Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


Miss Brown. Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
previous
next
page: 45

BOOK V.

page: 47

CHAPTER I.

WHEN Mrs Macgregor had gone up‐stairs to rest before dinner on their arrival at Wotton Hall, Hamlin took Miss Brown round the huge, deserted‐looking house, which his grandfather had built on returning from Jamaica. It was like an Italian villa, with vaulted rooms, gilded and stuccoed, marble floors, and terraced windows; the furniture was all of the Napoleonic period; nothing could be more dignified or sadder.

When Hamlin had shown her the large drawing‐rooms, the library, the room which had been the play‐room when he was a child, he took Anne into the large Palladian hall, and showed her the innumerable portraits of ladies and gentlemen in armour, and ruffs, page: 48 and bobwigs, and powder, hanging all round—his ancestors ever since his family had left England in the civil wars.

Anne looked at them shyly. They were mostly indifferently painted and vapid—affected, like all old portraits by mediocre painters; but it seemed to her that in most of these gentlemen, with peaked beards on their Vandyck lace, or horse‐hair wigs, or carefully powdered hair tied back in silk bags, she could recognise a resemblance to the man by her side—the same delicate, handsome features, the same fair, almost beardless complexion, the same gentle, melancholy, slightly ironical expression: and never did the real meaning of Hamlin’s marriage with her come clearer before her mind than when, in that silent hall, surrounded by all those portraits of his ancestors, she suddenly saw herself and him reflected in one of the long dim mirrors; she, so tall and strong, so powerful of bone and muscle, with her strange, half‐southern, half‐Jewish, and page: 49 almost half‐Ethiopian beauty, by the side of that slight, fair, pale, aristocratic man, with features sharp like those of a high‐bred race‐horse, nervous and wistful and dreamy, as if he were tired of his family having lasted so long.

“They all married and intermarried for nearly a century,” said Hamlin, “that’s why they’re all so like each other. I often wonder why it didn’t end in insanity—you see it has ended in a poet at last. My mother was the first woman married by a Hamlin for eighty years who was not at least a second cousin,—in those islands there were very few decent people, you see. Don’t they all look dapper and respectable? It appears they were not. That man in the corselet was killed in a duel about another man’s wife. That one in the middle, the boy in the grey dress with the powdered hair, Sir Thomas Hamlin, they used to call the bad Sir Thomas, because he amused himself practising pistol‐shooting on black people, whom he had put all round his yard; page: 50 he was a very fine gentleman, they say, and would go out only in the evening on account of his complexion. The one who looks like a woman, with the open shirt‐collar and the long hair, was my great‐uncle, Mordaunt Hamlin, who supposed himself to be a poet, somewhere in the first years of this century; he was an opium‐eater, and did some horribly disgraceful things, I don’t exactly know what, and was poisoned, they say, by some low woman, because she was tired of him. My father had his portrait removed; but I used to see it in the lumber‐room when I was a child, and thought him very handsome and eery; and when I came of age, I had it brought down, because I think he’s far better‐looking and more interesting than any of the respectable ones. Then he was a poet also, you see, and Cosmo Chough pretends I’m like him. Do you think so, Miss Brown?”

“No,” said Anne, laughing, as she looked at Hamlin, at that noble and delicate face, which seemed to her the noblest and most beautiful page: 51 in the world; and yet, when she looked at Mordaunt Hamlin again, with his morbid woman’s face and his effeminate bare throat, she could not help feeling a certain disgust at the thought that perhaps—perhaps— Hamlin was just a little like him.

“That’s my mother,” said Hamlin, pointing to a faded crayon of a beautiful, gentle, pathetic‐looking woman.

That is like you,” cried Anne, delighted. “That is very like you—like your expression. I was wondering where you got your expression from among all your Jamaica ancestors.”

“I’m glad you think so. She was a very beautiful woman, and very brave and noble, and not very happy, poor mamma.”

“Did you know her?”

“Only till I was about twelve; she died young. That is grandpapa; and that is my uncle Arnold,—he died young too—in fact, drank himself to death. Don’t you think he is like Mordaunt Hamlin? That’s papa; ” page: 52 and Hamlin stopped before the full‐length of a handsome effeminate man.

“You wouldn’t think that he was a very violent man, would you?” he said.

“No,” answered Anne, looking at that weak, worn, rather blear face, and thinking how her father, too, had been a drunkard; but how different had been the drunkenness of the poor overworked mechanic, so industrious and gentle and high‐spirited when he was sober, from the sort of emasculating vice of Mordaunt and Arnold Hamlin, of Walter Hamlin’s bad‐faced father!

“It’s very curious,” pursued Hamlin, with a sort of psychological interest in his own family, “how that Mordaunt, who, after all, was no ancestor of mine, tries everywhere to perpetuate himself. There’s unfortunately no portrait of my great‐grandfather, or perhaps we might understand it; but perhaps it came from the mother. It’s curious I have never felt any inclination to drink—I mean, however moderately; but I can’t take page: 53 any wine at all—it makes me drunk at once.”

“I never have seen you take any wine, by the way,” said Anne.

“I tried opium once; but Chough made me give it up. It’s sad to be denied any sort of unreal pleasures, don’t you think? That’s my brother and I when we were boys.”

Anne stopped to look at the picture.

It was very well painted, though a trifle old‐fashioned. The two boys were represented in shooting‐jackets, with guns and dogs. The shorter, slighter, and paler boy was evidently Walter Hamlin; the other was more robust, boyish, and ordinary‐looking.

“Your brother died when he was a child, did he not?”

“Oh no,” answered Hamlin, quickly. “Poor Arnold—was very fond of shooting—I hated it; but papa had the picture painted on his account; he was the favourite at first, being younger.”

It seemed to Anne that Hamlin was going page: 54 to say something different from what he had said. What had become of Arnold Hamlin? Mrs Macgregor’s allusions to him, who had evidently been her favourite nephew, always seemed to point to a melancholy end.

“It’s curious,” said Hamlin, after a moment. “Arnold looked so jolly and strong when he was a child; and yet, later, he got such a look of our grand‐uncle Mordaunt.”

“I think you have your grand‐uncle on the brain,” said Anne, trying to break through Hamlin’s strange mood.

They left the hall, and went to the window of the large drawing‐room, and looked out on the reddening beeches and the grass, permitted to grow high and thick, in the yellow sunlight.

“I shall sell this place most likely soon,” said Hamlin; “I’ve already had some offers for it. It’s too large, and pompous, and characterless for me. I should like a real old country‐house, two or three centuries old, with flower‐gardens and panelled rooms,—not this plaster and stucco and romantic gardening. page: 55 Besides, I hate this place—have hated it ever since I was a child.”

Anne did not answer.

“I hate this place,” went on Hamlin, leaning on the window‐sill by Anne’s side, “and that is the reason why I have brought you here. Before saying farewell to it for good and all, I wish to save it from being a mere hateful recollection in my life. I wish to be able to think of it in connection with you;” and he looked up at Anne, who was leaning against the tall French window.

“I don’t know,” went on Hamlin, again looking out at the vaporous yellow sunset horizon— “I don’t know what are destined to be the relations between our lives. You have seen too little of the world as yet to be able to know yourself and me; and I am more and more decided to abide by my original plan of giving ourselves time to understand each other, and to understand whether we are made for one another. . . .”

He looked at Anne; she had turned an ashy‐white as she listened; she had thought page: 56 that Hamlin loved her, and now . . . He noticed it, and understood, but pretended not to understand; he enjoyed playing upon a living soul, all the more upon a soul like this one, slow to respond to his touch, with low and long‐sustained vibrations, like those of some deep‐toned instrument.

“Don’t take what I say in bad part,” he went on, conscious to himself that he was speaking the truth, and at the same time that he was acting, telling it at a moment and in a manner which made it untruthful; “and don’t think that I mean anything horrid against you or against myself, when I say that you don’t yet know me, and will not know me, perhaps, for some time. You see me through your own nature, your own enthusiasms, your own aspirations; you think I am strong where I am weak, and pure where I am impure.”

Anne shook her head.

“I don’t think so.”

Hamlin smiled sadly.

“But I do. It’s very sad to think that one page: 57 must lose so much that is worth most in life, all one’s illusions, before one can approach the reality of even one’s best friends,—that even one’s best friends can be seen as they really are only when we have got disillusioned and disappointed, is it not?”

Hamlin had often said things like these in the letters which he used to write to her, and had hinted, much more clearly, at weaknesses and basenesses which she would some day recognise in him.

It could not occur to Anne, whose character was so completely of a piece, that there was any untruthfulness in this mode of speaking, any more than she could believe that Hamlin could be correct in thus speaking of himself. The sort of shimmer, as of the two tints in a shot stuff, of reality and unreality, of genuine and affected feeling, of moods which came spontaneously and of other moods, noticed, treasured up, reproduced in himself,—which existed in Hamlin, would be perfectly unintelligible to Anne.

page: 58

“I daresay,” she answered gravely, “that you have faults, in which, at present, I cannot believe; but those faults are not the ones which you imagine. When a man knows himself to have a fault, he ceases to have it—he cures it.”

A sensation of a new experience passed through Hamlin’s mind as Anne said this: it seemed so strange, pathetic, grand, to him—who knew himself to be for ever mixing up the unrealities of his art with the realities of his life, to be continually experimenting upon himself the moods of his poetry—that any one should seriously think thus, should not know that when a man recognises in himself a fault, he may, so far from eradicating, cherish it stealthily.

“You have asked me not to be angry with you for telling me that I am inexperienced and cannot yet know my own mind,” said Anne; “don’t be angry and don’t laugh at me if I tell you that I think you don’t always know yours. I have often observed how ima‐ page: 59 ginative imaginative you are about yourself, how apt to fancy morbid things; I suppose it is because poets are always turned inwards, and because you have not perhaps been very happy sometimes, and because”—and she looked at him half laughing, half with the tears in her eyes—“you are very good. I daresay I don’t know you thoroughly yet, but I know you—I know I know you—better sometimes than you do; because you fancy all sorts of horrid mysterious flaws in your character wherever there is a little inequality; and I know how good and noble you are, and how you are always thinking that you must be wicked.”

Hamlin did not answer. He was deeply touched, touched all the more because he knew how little she guessed at the self‐conscious unreality of so much of him.

“You are very comforting,” he said sadly, then went on more cheerfully: “well, what I wanted to say, when we began to discuss which of us knew the other better, is this,—that whatever we may be destined to be to page: 60 one another in future—and this I dare not decide even in surmise—you will always have been to me, in these years that I have known you, in the past and present, an infinite source of happiness and good; a something which to have possessed, as I possess your friendship, will always remain, even should all the reality come to an end and only the recollection remain, the most precious thing in my life.” He had taken her hand, and playing with her strong shapely fingers, so much stronger and less delicate, though not less shapely than his own, looked with a kind of solemnity into her face. Anne could not answer, for if she did, she knew she must cry; she felt the tears, as it were, all through her nature; she seemed to see, she knew not why, but as a solemn certainty, that things could never go any further, that Hamlin was prophesying the inevitable future: and yet, in the midst of this quite inexplicable, unreasonable sense of loss and resignation, there was a deep happiness which she had never page: 61 before felt, the happiness of the present; a something new to Anne, though all other lovers have felt the happiness of possession of one another, even at the moment of loss.

“It is getting chilly,” said Hamlin, and shut the window. “You look very pale, Miss Brown; had you not better put on some warmer dress this evening?”

His voice seemed like the curtain dropping after a scene, or the chord at the end of a duet. It was a return to reality and prose.

“Perhaps I had better, and I ought to go and see after your aunt; good‐bye for the present.”

Hamlin strolled out into the terrace, and lit a cigarette; the past and present, his real and unreal self, Anne, his brother and father, his great‐uncle Mordaunt—all went cloudily through his brain. He was very happy. Love to him was not what it was to other men, not what he had tried it himself in former years. It was romance, but romance not of ladders and hairbreadth escapes, but page: 62 of psychical conditions, of spiritual sensations. He had written fleshly poetry and passionate poetry, but no one could be less fleshly or less passionate than Hamlin: the ‘Vita Nuova’—if it could be made modern, and the parts altered and reversed—unreal reality of love, had been his ideal, and he had got it.

They had many conversations like this one. Hamlin never so much as kissed Anne’s hand, never told her that he loved her, spoke merely of himself, of her, of the future and the past, of what she would one day know, of what he would one day feel; and Anne listened seriously, trying to cure him of his despondency and morbidness, trying to persuade him of his own worth and of her clear‐sightedness, while never a suspicion crossed her simple stern mind that all this earnest talk, which was so tragic and still so delightful, was the thing which she scornfully connected with whispers and kisses and nonsense,—in one word, love‐making.

page: 63

CHAPTER II.

THEY remained about a fortnight completely solitary in the large house. Hamlin was finishing a poem and correcting the proofs of his next volume. Anne was continuing her usual literary studies, but now with the addition of some books and pamphlets on political economy, which had been incredulously lent her by Richard Brown. The two young people had never seen so much of one another, and they were, Hamlin in his dreamy manner, Anne in her serious, practical way, very happy. Mrs Macgregor went on reading her old‐fashioned freethinking books, and giving out cynical remarks, which her amiable and utterly gullible character deprived of all weight. She was the elder and considerably page: 64 older sister of Hamlin’s mother, and had lived in the house for many years as a widow. She had been twice married, each time for love, and each time to men who, if one might trust her nephew, had been immediately reduced by her into the most devoted and timid slaves; yet she always spoke of marriage as if every misfortune of her existence was due to it. Imbued with the pseudo‐scientific and somewhat anti‐social philosophy of early deism (though herself a rigid stickler for decorum), Mrs Macgregor had a way of talking of love and marriage which for some time had made poor Anne profoundly miserable: men and women, averred the old lady, were, whatever they might pretend to the contrary, entirely at the mercy of their animal passions,—to suppose that any one successfully resisted them was sheer folly; marry people must, but marriage was the most unfortunate of all necessities, the beginning of all unhappiness, the end of all independence, self‐respect, and pleasure in life; it was the long waking up from a dis‐ page: 65 graceful disgraceful delusion; yet this disgraceful delusion, this drunken condition called love, was (always according to Mrs Macgregor) the one beautiful and poetical thing in the world.

“I don’t believe that all people are like that, Aunt Claudia,” Anne would often exclaim indignantly. “I don’t believe that all people marry from unworthy passion, just to wake up and find its unworthiness. I am sure that if love were such a vile thing, and marriage such a mistake, every man or woman with any self‐respect and self‐restraint would refuse both.”

“Oh, my dear child,” Mrs Macgregor would answer with a smile, “wait till you are a little older and see what a disgusting thing life is.”

“If it is,” answered Anne, feeling quite nauseated and terrified, and at the same time resolute in herself—“if it is, Aunt Claudia, it is because men and women are mostly such wretched, weak, silly, base, puling creatures.”

Then, when she saw Hamlin, and thought of page: 66 the noble way in which he had acted towards her, of the calm and clear love and gratitude which she felt towards him,—when she thought of the things which they talked about together, of the desire to become worthier with which his love had inspired her, of the greater trust in his own worthiness which she hoped her love was instilling into him,—nay, when she looked at that thoughtful, delicate, almost diaphanous face of his, Anne’s anger towards the old lady would turn into mere pity; she would merely, in her own certainty of worthiness, smile at what she now considered as the mere empty talk of a disgusting school of thought, or, at best, as the lamentable generalisations from a horribly exceptional family, such as she understood, vaguely, that of Hamlin’s father to have been. And, for the rest, Anne believed that though people were very ridiculous, and affected, and mean in little matters (she was thinking of the Spencers, and the Saunders, and so many other of her æsthetic friends), and although they might also, like page: 67 Cosmo Chough, make the mistake of thinking indecent things interesting and dramatic, the vast majority of mankind and womankind was really very pure, and generous, and loving at bottom. So, after a time, she listened to Mrs Macgregor’s remarks with only a little habitual and instinctive annoyance, but without any kind of serious belief in them. And when Aunt Claudia would sometimes allude to the bad lives which had been led in this particular house—to the vices (taking them quite as ordinary matters) of Hamlin’s grandfather and father and uncles, of the neglect and violence which her sister, Hamlin’s mother, had suffered from, hinting that, if one only knew, the self‐same things were happening in every other family on earth,—whenever there came any such allusions, Anne would carefully, as it were, close up these loopholes into a past, in which she scarcely believed and from which she shrank: the world seemed to her as good, and healthy, and strong, and easy to understand as herself. But while she did thus, page: 68 Anne was so gentle and sympathising to Mrs Macgregor, that the old lady was never hurt by her contradictions; indeed she would sometimes say that, were she not persuaded that no law of nature can have any real exceptions, she would almost believe that Anne was quite different from any other woman that ever was.

It seemed somehow, here all alone in this ancestral home of Hamlin’s, as if the fate which Hamlin had refused to forestall was working itself happily out; and as if, tacitly, the poet‐painter and the girl whom he had educated were becoming affianced to each other. None of the outward ceremony was broken through; he was always Mr Hamlin, and she Miss Brown, and there was never an allusion permitted to any more intimate relations. But it seemed perfectly natural that he and she should go walks together; that Aunt Claudia should leave them alone at breakfast and luncheon; and that, when the old lady had retired to her room, they should remain, page: 69 with brotherly and sisterly ease, though not brotherly and sisterly free‐and‐easiness, talking together of an evening. And as they talked, their plans seemed constantly to merge; that they should be separated never occurred to either (except when Hamlin was in one of his tragic moods), although not a word passed to settle their future together. The long courtship, the long enjoyment of a ceremonious and unfettered love, was what Hamlin had wished for, and what he had; to a fixed future, a family and family affections, he was not the man to look forward; it would have to come, and he did not feel any dislike for it, but he gave it no thought. As to Anne, she had never made up her mind that she had a right to be Hamlin’s wife; to have thought so for one moment would have seemed to her grasping ingratitude; and she was too happy in the present to think about the future. The thing to be thought of was to become worthy of him, that was all.

page: 70

CHAPTER III.

BY the middle of the summer a perfect colony from æsthetic London had settled itself, to the amazed terror of the vicar and his parishioners, in Wotton Hall and the inn of the adjacent village. The Spencers came, with a perfect shipload of babies, and accompanied by Mrs Spencer’s father and mother; Cosmo Chough came, bringing scarcely any luggage except MS. poems and old music; Thaddy O’Reilly came, and half‐a‐dozen young poets and painters, to name whom would be perfectly superfluous, and who were all the humble worshippers of Walter Hamlin. All these people had pictures to paint, poems to compose, articles to write; but the exciting question for the whole household was the approaching publication of Hamlin’s new book.

page: 71

Hamlin’s acquaintance with Anne Brown had not been without a decided influence on his art. He had written a number of sonnets about her ever since the moment of their first meeting, recording various moods, real and fictitious, in connection with her, and of which he had sent or read her the greater number. Perhaps he would have written much the same sort of thing about any other woman; but Anne had influenced him at once more directly and more indirectly. The æsthetic school of poetry, of which Hamlin and Chough were the most brilliant exponents of the younger generation, was evidently running to seed. It was beginning to be obvious, to every one who was not an æsthete, that the reign of the mysterious evil passions, of the half‐antique, half‐medieval ladies of saturnine beauty and bloodthirsty voluptuousness of the demigods and heroes treated like the figures in a piece of tapestry, must be coming to a close; and that a return to nature must be preparing. Anne had felt it, and had vaguely determined page: 72 that the man who was to revolutionise poetry was Hamlin. Indeed, who else could it be? The elder poets were safe in their ruts; the majority of the younger ones who had already come forward were mere imitators and caricaturists, not excepting the great Chough himself. Hamlin alone was a man of genius; he alone was capable of turning over a new leaf; and one or two new departures, attempts at a new way of describing things, if not actually an attempt at describing new things, persuaded Anne that the change was beginning. She did not like telling him that she perceived it coming; for she thought that Hamlin might, did he perceive it, consider it as an apostasy from his original school, and draw back. But she encouraged him by showing a marked preference for the pieces which savoured of this new style; and she even suggested to him to write a tale, in which he should substitute, for the conventional background copied by æsthetic poetry from the borders of missals, the pictures of old masters and of their French gods, Gautier page: 73 and Baudelaire, the scenery of his own home, the wide commons, the beech‐woods on the downs, the solemn horizons of the fenny country which spread from Wotton to the sea. He had written it, and read it to her during that fortnight of solitude; and Anne’s heart had beat at the thought of the change which was to be wrought by Hamlin’s new book—of the unknown youths hitherto fumbling vainly for a new style, who were to recognise in Hamlin the leader of a new school, the prophet of a new art. When the colony of London æsthetes arrived at Wotton, the new poem was solemnly read to them. They were all seated in the old‐fashioned library, the rows and rows of old novels and books of standard literature, the busts of ancient philosophers looking down upon them,—a quaint little assembly of ladies in peacock‐blue and dull sage and Japanese dragoned and medieval brocaded gowns, with slashed sleeves and limp tails—of men got up to look like Frenchmen or Germans, or Renaissance creatures, in wondrous velvet‐ page: 74 eens velveteens , colonred almost like the bindings of their own books. They listened with considerable attention, and obvious impatience to interrupt. The first who did so was Mrs Spencer.

“Why, Walter!” she exclaimed indignantly, “what possesses you? are you crazy? Why, you are going in for realism; do you know that?”

“I don’t see any particular realism, Edith,” answered Hamlin, testily.

“Come, now, it isn’t Zola, my dear,” said her father, a good‐natured man, who never carried his belief in himself to the length which it was carried to by his family.

“No, it isn’t Zola,” cried Miss Spencer; “but it’s worse than Zola. . . .”

(“It’s just the decentest thing I’ve heard for many a long year,” murmured the old painter.)

“It’s worse than Zola, because it’s poetry and not prose, because it’s English poetry, because it’s poetry by Walter Hamlin, who has hitherto been an apostle of beauty, and is now basely turning apostate and going over to ugliness.”

There was a slight laugh at Mrs Spencer’s page: 75 vehemence, in which Hamlin alone did not join.

“I don’t think there’s anything actually ugly in it,” put in Chough, blandly. “Hamlin could never write anything ugly. But it is certain that there’s a want of idealism in it, a want of that exotic perfume which constitutes the essence of poetry. I think it’s an unfortunately chosen subject. . . .”

“I think it’ s perfectly disgusting,” gobbled out Dennistoun, the little rickety poet, who had to be carried up and down stairs, and who wrote, while slowly sinking inch by inch into the grave, about carrying off lovely girls, and throttling them in the fierceness of his love. “Did you notice about the heroine washing the children? I call that beastly, beastly. And then, I don’t know how any man can write a poem about people who are in love and get married.”

This seemed an unanswerable piece of criticism. Anne alone leaned across the table; she was very indignant. “I think,” she page: 76 said, “that there is much more poetry in people who love each other respectably, and respectably get married, than in all the nasty situations which modern poets write about.”

Cosmo Chough looked at Dennistoun, and Dennistoun looked at Mrs Spencer’s father.

“My dear young lady,” cried the old painter in his broad Scotch, “d’ye ever know any of these gentlemen write a poem about people who did any single respectable thing?”

“I wonder you can talk like that, papa,” silenced his daughter, whose zeal for him and his school included timely snubbings for himself.

“Well, my dear, I privately think with Miss Brown that there’s nothing more poetic than a gude, bonnie lass of a wife, and I don’t wonder a bit at Walter being of that opinion. But then, of course, I’m not a poet.”

“It’s that washing of the children which troubles me,” reflected Chough, “and their being married. Don’t you think, now, Hamlin, that you might just alter a little, and make it appear that they weren’t married?”

page: 77

“Only put a husband of the lady in the distance,” suggested O’Reilly, laughing.

“Thank you,” said Hamlin, affecting to laugh, “your suggestion is most happy, and most characteristic. You are always full of original ideas—all of you,” and he looked bitterly round. Chough felt the rebuke and was silent. But Dennistoun, who was gasping, propped up in his chair, was furious.

“It’s not a question of an alteration here or there,” he gobbled out; “it’s the whole tone of the poem which is pestilent. It’s Wordsworth pure and simple, that’s what it is.”

Hamlin rolled up his MS. He was very white. The others he did not mind, but this little rickety Dennistoun, whose poems were the most limited and the most hopelessly morbid of the whole set, annoyed him; for in Dennistoun, for all his limitations and repetitions, Hamlin recognised the most genuine poet of his circle, his most real rival. Those words, “It’s Wordsworth, that’s what it is,” were like page: 78 a blow. He could have knocked down Dennistoun, had he not been a cripple.

The conversation was changed; and soon the first dinner‐bell dispersed the company. When Anne came down she heard some one stirring in the study next door. She went in. Hamlin was seated before the table, his head on his hands; the MS., all crumpled up, lay in front of him.

Anne came silently to his side. Her heart was bursting with indignation.

“What’s the matter?” asked Hamlin, crossly.

“Nothing. I only came—because I wanted to see you—because I wanted to tell you how I despise those people and their disgusting, unmanly school of poetry—how I hate their stupid criticism,—how completely I believe in you and in your poem.”

Anne had spoken with vehemence and almost anger. She took one of his hands, which was dog’s‐earing the MS.

“Oh, why,” she asked, “why do you read page: 79 them what you write? Don’t you know them sufficiently to know what they will say?”

“I never thought—” and Hamlin stopped. “I never thought that that fellow Dennistoun would ever dare to speak like that about a poem of mine.” His tone was angry and tearful, like that of a punished child.

“Nor did I. I never thought any one would dare to speak like that. But what does it matter—what can the words of such a man matter to you?”

He did not answer.

“Surely,” went on Anne, “you can’t mind what they say? You believe in your poem, as I believe in it?”

It seemed so impossible to her how any one could not believe in that poem, which seemed to her so strong, and noble, and beautiful.

“I know you believe in it,” answered Hamlin, brusquely; “you made me write it—so of course you must—”

“And—and—are you sorry to have written it?”

page: 80

“I don’t know; I can’t judge. There’s O’Reilly outside.”

“The disconsolate poet being consoled by his beautiful fiancée for having written about people who were united in legitimate wedlock,” whispered O’Reilly to Mrs Spencer as they entered the room.

“Well, Hamlin, old fellow, do you repent you of that sinful marriage between your hero and heroine?” asked O’Reilly.

“I repent me of nothing at all, except of having read my poem to a parcel of damned meretricious rhymesters,” answered Hamlin, angrily.

“Walter!” cried Mrs Spencer, “how can you talk like that!”

But, despite this bravado, Anne felt, and her spirit sank within her, that Hamlin had been disgusted with his poem. He was rather cantankerous throughout dinner; and Anne, watching him, felt a strange mixture of indignation—towards his critics for their criticism, and towards Hamlin for minding it.

page: 81

CHAPTER IV.

THE time has come for him to break with the old school, thought Anne; consoling herself for a certain childish petulance, perhaps not quite new to her, in Hamlin’s manner.

But Anne proved mistaken. Whether the critics became less rabid on the following day, or whether Hamlin was suddenly smitten with the truth of their criticism, she could not say. He was very snappish at first towards Chough, and absolutely refused to speak to Dennistoun for nearly twenty‐four hours. Chough, who loved Hamlin like the apple of his eye, would not, however, be spurned; he followed Hamlin about, he soothed him, he flattered him, he assured him that he was much the greatest poet of his generation; but he repeated, al‐ page: 82 most almost with tears in his eyes, Dennistoun’s criticism.

“Such a poem will never, never do,” he cried; “it is impossible, intolerable, and it will just put some fellow like Dennistoun into your place.”

“Thank you for your advice, Chough,” answered Hamlin, angrily; “I think I told you before that I didn’t want it.”

Anne did not revive the subject of the unlucky poem. It was useless provoking quarrels between Hamlin and his friends; quarrels in which she was forced to own to herself that he showed himself too easily mortified and put out of temper. If he had been taught to mistrust their judgment, if he had been alienated from their school by their absurd criticism, why, so much the better. This business drew Anne’s attention to the poetry of the school; she re‐read a number of poems by Chough, Dennistoun, and several gods, demigods, and heroes of the movement. Whether it was that she had read page: 83 them fragmentarily before, or that she had not understood their full meaning, or whether her attention was now called to their bad points rather than to their good ones, she scarcely knew; but it seemed to her that she had never before comprehended this style of poetry: its beauty had ceased to please her, it seemed to her false, emasculate, diseased. Hamlin alone had not gone to its worst lengths; he had sinned, but comparatively little. He was evidently intended for something better. And Anne thought with pride of that “Ballad of the Fens” which they had all fallen upon, and which was to be the signal for a new era in poetry. Soon it would be out; and she the only person to have appreciated it. It seemed to Anne that at last, in her humble way, she might be beginning to repay the debt of gratitude which she owed Hamlin (not that she wished that the debt should ever be less, God knows, or dreamed that it could be); but at last Hamlin might reap some advantage from his generosity. He page: 84 had stooped to make her, to turn the Perrys’ servant into a lady; in her turn, perhaps she, the woman of the lower classes, might encourage the delicately nurtured poet to attempt things bolder, simpler, and more healthy than he had done before.

The proof‐sheets of the new volume began to come in. Anne had read nearly all its contents at one time or other, yet Hamlin, in his grave, ceremoniously adoring way, handed on the proofs to her. One day a fresh bundle came by post. After breakfast, Hamlin took Anne aside.

“I want you to read these sonnets,” he said. “I don’t think you have read them all. There are rather more than I care to print in this volume, so I should like you to select those which you think the best or the least bad: divide them into two packets, and tell me which you prefer.”

Anne was quite taken aback for joy, and at the same time for fear.

“Don’t say that,” she said; “I could never, page: 85 never take the responsibility of deciding about your poems. Let me read them, and let me tell you what I like best, but don’t ask me to choose. What am I, that I should decide in such matters?”

“You are the person whom I trust and respect, and—will you let me say so?—whom I love most in all the world,” said Hamlin, solemnly. “For whom should my poetry be written except for you? Whom else should I care to please? Are you not the best and worthiest thing in my life, and is it not my highest ambition to do anything worthy of you?”

Hamlin had never spoken so passionately and earnestly before.

Anne did not answer, but she squeezed his hand, and the gesture, and the look accompanying it, meant “I love you.”

“Listen,” said Hamlin, detaining her as she was leaving—“I want to say one word more. These sonnets are not merely my verses; they are myself—and many of them, you will see, are about you. Perhaps you page: 86 would rather that some of these were not published; perhaps your permitting them to be published might mean more than you should wish. Tell me your opinion frankly, and put aside everything that you don’t like.”

“I will,” answered Anne. “What you wish me to do, I must do.”

She went up into her room, shut the door, and seating herself at the table, unrolled the little bundle of proof‐sheets. But at first she could not read, or could read only the titles—her heart beat so, and the blood boomed so in her temples. That he should love her so much, believe in her so much—that it should really be he, just he and she, and not some one else; it seemed too strange to be true. She slowly began to read the sonnets. Some of them she knew already; others were expansions in verse of things which Hamlin had said or written to her; many were about herself, passionate, with a sort of delicate, subdued, respectful passion, played, like some exquisite instrument, in various keys and rhythms of subdued pain or page: 87 gladness. She felt so proud and glad, and at the same time so moved and saddened, that she almost cried over them. There were a lot of other sonnets, descriptive of places and of moods. Some of these she did not at all relish. They were not fleshly nor exactly improper; but they contained allusions which Anne could not help following, allusions which she did not quite understand, but which she did not like. She felt half ashamed of herself, wondering whether all the impure poetry which she had lately been reading, whether her prejudice against the school to which these decidedly belonged, might not be making her imagine things which were not meant; and Anne blushed at the thought—blushed at her knowing so many things, having learned so many things, in her half education as an Italian servant, in her culture as an æsthetic personage, which perhaps other girls of her age would not dream of. It was probably only her own morbid fancy. But then she came upon a set of sonnets— page: 88 no fewer than twelve connected together by similarity of title—which put an end to her doubts. She felt giddy and sick as she read them; mysterious and mystical hankerings, mysterious half‐longing repentance, and half‐repentant longings after untold shameful things. Anne pushed aside the proof‐sheets, and leaned her head on her hands. She seemed to be smothering for want of air; she went to the window, and leaned against its rails. It was raining—a steady, clear fine rain. She looked at it mechanically as it filled the air like a thin veil, and crevassed the sand outside with yellow trickles of water. She did not for one instant believe that Hamlin had ever felt the things about which he was writing; but he had written about them. She knew, from an unerring instinct, as well as from her own deep love, that Hamlin was as pure a man as could be found; had he not been towards her—was he not, at that very moment—the very personification of chivalrous and spiritual lovingness? Then she page: 89 remembered the allusions which, without understanding them, used to frighten her in his letters—the allusions to vague evil which beckoned to him, which surrounded him; and she remembered also his constant references in conversation to his being unlike what she imagined, to his baseness and unworthiness. Two years earlier she would have been seized with an agonising terror; a week before she might have been overcome with pitying admiration at his self‐tormenting moral purity, taking umbrage at every thought of evil which passed across and seemed to soil his mind. But somehow, now, she did neither. She did not for one second believe that Hamlin was in any way a bad man. She repeated to herself that he was morbidly introspective, self‐scrutinising, morbidly imaginative; but she could not realise that these hateful sonnets had been written in any great agony of imagined self‐debasement; they were so artistic, so evidently written with enjoyment, so self‐conscious; they were so clearly not the page: 90 doubts of a troubled mind, but the work of a poet—and, what was much worse, so clearly the work of a poet of a definite school, of the school of Chough and Dennistoun and all the others, whom she was beginning to loathe. Anne looked at them over and over again. There was no reality in them; mere revolting pose. Gradually her mind settled about them. They were doubtless things written long ago, when, without knowing what it all meant, he had been carried away by the wave of imitation of one or two shameless or foolish writers. He had alluded to sonnets which he had expected her to dislike, he had insisted so on a certain number being put aside; if he had made her think that it was the sonnets about herself which provoked his doubts, that came from a sort of shame, an unwillingness to point out to her what she might perhaps overlook: it was not quite straightforward, but everybody, Anne had learned by this time, did not do right in a quite straightforward way. The only thing which perplexed her was, why he page: 91 had submitted these poems to her at all? Why had he not torn them up? why shown them to her? A little she could not help, as a woman, resenting his having done so at all. But perhaps he had done so to show her the difference between what he had been and what he was going to be,—perhaps—perhaps he had got a little callous, living among poets of this school. Anyhow, they were things of the past, and Anne did not distress herself any longer about them, so foreign did they seem to Hamlin, so impossible was it to bring them into connection with the thought of him. She put the proofs into her pocket, and waited for an opportunity of giving them back. Before dinner, when the guests were safe out of the way, she called Hamlin into the library.

“Here are the proofs,” she said, laying them on the table.

“Have you read them already?” cried Hamlin; “how sweet of you! Now tell me what you think about them.”

He looked so cheerful, so utterly uncon‐ page: 92 scious unconscious of the possibility of Anne’s having anything to say disagreeable to himself and herself, that she began to feel nervous.

“I think they are most of them very beautiful,” she answered slowly—“indeed, quite some of the best things you have ever done—and especially those about me; I am very grateful to you for them. But”—she resumed, after a moment’s silence—“there are some which I dislike extremely, and which are utterly unworthy of you. I have put them into the smaller roll by themselves.” She spoke rapidly, decidedly, but when she had done she felt that she was crimson.

Hamlin seemed quite speechless for astonishment. He quickly unrolled the smaller parcel, and glanced at its contents. A look of surprised ill‐humour crossed his face.

“I am quite astonished at your choice,” he said with affected coolness; “for these are the very sonnets which Chough and Dennistoun and all my other friends picked out as among my best.”

page: 93

So he had already provided himself with a stock of criticisms.

“I am no judge of their technical merits,” answered Anne, trying to feel as if she had expected this news. “It seemed to me that they were very excellent in workmanship, and there is beautiful imagery in them. But I think the subject and tone of them horrible.” she spoke resolutely and unflinchingly, because she saw Hamlin’s eyes fixed incredulously on her. “You asked me to give you my frank opinion; and even had you not asked me, I should have felt bound to tell you that I think those sonnets ought not to be published. Perhaps you think it strange of me to speak so openly; but, of course, I understand what those sonnets allude to, and, of course, so will every grown‐up reader.”

Hamlin bit his moustache.

“There is not a single word to which any one can take objection in these sonnets,” and he turned over the proofs.

“What do the words matter? It is the page: 94 meaning. I think,” and Anne vainly tried to soften down her expressions,—“I think that those sonnets are things you should be ashamed of.”

Hamlin’s eyes flashed, but he kept his temper.

“Everything is legitimate for the sake of an artistic effect,” he said, echoing the worn‐out aphorism of his school.

“Even to do a disgraceful thing?”

“I can see nothing disgraceful in a man attempting to describe what has passed through his mind.”

Hamlin spoke sullenly and doggedly.

“You have shifted your position,” cried Anne. “You intimated just now that a man may pretend to anything for the sake of an artistic effect. And now you are trying to make me believe that you really have felt and thought those horrible things. It is of no use. You have not—”

“How do you know?” exclaimed Hamlin, angrily. “Do you think I tell you everything that I have ever done, or thought, or felt?”

page: 95

Anne was silent for a moment: that he should prefer to make her believe in his own baseness! It was horrible, loathsome, and, at the same time, pitiable and childish.

“I know you have not,” she repeated, “because I know you to be a gentleman. And I know that all that is affectation—school affectation—learned from creatures like Dennistoun and Chough; they have all done it, or something of the sort, and you have learned what comes naturally to their dirty minds. Oh, Mr Hamlin, do not commit this abomination—this baseness of pretending to shameful things which you have not felt or thought; do not be so mean, so base, so lying, as to slander yourself for the sake of an artistic effect.” Anne had seized his arm; he was shaken by her unexpected vehemence and passion; he had never thought that Anne could become so passionate about anything; he looked on, taken by surprise, not knowing what to think.

“Do not slander yourself,” repeated Anne—“do not blacken your real self, which does not page: 96 belong to yourself alone, which belongs also to your friends, to your honour, which belongs in part to me. Do not lie to me about yourself!”

“As you choose,” answered Hamlin; “perhaps you are right; though, heaven knows, I thought myself, when writing those sonnets, but too bitterly in earnest.”

Anne’s look—a look of incredulous contempt—smote him like a rod.

“I suppose I am apt to be morbid,” he said, sadly; “that is the wretchedness of my life, that I never know where the truth about myself really lies—it seems to me that I ought to speak out, and yet . . .”

“And yet it is mere nonsense.”

Hamlin smiled a forced smile.

“Perhaps it is. Since you are determined, I suppose it must be.”

“You won’t publish those sonnets?” asked Anne, anxiously.

“I will not, since they offend you so much. But it is curious, that of all the people to page: 97 whom I have shown them, you are the only one who has taken the slightest exception to them.”

For a moment Hamlin had been overcome, had been delighted by this sudden burst of impetuosity, by this passionate belief in him and vindication of himself. But now, as he again glanced at the sonnets, he was once more annoyed and resentful.

“Such things must be judged from a purely artistic standpoint,” he said with some irritation.

“I am willing to judge art from an artistic standpoint; but I cannot judge from an artistic standpoint an honourable man trying to defame himself.”

Hamlin sighed.

“Well, after all, I bade you select, and the principal thing is that you should be satisfied. But it is a pity, because those were just the best sonnets in the book; and the book will be very small without the ‘Ballad of the Fens.’”

“The ‘Ballad of the Fens’?—aren’t you going to print that? What do you mean?”

page: 98

Could Hamlin be merely worrying her, to vent his annoyance at the loss of the sonnets?

“The ‘Ballad of the Fens’ has been torn up,” answered Hamlin, with a kind of dogged satisfaction.

“Oh, Mr Hamlin! How could you—the finest thing you have ever written.”

The ballad torn up!

“I know you thought it good, and so did I myself. But, on reflection, I saw that my friends were right, and that such a thing would not do.”

He spoke sharply, brutally, as if to bring home to Anne the unreliableness of her judgment: she had induced him to write it; she had praised it; and she wanted him to tear up those sonnets.

“It is a bad plan to keep things about which one is doubtful,” he went on; “so I tore it up. I think it was wiser; don’t you?”

“No,” said Anne, in a husky voice which burst out in a way that almost frightened him; “no, no—it was . . .” but she said no more.

page: 99

CHAPTER V.

ONE morning Hamlin received two unexpected letters at breakfast. From his looks, which he was at all times quite unable to control, it was clear that one of them brought good news, while the other must be about some disagreeable matter.

“Edmund Lewis is coming the day after to‐morrow,” announced Hamlin to his aunt, to Anne, and to his guests.

There was a chorus of exclamations of surprise, sprinkled with pleasure.

“Who is Edmund Lewis?” asked Anne. “He is an old friend of mine, a charming fellow whom I have not seen for some years. Some of the drawings in the drawing‐room at Hammersmith are by him.”

page: 100

Anne remembered the name, and the strange, beautiful, cruel, mysterious, out‐of‐drawing heads in crayon, which had curiously impressed her the first morning after her arrival in England, rose before her eyes; since then she had seen so many similar things, had got to understand so completely that mysterious, beautiful faces, with combed‐out hair, big weird eyes, and cruel lips, were so much school property, that she had become quite indifferent to them.

“I thought you told me that something strange had happened to him—that he had left England for good,” remarked Anne.

“Oh, it was nothing particularly strange,” interrupted little O’Reilly—“only a German lady whom he met one day, blond, fat, thirty‐five, who was nothing but a soul—you know the sort of thing—with a husband who was a great deal besides a soul (a charming man, for the rest, and quite wildly in love with the Gnädige Grädige Frau). The excess of soul having induced acute neuralgia in the lady, page: 101 poor Teddy Lewis, who is a tremendous magnetiser, was called in to soothe her agonies, during which process the lady discovered that the soul‐sorrow and consequent neuralgia from which she suffered was due to the soullessness of her husband, and that only the brotherly affection of Ted could cure her. The difficulty was the husband, who loved the lady fervently, and she him, but not in a way which should satisfy her soul. Hence struggles, agonies, &c.—you’ve read it all in the ‘Wahlverwandschaften’—finally ended by the husband being implored to sacrifice himself to the spiritual exigencies of his adored wife, which absolutely required that he should divorce her and let her marry Lewis. That’s all.”

“How can you talk in such a flippant way, Mr O’Reilly?” cried Mrs Spencer. “You have a way of making the most serious things seem ridiculous. Poor Mrs Lewis! she’s dead now; you needn’t make fun of her.”

“Poor Mrs Lewis!” laughed O’Reilly; page: 102 “well, you know you wouldn’t receive her, Mrs Spencer, when she first came to England.”

“I thought her a designing woman then; I didn’t know all the circumstances.”

“Come now, Edith,” interrupted her father, in his broad Scotch; “I think the less ye knew those circumstances the better it was for all concerned.”

“I don’t see that at all, papa. I don’t see why a woman’s happiness should be sacrificed,” and Mrs Spencer, who was the most devoted of wives and mothers, tossed her head rebelliously. “I don’t see why the world should insist that a woman is to be satisfied with a husband who is good to her and her children. After all, she has a soul, and that requires response.”

“Would you behave as Mrs Lewis did?” asked O’Reilly, “If—well—let me see—Mr Spencer were suddenly to develop an overpowering belief in the Royal Academy and in Zola?”

page: 103

“Papa would never have let me marry a man who could ever develop such beliefs.”

At this perfectly solemn answer there was a general laugh; even poor Mr Spencer, who was the most timid of æsthetical persons, joining.

“I think it was rather hard on poor Ted Lewis,” remarked Hamlin, “to become necessary to the soul of a lady whether he liked it or no.”

“Oh, Lewis liked it well enough, be sure of that,” answered Chough, bitterly.

“Don’t you think it was rather hard upon the husband,” suggested Anne, “since he really cared for his wife? Fancy being abandoned like that, and his children left without a mother!”

“He was at liberty to marry again,” replied Mrs Spencer sharply, still thinking of what she would do if by any chance Mr Spencer were to suddenly disbelieve in her father and his school.

“What would you have had Lewis, or rather page: 104 the poor Baroness, do, Miss Brown?” asked O’Reilly.

“Why, I would have them never dream of each other; but if they had been so foolish, be ashamed as soon as possible, and each go his and her way, and attend to his and her proper concerns.”

Dennistoun, who had sat silent at the other end of the table, propped up on his chair, suddenly stretched out his long neck, and gobbled out—

“Love permits no man or woman to resist: it is imperious, irresistible, dragging us along to happiness, or misery, or shame, whether we will or not. Love is the extinction of the reason, the extinction of the will, or rather the merging of the whole individuality in one mysterious desire. Those who can talk of resistance have never experienced love. Woe to them! their hour is coming!”—and he tried to fix his weak eyes on Anne.

“Well,” she answered quickly, “I hope I may never make such a disgusting fool of my‐ page: 105 self myself as you describe, Mr Dennistoun; but as I think that not everybody is liable to go mad, so also I think that not everybody is liable to falling in love in your sense of the word.”

O’Reilly leaned over the back of her chair.

“It happens only to those who want to write about it, Miss Brown,” he whispered.

“Anyhow,” remarked Hamlin, “Lewis is a charming fellow, and I am sure you will appreciate him, Miss Brown. He is, moreover, the most backbitten man in creation,” and Hamlin glanced round the table; “but you must never believe any harm of him.”

Perhaps, thought Anne, Edmund Lewis was disliked by this set for the same reasons which, she could not help understanding, were beginning to make her vaguely unpopular. Still, she did not like the story of his marriage, she did not like the recollection of his morbidly beautiful drawings.

“It’s good news about Lewis,” said Hamlin to her after breakfast; “but unfortunately page: 106 there’s been rather a bothering letter also. Did I ever mention a cousin of mine, the daughter of papa’s sister and of a horrible Russian creature called Polozoff? She was brought up with us as a child, and is connected with a great many painful circumstances. I have completely lost sight of her since she was about fifteen, and now I suddenly get a letter from her telling me that her husband is dead, and that she is coming to England. I rather loathe the idea of her, and if you knew the part she played in this house fifteen years ago, you could understand it. But the worst is that Aunt Claudia perfectly abhorred her—I will tell you the horrible, prosaic, tragic story some day—and that I perfectly dread having to break the news to her. I do hate a scene so! There she is; I suppose I’d better tell her.”

Mrs Macgregor was walking slowly up and down the gravel walk before the house.

“Do come and keep me in countenance. page: 107 It really is no fault of mine, but I know my aunt will be furious.”

“What’s the matter?” cried Mrs Macgregor suspiciously, as if expecting to be told something disagreeable.

“I wanted to tell you, Aunt Claudia,” said Hamlin, “that I had a letter this morning.”

“Yes, I know, from your dear Lewis,” interrupted Mrs Macgregor. “What’s that to me?”

“I don’t mean that one. I had a letter from—guess from whom?” and Hamlin tried to smile—“from Cousin Sacha.”

Mrs Macgregor recoiled as if she had trodden on a toad.

“From whom?”

“From Cousin Sacha. Sacha Polozoff—Madame Elaguine, I suppose I ought to call her.”

For a moment there was a dead silence. The old lady’s face, usually so vacant, was lit up into a terrific energy of anger.

“ What business has she to write to you?”

“Well, really, aunt, I don’t see why she shouldn’t,” answered Hamlin. “After all, page: 108 we are cousins, and we have never openly quarrelled.

”My aunt,“ he explained, turning to Anne, ”has got a tremendous aversion—a prejudice—towards this one and only cousin of mine. She disliked her father, very reasonably, and I think she has let her dislike descend to the second generation rather unreasonably.“

”Unreasonably!“ exclaimed Mrs Macgregor; ”you know it was not unreasonable, Walter—you know what that Cousin Sacha of yours was in this house.“

”I know nothing of the sort,“ cried Hamlin, angrily. ”I know that Sacha lived in this house as a child; I know she left it as a child; I know we all hated her and hers, and that perhaps they deserved it; but I know that we have no right to hate a woman of whom we know nothing, because she happened to have been a badly brought up child, years ago.

“At all events,” went on Hamlin, “I insist upon her being properly treated as a lady, and a relation.”

page: 109

“Properly treated!” almost foamed out his aunt. “Do you mean to say that she is coming here?”

“Not here; but to London. Her husband is dead; and she writes to me that she thinks she had better send her boy to an English school; and as the only person in England upon whom she has a claim—”

“A pretty claim!” interrupted Mrs Macgregor.

“As her first cousin, she has written to me for information and assistance.”

“And you are going to give it her, Walter?”

“Of course I am. And I hope, Aunt Claudia, that you will remember that I won’t be disgraced towards a lady who has done us no harm. She will be in London, most likely, when we return at the beginning of winter.”

Anne had heard many allusions to this Cousin Sacha, and they belonged to that class of cynical hints which always made her indignant with Mrs Macgregor. She instinctively took part with this unknown woman, page: 110 and she admired Hamlin’s decision and generosity. Why did he not always act like this?

“That child—that Sacha,” said Mrs Macgregor, when Hamlin had left them, “was the evil genius of his house. She was sent as if to embody all the bad tendencies of the family. It was a miserable house at best, my brother‐in‐law’s, for he was a weak, vicious, violent man. But just when this wretched child was brought to us my sister had died, Mr Hamlin was very much shaken and repentant for the life he had led her, and I really believe that he had made up his mind to live decently for the sake of his children. The two boys were growing up, and there seemed some chance of things going quietly and happily. Then Mr Hamlin thought fit to invite home his sister, who was a widow; she had married a horrible Russian, a sort of indecent madman, with every possible vice under the sun. She was an odious woman herself, the regular slave‐driving type of the Hamlins. Oh, you can’t judge of them from page: 111 Walter; he’s like my sister, not like them. Well, she was violent, and overbearing, and tyrannical, and lazy, and hysterical, like a regular Jamaica woman. She was enough in the house; but then she had this child of hers, this Sacha, with her—a wretched, neglected creature, brought up by French servants, who were her father’s mistresses, and literally with no more idea of right and wrong than any of the little heathens whom they pick out of gutters in the East End and send to reformatories.”

“Poor child!” said Anne. She shuddered at this glimpse into Hamlin’s early life; it had a horrible attraction for her, and yet she felt that she would far rather know nothing about it. All this filth seemed to cling to her mind and soil it. “How horrible for her!”

“She was about twelve when she came to us,” went on Mrs Macgregor meditatively, “and you couldn’t believe that such a child could exist in Christendom. She could no more spell the simplest word than I can speak page: 112 Arabic; she spoke an awful jargon of English and French and Russian and German, and she used to talk about things, and repeat stories which she had heard from her nurses, or her father, or her father’s friends—I don’t know whom—that were enough to make your hair stand on end. Mr Hamlin was in perfect despair; because, although he was a vicious sort of man himself, and quite did my poor sister to death with his bad conduct, he was awfully strict about all his kith and kin, and kept the boys as tight as if he had been a Puritan. What we all had to go through, you have no idea. At first I was quite ashamed to let any governess see such a little heathen as that child was, and we had to pay the governesses double wages to keep them on. Then, every time that they tried to break Sacha off some one of her disgusting ways, her mother, who was always moaning and groaning with imaginary maladies on her sofa, and no more thought of her daughter than of the man in the moon, would go into hysterics page: 113 and throw things in their face, and have them turned away, and keep Sacha for a day in her room, kissing her and giving her sweets. Well, we thought we were little by little getting the better of her; and then, thank goodness, Madame Polozoff, that was Mr Hamlin’s sister, died. Sacha learned a few things, and began to behave a little more like a Christian child; but it was only on the surface. She was utterly and thoroughly corrupt. When the boys returned from school (Arnold was sixteen, and Walter seventeen), the mischief began. That wretched Sacha fell madly in love with Walter, and began running after him; but Walter perfectly loathed the sight of her: he was always the cold, moral, irreproachable sort of creature that he is. Then she went after Arnold. Arnold was much the livelier of the two: he was a dear, warm‐ hearted, simple sort of boy, a perfect scapegrace, always in pickles, but we only liked him the better. But that wretched Sacha (he didn’t care a rap about her either, page: 114 for she was a horrid, lying, sickly, stunted little thing), in order to curry favour with him, put him up to all sorts of mischief, which I suppose she had learned from her precious father and his servants. What was poor Arnold to know? The nasty little fiend used to get out of bed and unlock the house‐door for him, so that he might go in and out at night and get into scrapes with the village girls, and drink at the pot‐house; and she used to steal the wine and the brandy out of the cupboards for him, and teach him all sorts of ungentlemanly, knavish, lying ways; I believe she used even to give him money out of her savings, just for him to go to the pot‐house. If ever a boy was ruined by a woman, poor Arnold was ruined by that miserable Sacha. Then, in return for her assistance and her lies and her money, he had to pretend to like her, to kiss her, and call her his darling little cousin, and promise to marry her, whom he abominated. Meanwhile Walter went dreaming on as he always page: 115 has, avoiding Sacha like the plague, and not perceiving any of the pretty doings of his brother; and Mr Hamlin, who thought that his house, just because it was his house, must be the palace of virtue, and his son, because he was his son, must be the most obedient and austere boy in the world, took to liking Sacha and her pretty, foreign little ways, and to think her quite a nice little girl, just the wife for one of his sons. Then one day (I suppose Sacha thought that poor Arnold did not kiss her and darling little Sacha her enough, or got jealous or something) they had a great row, and Arnold called her a liar, and said that if she were not a girl he would thrash her well. So Sacha rushed off sobbing to Mr Hamlin, and told him that Arnold had called her a liar, and had threatened to beat her; and Mr Hamlin called Arnold, and struck him in the face till his nose bled, and called him a coward and a brute, and swore he would cut him off with a shilling. Then it all came out about Arnold’s escapades, page: 116 his nights at the pot‐house, and so forth; and of course his father said that all he said about Sacha’s putting him up to it was a pack of lies, and finally it ended with Mr Hamlin behaving in such a way that poor Arnold ran away to America. Then we had no news of him for about six months, and Mr Hamlin wanted to take Walter into his good graces, although he had never cared for him, and Sacha tried to make up to Walter. But Walter also ran away to his uncle, because he said he would not stay unless Arnold was recalled, or at least money were sent to him. So Mr Hamlin had to give in and send for Arnold; but meanwhile he had quarrelled with Sacha, and packed her off to her Russian relatives, who sent her to some German deaconesses on the Rhine—a nice child to bring up! Walter returned, and began to prepare for the university; then Arnold was got back from America; but he had only got into worse and worse ways—he was always drunk, and finally his mind began to give page: 117 way. Poor Arnold! he was much, much nicer than Walter—such a bright, good‐humoured, manly fellow—and now . . .”

“Now?” repeated Anne in astonishment; she had listened without saying a word to this horrible page of family history. “Now? Do you mean that Mr Hamlin’s brother is alive?”

Mrs Macgregor looked at her with strange wide eyes. “Of course he is. We say he is dead; or if not dead, mad. Well, he might as soon be either, poor boy. He wanders about with a servant. Walter allows him some money. We never talk of him. Ah!” cried Mrs Macgregor, and it was a kind of suppressed cry of pain—“and that it is all, all owing to Sacha Polozoff; and she has the insolence to write to Walter!”

Anne did not know what to say.

“But,” she could not help saying after a minute, for it seemed to her as if the whole story were so unjust, so one‐sided, as if there were so much too much laid at the door of page: 118 the unhappy, neglected, corrupt child—so much too little pity or indignation shown at her having been thus neglected and corrupted,—“but, Aunt Claudia—is it fair to put it all down to Sacha? After all, Arnold was sixteen, he was a man, he had been decently brought up—and she, she was an ignorant child, brought up as you say without idea of right or wrong. Don’t you think—oh, don’t you think, auntie dear, that it was mainly the fault of old Mr Hamlin, and his bad example, and his closing his eyes to his boy’s behaviour?” It seemed to her so frightful that a girl, a child, a victim, just because she was a victim, should have such a weight of guilt thrown upon her.

“She was a woman, and he was a man,” said Mrs Macgregor fiercely, her love for her lost nephew, and her strange theories of sexual influences mixing grotesquely and tragically—“and a woman can always do what she will with a man; a woman can always, unless she be as weak as my poor page: 119 sister, ruin or save a Hamlin, ever since Walter’s great‐uncle Mordaunt went to the bad, even worse than poor Arnold.”

“Some of them,” she said after a moment, “are good, and some are bad: my brother‐in‐law was bad—Arnold was good, and Walter is good; but they are all as weak as water, these Hamlins—weak in goodness or badness, every one of them.”

Anne sighed. And as she walked through the big, stately rooms of Wotton House, she thought of the horrible scenes which had happened in there; of the waste of life by violence and vice and neglect which they had witnessed; especially of that wretched, vicious child, held so terribly responsible for the folly and wickedness of others. And the sense of the terrible power of circumstances, of the degradation into which others may lead one, or out of which others may raise one, which had been silently growing in her as she watched the world in her tragic way, came over her with a terrifying rush; page: 120 and she felt, half in anxiety at scarcely escaped danger, half in joy at safety, a tumult of gratitude when she remembered how Walter Hamlin had raised her up, led her out of the way of all temptation and evil contact, and left her safe and strong as she knew herself to be.

page: 121

CHAPTER VI.

As the summer changed into autumn, the guests at Wotton Hall were gradually renewed. Chough remained, and at Anne’s particular desire sent for his two little girls, sad, strange, Cockney creatures, to whom the large house, the garden, the country walks and country sights, were as things of another world. But the Spencers, Dennistoun, and O’Reilly departed; and in their place arrived the two Leigh girls and Edmund Lewis. The last‐named gentleman did not by any means strike Anne as a fascinating being. He was a stumpy, high‐shouldered, thick‐set little man, always very slackly dressed, with small, rather handsome features, and a profusion of curly reddish hair and beard, which made his face page: 122 look even more like unbaked dough than it might otherwise have done. Some people considered him very handsome, and it was obvious that he himself felt as if he were tall; for he stumped and slouched in and out of rooms with his hands in his pockets, and dropped on to chairs and sofas with the heavy importance of gait of a Hercules. Nothing could be more comic than the contrast between this lumbering and solemn redhaired dwarf and Cosmo Chough, black, fierce, alert, courteous, and grandiloquent. Lewis was silent; but when he spoke he fixed his handsome eyes searchingly upon one, and either trailed his voice along with slow emphasis, or answered in monosyllables, which left in you an uncomfortable feeling of having made some inappropriate or impertinent remark. He had, moreover, lips of the colour of the very best sealing‐wax; a peculiarity which, while decidedly adding to the pictorial value of a red‐haired man, has a something quite particularly repulsive to certain people, among page: 123 whom Anne Brown must be counted. However, she tried to like Mr Lewis. In some respects he was a more genuine personality than Chough, or Dennistoun, or almost any other of Hamlin’s æsthetic friends. He did not make himself up—manner, appearance, ideas, or words—to look like anything which he was not, or at all events which he did not thoroughly believe himself to be; and he was, moreover, much more in the way of will and definite tendencies, and felt himself (however mistakenly) to be much more in the way of power, character, and importance, than any other man whom Anne had ever come across, except her cousin Richard, between whom and Edmund Lewis there existed, despite a thousand differences, a certain resemblance. And perhaps it was exactly this resemblance to Richard Brown,—a man whom Anne did not exactly like, nay, who even occasionally repelled her a little, but of whose power and truthfulness and generosity Anne could not doubt,—perhaps it was this resemblance, how‐ page: 124 ever however vague it might be, which made Anne for some time believe that Edmund Lewis, little as he pleased her, might be a remarkable sort of man, and treat Chough’s insinuations against him as merely another instance of that childish unreasonableness of likings and dislikings, which, together with vanity and weakness of will, she had got to associate with a poetic endowment. Over Hamlin, at all events, Edmund Lewis had an undeniable influence; an influence which he himself avowedly attributed to his magnetic powers, which he would exert, or imagine that he exerted, sitting lazily opposite his friends or victims, staring vaguely at them and speaking in his slow, important voice. He was a painter, in an irregular sort of way, himself, and took much more interest in Hamlin’s art than in his poetry; so that Hamlin, who was sick of versifying for the moment, had a fit of painting once more, and spent hours locked up in his studio with Lewis, while poor Cosmo Chough was more and more thrown upon Anne and her friends. page: 125 But the girls had got to understand Chough, and the fund of kindness and self‐sacrificing gentleness which was hidden beneath the little man’s poetical thin‐skinnedness and the queer poetical veneer of mystic wickedness which he himself did not understand. He could not by any possibility be broken of his tendency to talk overmuch about Messalina, Lucretia Borgia, and La Belle Heaulmière; but by this time it was quite obvious that he had not the smallest experience of ladies of any such character, still less the faintest thought of giving offence by his allusions to them. To Anne he was utterly devoted: he was fascinated by her beauty, afraid of its tragic earnestness, afraid of her downright, quiet manner, afraid of her silent contemptuousness, of her uncompromising censoriousness; but if ever a person appreciated Anne’s kindness, her energy, her imperious desire of helping others, it was Chough. Anne had often spoken to him about the neglected education of his little girls; not reproachfully, for she knew but too well on page: 126 what it depended, but trying to stir him up to resist the sort of fatality which seemed to hang over his family concerns. And now she insisted on taking the children’s education into her own hands, until Chough should be able to afford sending them to a proper school. Perhaps the thought of that neglected, unconsciously corrupted, terribly responsible little heathen girl, who had done so much mischief in Wotton Hall fifteen years before, had something to do with Anne’s energetic behaviour towards the little Choughs—to whom, every morning regularly, she gave a two hours’ lesson in grammar and writing and history, as complete as if she had been a schoolmistress and they her pupils; until their father, astonished at their unexpected development of human faculties, took it in his head to turn them into first‐rate musicians, and actually got up at six in the morning to teach them the piano, while Hamlin and Lewis were still asleep.

Marjory Leigh, who had considered Anne page: 127 in the light of an irresponsible but decidedly objectionable æsthetic villain on her departure from London, looked on in puzzled amazement. She could not understand how any one so beautiful, so versed in useless literature and useless art, any one whom her foolish elder sister foolishly adored, could be anxious and able to make herself of use in the world. And even Mary Leigh, in her gentle, ironical way, was astonished at Anne’s new vocation, and adored her all the more enthusiastically for it. Mrs Macgregor hinted, in her affectionate cynical manner, that Anne was mistaking for a desire to be useful to Chough’s children the mere imperious necessity of caring for some one, which was the vicarious form of love; and prophesied archly that, once married, Anne would soon be satisfied with uselessness. Anne smiled contemptuously at Mrs Macgregor’s theories. Yet she was as unaware as was Mrs Macgregor herself, that there was indeed an imperious necessity in her nature—a necessity more personal, more selfish, and more page: 128 terrible than her mere desire to be of use. In these four months Anne had gradually, and hitherto unconsciously, ceased to love Hamlin as she had formerly loved him. Like many of the most powerful and passionate natures, Anne had a fatal tendency to love ideally and love the ideal; not so much to invest with unreal qualities the object of her passion, but to conceive a passion for an impersonal creation of her own, an amalgamation of her own ardent and confused aspirations after an unknown excellence; and then to identify the object of this strange intellectual and moral passion with the first real person who struck her as excellent and noble and beautiful, or who appealed strongly to her sympathies and her gratitude. Of love in the ordinary sense, such a nature is wellnigh incapable; and the devotion due to real imperfect creatures, pity and sympathy with weakness, the devotion due to a sense of duty, although it may be intense and tender in such people, comes only on later, when the first page: 129 splendid idol has been shattered, and whatever passion there is must be given, in humbleness or sorrow, to the unsatisfying realities of this world. With such a nature and such tendencies, Anne had been met, when young, ignorant, and friendless, by an indistinct yet real personality—by Hamlin, who had done for her more than any other man had ever done for a woman; and in this vaguely seen Hamlin, known at first only as a servant knows the brilliant guest of the house, a model the painter to whom she is sitting—and then known at a distance, in letters which were the unreal efflorescence of a poet’s mind,—in this vaguely seen Hamlin, to whom she owed her new life, and who was surrounded by all the beautiful things and ideas which that new life represented, Anne Brown had incarnated the ideal of good and beauty towards which her simple, self‐unconscious, energetic soul so strenuously aspired. Such a love as this must be transformed into something less exalted, or must die out unsatisfied, whatever the person who page: 130 feels it or the person with whom it is connected: the real, however excellent, can never satisfy the craving after the ideal; a living individual can never quiet desires which have no individual object, which are mere dumb and violent activities of a too powerful soul. But Anne was not the kind of woman in whom simpler and less exacting instincts, in whom ordinary love, can gradually supplant such an ideal passion; and what was worse, Hamlin was not the man who could substitute for an impossible and unapproachable creature of the imagination, a less perfect, but more appealing, more attaching, more lovable creature of reality.

No man that ever breathed could have satisfied cravings which were in reality not after a man, but after a higher life, a more complete activity, a nobler aim; but Hamlin fell short not merely of Anne’s ideal, but also, in many things, even of the reality of Anne herself, and of all she could understand and sympathise with. The ecstatic devotion page: 131 had speedily given way in her to a more sober kind of admiration and affection; but now, little by little, that also was being invaded, transformed piecemeal here and there, by doubt, contempt, and disgust. Anne’s eyes had gradually opened to the fact that Hamlin was vain, thin‐skinned, professionally jealous, and afraid of the judgment, as he was avid of the praise, of his own inferiors; and that, in the negative line, he was without strong likings, enthusiasms, or aspirations; and the negative qualities affected her more than the positive ones: to her the coldness of Hamlin’s sympathies was more painful than the weakness of his nature. Vaguely and gradually these things had dawned upon Anne; and she could no more deny their existence than she could persuade herself that a grey English autumn day was brilliant as an Italian summer morning. But of late things had happened, like that incident of the suppressed “Ballad of the Fens,” and of the self‐slandering sonnets which Hamlin looked upon with such page: 132 complacency, which had given her glimpses into something worse than she could well believe in, worse than she had the heart to look into. These she cast behind her, thinking of them as little as possible, trying to consider them as hallucinations, or at all events, gross exaggerations of her own: she must have misunderstood; such things could not be. She tried to settle her love of Hamlin on a real and more solid basis. She fully admitted to herself that Hamlin had weaknesses,—the weaknesses which she remarked in so many of the men around him,—weaknesses going together with the fine qualities of the poet’s nature,—weaknesses which, Anne was beginning to suspect, every one had (forgetting that she had not), or at least something equivalent thereunto. She admitted to herself that Hamlin was weak; nay, to do so was a sort of relief. That Hamlin should come of a family infirm of will and often vicious, that he should have been brought up surrounded by vice and violence engendered by weakness; this notion, page: 133 due partly to her own observations, and confirmed by Mrs Macgregor’s confidences, explained so much away, and left room for so much: it explained all the wretched part of his nature, it left room for all the good, for the gentleness, the generosity, the chivalric spirit which had made Anne what she was; and it let her hope, every now and then, that better might be in store. For since the evil was merely negative and the good so thorough and so positive, surely the good would vanquish the evil. And, looking at the people who surrounded Hamlin,—at these vain, weak, unreal poets and artists, at this whole school of people who, whatever their private life, affected to live only for selfish enjoyment of beauty and selfish interest in sin,—Anne used often to think that Hamlin was in the position of a sort of Rinaldo, the noblest of all heroes, degraded into mean sloth by the Armida of æstheticism, but requiring only the shrill of the trumpet and the clash of arms from the real living world to be redeemed and to show page: 134 himself in his real nobility. She would even exaggerate her aversion or contempt for Hamlin’s companions and for his school; the worse they were, the more excuse for him; and she would often sit dreaming of the way in which he might be gradually got from under their influence, and brought in contact with those stronger, more healthy, or more terrible realities, which Anne’s nature, by a kind of occult sympathy, felt in the world all round, as the birds and insects will feel the storm which is still invisible beyond the hills, but which is coming to purify, and shake, and revive.

And so Anne went on loving and hoping, and believing herself to be happy. But there began to be a strange restlessness about her; a desire to be useful, to be perpetually active in something, to be always trying to understand, and sympathise, and help—an imperious necessity not to be left to her own thoughts (those thoughts which had once been like a page: 135 paradise, in which solitude was the highest bliss). For, alone with her own thoughts, Anne was beginning to experience an intolerable sense of isolation, and intolerable sense of impotence.

page: 136

CHAPTER VII.

IN this condition of mind Anne was violently impelled towards the two Leigh girls; and strongly induced to take an aversion to Edmund Lewis. For the Leighs represented every day more and more the influence which was strengthening her, the influence which might revive Hamlin; and Edmund Lewis seemed sent as an incarnation of those tendencies which, in her belief, had marred the nobility of Hamlin’s nature.

Anne’s unmistakable desire to know what was going on in the striving and suffering world outside the strongholds of æstheticism, to help in it to her utmost; to be, what the people believing only in beauty and passion could not conceive, responsible,—all this intense page: 137 striving got the better of Marjory Leigh’s prejudices. She began to understand that she had found in Anne a zealous lieutenant; nay, after some time, the conscientious though somewhat pig‐headed and conceited young philanthropist admitted to herself that Anne was a force for work and good which dragged even her along, making her, by the influence of her complete unselfishness, self‐unconsciousness, and energy, more ready to examine into her own mode of doing things, to sift her vanity from her humanitarianism.

“Anne does make one less conceited,” Marjory one day remarked to her sister, waking up from a long reverie—“less conceited and less narrow, I do believe. It’s such a revelation; and somehow it makes one feel just a little bit ashamed, to find such honesty and determination in an æsthete. After that, people don’t seem to be so hopelessly lost—do they? I fear I must have been a rather bigoted sort of brute formerly,” and Marjory pushed her fingers through her short, lank page: 138 yellow hair, and looked up at her sister with her childish, resolute, defiant face, not yet puzzled by the sad experience of the difficulty of doing good, and of the dangerousness of even the wisest theories. Mary Leigh smiled. She was proud of her little sister; and she was, in a sort of a way, in love with Anne Brown. Marjory thought her rather æsthetic and spiritless, she knew; and Anne was absorbed in her own thoughts; but Mary Leigh was one of those girls who can resign themselves cheerfully to being second best, as long as they are the best in their power—to be happy in her devotion, even if it be unreciprocated; and she was happy, in a subdued way—proud of Marjory and adoring Anne, and seeing that the two somewhat unresponsive objects of her love could now appreciate one another.

So much for the Leighs. But if their presence at Wotton was a support and a consolation to Anne, the presence of Edmund Lewis very soon grew to be a positive source of dis‐ page: 139 gust disgust . At first, in his egotistic, silently brow‐beating way, he was an interesting visitor. He had travelled and read a good deal, and, in point of fact, knew much more about literature than about his own art. His imagination turned easily to the terrible; he considered Webster as greater than Shakespeare, and Ford as greater than Webster; he had personal experiences of more or less criminal persons, whose acquaintance, for the sake of morbid psychology, he had sought, and whose characteristics he had lovingly studied; while in reality mild and even milk‐soppish in his habits, he seemed to experience a fascination from violence and bloodshed. For a week or so he was decidedly interesting, if not, to Anne and her two girl‐friends, attractive. But hostility soon arose. He was a fervid spiritualist, and a great adept in mesmerising; his vanity made him see mediums, victims of his will‐power, everywhere. He immediately discovered one in Anne, and begged to be permitted to try his tricks, as Marjory Leigh called them.

page: 140

Now, if there was one thing which was more abhorrent to Anne than any other, it was spiritualism: averse to mysticism like every Italian; prosaic and common‐sense, perhaps just in proportion to the idealism of passion and aspiration, she was impatient of the vulgar mysteriousness of modern magic; while at the same time her powerful personality, her austere will (which she always recognised as the most precious part of her nature), which took umbrage at Mrs Macgregor’s theories of obedience to mere physical passions, was positively insulted by the notion of surrender to the perfectly unintellectual will of another. However, she let Lewis try. During his performance, as he fixed his green eyes upon her, and made passes with his flabby white fingers, Anne felt a loathing as if a slug were trailing over her, but she sat unaffected by Mr Lewis’s will‐power, and at last wearied out his patience.

“You resisted!—I felt you resist!” cried Lewis angrily, at the end of the séance.

page: 141

“There was nothing to resist against,” answered Anne, bluntly; “but had there been, of course I should have resisted.”

“Hamlin does not resist,” replied Lewis, with a certain malignant pride. “I can do just whatever I choose with Hamlin.”

“I enjoy it,” explained Hamlin; “it’s like the first effects of opium or haschisch. One feels one’s self giving way, one’s soul sinking deliciously.”

“Going to sleep, in fact,” corrected Anne.

From that moment Anne felt that Lewis hated her. Yet he was, in a way, fascinated by her exotic beauty; he could not make up his mind that so strange and splendid a woman could resist him. He never tried to magnetise her again; and he made many drawings of her, curiously distorting her expression, sullen, but frank and resolute, into a kind of sombre, morbid wistfulness.

“I hate those sketches he does of you,” cried Marjory one day; “nasty things, which make you look—I don’t know to express it— page: 142 as if you were neither a man nor a woman, and were in love with him.”

Mary Leigh laughed. “The school is running to seed,” she said: “the great men have done all that could be done in the way of beautiful suggestiveness—the little ones can only do suggestiveness of all sorts of vague nastiness which they don’t even understand. But there’s a change coming on in painting; people are beginning to be satisfied with interpreting real nature; and—don’t you think—Anne—a similar change . . .”

Mary Leigh, who was the most absent‐minded of Irish enthusiasts, suddenly stopped short. She had only just remembered that Hamlin was a poet and a painter of the school which she had just described. And a pained, darkened look had come over Anne. Mary Leigh could not understand that that look meant that Anne had often thought just the same thing, and that now there returned to her, with sickening bitterness, the double page: 143 recollection of the “Ballad of the Fens,” and of those twelve sonnets called “Desire.”

Meanwhile Anne gradually got substantial reasons for her instinctive aversion to Edmund Lewis. The family of the vicar of Wotton sometimes visited at the Hall. There were two very young girls, scarcely more than children, for whom Anne and the Leighs had taken a fancy. One afternoon they came to tea, delicate pink‐and‐white creatures of fourteen or fifteen, impressionable, nervous, utterly ignorant of the world. Hamlin seemed to appreciate the charm of obvious purity and guilelessness which went with their ignorance of the world.

“I should like to make a picture of those two creatures,” he whispered to Anne, as they sat at tea in the library, “or to write a poem about them—they seem to do one good; for it is good, is it not, to see so much life which is so perfectly fresh, and unsullied, and untormented—such a desire to know the world be‐ page: 144 fore before the evil in it is even guessed at—don’t you think?”

Even Chough could not make a single unintelligible allusion to the wife of Claudius or the daughter of Alexander VI., but sat with one of his children on his knee, looking at the young girls and gently humming a scrap of old minuet, fresh and simple like themselves. Anne could not help thinking that she had never been what these girls were. She had been shown the ugly things of life, taught to struggle with them since her childhood, and now believing equally in good, but believing sadly and bitterly. It was better to be a woman as she was, a woman who knew of good and evil, and was prepared to fight her way out of darkness; but still it was sad never, never to have been as these girls. Edmund Lewis was leaning forward on the table, his reddish‐auburn head with its glittering eyes rising like that of a snake, as if silently trying to mesmerise the visitors.

“Suppose we show these young ladies some of our works of art?” he proposed, in a half‐ page: 145 jocular way which he occasionally had. The girls had never seen any pictures scarcely, and having heard of Hamlin and Lewis as famous painters from London, were delighted. The whole party went up to Hamlin’s studio. He showed the girls not the things for which he cared most, but what he thought would give them most pleasure—magnificent tinted sketches of poetical legends, of the Sleeping Beauty, Cupid and Psyche, and so forth. Anne thought she had scarcely ever seen Hamlin so nice before as when he got the sketches out of the portfolio, and told the girls what they represented. When he had done, Edmund Lewis, with his slow, shuffling movements, placed his large sketch‐book on an easel, and turned a page. It was covered with outline drawings of men and women, stark naked, in various listless attitudes.

Anne had seen these drawings time after time, and had thought them, accustomed as she was to studios and painters, merely clever nude studies, with the usual expression of page: 146 bored depravity of all Lewis’s work. She had criticised the drawing and anatomy, and had never before thought that any impropriety was connected with them. But now she could not help blushing and feeling vaguely indignant.

“That’s not the sort of thing to show those children,” whispered Mary Leigh, who, heaven knows, had seen nude studies enough in her life. Both she and Anne had caught the surprised, vacant expression of the two girls, had seen the flush in their face, and understood the silence, never asking what it all meant, as they stared at all this emaciated, flabby nakedness. And Anne caught also Edmund Lewis’s expression, as he held the corner of the page, ready to turn over, with one hand, stroking his reddish‐brown beard with the other, and looking, with slightly raised eyebrows and curious green eyes, towards Hamlin, as if to call his attention. Lewis turned another page, and another; always the same stark‐naked people. Anne was very black. Heaven knows from what instinct, perhaps from a paternal recol‐ page: 147 lection recollection of his own little girls, Cosmo Chough understood Anne’s look; and edging himself awkwardly into the corner, he banged against the easel, and made it and the sketch‐hook come down with a crash.

“Confound your awkwardness!” cried Lewis, stooping to pick up his drawings, and slowly replacing the sketch‐book.

“I don’t think they care to see any more,” said Anne; “you see, these young ladies haven’t studied anatomy. Supposing you show them your Eastern sketches, Mr Lewis.”

Lewis gave Anne a rapid, angry glance. “The Eastern sketches are up‐stairs,” he said snappishly; adding, in his drawling, mock courteous way, “I think these young ladies have seen the best I could show them.”

“Then we had better go down‐stairs, and Mr Chough will play an accompaniment, for I know they sing very nicely,” said Anne, taking no notice of him.

Perhaps, thought Anne, she might have been prejudiced against Edmund Lewis. He page: 148 did draw morbid‐looking nudities; but so many other men did just the same, that it was quite possible he might have displayed that sketch‐book from mere thoughtlessness. Yet she could not believe it; she had seen Lewis’s look as he turned over the pages, and that look had disgusted her.

The next day but one the question was settled in her mind. It was a fine autumn morning, and Anne was seated on the terrace, waiting for the others to come down to breakfast. The air, just touched by the first cold, was exquisitely pure; and the sear bracken of the hillside opposite sparkled golden with the heavy dew. All round the swallows were whirring about, collecting for departure. The thought of the Villa Arnolfini—of the place in the vineyard, among the yellowing vines, where she used to sit on the dry warm mint and fennel with the little Perrys, where, under the big mulberry‐tree, they had buried her Dante in a heap of yellow leaves—came home to Anne. How good Hamlin had been to page: 149 her! the idea almost pained her. But this lovely morning seemed to have swept all evil away. If only, Anne said to herself, Hamlin’s sympathies could be violently roused—if only he could be awakened suddenly, by some unexpected contact with the tragic realities of the world, by a sudden appeal to his generosity and indignation, out of this æsthetic day‐dream with its enervating visions of impure beauty and forbidden things. If only this could be done, the horrid spell which kept him at a moral distance from her would be broken through. . . . And soon it must come, this awakening.

As she was thinking in this way, Edmund Lewis strolled up, his hands behind his back, to the table at which she was seated. He gave her a little unceremonious nod, and then, interrupting the tune which he was faintly whistling, pushed a paper‐bound book across the table to her.

“Have you ever read this, Miss Brown?” he asked; “do you know that passage? I page: 150 think it one of the loveliest things which have ever been written.”

Anne’s eye glanced at the page, pencil‐marked all round, and then at the title on the margin. It was Gautier’s ‘Mademoiselle de Maupin.’ She understood.

“I have never read it,” she answered, “but I have often heard that it is a book which a man does not offer a woman except as an insult,” and she quietly handed the volume back, looking up, her beautiful severe face flushed, her slate‐grey eyes flashing, at Lewis.

The painter started.

“Upon my word,” he answered quickly, with his usual self‐possession, “I never thought that. I never thought that any book could possibly offend a pure woman nowadays. I regard this book merely as a noble hymn to beauty; others may regard it otherwise. I really had no thought of offending you, my dear Miss Brown”—there was a tone of patronising insolence in his voice.

“So much the better,” answered Anne, rising.

page: 151

Oh how, how could Hamlin, with his chivalrous nature, endure the daily contact of such a man as this!

“Lewis ought not to have selected those particular drawings to show the vicar’s girls,” said Anne, later on. She could not allude to that scene of the book; but she felt she must say something. “A man ought not to show such things as those to mere children, brought up in the country, who don’t know what they mean, and are merely shocked by such things—don’t you think so, Mary?”

“Certainly,” answered Mary Leigh boldly, quite astonished at Anne’s venturing to mention such a subject.

“It wasn’t good taste, certainly,” answered Hamlin. “Lewis is fearfully absent‐minded. They are lovely designs. But still, it wasn’t good taste, I quite agree.”

“Good taste!” thought Anne, with a shudder. “Is there nothing higher than taste in the world?”

page: 152

CHAPTER VIII.

THREE days later, Chough and Lewis returned to town, and Hamlin went with them. The weather had broken up, and it was time to settle for the winter. Aunt Claudia and Anne were to stay on another fortnight, in order to give Hamlin time to make some alterations in the house at Hammersmith. Such at least was the pretext; but Anne knew that Madame Elaguine had arrived in London, and she guessed that Hamlin would wish to transact whatever business there might be, before exposing to Mrs Macgregor’s wrath the Cousin Sacha of former days—before, perhaps, refusing to let Anne Brown meet a woman whose past spoke little in her favour, and of whose present he knew absolutely nothing.

page: 153

“How I dread seeing that woman!” he exclaimed the evening before his departure, as he walked up and down the hall with Anne, while the rest of the company was listening to Cosmo Chough, shrilly piping eighteenth century music in the drawing‐room.

“Has Aunt Claudia ever told you anything of our life when Cousin Sacha was here with us, years ago?” he asked.

Anne nodded.

“Aunt Claudia told me the whole story.”

“Then you can understand,” cried Hamlin, almost convulsively, “how the mere thought of Sacha is loathsome to me; and yet, I must behave decently towards her—don’t you think?”

“Of course you must; and I can’t help thinking that perhaps—well, that your aunt and you may be a little unjust towards her—I don’t think that a child really could be so bad.”

“Oh, a child may be as bad as a woman if she have evil blood in her! and just think, if page: 154 Sacha was like that as a child, what must she not be as a woman?”

There was something odd in his tone; something not of indignation, but of a kind of clinging curiosity.

“I daresay,” said Anne, “that as a woman she may be much better than as a child. Her eyes may have been opened to her own unworthiness, and she may have struggled out of the influence of bad examples. I am sure many, many people are much better as men and women than as children. To know, to feel responsible, means so much.”

“That may be.” There was some disappointment in Hamlin’s tone.

Anne laughed.

“You want to find a fiend, a lamia, a vampire,” she said—“something hateful and picturesque. Fancy if your cousin should turn out a most prosaic and ultra‐respectable woman, given up to her children, and coffee‐taverns, and women’s suffrage!”

Hamlin could not help laughing.

page: 155

“I fear there’s not much chance of that. Anyhow, I must see whether she is fit for you to receive, and whether Aunt Claudia can be mollified towards her, supposing she is the exemplary piece of prose which you imagine.”

Anne had induced Cosmo Chough to leave his little girls in her charge; and the Leighs were to return to London with her and Aunt Claudia. The big house seemed very empty without Hamlin and his friends; but the quiet was pleasant. Somehow, when he was away, when she could no longer see him perpetually sitting and walking with Edmund Lewis, Anne’s love for Hamlin became much stronger. In her recollection he existed only with reference to herself; she felt his goodness, she believed in his nobility, she felt sure that some day he would become more manly, healthy, and resolute. If only she could enter into his confidence, instead of men like Lewis and Dennistoun; if only she could make him see all that there was in the world besides mere art and poetry. Perhaps she was unworthy to page: 156 do it. This thought spurred her on, redoubled Anne’s restless desire to know, to sympathise, and to help.

Marjory Leigh had, soon after her arrival at Wotton, made acquaintance with the wife of the vicar, a simple, energetic, rather narrow‐minded but boundlessly unselfish woman, all whose thoughts were given to improving the condition of the neighbouring poor. To tell the whole truth, the vicar had a son, a young man entirely belying the usual saying about clergymen’s sons, who had renounced a good living in the neighbourhood in order to become a curate in the East End of London.

Harry Collett had been at Oxford at the same time as Hamlin; he had even, for some time, belonged to the æsthetic set of which Hamlin and Melton Perry had been the heads: but he had soon become a religious enthusiast; and, his religious enthusiasm cooling down, he had remained an ardent philanthropist. Hamlin had a liking for Harry Collett. He was handsome, tall, and emaciated, like a St John page: 157 the Baptist by Donatello; he was in his own style poetical; he was a dreamer and an enthusiast. Hamlin used to call him Francis of Assisi. He did several sketches of him, and asked him several times to Wotton Hall. Anne also liked and admired him; but there was something exaggerated, narrow‐minded, in him, which shocked her Italian temperament. What she wanted was secular energy, not priestly devotion.

“He is a monk,” she used to say; “he ought to have lived in the middle ages. What we want nowadays are disagreeable, rough‐and‐ready men like Cousin Dick—men who don’t merely feel sorry for vice, but who try to understand its scientific reason.”

Marjory Leigh, who declared herself to belong to the most advanced of all advanced parties, and to whom Richard Brown was little less than a god, perfectly agreed in Anne’s verdict. But being of a proselytising temper, and having a special love for proselytising among the young men of her acquaintance, she immedi‐ page: 158 ately immediately set about enlightening the rather High Church benevolence of Harry Collett, as soon as he came to spend at Wotton his summer holidays. Anne and Mary Leigh used often to laugh over the intensely serious flirtations which were carried on between Marjory and the East End curate—flirtations of which both parties were perfectly unaware—earnestly discussing charity reorganisation, ventilation, primary instruction, and so forth; but which was nevertheless destined to result, soon after the general return to town, in a long engagement between Marjory and Harry Collett. Harry was already back at his post in the East End; but Marjory, being unable to discuss philanthropy with him, went daily to help his mother in her work. Thus it was that Anne gradually became acquainted with the petty miseries of village life, its dull indifference, mistaken by poets for innocence, and beneath which lies so much possibility of stupid misery and stupid crime. “All that must be improved some day,” Anne used to say; and page: 159 she determined to ask Cousin Dick’s advice, for she believed in radical measures rather than in the small palliations of the vicar’s wife.

One afternoon—they were within three or four days of return to London—Marjory Leigh returned more than usually excited from a visit to the vicarage.

“What’s the matter?” asked Anne, as the three girls sat alone in Hamlin’s empty studio.

Marjory threw her hat on the floor. “Give me some tea,” she said, “I feel quite sick; I never thought I should come across such horrors. Of course,” she added quickly, before Anne or her sister had time to exclaim, and as if to reclaim her reputation for omniscience—“of course I knew that such things existed—oh dear, yes—in big towns and so forth; but still,”—and poor Marjory fairly burst into tears,—“I never, never thought that—I should come so near them.”

Finally, when she had had some tea, Marjory, all blushing and stammering, and in a page: 160 hesitating, roundabout way, which curiously belied her usual affectation of cynical omniscience, proceeded to explain what had just happened. A girl with an illegitimate baby—a very common occurrence in those parts—had turned up for assistance at the vicarage, and, while deprecating the wretched creature’s fault, the vicar’s wife had revealed to Marjory Leigh a jealously hidden stain in her parish; namely, that in the hamlet to which the girl belonged, a mishap, as she termed it, like hers was a trifle, and indeed could scarcely be considered a fault at all, compared with the condition of brutish sin in which rolled, cynically huddled together in cabins no better than sties, the whole small population of that foul little fen village.

“It appears it’s been going on for generations,” cried Marjory, “and that there’s no hope of remedying things unless the miserable creatures be removed into more decent dwellings. It’s useless trying to teach them to live decently as long as they live there, in page: 161 those hovels in the fen, where half of them are ill of fever every autumn, and they herd together like cattle. Oh, it’s sickening to think of Christian people being so sinful close by one!” and Marjory burst into hysterical sobs.

Mary Leigh had exclaimed in horror as soon as Marjory’s meaning had become plain to her.

“Oh, don’t cry, don’t cry, Marjory darling!” she exclaimed, throwing herself on her knees and clasping her sister’s waist. “You can’t do anything, my love—and you’ll only make yourself ill if you let yourself brood on such things.”

Anne had not exclaimed. She sat perfectly still, and said nothing. Most persons would have deemed her very callous, she looked so calm.

“Are you quite sure, Marjory,” she asked, after a minute—“are you quite sure you did not misunderstand, or that Mrs Collett did not exaggerate?”

page: 162

“I couldn’t misunderstand; and Mrs Collett gave me ever so many details—such dreadful details;” and interrupted by her sobs, Marjory repeated scraps of what she had heard.

“Where is the place?” asked Anne, after another pause.

“It’s that cluster of houses half‐way to Eggleston, in the middle of the fen, by the river—they call it Cold Fremley. Don’t you remember our going down there once in the break, with the Spencers and Chough, and your saying you wished Hamlin would paint that sort of fiat green country, and Mrs Spencer saying it was unpoetical?”

Anne remembered. The recollection of that moment came like a vision; she saw the wide river, between its low sedgy banks of boggy green; the reddish storm sunset reflected in clotted flame‐coloured masses in its thick grey waters; the moon rising, a spectral crescent on the blue evening sky; she heard the quail of the frogs, the cries of the water‐fowl: the Spencers and Chough on ahead with the two page: 163 Leighs and Harry Collett; and she and Hamlin lingering behind, watching the reddened stream—and the cattle, dark outlines on the flat green banks opposite; Hamlin scrambling down the bank to get a tuft of willow herb growing half in the water. She was feeling so happy; Hamlin was so good and gentle and handsome, and she loved him so; and they two had stood by the river alone, until the little Spencer children had run back and taken her hand, and begun asking a hundred questions in their shrill baby lisp. It was so lovely and peaceful and good, this green country, this quiet evening, with Hamlin by her side and the children holding her hand. She had felt a painful longing to impress the place and the moment on her mind, to keep this happy present. “What is this called?” she had asked; and Hamlin had answered “Cold Fremley.” Cold Fremley! Anne went on repeating to herself all that afternoon: the recollection of that beautiful scene, become hideous like a nightmare, page: 164 haunted her. The huddled roofs dark in the distance, the curl of smoke—that was the place. Anne felt dizzy. She had read enough about shame and sin, heaven knows; the poems of the poets of the set were full of allusions to such things. But she had never realised that they could be realities; they had been so many artistic dabs of horror, imaginary, or belonging vaguely to some distant, dim world, as unreal as the beautiful haunted woods and mysterious castles, the pale unsubstantial gods and heroes, and men and women of the pictures of Rossetti and Burne Jones, of the poems of Swinburne and Morris, and Hamlin and Chough. But that abominations like these should be here, close at hand, in sordid, filthy reality, reality under this same sun, swept by this same wind, reality through which she had unconsciously walked; this seemed impossible. A strange thing happened: the thought of what she had heard haunted her so persistently, loomed before her in such ever‐changing horror, that Anne at page: 165 last felt like one drunk or half asleep, and began to doubt whether it was not all a horrible nightmare. Had Marjory really told her these things? Before a court of justice Anne would have been unable to say whether she had or not. It was so unreal to her that she could not accept it as a reality; the more she brooded, the more did it seem a hallucination.

“Marjory,” said Anne the next day, suddenly, “is it true that you told me some dreadful things which you had heard from Mrs Collett about the people at Cold Fremley?”

Marjory looked up in astonishment.

“Of course it is,”—she had half forgotten it herself.

“I cannot get it out of my mind,” said Anne, passing her hand over her eyes, as if to disperse some black mist; “it is too horrible. Everything in the world seems tarnished, don’t you know, and a sort of horrible clamminess all round.”

Marjory looked at Anne. She was very pale, and her big, greyish‐blue, onyx‐coloured page: 166 eyes were wide with a fixed stare. She looked as if she did indeed see the tarnish on the world, and felt the clamminess; as if, like a person taken with some fever, she tasted copper on her tongue.

Marjory was a sensible girl. She had studied medicine, and knew an appalling amount about direction of the will, expectant attention, and other psychological and physiological matters. “Anne,” she said, “you are making yourself ill about this matter. Of course you couldn’t help being shocked; but you take it too much to heart. You are going to let these horrible things haunt you; it is a great temptation to do so. Take care; it won’t do any good, and you will merely get quite unstrung. I warn you against it. You mustn’t let such things get the better of your will: it’s morbid, and dangerous, and unworthy,”—and Marjory completely forgot how she herself had entered the room in hysterics the previous day.

Anne took no notice of her speech. “You say nothing can be done until these people be page: 167 given better dwellings?” she asked, after a pause.

Marjory nodded. “So Mrs Collett says, and I’ve read that repeatedly in books also—for, of course, such things have happened elsewhere. At all events, the children might be brought up to live more decently, if they were not all huddled up together like that.”

A thought seemed to flash across Anne’s darkened mind. Her maid had just brought in the tea‐things.

“Laura,” she asked, “do you know to whom Cold Fremley—those cottages by the river, half‐way to Eggleston—belongs?”

“I can ask Mr Hamlin’s steward, miss—he’s just in the housekeeper’s room,” answered Laura.

“Run and ask,” ordered Anne.

“Good heavens, Anne!” cried Mary Leigh, “what are you going to do! You surely aren’t going to talk about such things and try to interfere! What can you do, when Mrs Collett has failed?”

page: 168

“The houses must be rebuilt,” answered Anne, quietly and firmly; “to whomsoever they belong, they must—they shall be rebuilt.”

“Nonsense!” cried practical Marjory; “how can you talk like that? Are you going to apply to the neighbouring squires and tell them about such matters?”

“They must rebuild the houses if once they understand,” repeated Anne. “I don’t care to whom they belong—they shall be rebuilt. I will write and speak to every one and any one on the subject, until the thing has been done.”

“It’s all very well, but when it comes to the point, you wouldn’t venture to mention such a thing to a man,” cried Marjory, contemptuously—“I—wouldn’t.”

At this moment the maid entered.

“The steward says that Cold Fremley—those houses by the river, leastways—belong to Mr Hamlin, and as it’s he that lets them out.”

page: 169

Marjory and her sister looked at each other and then at Anne, as much as to say, “Well, you see now what it would be.” Anne flushed scarlet, but her face brightened.

“I will speak to Mr Hamlin,” she said, as soon as the maid’s back was turned. Her voice faltered a little; but it was from sudden surprise, not from hesitation.

“Oh, Annie, dear, you’ll find that you can’t!” exclaimed Mary Leigh; “you’ll find it impossible.”

“At all events, you’ll have to put it through your aunt,” suggested Marjory.

“Through Aunt Claudia?” cried Anne. “Do you think she will make him feel it? Why, she will answer that such things are going on all round us, and worse ones. No; I shall speak to Mr Hamlin himself: he is the proprietor of Fremley; and he is responsible.”

“You’ll never be able to do so,” insisted Mary; “you think you will, but you can’t. Fancy saying all that to a man—and to a man who is in love with you!”

page: 170

“What must be done, must be done,” answered Anne. “It’s not a question of liking or disliking. Mr Hamlin’s a man, and I am a woman, and I daresay men and women don’t talk about such things. But Mr Hamlin is the proprietor of Cold Fremley, and that’s all I have to do with.”

The Leighs looked at her with incredulous astonishment. It seemed so simple to her.

previous
next