The Tragedy In A Studio by Mrs Patchett Martin
Part I. The Dead Model
I SUPPOSE it will ever be true, that one cannot be a prophet in
one's own country. I had hoped it might have been otherwise in my
case, and that mine might have been proud of me, the
Australian-taught girl artist, who, after having gone 'home' for
three years' study, had come back to Melbourne with the silver medal
of the Royal Academy and two years' experience of one of the most
reputed studios in Rome.
But no. The people who made a lounge of the studio on my 'days,'
who gushed over this 'bit' or 'that study,' never so much as bought a
sketch; and had it not been for literary work in the magazines and
newspapers, and a rare portrait, evil would have been those days in
which I hoped and struggled and grew sick and weary of it all, and
then hoped again and struggled on.
Other people who did not come to my studio said they really
'couldn't countenance a girl who lived alone, and was so
peculiar-looking;' my dress being of the plainest and simplest kind,
the said 'peculiarity' could only be laid to the score of bright
chestnut hair, and very black eyebrows and eyelashes, which perhaps
did form a rather remarkable contrast to a face of ivory pallor. And
as to my living alone, I had absolutely no relations, and could not
afford to pay a companion. When my spirit was not stung by injustice
of this kind, it was depressed by indifference, so at last I made up
my mind to try if Fortune would not be kinder to me in the old
country. I took my well-nigh worn-out courage into my wearied hands,
and, having sold all I possessed--furniture, books, pictures--for
whatever they would fetch, engaged a passage in a ship that was
leaving a week from that time.
The last day but two had arrived; but, short as was the time that
lay before me, I hardly knew what to do with it, I was in such a
feverish state of unrest and impatience to be gone.
The hotel was deserted that morning; everybody was on Flemington
racecourse; but, lounging idly on the verandah, I became suddenly
aware of an arrival. A young man on horseback, leading a lady's
saddle-horse by the bridle, had alighted, and was giving both horses
in charge to one of the inevitable stable-boys, who, all the world
over, seem to spring out of the ground at the first sound of a
horse's hoof in the distance. A waiter was also to the fore; and I
could almost fancy I heard my own name inquired for, and the
response--'Yessir; cert'nly. Who shall I say?'
The doubt, however, became a certainty as the door of the room was
flung open, and my unexpected visitor entered. I neither knew the
name that was announced--Alston--nor the person to whom it belonged,
a strong, sunburnt young fellow of about four-and-twenty, in high
boots, and a light tweed suit dusty from riding, looking like any
other twenty of his fellows after a long ride from some probably
remote station. But I shall never forget the expression that met my
gaze as his eyes looked into mine--the depth of sadness, the hurt,
pitiful look of a wounded animal patiently bearing a pain it can
neither realise nor understand. My woman's sympathy must have made
itself outwardly visible, for his first words were,--
'You will come with me, will you not? I know you will come. Can
you get ready at once? I have a lady's saddle-horse at the door.
Please put on your habit, and bring your painting things with
you--that is all.'
The abrupt strangeness of the request did not seem to strike me,
and I answered in a natural manner, 'I am very sorry. I am afraid it
is impossible; perhaps you are not aware that I am sailing the day
after to-morrow for England?'
'And you don't even know who I am. But I quite forgot, Miss
Challis--I have a letter with me that will explain.'
I took the twisted slip of paper he held out to me with an
unsteady, tremulous hand, and motioned to a chair, into which he
threw himself heavily with a long-drawn breath of fatigue or emotion.
This is what I read:--
'You will probably have heard of me--Mordaunt of Telemon. My
daughter, my only child, is lying dead. In the name of woman's
charity I beseech you to come and paint her for her heart-broken
father. The bearer, Dick Alston,--my son who might have been,--will
bring you back with him and will take every care of you. I entreat
you to come without delay.
I don't think I hesitated. I think I had made up my mind even
before I had come to the signature. Every letter of the bold, manly
writing, that should have been so firm and strong, was shaky, as if
the palsied hand of age had held the pen. As I looked up I saw that
Dick Alston had been watching me while I read, his hand nervously
grasping the arm of the chair. Now he sprang up and followed me as I
moved towards the door of the inner chamber.
'You are coming, I see. Thank God! You can't think how he has set
his heart on having her picture, Miss Challis. He had seen the
likeness you painted last year of Judge Haughton's daughter. It
suddenly came across him that it would be a comfort. I don't think he
could have let her go, but for this.'
I paused with my hand on the door handle, and the question forming
itself on my lips--'When?'
'The day after to-morrow, I think. She died at dawn, poor little
darling! I started almost directly.'
The young fellow spoke with a strangled sob in his throat, and I
left him without another word to make my slight preparations.
And thus it happened that I, Magdalen Challis, on the very eve of
my departure from my native land, perhaps for ever, started on an
expedition to an unknown place with a perfect stranger, for the
purpose of painting the picture of a dead girl I had never seen, for
a man I had never heard of.
After first starting off, we rode side by side for about a couple
of hours in almost unbroken silence. A thirty miles' journey lay
before us; and although the horses had had a short rest, and were
fully aware of the fact that they were returning homewards, yet we
rode but slowly, with occasional stoppages. The pretty little mare on
which I was mounted fretted and chafed at an unaccustomed touch; she
was evidently used to a lighter hand, and probably to a far lighter
weight than mine; and my companion's animal began to show signs of
'Poor brute!' said Dick Alston at last. 'I didn't spare him riding
in, this morning, and, but for you, Miss Challis, I am afraid I
should not be doing so now.'
I suggested that in any case we could not expect to arrive at our
destination before nightfall, and I should not be able to set myself
to my pitiful task until the morning. In this he acquiesced, but I
saw that he was in a condition of feverish impatience to be back that
was almost unendurable. My own feelings were the reverse of pleasant,
as can well be imagined; but while anxious not to intrude upon a
great grief, or to appear inquisitive, I yet felt I had been thrust
into a position in this sad drama in which a natural and legitimate
interest in my fellow-actors could hardly be misconstrued into mere
This thought must also have occurred to the young fellow himself,
for he suddenly emerged from his gloomy musings to say,--
'It's real good of you, Miss Challis, to have come straight off
like this on this miserable errand, and not to have asked any
questions either. I think you ought to know something about us all,
and poor little Lily.'
Thus it happened that by degrees I was able to piece together and
connect the story that Dick Alston told me. It was nothing very new
after all, and it seemed to me that in the telling of it the young
fellow's love idealized and glorified the poor little heroine who was
weak enough to let herself die, and selfish enough to break the
hearts of two men who loved her for an intangible and visionary fancy
based on no foundation.
He spoke of a motherless and only child, petted and spoilt by a
tender father, a doting old nurse, a devoted young lover--taking all
the affection that was lavished on her as a right, something as
natural as the trees and flowers and the sunlight. And then, tiring
of her Paradise, and turning to the stranger who entered its gates
from another world of which she knew nothing--a man who had
lived--who had the curious attraction that world--worn,
travel-stained wayfarers of his kind possess for such Eves in their
innocent ignorance. To this conclusion jumped my travelled
But, said honest Dick Alston, just even to a rival, 'I don't know
that Gordon was what you would have called a bad fellow, Miss
Challis. He had been extravagant, backed bills too, sold out of his
regiment, and displeased his father, who had shipped him off to
Australia--there was nothing worse against him than that. But he made
no friends on the station, and always seemed as if he thought himself
rather superior to all of us other fellows. And Lily was flattered by
his notice of her, and pleased to be taught little Italian songs, and
to have poetry read to her. Her father and I hadn't perhaps treated
her like a grown-up woman. I was waiting till she was eighteen to ask
her to marry me. Mind you, I don't think he ever made actual love to
her; and even if he knew he was turning her little head, he didn't
set about deliberately to break her heart. But one day when he had
ridden into town for the mail letters, he sent back a hurried note to
say important family affairs called him back to England at
once,--that a vessel was leaving the next morning, and there would be
just time for the messenger to ride back with some things he
specified, and the rest of his belongings might be distributed among
the station hands. He thanked Mr. Mordaunt for much courtesy and
kindness, and sent his love to the Australian lily. She was to keep
his Browning, and would perhaps sometimes read over the pieces they
had read together, so that he should not be quite forgotten. That was
six months ago, and from that moment Lily drooped and pined like a
broken flower. We heard that Gordon had inherited a property and
changed his name, and a week since news came out of his marriage.
That was the finishing stroke--the last nail that went home.'
The young fellow broke off with a shudder; his own simile had
conjured up a painful picture. I knew that in imagination he heard
the sound of the nails being driven into his dead love's coffin.
'The day after to-morrow,' he went on, half to himself, in broken
sentences. 'Poor little girl! Buried on her birthday,--only
eighteen,--and I was waiting for that day!'
He said no more, but spurred on his tired horse, and the rest of
the ride was accomplished in silence.
Darkness had fallen like a pall by the time we reached our
destination. I felt unutterably weary, physically worn out, and
almost fell prone on the threshold as I dismounted. Young Alston said
something about looking after the horses, and handed me over to a
grave, elderly serving-woman who had come forward, and ushered me
into the house.
'You must not expect to see the master,' she said; 'he will not
leave the child to-night. But you must eat, young lady, and I daresay
you will be glad afterwards of rest. You must be faint and very
tired. I will bring you some refreshment here.'
She removed my hat, bathed my face and hands, and even took off my
habit body, replacing it by a white dressing-jacket which she threw
over my shoulders. I submitted without a word to her kind
ministrations, and she waited upon me where I sat, drawing up a table
by the side of the chair, on which she set a cold repast.
'You are very kind,' I said at last, when a little restored by the
wine and bread and fruit of which I had partaken (I could eat nothing
else), 'and I think I would like to go to bed directly.'
It was a bedroom into which she had brought me. She pointed to a
little slip of a dressing-room partitioned off it. 'I am sleeping
there, and shall be within call of you, Miss Challis. I am Lily's old
Great tears welled up into her eyes and trickled down her cheeks
as she mentioned the girl's name; but she was bearing her grief
quietly, and was endeavouring, I could see, to restrain as far as
possible any outward demonstration of it.
'You will find all you may require,' she said, 'and I shall not be
long without looking in. Try to sleep, Miss Challis;' and she wished
me good--night and left me.
I had been in a state of unrest for days past; my own preparations
for departure and leave-takings, though causing no heart-pangs, had
somewhat excited and fatigued me. Then came this unexpected and
extraordinary summons. Perhaps the exhausting ride of the day had
been the best thing that could have happened to quiet and calm me. At
any rate, I was too wearied to think either of myself or others.
Almost as soon as my head touched the pillow I slept--a profound,
dreamless, and unbroken sleep.
When I awoke it was seven o'clock in the morning of the next day.
It was not until some moments later that I realized where I was, and
for what purpose. After I was dressed and had partaken of some
breakfast, the nurse, who had again waited on me, said simply, 'If
you are ready, Miss Challis, I will take you to Lily.'
It was a one-storied house, and the only room in which I had
hitherto been was on the ground-floor; but now the nurse preceded me
up a flight of shallow stairs, and quietly opened the door of a room,
into which she entered reverentially, as into a church. I followed
mechanically, almost in spite of myself, with downcast eyes which
feared what they might see when their gaze should be raised and
concentrated. Without looking, I became conscious of details--of
matting on the floor, of cool-looking chintz coverings and draperies,
of the heavy scent of flowers, of a white bed facing the door.
Slowly at last I looked up as I stood by the side of it. The bed
was empty. But on a couch by the window, which was open to the
verandah, lay a frail, white-robed form over which the nurse was
bending. She beckoned me to her side, and I looked for the first time
upon my dead model. A lily indeed! On earth, love's sweet virgin
martyr, now one of Heaven's angels!
I had never looked on Death before, orphan though I was. I had
feared his unknown, nameless terrors and never dreamt of such calmly
beautiful repose, such pure and passionless peace.
And peace fell upon me as I looked.
When I was at last able to turn away from my contemplation, I saw
that the nurse was no longer there, and knew that the time had come
when I must set myself to the task which had to be begun and
completed that day.
I felt relieved that none of the ghastly paraphernalia of the
grave surrounded the girl, who, clad in some soft white woollen
garment, was lying on the couch, over which had been spread a large
opossum rug; a crimson shawl of China crape was thrown lightly across
her knees and feet, and a mass of white flowers strewn over it. On
the edge of the couch a book was lying, which seemed to have just
slipped from her grasp. I did not need to look at it to know that it
was the Browning, and one might have imagined she had fallen asleep
while reading it. Such was the picture that I saw and painted, at
first calmly and steadfastly enough.
I must have been at work for several hours when the nurse came in,
and, in the quiet but decided manner which she had adopted with me
from the beginning, insisted on my leaving off for a time to take the
food which she had prepared for me in the room downstairs. I was
probably away about half-an-hour; as I returned, and had almost
reached the top of the short staircase, some one passed from that
room into another of which the door was quietly but quickly closed,
and then the stillness was broken by the painful sound of a man's
I felt unnerved as I sat down again to my work. The sunlight that
filtered through a trellis of leaves on the verandah seemed to cast
strange shadows over Lily's face... I could fancy that I saw her
blue-veined eyelids quiver--that her long lashes trembled on her
waxen cheek--surely a faint, wan smile was flickering over her
I threw down my brush, and buried my face in my hands. I think I
must have remained long in that position, for it seemed to me when I
once more raised my head that the room had grown almost dark. With a
sudden desperation I seized my brushes again, and resumed my task. I
painted quickly, feverishly, with hurried glances at the motionless
form, whose face I hardly dared to look at. And then fell the sudden
Australian twilight, and a breeze sprang up, and blew the muslin
window drapery across my face. I could hear the soft pit-a-pat of
falling raindrops, and my beating heart kept time to the sound. Then
the wet leaves of a shrub on the verandah swung in at the window, and
cast a shower of drops around. They fell chill and wet on my own warm
hands, they fell on those other cold ones, and I bent forward
trembling to wipe them off. Horror! what did I see? Tears on the dead
The ground seemed to give way beneath me. I felt myself sway and
stagger. I fell across the couch. I remember no more.
The next day at an early hour I left Telemon with Mr. Mordaunt's
cheque for £500 in my note-book, and with a haunting memory at
my heart that will never depart from it. I saw Dick Alston for a few
moments only, in which he acted as messenger for the host whom I was
not to see at all.
An overseer 'who could be trusted' was to be my escort back to
Melbourne, Dick Alston, of course, not being able to leave, as the
funeral was to take place that afternoon. All through the long ride
from the station--a solitary one to all intents and purposes of
companionship, my escort either preceding or riding behind me in
silence--I could think of nothing but Dick Alston's words: 'Buried on
her birthday, poor little girl! Buried on her birthday!' For, by a
curious coincidence, I remembered that it was my birthday too, and my
heart sank with a vague fore-boding of disaster that should result to
me from the association.
'Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' was the cry
that rose unbidden to my lips, with an involuntary perversion of its
meaning that I was powerless to prevent. Who should deliver me from
an undying remembrance of death itself? Who shall break the link that
must ever bind me living to the dead girl buried on my birthday? The
thought pursued and remained with me even on board the ship that was
to bear me away to new scenes and a new life. It took tangible shape
and action, impelling me to perpetuate it by an outward and visible
sign that should abide with me, and prevent me forgetting if I would.
In the seclusion of my cabin it forced pencil and brushes into my
unwilling fingers, till at first a faint sketch outlined itself on
the canvas, and then the contours filled themselves in with all those
accessories and details that seemed burnt in on my mental vision. A
girl with closed eyes lying on a couch, her brown hair spread out
upon the pillow, a book fallen from a nerveless grasp, white flowers
on a crimson covering, wet leaves blown in at an open casement, and
always tears--tears on the wan, white cheeks--tears escaping from the
closed waxen eyelids!
Part II. The Veiled Picture
MY nervous system had received a shock which resulted in an attack
of utter prostration, accompanied by low fever. When the Storm-King
arrived in the docks, I was unable to stand, and quite incapable of
deciding for myself, or even of giving directions as to my
destination. I had made no friends on the passage, and had rather
shrunk from well-intentioned proffers of assistance and counsel. The
question, however, had finally resolved itself into what was to be
done with me? With me, Magdalen Challis, that strong and self-reliant
young woman, now lying there in her deck chair, listening to the
discussion as if it concerned somebody else!
And the ship was actually in, and people coming on board to look
after their friends amongst all the indescribable bustle and
commotion of greetings and collection of luggage, etc. Idly my gaze
rested on a lady who had come on board with a lovely petted little
daughter, to fetch and bring away her 'very own self' the king-parrot
and yellow-crested cockatoo that some kind Australian friend had sent
out to the little girl.
The interest which I had ceased to feel in myself and my own
concerns, or those of any other human being, was suddenly roused and
centred in the pretty English mother and child, who were standing
close to my chair while waiting for their precious consignment.
I saw the little one clutch at her mother's dress to arrest her
attention, and caught a look of wonderment in the big blue eyes that
were fixed upon myself.
'What the matter with the pale lady, mamma?'
'Hush, Lucy! it is rude to make remarks about people. The lady
will hear you.'
But the eyes of the speaker were turned upon me too, and I read a
sweet soft pity in them, just as I had read the wondering
indifference of childhood in those of her little girl. A sudden
impulse moved me to speak.
'I have been very ill,' I said; 'I am alone on board--I have
money, but I don't know a soul in London, nor even where to go.'
I knew afterwards, when little Lucy's mother had become my one
dear woman friend in the great world of London, that I had hardly
finished speaking that day on board when I fell back fainting in my
chair, and the parrot and cockatoo became a mere secondary
Mrs. Rivers held a hurried consultation with the doctor and the
captain,--the latter, who knew who I was, being thus in a position to
vouch for my respectability,--and carried me off then and there to
lodgings that she knew of in a Surrey farmhouse, giving up the rest
of the season, with all her engagements, to come there also, and
herself to nurse me back to the health and vigour of which I had been
so proud, and which, but for this sisterly hand stretched out in the
hour of need, I might never otherwise have regained.
But though my splendid health and strength of body in time
returned to me, I was never again quite the same woman I had been
before the terrible ordeal which had so nearly overthrown my mental
balance. I was for ever haunted by the remembrance of my dead model,
and could not divest myself of the foreboding that some tragic result
to myself was yet to follow the chance connection of my own birthday
with hers on the day of her burial. Two anniversaries had come and
gone with no special event to mark them; the third was not far
Fortune meanwhile had been most kind, and had led me through
pleasant paths to a pinnacle of success, where stood a flower-crowned
temple of happiness of which she had given me the key.
From the day in which I had taken my studio in Chelsea, everything
had prospered with me. In my wildest visions of success I had never
aspired to such a position as the one in which I found myself on the
eve of my twenty-fifth birthday, a woman of ample means, admired and
feted, famous and envied, beautiful and beloved.
Yes--not only had Fame stooped to place her chaplet on my brows,
but Love had kissed me on the mouth, and taken my hand in his.
Between them they had led me to the feast; and while the pungent
perfume of Fame's incense clung with subtle fragrance to my garments
and my hair, Love held out to me the cup of rich red wine, of which I
drank deep draughts till the thrill of life ran through me to my
finger-tips. 'Twas in this supreme moment that a formless shadow cast
its gloom athwart the brilliant sunlight, and a pale finger wrote
upon the wall--'Lily, Lily, Lily--buried on her birthday!'
That anniversary had now returned for the third time, and I had
nerved myself to meet and celebrate it as usual. Shut up within my
studio, admittance denied to all, I offered up a propitiatory
sacrifice; the sacrifice of one of those bright days of life that are
all too few and short--one whole day!
Taking from its resting-place the picture which I kept jealously
hidden all the year from my own eyes as well as from those of others,
I reverentially withdrew the crape that veiled it, and forced myself
to gaze upon the dead girl, who, I trust, unconsciously, seemed to
influence and mar the life which had never so much as touched the
fringe of hers, but which she had enchained and bound in those
fetters from which death had released her.
The studio was transformed into a kind of chapelle ardente; the
blinds drawn close, all light as far as possible excluded, wax
candles burning on a table with a black velvet covering that stood in
front of the easel, white flowers everywhere. Myself in white,
girdled with a sash of deep violet, offering up my sacrifice to--whom
or what--I knew not.
Thus did Una Rivers find me. She had been of late such a frequent
visitor, that my orders to admit no one had probably not been
considered to include herself. After a moment's pause of bewildered
surprise, her laugh rang out like a silver bell.
'Why, Magdalen, what freak is this, and what new and startling
picture does it portend? I did not know that artists "composed" in
this way. I must own that it is all so very realistic, quite
Tosca-ish, in fact, that I felt almost alarmed for a moment.'
For sole answer, I suddenly broke into a passion of hysteric
weeping. Oh, the relief of those blessed, weak, womanish tears! Una
wisely did not attempt to check them; she just held my hand in a
firm, close clasp, and let the fit exhaust itself. A devil had been
cast out of me, and after a time I was myself again, and able to tell
her the story of the picture,--that story which for those three years
had veritably held me bound and enchained under a kind of demoniac
possession. I had never before spoken of it to any human being: at
the outset, I felt as if I were committing sacrilege in doing so now;
but by degrees, while I was speaking, all my morbid imaginings were
dispelled, peace returned to my heart, and the horrible, haunting,
formless dread which I had so long cherished, vanished like the
troubled memory of a dream. I had passed through fire with a spectre
which was consumed while I was saved; but from its ashes had arisen
an angel, with the sweet face of a mortal woman, who held my hand in
hers and smiled upon me as she wiped away my tears.
'You are yourself again, Magdalen dearest. This terrible
experience, I venture to say, will become to you a sad memory, and
nothing more. By degrees, too, even that will pass away, and for a
beginning, let us both set to work to alter all this gloomy mise en
scène; come, help me to make your pleasant studio bright
We extinguished the tapers and let in the sunlight; the black
velvet pall was replaced by a bright striped Algerian cloth; and even
the blooms of my balcony plants, the vivid scarlet geraniums and
yellow calccolarias, were ruthlessly plucked by Mrs. Rivers' busy
little fingers to mingle with the white waxen scented blossoms. The
easel was moved into a corner of the room, and its funereal drapery
of crape cast aside into a closet; but, with one of those subtle
delicacies of womanly feeling which none but a woman can appreciate,
as my friend took off from my waist the mourning sash of violet that
encircled it, she threw it tenderly across the denuded easel.
'All this explains much, Magdalen,' said she, 'that has hitherto
puzzled and even troubled me in your conduct towards my brother Val.
That you love him, dear fellow, I know, and I believe you are proud
of the love he feels for you; but that there was something on your
mind which you had not told either of us, has been patent to me since
the first moment I knew you. But I trusted you, dear, and believed
that in your own good time you would tell him all.'
'I have had the feeling that there was a doom upon me, Una, and I
loved him too well to involve him in it.'
'But that was a purely morbid fancy, darling. You will not keep
him waiting any longer now. You will fix the day, will you not, to
make him happy? Sometimes I have thought,' she continued, 'that it
might seem to you too short a time had elapsed since he lost his
wife. Poor Gracie! But it is nearly eighteen months ago. She was our
cousin, you know, and we were both fond of her in a cousinly way; but
Val never loved her, Magdalen. He has never loved any other woman but
'Tell me then--How was it? Why did he marry her?'
'Don't you know, darling? But of course not--Val would not tell.
It was an act of pure generosity on his part. Grace had offended
Uncle Stephen by marrying against his wishes,--a foolish, bad
marriage it was; but she was an only child, and had always had her
own way. Uncle Stephen, too, had set his heart on her husband,
whoever he might be, taking her name, as she was quite an heiress.
People thought he would eventually come round; but when he died, it
was discovered that he had left all his money away from her to Val,
who was to take his name and enter into undisputed possession at
once. This was partly to punish Grace, and partly, I verily believe,
to annoy our father, with whom he had quarrelled, by making Val
independent of him. They were both men of stern, unforgiving spirit,
and Val had also got into the black books at home, and had had to
seek his fortune in Australia, whence he was hastily summoned by the
news that this fortune had been left him. You know Val had been in
I nodded my head in acquiescence. Yes, I knew; but as we had never
met out there, nor had I even heard of a Mr. Lennox, I had not asked
him any questions upon a subject on which he had not volunteered
information. I had shaken the dust of my unappreciative country off
my feet. I never meant to return there. I was trying to become
thoroughly English in all my ways and mode of life. I wanted to
forget Australia altogether.
'And so,' continued Mrs. Rivers, 'as Val had been summoned home by
a mere bare telegram, he did not know any particulars. When he found
that he was to be enriched at the expense of poor little Grace, who
had become a widow only two days after her father's death by an
accident that had befallen her drunken, good-for-nothing husband, he
point-blank refused to take one penny of the money that had been left
to him. Grace on her side was not to be outdone, and this kind of
thing went on for months, and might have continued indefinitely--Val
declaring he should go back to Australia, Grace saying she would go
out as a governess, and a fortune lying idle between them--had not
Gracie discovered one fine day that she had fallen desperately in
love with Val, poor little thing! She told him, it appears, that it
would kill her if he went out to Australia, and--well, I suppose it
really amounted to asking him to marry her, if one could ever have
got at the exact truth. However that may be, they were married after
a decent interval of widowhood on her side, but she only lived six
months to enjoy her happiness; and if ever there were a happy wife it
was Grace. She was quite utterly content and satisfied, and thought
Val a perfect husband--as he was--to her. But it would require a very
different kind of woman to make Val happy.
Una's soft brown eyes were fixed upon me with an expression that
went to my heart. I could not resist their pleading inquiry.
'Do not fear, Una, I know I can do so, and, please God, I
'Do you know, Magdalen, you look as I could fancy one of the
vestal virgins, or a prophetess of old, taking a vow to devote
herself to some lifelong duty and service. You are such a grand
woman--the ideal wife for my noble Val.'
For all reply, I took her little curly brown head between both my
hands and kissed her on her smooth forehead. What she had said was
quite true. I felt as if I had solemnly dedicated myself to a
lifelong duty and service which was at the same time the object of my
fondest hopes, my deepest prayers, my highest aspirations, my most
perfect and unselfish love.
For a time we sat there serious and silent--sisters in heart, as
we hoped soon to become in reality. We were both recalled to a more
everyday state of feeling by the striking of a clock on the
'Five!' exclaimed Mrs. Rivers, springing from her seat. 'Why, I
must have been here an hour at the very least, and I have not even
told you what I came for. It went completely out of my mind when I
came in and saw you.'
'Excuse me,' I interrupted, shrinking from a recurrence to the
past, 'and sit down again, Una, for five minutes. I will ring for
'But indeed I ought to be at home now. I promised the child to
have tea with her in the school-room, and we are dining at seven
ourselves to-night. You have got to dine with us too, Magdalen, for
Val has a box for Lohengrin. You said you wanted to hear your famous
countrywoman, Madame Melba, in the part of "Elsa;" and everybody
knows that a Wagner enthusiast like yourself would not want to miss
one note of the overture, so it was all settled I was to come and let
you know quite early, and about six Val would fetch you himself, and
bring you on to Lowndes Square. I can't persuade my dear old stupid
Guy to come, so we shall have to share Val between us. And I really
must be off, darling. You can give Val some tea when he comes instead
She was not to be persuaded to stay; so, having acquiesced in the
arrangement, I kissed the little woman and let her go.
It was just striking half-past five when a tall, fair,
distinguished-looking man came leisurely down the steps of the Reform
Club and got into a hansom that was in waiting. 'Cheyne Row' was the
address given to the driver, and thither we will follow him on his
way. But the drive, short as it was, was not to be an uneventful one,
for the vehicle nearly came into collision with an omnibus that was
coming down the crowded King's Road thoroughfare, and as it drew
sharply to one side to avoid it, a little child, who had just started
to cross the street, was caught by the wheel and thrown across the
kerb upon the pavement. She was not hurt in any way, a fact which the
gentleman, who had sprung out of the cab to her assistance, was
careful to ascertain as he raised her up and placed her in safety on
the pavement. One of the dirty little fat arms had been grazed just
sufficiently to draw blood, however, and the child was preparing to
set up a howl, which was promptly arrested at sight of a bright new
shilling laid in its palm, over which the fingers closed immediately.
The gentleman got into the cab again and proceeded on his way,
reaching his destination without further adventure. He did not
dismiss it, but told the driver he should probably keep him about
half-an-hour; and when the door was opened, entered the house without
parley, as if he knew that the person he had come to see was in and
would receive him. In the same way he closely followed the servant
along a ground-floor passage, and was in the room as soon as, or even
before, she had announced, 'Mr. Lennox, madam.'
There was only one person present, who rose up from a low seat to
greet him; a woman not much shorter than himself, with the splendid
proportions and noble carriage of a Greek goddess. But there was no
mistaking the mere womanliness in the look she turned upon him, or in
the tones of her low, full voice.
'Val, Val!' she cried, and threw herself upon his neck, and clung
to him in a very passion of abandonment. The man himself turned pale
with the surprise and joy of it, and the intensity of his own
emotion. But as suddenly disengaging herself, she started back with a
cry of horror--'Oh! what is it? What is it? Are you hurt? Blood on
your wrist! For heaven's sake, Val, what has happened?'
She was now trembling like a leaf, and he gently guided her to the
couch from which she had risen, and sat down by her side.
'It is nothing, my dearest, absolutely nothing. A little child
fell in the street, and grazed its arm; in picking it up and holding
it for a moment this must have been the result.'
But she persisted in asking for details of the affair, and he had
to tell her the whole incident. She had turned a little pale, and he
saw her shiver as he described the accident.
'Why, Magdalen, my queen, you are surely not quite your own brave
self to-day? Come, let me look at you, silly Magdalen! And sweet
Magdalen, and beautiful Magdalen--sweeter and more beautiful today
He was looking at her, not only with the enraptured admiration of
a lover, but with the critical appreciation of a man who knows how
and what to admire, and can estimate at its proper value the beauty
of a woman as of that of a picture or a statue.
Then suddenly his expression changed to one of proud and satisfied
proprietorship, as he exclaimed,--
'Among all the handsome women in London, you will be the loveliest
in the whole opera-house to-night, Magdalen.'
Well might he say so, for this was the picture that met his eyes.
A noble figure robed in some soft white fabric embroidered in silver
that draped her in classic folds. It was cut slightly low around the
throat, which rose out of it like a polished column; but the
beautiful contours of neck and bust were covered, only the massive
rounded arms bared to their full length from the shoulder. In her
sunny hair she wore a silver fillet, and a silver girdle encircled
her waist. In each was thrust a cluster of blood-red blossoms of some
rare tropical plant, which threw out the creamy tint of her draperies
and the ivory pallor of her face,--a face from which the grey eyes
looked steadily out beneath straight heavy black brows and lashes,
which formed a curious contrast to hair of a bright chestnut that
seemed to have caught and imprisoned the sunlight in its burnished
masses. It was altogether a strange, wonderful face, with its curved,
sensitive lips and dilated nostrils, its powerful chin and broad low
forehead,--a face that flashed upon you its varying moods and its
varied expressions, whose swift, sudden smile was like unexpected
On only two human beings did this smile ever linger and soften
into tenderness, and these were Una Rivers and her brother. Such a
look came across her now as she turned to the man who was gazing upon
her with earnest intensity, while he attempted to speak with
playfulness. She replied both to his look and words.
'Silly, am I, Val? and sweet, which is better; and beautiful,
which is best of all? I am silly for myself, because it is my
birthday to-day, and I don't want the least little miserable trifle
to happen on such a day to spoil it. Silly Magdalen! And sweet for
you, Val, because I love you; and beautiful for you, Val, so that you
may love me.'
Val Lennox caught her to his heart.
'Your beauty is not what I care for, Magdalen, lovely as you are.
It is not--Yes; it is, it is--my goddess, my idol. I love it, I
worship it. Your beauty is driving me mad.'
He pressed her closer to him as he spoke, raining passionate
kisses on her hair, eyes, throat, and arms, then threw himself at her
feet, clasping her knees, and buried his face in her lap with a
Magdalen bent down and laid her hand on it with a soft, caressing
'Val, listen to me. It is my birthday, as I told you. You did not
know it, and you brought me no gift, but I shall give you one
instead. I promised Una to-day I would marry you whenever you chose
to ask me. And I give myself to you now--this moment. I am yours when
you like to claim me--do you hear, Val? Your very own, your
He slowly raised himself to a level with the woman who was bending
over him, and, seating himself on the couch, threw his arm around
her. Her eyes sank beneath the intensity of his gaze; she swayed
towards him as it were involuntarily, but all at once sprang to her
feet with a cry,--
'The blood, the blood on your wrist! Oh, let me wash it off, and
then we will go, Val! We had better go--you know we had better
She had taken hold of his now passive hand, and drawn him after
her to a corner of the studio where a white marble nymph held up a
vase from which water flowed into a shell beneath. Like one in a
dream she turned on the little silver tap and took up a sponge from
the basin. He was gazing almost mechanically before him, beyond the
little fountain to the corner of the room where a small easel draped
in violet stood with a picture upon it. All at once his glance was
arrested, and a look of surprise came into his face.
'Lily Mordaunt!' he exclaimed, and made a step forward.
Whether in loosing Magdalen's hand, which was holding his, she
lost her balance, dazed and bewildered as she was from the violent
emotion through which she had just passed, or what happened to cause
her to fall, was never known. She swayed and tottered for a moment,
but he was not in time to catch her before she fell heavily
backwards, overturning the easel. In her fall her temple struck on
the sharp edge of the marble basin, and great drops of blood fell
like a slow rain upon the picture. Horror-stricken he raised her in
his arms, but the doom she dreaded had wrought its
consummation--Magdalen Challis was dead.