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

(Continued)

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MISS BROWN.

CHAPTER V.

MISS BROWN felt very excited as the brougham drew up at Mrs Argiropoulo’s, and they entered her large house, blazing with lights and crammed with flowers. She followed Mrs Spencer timidly up‐stairs; but the men who crowded the landing never guessed that this majestic and imperturbable creature could possibly be nervous. At the top of the stairs, receiving her guests, an occupation (called seeing a few friends) which excluded her from her own drawing‐room the best part of the evening, was Mrs Argiropoulo, gorgeous in old lace and diamonds, and withal excessively vulgar.

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“I am so glad to see you, dear Miss Brown,” she exclaimed to Anne’s astonishment, despatching the other comers with a mere frigid handshake. “I do think it is so good of you to come.”

“I wanted to come.”

“You are such a darling,” went on the fat Greek lady. “Come along—I have kept seats for you and Mrs Spencer for the recitation. Dear old Gosselin is going to recite for us—he is staying with us. I beg your pardon”—this last remark was addressed to a compact crowd of ladies and gentlemen on the threshold of the largest reception‐room, into which the lady of the house summarily elbowed her way.

“Follow me,” she whispered, as Anne, bewildered among the lights and noise, tried to pick her way over the trailing skirts, and every one turned to stare as she passed—“Here, Euphrosyne”—perceiving one of her big bouncing daughters in the crowd—“I want to introduce you to Miss Brown. Do page: 3 keep that chair to the left for the Duchess of Orkney—mind.”

The spacious drawing‐room was filled, as for a theatrical performance, with rows of chairs, wellnigh occupied already. Into the very first of these Mrs Argiropoulo led Anne and Mrs Spencer.

“Sit down,” she whispered. “I do hope you’ll enjoy yourself, Miss Brown. You’ll hear Gosselin beautifully here. Oh dear, there’s the dear Marchioness of Epsom; goodbye”—and she whirled off her portly person.

“Goodness!” whispered Mrs Spencer, “old Argey has actually put us into the best places!”

Anne looked round. In front was a vacant space, with an open piano, and some chairs in a corner facing the company. All round and behind were chairs, and only a little gangway remained leading to the piano, next to where Mrs Argiropoulo had placed Anne. She had never seen such a crowd of magnificently and oddly dressed people in her life. Old ladies in velvet and diamonds, page: 4 young ones in Worth toilets, or weirdly attired in lank robes and draperies, with garlands of lilies or turbans, or strings of sequins in their disorderly locks.

“I scarcely know any one here,” said Mrs Spencer, looking round like a rapid little bird, “except one or two artists—there are three or four R.A.’s—horrible creatures, to think the public is so wickedly infatuate as to buy their pictures! Will Englishmen ever have any poetic feeling in art? Papa would rather die than be an Academician. There’s little Thaddy O’Reilly—horrid little jackanapes—in the door. That old flat‐faced man is Lord Durrant, the critic. All the frumpy people with the diamonds must be peeresses, I’m sure. There’s Cosmo Chough just come in,—they’re all looking about for somebody or other. There’s Browning talking to old Argiropoulo. Oh, here’s little Thaddy! How do you do, Mr O’Reilly?”

Mr O’Reilly, a callow critic who united æstheticism with frivolity, bowed, and cast page: 5 curious glances at Anne. For a moment she felt horribly ungrateful about the dress. She was sure that little O’Reilly was thinking that it was a night‐gown.

“Who’s the lion to‐night?” asked Mrs Spencer.

Mr O’Reilly fixed his eyes on Anne, and answered languidly, with a faint smile—

“Why, how can you ask, Mrs Spencer? Have we not all been invited expressly to meet Monsieur Gosselin and his charming friends, the ladies from the French comedy? No one comes to see lions or lionesses here, it is much too intellectual for that.”

“Do tell me who is the lion of to‐night,” asked Mrs Spencer, laughing.

“Haven’t I told you that there never are lions here? only an occasional man of genius, shipped over fresh, between petroleum tins and sewing‐machines, from America, may stray in in top‐boots and a red flannel shirt—or it so happens that a beautiful woman is first noticed here—or Victor Hugo walks in page: 6 quite casually to tea—or the ghost of Byron mistakes this for Westminster Abbey. Oh, no lions, never. Besides, here is Monsieur Gosselin, and here is Mademoiselle Meringue and Madame Gauffre just come in. You see, Miss Brown, how perfectly true it is that we are to meet them. They are taking their place behind the piano. Yes, that is Madame Gauffre with the diamond butterfly. You perceive how we are to have the pleasure of making their acquaintance. Do you remark the vacant space round the piano? Miss Euphrosyne Argiropoulo and her sister are alone privileged to enter it, and the waiters also, to talk to Monsieur Gosselin and his fair comrades, and offer them refreshments. It is what I call a moral cordon sanitaire, separating these artistes from the highly respectable company all round.”

“How horrible!” said Anne; “and do they pay them to be insulted like that?”

“Pay them? oh, never. The Argiropoulos are far too delicate for that. Monsieur page: 7 Gosselin and mesdames of the comedy are intimate friends of the house: they have been dining here, and they are so kind as to recite a piece or two to Mrs Argiropoulo’s guests. Let me see—what’s he going to recite—ah—‘Un Beignet.’ That will be delicious.”

Gosselin had come forward, his opera‐hat in his hand, and begun to recite. It was a very delightful performance, and Anne enjoyed it greatly. Besides, it was a great relief to find that this entertainment was a performance, and not as she had dreaded, a series of introductions and conversations with celebrities. There was a dead silence during Gosselin’s recitation, except near the door, where people kept pressing in and out. When he had ceased, Anne looked round. She was surprised at the aspect of many of the company. They had evidently not been listening at all, but looking about, straining to see some one in the front rows. In a minute the little gangway leading to the piano was crowded.

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Posthlethwaite, whom she had met several times before, was elbowing his unwieldy person—a Japanese lily bobbing out of the button‐hole of his ancestral dress‐coat—towards her. He had scarcely begun a description of a picture which he had just seen, representing “Aphrodite tripping with pink little feet across the dimpled sea sands,” when Mrs Argiropoulo came up with several gentlemen about her, whom she began rapidly to introduce to Anne: two of them were famous painters; one a well‐known sculptor; another was an aristocratic drawing‐room novelist; the fifth a man of fashion. They all stood in the gangway around Anne’s chair, while Posthlethwaite, who was not the person to be ousted, propped his elephantine person against the end of the piano, and leaning down his flabby flat‐cheeked face and mop of tow, continued conversing with Miss Brown, regardless of the new‐comers, who exchanged smiles as they listened to him with much more amused attention than they had listened to page: 9 Gosselin. Anne was very bewildered; and as she answered the remarks of the party surrounding her, she became aware that the people behind were all looking in her direction—looking, doubtless, at Gosselin and his ladies behind the piano, or at Posthlethwaite. For a moment Anne turned round, wondering whether she should see Hamlin. But instead of Hamlin, her eyes met a face as familiar as his—a dark, rather snub face, with bushy black beard and hair, which emerged high above the heads of a knot of literary and political celebrities. She started imperceptibly, but turned away, and looked towards the piano, where Madame Gauffre had begun to recite, her plump little black figure standing out against the moonlight flooding through the window, in strange contrast to the yellow light of the room, in which dimly loomed the tops of trees and the towers of Westminster. Could it be her cousin Dick? Anne rarely mistook people’s faces, and least of all was it possible for her to mistake page: 10 Richard Brown’s, though she had not seen him since that morning in Florence. But what should Richard be doing here, in this fashionable party? It was evidently a mere accidental resemblance, but it brought up a painful train of thought. Anne had once or twice written to her cousin and guardian from school, in a formal cold way, and he had let her know that he had become a partner in the military foundry, and had changed his address. She had got a vague idea that he was now rich. But she had not yet let him know of her arrival in England, and she felt ungrateful and rather ashamed, for, after all, he had always wished her well, and had been her playfellow. If he should have thought that she was ashamed of him? Heaven knows that was not her feeling, but she felt against Richard Brown a vague, instinctive aversion, as to something insulting and degrading to herself. She determined, however, to write to him the very next day.

With a shrill exclamation and a pert curtsy, page: 11 Madame Gauffre, who was reciting the part of a schoolgirl of fifteen, suddenly came to an end.

“How do you do, Annie?” said a voice behind her.

She turned round. It was Richard Brown.

“I saw you as soon as I came in,” he said, calmly pushing aside the astonished Posthlethwaite, “but I have only now been able to make my way here. How do you like Madame Gauffre? don’t you think she’s delightful? or rather, I ought to ask, how do you like London?”

The voice was always that same deep one, which, when lowered to a whisper, had something curiously hot and passionate about it; but the accent and the easy worldly manner seemed as if they could not belong to Richard Brown.

“Who the deuce is that fellow?” asked Posthlethwaite angrily of Mrs Spencer.

I don’t know—I’ve never seen him. Do you know, Mr O’Reilly, who that big black man is, that has just come up to Miss Brown. Not one of our set, that’s certain.”

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“Oh Lord, no!” answered the little journalist. “You don’t read newspapers in your set, do you?”

“We always read the ‘Athenæum,’” answered Mrs Spencer, seriously.

“Newspapers are Cimmerian inventions,” said Posthlethwaite. “I’m a republican, red, incarnadine, a démocrate for Robespierre; but I never take up a paper, except to see which of my friends have left town.”

Thaddy O’Reilly laughed. “Oh, well, you won’t find Education Brown in the ‘Athenæum,’ Mrs Spencer—a mere barbarian, Goth, Philistine, but well known in Philistia. He’s a tremendous Radical, goes in for disestablishment, secular teaching; an awful fellow for obligatory education and paupers; he’ll be in Parliament some day soon, for he’s backed by all the black trade.”

“Surely it is very easy to feed paupers, as people used to, don’t you know, in Chaucer?” said Mrs Spencer, simply and seriously.

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Young O’Reilly went into an inaudible but convulsive giggle.

“Anyhow, that’s Brown—‘Peace by Expensive Warfare Brown’ we call him. Look at him; he’s a force in his world, as your father is in yours.”

“I wish he’d keep in his own coal‐cinders,” retorted Posthlethwaite. “What business has he to talk to—”

“By Jove!” exclaimed O’Reilly, “it never struck me,—Anne Brown—Richard Brown,—perhaps they’re relations!”

“What do you think of her?” whispered Mrs Argiropoulo to the little knot of artists whom she had assembled.

Posthlethwaite, as usual, answered for the company.

“’Tis the body of a goddess; we must give it the soul of a woman.”

“That’s Hamlin’s look‐out,” answered Paints, the R.A.

“Why, what’s become of him?” they all asked. “Surely he was to be here.”

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“Oh, be sure he’s lurking around here,” answered O’Reilly; “of course he keeps in the background—enjoys his triumph from afar. You don’t sit in front of your own picture on the first Academy day, do you, Paints?”

“Mr Posthlethwaite, will you take Miss Brown in to supper?” cried Mrs Argiropoulo, who was working up and down the crowd.

Richard Brown had already given Anne his arm.

“That can’t be,” cried Mrs Argiropoulo. “Mr Posthlethwaite must take you in, dear. Dear Mr Brown, will you take in my daughter?”

“Good‐bye, Annie,” whispered Richard Brown. “I will come and see you to‐morrow.” And he let his cousin be borne away in triumph by Posthlethwaite.

“Of course, Mr Posthlethwaite must take in Miss Brown,” explained Mrs Argiropoulo to Mrs Spencer; “he’s the most conspicuous man, after all; and, as it were, it stamps her at once. By the way, two R.A.’s, Paints and page: 15 Smeers, have already said that they would like to paint her.”

“Walter Hamlin will never let her be painted by an R.A.,” answered Mrs Spencer, fiercely; “and Annie has far too much artistic feeling to endure such a thing. Why, Mr Bones has been drawing her for the last week, and papa made a crayon of her.”

As Anne passed through the crowd on Posthlethwaite’s arm every one turned to look at her. And then it suddenly flashed upon her that she was the person people had been staring at, she was the lion of the evening—she, the servant whom the great poet‐painter had adopted. Every one was looking at her; she felt horribly alone, numb, unreal.

At that moment Hamlin came up.

“Have you amused yourself?” he asked. “Why, what’s the matter? do you feel ill?”

“Only very tired. Oh, why didn’t you turn up before?” Anne’s voice was so wretched and supplicating that Hamlin felt quite terrified.

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“Where’s Mrs Spencer?” he asked. “It must be that hot room. Edith, do take Miss Brown home, she looks so awfully tired.”

“Permit me to take you down‐stairs,” said the mellifluous fat voice of Posthlethwaite.

“I will take Miss Brown down myself, if you please, Posthlethwaite;” and Hamlin pushed the prince of æsthetes roughly aside.

“Why did you not show yourself the whole evening?” asked Anne feebly, while he was helping her on with her cloak.

“Why—because—I thought I had no right to monopolise you always,” answered Hamlin in a whisper.

When the two women were alone in the brougham, Anne could stand it no longer; and leaning her head in the corner, she began to cry.

“Why, what’s the matter, Annie?” cried Mrs Spencer, drawing her close to her. “What’s the matter, my dear girl?”

“Nothing—nothing,” answered Anne, wiping her eyes. “I suppose it is because I am so worn‐out—so—”

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“It’s that vile, ostentatious party,” replied the little woman, half in consolation, half in pride—“mere stupid crushes—no real society, as we have it. And I do think it is so disgusting of Mrs Argiropoulo to make all the people stare at you as if you were a burlesque actress. Oh, I know that set of lion‐hunting, purse‐proud, would‐be artistic people. They would have your photograph in all the shop‐windows at once, and Royal Highnesses to meet you. Papa and I always wonder that Walter hasn’t cut all those horrid sycophants before. You know that it’s only artists and poets of our school who will ever appreciate you really, although the others would hawk you about as a sort of professional beauty.”

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CHAPTER VI.

THE sudden discovery that she was the standard beauty of the most prominent artistic set, and accepted as such by the rest of society, would have greatly disturbed almost any woman. But Anne Brown’s nature was too completely homogeneous—too completely without the innumerable strata, and abysses, and peaks, and winding ways of modern women’s characters—for her to experience any of the mixed feelings of pride, and disgust, and humiliation, and general uncomfortablehess which would have been the lot of a more complex nature. The atoms of her character were not easily shaken into new patterns: it was coherent, and, like most coherent things, difficult to upset, slow to move, and quick to settle down.

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After the first shock of surprise, she resigned herself, without doubts, or diffidence, or elation, to her new place. That she was more beautiful than other women had indeed never occurred to her before; but once that it had been proved to her she accepted it as a fact, as she had accepted as a fact the still stranger news that Hamlin had singled her out to change her life and love her. She did not take it at all as a merit or any other exciting thing in herself: the only effect which it had upon her was to strengthen a curious feeling, constitutional in her, and resulting probably from the very coherence and weightiness of her character, that she was fated to be or do something different from other women—a sort of sense of tragic passiveness, which always formed the background of her happiness. Moreover, the discovery which she had made at Mrs Argiropoulo’s somehow made Anne’s position more intelligible and simple to herself. She had heard of other men who had educated and married girls of the lower orders on account page: 20 of their beauty. Hamlin’s behaviour was now no longer a mystery to her; and the absence of mystery served merely, to Anne’s quite unromantic, practically passionate, half‐southern temper, to make Hamlin’s nobleness and goodness more obvious to her. She had the curious Italian capacity for feeling an ideal passion—a passion which was merely a sublimated form of friendship and admiration—for a real personality; and her instinctive desire was merely to get nearer that real personality. But much as she tried, the reality of Hamlin seemed to escape and baffle her: he was a complex man, and she a homogeneous woman; and as she could not see Hamlin well in detail, she loved him in the very simple and broad outlines which she was able to comprehend.

Now that she had settled down in æsthetic society, and found her place, and got to understand the main points of things, she was quite ideally happy. Her life was very full, and was surrounded by a flood of love,—on her side or on Hamlin’s? She scarcely knew; but she page: 21 knew that she was happy. By this time the round of sight‐seeing, play‐going, excursions, and introductions, was over; her life had subsided into the normal. Its object, she felt, as one feels a wholesome and agreeable desire for food or sleep, was to make herself as worthy as possible of Hamlin, or rather to let him find in her the best possible bargain. She worked very hard at all the things which the school had left incomplete,—at what, living in that æsthetic society, seemed to her the solid requisites of life. She read history and biography and poetry, with the determination with which other girls, anticipating marriage, might study manuals of domestic economy; and she worked at developing her taste in art and music as others might have practised cooking or dressmaking; for these were the things which would be requisite in Hamlin’s spiritual household. The people around her, the men and women of Hamlin’s set, seemed to her as necessary, as inevitable, as normal as the trees and houses all round. Some of them page: 22 she liked, and some she disliked; but their ideas, though sometimes absurd caricatures, and their tempers, though often intolerable, seemed to Anne quite natural and proper in the main, though rendered ridiculous or disagreeable in individuals. Indeed she got rather to believe in imperfect individuals,—being thus constantly either made cross by the touchiness, the morbidness, the disgusting fleshliness, the intolerance of the æsthetes around her, or made to laugh by their affectations, their vanity, their inconsistency, their grotesque manias of wickedness and mysticism—while unable to judge or condemn the general, intellectual, and moral condition of which these individual excrescences were the result.

Some of the people were distinctly repulsive, or distinctly boring, or distinctly annoying to her; others, like Mrs Spencer and her father and mother and sisters, decidedly lovable; others, like little Chough, decidedly amusing and amiable: and she took them as they came, but with the indifference of con‐ page: 23 centrated concentrated feeling; for what did it matter whether she cared for them, or they cared for her, as long as she was doing her best to deserve Hamlin?

Meanwhile Anne Brown read quantities of medieval and Elizabethan literature; went with Hamlin to see pictures and hear music; studied Dante and Shakespeare—the algebra and arithmetic, so to speak, of the æsthetic set—and even began, secretly, to work at a Greek grammar. Twice a‐week Cosmo Chough came to practise her accompaniments with her; and twice a‐week also, of an evening, friends dropped in at the house at Hammersmith, when Mrs Macgregor would leave her nephew and niece, as she called her, to entertain the guests. On other evenings Anne would usually go to the house of one of the set, where literature and art, and the faults of friends, and the wrong‐headedness of the public, were largely discussed; music was made, young long‐haired Germans on the loose performing; and poets, especially the page: 24 inexhaustible Chough, would recite their compositions, perched on the arms of sofas, or stretched on the hearth‐rug; while the ladies went to sleep, or pretended to do so, over the descriptions of the kisses of cruel, blossom‐mouthed women, who sucked out their lovers’ hearts, bit their lips, and strewed their apartments with coral‐like drops of blood. Most of these poets, as Anne speedily discovered, were young men of harmless lives, and altogether unacquainted with the beautiful, baleful ladies they represented as sucking at their vitals; and none was more utterly harmless than Cosmo Chough. Instead of the terrible Faustinas, Messalinas, and Lucretia Borgias to whom his poems were addressed, the poor little man had in his miserable home in the north of London a wife older than himself, often bedridden and always half crazy, who turned the house in a sort of disorderly litter, neglected her children, and vented on her husband the most jealous and perverse temper; but the victim of Venus, as he styled himself, page: 25 nursed her with absolute devotion, denied himself every gratification to allow her a servant and send his children to school, and made all new‐comers believe that Mrs Cosmo Chough was the most angelic invalid that the world had ever seen. People in the set had got accustomed to this fact, and treated Chough merely as an amusing little caricature of genius; but when Anne understood the real state of the case, she was deeply touched, and possessed with a violent desire to help the little man. He could not, indeed, restrain his habit of alluding in pompous language to Phryne, Pasiphaë, La Belle Heaulmière, Madame du Barry, and all the most celebrated improprieties of all times and nations; nor from discussing the most striking literary obscenities, from Petronius to Walt Whitman. But although at first surprised (as every one was surprised and indeed shocked) by Anne’s unblushing and quietly resolute—“I think you had better leave that subject alone, Mr Chough”—he became quite devoted to Anne. page: 26 When he gave a set of lectures, in Mrs Spencer’s house, on what was nominally Elizabethan drama, but virtually the unmentionable play of Ford, and the ladies dropped off one by one and merely laughed at poor Cosmo’s eccentricities, Anne had the courage to sit out the performance, and to tell Chough openly that he ought to be ashamed of himself for holding forth on such subjects—a proceeding which made Hamlin’s friends blame Miss Brown for want of womanly feeling and prudishness alike; and which put Hamlin just a little out of temper, until she answered his unspoken censure by remarking, with a sort of Italian bluntness and seriousness, that a woman of her age had no business not to understand the real meaning of such things, and understanding them, not to let the poets know that she would not tolerate them.

“You see, it enters into their artistic effects,” explained Mrs Spencer. “I don’t like such things personally, but of course everything is legitimate in art.”

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“They may be legitimate in art,” answered Anne, sceptically, “but they shan’t be legitimate in my presence.”

To return to Chough. Anne gradually became the confidant of the domestic difficulties, though not of the domestic shame, of the little poet; and to every one’s great astonishment, she obtained Hamlin’s permission to have one of Chough’s little girls at Hammersmith every Saturday till Monday, and tried to instil into the miserable puny imps some notion of how to behave and how to amuse themselves.

“You are not going to take that child out in the carriage with you, surely?” asked Hamlin, the first Sunday that Maggy Chough spent at Hammersmith.

“Of course I am,” answered Anne. “She’s the daughter of your most intimate friend; surely you can’t grudge the poor little thing some amusement. And I want you to go with us to the Zoo, Mr Hamlin. I’m sure it’s much more fascinating than the Grosvenor or the Elgin rooms.”

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Hamlin smiled; and next day made a crayon drawing of Anne, one of the dozens in his studio, with Chough’s child; but he managed to make Anne look mournfully mysterious, and the child haggard and wild, so that people thought it represented Medea and one of the children of Jason.

So far Anne’s acquaintance were entirely limited to the æsthetic set; but there were two exceptions. One was a couple of sisters, Mary and Marjory Leigh, who existed as it were on the borderland—Mary Leigh being a sort of amateur painter with strong literary proclivities; the other was Richard Brown, who, after the meeting at Mrs Argiropoulo’s, called at Hammersmith, was politely received by Hamlin, with whom he appeared quite reconciled, and talked on a variety of indifferent subjects, as if Anne Brown had never been his ward. Hamlin had apparently never appeared to him in the light of a slave‐buyer and seducer, and all parties had apparently never been in any save their present position. Anne page: 29 asked her cousin to one or two of their evenings: he came, seemed to know one or two people slightly, and although professing profound ignorance of art, managed to interest one or two of the æsthetic brotherhood by developing his views on the necessity of extending artistic training to the lower classes.

“He isn’t at all a stupid man, that cousin of yours,” remarked little Mrs Spencer; “and I do think he is so right in wishing to give poor people a taste of beauty.”

“I’m sure we are most of us poor people, and don’t always get a taste of anything else, Edith,” cried her father, the veteran painter in tempera, who was a fearful punster.

“Oh papa, you know what I mean; and I’m sure art will gain ever so much. It’s only what Mr Ruskin has said over and over again, and Mr Morris is always talking about.”

“Any one is free to give the lower classes that taste of beauty, as long as I am not required to see or speak to the noble workmen,” said Hamlin. “I hate all that democratic bosh.”

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“Oh, I know, Watty; your ancestors kept negroes, and you would like to have negroes yourself,” said Mrs Spencer, hotly.

“Heaven forbid! I only ask to be left alone, my dear Edith, especially by reformers.”

At any rate, Richard Brown was permitted to show himself sometimes in æsthetic company. But Richard Brown did not avail himself much of the condescending permission to improve his mind; and neither at her own house (for people always spoke of Miss Brown’s house now) nor at the houses of any of her friends would Anne have had much opportunity of seeing her cousin, had he not, by a curious chance, been a frequent visitor at the house of the Leigh girls.

Mary Leigh was, as already said, a demi‐semi‐æsthete; she had studied art in an irregular, Irish sort of way, and she had a literary, romantic kind of imagination, which fitted her rather for an illustrator than a painter. She felt the incompleteness of her own endowment, in a gentle, half‐humorous, page: 31 half‐sad way; and the incompleteness of her own life—for her ideal of happiness was to travel about, to live in Italy, and this she had cheerfully sacrificed to please her sister, whose only interests in life were school boards, and depauperisation, and (it must be admitted) a mild amount of flirtation with young men of scientific and humanitarian tendencies. Between the sisters there was perfect love, but not perfect understanding; and Mary Leigh, who felt a little lonely, a little shut into herself by her younger sister, who was at once a philosopher and a baby in her eyes, vented her imaginative and artistic cravings in a passionate admiration for Hamlin’s strange and beautiful ward or fiancée, a kind of intellectual fervour which Anne was as remarkable for inspiring as she seemed unable to inspire either ordinary liking or ordinary love: and as Mary Leigh likewise adored Hamlin, and Hamlin in return thought Mary Leigh a nice sort of girl, Anne Brown did what visiting and sight‐seeing and shopping was left to her page: 32 almost always in Mary Leigh’s company. Now, if Anne was the idol of the æsthetic Mary, the humanitarian and practical younger sister, who, with the cut‐and‐dry decision of a philosopher of twenty‐two, looked upon æsthetics and æsthetes as somewhat pestilent in nature, had her idol also in a very different person, and this was no other than Richard Brown, to be whose lieutenant in some of his philanthropical and educational schemes was Marjory’s highest ambition. Richard Brown had, ever since meeting his cousin at Mrs Argiropoulo’s in the character of an artistic beauty, made up his mind that Anne was no concern of his, and was luckily disposed of in the æsthetic set; and for some time he almost took a pleasure in making her understand, whenever he met her at the Leighs’ house in Chelsea, that he did not in the least expect her to take an interest, or pretend to take an interest, in the plans which he discussed with Marjory Leigh. Anne on the other hand, imbued with Hamlin’s and page: 33 Chough’s theory that all attempts at improving the world result merely in failure, and that the only wise occupation of a noble mind is to make for itself a paradise of beautiful thoughts and forms and emotions, was extremely sceptical of her cousin’s and Marjory’s schemes, and once or twice declared her disbelief with perfect openness.

Richard Brown was at first annoyed, then amused, then indignant; and then, seeing how completely Anne’s ideas were borrowed from her set, and also how completely unsuitable they were to her downright, serious, and practical nature, he determined, not without vanity playing a part as well as conviction, to “let a little light,” as he expressed it, into her mind.

There had been recently founded, by some friends of his, a kind of club where girls of the dressmaker’s apprentice and shopwomen class might spend their leisure moments in reading and meeting each other; which club, besides a library and reading‐room, offered page: 34 to its members a certain number of classes or sets of lectures on various subjects, delivered at a nominal price, after work hours.

The lecturers or teachers were nearly all young ladies: Marjory Leigh had for some time lectured on sanitary arrangements (this being her especial hobby), and Mary Leigh was going to set up a drawing‐class.

Anne Brown, practical by nature and æsthetically sceptical by training, had no very great belief in the famous club; she had been told so often that mankind is too stupid and degraded to be helped, that she had almost got to believe it. But she let herself be taken one evening to a lecture, at what she called Marjory’s college. The lecture was just beginning as they entered the little, white‐washed, bare room up innumerable stairs. Four or five young women, decently dressed, were seated at desks, copy‐books and ink‐stands before them; and a beautiful little girl, who had been pointed out to Anne in æsthetic circles as a rising poetess, was seated opposite page: 35 them at the end of a table. The Leighs and Anne sat down silently near the door, and the lecture began. It was on modern history. The pupils listened with the greatest attention, their pens flying on their copy‐books. The lecturer, a small, graceful, extremely frail little creature, began in a somewhat tremulous voice; then gradually, as she got more excited, became more voluble, excited, and absolutely eloquent.

“She is too delicate for such work,” whispered Marjory, “but she will do it.”

Anne listened. But she did not follow the lecturer’s argument very closely. She thought what these girls were, what the drudgery of their work, the temptations of their leisure, the hopeless narrowness of their horizon; and she thought also, the thought throbbing on almost like dull pain, what it would have been for her, when she also was alone in the world—when she had drudgery on the one hand and temptation on the other—when her whole nature had been parched and withered for want of a few words that should speak of page: 36 higher and nobler things,—had she been permitted, once a‐week, to come to such a place, to hear about such subjects, to be spoken to by such an earnest and enthusiastic and exquisite creature as this. At the end of the lecture the girls crowded shyly round the lecturer, some to beg her to explain a point, others to ask for books on the subject, all of them to thank with pathetic earnestness. Then they went away, and the Leigh girls came forward to the lecturer. From where she sat she could not see the new‐comers; and she was astonished, and in a way awe‐stricken, on seeing Anne Brown, the exotic beauty of whom she had heard so much, whose portrait she had seen in so many studios, and to whom she had been introduced almost in fear and trembling, for Anne had a kind of awe‐inspiring fascination for imaginative people. Anne, on the other hand, was silent and depressed, and the little poetess must have made up her mind that this magnificent and sombre creature was as sullen and lethargic and haughty as one of page: 37 Michelangelo’s goddesses. But in reality Miss Brown could have laid her head on one of the desks and cried like a child.

When, the following day, Mary Leigh came to take her out for a walk, Anne looked as if she had received bad news, or as if she had bad news to communicate. She answered only in monosyllables; until, as they were looking in at a shop window, she suddenly turned to her companion.

“Do you think,” she said hesitatingly, “that I might perhaps—teach something at Marjory’s college?”

“Teach!” exclaimed Mary Leigh in astonishment; “you teach! Why, what would you teach, Anne dear?”

Anne was silent. She sighed. “That’s just what I have been thinking all the morning—I fear—but you see I do so want to teach something. You see, that little poet‐girl gives up her time to it, and she was born a lady, and doesn’t know—can’t know—all the good she is doing. While I—”

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Mary Leigh squeezed her hand.

“We will ask your cousin,” she said.

“Oh no, not Dick—don’t mention it to Dick,” answered Anne; “he is sure to make difficulties and laugh at me—he thinks me a useless thing.”

You a useless thing!” replied the enthusiastic Irish girl looking at her companion. “Why, then—then all the Titians in the gallery, and the Elgin marbles, and all Keats, and all Shelley, and Beethoven, and Mozart, must be useless also.”

Anne sighed. “All those things didn’t make themselves,” she answered. “It’s the artists who were useful and whom we have to thank.”

The other Miss Leigh was immensely astonished, and, with her youthful intolerance, rather indignant at Anne’s suggestion.

“I think,” said Anne, hesitatingly, “that I could, with a little work, manage medieval literature—at least medieval lyrics.”

Marjory shook her head. “There’s too much of that sort of thing already,” she page: 39 said. “Every one wants to teach literature. Where’s the use of telling them about a parcel of Provençal and old French and German and Italian people, when they don’t yet know the difference between Voltaire and Molière, and Goethe and Frau von Hillern?”

“That’s true,” Anne said sadly.

Marjory was rather sorry for her rough practicalness, but at the same time she had a blind impulse to harass an æsthete.

“Political economy is what we want most,” she said; and, as the door opened and Richard Brown entered, she went on—

“Isn’t it true that political economy is what we want most at the college, Mr Brown?”

“Yes,” answered Richard. “How are you, Miss Leigh?—how are you, Annie? What about it?”

“Oh, only that your cousin wants to teach at the college, and I tell her that literature is no use, and that political economy is what we want.”

“You want to teach, Annie?” cried Brown, page: 40 and his face assumed that look of somewhat brutal contempt hidden under suavity of manner, which Anne hated so much. “You want to teach? How dull æsthetic society must be getting, to be sure!”

“I am not dull, Dick,” answered Anne, sternly; “but it struck me that, having been a poor girl without education myself—until” (and she looked her cousin reproachfully in the face) “Mr Hamlin had me taught—I have an obligation to help other girls like what I was, greater than the obligation of people who have always been educated. I daresay there may be nothing that I can teach; but there is no reason to laugh at me.”

“Laugh at you!” cried Brown. “Oh, not in the least! I was only smiling at the cool way in which you absolve those who are born in fortunate circumstances from the obligation which you yourself feel.”

“I don’t think that’s quite true, Dick,” answered Anne, simply. “You think it’s absurd on my part, and I knew you would, page: 41 because you think me frivolous and artistic.”

“Well,” said Brown, evidently surprised at her manner, and looking searchingly in her pale, strange‐featured face, “what do you think you might teach?”—his voice was much gentler.

“At present”—Anne’s voice sank, for she felt the uselessness of her offer—“I can think only of medieval literature” (Brown smiled); “but perhaps, if there were something else, I might get it up.”

“I’m sure there won’t be a vacancy for anything except political economy,” interrupted Marjory Leigh, impatiently. “I’m quite positive, from what the secretary told me, all the rest is glutted.”

“I fear it is the case,” mused Brown. “There has been a talk of teaching singing,—in which case, perhaps—”

“I don’t sing well enough,” said Anne, haughtily. Why was she always having her æstheticism thrust in her face?

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“Besides,” added her cousin, “it’s extremely improbable.”

They fell to talking of other things. As Brown was leaving, Anne stopped him.

“Tell me,” she said, “what are the best books to begin learning political economy?”

Brown smiled. “Why? Do you want to teach it?”

“Since it is such an important thing,” answered Anne, gravely, “I think I should like to learn it.”

“It’s not amusing, Annie.”

“It can’t be duller than Minnesingers—and nothing is dull when one is learning it. Can’t you tell me of some books?”

Brown looked at her with a puzzled expression. “I have written a primer of it myself,” he said—“I will send it you; and if you get through that, you will find at the end a list of text‐books, some of which I can lend you to take into—”

“Thank you, Dick. I shall be much obliged to you.”

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“You shall have it this evening. Goodbye, Annie, and felici studj, as you Italians say.” He laughed, and went away.

“You’ll find it tough work,” remarked Marjory, shaking her short mane of hair out before the glass; “but, of course, a primer is never very difficult.”

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