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

(Continued)

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MISS BROWN.

CHAPTER II.

WHILE Anne was being indoctrinated with her cousin’s philosophical theories, Hamlin had little by little let himself be drawn into the little clique of more mystical and Bohemian pre‐Raphaelites whom Edmund Lewis had collected round Madame Elaguine. The old‐fashioned, long‐established æsthetes, who believed that artistic salvation resided solely in themselves and their kith and kin, and who strangely muddled together the theories of an esoteric school and the prejudice of the untravelled Briton, decidedly set their face against Madame Elaguine. They had not liked Anne Brown page: 4 because she was not sufficiently engaging; but they thoroughly hated Sacha Elaguine because she was too fascinating.

“A nasty, ignorant, frivolous little woman,” said Mrs Spencer, who was the spokeswoman of the party; “a woman with no sense of responsibility whatever. Did you hear the way in which she spoke of those horrible French painters? That she actually dared to talk to papa about that Monsieur Page, vulgar, base creature that he is!”

And the older people, and the women of the æsthetic world—the spinsters with dishevelled locks and overflowing hearts, who kept little garlanded lamps before the photographs of puny English painters and booted and red‐shirted American poets, all agreed with her. But the younger men merely laughed, and neglected the solemn, smut‐engrained parlours of Bloomsbury, the chilly, ascetic studios of Hampstead, for Madame Elaguine’s curious, disorderly, charming house in Kensington—the house patched up with old lodging‐house page: 5 furniture and all manner of Eastern stuffs and brocades, crowded with a woman’s nick‐nacks, strewn with French novels and poems, and redolent of cigarettes and Russian perfumes. For there was in this delicate, nervous little creature, eaten up with love of excitement, something which acted as a spell upon most men; and it was curious to see how she managed to make them all in love with her, and at the same time excite no jealousy.

“Do you think Circe’s pigs were jealous of each other?” asked Mrs Spencer, when this peculiarity was pointed out to her by Chough. “Reduce people to a certain level, and they will be satisfied with equality.”

Lewis explained it as being due to Madame Elaguine’s magnetic power. Whether the Russian had been fully converted to his spiritualistic theories, or, indeed, whether it was possible to make her believe seriously in anything, it is impossible to say. But she had caught the spiritualistic infection from Lewis as a tinder catches fire. Nothing in the world page: 6 could suit her better: spiritualism appealed to her love of excitement and mystery, to an idealistic and mystical strain which made her hanker after strange supersensuous contacts and occult affinities; moreover, if ever there was a woman of whom one might believe that she could vibrate with disembodied passion, and come in contact with an uncorporeal world, it was this emaciated, nervous, hysterical creature, who lived off coffee and cigarettes, and lived, as it seemed, only with her restless mind, and not at all with her frail, incapable body.

“I feel sometimes,” she would say to her friends, “as if I mixed with the living as smoke mingles with air—seeing them move before me, but unable to clutch them or be clutched by them, coming in contact only with their passions. I feel as if I could more easily live with the dead—mix more easily with them. It is terrible. I sometimes fancy that I shall fall in love with some dead creature, and my life be sucked away by him,”—and she gave a little shudder.

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Cosmo Chough listened spell‐bound with admiration, twisting and untwisting his long black whiskers. What a woman was this! And he ruminated over a new chapter of his Triumph of Womanhood, of which Sacha Elaguine—“Sacha quite short,” as she bade her friends call her—should be the heroine.

Edmund Lewis smiled his sensual lazy smile, which one knew that he imagined to be the prototype of the cruel and lustful mysterious smile of the men and women, and creatures neither one nor the other or both, who came from beneath his fantastic pencil.

“Has it never occurred to you,” he said, in his luscious voice, stooping over Madame Elaguine’s chair, “that you may rather be a dead creature yourself—a vampire come to suck out some one’s life‐blood?”

“Confound that Lewis!” thought Chough. “Why must such ideas occur to him, a mere damned painter, and not to me, who am a poet?” and he made a note of the vampire.

Hamlin was standing by, smoking his cigar‐ page: 8 ette cigarette sullenly. He did not like these sort of liberties which Lewis took with his cousin; he had even of late warned her that, although his friend was an excellent fellow, too great intimacy with him might prove disagreeable to her.

“What a carrion‐feeding fancy you have, Lewis!” he exclaimed, frowning. “One would think you lived on corpses, in order to be more in harmony with those beasts of spirits of yours.”

Lewis laughed triumphantly; but Madame Elaguine, to his amazement, cut him short by saying—

“Your idea may be very amusing, Mr Lewis; but I don’t think it is exactly the style of thing for a man to say to a woman.”

Lewis, who was never abashed, merely raised his eyebrows.

“I thought you were superior to your sex,” he answered.

“If Lewis dare to talk to you like that,” whispered Hamlin to Sacha, “I shall horsewhip him one of these days.”

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Madame Elaguine pressed his fingers in her little hot hand.

“You are good,” she answered, in what was like the buzz of a gnat, but infinitely caressing; “but poor Lewis means no harm: he is very bon enfant. You are too pure and proud to understand other men. Ah, Anne is a happy woman!”

The last words were scarcely more than a little sigh to herself; but Hamlin caught them, and reddened.

“Anne is very cold,” he said briefly; then added, as if to justify himself in his own eyes—“I suppose all very passionate natures are.”

Sacha shook her little thin childish head.

“Oh no—not all.”

Miss Brown went but rarely to the house of Hamlin’s cousin. She was extremely sorry for the poor little woman’s misfortunes; and asking herself what she would have been had she had Madame Elaguine’s past, she often admired how the Russian had kept her independence and self‐respect, and serenity and cheerfulness. page: 10 Yet, while she believed herself fully to appreciate Sacha, and invariably defended her against the jealous prudery of Mrs Spencer and her clique, Anne somehow felt no desire to see much of her. She set it down to her own narrowness and coldness of temper. “I am too one‐sided to have friends,” she used to say to Mary Leigh; “I feel that I don’t do justice enough to people, however much I try, and that my heart does not go out to meet them enough. I think I would do my best for them; but I can’t love them or be loved.”

Poor Mary Leigh was silent. Anne—this beautiful noble, distant, somewhat inscrutable Anne—was the idol of the enthusiastic Irish girl. She had often longed to tell her so; she longed, at this moment, to put her arms round Anne’s neck, and say quite quietly—“I love you, Anne;” but she had not the courage. How much may this sort of cowardice, called reticence, cheat people of? The knowledge that there is a loving heart near one, that there is a creature whom one can trust, that the world page: 11 is not a desert,—all this might be given, but is not. And the other regrets, perhaps throughout life, that word which remained unspoken, that kiss which remained ungiven, and would have been as the draught of water to the wearied traveller.

Anyhow Anne, while thinking that she liked Madame Elaguine, somehow did not care to see much of her. What she could do for her she did willingly. Madame Elaguine wanted the child to learn English, but made a fuss about letting her have a governess.

“My child’s mind must be my own mind,” she said. But as she went on grieving at little Helen’s ignorance, and her own incapacity, from want of schooling and want of strength, to teach her, Anne offered to teach the child together with the little Chough girls, who were still her pupils. Madame Elaguine was rapturously grateful; but Helen was so completely spoilt, that she could be brought to Anne only when she fancied it herself, and Anne found her so demoralised that she really page: 12 did not like to bring her in contact with the Choughs. “When poor little Helen is ten, then you must moralise her,” Madame Elaguine would say; and Helen was within week of being ten, and Anne, much as she disliked asking Madame Elaguine anything, urged that she should begin to be taught. Moreover, Anne’s time was too much taken up reading under Richard Brown’s directions, and her thoughts were too much preoccupied to make her feel at all sociable, even had she not felt an instinctive repugnance to the sort of company, headed by Edmund Lewis, which she knew she would meet at Madame Elaguine’s.

However, one evening she could not refuse Sacha’s invitation, more especially as the latter, evidently to please Anne, had invited her friends the two Leighs. It was a grand spiritualistic séance. Madame Elaguine was in great excitement, and Edmund Lewis was radiant. But Hamlin looked bored and pressed.

“I hate all this vulgar twaddle of spiritual‐ page: 13 ism spiritualism ,” he said impatiently to Anne. Anne loathed it: the triviality disgusted her, the giving up of one’s will to another revolted her, and she could not understand how a woman could endure to be handled and breathed upon by a man like Lewis. Mary Leigh was half excited and half amused; Marjory, the strong‐minded scoffer, had determined to unmask some sort of trickery. The séance, to which Edmund Lewis had brought a famous professional medium, was very much like any other séance: a darkened room, a company of people partly excited, partly bored; expectation, disappointment, faith, incredulity; moving of tables and rapping, faint music, half visible hands.

“The whole boxful, machinery complete, all the newest tricks, eighteenpence,” as little Thaddy O’Reilly fiippantly remarked to Anne. How could Madame Elaguine have patience with such rubbish? wondered Miss Brown. What excitement could that excitement‐loving little woman, with a real mystery in her own life, find in all this stale shibboleth?

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“You can’t think what a strange, delightful sensation I have at these moments,” said Sacha to Hamlin, as her little soft hand touched his. “I seem to feel the whole current of your life streaming through me, and mingling with mine. It is like an additional sense. Do you understand that, Anne?”

“No,” answered Anne, briefly. “I feel Mr Hamlin’s fingers touching mine, and that’s all.”

Hamlin somehow admired Anne’s answer; he was glad it was so,—had she felt like his cousin, something would have spoilt in an ideal of his; and yet Anne’s coldness annoyed him.

“The spirits are reluctant; there are too many sceptics in the room,” said Edmund Lewis, angrily. “Great as is the power of some of us—as, for instance, of Madame Elaguine—I feel that there is something acting as a non‐conductor,—some very chilly nature here.”

But nevertheless, when the company was giving up the séance as spoilt, mysterious sounds were heard, and something luminous, which was immediately identified as a pair page: 15 of spirit‐hands, was seen to float over the table.

“Spirit‐hands!” whispered Edmund Lewis.

“Wash‐leather gloves painted over with luminous paint,” whispered Thaddy O’Reilly.

“A wreath!” whispered Madame Elaguine.

Something round, like a wreath, did seem to float, supported by the spirit‐hands. Some said it was oak, others cypress, others myrtle; but it soon became apparent that it was bay.

“For Hamlin!” whispered the guests to each other.

The wreath floated unsteadily over the heads of the party; but, as it passed Marjory Leigh, that evil‐minded young materialist quickly snatched at it, but it was whisked away by the indignant spirits. There was a murmur of indignation; but indignation turned into triumph when suddenly the wreath reappeared, and hovered for two good minutes over Hamlin’s head. There was a cry of admiration, and Madame Elaguine clapped her hands.

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But Marjory Leigh struck a light, and lit the candle by her side. She could see faintly the excited faces all round, and among them the pale face of Anne Brown, scornful and angry, fixed upon that of Hamlin, who was flushed, hesitating, surprised.

“I am glad the spirits have such good taste in poetry,” said Marjory Leigh, quietly; “but it is a pity that they should not have crowned Mr Hamlin, like Petrarch and Corinne, with real laurels.” And she stretched out something in the palm of her hand. Every one crowded round, and took it up by turns.

It was a leaf, torn and broken, of green laurel which she had pulled off when the crown had passed over her; but the green laurels were masses of stamped paper, and left a green stain in the hand.

“It does smack a little of a French pensionnat de demoiselles distribution of prizes; you will get the little book dorésur tranches, ‘Avec l’approbation de Monseigneur l’Archevêque de Tours,’ and ‘Prix décerné à M. Walter Ham‐ page: 17 lin Hamlin ,’ written inside, at the next séance,” cried Thaddy O’Reilly. “Well, it is consoling to see how our beloved dead keep up the simple habits of the living.”

There was a titter. Madame Elaguine burst out laughing. Hamlin laughed, but he looked black as thunder.

“You brought that piece of green paper with you!” cried Lewis furiously at Marjory Leigh. “You brought it to insult and delude us! It is disgraceful.”

“My dear Lewis,” said Thaddy O’Reilly, gently, “remember that you are still a gentleman, and not yet a spirit.”

“Had I known that there was to be any crowning, I should certainly have brought something better than paper laurels,” said Marjory, fiercely. “I never thought spirits were reduced to such expedients as these.”

The séance came to an end. The lamps were lit. The medium dismissed with considerable contumely. Edmund Lewis went away in a huff; and Madame Elaguine, who page: 18 cared in spiritualism only for those strange thrills which she had before described, laughed a great deal about the matter, and settled down to make music with Cosmo Chough.

Hamlin looked as if he wished himself a thousand miles away. He would speak with no one; he was angry with his cousin for having let him in for such a ridiculous scene, and angry with the rest of the company for having witnessed it; he had no command over his looks; and while Madame Elaguine’s curious, warm, childish voice throbbed passionately through Schumann’s songs, or while people took their tea and talked, he sat aside, in the doorway of the next room, like a whipped child.

“What a baby Walter is!” whispered Madame Elaguine, laughing, to Chough.

But Anne did not laugh. She felt the humiliation not of the paper laurels, but of that radiant look which she had seen in Hamlin when the lights had first been lit. And she was indignant with Hamlin for tak‐ page: 19 ing taking this ridiculous business so tragically, and at the same time sorry for his poor, wounded, unsympathised‐with vanity. She left the piano, where she had been sitting near Sacha, and went to him where he sat disconsolately looking over a heap of newspapers in the next room.

She did not allude to the scene. What use was it chiding him? He could never understand. She talked to him about the picture which he was painting, about the people, anything to make him feel that she was sorry for him. Hamlin was bitter against his friends; he began once more his tirades against modern art and poetry, its lifelessness and weakness; he again declared himself longing for a different life; he again, passionately and delicately, called upon Anne, in his veiled way, to redeem him. Anne listened sadly. She knew it all so well by heart, this vain talk which was to be the daily bread of her soul.

Suddenly Hamlin’s eye fell upon Marjory page: 20 Leigh, who was seated talking with Thaddy O’Reilly in the recess of a window.

“I wonder you can endure that girl, Miss Brown!” he cried, “much less make her your friend.”

“Marjory may sometimes be rude, and it was perhaps not very good manners to interrupt the séance as she did, although I quite sympathise with her; but she is a capital girl, and just one of the most trustworthy persons I know.”

“She is a humbug!” exclaimed Hamlin, crossly and violently. “Doesn’t she set up for philanthropy, and self‐sacrifice, and all that? and then she goes to parties dressed in that way—a fit beginning for the wife of an East End curate, for a man like Harry Collett!”

“Marjory’s dress does not cost more than Harry Collett’s coats,” answered Anne, quietly. “You men never understand such things, and think because a girl’s dress is showy that it is expensive. Of course Marjory doesn’t wear æsthetic things, and it would be absurd if she page: 21 did; but I happen to know that she made that particular dress entirely with her own hands.”

“I know nothing about the dress, except that a wife of Harry Collett’s should not go about like a peacock. But I do know,” cried Hamlin, fiercely, “that it is disgraceful for a girl engaged to marry, and to marry a man like Harry, to sit the whole evening in a corner, letting a jackanapes like O’Reilly make love to her.”

“Marjory has been sitting with Mr O’Reilly only about ten minutes,” answered Anne, indignantly, “and she has known him ever since they were babies. I think it is too ridiculous if a girl can’t talk to a young man at a party without being treated as if she were committing an infidelity.”

“I don’t say that any other girl talking to any other young man is to blame,” said Hamlin, still hotly; “but I say that a woman who can let O’Reilly flirt with her throughout the evening is no wife for Collett; and I have page: 22 a good mind to write and tell him so,” and Hamlin looked dignified.

Anne did not answer at first. She was filled with contempt for this vain childish ill‐humour, which was taking the proportions of rabid hatred.

“Marjory is my friend,” she at last said, “and I think that the less you talk such nonsense as about writing to Mr Collett, the better.”

“I will, upon my word!” exclaimed Hamlin. “Marjory Leigh is a friend of yours, but she is an infamous flirt all the same!”

“Why does Mr Hamlin glare at me like that?” asked Marjory of Anne a little later. “One would think it was my fault that the spirits crowned him with paper laurels and not with bay‐leaves.”

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CHAPTER III.

ANNE had forgotten all about the séance, when, about a week later, Mary Leigh arrived at Hammersmith in a state of extreme excitement.

“What is the matter, Mary?” asked Anne, wondering at her flushed face, which was usually so quiet.

“Nothing—nothing,” said Mary Leigh, looking impatiently at some visitors who were present. “I spoilt two copper plates this morning, and shall have no etchings worth exhibiting. I suppose that has put me out of sorts.”

But the visitors had scarcely turned their backs, when Mary Leigh turned suddenly towards Miss Brown.

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“Oh Anne dear, a dreadful, shameful thing has happened! and I have come to you to know what it means, because I can’t help thinking that Mr Hamlin has had something to do with it, and poor Marjory is so miserable.”

“What is it?” asked Anne, a vague terror coming over her.

“Why, Marjory got this letter to‐day from Harry Collett; he has been staying with his mother at Wotton for the last week. Read it, and you will understand.”

Miss Brown took the letter, evidently much pulled about and read and re‐read, from Mary Leigh, and smoothed it out and read it slowly; while her friend sat by, looking anxiously at her face.

The letter was from Marjory’s intended. Harry Collett told her, with a dignity and gentleness, a desire not to hurt the one who had hurt him, and an incapacity of hiding his great pain, which nearly made Anne cry, that his eyes had at length been opened to the undesirableness of a mar‐ page: 25 riage marriage which, however much wished for by him, could not satisfy all the claims of a nature llke Marjory’s.

“Much as I have looked forward to our marriage,” wrote poor Harry, “I could not possibly be happy if I suspected that it did not give you everything which you have a right to require from life. I thank God for having sent me a warning in time, for having let me understand what your generosity and my infatuation would have hidden to me—namely, that your thoughts have, despite your will, turned elsewhere; that your nature requires a life of greater cheerfulness and variety than I could hope to give it. And, indeed, I am beginning also to understand that I was trying to reconcile the irreconcilable—that a man who has elected a life among the poor, has no right to share its privations with any one, much less with any one dear to him; and I see that I was on the verge of committing the sin of sacrificing your happiness to my vocation, or rather to my unmanly desire to page: 26 have the hardness of my vocation sweetened at your expense. Please do not fancy that I think at all badly of you; I think badly only of my own blindness.”

But the poor curate’s angelic nature could not resist the temptation of a fling at his supposed rival.

“I am only surprised—but my surprise may be due to my ignorance,” he added, “at the person who engrosses your thoughts. I should never have thought you could seriously care for a shallow creature like O’Reilly. I wish you to be happy, but I fear you will not be solidly happy with him.”

“Do you understand?” cried Mary Leigh, impatiently; “some one has written to Harry some horrid lies about Marjory and Thaddy O’Reilly. Oh, I think it is too shameful! Marjory, who has not seen Thaddy O’Reilly more than twice in the last six months; and,” added Mary Leigh, with an agony in her voice, “I fear—oh, I fear—Anne, that it must have been Mr Hamlin who did it.”

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Anne did not look up from the letter. She was very white, and her face full of shame.

“I fear it must,” she answered, half audibly.

“But what is the meaning of it?” cried Mary. “What can Mr Hamlin know about the matter? Why, he scarcely ever sees Marjory. I don’t believe he had seen her for nearly six weeks before that party at Madame Elaguine’s. Oh, Anne, do you think it is Madame Elaguine, that horrid little Russian, who did it?”

“Oh no,” answered Anne, quickly, “I know Sacha Elaguine has not done it; I don’t believe she is capable of doing it.”

“Then you think? . . .”

“I fear—I fear Mr Hamlin did it.”

There was a dead silence. Poor Mary Leigh was torn by her indignation for her sister, and her pain at the shame cast upon her admired Hamlin, and through him upon her adored Anne.

“What can I do? If only I knew the grounds of the accusation,” she said desper‐ page: 28 ately desperately , “I know I could explain them away to Harry. I know that Marjory could, but she won’t.”

“Has Marjory not answered Mr Collett?”

Mary Leigh shook her head.

“Marjory is too proud and self‐willed. She is disgusted with Harry. She won’t hear his name mentioned; it is useless. Oh, it is dreadful to see people who care for each other so much separated in this way, by a mere vile groundless calumny, which one cannot even refute.”

Anne passed her hand across her forehead.

“Mr Hamlin has done it,” she said slowly, and with an effort, “and he must undo it.”

How can one make him undo such a thing?” cried Mary, hopelessly.

“I will tell him that he was wrong, and make him write to Harry Collett.”

“Oh Annie dear, you are good”—and Mary Leigh threw herself on Anne’s neck—“for I know how dreadful, how terrible it must be for you to tell him that he has acted badly.”

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“It is not the first time,” answered Anne, mournfully. “Leave me the letter, will you, Mary dear?”

Mary Leigh left the letter with Miss Brown; and that evening, as Anne was sitting with Hamlin after dinner, she suddenly dashed into the subject.

“Do you remember saying, the other night, at your cousin’s, that you would write to Harry Collett about the flirtation which you took it upon yourself to imagine between Marjory Leigh and Mr O’Reilly?” asked Anne.

Hamlin looked puzzled.

“I remember something or other,” he said evasively.

“Did you write to Harry Collett?”

“I had occasion to write to Collett about some books I had left at Wotton, and which I wanted him to bring up to town on his return.”

“But did you mention about Marjory and Mr O’Reilly?”

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“I may have”—Hamlin spoke absently—“yes, I suppose I did. What of it?”

“What of it?” cried Anne, indignantly; “why, this much, that you have made two people perfectly miserable, and that Marjory’s marriage with Mr Collett is broken off,” and she handed him the letter.

Hamlin looked at it with an air of puzzled indifference.

“I don’t understand what it’s all about,” he said, coolly and serenely, returning the letter to Anne.

“Then you did not say anything about Marjory to Mr Collett?”

“Yes—I did—I certainly think I did. I can’t exactly remember what it was. You know how one writes letters; one forgets the next day.”

Anne looked at him with wonder. So after having, momentarily at least, made two people as unhappy as was well possible, this was how he took the revelation of the results of his doings.

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“Mr Hamlin,” said Anne, sternly, “you know that you never believed that Marjory Leigh was really flirting with O’Reilly; and you know that you wrote to Harry Collett, and made him believe that she cared for another man.”

“I don’t know anything about Miss Leigh’s doings. I remember noticing her talking very assiduously that evening with Thaddy. Perhaps it was all fancy of mine; I have no doubt it was. I just mentioned it to Collett as I might mention anything else. I never dreamed that it would annoy him.”

“You thought it would merely annoy her?” asked Anne, reproachfully.

“I really know nothing about the matter. I’m not responsible for what I may have thought or written a week ago, much less for all these complications, which I never dreamed of.”

“Did you suppose, then, that Harry Collett would be utterly indifferent to being given to understand that Marjory cared for another page: 32 man, and was not the fit wife for an East End curate, as you expressed it?”

“I don’t know. I wrote, and thought no more about it. If they have gone and quarrelled about it, I’m very sorry—and that’s all I can say.”

Hamlin’s tone was bored and slightly impatient. He had evidently not the smallest shame or regret for what he had done.

“Since you are sorry—since you did write that to Collett,” said Anne, trying to speak as gently as possible—“you will, I trust, do what you can to repair this mischief. Marjory Leigh is too indignant with Harry to answer him at all. Will you write to him and tell him that it was all a mistake—all owing to your having been annoyed with Marjory on account of that laurel crown business—and that there was no foundation for all you said? You will make amends, won’t you? Do write at once.”

Hamlin had risen from his seat, and his face had taken a curious obstinate look.

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“I’m very sorry I can’t obey you, Miss Brown,” he said, “but it appears to me that you wish me to write myself down a liar. If these people choose to fall out because of a word of mine, I see no reason to apologise. It is their concern, not mine.”

“Was it your concern to write to Collett, then? Was it your concern to take such a responsibility?”

“Every one may write whatever passes through his head. I thought Miss Leigh a flirt last week; I don’t now. As to responsibilities, I repudiate such things.”

“No one can repudiate such things,” cried Anne. “You have done mischief, and with a few strokes of the pen you can repair it. Oh, you must write, Mr Hamlin—you must.”

“If I write,” answered Hamlin, hotly, “I shall just tell Collett that I do think Miss Leigh a flirt. I cannot refuse to write, but I refuse to eat my words. Have you paper and a pen?”

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He had gone to Anne’s writing‐table. Anne put her arm over it.

“You have told a falsehood once, you shall not tell it twice,” she said.

“I said that merely to show you how impossible your request was. After all, my dear Miss Brown, a man does owe something to himself and to his name, and there is such a thing as proper pride.”

“Is there?” answered Anne, and the words were like drops of freezing water. “I thought,” she added, the remembrance of what he had answered when she had entreated him not to slander himself in those sonnets “Desire,” “that your school considered it legitimate for a man to say that he had committed no matter what baseness, even those which he had not. But I see,” and Anne’s indignation blazed up, “that you want sometimes to be considered wicked, but that you succeed only in being mean.”

“I think that is a little hard upon me,” he answered mournfully and bitterly, and left the page: 35 room. He was thinking of all he had done for Anne—all that he had done and left undone.

Anne remained seated, looking into the fire, for some moments. Then she went to her desk and took paper and an envelope.

“DEAR MR COLLETT,” she wrote slowly, “Mary Leigh has just shown me your letter to Marjory, which has greatly shocked and grieved me. As I know that the person who misled you about Marjory and Mr O’Reilly, between whom there has never been a shadow of a flirtation, is Mr Hamlin, I feel bound to tell you, not only that to my knowledge Marjory has not seen Mr O’Reilly except once since your departure; but also, as having been present on the occasion of the supposed flirtation, that Mr Hamlin imagined the flirtation, and wrote to you about it merely because he was in an ill temper, and because Marjory had annoyed him that evening by detecting a fraud in the spiritualistic séance in which we were engaged. Mr Hamlin has himself just told me that he page: 36 does not any longer believe in the flirtation, and had no notion of creating any mischief. So, as he is not writing to you himself, I feel bound to tell you the real state of affairs, and I trust you will immediately let Marjory know that your suspicions were groundless, as she is very unhappy, and indignant with your letter.—Believe me, dear Mr Collett, yours sincerely, ANNE BROWN.”

Anne stopped several times in course of writing, and read and re‐read her letter. Hamlin had refused to make amends; well, she must make them for him: the matter was simple, and it was Anne’s character, whenever she saw the right course, to take it without hesitation, however painful to her. Like many very honest and firm people, she had something destructive in her temper; she could, as Sacha Elaguine had said, sacrifice herself and others with a sort of sullen savage satisfaction. It was a humiliation for Hamlin, but he had deserved it; it was a bitter humiliation for herself, but her page: 37 debt of gratitude towards Hamlin forced her to take the consequences of the bad that was in him as well as the good. To admit that Hamlin had, from mere womanish ill‐temper, calumniated a friend, wantonly and thoughtlessly made two loving natures mistrust each other, and that he had then refused to repair the mischief of his own making,—this was intolerably bitter to Anne; still it had to be done. She put the letter on the hall table, and bade the servant post it without delay. Then she felt the full ignominy of the matter; and her whole nature recoiled from Hamlin’s. Nay, it did not recoil; there was no reality to shrink from. Anne no longer felt horror as she had done when he had given her that poem about Cold Fremley; she rccognised that his fault was negative, that his moral evil was moral nullity—the utter incapacity in this man, who had acted so chivalrously towards her, of perceiving when he was doing a mean thing. And the thought that she would be chained for ever to the side of a man whose whole page: 38 nature was merely æsthetic, who was wholly without moral nerves or moral muscles, filled her with despair.

The next day, Hamlin sent word that he had to go and see some pictures at Oxford, and would be away for two days. Anne felt a vague hope that he was ashamed of himself. Madame Elaguine called, and with her came Cosmo Chough. The conversation, to Miss Brown’s annoyance, turned upon the spiritualistic séance of the previous week.

“What a fool Walter is!” exclaimed Sacha. “Fancy his moping in a corner because the spirits crowned him with paper laurels! I can’t understand a man not having more brass, not putting a better face on things. But Walter is a curious creature: in many respects he is not a man but a child. He has seen a great deal of life, and yet in many things he is like a girl of fifteen.”

“Mr Hamlin,” said Anne, evasively, “has an essentially artistic nature; the realities of the world don’t appeal much to him.”

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“Unless an artist feel the realities of the world,” said Madame Elaguine, eating some of the petals of the roses that were at her elbow, “his art will be very thin. Life must stain the artist with its colours, or his art will be tintless.”

Anne had often said those same words to herself; yet somehow she knew that in Sacha Elaguine’s mouth they had a different meaning; and she felt it, when, with her curious, half‐childlike, and yet infinitely conscious smile, she turned to Chough.

“Don’t you think so, Signor Cosmo?”

Cosmo Chough pretended that he understood, as he always did, whenever he thought that passion and the Eternal Feminine were in question; he tightened his black moustachioed lips into a long grimace, and bowed in deferential agreement.

“Of course,” said the little man, sticking his single eye‐glass in his eye, “we all know that our friend Hamlin will never get out of life all that perfume, that narcotic and bitter‐sweet page: 40 fiavour, which some other men taste, to be poisoned for ever, with their first mouthful of honey. Hamlin is, in some respects, a little more and a little less than a man.”

“A goose, in short,” laughed Sacha.

“He is, purely and simply, an artist. Passions, senses, all the things which belong to other men’s personality, belong to him only as factors of his art. And this is perhaps not to be regretted, but to be rejoiced in. There is terrible danger of the artist being swallowed up by the man. Of the poets whom God sends on earth, two‐thirds are lost to mankind: their passions, which should be merely so many means of communication between their soul and the universe, eat them up; or rather they feed themselves on what should become the world’s honey. And even of those who are not lost entirely, how many are there not whose lives are engulfed by passions; to whom, alas! what they sing is but the wretched shadow of what they feel!” And Chough sighed, and fixed his eyes on his page: 41 lacquered boot‐tips, as much as to intimate that he, who lived on mutton‐chops and spent his life nursing an epileptic wife, was of that Caliph Vathek kind.

Madame Elaguine laughed; but Chough thought it was at Hamlin, and frowned.

“Herein lies Hamlin’s advantage; he is the pure artist. And, mark me,” he said, looking fiercely around him, “he is none the worse for that. No, rather the better. I know no man to compare with Hamlin as a mere person; to compare with him not merely in genius, but in kindliness of temper, in purity of soul, in delicacy of thoughts. He is not merely a great artist, but a work of art; he is like a picture of Sir Galahad vivified, or like a sonnet of Dante turned into flesh—and I think Miss Brown will agree with me.”

“Mr Hamlin,” said Anne, slowly, “is a very generous man and a very chivalric man, and,” she added, feeling as if Madame Elaguine were looking into her soul, and as if she must read ingratitude written in it, “I feel that I am page: 42 indebted to him not merely for all he has done for me, but for the way in which he has done it—”

“Oh no, no!” exclaimed the polite little poet, to whom Anne was quite the goddess, “don’t say that, Miss Brown; you can never owe anything to any one. Whatever a man can do, is a tribute which his nature forces him to lay down at your shrine.”

“Yes,” mused Madame Elaguine, following out the pattern of the carpet with her parasol “indebted—that is how one must feel towards Walter—indebted for the pleasure, &c., &c., of so charming an acquaintance; but love—one can’t love where there is only artistic instinct to meet one—”

“I know nothing about such matters,” said Anne, quietly.

“But, perhaps—Hamlin may be a sort of child of genius, and the man, the man who feels may come later,” finished the Russian.

“When people don’t feel, they don’t feel,” said Anne, sternly; “I mean—morally.”

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“By the way,” exclaimed Chough, “I am reading such a delightful book—have you ever read it, Madame Elaguine?—The Letters of Mademoiselle Aïssé—”

“Who was Mademoiselle Aïssé?” asked Anne absently, forgetting that experience had taught her that it was safer not to inquire too curiously into Mr Chough’s heroines.

“I suppose she was some improper lady or other—all your poetic ladies were, weren’t they?” asked Madame Elaguine. “Something like your Belle Heaulmière, whom you insisted on talking about at poor Lady Brady’s party, although I kept making signs to you the whole time.”

“Improper?” exclaimed Chough. “Mademoiselle Aïssé was the soul of virtue—the purest woman—of the eighteenth century.”

“Tell us about this purest woman of—the eighteenth century,” laughed Sacha.

“She was the daughter of kings; her name was originally Ayesha, like the wife of the Prophet—but she became a slave, and was sold as page: 44 a child to M. de Ferréol—I think that was his name—who was ambassador at Constantinople. M. de Ferréol sent her to his sister‐in‐law in Paris to educate. Aïssé grew up the most refined and accomplished woman,—you should read her letters—perfect gems!—and marvellously beautiful. Life was just opening to her, and love also, when M. de Ferréol returned from Constantinople, and said to this exquisite, proud, and pure‐minded creature: ‘You are my slave; I bought you, I educated you; now love me.’”

Chough paused and looked round him to watch the effect of his eloquence. But his eyes fell upon Anne. She was very white.

“Well—and what did Aïssé answer?” asked Madame Elaguine.

“Aïssé answered—let me see, what did Aïssé answer?—oh, I should spoil your pleasure were I to tell it you. I will bring you the book, dear Madame Elaguine, and you shall tell me what you think of it.”

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Anne felt that she had betrayed herself. To Sacha, she hoped, she believed not—but to Chough. The little poet, in his trumpery way, was really attached to Anne, whom he considered as his guardian angel; and perhaps his affection had made him understand.

“What became of Mademoiselle Aïssé?” asked Anne, some time later, as she stood by the piano where Chough was playing.

Chough looked up. “Oh—why—she—in short—afterwards—she died.”

“Would you like to see the book?” asked Madame Elaguine; “I have some others on hand at present. Mr Chough shall send it to you—”

“Oh no, thank you,” answered Anne, “I have a heap of books to get through; and—I don’t care what happened to Mademoiselle Aïssé.”

“You are very hard‐hearted, Anne.”

“She would not have objected to M. de Ferréol if she had remained a mere little Turkish slave‐girl; she would have thought page: 46 him a sort of God. She had no business to let her education make her squeamish.”

“A nasty old ambassador!” said Madame Elaguine. “I think it was awfully hard upon her, poor thing! And was she in love with some one else, Mr Chough?”

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CHAPTER IV.

WHEN Chough first told her the story of Mademoiselle Aïssé, it was as if Anne had been suddenly confronted by her own wraith, surrounded by strange and tragic lights; and the shock was very violent. But Miss Brown was too honest not to see after a minute that between her and Aïssé there was an unfathomable difference. M. de Ferréol was a mere experimentalising old roué, who had had a mistress prepared as he might have had a goose fattened; and what he claimed of Aïssé was her infamy. Anne’s conscience smote her; she was very ungrateful. And she thought over all those scenes at the Villa Arnolfini, at Florence, nay, here in England not so long ago; she thought of Hamlin’s page: 48 generosity and delicacy of mind—of the quixotic way in which he had bound himself while leaving her free—of the chivalrous way in which he had dowered her, making her feel almost as if all this money, which placed her on his own level, was her own inheritance, and not his charity. She remembered all the respect, which was more of a brother than of a lover, with which he treated her—the constant manner in which he hid all her obligations to him, never letting any taunt or harsh word of hers get the better of his resolution that Anne should feel that she owed nothing to him, and that he craved for her love as he might have done for that of a queen. And it came home to her how pure, nay, how poetically and romantically noble was the love which he asked for; and she felt almost wicked when she reflected that what he wanted was to make her into the very highest thing which a man can make a woman—a sort of Beatrice, a creature to love whom will be spiritual redemption. All these things did Anne say to herself; but page: 49 it cost her an effort, and the strain could not be kept up. The fact was that she had, in her terror of being unjust, refused to listen to her own plea. But it came back to her like an overwhelming flood. She could not love Hamlin; her soul recoiled from contact with his as her body might have recoiled from the forced embrace of a corpse: such a union, it seemed, would mean the death of her own nature. To be Hamlin’s wife, to spend all her life by his side, hopelessly watching his growing callousness to everything for which she felt born,—to feel one generous impulse after another gradually waxing feebler, one energy after another for good becoming paralysed by the deathly moral chill of his utter heartlessness,—was this not much worse than any mere dishonour of the body, this prostitution of the spirit? Aïssé’s soul at least was free; her Ferréol could not deprive her of her moral freedom, her aspirations, her powers of self‐sacrifice; but with her, Anne Brown, it was different. And she repeated to herself with bitterness the page: 50 warning words which Richard Brown had spoken in vain so long, long ago: “You will be his to do what he chooses; worse than his slave, his mere chattel and plaything.” How little Dick had guessed the much more terrible meaning which these words would come to have for her!

Unconsciously Anne’s mind reverted to the business of Marjory and Harry Collett; and her mind’s eye rested for a moment upon those two lovers, to each of whom, through whatsoever of discrepancy there might be, the other represented his or her highest ideal, that other’s opinion his or her highest conscience; not passionately in love, like Othello and Desdemona, or Romeo and Juliet, but persuaded to their inmost soul that in living by each other’s side, and sympathising with and helping in the other’s work, each would be fulfilling his or her best destiny in the world. Another woman situated like Anne might have let herself be tempted into cynicism by unconscious envy; but this was not page: 51 within Miss Brown’s honest, and open‐eyed, and stern nature. She never once said to herself—“Marjory and Harry will awake one day from their dream.” She had dreamed, alas! and had awakened; but she recognised that these two were broad awake, and that their happiness was a reality. Anne looked at these two lovers for a moment, but without any envy or bitterness. It never even entered her mind to covet their happiness, to imagine that she might have a right to anything similar. Anne, though leaning towards socialism in her theories, was not in the least a communistic mind; she did not ask, “Why should I not get the same advantages as my neighbours?” She envied no one the prize in the lottery; she begged only for a chance. To be the wife of a man whom she loved, and who loved her—to be the companion and helpmate of some one who was striving after her own ideals; such hankerings had never passed through her mind—or, if they had, they had long since been banished. What page: 52 Anne longed for, what her soul hungered after, was merely negative freedom. Freedom to sympathise and to aspire—to do whatever little she still might to carve herself out a spiritual life of her own, no matter how mean and insignificant; freedom to live in that portion of her which was most worthy of life. To gain her bread, no matter how harshly; to be of some use, to teach at a school or nurse at a hospital; nay, to be able merely to encourage others to do what she might not,—this was all that Anne asked; and this, in her future as the wife of Hamlin, as the queen of this æsthetic world, which seemed to poison and paralyse her soul, was what she knew she could not have, what she knew she must do without.

“I am a selfish brute,” she suddenly said to herself, “wasting the time which is still mine,”—and she took down her books of political economy, and tried to fix her attention upon them, and think out a scheme of the lessons and exercises which she would give to the shop‐girls at the Working Women’s Club. page: 53 But what was the use of doing this? Hamlin, she knew, loathed the notion of her teaching at the Club; he would never let her teach there; and, once his wife, she understood him sufficiently to be fully aware that he would consider himself completely empowered to make her do or leave alone whatever he chose.

Still Anne tried to work on courageously. In the afternoon she went to hear one of Professor Richmond’s lectures. This was the fervent young positivist whom Cousin Dick so much admired, and whose intense moral convictions had done a good deal to keep Anne out of the slough of desponding pessimism round which she had been some time hovering. Andrew Richmond was a man who had many slanderers, many of whom he has now left behind him—their misrepresentations having been more long‐lived than he; for he had passed through many phases of thought, and, being perfectly honest, he had never been able to become unjust to any, and thus had made enemies not merely among the men whose page: 54 beliefs he had abandoned, but among those also whose beliefs he had accepted without accepting their follies. He stood very alone; and it was perhaps this isolation—this obvious indifference of the man to all save his own reason and conscience—which added to the solemnity of his convictions; and made him appear, more than any one else, in the light of a priest of morality, of a prophet of the advent of justice. Anne had never spoken to Richmond; but she felt that, of all human souls, this one did the most to keep up the courage of her own. This was one of the last discourses which the poor dying positivist ever delivered; and it was the more earnest for the sense of his approaching end. He spoke this time, or, as his ridiculers called it, he preached upon the relation of duty to progress; upon the value of each good impulse carried out, and each evil one resisted, in making morality more natural and spontaneous in the world; and he insisted especially upon the danger, to people whose ideas of right and wrong rested page: 55 no longer upon any priestly authority, of the individual sophisticating himself into the belief that in yielding to the preferences of his own nature he was following the highest law, and that any special usefulness ought legitimately to be bought at the expense of departing from the moral rules of the world.

“The danger of our epoch of moral transition,” he said, “lies in the temptation of the individual to say to himself—‘If I am willing to sacrifice myself, have I not a right also to sacrifice the established opinions of others?’”

“I detest that man Richmond,” Madame Elaguine had once said; “he puts an end to all self‐sacrifice.”

“If you mean the sacrifice of one’s peace of mind and social dignity to the passion of another person and to one’s own, he certainly does,” Richard Brown had answered sternly.

At the door of the lecture‐room Anne met her cousin.

“Are you driving to Hammersmith?” he asked.

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“No; I am going to walk.”

Anne had made it a rule for the last two or three months to deprive herself of all luxuries. She did not wish to enjoy everything that she had a right to; she had also a stern pleasure in doing the things most repugnant to her; and a walk through the London streets, in murky spring weather, was to Anne’s Italian temper, nurtured with æsthetic delicacy, one of the most disagreeable of expeditions.

“But it is drizzling and horribly muddy,” said Richard Brown, looking at her as he buttoned her ulster over her massive figure. “Surely Hamlin will be very much shocked if you come into the house with mud on your shoes? But if you are really going to walk I will accompany you, if you don’t mind, because I’m going in that direction.”

“Where are you going?”

“To Hammersmith; I have some business there.” And Brown looked once more at his cousin as he opened his umbrella over her.

“Will you take my arm, Anne?” Richard page: 57 Brown was not a lady’s man, and there was something awkward and unaccustomed in his request.

“I am big enough to take care of myself, I think, Dick. And I know you hate having women to drag along; I have watched you going into dinner‐parties often enough.”

“It is out of my line, you’re right.”

For some time they walked along in silence through the black oozy streets, crammed with barrows of fruit, round which gathered the draggled dripping women, their babies huddled up in their torn shawls, their hair untidy and dank beneath their once lilac or pale‐pink smut‐engrained bonnets; the cabs, shining blue‐black, ploughed through the mud; the heavy drays splashed from gutter to gutter; the houses were black and oozy; the very raindrops on the railings looked black; the sky was a dirty dull‐grey waste; only the scarlet letter‐boxes stood out coloured in the general smutty, foggy, neutral tint.

“Do you remark that public‐houses are the page: 58 only places which make an attempt at architecture and ornament?” said Dick grimly, as they passed the ground‐glass windows and colonnade and coloured glass globes of one of these establishments. “Did it not strike you, Italian as you are, that in this country, which has invented high art, the only things called palaces, except those inhabited by royalty, are pot‐houses? Why do your æsthetic friends keep all their æstheticism for indoors? Why don’t they build themselves houses which will be some pleasure to the poor people who pass?”

Always that indirect attack upon Hamlin and his friends: it was just and reasonable; yet, coming from Brown, it somehow grated upon Anne.

“That will come later,” she said. “The first thing is that the upper classes become accustomed to beautiful things. You can’t expect them to mind hideous outsides to their houses if they are indifferent to hideous insides. I don’t think,” she added boldly, “that page: 59 æstheticism has had much generosity of aspiration in it so far, except in isolated men like Ruskin and Morris; but I am sure it will eventually improve some matters even for the lower classes.”

“Nero rebuilt Rome, didn’t he,” sneered Brown, “after he had amused himself burning it down?”

They fell to talking about the lecture, and then about Richard Brown’s plans.

“I hope to get into Parliament next elections,” he said, “and then I shall retire from Mr Gillespie’s firm.”

“Why? They say you can make a big fortune if you keep on.”

“I have quite money enough; I am a rich man. You wouldn’t have thought that possible, would you, Nan, two or three years ago? Almost as rich as Hamlin, do you know, young woman?” and he turned and looked at her. There was a curious expression, what she could not understand, except that it was defiant, in Dick’s face.

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“I am glad to hear it. It is a fine thing to have money; it enables one to do generous things—like what Mr Hamlin did for me, for instance.” Anne could not have explained why she felt bound, at this particular moment, to throw Hamlin’s generosity in her cousin’s face.

“Ah, well,” answered Brown, suppressing something he had been about to retort, “of course I could not formerly have done what he did for you; but I would have gladly spent every shilling I had, Anne, to educate you, so that your father might have been proud of you.”

“I know you would, Dick—you are very kind.” And yet, thought Anne, until he had been piqued by Hamlin’s offer, he had forgotten all about her. “But why do you intend to leave your business?”

“Because I want to give myself up entirely to studying social questions, and my business would suffer if I gave it only partial attention.”

And he proceeded to explain the various questions which he intended studying, the page: 61 various evils into whose reason he wished to look.

“Reform has been too much the leisure‐time amusement of men,” he said. “People have thought that it requires less training to touch, nay, to sound, social wounds, than to set a broken arm or dress a wound. We must find the scientific basis for our art. And it is a very, very long art, and life is very, very short. For my part, I feel that my knowledge is to what it should be what the knowledge you may get out of a school primer of physiology is to the knowledge required by a great surgeon. I don’t suppose I or any of my generation will succeed in doing much practical good; but we shall have made the public ready for certain views on our subjects, and rendered it easier for our practical followers to get their education. There is nothing very glorious to be done at present: no giving out of brilliant new ideas or making of successful revolutions; only patient grubbing at facts and patient working on the public mind.”

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“Is that enough for an ambitious man?”

“One must pocket one’s ambition. What we want is knowledge, not conspicuous personalities.”

Anne was silent. Dick’s words were like military music to her. Oh to be able to join him, to march by his side, to carry his arms!

“Go on Dick, please. It does one good to hear of these things.”

Dick went on.

“You must not overwork yourself,” said Anne, anxiously. “Just think if you were to break down, as so many men have done—as poor Richmond is doing.”

“Oh, I am strong. The only thing which concerns me is my sight. I find I am already unable to read of an evening. There’s no danger of blindness, but the doctor says I must not work by candle‐light. Oh, there’s no mischief. I shall engage a secretary. I know plenty of young men who would come, even for a small salary. There is the son of one of our head workmen, a very intelligent page: 63 lad, of whom I am thinking; but perhaps he is not sufficiently educated yet. I must have some one who knows German and French, and so forth.”

Anne felt a lump in her throat. Oh that she had been a man, instead of being this useless, base creature of mere comely looks, a woman, set apart for the contemplation of æsthetes! If she had been a man, and could have helped a man like Richard Brown!

“But I am not certain of my plans just yet,” added Brown, and he dropped the subject. They walked on for some moments in silence; then he began questioning her about Lewis, and Chough, and Dennistoun.

“Chough is a dear good little man,” said Anne; “he is very absurd and vain, and fond of talking and writing about wicked things, which I am sure he doesn’t understand any more than I. But he is so self‐sacrificing, and warm‐hearted, and true. Dennistoun, poor creature, is very morbid and faddy, and, I think, hates me; but I am very sorry for him. page: 64 As to Lewis, he may be a very good man, but I don’t like him—”

“I suppose you have heard what people say,—that Mr Lewis had rather a bad influence upon Hamlin some years ago—in short, made him take to eating opium, or haschisch, or something similar?”

“No—I had never heard that,” and Anne seemed suddenly to understand her instinctive horror of Lewis.

“Does Hamlin see much of him now?”

“A great deal—more than I can at all sympathise with. Lewis is rather a sore subject between us; he knows I don’t like him, and yet he is very fond of him.”

“I suppose Lewis flatters him very much.”

“I suppose so.”

Anne resented being thus cross‐questioned about Hamlin, but she was quite unable to prevaricate in her answers—her nature was too frank, and Richard’s questions were too direct.

“You are not very happy with Mr Hamlin,” he suddenly asked, or rather affirmed.

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Anne flushed, but did not answer at once. “I have an unlucky temper,” she said, after a moment. “I am too exacting with people. I can’t get out of my own individuality sufficiently, I fear.”

Richard looked at her with pity, and at the same time with that implacable scrutiny of his.

“You feel your nature narrowed by all this æsthetic world around you,” he said. “You find these men selfish, mean, weak, shallow—”

“Chough is not selfish. As to Dennistoun and Lewis, I told you I disliked them.”

“You are equivocating, Anne. You know I am not speaking of Dennistoun, or Lewis, or Chough. You find that Hamlin drags you down, freezes all your best aspirations.”

Anne turned very white and trembled.

“Mr Hamlin is a poet, an artist; he is not a philanthropist or a thinker. But he has done for me more than I believe any man has ever done for any woman.”

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“But—you don’t love him?”

Richard had stopped as they walked along the Hammersmith embankment. It was a very quiet spot, and not a soul was out in the thin, grey, drizzly fog.

Anne hesitated for a moment.

“I feel very much attached to Mr Hamlin on account of his generosity towards me—and I feel I can never repay it.” She did not look in Brown’s face as she answered, but stared vaguely at the river, at the dripping trees, the grey willow branches pulled backwards and forwards by the grey current; at the houses opposite, and the boats dim in the fog.

“You don’t love him?” repeated Richard in a whisper. “Anne, answer me.”

“I don’t see what right you have to ask me such a question, Richard.”

“No? Well, I do—and you shall see why. You are not his wife; why should you try and tell lies? Do you or do you not love Hamlin, Anne?”

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Anne looked for a moment at the swirling waters, at the willow twigs whirled hither and thither.

“I suppose I do not.”

There was a pause.

“You do not love him, and you still contemplate marrying him?”

“I contemplate nothing at all. Mr Hamlin has not yet asked me to marry him, and perhaps he never may.”

“Nonsense, Anne. And when he does ask you, what will you answer?”

“I shall answer Yes. I am bound to do it. Mr Hamlin has done all, all for me. If he wish to marry me, I cannot refuse him the only thing which I can give in return for his generosity.”

Richard Brown burst into a strange shrill laugh.

“The only thing which you can give in return for his generosity!” he exclaimed, but always in the same undertone. “Who first made use of those words, Nan? The only page: 68 thing which you can give in return for his generosity! Did not some one use those very words to you, long, long ago in Florence, when Mr Hamlin first proposed to educate you, and your cousin said that you were running the risk of selling yourself? But, by God! you shall not sell yourself, Anne. Do you know what you are giving him in return for what you call his generosity?—that is to say, in return for the whim which made him educate a beautiful woman, that he might show her off and have a beautiful wife, if he chose. Do you know what it is? Your love, eh? You have none to give; you have said so yourself. Your body? your honour? Nay, every prostitute, every kitchen slut can give him that. And I suppose such things do not exist for a delicately nurtured lady, a ward of Mr Walter Hamlin’s. No; you are giving him your soul, selling it to him, prostituting it as any common woman would prostitute her body.”

“Richard,” said Anne, hotly, “you are my page: 69 cousin, and have been very good to me, but that gives you no right to insult me.”

“My words are ugly; and what are the things which you would do? Anne, you shall listen to me,” and he laid his hand heavily on her arm.

“You can make me stand here,” she answered icily, “but you cannot make me listen.”

“I can make you listen. Oh, Anne,” and his voice became suddenly supplicating, “do not be womanish, and refuse to listen because I speak disagreeable things. Answer me, on your honour: have I a right to let you sacrifice your happiness, your honour, your usefulness in the world, to let you defile and ruin all these, by becoming what is equivalent to a mere legalised mistress—the wife of a man whom you despise? You have a debt towards Hamlin: I grant it, though you must be well aware how little real generosity there was in his choice of you; but you have a debt also towards yourself. You have no right to pay for Hamlin’s kindness by the falsehood, the page: 70 degradation, of marrying a man whom you do not love, by the sacrifice of all the nobler part of your nature which that man will crush out in you.”

“If there is anything noble in me, Dick, no one can ever crush it out; and I do not see what real degradation there will be in honestly carrying out my part of a bargain which has been honestly carried out towards me.”

Richard paused for a minute.

“But,” he cried, “you mistake, Anne; you forget what that bargain was.”

“No, I do not. Mr Hamlin promised to marry me whenever I should ask him to do so, and—”

“And he left you free, perfectly free to marry him or not as you pleased!”

He left me free; and it is just that generosity of his, in binding himself, and not me, which obliges me, if he wants me, to say Yes.”

“That is an absurd quibble, Anne. If Hamlin’s leaving you free bound you all the more, why, then, he did not leave you free, and you page: 71 need not be bound by a piece of magnanimity which never existed.”

“On the contrary, you are quibbling, Dick. You know very well that Mr Hamlin meant to leave me free; and it is for this intention that I am, more than for anything else, grateful.”

Richard turned round.

“Fool that I am!” he cried, “to believe in you and not see through your woman’s tergiversation! You say you do not love Hamlin, but you do; you may despise him, feel his emptiness—I grant it all—be dissatisfied with him. Oh, I know it! But you love him all the same, and you would not for the world give him up, even if he asked you to.”

Anne laughed bitterly. “The usual generalisations about women. Because I will not do a dishonourable thing, I must needs be a self‐deluding fool. No; I do not love Hamlin. I love him no more than this!” And Anne broke a twig off a bush and threw it into the stream.

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“You do not? Then, if Hamlin were to release you,—if he were to say, ‘I want to marry some one else,’—would you—would you not regret him, his poetry, his good looks, his fame, his fortune?”

“It would be the happiest day of my life!” cried poor Anne, despairingly.

“Then that day must come. Anne, I cannot see you sacrificed. I cannot see you lost to yourself and to the world. You must not marry Hamlin. I will provide for you; I will take care of you. You shall help me in my work!”

“Poor Dick!” said Anne gently, touched by this enthusiasm, “you are very good; but I fear—I fear I shall never have any need of your help; and I would never burden another man—never have a debt again—if I were remitted this one.”

“You would have no debt,” cried Brown. “Anne, I am not a woman’s man. I don’t know how to say such things. But ever since I have got really to know you, I have felt if page: 73 only I could have such a woman as that always by my side—to tell her all my plans, and be helped in all my work . . .”

Richard looked straight before him: Anne could see his face quiver. A coldness came all over her: a coldness and a heat. She felt as if she must cry out. It was too sudden, too wonderful. The vision of being Richard Brown’s wife overcame her like some celestial vision a fasting saint. But she made an effort over herself. “I am bound, bound,” she said; “but if ever I be released . . . ”

She hesitated: the longing for what she knew herself to be renouncing was too great.

“Anne,” cried Richard, seizing her hand, “I love you—I love you—I want you—I must have you!”

It was like the outburst of another nature, a strange, unsuspected ego, bursting out from beneath the philanthropist’s cool and self‐sacrificing surface.

That sudden contact gave Anne a shock which woke her, restored her to herself; it page: 74 horrified her almost. She made him let go her hand.

“If ever I be released,” she said, “I will remain free. I do not love you, Dick.”

She was sorry the moment after she had said it.

“I have gone too far,” cried Richard.

“Good‐bye,” said Anne. “We have been talking too long—and—you won’t resume the subject, will you?”

There was a command, a threat implied in her voice. Brown somehow felt ashamed of himself.

“Not since you wish it,” he said flatly.

“Good‐bye,” said Anne. And she walked away and entered the house—Hamlin’s house.

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CHAPTER V.

THE sudden revelation of her cousin’s feeling was more than a shock, it was a blow to Anne. In her loneliness, in her dreary waiting for the hour of sacrifice, Richard Brown’s friendship had, almost without her knowing it, been her great consolation and support. It had given her a sense of safety and repose to think that, in the midst of all the morbid passion and fantastic vanity which seemed to surround her, there was a possibility of honest companionship, of affection which meant merely reciprocal esteem and sympathy in the objects of life; wholesome prose in the middle of unhealthy poetry. This was now gone: Richard Brown loved her, wanted her; it was the old nauseous story over again; the sympathy, the page: 76 comradeship, the quiet brotherly and sisterly affection had all been a sham, a sham for her and for himself. Was Mrs Macgregor right, and was there, of really genuine and vital in the world, only the desire of the man for the woman and of the woman for the man, with all its brood of vanity and baseness, and all its trappings of poetry and sympathy and self‐sacrifice? Anne looked round her, and she saw men like Chough and Dennistoun and Lewis, base or doing their best to become it; Hamlin, her girlish ideal of poetical love, had gone the same way; and now the one man who had remained to her as an object of friendship and respect, her cousin Dick, had preached against selfish æstheticism, had talked her into his positivistic philanthropy—had conjured her to respect her nobler nature, her soul, her generous instincts—had supplicated her not to degrade herself,—nay, had quibbled with right and wrong, had urged her to break her trust,—what for? that he might satisfy his whim of possessing her. The solitude and the page: 77 chilliness around Anne had increased; she wished for good, but she disbelieved in its existence. Add to this that she felt she was now no longer at liberty to see so much of Dick as she had formerly done; instead of a consolation and a support, his presence seemed to her now more of a danger and an insult. So she waited, hopeless and solitary, for the hour of the sacrifice to strike; for Hamlin to claim her. To fulfil that debt, to suffer that moral death‐blow, seemed to her now the one certainty, the one aim of her life.

Such was the bulk of Miss Brown’s condition; but there were streakings of another colour which made it, on the whole, only more gloomy. The possibility, the vision which had for a moment been projected on to her mind, of becoming Richard Brown’s wife, of sharing in all those thoughts and endeavours which were her highest ideal, would return to her every now and then in strange sudden gleams. And this possibility, or rather this which was an impossibility, made the page: 78 real necessity of her life only the gloomier for the contrast. Anne had vaguely aspired after a life of nobler sympathies and stronger aims, but she had never gone so far as to dream of sharing the life of her cousin; and she thought that, had matters been different, had she been free, had Hamlin not claimed her, had Richard not loved her (for his love, his selfish tempting her away from her duty, seemed to her a sort of dishonour to him and her), she would have had the fulfilment of her most far‐fetched desires within her grasp,—merely increased moral numbness, the sullen pain of resignation, towards a fate which was too slow in coming.

Anne did not pay much heed to Hamlin and his doings: it seemed to her, whose life in the last months had appeared like years, that it was always the same monotony; Hamlin was waiting for her to fall in love with him, watching whether she was not in love already; offering her, in those vague, Platonic, elegiac speeches of his about the necessity of page: 79 a higher life of which he no longer had much hope, of a pure passion which he feared he was unworthy to experience, an opportunity for saying “I will teach you how to love.” Veiled in Dantesque mysticism, muffled in Shakespearian obscurity, such was, to her who understood and was expected to understand, the gist of all the poems which he wrote. The day would come, Anne saw it clearly, when some trifling quarrel, some trifling jealousy, some rebuff to his vanity, or some sense of more than usual vacuity, would get the better of Hamlin’s patience, and when he would say to Anne that he loved her and that her love was his life. She had gone over it all so often in fancy, with the bitter sarcasm of understanding that whole, to her so tragic, little comedy. But had she been a person more observant and penetrating than she was (for her long delusion about her cousin Richard plainly shows that she was neither), or had she been less engrossed in her own conception of events, Miss Brown might have noticed, page: 80 as spring turned into summer, that certain slight changes were taking place in Hamlin. He had, without any intentional rupture, taken to seeing much less of Chough and Dennistoun; he scarcely ever visited his old master, Mrs Spencer, or any others of the school; he refused invitations to parties, or if he had accepted, found them too great a bore at the last moment; the only house, except that at Hammersmith, which he frequented, was Madame Elaguine’s. He used to attend all her spiritualistic séances, and alternate between finding spiritualism a vulgar fraud and a mystic possibility; he used to quarrel with Edmund Lewis, and at the same time to seek his company more than any other man’s. He would vacillate also between the most extreme opinions about his cousin Sacha. One day he would entertain Anne by the hour about her virtues, her talents, her persecution; the next he would be captiously fault‐finding, accusing Madame Elaguine of being a brainless little flirt, a mere ordinary Russian, who page: 81 cared only for excitement and being perpetually en scène.

“What is the use of asking people to be intense when it is not their nature?” Anne would ask, not without bitterness in her own heart. “If you find a pleasant friend, be satisfied and thankful for your good luck.”

Be it as it may, Hamlin was restless, subject to strange ups and downs of humour, sometimes in a state of vague unaccountable cheerfulness, sometimes horribly depressed. To any one but Anne it would have occurred that there must be some novelty in his life. But Anne did not see; indeed, from a sort of instinct, she observed Hamlin as little as possible: she had loved him when she had not known him; the less she saw, except his gentle, chivalric, poetic, idealising surface, the better.

But one day—it might be a fortnight after the memorable walk home from Richmond’s lecture—Anne found among her letters one, evidently delivered by hand or dropped into the letter‐ page: 82 box letterbox , the address upon which. puzzled her considerably. It was not merely that the handwriting was unknown to her, but that it was so utterly unlike any human handwriting that could be conceived; it was like a child’s elaborate copy of print, but executed with a precision, and at the same time a certain artistic chic, of which a child is incapable. Had she been in Italy, Anne would have expected to find within that envelope one of those marvellously written out and illuminated sonnets which certain needy individuals, counts and marquises fallen into bad circumstances and anxious to redeem their only bed from the pawnbroker’s, serve up at regular intervals to English and Americans, “the many illustrious qualities of whose mind and heart, as well known as their noble family,” are supposed to include munificence to beggars. To Anne’s astonishment the letter which she found actually was in Italian. But it was Italian of Stratford‐atte‐Bow, and her first impulse was to burst out laughing. But the page: 83 next moment she reddened with surprise and indignation.

MADONNA MIA,” began this epistle, which had evidently been concocted with a ‘Decameron’ and a Baedeker’s travelling phrase‐book, and which sounded like English written by a German waiter who should have taken to Spenser after the first dozen lessons,—“Inasmuch as it always is the duty of the honest to warn the unsuspecting, and the most honourable are always those who suspect least, your true friend and well‐wisher desires you may keep an eye upon the machinations of a base woman; and be on your guard against the friendship [underlined] of cousins.”

Anne turned the note round and round, and read and re‐read it, her heart beating as if she had received a slap in the face. “The friendship of cousins.” Her first thought was that this was an allusion to herself and Richard Brown; some one had understood what she had not, and was suspecting what was not true. But then her mind picked up that other page: 84 mysterious phrase, “the machinations of a base woman.” The cousins were not herself and Dick, but Hamlin and Sacha Elaguine, and that was the base woman alluded to. It was as if a great light had shone in Anne’s face; she was dazzled, dazed. The friendship of two cousins! Was there, then, more than friendship between them? Did Hamlin love Sacha, or Sacha Hamlin? Anne gave a great sigh; but it was a sigh of relief,—the sigh of the drowning wretch who is dragged on shore—the sigh of the hunted fugitive who sees his pursuers turn back. The friendship of cousins? Why, then, she was saved, she was free! But her excitement lasted only a minute. Was she to believe an anonymous letter, evidently malicious, evidently intended to slander an innocent woman, to sow discord or to ruin her own happiness? It was evidently from an enemy of Madame Elaguine’s; it could not be from a friend of her own; for a friend would have spoken to her clearly and openly, or would have spared her what, in the eyes of the world, page: 85 which regarded her as Hamlin’s affianced bride, must have been a horrible revelation. It was an infamous or ridiculous calumny. From whom did it come? Anne thought for a long time; she counted up her own enemies and Madame Elaguine’s. At one moment she suspected Edmund Lewis, at another Mrs Spencer; but she was too honest to credit any one of them with such a piece of treachery. Madame Elaguine’s mysterious enemies—yes, it must be they! thought Anne; it must be a new trick of theirs, a device for alienating her from her new friends. Anne’s heart sank. Why must such terrible temptations be put upon her?

Miss Brown meditated for some time upon what she ought to do. She felt indignant with the mysterious author of the letter; and she felt that, as it contained a slander, it was her duty to let those whom it accused know the whole matter. Should she show that paper to Hamlin? Once in her life, Anne gave way to a movement of cowardice. That letter, page: 86 shown by her to Hamlin, would, she knew, bring the catastrophe. Hamlin would be furious and delighted; he would think she was jealous and unhappy; he would on the spot declare that he loved her, and ask her to be his wife. This consummation of her sacrifice, which, in the dull apathy of the last fortnight, she had almost prayed for, now terrified her. When it came, she was ready; but to hasten it—to bring it down untimely on herself—to do that, Anne had not the heart. After all, it concerned Madame Elaguine most, and she would doubtless have some clue to the writer of the letter, and consequently take the matter less to heart. Anne determined to show the letter to her. She thought she would go to her at once, or write; but a faint, faint, almost unconscious instinct of self‐preservation bade her wait awhile; wait till she should have an opportunity of seeing Madame Elaguine in the natural course of events.

Miss Brown had made up her mind that the mysterious letter had no sort of truth in it; yet despite this decision, which lay, cut and page: 87 dry, on the surface of her consciousness, a hidden imperceptible movement was going on within her. She seemed suddenly to remember things which she had not at the time noticed, to see things which had not before existed, and must still have been there yesterday as well as to‐day. Things which had been meaningless acquired a meaning; things which had seemed without connection began to group themselves. A change had taken place of late in Hamlin; he had become solitary and morose, and more than usually up and down in spirits—he had seen only Sacha and her. How much had he seen of Sacha? Anne did not know, but she imagined a great deal. Then she remembered how he had taken to finding fault with the little woman, to running her down systematically to himself and to Anne. Could it be that he felt himself tempted to break his engagement? Anne knew Hamlin too well by this time to credit him with that. If such a thing should happen,—if, finding insensibly that page: 88 Anne was not what he had imagined, disappointed with her coldness, hurt by her censoriousness, and attracted by a woman who was everything that she was not—Hamlin should ever come to feel for Sacha more than mere friendship, it was not in his nature to perceive his danger and to struggle; he would let himself go to sleep in the pleasantness of a new sensation, he would drift on vaguely, and start up in surprise.

A new love was for him the most poignant of temptations,—a new love in its still half‐unconscious, Platonic, vague condition; and he was not a man to resist such a temptation; indeed he had gone through life with the philosophy that a poet may dally with any emotion, however questionable, as long as he does not actually commit a dishonourable action. Oh no, Hamlin’s ups and downs could not be struggles or remorse; so Anne decided that it was all fancy, all calumny. And she determined to give the letter to Sacha on the first opportunity.

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Madame Elaguine at last made up her mind that her little Helen ought to learn something; and with the impulsiveness of her nature, she determined that she, whom she had always kept under her own eyes, should go to school. Why there should be such a swing of the pendulum, and why Madame Elaguine should not rather hire a governess to teach the child in her own house, Miss Brown could not explain, except by the capriciousness, the tendency always to be in extremes, of Hamlin’s cousin. Anyhow, Sacha had determined that Helen must soon go to school, and she had written to Anne begging her, before the child went, to permit her to share for a week or two the lessons which Miss Brown was giving the little Choughs. “I know,” she wrote, “that my poor little child is not fit to be turned loose among other children yet; I know she is too ignorant, too sensitive, too much accustomed to life with her elders. To learn with Mr Chough’s children, to play with them, will take the keen edge off; and also, I know, my page: 90 dearest Anne, that if anything can make this (I fear, alas! alas! to my shame) over‐sensitive and self‐willed little savage more human, more desirous of being good, and of raising herself, it will be your influence. I have often felt what it would have been for me to have had a friend like you, and I feel what it will be for my child.”

Anne was touched by this letter. Poor Madame Elaguine, although she did care too much for Baudelaire and Gautier, and did tell too many anecdotes about married women’s lovers and married men’s cocottes for Anne’s taste, was yet a good and brave little woman; and she must be helped, if one could help her. And Anne was doubly indignant about that anonymous letter she put in her pocket, and went to call on Hamlin’s cousin.

Madame Elaguine was in one of her unstrung moments. Anne found her lying on a sofa, a heap of books about her, reading none, fidgety and vacant. She brightened up for a moment on Miss Brown’s entry, and page: 91 received her with a kind of rapturous gratitude, quite out of all proportion; but she speedily relapsed into her depressed condition. Anne thought it better not to introduce the business at once.

“I want to know,” she said, “why you are suddenly so anxious to send your little Helen to school, when you said, only a few days ago, that you could not bear even that a stranger should have any influence upon her.”

Madame Elaguine hesitated. “Oh, dear Anne,” she suddenly exclaimed, “I am a poor, weak, vacillating creature, always in excesses. You must have pity on me. I suppose it is just because I was so horribly selfish about my child that I have been crushed suddenly with the necessity of sacrificing my feelings completely. It comes home to me—and oh, you cannot think what it means to me!—that I am ruining my child, that she will turn out merely another myself—another wretched, weak, unhappy creature, with just morality enough to make her utterly page: 92 miserable, and just common‐sense enough to make her feel her own silliness. It is a terrible thing for a mother to say; but it is true, and I must say it: I am not fit to bring up my own child—I am not worthy to do it.”

Anne looked at the Russian, who had raised herself on her sofa convulsively, and thatched and torn to pieces a flower which was lying on her, with a great look of pity.

“I am not bad!” cried Sacha—“I am not bad! I want to be good; but I can’t. Oh, and I can’t teach my child anything, not even the multiplication table,” and she suddenly burst out laughing.

Anne did not know whether to cry or to laugh.

“I quite understand your wishing that Helen should get the habit of work, and should learn something,” she said, in her business‐like way; “but I cannot see the advantage of sending her to school. She is far too nervous and delicate, and far too much accustomed to indulgence, to get anything but harm from a page: 93 school. Were she a mere strong, sturdy, spoilt child, it would do her an immense deal of good; but a child, you admit it yourself, so morbidly and almost physically sensitive, would only be miserable at school, and probably be terrified by unaccustomed discipline and want of sympathy. Don’t you think it would be wiser to get Helen a thoroughly good governess, so that she could learn something, and yet be in your house?”

“I won’t have a governess; they are all good‐for‐nothings. I won’t have spies in the house!” exclaimed Madame Elaguine, vehemently.

“Nonsense!” said Anne; “how can you talk like that? You know that governesses are just as good as schoolmistresses; and for you and Helen such a plan would be in every way preferable.”

“I won’t have any one in the house to pry into my affairs!” repeated Sacha, hotly. “Helen must go to school.”

Anne felt angry with the little woman.

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“Of course it is for you to choose,” she said; “but I confess I can’t see why you should not have a governess any more than other people.” She felt as if there were something wrong here.

“And do you forget what my life is?” cried Sacha; “do you forget that I am the daily, hourly victim of unseen enemies? Would you have me admit some one to my house, that she might play into their hands, or, at all events, pry into my misfortune?”

Anne had forgotten that. How unjust she was!

“True,” she said; “I think we might find a governess who, even under your circumstances, might be safely admitted into the house. But I can understand your unconquerable aversion to the idea, so we had better look out for a school, and, till one is found, I shall be delighted if you will send Helen to me. I fear I can’t do much for her, but at all events she will meet the Choughs, who are very good little girls.”

Madame Elaguine rose, and, to Anne’s im‐ page: 95 measurable immeasurable surprise, she flung herself on her neck, and began to sob.

“Oh Anne, dearest Anne,” she said, “you are so good to me—so good, so very good—and I don’t deserve it at all—indeed I know I don’t.”

“Nonsense; you are unwell and unstrung about Helen, and you are just making yourself miserable. Do try and be quiet, and reflect that there is nothing whatever to be miserable about.”

Somehow or other Miss Brown, for all her good‐nature, always had a harsh instinct whenever she saw Sacha in such a condition as this—an instinct that the Russian could prevent it—that such fits of tears and abjectness were mere self‐indulgence, and self‐indulgence which was utterly incompatible with Anne’s idea of self‐respect.

But Madame Elaguine could not be reined in. She fell back in an arm‐chair in an agony of hysterical sobbing, mixed with ghastly laughing.

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“It is not nonsense; it is true—it is true; I don’t deserve it. I deserve that you should hate me. Oh Anne, you must hate me; but it is not my fault. I hate him! I have always hated him! I have told him so; but he won’t believe. Oh, indeed it is not my fault. But of course you hate me, you . . .” and she suddenly burst out laughing.

Anne was very white. She had heard and she had understood; but she had no right to have heard or to have understood.

Suddenly Sacha started up and looked strangely about her.

“What! you are here?” she asked, with a start as if of terror. “Oh, what have I been talking about? Oh, I am sure I have been talking nonsense!”

“Poor little woman!” said Anne; “yes, you have been talking nonsense; you are afraid of having a governess for Helen, lest—”

“Ah!” cried Madame Elaguine, with a sigh of relief. “Oh, you don’t know what it is to have such a fit. One feels one is talking lies, page: 97 and yet that one must go on. I never had any such things before they began to persecute me. It is almost the worst part of my misfortune. Fancy seeing, feeling one’s self becoming day by day more abject, and being unable to stop it. Oh, I still feel so frightened! something dreadful must have happened while I had that fit just now. Do call for some tea, Anne, darling; I feel so shaken, as if something had happened.”

“You will feel all right when you have had some tea,” said Anne. “Tell me, have they, have those people been frightening you of late?”

Madame Elaguine nodded. “Only last night; you don’t know what happened. I didn’t intend telling you—look here—but it is that that has put me into such a state,” and opening the door of her bedroom, Sachs pointed to the wall opposite.

Over Madame Elaguine’s bed hung a painted portrait of little Helen; but where the face should have been was a dark spot.

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“Good heavens! what have they done?” cried Anne.

“Oh, they have only cut out Mademoiselle Hélène’s face,” said the Swiss maid, who was sitting in the room, with a shrug. “For my part, I am accustomed to such tricks, and so, I should think, must be Madame also.”

Something cynical and insolent in the woman struck Anne very much.

“How horrible!” she said, leading Sacha back to the drawing‐room. “I can quite understand your being excited to‐day, and feeling anxious about Helen.”

“It is because of that,” said Sacha, with clenched teeth, “that I want to send Helen to school. She will be safer there than here. If things go on as now, I shall have to send Helen to a convent; I am no protection to her.”

“You must marry, and have a husband to take care of you,” said Anne, quietly.

Madame Elaguine turned scarlet. Was she page: 99 afraid of having let out her secret? But to Anne’s surprise, instead of looking anxious, a sudden look of triumphant amusement passed over her face, a strange brazen look, and she burst out laughing—

“Ah yes, marry!—that would be a fine idea!—and whom, pray? Perhaps Lewis or Chough. True—I forgot—he has a wife! Ah no, a rolling stone like me must always be solitary.”

“You need not always be a rolling stone,” said Anne, gently. “But I must go—good‐bye, dear Madame Elaguine.”

At the door she met Hamlin. It seemed to her that he looked guilty, and coloured.

“I have been to see your cousin; she has had another horrid trick played to her. Go up to her, it will do her good to see you; she is very lonely, poor little woman.”

Hamlin was unnerved by the allusion to the persecution. He stood silent for a moment, with a long lingering look on Anne, like a man making a mental comparison.

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“You are very good, Miss Brown,” he said, slowly; “there is no other woman in the world like you.”

“Sacha has been more tried than I,” answered Anne. And Hamlin went up and Miss Brown went out.

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CHAPTER VI.

MISS BROWN did not hand over the anonymous letter either to Madame Elaguine or to Hamlin. She felt that she had now no longer a right to do so. Sacha had, in the vague pouring out of words of that fit which Anne had witnessed, let out her secret; but Anne had no right to use it or to act upon it. She could only watch and wait.

Wait!—but in what a different spirit! Wait, not for the hour of death, but for the moment of freedom, of complete freedom.

“What has happened to you?” asked Mrs Spencer, meeting her on her way back from Madame Elaguine’s. “Why, you look quite another being, Anne—as if some one had left you a fortune!”

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“No one has left me anything,” said Anne. “I feel very happy, that’s all.”

“But where in all this wretched London have you been that you should feel happy?”

Anne laughed.

“I have been to see Madame Elaguine.”

Mrs Spencer frowned.

“Well, that wouldn’t be enough to make me feel happy, I confess. Was Walter Hamlin there? I believe it’s his safest address now, isn’t it?”

“Mr Hamlin was there,” answered Anne, sternly.

“Mark my words!” said Mrs Spencer that evening to her father and husband, and to one or two of those well‐thinking æsthetes de la vieille roche, whom Hamlin had basely deserted. “Mark my words! Anne Brown has got impatient with all this philandering of Walter’s about that precious Russian of his. There has been a grand scene, and Hamlin has come round to reason. I met her returning from that Elaguine woman’s to‐day, and page: 103 she never looked so happy in her life. She said Hamlin had been there, and I know that she gave them both a bit of her mind. She’s a proud woman, Anne Brown, and could squash that little Russian vixen like that!”

“But, my dear Edith,” objected her father, seated among an admiring crowd in his dusty studio at Hampstead, among his ghastly Saviours on gilded grounds, and Nativities, in despite of perspective—“how de ye know that there’s ever been any philandering between ’em?”

“Oh papa, really now you are too provoking!”

“Oh, Mr Saunders, how do we know anything?” chorussed the two or three elderly poetesses and untidy Giottesque painters of the circle.

“P’raps ye don’t know anything, any of ye!”

Mrs Spencer sighed, as much as to say, “See what it is to be the long‐suffering daughter of the greatest genius in the world, and pity me!”

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Cosmo Chough had been reading some of his ‘Triumph of Womanhood,’ lying on the hearth‐rug in the studio.

“Do you think he has proposed?” he asked, darting up, with beaming eyes.

“Proposed! I should think so, and been told not to play such tricks again.”

“Ah!” cried Chough, “thank heaven. I—I—” but he stopped.

“You shall send Anne your Ginevra in the Tomb, papa, as a wedding present.”

“Don’t be in too great a hurry,” said old Saunders; whereupon he was jeered at with all the respect due to so great an artist.

For the first time after so long, Anne felt happy. A load was off her mind. That Hamlin should love Sacha, and Sacha Hamlin, was the miracle which alone could release her, and releasing her, put an end at the same time to the horrible false position into which Hamlin’s self‐engagement to a woman so different from himself created for him also in the future. And now only did it strike Anne that perhaps page: 105 she had no right towards Hamlin to pay off her debt of gratitude at the expense of what might be his future misery as well as hers. Had Hamlin been sufficiently infatuated to wish to marry a woman whom he did not really and solidly love, would it have been right on her part to let him have his way? All these doubts, which she had previously put behind her, as mere selfish sophistry to tempt her from her duty, now rushed home to her. But they came no longer to torment, but to add to the relief, the cessation of bondage. Hamlin would never, she said to herself, have been really happy with her as a wife; and now it happened that he had met the woman who, whatever her shortcomings, seemed to suit him. That Sacha Elaguine was an undisciplined, thoughtless, rather sensuous woman, loving excitement and art, and indifferent to abstract good and evil, Anne fully admitted; but were not these the very qualities which would make her appreciate what in Hamlin was original and charming, and blind page: 106 her, for her happiness (and added Anne, convinced by sad failure of the futility of trying to change people’s nature) and for his, to his weak sides? And Sacha had just that exuberant passionateness, more of the temperament and the fancy than of the heart, which Hamlin required, and which she, Anne, so lamentably lacked. For Sacha also it would mean a new life: it would mean, for the poor, excitable little woman, always defrauded of affection and of an object of adoration, a reality in her life, something to love, to worship, to pet, to flatter—something to make her forget her miserable bedraggled childhood, her wretched married life, her persecution and her maladies. This it would mean to them; and to Anne it would mean . . . Ah! Anne did not dare to think what it would mean for her; she was not yet sure. She might be mistaken, she was still bound to doubt. And still, that great bliss, at which Anne was afraid to look, meant only what to other women would have been a poor gift: liberty page: 107 to gain her bread, to feel and think for herself—a life’s solitude.

Days passed on; and Anne, instead of being, as she expected, disappointed, was confirmed by every little thing in her belief. On one pretext or other, Hamlin was perpetually at Madame Elaguine’s. The latest excuse for seeing her was to paint her portrait; so, for a number of days, Sacha came every morning to the house at Hammersmith, and spent a couple of hours at least closeted with Hamlin in the studio. Anne usually received her, and she frequently stayed to lunch; and Miss Brown could not help feeling indignant at the coolness with which Hamlin amused himself playing with two women: he was perpetually trailing after Sacha, he was perpetually, she felt persuaded, talking about life and love and himself in a way which was equivalent to making love to the little woman; and yet, he would still come and sit at Anne’s feet, and represent himself as the dejected and heartbroken creature whom only a strong and pure page: 108 woman could help. Once, Miss Brown had considerable difficulty in restraining herself when, after a day spent with his cousin, he came in the evening to her, and began the usual talk about his soul being shrivelled up.

“I feel I am not worthy to live!” he exclaimed. “I have become too weak and selfish to enjoy the world; I feel that I am sinking into a bog of meanness and sensuality; and yet I cannot even become the mere beast that I ought—the mere beast that would be satisfied with the mud. I keep looking up, and longing for higher things which I cannot attain.”

“How very sad!” said Anne, icily; “what a pity you can’t make up your mind! it would save you much valuable time. But then, I suppose, it always comes in usefully for sonnets. That is the great advantage of being a poet.”

Hamlin was silent. He had—she felt sure, and she was indignant as if at an affront—imagined that he might tempt her into saying—“I will raise you,” while his poor, giddy, page: 109 irresponsible cousin was being dragged further and further into a passion which she would never recover from—for she, at least, had a heart and he had none.

“You despise me!” cried Hamlin, after a minute.

“I thought your indecision between the bog and the stars rather contemptible, certainly, just now. But I now see that such conditions are as necessary to you as a poet as are your lay figures and studio properties to you as a painter. It was my ignorance.”

Hamlin fixed his eyes on the ground. He looked very weak and miserable, and like a man who feels that he has dishonoured himself in some way. But to Anne it was all merely a piece of acting—the climax of that long and nauseous comedy of self‐reproach and self‐sympathising, of pretending to hanker after evil and good, that was equally indifferent to him,—that comedy which had begun long ago in his letters to her at Coblenz, which she had watched with admiration, and love, and agony page: 110 at first, and with contempt and disgust at last. And she was hardened towards him. She could have said to him—“Go and marry Sacha!” only that at this moment such a notion seemed an insult to his cousin, and that a horrible fear possessed her that he would seize upon that, and try and work her and her anger into this very patchwork of artificial and morbid sentiment over which he was for ever gloating. Once or twice, indeed, it did occur to Anne that perhaps this whole flirtation with Madame Elaguine had been got up by Hamlin for her, benefit; that he was playing with the heart of the foolish little woman (who did not realise that he was making her love him) merely to provoke Anne’s jealousy—to move her by this means, since he had failed by every other. But even if it had been thus begun, and Miss Brown shrank from believing that Hamlin would have been so deliberately base, it was clear that the comedy had become reality—that he cared for his cousin and she for him. Perhaps—perhaps—all this remorse was real page: 111 after all. But Anne’s heart had got hardened against him: she could no longer, do what he liked, believe that there was anything genuine in him.

Meanwhile Hamlin’s perpetual attendance on Madame Elaguine had become apparent to every one; and even Mrs Spencer admitted to her father that Hamlin could not have proposed that day she had met Anne.

“That is to say—mind you, I daresay he actually did propose; but that wretched woman somehow contrived to talk him over again. I believe she’s capable of everything!”

“Well, my dear,” said her father, “it goes a little against your theory that Miss Brown looks just as happy as possible.”

“Because she’s too honourable to believe!” exclaimed Mrs Spencer; and forgetting the many acrimonious remarks in which she had indulged against Miss Brown, and the many times she had sighed at Walter Hamlin taking up with a “mere soulless Italian” instead of with this or the other Sappho or Properzia dei Rossi page: 112 of her circle, she added—“I always knew that Anne was one of the noblest women in the world; and the nobler women are, the less will they believe in the baseness of men. For my part, I think love and marriage are the greatest curses of a woman’s life.”

In which sentiment poor Mr Spencer modestly acquiesced.

“I shall have to warn her some day, if no one else has the courage to do so,” she said. Of course no one else did have the courage. Edmund Lewis became every day more and more offensive in manner to Miss Brown; he hated her, and he enjoyed seeing her what he considered ousted.

Mrs Macgregor, although she went on abusing Madame Elaguine for being the Sacha of other days, lived too much in her bedroom, saw too little of what was going on even in the house, to guess at anything. Mary and Marjory Leigh looked on in wonder and indignation; but Anne’s calm and cheerful manner forbade their saying anything. Did page: 113 not Anne know better than any one how Hamlin felt towards her? and if Anne was satisfied, must it not all be a delusion?

“Besides, Hamlin is too honourable,” said Mary, forgetting about the letter to Harry Collett; “and how could a poet, an artist, prefer an odious, rowdy, hysterical creature like Madame Elaguine to such a being as Anne Brown?” The mere thought seemed a profanation.

“I don’t think Hamlin is a bit noble,” said Marjory, sternly; “and such a little wretch is just likely to pamper his vanity—and Anne is too honest to do that.”

“Every man has a nobler and a baser side,” said Harry Collett, mercifully. “Madame Elaguine (though I think it very uncharitable to hate her because she is a little rowdy, and I’m sure she’s quite innocent) may flatter Hamlin’s worse part. But the nobler will always have its way, and with it Miss Brown. Walter is weak, but he can see the difference between an inferior woman and a superior one. Besides, after all, she is his cousin, and I see page: 114 no reason to go tittle‐tattling because two cousins are friends.”

“That’s the way Harry pays off Hamlin for writing that beastly letter about me!” said Marjory to her sister, when Mr Collett was gone. “How I do hate evangelical charity! how I do wish Harry had just a little of the bad in him!”

Mary laughed, and catching hold of Marjory, kissed her.

“What do you mean?” cried Marjory, indignantly breaking loose.

“I mean, Marjory dear, that though you imagine the contrary, you are very, very glad that Harry is just what he is.”

“Well, perhaps I am. But still, oh, I do hate . . .”

And thus the Leighs, being very happy themselves, forgot Anne Brown’s supposed grievances, even as the best of us, being happy, will forget the wrongs of others.

But there was one person who could not forget what seemed to him the most fright‐ page: 115 ful frightful sacrilege in the world; and that person was Mr Cosmo Chough. He considered himself as the assistant high priest of the divinity called Anne Brown, and he believed that it was his duty to bring back the high priest in person, namely Hamlin, to the worship from which the powers of evil had momentarily seduced him. But he thought it more simple to apply to the offended goddess than to her recalcitrant priest, who, to tell the truth, had treated his vague remarks with considerable scorn. Accordingly, one day (June had come round now) Miss Brown was informed that Mr Cosmo Chough desired to see her.

“How ao you do, Mr Chough?” said Anne, stretching out her hand to the little man, who came in with even more than usually brushed coat and hat, and more than usually blacked boots, his lips squeezed into a long, cat‐like grimace of solemnity, his brows knit gloomily, and walking on the tips of his toes like an operatic conspirator. Mr Chough sat down and sighed.

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“Will you have some tea?” asked Miss Brown, with her hand on the bell.

The poet of womanhood darted up, laid one hand lightly on Anne’s arm, and opening and straightening out the other with an eloquent gesture, said—

“Excuse me. I would rather have no tea. I want your attention—your best attention—seriously and at once.”

Anne could not help smiling.

“You can have both some tea and my best, my very best attention,” she said.

Mr Chough sighed, and waited gloomily until tea had been brought, absolutely refusing to open his lips.

“Have you brought something to read to me?” asked Anne, thinking it might be some new bit of the ‘Triumph of Womanhood,’ which Cosmo Chough most innocently read to all the ladies of his acquaintance, only Anne having the courage to say every now and then, “I think that had better be omitted, Mr Chough. I think people will give it page: 117 a bad meaning which perhaps you don’t intend.”

“I have nothing to read,” answered Chough, solemnly. “I have come to ask your advice about a matter more important than any literary one.”

“You shall have it if I can give any. Go on, Mr Chough.”

“Well, then,” began Cosmo, stooping forward on his chair and frowning, “let me premise that I have two friends whom I greatly value. I am not at liberty to mention their names; but I will call one the Duke, and the other la Marquise.”

“Oh!” cried Anne, laughing, “I fear I can’t give you any advice about such exalted people as that. I am a woman of the people, and have never known a duke in my life.”

“One moment’s patience, dear Miss Brown. This Duke—who lives—well, let us say he has a magnificent hôtel entre cour et jardin in Paris, has been affianced ever since his childhood to the Marquise, who is the most beau‐ page: 118 tiful beautiful and divine woman in the world, as he, indeed, is the most accomplished gentleman, besides being my dearest friend; and they have been looking forward to a union which will make their happiness, and that of their friends, perfect. Do you follow that? But now—” and Cosmo Chough, stretching out one long thin leg, so as to display his small foot and the martial wrinkles of his boot, and propping his elbow on his other knee—“now, mark. There comes into our perfect duet a discordant voice. A certain lady, whom I will designate as the Queen of Night”—and he made his cat’s grimace, and pausing, looked mournfully at Miss Brown, who sat quietly by, bending over a piece of embroidery which she was doing from a design by Hamlin.

“Well!”

“Well, this lady, by some occult power of which I cannot judge, gains possession of the fancy of the Duke—not of his heart,—he still continuing to love the Marquise coralment, as the trouvères say,—and in short leads him, page: 119 without however, as I said, in the least diminishing his passionate love for the Marquise, into acts, or at least appearances, which, to the mind of the vulgar are incompatible with such love. What do you say to that?”

Little by little Miss Brown had guessed what Chough was hiding beneath this grotesque piece of romancing.

“I say that the vulgar are probably right; and that the Marquise, for all the coral love of the Duke, had better throw him over, if she has a grain of self‐respect. Will you have another cup, Mr Chough?”

Anne spoke coldly and indifferently; and Chough, who, despite his vaunted knowledge of the human heart, was the most obtuse of good‐hearted little people, actually prided himself upon having put his case so delicately, that Miss Brown could not even guess as yet that she was alluded to.

“But the Duke would die were he to lose her! The Queen of Night, who is a wicked fairy—une méchante féeune fernme serpent page: 120une mélusine, enfin tout ce qu’il vous plaira” (Chough always liked to show off his French)—“has fascinated only his fancy, not his heart. It would be most unfair if he were to lose the Marquise. Well, to proceed; the remedy would easily be found. La Marquise, like all passionately loving women, is a little cold and proud—tant soit peu hautaine et glaciale—need only thaw towards the Duke. She need only say or make a friend tell him, that she adores him and that he is her sole happiness—and see! the Queen of Night’s spells are forthwith broken by the power of true love—the Eternal Womanhood reasserts its right, and all is happy again. But the mischief is, that there is no means of bringing this home to the lady. Lately, indeed, a trusty and respectful friend, an Italian—a poet of some small distinction, I may add—ventured so far as to acquaint her of the public rumour concerning—I mean concerning the Duke and the Queen of Night—in an anonymous letter . . .”

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Miss Brown suddenly sat bolt‐upright, and fixing her eyes on Chough, said—

“You don’t mean to say that you—you actually concocted that ridiculous missive?”

“Ridiculous missive! What ridiculous missive?” asked Cosmo Chough, striking an attitude.

“Well, I ought rather to say that most ungentlemanly anonymous letter, written in Italian which would make a cat laugh.”

“Ungentlemanly! ungentlemanly!” howled Chough; but in reality what he was thinking of was Miss Brown’s stricture upon the Italian.

“Oh, Miss Brown!” he cried, after a minute, “and it is possible that you should so far have misunderstood the friend who respects you most in the whole world, as to have supposed that that letter had any evil intention? Is it possible that you, who have of all people in the world been kindest to me, who have been as a mother to my children—that you should have such an opinion of me?”

Poor Cosmo had let go all his affectation; page: 122 he wrung his hands in real distress, and he actually seemed to be crying.

“Oh fool, fool that I was, trying to do good, and merely making myself seem an odious ungrateful wretch!”

His sorrow was so genuine that Miss Brown felt quite sorry for him.

“Come, come, dear Mr Chough,” she said, “don’t distress yourself. I think you did a rather improper thing, but I am quite persuaded that you merely wished to do good.”

And she stretched out her hand.

Chough struck his head with his fist.

“Ah, you are good—you are too good—dear, dear Miss Brown! but I shall never recover re cover from it—never. To think I only wished to do good—and you think me a slanderer!”

“Oh no,” said Anne, quietly, “I don’t think it for a moment. I know that all that letter contained was true, except that you were unjust to one of the parties; for I am sure Madame Elaguine is not at all base, and has no conception of what she is drifting into.”

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Chough gaped in astonishment.

“You believe it to be true, and yet . . .”

“How can I help believing by this time what every creature can see, and what every creature, except themselves perhaps, must and does see as clear as the sun at noon?”

Anne spoke very composedly.

“But if that is the case—if you know—why then, how is it that you don’t—well, that you don’t put a stop to it?”

“One can’t put a stop to what has already taken place.”

“Oh, but you can—you can—and it was in hopes of your doing it that I wrote that letter. It is to entreat you to do it that I have come now, dear, dear Miss Brown, to supplicate, to implore you . . .”

“To do what?” There was a freezing indifference in her voice.

“To do what? Why, to do everything and anything! Dearest Miss Brown, I know, I understand fully, that Hamlin has acted unworthily towards you. I know, I admit, that page: 124 to a woman like you—all passion, all nobility—Hamlin’s behaviour must be odious. But would it not be worthy of you to reflect that Hamlin is a poet, and acting merely as a poet must act? A poet is a double‐natured creature, a baser and a nobler nature, and his whole life consists merely in receiving as many and various impressions as both his natures can receive. A poet must know the stars, and know the mud beneath his feet; he must drink the milk and the absinthe of life,—he must love purely and impurely, with his heart, with his fancy, and with his senses—ah, you frown!—well, but such the poet is, such is Hamlin. His soul loves and adores you; what if, at the same time, his baser nature, the satyr in the god, be caught elsewhere? He loves you none the less; yes, he loves you even at the moment . . .”

“I think this all rather disgusting, don’t you, Mr Chough?” said Anne, sternly.

“Nay, have patience—for the sake of Hamlin, for the sake of your own noble good‐ page: 125 ness goodness ! He loves you: and it requires but a look, a word, a message, to make him forget that other love, to make it evaporate like opium‐fumes. Oh say this word—say it—and blow that ugly cloud of impure love from off the fair resplendent face of his devotion to you! Write to him—speak to him. Empower me, oh dearest lady, to tell him that you love him, and that this wretched fancy of his is making you miserable!”

“It is not,” answered Anne, harshly; “it is not doing anything of the sort, and it is no more a fancy than his love for me. As to Madame Elaguine, she is in every way fit to be his wife.”

“His wife!” screamed Chough, and looked as if he would faint; “and you would let your resentment go thus far—you would let the nettles choke the roses, the impure passion choke the pure one, you would sacrifice him and yourself—you would let him . . .”

“I would let him marry his cousin. There is no impurity about it, so please don’t revert to that, Mr Chough. She is just the woman page: 126 who might make him happy; the inclination is perfectly natural and proper.”

Chough started up. “Oh, you saint! you noble heroic woman!” he cried, kissing Anne’s dress enthusiastically.

“What are you doing, Mr Chough?” she asked angrily.

“I am kissing the holiest thing I shall ever touch,” answered the little man solemnly. “Yes! you are a saint, an Alkertis, an Iphigenia! But we will not let the monstrous self‐sacrifice take place! No, by heaven! never, never! You shall not give up your happiness; I will speak to Hamlin. I will tell him all, all—that you love him . . .”

“I do not love Hamlin,” said Anne sternly, pronouncing every word clearly and slowly.

“You do not love Hamlin!—you do not want—”

Poor little Chough was so utterly dumfounded that he had not the breath to finish his sentence.

“You have obliged me to say what I never page: 127 intended to say to any one,” said Anne. “No; I do not love Hamlin; and if he marry his cousin, I shall be happier than I thought I ever could be.”

“You love another!” whispered Chough, his eyebrows and whiskers standing on end.

“Neither him nor any one else.”

“Then why—why have you not told him so? Why make the sacrifice of your inclinations—because, marrying him, you would be—why?”

“Mr Hamlin has done everything for me. I was a penniless, ignorant servant. He had me taught, he gave me his money, he gave me more kindness and trustfulness and generosity than any man ever gave any woman I think, and I must pay my debt. If he wants me, he shall have me. If not, so much the better for me.”

There was a silence. Anne took up her piece of work; Chough sat rapping gently on the table with his finger‐tips, looking wonderingly at her.

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At last Miss Brown spoke.

“You have got my secret out of me, Mr Chough. I don’t believe much in you poets; and I think you are a giddy, often a foolish man. But I think you are a gentleman at heart, and a good man; and as such, I trust you never to let out, either by speech or hint or look, positively or negatively, a word of what I have told you. If Mr Hamlin marry his cousin, so much the better; if he marry me, so much the worse. But what must be, must be. And come what may, I depend upon you, as the only friend upon whom I can rely, to forget all that I have told you to‐day. Will you promise?”

Miss Brown looked very solemn; and Chough was overcome by an almost religious awe.

“I promise never to reveal,” he said quietly, “but you must not ask me to forget; I have neither the power nor the right to forget the best thing I have known in my life. Goodbye, Miss Brown, and God bless you!”

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And Anne, who believed only in right and wrong, felt really the better and stronger for the blessing of the preposterous little poet of Messalina and Lucrezia Borgia, who declared himself to be an atheist when he did not declare himself to be a Catholic mystic.

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CHAPTER VII.

SOME time after this conversation with Cosmo Chough, a circumstance took place which caused great momentary excitement, and considerably unsettled Miss Brown’s mind. The summer had come with a sudden rush; and Hamlin had had the notion of taking his aunt and Miss Brown, and two or three friends, to spend a week at Wotton. Among these friends was Madame Elaguine. That Hamlin should care to take his cousin to the house where she had played so lamentable a part in her childhood; that Sacha should endure to confront those invisible ghosts of her uncle, her cousins, her own former self, of all the shameful past, which haunted that house, was quite incomprehen‐ page: 131 sible incomprehensible to Anne. But day by day she was forced to recognise that she was surrounded by incomprehensible ways of feeling and thinking, that she was, in a way, like a person solitary among mankind from deafness or blindness, from incapacity to put herself in their place; and recognising this, she recognised also, with her unflinching justice, that she had no right to hastily condemn the things which she could not understand. So when Madame Elaguine, on the evening of her arrival at Wotton, insisted on wandering all over the once familiar house, and openly said that she felt a pleasure, the bitter pleasure of self‐inflicted penance, in confronting the past, in humiliating her present self by the company of her former self, Anne merely said to herself that she could not conceive a woman feeling like that—but that, nevertheless, this theatrical and hysterical excitement might, after all, lead to as good a result as her own silent and painful solitary self‐absorption.

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“She is a brazen creature!” Aunt Claudia had cried, when she heard that Sacha was going to Wotton; “corrupt like her father, and fantastic like her mother. She must get Mrs Spencer or some one else to chaperon her in that house, if indeed she wants any one. I shall stay behind. As to you, Annie, you are at liberty to go or not go, of course.”

“I shall go, Aunt Claudia,” Anne had answered resolutely, “because I don’t see that I have a right to imply by my absence that I disapprove of Madame Elaguine’s going to Wotton. I neither approve nor disapprove; and I think that, however little we may sympathise with her notions of self‐humiliation, we must give her the benefit of supposing that she is honest in them.”

So Anne had gone.

The self‐humiliation of Madame Elaguine, and the hours she had spent in her room—she had asked for the room which had been hers as a child—crying over the past, did not prevent her being in excessively high spirits the page: 133 evening following their arrival and the successive one. It would seem as if the painful associations in which she had steeped herself had produced a reaction in her whole nature. She was childishly, almost uproariously gay, played with little Helen the greater part of the afternoon, and after dinner treated the company—that is to say, Anne, Mrs Spencer, Lewis, and Hamlin—to a perfect concert of all manner of wild gipsy songs, Spanish and Russian, sung with a fury which amounted almost to genius; and followed these up with little French songs, old and new, picked up heaven knows where—from operettes, from peasants, from books—the words of which and the astonishing gaminerie with which they were delivered, amused Lewis to fits of laughing, threw Chough into enthusiasm, annoyed Hamlin a little, puzzled poor Mrs Spencer, and made Anne reflect, as charitably as she could, upon the different standards of propriety which seemed to exist for Englishwomen and for Russians.

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Madame Elaguine’s songs made Anne feel quite uncomfortable and angry; but she said nothing, seeing Mrs Spencer, who could tolerate any amount of impropriety as long as it was medieval and poetic, was evidently putting down this French levity as a mark of the Russian woman’s depravity; and she felt somehow, that though she was annoyed herself, and annoyed with good cause, she must not back up Mrs Spencer’s prejudiced indignation.

Cousin Sacha seemed to take a pleasure in vexing Hamlin, in shocking Anne, in making Mrs Spencer think her a wicked creature; she sang on, in her devil‐may‐care, street‐boy way, with a malicious, childish impudence in her face; then suddenly, when she saw Hamlin get positively black at what he considered her bad taste—suddenly dropped from her leste French couplets into a strange, wild, Spanish gipsy song, sad and despairing beyond saying.

She looked very fascinating, as she sat near the window, resting her guitar on her knee, page: 135 her tiny feet and embroidered stockings very visible beneath the lace flounces and frills of her thistle‐down dress; her deep, Russian blue eyes looking, as it seemed, rather into the past than the present, her whole slight, even emaciated, body and face tense with a sort of hysterical emotion.

Suddenly she threw the guitar on the sofa.

“Bah!” she cried, “what is the use of singing sad things when one is sad? and what is the use of pretending to be merry, and shocking people with polissoneries when one feels as old and dismal as at ninety? I hate music.”

And she walked through the French window on to the wide terrace which surrounded one side of the house and overlooked the lawn.

“The only good thing,” she said, “in this world is tobacco‐smoke. If,” turning with affected deference and timidity to Mrs Spencer, who considered a woman who smoked as little short of an adventuress, “you have no objection, these gentlemen and I will have a smoke.”

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“Oh, pray don’t mind me,” snorted Mrs Spencer, stalking back into the drawing‐room, and sitting down near the window.

The three men immediately produced cigars and cigarettes and matches.

“No, thank you, Walter,” said Madame Elaguine; “your cigarettes are too weak for me—too ladylike, like their owner, for a badly brought up woman. I must make mine myself.” And she went into her bedroom, the last room opening out to the terrace, to fetch her box of tobacco and her cigarette‐papers.

In a minute she returned, whistling, in a curious bird‐like whistle, below her breath, and rolling a cigarette in her fingers. Some of the party were seated, some standing. Madame Elaguine came to where Miss Brown was seated, looking into the twilight park.

“Dear Annie,” she murmured, putting her arm round Miss Brown’s neck, in her childish way, and which yet always affected Anne as might the caress of a lamia’s clammy scales.

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“I fear,” she said, putting her face close to Anne, and lowering her voice to a whisper, “that you must have thought me horribly vulgar and undignified and indecent just now. I don’t know why I sang all those nasty songs; I suppose it was to vex Walter. I don’t like them myself. But sometimes a sort of horrible desire, a kind of demon inside me, makes me wish to do something which I know is disgusting; I feel as if I could be the lowest of women, just from perversity. Ah, it is sickening.”

Anne did not answer.

“Where did you learn those wonderful little Burgundian couplets, Sacha?” asked Lewis, in his sultan‐like familiar way. He had a trick of calling her Sacha every now and then, as he had tried, but failed, to call Miss Brown Annie.

“I don’t know. I ought not to have learned them at all; and I ought not to have sung them before a man like you, who notices all the nastiness there is in anything, and a great page: 138 deal more besides,” answered Madame Elaguine, coldly.

“What a Southern evening!” exclaimed Cosmo Chough, looking up at the blue evening sky, singularly pure and blue and high, twinkling with stars, and against which the distant trees stood out clear like the sidescenes of a theatre. “It is sad that our cigars should have to do for fireflies,—to be the only thing imitating that,” and he pointed at the sky.

“A lit cigar is the only imitation of the stars which people like ourselves can attempt,” said the Russian. “It’s so in everything—our poetry, our passions—nothing but cigar‐lights for stars; don’t you think so, Annie?”

“What’s that?” asked Chough, suddenly.

They looked up at his startled voice.

“What’s what?” asked Madame Elaguine, quietly. “Have you seen the ghost of Imperia of Rome, Mr Chough?”

“What the deuce is that?” exclaimed Lewis. In the midst of the general blue page: 139 dusk, one of the cedars on the lawn, and a screen of trees beyond, had suddenly burst into sight, enveloped in a bright light, which made the grass all round burn out a vivid yellowish‐green against the darkness.

Anne turned round quickly and looked behind her.

“The house is on fire!” she cried. “Madame Elaguine’s room!” And before the others could understand, she had rushed towards the other end of the terrace.

The light, which had suddenly illumined the piece of lawn, the trees opposite, did issue, a brilliant broad sheet like that of large chandelier, from out of the open window of Sacha’s room.

“Good heavens!” cried Hamlin, “you must have set the curtains on fire with the match of your cigarette!”

“No, no,” cried Madame Elaguine, “I lit my cigarette here outside; it must be . . .” and she rushed wildly after Anne into her bedroom.

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An extraordinary spectacle met Miss Brown first, and the rest of the party an instant or two later.

The large old‐fashioned bed of Cousin Sacha, which stood in the centre of the room, was burning, blazing like a Christmas pudding, its whole top, coverlet and pillows, turned into a roaring mass of bluish flame, whence arose an acrid stifling smell.

“They have done it! they have done it!” shrieked Madame Elaguine, throwing herself into Hamlin’s arms. “They want to kill me! they have always said so!”

But before he had had time to answer, she had rushed off into a neighbouring room, and, with a presence of mind most unexpected in her, returned with a heap of woollen blankets which she had dragged off a bed.

“Pour the water on this!” she cried to Anne, who, with her strong arms, had immediately dashed the contents of a bath on to the flames. “Soak this! it is useless throwing water on the flames;” and taking the soaking page: 141 blankets, the little woman threw them dexterously on to the blazing bed, among the hissing of the smoke and fire.

In a minute every one had brought blankets, cushions, water; the servants had run up; and in about five minutes the flames were extinguished.

The damages were very trifling compared with the appearance of danger. The fire had not spread beyond the surface of the bed, and consumed only the upper layer of bedding. But the sight of that expanse of waving blue flame had been frightful, and it seemed impossible to realise that no harm had been done.

“How has it happened?”—“How have they done it?”—“Send to the police station.”—“Scour the park!”—every one was talking at the same time.

“I’ll go down into the park and have a good hunt,” said Hamlin, taking down one of the guns which hung in the hall; “they can’t have got far yet.”

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“I don’t think you’ll catch them,” answered Lewis, in his drawling ironical way.

“We’re not in Russia, Mr Lewis,” rejoined Mrs Spencer, bridling up; “here any one can be caught; it’s not an incompetent police as abroad.”

“Some things can’t be caught,” said Lewis, with an odd wise smile.

While they were standing discussing in the hall, they were startled by a sudden thump on the floor. Madame Elaguine, who had hitherto been singularly calm and energetic, had fallen in a half‐fainting condition, like a column on to the ground. She was carried in to a couch in the drawing‐room, and Anne called the Swiss maid, who came, with that sort of insolent indifference to the condition of her mistress, which had struck Miss Brown on more than one similar occasion. Madame Elaguine was in a state of hysterical panic—she wept, and laughed, and talked, and moaned; but she absolutely refused to be put to bed, and insisted with great violence that page: 143 some of the company should remain about her. She kept Hamlin seated by the side of the sofa, his hand in hers, until the arrival of the police, and of neighbours who had heard of the burning bed, obliged him and the men to leave her. As soon as only Mrs Spencer and Anne Brown remained, she became more calm, and merely lamented over her fate, and over the probability that some day her enemies would really succeed in killing either her or her child.

A curious coincidence occurred, which remained impressed in Anne’s mind. While the rest of the party, including Mrs Spencer, were examining the house in company with the policemen, Miss Brown, who was seated near Madame Elaguine’s sofa—a sense of unreality, as of being at the play, filling her whole nature after that terrible sight of the blazing bed—mechanically opened a book which was lying on the table at her elbow. It was a child’s story which she had bought on a railway bookstall and given to little Helen Ela‐ page: 144 guine Elaguine to keep her quiet during the journey to Wotton. Mechanically her eye ran along the page; but suddenly it stopped, as she read the following sentence, printed in rather larger type than the rest—

“And they never forgot, as long as they lived, that terrible burning bed.”

For a moment the words echoed through Anne’s mind as merely so much sound; but, as is the case when we hear a name which awakens associations which we cannot at first define to ourselves, she was conscious at the same time of an effort to adjust her faculties, to seize a meaning which was there, but which she could not at once grasp.

“And they never forgot, as long as they lived, that terrible burning bed.”

Anne kept on repeating those words to herself. They made her restless. She went to the window, and looked out into the night. The vision of that broad sheet of white light on the terrace and bushes, of that expanse of waving blue flamelets, rose up in her mind.

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“That terrible burning bed.” She saw the printed page again. Then, as to a central bubble, other ideas which bubbled up slowly began to gravitate. Madame Elaguine’s perfect, and, in a woman so excitable, unaccountable presence of mind until all chance of further mischief had been over; the blankets which she had immediately dragged out of the next room, as a fireman might have dragged them; the rapid instruction, as of a person accustomed to such things, to wet the blankets instead of pouring water on the flames, as all the others had done; the insolent, indifferent look of the maid; the going into her room to fetch the cigarette‐papers only a minute or two before the conflagration, and when it would seem that whoever had set the bed aflame must have been making the necessary preparations. Then also, the fire had been so carefully limited to the bed, as if no real damage had been meant. No; that was merely consistent with the usual policy of Madame Elaguine’s mysterious enemies, who wished to page: 146 frighten, but not to kill her. But another thought arose. Madame Elaguine possessed a good deal of valuable old lace, indeed more than her fortune at all warranted. Old lace was her hobby and her pride; she had always a lot on her dress, on her night‐gown, on everything. Some of the very finest that she possessed existed in large quantity as the trimming of a white satin dressing‐gown, which, towards the evening, was always put on her bed. Anne had noticed it this very evening, when Madame Elaguine had called her into her bedroom to ask her advice, as, with a spoilt child’s coquetry, she often did, about some flowers which she was putting in her hair for dinner. For some reason the maid had already arranged the room for the night, and, as usual, the white satin dressing‐gown trimmed with lace had been lying on the bed. Anne had made a note of the fact, because she had thought at the moment how absurd it was of the Russian to put such valuable lace upon a garment which was perpetually knocking page: 147 about, and in which, as it seemed to Miss Brown, she would scarcely be seen except by her own servant. Now, while extinguishing the flames, one of Anne’s first thoughts had somehow been the white satin dressing‐gown. What a pity that all that lace should have been consumed! What an annoyance to Cousin Sacha! But, to her surprise and relief, she had seen the dressing‐gown, a mass of satin and lace, hanging in perfect safety on a peg at the furthest end of the room—the dressing‐gown which, an hour before, had already lain in readiness on the bed.

All these ideas moved confusedly through Miss Brown’s brain. Was it a mere ordinary mental delusion, one of those impressions which physiologists explain by the imperfect momentary double action of the two brain‐lobes; or was it a recollection of a suspicion which had long existed in her mind, but unconsciously, not daring to come to the surface? Anyhow, it seemed to Anne, as she stood by the open window looking into the night, and listening page: 148 to Sacha’s faint moanings, as if she had gone through that or something similar before—as if it were not the first time that she was invaded by the thought that all this persecution by invisible and uncatchable enemies was a deception practised by Madame Elaguine herself, a kind of artificial excitement and interest got up for the benefit of her friends, for the benefit of her own morbid and theatrical temper? It was difficult for a woman, simple, sincere, completely all of a piece, like Anne Brown, to conceive such a possibility, and still more difficult for her not to revolt from its contemplation as from an act of disloyalty. But, on the other hand, Anne, just in proportion to her slowness of mental perception, had not the power, which so many of us possess, of denying the evidence of her reason for the sake of her feelings. So the words in the book, which seemed as if they contained the suggestion of the whole performance (if performance it was); the fact of the dressing‐gown having been out of reach of all danger; the manner of Madame page: 149 Elaguine and of her maid on this and previous occasions,—haunted Anne, and united with the sudden recollection of what she had read in one of Marjory Leigh’s scientific books about the connection between hysteria and monomania, about the strange passion for deceit, for hoax, for theatricality, sometimes observable in hysterical women. And then she remembered the face and voice of Edmund Lewis, his ironical remark about the impossibility of finding the culprits, his indifference and amused superiority. Could he too have guessed?—and, it suddenly struck her, could Hamlin have had the same thought? No, she felt sure Hamlin had not.

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