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Miss Brown. Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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BOOK IV.

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CHAPTER I.

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

“You must be very tired,” said Hamlin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right,” interrupted Hamlin.

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

“Her name is Anne, auntie—”

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

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

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

“I am not tired,” protested Anne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne shook her head. “No, thanks.”

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

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

The old lady looked at her for a moment.

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

Anne did not answer; but she felt herself redden.

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

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

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CHAPTER II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Everything old?” asked Hamlin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamlin shook his head sadly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CHAPTER III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hamlin reddened, but laughed.

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

“Ah, well,” merely remarked Mrs Macgregor.

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

“Very odd things,” put in his aunt.

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

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

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

Hamlin smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How good of you,” cried Anne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne refused in terror.

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

Chough burst out into applause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cosmo Chough was indignant.

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

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

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

Anne shook her head contemptuously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, every one’s good‐natured!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this grand winding up Mrs Argiropoulo laughed loudly.

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

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

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

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

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CHAPTER IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anne looked in amazement; and Hamlin reddened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few days later the dressmaker came to try on the dress, or rather (perhaps because Hamlin did not wish Anne to see it before it was finished) its linings and a small amount of the Greek stuff of which it was made; but it was not till the very afternoon of Mrs Argiropoulo’s party that the costume was brought home finished. Miss Brown was by this time tolerably accustomed to the eccentric garb of æsthetic circles, and she firmly believed that it was the only one which a self‐respecting page: 306 woman might wear; but when she saw the dress which Hamlin had designed for her, she could not help shrinking back in dismay. It was of that Cretan silk, not much thicker than muslin, which is woven in minute wrinkles of palest yellowy white; it was made, it seemed to her, more like a night‐gown than anything else, shapeless and yet clinging with large and small folds, and creases like those of damp sculptor’s drapery, or the garments of Mantegna’s women.

“I must get out a long petticoat,” said Anne, appalled.

“Oh please, ma’am, no,” cried the dressmaker. “On no account an additional petticoat—it would ruin the whole effect. On the contrary, you ought to remove one of those you have on, because like this the dress can’t cling properly.”

“I won’t have it cling,” cried Miss Brown, resolutely. “I will let alone the extra petticoat, but that’s as much as I will do.”

“As you please, ma’am,” answered the page: 307 woman, and continued adjusting the limp garment with the maid’s assistance.

Anne walked to the mirror. She was almost terrified at the figure which met her. That colossal woman, with wrinkled drapery clinging to her in half‐antique, half‐medieval guise,—that great solemn, theatrical creature, could that be herself?

“I think,” she said in despair, “that there’s something very odd about it, Mrs Perkins. It looks somehow all wrong. Are you sure that something hasn’t got unstitched?”

“No indeed, madam,” answered the dressmaker, ruffled in her dignity. “I have exactly followed the design; and,” she added, with crushing effect, “as it’s I who execute the most difficult designs for the Lyceum, I think I may say that it could not be made differently.”

The Lyceum! Anne felt half petrified. What! Hamlin was having her rigged out by a stage dressmaker!

“Mr Hamlin is down‐stairs, Miss Brown,” page: 308 hesitated the maid, as Anne bade her help her out of this mass of limp stuff. “He said he would wait to see you after the dressmaker had left, if you had no objection.”

“Watty wants to see you in your new frock, my dear,” said Mrs Macgregor, putting her head in at the door. “Come along.”

Anne followed down‐stairs, gathering all that uncanny white crape about her. For the first time she felt a dull anger against Hamlin.

He met her in the dim drawing‐room.

“My hair isn’t done yet,” was all Miss Brown could say, tousling it with her hands.

“Leave it like that—oh, do leave it like that!” exclaimed Hamlin; “you can’t think how”—and he paused and looked at her, where she stood before him, stooping her massive head sullenly—“you can’t think how beautiful you look, Anne!”

It was the first time he had called her by her Christian name since that scene, long ago, in the studio at Florence.

“Forgive me, dear Miss Brown,” he apolo‐ page: 309 gised apologised . “I knew how such a dress must suit you, and yet it has given me quite a shock to see you in it.”

“It was very kind of you to have it made for me,” said Anne, “and the stuff is very pretty also; and—and I am so glad you like me in it.”

Hamlin kissed her hand. He was more than usually handsome, and looked very happy.

“Thank you,” he said; “I must now go home and dress for that stupid dinner‐party. I will meet you at Mrs Argiropoulo’s at half‐past ten or eleven. I suppose Edith Spencer will call for you soon after dinner. Good‐bye.”

He looked at her with a kind of fervour, and left the room.

Anne sat down. Why did that dress make such a difference to him? Why did he care so much more for her because she had it on? Did he care for her only as a sort of live picture? she thought bitterly. But, after all, it was quite natural on his part to be pleased, since he had invented the dress. And it was page: 310 very good of him to have thought of her at all. And thus, in a state of enjoyable repentance, she awaited the hour to go to Mrs Argiropoulo.

Mrs Spencer, a very lovable and laughable little woman, whose soul was divided between her babies and fierce rancours against all enemies of pre‐Raphaelitism, hereditary, in virtue of her father, Andrew Saunders, in her family, came punctually, marvellously attired in grey cashmere medieval garments, a garland of parsley and gilt oak‐leaves in her handsome red hair. On seeing Anne, who stood awaiting her by the fireplace, she could not repress an exclamation of admiration.

“Yes,” answered Anne, unaccustomed to have her looks admired at Florence and at Coblenz; “it is a very wonderful costume, isn’t it? Mr Hamlin designed it for me. I think it was so kind of him; don’t you?”

“Kind? I see nothing kind about it. Walter” (she always spoke of him thus familiarly, because he had worked as a youth in page: 311 her father’s studio) “is simply head over ears in love with you, my dear.”

Anne shook her head.

“Oh no,” she answered, with a sort of reasoned conviction, “he is merely very good to me, that’s all—and perhaps he likes me also, of course. But that’s all.”

“You know nothing of the world, Annie; and still less of Walter. He has never in his life been fond of any one except when in love. I’ve not known him these fifteen years for nothing.”

“I think you are mistaken,” said Anne, quietly.

“I think you are not aware, my dear girl, that you are the most beautiful woman Walter has ever seen.”

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