Miss Brown, V1
by Vernon Lee
TO HENRY JAMES, I DEDICATE, FOR GOOD LUCK, MY FIRST ATTEMPT AT A
IT was melancholy to admit that Italy also had ceased to
interest him, thought Hamlin, as he smoked his cigarette on the
hillside above the Villa Arnolfini; melancholy, although, in truth, he
had suspected as much throughout the journey, and, indeed, before
starting. Pale, milky morning sky, deepening into luminous blue
opposite the fast-rising sun; misty blue-green valley bounded by
unsubstantial Apennine peaks and Carrara crags; yellow shimmer of
vines and of maize, green sparkle of pine and fir branches, glitter of
vermilion sand crumbling under his feet among the sear grass and the
brown cistus tufts,—all these things seemed to have lost for him
their emotional colour, their imaginative luminousness. He tried to
realise the time when all these things had given him a thrill, had
gone to his head, nay, when the mere sense of being in Italy had done
so; but now the very words "thrill" and "intoxication" seemed false,
disgusting, and vulgar. Formerly, at least, such things had soaked
into him, dyed his mind with colour, saturated it with light; instead
of remaining, as now, so separate from him, so terribly external, that
to perceive them required almost an effort. He and the world had been
becoming paler in the last three years; it was melancholy, but that
seemed quite natural and in keeping; and besides, a washed-out world,
a man with worn-out feelings, have quite as much psychologic interest
for a poet as the reverse.
Walter Hamlin had never been your splash-of-scarlet and
dash-of-orange-and-skyblue, lust-and-terror kind of lyrist; but he
had begun his poetical career with a quiet concentra- tion of colour,
physical and moral, which had made his earliest verses affect one like
so many old church windows, deep flecks of jewel lustre set in quaint
stiff little frames, with a great deal of lead between, and supreme
indifference to anatomy and perspective. And as a painter (perhaps
just because, despite his own contrary opinion)—he certainly had less
original genius as painter than as poet—he had continued in this
habit of gemlike harmonies of colour; but in his poetry, and in his
reality as a man, it struck him that he had little by little got paler
and paler, colours turning gradually to tints, and tints to shadows;
pleasure, pain, hope, despair, all reduced gradually to a delicate
penumbra, a diaphanous intellectual pallor, of which this utter
listlessness, this indifference even to having grown indifferent, was,
as it were, the faint key-note. The world was a pale and prismatic
mist, full of vague, formless ghosts, in which it was possible to see
only as far as to-day; and, indeed, why wish to see that paler to-day
called to-morrow? Perhaps there was a little depression added to
Hamlin's usual listlessness. It had given him a kind of little shock
to see Melton Perry again, after those twelve or thirteen years;
bringing back to him the time when he had been the most brilliant and
eccentric of that little knot of æsthetic undergraduates, at whose
strange doings as Greek gods, and Provençal poets, and Norse heroes,
Oxford had murmured in those philistine days, and which had welcomed
young Hamlin, with his girlish beauty and pre-Raphaelite verses, as a
sort of mixture of Apollo and Eros, sitting at the head of the
supper-table dressed in green silk, with rose garlands on his head,
while Perry led a chorus of praise, dressed in indigo velveteen, with
peacocks' feathers in his button-hole, and silver-gilt grasshoppers in
his hair. Poor old Perry! Absurd days those were, thought Hamlin, as
he walked slowly towards the house, through the grass and hemlock
bending with dew, pushing aside the fig branches and vine trails along
the narrow path between the terraced olives; absurd days those, and
at which he could now, having grown grave and listless, only faintly
smile. Still the sight of Perry had brought back to him that recurring
sense that all those absurd lads of long-gone days, turned humdrum
dons, and parsons, and squires for the most part, had had a something,
a spontaneity, an aristocratic fibre, a sort of free-bornness, which
he missed among the clique-and-shop shoddy æstheticism with which he
now associated, and which sang his praises as those boys had sung them
so many years before. Professional poetry! professional art! faugh!
thought Hamlin; it was that feeling which had been making London
odious to him of late, and sent him abroad, he knew not whither. He
was a poet himself, and a painter also, to be sure; but somehow he
liked to feel (and yet it oppressed him) that he was not of the same
stock as his fellow-workers—that he had his coats made by less
romantic tailors, and cut his hair and beard in less pictorial style.
The sense of his difference from all those pen- and-pencil-driving
men of genius, those reviewer-poets and clerk-poets, those
once-a-week-studio-receiving painters; the sense of the dust and
smoke, as it were, of the æsthetic factory, had been choking him of
late: he would rather go and associate only with well-dressed
numskulls, go and flirt with empty-headed Faubourg St Germain ladies,
or emptier-headed Monte Carlo ladies—he would not touch pen or brush
for years. It had been silly to accept Perry's invitation to spend
September at the Villa Arnolfini; he had accepted, thinking of Perry
as he had been, a wild, roistering, half-French creature, brought up
at Louis-le-Grand, and telling wicked French stories. Good heavens!
what a change! When the wretched, thin, wasted, depressed-looking
creature, fit for a medieval picture of mansuetude, had greeted him by
night at the nearest station, and had driven him in the gig, he had
been quite unable to realise that this was indeed Melton Perry. But he
had understood all, all, when, in the bleak drawing-room, in the glare
of an ill- trimmed lamp, that lank, limp, lantern-jawed leering
creature with a Sapphic profile had come forward and seized him by
both hands, and kissed them, crying—
"Dear Mr Hamlin, I must kiss the hands that have opened the
paradise of body and soul to so many of us."
She, and her speech, and the damp dab on his hands, had passed
before him like a nightmare; he felt that he would never be able to
disassociate Mrs Melton Perry from that horrible smell of ill-trimmed,
flickering oil-lamp. It seemed to him dreadful—a sort of hideous,
harpy-like proceeding—that his old friend should have thus been
"You see," Perry had said, "I must paint things—well—not the sort
of things I exactly admire,—because, you see, there's Mrs Perry and
the children—five girls,—and last year's baby."
Perry's depressed voice had remained in Hamlin's ears. This was the
end of a bright, original fellow—married for love, too! And six
children! Hamlin had already made up his mind that he could not
possibly hold out long at the Villa Arnolfini. That Mrs Perry, with
her leering Sapphic profile, her almost amorous admiration, the limp
gown, the five girls, and last year's baby, the all-pervading smell of
oil-lamp, were too much for him. In three days, he calculated, he
might decently, on some pretext, slip off to Florence. And then—why,
from Florence he might go to America. He thought all those big hotels,
with the fifteen hundred inmates and thirteen brass bands, all that
tremendous strain, telegraph-telephone vulgarity, might be refreshing.
Hamlin had got to the bottom of the hill, and in front of him,
nestled among the olives and the vines, rose the Villa Arnolfini, a
time- and weather-stained Tuscan country-house, with its rose-hedges
gone wild among the beans and artichokes, its grotesque ivy-draped
terra-cotta statues, its belvedere towers, from whose crannied sides
and yellow lichened tiles the pigeons swept down on to the lawn of
overgrown grass, thick with dew in the blue morning shadow. It had a
sort of half-romantic, half-idyllic charm, which Hamlin could not help
recognising: it certainly was better than an American hotel, with ten
lifts, thirteen brass bands, and fifteen hundred inmates. But, like
everything else, it was a snare; for behind those sleepy-looking green
shutters were the pink and blue chromo-lithograph pot-boilers of
Melton Perry, were the five girls and the last year's baby, nay, were
the Sapphic leer and limp dresses of Mrs Melton Perry herself.
Making these reflections, Hamlin pushed open the green and blistered
house-door and entered the wide hall, with rickety eighteenth-century
chairs and tables marshalled round the walls. There was one good thing
about his hosts, he thought, and that was, that they had no common
breakfast, but invited their guests to do whatsoever they pleased in
the early morning. The hall was very silent, and Ham- lin wondered
how he should get any breakfast. It struck him that he had better go
and ring the bell in his bedroom. But on going upstairs he found there
was no sign of a bell either in it or in the vast scantily furnished
drawing-room, where a thick layer of dust reposed on tables and
mirrors, and the smell of last night's oil-lamp still lingered. He
saw the open door of Perry's studio; it was empty, and so was the
adjoining dressing-room, where boots and canvases littered the floor.
But on the mirror was a paper, on which was written in the largest
characters: "I am gone to sketch at the Lake of Massaciuccoli; shan't
be back till lunch; please look after Hamlin."
"Confound it!" thought Hamlin, "am I to be left in
with Mrs Perry all the morning?" But since Melton Perry thought
nothing of leaving his guest alone all the morning, he too—the
guest—might surely be permitted to slip away after breakfast from the
effusive æstheticism of his hostess. Hav- ing found no sign of life
on the first floor, Hamlin went down-stairs once more, and proceeded
to ramble about in search of breakfast, or, at least, of some servant.
The ground-floor seemed to consist entirely of servants' rooms,
offices, and strange garners, where sacks of potatoes, garden-tools,
silkworm-mats, and various kinds of pods were gathered together. They
were all empty; and empty likewise was the kitchen, its brass
saucepans and huge spits left invitingly for any one who might care to
step through the open garden-door. But next to the kitchen was a sort
of nursery, at least so he judged from the children's chairs and
battered dolls lying about—and here a table was spread with cups and
saucers and jugs, and a cut loaf and a plate of figs. "This looks more
like it," thought Hamlin, wondering what had become of the inmates of
this mysterious abode of sleep. Suddenly he heard children talking in
a room at the end of the passage, and a sort of subdued, deep,
melancholy chant, like some church song. He went to the door whence
came the sounds, and knocked gently. The childish chattering did not
stop, nor the fitful gusts of chant—deep, nasal, but harmonious and
weird, with curious, sudden, metallic falsetto notes, less like the
voice of a woman than of a youth. Hamlin knocked again, and receiving
no notice, boldly opened the door and stood on the threshold. He was
struck by the sight which met him. The room was low and vaulted, with
walls entirely frescoed with dark-blue skies sprinkled with birds,
mountains like cheeses, rivers, box-like houses, people fishing, and
plentiful ducks and parrots on perches; a faint green shimmer of
leaves came through the open windows; three or four little
yellow-headed children were scrambling on the floor, struggling
violently over the funeral of a doll in a biscuit-tin. In the middle
of the room was a large deal table, covered with singed flannel, on
the corner of which stood a brasier with some flat-irons, and a heap
of crumpled pink pinafores; and behind this table, her tall and
powerful figure, in a close-fitting white vest and white skirt,
standing out against the dark-blue painted wall and the green shimmer
from outside, was a young woman bending over a frock which she was
ironing, her bare brown arms going up and down along the board; her
massive and yet girlish body bending with the movement, and singing
that strange chant which Hamlin had heard from outside.
"I beg your pardon," said Hamlin, in Italian, as he stood in the
doorway. The children looked round, tittered, and made remarks in
shrill whispers; the girl stopped her work, stood erect, putting her
iron on the brasier, and stared full at Hamlin with large wide-opened
eyes of strange dark-greyish blue, beneath heavy masses of dark
lustreless hair, crimped naturally like so much delicate black iron
wire, on her narrow white brow.
"I beg your pardon," said Hamlin again; "but can you tell me how I
may get some breakfast?"
He could not help smiling in proffering this innocent request, so
serious and almost tragic was the face of the girl.
"It's Mr Hamlin," tittered the children, rolling under the table,
and hanging to the table-cloth.
The young woman eyed Hamlin for a second in no very gracious manner;
then answered, with a certain contemptuous listlessness in her
slightly hollowed pale cheeks and beautifully curled but somewhat
"I don't know anything about your breakfast, sir." She spoke, to
his surprise, in perfect English, with only the faintest guttural
Italian accent. "Mr Perry went to sketch at Massaciuccoli early this
morning, and took the boy with him; Mrs Perry may never be disturbed
till nine; and the cook is gone to Lucca for provisions."
"That's very sad," remarked Hamlin, laughing, and looking at this
curious and picturesque being.
The girl seemed annoyed at being discovered in that guise, for she
pulled down her white sleeves quickly.
"I suppose the cook has orders about your breakfast," she said, in
a tone which seemed to put an end to the conversation; and she took up
her iron once more. "Mrs Perry did not think you would want anything
so early; the cook will be back about nine."
But Hamlin would not be shaken off; the fact was, he enjoyed
watching this beautiful sullen creature much as he might have enjoyed
watching a cat whom he had disturbed in its sleep.
"Nine o'clock!" he said; "that's a long time to wait. Couldn't you
give me something to eat? I saw a table spread in the next room."
The girl put down her iron with a sort of subdued irritation of
"It's the children's breakfast, sir," she answered; "we have
neither tea nor coffee."
"We have milk," said the eldest of the little girls pertly, "and
"Milk and figs!" exclaimed Hamlin; "why, that's a breakfast for
the gods! and won't you," he went on rather appealingly—"won't you
share a little of it with me?"
"You are Mrs Perry's guest," said the girl more sullenly than ever,
"and of course you are welcome to anything you choose."
Hamlin felt rather taken aback.
"Indeed!" he said. "I don't wish to do anything against the habits
of the house, or disagreeable to you."
"It is not against any rules," she answered. "If you will excuse
me, I will see whether the milk is heated. The children will show you
HAMLIN felt rather contrite and humiliated as he sat down at
the square table, with the two eldest children, pert little rosy and
flaxen things, on either side of him, and the three little ones
staring at him, and then suddenly making convulsive dives under the
table-cloth and behind each other's shoulders opposite. He was the
furthest possible removed from the kind of young man who persecutes
pretty housemaids. Whatever vagaries he might have had in his life,
they were not of that sort; and now, although he had merely intended
to ask for some breakfast, he found himself somehow in the position of
pushing his presence upon a servant girl. He was vexed with himself,
and became very grave, scarce- ly answering the chatter of the
children by his side.
"And you know," said the eldest child, a pretty little minx of
eleven, fully conscious of her charms, "mamma told us you were the
great poet, and she read us a poem of yours about Sir Troilus. Mamma
always reads poetry to us—and we liked it so much,—and I liked all
about where he kisses the lady so much, and her purple dress with the
golden roses, and then about Love, where he comes and takes her by the
throat, and chokes her, and makes her feel like a furnace. Mamma says
it's just like love. Mr Thaddeus Smith was in love with the
gardener's girl when he came here last year, mamma says."
"Good heavens!" thought Hamlin, "what a mamma and what children!"
"And mamma told us to get some myrtles and put them in your room,"
blurted out a smaller one.
"Hush, Winnie! You know you shouldn't tell," said the eldest.
"And you know," insisted the younger, in her little, impertinent
lisp, "mamma said we should put the myrtles, because you made poems
about myrtles; and we were to have had on our best frocks, and met you
in the hall, and—"
"And thrown roses on the floor before you; only then papa got a
telegram saying you were coming by the late train, and we had to go to
Miss Winnie's revelations and her sister's expostulations were
interrupted by the entry of the nurse, or governess, or whatever else
she might be, carrying a large jug of milk. She had slipped on a skirt
and loose jacket of striped peasant cotton, which at a distance looked
like a dull, rich purple. She sat down at the head of the table, and
began silently helping the hot milk.
"May I cut the bread for you?" asked Hamlin, feeling quite shy from
"I don't think you will know how to do it," she answered. "We have
only yesterday's bread at this hour, until the cook returns from
market." When the milk was helped and the bread cut, she said, rather
"Now, children, say your prayer."
The children immediately set up a shrill chorus; the elder, who
wished to show off, slowly—the little ones, who were hungry, quicker;
an absurdly pseudo-poetical thanksgiving, which reminded Hamlin of the
sort of poetry presented to rich foreigners by needy Italians on
creamy, embossed, and illuminated paper. He was struck by the fact
that the girl did not join, but waited passively through this
religio-poetical ceremony; doubtless, he thought, because she was a
"That's mamma's Tuesday hymn," said Winnie; "she makes a different
one for each day of the week."
Whereupon the children fell vigorously to their breakfast of bread
and milk. Heaven knows when Hamlin had eaten bread and milk
last—probably, he thought, not since he had been out of frocks; but
it seemed to him pleasant and pastoral. He would have enjoyed this
improvised breakfast had the children chattered less incessantly
(Hamlin did not care for children), and had he not continued to feel
rather as if he had been courting a nursemaid. The young woman had as
much as she could do in pouring out more milk, giving out more figs,
and cutting more slices of bread and butter for the children; and her
conversation was entirely engrossed in admonitions to them not to
spill their milk, not to jump on their chairs, not to talk with their
mouths full, and so forth. She seemed determined, in her sullen
indifferent way, to make Hamlin understand that he might intrude his
person at that breakfast-table, but that he had no chance of intruding
his personality upon her notice. But her very indifference afforded
Hamlin an opportunity, and, as it were, a right, to examine her
appearance: one may surely look at a person who obstinately refuses to
notice one. She was very beautiful, and even more than
beautiful—strange. She seemed very young, certainly, thought
Hamlin—not more than nineteen at most; but her face, though of
perfectly smooth complexion, without furrow or faintest wrinkle, was
wholly unyouthful; the look was not of age, for you could not imagine
her ever growing old, but of a perfect negation of youth. Hamlin tried
to think what she might have been as a child, looking round on the
childish faces about him, but in vain. The complexion was of a uniform
opaque pallor, more like certain old marble than ivory; indeed you
might almost imagine, as she sat motionless at the head of the table,
that this was no living creature, but some sort of strange
statue—cheek and chin and forehead of Parian marble, scarcely stained
a dull red in the lips, and hair of dull wrought-iron, and eyes of
some mysterious greyish-blue, slate-tinted onyx: a beautiful and
sombre idol of the heathen. And the features were stranger and more
monumental even than the substance in which they seemed carved by
some sharp chisel, delighting in gradual hollowing of cheek and eye,
in sudden cutting of bold groove and cavity of nostril and lip. The
forehead was high and narrow, the nose massive, heavy, with a slight
droop that reminded Hamlin of the head of Antinous; the lips thick,
and of curiously bold projection and curl; the faintly hollowed cheek
subsided gradually into a neck round and erect like a tower, but set
into the massive chest as some strong supple branch into a tree-trunk.
He wondered as he looked at her; and wondered whether this strange
type, neither Latin nor Greek, but with something of Jewish and
something of Ethiopian subdued into a statuesque but most un-Hellenic
beauty, had met him before. The nearest approach seemed to be certain
mournful and sullen heads of Michaelangelo, the type was so
monumental, and at the same time so picturesque; and as he looked at
the girl, it seemed, despite its strangeness, as if, at some dim
distant time, he had seen and known it well before.
He looked at her with the curiosity of an artist examining a model,
or a poet trying to solve a riddle; there was, he felt conscious,
nothing insolent or offensive in his stare. Yet he felt he must break
the silence; so, with real indifference, he suddenly asked—
" How is it that you speak English so marvellously well? No one
would ever guess that you were not English."
"I am English," answered the girl.
English nationality had explained many otherwise unaccountable mixed
types to Hamlin; but this took him by surprise, and left him utterly
incredulous. This girl certainly was no Englishwoman—a Jewess,
perhaps. No, never; no Jewess was ever so pure and statuesque of
outline: some Eastern, dashed with Hindoo or Negro; they were much
coarser, more common, of far more obvious, less subtle beauty.
"You mean English by adoption," he suggested, "surely not by
"My mother was an Italian. I think her family came from Sicily or
Sardinia, or somewhere,where there are Spaniards and Moors," she
answered; "but my father was Scotch. He came from Aberdeen."
"Have you ever been in Scotland?" he asked, just by way of saying
something to mitigate the personalness of his previous questions.
"No," she answered, and her lips closed as with a spring; then she
added, as if to close all further conversation, "I was born in Italy;
my father was employed at Spezia in the docks."
The eldest Miss Perry raised her pretty little sentimental head
"Annina's father was one of those who make the big men-of-war at
"Oh, you know, we once went with papa, and saw a man-of-war, and
all the boilers and big, big cannons," interrupted a smaller one.
"And he was a bad, bad man," went on the eldest, composedly. "He
used to drink quantities of acquavite; and one day when he
had drunk so much acquavite, do you know what he did? He
tried to throw Annina's mother out of the window, and then shot
himself with a revolver."
Hamlin listened as the cruel words dribbled out, and stared at the
childish face. He had never taken any interest in children; but he had
never thought that a child could be so deliberately (as it seemed to
him) malignant. The words made his ears burn, and he felt indignant,
confused, and humiliated, as if he were a party to them. He did not
look at the girl; but he somehow saw, or felt, the sullen, suppressed
bitterness of shame in her tragic face.
"And is it true," interrupted Winnie, "that you are going to do our
picture? Mamma said you would want to paint us angels or fairies. All
the painters paint us, because, mamma says, we are the most beautiful
children in Florence. They always give us chocolate and marrons
glacés to keep us quiet."
WHEN breakfast was over, and she had made the children fold up
their napkins, the nurse took what remained of figs, bread, and milk
to lock up in the kitchen. Mildred, the eldest of the little Perrys,
sidled up to Hamlin, as he stood on the doorstep leading into the
vineyard, lighting a cigarette, and asked whether he would not like to
see her garden.
Hamlin looked down upon the innocent-looking little fiend with a
sort of disgust and contempt. "Thank you," he said; "gardens aren't
much in my line."
The little thing scowled at this rebuff of her fascinations. But a
sudden thought struck Hamlin. "Yes, by the way," he said, "I do take
an interest in gardens sometimes. Come and show me yours."
Mildred slipped her arm through his—a long-legged, fair-haired,
pre-Raphaelite child, in much-darned stockings and patched
pinafore—Winnie, the second, a rounder, more comfortable, cherubic
beauty, seized his hand. He let himself be led along, among the
prattle of the little one and the assumed shyness of the elder,
through the vineyard, where the tall, red-tipped sorghum brooms stood
among the trailing pumpkins and the tufts of fennel, to a small grove
behind the house, in whose shade were four little raked-up spaces,
with drooping marigolds and zinnias stuck into the earth, and small
"This is my garden!" cried Winnie, dragging him along, and pointing
to the melancholy little patch. "I have marigolds, and sunflowers, and
red beans and potatoes."
"And this is mine," said Mildred, raising her big blue eyes. "I
call it the garden of Acrasia; because mamma told us once about Sir
"Won't you give us anything to buy seeds with; we want tomato
seeds," clamoured Winnie.
"Hush, Winnie! I wonder you're not ashamed!" cried Mildred.
"They are very good sort of gardens," said Hamlin, fishing in his
waistcoat for loose silver, while the children looked at him with
beaming eyes; "here—I hope your tomatoes may prosper and prove
Then he suddenly turned to Mildred. "Come here," he ordered, "I
want to speak to you ;" and he sat down on a stone bench under a
plane-tree, in which the cicala was sawing away with all his might.
Mildred stood in front of him, wondering, half hoping for the usual
request that she should sit for an angel or a fairy.
"Look here," said Hamlin, quietly; "I want to know how you would
feel if your papa had been in the habit of drinking too much acquavite, and had shot himself after trying to murder your
mamma, and some nasty little girl blurted it all out at breakfast to a
The child flushed with surprise and anger; she looked as if she
would have scratched Hamlin's eyes out. But he looked steadily in her
face, and he was a stranger, a gentleman, a man, and not her papa;
circumstances which entirely overawed her. She recovered her composure
marvellously, and answered after a moment's reflection, "My papa is a
gentleman, and Annina's papa was a common man —a mascalzone
,"—with considerable triumph at her dignified argument.
is a gentleman," replied Hamlin,
sternly; "I have known him long before you were born. But remember,
if you say cruel things which hurt people's feelings, whether they be
gentle people or servants, however much your papa may be a gentleman, you won't be a lady."
And Hamlin left the little Perrys to muse upon this moral truth. He
felt quite excited; and when the excitement had subsided, he felt
quite astonished at himself. He could scarcely realise that he himself
had actually been meddling in other people's affairs, had been
reading a lesson to other people's children, all about a little girl
saying offensive things to her nurse. It was so strange that it quite
humiliated him: he had first pushed his company on to a nursemaid, and
then, unasked, fought the nursemaid's battle. This confounded Perry
household! Was it going to turn him also into a ridiculous caricature?
He went up-stairs and wrote some business letters, and corrected a lot
of proof of his new book. Then he thought it would be pleasanter to
correct the remainder in the garden; so he brought down his
writing-case, and established himself on the grass behind the house.
The first-floor balcony and the roof projected a deep shade; and on
the high grass flickered shadows of plane-trees and laurels, as
through their branches there flickered the pale-blue sky. The swifts
flew round the eaves with sharp noise, the cicalas sawed in the trees;
all was profoundly peaceable. But suddenly, from the first-floor
windows came a vague sound of childish sobbing, a confused murmur as
if of consolation. Then a pause, after which a well-known voice arose
shrill in glib Italian.
"Annina, how dare you distress the signorina Mildred? How dare you
say cruel things to my poor, poor sensitive child?"
"I have said nothing cruel to the signorina Mildred," answered a
deep, quiet voice; "the signorina Mildred went to show her garden to
Mr Hamlin, and then came back crying. I asked her what had happened,
but she refused to tell me. I have nothing to do with her tears."
"How dare you tell such an untruth?" shrieked Mrs Perry. "The
signorina Mildred said something about your father at breakfast, and
you, like a little viper, turned round upon the poor little darling.
She is nearly in hysterics! You little serpent!"
"It is one of Miss Mildred's usual lies," answered the other voice
calmly—"una delle solite bugíe."
Hamlin had been admitted too much into confidence. He took up his
writing things hastily, and removed to the furthest end of the garden,
out of reach of the dispute.
This was the pretty result of his interference! He had merely got
this poor devil of a nursemaid into a scrape. It was the fit
punishment for his folly in going out of his way to meddle with other
folk. He was very much annoyed; he had been dragged into a sordid
woman's squabble; Mrs Perry's scolding had seemed addressed to him. At
the same time, he did feel indignant that the girl should be treated
in this fashion: such a splendid, queenly creature slanged by a
sentimental, æsthetic fishwife, as he defined his hostess to himself.
The return of Melton Perry interrupted his reflections. Perry was
quite astonished to find him up, and extremely distressed at his
having had no regular breakfast.
"You see," he said, "Mrs Perry is very delicate—in short, scarcely
fit for any kind of household bother,—so that—"
"Oh," answered Hamlin, "I had a capital breakfast with your
Then they fell to talking of old times; and little by little there
emerged from out of the overworked, henpecked Melton Perry of the
present, the resemblance of the proud and brilliant Melton Perry of
"Of course," said Perry, as they sat smoking in the sheltered
studio—"of course I'm very happy, and that sort of thing. My
wife—well, she's a little impetuous, and I don't always agree about
her way of bringing up the children—but there's no saying that she
isn't an immensely superior kind of woman. I don't always agree with
her, mind you; but she has the true poetic temperament, and"—here he
made an evident effort—"she keeps me up to the mark with my work. I
was always a lazy hound, you know, and all that. In short, I know I'm
quite a singularly fortunate man. Nevertheless,—well, I tell you my
frank opinion about matrimony: never do it; the odds are too great.
My own belief is, that, especially for an artist, it's a fellow's
ruin. Mine, you see, is an exceptional position. But if you take my
advice, old man, never marry."
"I don't think there is the faintest chance," answered Hamlin.
"Women have got to bore me long ago: all that in my poems is mere
recollections of the past—descriptions of a myself which has long
come to an end."
"I'm glad of it," replied Perry. "It is a foolish thing to get tied
to a woman."
"Foolish indeed!" thought Hamlin, looking from his shabby,
depressed old comrade, to the blazing sunsets and green moonlights on
the easels about them.
DURING luncheon, no mention was made of the nursemaid into
whose concerns Hamlin had that morning intruded; but at dinner,
Hamlin's sense of the question being a sore one, and of being himself
mixed up in it, gave way before his curiosity to solve the riddle of
the strange-type which had taken him so by surprise.
"That is a very strange-looking girl you have in your service," he
remarked to his hostess, over their grapes and thin wine.
"The cook?" cried Mrs Perry. "Isn't she a divine creature? I call
her Monna Lisa's younger sister."
"I don't know your cook by sight," he answered. "I mean the other
young woman they call Annina—"
Mrs Perry's brow darkened.
"The nurse—or governess,—I don't know exactly how to describe
her,—of your little girls."
"My children's maid," answered Mrs Perry, with considerable
emphasis. "Thank heaven, my children have never had and shall never
have any other nurse or any other governess than their own mother."
"Well, now, Julia," remonstrated her husband, "I think, you know,
that's pushing it a little too far."
"My children shall never learn anything from a menial," insisted
Mrs Perry, "neither to walk bodily, nor morally, nor intellectually,
as long as I am alive."
"Good heavens!" thought Hamlin, "what a bandy-legged family they
are likely to turn out!"
"I suppose you mean Annie," said Perry. "Yes, she's a good girl,
and a good-looking girl."
"You are mad, Melton," cried Mrs Perry, "with your idea of goodness
and good looks!"
"I think her extraordinarily good-looking," put in Hamlin,
enjoying the authority of his own verdict.
"I always told you so," replied Perry.
"When I say good-looking," corrected Hamlin, "I don't mean it at
all in the ordinary sense. There are dozens of Italian girls five
times as pretty as that girl, and I daresay most people don't think
her at all attractive."
"Yes," burst out Mrs Perry, "vulgar minds and eyes never appreciate
the higher beauty. They see only the body."
"This is exactly a question of the body," went on Hamlin. "That
girl is one of the most singular types I have ever come across. She is
like some of Michaelangelo's women, but even stranger—a superb
The revelation of her maid's beauty by so great an authority as
Hamlin quite dazzled and delighted Mrs Perry.
"All our servants are handsome," she said; "the cook's the finest
Leonardo da Vinci type—when you see her you will want to do her
picture, Mr Hamlin, as Venus Mystica," and Mrs Melton Perry set her
meagre features and wide-opening mouth into a mystic smile,
intimating that she knew a great deal about Venus Mystica, and her
guest doubtless likewise.
"And the footman" . . . she went on.
"Errand-boy," corrected Mr Perry, suddenly, emboldened by his
"The footman is quite a type of manly beauty—a young
Hercules,—such a neck and shoulders and arms—and a head like a
cameo. I always make it a rule to engage only handsome servants,
because it spiritualises the minds of our children to be brought up
constantly surrounded by beautiful human forms."
"I see," answered Hamlin drily, entirely neglecting his opportunity
of making the usual reply to this remark—namely, that the young
Perrys were so abundantly provided with beautiful human form in the
person of their mother that any other was superfluous.
"That girl you noticed has rather a curious history," said Perry.
"Indeed!" answered Hamlin;"she looks as if she ought to have some
sort of tragic past—a kind of Brynhilt or Amazon."
"It's tragic enough if you like, but it's unfortunately not at all
poetical," replied Perry.
"There is poetry in all suffering, Melton," corrected his wife
"Well, this girl is the daughter of a Scotch mechanic, a very
clever fellow, I believe, who fell in love with the Italian maid of
some old friends of ours, and followed her to Italy. He got a very
good position in the docks at Spezia, but then the other chaps
caballed against him, and made him lose his place. They had to live
from hand to mouth for a long while, doing odd jobs for the railway
company; he squandered his money also on inventions, so, little by
little, he and his wife and children got into great distress. Then he
took to drinking, poor devil! (I'm sure I should have done so long
before;) and one day that he had again been done out of a place by
some Italian scoun- drel, he tried to throw his wife out of the
window, and then shot himself. It was a dreadful business."
"He was a great republican, poor dear," added Mrs Perry. "I'm a
republican too, a socialist—quite a dreadful creature, Mr Hamlin."
"What became of the wife and children ?" asked Hamlin.
"The children had all died by this time, except Annie; and the poor
wife was quite broken in health. There was a nephew of the husband's,
a Scotch lad, quite a boy, who was awfully plucky and worked for them
for some time. Then the widow died; and an old friend of ours, old
Miss Curzon, the famous singer that had been—perhaps you may have
heard of her—took Annie into her house."
"Darling Miss Curzon!" exclaimed Mrs Perry. "She was the noblest
woman that ever lived. How she loved me! I always say that I lost my
voice—I had a lovely voice before my marriage—when dear darling Miss
was an excellent old woman," went on
Perry: "she took Annie when she was eleven, and kept her in her house
and educated her till her own death two years ago;" and Perry sighed,
as he peeled a hard white peach.
"Then I said to my husband, 'Perry, this child is a legacy to us
from our dearest friend,'" went on Mrs Perry, solemnly; "'we are not
rich, but Heaven will send us enough for our children and this child;
and if it don't, why, we must do without.'"
"So she has been with you ever since?"
"Yes," answered Perry, sharply; "and I should like her to remain
for the children's sake, only that I feel the girl ought to look out
for some better place." And he turned rather gloomily to his wife.
Mrs Perry answered his look with one of sweet and ineffable
astonishment. She naturally viewed all her property, servants,
children, husband, &c., as emanations from herself—that is to say,
from perfection, and consequently as more perfect than other folk's
property, servants, children, husbands, although occasionally falling
short of this ineffable origin; and she accepted, with alacrity and
pleasure, the belief in the transcendent beauty of the nursemaid whom
she had shrieked at only a few hours before. She was quite reconciled
to her, evidently.
"And what is this girl's name?" asked Hamlin.
"Anne," answered Perry—" Anne Brown."
THUS it came about that Walter Hamlin, of Wotton Hall,
pre-Raphaelite poet and painter, made acquaintance with Anne Brown,
nurse, or as Mrs Perry defined it, children's maid at the Villa
The whole of the two following days, Hamlin neither saw nor
particularly remembered the strange girl whose champion he had
constituted himself against the little Perrys. An old chaise, with an
older pony, was produced from the neighbouring farmhouse, and Mr and
Mrs Melton Perry took it by turns to drive their guest along the dusty
roads to the old town of Lucca, to various villas, and other sights of
the neighbourhood. In the evening Perry led his friend out for a
stroll among the vineyards and the olives, and across the low hills
covered with bright green pines and dark cypresses. At the end of the
third day, Hamlin, while smoking after dinner with his host,
insinuated to Perry that he really thought he must be pushing on to
Florence. A look of blank terror overspread poor Perry's face.
"Nonsense!" he cried—"don't say that; don't leave me in the lurch
"You see," said Hamlin, hypocritically, "I intend going to America;
and I really think I ought to do a little work before leaving Italy."
"What sort of work?"
"Why, I suppose—I think—I ought to take this opportunity of
working a little at one of my pictures for the next Grosvenor."
"Which picture?" asked Perry, eagerly.
"I really scarcely know. I suppose I ought to be making some
studies for Circe and the child Comus."
"Child Comus!" exclaimed Perry. "Why, I've the very thing you want
here at hand. Such a Comus for you! There's not a model in all
Florence will suit you so well; it's the farmer's son. Such legs, and
such a chest!"
"I don't intend doing him naked," answered Hamlin, whose strong
point was not anatomy.
"Naked or not, he's what you want. The head, since you don't care
for legs and chest. You shall have him to-morrow; and you can work
much better here than in that swelter at Florence—"
"In short," burst out poor Perry, "don't leave me yet, old fellow.
You don't know what it is for me to have you here—I feel quite
another man. It seems to me as if I were ten years younger. The fact
is, don't you know, a man's never the same when once married; it's a
weight round his neck. Don't go away yet, dear old Watty, for the sake
of auld lang syne."
Hamlin could not help being touched by the way in which his old
friend threw himself on his compassion. Poor old Perry! How
dreadfully dreary and broken-spirited he must be when all alone with
that awful wife of his!
"Well, I'm willing enough to stay, if you'll keep me," answered
"That's right!" cried Perry, squeezing his hand. "Keep me from
growing into a turnip for a little longer, for goodness' sake."
So the next morning the farmer's boy was sent for, and Hamlin
began, in a desultory way, to make some studies for his picture. The
fact was, he was so utterly indifferent as to all his own movements,
that it was an absolute relief to be pinned down to one place by his
old friend. Accordingly he unpacked his things, and prepared to stay
at the Villa Arnolfini until the Perrys should themselves return to
Florence in October.
Little by little he got to arrange his day so as to avoid as far as
possible the dreaded tête-à-tête with Mrs Perry; spending
the morning lying on the sear grass or the fallen fir-needles under
Melton Perry's sketching umbrella; and locking himself up during the
afternoon with the pretext of his picture. Locking himself up, and
sometimes unlocking the door and letting the lank and limp lady come
and sit in his improvised studio, entertaining him with her views on
life, poetry, art, love; and invariably representing herself as the
devoted slave of a kind of fierce and gloomy lover-husband of the
Othello description. During this first week of his stay at the Villa
Arnolfini, Hamlin did not lose sight of the Perrys' strange
nursemaid. The girl's exotic, and, so to speak, tragic style of
beauty, had made a great impression upon him, but a sort of impression
such as only a temper entirely artistic could receive. He was
interested in Anne Brown, but not in the whole of Anne Brown. He
wished to see more of her, but to see more only of her superb physical
appearance, and of that sullen, silent, almost haughty manner which
accompanied it. As to anything there might be, intellectual or moral,
behind this beautiful and dramatic creature, he did not care in the
least, and would much rather have seen nothing of it. So far, she was
striking, admirable, picturesque, consistent; further details might
merely spoil the effect. Hence it was that, although he made several
sketches of her head from memory, and although he rhymed the first
half of a sonnet upon the strange fate which had, to put it in plain
prose, given the beauty of an Amazon to a nursemaid, he instinctively
abstained from seeking in any way to renew the acquaintance which he
had made that first morning. The picturesque and imaginative figure
was just in the right light and at the right distance,—a single
movement, and all the picturesqueness and strangeness might vanish.
Walter Hamlin had had but too many instances of the melancholy results
of trying to approach and become familiar with creatures who had
caught his æsthetic and poetic fancy. He often saw her hurrying (if
she might ever be said to hurry, for there was something wonderfully
measured about her) to and fro, filling up, it would seem, the gaps in
Mrs Perry's rather theoretical housekeeping; and sometimes, passing
through the ground-floor passage, he would also see her ironing, like
that first time, or laboriously presiding over the little Perrys'
lessons; for it appeared that Mrs Perry's intellectual guidance of her
children consisted in telling them the plots of novels and repeating
choice poetry, leaving such mechanical matters as reading and writing
to what she called a menial. And even more frequently Hamlin would
meet her taking the children for a walk, or sitting in the vineyard
sewing or reading, while they built houses of leaves and sticks, and
cooked dinners of maize-grains and unripe figs. Hamlin scarcely ever
spoke to her; and if the children forced him to remain and examine
their houses or their dinners, he would watch the girl, but without
the slightest desire of entering into conversation. He wished to know
only as much as he could see of her. But this much which he saw
inspired him with a kind of respect,—a respect not for Anne Brown,
nursemaid or nursery-governess of Mrs Melton Perry, but respect for a
beautiful and solemn kind of Valkyr or Amazon; for there is no doubt
that to certain temperaments not given to respect for social
distinctions or religious institutions, or even the kind of moral
characteristics held to be worthy of respect by ordinary folk, there
is something actually venerable in some kinds of beauty: the man
respects the unknown woman as a goddess, and respects himself for
having discovered her divinity. So that, habitually and instinctively,
Hamlin displayed towards the young woman a degree of courtesy which
astonished the little Perrys, who had seen young men flirt with
various of their mother's carefully selected beautiful servants, but
never treat them, as Miss Mildred expressed it, as if they were
funerals passing. All of which distant respect Anne Brown received
coldly, as if it were a matter of course; showing astonishment only on
one occasion, when Hamlin answered, being requested to lift little
Winnie into the branches of an olive-tree—"You must first ask
permission of Miss Brown."
The girl looked up from her work, and fixed her great greyish-blue
eyes upon him in wonder. No one had ever called her Miss Brown before.
Thus things might have continued, and Hamlin have left the Villa
Arnolfini with only a few lines of a sonnet on the fly-leaf of his
'Vita Nuova'—a few scratched-out sketches of a face with strange,
curling full lips, and masses of wiry hair, in his sketchbook—and a
daily fainter remembrance of Mrs Perry's nurse; when one day he took
it into his head to construct a kind of medieval costume for his
peasant-boy model, and accordingly went to Mrs Perry for assistance in
sewing together the various shreds of old brocade and satin which he
had bought at Lucca, the various bits of weather-stained cotton which
he had obtained by barter from the peasants. Mrs Perry, lying
languidly on a sofa in her dusty boudoir, littered over with books
and reviews, afforded him a variety of valuable pieces of information
upon harmonies of colours and the magic of folds; but when it came to
practical tailoring, she smiled with reproachful gentleness, and,
clapping her hands, called out for Annie. Annie—that is to say, Anne
Brown—emerged from an adjacent room, silent and sullen as usual; but
when she understood that the job was for Hamlin, she seemed suddenly
to develop a certain interest in it. The pieces of stuff were spread
out on the drawing-room table, and Hamlin proceeded to explain what
manner of garment he wanted, Mrs Perry joining in from the next room
with various bewildering instructions. The girl immediately
understood; but the piece of work was complicated and tiresome. The
stuff had several times to be sewn together, tried on to the live
model, and then taken down-stairs to be altered.
"Won't you sit down and do it here, Miss Brown?" Hamlin at length
The girl hesitated for a moment, and then settled herself to sew at
the table of the empty drawing-room. Hamlin went into the studio next
door, and tried to draw a little; but he felt himself attracted to go
and watch the girl as she leaned over the table, or sat with her
beautiful head bending over her sewing. Every now and then she looked
up to ask him some question: a regal, tragic, out-of-our-world, almost
weird face, the contrast of which with her prosiac questions about
seams and tucks was almost comic.
Hamlin looked at her as he might have looked at a beautiful
cathedral front; and he began to feel that kind of anticipated regret
at the thought of losing sight of something beautiful and rare, that
almost painful desire to keep at least some durable likeness of it,
which, in former years, had often tormented him in the midst of the
enjoyment of lovely things. He did not see his way to introducing Anne
Brown into any picture; nay, he perhaps did not even think of his
work; but he determined that he must have a likeness of her to take
away with him. Accordingly, that same evening, as he was seated with
the Perrys in front of the villa, watching the stars gradually
lighting themselves in the bright metallic blue sky, Hamlin suddenly
turned to his hostess, and asked her whether she thought it would be
possible for him to make a sketch of Anne Brown.
"I may want her for a picture some day," he added, half
Mrs Perry's enthusiasm was immediately kindled.
"Oh !" she exclaimed, "paint a picture of her as the Witch of
Atlas, with a red cloak and red roses all about her, and a background
of cactuses and aloes all twisting and writhing, and looking as if
they gibbered. Do paint her like that, dear Mr Hamlin—and Mildred and
Winnie will do for attendant spirits. Begin to-morrow—you shall have
her to sit to you all day; and she has such lovely arms and shoulders,
you must paint her in some kind of dress that will
"I think it's rather cool of you to promise Annie as a sitter in
that way," put in Melton Perry—"especially with so few clothes on,
"Why not?" asked Mrs Perry, in astonishment. "If she is beautiful
she must be painted. She shall begin sitting to-morrow morning."
"She shan't do anything of the kind!" exclaimed Perry, suddenly. "I
don't see at all what right we have to dispose of her. We pay her
wages as a servant for our children, not as a model for our visitors."
"I never dreamed of Miss Brown being in any way compelled to sit,"
remonstrated Hamlin, rather indignantly. "I only wanted your
assistance in asking whether she would."
"Of course she will," insisted Mrs Perry. "Why, I wonder what great
hardship there is in sitting for one's likeness? Haven't I done it
hundreds of times? When a woman is beautiful, it's her duty; that's
what I was always told."
"It may be the duty of a lady, Julia," an- swered Mr Perry,
gloomily, "and it may be yours; but it isn't the duty of a servant
girl—the difference lies in that."
"Well," retorted Mrs Perry, angrily, "I think you don't show much
appreciation of the honour of having one of the greatest of living
painters in our house, Perry. I do, and I shall see to his having the
"Please, I entreat you, dear Mrs Perry," cried Hamlin," do let the
matter go—it really is of no consequence; and, indeed, it would be in
the last degree distasteful to me to have an unwilling sitter."
"You shall have a willing one, Mr Hamlin;" and Mrs Perry walked off
Melton Perry suddenly shook off his languor, and started after his
"Julia," he cried, "do leave it to me—I'll speak to Annie—only
do leave it to me."
"I see no reason for this," she answered.
"Then I shall speak to Annie at once," replied Perry.
"There's been far too much of this turning of servants into models
in this house," he said, turning to Hamlin. "Mrs Perry can't be got to
see that it isn't at all the right sort of thing. I don't mind so much
with the others, for I suppose they're a parcel of sluts; but Annie is
another matter. I don't mind it's being you, you know, old fellow; but
I object to the principle. Annie! Annie! I want to speak to you a
moment," and Mr Perry went into the house.
After a moment he returned.
"I've spoken to her, Hamlin," he said. "I told her that she was
just what you wanted for the Lady Guenevere or the Lady of the Lake,
or some lady or other—all a lie; but you see I didn't wish her to
know it was merely because she's handsome. I told her she was like a
portrait of one of these persons. Please don't tell her she's not. I
really expected she'd refuse; and I said to her, 'Annie, mind you
don't let the mistress force you into sitting; don't do it to please
anybody.' I'm really quite surprised, for she's such a very reserved
girl always; but then she is an obliging creature too, and I think
she'll do more to please me than perhaps my wife, because I always let
her understand that this isn't a good place at all, and that she ought
to try for another. Well, she says she'll sit; but not till after the
ironing is done in the morning. I proposed half-past nine—will that
"Thank you," answered Hamlin, putting his hand on Perry's shoulder;
"you're a good old creature, Perry."
HAMLIN did not succeed in doing much that first sitting. He had
thought that Anne Brown's head would be an easy one to sketch; but it
proved just the reverse. Those salient and outlandish features, which
he had thought he could catch in half an hour, were turned into
caricature by the slightest exaggeration, and exaggeration was almost
inevitable. He made several beginnings, and scratched them all out;
and at the end of a couple of hours he felt that he positively could
not go on; he had become quite fidgety over his work.
"I have bungled everything," he said at last, rising, "and kept you
here for nothing, Miss Brown. The fact is, that you are far more
difficult to draw than I expected."
He felt very humiliated at having, as it were, to confess himself a
bad artist before such a model.
"Try again," suggested Perry. "I daresay Annie will sit for you
again—won't you, Annie?"
"If Mr Hamlin wishes me to sit, certainly," answered the girl
is confoundedly difficult to draw," said
Hamlin, when she had turned her back.
"She's difficult because she's a kind of mystery," explained Perry.
"I've felt it ever since we have had her. One thinks there must be
something behind that face, and yet it seems to be a mere blank. My
belief is, that people of this condition of life often have very
little character—at least none in particular developed. Because,
after all, it's talking and jawing about things which don't matter a
pin that develops our character. The people who have no opportunity
for that remain quite without character, until some day they are
forced to choose whether they'll be self-sacrificing creatures or mean
"There's something in that," answered Hamlin, tearing up his
abortive sketches in a huff; "but it is hard that a
man should be unable to copy the shape of a handsome face as he would
copy the shape of a handsome vase, without wondering what there may be
The fact was, that the utter silence of his model, and his own utter
silence, except when begging her to turn a little more in this
direction or that, made Hamlin nervous. He had, of course, sketched
and painted scores of people who had sat as utterly silent as Anne
Brown, but then Anne Brown was not a model of that kind. Indifferent
as he felt towards the hidden reality of this girl, he was,
nevertheless, fully conscious that she was a personality, something
much more than a mere form; or rather, the form itself was suggestive
of something more. It would be an easy thing to have to sketch
Michaelangelo's Dawn, or his Delphic Sibyl become living flesh, in
utter silence with those eyes fixed upon one. If only he could speak
to her, or make her speak, he was persuaded it would be much easier;
but for some unaccountable reason it seemed impossible to set up a
conversation. One morning accident came to Hamlin's assistance.
Strolling about after breakfast, he found in a corner of the vineyard,
where the trampled grass revealed the recent presence of the little
Perrys, a couple of books carefully buried under a heap of dead leaves
just where he chanced to walk. The children had evidently hidden them
out of mischief. One was a cheap copy of Dante, with notes—the other
an Italian grammar. Turning to the fly-leaf he found, written in a
curious hand, a stiff imitation of English tradesmen's writing, the
name "Anne Brown." He wiped the books, for they were wet with dew, and
deposited them upon the window-sill of the nursery. At half-past nine
the girl came to the studio. She had been sitting a little while, when
Hamlin, bending over his work, suddenly broke the silence—
"I find we have a common friend, Miss Brown," he said.
The girl, without stirring, opened her large eyes.
"A common friend?" she asked, with a scarcely perceptible agitation
in her quiet manner; then added, "I suppose you mean Mr Perry; I
haven't many friends now anywhere."
"Oh! this is the friend of a great many people—thousands—besides
ourselves, so you need not feel jealous; his name is Dante."
"Indeed!" answered Anne Brown, and relapsed into silence.
But silence did not suit Hamlin. "I found two books belonging to
you in the vineyard early this morning," he continued; "and I put
them on the nursery window-sill."
"Thank you," replied Miss Brown, in her taciturn manner; "I missed
them last night."
"I was indiscreet enough to wonder whether you and I cared for the
same things in Dante," pursued Hamlin; "so I ventured to open the
book. I found you had marked the passage about Provenzano."
"Yes," said Miss Brown.
"How is it that you marked Provenzano, and did not mark Ugolino, I
"I don't care about Ugolino. He was a traitor."
"Do you consider that traitors ought to be starved to death?" asked
Hamlin, with a smile.
"I don't think any one ought to be starved to death," she answered
very seriously; "it is too dreadful. But I don't care about Ugolino,
because he was a traitor; and the Archbishop was a traitor too. There
is no one to be glad or sorry about."
"And Francesca da Rimini? Do you find there is nothing to care for
or be sorry about in her?"
A faint redness welled up under the uniform brown pallor of Anne
"The husband was quite right," she said, after a pause.
"You are very severe," remarked Hamlin—"much more severe than
Dante. He was sorry for them."
"They were quite happy," she answered. "They did not mind being
killed; they did not mind being driven about in the wind, of
course"—then she stopped short suddenly.
"Why of course?" and Hamlin went on scraping at his pencil.
"Because I don't think one would mind, if people cared for one,
being driven about in the wind like that. Lots of people have been
driven about in revolutions, and put into dungeons together, and so
on. If they had put papa in prison, I should have wanted to go in with
him,"—for once she spoke with a certain amount of vehemence.
Hamlin looked up from his pencil-cutting. The expression which he
suddenly met in her face made him feel that at last he had what he
wanted. It was a curious mixture, possible only in those strange
features, of a kind of passionate effort with dogged determination:
the head a little lifted, cheeks and lips firmly set; but in the eyes,
and even in the curl of the close-set lips, a sort of strain, as of a
person trying to inhale a larger amount of air, or to take in a larger
sight. In a second it was gone.
"That is what I want!" thought Hamlin; "the Amazon or Valkyr—as I
"Tell me why you care for Provenzano," he went on, now much more
interested in his work again.
"Because he was so proud, and did not like to do humble things,"
she answered; "and yet he begged in the streets for a ransom for his
She showed no desire to say more, and Hamlin was now engrossed in
his work. They exchanged but a few trivial remarks during the rest of
the sitting. The girl seemed to have contracted a habit of silence, to
break through which required a positive effort. When the sitting had
come to an end, Hamlin asked whether she could possibly give him
She hesitated. "If Mrs Perry wishes it, of course," she answered.
"Excuse me," corrected Hamlin. "Mrs Perry's consent may be
necessary for you; but for me, the sitting depends upon your wishes,
"I don't care one way or another," she answered hurriedly.
Mrs Perry of course gave her consent.
She had carefully collected and pieced the scattered remnants of
yesterday's abortive sketches, and Hamlin found her pasting them on
"Do let me keep them, dear Mr Hamlin," cried Mrs Perry; "they are
the most precious things I possess."
"They are horrible rubbish;" and Hamlin rudely tore them to shreds.
"If you want something of mine, I will make you a sketch of little
Winnie—only please don't keep these fearful things."
"Thank you, thank you
so much!" she
exclaimed—"but oh, mayn't I keep this? it is such a lovely head!"
"It's the head of Miss Brown," he answered angrily. "You don't care
for it much on her shoulders,—why should you care for it on my
paper—an abominable caricature? Really, I must be permitted to tear
it up"—and he tore it into a heap of little pieces.
The next day but one he had another sitting from Anne Brown; and he
was so pleased with his drawing, that he begged for permission to
finish it in colours. During these additional sittings there was not
much conversation. The Dante topic was perfectly worn to shreds, till
at last it seemed as if it could be made to go no further. In despair,
Hamlin remembered the Italian grammar which he had picked up together
with the Dante.
"What do you want with an Italian grammer?" he asked. "You surely
don't require to study it yourself, Miss Brown?"
"I want to teach some day," she answered.
"Do you mean to teach the Perry children?"
"Oh no—to teach, to be a daily governess, what we call a
parlatrice here. It is not difficult. The lessons are all
conversation. Many English ladies want those sort of lessons. I know a
girl, the daughter of Mrs Perry's dressmaker, who gives ten lessons
every day, and and gets two francs a lesson."
"Ten lessons a-day! But that's fearful. What awful slavery! Surely
you don't want to do that?"
"I wish I could. I should be so happy."
"Then you want to leave the Perrys?"
"I want to give up being a servant."
Hamlin paused, and looked at this superb and regal creature. He did
not know what to say.
"You don't care for children?" he asked at random.
"I don't know. I don't care for these children," she answered
"I thought women always liked children."
She smiled bitterly.
"Oh," she said, "children are worse sometimes than grown people;
and then one can't resent it, or answer bad words, or strike them,
just because they are children."
"Then you think you would prefer being a teacher of Italian?"
"Oh yes, I must become that some day; I study when I have a little
time. A teacher talks with ladies, and talks about all sorts of
"How do you mean—about all sorts of things?"
"About things—which are not things to eat, or mend, or
clean,—about books, and places, and people."
Hamlin could not help smiling. "Is that such a rare pleasure?" he
asked, thinking not of the girl with whom he was talking, but of those
weary æsthetic discussions which he had left behind him in London.
"Miss Curzon used to talk about books to me—and about music,
sometimes," said the girl. "She made me read Shakespeare with her.
That is long, long ago."
"And since then. Do you never talk about such things?"
Anne Brown raised her eyes quietly. "Never, except with you, sir."
Hamlin did not answer.
Towards the end of the sitting, he suddenly looked up.
"Have you ever read the 'Vita Nuova,' Miss Brown?" he asked.
"What's the 'Vita Nuova'?"
"It is a little book by Dante, in prose and verse, telling how he
met Beatrice, and then how she died. It is much more beautiful than
the 'Divina Commedia.'"
She looked incredulous.
"Is it more beautiful than Bertran del Bornio, where he carried his
head like a lantern? Or Bocca degli Abati, where they all change into
snakes? Or Cacciaguida when he prophesies about Dante's exile?"
"It is quite different—all about beautiful things, and love."
"I don't care for that."
"You must read it some day, though."
Miss Brown was silent, and relapsed into her usual sullen
"I say, Hamlin, old fellow," said Perry, as they walked up and down
in the garden that evening, "do you care to see the festival at Lucca
to-morrow? I'm going to take the children in for a treat, and I shall
take Annie too—for she never gets any amusement, poor girl. I've
hired a waggonette—will you be of the party?"
"Will you let me think about it, Perry? I don't much go in for
"This is a picturesque affair—really worth seeing."
"By the way," asked Hamlin, "I have nearly finished my sketch of
Miss Brown, and I should like—I suppose I ought—to make her some
"I wouldn't," answered Melton Perry sharply; "she's an odd girl,
and you might just hurt her feelings. You see her father was a
republican, and that sort of thing, so she's got all sorts of notions
about equality and so forth. Awful bosh, of course, but still I think
it's as well she should have them as not."
"I didn't mean any money," said Hamlin, feeling himself grow red at
the mere thought.
"Then, if you will run the risk, give her some school-books. You
know she wants to set up as a teacher. Grammars—that sort of thing."
Hamlin made a gesture of disgust.
"Horrible!—to give her grammars!"
"It's what she wants."
"Why, it would seem—well—it would be like encouraging her to
become a daily governess."
"That's just what I wish to do."
Hamlin did not answer. The idea of Anne Brown giving lessons at two
francs the hour jarred upon him.
EARLY the following morning Hamlin was awakened by the wheels
of the waggonette and the bells of the horses. Then came the excited
voices of children; the sound of slammed doors and precipitate steps
on the stairs; and finally the rattle and jingle of departure. He had
declined being one of the boisterous expedition to Lucca, for he
detested children in general, and the little Perrys in particular; and
a day in the empty house (for Mrs Perry was going to see some friends
at a neighbouring villa) had seemed to him delightful. He opened his
shutters and saw, in the crisp pale-blue morning, the carriage
sweeping round the corner of a narrow lane, the children's hats, Anne
Brown's red shawl, the coachman's grey coat, brush rapidly along a
tall box hedge. If there was a thing Hamlin hated more than another,
it was a holiday, a crowd, a lot of people on a jaunt.
After breakfast he went to the studio and sat down before his
sketches of Miss Brown. They were unsatisfactory, but they were as
good as he could hope to make them. He had fancied that a coloured
sketch of her head would be all that he could possibly want; but he
now recognised that, after all, the head, beautiful and singular as it
was, was yet the least part of the matter. It was the girl's gait, her
way of carrying her head and neck, her movements when at work, her
postures when in repose—a number of things of which that head gave no
indication, and which, indeed, it was difficult to render in painting,
since it was all movement. He had scribbled a few lines—just
fragmentary metaphors and scraps of description—suggested to him by
Anne Brown, and wondered what use he would make of them; indeed, what
use he could make of Anne Brown altogether. Here was a splendid
model, a splendid heroine, but he was in the mood neither for painting
nor for poetry writing. He put a background of dark bay trees to one
of his sketches, and then regretted having put it in at all. He no
longer felt inclined to work; and, all of a sudden, an unaccountable
fancy struck him to follow the holiday-makers—to go quietly into
town—to see them, without, perhaps, letting himself be seen.
The sun was already high as he walked, or rather waded, along the
dusty road, with its garlands of dust-engrained vines hanging from
tree to tree on either side; its dust-stifled marsh-flowers in the
ditch; its white farmhouses, and white stone heaps, white upon white,
brilliant, relentlessly white, under the deep blue autumn sky. Before
him the bullock-carts, with sleepy drivers prostrate on their back,
moved in a white cloud; a whirlwind of dust was raised by every
cariole, heavily laden with singing and yelling peasants, which dashed
past. Within sight of the rampart trees, like a pleasant oasis of
leafage in the treeless green desert of the town, the crowd of
vehicles of all sorts began. Under the red brick gate, with its statue
of Justice and motto "Libertas," there was a perfect block of carts,
gigs, bullocks, horses, and screaming country folk. Hamlin wriggled
through, and slipped along in the scant shade of the narrower
streets—empty and desolate on that holiday—ribbons of brilliant
light cut into, bordered by the black shadows of overhanging roofs and
balconies. A great buzz of voices came from the square of the
cathedral; peasants and townsfolk elbowing about, people at booths
yelling their wares, boys screeching on whistles and trumpets,
cathedral bell tolling, and all the neighbouring church bells
clattering and jangling. From the windows of the blackened palaces
fluttered strips of crimson and yellow brocade; across the street,
from balcony to balcony, and from twisted iron torchholder to twisted
iron bridle-ring, were slung garlands of coloured lamps for the
evening's illumination; and in the midst of all rose the cathedral
front, its tiers and tiers of twisted and sculptured pillarets, with
the massive grey belfry soaring by its side into the high blue sky.
Hamlin pushed his way in at one of the side gates; a rolling of
organs, and quavering of choir voices, and clash of brass instruments;
a hot mouthful of heavy, incense-laden atmosphere; a compact moving
human mass beneath the Gothic arches; beams of light flickering among
clouds of dust, and incense and taper smoke high in the arched nave;
constellations of lights on altar, and organ-loft, and chandelier,
yellow specks in the mid-day twilight of the cathedral; something
tawdry, hushed, unbreathable, and yet impressive and beautiful.
Hamlin gradually made his way to the side of the altar-steps. This
part of the cathedral was full of women—provincial great ladies, and
shopkeepers' wives and daughters in their Sunday clothes, brilliant
caricatures of last year's Paris fashions—close packed together on
reserved seats, enjoying the incense, the lights, the music, the
holiness of the ceremony, the clothes of their neighbours, the
appealing glances of the young men in elaborate silk and alpaca summer
coats, with artistically combed-up heads of hair, sucking their canes
all about the altar. Hamlin's entry, however quiet, was soon
perceived, and the eyes of all this womankind were fixed upon the
sight, rare in that country town, of an Englishman; and white silk
bonnets, and black lace veils, and big red fans, and fuzzy yellow and
smooth black heads, leant towards each other,—while questions went
round in a whisper, who was the forestiere—the handsome forestiere—small, slight, meagre, white, with the light hair
and moustache, and that melancholy face like a woman's? Hamlin was
quickly bored by all this magnificence; jostled to pieces, stifled by
the heat, and incense, and heavy smell of the crowd. He was going out,
when, as his eyes wandered from the silver and lights of the altar,
and the shining mitres and stoles of the priests, to that sea of heads
and bonnets and hats in the nave, they were suddenly and unexpectedly
arrested on the side steps of the high altar just opposite to him.
There, among a lot of heads, but high above them, was a head half
covered with coarse black lace and crisp dark hair half turned away
from him; a majestic sweep of cheek and jaw, a solemn bend of neck. A
moment later the bell tinkled for the elevation of the Host, the organ
burst forth into a rapid jig, and the church was a sea of bent heads,
of kneeling and stooping men and women. As the people suddenly sank
like a wave about the steps, there remained, stranded as it were, and
rising conspicuous, the tall and massive figure of Miss Brown. She was
standing on the altar-steps, whose orange-red baize cloth threw up
faint yellowish tints on to her long dress of some kind of soft white
wool, while the crimson brocade on wall and column formed a sort of
dull red background. In the mixed light of the yellow tapers and the
grey incense-laden sunbeams, her face acquired a diaphanous pallor, as
if of a halo surrounding it, as she stood, her hands hanging loosely
clasped, looking calmly upon the bowed-down crowd below. One minute,
and the bell tinkling again, the people rose with a muffled, shuffling
noise, and hid her from Hamlin. The organ and bells were pealing, the
voices and violins rising shrill, the incense curling up in grey
spirals into the sunbeams among the crimson hangings. The sonnet of
Guido Cavalcanti, about the Madonna picture, enshrined at Or San
Michele behind the blazing tapers, and in which he recognised his
lady, came into Hamlin's mind, with the sound of the music and the
fumes of the incense; and together with it, a remembrance, a sort of
picture, hopelessly jumbled, of Laura in the church at Avignon that
Good Friday, and Beatrice among the blazing lights of the Heavenly
Rose. The Mass was over, and people began to stir and leave the
cathedral. Why had she remained standing while all the others had
knelt? Perhaps from some Scotch puritanism; it was incongruous,
thought Hamlin. But at the same time he felt that, while incongruous
in one way—for she ought certainly to have knelt like the others—it
had in another respect completed an effect; this disbelieving girl had
herself become, as it were, the Madonna of the place. He stood aside
and let the crowd slowly pass out. Suddenly he saw, among the moving
sea of heads, the flaxen curls of the little Perrys—the reddish beard
of Melton Perry—the head, half covered with black lace and towering
above the others, of Miss Brown. She was leading the two smaller
children, and looked anxious in that great crowd. Up went one of the
little yellow heads; she had taken the child in her arms. All of a
sudden her eyes caught those of Hamlin standing close by, and yet
separated from him by an impassable gulf of people. Her own lit up,
and with them her whole face, in a smile, which he had never seen
before. At last, near the church door, the crowd bore his friends
straight towards him.
"What! here after all!" cried Perry. "Up to some mischief, you
"Up to the mischief of watching these good people's devotion,"
"Why did you come?" asked the children eagerly.
"I suppose because I thought I should like to amuse myself after
all," answered Hamlin.
They were out on the cathedral steps, in the full glare of the blue
sky. Outside a fountain was playing, penny whistles and trumpets
shrilled on all sides, and the people at the stalls shrieked and
bellowed out their wares to the motley crowd pouring out of the
church. The children cast eyes of longing upon the booths, decorated
with tricolour flags and sprigs of green, full of gaudy dolls, and
squeaking wooden dogs, and tin trumpets, and drums; upon the tables,
covered with bottles shaped like pyramids, and china men, and
Garibaldi busts, full of red and yellow and green stuff, and with
piles of cakes with little pictures of saints stuck in the middle of
"Buy us something," cried the little ones to their father and
Hamlin; and they squeezed through the crowd, and began to hesitate
before the varied splendours of the fair.
"You look very happy, Miss Brown," said Hamlin, as they were
waiting while the children made their choice. For really the girl
looked quite radiant,—an expression of unwonted happiness, of freedom
and amusement, shone through her quiet, almost solemn, face, like
sunshine through a thin film of mist, all the richer for being half
"It is all so beautiful," she answered, looking round at the square
surrounded by high black palaces draped with crimson brocade, and
terraces covered with green, and at the cathedral, carved like a
precious casket, beneath the blue sky.
"Not more beautiful than at the Villa Arnolfini, surely?"
"No, not more beautiful; but more—I don't know what."
She shook her head. "Yes; but not so much that; more free—more—I
don't know how to call it."
The children were laden with lollipops and sixpenny toys.
"Come," said Perry suddenly, very cheerful, in his unaccustomed
freedom from his better half, "you must choose a fairing, Annie. What
will you have?—a doll?—a beautiful yellow 'kerchief with purple
flowers, warranted the very worst colours in creation? some
gingerbread?—a penny whistle? No, I'm sure you're dying for some
literature"—and he turned to a stone bench under a palace, where
twopenny books were piled up, and quantities of leaflets of ballads,
and lives of saints, and romantic histories, were strung to the wall.
"Oh!" he said, "there's nothing for Annie here—she hates saints
and knights and poetry; we must get her a book on the 'Rights of Man,'
or a 'History of the French Revolution,' at the bookseller's in Via
Fillungo. But this is just what suits Hamlin"—and throwing down a
heap of coppers, he filled his hands with printed leaflets. "The
tremendous adventures of the Giant Ferracciù," he read; "the
lamentable history of Lucia of Lamermoor; the loves of Irminda and
Astolfo; the complaint of the beautiful Fair-haired One,—these are
the things for a poet," and he stuffed them into Hamlin's pockets.
"Don't be ridiculous, Melton," cried Hamlin.
"Ridiculous!" exclaimed Perry. "Who talks of things being
ridiculous? I'm in good earnest"—and as they went along he began
declaiming, with appropriate gestures, a ballad composed by some
printer's prentice from the libretto of an old opera.
The children shrieked with laughter at papa's voice and faces; and
Anne Brown burst into a curious subdued laugh, which, although
scarcely audible, was extremely childish.
As they walked along the narrow crowded streets towards the inn
where they were to have dinner, Perry kept on ahead with the two
elder children, and Hamlin hung back with Miss Brown and the two
"Did you like the ceremony in the cathedral, Miss Brown?" he asked,
irresistibly drawn on to understand why she had not knelt like the
"It was very beautiful," she said; "and such beautiful vestments!
Did you see the white and gold embroidery of the bishop?—and the
purple dresses of the canons?—oh, it was lovely! But it makes me
angry to see such things."
"Because it is dreadful—don't you think?—to see all those people
kneeling down and believing in all that nonsense."
"How do you know it is nonsense? It seems to me very beautiful and
She turned her big grey-blue eyes upon him. "You don't mean that
you believe in all that mummery?" she asked, searchingly and
reproachfully—"you who have studied so much; you don't believe that
they can make God come down with their mutterings and kneelings?"
"I don't believe it," answered Hamlin, with some embarrassment;
"but I think it is very beautiful, and those who do believe in it are
"But you don't think it is right that people should believe in
falsehoods, and be the slaves of wicked priests?"
"How rabid you are!" laughed Hamlin. "No, I don't believe; but I
like to see others believing."
"I don't;" and after a minute she added, "Don't you believe in
anything at all?"
"Perhaps I do," he said, fixing his eyes upon her. "I believe in
beauty—I believe that is the one true thing in life."
"I don't know what you mean," she answered; "but it seems to me
dreadful that people should believe in priests and kings, and all
sorts of lies."
They relapsed into silence. As they walked along, Hamlin stole
glances at his companion, walking stately and serious like a saint or
a sibyl by his side. He wondered what this girl would have been had
she lived three or four centuries back. All this common modern
radicalism distressed him in her—it had no colour and no perfume.
Yet, after all, it was but the modern accessory instead of the
medieval. This was the way in which beauty and romance were wasted
nowadays—wasted, he thought, half consciously, yet not perhaps
entirely, since it went to make up a characteristic whole.
Melton Perry took them to the chief inn of the place for dinner. He
let each of the children choose whatever she preferred, ordered
several bottles of Asti spumante, and gave it them to drink
in champagne-glasses. The one or two furtive English spinsters who
were sipping their tea and reading their "Murray" at the other tables
of the huge dining-room, profusely ornamented with casts from the
antique, and with cut-paper fiy-floppers, looked up with surprise at
the festive party headed by Perry. After dinner the two little ones
began to hang their heads in the hot room, and gave signs of going to
"Good gracious!" said Perry, in a consternation, "what are we to do
with these wretched infants? They'll just prevent our taking a stroll
in the town before returning home."
"I think the best thing will be for them to sleep a little, sir,"
suggested Anne Brown. "I will tuck them up on the sofa, and stay with
them here while you and Mr Hamlin take Miss Mildred and Miss Winnie
for a walk."
"But I can't think of leaving you behind, Annie," cried Perry., "I
know how much you would like to see the town."
"I saw part of it this morning," she swered; "and I really would
just as soon stay with the children here." There was no gainsaying
her; so the two men sallied forth with the two elder children on a
walk through the crowded and bannered streets; while Anne Brown
remained sitting in the stuffy inn dining-room by the side of the
torpid little ones. When they were out an idea suddenly struck
Hamlin: this was the opportunity of getting a present for Anne Brown.
He left Perry regaling the children on ices at a café
opposite the Church of St Michael, which rose like a great marble
bride-cake into the bright blue sky, and made his way to a bookstall
which he had noticed in the morning. He asked for the 'Vita Nuova.'
The old bookseller looked over a number of little schedules in his
desk, and produced several copies, new and second-hand. They did not
please Hamlin. At last he displayed a tiny Giunti volume, just
delicately yellowed by age, and bound in vellum. Hamlin bought it, and
secreted it in his pocket, and then joined Perry.
They went to the stable, where all the carioles from the country put
up, and ordered the waggonette to be at the inn door in an hour. But
as they were slowly mounting the wide stone staircase, with the
eternal plaster dancing nymphs tripping it on each landing, Perry's
eye fell upon a large bill pasted upon the opposite wall,—the
playbill of the Teatro del Giglio,—on which, among the names of
singers, fiddlers, chorus-directors, scene-painters, theatre tailors,
and hairdressers, streamed, in scarlet letters, the title
"Tò!" cried Milton Perry, with the Tuscan expression for a
sudden bright thought; "what do you two young minxes say to going to
hear an opera for the first time in your lives?"
"Oh, papa!" shrilled Mildred.
"Oh, papa!" echoed Winnie, catching hold of his knees—
"Not so quick!" exclaimed Perry; "I'm by no means so sure of it.
What's to become of the two sleepy little worms?"
"Send them home with Annie," suggested Mildred, promptly; "and
you'll take us home later."
"Nothing of the kind, my young woman," he answered sternly. "If any
one goes to the opera it shall be Annie. Make up your mind for that."
The dining-room was deserted. On a sofa near the open window lay
the two tiny girls, propped up with cushions; Anne Brown, surly,
flopping away the flies which buzzed about them, and reading a
newspaper. She was resting the paper on her knees, and supporting her
head with one hand, while the other moved slowly with the cut-paper
flopper; and in this position the young nursemaid struck Hamlin as a
resuscitation, but more beautiful and even stranger, of one of
Michaelangelo's prophetic women.
"I say, Annie,"' cried Perry, "what do you say to taking these two
brats to the opera this evening?"
Anne Brown started up.
"To the opera, sir?" she cried, flushing with pleasure.
"Yes; these creatures have never been. They're giving 'Semiramide'
to-night. I think it's a good opera for children to begin with;
because it will teach them betimes the unhappy complications which are
apt to result from murdering one's husband, and trying to marry one's
son unawares. I'll take the little ones back to the villa in half an
hour, and quiet Mrs Perry's feelings. Mr Hamlin will be delighted to
accompany you and mesdemoiselles my daughters, to the theatre, and
then bring you home. It won't last late."
"But," exclaimed Anne Brown,—" oh, how good of you, sir!—but are
you sure you would not like to stay for the opera yourself? I could
take the little ones home."
"No, thank you, Annie. The fact is, I
approved of Rossini's music. Ever since my earliest infancy I have
been shocked by its want of earnestness; what I like is a symphony in
P minor, with plenty of chords of the diminished seventeenth. That's
the right sort of thing, isn't it, Hamlin?"
A few minutes later Perry went away with the two little girls,
leaving Mildred and Winhie with Anne Brown. Hamlin accompanied them
down-stairs to the waggonette.
"I will go to the theatre and secure a box," he said, "and order a
trap to take us back."
"All right!" cried Perry, as the waggonette rolled off. "Mind you
don't let those children bore you or worry poor Annie too much; and
don't leave them alone the whole afternoon."
But, for some unaccountable reason, Hamlin did leave them alone the
whole afternoon. After he had secured the box and ordered the
carriage, he felt a sort of unwillingness to go back to the inn,
perhaps unconsciously, to sit opposite the Perrys' nursemaid; so he
walked about the town till tea-time, not troubling himself to inquire
whether Anne Brown and the children might not prefer a stroll on the
ramparts to the monotony of sitting for two mortal hours in the inn
AT dusk they hurriedly drank some of the thin yellow hotel-tea;
and then hastened to the theatre across the twilit street and square,
where the garlands of Venetian lanterns were beginning to shine like
jewels against the pale-blue evening sky. Hamlin offered Anne Brown
his arm, but she asked him to give it to Winnie Perry.
"Mildred shall take mine," she said—"that's the best way in case
of a crowd."
A crowd, alas! there was not; the liveried theatre servants
(doubtless the same, in yellow striped waistcoats and drab gaiters,
who carried out Semiramis's throne, when the drop-scene fell) made
profuse bows to the little party, and handed them at least
half-a-dozen play- bills, each as large as an ordinary flag. The
children had never been in a theatre before, and were in a high state
of delight at the lights, the gilding, the red plush, the scraping of
fiddles; especially at being in a box, although the box on this
occasion cost only about half as much as would a single seat in an
English playhouse. Gradually the theatre filled; the boxes with people
of quality from surrounding villas, gentlemen displaying an ampleness
of shirt-front, and ladies an ampleness of bosom conceivable only by
the provincial mind; the pit with townsfolk and officers: the whole
company staring with eyes and opera-glasses, talking, singing, rapping
with sticks and sabres till the overture began to roll out, when the
audience immediately set up a kind of confused hum, supposed to be the
melody of the piece, and which half drowned the meagre orchestra.
Then the opera began—an opera such as only the misery and genius
of Italy could produce. There was a triumphal procession of six
ragamuffins in cotton trousers and with brass kettle-covers on their
heads, marching round and round the stage, bearing trophies of paper
altar-flowers and coffee-biggins; there was a row of loathsome
females, bloated or fleshless, in draggled robes too short or too
long, shrieking out of tune in the queen's chamber—and four
rapscallions in nightgowns and Tam-o'Shanters, and beards which would
not stick on, standing round the little spirit-lamp burning in front
of Baal's statue; there was the little black leathern portmanteau
containing the Babylonian regalia, which a nigger with a black-crape
face carried after the Prince Arsaces; and there was the "magnificent
apartment in the palace of Nineveh, disclosing a delicious view of the
famous hanging gardens," as described by the libretto, and furnished
solely with a rush-bottomed chair and a deal table, the table-cloth of
which was so short that Semiramis was obliged to lean her arm on it to
prevent its slipping off, which, however, it finally did. Moreover, an
incal- culable amount of singing out of tune and pummelling one's
chest in moments of passion. No training, no dresses, no scenery, no
orchestra. Still in this miserable performance there was an element of
beauty and dignity, a something in harmony with the grand situation
and glorious music: a splendidly made Semiramis, quite regal in her
tawdry robes, who showered out volleys of roulades as a bird
might shower out its trills; another young woman, plain, tall, and
slight, playing the prince in corselet and helmet, with quite
magnificent attitudes of defiance and command, with bare extended arm
and supple wrist. The two girls who played the principal parts were
sisters, and although they had certainly never sung much with a
teacher, they must have sung a great deal together; and their voices
and style melted into each other quite as if it were all a spontaneous
effusion on their part. All the realities which money can get, dress,
voice, training, accessories, scenery, utterly wanting; but instead,
in the midst of pauperism, something which money cannot always get, a
certain ideal beauty and charm. Anne Brown was intensely interested in
the performance; indeed, quite as much so, though in another way, as
the children. During the intervals between the acts, she could speak
of nothing but the story of Semiramis, and wonder what would happen
next. Hamlin could scarcely help laughing at the concern which she
manifested each time that the hero Arsace was bullied by the wicked
Assur; but he could not laugh at the tragic way in which she conceived
the whole situation. To him all that florid music of Rossini would
already have destroyed any seriousness there might have been in the
matter; but to Anne Brown it seemed as if all these splendid
vocalisations took the place of the visible pomp and magnificence of
Assyrian royalty: for her the heroes and heroines, the magi and
satraps, were clad, not in the calico and tinsel of the theatre
tailor, but in the musical splendours of Rossini. Hamlin, to say the
truth, found the performance very wearisome; he had been bored by
Semiramide too often with Tietiens and Trebelli, to find it
particularly interesting at the Teatro del Giglio of Lucca. He sat
looking on listlessly, not so much at the stage as at the girl who was
leaning out of the box before him, watching each movement of her hand
and neck, as she devoured the performance with eyes and ears. But when
at last there came the grand scene between Semiramis and her son,
whatsoever was good in the performance suddenly burst forth; the two
young women sang with a sort of spontaneous passion, a delight in the
music and their own voices and themselves; and when, Semiramis having
let down her back hair (as distressed heroines always do) from utter
despair, Prince Arsaces, not to be outdone, pulled off his helmet,
letting down his or her back hair also, and the two sank into each
other's arms and began the great duet, even Hamlin felt in a kind of
way that this was passionate, and tragic, and grand. Anne Brown was
seated sidewise in the front of the box, resting her mass of
iron-black hair on her hand, her other hand lying loosely on her
knees. Her chest heaved under her lace mantilla, and her parted lips
quivered. It seemed to Hamlin as if this were the real Semiramis, the
real mysterious king-woman of antiquity—as if the music belonged in
some sort of ideal way to her. When the curtain had fallen amid the
yells of applause, she remained silent, letting Hamlin help her on
with her shawl without turning her eyes from the stage. The lights
were rapidly put out.
"We must go, Miss Brown," cried Hamlin, "otherwise we shall be left
in the dark."
She turned, took little Winnie by the hand, and followed him, who
led the elder Perry child, prattling loudly, to the stairs. There was
a great crowd going down, whistling and humming tunes from the opera.
From the force of habit Hamlin again offered Anne Brown his arm. But
instead of accepting it, she, so to speak, rapidly plucked little
Winnie from the ground, and raised her in her arms as if she were a
"Please let me carry that child," cried Hamlin.
"Oh no," she answered quietly. "I don't mind carrying her at all;
but she's too heavy for you, sir."
Out in the square the carriage was awaiting them in the bright
starlight, where the red and green lamps were already dying out among
the plane-trees. In a minute they were rattling through the narrow
streets, and out of the town by the dark tree-masses of the bastions.
The bells of the horses jingled as they went; the melancholy shrilling
of insects rose from the fields all round; the vine-garlands creaked
in the wind. The two children were speedily asleep—one with her head
on Hamlin's shoulder, the other wrapped in her nurse's shawl. Anne
Brown bent over the side of the waggonette, a dark outline, the damp
night breeze catching her hair. Neither spoke. Hamlin felt a sense of
guilt stealing over him; of guilt for nothing very definite; of guilt
towards no one else, but towards himself. The drive passed like a
dream. Suddenly the wheels grated on the gravel of the villa garden;
dogs barked; lights appeared; the children were lifted out of the
carriage asleep; and the voice of Perry whispered to Hamlin—
"I caught it nicely when I came home—I don't know why, upon my
soul! I'm sure I wish I had remained and amused myself with you."
"I wish you had," said Hamlin quite seriously, always with the
sense of vague guilt towards himself; then added,—
"By the way, old man, I fear I really must go on to Florence
PERRY could not at first understand his friend's sudden
decision, and violently combated it. But after a little while he said
to himself that it must have been fearfully dull for Hamlin at the
Villa Arnolfini, and that to have stayed so long was already much more
than a miserable being like himself could expect. So that when his
wife nearly went into hysterics at the notion of Hamlin—their
poet-painter, as she called him—suddenly departing, he represented
to her, with more emphasis than was his wont, that Hamlin had bored
himself to death, and must be bored no longer.
"And where are you going?" asked the limp and Sapphic lady, as they
sat at lunch.
"I have no notion," answered Hamlin. "I know nothing beyond
Florence for three days. I may go on to Rome, Naples, Egypt, America,
Japan, or return to Hammersmith. I have no notion."
"Ah, these poets!" cried Mrs Perry; "they never can tell whither
their soul may waft their body."
When they had finished, Hamlin asked whether he might say good-bye
to Anne Brown. "I have a little farewell gift to make her," he
Anne Brown was summoned into the studio; she evidently had only just
heard the news.
"Are you going away, sir, really?" she asked.
"Yes," answered Hamlin, drily; "I expect the gig must be waiting
for me already."
"And—are you not going to return, Mr Hamlin?"
"Oh no; I think I shall go to America this winter."
She was silent, and stood by the table in the attitude of a servant
waiting for further orders.
"Before I go away," said Hamlin, "I want to thank you, Miss Brown,
for your kindness and patience, which have enabled me to make a sketch
which will be very valuable for one of my next pictures, and," he
added, as she merely nodded her head, "I want to beg you to accept a
little gift in remembrance of all the trouble I have given you."
Anne Brown flushed, and her face suddenly changed, as if a
whip-cord had passed across it.
Hamlin took the little vellum-bound volume from his pocket.
"You told me you had never read the 'Vita Nuova,' Miss Brown," he
said, "so I venture to ask you to accept this copy of it. I don't know
whether you like old books; I think them much prettier to look at.
The girl's face cleared into a kind of radiance.
"Thank you so much," she said; "I will read it often."
"And think of me sometimes and the trouble I gave you?"
"It was my duty, since Mrs Perry wished it, sir. Good-bye—a good
journey to you."
"Good-bye, Miss Brown."
WALTER HAMLIN did not go to America. On leaving the Villa
Arnolfini, he met at Florence some artist friends, who, in his
condition of utter absence of plans, easily drew him on with them to
Siena and Perugia, thence into the smaller Umbrian cities, and finally
into a wholly unexplored region between the Abruzzo and the Adriatic.
By the time that their sketching and article-writing expedition was at
an end, the winter had come round, and more than three months had
elapsed since Hamlin had parted with the Perrys. Would Hamlin return
with his friends to England? He had often said that he had had enough
of Italy—that he would go home and shut him- self up in his studio
at Hammersmith, among smoke and river-fogs, seeing not a living
creature, learning Persian and studying Sufi poets until next spring,
when he would set off for the East, never more to return to Europe,
except for the Grosvenor private view. But when the moment for return
north approached, Hamlin began to hesitate; and the very day before
his friends' departure, he informed them that he had come to the
conclusion that there was still some work for him to do in Italy.
"I shall be in England at the end of two months at latest," he
And on their remonstrating at his fickleness, he merely answered—
"I have a notion for a new picture, and I think I have found my
model for it."
"'The Queen of Night' in your portfolio," suggested one of his
They had noticed and generally admired that strange head, the like
of which none of them had ever seen before, and they had given the
drawing, which Hamlin described merely as "a girl near Lucca," the
nickname of "The Queen of Night."
"Yes," answered Hamlin, "that's the one I'm thinking about."
So the rest of the party set sail from Civita Vecchia; and one
drizzly, foggy morning, Hamlin got into the train to carry him
northward to Florence.
During those three months, he could scarcely himself have explained
when or how, strange notions had come into Hamlin's head, and a still
stranger plan had finally matured in it. He had been haunted by the
remembrance of the Perrys' nursemaid at the Villa Arnolfini, and
gradually taken to brooding and day-dreaming about her. He had made
up his mind that Anne Brown was the most beautiful girl, in the
strangest style, whom he had ever met. What was to be her future? Of
two possibilities one must be realised. Either this magnificent
blossom was to be untimely nipped,—this beautiful and strange girl
was to fritter away her life, unnoticed, wasted, to little by little
lose her beauty, her dignity, her grandeur, her whole imaginative
aroma; or the rare plant of beauty was to be cherished, nursed into
perfection, till it burst out in maturity of splendour, a thing of
delight for the present and of wonder for the future. Either Anne
Brown must turn into a sordid nursery-governess, or into the avowedly
most beautiful woman in England—that is to say, in the particular
pre-Raphaelite society which constituted England to him.
Yet not necessarily; there was still a middle course—she might
marry some small shopkeeper or teacher of languages at Florence; or,
perhaps, some artist might notice her, make her his mistress, perhaps
his wife. This last thought of Anne Brown as the possible wife of some
other Melton Perry (for they were all Melton Perrys at Florence)
filled Hamlin with a vague disgust and irritation. Much better that
she should end her life as a nursery-maid, or a daily governess at a
franc the hour. Still, it was dreadful to think that something so
unique should be lost, wasted for ever. "Such things must be," said
Hamlin to himself; "it is sad, but it can't be helped." And he wrote
two sonnets, "Lost Loveliness," and "Stillborn Joy," which were
extremely beautiful, and quite among the finest he ever wrote. But
this did not despatch the subject. The sense of having made the most
of the fact that this loveliness was to be wasted, this joy of beauty
to be stillborn, did not make up for the consciousness that the waste,
the abortion, had not actually taken place, might yet be prevented,
and were dreadful in themselves. Was he, Hamlin, to marry Anne Brown?
He shrank in terror from so Quixotic, and at the same time so
commonplace, so school-girlish a thought. But if he did not marry her
no other man could; at least, no other man who was to prevent the act
of wastefulness to be consummated. She might marry a clerk, a
shopkeeper, even a servant, or even some miserable little
Anglo-Florentine artist; but if she married a man above that, a man
to appreciate and make the most of her, that man must evidently be
himself. It is difficult to follow the logic of this notion; but
certain it is that Hamlin never doubted for a second that either Anne
Brown must bloom for him and by him, must be his most precious
possession and his most precious loan to the world—or that Anne Brown
must be simply and deliberately buried under a bushel. Such arguments
are matters of character, I suppose; be it as it may, the argument was
When Hamlin had got thus far he stopped for a long time, revolving
the matter in his mind in a purely abstract way, without attempting to
realise how things might be settled. He was not a man of action or of
resolves, and would usually let things slip on and look at them
slipping; and during this ruminating condition, he did not once
seriously ask himself whether he intended marrying the Perrys'
nursemaid. But suddenly, the very day before his friends were to carry
him back to England, a new notion came into his head. His life seemed
suddenly filled with romance. The matter was settled in a minute. Anne
Brown was to be filched triumphantly from oblivion: he telegraphed
Perry to hire him rooms in Florence. As the meeting of certain
chemical substances will sometimes produce a new and undreamt-of
something of wholly unprecedented properties, so ideas had come in
collision in Hamlin's mind, and out of a mere perplexity had arisen a
stranger scheme—out of the question what should be the fate of Anne
Brown, had originated the decision what was to be the future of Walter
Hamlin. The situations seemed changed: instead of his being a mere
possible, but by no means probable, instrument of a change in her
life, she was the predestined instrument for the consummation of his
life. Anne Brown should live for the world and for fame; and Walter
Hamlin's life should be crowned by gradually endowing with vitality,
and then wooing, awakening the love of this beautiful Galatea whose
soul he had moulded, even as Pygmalion had moulded the limbs of the
image which he had made to live and to love. The idea, once present to
Hamlin's mind, had been accepted at once; and in another hour he had
worked out all the details of the real romance in which he was
embarking; he had determined exactly where he would send Anne Brown to
school, where he would go during her stay there, what settlements he
would make to ensure her complete freedom of choice when she should
choose him, in what part of London he would buy a house for her, which
of his female relations should have charge of her, by whom she should
be introduced into artistic society;—he began to imagine all the
details of his long courtship. Beyond the courtship, into their actual
married life, his fancy did not carry him; it was that year, or two or
three years of gradually growing devotion, upon which he cared to
dwell. Whether such a scheme was wise or right it never occurred to
him to question. He had determined on educating, wooing, and marrying
a woman like what Anne Brown seemed to be, as a man might determine to
buy a house in a particular fishing or hunting district—the only
thing is to make sure whether the particular house is the suitable
house. The only further concern of Hamlin was to make sure that Anne
Brown was really all that she seemed to him to be; and Hamlin looked
forward as to a kind of preliminary romance to the strange inspection,
this minute examination of a creature who should never guess the
extraordinary metamorphosis which might, or might not, be in store for
A WEEK later Hamlin was painting Anne Brown in a studio which
he had hired for three months. She had manifested some pleasure when,
unexpectedly, Mrs Perry had told her of his return, and of his desire
to have her once more for a model; but the manifestation thereof was
so calm, or rather so mingled with her usual haughty indifference,
that her romantic and passionate mistress had forthwith made up her
mind that Anne Brown was a mere soulless body, and communicated that
fact to her husband.
"I don't see why Annie should be particularly delighted at the
prospect of sitting for two hours, twice a-week, with her head raised
and her throat outstretched, in a beastly cold studio," answered
Perry, affecting, as he frequently did, from a curious kind of
coyness, not to understand his wife's underlying meaning.
"She is a mere soulless body," repeated Mrs Perry—"as indifferent
to Hamlin as a handsome cow would be."
"Do you expect her to throw herself into Hamlin's arms?" cried
"I expect her," answered Mrs Perry, with a kind of haughty mystery
and sadness, "to be a woman."
"And I expect you to attend to her remaining what she is—an honest
girl," retorted Perry.
"Melton!" said his wife solemnly; and immediately poor Perry's
principles drooped like a furled sail.
Melton Perry had always an uncomfortable feeling of responsibility
regarding Anne Brown; a sort of sense that, as poor old Miss Curzon
had been grievously mistaken in intrusting a girl like Anne Brown to a
lady so mystical and romantic as his wife, he, on his part, hardened
sinner, social wreck as he doubtless was, was in duty bound to make up
for the good old woman's want of discernment. If it had been any one
except Hamlin, he repeated to himself, he would never have permitted a
single sitting; but Hamlin was a Sir Galahad—at least with regard to
servant girls and suchlike—who had always struck Perry dumb with
wonder; and in this instance in particular, Hamlin seemed really to
consider Anne Brown much in the light of a picture by an old master.
Yet even thus, it had taken him by surprise, and relieved his mind of
a heavy weight, when, the day before the first sitting in the studio,
Ham]in had asked Mrs Perry to tell him of some elderly woman—some
former housekeeper or nurse in an English family—who could come to
his studio and keep it in order two or three times a-week.
"I can recommend you a most delightful young laundress," exclaimed
Mrs Perry with fervour—"quite a Palma Vecchio."
"Thank you," answered Hamlin, drily; "I particularly want an
elderly woman who can take charge of my things, and who can be there
when—I mean, who can take Miss Brown's bonnet and shawl when she
comes to sit to me."
Mrs Perry confessed to no knowledge of such a person, but sat down
to write to the German deaconesses,—"such real saints,"—in quest of
the desired piece of elderly respectability. But when she had gone to
her writing-table, Melton Perry kicked Hamlin's foot under the table,
and said in an undertone—
"You are a damned moral dog, certainly, Wat. Thank you so much, old
So the old housekeeper was hired to go three times a-week to
Hamlin's studio, and twice a-week she opened the studio door to Anne
Brown, and took the girl's poke-bonnet and grey shawl in the little
anteroom, crammed full of dwarf orange-trees, which opened into the
pillared balcony circling round the topmost floor of the old palace,
and from which you looked into the lichened court, and saw the
steel-like sheen of the water in the well. Hamlin had determined to
embody one of his usual mystical fancies in his new picture. His
pictures came to him first as poems, and he had written a sonnet
descriptive of his intended work before he had painted a stroke of it.
It was called Venus Victrix; and the strangeness, the mysteriousness
which gave a charm to his beautiful church-window-like pictures, and
made one forget for a minute the uncertainty of drawing and the
weakness of flesh-painting—this essential quality of the pictorial
riddle depended very much upon the fact that his Venus Victrix was
entirely unlike any other Venus Victrix which the mind of man could
conceive. Instead of the naked goddess triumphing over the apple of
Paris, whom such a name would lead you to expect, Hamlin made a sketch
of a lady in a dress of sad-coloured green and gold brocade, seated in
a melancholy landscape of distant barren peaks, suffused with the grey
and yellow tints of a late sunset; behind her was a bower of
sear-coloured palms, knotting their boughs into a kind of canopy for
her head, and in her hand she held, dragged despondingly on the
ground, a broken palm-branch. The expression of the goddess of Love,
since such she was, was one of intense melancholy. It was one of those
pictures which go to the head with a perfectly unintelligible mystery,
and which absolutely preclude all possibility of inquiring into their
exact meaning. A picture which might have been one of Hamlin's best,
only that it was never finished.
For, it must be remembered, the picture, or rather the painting of
it, was merely an excuse invented by Hamlin for an opportunity of
seeing, of examining, the creature whose future was in his hands. He
wished to assure himself that Anne Brown was really the Anne Brown of
his fancy; and as he stared at that strange and beautiful face, it was
not in reality with the object of transferring it on to his canvas,
but to make sure whether it was really as strange as it seemed to him.
It was also to gauge whatever mystery there might be hidden in that
singular nature. Whether he ever did gauge it, it is impossible to
tell. There was, he felt, something strange there—something which
corresponded with the magnificent and mysterious outside,—a
possibility of thought and emotion enclosed like the bud in its case
of young leaves—a potential passion, good or bad, of some sort. At
Anne Brown's actual character it was difficult to get; or rather,
perhaps, there was as yet but little actual character to get at. He
became more and more persuaded, as he sat opposite to her, painting
and talking—or, interrupting the sitting, playing to her strange
songs which he had picked up in his travels, and fragments of
forgotten operas which it was his mania to collect—that Anne Brown
was in reality much younger than her years; that beneath those solemn
features there was a still immature soul wrapped up in mere
conventional ideas of right and wrong, a few inherited republican
formulæ, and a natural pride which had grown, as does any protecting
skin, physical or moral, where surroundings are for ever chafing and
wearing. A soul, above all, which had never yet sought for an
ideal—had never loved; and this knowledge was to Hamlin a source of
It was a satisfaction, also, to notice how, little by little,
whatever ideals seemed to bud in Anne Brown's mind, were connected
with him, or at least with the things which he presented to her
imagination. Nay, with himself, as a person not at all, but yet with
the books, the music, the pictures about which he talked to her. This
studio, so unlike the bleak and tobacco-reeking workshop of Melton
Perry, with its curious carved furniture, its Japanese screens, its
bits of brocade and tapestry (rubbish which Hamlin would have blushed
at in London), its shelves of books and chipped majolica and glass,
its quantity of flowers, was evidently a sort of earthly paradise to
the girl. And the handsome, pale, serious young man, with womanishly
regular feature and world-worn look, who treated her with a sort of
protecting deference, who instructed her in what she ought to like and
dislike, and at the same time asked with real earnestness for her
opinion, was evidently its affable archangel. This Hamlin perceived to
his pleasure; but, nevertheless, he perceived also that all feeling,
all ideas, were in Anne Brown vague, immature, or merely
potential—unless, indeed, this tragic-looking creature repressed and
drowned in the darkness of her consciousness anything more definite
They did not talk very much, for they were both of them rather
taciturn; but what they said acquired therefrom more than doubled
importance. And of this talking Hamlin did by far the greater share.
Anne Brown had indeed little to say—a nursery-maid of nineteen has
not much to tell a fashionable poet-painter of thirty-one: slight
descriptions of places she had been to, villas, or bathing-places,
and one or two excursions from them; vague reminiscences of old Miss
Curzon, of the books which she had made the girl read, the music she
had heard, the anecdotes of Landor and Rossini and Malibran which the
old lady had narrated; a few allusions, short and passionate, to her
father; a few more, sullen and dreary, to her own future life;—that
was all that poor Anne Brown could say.
For when he told her the plots of novels, and repeated scraps of
poems to her, she scarcely ventured to give him her opinion. She was
so earnest that she felt that only something worth saying should be
said; and what things worth saying could she say to him?
"By the way," said Hamlin one day, as she stood, tying her bonnet,
and looking out over the sea of shingly roofs, the sudden gaps showing
shady gardens far below, open loggias, between whose columns
fluttered linen, and irregular rows of windows with herbs in broken
ewers on their sills—"by the way, you have never told me how you
liked the 'Vita Nuova,' Miss Brown." He had talked of so many books,
making her wonder and sometimes laugh at his account of them, but
never about that, nor about his own.
"It is very beautiful," she said, still looking out of the
window—"but do you think it is true?"
"Why not?" he said.
"I don't know—I don't think there are men like that;" then she
suddenly added, with a sort of melancholy humorous laugh, which was
frequent with her, "I will make my pupils read it when I am a parlatrice. Those ladies will tell me their opinion."
Hamlin was looking at her, as she still turned her massive head,
with its waves of iron-black hair, away from him, towards the light.
"Good-bye," she said, with her hand on the door-latch.
"Stop a minute," said Hamlin; and going to a book-shelf, he got
down a little green-bound volume.
"I don't know why," he said, "but I should like you to read these.
It is idiotic trash after the 'Vita Nuova'—but it is mine."
"Thank you," she said. "I will bring it you back next sitting. I
will cover the binding."
"I want you to keep it. Won't you do me that favour?"
She reddened all over her pale face.
"Thank you," she said. "'It is very good of you."
IT so happened that as Anne Brown was walking quickly home she
was overtaken by Melton Perry.
"What's that book, Annie?" he inquired, as they walked side by
"Mr Hamlin gave it me—it's his poems."
"Let me see." Perry was more peremptory than usual.
He turned over the leaves as they went along, and then returned it
"You may read that," he said—"it's sad trash, but you may read it.
All poetry isn't fit for women to read," he added, by way of
The gift of this book somehow disturbed Perry's equanimity.
"What made him give you that book?" he asked.
"I don't know, sir. We were talking about the 'Vita Nuova.'"
"A lot of confounded medieval twaddle," cried Perry. "Why don't you
read 'Lady Audley's Secret' or 'The Heir of Redclyffe'? that's the
right sort of thing."
She seemed hurt, and they were silent. Suddenly Perry said, with
"I'm sorry to inconvenience Hamlin, but this will be the last of
the sittings. I am going to send you to the sea-side with the children
in a day or two. Little May needs change of air. When you return, Mr
Hamlin will be leaving Florence."
"Yes, sir," answered Anne Brown; and a kind of suppressed spasm
passed across her face.
Perry saw it.
"It's high time," he said to himself.
Melton Perry could not screw up his courage till he and his wife
and Hamlin had already finished dinner that evening.
"I say, Hamlin," he began, lighting his pipe, while Mrs Perry
artistically twisted a cigarette in her long brown fingers—"d'you
think you could finish off that picture with only one more sitting?
I'm sure Mrs Perry thinks it is time for the children to go down to
the sea-side—only, of course, she doesn't like disturbing you in your
"Go down to the sea-side!" exclaimed Mrs Perry, not at all
mollified by her husband's deference; "who talks of going to the
seaside? and what has that to do with his work?"
"You forget, my dear, that you said this morning that May requires
change of air—and, of course, Annie will be required to take the
children down to Viareggio. I am extremely sorry for you, old fellow,
but I fear you must finish that picture—at least so far as Annie is
concerned—by the beginning of next week."
"I see," answered Hamlin, briefly. For the first time in his life
almost, he felt angry with his old friend; an unspeakable resentment
at this interference with what he considered already as his.
"I see nothing of the sort," burst out Mrs Perry;
"I will never, never permit dear Hamlin's masterpiece to be spoilt. I
would rather take the children to the sea-side myself—oh yes. I would
rather they did not go at all. My children are the dearest things I
possess, but I have no right selfishly to prefer their welfare to the
completion of such a picture. I should never forgive myself. That
unfinished picture, that strange, terrible Venus, would haunt me in my
dreams, and I should hear the whole world asking me, 'What have you
done with a thing meant for our joy?'"
"Bosh!" cried Perry, stretching out his legs and puffing at his
pipe—"rubbish! A fine thing if May gets low fever again: much you'll
think of Hamlin's masterpiece then."
"May shall not have fever," answered Mrs Perry, haughtily; "and
Hamlin's masterpiece, which you choose to sneer at—"
"Oh, please, don't bother about my masterpieces!" interposed
"—Shall not be sacrificed. You shall take the children to the
sea-side, Melton; and Annie shall continue to give him as many
sittings as he may wish." And then, passing over her husband's
nauseous existence, she began a mellifluous and irrelevant
conversation with Hamlin across him.
But after two or three minutes Perry could stand it no longer.
"Damn your sea-side!" he suddenly burst out.
"Melton!" shrieked Mrs Perry, falling back on her chair.
"Damn your sea-side!" repeated Perry. "Haven't you eyes in your
head to understand that the sea-side has nothing to do with the
matter? The children no more require to go to Viareggio than I require
to be made Khan of Tartary. What is required is that an honest girl,
who was intrusted to us by an old friend, should not get to be talked
of as a—"
"This loathsome coarseness is too much for me. Adieu, Mr Hamlin!"
and Mrs Perry flounced out of the room.
"Lord deliver us from womankind!" exclaimed Perry, as the door shut
upon his wife, and he fell back in his chair. "What a nice breakfast I
shall have to-morrow!"
Hamlin did not answer, but merely lit another cigarette, and looked
into the smouldering fire.
"Hamlin, old boy," resumed Perry, "don't be down upon me. I really
am confoundedly sorry to bother you—indeed I am; but—you see—about
"I understand," answered Hamlin, shortly; "don't let's talk about
"But—please don't be in a rage with me, Watty," cried Perry,
appealingly; "really I don't know what to do. You see, it's not as if
she were an ordinary girl or an ordinary servant; then I should
say—hang it, please yourself!"
"Sweet morals!" sneered Hamlin.
"But with her it's different; I'm sure you must recognise that
yourself. Now I don't mean to say you are in the least to blame, or
that the girl cares the least scrap about you; but still, this sort of
thing won't do. I know you're the last man to do a dirty thing—indeed
you're the only man whom I would have permitted to go on so long. But
then, quite without meaning anything, all that sitting, and talking,
and discussing poetry and 'Vita Nuova' together—without knowing it,
it puts ideas into a girl's head, makes her dissatisfied, that sort of
thing, and the result is that she goes to the bad. And then, here in
Florence especially, a girl's none the better looked at for having
sat, if even only to one man. People begin to talk (at the villa it
was another matter), stories go round, and it becomes difficult for
her to get a respectable situation."
"You needn't say any more," cried Hamlin, with almost feminine
impatience. All this gave him a sense of moral nausea.
"You understand, old fellow, I don't mean it about you in
particular," persisted Perry; "indeed you've behaved like Sir Bors,
Sir Percival, and Sir Galahad all rolled into one. But it's the
fatality of the circumstances, the beastly world about us. You're not
angry, are you, with me?"
"Not a bit," answered Hamlin, quietly, minutely examining one of
the pictures on the wall, which was not worth looking at, and had been
thoroughly looked at by him already; "not a bit, my dear Perry. I
suppose you have no objection to Miss Brown giving me one more
"Not the least—two, or even three, for the matter of that. I was
only anxious not to spin out things indefinitely."
"One more sitting will be more than enough," answered Hamlin. "By
the way, before I go, I want to do a drawing of little Mildred."
IT was a cold and drizzling February morning that last sitting
which Anne Brown was to give to Walter Hamlin. As the girl slowly
mounted the well-like stairs of the old tower palace, and saw the
distant snow-covered hills through the dim windows on the landings,
she thought with sadness that this was the last time she should toil
up to Hamlin's studio. A lethargy weighed upon her, making her feel
that everything was dreary and unreal, such as she had experienced
only once or twice before, when one of the few holidays of her
childhood had drawn to a close. The cheerless, colourless, eventless,
joyless routine of ordinary life was about to close over, to engulf,
her little island of brightness. She was longer than usual taking off
her bonnet and cloak in the anteroom filled with orange-trees, for she
felt as if she must look at everything well one last time—at the bits
of brocade and the photographs on the wall, the plaster-casts on the
shelf, the scarlet and purple anemones in the cracked china bow], the
brass synagogue lamp hanging in the window.
"It is bad weather," said Hamlin's old housekeeper.
"Horrible," answered Anne, looking vacantly through the window at
the grey sky and wet roofs.
The old woman opened the studio door and drew the curtains. Hamlin,
who was at a table writing, rose and came to meet his model.
"It is very good of you to come in such horrible weather, Miss
Brown," he said.
"It is the last sitting—I thought I ought not to miss it," and she
sat down at once in the arm-chair of faded green velvet opposite
"Won't you warm yourself a little?" he asked.
"No, thank you; I am not cold."
Hamlin began to prepare his paints.
"You are going to Viareggio, Miss Brown," he remarked.
"Yes; I believe I am."
"You will enjoy the change of air. The sea—you told me you liked
the sea one day,"—and he went on squeezing the paints on to his
"I suppose so." She said no more.
Hamlin was seated before his easel, looking now at his work and now
at her, and making minute alterations with a small brush. They did not
talk much. He seemed bent upon his work. He had told her that she need
not keep her head in position, as he was merely finishing some
unimportant details. Her eyes wandered round the room—at the books,
the sketches on the wall, the rugs under foot. On the chimney-piece
was stuck a photograph of Melton Perry. If only she might have a
photo- graph of Hamlin! . . . For less than a second she thought she
might beg for one; then it seemed to her impossible, and the wish beat
itself painfully against that cold, dead impossibility, like a bird
against its cage-bars.
Hamlin called the old woman—
"Take that letter to the post-office at the Uffizi," he said,
pointing to his writing-table, "and mind you get it registered."
It was the first time that Hamlin had sent the old woman on an
errand during one of Anne Brown's sittings, when she was wont to go in
and out of the studio noiselessly, like a watchful duenna.
The heavy stairs door banged behind her. Anne listened to it dully,
vacantly, as one listens to things when deeply preoccupied. For a few
minutes Hamlin worked on in silence, then suddenly, without looking
up, he said—
"Do you remember my finding your 'Dante' in the vineyard at the
Villa Arnolfini, Miss Brown?"
"Yes," she answered.
"And you told me that you wished to fit yourself to be a teacher?"
"Yes, I remember."
"Well," went on Hamlin, "I have been thinking about that; and I
think it would be a pity—I mean—I hope you won't think it horribly
rude of me to say so—I think it would be better if you went to school
for a little while yourself."
Anne stared at this speech, and at the close of it her surprise
turned to resentment.
"Of course it would be better," she said, bitterly; "of course I
shall always be very ignorant; but I have no wish to set up for what I
am not. I am not going to teach people anything—only to correct their
pronunciation and a few mistakes. One does not require to study much
for that, and I shall be competent to do it."
In her quiet, subdued way she looked very angry.
Hamlin rose from his easel.
"You misunderstand me," he said; "and indeed what I have to say is
so strange and perhaps so unjustifiable, that you have every right to
do so. Listen," and he drew a chair near hers.
"Please do not think me very bold, and forgive the horrid way in
which I am forced to put things, when I tell you, dear Miss Brown,
that I am very much interested in you, and, indeed—will you forgive a
comparative stranger saying so?—that I have never felt so much
attracted by any one as I do by you."
Anne Brown did not answer; she seemed literally petrified by sheer
"The time has come when our acquaintance must come to an end," went
on Hamlin, rapidly; "but I cannot let this happen without making an
effort to prolong it. I have no brothers or sisters—no one, at least,
living with me, except distant relations. I have never taken much
interest in anybody. But now I want to know—would you, instead of our
parting company altogether—would you let me be- come your guardian
for the next few years, and as such, would you let me take charge of
your education and send you to school? It seems a very ridiculous
thing to suggest. But still you must not be angry with me for doing
Anne's big onyx eyes had opened wider and wider. She flushed purple
in the middle of his speech, then turned ashy-white, while she picked
convulsively at the fringe of the armchair. Then suddenly a sort of
convulsion came across her face, and, as if from sheer unbearable
tension of feeling, she burst into tears.
She gave way only one second, immediately trying to stop herself,
but in vain. Hamlin felt that he was making a horrible mess of it. He
came close up to the chair where the poor girl was thrown back, shaken
"Miss Brown," he cried, taking her hand—"Anne—oh, don't be
unhappy! I did not mean to offend you. Don't you understand my
meaning? I wish you to be what you have a right to be. I wish you to
be in such a position that of all the men in the world you may choose
the one who deserves you most. Anne, I love you—and I hope that
perhaps some day you may love me; but I want you to be able to love
whoever may best deserve you, and merely to do my best that you should
care for me. I want you to have a future independent of me—to possess
the education and the fortune which shall enable you to marry
whomsoever you will, or not to marry at all. Will you let me, for the
time being, be your guardian, your father, your brother; let me
provide for you, take care of your money, see to your education? I do
not ask you to love me, but merely to give me a chance of trying to
make you prefer me."
Anne did not cease sobbing; and every convulsive heaving of her body
made Hamlin feel a sort of sickening terror. He slid down on his knees
and kissed her hand.
This action seemed suddenly to awaken her. She started up, and
making a tremendous effort, stopped her crying.
He stood aside while she went to the mirror and looked at her
swollen eyes and convulsed face.
"May I have a glass of water?" she asked; then, stopping Hamlin,
"never mind," she said—"never mind—I must go;" and she pulled her
blue veil hurriedly over her eyes and huddled on her cloak.
"Miss Brown," cried Hamlin, "why don't you answer me?" and he laid
hold of her arm as she was about to open the door.
"Because you do not deserve it," she answered, trying to loosen his
grasp. "Let me go, please."
"I cannot let you go," answered Hamlin calmly, standing before the
door, "until you have listened to me. Will you let me provide for your
future, send you to school, and then place you in the care of my aunt?
Will you let me act as if I were your guardian for the next three
years, and at the end of them you shall have enough to live and marry
as befits a lady, and be as free as air, or become my wife—whichever
you shall choose? Answer me, for I am serious."
Anne Brown paused.
"Don't ask me for an answer now," she said; "I am not sure that you
are in earnest."
"I am—indeed I am!" cried Hamlin; "I have intended asking you this
ever since my return to Florence. I returned merely in order to ask
you. I am in earnest; cannot you give me a serious answer?"
"Not now—I can't think about anything; I must ask; I don't know
what is right to do."
He opened the door, and Anne Brown walked out rapidly, through the
anteroom and downstairs.
FOR a long time Anne Brown remained as it were dazed, as if she
had received a blow on the head. When she got back to the Perrys'
house, she felt broken in all her limbs, and slipped up-stairs and
threw herself on her bed. But it was no use: all that day, while
attending on the children and doing her usual work, she felt as if
some one else were doing it all; while she remained conscious only of
something very sudden and strange, of a confused buzzing in her brain,
through which she heard the voice of Hamlin repeating his words in the
studio; words which somehow made her indignant, angry, and at the same
time filled her with a sense of having done something which she should
not. This feeling increased at night, and she lay awake while the
clocks struck hour after hour, hot, red, half deafened by her own
blood, fevered and vaguely indignant. It was as if Hamlin had struck
her; she felt insulted, outraged, by this strange interference with
her fate, this wonderful intrusion of excitement into her dull and
sombre life. It was dawn when she awoke: a chill greyness in the sky,
reddened by the pale winter sun. She knew that something had happened,
that something was changed. She was almost surprised to find herself
in her usual room, with the children's tea-sets on the chest of
drawers, the coloured pictures from the 'Illustrated' and the
'Graphic' pinned on the walls, the dolls' houses in the corner, and
little May asleep by her side in her crib. Then she remembered it all,
and sat up in her bed thinking about it. Things appeared to her in
quite a new light. She had been an ungrateful beast to feel as she had
towards Hamlin; and a great wave of gratitude and awe, and love and
joy, welled up in her heart. It was as if she were sitting in the
sunshine: an indefinable kind of happiness. How noble and generous and
good he had been; and how doubly so, being so great, and she being a
mere nothing in the world! Whether he loved her or she him, she did
not ask herself; it seemed a thing to die of for sheer happiness, that
any one should care for her and her future. And just in proportion to
her usual pride, and sullenness, and joylessness, she felt happy in
the idea of deserving nothing and receiving everything, from his
kindness: and Hamlin, with whom she had spoken not twenty-four hours
earlier, whom she would see again that day, appeared to her as a
distant, dim, ineffable creature, lighting and warming her like the
sun, but equally unapproachable. But on thinking it over, things came
round to commonplace actuality. What was she to do? Would he ask her
again? or even, had he asked her at all? It all seemed a dream, and
she did not venture to examine into its reality. She determined to
tell it all to Perry, and ask his advice; but she felt as if she
never could. She met Perry several times in the course of the morning,
but she could not succeed in screwing up her courage. What if it
should all prove to be an illusion? She took the children out for
their accustomed walk, during which she was even more silent than
usual. On returning home she saw Hamlin in the street, close to the
door. The blood all rushed up to her head. Hamlin saluted her as if
nothing had happened, and accompanied her up-stairs. When they were at
the landing he suddenly turned to her—
"Have you thought over our conversation in the studio yesterday,
Miss Brown?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Anne, inaudibly, as he stood with his hand on the
bell; "I have."
"Well, then," went on Hamlin, "with regard to the plan which I
submitted to you, what is your answer? Do you consent or not?"
Anne Brown raised her head.
"I consent," she answered quietly, looking full at him, as if to
make sure that she was not talking in a dream. He had never seen her
so beautiful and majestic before; and she had a look—with dilated
eyes, and rapid, oppressed breath—like the one which he had noticed
once when she talked of her father, and of which he had felt at once,
"this is what I want."
"Thank you," he answered gravely, and rang the bell. For a moment
they stood in silence, till the door was opened.
HAMLIN sat for some time in the dusty attic called a studio,
while Perry cut acrobats and devils out of black paper, and stuck them
on the dirty window-panes.
"That's my vocation," said Perry, "and not painting damned
landscape spinach and soapsud seas. Look! aren't they jolly old
fiends?" and he held up a group of black clowns, standing on each
other's hands and shoulders.
"Capital!" answered Hamlin. "But look here; I came to tell you
something. I want the address of Miss Brown's guardian,—you told me
there was one,—because I am going to have Miss Brown educated, with a
view, if she do not change her mind, to her becoming my wife."
Perry let his scissors fall on the floor.
"Damnation!" he cried.
Hamlin picked up the scissors and put them quietly on the table.
"So that's it!" burst out Perry. "While I was bothering my brains
with trying to take care of Anne, you were being inveigled by that
cursed hypocritical slut."
"I shall be obliged to you to speak in rather different language,
Perry," said Hamlin, in a tone of voice and with a manner which his
friend was not accustomed to.
"Oh, beast! brute! seven-times-distilled and most-kickable jackass
that I have been," moaned Perry, "that I should have let this happen
to you!—that I should have let you be entrapped under my very nose!
But it mustn't be, old fellow; I won't stand it."
"You will have to," answered Hamlin, contemptuously; "and so, let's
say no more about it. Only one word: Miss Brown has not inveigled me."
Perry gave a sort of moan of disgust. "No woman ever does inveigle
"Miss Brown has not inveigled me. I conceived the desire of
educating her, and giving myself a chance of marrying her if she would
have me, long ago, before I returned to Florence. And, as a favour, I
beg you will respect Miss Brown so long as she remains in your house,
as you would respect the woman who is at present my ward, and may
possibly become my wife."
"Ward! wife! fiddlesticks!" cried Perry. "For God's sake, my
dearest old Watty, don't go and do such a damnable thing! don't be
such an idiot as to suppose you must do it. That was my confounded
folly: let myself be led on, and then thought it was my own choice, my
resolution, all sorts of fine things. No man ever really wants to tie
himself up; it's the woman who does it, and makes him believe it's
himself. All this is bosh, mere bosh; you'll think better of it."
"I tell you again, Perry, that there is no inveigling about the
matter. I made up my mind to this step while I was away from
Florence. Besides, I am not going to marry Miss Brown straight off; I
am going to give her the education which such a woman deserves, to
enable her to marry me should she care to do so."
"Education, forsooth!" groaned Perry; "you will get yourself
married before you have time to say Jack Robinson: and to think that I
have brought it all upon you! to think that I have driven you to do
Hamlin could not help smiling at his friend's distress.
"Really, you need not feel under any responsibility. I alone am
responsible in the business—I and good fortune, which has brought me
into the presence of the most marvelIous woman that ever was—"
"But what do you do it for? You're not in love with Annie, I do
believe," cried poor Perry.
"I do it because she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,"
answered Hamlin, deliberately; "and the woman who, properly educated,
is of all others the one whom I should most wish to love—because, in
short, I cannot see her wasted."
Perry flung his arms over his head with a gesture of grotesque
despair. At that moment the door opened, and Mrs Perry entered the
"What is the matter? what has happened?" she asked with a dramatic
gesture, and a not less dramatic accent; and she remained standing on
the threshold, raising the door-curtain with much dignity.
"Hamlin wants to bring up and marry Anne Brown," yelled Perry.
Mrs Perry tottered, let the curtain go, held her hand to her head
for a moment.
"Anne Brown—do you hear that? He wants to marry her! to educate
her! He has already proposed!" repeated Perry.
Mrs Perry came forward solemnly, and stretched out her hand to
"Dear friend," she said softly, "my heart told me that this would
"Fudge!" exclaimed Perry; "if it did, why the deuce didn't you
"My heart told me this would be. I congratulate you, dearest
friend, that you have at last found the embodiment of your mysterious
dreams of beauty. And I thank you, on my part, for giving me the
happiness of seeing that glorious dethroned goddess reinstated in her
rights, and also,"—and Mrs Perry's long mouth smiled—formidable
like an alligator's,—"for giving me the happiness of witnessing a
union of mystic perfection;" whereupon, to Hamlin's horror, the tall
and bony lady deposited a damp kiss on his forehead.
"Oh—but—thank you so much!" exclaimed Hamlin—"I have not asked
Miss Brown to marry me; I have only asked her to let me educate her. I
wish her to choose whatever husband may deserve her."
"And that will be yourself—your noble, darling self," beamed Mrs
"I am happy that you approve of my decision," said Hamlin, quickly;
"and since you do, will you kindly tell me the address of Miss
Brown's—Miss Brown's guardian?"
"Julia, I forbid you," moaned Perry feebly.
"His address"—answered Mrs Perry blandly, and taking no notice of
her husband—"is Richard Brown, care of Gillespie Brothers, New Cross.
He is foreman at a cannon-foundry, or a place where they make
torpedoes. I know it's something murderous and dreadful."
"Richard Brown, Gillespie Brothers, New Cross," wrote Hamlin in his
note-book. "Thank you so much; I shall write to him at once."
"Oh, idiotic beast that I was!" groaned Perry, "to think that it
should all be my fault."
"Come into my boudoir," said Mrs Perry; "you shall write to him
without a moment's delay. Denrest Mr Hamlin, it is so noble, so lovely
on your part; and dear Anne—how beautiful she will become!"
Perry paced up and down the room in violent despair, kicking at all
the chairs and easels on his way, and hurling a tin of black paint
against the ceiling, whence, having deposited its oozy contents, it
slowly descended. After this, feeling that his despair was not yet
vented, he stalked off to the German beer-cellar, in the Via
Lambertesca, and gloomily consumed a bock—a proceeding to
which he invariably resorted whenever his wife had inspired him with a
more than usually strong wish to drown himself.
Suddenly an idea struck him, and he rushed to the nearest
telegraph-office. There he spent upwards of an hour, and consumed
many pieces of paper in concocting a missive which should, within the
compass of twenty words, convey to Mr Richard Brown, care of Gillespie
Brothers, New Cross, that the proposal being made to Anne Brown by a
certain person must be immediately rejected, as its acceptance would
bring ruin, dishonour, and misery on all parties. "Proposal disastrous
snare," wound up Perry at last in triumph; and then discovered that,
in his zeal for Hamlin's good, he had expressed disapprobation to the
extent of exactly twenty francs of Italian money.
"Nothing but pipes—loathsome, smelly, filthy pipes; never a
cigar—for the next two months," meditated Perry, as he paid his
money and received the clerk's receipt; "but a fellow must save his
friend after all."
NO arrangements could be come to until Hamlin should hear from
Anne Brown's guardian, and this, even by return of post, was
impossible under a week. And during that week, Hamlin determined to
keep away from the Perrys' house: the objurgations of Melton Perry,
the congratulations of his wife, the very tittering of the children,
all this vulgar prose had best be kept aloof from his romance;
besides, he was in the ridiculous position that Anne was, and was not
his; that she could no longer be considered the Perrys' servant, and
could not yet be considered as his ward. Accordingly, he betook
himself for three days to Siena, deeming it impossible that any answer
could come so soon.
But when Hamlin returned to his lodging in Florence, on the fourth
day after his proposal to Anne Brown—it seemed to him as if he had
proposed to her months ago, nay, as if he had never existed at all
before that proposal—he was told that a gentleman had called that
morning, and had left word that he would return again later on in the
"Some confounded painter or poetaster of my acquaintance," thought
Hamlin, annoyed that any one should call upon him at this point of his
A little later a card was brought in to him. The name upon it made
him start—a large shopman's card, on which was printed, "Richard
Brown, New Cross."
"Ask him to come in," cried Hamlin.
The visitor stalked in: a tall, burly man, with bushy black hair
"An insolent cad," said Hamlin to himself.
"Mr Walter Hamlin?" asked the newcomer, bowing very slightly, and
looking down upon Hamlin from his big, bent shoulders.
"Precisely—and you, I believe, are Miss Anne Brown's cousin?"
answered Hamlin, stiffening at the other's free-and-easy manner. The
very look of this man rubbed him the wrong way. "Pray, sit down," he
added, doing his best to be courteous. But the other had already sat
"I have come here," said Richard Brown, in a deep, Scotch voice,
which made a certain abruptness of manner even more offensive to his
host, "in consequence of a telegram which I received from your friend
Mr Melton Perry."
Hamlin turned pale with anger.
"Perry telegraphed behind my back," he exclaimed—"however, I had
written to you the same day. I presume you know the contents of my
"I have received no letter from you—I suppose I started before it
arrived," answered Richard Brown. "Mr Perry mentioned no letter from
you in his telegram, and as I understood from it that there were plans
afoot which concerned my cousin and ward, I thought I had best come at
once and inquire into them."
He stopped a moment, and looked Hamlin in the face, as if to find
out what sort of man he might be. He himself might be any age between
thirty and forty, of the darkest possible Scotch type, sun-burnt like
a bargee, snub of feature, with a huge, overhanging forehead; he was a
man such as Hamlin had never dealt with—a type which he recognised as
having seen among workmen and Dissenting preachers: ugly,
intellectual, contemptuous—the incarnation of what, to the
descendants of Cavaliers and Jamaica planters, seemed the aggressive
"I see," said Hamlin, coldly. "I am greatly obliged to you for the
trouble you have taken. Your presence here will make it much easier
for us to settle all necessary matters."
"Mr Perry," went on the visitor, "has given me rather a confused
account of the proposal which I understand you to have made to my
cousin; and I thought it wiser to see you before speaking to her. I
must therefore beg you to tell me whether Mr Perry's account of your
proposal is correct, and also whether you are in earnest in making
"Had you waited for my letter, I think you could have had no
further doubts," answered Hamlin, with some irritation. "To
recapitulate, then. I proposed to Miss Brown that she should permit me
to take charge of her education for the next two years, and, on her
becoming of age and deeming her studies complete, to place at her
disposal the capital of an income which should enable her to live in a
manner corresponding with the education she had received, and to make
a suitable marriage."
While Hamlin was speaking a sneer came over his listener's face.
"I am to understand, therefore," he said, "that I was misinformed
as to this being a proposal of marriage."
"Pardon me," corrected Hamlin, gently. "I told your cousin that I
hoped that perhaps, at the end of those two years, or more, she might
feel inclined to accept me as her husband; but that my particular
object was that Miss Brown should, on coming of age, find herself in
possession of a fortune corresponding to her education, and which
should leave her free to contract whatever marriage she pleased, or to
Richard Brown flushed.
"In short," he said, with a strange irony in his voice, "you offer
to provide my cousin with a competence whereon to live, or get
married, after she shall have remained for two years in your charge. I
fully appreciate the intention of your proposal; and I therefore beg
to refuse it."
The blood rushed to Hamlin's head. That such an interpretation
should be put upon his words had never entered his mind. It was as if
a whip had whizzed about his ears and cut into his face. His first
impulse was to knock the other down. But the sense of his
misunderstood superiority, superiority unintelligible to his visitor,
"I quite understand your refusal, Mr Brown," he answered, "as a
result of your interpretation of the case; and I suppose I have no
right to ask you to see my proposal, except as you would mean it were
you to make it yourself."
Richard Brown turned pale; but he too mastered his feelings.
"If your intention is to marry my cousin, why not marry her at
once?" he asked, with something in his look which expressed that he
felt himself not to be outwitted by a vicious fool.
Hamlin hesitated. He felt that he could never make this man
understand his dreams, his plans of turning Anne Brown into a realised
ideal, of wooing and winning the creature of his own making.
"Because—because," he hesitated.
"Because," interrupted Richard Brown, "a man in your position of
life cannot marry a girl like my cousin before she has been turned
into a lady; and because, even if this be granted, he cannot bind
himself to marry her until he see whether schooling has succeeded in
making a lady of her. I perfectly follow your reasons; but you also
can follow mine when I say that my cousin cannot be subjected to the
ups and downs of your appreciation."
In this man there was a hatred of Hamlin, not merely as a fine
gentleman, an idler, but as an æsthete; a hatred not merely of class,
but of temperament.
"You misunderstand my motives," answered Hamlin, losing patience.
"My reason for not marrying your cousin at once is, that I would not
marry a woman who cannot possibly love me as yet; and my reason
against a formal engagement between us is, that I cannot consent to
bind Miss Brown to marry me when she has no opportunity as yet of
choosing a man more to her taste. It seems to me," added Hamlin,
feeling the advantage on his side, "that to take your cousin in
marriage now, or to bind her to marry me in the future, would be
buying her in exchange for the education and the money which she will
re- ceive from me. That education and that money are intended to
secure her freedom, to secure her choice of a man whom she may love,
not to make her into the chattel of a man whom she could only
Hamlin's tone and these sentiments, which seemed to belong to a
world west of the sun and east of the moon, evidently impressed
Anne's guardian. He remained silent for a moment, unable to realise
Hamlin's state of mind, while no longer able to disbelieve in it. But
the temptation to disbelieve in the sincerity of this handsome,
effeminate, æsthetic aristocrat was too strong.
"All this is very noble and chivalric," he said, "and I doubt not
quite natural in a poet like you, Mr Hamlin; but for us practical
people, I fear it won't do. I am fully persuaded of the desirability
of giving my cousin some further schooling, and fully persuaded also
of the undesirability of leaving her any longer in the care of Mr
Perry. So I shall take her back to England with me."
Hamlin turned pale with anger. It sickened him to see his plans
dragged in the mire of this fellow's suspicions, and at the same time
he felt unable ever to make him understand, utterly helpless in
defending himself. Suddenly an idea struck him.
"I see," said Hamlin, rising and leaning against the fireplace,
while his guest remained coolly seated—"I see that, in plain words,
you suppose that I project settling some money upon your cousin, with
a view of making her my mistress for two years—that is it, is it not,
The brutal frankness staggered Brown; it was impossible to make any
more insinuations now. And he began to feel ashamed of those which he
had already made. His own imagination, then, was less clean than the
intentions of this womanish fine gentleman?
Perhaps for this very reason he answered calmly, but turning very
"Yes, sir; that is exactly the state of the case."
Hamlin felt a sort of triumph at this humiliation of his visitor.
"In that case," he said, "I think I can devise a plan which shall
satisfy you—which will relieve your apprehensiveness. I offer not
merely to settle upon Miss Brown the capital of five hundred a-year,
to be administered by you until her majority; but also to give you my
word of honour to marry Miss Brown at any time that she may summon me
to do so."
Richard Brown was taken aback; all this romance, which he had
believed to be but a vicious snare, was then real.
"I don't understand you," he said. "I don't understand what you
want to do with my cousin."
"It seems difficult to explain it to you, Mr Brown," said Hamlin;
"still, I may repeat it. I wish Miss Brown to receive all the
advantages of education and money which a woman gifted like her has a
right to, and which will enable her to freely marry a man worthy of
her— myself, or any other in the world. I will not hear of binding
Miss Brown to me at present, either by marriage or by promise of
marriage; she is to remain absolutely independent. But I offer once
more to pledge myself to marry her whenever she may wish it."
Brown did not answer for a moment.
"Are you ready to sign a document to that effect?" he asked.
"I will give Miss Brown my word," answered Hamlin, contemptuously;
"and I will give you, Mr Brown, as many signed documents as may be
equivalent thereto in your eyes."
Brown felt the insult, but he knew he had drawn it upon himself. For
a moment he hesitated; his aversion to Hamlin and Hamlin's plan
fighting painfully with his sense of the worldly interests of his
ward. At last he said—
"On these conditions I can no longer make any opposition; and it
rests with my cousin to accept or refuse your offer. I can only warn
her and you—and to do so is my duty, I think—that, in my opinion,
such an arrangement is utterly undesirable for both parties, and that
my strong advice is not to enter upon it."
"I take your warning to heart," answered Hamlin, contemptuously;
"but I cannot agree with it. May I beg you to meet me at the English
Consulate to-morrow morning, to witness the document which you
proposed I should draw out; the matter of her money settlement I shall
leave in the hands of my lawyers. What hour will suit you? and may I
have the pleasure of receiving you to breakfast with me and Mr Perry,
who will doubtless be my witness?"
Richard Brown bowed.
"Thank you," he said briefly; "I think I should prefer breakfasting
at my inn. With regard to the document, I shall be happy to meet you
at the Consulate any time convenient to yourself. But," and his face
became as threatening as his voice was studiously courteous, "we must
first hear whether, on second thoughts, my cousin accepts your
proposal. Good afternoon, Mr Hamlin."
"Good afternoon," answered Hamlin.
Richard Brown's visit had left a nauseous taste in his soul.
LATER in the afternoon Richard Brown called at the Perrys' and
asked to see his cousin. He was received with effusiveness by Mrs
"So you have seen our noble, darling Hamlin," she cried; "and you
have felt your heart go out to meet him as we have felt ours."
"I have seen Mr Hamlin," answered Brown roughly, not at all
appreciating the lady's winning manners; "and I should like to speak
to my cousin, please."
"Anne—my beautiful Anne"—cried Mrs Perry, opening the door of the
"Poor child!" she added, "how she has been trembling in her heart
Anne entered. She was paler even than usual, and was more than
usually self-possessed. She had seen her guardian for a minute early
that morning, and she knew that this visit would seal her fate.
"Good afternoon, Richard," she said briefly.
Brown looked round at Mrs Perry, waiting for her to withdraw. But
such was by no means her intention.
"Don't be unhappy, darling," she said to Anne; "I know how one
woman always longs for another woman in these moments. I will stay
with you while your cousin tells you the result of his visit."
"It is very kind of you, madam," said Brown gruffly, "but I think
this matter had better be settled solely between my cousin and myself.
Would you permit her to take me into some other room?"
"Oh, I don't wish to intrude," sighed Mrs Perry, "I only wished to
support this poor child with my presence. But after all, a woman who
loves requires support from no one." Saying which she swept out of the
There was a moment's silence.
"I have been to Mr Hamlin's, Anne," said Brown briefly, seating
himself by the fire.
The tone of voice was so resolute and even triumphant that he raised
his head and looked up at her where she was standing by the table, a
piece of needlework still in her hands.
"Well," answered Brown quietly, and watching the effect of each of
his words on the pale, melancholy, but dispassionate face of the girl,
"I have spoken to Mr Hamlin; and I find that you were correct in your
judgment, and that I was mistaken in mine. He is in earnest in his
proposal, and honest in it."
"I knew that;" and Anne Brown wondered whether this could be the
same cousin Dick who was a big boy, almost a man, when she was a tiny
mite at Spezia; who took care of her when her mother was ill and her
father was drunk; who used to shoulder his uncle and drag him off to
bed when, in a fit of intoxication, he would come in and threaten to
throw the babies out of the window. She recognised the small features,
the dark skin and hair, the heavy intellectual brow; but he seemed to
have changed in expression, to have grown hard, and arrogant, and
"I knew that," she repeated, "though you would not believe it. So,"
she added, with a certain hardness in her manner, "I suppose I am left
free to decide, and that you are ready to let Mr Hamlin do what he
"You are free to decide," he answered. "Mr Hamlin, as I have said,
is serious and honest, and willing to make every provision which can
bind him and leave you free, legally. I cannot, as your guardian, say
no. But," and his voice assumed a threatening tone, "as your kinsman,
and as the representative of your father, I most earnestly dissuade
you from accepting this proposal."
Anne reddened. "But you can no longer oppose it," she said quickly.
"I have told you before that you are free, Anne. And because you
are free," continued Brown, a sort of despair coming over him at the
sight of the girl's indifference—"because you are free, I want you to
listen to me. This proposal is one which, in the eyes of the world,
will change your life for the better: you will be educated, get the
manners of a lady, be rich yourself, and marry a rich man. But will
you stand higher in your own opinion? Would you stand as high as you
should in that of your father, if he were alive? You, having bartered
your freedom, having accepted all from this one man?"
Anne did not answer.
"Of course," went on Richard Brown eagerly, "you will have every
worldly advantage. But will you be happy taken out of your own sphere
of life, knowing yourself to be bound in gratitude to this man, who
will always continue to feel your superior, to look down upon you as a
beggar whom he has fed, or a chattel which he has bought? This man is,
for his class and ideas, honourable: he wishes to leave you free to
marry him only if you please; he wishes to marry you really and truly.
But in reality he is making you his slave; for how can you refuse him
the only thing which you, my poor Nan, can give him in return for his
money? And in reality he is making you his mistress; for what sort of
marriage is it which is a marriage merely before the world—where the
one buys and the other is bought?"
Anne flushed still deeper, and trembled from head to foot as she
leaned against the table. A dull pain clawed her at the heart, a lump
rose up to her throat. But she did not speak.
Richard Brown misunderstood her silence. He rose and approached the
table, and tried to put his arm paternally on her shoulder. She shrank
back, but let his heavy hand rest on her shoulder. What did his touch
matter when there were his words?
"Annie, dear," said Brown more gently, "you know I am a rough man,
and don't know how to mince matters and say things to women; but you
know that I am fond of you. Don't you recollect when you were a wee
lassie, and I used to carry you about on my back, and go into the
water to get you the sea-weeds and the little nautiluses. I suppose
you don't any longer. But still, you know I would not for the world
hurt my poor little Nan."
Anne held on to the table, and as she recognised that familiar
intonation, hot tears rolled down her cheeks. Her whole childhood
seemed to return to her.
"Don't cry—don't cry!" exclaimed Brown, taking her hand. "Poor
child! I know it must be very hard for you who are so young; I know
what it must be to be tempted with a lady's education, and money, and
a fine gentleman, who's in love with one, for a husband. But remember
what your poor dad used to tell us, that we common folk must make our
own way—make the others feel that we're as good as they, and not
accept anything from them. D'you remember how he used to say to me,
'Work and be proud'? Well, and I have worked and have been proud, and
it's that that has enabled me to rest a little. And you, too, must be
proud, and work, my little Annie."
"Look here," he went on, "you must not think you are never to be
anything but a servant. I feel I've been to blame, and neglected you
too long. You see, I've had to work hard for my life, out in England;
but now I am quite safely off—indeed much better off than I ever
anticipated: my employer is going to take me into partnership next
year. Well, since you wish to go to school, I will send you there. You
shall come back with me to England, and I will send you to the very
best school to be found: you shall be as good as any lady, and you
shall owe nothing to any one. Annie, do say yes."
He spoke, this rough man, almost as one might to a sick child; and
as he spoke, he tried to pass his arm round the girl's waist. But Anne
shuddered, and freed herself from his grasp. There was something in
this big dark man, with his bushy hair and beard, which made her
shrink physically, although she felt no suspicion of him morally. The
thought of Hamlin passed across her mind—Hamlin, who was everything
which Richard Brown was not.
"You are very good, Dick," she said, feeling ashamed of her
ingratitude; "but—but—oh no, no, I can't, I can't!" and she hid her
tears with her hands.
"Can't what?" exclaimed Brown, and his voice and face changed;
"can't what? Can't accept my offer; can't owe anything to me, to your
cousin, to the man to whom your father confided you? No! you won't be
under such an obligation, eh? Nay, don't humbug me. You can't give up
the money, the land, the house, the fine name—all the things which he
can give you and I can't; for I can only give you an education, and I
was such a fool as to think that you wanted that!" and Brown laughed a
loud, bitter laugh.
"You want to marry that man," he went on brutally; "well, do so.
But remember what marriage means. You are a girl of the people, who
has had to take care of herself—not a fine young lady, as yet, thank
God, with all the fine names which fine folk have for nasty things.
You know what marriage means. It means being a man's chattel, more
than his beast of burden, his plaything, the toy of his caprice and
sensuality. It means, also, that you must smother all love for a
worthier man, or degrade yourself in your own eyes. Will you be this,
sell yourself thus—?"
"Mr Hamlin does not wish me to degrade myself," cried the girl. "He
respects me,—yes, he does; and you—you don't!"
"He respects you!" sneered Brown. "And he does not want to degrade
you. Of course, he's a respectable, highly moral man. But, upon my
soul, I would rather you had been seduced by a man you loved, than
that you should have sold yourself coldly in this way."
Anne felt herself choking. For a moment she could not utter a word.
Then suddenly, with a strange look in her eyes, she cried, in a tone
which smote her cousin on the mouth—
"I love him!"
Brown turned and looked her in the face. She was very flushed, and
her slate-grey eyes gleamed feverishly. But her face was calm, and she
returned his taunting gaze, which sought for the proof that she lied,
with a look of irrepressible contempt.
"I love him!" she repeated.
Brown took his hat.
"Good-bye," he said, stretching out his hand; "I left the choice in
your hands, and you have chosen. To-morrow morning I shall settle
everything with Mr Hamlin—the papers, I mean—which shall make him
henceforth your sole protector. Then I shall go. Goodbye. I wish you
joy of your choice"—he paused—"you mercenary thing!"
Anne did not move.
Richard Brown had already turned the handle of the door when he
stopped. "One thing more," he said, "which I desire you to know. You
have taken care of yourself hitherto, and you are prudent enough in
all conscience, and world-wise enough, and heartless enough, to do so
in future; so this piece of information may be of use to you.
To-morrow he will sign a paper, which I shall keep till you come of
age, declaring that, although he leaves you complete freedom in the
choice of a husband, he binds himself to marry you whenever you may
call upon him to do so. You will doubtless know how to turn this to
Anne sank into a chair, excited, exhausted, all her blood in
movement, she scarcely knew why—insulted, maligned, and yet with a
great sense of joyfulness in her heart.
A MONTH later, the little Perrys were being taken for their
walk in the Boboli Gardens by a Swiss bonne in a quilted cap;
and Anne Brown was unpacking her things in a room overlooking the
yellowish-green Rhine, with its oscillating bridge of boats, and
facing the rocks and bastions of Ehrenbreitstein.
When Richard Brown had returned to England with the signed documents
in his pocket, Hamlin had immediately written two letters,—one to his
lawyers, instructing them to settle the capital of five hundred
a-year, that is to say, one quarter of his property, on Anne Brown;
the other, narrating the history of his engagement (if engagement it
might be called), to the widow of his former tutor, and asking her to
admit the young lady in whom he was interested into her school at
Coblenz. It was the Easter holidays, and Mrs Simson had taken
advantage of the fact to come to Florence in order to take back her
There was still a fortnight before the school would reopen, so
Hamlin suggested that they should slowly travel north, and it was
settled that he should accompany the schoolmistress and his ward. The
greater part of that fortnight was spent at Venice, where Anne Brown
had never been, and Hamlin parted company from them to return to
England, only at Munich.
Mrs Simson was of that particular type of Englishwoman which,
however much it may marry, always seems to remain an old maid; but an
old maid whose old-maidishness is an incapacity of feeling any
difference of age between herself and her youngers, of maintaining any
stateliness of superior age and experience: a hopeful, believing,
shrewd, happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic creature, invariably making one
think of a remarkably good-natured old grey mare. Youth was the
greatest attraction in the world to her, and she identified herself
completely with the young women that came under her influence. Hamlin
had known her in his boyish days, and lately, passing along the Rhine,
had stayed with her for a day or two in her old-fashioned house by the
confluence of the Rhine and the Mosel. The impression that this school
was so utterly unlike any of the girls' schools he had read of in
novels; the impression that a young woman might develop there into
whatever pleasant thing nature intended,—had been so strong, that
from the moment of his first contemplating a possible marriage with
the Perrys' servant, Mrs Simson and her school at Coblenz had formed
an essential part of his plans. The lady, on the other hand, was
exactly the kind of woman to whom a situation like this would appeal:
Hamlin, whom she had entertained on buns and ginger-beer, and then, in
later years, raved over after the first sonnet which he sent to the
'Athenæum,' had always been her especial object of adoration; and his
adoption of a beautiful and strange young woman, his preparation of a
bride for himself, was for her the finishing touch to his perfection.
She would indeed have preferred had Anne Brown been small and fair,
and garrulous and impish, and shown a love for mathematics and
flirtation; but, nevertheless, Anne Brown, inasmuch as she was the
elect of Walter Hamlin, and inasmuch as she was a beautiful young
creature, immediately won the facile but not fickle heart of Mrs
Simson. The whole business seemed to her as natural as possible; and
it was she who proposed that Hamlin should accompany her and his ward
part of their way northwards.
What was Anne's own condition? During those hours in the train,
when Hamlin was for ever jumping out and overwhelming them with coffee
and stale cakes and newspapers at every station; during those days at
Venice, when they stayed at the same hotel (the headwaiter quite
spontaneously wrote "Mrs Sim- son and niece" in the strangers' book),
and spent their days in picture-galleries and churches and gondolas,
and their evenings at theatres,—during all that journey Anne was as
cold, and silent, and melancholy as she had been when first they had
met at the Villa Arnolfini; indeed any man but Hamlin, and any woman
except Mrs Simson, would probably have been disheartened and disgusted
by this apparent stolidity of behaviour. But Mrs Simson had already
made up her character of Anne Brown, and fallen in love with it quite
independent of realities; and Hamlin was rather pleased that the
creature whom he was going to teach how to think and how to feel, did
not manifest any particular mode of thinking and feeling of her own.
So they were both extremely assiduous to Anne Brown, and in reality
thought much more about what she was going to be than about what she
The fact was that the poor girl was in a dazed condition—that all
this journey seemed to her unreal, and all the things around her
unsubstantial. Her head felt hollow, she seemed to be informed about
her feelings rather than to experience them, her own words sounded as
if through a whispering-gallery. A couple of weeks ago she had had so
strong a consciousness of identity and existence, of her own desires
and hopes; now she could not well understand how she came to be where
she was. Sometimes, while mechanically talking with her companions or
walking in their company, she used to ask herself how it had all come
about, and then she could see no reason for it all; it seemed
accidental, inexplicable, causeless, and almost incredible. Whenever,
on the other hand, she awakened to the reality of things, she was
depressed by a sense of transition; she was afraid of speaking, and
almost of feeling. As long as she had been the Perrys' servant, she
had experienced no shyness with Hamlin; as far as her taciturn nature
would allow, she had spoken out whatever she had thought or felt,
without considering whether or not it might surprise, annoy, or amuse
him. Now, on the contrary, she gradually became conscious of a fear
lest Hamlin should have cheated himself in choosing her. Unable to
tell any one of this feeling, she let it overshadow her. One evening
at Munich, two or three days before they parted company with Hamlin,
Mrs Simson, coming into Anne's room, found the girl seated with her
head in the pillows of her bed, sobbing.
The excellent and somewhat romantic heart of the schoolmistress
immediately melted at this sight.
"My dear child," she cried, looking more than ever like a friendly
grey old mare, "what is the matter with you?"
But Anne merely buried her head deeper in the pillows, and sobbed
harder than before.
"What is the matter?" repeated Mrs Sireson, laying her hand on
"Oh, leave me, leave me!" moaned the girl.
Mrs Simpson gently passed her arm under the prostrate girl's
breast, and lifted her up from the bed.
"What is the matter with you, my dear?" she asked.
"Nothing—nothing," sobbed Anne, trying to hide her cried-out eyes
with her hands.
"Nonsense; nothing!" said Mrs Simson, briskly. "You are unhappy
about something, you poor little thing."
Girls, and especially girls in distress, invariably appeared little
to Mrs Simson, even when, like Anne Brown, they overtopped her by a
"Something is the matter with you," she insisted. "Now just let us
see together what it may be;" and she made the reluctant girl sit down
by her side on the sofa. "Are you homesick?—do you feel very strange,
poor dearie, with strange people?— are you frightened a little by the
sudden change in your life?—it's very natural, my dear little girl,
but you'll get over it soon."
Anne shook her head. But the impossibil- ity of making Mrs Simson
understand what depressed her, sent the sobs once more into her voice.
"No, no," she said; "oh no, no—you can't understand. I don't feel
lonely—I don't feel unhappy—but it's only because Mr Hamlin—"
"Because Mr Hamlin is going away, my dear?" Mrs Simson smiled as
she kissed Anne on the crisp iron-black hair, for the girl would not
loosen her hands from her face—"Because he is going away? That's very
natural too; but it won't be for long, dearest."
Anne broke loose from her embrace. "It's not that! it's not that!"
she sobbed; "please go away—you can't understand—it's not that! Oh
no, I shall be glad when he be gone away!"
Mrs Simson rose. At first she felt pained, disgusted; but her
frigidness melted with the speedy reflection that girls don't know
what the matter is with them in such cases.
"Good-bye, dear," she said; "I shall send you up some tea in a few
minutes; that will set you all right. But don't fret because Mr
Hamlin is going. You will see him soon again."
"I shall be glad when he is gone!" repeated Anne, in a paroxysm of
It was not a mere foolish, hysterical falsehood. It was a real
relief when, one morning at Frankfurt, Hamlin was standing on the
platform of the station, speaking to them at the door of their
carriage. The guard came to slam the door.
"Good-bye, Mrs Simson," said Hamlin. "Good-bye, Miss Brown."
"Good-bye, sir," she answered, extending her hand.
He kissed it hurriedly. The door was slammed. The train moved on
slowly, and Hamlin walked along its side. Gradually it went quicker
and quicker, and Anne Brown saw Hamlin for a minute on the platform;
he was pale, but radiant. He waved his hand.
"A rivederci !" he cried, waving his hat.
A pillar of the station hid him. Anne turned away from the window
and opened a book which he had given her. She read so assiduously all
that day, that poor Mrs Simson, who was a sociable woman, resorted, in
sheer despair, to talking with the other travellers, who stared in
puzzled surprise at the tall girl with the melancholy pale face and
masses of crimp black hair who sat opposite her.
When they had got out of the train, rattled over the round stones of
Coblenz, and were finally following the obstreperously welcoming cook
and housemaid up the stairs of Mrs Simson's house, Anne felt relieved.
And when she had been left alone in her room, she felt a weight off
her. When she had taken some things out of her box, she went to the
window. The last flare of sunset was on the marblelike brownish-green
swirls of the Rhine; and filaments of reddish gold streaked the sky
above Ehrenbreitstein, whose windows gleamed crimson. A steamer was
puffing and whistling by the wharf; the trumpets of the rappel
shrieked through the streets and were reechoed from the opposite
shore. From inside the house rose the sound of a piano; some one was
playing Bach's "Mein gläubiges Herz."
It was the beginning of a new life. Anne Brown left the window, hung
her clothes in the wardrobe, folded her linen in the drawers. Then she
took from her trunk a framed photograph of Hamlin, and stuck it on her
dressing-table; he was very handsome, with his straight,
keen-featured, almost beardless Norman face and waves of light hair:
she looked at it long. Then she dived to the bottom of her trunk and
brought out two little books; the "Petrarch" he had given her at
Lucca, and the volume of his own poems. She sat down by the open
window and began reading them, and glancing at the redness dying away
from river and sky. She felt very solemn and happy.
"I must become worthy of him," she thought.
LIFE was monotonous enough at Mrs Simson's at Coblenz; but it
was a kind of monotony which to Anne Brown was positively exciting. It
was for her a process of absorption into another class of life; and as
such, represented a daily influx of new ideas and habits, a daily
surprise, effort, and adjustment. By virtue of her half-Italian
nature, Anne required but little to make her, in education and
manners, a lady. With her wide-open but rather empty mind, her
seriousness and dignity of person, extreme simpleness, as the reverse
of complexity of character, it was wholly unnecessary that she should
unlearn anything, or even that she should absorb anything absolutely
new; the only thing was to fill up the magnificent design which
already existed in her. No one ever required to say to Anne, "You must
not do, or think, or say such or such a thing." She surprised people
only by her timidity, her silence, her passiveness, and by a sort of
haughtiness which accompanied them strangely enough; a certain solemn,
and, at the same time, abrupt way of judging of things and treating
people, and which was the mental counterpart of her look, gait, nay,
even of the folds which her dresses took on her. Ignorant though she
was, she seemed at her ease with the new culture with which she was
presented, just as, for all her habits of waiting on instead of being
served, she seemed at ease in her behaviour. But it was difficult for
Anne to tune herself or get herself tuned to the pitch of the everyday
feelings and life of her companions; she could not understand these
young ladies. The girls at Mrs Simson's did not exceed half-a-dozen,
and they were none of them schoolgirls in the ordinary sense. They
were, like Anne, eccentrically placed young women; orphans, or girls
whose parents were in the colonies, or girls who could not get on at
home,—girls, all of them, with a certain pretension to superiority,
and a great habit of independence, which was fostered by the
schoolmistress, whose theory was that women could not possibly be left
too much to their own devices.
Mrs Simson was very fond of preaching this gospel of higher
education, to the great scandal of the respectable German matrons whom
she visited. "Narrow-minded, vicious creatures," she used to say, who
shook their heads at the young ladies attending public lectures,
walking about by themselves, and flirting in the most stalwart and
open manner (quite unsentimental and unwomanly, said the Germans) with
the Prussian officers. Of these girls two were orphans, and had been
sent to Coblenz as a convenient riddance by their guardians; one had
been deposited in Europe by her parents, to be called for when
educated, and shipped off to New Zealand; one, a huge damsel
approaching thirty, was studying eye- surgery with a famous Rhenish
oculist; the fifth was going to Girton and was studying German; the
sixth had found her home too much for her, and was perpetually
complaining of the hardness of her fate and the viciousness of her own
character, aspiring to impossible ideals of knowledge and usefulness
and self-sacrifice, and spending her leisure making up frocks in which
to disport herself at the garrison balls.
Each of them studied whatsoever she thought fit: Greek and Latin
professors, piano and singing masters, German governesses, were
perpetually going in and out of the house; the girls were continually
running to lectures on botany or physiology or comparative philology,
where the youth of the town eyed the Schöne Engländerinnen
with rapture, sending them anonymous bouquets and verses, and
bringing them serenades, and even, to poor Mrs Simson's horror,
slipping love-letters of the most burning description into the
door-hinges. Among these girls poor Anne would have felt utterly lost,
had she not been accustomed for years to be her own sole company,
letting her life brush by that of other folk, without ever mixing. It
seemed to her quite natural to exchange one kind of isolation for
another: to drudge on at improving her own mind as she had formerly
drudged on at mending the clothes and making the beds of the little
Perrys, interesting herself as little in, and awakening as little
interest among, her companions as she had done among her
fellow-servants in Italy. Mrs Simson had received full instructions
from Hamlin as to all the things which she was and was not to teach or
have taught to his ward; and Anne would have been perfectly satisfied
with working for her French and German masters, preparing her lessons
of geography and history, and reading such books as Hamlin would send
her, but the other girls were not at all so minded.
Anne Brown's arrival created a tremendous sensation in Mrs Simson's
establishment. Her strange kind of beauty, which did not strike the
conventional spectator as being beauty at all, excluding, as it did,
fairness, rosiness, youthfulness, daintiness, liveliness,
voluptuousness, sentimentalness, or any of the orthodox ingredients of
female charm,—her wholly unlike-everyone-else appearance, her
silence, sullenness, haughtiness, all took the girls by surprise. Her
shyness, ignorance, newness in her position, was obvious from the very
first day. The knowledge of what she had been and what she was going
to be, all this romance was quickly wheedled out of Mrs Simson by the
misunderstood little girl who wished to turn sister of mercy, and
carried on a simultaneous flirtation with a lieutenant, a Bonn
student, a painter, and a piano-master; and bullied out of her by the
bouncing amazon who talked about nothing but retinal impressions and
optic nerves. From that moment Anne became a subject of intense
interest at the school: most of the girls had heard of Hamlin in
England, and all of them had heard of him from the enthusiastic
schoolmistress. To possess in their midst his chosen one was a great
privilege, although they sometimes made fun of Anne and him behind her
back, drawing pictures of the solemn and tragic girl dressed in the
most draggled æsthetic manner, surrounded by a circle of young
æsthetes copied out of 'Punch' (Bunthome did not exist at that time)
holding lilies and swinging censers as she went. They all thought Anne
a strange, awe-inspiring, and, at the same time, somewhat ridiculous
person; but they all got to like her, although the misunderstood High
Church flirt could never be got to see why Anne should despise
officers and garrison balls; and the scientific girl of twenty-eight
thought æstheticism and æsthetic poets idiotic and immoral; and each
of the others found some reservation to make about the Italian, as
they called her. Yet, as I said, they did grow to like her; and Anne,
who was unaccustomed to friendliness, was so touched by the
familiarity and good-nature of her companions, that she gradually
began to take a great and serious interest in their concerns. She
became quite enthusiastic about ocular surgery, listening with
scarcely any shudders to the narration of the most complicated
operations; she let herself be overwhelmed with discourses about
Middle High German and Gothic, and the connection with Sanskrit; she
firmly believed in the mystical fervours, the desire of
self-sacrifice, the wasted passion of the little fair-haired flirt,
reasoning seriously about them, and trying to check what she believed
to be a suicidal tendency; she was greatly touched by the
home-sickness and family squabbles of the other girls. Not that Anne
was a fool, or made to be a dupe; on the contrary, she saw well enough
the funniness of the contrasts between her friends' words and their
life; but Anne was so earnest, so simple, so homogeneous of nature,
she was so fervent in all her feelings, that she always imagined that
the serious things which people said or affected must be the reality;
and, as in her own case, the levity, the frivolousness, the
fickleness, must be the mere exterior clothing of social fictions.
Thus she gave her sympathy wherever it was asked for, while asking
for no sympathy herself. The girls used often to remark upon this, and
complain that for all they did, Anne Brown remained surrounded by a
sort of moral moat, alone, isolated, impregnable in a kind of moral
AS Hamlin had fancied, while painting Anne's portrait, so the
girls at Mrs Simson's used to fancy that there could not be much going
on inside this taciturn and undemonstrative creature. But it was not
so. While Anne looked so quiet, said so little (and least of all about
herself) during those two years of school, a drama—nay, a whole
life-poem—was incessantly going on within her. She worked
indefatigably at her lessons, read every book she could lay hold of,
was taken to concerts, lectures, burgher tea-parties and garrison
balls, and on excursions up and down the Rhine and into the
neighbouring hills; but all this was but as an exterior life
surrounding an interior one, as the movement of the ship to the
movement of the passengers on its deck.
The real life was not with these girls and these teachers, but with
Hamlin; not in this Rhineland town, but in the distant places where he
travelled. He wrote to her very often, from London, from Italy, from
Greece and Egypt, and wherever he roamed about. At first she was
surprised by the frequency of his letters; then she became accustomed
to it as to a necessity of her existence, but a necessity to which she
had no right. It seemed to her wonderful that he should write so
often, and yet that the time which elapsed between his letters should
be intolerable. In her great desire for them she used to have recourse
to all manner of unconscious sophistications. She tried to train
herself to disappointment, to chastise her own impatience and
greediness, saying to herself, on the days when she thought that a
letter might come, "It is impossible that there should be one to-day,"
although her heart fell when the prophecy sometimes came true; and she
stayed up-stairs, her eyes pinned to her book, when she heard the
postman's ring at the door, although that ring put her all into a
tremble, and made her feel faint when she heard it. Thus with the
letters from him. It was almost worse about her own answers. Often she
could stand it no longer, and would begin a letter to Hamlin—only a
few lines, which might be finished when his next letter should be
received. The few lines turned to pages; yet the next day no letter
would come, and she was unable to resist the temptation of writing
even more; then, when the long-wished letter at last came, there came
with it such a number of new things to say, that her previous epistle
must needs be torn up. Also, on re-reading what she had written in
answer to Hamlin, she was often filled with shame and fear. She had
entertained him with such trifles, or been so pedantic, or put things
in such a horrid way, she must needs tear it up and write once more.
Then the length, the frequency of her letters frightened her: he would
grow weary and impatient; she tried to write briefly, but failed; she
tried to write rarely, making solemn resolutions to let two, three, or
four days pass without answering him; but it was not of much use. She
was dreadfully afraid lest Hamlin should think her a drag upon him,
lest he should write one single letter more than he would naturally
have done, from goodness to her. She never told him with what
tremulous expectancy she waited for the post; with what heartburn she
saw it come empty-handed; with what avidity she read his letters,
re-read them furtively by snatches, carried them about in her pocket,
made them last over days, till she knew them by heart, and, even then,
how she was for ever doing up and undoing again the packet in which
she kept them: if he knew that, he might feel obliged, being so kind,
to write oftener; and that must not be.
Any one who had seen these letters which were her soul's food,
would have been surprised how they could awaken such a longing, how
they could produce such emotion and keep alive such passion. In
accordance with his whole plan of proceedings, Hamlin never once wrote
to Anne as if there were any question of her ever becoming his wife.
"My dear Miss Brown," they all ceremoniously began, and ended off
"Yours sincerely," or "Your sincere friend, Walter Hamlin."
Affectionate they were, and even adoring, in the sense of looking up,
or affecting to look up, at her as a sort of superhuman and wonderful
creature, not quite conscious of its wonderfulness, perhaps, and
certainly not responsible for it; the mental attitude of an artist
before a beautiful model, of some Italian medieval poet before a
Platonic mistress. There was not much perception of the reality of
Anne Brown's personality, nor indeed of her having any personality at
all, being a thing with feelings, thoughts, hopes, interests of her
own. Sometimes even poor Anne felt, on reading his letters, as if a
lump of ice had been laid on her heart, when she came upon certain
sentences; she could scarcely tell you why, but those sentences made
her feel numb and alone, like a wrecked sailor at the north pole, for
days. Then a reaction came; a burning indignation with herself, a
burning adoration of Hamlin. She felt as if she had done him some
injury; and once or twice, amid tears of shame, she wrote that she had
become unworthy of his friendship—why, she could not well explain.
But she tore it all up, or left only dim hints which Hamlin
misunderstood, and became more respectful and adoring than ever,
imagining that he must have said something to slight her. He really
was adoring; it was such a lovely Madonna this, that it seemed to him
that all the most beautiful and precious things of his mind, and other
men's minds, must be heaped up before her, like offerings of flowers,
and rich ointments, and jewels, and music. He copied out pages of
poetry and prose in his letters, and wrote to her the most lovely
descriptions of things he saw or things he felt. Whenever he
recollected a fine poem, or saw a beautiful scene, or was struck by a
beautiful thought or a happy expression, he hastened to offer it to
Anne, as the kings of the East offered gold and frankincense and
embroidered raiment to the little Christ. That this was the result of
his love, she never thought; for she never ventured to think that he
condescended, or even would ever condescend, to love her; but it was
in her eyes the result of his greatness, his generosity, the largesse, as it were, of his sublimity. About himself Hamlin
would also write a great, great deal. Of singularly delicate mental
fibre, and somewhat weak will, he was for ever tormented (or
pretending to himself to be tormented, for to be so was pretty well a
matter of choice) by unattainable ideals, by conflicts in his own
nature: mysterious temptations of unspeakable things, beckoning his
nobler nature into the mud, which he never at all specified, but which
moved Anne to agonies of grief and admiration. The poor girl, not
understanding how such things will shoot up in the poetic mind as a
result of mere reading, and be nurtured there for a day for the sake
of their strange colour, would screw up all her might to help him,
writing to him to be patient, to be strong and bold, to remember the
nobility of his nature,—strange passionately earnest entreaties
written in tears, or in moods like those which send people to the
stake; and which, in their ludicrous disproportionateness to their
cause, would bring the tears to almost any one's eyes who should read
A strange correspondence; and of which Hamlin's half, although
beautiful with all manner of artistic prettinesses, would have struck
one as the less beautiful and interesting part: the suppressed
passionateness, unconscious of itself, of the girl's letters, her
mixture of prim literary daintiness, absorbed from her reading, and of
homely, tragically-hurled-about imagery (Hamlin used, without
revealing the author, to read out some of these metaphors of Anne's
to his friends, pointing out their Elizabethan, Webster-like
character), were much more really striking. But Anne thought that
what she wrote was unworthy to be seen by Hamlin; his condescension
was mere goodness.
Hamlin, indeed, was very good to her—very gentle, courteous,
generous, and assiduous. There was scarcely a book read by Anne Brown
which was not of his selecting; and even in the midst of his journeys
he used to elaborately select things for her reading, cutting out all
but a very few pieces out of books of poetry, and copying and pasting
into them all manner of extracts. "I should be grieved to think that
anything save the very best should ever be read by you," he often
wrote. Thus, in the most singular way, Anne, only a nursemaid a few
months before, became more deeply versed in poetry and poetical and
picturesque history than most girls; Greek lyrism, Oriental mysticism,
French æstheticism, but above all, things medieval and
pseudo-medieval; imbued with the imagery and sentiment of that strange
eclectic school of our days which we still call pre-Raphaelite. And
such an education, while putting her in complete harmony with
Hamlin's aspirations and habits, also brought home to her the merit
of Hamlin's own work. Of his pictures, she had, indeed, only vague
recollections, besides the little sketches, wonderful jewel-coloured
things, full of poetic suggestion, which he would send her at
Christmas and on her birthday, to the amazement of the whole school.
But he sent her a good deal of his poetry, and that only of the best.
She did not always understand exactly the things to which he alluded,
seeing only the beauty, the vague passionate wistfulness, the delicate
sadness of what he wrote. His greatness perfectly confounded her. She
found allusions to it in everything: in reading of dead poets, of
Shelley, Keats, Goethe, a kind of passionate interest thrilled through
her, for she seemed to be reading about Hamlin. And the same held good
as to artists; they were all his kinsmen, of his blood—nay, they all,
in a mystic manner, foreshadowed him.
Of these matters she never spoke to any of the girls. But often,
while walking with them, her pride would swell with the thought that
she belonged to him—that he had chosen her. And when the New
Zealander, who was musical and had a fine voice, used sometimes to
sing Schumann's song, "Er der herrlichste von allen," the words and
the music sent a flood of love and pride to her heart; it was he, "he
the most glorious of all," who was thus gracious and good to her.
THUS one year went by; and then, slowly, another, while Anne
Brown was being transformed from a nursemaid into a lady. Hamlin saw
her twice during that time. Once, while Mrs Simson and Anne were
staying in Paris—for he had begged that her holidays might be spent
either in Switzerland, or in some place where she might see pictures
and statues—when he suddenly turned up for a day on his way from
England to Greece; and once at Coblenz. Mrs Simson was giving a party:
suddenly into the parlour, filled with German matrons and damsels,
with a sprinkling of professors and soldiers, was introduced a slight,
fair man, who looked very young till you saw him closely, and at whose
sight that sombre, quiet, strange, half-Italian girl had suddenly
turned crimson, and clutched a chair, as if afraid to fall, while the
company stared and whispered. Hamlin left that same evening; and as
the day in Paris had been spent in seeing and talking about pictures,
so this afternoon passed in trifling conversation at Mrs Simson's
table. Alone, Anne scarcely saw him for an instant. Only, when he left
Coblenz, he seized her hand as he stood at the door, and kissed it
fervently. It seemed to her, during the long months of absence, that
she would give all her life to see him again, to be able to tell him
how grateful she was to him. Yet, in reality, his presence passed like
the picture of a magic-lantern on a wall; and she felt as if her lips
were glued together: it was a vision, and no more. But on that second
visit Hamlin had been dazzled. He had recognised from the first the
exotic beauty and strangeness of the Perrys' servant; he had seen in
Paris that his judgment had been correct; but when, after eighteen
months of schooling, he suddenly saw Anne again, it was as if he had
never seen her before, a fresh revelation. A year and a half of a
lady's life, without bodily fatigue or mental weariness, had developed
to the full the girl's marvellous beauty: strange, mysterious,
amazonian it was as ever; but it was as the regalness of a triumphant
queen by the side of the queenliness of a deposed Amazon chief. The
haughtiness which had struck him in the nursemaid of the little
Perrys, was not diminished, but softened, by a kind of quiet
graciousness and goodness. Hamlin remarked that she seemed, now that
she was no longer humbled and cramped, to have a much kindlier spirit
and a sense of humour which had at first seemed scarcely to exist, or
to exist only in bitterness. But what struck him most of all was an
indefinable change in Anne's expression: the soul, which had lain as
a tiny germ at the bottom of her nature, had expanded and come to the
surface. She was as beautiful and singular as ever, but more manifold
and subtle: her mind had increased threefold. Hamlin went away,
intending that Anne should remain at Coblenz another year. But he
found that his patience, hitherto inexhaustible, had suddenly departed.
He found the time intolerably heavy on his hands. He travelled about
in out-of-the-way countries, having fragmentary love-affairs, in a
dreamy, irresponsible way, with other women; and sending Anne more
letters than usual, and presents of all manner of outlandish
stuffs—silver ornaments and so forth—which used to create great
excitement at the school; but he fretted with impatience. Impatience,
be it well understood, not to marry Anne, for he always thought of
marriage as the return from, the end of, a sort of spiritual honeymoon;
but impatience to commence that long courtship which had, from the
beginning, been the object of his desires. He grew tired of their
correspondence, found that he had exhausted all the delights of
unconsciously revealed love, love budding and developing with the
girl's mind. It began to be mere repetition; and he scarcely knew
what to write about now: the prologue had lasted long enough; the
piece must begin.
One day, some two years or so after her arrival at Coblenz, Anne
Brown received a letter in which Hamlin reminded her that she was
twenty-one, and that his guardianship had consequently come to an end
already some months before; and suggested that, as he heard that her
education was now completed, at least in so far as Coblenz went, he
thought that it might be wiser if she came to England, where she would
have better opportunities of continuing any special studies. Moreover,
that his aunt, Mrs Macgregor, a widow without any children, was coming
to settle in London, and that he thought it might be a good
arrangement that she and Anne should live together, as Anne could
scarcely take a house by herself. What did Miss Brown think of this
arrangement? And would she authorise him to settle everything for Mrs
Macgregor and her? Faintly and vaguely Anne thanked him for his
forethought, and acquiesced in everything which he might be kind
enough to decide upon. She had never realised her situation, she was
not the sort of mind which has clear conceptions of the future, and
she had been far too much absorbed, these two years, in the unreal
present. Besides, Anne felt a confused pain, a disappointment, which
prevented her attending to anything else. Hamlin had said nothing
about himself, not a word as to whether he also would settle in
London, or whether he intended continuing his wandering life. And she
had not the courage to ask him. She was conscious of a coldness and
emptiness in her heart, of the disappointment of some vague, unspoken
hope. But why feel disappointed? or did she really feel disappointed
at all? She believed that she cared for Hamlin only as for a
benefactor, a divinity, a creature who might bestow affection but
could not be asked for it; and this being the case, and knowing
herself to have been perfectly satisfied and happy hitherto, she
persuaded herself that she really did not feel disappointed about
anything, when Hamlin thus wrote about her education and her plans and
But as the winter drew to a close, there came another letter from
Hamlin (all the intermediate ones had been only the usual talk about
himself, and about books and scenery) telling her that, with a view to
her living with his aunt, he had, as her ex-guardian (he always spoke
of himself as her guardian, completely ignoring Richard Brown) deemed
it wise to employ part of her capital, which had been accumulating in
his hands, in the purchase of the lease of a house at Hammersmith,
which he was having prepared and furnished against her coming in May.
"It is in a pretty neighbourhood, with the river in front and old
houses and gardens all round," he wrote. "What determined my choice,
as I am sure it would have determined yours also, is that the house is
itself more than a century and a half old, and has some fine trees in
the garden. Flowers seem to grow well, as it is pretty well beyond
reach of smoke. There are also some fine elms and poplars in front,
all along the river-side, which is old-fashioned, and .not yet made
into a modern embankment. It is rather far from the world; but the
world is hideous, and the farther away from it the better, don't you
think? My aunt is busy about the practical household properties; I am
getting in some of the more useless furniture. If you should dislike
the arrangement, it can all be easily undone. I hope you will not
disapprove of this step; the house is pretty well unique, and I had to
decide on taking it, unless some one else was to snap it up; otherwise
I should certainly have consulted you first. I trust you will forgive
Anne put the letter down, and wondered whether she was dreaming.
What was all this about buying and consulting her, employing her
capital? What capital had she got? What right to be consulted? For a
moment she felt quite bewildered; and then the full consciousness of
Hamlin's goodness rushed out and overwhelmed her, and she let her head
fall on her desk and cried for sheer happiness. Then she thought it
must all be a dream, and snatched the letter where it lay all
crumpled, and smoothed it out trembling. Yes, there it all was. And
then, as postscript, came this sentence, which made her heart leap:—
"There are two rooms additional on the garden, having a separate
entrance from the embankment, and which I think you will not at
present require for yourself. Would you perhaps let me rent them for a
studio? My own lodgings are a long way from St John's House (that is
its name, for it was a priory once); but if I had my workshop there, I
might hope to see you almost every day, if you would let me."
The first dinner-bell rang, and Anne, having hastily washed her
eyes and smoothed her hair, ran down-stairs, not knowing very well
why the bell rang, or what it was all about. In the sitting-room she
found the girl from New Zealand, a little nervous creature, whom she
had nursed through a bad fever, in her cold, absent way, and who had
conceived a shy, intense passion for this beautiful strange creature,
who seemed to her an unapproachable being from another world.
"I am going away," cried Anne—she felt she must say it—"going
away from school—to London, next month."
The thin, nervous, anæmic little girl turned ashy-white.
"Oh, are you really going?" she exclaimed faintly, for with Anne
disappeared all the poor child's sunshine and ideal from this dreary,
worse than orphaned life, among girls who had too many occupations and
interests to care for her.
"Are you really going, Annie? . . . Oh, I am so sorry!"
"Sorry?" cried Anne; "it is very nasty of you to be sorry—I am
glad; oh, so glad! so glad!"
The little New Zealander had gone to the window, and was looking
through its panes at the rainy street; she gave a little suppressed
Anne felt as if she had committed a murder. She ran to the window,
and seized the struggling small creature in her powerful arms, and
knelt down before her, clasping her round the waist.
"Oh, forgive me! forgive me!" cried Anne, as the consciousness of
the girl's love, which she had never before perceived, came upon her,
together with the shame and remorse at her heartlessness; "forgive me,
forgive—I am a brute—a beast —oh dear, oh dear, that happiness
should make me so wicked!"
The New Zealander smiled and buried her thin yellow face in the
masses of Anne's dark crisp hair.
"Will you remember me sometimes?" she asked; "I love you so much."
Anne kissed the poor, pale, tear-stained cheeks.
"Oh yes, I will always remember you," she said.
But she was already thinking of Hamlin.
DURING that last month at school Anne was indefatigable: in the
face of the vague future which was so rapidly approaching, she felt
bound to clutch hold of the present, thinking that time which was
employed in some way went less quickly. The fact was that she was in a
state of great excitement—half impatience and half terror; she wished
the days to go by quicker, and she wished them to go by slower; she
was at once dragged wearisomely, and hurried along. At length it
became a question no longer of weeks but of days. And then came
another letter from Hamlin. He remembered the desire she had once
expressed to go down the Rhine, to be on the sea: he proposed that she
should come through Belgium and cross from Antwerp to London. "I am
sure you will enjoy it much more than the vile, vulgar, usual route,"
he wrote. But he did not tell her that he was unwilling she should get
any impressions of England before meeting him, however slight they
might be; that he preferred to meet her, in the evening, on the Thames
wharf, to receiving his Amazon Queen, his mysterious and tragic
Madonna, rather than in the shed at Victoria or Charing Cross. Anne
did not care how she was to go: she was to go, to embark on a new
life, to see him, to be seen by him. This thought, which had never
struck her before, began to haunt her now: if he should be disgusted
with her? if he should recognise that he had been mistaken in his
The morning before her departure, Mrs Sireson handed Anne a letter
"Mr Hamlin has sent a girl to fetch you, dear," she said.
"To fetch me?" cried Anne, in astonishment.
Mrs Simson opened the door—"Pray, come in," she said.
A young woman entered, whose immaculate smartness and cheerful
alertness never would have let one guess that she had just been
travelling twenty-four hours.
"This is Miss Brown," said Mrs Simson. The girl curtsied, and
waited for Miss Brown to speak. But Anne could not utter a word.
"Mrs Macgregor, Mr Hamlin's aunt, engaged me as your
travelling-maid, miss," said the young woman, handing a note to Anne.
It was from Hamlin, and ran briefly—
"MY DEAR MISS BROWN,—My aunt is unfortunately too delicate to
admit of my asking her to fetch you from Coblenz; but she has engaged
the bearer to be your maid, unless you have some previous. choice at
Coblenz, in which case, please forgive our interference. She is highly
recommended, and seems a good girl, and accustomed to travel. She will
telegraph me how you are from Cologne and Ant- werp. I shall await
you Thursday evening on the wharf. Till then, farewell.—Your sincere
and impatient friend,
For some unaccountable reason Anne felt quite angry. She did not
require any one to travel with her; she did not want a maid. The very
word maid seemed to bring up her whole past.
"You had better go and rest yourself," she said to the girl coldly.
"How sweet and considerate!" said Mrs Simson, reading Hamlin's
"I don't want a maid!" cried Anne, angrily.
"A young lady of your age cannot travel alone, my dear," answered
Mrs Simson, blandly. But Anne felt miserable, she knew not why, and
hated the maid.
Presently she went up to her room to pack her trunk. On opening the
door she discovered the maid—her maid—on her knees, emp- tying the
chest of drawers, and folding thing after thing.
"Please don't do that!" cried Anne, turning purple. "I will do it
The girl stared politely, and answered in a subdued, respectfully
"I was only packing your trunk, miss."
"I will do it myself!" cried Anne, excitedly.
"As you wish, madam," was the maid's icy answer; and she rose.
"Can I do nothing for you?" she said, standing by the door, with a
reproachful, prim little face.
Anne was ashamed.
"You can help me if you like," she answered, rather humbled; and
she began folding her things. But the girl was much quicker than she,
and Anne soon remained with nothing to do, looking on vacantly. She
felt as if she would give worlds to get the girl away; she felt as if
she ought to say to her, "Don't do that for me; I am not a real lady;
I am no better than you; I am a servant, a maid, my- self,"—and as
if every moment of silence were a kind of deceit. At last she could
bear it no longer—
"Please," she cried, "let me pack my things myself; I have always
packed them myself; I should be so glad if you would let me."
The girl rose and retired.
"As you like, miss," she replied, fixing her eyes on Anne's strange
"She knows I am only a servant like herself, and she thinks me
proud and ungrateful," thought Anne.
The next evening, among the lamentations of Mrs Simson's
establishment, Anne Brown set off for Cologne. This first short scrap
of journey moved her very much: when the train puffed out of the
station, and the familiar faces were hidden by outhouses and
locomotives, the sense of embarking on unknown waters rushed upon
Anne; and when, that evening, her maid bade her good night at the
hotel at Cologne, offering to brush her hair and help her to undress,
she was seized with intolerable home- sickness for the school,—the
little room she had just left,—and she would have implored any one to
take her back. But the next days she felt quite different: the
excitement of novelty kept her up, and almost made it seem as if all
these new things were quite habitual; for there is nothing stranger
than the way in which excitement settles one in novel positions, and
familiarises one with the unfamiliar. Seeing a lot of sights on the
way, and knowing that a lot more remained to be seen, it was as if
there were nothing beyond these three or four days—as if the journey
would have no end; that an end there must be, and what that end meant
seemed a thing impossible to realise. She scarcely began to realise it
when the ship began slowly to move from the wharf at Antwerp; when she
walked up and down the deserted and darkened deck watching the
widening river under the clear blue spring night, lit only by a ripple
of moonlight, widening mysteriously out of sight, bounded only by the
shore-lights, with here or there the white or blue or red light of
some ship, and its long curl of smoke, making you suddenly conscious
that close by was another huge moving thing, more human creatures in
this solitude,—till at last all was mere moonlight-permeated mist of
sky and sea. And only as the next day—as the boat cut slowly through
the hazy, calm sea—was drawing to its close, did Anne begin to feel
at all excited. At first, as she sat on deck, the water, the smoke,
the thrill of the boat, the people walking np and down, the children
wandering about among the piles of rope, and leaning over the ship's
sides—all these things seemed the only reality. But later, as they
got higher up in the Thames, and the unwonted English sunshine became
dimmer, a strange excitement arose in Anne—an excitement more
physical than mental, which, with every movement of the boat, made her
heart beat faster and faster, till it seemed as if it must burst, and
a lot of smaller hearts to start up and throb all over her body,
tighter and tighter, till she had to press her hand to her chest, and
sit down gasping on a bench.
The afternoon was drawing to a close, and the river had narrowed;
all around were rows of wharves and groups of ships; the men began to
tug at the ropes. They were in the great city. The light grew fainter,
and the starlight mingled with the dull smoke-grey of London; all
about were the sad grey outlines of the old houses on the wharves, the
water grey and the sky also, with only a faint storm-red where the sun
had set. The rigging, interwoven against the sky, was grey also; the
brownish sail of some nearer boat, the dull red sides of some steamer
hard by, the only colour. The ship began to slacken speed and to turn,
great puffs and pants of the engine running through its fibres; the
sailors began to halloo, the people around to collect their luggage:
they were getting alongside of the wharf. Anne felt the maid throw a
shawl round her; heard her voice, as if from a great distance, saying,
"There's Mr Hamlin, miss;" felt herself walk- ing along as if in a
dream; and as if in a dream a figure come up and take her hand, and
slip her arm through his, and she knew herself to be standing on the
wharf, in the twilight, the breeze blowing in her face, all the people
jostling and shouting around her. Then a voice said—"I fear you must
be very tired, Miss Brown." It was at once so familiar and so strange
that it made her start; the dream seemed dispelled. She was in
reality, and Hamlin was really by her side.
IT is sad to think how little even the most fervently loving
among us are able to reproduce, to keep within recollection, the
reality of the absent beloved; certain as we seem to be, living as
appears the phantom which we have cherished, we yet always find, on
the day of meeting, that the loved person is different from the
simulacrum which we have carried in our hearts. As Anne Brown sat in
the carriage which was carrying her to her new home, the feeling which
was strongest in her was, not joy to see Hamlin again, nor fear at
entering on this new phase of existence, but a recurring shock of
surprise at the voice which was speaking to her, the voice which she
now recognised as that of the real Hamlin, but which was so
undefinably different from the voice which had haunted her throughout
those months of absence. Hamlin was seated by her side, the maid
opposite. The carriage drove quickly through a network of dark
streets, and then, on, on, along miles of embankment. It was a
beautiful spring night, and the mists and fogs which hung over river
and town were soaked with moonlight, turned into a pale-blue luminous
haze, starred with the yellow specks of gas, broken into, here and
there, by the yellow sheen from some open hall-door or lit windows of
a party-giving house: out of the faint blueness emerged the
unsubstantial outlines of things—bushes, and overhanging
tree-branches, and distant spectral towers and belfries.
"You must be very tired," said Hamlin.
"Oh no," answered Anne, that repeated revelation of the real voice
still startling her—" not at all."
He asked her how she had left those at Coblenz, and about her
journey; she had to tell him about every picture and church she had
seen at Cologne, Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp. It is strange how
people whose hearts have seemed full to bursting with things they have
so long been waiting to say, will talk, when they meet again, like
persons introduced for the first time at a dinner-party. On they
rolled, and on, through the pale moonlight mist by the river.
"I hope," said Hamlin, when they had done discussing Van Eyck, and
Rubens, and Memling—"I hope you will like the house and the way I
have had it arranged; and," he added, "I hope you will like my aunt.
She is rather misanthropic, but it is only on the surface."
His aunt! Anne had forgotten all about her; and her heart sank
within her as the carriage at last drew up in front of some garden
railings. The house door was thrown open, and a stream of yellow light
flooded the strip of garden and the railings. Hamlin gave Anne his
arm; the maid followed. A woman-servant was holding the door open, and
raising a lamp above her. Anne bent her head, feeling that she was
being scrutinised. She walked speechless, leaning on Hamlin's arm, and
those steps seemed to her endless. It was all very strange and
wonderful. Her step was muffled in thick, dark carpets; all about, the
walls of the narrow passage were covered with tapestries, and here and
there came a gleam of brass or a sheen of dim mirror under the subdued
light of some sort of Eastern lamp, which hung, with yellow sheen of
metal discs and tassels, from the ceiling. Thus up the narrow carpeted
and tapestried stairs, and into a large dim room, with strange-looking
things all about. Some red embers sent a crimson flicker over the
carpet; by the tall fireplace was a table with a shaded lamp, and at
it was seated a tall, slender woman, with the figure of a young girl,
but whose face, when Anne saw it, was parched and hollowed out, and
surrounded by grey hair.
"This is Miss Brown, Aunt Claudia," said Hamlin.
The old lady rose, advanced, and kissed Anne frigidly on both
"I am glad to see you, my dear," she said, in a tone which was
neither cold nor insincere, but simply and utterly indifferent.
Anne sat down. There was a moment's silence, and she felt the old
lady's eyes upon her, and felt that Hamlin was looking at his aunt,
as much as to say, "Well, what do you think of her?" and she shrank
"You have had a bad passage, doubtless," said Mrs Macgregor after a
moment, vaguely and dreamily.
"Oh no," answered Anne, faintly, "not at all bad, thank you."
"So much the better," went on the old lady, absently. "Ring for
some tea, Walter."
Hamlin rang. In a moment tea-things were brought. Hamlin handed a
cup to Anne, and offered her some cake.
"It is a long drive," said Mrs Macgregor— "a long drive—all the
way from Charing Cross."
"Miss Brown came by the Antwerp boat—St Catherine's Wharf—in the
City, aunt," corrected Hamlin.
"Ah, yes, to be sure—perhaps she would like some more milk in her
tea. There is always such a delay at Charing Cross, isn't there,
But while Mrs Macgregor's mind and words seemed to ramble vaguely
about, her eyes were fixed upon Anne—large, melancholy dark eyes.
"You are glad to be back in London, aren't you?" she asked.
"This is the first time I am in England," answered Anne, shyly; all
this dim room, with its vague sense of beautiful things all round,
this absent-minded lady, all seemed to harmonise with her own
"Miss Brown was born in Italy," explained Hamlin, probably for the
"Oh yes, of course; how stupid I am! And, Walter, there are some
letters for you on the hall table, and Mr Chough came while you were
out, and a man from—what's his name—the upholsterer who writes
"All right," interrupted Hamlin.
"Won't you have another cup, Margaret?" asked Mrs Macgregor.
"Her name is Anne, auntie—"
"Of course—I don't know whether you take sugar in your tea or not,
Thus they went on for another half-hour; Mrs Macgregor calling Anne
by one wrong name after another, alluding to things which she could
not possibly know anything about, and Hamlin trying to set matters
right and induce Anne to talk.
"It is getting late," he said, "and I fear Miss Brown must be tired
after her long journey. I think you had better not keep her up any
"I am not tired," protested Anne.
"You will be tired to-morrow," said the old lady.
"Yes," added Hamlin, "and I must go. Good-bye, aunt. Good night,
Miss Brown; I hope you will have good dreams to welcome you home to
England. I shall come in for lunch to-morrow, Aunt Claudia. Good
night. Good night, Miss Brown," and he kissed her hand. "Good night,
buon riposo e sogni felici."
The few words of Italian almost brought the tears to Anne's eyes;
she felt so strange here, so far from everything—and yet what had she
left behind? nothing, and no one who loved her, except that little
girl from New Zealand. She felt terribly alone in the world.
Hamlin had evidently not trusted to his aunt to send Anne to bed,
for the maid came in uncalled, and asked whether Miss Brown would not
like to go up to her room.
"Of course," said Mrs Macgregor; and taking a heavy old-fashioned
silver candlestick, she led Anne to her room. The poor girl was too
weary and dazed to see what it was like. She sank on to a chair, and
passively let the maid take off her hat and cloak.
"Shall I undress you, ma'am?" she asked.
Anne shook her head. "No, thanks."
The girl retired, but Mrs Macgregor remained standing by Anne's
side, looking at the reflection in the glass of her pale, sad, tired
face. "Undo your hair, Eliza dear," said Mrs Macgregor.
Anne mechanically pulled out the hair-pins, and the masses of
iron-black crisp hair fell over her shoulders.
The old lady looked at her for a moment.
"You are a beautiful girl, Anne," she said, at last hitting the
right name, "and," she added, with a curious compassionate look, as
she kissed the girl's forehead, "are you really in love with Watty?"
Anne did not answer; but she felt herself redden.
"Marriage without love is a terrible thing," said the old lady,
"and in so far love is a mitigation of evil; but at the best it is
only delusion. People must marry, but it is the misfortune of their
lives. Good night, my dear."
The words went on in Anne's head, but she was too worn out to
understand them. She soon fell asleep, and dreamed that Melton Perry
had painted a picture, and that in a storm the ship's crew said it
must be used as a raft; and somehow it all took place at Florence, in
the large pond in the Boboli Gardens.
ANNE BROWN awoke with a vague sense of gladness, but no very
clear notion of where she was. Then it came upon her that this was
Hamlin's house, that she would actually see him again in a few hours;
for it was as if she had not seen him at all the previous evening. The
sun was streaming through the blinds, filling the room with a
yellowish light; from without came a sound of leaves, of twittering
birds, and the plash of the steamer-paddles in the river. Anne looked
round her and wondered. She had never seen such a room as this in her
life: the wails were all panelled white, except where the panelling
was interrupted by expanses of pale-yellow chintz; the furniture also
was of old-fashioned chintz; the mirror was like what she had seen in
the illustrations to an old copy of 'Sir Charles Grandison' which had
belonged to Miss Curzon; the tapered chairs and tables to match. There
were blue-and-white jars and pots all about, and old-fashioned china
things on the dressing-table: except for the fac-similes of drawings
by Mantegna and Botticelli, and the coloured copies of famous Italian
pictures which dotted the walls, the room might have been untouched
since the days of the first Georges. She remembered that Hamlin had
told her that the house was an old one; but she could not understand
how everything came to look so very spick and span and new. She got up
and went to the window. Below, in the little garden, was a lilac-tree
bursting into flower, and a yellow laburnum. A milkman's cart was
drawn up before the door. In front were the trees, in tender leaf, and
the wooden parapet of the river-walk; then the Thames, still wide, but
so different from what she had seen it the previous evening: a clear
grey stream reflecting green banks and cloudy blue sky, with here and
there a barge or boat moored by the shore. The sky was blue, but
covered with moist clouds, and it seemed to Anne that she could almost
see where it arose on the horizon, so low did it seem. There was a
scent of recent rain in the air, a shimmer of moisture on the leaves
and grass. Was this London, which she had always fancied so noisy, and
grimy, and vulgarly new?
Anne was already half dressed; but she spent some time wondering
which of her frocks she should put on: they had been made expressly
for London, and greatly admired by the girls at Coblenz, but now one
looked more absurd and frumpish than the other. At last she put on a
sort of greyish-blue tweed, such as were then worn on the Continent,
and having looked at herself rather anxiously in the glass, she opened
her door and hesitatingly went out into the passage. All was perfectly
quiet as she went down the carpeted stairs, wondering at the tapestry
and brazen wrought shields and plaster casts and curious weapons
which covered its walls; she could hear only the ticking of the old
clock, which stood in its tall inlaid case in the hall. After the
bustle of girls and servants at the Coblenz school, and the hundred
and one noises of screeching well-pulleys, whirring buckets, whistling
starlings, singing and chattering servants, clattering crockery, which
greet the early riser in an Italian house,—this silence seemed to her
almost eerie, and she wandered about over the noiseless floors like
the knight in the palace of the sleeping beauty. She found her way
into the drawing-room, where she had been received the previous
evening; there was another next to it, and a kind of little library
beyond. It was, indeed, an enchanted palace; the walls were all hung
with pictures and drawings, and pieces of precious embroidery, and
burnished oriental plates, and the floors spread with oriental carpets
and matting, which gave out a faint, drowsy, sweet scent. The curious
furniture was covered with old brocade and embroidery, and in all
corners, on brackets and tables and in cabinets, were all manner of
wonderful glass and china, and strange ivory and inlaid Japanese toys.
There were flowers, also, about everywhere, and palms in the windows.
In the library were more books than Anne had almost ever seen; and in
the chief drawing-room a beautiful grand piano, not made like those of
our days, but with slight straight legs and a yellow case painted with
faded-looking flowers. Anne looked at everything with astonishment
and awe: it was like the rooms in Walter Crane's fairy books, with
their inlaid chests and brocade couches, and majolica vases full of
It took her a long time to take it all in. She stole to the piano,
opened it gently, and played the accompaniment of a song of
Carissimi's, which Hamlin was fond of, but inaudibly, without letting
her fingers press down the keys. Then she looked at everything once
more. She was beginning to get familiarised with the pictures on the
wall; the pale, delicate bits of landscape; the deep-coloured
pictures of ladies in wonderful jewel-like robes, with mysterious
landscapes behind them; the drawings of strange, beautiful, emaciated,
cruel-looking creatures, men or women, with wicked lips and combed-out
locks,—all these things, which were like so many points of
interrogation—when the door opened and the maid appeared.
"I have been looking for you everywhere, miss," she said. "I
thought, as you didn't answer when I knocked, that you must still be
asleep, so I carried your tea down again. Mrs Macgregor is going to
have breakfast now, and says, would you mind having it in her room with
her, miss, as she never goes down till lunch?"
Anne followed the servant to Mrs Macgregor's room, where she found
the old lady in her dressing-gown, before a table spread with
eighteenth-century china, or what to Anne seemed such.
"What an hour you do get up at, Charlotte!" said Mrs Macgregor,
kissing Anne on both cheeks. "We never think of getting up here
before half-past nine. Walter never comes in till luncheon-time,
because he has so far to come, and is up so late every night. Turn
round; let me see what you look like this morning."
And Mrs Macgregor made Anne turn round slowly. She looked at her
"You're a handsome girl, certainly," she said; "not the style that
used to be admired in my time,"—and she smiled with the faint smile
of an old belle,—"girls had to be slight, and fair, and with little
features then. But you're just what they like now. I'm thankful at
least that Walter has not brought home a bag of bones like the other
beauties of his set. Loveliness in decay, that's what
I call their style; but you look a good flesh-and-blood girl."
Anne did not know what to answer; she poured herself out a cup of
tea in silence, and vaguely ate some bread and butter. The old lady
was good-natured, garrulous, flighty; but yet, beneath the shiftiness
of her exterior, there seemed to be something real, something sad and
bitter, when you looked at her thin drawn mouth and melancholy eyes.
"That's a pretty frock you have on, my dear," she pursued, "and
I think it very becoming. But you'll see that Watty won't
like it. He's quite the—what do you call it?—medieval sort of
thing,—no stays, and no petticoats, and slashings, and tags and
boot-laces in the sleeves, and a yard of draggled train—that sort of
thing. Oh, you'll find it a queer world, the world of Watty's friends.
Do you ever see 'Punch'? That's the sort of thing. They're all
great beauties and great painters and great poets, every man and
woman of them. Wait till you see little Chough and young
Posthlethwaite (I forget his real name). Ah, well, it's perhaps
better, after all, this kind of fooling, and masquerading, and writing
verses about things people would horsewhip a man for saying in prose;
it's perhaps better, after all, for Watty, than the sort of life
which we led when he was young"—and Mrs Macgregor became suddenly
After breakfast Anne was free until luncheon-time, as Mrs
Macgregor proceeded to lie down on her sofa and read Leigh Hunt's
'Religion of the Heart,' or Fox's 'Religious Ideas,' which Anne saw
lying on her table. Hamlin's aunt had evidently been an esprit fort
in her youth, and possessed in her bedroom a whole library of what
were once deemed literary firebrands, but might nowadays be described
as mild, old-fashioned free-thinking literature. Anne roamed about the
drawing-room once more, looking again and again at the pictures, and
opening the books, as people do in a strange house, before they can
settle down. She timidly also opened the piano, but shut it again
after a minute. Then she took a volume of Jean Paul out of a shelf,
and carried it up into her room. Finding it too dull to read, and with
an irritating sense that she ought to be doing something definite, she
wrote a letter to Mrs Simson, and one to the little New Zealander. She
felt so much like a fish out of water that Coblenz seemed more than
her birthplace, and the people there more than mother and sisters. At
last she heard one o'clock strike, and soon after there came a knock
at the house-door, and running to the window she saw Hamlin standing
on the doorstep. She withdrew her head quickly, and went down to meet
He was more respectful than ever,—asked her how she had slept, and
what she thought of the house.
"It's lovely," said Anne, "and it is so nice having everything old
"Everything old?" asked Hamlin.
"Yes; all the hangings, and chairs, and tables, and mirrors, are of
the time of the building of the house, aren't they?"
"Oh goodness, no," answered Hamlin, sadly; "I only wish they were.
They're bran-new, every stick of them. Everybody has them now; nobody
makes anything except imitation old-world things."
"Why don't they try and make something good and new—something out
of their own heads, as the old workmen did?" asked Anne, looking with
wonder upon these new things which seemed so old.
"There is nothing to nourish art nowadays," said Hamlin, seating
himself opposite her and looking her full in the face as he used to do
long ago at the studio in Florence. "Art can't live where life is
trivial and aimless and hideous. We can only pick up the broken
fragments of the past and blunderingly set them together."
"But why should the life of to-day be trivial and aimless and
hideous?" asked Anne, a vague remembrance of things which she had
heard her father say years ago about progress and modern achievements
returning to her mind as it had never done when, in the letters which
he used to write to her at Coblenz, Hamlin had said before what he was
"I don't know why it should be," replied Hamlin, "but so it is."
"Can't we prevent it?" asked Anne, scarcely thinking of what she
was saying; conscious only that she was really once more in his
Hamlin shook his head sadly.
"Why cannot we revive those?" he said, pointing to a bunch of
delicate pale-pink roses, which drooped withered in a Venetian glass.
"What is dead is dead. The only thing that remains for us late comers
to do is to pick up the faded petals and keep them, discoloured as
they are, to scent our lives. The world is getting uglier and uglier
outside us; we must, out of the materials bequeathed to us by former
generations, and with the help of our own fancy, build for ourselves a
little world within the world, a world of beauty, where we may live
with our friends and keep alive whatever small sense of beauty and
nobility still remains to us, that it may not get utterly lost, and
those who come after us may not be in a wilderness of sordid sights
and sordid feelings. Ours is not the mission of the poets and artists
of former days; it is humbler, sadder, but equally necessary."
"Oh, but you must not say that!" cried Anne. "What you do will
last, don't you know, like the things which people were able to do
Hamlin shook his head, and remained for some time with his beautiful
greenish-blue eyes fixed on Anne, as she sat twisting and untwisting
the fringe on the arm of her chair.
"There is one consolation, Miss Brown," said Hamlin, rising from
his chair and leaning against the chimney-piece, all covered with
Japanese cups and curious nick-nacks, and not taking his eyes off her,
"and that is, that even now, Nature, which is so barren of painters
and poets, can produce creatures as wonderful as those who inspired
the painters and poets of former times—a consolation, and at the same
time a source of despair."
Hamlin spoke these lover-like words in a tone so cold, so sad, that
Anne did not at first understand to whom he was alluding, and looked
up rather in interrogation than in embarrassment.
A bell rang. "There's lunch," said Hamlin. "We must finish our
"WON'T you take her out for a drive, Walter?" asked Mrs
Macgregor, after lunch. "She must be curious to see something of
Hamlin looked at Anne, as much as to say, "Do you really wish to
"I am sure Miss Brown is too tired from her journey, aunt," he
said; "and what is there to take her to see in this beastly city?"
"I thought we might have a brougham and take her to see a few of
your friends, Walter," suggested Mrs Macgregor.
Poor Anne felt a sort of horror go all down her.
"Oh, please don't!" she cried—"not to-day; don't take me to see
any one, please."
"It's much wiser to let her rest," said Hamlin, in a tone of
"Won't you just take the poor girl to Mrs Argiropoulo's, Watty?"
insisted his aunt. "It's a sin to keep her mewed up at Hammersmith all
day; and you know Mrs Argiropoulo was so anxious to see her at once."
"Confound Mrs Argiropoulo!" exclaimed Hamlin. "I beg your pardon,
Miss Brown, but do you feel inclined, after your long journey, to go
and see a fat, fashionable lion-huntress, with a snob of a husband who
"Not at all," answered Anne, laughing. "I would much rather stay at
"Very well; then I will show you the garden and my studio, if you
don't mind; and a great friend of mine, Cosmo Chough,—I think I sent
you some of his poems about music. . . ."
"Oh yes," cried Anne; "they are lovely—"
"I think little Chough's poems perfectly indecent," interrupted Mrs
Macgregor. "I would much sooner let a girl read 'Don Juan,' or even
'Candide,' any day."
Hamlin reddened, but laughed.
"Opinions differ; at any rate, Miss Brown knows only Chough's best
things; and when he is at his best, Chough is really very good and
pure and elevated."
"Ah, well," merely remarked Mrs Macgregor.
"Cosmo Chough said he would look in about four," went on Hamlin.
"He is a strange creature, and sometimes says odd things."
"Very odd things," put in his aunt.
"But he is as pure-minded a man as I know, and a real poet," went
on Hamlin—"indeed quite one of the best; and he is a great musician,
and a most entertaining fellow—his only weakness is that he is a
great republican and democrat, but would like to be thought the son of
"The son of a duke? " asked Anne, in surprise.
"Oh, the natural son, of course—forgive me, my dear," said Mrs
Macgregor. "People nowadays like anything illegitimate—it's a
distinction. It wasn't in my day, but things have changed; and Mr
Cosmo Chough would dearly like to be thought a bastard, especially a
"Poor Chough! Some one told him he was like Richard Savage one day,
and that's his pose. Would you like to come into the garden, Miss
They went together into the strip of garden which lay behind the
house. There were not many flowers out as yet, only a few peonies and
lilacs, and a belated tulip or hyacinth, but there was green, daisied
grass, and big grey-mossed apple-trees still in blossom; and across
the low walls, covered with creepers, you saw big waving
tree-branches, and old brick houses covered with ivy: the birds were
singing, and some hens clucking next door. It was very quiet and
old-world. Hamlin showed her all the rose-buds which might soon come
out, and the place where the lilies would be, and the espaliers for
the sweet-peas. Then they went into the two ground-floor rooms which
he was arranging for his studio: there were quantities of beautiful
rare books and volumes of prints, and Persian and Japanese and old
Italian metal-work,and pottery all about, and easels with unfinished
pictures evcrywhere—a great and beautiful confusion.
When he had showed her his properties, and she had reverently
handled the things which had once belonged to Shelley and Keats, and
the bundles of unpublished manuscripts, entrusted to Hamlin by living
poets, they sat down in the studio and began to discuss various
matters: Anne's school life, her readings and lessons, Hamlin's work,
art, poetry, life, all sorts of things,—a long and drowsy afternoon's
talk, such as is possible only after a long correspondence between
people become familiar without much personal intercourse, who, knowing
each other's mind, are now beginning to know each other's face and
ways and heart; and which has a charm quite peculiar to itself, like
that of hearing for the first time, with full symphony of voices and
instruments, some piece of music which we have learned to know and
love merely from the dry score.
Anne had never felt so happy in all her life, and Hamlin not often
happier in his, as they sat in the studio, talking over abstract
questions, which seemed to acquire such a quite personal interest from
those who were discussing them.
They were thus engaged when the servant announced Mr Cosmo Chough.
Anne's heart sank at the thought of confronting one of Hamlin's
most intimate friends, and one of the poets who constituted the stars
of his solar system. To Anne's surprise Mr Chough did not at all
resemble either Shelley or Keats, as she imagined; he was a little
wiry man, with fiercely brushed coal-black hair and whiskers, dressed
within an inch of his life, but in a style of fashionableness, booted
and cravated, which was quite peculiar to himself.
"Miss Brown," said Hamlin, "let me introduce my old friend, Cosmo
Mr Chough made a most fascinating bow, and swooped gracefully to the
other end of the studio to fetch himself a chair near Anne's. He was
quite touchingly concerned in Anne's journey and her sensations after
it; and asked her whether she liked London, with a sort of expansive
chivalry of manner, as of Sir Walter Raleigh spreading embroidered
cloaks across puddles for Queen Elizabeth, which struck her as rather
ridiculous, but very agreeable, as she had rather anticipated being
scorned by Hamlin's poetical friends. Anne thought Mr. Chough
decidedly nice, with his oriental style of politeness, and magnificent
volubility, constantly quoting poetry in various languages in a shrill
and chirpy voice; moreover, he seemed to adore Hamlin, and this was
enough to put him in her good graces. Mr Chough rapidly informed her
what the principal poets in London and Paris (for he spoke of French
things with an affectation of throaty accent and allusions to his
"real country" which greatly puzzled Anne) were writing; and Anne felt
so completely taken into confidence that she ventured to ask him
whether he was himself writing anything at present, as she had greatly
admired some short pieces of his which Hamlin had sent her.
Mr Chough was as modest as he was polite. His eyes shone, and he
clasped his small hands in ecstasy at the idea of anything of his
having pleased Miss Brown. He then proceeded to tell her that he had
an idea for a long poem—a sort of masque or mystery-play—to be
called the Triumph of Womanhood.
"We were trying over some of Jomelli's music a night or two ago, at
Isaac the great composer's," he explained; "magnificent music, which
no one can sing nowadays, and we feebly crowed, when in the midst of
the great burst of the "Gloria" I seemed to have revealed to me a
vision of a mystic procession of women going in triumph; I understood,
in a sort of flash, the mysterious and real regalness of Womanhood."
"It must have been very beautiful," said Anne, naively.
Mr Chough had opened the piano, and began playing, in a masterly
way, a fragment of very intricate fugue.
"Do you notice that?" he asked: "that sudden modulation there—ta
ta ti, la la la—from A minor to E major,—that somehow mysteriously
brought home to me one of the figures of that triumphal procession,
and her I have tried to describe. If you like, I can repeat you the
first few lines; it is called 'Imperia of Rome.'"
"How good of you," cried Anne.
"I think we had better put off hearing it till you have composed
rather more of the poem," interrupted Hamlin.
Cosmo Chough looked mortified, and Anne wondered why Hamlin should
silence his old friend.
"Tell me all about Imperia of Rome," she asked. "Who was she?—had
she anything to do with the Scipios, or Cato, or Tarquin?"
"Imperia was not an ancient Roman," explained Chough; "she lived at
the beginning of the sixteenth century, and it is said that all the
cardinals and poets and artists of Rome, nay, the Pope himself,
accompanied her coffin when she died."
"Why, what had she done?—was she a saint?"
"The inscription on her tomb is, I think, the most truly noble and
Roman ever composed on any woman," proceeded Chough; "Imperia . . ."
"Miss Brown doesn't understand Latin, Cosmo," interrupted Hamlin,
roughly, "and I am sure she would take no interest in Imperia or her
epitaph. Supposing you let Miss Brown hear some of that beautiful
Jomelli Mass you were speaking about. Chough is one of the finest
musicians I know," he explained to Anne, "and he is quite famous for
singing all sorts of forgotten old Italian masters."
Chough sat down and began to sing, in a warbling falsetto, but with
the most marvellous old-world grace and finish.
Anne did not attend. She was wondering about Imperia of Rome. Why
had Hamlin cut short Chough? What had Imperia done? The remarks of Mrs
Macgregor came to her mind; and she felt indignant, and her
indignation was all the greater, perhaps, because Chough's offence was
vague and unknown—how nobly and simply Hamlin had silenced him! She
wondered whether he was very angry with Chough, and whether Chough's
feelings had been much hurt. She felt rather sorry for the sharp way
in which he had been treated, and terrified lest she should be a
source of misunderstanding between Hamlin and his friends. She greatly
praised Chough's singing.
"Will you sing?" cried the little poet, supplicatingly; "you must
have a beauti- ful voice. I know it from your way of speaking."
Anne refused in terror.
"Do sing, Miss Brown," urged Hamlin. So she took her courage with
both hands, as she expressed it, and sang an air by Scarlatti, Chough
accompanying. She made several false starts, and sang the wrong words
almost throughout, for she felt a lump in her chest. Anne had a deep,
powerful, rather guttural voice, not improved by singing modern German
songs at Coblenz; but the voice was fine, and she had caught something
of the manner of her former protectress, Miss Curzon, who had been a
great singer in her day.
Chough burst out into applause.
"A splendid voice!" he cried; "you
must sing, Miss
Brown—you must study—I will come and practise your
accompaniments for you, if you will permit me."
Anne looked at Hamlin; such an offer, on so slight an acquaintance,
"You will let Chough teach you, won't you, Miss Brown?" asked
Hamlin, approvingly. He afterwards told her that Chough spent whatever
leisure remained from an inferior Government offce, in which, together
with a whole band of other poets, he was employed, in playing
accompaniments for various young ladies whom he considered, each
singly, the most divine types of womanhood whom he had ever met.
Chough was in high spirits, and proceeded to display to Anne two or
three relics which he carried on his person. A fervent though not very
orthodox Catholic, he was prone to religious mysticism: on his
watch-chain hung a gold cross, containing a bit of wood from St
Theresa's house, which a friend had brought him from Spain; by its
side dangled a large locket, enclosing a wisp of yellow hair.
"It is a lock of Lucretia Borgia's," he said, displaying it with as
much unction as he had manifested for St Theresa—"a bit of the one
which Byron possessed,—the most precious thing I have in all the
"She was rather an insignificant character though, on the whole,
wasn't she?" remarked Anne, not knowing what to say,—"a sort of
characterless villain, the Germans say."
Cosmo Chough was indignant.
"Insignificant!" he cried—" a Borgia insignificant! Why, her blood
ran with evil as the Pactolus does with gold. All women that have ever
been, except Sappho and Vittoria Accoramboni, and perhaps Faustina,
were lifeless shadows by her side . . ."
"I don't believe in those sort of women having been very
remarkable," said Anne, in her frank, stolid way, "except for
"But that is just it,—that which you call disreputableness, my
dear Miss Brown," cried Chough, "therein is their greatness, in that
fiery . . ."
Anne shook her head contemptuously.
"I daresay great women have often committed great crimes," she
said; "but then they have had great plans and ambitions; they have not
been mere wretched slaves of passion;" and she relapsed into silence.
She had had what Hamlin used to call her Amazon or Valkyr expression
as she spoke; and he felt, as he had felt in Florence, the persuasion
that this proud and sombre woman must have in her future some great
decision, some great sacrifice of others or of herself.
While they were talking, the servant entered to tell Miss Brown that
Mrs Argiropoulo was in the drawing-room with Mrs Macgregor.
"Confound Mrs Argiropoulo!" exclaimed Hamlin between his teeth, "to
come intruding so soon."
"Is that the lion-hunting lady?" asked Anne.
"Yes; I suppose you must receive her, as she has called on you."
"Called on me?" repeated Anne in amazement; "you mean on Mrs
Macgregor. Why, how should she have heard of me?"
"All London has heard of you, Miss Brown," exclaimed Chough
enthusiastically, as he opened the door for her; "at least all that
deserves to be called London. And Mrs Argiropoulo said last night at
Wendell the R.A.'s, that she was determined to see you before any
other creature in town. You see I have gained a march upon her."
Anne did not answer, but she grew purple. So every one was curious
to see this nursery-maid whom the great Hamlin had cast his eyes on,
and whom he had generously educated; for the first time her heart
burst with indignation and ruffled pride. But after a moment, as she
sat in the drawing-room, after frigidly returning the fat and
fashionable lion-huntress's affectionate greeting, her conscience
smote her: who was she, that she should feel thus? if she did depend
entirely on Hamlin's generosity, ought she not to be grateful merely,
and proud? and if his friends felt curious to see her, was it not
natural, he being what he was; and had she a right to feel annoyed at
their curiosity, at their knowing all about her? It had been mean and
unworthy. Yet she could not help feeling a sort of vague anger at she
knew not what, as the lady chattered away, in glib Greek-English,
about poets, and studios, and dinner-parties; and she answered Mrs
Argiropoulo only in monosyllables.
"You must let me take your ward into society a little, dear Mrs
Macgregor," lisped the Greek lady, "for I know you hate going out of
an evening. Miss Brown must meet some of the principal persons of our
She was very fat, very good-natured, and extremely vulgar-looking,
her huge body encased in a medieval dress of flaming gold brocade.
"What in the world can she have to do among artists and poets?"
"Her husband is in the currant-trade," whispered Chough—"an awful
old noodle, but he buys more pictures of our school than any one else.
Their house is a perfect wonder."
"My aunt is going to ask a few friends to meet Miss Brown first
here," answered Hamlin; "perhaps you will join them, Mrs Argiropoulo.
There's plenty of time to think of party-going."
"Very good, very good," answered Mrs Argiropoulo; "meanwhile
perhaps I may have the pleasure of taking Miss Brown out for a drive
once or twice."
"I am sure she will be delighted," said Hamlin.
"I hate that woman!" exclaimed Hamlin, as he returned from
escorting the wife of the currant-dealer to the door; "an odious,
inquisitive, vulgar brute."
"She looks good-natured, I think," insinuated Anne.
"Oh, every one's good-natured!"
"In your set, Watty?" asked Mrs Macgregor, bitterly.
"Every one's good-natured!" continued Hamlin, throwing himself back
in his chair; "and so's Mrs Argiropoulo. But a kind of grain that sets
my nerves off. That's the misfortune of London, that a lot of vulgar
creatures, merely because they buy our pictures and give dinners, have
come and invaded our set, showing us, like so many wild beasts, to
the fashionable world. Positively, I shall have to give up London. But
you will find," he added, turning to Anne, "one or two houses still
remaining where one meets only superior people—the houses where
artistic life really goes on."
"Upon whipped cream and Swiss champagne," said Mrs Macgregor—"what
one might call the real, genuine, four hundred a-year intellectual
world. Ah, well, Walter! you needn't look reproachful; but it is droll what sort of people you have come to associate
with—clerks and penny-a-liners, each of them a great poet."
Hamlin merely smiled. "One must make a world for one's self," he
said, and looked at Anne.
When Mr Cosmo Chough had taken his seat next to Mrs Argiropoulo, the
portly lady deluged him with questions and replies as her landau
"On the whole, I'm quite as well pleased not to take her out at
once," she said. "I'm not at all so sure about her. She seems to me
too big and lumpish and healthy-looking. I should like to have one or
two opinions first—one or two artists', and young Posthlethwaite's,
and little O'Reilly's—of course, they'll see her at old Smith's, or
Mrs Saunders's, or some such house—and all depends on their
"I know what
mine is," cried little Chough,
enthusiastically—"that she is the divinest woman, in the cold,
imperial style, with a latent and strange smouldering passion, that I
ever set eyes on. And as to that flabby elephant Posthlethwaite, and
that little hop, skip, and jump of an impudent jackanapes O'Reilly, I
wonder how you can think their opinion worth having,
or, indeed, their presence supportable."
At this grand winding up Mrs Argiropoulo laughed loudly.
"I know you don't like those young men," she said.
"Posthlethwaite's your rival, they say; he writes even more improper
things than you do; and you can't forgive Thaddy O'Reilly calling your
poems the loves of the cannibals. Oh, I know you poets! Now, shall I
drive you home? What's your address?"
This was an old joke, for Mr Cosmo Chough always surrounded his
dwelling-place with mystery, and had his letters addressed to his
"Pray don't inconvenience yourself," he said in a stately way; "set
me down at the corner of Park Lane. I shall walk home in less than a
minute from there."
"To the corner of Park Lane," ordered Mrs Argiropoulo of her
footman, who knew, as well as his mistress and every other creature in
what they called London, that Mr Cosmo Chough lived in a secluded
terrace in Canonbury.
ANNE BROWN found that Hamlin, or, as he studiously put it, Mrs
Macgregor, had made several engagements for her before her arrival;
and before she could thoroughly realise that the school, the journey
from Coblenz, were things of the past, she found herself being led
about, passively, half unconsciously, through the mazes of æsthetic
London. It was all very hazy: Anne was informed that this and that
person was coming to dinner or lunch at Hammersmith; that this or that
person hoped she would come and dine or take tea somewhere or other;
that such or such a lady was going to take her to see some one or
other's studio, or to introduce her at some other person's house. She
knew that they were all either distinguished poets, or critics, or
painters, or musicians, or distinguished relations and friends of the
above; that they all received her as if they had heard of her from
their earliest infancy; that they pressed her to have tea, and
strawberries, and claret-cup, and cakes, and asked her what she
thought of this picture or that poem; that they lived in grim,
smut-engrained houses in Bloomsbury, or rose-grown cottages at
Hampstead, with just the same sort of weird furniture, partly
Japanese, partly Queen Anne, partly medieval; with blue-and-white
china and embroidered chasubles stuck upon the walls if they were
rich, and twopenny screens and ninepenny pots if they were poor, but
with no further differences; and, finally, that they were all
intimately acquainted, and spoke of each other as being, or just having
missed being, the most brilliant or promising specimens of whatever
they happened to be.
At first Anne felt very shy and puzzled; but after a few days the
very vagueness which she felt about all these men and women, these
artists, critics, poets, and relatives, who were perpetually
reappearing as on a merry-go-round,—nay, the very cloudiness as to
the identity of these familiar faces—the very confusion as to whether
they were one, two, or three different individuals,—produced in Miss
Brown an indifference, an ease, almost a familiarity, like that which
we may experience towards the vague, unindividual company met on a
steamer or at a hotel.
And little by little, out of this crowd of people who seemed to
look, and to dress, and to talk very much alike,—venerable bearded
men, who were the heads of great schools of painting, or poetry, or
criticism, or were the papas of great offspring; elderly, quaintly
dressed ladies, who were somebody's wife, or mother, or sister;
youngish men, with manners at once exotically courteous, and curiously
free and easy, in velveteen coats and mustard-coloured
shooting-jackets or elegiac-looking dress-coats, all rising in poetry,
or art, or criticism; young ladies, varying from sixteen to
six-and-thirty, with hair cut like medieval pages, or tousled like
moenads, or tucked away under caps like eighteenth-century
housekeepers, habited in limp and stayless garments, picturesque and
economical, with Japanese chintzes for brocade, and flannel instead of
stamped velvets—most of which young ladies appeared at one period,
past, present, or future, to own a connection with the Slade school,
and all of whom, when not poets or painters themselves, were the
belongings of some such, or madly in love with the great sonneteer
such a one, or the great colourist such another;—out of all this
confusion there began gradually to detach themselves and assume
consistency in Anne's mind one or two personalities, some of whom
attracted, and some of whom repelled her, as we shall see further on;
but to all these people, vague or distinct, attractive or repulsive,
Miss Brown felt a kind of gratitude—something, in an infinitesimal
degree, of the thankfulness for undeserved kindness and courtesy which
constituted a large part of her love for Hamlin.
It was a curious state of things, thus to be introduced by a man
whom she knew at once so much and so little, to this exclusive and
esoteric sort of people; and whenever the thought would come upon her
how completely and utterly she, the daughter of the dockyard workman
of Spezia, the former servant of the little Perrys, was foreign to all
this, it made her feel alone and giddy, like one standing on a rock
and watching the waters below.
Such was the condition of things when one morning, about three weeks
after Anne's arrival, Hamlin put upon the luncheon-table a note
addressed to Miss Brown.
"It's an invitation to Mrs Argiropoulo's big party on the
twenty-seventh," he said; "you must go, Miss Brown. She's an awful
being herself; but you'll see all the most interesting people in
London at her house. Edith Spencer or Miss Pringle can take you, if
Aunt Claudia feel too tired."
"Aunt Claudia always feels too tired," answered Mrs Macgregor, in
a bitter little tone. Anne could not quite understand this amiable and
cynical old lady, who was at once devotedly attached to her nephew,
and perpetually railing at his friends. A fear seized her lest, in her
vague, almost somnambulic introduction into æsthetic society, she
might have unconsciously neglected the woman who, proud of her birth
as she was, requested this workman's daughter to address and consider
her as her aunt.
"Oh, won't you go?" cried Anne; "won't you go, Mrs Macgregor?"
"The fact is," hesitated Hamlin, "that—you see—Mrs Argiropoulo
invites comparatively few people, and—"
"That she wants only celebrities, or great folk, or pretty girls,"
interrupted Aunt Claudia, with her friendly cynicism, "or, as she
expresses it, that she wants no padding. So you must go with Mrs
Spencer or Miss Pringle, my dear."
"But it is abominable; it is most rude of Mrs Argiropoulo; and I
certainly won't go anywhere where Aunt Claudia has not been invited."
"Nonsense, Nan," silenced the old lady; "you're not up to this
lion-hunting world yet. Where there are so many geniuses on the loose,
and so many professed beauties, there are no chairs for old women,
except countesses or school board managers."
"But since you think Mrs Argiropoulo hateful," persisted Anne,
addressing Hamlin, "why should you wish me to go? You know I would
much rather not; and I think, considering her rudeness to your aunt,
you ought not to wish me to go."
"As you choose, Miss Brown," cried Hamlin, peevishly.
"Don't be absurd, Anne—you must go," insisted Mrs Macgregor.
"Listen: Watty has actually been addling his brains doing dressmaking;
he has invented a dress for you to go to the party, so you will break
his heart if you refuse."
Anne looked in amazement; and Hamlin reddened.
"I hope you will not deem it a liberty on my part, Miss Brown," he
said; "but as I knew that this invitation was coming, I ventured to
make a sketch of the sort of dress which I think would become you, and
to give it to a woman who has made dresses from artists' directions;
of course, if you don't think it pretty, you won't dream of putting it
on. But I could not resist the temptation."
Miss Brown scarcely knew what to say or feel: there was in her a
moment's humiliation at being so completely Hamlin's property as to
warrant this; then she felt grateful and ashamed of her ingratitude.
"If you had shown me the sketch, I daresay I could have made up the
dress myself," she said.
"I fear my sketch might not have been very intelligible to any one
who had not experience of making such things."
"Perhaps not," answered Anne, thinking of all the dresses for Miss
Curzon and the little Perrys which she had made in her day. "It was
very good of you, Mr Hamlin."
"What an idiot I was to let the cat out of the bag!" exclaimed Mrs
Macgregor when her nephew was out of hearing. "I've spoilt your
pleasure in the frock; and there's Walter sulking because he thinks
you won't like it."
"I am very ungrateful," said Anne, sighing as she stooped over her
book, and feeling all the same that she wished Hamlin would let her
make up her dresses herself.
A few days later the dressmaker came to try on the dress, or rather
(perhaps because Hamlin did not wish Anne to see it before it was
finished) its linings and a small amount of the Greek stuff of which
it was made; but it was not till the very afternoon of Mrs
Argiropoulo's party that the costume was brought home finished. Miss
Brown was by this time tolerably accustomed to the eccentric garb of
æsthetic circles, and she firmly believed that it was the only one
which a self-respecting woman might wear; but when she saw the dress
which Hamlin had designed for her, she could not help shrinking back
in dismay. It was of that Cretan silk, not much thicker than muslin,
which is woven in minute wrinkles of palest yellowy white; it was
made, it seemed to her, more like a night-gown than anything else,
shapeless and yet clinging with large and small folds, and creases
like those of damp sculptor's drapery, or the garments of Mantegna's
"I must get out a long petticoat," said Anne, appalled.
"Oh please, ma'am, no," cried the dressmaker. "On no account an
additional petticoat—it would ruin the whole effect. On the contrary,
you ought to remove one of those you have on, because like this the
dress can't cling properly."
"I won't have it cling," cried Miss Brown, resolutely. "I will let
alone the extra petticoat, but that's as much as I will do."
"As you please, ma'am," answered the woman, and continued adjusting
the limp garment with the maid's assistance.
Anne walked to the mirror. She was almost terrified at the figure
which met her. That colossal woman, with wrinkled drapery clinging to
her in half-antique, half-medieval guise,—that great solemn,
theatrical creature, could that be herself?
"I think," she said in despair, "that there's something very odd
about it, Mrs Perkins. It looks somehow all wrong. Are you sure that
something hasn't got unstitched?"
"No indeed, madam," answered the dressmaker, ruffled in her
dignity. "I have exactly followed the design; and," she added, with
crushing effect, "as it's I who execute the most difficult designs for
the Lyceum, I think I may say that it could not be made differently."
The Lyceum! Anne felt half petrified. What! Hamlin was having her
rigged out by a stage dressmaker!
"Mr Hamlin is down-stairs, Miss Brown," hesitated the maid, as Anne
bade her help her out of this mass of limp stuff. "He said he would
wait to see you after the dressmaker had left, if you had no
"Watty wants to see you in your new frock, my dear," said Mrs
Macgregor, putting her head in at the door. "Come along."
Anne followed down-stairs, gathering all that uncanny white crape
about her. For the first time she felt a dull anger against Hamlin.
He met her in the dim drawing-room.
"My hair isn't done yet," was all Miss Brown could say, tousling it
with her hands.
"Leave it like that—oh, do leave it like that!" exclaimed Hamlin;
"you can't think how"—and he paused and looked at her, where she
stood before him, stooping her massive head sullenly—"you can't think
how beautiful you look, Anne!"
It was the first time he had called her by her Christian name since
that scene, long ago, in the studio at Florence.
"Forgive me, dear Miss Brown," he apolo- gised. "I knew how such a
dress must suit you, and yet it has given me quite a shock to see you
"It was very kind of you to have it made for me," said Anne, "and
the stuff is very pretty also; and—and I am so glad you like me in
Hamlin kissed her hand. He was more than usually handsome, and
looked very happy.
"Thank you," he said; "I must now go home and dress for that stupid
dinner-party. I will meet you at Mrs Argiropoulo's at half-past ten or
eleven. I suppose Edith Spencer will call for you soon after dinner.
He looked at her with a kind of fervour, and left the room.
Anne sat down. Why did that dress make such a difference to him? Why
did he care so much more for her because she had it on? Did he care
for her only as a sort of live picture? she thought bitterly. But,
after all, it was quite natural on his part to be pleased, since he
had invented the dress. And it was very good of him to have thought
of her at all. And thus, in a state of enjoyable repentance, she
awaited the hour to go to Mrs Argiropoulo.
Mrs Spencer, a very lovable and laughable little woman, whose soul
was divided between her babies and fierce rancours against all enemies
of pre-Raphaelitism, hereditary, in virtue of her father, Andrew
Saunders, in her family, came punctually, marvellously attired in grey
cashmere medieval garments, a garland of parsley and gilt oak-leaves
in her handsome red hair. On seeing Anne, who stood awaiting her by
the fireplace, she could not repress an exclamation of admiration.
"Yes," answered Anne, unaccustomed to have her looks admired at
Florence and at Coblenz; "it is a very wonderful costume, isn't it? Mr
Hamlin designed it for me. I think it was so kind of him; don't you?"
"Kind? I see nothing kind about it. Walter" (she always spoke of
him thus familiarly, because he had worked as a youth in her father's
studio) "is simply head over ears in love with you, my dear."
Anne shook her head.
"Oh no," she answered, with a sort of reasoned conviction, "he is
merely very good to me, that's all—and perhaps he likes me also, of
course. But that's all."
"You know nothing of the world, Annie; and still less of Walter. He
has never in his life been fond of any one except when in love. I've
not known him these fifteen years for nothing."
"I think you are mistaken," said Anne, quietly.
"I think you are not aware, my dear girl, that you are the most
beautiful woman Walter has ever seen."