of it.  He explained that the Institute had been the last achievement of the agent before Henslowe, a man who had done his duty to the estate according to his lights, and to whom it was owing that those parts of it, at any rate, which were most in the public eye, were still in fair condition.

The Institute was now in bad repair and too small for the place.  ’But catch that man doing anything for us!’ exclaimed Robert hotly.  ’He will hardly mend the roof now, merely, I believe, to spite me.  But come and see my new Naturalists’ Club.’

And he opened the Institute door.  Langham followed in the temper of one getting up a subject for examination.

Poor Robert!  His labour and his enthusiasm deserved a more appreciative eye.  He was wrapped up in his Club, which had been the great success of his first year, and he dragged Langham through it all, not indeed, sympathetic creature that he was, without occasional qualms.  ’But after all,’ he would say to himself indignantly, ’I must do something with him.’

Langham, indeed, behaved with resignation.  He looked at the collections for the year, and was quite ready to take it for granted that they were extremely creditable.  Into the old-fashioned window-sills glazed compartments had been fitted, and these were now fairly filled with specimens, with eggs, butterflies, moths, beetles, fossils, and what not.  A case of stuffed tropical birds presented by Robert stood in the centre of the room; another containing the birds of the district was close by.  On a table farther on stood two large open books, which served as records of observations on the part of members of the Club.  In one, which was scrawled over with mysterious hieroglyphs, any one might write what he would.  In the other, only such facts and remarks as had passed the gauntlet of a Club meeting were recorded in Robert’s neatest hand.  On the same table stood jars full of strange creatures ­tadpoles and water larvae of all kinds, over which Robert hung now absorbed, poking among them with a straw, while Langham, to whom only the generalisations of science were congenial, stood by and mildly scoffed.

As they came out a great loutish boy, who had evidently been hanging about waiting for the rector, came up to him, boorishly touched his cap, and then, taking a cardboard box out of his pocket, opened it with infinite caution, something like a tremor of emotion passing over his gnarled countenance.

The rector’s eyes glistened.

’Hullo!  I say, Irwin, where in the name of fortune did you get that?  You lucky fellow!  Come in, and let’s look it out!’

And the two plunged back into the Club together, leaving Langham to the philosophic and patient contemplation of the village green, its geese, its donkeys, and its surrounding fringe of houses.  He felt that quite indisputably life would have been better worth living if, like Robert, he could have taken a passionate interest in rare moths or common ploughboys; but Nature having denied him the possibility, there was small use in grumbling.

Presently the two naturalists came out again, and the boy went off, bearing his treasure with him.

‘Lucky dog!’ said Robert, turning his friend into a country road leading out of the village, ’he’s found one of the rarest moths of the district.  Such a hero he’ll be in the Club to-morrow night.  It’s extraordinary what a rational interest has done for that fellow!  I nearly fought him in public last winter.’

And he turned to his friend with a laugh, and yet with a little quick look of feeling in the gray eyes.

‘Magnificent, but not war,’ said Langham drily.  ’I wouldn’t have given much for your chances against those shoulders.’

’Oh, I don’t know.  I should have had a little science on my side, which counts for a great deal.  We turned him out of the Club for brutality towards the old grandmother he lives with ­turned him out in public.  Such a scene!  I shall never forget the boy’s face.  It was like a corpse, and the eyes burning out of it.  He made for me, but the others closed up round, and we got him put out.’

‘Hard lines on the grandmother,’ remarked Langham.

’She thought so ­poor old thing!  She left her cottage that night, thinking he would murder her, and went to a friend.  At the end of a week he came into the friend’s house, where she was alone in bed.  She cowered under the bedclothes, she told me, expecting him to strike her.  Instead of which he threw his wages down beside her and gruffly invited her to come home.  “He wouldn’t do her no mischief.”  Everybody dissuaded her, but the plucky old thing went.  A week or two afterwards she sent for me and I found her crying.  She was sure the lad was ill, he spoke to nobody at his work.  “Lord, sir!” she said, “it do remind me, when he sits glowering at nights, of those folks in the Bible, when the devils inside ‘em kep’ a-tearing ’em.  But he’s like a new-born babe to me, sir ­never does me no ’arm.  And it do go to my heart, sir, to see how poorly he do take his vittles!” So I made tracks for that lad,’ said Robert, his eyes kindling, his whole frame dilating.  ’I found him in the fields one morning.  I have seldom lived through so much in half an hour.  In the evening I walked him up to the Club, and we re-admitted him, and since then the boy has been like one clothed and in his right mind.  If there is any trouble in the Club I set him on, and he generally puts it right.  And when I was laid up with a chill in the spring, and the poor fellow came trudging up every night after his work to ask for me ­well, never mind! but it gives one a good glow at one’s heart to think about it.’

The speaker threw back his head impulsively, as though defying his own feeling.  Langham looked at him curiously.  The pastoral temper was a novelty to him, and the strong development of it in the undergraduate of his Oxford recollections had its interest.

‘A quarter to six,’ said Robert, as on their return from their walk they were descending a low-wooded hill above the village, and the church clock rang out.  ‘I must hurry, or I shall be late for my story-telling.’

‘Story-telling!’ said Langham, with a half-exasperated shrug.  ’What next?  You clergy are too inventive by half!’

Robert laughed a trifle bitterly.

‘I can’t congratulate you on your epithets,’ he said, thrusting his hands far into his pockets.  ’Good heavens, if we were ­if we were inventive as a body, the Church wouldn’t be where she is in the rural districts!  My story-telling is the simplest thing in the world.  I began it in the winter with the object of somehow or other getting at the imagination of these rustics.  Force them for only half an hour to live some one else’s life ­it is the one thing worth doing with them.  That’s what I have been aiming at.  I told my stories all the winter ­Shakespeare, Don Quixote, Dumas ­Heaven knows what!  And on the whole it answers best.  But now we are reading The Talisman.  Come and inspect us, unless you’re a purist about your Scott!  None other of the immortals have such longueurs as he, and we cut him freely.’

‘By all means,’ said Langham; ‘lead on.’  And he followed his companion without repugnance.  After all, there was something contagious in so much youth and hopefulness.

The story-telling was held in the Institute.

A group of men and boys were hanging round the door when they reached it.  The two friends made their way through, greeted in the dumb friendly English fashion on all sides, and Langham found himself in a room half-filled with boys and youths, a few grown men, who had just put their pipes out, lounging at the back.

Langham not only endured, but enjoyed the first part of the hour that followed.  Robert was an admirable reader, as most enthusiastic imaginative people are.  He was a master of all those arts of look and gesture which make a spoken story telling and dramatic, and Langham marvelled with what energy, after his hard day’s work and with another service before him, he was able to throw himself into such a hors d’oeuvre as this.  He was reading to-night one of the most perfect scenes that even the Wizard of the North has ever conjured; the scene in the tent of Richard Lion-Heart, when the disguised slave saves the life of the king, and Richard first suspects his identity.  As he read on, his arms resting on the high desk in front of him, and his eyes, full of infectious enjoyment, travelling from the book to his audience, surrounded by human beings whose confidence he had won, and whose lives he was brightening from day to day, he seemed to Langham the very type and model of a man who had found his metier, found his niche in the world, and the best means of filling it.  If to attain to an ’adequate and masterly expression of one’s self’ be the aim of life, Robert was fast achieving it.  This parish of twelve hundred souls gave him now all the scope he asked.  It was evident that he felt his work to be rather above than below his deserts.  He was content ­more than content ­to spend ability which would have distinguished him in public life, or carried him far to the front in literature, on the civilising of a few hundred of England’s rural poor.  The future might bring him worldly success ­Langham thought it must and would.  Clergymen of Robert’s stamp are rare among us.  But if so, it would be in response to no conscious effort of his.  Here, in the country living he had so long dreaded and put from him, lest it should tax his young energies too lightly, he was happy ­deeply, abundantly happy, at peace with God, at one with man.

Happy! Langham, sitting at the outer corner of one of the benches, by the open door, gradually ceased to listen, started on other lines of thought by this realisation, warm, stimulating, provocative, of another man’s happiness.

Outside, the shadows lengthened across the green; groups of distant children or animals passed in and out of the golden light-spaces; the patches of heather left here and there glowed as the sunset touched them.  Every now and then his eye travelled vaguely past a cottage garden, gay with the pinks and carmines of the phloxes, into the cool browns and bluish-grays of the raftered room beyond; babies toddled across the road, with stooping mothers in their train; the whole air and scene seemed to be suffused with suggestions of the pathetic expansiveness and helplessness of human existence, which, generation after generation, is still so vulnerable, so confiding, so eager.  Life after life flowers out from the darkness and sinks back into it again.  And in the interval what agony, what disillusion!  All the apparatus of a universe that men may know what it is to hope and fail, to win and lose! Happy! ­in this world, ‘where men sit and hear each other groan.’  His friend’s confidence only made Langham as melancholy as Job.

What was it based on?  In the first place, on Christianity ­’on the passionate acceptance of an exquisite fairy tale,’ said the dreaming spectator to himself, ’which at the first honest challenge of the critical sense withers in our grasp!  That challenge Elsmere has never given it, and in all probability never will.  No!  A man sees none the straighter for having a wife he adores, and a profession that suits him, between him and unpleasant facts!’

In the evening Langham, with the usual reaction of his afternoon self against his morning self, felt that wild horses should not take him to Church again, and, with a longing for something purely mundane, he stayed at home with a volume of Montaigne, while apparently all the rest of the household went to evening service.

After a warm day the evening had turned cold and stormy; the west was streaked with jagged strips of angry cloud, the wind was rising in the trees, and the temperature had suddenly fallen so much that when Langham shut himself up in Robert’s study he did what he had been admonished to do in case of need, set a light to the fire, which blazed out merrily into the darkening room.  Then he drew the curtains and threw himself down into Robert’s chair with a sigh of Sybaritic satisfaction.  ’Good!  Now for something that takes the world less naively,’ he said to himself; ‘this house is too virtuous for anything.’

He opened his Montaigne and read on very happily for half an hour.  The house seemed entirely deserted.

‘All the servants gone too!’ he said presently, looking up and listening.  ’Anybody who wants the spoons needn’t trouble about me.  I don’t leave this fire.’

And he plunged back again into his book.  At last there was a sound of the swing door which separated Robert’s passage from the front hall opening and shutting.  Steps came quickly towards the study, the handle was turned, and there on the threshold stood Rose.

He turned quickly round in his chair with a look of astonishment.  She also started as she saw him.

‘I did not know any one was in,’ she said awkwardly, the colour spreading over her face.  ‘I came to look for a book.’

She made a delicious picture as she stood framed in the darkness of the doorway; her long dress caught up round her in one hand, the other resting on the handle.  A gust of some delicate perfume seemed to enter the room with her, and a thrill of pleasure passed through Langham’s senses.

‘Can I find anything for you?’ he said, springing up.

She hesitated a moment, then apparently made up her mind that it would be foolish to retreat, and, coming forward, she said, with an accent as coldly polite as she could make it, ­

‘Pray don’t disturb yourself.  I know exactly where to find it.’

She went up to the shelves where Robert kept his novels, and began running her fingers over the books, with slightly knitted brows and a mouth severely shut.  Langham, still standing, watched her and presently stepped forward.

‘You can’t reach those upper shelves,’ he said; ‘please let me.’

He was already beside her, and she gave way.

‘I want Charles Auchester,’ she said, still forbiddingly.  ’It ought to be there.’

’Oh, that queer musical novel ­I know it quite well.  No sign of it here,’ and he ran over the shelves with the practised eye of one accustomed to deal with books.

‘Robert must have lent it,’ said Rose, with a little sigh.  ’Never mind, please.  It doesn’t matter,’ and she was already moving away.

‘Try some other instead,’ he said, smiling, his arm still upstretched.  ‘Robert has no lack of choice.’  His manner had an animation and ease usually quite foreign to it.  Rose stopped, and her lips relaxed a little.

’He is very nearly as bad as the novel-reading bishop, who was reduced at last to stealing the servant’s Family Herald out of the kitchen cupboard,’ she said, a smile dawning.

Langham laughed.

’Has he such an episcopal appetite for them?  That accounts for the fact that when he and I begin to talk novels I am always nowhere.’

‘I shouldn’t have supposed you ever read them,’ said Rose, obeying an irresistible impulse, and biting her lip the moment afterwards.

’Do you think that we poor people at Oxford are always condemned to works on the “enclitic [Greek:  de]"?’ he asked, his fine eyes lit up with gaiety, and his head, of which the Greek outlines were ordinarily so much disguised by his stoop and hesitating look, thrown back against the books behind him.

Natures like Langham’s, in which the nerves are never normal, have their moments of felicity, balancing their weeks of timidity and depression.  After his melancholy of the last two days the tide of reaction had been mounting within him, and the sight of Rose had carried it to its height.

She gave a little involuntary stare of astonishment.  What had happened to Robert’s silent and finicking friend?

‘I know nothing of Oxford,’ she said a little primly, in answer to his question.  ’I never was there ­but I never was anywhere, I have seen nothing,’ she added hastily, and, as Langham thought, bitterly.

‘Except London, and the great world, and Madame Desforets!’ he answered, laughing.  ‘Is that so little?’

She flashed a quick defiant look at him, as he mentioned Madame Desforets, but his look was imperturbably kind and gay.  She could not help softening towards him.  What magic had passed over him?

‘Do you know,’ said Langham, moving, ’that you are standing in a draught, and that it has turned extremely cold?’

For she had left the passage-door wide open behind her, and as the window was partially open the curtains were swaying hither and thither, and her muslin dress was being blown in coils round her feet.

‘So it has,’ said Rose, shivering.  ’I don’t envy the Church people.  You haven’t found me a book, Mr. Langham?’

’I will find you one in a minute, if you will come and read it by the fire,’ he said, with his hand on the door.

She glanced at the fire and at him, irresolute.  His breath quickened.  She too had passed into another phase.  Was it the natural effect of night, of solitude, of sex?  At any rate, she sank softly into the armchair opposite to that in which he had been sitting.

‘Find me an exciting one, please.’

Langham shut the door securely, and went back to the bookcase, his hand trembling a little as it passed along the books.  He found Villette and offered it to her.  She took it, opened it, and appeared deep in it at once.  He took the hint and went back to his Montaigne.

The fire crackled cheerfully, the wind outside made every now and then a sudden gusty onslaught on their silence, dying away again as abruptly as it had risen.  Rose turned the pages of her book, sitting a little stiffly in her long chair, and Langham gradually began to find Montaigne impossible to read.  He became instead more and more alive to every detail of the situation into which he had fallen.  At last seeing, or imagining, that the fire wanted attending to, he bent forward and thrust the poker into it.  A burning coal fell on the hearth, and Rose hastily withdrew her foot from the fender and looked up.

‘I am so sorry!’ he interjected.  ’Coals never do what you want them to do.  Are you very much interested in Villette?’

‘Deeply,’ said Rose, letting the book, however, drop on her lap.  She laid back her head with a little sigh, which she did her best to check, half way through.  What ailed her to-night?  She seemed wearied; for the moment there was no fight in her with anybody.  Her music, her beauty, her mutinous mocking gaiety ­these things had all worked on the man beside her; but this new softness, this touch of childish fatigue, was adorable.

‘Charlotte Bronte wrote it out of her Brussels experience, didn’t she?’ she resumed languidly.  ’How sorry she must have been to come back to that dull home and that awful brother after such a break!’

’There were reasons more than one that must have made her sorry to come back,’ said Langham reflectively.  ’But how she pined for her wilds all through!  I am afraid you don’t find your wilds as interesting as she found hers?’

His question and his smile startled her.

Her first impulse was to take up her book again, as a hint to him that her likings were no concern of his.  But something checked it, probably the new brilliancy of that look of his, which had suddenly grown so personal, so manly.  Instead. Villette slid a little farther from her hand, and her pretty head still lay lightly back against the cushion.

‘No, I don’t find my wilds interesting at all,’ she said forlornly.

‘You are not fond of the people as your sister is?’

‘Fond of them?’ cried Rose hastily.  ’I should think not; and what is more, they don’t like me.  It is quite intolerable since Catherine left.  I have so much more to do with them.  My other sister and I have to do all her work.  It is dreadful to have to work after somebody who has a genius for doing just what you do worst.’

The young girl’s hands fell across one another with a little impatient gesture.  Langham had a movement of the most delightful compassion towards the petulant, childish creature.  It was as though their relative positions had been in some mysterious way reversed.  During their two days together she had been the superior, and he had felt himself at the mercy of her scornful sharp-eyed youth.  Now, he knew not how or why, Fate seemed to have restored to him something of the man’s natural advantage, combined, for once, with the impulse to use it.

‘Your sister, I suppose, has been always happy in charity?’ he said.

‘Oh dear, yes,’ said Rose irritably; ’anything that has two legs and is ill, that is all Catherine wants to make her happy.’

‘And you want something quite different, something more exciting?’ he asked, his diplomatic tone showing that he felt he dared something in thus pressing her, but dared it at least with his wits about him.  Rose met his look irresolutely, a little tremor of self-consciousness creeping over her.

‘Yes, I want something different,’ she said in a low voice and paused; then, raising herself energetically, she clasped her hands round her knees.  ’But it is not idleness I want.  I want to work, but at things I was born for; I can’t have patience with old women, but I could slave all day and all night to play the violin.’

‘You want to give yourself up to study then, and live with musicians?’ he said quietly.

She shrugged her shoulders by way of answer, and began nervously to play with her rings.

That under-self which was the work and the heritage of her father in her, and which, beneath all the wilfulnesses and defiances of the other self, held its own moral debates in its own way, well out of Catherine’s sight generally, began to emerge, wooed into the light by his friendly gentleness.

‘But it is all so difficult, you see,’ she said despairingly.  ’Papa thought it wicked to care about anything except religion.  If he had lived, of course I should never have been allowed to study music.  It has been all mutiny so far, every bit of it, whatever I have been able to do.’

‘He would have changed with the times,’ said Langham.

‘I know he would,’ cried Rose.  ’I have told Catherine so a hundred times.  People ­good people ­think quite differently about art now, don’t they, Mr. Langham?’

She spoke with perfect naïveté.  He saw more and more of the child in her, in spite of that one striking development of her art.

‘They call it the handmaid of religion,’ he answered, smiling.

Rose made a little face.

‘I shouldn’t,’ she said, with frank brevity.  ’But then there’s something else.  You know where we live ­at the very ends of the earth, seven miles from a station, in the very loneliest valley of all Westmoreland.  What’s to be done with a fiddle in such a place?  Of course, ever since papa died I’ve just been plotting and planning to get away.  But there’s the difficulty,’ and she crossed one white finger over another as she laid out her case.  ’That house where we live has been lived in by Leyburns ever since ­the Flood!  Horrid set they were, I know, because I can’t ever make mamma or even Catherine talk about them.  But still, when papa retired, he came back and bought the old place from his brother.  Such a dreadful, dreadful mistake!’ cried the child, letting her hands fall over her knee.

‘Had he been so happy there?’

’Happy!’ ­and Rose’s lip curled.  ’His brothers used to kick and cuff him, his father was awfully unkind to him, he never had a day’s peace till he went to school, and after he went to school he never came back for years and years and years, till Catherine was fifteen.  What could have made him so fond of it?’

And again looking despondently into the fire she pondered that far-off perversity of her father’s.

‘Blood has strange magnetisms,’ said Langham, seized as he spoke by the pensive prettiness of the bent head and neck, ’and they show themselves in the oddest ways.’

‘Then I wish they wouldn’t,’ she said irritably.  ’But that isn’t all.  He went there, not only because he loved that place, but because he hated other places.  I think he must have thought’ ­and her voice dropped ­’he wasn’t going to live long ­he wasn’t well when he gave up the school ­and then we could grow up there safe, without any chance of getting into mischief.  Catherine says he thought the world was getting very wicked and dangerous and irreligious, and that it comforted him to know that we should be out of it.’

Then she broke off suddenly.

‘Do you know,’ she went on wistfully, raising her beautiful eyes to her companion, ‘after all, he gave me my first violin?’

Langham smiled.

‘I like that little inconsequence,’ he said.

’Then of course I took to it, like a duck to water, and it began to scare him that I loved it so much.  He and Catherine only loved religion, and us, and the poor.  So he always took it away on Sundays.  Then I hated Sundays, and would never be good on them.  One Sunday I cried myself nearly into a fit on the dining-room floor because I mightn’t have it.  Then he came in, and he took me up, and he tied a Scotch plaid round his neck, and he put me into it, and carried me away right up on to the hills, and he talked to me like an angel.  He asked me not to make him sad before God that he had given me that violin; so I never screamed again ­on Sundays!

Her companion’s eyes were not quite as clear as before.

‘Poor little naughty child’ he said, bending over to her.  ’I think your father must have been a man to be loved.’

She looked at him, very near to weeping, her face all working with a soft remorse.

’Oh, so he was ­so he was!  If he had been hard and ugly to us, why, it would have been much easier for me; but he was so good!  And there was Catherine just like him, always preaching to us what he wished.  You see what a chain it’s been ­what a weight!  And as I must struggle ­must, because I was I ­to get back into the world on the other side of the mountains, and do what all the dear wicked people there were doing, why, I have been a criminal all my life!  And that isn’t exhilarating always.’

And she raised her arm and let it fall beside her with the quick over-tragic emotion of nineteen.

’I wish your father could have heard you play as I heard you play yesterday,’ he said gently.

She started.

Did you hear me ­that Wagner?’

He nodded, smiling.  She still looked at him, her lips slightly open.

‘Do you want to know what I thought?  I have heard much music, you know.’

He laughed into her eyes, as much as to say, ’I am not quite the mummy you thought me, after all!’ And she coloured slightly.

’I have heard every violinist of any fame in Europe play, and play often; and it seemed to me that with time ­and work ­you might play as well as any of them.’

The slight flush became a glow that spread from brow to chin.  Then she gave a long breath and turned away, her face resting on her hand.

‘And I can’t help thinking,’ he went on, marvelling inwardly at his own rôle of mentor, and his strange enjoyment of it, ’that if your father had lived till now, and had gone with the times a little, as he must have gone, he would have learnt to take pleasure in your pleasure, and to fit your gift somehow into his scheme of things.’

‘Catherine hasn’t moved with the times,’ said Rose dolefully.

Langham was silent. Gaucherie seized him again when it became a question of discussing Mrs. Elsmere, his own view was so inconveniently emphatic.

‘And you think,’ she went on, ’you really think, without being too ungrateful to papa, and too unkind to the old Leyburn ghosts’ ­and a little laugh danced through the vibrating voice ­’I might try and get them to give up Burwood ­I might struggle to have my way?  I shall, of course I shall!  I never was a meek martyr, and never shall be.  But one can’t help having qualms, though one doesn’t tell them to one’s sisters and cousins and aunts.  And sometimes’ ­she turned her chin round on her hand and looked at him with a delicious shy impulsiveness ­’sometimes a stranger sees clearer.  Do you think me a monster, as Catherine does?’

Even as she spoke her own words startled her ­the confidence, the abandonment of them.  But she held to them bravely; only her eyelids quivered.  She had absurdly misjudged this man, and there was a warm penitence in her heart.  How kind he had been, how sympathetic!

He rose with her last words, and stood leaning against the mantelpiece, looking down upon her gravely, with the air, as it seemed to her, of her friend, her confessor.  Her white childish brow, the little curls of bright hair upon her temples, her parted lips, the pretty folds of the muslin dress, the little foot on the fender ­every detail of the picture impressed itself once for all.  Langham will carry it with him to his grave.

‘Tell me,’ she said again, smiling divinely, as though to encourage him ­’tell me quite frankly, down to the bottom, what you think?’

The harsh noise of an opening door in the distance, and a gust of wind sweeping through the house, voices and steps approaching.  Rose sprang up, and, for the first time during all the latter part of their conversation, felt a sharp sense of embarrassment.

‘How early you are, Robert!’ she exclaimed, as the study door opened, and Robert’s wind-blown head and tall form, wrapped in an Inverness cape, appeared on the threshold.  ‘Is Catherine tired?’

‘Rather,’ said Robert, the slightest gleam of surprise betraying itself on his face.  ’She has gone to bed, and told me to ask you to come and say good-night to her.’

‘You got my message about not coming from old Martha?’ asked Rose.  ’I met her on the common.’

‘Yes, she gave it us at the church door.’  He went out again into the passage to hang up his greatcoat.  She followed, longing to tell him that it was pure accident that took her to the study, but she could not find words in which to do it, and could only say good-night a little abruptly.

‘How tempting that fire looks!’ said Robert, re-entering the study.  ‘Were you very cold, Langham, before you lit it?’

‘Very,’ said Langham, smiling, his arm behind his head, his eyes fixed on the blaze; ‘but I have been delightfully warm and happy since.’

Catherine stopped beside the drawing-room window with a start, caught by something she saw outside.

It was nothing, however, but the figures of Rose and Langham strolling round the garden.  A bystander would have been puzzled by the sudden knitting of Catherine’s brows over it.

Rose held a red parasol, which gleamed against the trees; Dandie leapt about her, but she was too busy talking to take much notice of him.  Talking, chattering, to that cold cynic of a man, for whom only yesterday she had scarcely had a civil word!  Catherine felt herself a prey to all sorts of vague unreasonable alarms.

Robert had said to her the night before, with an odd look:  ’Wifie, when I came in I found Langham and Rose had been spending the evening together in the study.  And I don’t know when I have seen Langham so brilliant or so alive as in our smoking talk just now!’

Catherine had laughed him to scorn; but, all the same, she had been a little longer going to sleep than usual.  She felt herself almost as much as ever the guardian of her sisters, and the old sensitive nerve was set quivering.  And now there could be no question about it ­Rose had changed her ground towards Mr. Langham altogether.  Her manner at breakfast was evidence enough of it.

Catherine’s self-torturing mind leapt on for an instant to all sorts of horrors. That man! ­and she and Robert responsible to her mother and her dead father!  Never!  Then she scolded herself back to common sense.  Rose and he had discovered a common subject in music and musicians.  That would be quite enough to account for the new-born friendship on Rose’s part.  And in five more days, the limit of Langham’s stay, nothing very dreadful could happen, argued the reserved Catherine.

But she was uneasy, and after a bit, as that tete-a-tete in the garden still went on, she could not, for the life of her, help interfering.  She strolled out to meet them with some woollen stuff hanging over her arm, and made a plaintive and smiling appeal to Rose to come and help her with some preparations for a mothers’ meeting to be held that afternoon.  Rose, who was supposed by the family to be ‘taking care’ of her sister at a critical time, had a moment’s prick of conscience, and went off with a good grace.  Langham felt vaguely that he owed Mrs. Elsmere another grudge, but he resigned himself and took out a cigarette, wherewith to console himself for the loss of his companion.

Presently, as he stood for a moment turning over some new books on the drawing-room table, Rose came in.  She held an armful of blue serge, and, going up to a table in the window, she took from it a little work-case, and was about to vanish again when Langham went up to her.

‘You look intolerably busy,’ he said to her, discontentedly.

‘Six dresses, ten cloaks, eight petticoats to cut out by luncheon time,’ she answered demurely, with a countenance of most Dorcas-like seriousness, ‘and if I spoil them I shall have to pay for the stuff!’

He shrugged his shoulders and looked at her, smiling, still master of himself and of his words.

’And no music ­none at all?  Perhaps you don’t know that I too can accompany?’

‘You play!’ she exclaimed, incredulous.

‘Try me.’

The light of his fine black eyes seemed to encompass her.  She moved backward a little, shaking her head.  ‘Not this morning,’ she said.  ’Oh dear, no, not this morning!  I am afraid you don’t know anything about tacking or fixing, or the abominable time they take.  Well, it could hardly be expected.  There is nothing in the world’ ­and she shook her serge vindictively ­’that I hate so much!’

‘And not this afternoon, for Robert and I go fishing.  But this evening?’ he said, detaining her.

She nodded lightly, dropped her lovely eyes with a sudden embarrassment, and went away with lightning quickness.

A minute or two later Elsmere laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder.  ’Come and see the Hall, old fellow.  It will be our last chance, for the squire and his sister come back this afternoon.  I must parochialise a bit afterwards, but you shan’t be much victimised.’

Langham submitted, and they sallied forth.  It was a soft rainy morning, one of the first heralds of autumn.  Gray mists were drifting silently across the woods and the wide stubbles of the now shaven cornfield, where white lines of reapers were at work, as the morning cleared, making and stacking the sheaves.  After a stormy night the garden was strewn with debris, and here and there noiseless prophetic showers of leaves were dropping on the lawn.

Elsmere took his guest along a bit of common, where great black junipers stood up like magnates in council above the motley undergrowth of fern and heather, and then they turned into the park.  A great stretch of dimpled land it was, falling softly towards the south and west, bounded by a shining twisted river, and commanding from all its highest points a heathery world of distance, now turned a stormy purple under the drooping fringes of the rain clouds.  They walked downwards from the moment of entering it, till at last, when they reached a wooded plateau about a hundred feet above the river, the house itself came suddenly into view.

That was a house of houses!  The large main building, as distinguished from the lower stone portions to the north which represented a fragment of the older Elizabethan house, had been in its day the crown and boast of Jacobean house-architecture.  It was fretted and jewelled with Renaissance terra-cotta work from end to end; each gable had its lace work, each window its carved setting.  And yet the lines of the whole were so noble, genius had hit the general proportions so finely, that no effect of stateliness or grandeur had been missed through all the accumulation of ornament.  Majestic relic of a vanished England, the house rose amid the August woods rich in every beauty that site, and wealth, and centuries could give to it.  The river ran about it as though it loved it.  The cedars which had kept it company for well-nigh two centuries gathered proudly round it; the deer grouped themselves in the park beneath it, as though they were conscious elements in a great whole of loveliness.

The two friends were admitted by a housemaid who happened to be busy in the hall, and whose red cheeks and general breathlessness bore witness to the energy of the storm of preparation now sweeping through the house.

The famous hall to which Elsmere at once drew Langham’s attention was, however, in no way remarkable for size or height.  It told comparatively little of seignorial dignity, but it was as though generation after generation had employed upon its perfecting the craft of its most delicate fingers, the love of its most fanciful and ingenious spirits.  Overhead, the stucco-work ceiling, covered with stags and birds and strange heraldic creatures unknown to science, had the deep creamy tint, the consistency and surface of antique ivory.  From the white and gilt frieze beneath, untouched, so Robert explained, since the Jacobean days when it was first executed, hung Renaissance tapestries which would have made the heart’s delight of any romantic child, so rich they were in groves of marvellous trees hung with red and golden fruits, in far-reaching palaces and rock-built citadels, in flying shepherdesses and pursuing shepherds.  Between the tapestries, again, there were breadths of carved panelling, crowded with all things round and sweet, with fruits and flowers and strange musical instruments, with flying cherubs, and fair faces in laurel-wreathed medallions; while in the middle of the wall a great oriel window broke the dim venerable surfaces of wood and tapestry with stretches of jewelled light.  Tables crowded with antiques, with Tanagra figures or Greek vases, with Florentine bronzes or specimens of the wilful vivacious wood-carving of seventeenth-century Spain, stood scattered on the Persian carpets.  And, to complete the whole, the gardeners had just been at work on the corners of the hall, and of the great window, so that the hard-won subtleties of man’s bygone handiwork, with which the splendid room was encrusted from top to bottom, were masked and relieved here and there by the careless easy splendour of flowers, which had but to bloom in order to eclipse them all.

Robert was at home in the great pile, where for many months he had gone freely in and out on his way to the library, and the housekeeper only met him to make an apology for her working dress, and to hand over to him the keys of the library bookcases, with the fretful comment that seemed to have in it the ghostly voice of generations of housemaids, ’Oh lor’, sir, they are a trouble, them books!’

From the drawing-rooms, full of a more modern and less poetical magnificence, where Langham turned restless and refractory, Elsmere with a smile took his guest silently back into the hall, and opened a carved door behind a curtain.  Passing through, they found themselves in a long passage lighted by small windows on the left-hand side.

‘This passage, please notice,’ said Robert, ’leads to nothing but the wing containing the library, or rather libraries, which is the oldest part of the house.  I always enter it with a kind of pleasing awe!  Consider these carpets, which keep out every sound, and look how everything gets older as we go on.’

For half-way down the passage the ceiling seemed to descend upon their heads, the flooring became uneven and woodwork and walls showed that they had passed from the Jacobean house into the much older Tudor building.  Presently Robert led the way up a few shallow steps, pushed open a heavy door, also covered by curtains, and bade his companion enter.

They found themselves in a low immense room, running at right angles to the passage they had just quitted.  The long diamond-paned window, filling almost half of the opposite wall, faced the door by which they had come in; the heavy carved mantelpiece was to their right; an open doorway on their left, closed at present by tapestry hangings, seemed to lead into yet other rooms.

The walls of this one were completely covered from floor to ceiling with latticed bookcases, enclosed throughout in a frame of oak carved in light classical relief by what appeared to be a French hand of the sixteenth century.  The chequered bindings of the books, in which the creamy tints of vellum predominated, lined the whole surface of the wall with a delicate sobriety of colour; over the mantelpiece, the picture of the founder of the house ­a Holbein portrait, glorious in red robes and fur and golden necklace ­seemed to gather up and give voice to all the dignity and impressiveness of the room beneath him; while on the window side the book-lined wall was, as it were, replaced by the wooded face of a hill, clothed in dark lines of trimmed yews, which rose abruptly about a hundred yards from the house and overshadowed the whole library wing.  Between the window and the hill, however, was a small old English garden, closely hedged round with yew hedges, and blazing now with every flower that an English August knows ­with sun-flowers, tiger-lilies, and dahlias white and red.  The window was low, so that the flowers seemed to be actually in the room, challenging the pale tints of the books, the tawny browns and blues of the Persian carpet, and the scarlet splendours of the courtier over the mantelpiece.  The room was lit up besides by a few gleaming casts from the antique, by the ‘Diane Chasseresse’ of the Louvre, by the Hermes of Praxiteles smiling with immortal kindness on the child enthroned upon his arm, and by a Donatello figure of a woman in marble, its subtle sweet austerity contrasting with the Greek frankness and blitheness of its companions.

Langham was penetrated at once by the spell of this strange and beautiful place.  The fastidious instincts which had been half revolted by the costly accumulations, the overblown splendours of the drawing-room, were abundantly satisfied here.

‘So it was here,’ he said, looking round him, ’that that man wrote The Idols of the Market-place?’

‘I imagine so,’ said Robert; ’if so, he might well have felt a little more charity towards the human race in writing it.  The race cannot be said to have treated him badly on the whole.  But now look, Langham, look at these books ­the most precious things are here.’

And he turned the key of a particular section of the wall, which was not only latticed but glazed.

’Here is A Mirror for Magistrates.  Look at the title-page; you will find Gabriel Harvey’s name on it.  Here is a first edition of Astrophel and Stella, another of the Arcadia.  They may very well be presentation copies, for the Wendover of that day is known to have been a wit and a writer.  Imagine finding them in situ like this in the same room, perhaps on the same shelves, as at the beginning!  The other rooms on this floor have been annexed since, but this room was always a library.’

Langham took the volumes reverently from Robert’s hands into his own, the scholar’s passion hot within him.  That glazed case was indeed a storehouse of treasures.  Ben Jonson’s Underwoods with his own corrections; a presentation copy of Andrew Marvell’s Poems, with autograph notes; manuscript volumes of letters, containing almost every famous name known to English literature in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the literary cream, in fact, of all the vast collection which filled the muniment room upstairs; books which had belonged to Addison, to Sir William Temple, to Swift, to Horace Walpole; the first four folios of Shakespeare, all perfect, and most of the quartos ­everything that the heart of the English collector could most desire was there.  And the charm of it was that only a small proportion of these precious things represented conscious and deliberate acquisition.  The great majority of them had, as it were, drifted thither one by one, carried there by the tide of English letters as to a warm and natural resting-place.

But Robert grew impatient, and hurried on his guest to other things ­to the shelves of French rarities, ranging from Du Bellay’s Visions, with his autograph, down to the copy of Les Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe presented by Chateaubriand to Madame Recamier, or to a dainty manuscript volume in the fine writing of Lamartine.

‘These,’ Robert explained, ’were collected, I believe, by the squire’s father.  He was not in the least literary, so they say, but it had always been a point of honour to carry on the library, and as he had learnt French well in his youth he bought French things, taking advice, but without knowing much about them, I imagine.  It was in the room overhead,’ said Robert, laying down the book he held, and speaking in a lower key, ’so the old doctor of the house told me a few weeks ago, that the same poor soul put an end to himself twenty years ago.’

‘What in the name of fortune did he do that for?’

‘Mania,’ said Robert quietly.

‘Whew!’ said the other, lifting his eyebrows.  ’Is that the skeleton in this very magnificent cupboard?’

’It has been the Wendover scourge from the beginning, so I hear.  Every one about here of course explains this man’s eccentricities by the family history.  But I don’t know,’ said Robert, his lip hardening, ’it may be extremely convenient sometimes to have a tradition of the kind.  A man who knew how to work it might very well enjoy all the advantages of sanity and the privileges of insanity at the same time.  The poor old doctor I was telling you of ­old Meyrick ­who has known the squire since his boyhood, and has a dog-like attachment to him, is always hinting at mysterious excuses.  Whenever I let out to him, as I do sometimes, as to the state of the property, he talks of “inherited melancholy,” “rash judgments,” and so forth.  I like the good old soul, but I don’t believe much of it.  A man who is sane enough to make a great name for himself in letters is sane enough to provide his estate with a decent agent.’

‘It doesn’t follow,’ said Langham, who was, however, so deep in a collection of Spanish romances and chronicles that the squire’s mental history did not seem to make much impression upon him.  ’Most men of letters are mad and I should be inclined,’ he added, with a sudden and fretful emphasis, ’to argue much worse things for the sanity of your squire, Elsmere, from the fact that this room is undoubtedly allowed to get damp sometimes, than from any of those absurd parochial tests of yours.’

And he held up a couple of priceless books, of which the Spanish sheepskin bindings showed traces here and there of moisture.

’It is no use, I know, expecting you to preserve a moral sense when you get among books,’ said Robert with a shrug.  ’I will reserve my remarks on that subject.  But you must really tear yourself away from this room, Langham, if you want to see the rest of the squire’s quarters.  Here you have what we may call the ornamental sensational part of the library, that part of it which would make a stir at Sotheby’s; the working parts are all to come.’

Langham reluctantly allowed himself to be dragged away.  Robert held back the hangings over the doorway leading into the rest of the wing, and, passing through, they found themselves in a continuation of the library totally different in character from the magnificent room they had just left.  The walls were no longer latticed and carved; they were closely packed, in the most business-like way, with books which represented the squire’s own collection, and were in fact a chart of his own intellectual history.

‘This is how I interpret this room,’ said Robert, looking round it.  ’Here are the books he collected at Oxford in the Tractarian Movement and afterwards.  Look here,’ and he pulled out a volume of St. Basil.

Langham looked, and saw on the title-page a note in faded characters:  ‘Given to me by Newman at Oxford, in 1845.’

’Ah, of course, he was one of them in ’45; he must have left them very soon after,’ said Langham reflectively.

Robert nodded.  ’But look at them!  There are the Tracts, all the Fathers, all the Councils, and masses, as you see, of Anglican theology.  Now look at the next case, nothing but eighteenth century!’

’I see, ­from the Fathers to the Philosophers, from Hooker to Hume.  How history repeats itself in the individual!’

‘And there again,’ said Robert, pointing to the other side of the room, ‘are the results of his life as a German student.’

‘Germany ­ah, I remember!  How long was he there?’

’Ten years, at Berlin and Heidelberg.  According to old Meyrick, he buried his last chance of living like other men at Berlin.  His years of extravagant labour there have left marks upon him physically that can never be effaced.  But that bookcase fascinates me.  Half the great names of modern thought are in those books.’

And so they were.  The first Langham opened had a Latin dedication in a quavering old man’s hand, ‘Amico et discípulo meo,’ signed ’Fredericus Gulielmus Schelling.’  The next bore the autograph of Alexander von Humboldt, the next that of Boeckh, the famous classic, and so on.  Close by was Niebuhr’s History, in the title-page of which a few lines in the historian’s handwriting bore witness to much ’pleasant discourse between the writer and Roger Wendover, at Bonn, in the summer of 1847.’  Judging from other shelves farther down, he must also have spent some time, perhaps an academic year, at Tuebingen, for here were most of the early editions of the Leben Jesu, with some corrections from Strauss’s hand, and similar records of Baur, Ewald, and other members or opponents of the Tuebingen school.  And so on, through the whole bookcase.  Something of everything was there ­Philosophy, Theology, History, Philology.  The collection was a medley, and made almost a spot of disorder in the exquisite neatness and system of the vast gathering of which it formed part.  Its bond of union was simply that it represented the forces of an epoch, the thoughts, the men, the occupations which had absorbed the energies of ten golden years.  Every book seemed to be full of paper marks; almost every title-page was covered with minute writing, which, when examined, proved to contain a record of lectures, or conversations with the author of the volume, sometimes a string of anecdotes or a short biography, rapidly sketched out of the fulness of personal knowledge, and often seasoned with a subtle causticity and wit.  A history of modern thinking Germany, of that ‘unextinguished hearth’ whence the mind of Europe has been kindled for three generations, might almost have been evolved from that bookcase and its contents alone.

Langham, as he stood peering among the ugly, vilely-printed German volumes, felt suddenly a kind of magnetic influence creeping over him.  The room seemed instinct with a harsh commanding presence.  The history of a mind and soul was written upon the face of it; every shelf, as it were, was an autobiographical fragment, an ‘Apologia pro Vita Mea.’  He drew away from the books at last with the uneasy feeling of one who surprises a confidence, and looked for Robert.  Robert was at the end of the room, a couple of volumes under his arm, another, which he was reading, in his hand.

‘This is my corner,’ he said, smiling and flushing a little, as his friend moved up to him.  ’Perhaps you don’t know that I too am engaged upon a great work.’

‘A great work ­you?’

Langham looked at his companion as though to find out whether his remark was meant seriously or whether he might venture to be cynical.  Elsmere writing!  Why should everybody write books?  It was absurd!  The scholar who knows what toll scholarship takes of life is always apt to resent the intrusion of the man of action into his domains.  It looks to him like a kind of ridiculous assumption that any one d’un coeur leger can do what has cost him his heart’s blood.

Robert understood something of the meaning of his tone, and replied almost apologetically; he was always singularly modest about himself on the intellectual side.

’Well, Grey is responsible.  He gave me such a homily before I left Oxford on the absolute necessity of keeping up with books, that I could do nothing less than set up a “subject” at once.  “Half the day,” he used to say to me, “you will be king of your world; the other half be the slave of something which will take you out of your world into the general world;” and then he would quote to me that saying he was always bringing into lectures ­I forget whose it is ­“The decisive events of the world take place in the intellect. It is the mission of books that they help one to remember it.”  Altogether it was striking, coming from one who has always had such a tremendous respect for practical life and work, and I was much impressed by it.  So blame him!’

Langham was silent.  Elsmere had noticed that any allusion to Grey found Langham less and less responsive.

‘Well, what is the “great work"?’ he said at last, abruptly.

’Historical.  Oh, I should have written something without Grey; I have always had a turn for it since I was a child.  But he was clear that history was especially valuable ­especially necessary to a clergyman.  I felt he was right, entirely right.  So I took my Final Schools’ history for a basis, and started on the Empire, especially the decay of the Empire.  Some day I mean to take up one of the episodes in the great birth of Europe ­the makings of France, I think, most likely.  It seems to lead farthest and tell most.  I have been at work now nine months.’

‘And are just getting into it?’

’Just about.  I have got down below the surface, and am beginning to feel the joys of digging;’ and Robert threw back his head with one of his most brilliant enthusiastic smiles.  ’I have been shy about boring you with the thing, but the fact is, I am very keen indeed; and this library has been a godsend!’

‘So I should think.’  Langham sat down on one of the carved wooden stools placed at intervals along the bookcases and looked at his friend, his psychological curiosity rising a little.

‘Tell me,’ he said presently ­’tell me what interests you specially ­what seizes you ­in a subject like the making of France, for instance?’

‘Do you really want to know?’ said Robert, incredulously.

The other nodded.  Robert left his place, and began to walk up and down, trying to answer Langham’s question, and at the same time to fix in speech a number of sentiments and impressions bred in him by the work of the past few months.  After a while Langham began to see his way.  Evidently the forces at the bottom of this new historical interest were precisely the same forces at work in Elsmere’s parish plans, in his sermons, in his dealings with the poor and the young ­forces of imagination and sympathy.  What was enchaining him to this new study was not, to begin with, that patient love of ingenious accumulation which is the learned temper proper, the temper, in short, of science.  It was simply a passionate sense of the human problems which underlie all the dry and dusty detail of history and give it tone and colour, a passionate desire to rescue something more of human life from the drowning, submerging past, to realise for himself and others the solidarity and continuity of mankind’s long struggle from the beginning until now.

Langham had had much experience of Elsmere’s versatility and pliancy, but he had never realised it so much as now, while he sat listening to the vivid, many-coloured speech getting quicker and quicker, and more and more telling and original as Robert got more absorbed and excited by what he had to say.  He was endeavouring to describe to Langham the sort of book he thought might be written on the rise of modern society in Gaul, dwelling first of all on the outward spectacle of the blood-stained Frankish world as it was, say, in the days of Gregory the Great, on its savage kings, its fiendish women, its bishops and its saints; and then, on the conflict of ideas going on behind all the fierce incoherence of the Empire’s decay, the struggle of Roman order and of German freedom, of Roman luxury and of German hardness; above all, the war of orthodoxy and heresy, with its strange political complications.  And then, discontented still, as though the heart of the matter were still untouched, he went on, restlessly wandering the while, with his long arms linked behind him, ‘throwing out’ words at an object in his mind, trying to grasp and analyse that strange sense which haunts the student of Rome’s decline as it once overshadowed the infancy of Europe, that sense of a slowly departing majesty, of a great presence just withdrawn, and still incalculably potent, traceable throughout in that humbling consciousness of Goth or Frank that they were but ’beggars hutting in a palace ­the place had harboured greater men than they!’

‘There is one thing,’ Langham said presently, in his slow nonchalant voice, when the tide of Robert’s ardour ebbed for a moment, ’that doesn’t seem to have touched you yet.  But you will come to it.  To my mind, it makes almost the chief interest of history.  It is just this.  History depends on testimony.  What is the nature and the value of testimony at given times?  In other words, did the man of the third century understand, or report, or interpret facts in the same way as the man of the sixteenth or the nineteenth?  And if not, what are the differences, and what are the deductions to be made from them, if any?’ He fixed his keen look on Robert, who was now lounging against the books, as though his harangue had taken it out of him a little.

‘Ah, well,’ said the rector, smiling, ’I am only just coming to that.  As I told you, I am only now beginning to dig for myself.  Till now it has all been work at second hand.  I have been getting a general survey of the ground as quickly as I could with the help of other men’s labours.  Now I must go to work inch by inch, and find out what the ground is made of.  I won’t forget your point.  It is enormously important, I grant ­enormously,’ he repeated reflectively.

‘I should think it is,’ said Langham to himself as he rose; ’the whole of orthodox Christianity is in it, for instance!’

There was not much more to be seen.  A little wooden staircase led from the second library to the upper rooms, curious old rooms, which had been annexed one by one as the squire wanted them, and in which there was nothing at all ­neither chair, nor table, nor carpet ­but books only.  All the doors leading from room to room had been taken off; the old worm-eaten boards had been roughly stained; a few old French engravings had been hung here and there where the encroaching books left an opening; but otherwise all was bare.  There was a curious charm in the space and air of these empty rooms, with their latticed windows opening on to the hill; and letting in day by day the summer sun-risings or the winter dawns, which had shone upon them for more than three centuries.

‘This is my last day of privilege,’ said Robert.  ’Everybody is shut out when once he appears, from this wing, and this part of the grounds.  This was his father’s room,’ and the rector led the way into the last of the series; ‘and through there,’ pointing to a door on the right, ’lies the way to his own sleeping room, which is of course connected with the more modern side of the house.’

’So this is where that old man ventured “what Cato did and Addison approved,"’ murmured Langham, standing in the middle of the room and looking round him.  This particular room was now used as a sort of lumber place, a receptacle for the superfluous or useless books gradually thrown off by the great collection all around.  There were innumerable volumes in frayed or broken bindings lying on the ground.  A musty smell hung over it all; the gray light from outside, which seemed to give only an added subtlety and charm to the other portions of the ancient building through which they had been moving, seemed here triste and dreary.  Or Langham fancied it.

He passed the threshold again with a little sigh, and saw suddenly before him at the end of the suite of rooms, and framed in the doorways facing him, an engraving of a Greuze picture ­a girl’s face turned over her shoulder, the hair waving about her temples, the lips parted, the teeth gleaming, mirth and provocation and tender yielding in every line.  Langham started, and the blood rushed to his heart.  It was as though Rose herself stood there and beckoned to him.

‘Now, having seen our sight,’ said Robert, as they left the great mass of Murewell behind them, ’come and see our scandal.  Both run by the same proprietor, if you please.  There is a hamlet down there in the hollow’ ­and he pointed to a gray speck in the distance ­’which deserves a Royal Commission all to itself, which is a disgrace’ ­and his tone warmed ­’to any country, any owner, any agent!  It is owned by Mr. Wendover, and I see the pleasing prospect straight before me of beginning my acquaintance with him by a fight over it.  You will admit that it is a little hard on a man who wants to live on good terms with the possessor of the Murewell library to have to open relations with him by a fierce attack on his drains and his pigsties.’

He turned to his companion with a half-rueful spark of laughter in his gray eyes.  Langham hardly caught what he said.  He was far away in meditations of his own.

‘An attack,’ he repeated vaguely; ‘why an attack?’

Robert plunged again into the great topic of which his quick mind was evidently full.  Langham tried to listen, but was conscious that his friend’s social enthusiasms bored him a great deal.  And side by side with the consciousness there slid in a little stinging reflection that four years ago no talk of Elsmere’s could have bored him.

‘What’s the matter with this particular place?’ he asked languidly, at last, raising his eyes towards the group of houses now beginning to emerge from the distance.

An angry red mounted in Robert’s cheek.

’What isn’t the matter with it?  The houses, which were built on a swamp originally, are falling into ruin; the roofs, the drains, the accommodation per head, are all about equally scandalous.  The place is harried with illness; since I came there has been both fever and diphtheria there.  They are all crippled with rheumatism, but that they think nothing of; the English labourer takes rheumatism as quite in the day’s bargain!  And as to vice ­the vice that comes of mere endless persecuting opportunity ­I can tell you one’s ideas of personal responsibility get a good deal shaken up by a place like this!  And I can do nothing.  I brought over Henslowe to see the place, and he behaved like a brute.  He scoffed at all my complaints, said that no landlord would be such a fool as to build fresh cottages on such a site, that the old ones must just be allowed to go to ruin; that the people might live in them if they chose, or turn out of them if they chose.  Nobody forced them to do either; it was their own look-out.’

‘That was true,’ said Langham, ‘wasn’t it?’

Robert turned upon him fiercely.

’Ah! you think it so easy for those poor creatures to leave their homes, their working places!  Some of them have been there thirty years.  They are close to the two or three farms that employ them, close to the osier beds which give them extra earnings in the spring.  If they were turned out there is nothing nearer than Murewell, and not a single cottage to be found there.  I don’t say it is a landlord’s duty to provide more cottages than are wanted; but if the labour is wanted, the labourer should be decently housed.  He is worthy of his hire, and woe to the man who neglects or ill-treats him!’

Langham could not help smiling, partly at the vehemence of the speech, partly at the lack of adjustment between his friend’s mood and his own.  He braced himself to take the matter more seriously, but meanwhile Robert had caught the smile, and his angry eyes melted at once into laughter.

‘There I am, ranting as usual,’ he said penitently.  ’Took you for Henslowe, I suppose!  Ah, well, never mind.  I hear the Provost has another book on the stocks.’

So they diverged into other things, talking politics and new books, public men and what not, till, at the end of a long and gradual descent through wooded ground, some two miles to the north-west of the park, they emerged from the trees beneath which they had been walking, and found themselves on a bridge, a gray sluggish stream flowing beneath them, and the hamlet they sought rising among the river flats on the farther side.

‘There,’ said Robert, stopping, ’we are at our journey’s end.  Now then, what sort of a place of human habitation do you call that?’

The bridge whereon they stood crossed the main channel of the river, which just at that point, however, parted into several branches, and came meandering slowly down through a little bottom or valley, filled with osier beds, long since robbed of their year’s growth of shoots.  On the other side of the river, on ground all but level with the osier beds which interposed between them and the stream, rose a miserable group of houses, huddled together as though their bulging walls and rotten roofs could only maintain themselves at all by the help and support which each wretched hovel gave to its neighbour.  The mud walls were stained with yellow patches of lichen, the palings round the little gardens were broken and ruinous.  Close beside them all was a sort of open drain or water-course, stagnant and noisome, which dribbled into the river a little above the bridge.  Behind them rose a high gravel bank edged by firs, and a line of oak trees against the sky.  The houses stood in the shadow of the bank looking north, and on this gray, lowering day, the dreariness, the gloom, the squalor of the place were indescribable.

‘Well, that is a God-forsaken hole!’ said Langham, studying it, his interest roused at last, rather, perhaps, by the Ruysdael-like melancholy and picturesqueness of the scene than by its human suggestiveness.  ’I could hardly have imagined such a place existed in southern England.  It is more like a bit of Ireland.’

’If it were Ireland it might be to somebody’s interest to ferret it out,’ said Robert bitterly.  ’But these poor folks are out of the world.  They may be brutalised with impunity.  Oh, such a case as I had here last autumn!  A young girl of sixteen or seventeen, who would have been healthy and happy anywhere else, stricken by the damp and the poison of the place, dying in six weeks, of complications due to nothing in the world but preventable cruelty and neglect!  It was a sight that burnt into my mind, once for all, what is meant by a landlord’s responsibility.  I tried, of course, to move her, but neither she nor her parents ­elderly folk ­had energy enough for a change.  They only prayed to be let alone.  I came over the last evening of her life to give her the communion.  “Ah, sir!” said the mother to me ­not bitterly ­that is the strange thing, they have so little bitterness ­“if Mister ’Enslowe would jest ’a mended that bit ’o roof of ours last winter, Bessie needn’t have laid in the wet so many nights as she did, and she coughin’ fit to break your heart, for all the things yer could put over ‘er."’

Robert paused, his strong young face, so vehemently angry a few minutes before, tremulous with feeling.  ‘Ah, well,’ he said at last with a long breath, moving away from the parapet of the bridge on which he had been leaning, ’better be oppressed than oppressor, any day!  Now, then, I must deliver my stores.  There’s a child here Catherine and I have been doing our best to pull through typhoid.’

They crossed the bridge and turned down the track leading to the hamlet.  Some planks carried them across the ditch, the main sewer of the community, as Robert pointed out, and they made their way through the filth surrounding one of the nearest cottages.

A feeble elderly man, whose shaking limbs and sallow bloodless skin make him look much older than he actually was, opened the door and invited them to come in.  Robert passed on into an inner room, conducted thither by a woman who had been sitting working over the fire.  Langham stood irresolute; but the old man’s quavering ’kindly take a chair, sir; you’ve come a long way,’ decided him, and he stepped in.

Inside the hovel was miserable indeed.  It belonged to that old and evil type which the efforts of the last twenty years have done so much all over England to sweep away:  four mud walls, enclosing an oblong space about eight yards long, divided into two unequal portions by a lath and plaster partition, with no upper storey, a thatched roof, now entirely out of repair, and letting in the rain in several places, and a paved floor little better than the earth itself, so large and cavernous were the gaps between the stones.  The dismal place had no small adornings ­none of those little superfluities which, however ugly and trivial, are still so precious in the dwellings of the poor, as showing the existence of some instinct or passion which is not the creation of the sheerest physical need; and Langham, as he sat down, caught the sickening marsh smell which the Oxford man, accustomed to the odours of damp meadows in times of ebbing flood and festering sun, knows so well.  As old Milsom began to talk to him in his weak tremulous voice, the visitor’s attention was irresistibly held by the details about him.  Fresh as he was from all the delicate sights, the harmonious colours and delightful forms of the squire’s house, they made an unusually sharp impression on his fastidious senses.  What does human life become lived on reeking floors and under stifling roofs like these?  What strange abnormal détériorations, physical and spiritual, must it not inevitably undergo?  Langham felt a sudden inward movement of disgust and repulsion.  ‘For heaven’s sake, keep your superstitions!’ he could have cried to the whole human race, ’or any other narcotic that a grinding fate has left you.  What does anything matter to the mass of mankind but a little ease, a little lightening of pressure on this side or on that?’

Meanwhile the old man went maundering on, talking of the weather, and of his sick child, and ‘Mr. Elsmere,’ with a kind of listless incoherence which hardly demanded an answer, though Langham threw in a word or two here and there.

Among other things, he began to ask a question or two about Robert’s predecessor, a certain Mr. Preston, who had left behind him a memory of amiable evangelical indolence.

‘Did you see much of him?’ he asked.

‘Oh law, no, sir!’ replied the man, surprised into something like energy.  ’Never seed ’im more ‘n once a year, and sometimes not that!’

‘Was he liked here?’

’Well, sir, it was like this, you see.  My wife, she’s north-country, she is, comes from Yorkshire; sometimes she’d used to say to me, “Passon ’ee ain’t much good, and passon ’ee ain’t much harm.  ’Ee’s no more good nor more ‘arm, so fer as I can see, nor a chip in a basin o’ parritch.”  And that was just about it; sir,’ said the old man, pleased for the hundredth time with his wife’s bygone flight of metaphor and his own exact memory of it.

As to the rector’s tendance of his child, his tone was very cool and guarded.

’It do seem strange, sir, as nor he nor Doctor Grimes ’ull let her have anything to put a bit of flesh on her, nothin’ but them messy things as he brings ­milk an’ that.  An’ the beef jelly ­lor, such a trouble!  Missis Elsmere, he tells my wife, strains all the stuff through a cloth, she do; never seed anythin’ like it, nor my wife neither.  People is clever nowadays,’ said the speaker dubiously.  Langham realised that, in this quarter of his parish at any rate, his friend’s pastoral vanity, if he had any, would not find much to feed on.  Nothing, to judge from this specimen at least, greatly affected an inhabitant of Mile End.  Gratitude, responsiveness, imply health and energy, past or present.  The only constant defence which the poor have against such physical conditions as those which prevailed at Mile End is apathy.

As they came down the dilapidated steps at the cottage door, Robert drew in with avidity a long draught of the outer air.

‘Ugh!’ he said with a sort of groan, ’that bedroom!  Nothing gives one such a sense of the toughness of human life as to see a child recovering, actually recovering, in such a pestilential den!  Father, mother, grown-up son, girl of thirteen, and grandchild, all huddled in a space just fourteen feet square.  Langham!’ and he turned passionately on his companion, ’what defence can be found for a man who lives in a place like Murewell Hall, and can take money from human beings for the use of a sty like that?’

’Gently, my friend.  Probably the squire, being the sort of recluse he is, has never seen the place, or, at any rate, not for years, and knows nothing about it!’

‘More shame for him!’

‘True in a sense,’ said Langham, a little drily; ’but as you may want hereafter to make excuses for your man, and he may give you occasion, I wouldn’t begin by painting him to yourself any blacker than need be.’

Robert laughed, sighed and acquiesced.  ’I am a hot-headed, impatient kind of creature at the best of times,’ he confessed.  ’They tell me that great things have been done for the poor round here in the last twenty years.  Something has been done, certainly.  But why are the old ways, the old evil neglect and apathy, so long, so terribly long in dying?  This social progress of ours we are so proud of is a clumsy limping jade at best!’

They prowled a little more about the hamlet, every step almost revealing some new source of poison and disease.  Of their various visits, however, Langham remembered nothing afterwards but a little scene in a miserable cottage, where they found a whole family party gathered round the mid-day meal.  A band of puny, black, black-eyed children were standing or sitting at the table.  The wife, confined of twins three weeks before, sat by the fire, deathly pale, a ‘bad leg’ stretched out before her on some improvised support, one baby on her lap and another dark-haired bundle asleep in a cradle beside her.  There was a pathetic pinched beauty about the whole family.  Even the tiny twins were comparatively shapely; all the other children had delicate transparent skins, large eyes, and small colourless mouths.  The father, a picturesque handsome fellow, looking as though he had gipsy blood in his veins, had opened the door to their knock.  Robert, seeing the meal, would have retreated at once, in spite of the children’s shy inviting looks, but a glance past them at the mother’s face checked the word of refusal and apology on his lips, and he stepped in.

In after years Langham was always apt to see him in imagination as he saw him then, standing beside the bent figure of the mother, his quick pitiful eyes taking in the pallor and exhaustion of face and frame, his hand resting instinctively on the head of a small creature that had crept up beside him, his look all attention and softness as the woman feebly told him some of the main facts of her state.  The young rector at the moment might have stood for the modern ‘Man of Feeling,’ as sensitive, as impressionable, and as free from the burden of self, as his eighteenth-century prototype.

On the way home Robert suddenly remarked to his companion, ’Have you heard my sister-in-law play yet, Langham?  What did you think of it?’

‘Extraordinary!’ said Langham briefly.  ’The most considerable gift I ever came across in an amateur.’

His olive cheek flushed a little involuntarily.  Robert threw a quick observant look at him.

‘The difficulty,’ he exclaimed, ‘is to know what to do with it!’

’Why do you make the difficulty?  I gather she wants to study abroad.  What is there to prevent it?’

Langham turned to his companion with a touch of asperity.  He could not stand it that Elsmere should be so much narrowed and warped by that wife of his, and her prejudices.  Why should that gifted creature be cribbed, cabined, and confined in this way?

‘I grant you,’ said Robert, with a look of perplexity, ’there is not much to prevent it.’

And he was silent a moment, thinking, on his side, very tenderly of all the antecedents and explanations of that old-world distrust of art and the artistic life so deeply rooted in his wife, even though in practice and under his influence she had made concession after concession.

‘The great solution of all,’ he said presently, brightening, ’would be to get her married.  I don’t wonder her belongings dislike the notion of anything so pretty and so flighty going off to live by itself.  And to break up the home in Whindale would be to undo everything their father did for them, to defy his most solemn last wishes.’

’To talk of a father’s wishes, in a case of this kind, ten years after his death, is surely excessive?’ said Langham with dry interrogation; then, suddenly recollecting himself, ’I beg your pardon, Elsmere.  I am interfering.’

‘Nonsense,’ said Robert brightly, ’I don’t wonder, it seems like a difficulty of our own making.  Like so many difficulties, it depends on character, present character, bygone character ­’ And again he fell musing on his Westmoreland experiences, and on the intensity of that Puritan type it had revealed to him.  ’However, as I said, marriage would be the natural way out of it.’

‘An easy way, I should think,’ said Langham, after a pause.

’It won’t be so easy to find the right man.  She is a young person with a future, is Miss Rose.  She wants somebody in the stream; somebody with a strong hand who will keep her in order and yet give her a wide range; a rich man, I think ­she hasn’t the ways of a poor man’s wife; but, at any rate, some one who will be proud of her, and yet have a full life of his own in which she may share.’

‘Your views are extremely clear,’ said Langham, and his smile had a touch of bitterness in it.  ’If hers agree, I prophesy you won’t have long to wait.  She has beauty, talent, charm ­everything that rich and important men like.’

There was the slightest sarcastic note in the voice.  Robert winced.  It was borne in upon one of the least worldly of mortals that he had been talking like the veriest schemer.  What vague quick impulse had driven him on?

By the time they emerged again upon the Murewell Green the rain had cleared altogether away, and the autumnal morning had broken into sunshine, which played mistily on the sleeping woods, on the white fronts of the cottages, and the wide green where the rain-pools glistened.  On the hill leading to the rectory there was the flutter of a woman’s dress.  As they hurried on, afraid of being late for luncheon, they saw that it was Rose in front of them.

Langham started as the slender figure suddenly defined itself against the road.  A tumult within, half rage, half feeling, showed itself only in an added rigidity of the finely-cut features.

Rose turned directly she heard the steps and voices, and over the dreaminess of her face there flashed a sudden brightness.

‘You have been a long time!’ she exclaimed, saying the first thing that came into her head, joyously, rashly, like the child she in reality was.  ’How many halt and maimed has Robert taken you to see, Mr. Langham?’

’We went to Murewell first.  The library was well worth seeing.  Since then we have been a parish round, distributing stores.’

Rose’s look changed in an instant.  The words were spoken by the Langham of her earliest acquaintance.  The man who that morning had asked her to play to him had gone ­vanished away.

‘How exhilarating!’ she said scornfully.  ’Don’t you wonder how any one can ever tear themselves away from the country?’

‘Rose, don’t be abusive,’ said Robert, opening his eyes at her tone.  Then, passing his arm through hers, he looked banteringly down upon her.  ’For the first time since you left the metropolis you have walked yourself into a colour.  It’s becoming ­and it’s Murewell ­so be civil!’

‘Oh, nobody denies you a high place in milkmaids!’ she said, with her head in air ­and they went off into a minute’s sparring.

Meanwhile Langham, on the other side of the road, walked up slowly, his eyes on the ground.  Once, when Rose’s eye caught him, a shock ran through her.  There was already a look of slovenly age about his stooping bookworm’s gait.  Her companion of the night before ­handsome, animated, human ­where was he?  The girl’s heart felt a singular contraction.  Then she turned and rent herself, and Robert found her more mocking and sprightly than ever.

At the rectory gate Robert ran on to overtake a farmer on the road.  Rose stooped to open the latch; Langham mechanically made a quick movement forward to anticipate her.  Their fingers touched; she drew hers hastily away and passed in, an erect and dignified figure, in her curving garden hat.

Langham went straight up to his room, shut the door, and stood before the open window, deaf and blind to everything save an inward storm of sensation.

‘Fool!  Idiot!’ he said to himself at last, with fierce stifled emphasis, while a kind of dumb fury with himself and circumstance swept through him.

That he, the poor and solitary student whose only sources of self-respect lay in the deliberate limitations, the reasoned and reasonable renunciations he had imposed upon his life, should have needed the reminder of his old pupil not to fall in love with his brilliant ambitious sister!  His irritable self-consciousness enormously magnified Elsmere’s motive and Elsmere’s words.  That golden vagueness and softness of temper which had possessed him since his last sight of her gave place to one of bitter tension.

With sardonic scorn he pointed out to himself that his imagination was still held by, his nerves were still thrilling under, the mental image of a girl looking up to him as no woman had ever looked ­a girl, white-armed, white-necked ­with softened eyes of appeal and confidence.  He bade himself mark that during the whole of his morning walk with Robert down to its last stage, his mind had been really absorbed in some preposterous dream he was now too self-contemptuous to analyse.  Pretty well for a philosopher, in four days!  What a ridiculous business is life ­what a contemptible creature is man, how incapable of dignity, of consistency!

At luncheon he talked rather more than usual, especially on literary matters with Robert.  Rose, too, was fully occupied in giving Catherine a sarcastic account of a singing lesson she had been administering in the school that morning.  Catherine winced sometimes at the tone of it.

That afternoon Robert, in high spirits, his rod over his shoulder, his basket at his back, carried off his guest for a lounging afternoon along the river.  Elsmere enjoyed these fishing expeditions like a boy.  They were his holidays, relished all the more because he kept a jealous account of them with his conscience.  He sauntered along, now throwing a cunning and effectual fly, now resting, smoking, and chattering, as the fancy took him.  He found a great deal of the old stimulus and piquancy in Langham’s society, but there was an occasional irritability in his companion, especially towards himself personally, which puzzled him.  After a while, indeed, he began to feel himself the unreasonably cheerful person which he evidently appeared to his companion.  A mere ignorant enthusiast, banished for ever from the realm of pure knowledge by certain original and incorrigible defects ­after a few hours’ talk with Langham Robert’s quick insight always showed him some image of himself resembling this in his friend’s mind.

At last he turned restive.  He had been describing to Langham his acquaintance with the Dissenting minister of the place ­a strong coarse-grained fellow of sensuous excitable temperament, famous for his noisy ‘conversion meetings,’ and for a gymnastic dexterity in the quoting and combining of texts, unrivalled in Robert’s experience.  Some remark on the Dissenter’s logic, made, perhaps, a little too much in the tone of the Churchman conscious of University advantages, seemed to irritate Langham.

’You think your Anglican logic in dealing with the Bible so superior!  On the contrary, I am all for your Ranter.  He is your logical Protestant.  Historically, you Anglican parsons are where you are and what you are, because Englishmen, as a whole, like attempting the contradictory ­like, above all, to eat their cake and have it.  The nation has made you and maintains you for its own purposes.  But that is another matter.’

Robert smoked on a moment in silence.  Then he flushed and laid down his pipe.

’We are all fools in your eyes, I know! A la bonne heure! I have been to the University, and talk what he is pleased to call “philosophy” ­therefore Mr. Colson denies me faith.  You have always, in your heart of hearts, denied me knowledge.  But I cling to both in spite of you.’

There was a ray of defiance, of emotion, in his look.  Langham met it in silence.

‘I deny you nothing,’ he said at last, slowly.  ’On the contrary, I believe you to be the possessor of all that is best worth having in life and mind.’

His irritation had all died away.  His tone was one of indescribable depression, and his great black eyes were fixed on Robert with a melancholy which startled his companion.  By a subtle transition Elsmere felt himself touched with a pang of profound pity for the man who an instant before had seemed to pose as his scornful superior.  He stretched out his hand, and laid it on his friend’s shoulder.

Rose spent the afternoon in helping Catherine with various parochial occupations.  In the course of them Catherine asked many questions about Long Whindale.  Her thoughts clung to the hills, to the gray farmhouses, the rough men and women inside them.  But Rose gave her small satisfaction.

‘Poor old Jim Backhouse!’ said Catherine, sighing.  ’Agnes tells me he is quite bedridden now.’

‘Well, and a good thing for John, don’t you think,’ said Rose briskly, covering a parish library book the while in a way which made Catherine’s fingers itch to take it from her, ’and for us?  It’s some use having a carrier now.’

Catherine made no reply.  She thought of the ‘noodle’ fading out of life in the room where Mary Backhouse died; she actually saw the white hair, the blurred eyes, the palsied hands, the poor emaciated limbs stretched along the settle.  Her heart rose, but she said nothing.

‘And has Mrs. Thornburgh been enjoying her summer?’

‘Oh!  I suppose so,’ said Rose, her tone indicating a quite measureless indifference.  ’She had another young Oxford man staying with her in June ­a missionary ­and it annoyed her very much that neither Agnes nor I would intervene to prevent his resuming his profession.  She seemed to think it was a question of saving him from being eaten, and apparently he would have proposed to either of us.’

Catherine could not help laughing.  ’I suppose she still thinks she married Robert and me.’

‘Of course.  So she did.’

Catherine coloured a little, but Rose’s hard lightness of tone was unconquerable.

‘Or if she didn’t,’ Rose resumed, ’nobody could have the heart to rob her of the illusion.  Oh, by the way, Sarah has been under warning since June!  Mrs. Thornburgh told her desperately that she must either throw over her young man, who was picked up drunk at the vicarage gate one night, or vacate the vicarage kitchen.  Sarah cheerfully accepted her month’s notice, and is still making the vicarage jams and walking out with the young man every Sunday.  Mrs. Thornburgh sees that it will require a convulsion of nature to get rid either of Sarah or the young man, and has succumbed.’

‘And the Tysons?  And that poor Walker girl?’

‘Oh, dear me, Catherine!’ said Rose, a strange disproportionate flash of impatience breaking through.  ’Every one in Long Whindale is always just where and what they were last year.  I admit they are born and die, but they do nothing else of a decisive kind.’

Catherine’s hands worked away for a while, then she laid down her book and said, lifting her clear large eyes on her sister, ­

‘Was there never a time when you loved the valley, Rose?’

‘Never!’ cried Rose.

Then she pushed away her work, and leaning her elbows on the table turned her brilliant face to Catherine.  There was frank mutiny in it.

’By the way, Catherine, are you going to prevent mamma from letting me go to Berlin for the winter?’

‘And after Berlin, Rose?’ said Catherine, presently, her gaze bent upon her work.

‘After Berlin?  What next?’ said Rose recklessly.  ’Well, after Berlin I shall try to persuade mamma and Agnes, I suppose, to come and back me up in London.  We could still be some months of the year at Burwood.’

Now she had said it out.  But there was something else surely goading the girl than mere intolerance of the family tradition.  The hesitancy, the moral doubt of her conversation with Langham, seemed to have vanished wholly in a kind of acrid self-assertion.

Catherine felt a shock sweep through her.  It was as though all the pieties of life, all the sacred assumptions and self-surrenders at the root of it, were shaken, outraged by the girl’s tone.

‘Do you ever remember,’ she said, looking up, while her voice trembled, ‘what papa wished when he was dying?’

It was her last argument.  To Rose she had very seldom used it in so many words.  Probably, it seemed to her too strong, too sacred, to be often handled.

But Rose sprang up, and pacing the little workroom with her white wrists locked behind her, she met that argument with all the concentrated passion which her youth had for years been storing up against it.  Catherine sat presently overwhelmed, bewildered.  This language of a proud and tameless individuality, this modern gospel of the divine right of self-development ­her soul loathed it!  And yet, since that night in Marrisdale, there had been a new yearning in her to understand.

Suddenly, however, Rose stopped, lost her thread.  Two figures were crossing the lawn, and their shadows were thrown far beyond them by the fast disappearing sun.

She threw herself down on her chair again with an abrupt ­

‘Do you see they have come back?  We must go and dress.’

And as she spoke she was conscious of a new sensation altogether ­the sensation of the wild creature lassoed on the prairie, of the bird exchanging in an instant its glorious freedom of flight for the pitiless meshes of the net.  It was stifling ­her whole nature seemed to fight with it.

Catherine rose and began to put away the books they had been covering.  She had said almost nothing in answer to Rose’s tirade.  When she was ready she came and stood beside her sister a moment, her lips trembling.  At last she stooped and kissed the girl ­the kiss of deep suppressed feeling ­and went away.  Rose made no response.

Unmusical as she was, Catherine pined for her sister’s music that evening.  Robert was busy in his study, and the hours seemed interminable.  After a little difficult talk Langham subsided into a book and a corner.  But the only words of which he was conscious for long were the words of an inner dialogue.  ’I promised to play for her. ­Go and offer then! ­Madness! let me keep away from her.  If she asks me, of course I will go.  She is much too proud, and already she thinks me guilty of a rudeness.’

Then, with a shrug, he would fall to his book again, abominably conscious, however, all the while of the white figure between the lamp and the open window, and of the delicate head and cheek lit up against the trees and the soft August dark.

When the time came to go to bed he got their candles for the two ladies.  Rose just touched his hand with cool fingers.

’Good-night, Mr. Langham.  You are going in to smoke with Robert, I suppose?’

Her bright eyes seemed to look him through.  Their mocking hostility seemed to say to him as plainly as possible:  ’Your purgatory is over ­go, smoke and be happy!’

‘I will go and help him wind up his sermon,’ he said, with an attempt at a laugh, and moved away.

Rose went upstairs, and it seemed to her that a Greek brow, and a pair of wavering melancholy eyes, went before her in the darkness chased along the passages by the light she held.  She gained her room, and stood by the window, seized again by that stifling sense of catastrophe, so strange, so undefined.  Then she shook it off with an angry laugh, and went to work to see how far her stock of light dresses had suffered by her London dissipations.

The next morning after breakfast the rectory party were in the garden ­the gentlemen smoking, Catherine and her sister strolling arm-in-arm among the flowers.  Catherine’s vague terrors of the morning before had all taken to themselves wings.  It seemed to her that Rose and Mr. Langham had hardly spoken to each other since she had seen them walking about together.  Robert had already made merry over his own alarms, and hers, and she admitted he was in the right.  As to her talk with Rose her deep meditative nature was slowly working upon and digesting it.  Meanwhile, she was all tenderness to her sister, and there was even a reaction of pity in her heart towards the lonely sceptic who had once been so good to Robert.

Robert was just bethinking himself that it was time to go off to the school, when they were all startled by an unexpected visitor ­a short old lady, in a rusty black dress and bonnet, who entered the drive and stood staring at the rectory party, a tiny hand in a black thread glove shading the sun from a pair of wrinkled eyes.

‘Mrs. Darcy!’ exclaimed Robert to his wife after a moment’s perplexity, and they walked quickly to meet her.

Rose and Langham exchanged a few commonplaces till the others joined them, and then for a while the attention of everybody in the group was held by the squire’s sister.  She was very small, as thin and light as thistle-down, ill-dressed, and as communicative as a babbling child.  The face and all the features were extraordinarily minute, and moreover, blanched and etherealised by age.  She had the elfish look of a little withered fairy godmother.  And yet through it all it was clear that she was a great lady.  There were certain poses and gestures about her, which made her thread gloves and rusty skirts seem a mere whim and masquerade, adopted, perhaps deliberately, from a high-bred love of congruity, to suit the country lanes.

She had come to ask them all to dinner at the Hall on the following evening, and she either brought or devised on the spot the politest messages from the squire to the new rector, which pleased the sensitive Robert and silenced for the moment his various misgivings as to Mr. Wendover’s advent.  Then she stayed chattering, studying Rose every now and then out of her strange little eyes, restless and glancing as a bird’s, which took stock also of the garden, of the flower-beds, of Elsmere’s lanky frame, and of Elsmere’s handsome friend in the background.  She was most odd when she was grateful, and she was grateful for the most unexpected things.  She thanked Elsmere effusively for coming to live there, ’sacrificing yourself so nobly to us country folk,’ and she thanked him with an appreciative glance at Langham, for having his clever friends to stay with him.  ’The squire will be so pleased.  My brother, you know, is very clever; oh yes, frightfully clever!’

And then there was a long sigh, at which Elsmere could hardly keep his countenance.

She thought it particularly considerate of them to have been to see the squire’s books.  It would make conversation so easy when they came to dinner.

’Though I don’t know anything about his books.  He doesn’t like women to talk about books.  He says they only pretend ­even the clever ones.  Except, of course, Madame de Stael.  He can only say she was ugly, and I don’t deny it.  But I have about used up Madame de Stael,’ she added, dropping into another sigh as soft and light as a child’s.

Robert was charmed with her, and even Langham smiled.  And as Mrs. Darcy adored ‘clever men,’ ranking them, as the London of her youth had ranked them, only second to ‘persons of birth,’ she stood among them beaming, becoming more and more whimsical and inconsequent, more and more deliciously incalculable, as she expanded.  At last she fluttered off, only, however, to come hurrying back, with little, short, scudding steps, to implore them all to come to tea with her as soon as possible in the garden that was her special hobby, and in her last new summer-house.

‘I build two or three every summer,’ she said.  ’Now, there are twenty-one!  Roger laughs at me,’ and there was a momentary bitterness in the little eerie face, ’but how can one live without hobbies?  That’s one ­then I’ve two more.  My album ­oh, you will all write in my album, won’t you?  When I was young ­when I was Maid of Honour’ ­and she drew herself up slightly ­’everybody had albums.  Even the dear Queen herself!  I remember how she made M. Guizot write in it; something quite stupid, after all. Those hobbies ­the garden and the album ­are quite harmless, aren’t they?  They hurt nobody, do they?’ Her voice dropped a little, with a pathetic expostulating intonation in it, as of one accustomed to be rebuked.

‘Let me remind you of a saying of Bacon’s,’ said Langham, studying her, and softened perforce into benevolence.

‘Yes, yes,’ said Mrs. Darcy in a flutter of curiosity.

‘God Almighty first planted a garden,’ he quoted; ’and indeed, it is the purest of all human pleasures.’

‘Oh, but how delightful!’ cried Mrs. Darcy, clasping her diminutive hands in their thread gloves.  ’You must write that in my album, Mr. Langham, that very sentence; oh, how clever of you to remember it!  What it is to be clever and have a brain!  But, then ­I’ve another hobby ­’

Here, however, she stopped, hung her head and looked depressed.  Robert, with a little ripple of laughter, begged her to explain.

‘No,’ she said plaintively, giving a quick uneasy look at him, as though it occurred to her that it might some day be his pastoral duty to admonish her.  ’No, it’s wrong.  I know it is ­only I can’t help it.  Never mind.  You’ll know soon.’

And again she turned away, when, suddenly, Rose attracted her attention, and she stretched out a thin white bird-claw of a hand and caught the girl’s arm.

’There won’t be much to amuse you to-morrow, my dear, and there ought to be ­you’re so pretty!’ Rose blushed furiously and tried to draw her hand away.  ’No, no! don’t mind, don’t mind.  I didn’t at your age.  Well, we’ll do our best.  But your own party is so charming!’ and she looked round the little circle, her gaze stopping specially at Langham before it returned to Rose.  ‘After all, you will amuse each other.’

Was there any malice in the tiny withered creature?  Rose, unsympathetic and indifferent as youth commonly is when its own affairs absorb it, had stood coldly outside the group which was making much of the squire’s sister.  Was it so the strange little visitor revenged herself?

At any rate Rose was left feeling as if some one had pricked her.  While Catherine and Elsmere escorted Mrs. Darcy to the gate she turned to go in, her head thrown back stag-like, her cheek still burning.  Why should it be always open to the old to annoy the young with impunity?

Langham watched her mount the first step or two; his eye travelled up the slim figure so instinct with pride and will ­and something in him suddenly gave way.  It was like a man who feels his grip relaxing on some attacking thing he has been holding by the throat.

He followed her hastily.

’Must you go in?  And none of us have paid our respects yet to those phloxes in the back garden?’

Oh woman ­flighty woman!  An instant before, the girl, sore and bruised in every fibre, she only half knew why, was thirsting that this man might somehow offer her his neck that she might trample on it.  He offers it, and the angry instinct wavers, as a man wavers in a wrestling match when his opponent unexpectedly gives ground.  She paused, she turned her white throat.  His eyes upturned met hers.

‘The phloxes did you say?’ she asked, coolly redescending the steps.  ‘Then round here, please.’

She led the way, he followed, conscious of an utter relaxation of nerve and will which for the moment had something intoxicating in it.

‘There are your phloxes,’ she said, stopping before a splendid line of plants in full blossom.  Her self-respect was whole again; her spirits rose at a bound.  ’I don’t know why you admire them so much.  They have no scent, and they are only pretty in the lump,’ and she broke off a spike of blossom, studied it a little disdainfully, and threw it away.

He stood beside her, the southern glow and life of which it was intermittently capable once more lighting up the strange face.

‘Give me leave to enjoy everything countrified more than usual,’ he said.  ’After this morning it will be so long before I see the true country again.’

He looked, smiling, round on the blue and white brilliance of the sky, clear again after a night of rain; on the sloping garden, on the village beyond, on the hedge of sweet peas close beside them, with its blooms

                        ’On tiptoe for a flight,
    With wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white.’

‘Oh!  Oxford is countrified enough,’ she said indifferently, moving down the broad grass-path which divided the garden into two equal portions.

‘But I am leaving Oxford, at any rate for a year,’ he said quietly.  ’I am going to London.’

Her delicate eyebrows went up.  ‘To London?’ Then, in a tone of mock meekness and sympathy, ‘How you will dislike it!’

‘Dislike it ­why?’

‘Oh! because ­’ she hesitated, and then laughed her daring girlish laugh ­’because there are so many stupid people in London; the clever people are not all picked out like prize apples, as I suppose they are in Oxford.’

‘At Oxford?’ repeated Langham, with a kind of groan.  ’At Oxford?  You imagine that Oxford is inhabited only by clever people?’

‘I can only judge by what I see,’ she said demurely.  ’Every Oxford man always behaves as if he were the cream of the universe.  Oh!  I don’t mean to be rude,’ she cried, losing for a moment her defiant control over herself, as though afraid of having gone too far.  ’I am not the least disrespectful, really.  When you and Robert talk, Catherine and I feel quite as humble as we ought.’

The words were hardly out before she could have bitten the tongue that spoke them.  He had made her feel her indiscretions of Sunday night as she deserved to feel them, and now after three minutes conversation she was on the verge of fresh ones.  Would she never grow up, never behave like other girls?  That word humble!  It seemed to burn her memory.

Before he could possibly answer she barred the way by a question as short and dry as possible ­

‘What are you going to London for?’

‘For many reasons,’ he said, shrugging his shoulders.  ’I have told no one yet ­not even Elsmere.  And indeed I go back to my rooms for a while from here.  But as soon as Term begins I become a Londoner.’

They had reached the gate at the bottom of the garden, and were leaning against it.  She was disturbed, conscious, lightly flushed.  It struck her as another gaucherie on her part that she should have questioned him as to his plans.  What did his life matter to her?

He was looking away from her, studying the half-ruined, degraded manor house spread out below them.  Then suddenly he turned ­

’If I could imagine for a moment it would interest you to hear my reasons for leaving Oxford, I could not flatter myself you would see any sense in them.  I know that Robert will think them moonshine; nay, more, that they will give him pain.’

He smiled sadly.  The tone of gentleness, the sudden breach in the man’s melancholy reserve affected the girl beside him for the second time, precisely as they had affected her the first time.  The result of twenty-four hours’ resentful meditation turned out to be precisely nil.  Her breath came fast, her proud look melted, and his quick sense caught the change in an instant.

‘Are you tired of Oxford?’ the poor child asked him, almost shyly.

‘Mortally!’ he said, still smiling.  ’And what is more important still, Oxford is tired of me.  I have been lecturing there for ten years.  They have had more than enough of me.’

‘Oh! but Robert said ­’ began Rose impetuously, then stopped, crimson, remembering many things Robert had said.

‘That I helped him over a few stiles?’ returned Langham calmly.  ’Yes, there was a time when I was capable of that ­there was a time when I could teach, and teach with pleasure.’  He paused.  Rose could have scourged herself for the tremor she felt creeping over her.  Why should it be to her so new and strange a thing that a man, especially a man of these years and this calibre, should confide in her, should speak to her intimately of himself?  After all, she said to herself angrily, with a terrified sense of importance, she was a child no longer, though her mother and sisters would treat her as one.  ’When we were chatting the other night,’ he went on, turning to her again as he stood leaning on the gate, ‘do you know what it was struck me most?’

His tone had in it the most delicate, the most friendly deference.  But Rose flushed furiously.

‘That girls are very ready to talk about themselves, I imagine,’ she said scornfully.

’Not at all!  Not for a moment!  No, but it seemed to me so pathetic, so strange that anybody should wish for anything so much as you wished for the musician’s life.’

‘And you never wish for anything?’ she cried.

‘When Elsmere was at college,’ he said, smiling, ’I believe I wished he should get a first class.  This year I have certainly wished to say good-bye to St. Anselm’s, and to turn my back for good and all on my men.  I can’t remember that I have wished for anything else for six years.’

She looked at him perplexed.  Was his manner merely languid, or was it from him that the emotion she felt invading herself first started?  She tried to shake it off.

‘And I am just a bundle of wants,’ she said, half-mockingly.  ’Generally speaking I am in the condition of being ready to barter all I have for some folly or other ­one in the morning, another in the afternoon.  What have you to say to such people, Mr. Langham?’

Her eyes challenged him magnificently, mostly out of sheer nervousness.  But the face they rested on seemed suddenly to turn to stone before her.  The life died out of it.  It grew still and rigid.

‘Nothing,’ he said quietly.  ’Between them and me there is a great gulf fixed.  I watch them pass, and I say to myself:  “There are the living ­that is how they look, how they speak!  Realise once for all that you have nothing to do with them.  Life is theirs ­belongs to them.  You are already outside it.  Go your way, and be a spectre among the active and the happy no longer."’

He leant his back against the gate.  Did he see her?  Was he conscious of her at all in this rare impulse of speech which had suddenly overtaken one of the most withdrawn and silent of human beings?  All her airs dropped off her; a kind of fright seized her; and involuntarily she laid her hand on his arm.

’Don’t ­don’t ­Mr. Langham!  Oh, don’t say such things!  Why should you be so unhappy?  Why should you talk so?  Can no one do anything?  Why do you live so much alone?  Is there no one you care about?’

He turned.  What a vision!  His artistic sense absorbed it in an instant ­the beautiful tremulous lip, the drawn white brow.  For a moment he drank in the pity, the emotion, of those eyes.  Then a movement of such self-scorn as even he had never felt swept through him.  He gently moved away; her hand dropped.

‘Miss Leyburn,’ he said, gazing at her, his olive face singularly pale, ’don’t waste your pity on me, for Heaven’s sake.  Some madness made me behave as I did just now.  Years ago the same sort of idiocy betrayed me to your brother; never before or since.  I ask your pardon, humbly,’ and his tone seemed to scorch her, ’that this second fit of ranting should have seized me in your presence.’

But he could not keep it up.  The inner upheaval had gone too far.  He stopped and looked at her ­piteously, the features quivering.  It was as though the man’s whole nature had for the moment broken up, become disorganised.  She could not bear it.  Some ghastly infirmity seemed to have been laid bare to her.  She held out both her hands.  Swiftly he caught them, stooped, kissed them, let them go.  It was an extraordinary scene ­to both a kind of lifetime.

Then he gathered himself together by a mighty effort.

‘That was adorable of you,’ he said with a long breath.  ’But I stole it ­I despise myself.  Why should you pity me?  What is there to pity me for?  My troubles, such as I have, are my own making ­every one.’

And he laid a sort of vindictive emphasis on the words.  The tears of excitement were in her eyes.

‘Won’t you let me be your friend?’ she said, trembling, with a kind of reproach.  ’I thought ­the other night ­we were to be friends.  Won’t you tell me ­’

‘More of yourself?’ her eyes said, but her voice failed her.  And as for him, as he gazed at her, all the accidents of circumstance, of individual character, seemed to drop from her.  He forgot the difference of years; he saw her no longer as she was ­a girl hardly out of the schoolroom, vain, ambitious, dangerously responsive, on whose crude romantic sense he was wantonly playing; she was to him pure beauty, pure woman.  For one tumultuous moment the cold critical instinct which had been for years draining his life of all its natural energies was powerless.  It was sweet to yield, to speak, as it had never been sweet before.

So, leaning over the gate, he told her the story of his life, of his cramped childhood and youth, of his brief moment of happiness and success at college, of his first attempts to make himself a power among younger men, of the gradual dismal failure of all his efforts, the dying down of desire and ambition.  From the general narrative there stood out little pictures of individual persons or scenes, clear cut and masterly ­of his father, the Gainsborough churchwarden; of his Methodistical mother, who had all her life lamented her own beauty as a special snare of Satan, and who since her husband’s death had refused to see her son on the ground that his opinions ‘had vexed his father’; of his first ardent worship of knowledge, and passion to communicate it; and of the first intuitions in lecture, face to face with an undergraduate, alone in college rooms, sometimes alone on Alpine heights, of something cold, impotent and baffling in himself, which was to stand for ever between him and action, between him and human affection; the growth of the critical pessimist sense which laid the axe to the root of enthusiasm after enthusiasm, friendship after friendship ­which made other men feel him inhuman, intangible, a skeleton at the feast:  and the persistence through it all of a kind of hunger for life and its satisfactions, which the will was more and more powerless to satisfy:  all these Langham put into words with an extraordinary magic and delicacy of phrase.  There was something in him which found a kind of pleasure in the long analysis, which took pains that it should be infinitely well done.

Rose followed him breathlessly.  If she had known more of literature she would have realised that she was witnessing a masterly dissection of one of those many morbid growths of which our nineteenth century psychology is full.  But she was anything but literary, and she could not analyse her excitement.  The man’s physical charm, his melancholy, the intensity of what he said, affected, unsteadied her as music was apt to affect her.  And through it all there was the strange girlish pride that this should have befallen her; a first crude intoxicating sense of the power over human lives which was to be hers, mingled with a desperate anxiety to be equal to the occasion, to play her part well.

‘So you see,’ said Langham at last, with a great effort (to do him justice) to climb back on to some ordinary level of conversation; ’all these transcendentalisms apart, I am about the most unfit man in the world for a college tutor.  The undergraduates regard me as a shilly-shallying pedant.  On my part,’ he added drily, ’I am not slow to retaliate.  Every term I live I find the young man a less interesting animal.  I regard the whole university system as a wretched sham.  Knowledge!  It has no more to do with knowledge than my boots.’

And for one curious instant he looked out over the village, his fastidious scholar’s soul absorbed by some intellectual irritation, of which Rose understood absolutely nothing.  She stood bewildered, silent, longing childishly to speak, to influence him, but not knowing what cue to take.

‘And then ­’ he went on presently (but was the strange being speaking to her?) ­’so long as I stay there, worrying those about me, and eating my own heart out, I am cut off from the only life that might be mine, that I might find the strength to live.’

The words were low and deliberate.  After his moment of passionate speech, and hers of passionate sympathy, she began to feel strangely remote from him.

‘Do you mean the life of the student?’ she asked him after a pause, timidly.

Her voice recalled him.  He turned and smiled at her.

‘Of the dreamer, rather.’

And as her eyes still questioned, as he was still moved by the spell of her responsiveness, he let the new wave of feeling break in words.  Vaguely at first, and then with a growing flame and force, he fell to describing to her what the life of thought may be to the thinker, and those marvellous moments which belong to that life when the mind which has divorced itself from desire and sense sees spread out before it the vast realms of knowledge, and feels itself close to the secret springs and sources of being.  And as he spoke, his language took an ampler turn, the element of smallness which attaches to all mere personal complaint vanished, his words flowed, became eloquent, inspired, till the bewildered child beside him, warm through and through as she was with youth and passion, felt for an instant by sheer fascinated sympathy the cold spell, the ineffable prestige, of the thinker’s voluntary death in life.

But only for an instant.  Then the natural sense of chill smote her to the heart.

‘You make me shiver,’ she cried, interrupting him.  ’Have those strange things ­I don’t understand them ­made you happy?  Can they make any one happy?  Oh no, no!  Happiness is to be got from living, seeing, experiencing, making friends, enjoying nature!  Look at the world, Mr. Langham!’ she said, with bright cheeks, half smiling at her own magniloquence, her hand waving over the view before them.  ’What has it done that you should hate it so?  If you can’t put up with people you might love nature.  I ­I can’t be content with nature, because I want some life first.  Up in Whindale there is too much nature, not enough life.  But if I had got through life ­if it had disappointed me ­then I should love nature.  I keep saying to the mountains at home:  “Not now, not now; I want something else, but afterwards if I can’t get it, or if I get too much of it, why then I will love you, live with you.  You are my second string, my reserve.  You ­and art ­and poetry."’

‘But everything depends on feeling,’ he said softly, but lightly, as though to keep the conversation from slipping back into those vague depths it had emerged from; ’and if one has forgotten how to feel ­if when one sees or hears something beautiful that used to stir one, one can only say “I remember it moved me once!” ­if feeling dies, like life, like physical force, but prematurely, long before the rest of the man!’

She gave a long quivering sigh of passionate antagonism.

‘Oh, I cannot imagine it!’ she cried.  ‘I shall feel to my last hour.’  Then, after a pause, in another tone, ’But, Mr. Langham, you say music excites you, Wagner excites you?’

‘Yes, a sort of strange second life I can still get out of music,’ he admitted, smiling.

‘Well then,’ and she looked at him persuasively, ’why not give yourself up to music?  It is so easy ­so little trouble to one’s self ­it just takes you and carries you away.’

Then, for the first time, Langham became conscious ­probably through these admonitions of hers ­that the situation had absurdity in it.

‘It is not my metier,’ he said hastily.  ’The self that enjoys music is an outer self, and can only bear with it for a short time.  No, Miss Leyburn, I shall leave Oxford, the college will sing a Te Deum, I shall settle down in London, I shall keep a big book going, and cheat the years after all, I suppose, as well as most people.’

‘And you will know, you will remember,’ she said faltering, reddening, her womanliness forcing the words out of her, ’that you have friends:  Robert ­my sister ­all of us?’

He faced her with a little quick movement.  And as their eyes met each was struck once more with the personal beauty of the other.  His eyes shone ­their black depths seemed all tenderness.

‘I will never forget this visit, this garden, this hour,’ he said slowly, and they stood looking at each other.  Rose felt herself swept off her feet into a world of tragic mysterious emotion.  She all but put her hand into his again, asking him childishly to hope, to be consoled.  But the maidenly impulse restrained her, and once more he leant on the gate, burying his face in his hands.

Suddenly he felt himself utterly tired, relaxed.  Strong nervous reaction set in.  What had all this scene, this tragedy, been about?  And then in another instant was that sense of the ridiculous again clamouring to be heard.  He ­the man of thirty-five ­confessing himself, making a tragic scene, playing Manfred or Cain to this adorable half-fledged creature, whom he had known five days!  Supposing Elsmere had been there to hear ­Elsmere with his sane eye, his laugh!  As he leant over the gate he found himself quivering with impatience to be away ­by himself ­out of reach ­the critic in him making the most bitter remorseless mock of all these heroics and despairs the other self had been indulging in.  But for the life of him he could not find a word to say ­a move to make.  He stood hesitating, gauche, as usual.

‘Do you know, Mr. Langham,’ said Rose lightly, by his side, ’that there is no time at all left for you to give me good advice in?  That is an obligation still hanging over you.  I don’t mean to release you from it, but if I don’t go in now and finish the covering of those library books, the youth of Murewell will be left without any literature till Heaven knows when!’

He could have blessed her for the tone, for the escape into common mundanity.

‘Hang literature ­hang the parish library!’ he said with a laugh as he moved after her.  Yet his real inner feeling towards that parish library was one of infinite friendliness.

‘Hear these men of letters!’ she said scornfully.  But she was happy; there was a glow on her cheek.

A bramble caught her dress; she stopped and laid her white hand to it, but in vain.  He knelt in an instant, and between them they wrenched it away, but not till those soft slim fingers had several times felt the neighbourhood of his brown ones, and till there had flown through and through him once more, as she stooped over him, the consciousness that she was young, that she was beautiful, that she had pitied him so sweetly, that they were alone.

‘Rose!’

It was Catherine calling ­Catherine, who stood at the end of the grass-path, with eyes all indignation and alarm.

Langham rose quickly from the ground.

He felt as though the gods had saved him ­or damned him ­which?

Murewell Rectory during the next forty-eight hours was the scene of much that might have been of interest to a psychologist gifted with the power of divining his neighbours.

In the first place Catherine’s terrors were all alive again Robert had never seen her so moved since those days of storm and stress before their engagement.

‘I cannot bear it!’ she said to Robert at night in their room.  ’I cannot bear it!  I hear it always in my ears:  “What hast thou done with thy sister?” Oh, Robert, don’t mind, dear, though he is your friend.  My father would have shrunk from him with horror ­An alien from the household of faith!  An enemy to the Cross of Christ!

She flung out the words with low intense emphasis and frowning brow, standing rigid by the window, her hands locked behind her.  Robert stood by her much perplexed, feeling himself a good deal of a culprit, but inwardly conscious that he knew a great deal more about Langham than she did.

‘My dear wifie,’ he said to her, ’I am certain Langham has no intention of marrying.’

‘Then more shame for him,’ cried Catherine, flushing.  ’They could not have looked more conscious, Robert, when I found them together, if he had just proposed.’

‘What, in five days?’ said Robert, more than half inclined to banter his wife.  Then he fell into meditation as Catherine made no answer.  ’I believe with men of that sort,’ he said at last, ’relations to women are never more than half-real ­always more or less literature ­acting.  Langham is tasting an experience, to be bottled up for future use.’

It need hardly be said, however, that Catherine got small consolation out of this point of view.  It seemed to her Robert did not take the matter quite rightly.

‘After all, darling,’ he said at last, kissing her, ’you can act dragon splendidly; you have already ­so can I. And you really cannot make me believe in anything very tragic in a week.’

But Catherine was conscious that she had already played the dragon hard, to very little purpose.  In the forty hours that intervened between the scene in the garden and the squire’s dinner-party, Robert was always wanting to carry off Langham, Catherine was always asking Rose’s help in some household business or other.  In vain.  Langham said to himself calmly, this time, that Elsmere and his wife were making a foolish mistake in supposing that his friendship with Miss Leyburn was anything to be alarmed about, that they would soon be amply convinced of it themselves, and meanwhile he should take his own way.  And as for Rose, they had no sooner turned back all three from the house to the garden than she had divined everything in Catherine’s mind, and set herself against her sister with a wilful force in which many a past irritation found expression.

How Catherine hated the music of that week!  It seemed to her she never opened the drawing-room door but she saw Langham at the piano, his head with its crown of glossy, curling black hair, and his eyes lit with unwonted gleams of laughter and sympathy, turned towards Rose, who was either chatting wildly to him, mimicking the airs of some professional, or taking off the ways of some famous teacher; or else, which was worse, playing with all her soul, flooding the house with sound ­now as soft and delicate as first love, now as full and grand as storm waves on an angry coast.  And the sister going with compressed lip to her work-table would recognise sorely that never had the girl looked so handsome, and never had the lightnings of a wayward genius played so finely about her.

As to Langham, it may well be believed that after the scene in the garden he had rated, satirised, examined himself in the most approved introspective style.  One half of him declared that scene to have been the heights of melodramatic absurdity; the other thought of it with a thrill of tender gratitude towards the young pitiful creature who had evoked it.  After all, why, because he was alone in the world and must remain so, should he feel bound to refuse this one gift of the gods, the delicate passing gift of a girl’s ­a child’s friendship?  As for her, the man’s very real, though wholly morbid, modesty scouted the notion of love on her side. He was a likely person for a beauty on the threshold of life and success to fall in love with; but she meant to be kind to him, and he smiled a little inward indulgent smile over her very evident compassion, her very evident intention of reforming him, reconciling him to life.  And, finally, he was incapable of any further resistance.  He had gone too far with her.  Let her do what she would with him, dear child, with the sharp tongue and the soft heart, and the touch of genius and brilliancy which made her future so interesting!  He called his age and his disillusions to the rescue; he posed to himself as stooping to her in some sort of elder-brotherly fashion; and if every now and then some disturbing memory of that strange scene between them would come to make his present rôle less plausible, or some whim of hers made it difficult to play, why then at bottom there was always the consciousness that sixty hours, or thereabouts, would see him safely settled in that morning train to London.  Throughout it is probable that that morning train occupied the saving background of his thoughts.

The two days passed by, and the squire’s dinner-party arrived.  About seven on the Thursday evening a party of four might have been seen hurrying across the park ­Langham and Catherine in front, Elsmere and Rose behind.  Catherine had arranged it so, and Langham, who understood perfectly that his friendship with her young sister was not at all to Mrs. Elsmere’s taste, and who had by now taken as much of a dislike to her as his nature was capable of, was certainly doing nothing to make his walk with her otherwise than difficult.  And every now and then some languid epigram would bring Catherine’s eyes on him with a fiery gleam in their gray depths.  Oh, fourteen more hours and she would have shut the rectory gate on this most unwelcome of intruders!  She had never felt so vindictively anxious to see the last of any one in her life.  There was in her a vehemence of antagonism to the man’s manner, his pessimism, his infidelity, his very ways of speaking and looking, which astonished even herself.

Robert’s eager soul meanwhile, for once irresponsive to Catherine’s, was full of nothing but the squire.  At last the moment was come, and that dumb spiritual friendship he had formed through these long months with the philosopher and the savant was to be tested by sight and speech of the man.  He bade himself a hundred times pitch his expectations low.  But curiosity and hope were keen, in spite of everything.

Ah, those parish worries!  Robert caught the smoke of Mile End in the distance, curling above the twilight woods, and laid about him vigorously with his stick on the squire’s shrubs, as he thought of those poisonous hovels, those ruined lives!  But, after all, it might be mere ignorance, and that wretch Henslowe might have been merely trading on his master’s morbid love of solitude.

And then ­all men have their natural conceits.  Robert Elsmere would not have been the very human creature he was if, half-consciously, he had not counted a good deal on his own powers of influence.  Life had been to him so far one long social success of the best kind.  Very likely as he walked on to the great house over whose threshold lay the answer to the enigma of months, his mind gradually filled with some naïve young dream of winning the squire, playing him with all sorts of honest arts, beguiling him back to life ­to his kind.

Those friendly messages of his through Mrs. Darcy had been very pleasant.

’I wonder whether my Oxford friends have been doing me a good turn with the squire,’ he said to Rose, laughing.  ’He knows the provost, of course.  If they talked me over it is to be hoped my scholarship didn’t come up.  Precious little the provost used to think of my abilities for Greek prose!’

Rose yawned a little behind her gloved hand.  Robert had already talked a good deal about the squire, and he was certainly the only person in the group who was thinking of him.  Even Catherine, absorbed in other anxieties, had forgotten to feel any thrill at their approaching introduction to the man who must of necessity mean so much to herself and Robert.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Robert Elsmere,’ said the butler, throwing open the carved and gilded doors.

Catherine ­following her husband, her fine grave head and beautiful neck held a little more erect than usual ­was at first conscious of nothing but the dazzle of western light which flooded the room, striking the stands of Japanese lilies, and the white figure of a clown in the famous Watteau opposite the window.

Then she found herself greeted by Mrs. Darcy, whose odd habit of holding her lace handkerchief in her right hand on festive occasions only left her two fingers for her guests.  The mistress of the Hall ­as diminutive and elf-like as ever in spite of the added dignity of her sweeping silk and the draperies of black lace with which her tiny head was adorned ­kept tight hold of Catherine, and called a gentleman standing in a group just behind her.

’Roger, here are Mr. and Mrs. Robert Elsmere.  Mr. Elsmere, the squire remembers you in petticoats, and I’m not sure that I don’t too.’

Robert, smiling, looked beyond her to the advancing figure of the squire, but if Mr. Wendover heard his sister’s remark he took no notice of it.  He held out his hand stiffly to Robert, bowed to Catherine and Rose before extending to them the same formal greeting, and just recognised Langham as having met him at Oxford.

Having done so he turned back to the knot of people with whom he had been engaged on their entrance.  His manner had been reserve itself.  The hauteur of the grandee on his own ground was clearly marked in it, and Robert could not help fancying that towards himself there had even been something more.  And not one of those phrases which, under the circumstances, would have been so easy and so gracious, as to Robert’s childish connection with the place, or as to the squire’s remembrance of his father, even though Mrs. Darcy had given him a special opening of the kind.

The young rector instinctively drew himself together, like one who has received a blow, as he moved across to the other side of the fireplace to shake hands with the worthy family doctor, old Meyrick, who was already well known to him.  Catherine, in some discomfort, for she too had felt their reception at the squire’s hands to be a chilling one, sat down to talk to Mrs. Darcy, disagreeably conscious the while that Rose and Langham left to themselves were practically tete-a-tete, and that, moreover, a large stand of flowers formed a partial screen between her and them.  She could see, however, the gleam of Rose’s upstretched neck, as Langham, who was leaning on the piano beside her, bent down to talk to her; and when she looked next she caught a smiling motion of Langham’s head and eyes towards the Romney portrait of Mr. Wendover’s grandmother, and was certain when he stooped afterwards to say something to his companion, that he was commenting on a certain surface likeness there was between her and the young auburn-haired beauty of the picture.  Hateful!  And they would be sent down to dinner together to a certainty.

The other guests were Lady Charlotte Wynnstay, a cousin of the squire ­a tall, imperious, loud-voiced woman, famous in London society for her relationships, her audacity, and the salon which in one way or another she managed to collect round her; her dark, thin, irritable-looking husband; two neighbouring clerics ­the first, by name Longstaffe, a somewhat inferior specimen of the cloth, whom Robert cordially disliked; and the other, Mr. Bickerton, a gentle Evangelical, one of those men who help to ease the harshness of a cross-grained world, and to reconcile the cleverer or more impatient folk in it to the worries of living.

Lady Charlotte was already known by name to the Elsmeres as the aunt of one of their chief friends of the neighbourhood ­the wife of a neighbouring squire whose property joined that of Murewell Hall, one Lady Helen Varley, of whom more presently.  Lady Charlotte was the sister of the Duke of Sedbergh, one of the greatest of dukes, and the sister also of Lady Helen’s mother, Lady Wanless.  Lady Wanless had died prematurely, and her two younger children, Helen and Hugh Flaxman, creatures both of them of unusually fine and fiery quality, had owed a good deal to their aunt.  There were family alliances between the Sedberghs and the Wendovers, and Lady Charlotte made a point of keeping up with the squire.  She adored cynics and people who said piquant things, and it amused her to make her large tyrannous hand felt by the squire’s timid, crack-brained, ridiculous little sister.

As to Dr. Meyrick, he was tall and gaunt as Don Quixote.  His gray hair made a ragged fringe round his straight-backed head; he wore an old-fashioned neck-cloth; his long body had a perpetual stoop, as though of deference, and his spectacled look of mild attentiveness had nothing in common with that medical self-assurance with which we are all nowadays so familiar.  Robert noticed presently that when he addressed Mrs. Darcy he said ‘Ma’am,’ making no bones at all about it; and his manner generally was the manner of one to whom class distinctions were the profoundest reality, and no burden at all on a naturally humble temper.  Dr. Baker, of Whindale, accustomed to trouncing Mrs. Seaton, would have thought him a poor creature.

When dinner was announced, Robert found himself assigned to Mrs. Darcy; the squire took Lady Charlotte.  Catherine fell to Mr. Bickerton, Rose to Mr. Wynnstay, and the rest found their way in as best they could.  Catherine seeing the distribution was happy for a moment, till she found that if Rose was covered on her right she was exposed to the full fire of the enemy on her left, in other words that Langham was placed between her and Dr. Meyrick.

‘Are your spirits damped at all by this magnificence?’ Langham said to his neighbour as they sat down.  The table was entirely covered with Japanese lilies, save for the splendid silver candelabra from which the light flashed, first on to the faces of the guests, and then on to those of the family portraits, hung thickly round the room.  A roof embossed with gilded Tudor roses on a ground of black oak hung above them; a rose-water dish in which the Merry Monarch had once dipped his hands, and which bore a record of the fact in the inscription on its sides, stood before them; and the servants were distributing to each guest silver soup-plates which had been the gift of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, in some moment of generosity or calculation, to the Wendover of her day.

‘Oh dear, no!’ said Rose carelessly.  ’I don’t know how it is, I think I must have been born for a palace.’

Langham looked at her, at the daring harmony of colour made by the reddish gold of her hair, the warm whiteness of her skin, and the brown-pink tints of her dress, at the crystals playing the part of diamonds on her beautiful neck, and remembered Robert’s remarks to him.  The same irony mingled with the same bitterness returned to him, and the elder brother’s attitude became once more temporarily difficult.  ’Who is your neighbour?’ he inquired of her presently.

‘Lady Charlotte’s husband,’ she answered mischievously, under her breath.  ‘One needn’t know much more about him I imagine!’

‘And that man opposite?’

‘Robert’s pet aversion,’ she said calmly, without a change of countenance, so that Mr. Longstaffe opposite, who was studying her as he always studied pretty young women, stared at her through her remark in sublime ignorance of its bearing.

‘And your sister’s neighbour?’

‘I can’t hit him off in a sentence, he’s too good!’ said Rose laughing; ’all I can say is that Mrs. Bickerton has too many children, and the children have too many ailments for her ever to dine out.’

‘That will do; I see the existence,’ said Langham with a shrug.  ’But he has the look of an apostle, though a rather hunted one.  Probably nobody here, except Robert, is fit to tie his shoes.’

‘The squire could hardly be called empresse,’ said Rose, after a second, with a curl of her red lips.  Mr. Wynnstay was still safely engaged with Mrs. Darcy, and there was a buzz of talk largely sustained by Lady Charlotte.

‘No,’ Langham admitted; ’the manners I thought were not quite equal to the house.’

’What possible reason could he have for treating Robert with those airs?’ said Rose indignantly, ready enough in girl fashion to defend her belongings against the outer world.  ’He ought to be only too glad to have the opportunity of knowing him and making friends with him.’

‘You are a sister worth having;’ and Langham smiled at her as she leant back in her chair, her white arms and wrists lying on her lap, and her slightly flushed face turned towards him.  They had been on these pleasant terms of camaraderie all day, and the intimacy between them had been still making strides.

’Do you imagine I don’t appreciate Robert because I make bad jokes about the choir and the clothing club?’ she asked him, with a little quick repentance passing like a shadow through her eyes.  ’I always feel I play an odious part here.  I can’t like it ­I can’t ­their life.  I should hate it!  And yet ­’

She sighed remorsefully, and Langham, who five minutes before could have wished her to be always smiling, could now have almost asked to fix her as she was:  the eyes veiled, the soft lips relaxed in this passing instant of gravity.

‘Ah!  I forgot ­’ and she looked up again with light bewitching appeal ­’there is still that question, my poor little question of Sunday night, when I was in that fine moral frame of mind and you were near giving me, I believe, the only good advice you ever gave in your life, ­how shamefully you have treated it!’

One brilliant look, which Catherine for her torment caught from the other side of the table, and then in an instant the quick face changed and stiffened.  Mr. Wynnstay was speaking to her, and Langham was left to the intermittent mercies of Dr. Meyrick, who though glad to talk, was also quite content, apparently, to judge from the radiant placidity of his look, to examine his wine, study his menu, and enjoy his entrees in silence, undisturbed by the uncertain pleasures of conversation.

Robert, meanwhile, during the first few minutes, in which Mr. Wynnstay had been engaged in some family talk with Mrs. Darcy, had been allowing himself a little deliberate study of Mr. Wendover across what seemed the safe distance of a long table.  The squire was talking shortly and abruptly, yet with occasional flashes of shrill ungainly laughter, to Lady Charlotte, who seemed to have no sort of fear of him and to find him good company, and every now and then Robert saw him turn to Catherine on the other side of him, and with an obvious change of manner address some formal and constrained remark to her.

Mr. Wendover was a man of middle height and loose bony frame, of which, as Robert had noticed in the drawing-room, all the lower half had a thin and shrunken look.  But the shoulders, which had the scholar’s stoop, and the head were massive and squarely outlined.  The head was specially remarkable for its great breadth and comparative flatness above the eyes, and for the way in which the head itself dwarfed the face, which, as contrasted with the large angularity of the skull, had a pinched and drawn look.  The hair was reddish-gray, the eyes small, but deep-set under fine brows, and the thin-lipped wrinkled mouth and long chin had a look of hard sarcastic strength.

Generally the countenance was that of an old man, the furrows were deep, the skin brown and shrivelled.  But the alertness and force of the man’s whole expression showed that, if the body was beginning to fail, the mind was as fresh and masterful as ever.  His hair, worn rather longer than usual, his loosely-fitting dress and slouching carriage gave him an un-English look.  In general he impressed Robert as a sort of curious combination of the foreign savant with the English grandee, for while his manner showed a considerable consciousness of birth and social importance, the gulf between him and the ordinary English country gentleman could hardly have been greater, whether in points of appearance or, as Robert very well knew, in points of social conduct.  And as Robert watched him, his thoughts flew back again to the library, to this man’s past, to all that those eyes had seen and those hands had touched.  He felt already a mysterious, almost a yearning, sense of acquaintance with the being who had just received him with such chilling, such unexpected, indifference.

The squire’s manners, no doubt, were notorious, but even so, his reception of the new rector of the parish, the son of a man intimately connected for years with the place, and with his father, and to whom he had himself shown what was for him considerable civility by letter and message, was sufficiently startling.

Robert, however, had no time to speculate on the causes of it, for Mrs. Darcy, released from Mr. Wynnstay, threw herself with glee on to her longed-for prey, the young and interesting-looking rector.  First of all she cross-examined him as to his literary employments, and when by dint of much questioning she had forced particulars from him, Robert’s mouth twitched as he watched her scuttling away from the subject, seized evidently with internal terrors lest she should have precipitated herself beyond hope of rescue into the jaws of the sixth century.  Then with a view to regaining the lead and opening another and more promising vein, she asked him his opinion of Lady Selden’s last novel, Love in a Marsh; and when he confessed ignorance she paused a moment, fork in hand, her small wrinkled face looking almost as bewildered as when, three minutes before, her rashness had well-nigh brought her face to face with Gregory of Tours as a topic of conversation.

But she was not daunted long.  With little airs and bridlings infinitely diverting, she exchanged inquiry for the most beguiling confidence.  She could appreciate ‘clever men,’ she said, for she ­she too ­was literary.  Did Mr. Elsmere know ­this in a hurried whisper, with sidelong glances to see that Mr. Wynnstay was safely occupied with Rose, and the squire with Lady Charlotte ­that she had once written a novel?

Robert, who had been posted up in many things concerning the neighbourhood by Lady Helen Varley, could answer most truly that he had.  Whereupon Mrs. Darcy beamed all over.

‘Ah! but you haven’t read it,’ she said regretfully.  ’It was when I was Maid of Honour, you know.  No Maid of Honour had ever written a novel before.  It was quite an event.  Dear Prince Albert borrowed a copy of me one night to read in bed ­I have it still, with the page turned down where he left off.’  She hesitated.  ‘It was only in the second chapter,’ she said at last with a fine truthfulness, ’but you know he was so busy, all the Queen’s work to do, of course, besides his own ­poor man!’

Robert implored her to lend him the work, and Mrs. Darcy, with blushes which made her more weird than ever, consented.

Then there was a pause, filled by an acid altercation between Lady Charlotte and her husband, who had not found Rose as grateful for his attentions as, in his opinion, a pink and white nobody at a country dinner-party ought to be, and was glad of the diversion afforded him by some aggressive remark of his wife.  He and she differed on three main points ­politics; the decoration of their London house, Mr. Wynnstay being a lover of Louis Quinze, and Lady Charlotte a preacher of Morris; and the composition of their dinner-parties.  Lady Charlotte, in the pursuit of amusement and notoriety, was fond of flooding the domestic hearth with all the people possessed of any sort of a name for any sort of a reason in London.  Mr. Wynnstay loathed such promiscuity; and the company in which his wife compelled him to drink his wine had seriously soured a small irritable Conservative with more family pride than either nerves or digestion.

During the whole passage of arms, Mrs. Darcy watched Elsmere, cat-and-mouse fashion, with a further confidence burning within her, and as soon as there was once more a general burst of talk, she pounced upon him afresh.  Would he like to know that after thirty years she had just finished her second novel, unbeknown to her brother ­as she mentioned him the little face darkened, took a strange bitterness ­and it was just about to be entrusted to the post and a publisher?

Robert was all interest, of course, and inquired the subject.  Mrs. Darcy expanded still more ­could, in fact, have hugged him.  But, just as she was launching into the plot a thought, apparently a scruple of conscience, struck her.

‘Do you remember,’ she began, looking at him a little darkly, askance, ’what I said about my hobbies the other day?  Now, Mr. Elsmere, will you tell me ­don’t mind me ­don’t be polite ­have you ever heard people tell stories of me?  Have you ever, for instance, heard them call me a ­a ­tuft-hunter?’

‘Never!’ said Robert heartily.

‘They might,’ she said, sighing.  ’I am a tuft-hunter.  I can’t help it.  And yet we are a good family, you know.  I suppose it was that year at Court, and that horrid Warham afterwards.  Twenty years in a cathedral town ­and a very little cathedral town, after Windsor, and Buckingham Palace, and dear Lord Melbourne!  Every year I came up to town to stay with my father for a month in the season, and if it hadn’t been for that I should have died ­my husband knew I should.  It was the world, the flesh, and the devil, of course, but it couldn’t be helped.  But now,’ and she looked plaintively at her companion, as though challenging him to a candid reply:  ’You would be more interesting, wouldn’t you, to tell the truth, if you had a handle to your name?’

‘Immeasurably,’ cried Robert, stifling his laughter with immense difficulty, as he saw she had no inclination to laugh.

‘Well, yes, you know.  But it isn’t right;’ and again she sighed.  ’And so I have been writing this novel just for that.  It is called ­what do you think? ­“Mr. Jones.”  Mr. Jones is my hero ­it’s so good for me, you know, to think about a Mr. Jones.’

She looked beamingly at him.  ’It must be indeed!  Have you endowed him with every virtue?’

‘Oh yes, and in the end, you know ­’ and she bent forward eagerly ­’it all comes right.  His father didn’t die in Brazil without children after all, and the title ­’

‘What!’ cried Robert, ‘so he wasn’t Mr. Jones?’

Mrs. Darcy looked a little conscious.

‘Well, no,’ she said guiltily, ’not just at the end.  But it really doesn’t matter ­not to the story.’

Robert shook his head, with a look of protest as admonitory as he could make it, which evoked in her an answering expression of anxiety.  But just at that moment a loud wave of conversation and of laughter seemed to sweep down upon them from the other end of the table, and their little private eddy was effaced.  The squire had been telling an anecdote, and his clerical neighbours had been laughing at it.

‘Ah!’ cried Mr. Longstaffe, throwing himself back in his chair with a chuckle, ‘that was an Archbishop worth having!’

‘A curious story,’ said Mr. Bickerton, benevolently, the point of it, however, to tell the truth, not being altogether clear to him.  It seemed to Robert that the squire’s keen eye, as he sat looking down the table, with his large nervous hands clasped before him, was specially fixed upon himself.

‘May we hear the story?’ he said, bending forward.  Catherine, faintly smiling in her corner beside the host, was looking a little flushed and moved out of her ordinary quiet.

‘It is a story of Archbishop Manners Sutton,’ said Mr. Wendover, in his dry nasal voice.  ’You probably know it, Mr. Elsmere.  After Bishop Heber’s consecration to the See of Calcutta, it fell to the Archbishop to make a valedictory speech, in the course of the luncheon at Lambeth which followed the ceremony.  “I have very little advice to give you as to your future career,” he said to the young bishop, “but all that experience has given me I hand on to you.  Place before your eyes two precepts, and two only.  One is, Preach the Gospel; and the other is ­Put down enthusiasm!"’

There was a sudden gleam of steely animation in the squire’s look as he told his story, his eye all the while fixed on Robert.  Robert divined in a moment that the story had been re-told for his special benefit, and that in some unexplained way the relations between him and the squire were already biassed.  He smiled a little with faint politeness, and falling back into his place made no comment on the squire’s anecdote.  Lady Charlotte’s eyeglass, having adjusted itself for a moment to the distant figure of the rector, with regard to whom she had been asking Dr. Meyrick for particulars, quite unmindful of Catherine’s neighbourhood, turned back again towards the squire.

‘An unblushing old worldling, I should call your Archbishop,’ she said briskly.  ’And a very good thing for him that he lived when he did.  Our modern good people would have dusted his apron for him.’

Lady Charlotte prided herself on these vigorous forms of speech, and the squire’s neighbourhood generally called out an unusual crop of them.  The squire was still sitting with his hands on the table, his great brows bent, surveying his guests.

‘Oh, of course all the sensible men are dead!’ he said indifferently.  ‘But that is a pet saying of mine ­the Church of England in a nutshell.’

Robert flushed, and after a moment’s hesitation bent forward.

‘What do you suppose,’ he asked quietly, ’your Archbishop meant, Mr. Wendover, by enthusiasm?  Nonconformity, I imagine.’

‘Oh, very possibly!’ and again Robert found the hawk-like glance concentrated on himself.  ’But I like to give his remark a much wider extension.  One may make it a maxim of general experience, and take it as fitting all the fools with a mission who have teased our generation ­all your Kingsleys, and Maurices, and Ruskins ­every one bent upon making any sort of aimless commotion, which may serve him both as an investment for the next world, and an advertisement for this.’

‘Upon my word, squire,’ said Lady Charlotte, ’I hope you don’t expect Mr. Elsmere to agree with you?’

Mr. Wendover made her a little bow.

‘I have very little sanguineness of any sort in my composition,’ he said drily.

‘I should like to know,’ said Robert, taking no notice of this by-play; ’I should like to know, Mr. Wendover, leaving the Archbishop out of count, what you understand by this word enthusiasm in this maxim of yours?’

‘An excellent manner,’ thought Lady Charlotte, who, for all her noisiness, was an extremely shrewd woman, ’an excellent manner and an unprovoked attack.’

Catherine’s trained eye, however, had detected signs in Robert’s look and bearing which were lost on Lady Charlotte, and which made her look nervously on.  As to the rest of the table, they had all fallen to watching the ‘break’ between the new rector and their host with a good deal of curiosity.

The squire paused a moment before replying, ­

‘It is not easy to put it tersely,’ he said at last; ’but I may define it, perhaps, as the mania for mending the roof of your right-hand neighbour with straw torn off the roof of your left-hand neighbour; the custom, in short, of robbing Peter to propitiate Paul.’

‘Precisely,’ said Mr. Wynnstay warmly; ’all the ridiculous Radical nostrums of the last fifty years ­you have hit them off exactly.  Sometimes you rob more and propitiate less; sometimes you rob less and propitiate more.  But the principle is always the same.’  And mindful of all those intolerable evenings, when these same Radical nostrums had been forced down his throat at his own table, he threw a pugnacious look at his wife, who smiled back serenely in reply.  There is small redress indeed for these things, when out of the common household stock the wife possesses most of the money, and a vast proportion of the brains.

‘And the cynic takes pleasure in observing,’ interrupted the squire, ’that the man who effects the change of balance does it in the loftiest manner, and profits in the vulgarest way.  Other trades may fail.  The agitator is always sure of his market.’

He spoke with a harsh contemptuous insistence which was gradually setting every nerve in Robert’s body tingling.  He bent forward again, his long thin frame and boyish bright-complexioned face making an effective contrast to the squire’s bronzed and wrinkled squareness.

’Oh, if you and Mr. Wynnstay are prepared to draw an indictment against your generation and all its works, I have no more to say,’ he said, smiling still, though his voice had risen a little in spite of himself.  ’I should be content to withdraw with my Burke into the majority.  I imagined your attack on enthusiasm had a narrower scope, but if it is to be made synonymous with social progress I give up.  The subject is too big.  Only ­’

He hesitated.  Mr. Wynnstay was studying him with somewhat insolent coolness; Lady Charlotte’s eyeglass never wavered from his face, and he felt through every fibre the tender timid admonitions of his wife’s eyes.

‘However,’ he went on after an instant, ’I imagine that we should find it difficult anyhow to discover common ground.  I regard your Archbishop’s maxim, Mr. Wendover,’ and his tone quickened and grew louder, ’as first of all a contradiction in terms; and in the next place, to me, almost all enthusiasms are respectable!’

‘You are one of those people, I see,’ returned Mr. Wendover, after a pause, with the same nasal emphasis and the same hauteur, ’who imagine we owe civilisation to the heart; that mankind has felt its way ­literally.  The school of the majority, of course ­I admit it amply.  I, on the other hand, am with the benighted minority who believe that the world, so far as it has lived to any purpose, has lived by the head,’ and he flung the noun at Robert scornfully.  ’But I am quite aware that in a world of claptrap the philosopher gets all the kicks, and the philanthropists, to give them their own label, all the halfpence.’

The impassive tone had gradually warmed to a heat which was unmistakable.  Lady Charlotte looked on with increasing relish.  To her all society was a comedy played for her entertainment, and she detected something more dramatic than usual in the juxtaposition of these two men.  That young rector might be worth looking after.  The dinners in Martin Street were alarmingly in want of fresh blood.  As for poor Mr. Bickerton, he had begun to talk hastily to Catherine, with a sense of something tumbling about his ears; while Mr. Longstaffe, eyeglass in hand, surveyed the table with a distinct sense of pleasurable entertainment.  He had not seen much of Elsmere yet, but it was as clear as daylight that the man was a firebrand, and should be kept in order.

Meanwhile there was a pause between the two main disputants; the storm-clouds were deepening outside, and rain had begun to patter on the windows.  Mrs. Darcy was just calling attention to the weather when the squire unexpectedly returned to the charge.

‘The one necessary thing in life,’ he said, turning to Lady Charlotte, a slight irritating smile playing round his strong mouth, ’is ­not to be duped.  Put too much faith in these fine things the altruists talk of, and you arrive one day at the condition of Louis XIV. after the battle of Ramillies:  “Dieu a donc oublie tout ce que j’ai fait pour lui?” Read your Renan; remind yourself at every turn that it is quite possible after all the egotist may turn out to be in the right of it, and you will find at any rate that the world gets on excellently well without your blundering efforts to set it straight.  And so we get back to the Archbishop’s maxim ­adapted, no doubt, to English requirements,’ and he shrugged his great shoulders expressively:  ’Pace Mr. Elsmere, of course, and the rest of our clerical friends!’

Again he looked down the table, and the strident voice sounded harsher than ever as it rose above the sudden noise of the storm outside.  Robert’s bright eyes were fixed on the squire, and before Mr. Wendover stopped Catherine could see the words of reply trembling on his lips.

‘I am well content,’ he said, with a curious dry intensity of tone.  ’I give you your Renan.  Only leave us poor dupes our illusions.  We will not quarrel with the division.  With you all the cynics of history; with us all the “scorners of the ground” from the world’s beginning until now!’

The squire make a quick impatient movement.  Mr. Wynnstay looked significantly at his wife, who dropped her eyeglass with a little irrepressible smile.

As for Robert, leaning forward with hastened breath, it seemed to him that his eyes and the squire’s crossed like swords.  In Robert’s mind there had arisen a sudden passion of antagonism.  Before his eyes there was a vision of a child in a stifling room, struggling with mortal disease, imposed upon her, as he hotly reminded himself, by this man’s culpable neglect.  The dinner-party, the splendour of the room, the conversation, excited a kind of disgust in him.  If it were not for Catherine’s pale face opposite, he could hardly have maintained his self-control.

Mrs. Darcy, a little bewildered, and feeling that things were not going particularly well, thought it best to interfere.

‘Roger,’ she said plaintively, ’you must not be so philosophical.  It’s too hot!  He used to talk like that,’ she went on, bending over to Mr. Wynnstay, ’to the French priests who came to see us last winter in Paris.  They never minded a bit ­they used to laugh.  “Monsieur vôtre frère, madame, c’est un homme qui a trop lu,” they would say to me when I gave them their coffee.  Oh, they were such dears, those old priests!  Roger said they had great hopes of me.’

The chatter was welcome, the conversation broke up.  The squire turned to Lady Charlotte, and Rose to Langham.

‘Why didn’t you support Robert?’ she said to him, impulsively, with a dissatisfied face.  ‘He was alone, against the table!’

‘What good should I have done him?’ he asked, with a shrug.  ’And pray, my lady confessor, what enthusiasms do you suspect me of?’

He looked at her intently.  It seemed to her they were by the gate again ­the touch of his lips on her hand.  She turned from him hastily to stoop for her fan which had slipped away.  It was only Catherine who, for her annoyance, saw the scarlet flush leap into the fair face.  An instant later Mrs. Darcy had given the signal.

After dinner Lady Charlotte fixed herself at first on Catherine, whose quiet dignity during the somewhat trying ordeal of the dinner had impressed her, but a few minutes’ talk produced in her the conviction that without a good deal of pains ­and why should a Londoner, accustomed to the cream of things, take pains with a country clergyman’s wife? ­she was not likely to get much out of her.  Her appearance promised more, Lady Charlotte thought, than her conversation justified, and she looked about for easier game.

‘Are you Mr. Elsmere’s sister?’ said a loud voice over Rose’s head; and Rose, who had been turning over an illustrated book, with a mind wholly detached from it, looked up to see Lady Charlotte’s massive form standing over her.

‘No, his sister-in-law,’ said Rose, flushing in spite of herself, for Lady Charlotte was distinctly formidable.

‘Hum,’ said her questioner, depositing herself beside her.  ’I never saw two sisters more unlike.  You have got a very argumentative brother-in-law.’

Rose said nothing, partly from awkwardness, partly from rising antagonism.

‘Did you agree with him?’ asked Lady Charlotte, putting up her glass and remorselessly studying every detail of the pink dress, its ornaments, and the slippered feet peeping out beneath it.

‘Entirely,’ said Rose fearlessly, looking her full in the face.

’And what can you know about it, I wonder?  However, you are on the right side.  It is the fashion nowadays to have enthusiasms.  I suppose you muddle about among the poor like other people?’

‘I know nothing about the poor,’ said Rose.

’Oh, then, I suppose you feel yourself effective enough in some other line?’ said the other coolly.  ’What is it ­lawn tennis, or private theatricals, or ­hem ­prettiness?’ And again the eyeglass went up.

‘Whichever you like,’ said Rose calmly, the scarlet on her cheek deepening, while she resolutely reopened her book.  The manner of the other had quite effaced in her all that sense of obligation, as from the young to the old, which she had been very carefully brought up in.  Never had she beheld such an extraordinary woman.

‘Don’t read,’ said Lady Charlotte complacently.  ’Look at me.  It’s your duty to talk to me, you know; and I won’t make myself any more disagreeable than I can help.  I generally make myself disagreeable, and yet, after all, there are a great many people who like me.’

Rose turned a countenance rippling with suppressed laughter on her companion.  Lady Charlotte had a large fair face, with a great deal of nose and chin, and an erection of lace and feathers on her head that seemed in excellent keeping with the masterful emphasis of those features.  Her eyes stared frankly and unblushingly at the world, only softened at intervals by the glasses which were so used as to make them a most effective adjunct of her conversation.  Socially, she was absolutely devoid of weakness or of shame.  She found society extremely interesting, and she always struck straight for the desirable things in it, making short work of all those delicate tentative processes of acquaintanceship by which men and women ordinarily sort themselves.  Rose’s brilliant vivacious beauty had caught her eye at dinner; she adored beauty as she adored anything effective, and she always took a queer pleasure in bullying her way into a girl’s liking.  It is a great thing to be persuaded that at bottom you have a good heart.  Lady Charlotte was so persuaded, and allowed herself many things in consequence.

‘What shall we talk about?’ said Rose demurely.  ’What a magnificent old house this is!’

’Stuff and nonsense!  I don’t want to talk about the house.  I am sick to death of it.  And if your people live in the parish, you are too.  I return to my question.  Come, tell me, what is your particular line in life?  I am sure you have one, by your face.  You had better tell me; it will do you no harm.’

Lady Charlotte settled herself comfortably on the sofa, and Rose, seeing that there was no chance of escaping her tormentor, felt her spirits rise to an encounter.

‘Really ­Lady Charlotte ­’ and she looked down, and then up, with a feigned bashfulness ­’I ­I ­play a little.’

‘Humph!’ said her questioner again, rather disconcerted by the obvious missishness of the answer.  ’You do, do you?  More’s the pity.  No woman who respects herself ought to play the piano nowadays.  A professional told me the other day that until nineteen-twentieths of the profession were strung up, there would be no chance for the rest; and as for amateurs, there is simply no room for them whatever.  I can’t conceive anything more passe than amateur pianoforte playing!’

‘I don’t play the piano,’ said Rose meekly.

‘What ­the fashionable instrument, the banjo?’ laughed Lady Charlotte.  ‘That would be really striking.’

Rose was silent again, the corners of her mouth twitching.

‘Mrs. Darcy,’ said her neighbour, raising her voice, ’this young lady tells me she plays something; what is it?’

Mrs. Darcy looked in a rather helpless way at Catherine.  She was dreadfully afraid of Lady Charlotte.

Catherine, with a curious reluctance, gave the required information; and then Lady Charlotte insisted that the violin should be sent for, as it had not been brought.

‘Who accompanies you?’ she inquired of Rose.

‘Mr. Langham plays very well,’ said Rose indifferently.

Lady Charlotte raised her eyebrows.  ’That dark, Byronic-looking creature who came with you?  I should not have imagined him capable of anything sociable.  Letitia, shall I send my maid to the rectory, or can you spare a man?’

Mrs. Darcy hurriedly gave orders, and Rose, inwardly furious, was obliged to submit.  Then Lady Charlotte, having gained her point, and secured a certain amount of diversion for the evening, lay back on the sofa, used her fan, and yawned till the gentlemen appeared.

When they came in, the precious violin which Rose never trusted to any other hands but her own without trepidation had just arrived, and its owner, more erect than usual, because more nervous, was trying to prop up a dilapidated music-stand which Mrs. Darcy had unearthed for her.  As Langham came in, she looked up and beckoned to him.

‘Do you see?’ she said to him impatiently, ’they have made me play.  Will you accompany me?  I am very sorry, but there is no one else.’

If there was one thing Langham loathed on his own account, it was any sort of performance in public.  But the half-plaintive look which accompanied her last words showed that she knew it, and he did his best to be amiable.

‘I am altogether at your service,’ he said, sitting down with resignation.

‘It is all that tiresome woman, Lady Charlotte Wynnstay,’ she whispered to him behind the music-stand.  ‘I never saw such a person in my life.’

‘Macaulay’s Lady Holland without the brains,’ suggested Langham with languid vindictiveness as he gave her the note.

Meanwhile Mr. Wynnstay and the squire sauntered in together.

‘A village Norman-Neruda?’ whispered the guest to the host.  The squire shrugged his shoulders.

‘Hush!’ said Lady Charlotte, looking severely at her husband.  Mr. Wynnstay’s smile instantly disappeared; he leant against the doorway and stared sulkily at the ceiling.  Then the musicians began, on some Hungarian melodies put together by a younger rival of Brahms.  They had not played twenty bars before the attention of every one in the room was more or less seized ­unless we except Mr. Bickerton, whose children, good soul, were all down with some infantile ailment or other, and who was employed in furtively watching the clock all the time to see when it would be decent to order round the pony-carriage which would take him back to his pale overweighted spouse.

First came wild snatches of march music, primitive, savage, non-European; then a waltz of the lightest, maddest rhythm, broken here and there by strange barbaric clashes; then a song, plaintive and clinging, rich in the subtlest shades and melancholies of modern feeling.

‘Ah, but excellent!’ said Lady Charlotte once, under her breath, at a pause; ‘and what entrain ­what beauty!’

For Rose’s figure was standing thrown out against the dusky blue of the tapestried walls, and from that delicate relief every curve, every grace, each tint ­hair and cheek and gleaming arm gained an enchanting picture-like distinctness.  There was jessamine at her waist and among the gold of her hair; the crystals on her neck, and on the little shoe thrown forward beyond her dress, caught the lamplight.

‘How can that man play with her and not fall in love with her?’ thought Lady Charlotte to herself, with a sigh, perhaps, for her own youth.  ’He looks cool enough, however; the typical don with his nose in the air!’

Then the slow passionate sweetness of the music swept her away with it, she being in her way a connoisseur, and she ceased to speculate.  When the sounds ceased there was silence for a moment.  Mrs. Darcy, who had a piano in her sitting-room whereon she strummed every morning with her tiny rheumatic fingers, and who had, as we know, strange little veins of sentiment running all about her, stared at Rose with open mouth.  So did Catherine.  Perhaps it was then for the first time that, touched by this publicity, this contagion of other people’s feeling, Catherine realised fully against what a depth of stream she had been building her useless barriers.

‘More! more!’ cried Lady Charlotte.

The whole room seconded the demand save the squire and Mr. Bickerton.  They withdrew together into a distant oriel.  Robert, who was delighted with his little sister-in-law’s success, went smiling to talk of it to Mrs. Darcy, while Catherine with a gentle coldness answered Mr. Longstaffe’s questions on the same theme.

‘Shall we?’ said Rose, panting a little, but radiant, looking down on her companion.

‘Command me!’ he said, his grave lips slightly smiling, his eyes taking in the same vision that had charmed Lady Charlotte’s.  What a ’child of grace and genius!’

‘But do you like it?’ she persisted.

‘Like it ­like accompanying your playing?’

’Oh no!’ ­impatiently; ‘showing off, I mean.  I am quite ready to stop.’

‘Go on; go on!’ he said, laying his finger on the A.  ’You have driven all my mauvaise honte away.  I have not heard you play so splendidly yet.’

She flushed all over.  ‘Then we will go on,’ she said briefly.

So they plunged again into an Andante and Scherzo of Beethoven.  How the girl threw herself into it, bringing out the wailing love-song of the Andante, the dainty tripping mirth of the Scherzo, in a way which set every nerve in Langham vibrating!  Yet the art of it was wholly unconscious.  The music was the mere natural voice of her inmost self.  A comparison full of excitement was going on in that self between her first impressions of the man beside her, and her consciousness of him, as he seemed to-night, human, sympathetic, kind.  A blissful sense of a mission filled the young silly soul.  Like David, she was pitting herself and her gift against those dark powers which may invade and paralyse a life.

After the shouts of applause at the end had yielded to a burst of talk, in the midst of which Lady Charlotte, with exquisite infelicity, might have been heard laying down the law to Catherine as to how her sister’s remarkable musical powers might be best perfected, Langham turned to his companion, ­

’Do you know that for years I have enjoyed nothing so much as the music of the last two days?’

His black eyes shone upon her, transfused with something infinitely soft and friendly.  She smiled.  ’How little I imagined that first evening that you cared for music!’

‘Or about anything else worth caring for?’ he asked her, laughing, but with always that little melancholy note in the laugh.

‘Oh, if you like,’ she said, with a shrug of her white shoulders.  ’I believe you talked to Catherine the whole of the first evening, when you weren’t reading Hamlet in the corner, about the arrangements for women’s education at Oxford.’

‘Could I have found a more respectable subject?’ he inquired of her.

‘The adjective is excellent,’ she said with a little face, as she put her violin into its case.  ’If I remember right, Catherine and I felt it personal.  None of us were ever educated, except in arithmetic, sewing, English history, the Catechism, and Paradise Lost.  I taught myself French at seventeen, because one Moliere wrote plays in it, and German because of Wagner.  But they are my French and my German.  I wouldn’t advise anybody else to steal them!’

Langham was silent, watching the movements of the girl’s agile fingers.

‘I wonder,’ he said at last, slowly, ’when I shall play that Beethoven again?’

‘To-morrow morning if you have a conscience,’ she said drily; ’we murdered one or two passages in fine style.’

He looked at her, startled.  ‘But I go by the morning train!’ There was an instant’s silence.  Then the violin case shut with a snap.

‘I thought it was to be Saturday,’ she said abruptly.

‘No,’ he answered with a sigh, ’it was always Friday.  There is a meeting in London I must get to to-morrow afternoon.’

‘Then we shan’t finish these Hungarian duets,’ she said slowly, turning away from him to collect some music on the piano.

Suddenly a sense of the difference between the week behind him, with all its ups and downs, its quarrels, its ennuis, its moments of delightful intimity, of artistic freedom and pleasure, and those threadbare monotonous weeks into which he was to slip back on the morrow, awoke in him a mad inconsequent sting of disgust, of self-pity.

‘No, we shall finish nothing,’ he said in a voice which only she could hear, his hands lying on the keys; ’there are some whose destiny it is never to finish ­never to have enough ­to leave the feast on the table, and all the edges of life ragged!’

Her lips trembled.  They were far away, in the vast room, from the group Lady Charlotte was lecturing.  Her nerves were all unsteady with music and feeling, and the face looking down on him had grown pale.

‘We make our own destiny,’ she said impatiently. ’We choose.  It is all our own doing.  Perhaps destiny begins things ­friendship, for instance; but afterwards it is absurd to talk of anything but ourselves.  We keep our friends, our chances, our ­our joys,’ she went on hurriedly, trying desperately to generalise, ’or we throw them away wilfully, because we choose.’

Their eyes were riveted on each other.

‘Not wilfully,’ he said under his breath.  ’But ­no matter.  May I take you at your word, Miss Leyburn?  Wretched shirker that I am, whom even Robert’s charity despairs of:  have I made a friend?  Can I keep her?’

Extraordinary spell of the dark effeminate face ­of its rare smile!  The girl forgot all pride, all discretion.  ‘Try,’ she whispered, and as his hand, stretching along the keyboard, instinctively felt for hers, for one instant ­and another, and another ­she gave it to him.

‘Albert, come here!’ exclaimed Lady Charlotte, beckoning to her husband; and Albert, though with a bad grace, obeyed.  ’Just go and ask that girl to come and talk to me, will you?  Why on earth didn’t you make friends with her at dinner?’

The husband made some irritable answer, and the wife laughed.

‘Just like you!’ she said, with a good humour which seemed to him solely caused by the fact of his non-success with the beauty at table.  ’You always expect to kill at the first stroke.  I mean to take her in tow.  Go and bring her here.’

Mr. Wynnstay sauntered off with as much dignity as his stature was capable of.  He found Rose tying up her music at one end of the piano, while Langham was preparing to shut up the keyboard.

There was something appeasing in the girl’s handsomeness.  Mr. Wynnstay laid down his airs, paid her various compliments, and led her off to Lady Charlotte.

Langham stood by the piano, lost in a kind of miserable dream.  Mrs. Darcy fluttered up to him.

‘Oh, Mr. Langham, you play so beautifully!  Do play a solo!’

He subsided on to the music-bench obediently.  On any ordinary occasion tortures could not have induced him to perform in a room full of strangers.  He had far too lively and fastidious a sense of the futility of the amateur.

But he played ­what, he knew not.  Nobody listened but Mrs. Darcy, who sat lost in an armchair a little way off, her tiny foot beating time.  Rose stopped talking, started, tried to listen.  But Lady Charlotte had had enough music, and so had Mr. Longstaffe, who was endeavouring to joke himself into the good graces of the Duke of Sedbergh’s sister.  The din of conversation rose at the challenge of the piano, and Langham was soon overcrowded.

Musically, it was perhaps as well, for the player’s inward tumult was so great, that what his hands did he hardly knew or cared.  He felt himself the greatest criminal unhung.  Suddenly, through all that wilful mist of epicurean feeling which had been enwrapping him, there had pierced a sharp illumining beam from a girl’s eyes aglow with joy, with hope, with tenderness.  In the name of Heaven, what had this growing degeneracy of every moral muscle led him to now?  What! smile and talk, and smile ­and be a villain all the time?  What! encroach on a young life, like some creeping parasitic growth, taking all, able to give nothing in return ­not even one genuine spark of genuine passion?  Go philandering on till a child of nineteen shows you her warm impulsive heart, play on her imagination, on her pity, safe all the while in the reflection that by the next day you will be far away, and her task and yours will be alike to forget!  He shrinks from himself as one shrinks from a man capable of injuring anything weak and helpless.  To despise the world’s social code, and then to fall conspicuously below its simplest articles; to aim at being pure intelligence, pure open-eyed rationality, and not even to succeed in being a gentleman, as the poor commonplace world understands it!  Oh, to fall at her feet, and ask her pardon before parting for ever!  But no ­no more posing; no more dramatising.  How can he get away most quietly ­make least sign?  The thought of that walk home in the darkness fills him with a passion of irritable impatience.

‘Look at that Romney, Mr. Elsmere; just look at it!’ cried Dr. Meyrick excitedly; ’did you ever see anything finer?  There was one of those London dealer fellows down here last summer offered the squire four thousand pounds down on the nail for it.’

In this way Meyrick had been taking Robert round the drawing-room, doing the honours of every stick and stone in it, his eyeglass in his eye, his thin old face shining with pride over the Wendover possessions.  And so the two gradually neared the oriel where the squire and Mr. Bickerton were standing.

Robert was in twenty minds as to any further conversation with the squire.  After the ladies had gone, while every nerve in him was still tingling with anger, he had done his best to keep up indifferent talk on local matters with Mr. Bickerton.  Inwardly he was asking himself whether he should ever sit at the squire’s table and eat his bread again.  It seemed to him that they had had a brush which would be difficult to forget.  And as he sat there before the squire’s wine, hot with righteous heat, all his grievances against the man and the landlord crowded upon him.  A fig for intellectual eminence if it make a man oppress his inferiors and bully his equals!

But as the minutes passed on, the rector had cooled down.  The sweet, placable, scrupulous nature began to blame itself.  ’What, play your cards so badly, give up the game so rashly, the very first round?  Nonsense!  Patience and try again.  There must be some cause in the background.  No need to be white-livered, but every need, in the case of such a man as the squire, to take no hasty needless offence.’

So he had cooled and cooled, and now here were Meyrick and he close to the squire and his companion.  The two men, as the rector approached, were discussing some cases of common enclosure that had just taken place in the neighbourhood.  Robert listened a moment, then struck in.  Presently, when the chat dropped, he began to express to the squire his pleasure in the use of the library.  His manner was excellent, courtesy itself, but without any trace of effusion.

‘I believe,’ he said at last, smiling, ’my father used to be allowed the same privileges.  If so, it quite accounts for the way in which he clung to Murewell.’

‘I had never the honour of Mr. Edward Elsmere’s acquaintance,’ said the squire frigidly.  ’During the time of his occupation of the rectory I was not in England.’

’I know.  Do you still go much to Germany?  Do you keep up your relations with Berlin?’

‘I have not seen Berlin for fifteen years,’ said the squire briefly, his eyes in their wrinkled sockets fixed sharply on the man who ventured to question him about himself, uninvited.  There was an awkward pause.  Then the squire turned again to Mr. Bickerton.

’Bickerton, have you noticed how many trees that storm of last February has brought down at the north-east corner of the park?’

Robert was inexpressibly galled by the movement, by the words themselves.  The squire had not yet addressed a single remark of any kind about Murewell to him.  There was a deliberate intention to exclude implied in this appeal to the man who was not the man of the place, on such a local point, which struck Robert very forcibly.

He walked away to where his wife was sitting.

‘What time is it?’ whispered Catherine, looking up at him.

‘Time to go,’ he returned, smiling, but she caught the discomposure in his tone and look at once, and her wifely heart rose against the squire.  She got up, drawing herself together with a gesture that became her.

‘Then let us go at once,’ she said.  ‘Where is Rose?’

A minute later there was a general leave-taking.  Oddly enough it found the squire in the midst of a conversation with Langham.  As though to show more clearly that it was the rector personally who was in his black books, Mr. Wendover had already devoted some cold attention to Catherine both at and after dinner, and he had no sooner routed Robert than he moved in his slouching away across from Mr. Bickerton to Langham.  And now, another man altogether, he was talking and laughing ­describing apparently a reception at the French Academy ­the epigrams flying, the harsh face all lit up, the thin bony fingers gesticulating freely.

The husband and wife exchanged glances as they stood waiting, while Lady Charlotte, in her loudest voice, was commanding Rose to come and see her in London any Thursday after the first of November.  Robert was very sore.  Catherine passionately felt it, and forgetting everything but him, longed to be out with him in the park comforting him.

‘What an absurd fuss you have been making about that girl,’ Wynnstay exclaimed to his wife as the Elsmere party left the room, the squire conducting Catherine with a chill politeness.  ’And now, I suppose, you will be having her up in town, and making some young fellow who ought to know better fall in love with her.  I am told the father was a grammar-school headmaster.  Why can’t you leave people where they belong?’

‘I have already pointed out to you,’ Lady Charlotte observed calmly, ’that the world has moved on since you were launched into it.  I can’t keep up class-distinctions to please you; otherwise, no doubt, being the devoted wife I am, I might try.  However, my dear, we both have our fancies.  You collect Sèvres china with or without a pedigree,’ and she coughed drily; ’I collect promising young women.  On the whole, I think my hobby is more beneficial to you than yours is profitable to me.’

Mr. Wynnstay was furious.  Only a week before he had been childishly, shamefully taken in by a Jew curiosity-dealer from Vienna, to his wife’s huge amusement.  If looks could have crushed her, Lady Charlotte would have been crushed.  But she was far too substantial as she lay back in her chair, one large foot crossed over the other, and, as her husband very well knew, the better man of the two.  He walked away, murmuring under his moustache words that would hardly have borne publicity, while Lady Charlotte, through her glasses, made a minute study of a little French portrait hanging some two yards from her.

Meanwhile the Elsmere party were stepping out into the warm damp of the night.  The storm had died away, but a soft Scotch mist of rain filled the air.  Everything was dark, save for a few ghostly glimmerings through the trees of the avenue; and there was a strong sweet smell of wet earth and grass.  Rose had drawn the hood of her waterproof over her head, and her face gleamed an indistinct whiteness from its shelter.  Oh this leaping pulse ­this bright glow of expectation!  How had she made this stupid blunder about his going?  Oh, it was Catherine’s mistake, of course, at the beginning.  But what matter?  Here they were in the dark, side by side, friends now, friends always.  Catherine should not spoil their last walk together.  She felt a passionate trust that he would not allow it.

‘Wifie!’ exclaimed Robert, drawing her a little apart, ’do you know it has just occurred to me that, as I was going through the park this afternoon by the lower footpath, I crossed Henslowe coming away from the house.  Of course this is what has happened! He has told his story first.  No doubt just before I met him he had been giving the squire a full and particular account ­a la Henslowe ­of my proceedings since I came.  Henslowe lays it on thick ­paints with a will.  The squire receives me afterwards as the meddlesome pragmatical priest he understands me to be; puts his foot down to begin with; and, hinc illae lacrymae.  It’s as clear as daylight!  I thought that man had an odd twist of the lip as he passed me.’

‘Then a disagreeable evening will be the worst of it,’ said Catherine proudly.  ’I imagine, Robert, you can defend yourself against that bad man?’

’He has got the start; he has no scruples; and it remains to be seen whether the squire has a heart to appeal to,’ replied the young rector with sore reflectiveness.  ’Oh, Catherine, have you ever thought, wifie, what a business it will be for us if I can’t make friends with that man?  Here we are at his gates ­all our people in his power; the comfort, at any rate, of our social life depending on him.  And what a strange, unmanageable, inexplicable being!’

Elsmere sighed aloud.  Like all quick imaginative natures he was easily depressed, and the squire’s sombre figure had for the moment darkened his whole horizon.  Catherine laid her cheek against his arm in the darkness, consoling, remonstrating, every other thought lost in her sympathy with Robert’s worries.  Langham and Rose slipped out of her head; Elsmere’s step had quickened, as it always did when he was excited, and she kept up without thinking.

When Langham found the others had shot ahead in the darkness, and he and his neighbour were tete-a-tete, despair seized him.  But for once he showed a sort of dreary presence of mind.  Suddenly, while the girl beside him was floating in a golden dream of feeling, he plunged with a stiff deliberation born of his inner conflict into a discussion of the German system of musical training.  Rose, startled, made some vague and flippant reply.  Langham pursued the matter.  He had some information about it, it appeared, garnered up in his mind, which might perhaps some day prove useful to her.  A St. Anselm’s undergraduate, one Dashwood, an old pupil of his, had been lately at Berlin for six months, studying at the Conservatorium.  Not long ago, being anxious to become a schoolmaster, he had written to Langham for a testimonial.  His letter had contained a full account of his musical life.  Langham proceeded to recapitulate it.

His careful and precise report of hours, fees, masters, and methods lasted till they reached the park gate.  He had the smallest powers of social acting, and his rôle was dismally overdone.  The girl beside him could not know that he was really defending her from himself.  His cold altered manner merely seemed to her a sudden and marked withdrawal of his petition for her friendship.  No doubt she had received that petition too effusively ­and he wished there should be no mistake.

What a young smarting soul went through in that half-mile of listening is better guessed than analysed.  There are certain moments of shame, which only women know, and which seem to sting and burn out of youth all its natural sweet self-love.  A woman may outlive them, but never forget them.  If she pass through one at nineteen her cheek will grow hot over it at seventy.  Her companion’s measured tone, the flow of deliberate speech which came from him, the nervous aloofness of his attitude ­every detail in that walk seemed to Rose’s excited sense an insult.

As the park gate swung behind them she felt a sick longing for Catherine’s shelter.  Then all the pride in her rushed to the rescue and held that swooning dismay at the heart of her in check.  And forthwith she capped Langham’s minute account of the scale-method of a famous Berlin pianist by some witty stories of the latest London prodigy, a child-violinist, incredibly gifted, dirty, and greedy, whom she had made friends with in town.  The girl’s voice rang out sharp and hard under the trees.  Where, in fortune’s name, were the lights of the rectory?  Would this nightmare never come to an end?

At the rectory gate was Catherine waiting for them, her whole soul one repentant alarm.

’Mr. Langham, Robert has gone to the study; will you go and smoke with him?’

‘By all means.  Good-night, then, Mrs. Elsmere.’

Catherine gave him her hand.  Rose was trying hard to fit the lock of the gate into the hasp, and had no hand free.  Besides, he did not approach her.

‘Good-night!’ she said to him over her shoulder.

‘Oh, and Mr. Langham!’ Catherine called after him as he strode away, ‘will you settle with Robert about the carriage?’

He turned, made a sound of assent, and went on.

‘When?’ asked Rose lightly.

‘For the nine o’clock train.’

’There should be a law against interfering with people’s breakfast hour,’ said Rose; ’though, to be sure, a guest may as well get himself gone early and be done with it.  How you and Robert raced, Cathie!  We did our best to catch you up, but the pace was too good.’

Was there a wild taunt, a spice of malice in the girl’s reckless voice?  Catherine could not see her in the darkness, but the sister felt a sudden trouble invade her.

‘Rose, darling, you are not tired?’

‘Oh dear, no!  Good-night, sleep well.  What a goose Mrs. Darcy is!’

And, barely submitting to be kissed, Rose ran up the steps and upstairs.

Langham and Robert smoked till midnight.  Langham for the first time gave Elsmere an outline of his plans for the future, and Robert, filled with dismay at this final breach with Oxford and human society, and the only form of practical life possible to such a man, threw himself into protests more and more vigorous and affectionate.  Langham listened to them at first with sombre silence, then with an impatience which gradually reduced Robert to a sore puffing at his pipe.  There was a long space during which they sat together, the ashes of the little fire Robert had made dropping on the hearth, and not a word on either side.

At last Elsmere could not bear it, and when midnight struck he sprang up with an impatient shake of his long body, and Langham took the hint, gave him a cold good-night, and went.

As the door shut upon him Robert dropped back into his chair, and sat on, his face in his hands, staring dolefully at the fire.  It seemed to him the world was going crookedly.  A day on which a man of singularly open and responsive temper makes a new enemy, and comes nearer than ever before to losing an old friend, shows very blackly to him in the calendar, and, by way of aggravation, Robert Elsmere says to himself at once that somehow or other there must be fault of his own in the matter.

Rose! ­pshaw!  Catherine little knows what stuff that cold intangible soul is made of.

Meanwhile, Langham was standing heavily, looking out into the night.  The different elements in the mountain of discomfort that weighed upon him were so many that the weary mind made no attempt to analyse them.  He had a sense of disgrace, of having stabbed something gentle that had leant upon him, mingled with a strong intermittent feeling of unutterable relief.  Perhaps his keenest regret was that, after all, it had not been love!  He had offered himself up to a girl’s just contempt, but he had no recompense in the shape of a great addition to knowledge, to experience.  Save for a few doubtful moments at the beginning, when he had all but surprised himself in something more poignant, what he had been conscious of had been nothing more than a suave and delicate charm of sentiment, a subtle surrender to one exquisite aesthetic impression after another.  And these things in other relations the world had yielded him before.

‘Am I sane?’ he muttered to himself.  ’Have I ever been sane?  Probably not.  The disproportion between my motives and other men’s is too great to be normal.  Well, at least I am sane enough to shut myself up.  Long after that beautiful child has forgotten she ever saw me I shall still be doing penance in the desert.’

He threw himself down beside the open window with a groan.  An hour later he lifted a face blanched and lined, and stretched out his hand with avidity towards a book on the table.  It was an obscure and difficult Greek text, and he spent the greater part of the night over it, rekindling in himself with feverish haste the embers of his one lasting passion.

Meanwhile, in a room overhead, another last scene in this most futile of dramas was passing.  Rose, when she came in, had locked the door, torn off her dress and her ornaments, and flung herself on the edge of the bed, her hands on her knees, her shoulders drooping, a fierce red spot on either cheek.  There for an indefinite time she went through a torture of self-scorn.  The incidents of the week passed before her one by one ­her sallies, her defiances, her impulsive friendliness, the elan, the happiness of the last two days, the self-abandonment of this evening.  Oh, intolerable ­intolerable!

And all to end with the intimation that she had been behaving like a forward child ­had gone too far and must be admonished ­made to feel accordingly!  The poisoned arrow pierced deeper and deeper into the girl’s shrinking pride.  The very foundations of self-respect seemed overthrown.

Suddenly her eye caught a dim and ghostly reflection of her own figure, as she sat with locked hands on the edge of the bed, in a long glass near, the only one of the kind which the rectory household possessed.  Rose sprang up, snatched at the candle, which was flickering in the air of the open window, and stood erect before the glass, holding the candle above her head.

What the light showed her was a slim form in a white dressing-gown, that fell loosely about it; a rounded arm upstretched; a head, still crowned with its jessamine wreath, from which the bright hair fell heavily over shoulders and bosom; eyes, under frowning brows, flashing a proud challenge at what they saw; two lips, ‘indifferent red,’ just open to let the quick breath come through ­all thrown into the wildest chiaroscuro by the wavering candle flame.

Her challenge was answered.  The fault was not there.  Her arm dropped.  She put down the light.

‘I am handsome,’ she said to herself, her mouth quivering childishly.  ‘I am.  I may say it to myself.’

Then, standing by the window, she stared into the night.  Her room, on the opposite side of the house from Langham’s, looked over the cornfields and the distance.  The stubbles gleamed faintly; the dark woods, the clouds teased by the rising wind, sent a moaning voice to greet her.

‘I hate him!  I hate him!’ she cried to the darkness, clenching her cold little hand.

Then presently she slipped on to her knees, and buried her head in the bed-clothes.  She was crying ­angry stifled tears which had the hot impatience of youth in them.  It all seemed to her so untoward.  This was not the man she had dreamed of ­the unknown of her inmost heart. He had been young, ardent, impetuous like herself.  Hand in hand, eye flashing into eye, pulse answering to pulse, they would have flung aside the veil hanging over life and plundered the golden mysteries behind it.

She rebels; she tries to see the cold alien nature which has laid this paralysing spell upon her as it is, to reason herself back to peace ­to indifference.  The poor child flies from her own half-understood trouble; will none of it; murmurs again wildly ­

‘I hate him!  I hate him!  Cold-blooded ­ungrateful ­unkind!’

In vain.  A pair of melancholy eyes haunt, enthral her inmost soul.  The charm of the denied, the inaccessible is on her, womanlike.

That old sense of capture, of helplessness, as of some lassoed struggling creature, descended upon her.  She lay sobbing there, trying to recall what she had been a week before; the whirl of her London visit, the ambitions with which it had filled her; the bewildering many-coloured lights it had thrown upon life, the intoxicating sense of artistic power.  In vain.

    ’The stream will not flow, and the hills will not rise;
    And the colours have all passed away from her eyes.’

She felt herself bereft, despoiled.  And yet through it all, as she lay weeping, there came flooding a strange contradictory sense of growth, of enrichment.  In such moments of pain does a woman first begin to live?  Ah! why should it hurt so ­this long-awaited birth of the soul?