Part 3 out of 9
It impressed Christopher to perceive how, under the estrangement
which arose from differences of education, surroundings, experience,
and talent, the sympathies of close relationship were perceptible in
Ethelberta's bearing towards her brothers and sisters. At a remark
upon some simple pleasure wherein she had not participated because
absent and occupied by far more comprehensive interests, a gloom as
of banishment would cross her face and dim it for awhile, showing
that the free habits and enthusiasms of country life had still their
charm with her, in the face of the subtler gratifications of
abridged bodices, candlelight, and no feelings in particular, which
prevailed in town. Perhaps the one condition which could work up
into a permanent feeling the passing revival of his fancy for a
woman whose chief attribute he had supposed to be sprightliness was
added now by the romantic ubiquity of station that attached to her.
A discovery which might have grated on the senses of a man wedded to
conventionality was a positive pleasure to one whose faith in
society had departed with his own social ruin.
The room began to darken, whereupon Christopher arose to leave; and
the brothers Sol and Dan offered to accompany him.
14. A TURNPIKE ROAD
'We be thinking of coming to London ourselves soon,' said Sol, a
carpenter and joiner by trade, as he walked along at Christopher's
left hand. 'There's so much more chance for a man up the country.
Now, if you was me, how should you set about getting a job, sir?'
'What can you do?' said Christopher.
'Well, I am a very good staircase hand; and I have been called neat
at sash-frames; and I can knock together doors and shutters very
well; and I can do a little at the cabinet-making. I don't mind
framing a roof, neither, if the rest be busy; and I am always ready
to fill up my time at planing floor-boards by the foot.'
'And I can mix and lay flat tints,' said Dan, who was a house
painter, 'and pick out mouldings, and grain in every kind of wood
you can mention--oak, maple, walnut, satinwood, cherry-tree--'
'You can both do too much to stand the least chance of being allowed
to do anything in a city, where limitation is all the rule in
labour. To have any success, Sol, you must be a man who can
thoroughly look at a door to see what ought to be done to it, but as
to looking at a window, that's not your line; or a person who, to
the remotest particular, understands turning a screw, but who does
not profess any knowledge of how to drive a nail. Dan must know how
to paint blue to a marvel, but must be quite in the dark about
painting green. If you stick to some such principle of specialty as
this, you may get employment in London.'
'Ha-ha-ha!' said Dan, striking at a stone in the road with the stout
green hazel he carried. 'A wink is as good as a nod: thank'ee--
we'll mind all that now.'
'If we do come,' said Sol, 'we shall not mix up with Mrs. Petherwin
'O no. (Perhaps you think it odd that we call her "Mrs. Petherwin,"
but that's by agreement as safer and better than Berta, because we
be such rough chaps you see, and she's so lofty.) 'Twould demean
her to claim kin wi' her in London--two journeymen like we, that
know nothing besides our trades.'
'Not at all,' said Christopher, by way of chiming in in the
friendliest manner. 'She would be pleased to see any
straightforward honest man and brother, I should think,
notwithstanding that she has moved in other society for a time.'
'Ah, you don't know Berta!' said Dan, looking as if he did.
'How--in what way do you mean?' said Christopher uneasily.
'So lofty--so very lofty! Isn't she, Sol? Why she'll never stir
out from mother's till after dark, and then her day begins; and
she'll traipse about under the trees, and never go into the high-
road, so that nobody in the way of gentle-people shall run up
against her and know her living in such a little small hut after
biding in a big mansion-place. There, we don't find fault wi' her
about it: we like her just the same, though she don't speak to us
in the street; for a feller must be a fool to make a piece of work
about a woman's pride, when 'tis his own sister, and hang upon her
and bother her when he knows 'tis for her good that he should not.
Yes, her life has been quare enough. I hope she enjoys it, but for
my part I like plain sailing. None of your ups and downs for me.
There, I suppose 'twas her nater to want to look into the world a
'Father and mother kept Berta to school, you understand, sir,'
explained the more thoughtful Sol, 'because she was such a quick
child, and they always had a notion of making a governess of her.
Sums? If you said to that child, "Berta, 'levenpence-three-
farthings a day, how much a year?" she would tell 'ee in three
seconds out of her own little head. And that hard sum about the
herrings she had done afore she was nine.'
'True, she had,' said Dan. 'And we all know that to do that is to
do something that's no nonsense.'
'What is the sum?' Christopher inquired.
'What--not know the sum about the herrings?' said Dan, spreading his
gaze all over Christopher in amazement.
'Never heard of it,' said Christopher.
'Why down in these parts just as you try a man's soul by the Ten
Commandments, you try his head by that there sum--hey, Sol?'
'Ay, that we do.'
'A herring and a half for three-halfpence, how many can ye get for
'levenpence: that's the feller; and a mortal teaser he is, I assure
'ee. Our parson, who's not altogether without sense o' week days,
said one afternoon, "If cunning can be found in the multiplication
table at all, Chickerel, 'tis in connection with that sum." Well,
Berta was so clever in arithmetic that she was asked to teach
summing at Miss Courtley's, and there she got to like foreign
tongues more than ciphering, and at last she hated ciphering, and
took to books entirely. Mother and we were very proud of her at
that time: not that we be stuck-up people at all--be we, Sol?'
'Not at all; nobody can say that we be that, though there's more of
it in the country than there should be by all account.'
'You'd be surprised to see how vain the girls about here be getting.
Little rascals, why they won't curtsey to the loftiest lady in the
land; no, not if you were to pay 'em to do it. Now, the men be
different. Any man will touch his hat for a pint of beer. But
then, of course, there's some difference between the two. Touching
your hat is a good deal less to do than bending your knees, as Berta
used to say, when she was blowed up for not doing it. She was
always one of the independent sort--you never seed such a maid as
she was! Now, Picotee was quite the other way.'
'Has Picotee left Sandbourne entirely?'
'O no; she is home for the holidays. Well, Mr. Julian, our road
parts from yours just here, unless you walk into the next town along
with us. But I suppose you get across to this station and go by
'I am obliged to go that way for my portmanteau,' said Christopher,
'or I should have been pleased to walk further. Shall I see you in
Sandbourne to-morrow? I hope so.'
'Well, no. 'Tis hardly likely that you will see us--hardly. We
know how unpleasant it is for a high sort of man to have rough chaps
like us hailing him, so we think it best not to meet you--thank you
all the same. So if you should run up against us in the street, we
should be just as well pleased by your taking no notice, if you
wouldn't mind. 'Twill save so much awkwardness--being in our
working clothes. 'Tis always the plan that Mrs. Petherwin and we
agree to act upon, and we find it best for both. I hope you take
our meaning right, and as no offence, Mr. Julian.'
'And do you do the same with Picotee?'
'O Lord, no--'tisn't a bit of use to try. That's the worst of
Picotee--there's no getting rid of her. The more in the rough we be
the more she'll stick to us; and if we say she shan't come, she'll
bide and fret about it till we be forced to let her.'
Christopher laughed, and promised, on condition that they would
retract the statement about their not being proud; and then he
wished his friends good-night.
15. AN INNER ROOM AT THE LODGE
At the Lodge at this time a discussion of some importance was in
progress. The scene was Mrs. Chickerel's bedroom, to which,
unfortunately, she was confined by some spinal complaint; and here
she now appeared as an interesting woman of five-and-forty, properly
dressed as far as visible, and propped up in a bed covered with a
quilt which presented a field of little squares in many tints,
looking altogether like a bird's-eye view of a market garden.
Mrs. Chickerel had been nurse in a nobleman's family until her
marriage, and after that she played the part of wife and mother,
upon the whole, affectionately and well. Among her minor
differences with her husband had been one about the naming of the
children; a matter that was at last compromised by an agreement
under which the choice of the girls' names became her prerogative,
and that of the boys' her husband's, who limited his field of
selection to strict historical precedent as a set-off to Mrs.
Chickerel's tendency to stray into the regions of romance.
The only grown-up daughters at home, Ethelberta and Picotee, with
their brother Joey, were sitting near her; the two youngest
children, Georgina and Myrtle, who had been strutting in and out of
the room, and otherwise endeavouring to walk, talk, and speak like
the gentleman just gone away, were packed off to bed. Emmeline, of
that transitional age which causes its exponent to look wistfully at
the sitters when romping and at the rompers when sitting, uncertain
whether her position in the household is that of child or woman, was
idling in a corner. The two absent brothers and two absent sisters-
-eldest members of the family--completed the round ten whom Mrs.
Chickerel with thoughtless readiness had presented to a crowded
world, to cost Ethelberta many wakeful hours at night while she
revolved schemes how they might be decently maintained.
'I still think,' Ethelberta was saying, 'that the plan I first
proposed is the best. I am convinced that it will not do to attempt
to keep on the Lodge. If we are all together in town, I can look
after you much better than when you are far away from me down here.'
'Shall we not interfere with you--your plans for keeping up your
connections?' inquired her mother, glancing up towards Ethelberta by
lifting the flesh of her forehead, instead of troubling to raise her
'Not nearly so much as by staying here.'
'But,' said Picotee, 'if you let lodgings, won't the gentlemen and
ladies know it?'
'I have thought of that,' said Ethelberta, 'and this is how I shall
manage. In the first place, if mother is there, the lodgings can be
let in her name, all bills will be receipted by her, and all
tradesmen's orders will be given as from herself. Then, we will
take no English lodgers at all; we will advertise the rooms only in
Continental newspapers, as suitable for a French or German gentleman
or two, and by this means there will be little danger of my
acquaintance discovering that my house is not entirely a private
one, or of any lodger being a friend of my acquaintance. I have
thought over every possible way of combining the dignified social
position I must maintain to make my story-telling attractive, with
my absolute lack of money, and I can see no better one.'
'Then if Gwendoline is to be your cook, she must soon give notice at
her present place?'
'Yes. Everything depends upon Gwendoline and Cornelia. But there
is time enough for them to give notice--Christmas will be soon
enough. If they cannot or will not come as cook and housemaid, I am
afraid the plan will break down. A vital condition is that I do not
have a soul in the house (beyond the lodgers) who is not one of my
own relations. When we have put Joey into buttons, he will do very
well to attend to the door.'
'But s'pose,' said Joey, after a glassy look at his future
appearance in the position alluded to, 'that any of your gentle-
people come to see ye, and when I opens the door and lets 'em in a
swinging big lodger stalks downstairs. What will 'em think? Up
will go their eye-glasses at one another till they glares each other
into holes. My gracious!'
'The one who calls will only think that another visitor is leaving,
Joey. But I shall have no visitors, or very few. I shall let it be
well known among my late friends that my mother is an invalid, and
that on this account we receive none but the most intimate friends.
These intimate friends not existing, we receive nobody at all.'
'Except Sol and Dan, if they get a job in London? They'll have to
call upon us at the back door, won't they, Berta?' said Joey.
'They must go down the area steps. But they will not mind that;
they like the idea.'
'And father, too, must he go down the steps?'
'He may come whichever way he likes. He will be glad enough to have
us near at any price. I know that he is not at all happy at leaving
you down here, and he away in London. You remember that he has only
taken the situation at Mr. Doncastle's on the supposition that you
all come to town as soon as he can see an opening for getting you
there; and as nothing of the sort has offered itself to him, this
will be the very thing. Of course, if I succeed wonderfully well in
my schemes for story-tellings, readings of my ballads and poems,
lectures on the art of versification, and what not, we need have no
lodgers; and then we shall all be living a happy family--all taking
our share in keeping the establishment going.'
'Except poor me!' sighed the mother.
'My dear mother, you will be necessary as a steadying power--a
flywheel, in short, to the concern. I wish that father could live
'He'll never give up his present way of life--it has grown to be a
part of his nature. Poor man, he never feels at home except in
somebody else's house, and is nervous and quite a stranger in his
own. Sich is the fatal effects of service!'
'O mother, don't!' said Ethelberta tenderly, but with her teeth on
edge; and Picotee curled up her toes, fearing that her mother was
going to moralize.
'Well, what I mean is, that your father would not like to live upon
your earnings, and so forth. But in town we shall be near him--
that's one comfort, certainly.'
'And I shall not be wanted at all,' said Picotee, in a melancholy
'It is much better to stay where you are,' her mother said. 'You
will come and spend the holidays with us, of course, as you do now.'
'I should like to live in London best,' murmured Picotee, her head
sinking mournfully to one side. 'I HATE being in Sandbourne now!'
'Nonsense!' said Ethelberta severely. 'We are all contriving how to
live most comfortably, and it is by far the best thing for you to
stay at the school. You used to be happy enough there.'
Picotee sighed, and said no more.
16. A LARGE PUBLIC HALL
It was the second week in February, Parliament had just met, and
Ethelberta appeared for the first time before an audience in London.
There was some novelty in the species of entertainment that the
active young woman had proposed to herself, and this doubtless had
due effect in collecting the body of strangers that greeted her
entry, over and above those friends who came to listen to her as a
matter of course. Men and women who had become totally indifferent
to new actresses, new readers, and new singers, once more felt the
freshness of curiosity as they considered the promise of the
announcement. But the chief inducement to attend lay in the fact
that here was to be seen in the flesh a woman with whom the tongue
of rumour had been busy in many romantic ways--a woman who, whatever
else might be doubted, had certainly produced a volume of verses
which had been the talk of the many who had read them, and of the
many more who had not, for several consecutive weeks.
What was her story to be? Persons interested in the inquiry--a
small proportion, it may be owned, of the whole London public, and
chiefly young men--answered this question for themselves by assuming
that it would take the form of some pungent and gratifying
revelation of the innermost events of her own life, from which her
gushing lines had sprung as an inevitable consequence, and which
being once known, would cause such musical poesy to appear no longer
The front part of the room was well filled, rows of listeners
showing themselves like a drilled-in crop of which not a seed has
failed. They were listeners of the right sort, a majority having
noses of the prominent and dignified type, which when viewed in
oblique perspective ranged as regularly as bow-windows at a watering
place. Ethelberta's plan was to tell her pretended history and
adventures while sitting in a chair--as if she were at her own
fireside, surrounded by a circle of friends. By this touch of
domesticity a great appearance of truth and naturalness was given,
though really the attitude was at first more difficult to maintain
satisfactorily than any one wherein stricter formality should be
observed. She gently began her subject, as if scarcely knowing
whether a throng were near her or not, and, in her fear of seeming
artificial, spoke too low. This defect, however, she soon
corrected, and ultimately went on in a charmingly colloquial manner.
What Ethelberta relied upon soon became evident. It was not upon
the intrinsic merits of her story as a piece of construction, but
upon her method of telling it. Whatever defects the tale possessed-
-and they were not a few--it had, as delivered by her, the one pre-
eminent merit of seeming like truth. A modern critic has well
observed of De Foe that he had the most amazing talent on record for
telling lies; and Ethelberta, in wishing her fiction to appear like
a real narrative of personal adventure, did wisely to make De Foe
her model. His is a style even better adapted for speaking than for
writing, and the peculiarities of diction which he adopts to give
verisimilitude to his narratives acquired enormous additional force
when exhibited as viva-voce mannerisms. And although these
artifices were not, perhaps, slavishly copied from that master of
feigning, they would undoubtedly have reminded her hearers of him,
had they not mostly been drawn from an easeful section in society
which is especially characterized by the mental condition of knowing
nothing about any author a week after they have read him. The few
there who did remember De Foe were impressed by a fancy that his
words greeted them anew in a winged auricular form, instead of by
the weaker channels of print and eyesight. The reader may imagine
what an effect this well-studied method must have produced when
intensified by a clear, living voice, animated action, and the
brilliant and expressive eye of a handsome woman--attributes which
of themselves almost compelled belief. When she reached the most
telling passages, instead of adding exaggerated action and sound,
Ethelberta would lapse to a whisper and a sustained stillness, which
were more striking than gesticulation. All that could be done by
art was there, and if inspiration was wanting nobody missed it.
It was in performing this feat that Ethelberta seemed first to
discover in herself the full power of that self-command which
further onward in her career more and more impressed her as a
singular possession, until at last she was tempted to make of it
many fantastic uses, leading to results that affected more
households than her own. A talent for demureness under difficulties
without the cold-bloodedness which renders such a bearing natural
and easy, a face and hand reigning unmoved outside a heart by nature
turbulent as a wave, is a constitutional arrangement much to be
desired by people in general; yet, had Ethelberta been framed with
less of that gift in her, her life might have been more comfortable
as an experience, and brighter as an example, though perhaps duller
as a story.
'Ladywell, how came this Mrs. Petherwin to think of such a queer
trick as telling romances, after doing so well as a poet?' said a
man in the stalls to his friend, who had been gazing at the Story-
teller with a rapt face.
'What--don't you know?--everybody did, I thought,' said the painter.
'A mistake. Indeed, I should not have come here at all had I not
heard the subject mentioned by accident yesterday at Grey's; and
then I remembered her to be the same woman I had met at some place--
Belmaine's I think it was--last year, when I thought her just
getting on for handsome and clever, not to put it too strongly.'
'Ah! naturally you would not know much,' replied Ladywell, in an
eager whisper. 'Perhaps I am judging others by myself a little more
than--but, as you have heard, she is an acquaintance of mine. I
know her very well, and, in fact, I originally suggested the scheme
to her as a pleasant way of adding to her fame. "Depend upon it,
dear Mrs. Petherwin," I said, during a pause in one of our dances
together some time ago, "any public appearance of yours would be
successful beyond description."'
'O, I had no idea that you knew her so well! Then it is quite
through you that she has adopted this course?'
'Well, not entirely--I could not say entirely. She said that some
day, perhaps, she might do such a thing; and, in short, I reduced
her vague ideas to form.'
'I should not mind knowing her better--I must get you to throw us
together in some way,' said Neigh, with some interest. 'I had no
idea that you were such an old friend. You could do it, I suppose?'
'Really, I am afraid--hah-hah--may not have the opportunity of
obliging you. I met her at Wyndway, you know, where she was
visiting with Lady Petherwin. It was some time ago, and I cannot
say that I have ever met her since.'
'Or before?' said Neigh.
'Well--no; I never did.'
'Ladywell, if I had half your power of going to your imagination for
facts, I would be the greatest painter in England.'
'Now Neigh--that's too bad--but with regard to this matter, I do
speak with some interest,' said Ladywell, with a pleased sense of
'In love with her?--Smitten down?--Done for?'
'Now, now! However, several other fellows chaff me about her. It
was only yesterday that Jones said--'
'Do you know why she cares to do this sort of thing?'
'Merely a desire for fame, I suppose.'
'I should think she has fame enough already.'
'That I can express no opinion upon. I am thinking of getting her
permission to use her face in a subject I am preparing. It is a
fine face for canvas. Glorious contour--glorious. Ah, here she is
again, for the second part.'
'Dream on, young fellow. You'll make a rare couple!' said Neigh,
with a flavour of superciliousness unheeded by his occupied
Further back in the room were a pair of faces whose keen interest in
the performance contrasted much with the languidly permissive air of
those in front. When the ten minutes' break occurred, Christopher
was the first of the two to speak. 'Well, what do you think of her,
Faith?' he said, shifting restlessly on his seat.
'I like the quiet parts of the tale best, I think" replied the
sister; 'but, of course, I am not a good judge of these things. How
still the people are at times! I continually take my eyes from her
to look at the listeners. Did you notice the fat old lady in the
second row, with her cloak a little thrown back? She was absolutely
unconscious, and stayed with her face up and lips parted like a
little child of six.'
'She well may! the thing is a triumph. That fellow Ladywell is
here, I believe--yes, it is he, busily talking to the man on his
right. If I were a woman I would rather go donkey-driving than
stick myself up there, for gaping fops to quiz and say what they
like about! But she had no choice, poor thing; for it was that or
nothing with her.'
Faith, who had secret doubts about the absolute necessity of
Ethelberta's appearance in public, said, with remote meanings,
'Perhaps it is not altogether a severe punishment to her to be
looked at by well-dressed men. Suppose she feels it as a blessing,
instead of an affliction?'
'She is a different sort of woman, Faith, and so you would say if
you knew her. Of course, it is natural for you to criticize her
severely just now, and I don't wish to defend her.'
'I think you do a little, Kit.'
'No; I am indifferent about it all. Perhaps it would have been
better for me if I had never seen her; and possibly it might have
been better for her if she had never seen me. She has a heart, and
the heart is a troublesome encumbrance when great things have to be
done. I wish you knew her: I am sure you would like each other.'
'O yes,' said Faith, in a voice of rather weak conviction. 'But, as
we live in such a plain way, it would be hardly desirable at
Ethelberta being regarded, in common with the latest conjurer,
spirit-medium, aeronaut, giant, dwarf or monarch, as a new
sensation, she was duly criticized in the morning papers, and even
obtained a notice in some of the weekly reviews.
'A handsome woman,' said one of these, 'may have her own reasons for
causing the flesh of the London public to creep upon its bones by
her undoubtedly remarkable narrative powers; but we question if much
good can result from such a form of entertainment. Nevertheless,
some praise is due. We have had the novel-writer among us for some
time, and the novel-reader has occasionally appeared on our
platforms; but we believe that this is the first instance on record
of a Novel-teller--one, that is to say, who relates professedly as
fiction a romantic tale which has never been printed--the whole
owing its chief interest to the method whereby the teller identifies
herself with the leading character in the story.'
Another observed: 'When once we get away from the magic influence
of the story-teller's eye and tongue, we perceive how improbable,
even impossible, is the tissue of events to which we have been
listening with so great a sense of reality, and we feel almost angry
with ourselves at having been the victims of such utter illusion.'
'Mrs. Petherwin's personal appearance is decidedly in her favour,'
said another. 'She affects no unconsciousness of the fact that form
and feature are no mean vehicles of persuasion, and she uses the
powers of each to the utmost. There spreads upon her face when in
repose an air of innocence which is charmingly belied by the
subtlety we discover beneath it when she begins her tale; and this
amusing discrepancy between her physical presentment and the inner
woman is further illustrated by the misgiving, which seizes us on
her entrance, that so impressionable a lady will never bear up in
the face of so trying an audience. . . . The combinations of
incident which Mrs. Petherwin persuades her hearers that she has
passed through are not a little marvellous; and if what is rumoured
be true, that the tales are to a great extent based upon her own
experiences, she has proved herself to be no less daring in
adventure than facile in her power of describing it.'
17. ETHELBERTA'S HOUSE
After such successes as these, Christopher could not forego the
seductive intention of calling upon the poetess and romancer, at her
now established town residence in Exonbury Crescent. One wintry
afternoon he reached the door--now for the third time--and gave a
knock which had in it every tender refinement that could be thrown
into the somewhat antagonistic vehicle of noise. Turning his face
down the street he waited restlessly on the step. There was a
strange light in the atmosphere: the glass of the street-lamps, the
varnished back of a passing cab, a milk-woman's cans, and a row of
church-windows glared in his eyes like new-rubbed copper; and on
looking the other way he beheld a bloody sun hanging among the
chimneys at the upper end, as a danger-lamp to warn him off.
By this time the door was opened, and before him stood Ethelberta's
young brother Joey, thickly populated with little buttons, the
remainder of him consisting of invisible green.
'Ah, Joseph,' said Christopher, instantly recognizing the boy.
'What, are you here in office? Is your--'
Joey lifted his forefinger and spread his mouth in a genial manner,
as if to signify particular friendliness mingled with general
'Yes, sir, Mrs. Petherwin is my mistress. I'll see if she is at
home, sir,' he replied, raising his shoulders and winking a wink of
strategic meanings by way of finish--all which signs showed, if
evidence were wanted, how effectually this pleasant young page
understood, though quite fresh from Wessex, the duties of his
peculiar position. Mr. Julian was shown to the drawing-room, and
there he found Ethelberta alone.
She gave him a hand so cool and still that Christopher, much as he
desired the contact, was literally ashamed to let her see and feel
his own, trembling with unmanageable excess of feeling. It was
always so, always had been so, always would be so, at these meetings
of theirs: she was immeasurably the strongest; and the deep-eyed
young man fancied, in the chagrin which the perception of this
difference always bred in him, that she triumphed in her superior
control. Yet it was only in little things that their sexes were
thus reversed: Christopher would receive quite a shock if a little
dog barked at his heels, and be totally unmoved when in danger of
Certainly the most self-possessed woman in the world, under pressure
of the incongruity between their last meeting and the present one,
might have shown more embarrassment than Ethelberta showed on
greeting him to-day. Christopher was only a man in believing that
the shyness which she did evince was chiefly the result of personal
interest. She might or might not have been said to blush--perhaps
the stealthy change upon her face was too slow an operation to
deserve that name: but, though pale when he called, the end of ten
minutes saw her colour high and wide. She soon set him at his ease,
and seemed to relax a long-sustained tension as she talked to him of
her arrangements, hopes, and fears.
'And how do you like London society?' said Ethelberta.
'Pretty well, as far as I have seen it: to the surface of its front
'You will find nothing to be alarmed at if you get inside.'
'O no--of course not--except my own shortcomings,' said the modest
musician. 'London society is made up of much more refined people
than society anywhere else.'
'That's a very prevalent opinion; and it is nowhere half so
prevalent as in London society itself. However, come and see my
house--unless you think it a trouble to look over a house?'
'No; I should like it very much.'
The decorations tended towards the artistic gymnastics prevalent in
some quarters at the present day. Upon a general flat tint of
duck's-egg green appeared quaint patterns of conventional foliage,
and birds, done in bright auburn, several shades nearer to
redbreast-red than was Ethelberta's hair, which was thus thrust
further towards brown by such juxtaposition--a possible reason for
the choice of tint. Upon the glazed tiles within the chimney-piece
were the forms of owls, bats, snakes, frogs, mice, spiders in their
webs, moles, and other objects of aversion and darkness, shaped in
black and burnt in after the approved fashion.
'My brothers Sol and Dan did most of the actual work,' said
Ethelberta, 'though I drew the outlines, and designed the tiles
round the fire. The flowers, mice, and spiders are done very
simply, you know: you only press a real flower, mouse, or spider
out flat under a piece of glass, and then copy it, adding a little
more emaciation and angularity at pleasure.'
'In that "at pleasure" is where all the art lies,' said he.
'Well, yes--that is the case,' said Ethelberta thoughtfully; and
preceding him upstairs, she threw open a door on one of the floors,
disclosing Dan in person, engaged upon a similar treatment of this
floor also. Sol appeared bulging from the door of a closet, a
little further on, where he was fixing some shelves; and both wore
workmen's blouses. At once coming down from the short ladder he was
standing upon, Dan shook Christopher's hand with some velocity.
'We do a little at a time, you see,' he said, 'because Colonel down
below, and Mrs. Petherwin's visitors, shan't smell the turpentine.'
'We be pushing on to-day to get it out of the way,' said Sol, also
coming forward and greeting their visitor, but more reluctantly than
his brother had done. 'Now I'll tell ye what--you two,' he added,
after an uneasy pause, turning from Christopher to Ethelberta and
back again in great earnestness; 'you'd better not bide here,
talking to we rough ones, you know, for folks might find out that
there's something closer between us than workmen and employer and
employer's friend. So Berta and Mr. Julian, if you'll go on and
take no more notice o' us, in case of visitors, it would be wiser--
else, perhaps, if we should be found out intimate with ye, and bring
down your gentility, you'll blame us for it. I get as nervous as a
cat when I think I may be the cause of any disgrace to ye.'
'Don't be so silly, Sol,' said Ethelberta, laughing.
'Ah, that's all very well,' said Sol, with an unbelieving smile;
'but if we bain't company for you out of doors, you bain't company
for we within--not that I find fault with ye or mind it, and shan't
take anything for painting your house, nor will Dan neither, any
more for that--no, not a penny; in fact, we are glad to do it for
'ee. At the same time, you keep to your class, and we'll keep to
ours. And so, good afternoon, Berta, when you like to go, and the
same to you, Mr. Julian. Dan, is that your mind?'
'I can but own it,' said Dan.
The two brothers then turned their backs upon their visitors, and
went on working, and Ethelberta and her lover left the room. 'My
brothers, you perceive,' said she, 'represent the respectable
British workman in his entirety, and a touchy individual he is, I
assure you, on points of dignity, after imbibing a few town ideas
from his leaders. They are painfully off-hand with me, absolutely
refusing to be intimate, from a mistaken notion that I am ashamed of
their dress and manners; which, of course, is absurd.'
'Which, of course, is absurd,' said Christopher.
'Of course it is absurd!' she repeated with warmth, and looking
keenly at him. But, finding no harm in his face, she continued as
before: 'Yet, all the time, they will do anything under the sun
that they think will advance my interests. In our hearts we are
one. All they ask me to do is to leave them to themselves, and
therefore I do so. Now, would you like to see some more of your
She introduced him to a large attic; where he found himself in the
society of two or three persons considerably below the middle
height, whose manners were of that gushing kind sometimes called
Continental, their ages ranging from five years to eight. These
were the youngest children, presided over by Emmeline, as professor
of letters, capital and small.
'I am giving them the rudiments of education here,' said Ethelberta;
'but I foresee several difficulties in the way of keeping them here,
which I must get over as best I can. One trouble is, that they
don't get enough air and exercise.'
'Is Mrs. Chickerel living here as well?' Christopher ventured to
inquire, when they were downstairs again.
'Yes; but confined to her room as usual, I regret to say. Two more
sisters of mine, whom you have never seen at all, are also here.
They are older than any of the rest of us, and had, broadly
speaking, no education at all, poor girls. The eldest, Gwendoline,
is my cook, and Cornelia is my housemaid. I suffer much sadness,
and almost misery sometimes, in reflecting that here are we, ten
brothers and sisters, born of one father and mother, who might have
mixed together and shared all in the same scenes, and been properly
happy, if it were not for the strange accidents that have split us
up into sections as you see, cutting me off from them without the
compensation of joining me to any others. They are all true as
steel in keeping the secret of our kin, certainly; but that brings
little joy, though some satisfaction perhaps.'
'You might be less despondent, I think. The tale-telling has been
one of the successes of the season.'
'Yes, I might; but I may observe that you scarcely set the example
'Ah--that's not because I don't recognize the pleasure of being
here. It is from a more general cause: simply an underfeeling I
have that at the most propitious moment the distance to the
possibility of sorrow is so short that a man's spirits must not rise
higher than mere cheerfulness out of bare respect to his insight.
"As long as skies are blue, and fields are green,
Evening must usher night, night urge the morrow,
Month follow month with woe, and year wake year to sorrow."'
Ethelberta bowed uncertainly; the remark might refer to her past
conduct or it might not. 'My great cause of uneasiness is the
children,' she presently said, as a new page of matter. 'It is my
duty, at all risk and all sacrifice of sentiment, to educate and
provide for them. The grown-up ones, older than myself, I cannot
help much, but the little ones I can. I keep my two French lodgers
for the sake of them.'
'The lodgers, of course, don't know the relationship between
yourself and the rest of the people in the house?'
'O no!--nor will they ever. My mother is supposed to let the ground
and first floors to me--a strange lady--as she does the second and
third floors to them. Still, I may be discovered.'
'Well--if you are?'
'Let me be. Life is a battle, they say; but it is only so in the
sense that a game of chess is a battle--there is no seriousness in
it; it may be put an end to at any inconvenient moment by owning
yourself beaten, with a careless "Ha-ha!" and sweeping your pieces
into the box. Experimentally, I care to succeed in society; but at
the bottom of my heart, I don't care.'
'For that very reason you are likely to do it. My idea is, make
ambition your business and indifference your relaxation, and you
will fail; but make indifference your business and ambition your
relaxation, and you will succeed. So impish are the ways of the
'I hope that you at any rate will succeed,' she said, at the end of
'I never can--if success means getting what one wants.'
'Why should you not get that?'
'It has been forbidden to me.'
Her complexion changed just enough to show that she knew what he
meant. 'If you were as bold as you are subtle, you would take a
more cheerful view of the matter,' she said, with a look signifying
'I will instantly! Shall I test the truth of my cheerful view by a
word of question?'
'I deny that you are capable of taking that view, and until you
prove that you are, no question is allowed,' she said, laughing, and
still warmer in the face and neck. 'Nothing but melancholy, gentle
melancholy, now as in old times when there was nothing to cause it.'
'Ah--you only tease.'
'You will not throw aside that bitter medicine of distrust, for the
world. You have grown so used to it, that you take it as food, as
some invalids do their mixtures.'
'Ethelberta, you have my heart--my whole heart. You have had it
ever since I first saw you. Now you understand me, and no
pretending that you don't, mind, this second time.'
'I understood you long ago; you have not understood me.'
'You are mysterious,' he said lightly; 'and perhaps if I disentangle
your mystery I shall find it to cover--indifference. I hope it
does--for your sake.'
'How can you say so!' she exclaimed reproachfully. 'Yet I wish it
did too--I wish it did cover indifference--for yours. But you have
all of me that you care to have, and may keep it for life if you
wish to. Listen, surely there was a knock at the door? Let us go
inside the room: I am always uneasy when anybody comes, lest any
awkward discovery should be made by a visitor of my miserable
contrivances for keeping up the establishment.'
Joey met them before they had left the landing.
'Please, Berta,' he whispered, 'Mr. Ladywell has called, and I've
showed him into the liberry. You know, Berta, this is how it was,
you know: I thought you and Mr. Julian were in the drawing-room,
and wouldn't want him to see ye together, and so I asked him to step
into the liberry a minute.'
'You must improve your way of speaking,' she said, with quick
embarrassment, whether at the mention of Ladywell's name before
Julian, or at the way Joey coupled herself with Christopher, was
quite uncertain. 'Will you excuse me for a few moments?' she said,
turning to Christopher. 'Pray sit down; I shall not be long.' And
she glided downstairs.
They had been standing just by the drawing-room door, and
Christopher turned back into the room with no very satisfactory
countenance. It was very odd, he thought, that she should go down
to Ladywell in that mysterious manner, when he might have been
admitted to where they were talking without any trouble at all.
What could Ladywell have to say, as an acquaintance calling upon her
for a few minutes, that he was not to hear? Indeed, if it came to
that, what right had Ladywell to call upon her at all, even though
she were a widow, and to some extent chartered to live in a way
which might be considered a trifle free if indulged in by other
young women. This was the first time that he himself had ventured
into her house on that very account--a doubt whether it was quite
proper to call, considering her youth, and the fertility of her
position as ground for scandal. But no sooner did he arrive than
here was Ladywell blundering in, and, since this conjunction had
occurred on his first visit, the chances were that Ladywell came
Julian walked up and down the room, every moment expanding itself to
a minute in his impatience at the delay and vexation at the cause.
After scrutinizing for the fifth time every object on the walls as
if afflicted with microscopic closeness of sight, his hands under
his coat-tails, and his person jigging up and down upon his toes, he
heard her coming up the stairs. When she entered the apartment her
appearance was decidedly that of a person subsiding after some
'I did not calculate upon being so long,' she said sweetly, at the
same time throwing back her face and smiling. 'But I--was longer
than I expected.'
'It seemed rather long,' said Christopher gloomily, 'but I don't
'I am glad of that,' said Ethelberta.
'As you asked me to stay, I was very pleased to do so, and always
should be; but I think that now I will wish you good-bye.'
'You are not vexed with me?' she said, looking quite into his face.
'Mr. Ladywell is nobody, you know.'
'Well, he is not much, I mean. The case is, that I am sitting to
him for a subject in which my face is to be used--otherwise than as
a portrait--and he called about it.'
'May I say,' said Christopher, 'that if you want yourself painted,
you are ill-advised not to let it be done by a man who knows how to
use the brush a little?'
'O, he can paint!' said Ethelberta, rather warmly. 'His last
picture was excellent, I think. It was greatly talked about.'
'I imagined you to say that he was a mere nobody!'
'Yes, but--how provoking you are!--nobody, I mean, to talk to. He
is a true artist, nevertheless.'
Christopher made no reply. The warm understanding between them had
quite ended now, and there was no fanning it up again. Sudden tiffs
had been the constant misfortune of their courtship in days gone by,
had been the remote cause of her marriage to another; and the
familiar shadows seemed to be rising again to cloud them with the
same persistency as ever. Christopher went downstairs with well-
behaved moodiness, and left the house forthwith. The postman came
to the door at the same time.
Ethelberta opened a letter from Picotee--now at Sandbourne again;
and, stooping to the fire-light, she began to read:--
'MY DEAR ETHELBERTA,--I have tried to like staying at Sandbourne
because you wished it, but I can't endure the town at all, dear
Berta; everything is so wretched and dull! O, I only wish you knew
how dismal it is here, and how much I would give to come to London!
I cannot help thinking that I could do better in town. You see, I
should be close to you, and should have the benefit of your
experience. I would not mind what I did for a living could I be
there where you all are. It is so like banishment to be here. If I
could not get a pupil-teachership in some London school (and I
believe I could by advertising) I could stay with you, and be
governess to Georgina and Myrtle, for I am sure you cannot spare
time enough to teach them as they ought to be taught, and Emmeline
is not old enough to have any command over them. I could also
assist at your dressmaking, and you must require a great deal of
that to be done if you continue to appear in public. Mr. Long read
in the papers the account of your first evening, and afterwards I
heard two ladies of our committee talking about it; but of course
not one of them knew my personal interest in the discussion. Now
will you, Ethelberta, think if I may not come: Do, there's a dear
sister! I will do anything you set me about if I may only come.--
Your ever affectionate, PICOTEE.'
'Great powers above--what worries do beset me!' cried Ethelberta,
jumping up. 'What can possess the child so suddenly?--she used to
like Sandbourne well enough!' She sat down, and hastily scribbled
the following reply:--
'MY DEAR PICOTEE--There is only a little time to spare before the
post goes, but I will try to answer your letter at once. Whatever
is the reason of this extraordinary dislike to Sandbourne? It is a
nice healthy place, and you are likely to do much better than either
of our elder sisters, if you follow straight on in the path you have
chosen. Of course, if such good fortune should attend me that I get
rich by my contrivances of public story-telling and so on, I shall
share everything with you and the rest of us, in which case you
shall not work at all. But (although I have been unexpectedly
successful so far) this is problematical; and it would be rash to
calculate upon all of us being able to live, or even us seven girls
only, upon the fortune I am going to make that way. So, though I
don't mean to be harsh, I must impress upon you the necessity of
going on as you are going just at present. I know the place must be
dull, but we must all put up with dulness sometimes. You, being
next to me in age, must aid me as well as you can in doing something
for the younger ones; and if anybody at all comes and lives here
otherwise than as a servant, it must be our father--who will not,
however, at present hear of such a thing when I mention it to him.
Do think of all this, Picotee, and bear up! Perhaps we shall all be
happy and united some day. Joey is waiting to run to the post-
office with this at once. All are well. Sol and Dan have nearly
finished the repairs and decorations of my house--but I will tell
you of that another time.--Your affectionate sister,
18. NEAR SANDBOURNE - LONDON STREETS - ETHELBERTA'S
When this letter reached its destination the next morning, Picotee,
in her over-anxiety, could not bring herself to read it in anybody's
presence, and put it in her pocket till she was on her walk across
the moor. She still lived at the cottage out of the town, though at
some inconvenience to herself, in order to teach at a small village
night-school whilst still carrying on her larger occupation of
pupil-teacher in Sandbourne.
So she walked and read, and was soon in tears. Moreover, when she
thought of what Ethelberta would have replied had that keen sister
known the wildness of her true reason in wishing to go, she
shuddered with misery. To wish to get near a man only because he
had been kind to her, and had admired her pretty face, and had given
her flowers, to nourish a passion all the more because of its
hopeless impracticability, were things to dream of, not to tell.
Picotee was quite an unreasoning animal. Her sister arranged
situations for her, told her how to conduct herself in them, how to
make up anew, in unobtrusive shapes, the valuable wearing apparel
she sent from time to time--so as to provoke neither exasperation in
the little gentry, nor superciliousness in the great. Ethelberta
did everything for her, in short; and Picotee obeyed orders with the
abstracted ease of mind which people show who have their thinking
done for them, and put out their troubles as they do their washing.
She was quite willing not to be clever herself, since it was
unnecessary while she had a much-admired sister, who was clever
enough for two people and to spare.
This arrangement, by which she gained an untroubled existence in
exchange for freedom of will, had worked very pleasantly for Picotee
until the anomaly of falling in love on her own account created a
jar in the machinery. Then she began to know how wearing were
miserable days, and how much more wearing were miserable nights.
She pictured Christopher in London calling upon her dignified sister
(for Ethelberta innocently mentioned his name sometimes in writing)
and imagined over and over again the mutual signs of warm feeling
between them. And now Picotee resolved upon a noble course. Like
Juliet, she had been troubled with a consciousness that perhaps her
love for Christopher was a trifle forward and unmaidenly, even
though she had determined never to let him or anybody in the whole
world know of it. To set herself to pray that she might have
strength to see him without a pang the lover of her sister, who
deserved him so much more than herself, would be a grand penance and
After uttering petitions to this effect for several days, she still
felt very bad; indeed, in the psychological difficulty of striving
for what in her soul she did not desire, rather worse, if anything.
At last, weary of walking the old road and never meeting him, and
blank in a general powerlessness, she wrote the letter to
Ethelberta, which was only the last one of a series that had
previously been written and torn up.
Now this hope had been whirled away like thistledown, and the case
was grievous enough to distract a greater stoic than Picotee. The
end of it was that she left the school on insufficient notice, gave
up her cottage home on the plea--true in the letter--that she was
going to join a relative in London, and went off thither by a
morning train, leaving her things packed ready to be sent on when
she should write for them.
Picotee arrived in town late on a cold February afternoon, bearing a
small bag in her hand. She crossed Westminster Bridge on foot, just
after dusk, and saw a luminous haze hanging over each well-lighted
street as it withdrew into distance behind the nearer houses,
showing its direction as a train of morning mist shows the course of
a distant stream when the stream itself is hidden. The lights along
the riverside towards Charing Cross sent an inverted palisade of
gleaming swords down into the shaking water, and the pavement ticked
to the touch of pedestrians' feet, most of whom tripped along as if
walking only to practise a favourite quick step, and held
handkerchiefs to their mouths to strain off the river mist from
their lungs. She inquired her way to Exonbury Crescent, and between
five and six o'clock reached her sister's door.
Two or three minutes were passed in accumulating resolution
sufficient to ring the bell, which when at last she did, was not
performed in a way at all calculated to make the young man Joey
hasten to the door. After the lapse of a certain time he did,
however, find leisure to stroll and see what the caller might want,
out of curiosity to know who there could be in London afraid to ring
a bell twice.
Joey's delight exceeded even his surprise, the ruling maxim of his
life being the more the merrier, under all circumstances. The
beaming young man was about to run off and announce her upstairs and
downstairs, left and right, when Picotee called him hastily to her.
In the hall her quick young eye had caught sight of an umbrella with
a peculiar horn handle--an umbrella she had been accustomed to meet
on Sandbourne Moor on many happy afternoons. Christopher was
evidently in the house.
'Joey,' she said, as if she were ready to faint, 'don't tell Berta I
am come. She has company, has she not?'
'O no--only Mr. Julian!' said the brother. 'He's quite one of the
'Never mind--can't I go down into the kitchen with you?' she
inquired. There had been bliss and misery mingled in those tidings,
and she scarcely knew for a moment which way they affected her.
What she did know was that she had run her dear fox to earth, and a
sense of satisfaction at that feat prevented her just now from
counting the cost of the performance.
'Does Mr. Julian come to see her very often?' said she.
'O yes--he's always a-coming--a regular bore to me.'
'A regular what?'
'Bore!--Ah, I forgot, you don't know our town words. However, come
They passed by the doors on tiptoe, and their mother upstairs being,
according to Joey's account, in the midst of a nap, Picotee was
unwilling to disturb her; so they went down at once to the kitchen,
when forward rushed Gwendoline the cook, flourishing her floury
hands, and Cornelia the housemaid, dancing over her brush; and these
having welcomed and made Picotee comfortable, who should ring the
area-bell, and be admitted down the steps, but Sol and Dan. The
workman-brothers, their day's duties being over, had called to see
their relations, first, as usual, going home to their lodgings in
Marylebone and making themselves as spruce as bridegrooms, according
to the rules of their newly-acquired town experience. For the
London mechanic is only nine hours a mechanic, though the country
mechanic works, eats, drinks, and sleeps a mechanic throughout the
'God bless my soul--Picotee!' said Dan, standing fixed. 'Well--I
say, this is splendid! ha-ha!'
'Picotee--what brought you here?' said Sol, expanding the
circumference of his face in satisfaction. 'Well, come along--never
mind so long as you be here.'
Picotee explained circumstances as well as she could without stating
them, and, after a general conversation of a few minutes, Sol
interrupted with--'Anybody upstairs with Mrs. Petherwin?'
'Mr. Julian was there just now,' said Joey; 'but he may be gone.
Berta always lets him slip out how he can, the form of ringing me up
not being necessary with him. Wait a minute--I'll see.'
Joseph vanished up the stairs; and, the question whether Christopher
were gone or not being an uninteresting one to the majority, the
talking went on upon other matters. When Joey crept down again a
minute later, Picotee was sitting aloof and silent, and he
accordingly singled her out to speak to.
'Such a lark, Picotee!' he whispered. 'Berta's a-courting of her
young man. Would you like to see how they carries on a bit?'
'Dearly I should!' said Picotee, the pupils of her eyes dilating.
Joey conducted her to the top of the basement stairs, and told her
to listen. Within a few yards of them was the morning-room door,
now standing ajar; and an intermittent flirtation in soft male and
female tones could be heard going on inside. Picotee's lips parted
at thus learning the condition of things, and she leant against the
'My? What's the matter?' said Joey.
'If this is London, I don't like it at all!' moaned Picotee.
'Well--I never see such a girl--fainting all over the stairs for
nothing in the world.'
'O--it will soon be gone--it is--it is only indigestion.'
'Indigestion? Much you simple country people can know about that!
You should see what devils of indigestions we get in high life--
eating 'normous great dinners and suppers that require clever
physicians to carry 'em off, or else they'd carry us off with gout
next day; and waking in the morning with such a splitting headache,
and dry throat, and inward cusses about human nature, that you feel
all the world like some great lord. However, now let's go down
'No, no, no!' said the unhappy maiden imploringly. 'Hark!'
They listened again. The voices of the musician and poetess had
changed: there was a decided frigidity in their tone--then came a
louder expression--then a silence.
'You needn't be afeard,' said Joey. 'They won't fight; bless you,
they busts out quarrelling like this times and times when they've
been over-friendly, but it soon gets straight with 'em again.'
There was now a quick walk across the room, and Joey and his sister
drew down their heads out of sight. Then the room door was slammed,
quick footsteps went along the hall, the front door closed just as
loudly, and Christopher's tread passed into nothing along the
'That's rather a wuss one than they mostly have; but Lord, 'tis
nothing at all.'
'I don't much like biding here listening!' said Picotee.
'O, 'tis how we do all over the West End,' said Joey. ''Tis yer
ignorance of town life that makes it seem a good deal to 'ee.'
'You can't make much boast about town life; for you haven't left off
talking just as they do down in Wessex.'
'Well, I own to that--what's fair is fair, and 'tis a true charge;
but if I talk the Wessex way 'tisn't for want of knowing better;
'tis because my staunch nater makes me bide faithful to our old
ancient institutions. You'd soon own 'twasn't ignorance in me, if
you knowed what large quantities of noblemen I gets mixed up with
every day. In fact 'tis thoughted here and there that I shall do
very well in the world.'
'Well, let us go down,' said Picotee. 'Everything seems so
'O, you'll get broke in soon enough. I felt just the same when I
first entered into society.'
'Do you think Berta will be angry with me? How does she treat you?'
'Well, I can't complain. You see she's my own flesh and blood, and
what can I say? But, in secret truth, the wages is terrible low,
and barely pays for the tobacco I consooms.'
'O Joey, you wicked boy! If mother only knew that you smoked!'
'I don't mind the wickedness so much as the smell. And Mrs.
Petherwin has got such a nose for a fellow's clothes. 'Tis one of
the greatest knots in service--the smoke question. 'Tis thoughted
that we shall make a great stir about it in the mansions of the
'How much more you know of life than I do--you only fourteen and me
'Yes, that's true. You see, age is nothing--'tis opportunity. And
even I can't boast, for many a younger man knows more.'
'But don't smoke, Joey--there's a dear!'
'What can I do? Society hev its rules, and if a person wishes to
keep himself up, he must do as the world do. We be all Fashion's
slave--as much a slave as the meanest in the land!'
They got downstairs again; and when the dinner of the French lady
and gentleman had been sent up and cleared away, and also
Ethelberta's evening tea (which she formed into a genuine meal,
making a dinner of luncheon, when nobody was there, to give less
trouble to her servant-sisters), they all sat round the fire. Then
the rustle of a dress was heard on the staircase, and squirrel-
haired Ethelberta appeared in person. It was her custom thus to
come down every spare evening, to teach Joey and her sisters
something or other--mostly French, which she spoke fluently; but the
cook and housemaid showed more ambition than intelligence in
acquiring that tongue, though Joey learnt it readily enough.
There was consternation in the camp for a moment or two, on account
of poor Picotee, Ethelberta being not without firmness in matters of
discipline. Her eye instantly lighted upon her disobedient sister,
now looking twice as disobedient as she really was.
'O, you are here, Picotee? I am glad to see you,' said the mistress
of the house quietly.
This was altogether to Picotee's surprise, for she had expected a
round rating at least, in her freshness hardly being aware that this
reserve of feeling was an acquired habit of Ethelberta's, and that
civility stood in town for as much vexation as a tantrum represented
Picotee lamely explained her outward reasons for coming, and soon
began to find that Ethelberta's opinions on the matter would not be
known by the tones of her voice. But innocent Picotee was as wily
as a religionist in sly elusions of the letter whilst infringing the
spirit of a dictum; and by talking very softly and earnestly about
the wondrous good she could do by remaining in the house as
governess to the children, and playing the part of lady's-maid to
her sister at show times, she so far coaxed Ethelberta out of her
intentions that she almost accepted the plan as a good one. It was
agreed that for the present, at any rate, Picotee should remain.
Then a visit was made to Mrs. Chickerel's room, where the remainder
of the evening was passed; and harmony reigned in the household.
19. ETHELBERTA'S DRAWING-ROOM
Picotee's heart was fitfully glad. She was near the man who had
enlarged her capacity from girl's to woman's, a little note or two
of young feeling to a whole diapason; and though nearness was
perhaps not in itself a great reason for felicity when viewed beside
the complete realization of all that a woman can desire in such
circumstances, it was much in comparison with the outer darkness of
the previous time.
It became evident to all the family that some misunderstanding had
arisen between Ethelberta and Mr. Julian. What Picotee hoped in the
centre of her heart as to the issue of the affair it would be too
complex a thing to say. If Christopher became cold towards her
sister he would not come to the house; if he continued to come it
would really be as Ethelberta's lover--altogether, a pretty game of
perpetual check for Picotee.
He did not make his appearance for several days. Picotee, being a
presentable girl, and decidedly finer-natured than her sisters below
stairs, was allowed to sit occasionally with Ethelberta in the
afternoon, when the teaching of the little ones had been done for
the day; and thus she had an opportunity of observing Ethelberta's
emotional condition with reference to Christopher, which Picotee did
with an interest that the elder sister was very far from suspecting.
At first Ethelberta seemed blithe enough without him. One more day
went, and he did not come, and then her manner was that of apathy.
Another day passed, and from fanciful elevations of the eyebrow, and
long breathings, it became apparent that Ethelberta had decidedly
passed the indifferent stage, and was getting seriously out of sorts
about him. Next morning she looked all hope. He did not come that
day either, and Ethelberta began to look pale with fear.
'Why don't you go out?' said Picotee timidly.
'I can hardly tell: I have been expecting some one.'
'When she comes I must run up to mother at once, must I not?' said
'It is not a lady,' said Ethelberta blandly. She came then and
stood by Picotee, and looked musingly out of the window. 'I may as
well tell you, perhaps,' she continued. 'It is Mr. Julian. He is--
I suppose--my lover, in plain English.'
'Ah!' said Picotee.
'Whom I am not going to marry until he gets rich.'
'Ah--how strange! If I had him--such a lover, I mean--I would marry
him if he continued poor.'
'I don't doubt it, Picotee; just as you come to London without
caring about consequences, or would do any other crazy thing and not
mind in the least what came of it. But somebody in the family must
take a practical view of affairs, or we should all go to the dogs.'
Picotee recovered from the snubbing which she felt that she
deserved, and charged gallantly by saying, with delicate showings of
indifference, 'Do you love this Mr. What's-his-name of yours?'
'Mr. Julian? O, he's a very gentlemanly man. That is, except when
he is rude, and ill-uses me, and will not come and apologize!'
'If I had him--a lover, I would ask him to come if I wanted him to.'
Ethelberta did not give her mind to this remark; but, drawing a long
breath, said, with a pouting laugh, which presaged unreality, 'The
idea of his getting indifferent now! I have been intending to keep
him on until I got tired of his attentions, and then put an end to
them by marrying him; but here is he, before he has hardly declared
himself, forgetting my existence as much as if he had vowed to love
and cherish me for life. 'Tis an unnatural inversion of the manners
'When did you first get to care for him, dear Berta?'
'O--when I had seen him once or twice.'
'Goodness--how quick you were!'
'Yes--if I am in the mind for loving I am not to be hindered by
shortness of acquaintanceship.'
'Nor I neither!' sighed Picotee.
'Nor any other woman. We don't need to know a man well in order to
love him. That's only necessary when we want to leave off.'
'O Berta--you don't believe that!'
'If a woman did not invariably form an opinion of her choice before
she has half seen him, and love him before she has half formed an
opinion, there would be no tears and pining in the whole feminine
world, and poets would starve for want of a topic. I don't believe
it, do you say? Ah, well, we shall see.'
Picotee did not know what to say to this; and Ethelberta left the
room to see about her duties as public story-teller, in which
capacity she had undertaken to appear again this very evening.
20. THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF THE HALL - THE ROAD HOME
London was illuminated by the broad full moon. The pavements looked
white as if mantled with snow; ordinary houses were sublimated to
the rank of public buildings, public buildings to palaces, and the
faces of women walking the streets to those of calendared saints and
guardian-angels, by the pure bleaching light from the sky.
In the quiet little street where opened the private door of the Hall
chosen by Ethelberta for her story-telling, a brougham was waiting.
The time was about eleven o'clock; and presently a lady came out
from the building, the moonbeams forthwith flooding her face, which
they showed to be that of the Story-teller herself. She hastened
across to the carriage, when a second thought arrested her motion:
telling the man-servant and a woman inside the brougham to wait for
her, she wrapped up her features and glided round to the front of
the house, where she paused to observe the carriages and cabs
driving up to receive the fashionable crowd stepping down from the
doors. Standing here in the throng which her own talent and
ingenuity had drawn together, she appeared to enjoy herself by
listening for a minute or two to the names of several persons of
more or less distinction as they were called out, and then regarded
attentively the faces of others of lesser degree: to scrutinize the
latter was, as the event proved, the real object of the journey from
round the corner. When nearly every one had left the doors, she
turned back disappointed. Ethelberta had been fancying that her
alienated lover Christopher was in the back rows to-night, but, as
far as could now be observed, the hopeful supposition was a false
When she got round to the back again, a man came forward. It was
Ladywell, whom she had spoken to already that evening. 'Allow me to
bring you your note-book, Mrs. Petherwin: I think you had forgotten
it,' he said. 'I assure you that nobody has handled it but myself.'
Ethelberta thanked him, and took the book. 'I use it to look into
between the parts, in case my memory should fail me,' she explained.
'I remember that I did lay it down, now you remind me.'
Ladywell had apparently more to say, and moved by her side towards
the carriage; but she declined the arm he offered, and said not
another word till he went on, haltingly:
'Your triumph to-night was very great, and it was as much a triumph
to me as to you; I cannot express my feeling--I cannot say half that
I would. If I might only--'
'Thank you much,' said Ethelberta, with dignity. 'Thank you for
bringing my book, but I must go home now. I know that you will see
that it is not necessary for us to be talking here.'
'Yes--you are quite right,' said the repressed young painter, struck
by her seriousness. 'Blame me; I ought to have known better. But
perhaps a man--well, I will say it--a lover without indiscretion is
no lover at all. Circumspection and devotion are a contradiction in
terms. I saw that, and hoped that I might speak without real harm.'
'You calculated how to be uncalculating, and are natural by art!'
she said, with the slightest accent of sarcasm. 'But pray do not
attend me further--it is not at all necessary or desirable. My maid
is in the carriage.' She bowed, turned, and entered the vehicle,
seating herself beside Picotee.
'It was harsh!' said Ladywell to himself, as he looked after the
retreating carriage. 'I was a fool; but it was harsh. Yet what man
on earth likes a woman to show too great a readiness at first? She
is right: she would be nothing without repulse!' And he moved away
in an opposite direction.
'What man was that?' said Picotee, as they drove along.
'O--a mere Mr. Ladywell: a painter of good family, to whom I have
been sitting for what he calls an Idealization. He is a dreadful
'Why did you choose him?'
'I did not: he chose me. But his silliness of behaviour is a
hopeful sign for the picture. I have seldom known a man cunning
with his brush who was not simple with his tongue; or, indeed, any
skill in particular that was not allied to general stupidity.'
'Your own skill is not like that, is it, Berta?'
'In men--in men. I don't mean in women. How childish you are!'
The slight depression at finding that Christopher was not present,
which had followed Ethelberta's public triumph that evening, was
covered over, if not removed, by Ladywell's declaration, and she
reached home serene in spirit. That she had not the slightest
notion of accepting the impulsive painter made little difference; a
lover's arguments being apt to affect a lady's mood as much by
measure as by weight. A useless declaration like a rare china
teacup with a hole in it, has its ornamental value in enlarging a
No sooner had they entered the house than Mr. Julian's card was
discovered; and Joey informed them that he had come particularly to
speak with Ethelberta, quite forgetting that it was her evening for
This was real delight, for between her excitements Ethelberta had
been seriously sick-hearted at the horrible possibility of his never
calling again. But alas! for Christopher. There being nothing like
a dead silence for getting one's off-hand sweetheart into a corner,
there is nothing like prematurely ending it for getting into that
corner one's self.
'Now won't I punish him for daring to stay away so long!' she
exclaimed as soon as she got upstairs. 'It is as bad to show
constancy in your manners as fickleness in your heart at such a time
'But I thought honesty was the best policy?' said Picotee.
'So it is, for the man's purpose. But don't you go believing in
sayings, Picotee: they are all made by men, for their own
advantages. Women who use public proverbs as a guide through events
are those who have not ingenuity enough to make private ones as each
She sat down, and rapidly wrote a line to Mr. Julian:--
'I return from Mayfair Hall to find you have called. You will, I
know, be good enough to forgive my saying what seems an unfriendly
thing, when I assure you that the circumstances of my peculiar
situation make it desirable, if not necessary. It is that I beg you
not to give me the pleasure of a visit from you for some little
time, for unhappily the frequency of your kind calls has been
noticed; and I am now in fear that we may be talked about--
invidiously--to the injury of us both. The town, or a section of
it, has turned its bull's-eye upon me with a brightness which I did
not in the least anticipate; and you will, I am sure, perceive how
indispensable it is that I should be circumspect.--Yours sincerely,
21. A STREET - NEIGH'S ROOMS - CHRISTOPHER'S ROOMS
As soon as Ethelberta had driven off from the Hall, Ladywell turned
back again; and, passing the front entrance, overtook his
acquaintance Mr. Neigh, who had been one of the last to emerge. The
two were going in the same direction, and they walked a short
'Has anything serious happened?' said Neigh, noticing an abstraction
in his companion. 'You don't seem in your usual mood to-night.'
'O, it is only that affair between us,' said Ladywell.
'Affair? Between you and whom?'
'Her and myself, of course. It will be in every fellow's mouth now,
'But--not anything between yourself and Mrs. Petherwin?'
'A mere nothing. But surely you started, Neigh, when you suspected
it just this moment?'
'No--you merely fancied that.'
'Did she not speak well to-night! You were in the room, I believe?'
'Yes, I just turned in for half-an-hour: it seems that everybody
does, so I thought I must. But I had no idea that you were feeble
'It is very kind of you, Neigh--upon my word it is--very kind; and
of course I appreciate the delicacy which--which--'
'I mean your well-intentioned plan for making me believe that
nothing is known of this. But stories will of course get wind; and
if our attachment has made more noise in the world than I intended
it should, and causes any public interest, why--ha-ha!--it must.
There is some little romance in it perhaps, and people will talk of
matters of that sort between individuals of any repute--little as
that is with one of the pair.'
'Of course they will--of course. You are a rising man, remember,
whom some day the world will delight to honour.'
'Thank you for that, Neigh. Thank you sincerely.'
'Not at all. It is merely justice to say it, and one must he
generous to deserve thanks.'
'Ha-ha!--that's very nicely put, and undeserved I am sure. And yet
I need a word of that sort sometimes!'
'Genius is proverbially modest.'
'Pray don't, Neigh--I don't deserve it, indeed. Of course it is
well meant in you to recognize any slight powers, but I don't
deserve it. Certainly, my self-assurance was never too great. 'Tis
the misfortune of all children of art that they should be so
dependent upon any scraps of praise they can pick up to help them
'And when that child gets so deep in love that you can only see the
whites of his eyes--'
'Ah--now, Neigh--don't, I say!'
'But why did--'
'Why did I love her?'
'Yes, why did you love her?'
'Ah, if I could only turn self-vivisector, and watch the operation
of my heart, I should know!'
'My dear fellow, you must be very bad indeed to talk like that. A
poet himself couldn't be cleaner gone.'
'Now, don't chaff, Neigh; do anything, but don't chaff. You know
that I am the easiest man in the world for taking it at most times.
But I can't stand it now; I don't feel up to it. A glimpse of
paradise, and then perdition. What would you do, Neigh?'
'She has refused you, then?'
'Well--not positively refused me; but it is so near it that a dull
man couldn't tell the difference. I hardly can myself.'
'How do you really stand with her?' said Neigh, with an anxiety ill-
'Off and on--neither one thing nor the other. I was determined to
make an effort the last time she sat to me, and so I met her quite
coolly, and spoke only of technicalities with a forced smile--you
know that way of mine for drawing people out, eh, Neigh?'
'A forced smile, as much as to say, "I am obliged to entertain you,
but as a mere model for art purposes." But the deuce a bit did she
care. And then I frequently looked to see what time it was, as the
end of the sitting drew near--rather a rude thing to do, as a rule.'
'Of course. But that was your finesse. Ha-ha!--capital! Yet why
not struggle against such slavery? It is regularly pulling you
down. What's a woman's beauty, after all?'
'Well you may say so! A thing easier to feel than define,' murmured
Ladywell. 'But it's no use, Neigh--I can't help it as long as she
repulses me so exquisitely! If she would only care for me a little,
I might get to trouble less about her.'
'And love her no more than one ordinarily does a girl by the time
one gets irrevocably engaged to her. But I suppose she keeps you
back so thoroughly that you carry on the old adoration with as much
vigour as if it were a new fancy every time?'
'Partly yes, and partly no! It's very true, and it's not true!'
''Tis to be hoped she won't hate you outright, for then you would
absolutely die of idolizing her.'
'Don't, Neigh!--Still there's some truth in it--such is the
perversity of our hearts. Fancy marrying such a woman!'
'We should feel as eternally united to her after years and years of
marriage as to a dear new angel met at last night's dance.'
'Exactly--just what I should have said. But did I hear you say
"We," Neigh? You didn't say "WE should feel?"'
'Say "we"?--yes--of course--putting myself in your place just in the
way of speaking, you know.'
'Of course, of course; but one is such a fool at these times that
one seems to detect rivalry in every trumpery sound! Were you never
a little touched?'
'Not I. My heart is in the happy position of a country which has no
history or debt.'
'I suppose I should rejoice to hear it,' said Ladywell. 'But the
consciousness of a fellow-sufferer being in just such another hole
is such a relief always, and softens the sense of one's folly so
'There's less Christianity in that sentiment than in your confessing
to it, old fellow. I know the truth of it nevertheless, and that's
why married men advise others to marry. Were all the world tied up,
the pleasantly tied ones would be equivalent to those at present
free. But what if your fellow-sufferer is not only in another such
a hole, but in the same one?'
'No, Neigh--never! Don't trifle with a friend who--'
'That is, refused like yourself, as well as in love.'
'Ah, thanks, thanks! It suddenly occurred to me that we might be
dead against one another as rivals, and a friendship of many long--
days be snapped like a--like a reed.'
'No--no--only a jest,' said Neigh, with a strangely accelerated
speech. 'Love-making is an ornamental pursuit that matter-of-fact
fellows like me are quite unfit for. A man must have courted at
least half-a-dozen women before he's a match for one; and since
triumph lies so far ahead, I shall keep out of the contest
'Your life would be pleasanter if you were engaged. It is a nice
thing, after all.'
'It is. The worst of it would be that, when the time came for
breaking it off, a fellow might get into an action for breach--women
are so fond of that sort of thing now; and I hate love-affairs that
don't end peaceably!'
'But end it by peaceably marrying, my dear fellow!'
'It would seem so singular. Besides, I have a horror of antiquity:
and you see, as long as a man keeps single, he belongs in a measure
to the rising generation, however old he may be; but as soon as he
marries and has children, he belongs to the last generation, however
young he may be. Old Jones's son is a deal younger than young
Brown's father, though they are both the same age.'
'At any rate, honest courtship cures a man of many evils he had no
power to stem before.'
'By substituting an incurable matrimony!'
'Ah--two persons must have a mind for that before it can happen!'
said Ladywell, sorrowfully shaking his head.
'I think you'll find that if one has a mind for it, it will be quite
sufficient. But here we are at my rooms. Come in for half-an-
'Not to-night, thanks!'
They parted, and Neigh went in. When he got upstairs he murmured in
his deepest chest note, 'O, lords, that I should come to this! But
I shall never be such a fool as to marry her! What a flat that poor
young devil was not to discover that we were tarred with the same
brush. O, the deuce, the deuce!' he continued, walking about the
room as if passionately stamping, but not quite doing it because
another man had rooms below.
Neigh drew from his pocket-book an envelope embossed with the name
of a fashionable photographer, and out of this pulled a portrait of
the lady who had, in fact, enslaved his secret self equally with his
frank young friend the painter. After contemplating it awhile with
a face of cynical adoration, he murmured, shaking his head, 'Ah, my
lady; if you only knew this, I should be snapped up like a snail!
Not a minute's peace for me till I had married you. I wonder if I
Neigh was a man of five-and-thirty--Ladywell's senior by ten years;
and, being of a phlegmatic temperament, he had glided thus far
through the period of eligibility with impunity. He knew as well as
any man how far he could go with a woman and yet keep clear of
having to meet her in church without her bonnet; but it is doubtful
if his mind that night were less disturbed with the question how to
guide himself out of the natural course which his passion for
Ethelberta might tempt him into, than was Ladywell's by his ardent
wish to secure her.
About the time at which Neigh and Ladywell parted company,
Christopher Julian was entering his little place in Bloomsbury. The
quaint figure of Faith, in her bonnet and cloak, was kneeling on the
hearth-rug endeavouring to stir a dull fire into a bright one.
'What--Faith! you have never been out alone?' he said.
Faith's soft, quick-shutting eyes looked unutterable things, and she
replied, 'I have been to hear Mrs. Petherwin's story-telling again.'
'And walked all the way home through the streets at this time of
night, I suppose!'
'Well, nobody molested me, either going or coming back.'
'Faith, I gave you strict orders not to go into the streets after
two o'clock in the day, and now here you are taking no notice of
what I say at all!'
'The truth is, Kit, I wanted to see with my spectacles what this
woman was really like, and I went without them last time. I slipped
in behind, and nobody saw me.'
'I don't think much of her after what I have seen tonight,' said
Christopher, moodily recurring to a previous thought.
'Why? What is the matter?'
'I thought I would call on her this afternoon, but when I got there
I found she had left early for the performance. So in the evening,
when I thought it would be all over, I went to the private door of
the Hall to speak to her as she came out, and ask her flatly a
question or two which I was fool enough to think I must ask her
before I went to bed. Just as I was drawing near she came out, and,
instead of getting into the brougham that was waiting for her, she
went round the corner. When she came back a man met her and gave
her something, and they stayed talking together two or three
minutes. The meeting may certainly not have been intentional on her
part; but she has no business to be going on so coolly when--when--
in fact, I have come to the conclusion that a woman's affection is
not worth having. The only feeling which has any dignity or
permanence or worth is family affection between close blood-
'And yet you snub me sometimes, Mr. Kit.'
'And, for the matter of that, you snub me. Still, you know what I
mean--there's none of that off-and-on humbug between us. If we
grumble with one another we are united just the same: if we don't
write when we are parted, we are just the same when we meet--there
has been some rational reason for silence; but as for lovers and
sweethearts, there is nothing worth a rush in what they feel!'
Faith said nothing in reply to this. The opinions she had formed
upon the wisdom of her brother's pursuit of Ethelberta would have
come just then with an ill grace. It must, however, have been
evident to Christopher, had he not been too preoccupied for
observation, that Faith's impressions of Ethelberta were not quite
favourable as regarded her womanhood, notwithstanding that she
greatly admired her talents.
22. ETHELBERTA'S HOUSE
Ethelberta came indoors one day from the University boat-race, and
sat down, without speaking, beside Picotee, as if lost in thought.
'Did you enjoy the sight?' said Picotee.
'I scarcely know. We couldn't see at all from Mrs. Belmaine's
carriage, so two of us--very rashly--agreed to get out and be rowed
across to the other side where the people were quite few. But when
the boatman had us in the middle of the river he declared he
couldn't land us on the other side because of the barges, so there
we were in a dreadful state--tossed up and down like corks upon
great waves made by steamers till I made up my mind for a drowning.
Well, at last we got back again, but couldn't reach the carriage for
the crowd; and I don't know what we should have done if a gentleman
hadn't come--sent by Mrs. Belmaine, who was in a great fright about
us; then he was introduced to me, and--I wonder how it will end!'
'Was there anything so wonderful in the beginning, then?'
'Yes. One of the coolest and most practised men in London was ill-
mannered towards me from sheer absence of mind--and could there be
higher flattery? When a man of that sort does not give you the
politeness you deserve, it means that in his heart he is rebelling
against another feeling which his pride suggests that you do not
deserve. O, I forgot to say that he is a Mr. Neigh, a nephew of Mr.
Doncastle's, who lives at ease about Piccadilly and Pall Mall, and
has a few acres somewhere--but I don't know much of him. The worst
of my position now is that I excite this superficial interest in
many people and a deep friendship in nobody. If what all my
supporters feel could be collected into the hearts of two or three
they would love me better than they love themselves; but now it
pervades all and operates in none.'
'But it must operate in this gentleman?'
'Well, yes--just for the present. But men in town have so many
contrivances for getting out of love that you can't calculate upon
keeping them in for two days together. However, it is all the same
to me. There's only--but let that be.'
'What is there only?' said Picotee coaxingly.
'Only one man,' murmured Ethelberta, in much lower tones. 'I mean,
whose wife I should care to be; and the very qualities I like in him
will, I fear, prevent his ever being in a position to ask me.'
'Is he the man you punished the week before last by forbidding him
'Perhaps he is: but he does not want civility from me. Where
there's much feeling there's little ceremony.'
'It certainly seems that he does not want civility from you to make
him attentive to you,' said Picotee, stifling a sigh; 'for here is a
letter in his handwriting, I believe.'
'You might have given it to me at once,' said Ethelberta, opening
the envelope hastily. It contained very few sentences: they were
to the effect that Christopher had received her letter forbidding
him to call; that he had therefore at first resolved not to call or
even see her more, since he had become such a shadow in her path.
Still, as it was always best to do nothing hastily, he had on second
thoughts decided to ask her to grant him a last special favour, and
see him again just once, for a few minutes only that afternoon, in
which he might at least say Farewell. To avoid all possibility of
compromising her in anybody's eyes, he would call at half-past six,
when other callers were likely to be gone, knowing that from the
peculiar constitution of the household the hour would not interfere
with her arrangements. There being no time for an answer, he would
assume that she would see him, and keep the engagement; the request
being one which could not rationally be objected to.
'There--read it!' said Ethelberta, with glad displeasure. 'Did you
ever hear such audacity? Fixing a time so soon that I cannot reply,
and thus making capital out of a pretended necessity, when it is
really an arbitrary arrangement of his own. That's real rebellion--
forcing himself into my house when I said strictly he was not to
come; and then, that it cannot rationally be objected to--I don't
like his "rationally."'
'Where there's much love there's little ceremony, didn't you say
just now?' observed innocent Picotee.
'And where there's little love, no ceremony at all. These manners
of his are dreadful, and I believe he will never improve.'
'It makes you care not a bit about him, does it not, Berta?' said
'I don't answer for that,' said Ethelberta. 'I feel, as many others
do, that a want of ceremony which is produced by abstraction of mind
is no defect in a poet or musician, fatal as it may be to an
'Mighty me! You soon forgive him.'
'Picotee, don't you be so quick to speak. Before I have finished,
how do you know what I am going to say? I'll never tell you
anything again, if you take me up so. Of course I am going to
punish him at once, and make him remember that I am a lady, even if
I do like him a little.'
'How do you mean to punish him?' said Picotee, with interest.
'By writing and telling him that on no account is he to come.'
'But there is not time for a letter--'
'That doesn't matter. It will show him that I did not MEAN him to
At hearing the very merciful nature of the punishment, Picotee
sighed without replying; and Ethelberta despatched her note. The
hour of appointment drew near, and Ethelberta showed symptoms of
unrest. Six o'clock struck and passed. She walked here and there
for nothing, and it was plain that a dread was filling her: her
letter might accidentally have had, in addition to the moral effect
which she had intended, the practical effect which she did not
intend, by arriving before, instead of after, his purposed visit to
her, thereby stopping him in spite of all her care.
'How long are letters going to Bloomsbury?' she said suddenly.
'Two hours, Joey tells me,' replied Picotee, who had already
inquired on her own private account.
'There!' exclaimed Ethelberta petulantly. 'How I dislike a man to
misrepresent things! He said there was not time for a reply!'
'Perhaps he didn't know,' said Picotee, in angel tones; 'and so it
happens all right, and he has got it, and he will not come after
They waited and waited, but Christopher did not appear that night;
the true case being that his declaration about insufficient time for
a reply was merely an ingenious suggestion to her not to be so cruel
as to forbid him. He was far from suspecting when the letter of
denial did reach him--about an hour before the time of appointment--
that it was sent by a refinement of art, of which the real intention
was futility, and that but for his own misstatement it would have
been carefully delayed.
The next day another letter came from the musician, decidedly short
and to the point. The irate lover stated that he would not be made
a fool of any longer: under any circumstances he meant to come that
self-same afternoon, and should decidedly expect her to see him.
'I will not see him!' said Ethelberta. 'Why did he not call last
'Because you told him not to,' said Picotee.
'Good gracious, as if a woman's words are to be translated as
literally as Homer! Surely he is aware that more often than not
"No" is said to a man's importunities because it is traditionally
the correct modest reply, and for nothing else in the world. If all
men took words as superficially as he does, we should die of decorum
'Ah, Berta! how could you write a letter that you did not mean
should be obeyed?'
'I did in a measure mean it, although I could have shown Christian
forgiveness if it had not been. Never mind; I will not see him.
I'll plague my heart for the credit of my sex.'
To ensure the fulfilment of this resolve, Ethelberta determined to
give way to a headache that she was beginning to be aware of, go to
her room, disorganize her dress, and ruin her hair by lying down; so
putting it out of her power to descend and meet Christopher on any
Picotee sat in the room with her, reading, or pretending to read,
and Ethelberta pretended to sleep. Christopher's knock came up the
stairs, and with it the end of the farce.
'I'll tell you what,' said Ethelberta in the prompt and broadly-
awake tone of one who had been concentrated on the expectation of
that sound for a length of time, 'it was a mistake in me to do this!
Joey will be sure to make a muddle of it.'
Joey was heard coming up the stairs. Picotee opened the door, and
said, with an anxiety transcending Ethelberta's, 'Well?'
'O, will you tell Mrs. Petherwin that Mr. Julian says he'll wait.'
'You were not to ask him to wait,' said Ethelberta, within.
'I know that,' said Joey, 'and I didn't. He's doing that out of his
'Then let Mr. Julian wait, by all means,' said Ethelberta. 'Allow
him to wait if he likes, but tell him it is uncertain if I shall be
able to come down.'
Joey then retired, and the two sisters remained in silence.
'I wonder if he's gone,' Ethelberta said, at the end of a long time.
'I thought you were asleep,' said Picotee. 'Shall we ask Joey? I