Billeder på siden
[ocr errors]

It was evident I ought to be gratified; I did manage to say, 'I am glad you took my hospitality for granted I spoiled it though by a second dubious glance towards my papers. But really-I am in ignorance-I have not the honour of an acquaintance. Is there not some mistake?' For who my visitor was I had not the faintest idea, and she spoke as though I ought to know her.

'Oh, I thought your housekeeper would have told you;' her tone on the instant more distant, and less patronizing. You are Mr. Gurnel Duke, are you not?' A doubt momentarily troubling her. I am Miss Duke. I have surprised you!' 'Pardon me, I still require some enlightenment. But there can be but one Miss Duke, I imagine.' And I held out my hand in somewhat tardy welcome. My cousin, I presume-Mr. Edmund Duke's daughter.' The slight forward inclination of her head confirmed me.

And you are Gurnel Duke. Ah, I was sure I should find it so. Directly the porter spoke I guessed it. It is quite by accident I find myself here. Now you tell me what I am to do'-she had quite returned to her first condescension. 'I have never been in this part of England before-but your housekeeper said something about your lunch. Hadn't you better order it in? I really could eat some.'

'Well,', thought I, 'some persons' adaptation to circumstances is something remarkable.'

'And Baker,' added she, as I went to obey her behests; ' do see that your housekeeper makes her comfortable.'

And who's Baker?' I asked, more and more in a maze.

'Oh, you will sympathize with Baker; she's in such distress of mind;' in as solemn a voice, but a spice of girlish glee in her eyes over the dismay that struggled with my desire to be hospitable. For, what this invasion portended I had as knowledge. 'Yes, and Baker's comfort is of as much consequence as mine, please.'

I found Baker a rigid-looking duenna whom, doubtless, her mis

tress could twist round her fingers -by token of her very rigidity. She was installed in the room in which I ordinarily received my own visitors.

About my being here,' said my cousin, on my return. 'I am on my way to my brother's at Steeple Audley. Of course I should have taken the line by Audleybury, and then Steeple Audley-

"Your brother's, Miss Duke, at Steeple Audley?'

'Don't you know? Frank has bought the Park estate, and he is going to live there principally. I shall be with him a great deal. Well, at Lipswich Junction, a stupid porter put us into a wrong train, and we did not find it out until we were told to leave the carriage at Cumberley-here. It does not go further, you know. They would have posted us on, but there isn't a horse in the town can go the distance-they are all lame, I think they said.'

And it is eight-and-twenty miles.'


'Yes. So there they stood, staring at me and each other, until one remarked that there was a Mr. Duke in the town-they had heard my name a dozen times, only it took that time, you see, to dawn on them. I was sure, directly. asked your Christian name. That no one knew. You were Mr. Duke. Were you a schoolmaster? Yes. And then I asked for a fly, and came straight here. You see I was so sure. I know all about you, although you don't know me at all.' The air is indescribable. I might be one of the common herd, she did not affirm it; but the 'me' was a grand assertion. You must not think that in this or anything else she was pert or fast. She had nothing of that about her. It was only that she had a low, gentle voice, and a simple, naïve way of saying the most arrogant things. She had also her airy moods and phases of clear, bright, sunshiny laughter; sometimes pungent but always pure. Yes, I got to know them all well.

'I don't see that you can get to Steeple Audley to-day.'

'I don't see that I can. Won't Frank be in terror! And there's no telegraph after Parnham. Dear me, what a stupid place this Cumberley must be! The people said I could get to Audleybury by going back to Lipswich. But then I shouldn't reach Steeple Audley until two hours after dark, and Frank would not allow that.'

'It is a fifty miles' détour besides. You could go direct from here to Audley bury about seven; but that is even more into the dark.'

'Won't Frank be anxious indeed?' 'It seems to me, Miss Duke, there are two things you want done,' said I, calling the roll of the enemy's force before mustering my own'Your brother's anxiety relieved, and yourself lodged suitably?' She nodded attentively from her chair. 'Letting Mr. Duke know-that's no great difficulty. Send a message for the guard to put on the wires at Parnham-a train goes that way in little over an hour. Lodgings are not so easy. I have a plan-I will ask some friends of mine, the Frekestons. It could not be nicer than that you should go there. I don't know if Mr. and Mrs. Frekeston are returned from London yet. Well, if not, I must ask the other ladies of the family-that is, of course, if it meets your approval.'


'Yes, yes; you have arranged just what is best,' she said, in grave thanks, with the air of conferring a favour in accepting service. am trying to be a faithful describer of all this: how far I succeed I cannot tell.) The spirit of her thanks-her unhesitating reliance on my judgment of what was fitting for her-and the happy fearlessness which had been her chief security, I liked best in her. For, as Edmund Duke's daughter-I will be honest-her very apparent ease of circumstance, her beauty even, were a provocation and an offence to me. I did not know until I saw her that I had been jealous that Edmund Duke's family had been preferred before me. One cannot well forestall these jealousies, yet it is one's own fault if their springing life be not cut short. And-I will be honest to myself too--as

soon as it showed itself above ground I called my envy by its own ugly name and disowned it. But these things are not done in a moment, and in doing are apt to make one ungracious.

[ocr errors]

Cumberley House-Mr. Frekeston's place,' I continued, half in explanation, half in deliberation, · is a mile out of the town. But the bank-I'll go there; that's no more than five minutes' walk. If he has been there any time to-day, he'll be there now. When I have seen him I will go to Cumberley House, and speak to Mrs. Frekeston herself. Will that do for the message?' handing her what I had been writing meanwhile. 'Miss Duke to Francis Duke, Steeple Audley Park. Put into wrong train at Lipswich; brought on to Cumberley. Met Mr. Gurnel Duke; am going for the night to Mr. Frekeston's.'

Stay, I'll add banker, because Mr. Duke will probably know the firm. They have a branch at Audleybury. Here comes luncheon.'

'And we can sit down to it with a clear conscience, can we not?' said she, smiling. Thank you, it all does nicely. Exactly one of my scrapes, Frank will say. But I always get out of them, you know.'

With her wide affirming eyes, quickly arched brows, head a little aside, hands laid one in the other, she looked like a happy, naughty child - happy in her immunity. There are so many harsh words going about the world, one ought to be glad for the little head on which they fell not at all, or so lightly as to be tossed off as lightly.

Then we occupied ourselves with luncheon. By-and-by the girl laid down her knife and fork, took in me, the room, herself, in a glance, and showing her appreciation of the situation by a light laugh, said, 'Don't you feel honoured, Cousin Gurnel?'

'Well, Miss Duke-upon consideration-can't say I do.' I was rather grim in my answer, between two moods, remember.

[ocr errors]

Out came the pouting lip. And for me to be at the trouble. But I thought you did look a miser over your compliments.' One could not

be sure whether she were laughing at me or herself.

Soon I went on my errand. When I returned, which was not for three hours, I found quite a splendour of candles in the room, the music strewn over the piano, and half-adozen books on the table beside the young lady, herself buried in the depths of my luxurious easy-chair. All as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Yes, the most natural thing in the world. It did not so strike me at the time, but I received it on my mind, a negative ready to furnish any number of impressions when I had the leisure. The effect was heightened by the exceptional character of the room. Now this one room in the house was to me my room in the same sense that, as I have said, the work I had in the morning been engaged on was to me my work. Books from ceiling to floor on two sides; a piano and old carved furniture on another side; strange models in one corner; bronzes and busts here and there; on the wall some choice prints and one or two good oilpaintings-not purchased out of my own means, nor, indeed, to be purchased out of them: gifts at different times from my friends, Lord and Lady Uxford; many of them once their dear son's property. And my room might have been the library in their mansion, and the girl might have been-something more than a chance visitor.

I could report the transmission, of the message, and a favourable answer from the Frekestons. 'In a quarter of an hour, Miss Duke, Mr. Frekeston's carriage will be round for you.'

In a quarter of an hour, you say? They are very kind. I hope they are not too much inconveniencing themselves.'

Problem presenting itself to me -Consideration can be shown some people; is it to be resented?

[blocks in formation]

arranged, she subsided into the depths of her chair.

I, standing on the rug before the fire, subsided into a reverie having to-day's events for its subject; not attempting their arrangement, taking up one, and the next moment, as fancy dictated, laying it down for another our wont with recent experiences yet in the rough.

You might be my brother there,' she said, suddenly breaking the silence. Only you are two sizes bigger, and he's not strong-looking. You are very like him.'

A tremendous piece of impertinence on my part, isn't it now, Miss Duke?' An answer springing from the particular recollection at that precise moment occupying my mind.

The girl found me out in a moment. I quite deserved the lazy enjoyment in her eyes. Yet I must say for myself that these bubbles of jealousy in coming to the surface were dispersing themselves. I contrived to be more agreeable with my next words.

This brother of yours, this Frank, which is he? I know so little of you, as you say.'

'Oh, Frank is the eldest. At least-well, Frances, my married sister, is older, but he's the eldest of the boys. Then comes Heriot; he's in India.'

'Heriot,-well, I do very much hope he does credit to the name,' I said, slipping back into my captious mood.

She looked full at me with a new kind of gravity on her face. 'I should, hope so,' she answered, simply and yet spiritedly. My father was very fond of mamma, and it is her family name. And I am Maud, because it was her second name. It seems very nice to me. I like it should be so.'

I felt rebuked and told her so, and why. It appeared to afford her immense amusement.

'Don't you know, Mr. Duke,' she said, in her indolently saucy way— she was never prettier than when she was impertinent- it is as dangerous nowadays to wear one's conscience on one's sleeve as it is to wear one's heart?'

These Frekeston people?' she asked by and by. What sort are they?'

What sort? Is it a directory definition you want?' I began to have an ear for her malice afar off. 'I told you-bankers. A census definition, perhaps, though? Mr. and Mrs. Frekeston, the other side of forty; Jane and Mary Frekeston, eighteen and twenty respectively. The sons don't form part of the household; one is in the branch bank at Audleybury, the other's in the Indian army. Or will a society definition suffice?-Give a sufficiency of dinner-parties, a great many pleasant evening-parties, once a year a grand ball-and know the county people.'

You are giving yourself an infinity of trouble,' she quietly said, but with a flash from under the lashes. 'I only want to know if I shall have to cut them.'

She could not put me down quite as at first. Then for my final definition, Miss Duke-they are my very intimate friends.'

It wouldn't do at all to cut you,' laughed she, gaily. You are such fun.' Which was a curious way of putting it, to say the least, for my dignity.

Just then Mr. Frekeston's carriage drove up. I was a litle anxious as to how she would choose to behave, but on her introduction she thanked him with such pretty earnestness for the trouble he was giving himself, she even brought him quite out of his customary reserve. He took it for granted I should accompany them, but I declined, and when pressed for my reasons, adduced my work.


had this day in store for weeks, and now, if I let it slip, I should have it on my conscience as many more weeks.'

'Your conscience again, Mr. Duke,' said she, in a railing tone, with a suspicion of pique. For the proudest woman in the world cannot, I have seen, overlook-that is, cannot utterly despise-the very humblest man in the world if he will not at her gesture of bidding lie down for her to put her foot on his neck.

It says something for my persistent industry that in five minutes I was seated before my papers, that I could postpone the consideration of my singular day until my afterdinner pipe. But it was not to be a routine day.

You know the precious document of which I had by me no duplicate; search where I would I could not find it. I called in Mrs. Pell-I was no more successful. 'Miss Duke put the papers aside because as I was afraid. But,' it was my old housekeeper's opinion, Miss be a young lady as is more careful than she look for to be, or want to look for to be.' Small comfort! Yet positive loss was too grave a disaster to contemplate: in spite of our ineffectual search, my mind went no further than accidental displacement until Mrs. Pell suggested that Miss Duke lit the candles, sir.' The inference was too horrifying. I simply could not be such a spendthrift of my peace as to think about it before it was a certainty. I had my horse saddled, and I galloped down to Cumberley House. The family were assembled in the drawing-room in readiness for dinner; my little cousin, the centre of the group, and yet not giving herself airs as I half expected. That's right, Duke,' said Frekeston, pleasantly. I call it an act of pure friendship to come on second thoughts.'

More than my due, then,' I replied. "I only want a word with my cousin. It's stupid of me to have disturbed you all. I might have sent word up'-(for I began to hope my haste and perturbation might be overdone-the paper would surely turn up). 'I suppose, Miss Duke, you only laid my papers aside-you didn't take any?'

[ocr errors]

Take any? oh no' (as though to Say What a question!') Mr. Duke's attention, Mr. Frekeston, was divided between me and some papers all the afternoon. Stay-I gave Baker something to light the candles.'

'What is it, Duke? not that synopsis?' asked Mr. Frekeston, interpreting my anxious face.

Yes,' said I, sharply.

'Rather a large expenditure of paper for a few candles. Are not you mistaken?'

'Baker could not light them easily,' volunteered Miss Duke. 'It was not much I gave her,' she carelessly added; only some paper scrawled over this way,' and she drew a figure or two after the fashion of a mathematical problem.


Some evidence is conviction. must be going home,' I said. Instead, I sat down stupidly in the nearest chair.

'It is a great loss, I fear,' began Mrs. Frekeston. One knows when one's voice falls on dull ears, and she ventured no further. 'It is a bad thing, Duke,' began Mr. Frekeston, and ventured no further. The girls moved uneasily, and the doer of it all sat still at the table making no sign of regret.

At the first I was positively stupefied by the greatness and completeness of my loss, and my coming round was as the agony of one recovering from a swoon. Who should measure the extent? it was mockery for any to pretend to do it. Yesterday rich and powerful, able to move men-yes, I know now how I had loved power- to-day, beggared of the product of my life. No one knew, could know the exhaustive process it had been-the building up of that theory which was in itself so difficult, and the practice of which would, I was persuaded, and had succeeded in persuading Mr. Frekeston, be so easy and applicable.

No one knew; not Mr. Frekeston, when he said, 'Pluck up courage, Duke. You have done it once, do it again.'

'It's easy talking,' I answered, in a hard, dull voice. You mean kindly, but you don't know. It is all gone from me,' using the gesture of blindness, 'all, as though it never had been. What was full of knowledge is now full of emptiness.' I had meant to master my dejection until I reached home, and now to have to justify it was a hard aggra


'Don't lose heart in yourself, Duke,' persisted Frekeston, with increasing emphasis. It is enough that you have done it once. Draw

upon me to any amount you like; I shall not feel any anxiety. I believe in you, so surely you can believe in yourself.'

'It is so easy talking. It can't be done twice. I have spent two thousand pounds, but that is littleI would not hesitate to come to you for that. But it is this four years of my life. I shall never have another four years like them. I could work then with possible failure before me, but I can't do it again.' And I, too, grew more forcible and emphatic. "You don't know what it is to fasten on a problem and force it to resolve itself. Of course I ought to have kept my notes. Have you not told me so a hundred times? But it is over now.' And with a gloomy face I stood up to leave.

But what Mr. Frekeston could not effect she could and did.

Rising and speaking in a quick, vivid, passionate voice, 'You are not generous, Mr. Duke, at all. It is I who have done this, and it is I who ought to make amends. I know it-you take care that I should. And yet you take care I should know I can do nothing. You are not generous.'

'It is you who ought to make amends?' I repeated after her, half concurrent.

Something quite involuntary in my manner as I watched and wondered at her made her turn scarlet and sit quietly down. I had had a momentary insight, and we were no longer strangers. I felt that we had come into that immediate personal contact, collision, affinity, whatever you please to call it, which persons frequently pass days, weeks, even years, even all their life, in each other's society without experiencing. The sensation was peculiar.

Then it is you who shall make amends, Miss Duke,' I said, but I had not been quick to speak. 'It is at your bidding I recommence my work, and, please God, I will succeed. It is not the first time I might have despaired.' The Frekestons might put this down amongst gallant speeches, meant almost to mean nothing; but she and I knew how in earnest I was.

I went home to dinner after this,

« ForrigeFortsæt »