Who on earth is that God-forsaken man

Phœbe had not been very kind when she heard that her sister had been so
bold-faced, as she called it, to ask Jack Collingwood for a sketch. “You
don’t know what interpretation might be put on such a thing,” she said,
and indeed it was difficult to conjecture. But Clara attributed this
severity as much to the tooth-ache as anything else, and in point of
fact when the picture arrived, Phœbe, who would usually spend a quarter
of an hour over untying a knot rather than cut it, fetched the scissors
in less than no time, and behaved as if string was not a precious metal.

“It is kind of him,” said Clara. “See what a size, Phœbe! though perhaps
that may be mostly frame. I know artists are very fond of putting large
frames on small pictures. Oh, dear, there is another wrapper!”

The picture was undone at last, and the two peered closely into it, in
the approved fashion. Suddenly Clara started.

“It’s the corner down by the mill,” she said, “where the foot-bridge
crosses the river. And the dog, it’s like the–Phœbe, it’s Miss Avesham
and her dog on the bridge by the mill.”

Phœbe looked in silence a moment.

“What is to be done?” she said, at length. “Dear me, yes, it’s a
wonderful likeness, too. She is just like that when she laughs.”

“What is the picture called?” said Clara, opening the note which had
accompanied it. “In Danger. Oh! I see. The dog is shaking itself, and
her dress is in danger of getting wet. How very clever!”

Phœbe had ceased looking at the picture: an affair far more momentous
and interesting occupied her.

“I wonder what it all means?” she began.

“You see the dog is shaking itself,” repeated Clara, “and the danger
is—-”

“I know that,” said Phœbe. “But is there, if I can say so without being
indelicate, do you think there is some understanding between Miss
Avesham and Mr. Collingwood? Do you suppose she stood to him? How
interesting it would have been if we had happened to stroll down there
one of these last days and seen him working!”

“No doubt you are right, Phœbe,” said her sister.

“It is not proved,” said Phœbe, modestly, “but it seems likely. We can’t
ask Miss Avesham about it, and really I dare not ask Mrs. Collingwood.”

“Ask her about what?”

“Don’t you see, Clara, it would be so awkward if this picture had been
done without Miss Avesham’s knowledge. Dear me, how well he has caught
the likeness! There is a ring at the bell. Go to the window, Clara,
keeping yourself out of sight, and see who it is.”

Clara ambushed herself behind the curtains and peeped out.

“Colonel Raymond,” she whispered, “and Mrs. Raymond.”

“Dear me, how fortunate! I dare say he will know. Tell them to bring tea
at once, Clara. He is sure to have heard of it if his cousin is engaged.
We’ll show him the picture, and see if he says anything.”

Colonel Raymond was in the best spirits that afternoon. He had at last
been to call on the Aveshams, and he considered that his reception had
been most gratifying. He had also explained at length his relationship
to Jeannie, and all was satisfactory. Mrs. Raymond also was in cheerful
mood, since the Colonel had decided to pay calls this afternoon, and
thus there was no brisk walk for the children.

The talk soon turned on the picture exhibition, and Clara announced with
modest pride that Jack Collingwood had sent them a contribution.

“Indeed, we were just unpacking it when you came, Colonel Raymond,” she
said, “and I should so much like to hear your opinion on it.”

The Colonel adjusted his eye-glasses.

“Why, God bless my soul,” he exclaimed, “it’s Jeannie Avesham!
Constance, do come here, and look at Mr. Collingwood’s picture of cousin
Jeannie. Wonderfully good, is it not? Just caught the look she has when
she smiles. She looked just like that at some little story I told her
this afternoon, do you remember? And the dog, Toby, dear little Toby.
How like! How like!”

Now this was not quite all that the Miss Cliffords wanted, and as
Colonel Raymond raised his head from the examination of the picture,
Clara looked slyly at him. Now, when Miss Clara looked sly there was no
possibility of missing it; she looked sly, so to speak, with both hands.
The Colonel, as he often said himself, was a prodigious observer, and he
observed this.

“Eh, what?” he began, and then suddenly a possible explanation of Miss
Clifford’s slyness came into his mind. He was that nature of a man who
cannot endure that any one should know a piece of gossip or news before
himself, and he determined to appear at least as well-informed as Miss
Clifford.

“Ah, you have heard something, too, Miss Clifford,” he said. “How these
things get about! But I understand it is to be kept quite secret at
present, except from a few friends. Of course, as long as they are in
mourning, you understand–a great thing for the Collingwoods. Puts them
among the county families.”

The Colonel raised his eyes to the ceiling as he had observed Miss
Fortescue do when she wished to say no more on any subject, and
congratulated himself on having come with credit out of that.

Both the Miss Cliffords were bursting with curiosity to hear more, but
the Colonel tactfully led the subject round to other topics.

“Jack Collingwood was at Oxford with our cousin Arthur,” he said.
“Wonderful place, Oxford; I spent a night there once. It would suit you
and your literary tastes, Miss Clara. Plenty of opportunity for study.
What a treat, by the way, you gave us in the last Observer. Brought
tears into my eyes, positively brought tears into my eyes.”

All this was very pleasant, but, the great secret told, the Miss
Cliffords were almost anxious for the departure of the Colonel, for they
longed to talk the matter over. The Colonel, however, was in good
spirits, and he remained.

“Very pleasant and gratifying it is,” he said, “to see our cousins
settling down here in the way they are doing. Jeannie–Miss Jeannie
said to me to-day how much she enjoyed Wroxton.”

“And does Mr. Avesham enjoy it?” asked Miss Clara.

“I have not had an opportunity of talking to him about it,” said the
Colonel, cautiously, “but he must be hard to please–he must be hard to
please if he does not. What a charming life for a young man! For a few
hours a day he has his work, but when that is over, what a choice! A
game of whist at the club, the pleasures of the home circle–and Miss
Fortescue is such a shrewd, delightful woman–or, or, if his tastes are
literary, a call at Villa Montrose.”

“Colonel Raymond, how can you!” cried Miss Clara, in an ecstasy of
slyness; “how can you be so wicked?”

“Robert likes his joke,” said Mrs. Raymond, in her colourless voice. “He
means nothing, Miss Clifford. Do you, Robert?”

“My dear, a soldier sticks to what he says,” said the Colonel. “Or
Arthur can come and take a glass of the best port in the Midlands with
Constance and me.”

“Does Mr. Avesham play whist well?” asked Phœbe.

Now if the Colonel was proud of anything it was of his reputation as a
whist-player. He was known to play for “points,” a term vague to the
Miss Cliffords, but with an undefined air of extravagance and
recklessness about it. And though Arthur had never at present had the
privilege of playing with the Colonel, the latter answered without a
pause.

“A good, sound game,” he said. “Perhaps he does not know the subtleties
of the thing as well as–as well as some old stagers at it, but with an
hour or two of Cavendish a day, which I am not ashamed myself to spend
on it, he will develop into a fine player. Wonderful man, Cavendish.
Whist is not a game, it is an institution, a national institution.”

And the Colonel’s chest became gigantic.

“The work of a lifetime,” he went on. “To know whist is the work of a
lifetime, and a lifetime not ill-spent. Put it on my tombstone,
Constance. I shall not be ashamed of having it on my tombstone, ‘He
played a good hand,’ or, let us be more modest, ‘He played a fair
hand.’ And now we must tear ourselves away; we must really tear
ourselves away. My old cronies will be waiting for me at the club and
wondering where I am.”

“Colonel Raymond is very fond of his whist,” said his wife, as if this
was a fact new to every one.

It was the custom at Villa Montrose to show the departing guests as far
as the front door, not because there was any fear of their appropriating
some small articles on their way out, but with the idea of speeding
them, and as soon as the door was closed Phœbe and Clara hurried back to
the drawing-room.

“Well, it’s the most exciting thing I ever heard,” said Clara, “and how
clever of you to have guessed it, Phœbe. I should never have thought of
it.”

“Anyhow we can make our minds quite easy about sending the picture to
the exhibition,” said Phœbe. “I suppose Miss Avesham told the Colonel
about it this afternoon. We must be sure to mention it to no one, Clara.
It is only to be known in the family at present. Dear me, the
Honourable Jeannie Avesham to Mr. John Collingwood! Does he become
Honourable, too? I rather think he does.”

“There has not been a wedding in Wroxton for years,” said Miss Clara,
“at least not in our circle. I wonder what Mrs. Collingwood will say to
it. The Colonel said the Collingwoods would become a county family. How
I shall long to see the ‘County families’ for next year.”

“It would make a pretty subject for a poem next time you are in the
mood,” said Phœbe, “the artist painting his love.”

“I had thought of that,” said Clara, with conscious pride. “It will be
difficult, but I shall try.”

“I should recommend the sonnet form,” said Phœbe, as if she was choosing
a wallpaper.

Clara considered a moment.

“I saw it as a lyric,” she said, “with a little refrain like some of
Miss Rossetti’s. ‘Jeannie, my Jeannie,’ would be a pretty line.”

“No, you must mention no name, at any rate till the engagement is
announced,” said Phœbe. “It would never do.”

“Perhaps you are right, Phœbe,” said the other. “I shall have a long
morning’s work to-morrow.”

Colonel Raymond in the meantime was walking to the club, rather quicker
than his wont was. He almost forgot to look interesting for the benefit
of passers-by in the excitement of possessing, and that by his own
extraordinary shrewdness, this family secret. His momentary annoyance at
not having been the first to have known it was quite overscored by the
delight in knowing it now, and though he had been disposed for a second
or two to consider it to be an impertinence on the part of Miss Clifford
that she, though indirectly, was the channel by which it was conveyed to
him, the anticipation of the flutter he would make at the club more than
compensated for it. He did not intend to state the secret boldly; he
proposed to make a mystery of it, to set people on the right track, and
to refuse to answer any questions, for if there was anything which the
Colonel loved more than imparting information in a superior manner, it
was withholding it in the same irritating way.

“I’m late, gentlemen,” he cried, in his bluff, hearty manner, as he
entered the smoking-room; “I’m late, and I cry ‘peccavi.’ But it is not
altogether my fault. I’ve been down to my cousins at Bolton Street. They
all are very much excited about it, of course–why, God bless my soul, I
nearly let it out.”

From a dark corner of the room there came a faint rustle as of a paper
being folded, and Arthur Avesham’s head looked over the corner of the
Evening Standard, and back again, as quick as a lizard.

“But we must get to our whist,” continued the unconscious Colonel.
“Whist and wine wait for no men. And, talking of wine, get me a glass of
port, a glass of port, waiter, and bring it to the card-room, and don’t
be all day about it.”

The Colonel was in rather an _exalté_ mood that afternoon, and just as
his bluff heartiness was a shade more pronounced than usual, so, too,
were his immoderate remarks when his partner did not play his hand
correctly.

“Bumble-puppy, the merest bumble-puppy,” he roared. “It’s a pure waste
of time playing a game like this, and to call it whist is a profanation.
Ah, we got the odd, did we? I thought you had secured it. You ought to
have. That puts us out. Well, well, as we are out I’ll say no more about
it, but we ought never to have got out. It’s the principle of the thing
for which I go.”

A few minutes later the door opened and Arthur entered. The Colonel was
sorting his hand with angry snorts and growls and did not notice his
entrance. Arthur took a seat near the table where the Colonel and his
party were playing, and watched the game.

The Colonel finished sorting his hand first, and was not apparently
satisfied with it, for he burst into a torrent of angry recrimination.

“A waiting game; is this what they call a waiting game? Really, partner,
you seem to fall asleep upon your cards. And there are other gentlemen
waiting here to take a hand.” And he turned an inflamed face upon
Arthur.

There was dead silence. If the Colonel had seen the ghost of his late
noble relative he could not have been more shocked. Only a few minutes
before he had been talking of his afternoon with his cousins in Bolton
Street, and here was one of them, to whom he had never spoken, at his
elbow. Arthur seldom went to the club, and, as luck would have it, he
and the Colonel had not met before. The Colonel knew Arthur by sight,
but the mischief was that Arthur did not know the Colonel. The man of
war was up a tree, and his old cronies knew it. But he faced the
position like a volunteer.

“Charming little place you have in Bolton Street,” he said, without fury
in his voice. “I was there this afternoon paying my respects to Miss
Avesham and Miss Fortescue–I and my wife. We claim connection with you
through the Fortescues. Ah, my partner has played. A good card, sir, a
very good card.”

Arthur glanced at the Colonel, then at the other players. They all
exhibited an unnatural absorption in their cards, and he guessed that
this connection of his, whoever he might be, was in a tight place. He
waited till the hand was over, which concluded the rubber.

The Colonel got up impatiently.

“You will take my hand,” he said, “and give these gentlemen another
rubber; I have got to go: I must get home early to-night,” and he fairly
ran from the room.

Arthur was known to the other three present, and, as he took his seat:

“Who on earth is that God-forsaken man?” he asked.

Mr. Newbolt alone found his tongue.

“Colonel Raymond is his name,” he said.

“I wonder why he went away?” said Arthur, and a sound like a chuckle
came from Mr. Hewson.

Three days after this the picture exhibition opened, and Jeannie and
Miss Fortescue, as they strolled out one morning, passed the Guildhall,
where placards were up saying that the seventh exhibition of the Wroxton
Art Union was now open inside. Jeannie wished to go in. Miss Fortescue
was certain that she did not.

“All you will see, Jeannie,” she said, “will be about an acre of Wroxton
Cathedral, six pictures of sunrise on the Alps, and some studies of
carnations. You can see Wroxton Cathedral and the carnations in our own
garden, and you can see sunrise on the Alps in any tomato salad.”

“I bet you a sterling shilling,” said Jeannie, “that there is at least
one picture that interests us; I have never yet been to any exhibition
in which there was not something I liked to look at. Do you take it,
Aunt Em?”

“Done,” said Aunt Em.

It was still early, and only a few people were straying about the room,
looking as people do at an exhibition, as if they were lost and wanted
to find their way out. But an acre of Wroxton Cathedral, as Aunt Em had
said, stopped egress on one side, the spears of rose-tinted Alps on
another, and several forbidding portraits on a third. At the far end of
the room, however, were some ten or twelve people congregated round one
picture.

“That will be the one, Aunt Em,” said Jeannie, “over which I shall win
my bet. So we’ll look at it last.”

Miss Fortescue smiled in a superior manner.

“That picture is a bereaved party having tea after a funeral,” said Aunt
Em; “I feel it in my bones. Come, Jeannie, here are the tomato salads.
That’s a beauty, but a little overripe.”

They strolled slowly toward the far end of the room, and while still
they were some way off Mrs. Collingwood detached herself from the group
surrounding the chief attraction and came down the room toward them.
Her face was a little flushed, and as she caught sight of them she
paused, and then shot by them without a word.

“No manners,” sighed Miss Fortescue. “Now we are getting into the
carnations.”

Jeannie had bought a catalogue, and turned to the list of artists
exhibiting.

“There’s one by Jack Collingwood,” she said. “Now I am safe to win.
Arthur wrote to him to-day asking him to come and stay with us. I hope
he’ll come: I’ve never seen him. His pictures are splendid. It’s number
8. Oh, that must be the one all those people are standing round. Let’s
go and look at it.”

“Tea after a funeral,” said Aunt Em.

No fresh arrivals had come in lately, and by the time they got near the
picture there was no one by it. Suddenly Jeannie quickened her pace.

“Aunt Em, come here,” she said.

They stood before the picture for a moment in silence, to which its
worth as a work of art alone entitled it. The whole thing was admirable.
A stretch of lank, thick grass, starred with meadow-sweet and ragged
robin ran from side to side of the canvas. The nearer edge of this was
broken away, showing a chalky soil, and from it there ran at a slight
angle a couple of wooden planks with a handrail crossing a stream which
lay invisible but for a streak of water underneath the chalky bank. A
few tall grasses in the immediate foreground round the nearer edge of
the plank bridge showed where the stream ended. In the middle of it,
cutting the picture nearly in two, was the figure of a girl, dressed in
black, hatless, and keeping off a puppy with her parasol. Round the dog
was a halo of spray, and he was in the middle of shaking himself, for
his head was curly, his flanks and tail still smooth. It was an
inimitable representation of a moment. One almost expected to see the
halo of spray spread further, and the hind part of the dog grow curly.
But if Jack had been successful with the dog, he had surpassed himself
in the girl’s figure and face. She lived utterly and entirely in the
present, and had no thoughts but amused apprehensions for her dress. Her
head was bent forward, following the bend of her arm and the parasol,
and the face a little foreshortened. But every inch of her laughed.

Jeannie looked at it in silence. Suddenly bending forward and pointing
at it (the picture was hung rather low), she laughed too.

“Oh, it is admirable! it is simply admirable!” she cried. “And I never,
never heard of such a piece of impertinence in my life. Aunt Em, it’s
the best thing I ever saw. Look at the dog; why, Toby would recognise
it, I believe. And look at me! Certainly I recognise it. But what cheek!
My goodness, what cheek!”

Aunt Em fumbled in her purse.

“A sterling shilling,” she observed, laconically. “Now, Jeannie, it
would be more decent if you came away. We will talk about this
elsewhere.”

“Oh, one moment,” said Jeannie. “You see, I can’t come here again and
look at it, as you can. Aunt Em, I remember the afternoon so well. It
was when we had been down at the mill. But how on earth could Mr.
Collingwood–Well, I suppose I must go. Oh, Aunt Em, mind you don’t tell
Arthur about it. I have my reasons.”

They walked out of the exhibition without looking at the acre of Wroxton
Cathedral at all. On the stairs they met Miss Clara Clifford with a load
of catalogues going up.

“We’ve just spent a half hour in the exhibition,” said Jeannie, “and I
think it is quite excellent. So does Aunt Em. Oh, I don’t think you know
Aunt Em, do you? Miss Fortescue, Miss Clifford. And the picture of me by
Mr. Collingwood is quite admirable. But it was rather a surprise to me.”

The catalogues extended from Miss Clifford’s chin to nearly the whole
stretch of her arms, and bowing was difficult. But it was more difficult
not to drop them all at this remark of Jeannie’s.

“A surprise, Miss Avesham?” she cried. “Will you ever forgive me, for I
am the secretary? But Colonel Raymond said–” and she paused, looking
distressfully at Miss Fortescue.

Jeannie caught the look, and saw that Miss Clifford’s face was the
picture of agonized embarrassment.

“Go on, Aunt Em,” she said, “I’ll come after you.”

Miss Fortescue looked at the ceiling in mute appeal, and then marched
down the stairs.

“There’s no harm done, Miss Clifford,” said Jeannie; “I assure you I
don’t in the least mind. But what did Colonel Raymond say? Oh, take
care, the catalogues are slipping.”

It was too late; the pile bulged ominously in the middle, and then fell
all ways at once to the ground. Miss Clifford clutched wildly at them as
they fell, but the disaster was there.

“We’ll pick them up first,” said Jeannie. “Gracious, what a lot of them!
Where do you want them put? Take care, you’re treading on some.”

“I was just taking them to the entrance where people pay,” said poor
Miss Clifford. “Please don’t trouble; indeed, it is too good of you.”

Jeannie collected a foot or two of them, and together they deposited
them all on the table by the entrance.

“And now, Miss Clifford,” she said, “will you just give me two words
with you? First of all I assure you solemnly that I don’t in the least
mind the picture being in the exhibition, so if it was you who passed it
you can make your mind perfectly easy. But what did Colonel Raymond say
about it?”

Miss Clifford looked round as if she was half determined to run away.

“I cannot tell you, Miss Avesham; indeed, I cannot tell you,” she almost
moaned.

“Oh, don’t be so distressed,” said Jeannie, with the air of a grown-up
person soothing a child. “I am sure I should never be anything but
amused at what Colonel Raymond–I mean Cousin Raymond–said. Please tell
me.”

Miss Clifford closed her eyes and clenched her hands.

“He said–he said there was some understanding between you and Mr.
Collingwood, but that you didn’t wish it to be known yet.”

Jeannie’s smile faded, and a look of intense surprise took its place.

“Colonel Raymond said that?” she asked. “Do you mean he meant we were
engaged?”

Miss Clifford shut her mouth very tight, but moved her head as if she
was swallowing.

“That we were engaged?” repeated Jeannie, wishing to be quite certain.

Miss Clifford’s lips formed the word “yes,” but no sound issued.

Jeannie sat down on a stone seat at the top of the stairs.

“Cousin Raymond is a very imaginative man,” she said. “Miss Clifford, I
have never consciously set eyes on Mr. Collingwood. Oh, yes, I have. I
remember now a young man coming round the corner of the mill when Toby
was shaking himself. I think that must be he. Now!”

“It is terrible, terrible!” moaned Miss Clifford. “I have never been so
ashamed.”

Jeannie was not attending to her particularly.

“Cousin, too,” she said. “He’s no more my cousin than Mrs. Collingwood
is.”

“I am very, very sorry,” continued Miss Clifford, in the same low voice.

“Sorry?” said Jeannie. “My dear Miss Clifford, there’s nothing whatever
for you to be sorry for. Please believe that. I’m delighted you should
have the picture here–I am, really. But please be very careful not to
repeat what Colonel Raymond says. I will see that he doesn’t. Good-bye.
I must go after my aunt. Please cheer up. Does any one else know?”

“Colonel Raymond is rather fond of talking,” said Miss Clifford,
faintly.

“So I should think.”

“He told Phœbe and me not to tell any one. And Mrs. Raymond was there,
too.”

“Good gracious, how many more?”

“No one else,” said Miss Clifford.

Jeannie rose.

“Well, I must go,” she said. “And if you won’t promise me never to blame
yourself, I sha’n’t forgive you. So promise.”

“I will try,” said Miss Clifford.

Jeannie nodded and smiled at her, and went quickly down the stairs after
Miss Fortescue.

Continue Reading

These thoughts hovered

“A little military society is so pleasant, is it not?” said Miss
Clifford. “That you will find is one of the great advantages of Wroxton,
Miss Avesham. We have so many factors in our little world. It is quite a
miniature capital. There is the close, there is the town, there is the
garrison, and there is the county.”

Miss Clifford spoke in a very quiet voice, and glowed gently as she
spoke, turning for approval to her sister Clara, who rode the bicycle a
fortnight before up and down Bolton Street.

Clara was forty-two, and her sister a year or two older. They lived in
Montrose Villa and they were calling on Jeannie Avesham.

Jeannie gave a little rippling laugh, and pushed back her hair from her
forehead. She had been out in the garden with Aunt Em when her callers
were announced, and as the drawing-room windows commanded the
mulberry-tree under which they had been sitting, she had not been able
to go upstairs to brush her hair, as she was aware of the four mild eyes
of the two Miss Cliffords raking her from the windows. Aunt Em had
altogether refused to come in, leaving Jeannie to entertain the callers
alone. She had expressed a wish, however, that a cup of tea should be
sent out to her in the garden, which Jeannie had flatly refused to do.
“If you won’t come and help me, you sha’n’t have your tea,” she had
said.

But the Miss Cliffords were so refreshing that she was almost glad Aunt
Em had not come. She thought she could enjoy them more alone.

“It all sounds delightful,” she said. “You know I have never lived in a
country town before; we were either at Morton or in London, and it is
all quite new to me. But I love new things.”

“I think you will find the charm of Wroxton grow,” said Miss Clara.
“Certainly we all find that it grows on us. My sister and I are always
glad to get back after our summer holiday to all our work and
interests. We are very fond of our little centre.”

“I am sure I shall find it charming,” said Jeannie. “Do tell me more.
Tell me about the people here. What do you all do?”

“We have charming neighbours,” said Miss Phœbe. “One of them is a
relation of yours, is he not–Colonel Raymond?”

“Colonel Raymond?” asked Jeannie. “I don’t know him, I think. What
relation is he to us? You see, my mother had so many brothers and
sisters. I am really very ignorant about my cousins.”

“He is related through his wife, I think,” said Miss Phœbe. “His wife’s
sister, I think, married a Mr. Fortescue.”

Jeannie laughed again.

“Well, I’m not so much to blame,” she said, “for the relationship is not
very close. In fact, one is more nearly related to his wife. What is
Mrs. Raymond like?”

“A very quiet, sweet woman,” said Miss Clara, “and very unlike her
husband. He is a very dashing, military sort of man.”

Jeannie pondered a moment.

“Oh, now I remember,” she said. “I’m sure he called here, while we were
settling in. But Arthur and I were undoing the drawing-room carpet, so I
had to say we were out. Do tell me some more. What do you all do?”

Miss Clifford looked puzzled.

“We find our days very full,” she said. “Household duties take up a good
deal of our time, and then we have our relaxations. My sister’s great
hobby is literary work.”

“Oh, Phœbe!” ejaculated Miss Clara, blushing.

“Oh, but how delightful!” put in Jeannie. “Do you write much?”

“Clara has had fourteen poems in the Wroxton Chronicle,” said Miss
Phœbe, with proper pride, “and another appears next week.”

“I must get it,” said Jeannie.

“Perhaps, if you are so kind as to take an interest in what I do,” said
Miss Clara, “you would allow me, Miss Avesham, to send you a copy. It
would be a great pleasure. The editor always sends me half a dozen
copies.”

“That would be very nice of you,” said Jeannie. “And what is your
hobby, Miss Clifford?”

“My sister plays the mandolin beautifully,” said Miss Clara. “She was a
pupil of Professor Rimanez.”

“Why, how charming!” said Jeannie. “Do bring it round here some day,
Miss Clifford, and we will have duets. I, too, play a little.”

“It would be a great pleasure,” said Miss Clifford, “but I am only a
very poor performer.”

The two Miss Cliffords were thawing like icicles in June. They hardly
remembered that they were having tea alone with the daughter and sister
of a peer.

“Then there is the Ladies’ Literary Union,” said Miss Clara. “We meet
every fortnight, and very improving and sometimes entertaining pieces
are read.”

“All the members read papers in turn, I suppose,” said Jeannie.

“Yes, and then we discuss the paper. Next week we have a great treat.
Mrs. Collingwood is going to read us a paper on The Downward Tendency of
Modern Fiction. I got the notice this morning. Mrs. Collingwood is a
great critic, but rather severe, so my sister and I think.”

“Mrs. Collingwood?” asked Jeannie. “Oh, yes, I remember her; she called
the other day. I thought she was rather severe, too. I am afraid she was
very much shocked at my not knowing what the Girls’ Friendly Society
was. But how should I know? I don’t think there is one in London. Oh,
yes, she must be a teetotaler–so my aunt and I thought. Is that so?”

Miss Clifford looked solemn. It was difficult to conceive of any one not
knowing that Mrs. Collingwood was a teetotaler.

“Indeed, she is,” she replied. “Would it be inquisitive if I asked what
occurred?”

“Not in the least,” said Jeannie. “My aunt only asked me to tell the
cook to see that the mulberries were gathered to make mulberry gin. I
said I would be sure to remember.”

“Yes, Mrs. Collingwood is very strict,” said Clara. “But she is so
practical and so much in earnest. She says that so many books have a
tendency to upset people’s faith, and that is very shocking if she is
right about it. A friend of hers, she told me, the other day had had her
faith very much shaken by reading a free-thinking novel.”

“A free-thinking novel?” said Jeannie. “I don’t think I ever saw one.”

“Well, there is Robert Elsmere,” said Miss Clifford. “I have never read
it, but Mrs. Collingwood says that it is terribly upsetting.”

“Of course there is some discussion about theological questions in those
books,” said Jeannie, “though I never finished Robert Elsmere. But don’t
you think it may have been the fault of Mrs. Collingwood’s friend that
her faith was shaken?”

Miss Clifford looked grave.

“Surely not,” she said. “The responsibility must lie with the author. If
the book had never been written, no one’s faith would ever have been
upset. Don’t you think so?”

“Perhaps you are right,” said Jeannie. “I never really thought about it.
Don’t you think we look wonderfully settled in, considering how short a
time we have been here?”

Miss Clara clasped her hands.

“It is all quite beautiful,” she said. “And what a lovely garden you
have.”

“Yes, it is pretty,” said Jeannie. “And there is a fountain with a basin
round it, in which are water-lilies. Arthur says we must give a water
picnic there.”

“I had no idea you had so extensive a piece of water,” said Miss Phœbe,
gravely.

“Oh, it’s only a joke,” said Jeannie, “and a very small one. Must you be
going?”

“We must, indeed,” said Miss Phœbe. “Come, Clara, you would linger here
forever unless I tore you away. We have already far exceeded our time,
and taken up far too much of Miss Avesham’s.”

The Miss Cliffords walked some little way in silence.

“There is quite an air about the house,” said Miss Clara, at length. “It
is quite different from even Colonel Raymond’s, and Mrs. Raymond’s
drawing-room always seemed to us so refined.”

“Yes, it was quite different,” said Phoebe, “and I don’t know how it was
produced. The piano I saw was just at the same angle from the wall as
ours. I am glad we have got that right, Clara.”

“I think we have too many little things about,” said Clara; “there must
be ten vases on our chimneypiece, if there’s one, and I noticed there
was only a clock and two candlesticks on Miss Avesham’s. Yet it looked
ever so much more furnished than ours. Let us aim at a greater
simplicity, Phœbe.”

The two Miss Cliffords lived in what is known as a “highly desirable
detached mansion,” and its desirability was much enhanced by its being
known as Montrose Villa. It is probable that the owner took his hint
from Mrs. Raymond’s happy thought of calling her house “Lammermoor,” but
the Miss Cliffords had gone one better, for the last six months they had
dated all their letters “Villa Montrose,” and were even thinking of
having a die made for their paper and envelopes. “Villa Montrose”
sounded much more delightful, and gave, as Miss Clara said, while
hanging a reproduction of Carlo Dolci in the front hall, “quite an
Italian air to the place.” To the ordinary eye the Villa Montrose was a
plain gray house, covered with stucco, but if (as the Miss Cliffords
did even when alone) you called stucco, stookko, a perfectly different
effect is produced. Similarly, a dwarf fir-tree which stood in the back
garden was, rightly considered, a stone-pine, and visions of Tuscan
valleys (the Miss Cliffords’ father had once been English chaplain at
Florence) rose to the inward eye, with hardly any sense of their being
pumped up from a distance. Miss Clara, in fact, got at the kernel of the
matter when she said that the atmosphere with which the imagination can
invest a place is wholly independent of the materials on which it works.

On the ground floor were four rooms, a drawing-room and dining-room
looking out over the room, and at the back two small apartments, known
as “the libry” and the studio. The walls of the studio were decorated
with quite a quantity of oil pictures by the Miss Cliffords’ father, and
an unfinished sketch of his stood on an easel. There was a tiger’s-skin
rug on the floor, rather moth-eaten, and some low chairs. The only
drawback to the room was that, as there was no fire-place, it was too
cold to sit in in winter, and in summer, as it was exposed to the
southern sun, and had a large sky-light, you might as well, as Miss
Phœbe once remarked with a certain acrimony, make your sitting-room of
an oven. But in the more temperate rays of April and September nothing
could be more delightful than its temperature, and, even when it was
untenantable, there was a pleasure in referring to “the studio.”

The “libry” was simply one mass of books, chiefly consisting of the
theological collection of the Miss Cliffords’ father. Here Miss Clara
worked every morning from nine till one, and it was in itself an
inspiration to be surrounded by books, although she seldom took one from
its shelf. When it is said that thirteen of the fourteen original poems
by her which had appeared in the Wroxton Chronicle were produced in this
room (the fourteenth was produced during an attack of influenza in bed,
and was called Depression) it will be seen at once that the actual area
of the “libry,” which measured eight feet by ten, was no index to its
potentialities, for even Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-on-Avon is no
palace, and Miss Clara, it is hardly necessary to say, was the
president of the Ladies’ Literary Union, and was considered rather
Bohemian.

Her elder sister, Miss Phœbe, was, as Clara had told Jeannie, musical.
She had no sitting-room, for, like Martha, she was cumbered with much
serving, and she knew, and was proud to know, that Clara was the genius.
But some half of the drawing-room, which would hold five people easily,
was known as Phœbe’s corner, and in Phœbe’s corner was a cottage piano
and mandolin, and always a vase of flowers. A cabinet photograph of the
mandolin teacher, Professor Rimanez, signed “Rimanez,” no less, in the
Professor’s own hand, hung on the wall. Phœbe’s corner was full.

The two sisters lived a regular and most harmonious life. Since they
never sat idle, they were right in considering that they were busy, and
when Miss Phœbe had spent two or three hours every morning in washing
the china they had used for breakfast, ordering dinner, and marching
through every room in the house, examining towels to see if they
required darning, soap to see if it wanted renewing, and smelling the
water in the bed-room bottles, she was glad to seek refreshment about
half past twelve by throwing herself into a chair in her corner and
playing a Neapolitan air on her mandolin, or, with the soft pedal down
for fear of disturbing Clara, trying over a song by Tosti or Pinsuti
about “Life of my life, and soul of my soul.”

The tragedy of growing old, in fact, consists, if we look at it more
closely, not in growing old, but in remaining young, and their
irredeemable youthfulness was the pathetic fact in the lives of the
Misses Clifford. The banjo-playing and the writing of youthful lyrics
was a true symptom of the age they felt themselves to be, and the
streaks of gray in their hair and the wrinkles in their faces were a
travesty of their spirits. Since childhood they had led a perfectly
serene and untroubled existence, and it was their bodies, the sheaths,
and not the sword, which was rusting. They had floated slowly round and
round in a backwater of life, and the adventure and romance of living
swept by them, making them feel as if they and not the great stream was
moving, and if they had been told that it was the stream that hurried
by them in turmoil and charmed bewilderment, while they were standing
still, they would scarcely have credited it. This is a malady most
incident to country towns.

But it would be giving a totally erroneous picture of them if the
impression was left that they were unhappy or unsatisfied. Herein lay
the tragedy of it to the onlooker, but to them the tragedy would begin
when they became aware of it. They had aged and narrowed without knowing
it. They lived the life they had lived twenty years ago, among those
whose days had been distinguished by a similar uniformity, without
knowing that twenty years had made a difference in them. Clara always
thought that Phœbe was a girl yet, and Phœbe constantly considered that
Clara was still a little flighty. Meantime they scored their little
successes. Clara was congratulated on her last poem in the Wroxton
Chronicle, and Phœbe sang Pinsuti in a quavering voice to the cottage
piano. Then when the afternoon party was over (they gave teas at Villa
Montrose), Clara would start for a reckless ride on her bicycle, and
Phœbe hungered for her return.

Their father had been the rector of a country village near Wroxton, and
their great-uncle–a grocer–the mayor of the town. Thus Villa Montrose
had a double halo round it; the grocery was sunk in the civil dignitary,
and the poverty of the clergyman in the honour of his office. “My
father, the rector,” “My great-uncle, the Mayor,” were notable subjects
of conversation.

But this evening Miss Phœbe felt more disturbed than she had felt for
many years. For many years no fresh friend and no fresh interest had
touched the lives of herself and her sister, and the call they had paid
on Jeannie, though they talked only on trivial subjects, and looked out
on to the familiar spires of the Cathedral, had been strangely
exhilarating. The impression had been conveyed to her in some subtle
manner that Jeannie’s whole attitude toward life was utterly different
to any she had known before. How it had been conveyed to her she could
not have told you, but Jeannie’s every word and gesture she saw to be
the product of a wholly new idea of life. Her hair had been untidy, yet
Miss Clifford knew how different would have been the effect if it had
been her own hair which wanted brushing; she lounged in a chair, with
one leg crossed over the other, an attitude which Miss Clifford knew
from her earliest childhood to be most unladylike, and though her manner
had been utterly unstudied, and she did not, as Miss Clifford always
did, press her guests to stay when they said they must be going, she
gave you the impression that you were welcome.

These thoughts hovered round Miss Clifford’s head as she lay awake that
night. Jeannie was so much fresher and vivacious even than Clara, who
often talked and laughed more than her elder sister quite liked. How was
it that Clara looked rather old and tired beside Jeannie? Could it be
because she was so? And Miss Clifford, for her own peace of mind, fell
asleep without solving the question.

Jack Collingwood came to pay his expected visit to Wroxton early in
September, as soon as his father and mother were back from their annual
trip to the English Lakes. Canon Collingwood had much enjoyed their time
there, and had brought back several tin boxes full of roots of wild
marsh-growing plants which he intended to cultivate on the edge of the
chalk-stream which ran at the bottom of the garden. He did this every
year, and the plants never grew, which did not in the least stand in the
way of his doing it again. He had also, as usual, preached an old sermon
in Grasmere church, and had written three new ones. His life, indeed, at
the Lakes was not less regular than his life at Wroxton; he had been out
of doors more and had spent only two hours a day over the study of
patristic literature, but he had been out at the same hours, and in at
the same hours, and was quite unaltered. He had worn the same straw-hat
at the Lakes that he always wore, and on returning home put it on the
top shelf of his mahogany wardrobe, where it reposed for eleven months
out of the twelve.

It would be giving a false impression to say that Mrs. Collingwood had
enjoyed herself. She took a holiday like medicine, with a view to its
after-effects, in order to enable her to return with renewed vigour to
the battle with immoral books and people who were not helpful and did
not live in closes. In order to attain this end as fully as possible she
had spent all her time out of doors, taking long strolls from breakfast
till lunch, and a walk with her husband from lunch till tea, on the
recognised plan that the best rest for a tired mind is to strenuously
overtire the body also. She had continually looked at the beauties of
nature also as part of the prescription, and had read a little
Wordsworth as she would read a guide-book in a foreign town. In the
evening, and sometimes if it was exceedingly wet, she would work, and
had produced three G. F. S. leaflets, one of which embodied her lecture
on the Downward Tendencies of Modern Fiction. Another was called No
Parleyings with the Enemy. In fact, when she and her husband returned,
she might be said to be a match for anything.

Jack arrived on a brilliant September afternoon, and, sending his
luggage on, walked himself. The old, quaint town seemed to his brisker
London eye to be dozing on as peacefully as ever, in a sort of tranquil
mediæval drowsiness. From the station, which was on a hill, he could see
across the cup-shaped hollow in which lay the red-tiled town. There were
no new houses on the way down, and the names above all the old ones were
the same. The man who had cut his hair when he was a child stood, as he
had always stood, at his door, looking on to the street, with a pair of
scissors stuck into the pocket of his white apron, neither balder nor
stouter than he used to be. It had always been a matter of wonder to
Jack how a man with so bald a head dare have his windows filled full of
infallible hair-preservers, but perhaps he was a cynic, and traded with
amusement on the fathomless credulity of man. The very slope of the
high street seemed designed for a leisurely folk; it was too steep for a
horse to trot either up or down, and the foot-passengers ascended softly
like bubbles arising through water, and descended with the same equable
motion like pebbles sinking in the sea. Half-way down he branched off
through a covered passage leading under a house into the close, and
there, too, time seemed to have stood still. A few nursery-maids wheeled
contented babies up and down its paths, and children were playing among
the grave-stones; the gray pinnacled west front seemed the incarnation
of stability. As always, the place asserted its instant charm over him;
for the moment as he passed through the grave-yard into the close he
would have asked nothing better than to say an eternal good-bye to the
froth and bubble of the world and turn the key on his ambitions. It
would be necessary, he reflected, to be rid of them, else in a week or
two he would be tingling for wider things again and chafing at the slow
passage of ungrudged hours. Like all healthily minded young men, he knew
he was going to overtop the world, and the air here was opiate. But for
the moment he was in love with tranquility.

Both his father and mother were out when he arrived at the house, and,
with the spell of soothing still on him, he sauntered off again, meaning
to return home for tea, and leaving the town, struck into a foot-path
that led through the water-meadows by the river. It has been stated how
his mother regretted that, if he was to be a painter at all, he had not
been a landscape-painter, and this afternoon the regret was his also.
Portrait-painting, he told himself, was an inspiration which might or
might not be at one’s command. For every hundred faces he looked at he
only saw one or two that suggested anything. Before now he had caused
offence, when given an order for a portrait, by insisting on seeing his
sitter before he promised anything, and then declining the task. It was
not beauty he looked for in a face, nor was it exactly intelligence. The
quality, whatever it was, might be altogether absent in the most admired
features, and present in every line of the face when there were, so to
speak, no features at all. It was this eternal search for this, the
refusal to paint where he did not find it, and a magical brush when he
did, that had already given him a somewhat unusual standing among the
younger painters of the day. His pictures were few, but, as a natural
consequence of the integrity and honesty of his art, his refusal to
paint without the conviction that his subject was for him, there was
nothing in any of them to show a want of grasp. That everything was
proper material for art he did not deny, but he emphatically affirmed
that everything was not proper material for each artist.

But, compared to the portrait-painter who thus limited himself, how
fortunate, he thought, was the landscape-painter. All trees were
paintable if you could paint a tree at all; all clear and running water
was beautiful, all clouds “composed.” This green bank on which he
wandered, the lower grasses of which waved in the suck of the brilliant
stream, the stretch of meadow beyond, tall with loose-strife and the
hundred herbs of watery places, the great austern downs beyond with the
clump or two of pines, the remnants of the great southern forests of
England–what landscape-painter could fail to find his subject in any of
these?

He paused on the edge of the stream where the water was running in
steadfast haste toward a mill which stood a hundred yards below, and
looked long into that translucent coolness. Subaqueous plantations of
green weed undulated backward and forward in the thrust of the water
like the tail of a poised fish, alternating with bare spaces
pebble-sown, but the pebbles were glorified to topaz and amber. Here and
there tall tufts of pithy rushes stood breast-high in the water, making
strange movements of twitching as the current struck them, causing the
smooth crystal to be broken with a sudden dimple. Over the surface from
time to time there would run like a wreath of mist a darker line, as if
some finger had traced on the stream a letter which the water was trying
to efface; then the mark would change from a circle to a half-circle,
straighten itself out for a moment, and then be broken. From below came
the gush of the mill mixed with the bourdon note of the machinery, and
Jack could see the rush of water coming out of the dark passage in
torrents of white foam, a soda-water of bubbles. There, he knew, the
weeds would be altogether different; they would be close as velvet, or
moss on a tree, offering little surface to the flood, and not like
thick, branching forests, which would be torn away in the mill-race.

He had waited so long looking into the water that he saw it was nearly
time to go back, but the attraction of the stream held him by cords, and
he could not but go on, just to look at the jubilant water escaping from
the prison of the mill and perhaps extend his wandering to a pool he
knew of a hundred yards below where the water deepened suddenly and
resumed again its sedater going. A plank bridge crossed at the head of
this, just below a red brick wall which bounded the garden belonging to
the mill. He would go as far as that corner, cross the stream, and
return to Wroxton by the path on the other side of the meadows.

So on he went: the channel below the mill was all it should be, and the
sun, for his delight, caught the white spray of the plunging river and
hung a broken rainbow on it. This Jack felt was a gift thrown in; he had
not anticipated it, and it gave him a thrill of pleasure. Yet, even as
he looked, he shook his head. The need of the artist for expression was
on him, and he could only tell himself that this was all beautiful, and
he wished he was a landscape-painter. And, thinking thus, he turned the
corner of the red wall, and stopped.

In the centre of the plank bridge by which he intended to cross was
standing a girl opposite him, with a face full of laughter and anxiety,
and with her parasol she kept at bay a small retriever puppy who had
just left the water, and, still dripping, was evidently coming to his
mistress in order to shake himself and receive her congratulations on
his having had a swim. Even as Jack turned the corner the puppy began
his shake, and to his trained, quick eye the whole scene was as complete
and as faithful as an instantaneous photograph. The puppy’s head was
already shaken, and down to his shoulders he was black and curly set in
a halo of spray, but the shake had not yet touched his back and tail,
the hair of which was still shining and close. The girl was also dressed
in black; with one hand she drew her skirts away from the dog, with the
other she held out her open parasol so that the puppy should be
compelled to keep his distance, for the bridge was narrow, and he could
hardly pass. Her face, with its wide, laughing eyes set in an expression
of agonized dismay, which her smiling mouth contradicted, was a moment’s
miracle. Obviously every nerve of her body, every cell, however secret,
in her brain was taken up and lost in the amused fear that the puppy
would wet her. She had no hat on, and the perfect oval of her face was
crowned with the most glorious black hair. And Jack gave a quick-drawn
breath. A moment before he had lamented that he was not a
landscape-painter; now, for all he cared, the world might be made of
Portland cement, if only that girl would laugh and that puppy would
shake itself.

The infinite moment was soon over. Even while he stared, oblivious of
all else, the puppy had grown curly from nose to tail, the anxiety had
faded like a breath from the girl’s face, and she looked up and saw
him. She turned and retraced her steps over the plank, and stepped into
the meadow, where, only a few yards off, was sitting an oldish lady
reading a book. The girl’s hat was lying by her, and there was a
tea-basket out, the silver of which twinkled pleasantly in the sun. Jack
walked straight past them, and did not look again. He had recorded in
his brain all he wanted, and to stop and stare would be not only rude
but, what in his present frame of mind was more important, unnecessary.
He did not even look round when he heard short, scuffling steps behind
him, and impatient barkings, and a voice said, “Toby, come here at
once.”

He knew instinctively that it was the girl who had spoken, and not the
elder lady, for the voice had the _timbre_ which belonged to that face.
Who she was he did not know, and really he did not care. She had given
him a vision, and she might disappear again. He would have liked, he
longed, in fact, to paint her, but no more, and, except as a sitter, she
was nothing to him. He could even, on reflection, have thought twice
about that, for his one moment had been so complete and was so
indelible. Perhaps she was a _poseuse_, startled for once into a genuine
emotion, though on so small a matter as the wetting of her gown. It was
more than possible that she would never serve him again, though she sat
to him for a score of years, as she had served him at that moment. She
did not concern him as long as the puppy was not shaking itself close to
her, and in that regard she was his already. And as he walked back along
the water-meadows he thought no more about the amber pavement of the
stream, and envied not any mood of the landscape-painter, for whom a
water-meadow held no such exquisite surprises. But the girl was to him
no more than a subject, and though the puppy was an essential factor in
the scene, he valued it not on the principle of “Love me, love my dog.”

All the way home his vision remained vivid, and in his mind he settled
the composition of it. The girl should stand facing full, with the dog
almost straight in front of her, cutting the canvas in two by a long
black line. Behind should be the green meadow, with a narrow strip of
broken ground just indicating the stream bank, and the moment should be
when the dog had shaken its head curly again, while the rest of it was
still drowned and sleek. And in the joy of creation he laughed aloud and
let his pipe go out.

He found his father and mother had both come in, and was told they were
having tea in the garden. Canon Collingwood welcomed him warmly, and his
mother evidently remembered she was his mother. These first moments were
always a little awkward, for Jack was apt to forget how few subjects
they had in common, and would pour himself out in matters that were near
his life before perceiving that what he said was, if not distasteful to
his mother, at any rate alien to her. He did so on this occasion.

“I walked down by the river as I saw you were not in,” he said, “and I
was in luck. Just as I turned the corner by the mill I came upon a
finished picture. A girl standing on the bridge, keeping off a wet puppy
with her parasol. You should have seen her face, beautiful to begin
with, laughing in every line. I never saw anything so complete. I
wonder who she was?”

“Some young woman from the town probably,” said his mother, in tones
that would have frozen the mercury in a thermometer.

“I wish I had spoken to her now,” continued the unfortunate Jack,
“though I didn’t want to at the moment. Anyhow, I remember her face
pretty well. Besides, she looked a lady–it might have been awkward.”

“Very awkward,” said his mother.

This time he heard, and the vivacity was struck from his face. But he
went on without a pause.

“And did you enjoy your time at the Lakes, father?” he said; “I never
answered your letter, I know, but I really was tremendously busy, though
that is no excuse. I was painting Mrs. Napier; do you know her, mother?
She has a sort of Lady Hamilton face.”

Now Lady Hamilton was not a person whom Mrs. Collingwood desired to have
mentioned, and she felt it her duty to change the subject.

“There will be a beautiful sunset,” she said.

Now this was kind. Though torture and chains should not make her allude
to any one who even resembled that notorious woman, yet she was willing
to talk about subjects in the domain of art, provided only that they
were innocent, and might without profanation be mentioned under the
shadow of the Cathedral. But as a Christian woman she drew the line at
Lady Hamilton.

Canon Collingwood plunged to the rescue.

“Exquisite, quite exquisite,” he said; “that rose-colour is so–so
beautiful, and the contrast of it with the blue above is quite–quite
beautiful.”

And, exhausted by the effort of making this discerning criticism, he
took another cup of tea. Whether conversation could have languished
further is unknown, for at the moment the butler came out of the house,
followed by Miss Clara Clifford. Mrs. Collingwood welcomed her with a
worker’s smile.

“So pleasant to see you,” she said; “you know my son, I think. We were
all enjoying the lovely sunset.”

“Beautiful, is it not?” said Miss Clara, staring at the east. She was
always a little nervous about coming to call without her sister, but
Phœbe had the tooth-ache, and Villa Montrose smelt as if it were built
of creosote. She took a sip of her tea, and laid hands upon her courage.

“And talking of sunset,” she said, “reminds me of what I wanted to say
to you, Mrs. Collingwood. May we add your name to our list of
patronesses this year for our Annual Art Exhibition? You have been so
kind as to permit it before.”

“I shall be delighted,” said Mrs. Collingwood, “for I have always found
that the Wroxton Exhibition was so delightful. You must exercise a
strict censorship over what you exhibit, and I am sure you do. I
remember very clearly seven or eight pictures of Switzerland and several
of the Lakes. Surely you remember the picture of Grasmere, William,
which was shown last year? I pointed out the original to you when we
were there.”

It was one of Mrs. Collingwood’s chiefest pleasures in the artistic line
to be able to see the “original” of a picture she had noticed, or to
recognise in a picture an “original” she knew. She cared, in fact, more
for the fact that a picture represented a place she knew than she did
for its merits. She always bought a catalogue when she went to a picture
exhibition, and always marked with a cross the pictures which had
pleased her most. These would be found to be representations of places
she knew. Occasionally, when she knew a place very well, she would have
given the picture two crosses, but two crosses in Mrs. Collingwood’s
catalogue were as rare as double stars in Baedeker. Any part of Wroxton
Cathedral would receive one, and Grasmere had a chance.

This favourable reception of her first request made Miss Clara even
bolder. She was afraid that Phœbe might consider her conduct unladylike,
but Phœbe was not there. She turned to Jack.

“We should be so much honoured,” she said, “if you could lend us a
sketch, a mere sketch. It would be the greatest pleasure, and I would
be responsible for its being well hung.”

“I have nothing with me here,” said Jack, “but”–and a thought struck
him–“but when must the pictures be sent in by?”

“The exhibition opens in ten days,” said Miss Clifford.

“Certainly then, I shall be charmed,” he said. “It will only be a
sketch, you know, but you shall have it this week. Shall I send it to
your house?”

Miss Clifford was overwhelmed with gratitude. She looked round, indeed,
apprehensively at Mrs. Collingwood, but neither she nor the Canon
appeared to have thought her request unmaidenly. The triumph of having
secured a sketch by Jack was so great that even Phœbe would probably be
lenient.

Jack had come to Wroxton nominally for a holiday, but as soon as Miss
Clifford had left he began working at his sketch. He found, as he had
hoped, that the scene of the afternoon was very clearly visualized, and
by dinner-time he had sketched it out as he meant it to be. He felt an
extraordinary delight in the work, and as he progressed with it it
became more and more capable of becoming a picture. In fact, before
dinner his promised sketch, which he had intended to be an eighteen-inch
water-colour, had so changed in scheme that he determined to make an oil
picture of it, three feet by two. Whether or not it would be finished in
the three days in which he had promised that Miss Clifford should have
it was more than doubtful, but he had forgotten Miss Clifford. All he
knew was that a picture was in his head.

The face he had drawn with great minuteness, and as he found himself
reproducing, with a faithfulness for which he had scarcely dared to
hope, the laughing anguish of the girl, it crossed his mind, but for one
moment only, that he was doing rather a questionable thing. He had no
idea who his subject was. She might or might not be a resident in
Wroxton, she might or might not come to the picture exhibition, and then
find a portrait of herself; and how she would take it if she did was
equally problematical. Jack confessed to himself that he knew nothing
whatever of her. All he had seen was her laugh; she might be able to
frown; he did not know.

But the scruple lasted so short a time, and was in itself of so slight a
nature, that it never reoccurred. Artists, it is said, do their work in
a sort of somnambulism; it seemed to Jack that he worked in a state of
intoxication. He lived riotously when the brush was in his hand, his
mind sang and shouted as he worked.

Certainly as he progressed with it–and day by day it continued to
prosper and live on the canvas–he was frankly surprised at the
vividness with which the moment had been impressed upon him. The girl
had a moonstone brooch on, the dog a silver collar; the sunlight caught
some outlying hairs on her head, and though they were black, it turned
them into gold. All these things and a hundred like them he had hardly
been conscious of seeing until he began to record them.

On the fourth day it was finished, and as soon as it was dry he sent it
to Miss Clifford. The day after he was leaving himself and going back to
work, and he seemed to himself to have had no holiday at all. Yet he did
not regret it; somehow his occupation had taken hold of his mind, and
when he looked at the finished thing he knew that conscious humble pride
which alone is sufficient reward to the artist for what he has done.

“It is good,” he said to himself. “I wish I had seen that girl again,”
he added.

Continue Reading

Even the friends of the Colonel might have felt inclined

A fortnight later Jeannie, Miss Fortescue, and Arthur were all staying
at the Black Eagle Hotel, employed in settling in. Morton had been let,
but let unfurnished, and in order to avoid the expense of storing, it
was laid upon them that they should cram as much furniture into 8 Bolton
Street as it would possibly hold. Thus from morning to night the greater
part of the street was congested with Pantechnicon vans, and Jeannie and
Arthur might be seen many hours a day measuring wardrobes, and finding
for the most part that they would not go into any of the rooms. Miss
Fortescue sat in a large chair in the middle of the street and made
scathing comments on the appearance and behaviour of the others.

“I little thought,” said this magisterial lady one day, “that the time
would come when I should see my nephew in his shirt-sleeves wrestling
with towel-horses in the Queen’s highway.”

“No, dear Aunt,” said Arthur, “and if you will look round you will see a
distressed bicyclist who wants to pass. You must move.”

Miss Clifford, in fact, was approaching. She did not ride with any
overpowering command over her machine, and from the desire to avoid Miss
Fortescue was making a beeline for her. A collision was just avoided by
Miss Fortescue’s extreme agility in removing herself and her chair.

A wardrobe was just blocking the front door, and Arthur threw himself
down in another unoccupied chair for a moment’s rest. Jeannie’s voice
sounded in passionate appeal from inside the hall, but till the wardrobe
had been passed it was impossible to go to her aid.

“Oh, it is hot!” he said. “Why on earth did we move in this broiling
weather? Aunt Em, dear, I’m going to send for some beer from that
wine-merchant’s opposite, and if you don’t like to see me drink it in
the Queen’s highway you must look in the other direction.”

“The Aveshams have no sense of dignity,” said Miss Fortescue,
sweepingly.

“No, but it doesn’t matter; they’ll think that I’m not me, but the
footman.”

“You’re much too badly dressed for any footman,” said Aunt Em.

“Well, they’ll think you are the cook and I’m your young man,” said
Arthur.

Arthur sent one of the Pantechnicon men to get some beer, and while he
was gone:

“They told me there was so little traffic here,” he said, “and the
street is crowded with vans. Oh, there’s that man again! He has passed
and repassed a dozen times this morning, besides standing at the corner
for ever so long. Is he a friend of yours, Aunt Em?”

The man in question was Colonel Raymond, no less, strutting and swelling
down the other side of the street, and bursting with uneasy curiosity.
He had, as Arthur said, passed and repassed a dozen times, longing to
speak to one of them, and manage to introduce himself in some way. Once
he had given a hand to one of the van-men with a bookcase, but as
ill-luck would have it, all three of the house-party, as he called it,
were inside at the moment, and when the danger of the bookcase falling
on a washing-stand was over there was no excuse for lingering. On
another occasion he had waited a full two minutes while the foot-path
was congested, and on it being made possible for him to pass, he had
raised his hat with a gallant flourish to Jeannie, who stood at the
door. But she had appeared quite unconscious of his salute, and the
Colonel was working himself into a fever of impatience. It was one thing
to be able to say at the club that he had spent his morning in Bolton
Street, where his cousins had taken Number 8, but it was another to have
them definitely established in Wroxton, not knowing him from Adam. The
trying climate of India was nothing compared to the sultriness which
loomed over his prospects.

The amiable and kindly interest in the minutest dealings of others,
which is known as curiosity, was not wanting in the town of Wroxton.
Miss Clifford had hardly passed on her bicycle when she realized that it
was idle to struggle with so overmastering an emotion, and dismounted at
the end of the street, for she was no adept at turning round, and rode
straight back again. She would have done so if only to get another look
at the furniture which was being unloaded, though, as they had got on to
a bed-room layer of it, it might not have seemed engrossing to the
ordinary mind; but this was not all. She would get another look at the
lady who sat in the middle of the road, and at the young man in his
shirt-sleeves. She might even, if lucky, catch a glimpse of Miss Avesham
herself, whom she had not yet seen.

So she rode slowly back, and when about thirty yards distant saw Arthur
drinking out of a pewter mug. The disappointment was intense, for he
might even have been Lord Avesham himself, come to help his brother and
sister in the settling in. But this beer-drinking in public made it
impossible. It could only be the foreman of the Pantechnicon, or
perhaps–this would be better than nothing–the footman or a valet of
peers. But as she passed she distinctly heard him say, “Do have some
beer, Aunt Em.”

Miss Clifford rode on towards the High Street, away from the direction
of her home, lost and stupefied in a whirl of conjecture and perplexity.
If he was the footman, what was his Aunt Em doing there, unless–and
this was just possible–his Aunt Em was the cook? If, on the other hand,
he was the foreman, the presence of his aunt was still more difficult,
for that foremen of furniture companies should bring their aunts with
them to superintend seemed a proposition which might almost be negatived
offhand. Could it be–No, it was not possible, and Miss Clifford, by
this time having reached the High Street, dismounted again and
determined to go home without more delay. The shortest way home lay down
Bolton Street–at least to go down Bolton Street was so little longer
that the excellence of the road quite made up for it–and a minute
afterward she was again opposite the house. No very great change had
taken place since she saw it last. The possible footman was still
standing in the doorway with the pewter pot in his hand, and his Aunt Em
was sitting on a low black oak chest, which suggested to Miss Clifford’s
romantic mind all sorts of secret drawers and unsuspected wills,
confessions of crime, and proofs of innocence. As a matter of fact, it
contained Jeannie’s boot-trees and a knife-board, but Miss Clifford did
not know this. But her perseverance had its reward. Even as she passed,
a voice of lamentation sounded from the inside of the house.

“Oh, Arthur,” it wailed, “you said it was only four foot six, and it’s
four foot nine, and won’t go in. Do come here.”

And the possible footman put his pewter pot on the black oak chest and
went inside.

The chain of evidence was growing massive. Supposing, as before, Aunt Em
was the cook and Arthur’s aunt, whose was the wailing voice inside?
Could it be the lady’s-maid’s or the house-maid’s? Miss Clifford’s
masculine intellect decided that it scarcely could. Again, had not she
and her sister spent an hour last night in following the history of the
Avesham family in Debrett’s Peerage into all its ramifications and
collateral branches? “Sons living, Hon. Arthur John Talbot, b. 1873, ed.
at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford”–how was it possible for a person
of intelligence not to connect the subject of that entry with the person
called Arthur who lounged with a pewter pot? The coincidence was too
glaring to be overlooked. One thing would settle it, and Miss Clifford
cursed her defective memory. If either Lord Avesham or his wife had a
“sister living called Emma or Emmaline, that must be the Aunt Em” who
had sat so truculently in the highway and been offered beer. Miss
Clifford turned quite cold at the thought that she had perhaps been
within an ace of running into a sister or a sister-in-law of a peer.
What would her mother have said if she had been alive to see such a day?

Miss Clifford wasted no more time, but went home like a positive
race-horse, arriving in a breathing heat. She went straight to the room
called by her and her sister “the libry,” and took the Peerage from its
shelf.

No, the late Lord Avesham had only one sister living, who was called
Lucy, which could not possibly be abbreviated into Em, but he married
Frances Mary Fortescue, second daughter of late Mr. John Fortescue. It
was but the work of a moment to turn to the Fs in the landed gentry and
find John Lewis Fortescue, Esq., son of late John Fortescue, Esq., who
had one sister living, Emma Caroline. The thing was as good as proved,
and Miss Clifford was practically face to face with the fact that peers
(at any rate, the brothers of peers) drank beer in shirts, and that she
had nearly run down the sister of a peeress. It had been a most exciting
morning, and she waited with weary impatience for the return of her
sister, who was out, to pour into her horror-struck ears these
revelations about the aristocracy. “No wonder many people turn Radical,”
she said to herself.

Colonel Raymond’s temper at lunch that day bordered on the diabolical,
and when he savagely announced that he should take the children for a
walk afterward, the hearts of those unfortunate infants sank in their
shoes. They well knew what kind of an afternoon was in store for them.
While on the level they would be able to keep up, but they knew from
experience that when their father was in the state of mind which Mrs.
Raymond referred to in their presence as “looking worried” that their
way would be dark and slippery, and that their father would march up the
steep sides of the downs as if he was storming a breach. Long before the
most active of them was half-way up he would be there, and he would
revile them with marrowy and freezing expressions. Then as soon as their
aching legs had scaled the summit he would be off again, and ten minutes
later the same scene would be re-enacted with the same trembling and
breathless mutes. Occasionally, on the worst days, he would take one by
the hand and–“he called it helping”–drag her along in a grasp of iron.

Poor Mrs. Raymond always looked more than usually insignificant when her
husband was looking worried, but when things were very bad indeed
sometimes a strange sort of recklessness came over her. If you can
imagine a mouse or some soft feathered bird in a reckless humour, you
will have some picture of Mrs. Raymond when the Colonel was looking
worried. She had asked him some question about where he had been this
morning, and had been treated to a reply of this kind:

“Where have I been? Did you ask where I have been, Constance? You are
devoured by curiosity–devoured; and it would be better if you tried to
check it sometimes. But I’ll tell you–oh, I’ll tell you. I’ve been
hanging about Bolton Street all morning, and not one of those infernal
aristocrats had a word to say to me.”

“Do you mean the Aveshams, Robert?” asked his wife.

“Yes, I mean the Aveshams, and why shouldn’t I mean the Aveshams? Eh?”

“I don’t suppose they recognised you.”

“Not recognised me? I tell you, they cut me. Cut me, Constance. Blood is
thicker than water–thicker than water–and it’s a motto that I’ve
always stuck to myself, and it would be a good thing if others did the
same.”

Then Mrs. Raymond began to be reckless.

“You’re not a very near relative, Robert,” she said, in her meaningless
voice.

“Not a near relation?” stormed her husband. “Do you mean to put me in my
place? Confound it all, your brother-in-law’s sister, your sister-in-law
in fact, indeed my sister-in-law, was the late Lady Avesham. If we don’t
hang together it’s the ruin of England!”

Mrs. Raymond’s recklessness increased.

“If I were you I shouldn’t go about talking of the Aveshams as your
relatives, particularly now they’ve come to live in the town,” she said;
“it will only make people laugh.”

The Colonel glared at her a moment; he could literally not find words.

“Anything else, madam, anything else?” he asked at length.

The fit of recklessness was passed.

“No, that is all, Robert,” she said, listlessly; “I didn’t mean to make
you worried.”

“I shall call there this afternoon,” he said, “and you will go with me.”

Mrs. Raymond brightened.

“Then you won’t take the children out?” she asked, with a ray of hope in
her voice.

“Certainly I shall take them out,” he said, “and–and they shall come
and call, too. Go and get your things on, all of you.”

“You won’t go far then, if you are to be back in time to call?” asked
his wife.

“We shall go a good brisk walk,” he said, grimly, “and we shall be home
by four. Now, am I to wait all day?”

Dismal, faltering feet came down the passage outside, and the three
little victims appeared in the doorway.

“Now then, march,” said the Colonel.

It was some little while after four when the hot and jaded expedition
returned. The walk had been more severe than usual, and even the Colonel
flung himself with an air of fatigue into a chair.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he said; “I shall not go near the house. Not go
near it. At least, I sha’n’t go to-day. Tea–isn’t tea ready? Let it be
brought.”

Even the friends of the Colonel might have felt inclined to accuse him
of a slight duplicity for his action on this occasion. He had returned
by way of Bolton Street, like the burned moth to the candle, and sending
the children on with instructions to go home after waiting for five
minutes at the end of the street, he had rung the bell, which was opened
by a surprised maid. The hall was full of miscellaneous furniture, and
the maid had to go warily among pictures and stools to the drawing-room,
bearing his card. Jeannie’s voice was what is known as “carrying,” and
she did not reflect how near the front door was to the drawing-room,
where an agonizing measurement of a carpet was going on. Her words were
distinctly audible.

“Colonel who? Colonel Raymond. I never heard of him. Fancy calling when
we are in this state! Tell him we are all out. Did you say fifteen foot
six or fifteen foot eight, Arthur? It makes just the whole difference.”

Then somebody said “Hush!” and Jeannie’s voice said “Oh!”

A moment afterward the maid came out of the drawing-room, shutting the
door carefully after her.

“Not at home, sir,” she said, without a blush or a tremor in her voice.

The children did not have to wait long at the corner. The pace home was
perfectly appalling.

One evening, about a fortnight after the attack of congestion in Bolton
Street, Canon and Mrs. Collingwood were sitting in their dining-room
lingering over their dessert. The butler had filled their claret-glasses
to the brim with water, and had left the room. It was a warm night in
mid-July, and the French window opening on to the garden was flung wide,
admitting breaths of soft and flower-scented air. The dusk was not yet
passed the bounding line between day and night, and the eye was led over
a cool, spacious square of grass, framed in flower-beds in which colour
still lingered, to a red brick wall at the end of the garden over which
rose the gray pinnacle of the Cathedral. It was still near enough to
midsummer to dine without candles if your dinner-hour was 7.45, and the
absence of them and decanters gave to the table a certain virginal and
ascetic air. Both the Canon and his wife were teetotalers, she of the
kind which we may call intemperate–that is to say, she regarded alcohol
not only as poison, but as an essentially immoral thing. Mrs.
Collingwood was a woman of strong will, and ruled her husband; and
though his own inclination would have been to set wine before his guests
when they were entertaining, her detestation of fermented liquids
overruled hospitality, and, unless one particular person was dining with
them, you would no more see a decanter on the table than you would see a
roulette board. But the exception was made in favour of their Bishop,
who was under doctor’s orders to drink the abominable thing, and on
these occasions a half bottle of Burgundy blushed before Mrs.
Collingwood’s eyes. How exactly it is possible to conceive of a natural
and lifeless product as being in itself wicked is a problem at which the
ordinary mind stumbles. But Mrs. Collingwood had solved it, and we
should show a more becoming modesty if we lamented our mediocrity of
grasp and silently envied Mrs. Collingwood’s extraordinary powers of
conception, than if we called her point of view unreasonable. It is
possible also that if a guest had produced a doctor’s certificate that
he must drink wine, he would have been accorded some of the Bishop’s
Burgundy, but his wine would be understood to be of the nature of
medicine, which custom has ordained that we shall not indulge in at the
dinner-table.

Now it was not the habit of Canon Collingwood or his wife to linger over
the pleasures of the table, but they were discussing a subject which had
probably been discussed at thirty or forty other tables that evening,
namely, the advent of Jeannie and Arthur to Wroxton.

“I don’t feel certain that she will be helpful,” said Mrs. Collingwood;
“to me she seemed not in earnest. There was no depth about her.”

And she put a hard piece of gingerbread into her rather wide mouth.

Canon Collingwood stroked his beard for a moment in silence.

“She is young,” he said, doubtfully.

“One can never be too young to be in earnest,” said his wife. “And I did
not like the look of the drawing-room. There were several books on the
table which I should never allow in my house, and there was an organ in
the hall.”

Canon Collingwood had been married many years, but even now his wife
occasionally puzzled him.

“Why not, my dear?” he said.

“Because an organ should only be used for sacred music,” said Mrs.
Collingwood, “and I have no doubt that they use it for other pieces.
Indeed, I saw some opera of Wagner’s standing open on it.”

“Did you call there to-day?” he asked.

“Yes, I paid a long call there. I tried to interest Miss Avesham in
various things, but I had to begin at the beginning. She did not even
know what G. F. S. meant. It is very strange how unreal life must be to
some people.”

“Is not their aunt staying with them?”

Mrs. Collingwood could not reply for a moment, for the gingerbread was
very hard.

“Yes, she is living with them for the present,” she said. “I am bound to
say that Miss Fortescue baffled me. I could make nothing whatever out
of her. She seemed to me at first most keenly interested in the
prevention of cruelty to animals, but when I spoke of the prevention of
cruelty to children–much more important, of course–she did not seem to
pay the slightest attention. And later, when we were speaking of
household matters, she urged Miss Avesham to see that the mulberries
from their tree in the garden were picked for making mulberry gin. She
asked me if I did not think it was delicious.”

“She could not know how you felt about such matters,” said the Canon,
apologetically.

“I should have thought that gin was not a subject usually mentioned,”
said Mrs. Collingwood. “No one can be ignorant of how terrible a curse
it is to so many households.”

Canon Collingwood sighed.

“I met Miss Avesham a day or two ago at the Lindsays’,” he said. “She
seemed to me a nice, pleasant girl, and very full of life.”

Mrs. Collingwood folded her napkin up in silence. Her husband’s remark
seemed to her fatuous. Either a person was earnest and helpful or not.
Any other quality, particularly that very dangerous quality known as
“life,” was only trimming, and a possible temptation. Earnestness and
helpfulness were to be rated by the desire to aid in good works. But as
she rose she made a great concession.

“If you mean energy by life, William,” she said, “I agree with you that
it is admirable as an instrument if properly used. You have not said
grace.”

To do her justice, Mrs. Collingwood’s time was spent in good works, and
her thoughts (when not thus occupied) in passing judgments on other
people. Her favourite text, the text by which her life was conducted,
was, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” In her youth she must have been
remarkably handsome, but she had got over that, which was lucky, since
she now tended to consider that good looks, if not actually the
invention of the evil one, were an open door by which he entered,
bringing with him pride, vanity, and self-esteem. Like alcohol and
tobacco, she regarded them as almost more than dangerous, as something
in themselves not right. But with what might be hastily considered as
inconsistent, she thought it her duty to admire the beauties of nature
when not exhibited in human beings. The green of forest trees, the level
lines of the sunset, the Gothic architecture, particularly when seen
from a Cathedral close, and thus, as it were, chastely framed, she
thought were meant to lead one’s aspirations heavenward. These things
(the trees and light, at any rate) had been at the Creation pronounced
good, and that was enough for Mrs. Collingwood, who, if she could pin a
text on to any conclusion, put it away in a drawer as proved. Her
drawers were full of such. Similarly, man had fallen, and his face was
the face of a fallen thing.

Thus this evening, when she and her husband left the dining-room, and he
retired to his study to finish his sermon for the next day, she stood a
full minute at the open window of the drawing-room looking at the view.
Then she sat down at her davenport to finish writing a paper on the
Downward Tendency of Modern Fiction, which she was to read at a meeting
of the Wroxton Ladies’ Literary Union next week. She proposed to deal
more particularly with novels which discuss theological problems, and
were so upsetting to the faith of the weaker, for what is known as the
Higher Criticism seemed to Mrs. Collingwood to be synonymous with the
temptation of the devil. But she was a just woman, and one of her
sentences began, “What a very clever book we all feel this to be, but
how immoral!” Mrs. Collingwood found literary composition presented no
difficulties, and she looked upon it, provided the motive of it was
earnest and helpful, as an agreeable relaxation. Her style was
conversational, and there was a good deal of “dear friends” in it.

The view on which she so resolutely turned her back in order to give
this timely warning to the literary ladies of Wroxton against
theological, or rather infidel, novels, justified her minute’s
contemplation. The lawn, a cool, restful space of sober green, sloped
down to a prattling tributary of the chalk stream which ran through the
town, and in the dusk the flower-beds (the Canon’s hobby was gardening)
glowed with subdued and darkening colour. The scent of the
tobacco-plant (like Adam and Eve, still in its garden innocence) came
floating in through the window, dominating all other perfumes. Thrushes
still called to each other from the bushes, or crossed the lawn with
quick, scudding steps, and an owl floated by with a flute-like note. To
the right rose the gray piled mass of the Cathedral in all the dignity
and sobriety of Norman work, set there, it might seem, like the rainbow,
a pledge to the benignity of the circling seasons, serene and steadfast
with centuries of service. From here, too, for the drawing-room was on
the second floor, it was possible to see over the bounding garden-wall,
and westward the river lay in sheets and pools of cloud-reflected
crimson. Patches of light mist lay like clothes to dry over the
water-meadows through which it ran, but beyond the great chalk down lay
clear and naked. The sky at the horizon was cloudless, and the evening
star hung like a jewel on blue velvet. Peaceful, protected stability was
the keynote of the scene.

Canon Collingwood had been at Wroxton for twenty mildly useful but not
glorious years. From the years between the ages of twenty and forty he
had lived entirely at Cambridge as Fellow and subsequently classical
tutor of his college. The effect, if not the object, of his life had
been uneventfulness, and twenty years of looking over pieces of Latin
verse and prose had been succeeded by twenty years of busy indolence as
Canon of Wroxton. To keep one’s hands and heart moderately clean in this
random business of life is a sufficient task for the most of mankind,
and if Canon Collingwood had not experienced the braver joys of
adventure, or even the rapture of mere living, it is not to be assumed
that his life was useless. He set an admirable pattern of unruffled
serenity and complete inoffensiveness, and though he could never set the
smallest stream on fire, his passage through the world was bordered with
content. At Wroxton, apart from the merely animal needs of sleep and
exercise, his time was fairly equally divided between hardy annuals and
an extensive though not profound study of patristic literature. Eight
times in the year he delivered a sermon from the Cathedral pulpit, and
never failed to give careful preparation to it. In the summer he and
his wife always spent a month at the lakes, but otherwise they seldom
slept a night outside their own house. He got up every morning at half
past seven, and breakfasted at a quarter past eight. He attended
Cathedral service at ten, and read or wrote in his study till a quarter
past one. Three-quarters of an hour brought him to lunch-time, and a
walk along one of three roads or two hours among his flowers prepared
him for tea. His dinner he earned by two hours’ more reading, and his
rest at night was the natural sequel to this wholesomely spent day,
rounded off by three-quarters of an hour’s Patience in the drawing-room,
or, if the game proved very exciting, it sometimes extended to a full
hour.

Mrs. Collingwood, as has been stated, was somewhat given to passing
judgment on other people, but these judgments were never of a gossipy or
malicious nature, and she judged without being in any way critical. Her
judgments were straightforward decisions, of the jury rather than the
judge, as to whether the prisoner at the bar was guilty or not guilty.
To be not guilty, it need hardly be indicated, meant to be earnest and
helpful. Now, whether she could, with her hand on her heart, say that
her husband was earnest or helpful is doubtful, but no decision was
necessary, and for this reason: Though he took no part in her good
works, nor even organized Christian associations, he was a Canon. To be
a Canon implied to live in a close, and to live in a close (if we run
Mrs. Collingwood to ground) meant to be not guilty. Furthermore, in what
we may call her more Bohemian moments, she would have acknowledged that
life could be looked at from more than one point of view. She would even
have allowed that it might be possible to live otherwise than she lived,
and yet be saved at the last. Yet some people had been known to think
her narrow!

Mrs. Collingwood, it must be considered, was not ill content with
living. Her aims were too definite, and her devotion to them too
complete to allow her to indulge in any vague dissatisfactions. She
could lament the wickedness of the world, yet find the antidote for the
sorrow the thought had caused in efforts to remedy it. Further, in the
sphere of inevitable and intimate things, she and her husband had
perhaps only one weak spot, so to speak, in the armour in which they met
the world. She, at any rate, went armed like a dragoon through the
routine of life, armed against danger and difficulty and snares of the
evil one. But this weak spot was in a vital place. She had a son, now
some twenty-five years old, who did not live in a close, or anywhere
near one. He was an artist–not a landscape painter, for Mrs.
Collingwood could have borne that–but a painter of men and women, a
recorder of human beauty. That he was rising and successful in his
profession was no consolation to his mother, but rather the reverse, and
she had before now hesitated whether the text, “I also have seen the
wicked in great prosperity,” was not to be pinned to him, for that he
was essentially sober and straight in his life she could scarcely
believe. He seldom came to Wroxton, for his profession, at which he
worked very hard, naturally kept him in London, but he was going to
spend a week or two with them in September, after their return from the
lakes, and she always found his visits trying. In the first place, it
was quite certain that, though he did not smoke in the house out of
deference to his mother’s abhorrence of the act, he did smoke in the
garden; and in the second, though he never alluded to wine at lunch or
dinner, a half-empty bottle of whisky had been found in his bed-room
after he had gone. It often seemed cruel to Mrs. Collingwood that she
should have had such a son, and in her own mind she was disposed to
regard him as but a dubious gift, partaking more of the nature of a
cross than of a crown.

Jeannie Avesham that afternoon had spoken of him to his mother, saying
that, though she did not know him personally, he had been at Oxford with
her brother, and the mention of those Oxford days had roused terrible
memories in the mind of Mrs. Collingwood, and made her attack on modern
fiction bitter and incisive. For he had gone to Oxford with the object
of reading theology, and eventually of taking orders, but a day came
when he wrote to his father saying he could not do so. He wanted to talk
it all over with him, but he feared his decision was irrevocable.

Now it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that his mother would sooner
have seen him in his coffin than that he should have written such a
letter. It was a complete break-up of her hopes. Her world, hard and
narrow as it might be, was all the world she had, and it was overturned.
The last straw had been added when he decided to become an artist, and
on that occasion she had said to her husband, and had meant it, “He will
go to the devil.”

Time, of course, had done something to heal the wound, and in the five
years which had passed since then Mrs. Collingwood had in a way grown
used to it. But she was naturally rigid and incapable of adapting
herself, for any change meant a change in her principles. She prayed for
him with her accustomed fervour, but as long as he did not give up his
profession she was forced to believe that her prayers, if answered, were
answered in a way beyond her comprehension.

By half past nine she had finished her warning against infidel novels,
and her husband had finished his sermon for the next day. He read
prayers in the dining-room, and afterward they went up together to the
drawing-room again, and he played Patience till half past ten. The town
was already settling itself to sleep, and only a faint hum of living
came in through the windows. They talked for a few minutes on
indifferent subjects, and by eleven the house was dark.

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