Miss Brown, V3
by Vernon Lee
BOOK VII. (Continued)
BOOK VII. (Continued)
WHILE Anne was being indoctrinated with her cousin's
philosophical theories, Hamlin had little by little let himself be
drawn into the little clique of more mystical and Bohemian
pre-Raphaelites whom Edmund Lewis had collected round Madame Elaguine.
The old-fashioned, long-established æsthetes, who believed that
artistic salvation resided solely in themselves and their kith and
kin, and who strangely muddled together the theories of an esoteric
school and the prejudice of the untravelled Briton, decidedly set
their face against Madame Elaguine. They had not liked Anne Brown
because she was not sufficiently engaging; but they thoroughly hated
Sacha Elaguine because she was too fascinating.
"A nasty, ignorant, frivolous little woman," said Mrs Spencer, who
was the spokeswoman of the party; "a woman with no sense of
responsibility whatever. Did you hear the way in which she spoke of
those horrible French painters? That she actually dared to talk to
papa about that Monsieur Page, vulgar, base creature that he is!"
And the older people, and the women of the æsthetic world—the
spinsters with dishevelled locks and overflowing hearts, who kept
little garlanded lamps before the photographs of puny English painters
and booted and red-shirted American poets, all agreed with her. But
the younger men merely laughed, and neglected the solemn,
smut-engrained parlours of Bloomsbury, the chilly, ascetic studios of
Hampstead, for Madame Elaguine's curious, disorderly, charming house
in Kensington—the house patched up with old lodging-house furniture
and all manner of Eastern stuffs and brocades, crowded with a woman's
nick-nacks, strewn with French novels and poems, and redolent of
cigarettes and Russian perfumes. For there was in this delicate,
nervous little creature, eaten up with love of excitement, something
which acted as a spell upon most men; and it was curious to see how
she managed to make them all in love with her, and at the same time
excite no jealousy.
"Do you think Circe's pigs were jealous of each other?" asked Mrs
Spencer, when this peculiarity was pointed out to her by Chough.
"Reduce people to a certain level, and they will be satisfied with
Lewis explained it as being due to Madame Elaguine's magnetic
power. Whether the Russian had been fully converted to his
spiritualistic theories, or, indeed, whether it was possible to make
her believe seriously in anything, it is impossible to say. But she
had caught the spiritualistic infection from Lewis as a tinder catches
fire. Nothing in the world could suit her better: spiritualism
appealed to her love of excitement and mystery, to an idealistic and
mystical strain which made her hanker after strange supersensuous
contacts and occult affinities; moreover, if ever there was a woman of
whom one might believe that she could vibrate with disembodied
passion, and come in contact with an uncorporeal world, it was this
emaciated, nervous, hysterical creature, who lived off coffee and
cigarettes, and lived, as it seemed, only with her restless mind, and
not at all with her frail, incapable body.
"I feel sometimes," she would say to her friends, "as if I mixed
with the living as smoke mingles with air—seeing them move before me,
but unable to clutch them or be clutched by them, coming in contact
only with their passions. I feel as if I could more easily live with
the dead—mix more easily with them. It is terrible. I sometimes fancy
that I shall fall in love with some dead creature, and my life be
sucked away by him,"—and she gave a little shudder.
Cosmo Chough listened spell-bound with admiration, twisting and
untwisting his long black whiskers. What a woman was this! And he
ruminated over a new chapter of his Triumph of Womanhood, of which
Sacha Elaguine—"Sacha quite short," as she bade her friends call
her—should be the heroine.
Edmund Lewis smiled his sensual lazy smile, which one knew that he
imagined to be the prototype of the cruel and lustful mysterious smile
of the men and women, and creatures neither one nor the other or both,
who came from beneath his fantastic pencil.
"Has it never occurred to you," he said, in his luscious voice,
stooping over Madame Elaguine's chair, "that you may rather be a dead
creature yourself—a vampire come to suck out some one's life-blood?"
"Confound that Lewis!" thought Chough. "Why must such ideas occur
to him, a mere damned painter, and not to me, who am a poet?" and he
made a note of the vampire.
Hamlin was standing by, smoking his cigar- ette sullenly. He did
not like these sort of liberties which Lewis took with his cousin; he
had even of late warned her that, although his friend was an excellent
fellow, too great intimacy with him might prove disagreeable to her.
"What a carrion-feeding fancy you have, Lewis!" he exclaimed,
frowning. "One would think you lived on corpses, in order to be more
in harmony with those beasts of spirits of yours."
Lewis laughed triumphantly; but Madame Elaguine, to his amazement,
cut him short by saying—
"Your idea may be very amusing, Mr Lewis; but I don't think it is
exactly the style of thing for a man to say to a woman."
Lewis, who was never abashed, merely raised his eyebrows.
"I thought you were superior to your sex," he answered.
"If Lewis dare to talk to you like that," whispered Hamlin to
Sacha, "I shall horsewhip him one of these days."
Madame Elaguine pressed his fingers in her little hot hand.
"You are good," she answered, in what was like the buzz of a gnat,
but infinitely caressing; "but poor Lewis means no harm: he is very bon enfant. You are too pure and proud to understand other men.
Ah, Anne is a happy woman!"
The last words were scarcely more than a little sigh to herself; but
Hamlin caught them, and reddened.
"Anne is very cold," he said briefly; then added, as if to justify
himself in his own eyes—"I suppose all very passionate natures are."
Sacha shook her little thin childish head.
"Oh no—not all."
Miss Brown went but rarely to the house of Hamlin's cousin. She was
extremely sorry for the poor little woman's misfortunes; and asking
herself what she would have been had she had Madame Elaguine's past,
she often admired how the Russian had kept her independence and
self-respect, and serenity and cheerfulness. Yet, while she believed
herself fully to appreciate Sacha, and invariably defended her against
the jealous prudery of Mrs Spencer and her clique, Anne somehow felt
no desire to see much of her. She set it down to her own narrowness
and coldness of temper. "I am too one-sided to have friends," she used
to say to Mary Leigh; "I feel that I don't do justice enough to
people, however much I try, and that my heart does not go out to meet
them enough. I think I would do my best for them; but I can't love
them or be loved."
Poor Mary Leigh was silent. Anne—this beautiful noble, distant,
somewhat inscrutable Anne—was the idol of the enthusiastic Irish
girl. She had often longed to tell her so; she longed, at this moment,
to put her arms round Anne's neck, and say quite quietly—"I love
you, Anne;" but she had not the courage. How much may this sort of
cowardice, called reticence, cheat people of? The knowledge that there
is a loving heart near one, that there is a creature whom one can
trust, that the world is not a desert,—all this might be given, but
is not. And the other regrets, perhaps throughout life, that word
which remained unspoken, that kiss which remained ungiven, and would
have been as the draught of water to the wearied traveller.
Anyhow Anne, while thinking that she liked Madame Elaguine, somehow
did not care to see much of her. What she could do for her she did
willingly. Madame Elaguine wanted the child to learn English, but made
a fuss about letting her have a governess.
"My child's mind must be my own mind," she said. But as she went on
grieving at little Helen's ignorance, and her own incapacity, from
want of schooling and want of strength, to teach her, Anne offered to
teach the child together with the little Chough girls, who were still
her pupils. Madame Elaguine was rapturously grateful; but Helen was so
completely spoilt, that she could be brought to Anne only when she
fancied it herself, and Anne found her so demoralised that she really
did not like to bring her in contact with the Choughs. "When poor
little Helen is ten, then you must moralise her," Madame Elaguine
would say; and Helen was within week of being ten, and Anne, much as
she disliked asking Madame Elaguine anything, urged that she should
begin to be taught. Moreover, Anne's time was too much taken up
reading under Richard Brown's directions, and her thoughts were too
much preoccupied to make her feel at all sociable, even had she not
felt an instinctive repugnance to the sort of company, headed by
Edmund Lewis, which she knew she would meet at Madame Elaguine's.
However, one evening she could not refuse Sacha's invitation, more
especially as the latter, evidently to please Anne, had invited her
friends the two Leighs. It was a grand spiritualistic séance
. Madame Elaguine was in great excitement, and Edmund Lewis was
radiant. But Hamlin looked bored and pressed.
"I hate all this vulgar twaddle of spiritual- ism," he said
impatiently to Anne. Anne loathed it: the triviality disgusted her,
the giving up of one's will to another revolted her, and she could not
understand how a woman could endure to be handled and breathed upon by
a man like Lewis. Mary Leigh was half excited and half amused;
Marjory, the strong-minded scoffer, had determined to unmask some sort
of trickery. The séance, to which Edmund Lewis had brought a
famous professional medium, was very much like any other séance
: a darkened room, a company of people partly excited, partly bored;
expectation, disappointment, faith, incredulity; moving of tables and
rapping, faint music, half visible hands.
"The whole boxful, machinery complete, all the newest tricks,
eighteenpence," as little Thaddy O'Reilly fiippantly remarked to
Anne. How could Madame Elaguine have patience with such rubbish?
wondered Miss Brown. What excitement could that excitement-loving
little woman, with a real mystery in her own life, find in all this
"You can't think what a strange, delightful sensation I have at
these moments," said Sacha to Hamlin, as her little soft hand touched
his. "I seem to feel the whole current of your life streaming through
me, and mingling with mine. It is like an additional sense. Do you
understand that, Anne?"
"No," answered Anne, briefly. "I feel Mr Hamlin's fingers touching
mine, and that's all."
Hamlin somehow admired Anne's answer; he was glad it was so,—had
she felt like his cousin, something would have spoilt in an ideal of
his; and yet Anne's coldness annoyed him.
"The spirits are reluctant; there are too many sceptics in the
room," said Edmund Lewis, angrily. "Great as is the power of some of
us—as, for instance, of Madame Elaguine—I feel that there is
something acting as a non-conductor,—some very chilly nature here."
But nevertheless, when the company was giving up the
as spoilt, mysterious sounds were heard, and something luminous,
which was immediately identified as a pair of spirit-hands, was seen
to float over the table.
"Spirit-hands!" whispered Edmund Lewis.
"Wash-leather gloves painted over with luminous paint," whispered
"A wreath!" whispered Madame Elaguine.
Something round, like a wreath, did seem to float, supported by the
spirit-hands. Some said it was oak, others cypress, others myrtle;
but it soon became apparent that it was bay.
"For Hamlin!" whispered the guests to each other.
The wreath floated unsteadily over the heads of the party; but, as
it passed Marjory Leigh, that evil-minded young materialist quickly
snatched at it, but it was whisked away by the indignant spirits.
There was a murmur of indignation; but indignation turned into triumph
when suddenly the wreath reappeared, and hovered for two good minutes
over Hamlin's head. There was a cry of admiration, and Madame Elaguine
clapped her hands.
But Marjory Leigh struck a light, and lit the candle by her side.
She could see faintly the excited faces all round, and among them the
pale face of Anne Brown, scornful and angry, fixed upon that of
Hamlin, who was flushed, hesitating, surprised.
"I am glad the spirits have such good taste in poetry," said
Marjory Leigh, quietly; "but it is a pity that they should not have
crowned Mr Hamlin, like Petrarch and Corinne, with real laurels." And
she stretched out something in the palm of her hand. Every one crowded
round, and took it up by turns.
It was a leaf, torn and broken, of green laurel which she had pulled
off when the crown had passed over her; but the green laurels were
masses of stamped paper, and left a green stain in the hand.
"It does smack a little of a French
pensionnat de demoiselles
distribution of prizes; you will get the little book dorésur
tranches, 'Avec l'approbation de Monseigneur l'Archevêque de
Tours,' and 'Prix décerné à M. Walter Ham- lin,' written inside, at
the next séance," cried Thaddy O'Reilly. "Well, it is
consoling to see how our beloved dead keep up the simple habits of the
There was a titter. Madame Elaguine burst out laughing. Hamlin
laughed, but he looked black as thunder.
"You brought that piece of green paper with you!" cried Lewis
furiously at Marjory Leigh. "You brought it to insult and delude us!
It is disgraceful."
"My dear Lewis," said Thaddy O'Reilly, gently, "remember that you
are still a gentleman, and not yet a spirit."
"Had I known that there was to be any crowning, I should certainly
have brought something better than paper laurels," said Marjory,
fiercely. "I never thought spirits were reduced to such expedients as
The séance came to an end. The lamps were lit. The medium
dismissed with considerable contumely. Edmund Lewis went away in a
huff; and Madame Elaguine, who cared in spiritualism only for those
strange thrills which she had before described, laughed a great deal
about the matter, and settled down to make music with Cosmo Chough.
Hamlin looked as if he wished himself a thousand miles away. He
would speak with no one; he was angry with his cousin for having let
him in for such a ridiculous scene, and angry with the rest of the
company for having witnessed it; he had no command over his looks; and
while Madame Elaguine's curious, warm, childish voice throbbed
passionately through Schumann's songs, or while people took their tea
and talked, he sat aside, in the doorway of the next room, like a
"What a baby Walter is!" whispered Madame Elaguine, laughing, to
But Anne did not laugh. She felt the humiliation not of the paper
laurels, but of that radiant look which she had seen in Hamlin when
the lights had first been lit. And she was indignant with Hamlin for
tak- ing this ridiculous business so tragically, and at the same time
sorry for his poor, wounded, unsympathised-with vanity. She left the
piano, where she had been sitting near Sacha, and went to him where he
sat disconsolately looking over a heap of newspapers in the next room.
She did not allude to the scene. What use was it chiding him? He
could never understand. She talked to him about the picture which he
was painting, about the people, anything to make him feel that she was
sorry for him. Hamlin was bitter against his friends; he began once
more his tirades against modern art and poetry, its lifelessness and
weakness; he again declared himself longing for a different life; he
again, passionately and delicately, called upon Anne, in his veiled
way, to redeem him. Anne listened sadly. She knew it all so well by
heart, this vain talk which was to be the daily bread of her soul.
Suddenly Hamlin's eye fell upon Marjory Leigh, who was seated
talking with Thaddy O'Reilly in the recess of a window.
"I wonder you can endure that girl, Miss Brown!" he cried, "much
less make her your friend."
"Marjory may sometimes be rude, and it was perhaps not very good
manners to interrupt the séance as she did, although I quite
sympathise with her; but she is a capital girl, and just one of the
most trustworthy persons I know."
"She is a humbug!" exclaimed Hamlin, crossly and violently.
"Doesn't she set up for philanthropy, and self-sacrifice, and all
that? and then she goes to parties dressed in that way—a fit
beginning for the wife of an East End curate, for a man like Harry
"Marjory's dress does not cost more than Harry Collett's coats,"
answered Anne, quietly. "You men never understand such things, and
think because a girl's dress is showy that it is expensive. Of course
Marjory doesn't wear æsthetic things, and it would be absurd if she
did; but I happen to know that she made that particular dress entirely
with her own hands."
"I know nothing about the dress, except that a wife of Harry
Collett's should not go about like a peacock. But I do know," cried
Hamlin, fiercely, "that it is disgraceful for a girl engaged to marry,
and to marry a man like Harry, to sit the whole evening in a corner,
letting a jackanapes like O'Reilly make love to her."
"Marjory has been sitting with Mr O'Reilly only about ten minutes,"
answered Anne, indignantly, "and she has known him ever since they
were babies. I think it is too ridiculous if a girl can't talk to a
young man at a party without being treated as if she were committing
"I don't say that any other girl talking to any other young man is
to blame," said Hamlin, still hotly; "but I say that a woman who can
let O'Reilly flirt with her throughout the evening is no wife for
Collett; and I have a good mind to write and tell him so," and Hamlin
Anne did not answer at first. She was filled with contempt for this
vain childish ill-humour, which was taking the proportions of rabid
"Marjory is my friend," she at last said, "and I think that the
less you talk such nonsense as about writing to Mr Collett, the
"I will, upon my word!" exclaimed Hamlin. "Marjory Leigh is a
friend of yours, but she is an infamous flirt all the same!"
"Why does Mr Hamlin glare at me like that?" asked Marjory of Anne a
little later. "One would think it was my fault that the spirits
crowned him with paper laurels and not with bay-leaves."
ANNE had forgotten all about the
séance, when, about a
week later, Mary Leigh arrived at Hammersmith in a state of extreme
"What is the matter, Mary?" asked Anne, wondering at her flushed
face, which was usually so quiet.
"Nothing—nothing," said Mary Leigh, looking impatiently at some
visitors who were present. "I spoilt two copper plates this morning,
and shall have no etchings worth exhibiting. I suppose that has put me
out of sorts."
But the visitors had scarcely turned their backs, when Mary Leigh
turned suddenly towards Miss Brown.
"Oh Anne dear, a dreadful, shameful thing has happened! and I have
come to you to know what it means, because I can't help thinking that
Mr Hamlin has had something to do with it, and poor Marjory is so
"What is it?" asked Anne, a vague terror coming over her.
"Why, Marjory got this letter to-day from Harry Collett; he has
been staying with his mother at Wotton for the last week. Read it, and
you will understand."
Miss Brown took the letter, evidently much pulled about and read and
re-read, from Mary Leigh, and smoothed it out and read it slowly;
while her friend sat by, looking anxiously at her face.
The letter was from Marjory's intended. Harry Collett told her,
with a dignity and gentleness, a desire not to hurt the one who had
hurt him, and an incapacity of hiding his great pain, which nearly
made Anne cry, that his eyes had at length been opened to the
undesirableness of a mar- riage which, however much wished for by
him, could not satisfy all the claims of a nature llke Marjory's.
"Much as I have looked forward to our marriage," wrote poor Harry,
"I could not possibly be happy if I suspected that it did not give you
everything which you have a right to require from life. I thank God
for having sent me a warning in time, for having let me understand what
your generosity and my infatuation would have hidden to me—namely,
that your thoughts have, despite your will, turned elsewhere; that
your nature requires a life of greater cheerfulness and variety than I
could hope to give it. And, indeed, I am beginning also to understand
that I was trying to reconcile the irreconcilable—that a man who has
elected a life among the poor, has no right to share its privations
with any one, much less with any one dear to him; and I see that I was
on the verge of committing the sin of sacrificing your happiness to my
vocation, or rather to my unmanly desire to have the hardness of my
vocation sweetened at your expense. Please do not fancy that I think
at all badly of you; I think badly only of my own blindness."
But the poor curate's angelic nature could not resist the
temptation of a fling at his supposed rival.
"I am only surprised—but my surprise may be due to my ignorance,"
he added, "at the person who engrosses your thoughts. I should never
have thought you could seriously care for a shallow creature like
O'Reilly. I wish you to be happy, but I fear you will not be solidly
happy with him."
"Do you understand?" cried Mary Leigh, impatiently; "some one has
written to Harry some horrid lies about Marjory and Thaddy O'Reilly.
Oh, I think it is too shameful! Marjory, who has not seen Thaddy
O'Reilly more than twice in the last six months; and," added Mary
Leigh, with an agony in her voice, "I fear—oh, I fear—Anne, that it
must have been Mr Hamlin who did it."
Anne did not look up from the letter. She was very white, and her
face full of shame.
"I fear it must," she answered, half audibly.
"But what is the meaning of it?" cried Mary. "What can Mr Hamlin
know about the matter? Why, he scarcely ever sees Marjory. I don't
believe he had seen her for nearly six weeks before that party at
Madame Elaguine's. Oh, Anne, do you think it is Madame Elaguine, that
horrid little Russian, who did it?"
"Oh no," answered Anne, quickly, "I know Sacha Elaguine has not
done it; I don't believe she is capable of doing it."
"Then you think? . . ."
"I fear—I fear Mr Hamlin did it."
There was a dead silence. Poor Mary Leigh was torn by her
indignation for her sister, and her pain at the shame cast upon her
admired Hamlin, and through him upon her adored Anne.
"What can I do? If only I knew the grounds of the accusation," she
said desper- ately, "I know I could explain them away to Harry. I know
that Marjory could, but she won't."
"Has Marjory not answered Mr Collett?"
Mary Leigh shook her head.
"Marjory is too proud and self-willed. She is disgusted with Harry.
She won't hear his name mentioned; it is useless. Oh, it is dreadful
to see people who care for each other so much separated in this way,
by a mere vile groundless calumny, which one cannot even refute."
Anne passed her hand across her forehead.
"Mr Hamlin has done it," she said slowly, and with an effort, "and
he must undo it."
"How can one make him undo such a thing?" cried
"I will tell him that he was wrong, and make him write to Harry
"Oh Annie dear, you are good"—and Mary Leigh threw herself on
Anne's neck—"for I know how dreadful, how terrible it must be for you
to tell him that he has acted badly."
"It is not the first time," answered Anne, mournfully. "Leave me
the letter, will you, Mary dear?"
Mary Leigh left the letter with Miss Brown; and that evening, as
Anne was sitting with Hamlin after dinner, she suddenly dashed into
"Do you remember saying, the other night, at your cousin's, that
you would write to Harry Collett about the flirtation which you took
it upon yourself to imagine between Marjory Leigh and Mr O'Reilly?"
Hamlin looked puzzled.
"I remember something or other," he said evasively.
"Did you write to Harry Collett?"
"I had occasion to write to Collett about some books I had left at
Wotton, and which I wanted him to bring up to town on his return."
"But did you mention about Marjory and Mr O'Reilly?"
"I may have"—Hamlin spoke absently—"yes, I suppose I did. What
"What of it?" cried Anne, indignantly; "why, this much, that you
have made two people perfectly miserable, and that Marjory's marriage
with Mr Collett is broken off," and she handed him the letter.
Hamlin looked at it with an air of puzzled indifference.
"I don't understand what it's all about," he said, coolly and
serenely, returning the letter to Anne.
"Then you did not say anything about Marjory to Mr Collett?"
"Yes—I did—I certainly think I did. I can't exactly remember what
it was. You know how one writes letters; one forgets the next day."
Anne looked at him with wonder. So after having, momentarily at
least, made two people as unhappy as was well possible, this was how
he took the revelation of the results of his doings.
"Mr Hamlin," said Anne, sternly, "you know that you never believed
that Marjory Leigh was really flirting with O'Reilly; and you know
that you wrote to Harry Collett, and made him believe that she cared
for another man."
"I don't know anything about Miss Leigh's doings. I remember
noticing her talking very assiduously that evening with Thaddy.
Perhaps it was all fancy of mine; I have no doubt it was. I just
mentioned it to Collett as I might mention anything else. I never
dreamed that it would annoy him."
"You thought it would merely annoy her?" asked Anne, reproachfully.
"I really know nothing about the matter. I'm not responsible for
what I may have thought or written a week ago, much less for all these
complications, which I never dreamed of."
"Did you suppose, then, that Harry Collett would be utterly
indifferent to being given to understand that Marjory cared for
another man, and was not the fit wife for an East End curate, as you
"I don't know. I wrote, and thought no more about it. If they have
gone and quarrelled about it, I'm very sorry—and that's all I can
Hamlin's tone was bored and slightly impatient. He had evidently
not the smallest shame or regret for what he had done.
"Since you are sorry—since you
did write that to
Collett," said Anne, trying to speak as gently as possible—"you will,
I trust, do what you can to repair this mischief. Marjory Leigh is too
indignant with Harry to answer him at all. Will you write to him and
tell him that it was all a mistake—all owing to your having been
annoyed with Marjory on account of that laurel crown business—and
that there was no foundation for all you said? You will make amends,
won't you? Do write at once."
Hamlin had risen from his seat, and his face had taken a curious
"I'm very sorry I can't obey you, Miss Brown," he said, "but it
appears to me that you wish me to write myself down a liar. If these
people choose to fall out because of a word of mine, I see no reason
to apologise. It is their concern, not mine."
"Was it your concern to write to Collett, then? Was it your concern
to take such a responsibility?"
"Every one may write whatever passes through his head. I thought
Miss Leigh a flirt last week; I don't now. As to responsibilities, I
repudiate such things."
"No one can repudiate such things," cried Anne. "You have done
mischief, and with a few strokes of the pen you can repair it. Oh, you
must write, Mr Hamlin—you must."
"If I write," answered Hamlin, hotly, "I shall just tell Collett
that I do think Miss Leigh a flirt. I cannot refuse
to write, but I refuse to eat my words. Have you paper and a pen?"
He had gone to Anne's writing-table. Anne put her arm over it.
"You have told a falsehood once, you shall not tell it twice," she
"I said that merely to show you how impossible your request was.
After all, my dear Miss Brown, a man does owe something to himself and
to his name, and there is such a thing as proper pride."
"Is there?" answered Anne, and the words were like drops of
freezing water. "I thought," she added, the remembrance of what he
had answered when she had entreated him not to slander himself in those
sonnets "Desire," "that your school considered it legitimate for a
man to say that he had committed no matter what baseness, even those
which he had not. But I see," and Anne's indignation blazed up, "that
you want sometimes to be considered wicked, but that you succeed only
in being mean."
"I think that is a little hard upon me," he answered mournfully and
bitterly, and left the room. He was thinking of all he had done for
Anne—all that he had done and left undone.
Anne remained seated, looking into the fire, for some moments. Then
she went to her desk and took paper and an envelope.
"DEAR MR COLLETT," she wrote slowly, "Mary Leigh has just shown me
your letter to Marjory, which has greatly shocked and grieved me. As I
know that the person who misled you about Marjory and Mr O'Reilly,
between whom there has never been a shadow of a flirtation, is Mr
Hamlin, I feel bound to tell you, not only that to my knowledge
Marjory has not seen Mr O'Reilly except once since your departure;
but also, as having been present on the occasion of the supposed
flirtation, that Mr Hamlin imagined the flirtation, and wrote to you
about it merely because he was in an ill temper, and because Marjory
had annoyed him that evening by detecting a fraud in the
spiritualistic séance in which we were engaged. Mr Hamlin
has himself just told me that he does not any longer believe in the
flirtation, and had no notion of creating any mischief. So, as he is
not writing to you himself, I feel bound to tell you the real state of
affairs, and I trust you will immediately let Marjory know that your
suspicions were groundless, as she is very unhappy, and indignant with
your letter.—Believe me, dear Mr Collett, yours sincerely, ANNE
Anne stopped several times in course of writing, and read and
re-read her letter. Hamlin had refused to make amends; well, she must
make them for him: the matter was simple, and it was Anne's character,
whenever she saw the right course, to take it without hesitation,
however painful to her. Like many very honest and firm people, she had
something destructive in her temper; she could, as Sacha Elaguine had
said, sacrifice herself and others with a sort of sullen savage
satisfaction. It was a humiliation for Hamlin, but he had deserved it;
it was a bitter humiliation for herself, but her debt of gratitude
towards Hamlin forced her to take the consequences of the bad that was
in him as well as the good. To admit that Hamlin had, from mere
womanish ill-temper, calumniated a friend, wantonly and thoughtlessly
made two loving natures mistrust each other, and that he had then
refused to repair the mischief of his own making,—this was
intolerably bitter to Anne; still it had to be done. She put the
letter on the hall table, and bade the servant post it without delay.
Then she felt the full ignominy of the matter; and her whole nature
recoiled from Hamlin's. Nay, it did not recoil; there was no reality
to shrink from. Anne no longer felt horror as she had done when he had
given her that poem about Cold Fremley; she rccognised that his fault
was negative, that his moral evil was moral nullity—the utter
incapacity in this man, who had acted so chivalrously towards her, of
perceiving when he was doing a mean thing. And the thought that she
would be chained for ever to the side of a man whose whole nature was
merely æsthetic, who was wholly without moral nerves or moral muscles,
filled her with despair.
The next day, Hamlin sent word that he had to go and see some
pictures at Oxford, and would be away for two days. Anne felt a vague
hope that he was ashamed of himself. Madame Elaguine called, and with
her came Cosmo Chough. The conversation, to Miss Brown's annoyance,
turned upon the spiritualistic séance of the previous week.
"What a fool Walter is!" exclaimed Sacha. "Fancy his moping in a
corner because the spirits crowned him with paper laurels! I can't
understand a man not having more brass, not putting a better face on
things. But Walter is a curious creature: in many respects he is not a
man but a child. He has seen a great deal of life, and yet in many
things he is like a girl of fifteen."
"Mr Hamlin," said Anne, evasively, "has an essentially artistic
nature; the realities of the world don't appeal much to him."
"Unless an artist feel the realities of the world," said Madame
Elaguine, eating some of the petals of the roses that were at her
elbow, "his art will be very thin. Life must stain the artist with
its colours, or his art will be tintless."
Anne had often said those same words to herself; yet somehow she
knew that in Sacha Elaguine's mouth they had a different meaning; and
she felt it, when, with her curious, half-childlike, and yet
infinitely conscious smile, she turned to Chough.
"Don't you think so, Signor Cosmo?"
Cosmo Chough pretended that he understood, as he always did,
whenever he thought that passion and the Eternal Feminine were in
question; he tightened his black moustachioed lips into a long
grimace, and bowed in deferential agreement.
"Of course," said the little man, sticking his single eye-glass in
his eye, "we all know that our friend Hamlin will never get out of
life all that perfume, that narcotic and bitter-sweet fiavour, which
some other men taste, to be poisoned for ever, with their first
mouthful of honey. Hamlin is, in some respects, a little more and a
little less than a man."
"A goose, in short," laughed Sacha.
"He is, purely and simply, an artist. Passions, senses, all the
things which belong to other men's personality, belong to him only as
factors of his art. And this is perhaps not to be regretted, but to be
rejoiced in. There is terrible danger of the artist being swallowed up
by the man. Of the poets whom God sends on earth, two-thirds are lost
to mankind: their passions, which should be merely so many means of
communication between their soul and the universe, eat them up; or
rather they feed themselves on what should become the world's honey.
And even of those who are not lost entirely, how many are there not
whose lives are engulfed by passions; to whom, alas! what they sing is
but the wretched shadow of what they feel!" And Chough sighed, and
fixed his eyes on his lacquered boot-tips, as much as to intimate
that he, who lived on mutton-chops and spent his life nursing an
epileptic wife, was of that Caliph Vathek kind.
Madame Elaguine laughed; but Chough thought it was at Hamlin, and
"Herein lies Hamlin's advantage; he is the pure artist. And, mark
me," he said, looking fiercely around him, "he is none the worse for
that. No, rather the better. I know no man to compare with Hamlin as a
mere person; to compare with him not merely in genius, but in
kindliness of temper, in purity of soul, in delicacy of thoughts. He
is not merely a great artist, but a work of art; he is like a picture
of Sir Galahad vivified, or like a sonnet of Dante turned into
flesh—and I think Miss Brown will agree with me."
"Mr Hamlin," said Anne, slowly, "is a very generous man and a very
chivalric man, and," she added, feeling as if Madame Elaguine were
looking into her soul, and as if she must read ingratitude written in
it, "I feel that I am indebted to him not merely for all he has done
for me, but for the way in which he has done it—"
"Oh no, no!" exclaimed the polite little poet, to whom Anne was
quite the goddess, "don't say that, Miss Brown; you can never owe
anything to any one. Whatever a man can do, is a tribute which his
nature forces him to lay down at your shrine."
"Yes," mused Madame Elaguine, following out the pattern of the
carpet with her parasol "indebted—that is how one must feel towards
Walter—indebted for the pleasure, &c., &c., of so charming an
acquaintance; but love—one can't love where there is only artistic
instinct to meet one—"
"I know nothing about such matters," said Anne, quietly.
"But, perhaps—Hamlin may be a sort of child of genius, and the
man, the man who feels may come later," finished the Russian.
"When people don't feel, they don't feel," said Anne, sternly; "I
"By the way," exclaimed Chough, "I am reading such a delightful
book—have you ever read it, Madame Elaguine?—The Letters of
"Who was Mademoiselle Aïssé?" asked Anne absently, forgetting that
experience had taught her that it was safer not to inquire too
curiously into Mr Chough's heroines.
"I suppose she was some improper lady or other—all your poetic
ladies were, weren't they?" asked Madame Elaguine. "Something like
your Belle Heaulmière, whom you insisted on talking about at poor Lady
Brady's party, although I kept making signs to you the whole time."
"Improper?" exclaimed Chough. "Mademoiselle Aïssé was the soul of
virtue—the purest woman—of the eighteenth century."
"Tell us about this purest woman of—the eighteenth century,"
"She was the daughter of kings; her name was originally Ayesha,
like the wife of the Prophet—but she became a slave, and was sold as
a child to M. de Ferréol—I think that was his name—who was
ambassador at Constantinople. M. de Ferréol sent her to his
sister-in-law in Paris to educate. Aïssé grew up the most refined and
accomplished woman,—you should read her letters—perfect gems!—and
marvellously beautiful. Life was just opening to her, and love also,
when M. de Ferréol returned from Constantinople, and said to this
exquisite, proud, and pure-minded creature: 'You are my slave; I
bought you, I educated you; now love me.'"
Chough paused and looked round him to watch the effect of his
eloquence. But his eyes fell upon Anne. She was very white.
"Well—and what did Aïssé answer?" asked Madame Elaguine.
"Aïssé answered—let me see, what did Aïssé answer?—oh, I should
spoil your pleasure were I to tell it you. I will bring you the book,
dear Madame Elaguine, and you shall tell me what you think of it."
Anne felt that she had betrayed herself. To Sacha, she hoped, she
believed not—but to Chough. The little poet, in his trumpery way, was
really attached to Anne, whom he considered as his guardian angel; and
perhaps his affection had made him understand.
"What became of Mademoiselle Aïssé?" asked Anne, some time later,
as she stood by the piano where Chough was playing.
Chough looked up. "Oh—why—she—in short—afterwards—she died."
"Would you like to see the book?" asked Madame Elaguine; "I have
some others on hand at present. Mr Chough shall send it to you—"
"Oh no, thank you," answered Anne, "I have a heap of books to get
through; and—I don't care what happened to Mademoiselle Aïssé."
"You are very hard-hearted, Anne."
"She would not have objected to M. de Ferréol if she had remained a
mere little Turkish slave-girl; she would have thought him a sort of
God. She had no business to let her education make her squeamish."
"A nasty old ambassador!" said Madame Elaguine. "I
think it was awfully hard upon her, poor thing! And was she in love
with some one else, Mr Chough?"
WHEN Chough first told her the story of Mademoiselle Aïssé, it
was as if Anne had been suddenly confronted by her own wraith,
surrounded by strange and tragic lights; and the shock was very
violent. But Miss Brown was too honest not to see after a minute that
between her and Aïssé there was an unfathomable difference. M. de
Ferréol was a mere experimentalising old roué, who had had a
mistress prepared as he might have had a goose fattened; and what he
claimed of Aïssé was her infamy. Anne's conscience smote her; she was
very ungrateful. And she thought over all those scenes at the Villa
Arnolfini, at Florence, nay, here in England not so long ago; she
thought of Hamlin's generosity and delicacy of mind—of the quixotic
way in which he had bound himself while leaving her free—of the
chivalrous way in which he had dowered her, making her feel almost as
if all this money, which placed her on his own level, was her own
inheritance, and not his charity. She remembered all the respect,
which was more of a brother than of a lover, with which he treated
her—the constant manner in which he hid all her obligations to him,
never letting any taunt or harsh word of hers get the better of his
resolution that Anne should feel that she owed nothing to him, and
that he craved for her love as he might have done for that of a queen.
And it came home to her how pure, nay, how poetically and romantically
noble was the love which he asked for; and she felt almost wicked when
she reflected that what he wanted was to make her into the very
highest thing which a man can make a woman—a sort of Beatrice, a
creature to love whom will be spiritual redemption. All these things
did Anne say to herself; but it cost her an effort, and the strain
could not be kept up. The fact was that she had, in her terror of
being unjust, refused to listen to her own plea. But it came back to
her like an overwhelming flood. She could not love Hamlin; her soul
recoiled from contact with his as her body might have recoiled from
the forced embrace of a corpse: such a union, it seemed, would mean
the death of her own nature. To be Hamlin's wife, to spend all her
life by his side, hopelessly watching his growing callousness to
everything for which she felt born,—to feel one generous impulse
after another gradually waxing feebler, one energy after another for
good becoming paralysed by the deathly moral chill of his utter
heartlessness,—was this not much worse than any mere dishonour of the
body, this prostitution of the spirit? Aïssé's soul at least was
free; her Ferréol could not deprive her of her moral freedom, her
aspirations, her powers of self-sacrifice; but with her, Anne Brown,
it was different. And she repeated to herself with bitterness the
warning words which Richard Brown had spoken in vain so long, long
ago: "You will be his to do what he chooses; worse than his slave,
his mere chattel and plaything." How little Dick had guessed the much
more terrible meaning which these words would come to have for her!
Unconsciously Anne's mind reverted to the business of Marjory and
Harry Collett; and her mind's eye rested for a moment upon those two
lovers, to each of whom, through whatsoever of discrepancy there might
be, the other represented his or her highest ideal, that other's
opinion his or her highest conscience; not passionately in love, like
Othello and Desdemona, or Romeo and Juliet, but persuaded to their
inmost soul that in living by each other's side, and sympathising with
and helping in the other's work, each would be fulfilling his or her
best destiny in the world. Another woman situated like Anne might have
let herself be tempted into cynicism by unconscious envy; but this was
not within Miss Brown's honest, and open-eyed, and stern nature. She
never once said to herself—"Marjory and Harry will awake one day from
their dream." She had dreamed, alas! and had awakened; but she
recognised that these two were broad awake, and that their happiness
was a reality. Anne looked at these two lovers for a moment, but
without any envy or bitterness. It never even entered her mind to
covet their happiness, to imagine that she might have a right to
anything similar. Anne, though leaning towards socialism in her
theories, was not in the least a communistic mind; she did not ask,
"Why should I not get the same advantages as my neighbours?" She
envied no one the prize in the lottery; she begged only for a chance.
To be the wife of a man whom she loved, and who loved her—to be the
companion and helpmate of some one who was striving after her own
ideals; such hankerings had never passed through her mind—or, if they
had, they had long since been banished. What Anne longed for, what
her soul hungered after, was merely negative freedom. Freedom to
sympathise and to aspire—to do whatever little she still might to
carve herself out a spiritual life of her own, no matter how mean and
insignificant; freedom to live in that portion of her which was most
worthy of life. To gain her bread, no matter how harshly; to be of
some use, to teach at a school or nurse at a hospital; nay, to be able
merely to encourage others to do what she might not,—this was all
that Anne asked; and this, in her future as the wife of Hamlin, as the
queen of this æsthetic world, which seemed to poison and paralyse her
soul, was what she knew she could not have, what she knew she must do
"I am a selfish brute," she suddenly said to herself, "wasting the
time which is still mine,"—and she took down her books of political
economy, and tried to fix her attention upon them, and think out a
scheme of the lessons and exercises which she would give to the
shop-girls at the Working Women's Club. But what was the use of doing
this? Hamlin, she knew, loathed the notion of her teaching at the
Club; he would never let her teach there; and, once his wife, she
understood him sufficiently to be fully aware that he would consider
himself completely empowered to make her do or leave alone whatever he
Still Anne tried to work on courageously. In the afternoon she went
to hear one of Professor Richmond's lectures. This was the fervent
young positivist whom Cousin Dick so much admired, and whose intense
moral convictions had done a good deal to keep Anne out of the slough
of desponding pessimism round which she had been some time hovering.
Andrew Richmond was a man who had many slanderers, many of whom he has
now left behind him—their misrepresentations having been more
long-lived than he; for he had passed through many phases of thought,
and, being perfectly honest, he had never been able to become unjust
to any, and thus had made enemies not merely among the men whose
beliefs he had abandoned, but among those also whose beliefs he had
accepted without accepting their follies. He stood very alone; and it
was perhaps this isolation—this obvious indifference of the man to
all save his own reason and conscience—which added to the solemnity
of his convictions; and made him appear, more than any one else, in
the light of a priest of morality, of a prophet of the advent of
justice. Anne had never spoken to Richmond; but she felt that, of all
human souls, this one did the most to keep up the courage of her own.
This was one of the last discourses which the poor dying positivist
ever delivered; and it was the more earnest for the sense of his
approaching end. He spoke this time, or, as his ridiculers called it,
he preached upon the relation of duty to progress; upon the value of
each good impulse carried out, and each evil one resisted, in making
morality more natural and spontaneous in the world; and he insisted
especially upon the danger, to people whose ideas of right and wrong
rested no longer upon any priestly authority, of the individual
sophisticating himself into the belief that in yielding to the
preferences of his own nature he was following the highest law, and
that any special usefulness ought legitimately to be bought at the
expense of departing from the moral rules of the world.
"The danger of our epoch of moral transition," he said, "lies in
the temptation of the individual to say to himself—'If I am willing
to sacrifice myself, have I not a right also to sacrifice the
established opinions of others?'"
"I detest that man Richmond," Madame Elaguine had once said; "he
puts an end to all self-sacrifice."
"If you mean the sacrifice of one's peace of mind and social
dignity to the passion of another person and to one's own, he
certainly does," Richard Brown had answered sternly.
At the door of the lecture-room Anne met her cousin.
"Are you driving to Hammersmith?" he asked.
"No; I am going to walk."
Anne had made it a rule for the last two or three months to deprive
herself of all luxuries. She did not wish to enjoy everything that she
had a right to; she had also a stern pleasure in doing the things most
repugnant to her; and a walk through the London streets, in murky
spring weather, was to Anne's Italian temper, nurtured with æsthetic
delicacy, one of the most disagreeable of expeditions.
"But it is drizzling and horribly muddy," said Richard Brown,
looking at her as he buttoned her ulster over her massive figure.
"Surely Hamlin will be very much shocked if you come into the house
with mud on your shoes? But if you are really going to walk I will
accompany you, if you don't mind, because I'm going in that
"Where are you going?"
"To Hammersmith; I have some business there." And Brown looked once
more at his cousin as he opened his umbrella over her.
"Will you take my arm, Anne?" Richard Brown was not a lady's man,
and there was something awkward and unaccustomed in his request.
"I am big enough to take care of myself, I think, Dick. And I know
you hate having women to drag along; I have watched you going into
dinner-parties often enough."
"It is out of my line, you're right."
For some time they walked along in silence through the black oozy
streets, crammed with barrows of fruit, round which gathered the
draggled dripping women, their babies huddled up in their torn shawls,
their hair untidy and dank beneath their once lilac or pale-pink
smut-engrained bonnets; the cabs, shining blue-black, ploughed
through the mud; the heavy drays splashed from gutter to gutter; the
houses were black and oozy; the very raindrops on the railings looked
black; the sky was a dirty dull-grey waste; only the scarlet
letter-boxes stood out coloured in the general smutty, foggy, neutral
"Do you remark that public-houses are the only places which make an
attempt at architecture and ornament?" said Dick grimly, as they
passed the ground-glass windows and colonnade and coloured glass
globes of one of these establishments. "Did it not strike you, Italian
as you are, that in this country, which has invented high art, the
only things called palaces, except those inhabited by royalty, are
pot-houses? Why do your æsthetic friends keep all their æstheticism
for indoors? Why don't they build themselves houses which will be some
pleasure to the poor people who pass?"
Always that indirect attack upon Hamlin and his friends: it was
just and reasonable; yet, coming from Brown, it somehow grated upon
"That will come later," she said. "The first thing is that the
upper classes become accustomed to beautiful things. You can't expect
them to mind hideous outsides to their houses if they are indifferent
to hideous insides. I don't think," she added boldly, "that
æstheticism has had much generosity of aspiration in it so far,
except in isolated men like Ruskin and Morris; but I am sure it will
eventually improve some matters even for the lower classes."
"Nero rebuilt Rome, didn't he," sneered Brown, "after he had amused
himself burning it down?"
They fell to talking about the lecture, and then about Richard
"I hope to get into Parliament next elections," he said, "and then
I shall retire from Mr Gillespie's firm."
"Why? They say you can make a big fortune if you keep on."
"I have quite money enough; I am a rich man. You wouldn't have
thought that possible, would you, Nan, two or three years ago? Almost
as rich as Hamlin, do you know, young woman?" and he turned and
looked at her. There was a curious expression, what she could not
understand, except that it was defiant, in Dick's face.
"I am glad to hear it. It is a fine thing to have money; it
enables one to do generous things—like what Mr Hamlin did for me, for
instance." Anne could not have explained why she felt bound, at this
particular moment, to throw Hamlin's generosity in her cousin's face.
"Ah, well," answered Brown, suppressing something he had been about
to retort, "of course I could not formerly have done what he did for
you; but I would have gladly spent every shilling I had, Anne, to
educate you, so that your father might have been proud of you."
"I know you would, Dick—you are very kind." And yet, thought Anne,
until he had been piqued by Hamlin's offer, he had forgotten all about
her. "But why do you intend to leave your business?"
"Because I want to give myself up entirely to studying social
questions, and my business would suffer if I gave it only partial
And he proceeded to explain the various questions which he intended
studying, the various evils into whose reason he wished to look.
"Reform has been too much the leisure-time amusement of men," he
said. "People have thought that it requires less training to touch,
nay, to sound, social wounds, than to set a broken arm or dress a
wound. We must find the scientific basis for our art. And it is a
very, very long art, and life is very, very short. For my part, I feel
that my knowledge is to what it should be what the knowledge you may
get out of a school primer of physiology is to the knowledge required
by a great surgeon. I don't suppose I or any of my generation will
succeed in doing much practical good; but we shall have made the
public ready for certain views on our subjects, and rendered it easier
for our practical followers to get their education. There is nothing
very glorious to be done at present: no giving out of brilliant new
ideas or making of successful revolutions; only patient grubbing at
facts and patient working on the public mind."
"Is that enough for an ambitious man?"
"One must pocket one's ambition. What we want is knowledge, not
Anne was silent. Dick's words were like military music to her. Oh
to be able to join him, to march by his side, to carry his arms!
"Go on Dick, please. It does one good to hear of these things."
Dick went on.
"You must not overwork yourself," said Anne, anxiously. "Just think
if you were to break down, as so many men have done—as poor Richmond
"Oh, I am strong. The only thing which concerns me is my sight. I
find I am already unable to read of an evening. There's no danger of
blindness, but the doctor says I must not work by candle-light. Oh,
there's no mischief. I shall engage a secretary. I know plenty of
young men who would come, even for a small salary. There is the son of
one of our head workmen, a very intelligent lad, of whom I am
thinking; but perhaps he is not sufficiently educated yet. I must have
some one who knows German and French, and so forth."
Anne felt a lump in her throat. Oh that she had been a man, instead
of being this useless, base creature of mere comely looks, a woman,
set apart for the contemplation of æsthetes! If she had been a man,
and could have helped a man like Richard Brown!
"But I am not certain of my plans just yet," added Brown, and he
dropped the subject. They walked on for some moments in silence; then
he began questioning her about Lewis, and Chough, and Dennistoun.
"Chough is a dear good little man," said Anne; "he is very absurd
and vain, and fond of talking and writing about wicked things, which I
am sure he doesn't understand any more than I. But he is so
self-sacrificing, and warm-hearted, and true. Dennistoun, poor
creature, is very morbid and faddy, and, I think, hates me; but I am
very sorry for him. As to Lewis, he may be a very good man, but I
don't like him—"
"I suppose you have heard what people say,—that Mr Lewis had
rather a bad influence upon Hamlin some years ago—in short, made him
take to eating opium, or haschisch, or something similar?"
"No—I had never heard that," and Anne seemed suddenly to
understand her instinctive horror of Lewis.
"Does Hamlin see much of him now?"
"A great deal—more than I can at all sympathise with. Lewis is
rather a sore subject between us; he knows I don't like him, and yet
he is very fond of him."
"I suppose Lewis flatters him very much."
"I suppose so."
Anne resented being thus cross-questioned about Hamlin, but she was
quite unable to prevaricate in her answers—her nature was too frank,
and Richard's questions were too direct.
"You are not very happy with Mr Hamlin," he suddenly asked, or
Anne flushed, but did not answer at once. "I have an unlucky
temper," she said, after a moment. "I am too exacting with people. I
can't get out of my own individuality sufficiently, I fear."
Richard looked at her with pity, and at the same time with that
implacable scrutiny of his.
"You feel your nature narrowed by all this æsthetic world around
you," he said. "You find these men selfish, mean, weak, shallow—"
"Chough is not selfish. As to Dennistoun and Lewis, I told you I
"You are equivocating, Anne. You know I am not speaking of
Dennistoun, or Lewis, or Chough. You find that Hamlin drags you down,
freezes all your best aspirations."
Anne turned very white and trembled.
"Mr Hamlin is a poet, an artist; he is not a philanthropist or a
thinker. But he has done for me more than I believe any man has ever
done for any woman."
"But—you don't love him?"
Richard had stopped as they walked along the Hammersmith embankment.
It was a very quiet spot, and not a soul was out in the thin, grey,
Anne hesitated for a moment.
"I feel very much attached to Mr Hamlin on account of his
generosity towards me—and I feel I can never repay it." She did not
look in Brown's face as she answered, but stared vaguely at the river,
at the dripping trees, the grey willow branches pulled backwards and
forwards by the grey current; at the houses opposite, and the boats
dim in the fog.
"You don't love him?" repeated Richard in a whisper. "Anne, answer
"I don't see what right you have to ask me such a question,
"No? Well, I do—and you shall see why. You are not his wife; why
should you try and tell lies? Do you or do you not love Hamlin, Anne?"
Anne looked for a moment at the swirling waters, at the willow
twigs whirled hither and thither.
"I suppose I do not."
There was a pause.
"You do not love him, and you still contemplate marrying him?"
"I contemplate nothing at all. Mr Hamlin has not yet asked me to
marry him, and perhaps he never may."
"Nonsense, Anne. And when he does ask you, what will you answer?"
"I shall answer Yes. I am bound to do it. Mr Hamlin has done all,
all for me. If he wish to marry me, I cannot refuse him the only thing
which I can give in return for his generosity."
Richard Brown burst into a strange shrill laugh.
"The only thing which you can give in return for his generosity!"
he exclaimed, but always in the same undertone. "Who first made use of
those words, Nan? The only thing which you can give in return for his
generosity! Did not some one use those very words to you, long, long
ago in Florence, when Mr Hamlin first proposed to educate you, and
your cousin said that you were running the risk of selling yourself?
But, by God! you shall not sell yourself, Anne. Do you know what you
are giving him in return for what you call his generosity?—that is to
say, in return for the whim which made him educate a beautiful woman,
that he might show her off and have a beautiful wife, if he chose. Do
you know what it is? Your love, eh? You have none to give; you have
said so yourself. Your body? your honour? Nay, every prostitute, every
kitchen slut can give him that. And I suppose such things do not exist
for a delicately nurtured lady, a ward of Mr Walter Hamlin's. No; you
are giving him your soul, selling it to him, prostituting it as any
common woman would prostitute her body."
"Richard," said Anne, hotly, "you are my cousin, and have been very
good to me, but that gives you no right to insult me."
"My words are ugly; and what are the things which you would do?
Anne, you shall listen to me," and he laid his hand heavily on her
"You can make me stand here," she answered icily, "but you cannot
make me listen."
can make you listen. Oh, Anne," and his voice
became suddenly supplicating, "do not be womanish, and refuse to
listen because I speak disagreeable things. Answer me, on your honour:
have I a right to let you sacrifice your happiness, your honour, your
usefulness in the world, to let you defile and ruin all these, by
becoming what is equivalent to a mere legalised mistress—the wife of
a man whom you despise? You have a debt towards Hamlin: I grant it,
though you must be well aware how little real generosity there was in
his choice of you; but you have a debt also towards yourself. You have
no right to pay for Hamlin's kindness by the falsehood, the
degradation, of marrying a man whom you do not love, by the sacrifice
of all the nobler part of your nature which that man will crush out in
"If there is anything noble in me, Dick, no one can ever crush it
out; and I do not see what real degradation there will be in honestly
carrying out my part of a bargain which has been honestly carried out
Richard paused for a minute.
"But," he cried, "you mistake, Anne; you forget what that bargain
"No, I do not. Mr Hamlin promised to marry me whenever I should ask
him to do so, and—"
"And he left you free, perfectly free to marry him or not as you
"He left me free; and it is just that generosity of
his, in binding himself, and not me, which obliges me, if he wants me,
to say Yes."
"That is an absurd quibble, Anne. If Hamlin's leaving you free
bound you all the more, why, then, he did not leave you free, and you
need not be bound by a piece of magnanimity which never existed."
"On the contrary,
you are quibbling, Dick. You know
very well that Mr Hamlin meant to leave me free; and it is for this
intention that I am, more than for anything else, grateful."
Richard turned round.
"Fool that I am!" he cried, "to believe in you and not see through
your woman's tergiversation! You say you do not love Hamlin, but you
do; you may despise him, feel his emptiness—I grant it all—be
dissatisfied with him. Oh, I know it! But you love him all the same,
and you would not for the world give him up, even if he asked you to."
Anne laughed bitterly. "The usual generalisations about women.
Because I will not do a dishonourable thing, I must needs be a
self-deluding fool. No; I do not love Hamlin. I love
him no more than this!" And Anne broke a twig off a bush and threw it
into the stream.
"You do not? Then, if Hamlin were to release you,—if he were to
say, 'I want to marry some one else,'—would you—would you not regret
him, his poetry, his good looks, his fame, his fortune?"
"It would be the happiest day of my life!" cried poor Anne,
"Then that day must come. Anne, I cannot see you sacrificed. I
cannot see you lost to yourself and to the world. You must
not marry Hamlin. I will provide for you; I will take care of you.
You shall help me in my work!"
"Poor Dick!" said Anne gently, touched by this enthusiasm, "you are
very good; but I fear—I fear I shall never have any need of your
help; and I would never burden another man—never have a debt
again—if I were remitted this one."
"You would have no debt," cried Brown. "Anne, I am not a woman's
man. I don't know how to say such things. But ever since I have got
really to know you, I have felt if only I could have such a woman as
that always by my side—to tell her all my plans, and be helped in all
my work . . ."
Richard looked straight before him: Anne could see his face quiver.
A coldness came all over her: a coldness and a heat. She felt as if
she must cry out. It was too sudden, too wonderful. The vision of
being Richard Brown's wife overcame her like some celestial vision a
fasting saint. But she made an effort over herself. "I am bound,
bound," she said; "but if ever I be released . . . "
She hesitated: the longing for what she knew herself to be
renouncing was too great.
"Anne," cried Richard, seizing her hand, "I love you—I love you—I
want you—I must have you!"
It was like the outburst of another nature, a strange, unsuspected
ego, bursting out from beneath the philanthropist's cool and
That sudden contact gave Anne a shock which woke her, restored her
to herself; it horrified her almost. She made him let go her hand.
"If ever I be released," she said, "I will remain free. I do not
love you, Dick."
She was sorry the moment after she had said it.
"I have gone too far," cried Richard.
"Good-bye," said Anne. "We have been talking too long—and—you
won't resume the subject, will you?"
There was a command, a threat implied in her voice. Brown somehow
felt ashamed of himself.
"Not since you wish it," he said flatly.
"Good-bye," said Anne. And she walked away and entered the
THE sudden revelation of her cousin's feeling was more than a
shock, it was a blow to Anne. In her loneliness, in her dreary waiting
for the hour of sacrifice, Richard Brown's friendship had, almost
without her knowing it, been her great consolation and support. It had
given her a sense of safety and repose to think that, in the midst of
all the morbid passion and fantastic vanity which seemed to surround
her, there was a possibility of honest companionship, of affection
which meant merely reciprocal esteem and sympathy in the objects of
life; wholesome prose in the middle of unhealthy poetry. This was now
gone: Richard Brown loved her, wanted her; it was the old nauseous
story over again; the sympathy, the comradeship, the quiet brotherly
and sisterly affection had all been a sham, a sham for her and for
himself. Was Mrs Macgregor right, and was there, of really genuine and
vital in the world, only the desire of the man for the woman and of
the woman for the man, with all its brood of vanity and baseness, and
all its trappings of poetry and sympathy and self-sacrifice? Anne
looked round her, and she saw men like Chough and Dennistoun and
Lewis, base or doing their best to become it; Hamlin, her girlish
ideal of poetical love, had gone the same way; and now the one man who
had remained to her as an object of friendship and respect, her cousin
Dick, had preached against selfish æstheticism, had talked her into
his positivistic philanthropy—had conjured her to respect her nobler
nature, her soul, her generous instincts—had supplicated her not to
degrade herself,—nay, had quibbled with right and wrong, had urged
her to break her trust,—what for? that he might satisfy his whim of
possessing her. The solitude and the chilliness around Anne had
increased; she wished for good, but she disbelieved in its existence.
Add to this that she felt she was now no longer at liberty to see so
much of Dick as she had formerly done; instead of a consolation and a
support, his presence seemed to her now more of a danger and an
insult. So she waited, hopeless and solitary, for the hour of the
sacrifice to strike; for Hamlin to claim her. To fulfil that debt, to
suffer that moral death-blow, seemed to her now the one certainty,
the one aim of her life.
Such was the bulk of Miss Brown's condition; but there were
streakings of another colour which made it, on the whole, only more
gloomy. The possibility, the vision which had for a moment been
projected on to her mind, of becoming Richard Brown's wife, of sharing
in all those thoughts and endeavours which were her highest ideal,
would return to her every now and then in strange sudden gleams. And
this possibility, or rather this which was an impossibility, made the
real necessity of her life only the gloomier for the contrast. Anne
had vaguely aspired after a life of nobler sympathies and stronger
aims, but she had never gone so far as to dream of sharing the life of
her cousin; and she thought that, had matters been different, had she
been free, had Hamlin not claimed her, had Richard not loved her (for
his love, his selfish tempting her away from her duty, seemed to her a
sort of dishonour to him and her), she would have had the fulfilment
of her most far-fetched desires within her grasp,—merely increased
moral numbness, the sullen pain of resignation, towards a fate which
was too slow in coming.
Anne did not pay much heed to Hamlin and his doings: it seemed to
her, whose life in the last months had appeared like years, that it
was always the same monotony; Hamlin was waiting for her to fall in
love with him, watching whether she was not in love already; offering
her, in those vague, Platonic, elegiac speeches of his about the
necessity of a higher life of which he no longer had much hope, of a
pure passion which he feared he was unworthy to experience, an
opportunity for saying "I will teach you how to love." Veiled in
Dantesque mysticism, muffled in Shakespearian obscurity, such was, to
her who understood and was expected to understand, the gist of all the
poems which he wrote. The day would come, Anne saw it clearly, when
some trifling quarrel, some trifling jealousy, some rebuff to his
vanity, or some sense of more than usual vacuity, would get the better
of Hamlin's patience, and when he would say to Anne that he loved her
and that her love was his life. She had gone over it all so often in
fancy, with the bitter sarcasm of understanding that whole, to her so
tragic, little comedy. But had she been a person more observant and
penetrating than she was (for her long delusion about her cousin
Richard plainly shows that she was neither), or had she been less
engrossed in her own conception of events, Miss Brown might have
noticed, as spring turned into summer, that certain slight changes
were taking place in Hamlin. He had, without any intentional rupture,
taken to seeing much less of Chough and Dennistoun; he scarcely ever
visited his old master, Mrs Spencer, or any others of the school; he
refused invitations to parties, or if he had accepted, found them too
great a bore at the last moment; the only house, except that at
Hammersmith, which he frequented, was Madame Elaguine's. He used to
attend all her spiritualistic séances, and alternate between
finding spiritualism a vulgar fraud and a mystic possibility; he used
to quarrel with Edmund Lewis, and at the same time to seek his company
more than any other man's. He would vacillate also between the most
extreme opinions about his cousin Sacha. One day he would entertain
Anne by the hour about her virtues, her talents, her persecution; the
next he would be captiously fault-finding, accusing Madame Elaguine of
being a brainless little flirt, a mere ordinary Russian, who cared
only for excitement and being perpetually en scène.
"What is the use of asking people to be intense when it is not
their nature?" Anne would ask, not without bitterness in her own
heart. "If you find a pleasant friend, be satisfied and thankful for
your good luck."
Be it as it may, Hamlin was restless, subject to strange ups and
downs of humour, sometimes in a state of vague unaccountable
cheerfulness, sometimes horribly depressed. To any one but Anne it
would have occurred that there must be some novelty in his life. But
Anne did not see; indeed, from a sort of instinct, she observed Hamlin
as little as possible: she had loved him when she had not known him;
the less she saw, except his gentle, chivalric, poetic, idealising
surface, the better.
But one day—it might be a fortnight after the memorable walk home
from Richmond's lecture—Anne found among her letters one, evidently
delivered by hand or dropped into the letter- box, the address upon
which. puzzled her considerably. It was not merely that the
handwriting was unknown to her, but that it was so utterly unlike any
human handwriting that could be conceived; it was like a child's
elaborate copy of print, but executed with a precision, and at the
same time a certain artistic chic, of which a child is
incapable. Had she been in Italy, Anne would have expected to find
within that envelope one of those marvellously written out and
illuminated sonnets which certain needy individuals, counts and
marquises fallen into bad circumstances and anxious to redeem their
only bed from the pawnbroker's, serve up at regular intervals to
English and Americans, "the many illustrious qualities of whose mind
and heart, as well known as their noble family," are supposed to
include munificence to beggars. To Anne's astonishment the letter
which she found actually was in Italian. But it was Italian of
Stratford-atte-Bow, and her first impulse was to burst out laughing.
But the next moment she reddened with surprise and indignation.
"MADONNA MIA," began this epistle, which had
evidently been concocted with a 'Decameron' and a Baedeker's
travelling phrase-book, and which sounded like English written by a
German waiter who should have taken to Spenser after the first dozen
lessons,—"Inasmuch as it always is the duty of the honest to warn the
unsuspecting, and the most honourable are always those who suspect
least, your true friend and well-wisher desires you may keep an eye
upon the machinations of a base woman; and be on your guard against
the friendship [underlined] of cousins."
Anne turned the note round and round, and read and re-read it, her
heart beating as if she had received a slap in the face. "The friendship of cousins." Her first thought was that this was
an allusion to herself and Richard Brown; some one had understood what
she had not, and was suspecting what was not true. But then her mind
picked up that other mysterious phrase, "the machinations of a base
woman." The cousins were not herself and Dick, but Hamlin and Sacha
Elaguine, and that was the base woman alluded to. It was as if a great
light had shone in Anne's face; she was dazzled, dazed. The friendship
of two cousins! Was there, then, more than friendship between them?
Did Hamlin love Sacha, or Sacha Hamlin? Anne gave a great sigh; but it
was a sigh of relief,—the sigh of the drowning wretch who is dragged
on shore—the sigh of the hunted fugitive who sees his pursuers turn
back. The friendship of cousins? Why, then, she was saved, she was
free! But her excitement lasted only a minute. Was she to believe an
anonymous letter, evidently malicious, evidently intended to slander
an innocent woman, to sow discord or to ruin her own happiness? It was
evidently from an enemy of Madame Elaguine's; it could not be from a
friend of her own; for a friend would have spoken to her clearly and
openly, or would have spared her what, in the eyes of the world,
which regarded her as Hamlin's affianced bride, must have been a
horrible revelation. It was an infamous or ridiculous calumny. From
whom did it come? Anne thought for a long time; she counted up her own
enemies and Madame Elaguine's. At one moment she suspected Edmund
Lewis, at another Mrs Spencer; but she was too honest to credit any
one of them with such a piece of treachery. Madame Elaguine's
mysterious enemies—yes, it must be they! thought Anne; it must be a
new trick of theirs, a device for alienating her from her new friends.
Anne's heart sank. Why must such terrible temptations be put upon her?
Miss Brown meditated for some time upon what she ought to do. She
felt indignant with the mysterious author of the letter; and she felt
that, as it contained a slander, it was her duty to let those whom it
accused know the whole matter. Should she show that paper to Hamlin?
Once in her life, Anne gave way to a movement of cowardice. That
letter, shown by her to Hamlin, would, she knew, bring the
catastrophe. Hamlin would be furious and delighted; he would think she
was jealous and unhappy; he would on the spot declare that he loved
her, and ask her to be his wife. This consummation of her sacrifice,
which, in the dull apathy of the last fortnight, she had almost prayed
for, now terrified her. When it came, she was ready; but to hasten
it—to bring it down untimely on herself—to do that, Anne had not the
heart. After all, it concerned Madame Elaguine most, and she would
doubtless have some clue to the writer of the letter, and consequently
take the matter less to heart. Anne determined to show the letter to
her. She thought she would go to her at once, or write; but a faint,
faint, almost unconscious instinct of self-preservation bade her wait
awhile; wait till she should have an opportunity of seeing Madame
Elaguine in the natural course of events.
Miss Brown had made up her mind that the mysterious letter had no
sort of truth in it; yet despite this decision, which lay, cut and
dry, on the surface of her consciousness, a hidden imperceptible
movement was going on within her. She seemed suddenly to remember
things which she had not at the time noticed, to see things which had
not before existed, and must still have been there yesterday as well
as to-day. Things which had been meaningless acquired a meaning;
things which had seemed without connection began to group themselves.
A change had taken place of late in Hamlin; he had become solitary and
morose, and more than usually up and down in spirits—he had seen only
Sacha and her. How much had he seen of Sacha? Anne did not know, but
she imagined a great deal. Then she remembered how he had taken to
finding fault with the little woman, to running her down
systematically to himself and to Anne. Could it be that he felt
himself tempted to break his engagement? Anne knew Hamlin too well by
this time to credit him with that. If such a thing should happen,—if,
finding insensibly that Anne was not what he had imagined,
disappointed with her coldness, hurt by her censoriousness, and
attracted by a woman who was everything that she was not—Hamlin
should ever come to feel for Sacha more than mere friendship, it was
not in his nature to perceive his danger and to struggle; he would let
himself go to sleep in the pleasantness of a new sensation, he would
drift on vaguely, and start up in surprise.
A new love was for him the most poignant of temptations,—a new
love in its still half-unconscious, Platonic, vague condition; and he
was not a man to resist such a temptation; indeed he had gone through
life with the philosophy that a poet may dally with any emotion,
however questionable, as long as he does not actually commit a
dishonourable action. Oh no, Hamlin's ups and downs could not be
struggles or remorse; so Anne decided that it was all fancy, all
calumny. And she determined to give the letter to Sacha on the first
Madame Elaguine at last made up her mind that her little Helen
ought to learn something; and with the impulsiveness of her nature,
she determined that she, whom she had always kept under her own eyes,
should go to school. Why there should be such a swing of the pendulum,
and why Madame Elaguine should not rather hire a governess to teach
the child in her own house, Miss Brown could not explain, except by
the capriciousness, the tendency always to be in extremes, of Hamlin's
cousin. Anyhow, Sacha had determined that Helen must soon go to
school, and she had written to Anne begging her, before the child
went, to permit her to share for a week or two the lessons which Miss
Brown was giving the little Choughs. "I know," she wrote, "that my
poor little child is not fit to be turned loose among other children
yet; I know she is too ignorant, too sensitive, too much accustomed to
life with her elders. To learn with Mr Chough's children, to play with
them, will take the keen edge off; and also, I know, my dearest Anne,
that if anything can make this (I fear, alas! alas! to my shame)
over-sensitive and self-willed little savage more human, more desirous
of being good, and of raising herself, it will be your influence. I
have often felt what it would have been for me to have had a friend
like you, and I feel what it will be for my child."
Anne was touched by this letter. Poor Madame Elaguine, although she
did care too much for Baudelaire and Gautier, and did tell too many
anecdotes about married women's lovers and married men's cocottes
for Anne's taste, was yet a good and brave little woman; and she must
be helped, if one could help her. And Anne was doubly indignant about
that anonymous letter she put in her pocket, and went to call on
Madame Elaguine was in one of her unstrung moments. Anne found her
lying on a sofa, a heap of books about her, reading none, fidgety and
vacant. She brightened up for a moment on Miss Brown's entry, and
received her with a kind of rapturous gratitude, quite out of all
proportion; but she speedily relapsed into her depressed condition.
Anne thought it better not to introduce the business at once.
"I want to know," she said, "why you are suddenly so anxious to
send your little Helen to school, when you said, only a few days ago,
that you could not bear even that a stranger should have any influence
Madame Elaguine hesitated. "Oh, dear Anne," she suddenly exclaimed,
"I am a poor, weak, vacillating creature, always in excesses. You must have pity on me. I suppose it is just because I was so
horribly selfish about my child that I have been crushed suddenly with
the necessity of sacrificing my feelings completely. It comes home to
me—and oh, you cannot think what it means to me!—that I am ruining
my child, that she will turn out merely another myself—another
wretched, weak, unhappy creature, with just morality enough to make
her utterly miserable, and just common-sense enough to make her feel
her own silliness. It is a terrible thing for a mother to say; but it
is true, and I must say it: I am not fit to bring up my own child—I
am not worthy to do it."
Anne looked at the Russian, who had raised herself on her sofa
convulsively, and thatched and torn to pieces a flower which was lying
on her, with a great look of pity.
"I am not bad!" cried Sacha—"I am not bad! I want to be good; but
I can't. Oh, and I can't teach my child anything, not even the
multiplication table," and she suddenly burst out laughing.
Anne did not know whether to cry or to laugh.
"I quite understand your wishing that Helen should get the habit of
work, and should learn something," she said, in her business-like way;
"but I cannot see the advantage of sending her to school. She is far
too nervous and delicate, and far too much accustomed to indulgence,
to get anything but harm from a school. Were she a mere strong,
sturdy, spoilt child, it would do her an immense deal of good; but a
child, you admit it yourself, so morbidly and almost physically
sensitive, would only be miserable at school, and probably be
terrified by unaccustomed discipline and want of sympathy. Don't you
think it would be wiser to get Helen a thoroughly good governess, so
that she could learn something, and yet be in your house?"
"I won't have a governess; they are all good-for-nothings. I won't
have spies in the house!" exclaimed Madame Elaguine, vehemently.
"Nonsense!" said Anne; "how can you talk like that? You know that
governesses are just as good as schoolmistresses; and for you and
Helen such a plan would be in every way preferable."
"I won't have any one in the house to pry into my affairs!"
repeated Sacha, hotly. "Helen must go to school."
Anne felt angry with the little woman.
"Of course it is for you to choose," she said; "but I confess I
can't see why you should not have a governess any more than other
people." She felt as if there were something wrong here.
"And do you forget what my life is?" cried Sacha; "do you forget
that I am the daily, hourly victim of unseen enemies? Would you have
me admit some one to my house, that she might play into their hands,
or, at all events, pry into my misfortune?"
Anne had forgotten that. How unjust she was!
"True," she said; "I think we might find a governess who, even
under your circumstances, might be safely admitted into the house. But
I can understand your unconquerable aversion to the idea, so we had
better look out for a school, and, till one is found, I shall be
delighted if you will send Helen to me. I fear I can't do much for
her, but at all events she will meet the Choughs, who are very good
Madame Elaguine rose, and, to Anne's im- measurable surprise, she
flung herself on her neck, and began to sob.
"Oh Anne, dearest Anne," she said, "you are so good to me—so good,
so very good—and I don't deserve it at all—indeed I know I don't."
"Nonsense; you are unwell and unstrung about Helen, and you are
just making yourself miserable. Do try and be quiet, and reflect that
there is nothing whatever to be miserable about."
Somehow or other Miss Brown, for all her good-nature, always had a
harsh instinct whenever she saw Sacha in such a condition as this—an
instinct that the Russian could prevent it—that such fits of tears
and abjectness were mere self-indulgence, and self-indulgence which
was utterly incompatible with Anne's idea of self-respect.
But Madame Elaguine could not be reined in. She fell back in an
arm-chair in an agony of hysterical sobbing, mixed with ghastly
"It is not nonsense; it is true—it is true; I don't deserve it. I
deserve that you should hate me. Oh Anne, you must hate me; but it is
not my fault. I hate him! I have always hated him! I have told him so;
but he won't believe. Oh, indeed it is not my fault. But of course you
hate me, you . . ." and she suddenly burst out laughing.
Anne was very white. She had heard and she had understood; but she
had no right to have heard or to have understood.
Suddenly Sacha started up and looked strangely about her.
"What! you are here?" she asked, with a start as if of terror. "Oh,
what have I been talking about? Oh, I am sure I have been talking
"Poor little woman!" said Anne; "yes, you
been talking nonsense; you are afraid of having a governess for
"Ah!" cried Madame Elaguine, with a sigh of relief. "Oh, you don't
know what it is to have such a fit. One feels one is talking lies,
and yet that one must go on. I never had any such things before they
began to persecute me. It is almost the worst part of my misfortune.
Fancy seeing, feeling one's self becoming day by day more abject, and
being unable to stop it. Oh, I still feel so frightened! something
dreadful must have happened while I had that fit just now. Do call for
some tea, Anne, darling; I feel so shaken, as if something had
"You will feel all right when you have had some tea," said Anne.
"Tell me, have they, have those people been frightening you of late?"
Madame Elaguine nodded. "Only last night; you don't know what
happened. I didn't intend telling you—look here—but it is that that
has put me into such a state," and opening the door of her bedroom,
Sachs pointed to the wall opposite.
Over Madame Elaguine's bed hung a painted portrait of little Helen;
but where the face should have been was a dark spot.
"Good heavens! what have they done?" cried Anne.
"Oh, they have only cut out Mademoiselle Hélène's face," said the
Swiss maid, who was sitting in the room, with a shrug. "For my part, I
am accustomed to such tricks, and so, I should think, must be Madame
Something cynical and insolent in the woman struck Anne very much.
"How horrible!" she said, leading Sacha back to the drawing-room.
"I can quite understand your being excited to-day, and feeling anxious
"It is because of that," said Sacha, with clenched teeth, "that I
want to send Helen to school. She will be safer there than here. If
things go on as now, I shall have to send Helen to a convent; I am no
protection to her."
"You must marry, and have a husband to take care of you," said
Madame Elaguine turned scarlet. Was she afraid of having let out
her secret? But to Anne's surprise, instead of looking anxious, a
sudden look of triumphant amusement passed over her face, a strange
brazen look, and she burst out laughing—
"Ah yes, marry!—that would be a fine idea!—and whom, pray?
Perhaps Lewis or Chough. True—I forgot—he has a wife! Ah no, a
rolling stone like me must always be solitary."
"You need not always be a rolling stone," said Anne, gently. "But I
must go—good-bye, dear Madame Elaguine."
At the door she met Hamlin. It seemed to her that he looked guilty,
"I have been to see your cousin; she has had another horrid trick
played to her. Go up to her, it will do her good to see you; she is
very lonely, poor little woman."
Hamlin was unnerved by the allusion to the persecution. He stood
silent for a moment, with a long lingering look on Anne, like a man
making a mental comparison.
"You are very good, Miss Brown," he said, slowly; "there is no
other woman in the world like you."
"Sacha has been more tried than I," answered Anne. And Hamlin went
up and Miss Brown went out.
MISS BROWN did not hand over the anonymous letter either to
Madame Elaguine or to Hamlin. She felt that she had now no longer a
right to do so. Sacha had, in the vague pouring out of words of that
fit which Anne had witnessed, let out her secret; but Anne had no
right to use it or to act upon it. She could only watch and wait.
Wait!—but in what a different spirit! Wait, not for the hour of
death, but for the moment of freedom, of complete freedom.
"What has happened to you?" asked Mrs Spencer, meeting her on her
way back from Madame Elaguine's. "Why, you look quite another being,
Anne—as if some one had left you a fortune!"
"No one has left me anything," said Anne. "I feel very happy,
"But where in all this wretched London have you been that you
should feel happy?"
"I have been to see Madame Elaguine."
Mrs Spencer frowned.
"Well, that wouldn't be enough to make
happy, I confess. Was Walter Hamlin there? I believe it's his safest
address now, isn't it?"
"Mr Hamlin was there," answered Anne, sternly.
"Mark my words!" said Mrs Spencer that evening to her father and
husband, and to one or two of those well-thinking æsthetes de la
vieille roche, whom Hamlin had basely deserted. "Mark my words!
Anne Brown has got impatient with all this philandering of Walter's
about that precious Russian of his. There has been a grand scene, and
Hamlin has come round to reason. I met her returning from that
Elaguine woman's to-day, and she never looked so happy in her life.
She said Hamlin had been there, and I know that she gave them both a
bit of her mind. She's a proud woman, Anne Brown, and could squash
that little Russian vixen like that!"
"But, my dear Edith," objected her father, seated among an admiring
crowd in his dusty studio at Hampstead, among his ghastly Saviours on
gilded grounds, and Nativities, in despite of perspective—"how de ye
know that there's ever been any philandering between 'em?"
"Oh papa, really now you are too provoking!"
"Oh, Mr Saunders, how do we know anything?" chorussed the two or
three elderly poetesses and untidy Giottesque painters of the circle.
"P'raps ye don't know anything, any of ye!"
Mrs Spencer sighed, as much as to say, "See what it is to be the
long-suffering daughter of the greatest genius in the world, and pity
Cosmo Chough had been reading some of his 'Triumph of Womanhood,'
lying on the hearth-rug in the studio.
"Do you think he has proposed?" he asked, darting up, with beaming
"Proposed! I should think so, and been told not to play such tricks
"Ah!" cried Chough, "thank heaven. I—I—" but he stopped.
"You shall send Anne your Ginevra in the Tomb, papa, as a wedding
"Don't be in too great a hurry," said old Saunders; whereupon he
was jeered at with all the respect due to so great an artist.
For the first time after so long, Anne felt happy. A load was off
her mind. That Hamlin should love Sacha, and Sacha Hamlin, was the
miracle which alone could release her, and releasing her, put an end
at the same time to the horrible false position into which Hamlin's
self-engagement to a woman so different from himself created for him
also in the future. And now only did it strike Anne that perhaps she
had no right towards Hamlin to pay off her debt of gratitude at the
expense of what might be his future misery as well as hers. Had Hamlin
been sufficiently infatuated to wish to marry a woman whom he did not
really and solidly love, would it have been right on her part to let
him have his way? All these doubts, which she had previously put
behind her, as mere selfish sophistry to tempt her from her duty, now
rushed home to her. But they came no longer to torment, but to add to
the relief, the cessation of bondage. Hamlin would never, she said to
herself, have been really happy with her as a wife; and now it
happened that he had met the woman who, whatever her shortcomings,
seemed to suit him. That Sacha Elaguine was an undisciplined,
thoughtless, rather sensuous woman, loving excitement and art, and
indifferent to abstract good and evil, Anne fully admitted; but were
not these the very qualities which would make her appreciate what in
Hamlin was original and charming, and blind her, for her happiness
(and added Anne, convinced by sad failure of the futility of trying to
change people's nature) and for his, to his weak sides? And Sacha had
just that exuberant passionateness, more of the temperament and the
fancy than of the heart, which Hamlin required, and which she, Anne,
so lamentably lacked. For Sacha also it would mean a new life: it
would mean, for the poor, excitable little woman, always defrauded of
affection and of an object of adoration, a reality in her life,
something to love, to worship, to pet, to flatter—something to make
her forget her miserable bedraggled childhood, her wretched married
life, her persecution and her maladies. This it would mean to them;
and to Anne it would mean . . . Ah! Anne did not dare to think what it
would mean for her; she was not yet sure. She might be mistaken, she
was still bound to doubt. And still, that great bliss, at which Anne
was afraid to look, meant only what to other women would have been a
poor gift: liberty to gain her bread, to feel and think for herself—a
Days passed on; and Anne, instead of being, as she expected,
disappointed, was confirmed by every little thing in her belief. On
one pretext or other, Hamlin was perpetually at Madame Elaguine's. The
latest excuse for seeing her was to paint her portrait; so, for a
number of days, Sacha came every morning to the house at Hammersmith,
and spent a couple of hours at least closeted with Hamlin in the
studio. Anne usually received her, and she frequently stayed to lunch;
and Miss Brown could not help feeling indignant at the coolness with
which Hamlin amused himself playing with two women: he was perpetually
trailing after Sacha, he was perpetually, she felt persuaded, talking
about life and love and himself in a way which was equivalent to
making love to the little woman; and yet, he would still come and sit
at Anne's feet, and represent himself as the dejected and heartbroken
creature whom only a strong and pure woman could help. Once, Miss
Brown had considerable difficulty in restraining herself when, after a
day spent with his cousin, he came in the evening to her, and began
the usual talk about his soul being shrivelled up.
"I feel I am not worthy to live!" he exclaimed. "I have become too
weak and selfish to enjoy the world; I feel that I am sinking into a
bog of meanness and sensuality; and yet I cannot even become the mere
beast that I ought—the mere beast that would be satisfied with the
mud. I keep looking up, and longing for higher things which I cannot
"How very sad!" said Anne, icily; "what a pity you can't make up
your mind! it would save you much valuable time. But then, I suppose,
it always comes in usefully for sonnets. That is the great advantage
of being a poet."
Hamlin was silent. He had—she felt sure, and she was indignant as
if at an affront—imagined that he might tempt her into saying—"I
will raise you," while his poor, giddy, irresponsible cousin was being
dragged further and further into a passion which she would never
recover from—for she, at least, had a heart and he had none.
"You despise me!" cried Hamlin, after a minute.
"I thought your indecision between the bog and the stars rather
contemptible, certainly, just now. But I now see that such conditions
are as necessary to you as a poet as are your lay figures and studio
properties to you as a painter. It was my ignorance."
Hamlin fixed his eyes on the ground. He looked very weak and
miserable, and like a man who feels that he has dishonoured himself in
some way. But to Anne it was all merely a piece of acting—the climax
of that long and nauseous comedy of self-reproach and
self-sympathising, of pretending to hanker after evil and good, that
was equally indifferent to him,—that comedy which had begun long ago
in his letters to her at Coblenz, which she had watched with
admiration, and love, and agony at first, and with contempt and
disgust at last. And she was hardened towards him. She could have said
to him—"Go and marry Sacha!" only that at this moment such a notion
seemed an insult to his cousin, and that a horrible fear possessed her
that he would seize upon that, and try and work her and her anger into
this very patchwork of artificial and morbid sentiment over which he
was for ever gloating. Once or twice, indeed, it did occur to Anne
that perhaps this whole flirtation with Madame Elaguine had been got
up by Hamlin for her, benefit; that he was playing with the heart of
the foolish little woman (who did not realise that he was making her
love him) merely to provoke Anne's jealousy—to move her by this
means, since he had failed by every other. But even if it had been
thus begun, and Miss Brown shrank from believing that Hamlin would
have been so deliberately base, it was clear that the comedy had
become reality—that he cared for his cousin and she for him.
Perhaps—perhaps—all this remorse was real after all. But Anne's
heart had got hardened against him: she could no longer, do what he
liked, believe that there was anything genuine in him.
Meanwhile Hamlin's perpetual attendance on Madame Elaguine had
become apparent to every one; and even Mrs Spencer admitted to her
father that Hamlin could not have proposed that day she had met Anne.
"That is to say—mind you, I daresay he actually did propose; but
that wretched woman somehow contrived to talk him over again. I believe
she's capable of everything!"
"Well, my dear," said her father, "it goes a little against your
theory that Miss Brown looks just as happy as possible."
"Because she's too honourable to believe!" exclaimed Mrs Spencer;
and forgetting the many acrimonious remarks in which she had indulged
against Miss Brown, and the many times she had sighed at Walter Hamlin
taking up with a "mere soulless Italian" instead of with this or the
other Sappho or Properzia dei Rossi of her circle, she added—"I
always knew that Anne was one of the noblest women in the world; and
the nobler women are, the less will they believe in the baseness of
men. For my part, I think love and marriage are the greatest curses of
a woman's life."
In which sentiment poor Mr Spencer modestly acquiesced.
"I shall have to warn her some day, if no one else has the courage
to do so," she said. Of course no one else did have the courage.
Edmund Lewis became every day more and more offensive in manner to
Miss Brown; he hated her, and he enjoyed seeing her what he considered
Mrs Macgregor, although she went on abusing Madame Elaguine for
being the Sacha of other days, lived too much in her bedroom, saw too
little of what was going on even in the house, to guess at anything.
Mary and Marjory Leigh looked on in wonder and indignation; but Anne's
calm and cheerful manner forbade their saying anything. Did not Anne
know better than any one how Hamlin felt towards her? and if Anne was
satisfied, must it not all be a delusion?
"Besides, Hamlin is too honourable," said Mary, forgetting about
the letter to Harry Collett; "and how could a poet, an artist, prefer
an odious, rowdy, hysterical creature like Madame Elaguine to such a
being as Anne Brown?" The mere thought seemed a profanation.
"I don't think Hamlin is a bit noble," said Marjory, sternly; "and
such a little wretch is just likely to pamper his vanity—and Anne is
too honest to do that."
"Every man has a nobler and a baser side," said Harry Collett,
mercifully. "Madame Elaguine (though I think it very uncharitable to
hate her because she is a little rowdy, and I'm sure she's quite
innocent) may flatter Hamlin's worse part. But the nobler will always
have its way, and with it Miss Brown. Walter is weak, but he can see
the difference between an inferior woman and a superior one. Besides,
after all, she is his cousin, and I see no reason to go
tittle-tattling because two cousins are friends."
"That's the way Harry pays off Hamlin for writing that beastly
letter about me!" said Marjory to her sister, when Mr Collett was
gone. "How I do hate evangelical charity! how I do wish Harry had just
a little of the bad in him!"
Mary laughed, and catching hold of Marjory, kissed her.
"What do you mean?" cried Marjory, indignantly breaking loose.
"I mean, Marjory dear, that though you imagine the contrary, you
are very, very glad that Harry is just what he is."
"Well, perhaps I am. But still, oh, I do hate . . ."
And thus the Leighs, being very happy themselves, forgot Anne
Brown's supposed grievances, even as the best of us, being happy,
will forget the wrongs of others.
But there was one person who could not forget what seemed to him the
most fright- ful sacrilege in the world; and that person was Mr Cosmo
Chough. He considered himself as the assistant high priest of the
divinity called Anne Brown, and he believed that it was his duty to
bring back the high priest in person, namely Hamlin, to the worship
from which the powers of evil had momentarily seduced him. But he
thought it more simple to apply to the offended goddess than to her
recalcitrant priest, who, to tell the truth, had treated his vague
remarks with considerable scorn. Accordingly, one day (June had come
round now) Miss Brown was informed that Mr Cosmo Chough desired to see
"How ao you do, Mr Chough?" said Anne, stretching out her hand to
the little man, who came in with even more than usually brushed coat
and hat, and more than usually blacked boots, his lips squeezed into a
long, cat-like grimace of solemnity, his brows knit gloomily, and
walking on the tips of his toes like an operatic conspirator. Mr
Chough sat down and sighed.
"Will you have some tea?" asked Miss Brown, with her hand on the
The poet of womanhood darted up, laid one hand lightly on Anne's
arm, and opening and straightening out the other with an eloquent
"Excuse me. I would rather have no tea. I want your attention—your
best attention—seriously and at once."
Anne could not help smiling.
"You can have both some tea and my best, my very best attention,"
Mr Chough sighed, and waited gloomily until tea had been brought,
absolutely refusing to open his lips.
"Have you brought something to read to me?" asked Anne, thinking it
might be some new bit of the 'Triumph of Womanhood,' which Cosmo
Chough most innocently read to all the ladies of his acquaintance,
only Anne having the courage to say every now and then, "I think that
had better be omitted, Mr Chough. I think people will give it a bad
meaning which perhaps you don't intend."
"I have nothing to read," answered Chough, solemnly. "I have come
to ask your advice about a matter more important than any literary
"You shall have it if I can give any. Go on, Mr Chough."
"Well, then," began Cosmo, stooping forward on his chair and
frowning, "let me premise that I have two friends whom I greatly
value. I am not at liberty to mention their names; but I will call one
the Duke, and the other la Marquise."
"Oh!" cried Anne, laughing, "I fear I can't give you any advice
about such exalted people as that. I am a woman of the people, and
have never known a duke in my life."
"One moment's patience, dear Miss Brown. This Duke—who
lives—well, let us say he has a magnificent hôtel entre cour et
jardin in Paris, has been affianced ever since his childhood to
the Marquise, who is the most beau- tiful and divine woman in the
world, as he, indeed, is the most accomplished gentleman, besides
being my dearest friend; and they have been looking forward to a union
which will make their happiness, and that of their friends, perfect.
Do you follow that? But now—" and Cosmo Chough, stretching out one
long thin leg, so as to display his small foot and the martial
wrinkles of his boot, and propping his elbow on his other knee—"now,
mark. There comes into our perfect duet a discordant voice. A certain
lady, whom I will designate as the Queen of Night"—and he made his
cat's grimace, and pausing, looked mournfully at Miss Brown, who sat
quietly by, bending over a piece of embroidery which she was doing
from a design by Hamlin.
"Well, this lady, by some occult power of which I cannot judge,
gains possession of the fancy of the Duke—not of his heart,—he
still continuing to love the Marquise coralment, as the trouvères say,—and in short leads him, without however, as I
said, in the least diminishing his passionate love for the Marquise,
into acts, or at least appearances, which, to the mind of the vulgar
are incompatible with such love. What do you say to that?"
Little by little Miss Brown had guessed what Chough was hiding
beneath this grotesque piece of romancing.
"I say that the vulgar are probably right; and that the Marquise,
for all the coral love of the Duke, had better throw him
over, if she has a grain of self-respect. Will you have another cup,
Anne spoke coldly and indifferently; and Chough, who, despite his
vaunted knowledge of the human heart, was the most obtuse of
good-hearted little people, actually prided himself upon having put
his case so delicately, that Miss Brown could not even guess as yet
that she was alluded to.
"But the Duke would die were he to lose her! The Queen of Night,
who is a wicked fairy—une méchante fée—une fernme
serpent —une mélusine, enfin tout ce qu'il vous plaira"
(Chough always liked to show off his French)—"has fascinated only his
fancy, not his heart. It would be most unfair if he were to lose the
Marquise. Well, to proceed; the remedy would easily be found. La
Marquise, like all passionately loving women, is a little cold and
proud—tant soit peu hautaine et glaciale—need only thaw
towards the Duke. She need only say or make a friend tell him, that
she adores him and that he is her sole happiness—and see! the Queen
of Night's spells are forthwith broken by the power of true love—the
Eternal Womanhood reasserts its right, and all is happy again. But the
mischief is, that there is no means of bringing this home to the lady.
Lately, indeed, a trusty and respectful friend, an Italian—a poet of
some small distinction, I may add—ventured so far as to acquaint her
of the public rumour concerning—I mean concerning the Duke and the
Queen of Night—in an anonymous letter . . ."
Miss Brown suddenly sat bolt-upright, and fixing her eyes on
"You don't mean to say that you—you actually concocted that
"Ridiculous missive! What ridiculous missive?" asked Cosmo Chough,
striking an attitude.
"Well, I ought rather to say that most ungentlemanly anonymous
letter, written in Italian which would make a cat laugh."
"Ungentlemanly! ungentlemanly!" howled Chough; but in reality what
he was thinking of was Miss Brown's stricture upon the Italian.
"Oh, Miss Brown!" he cried, after a minute, "and it is possible
that you should so far have misunderstood the friend who respects you
most in the whole world, as to have supposed that that letter had any
evil intention? Is it possible that you, who have of all people in the
world been kindest to me, who have been as a mother to my
children—that you should have such an opinion of me?"
Poor Cosmo had let go all his affectation; he wrung his hands in
real distress, and he actually seemed to be crying.
"Oh fool, fool that I was, trying to do good, and merely making
myself seem an odious ungrateful wretch!"
His sorrow was so genuine that Miss Brown felt quite sorry for him.
"Come, come, dear Mr Chough," she said, "don't distress yourself. I
think you did a rather improper thing, but I am quite persuaded that
you merely wished to do good."
And she stretched out her hand.
Chough struck his head with his fist.
"Ah, you are good—you are
too good—dear, dear
Miss Brown! but I shall never recover from it—never. To think I only
wished to do good—and you think me a slanderer!"
"Oh no," said Anne, quietly, "I don't think it for a moment. I know
that all that letter contained was true, except that you were unjust
to one of the parties; for I am sure Madame Elaguine is not at all
base, and has no conception of what she is drifting into."
Chough gaped in astonishment.
"You believe it to be true, and yet . . ."
"How can I help believing by this time what every creature can see,
and what every creature, except themselves perhaps, must and does see
as clear as the sun at noon?"
Anne spoke very composedly.
"But if that is the case—if you know—why then, how is it that you
don't—well, that you don't put a stop to it?"
"One can't put a stop to what has already taken place."
"Oh, but you can—you can—and it was in hopes of your doing it
that I wrote that letter. It is to entreat you to do it that I have
come now, dear, dear Miss Brown, to supplicate, to implore you . . ."
"To do what?" There was a freezing indifference in her voice.
"To do what? Why, to do everything and anything! Dearest Miss
Brown, I know, I understand fully, that Hamlin has acted unworthily
towards you. I know, I admit, that to a woman like you—all passion,
all nobility—Hamlin's behaviour must be odious. But would it not be
worthy of you to reflect that Hamlin is a poet, and acting merely as a
poet must act? A poet is a double-natured creature, a baser and a
nobler nature, and his whole life consists merely in receiving as many
and various impressions as both his natures can receive. A poet must
know the stars, and know the mud beneath his feet; he must drink the
milk and the absinthe of life,—he must love purely and impurely, with
his heart, with his fancy, and with his senses—ah, you frown!—well,
but such the poet is, such is Hamlin. His soul loves and adores you;
what if, at the same time, his baser nature, the satyr in the god, be
caught elsewhere? He loves you none the less; yes, he loves you even
at the moment . . ."
"I think this all rather disgusting, don't you, Mr Chough?" said
"Nay, have patience—for the sake of Hamlin, for the sake of your
own noble good- ness! He loves you: and it requires but a look, a
word, a message, to make him forget that other love, to make it
evaporate like opium-fumes. Oh say this word—say it—and blow that
ugly cloud of impure love from off the fair resplendent face of his
devotion to you! Write to him—speak to him. Empower me, oh dearest
lady, to tell him that you love him, and that this wretched fancy of
his is making you miserable!"
"It is not," answered Anne, harshly; "it is not doing anything of
the sort, and it is no more a fancy than his love for me. As to Madame
Elaguine, she is in every way fit to be his wife."
"His wife!" screamed Chough, and looked as if he would faint; "and
you would let your resentment go thus far—you would let the nettles
choke the roses, the impure passion choke the pure one, you would
sacrifice him and yourself—you would let him . . ."
"I would let him marry his cousin. There is no impurity about it,
so please don't revert to that, Mr Chough. She is just the woman who
might make him happy; the inclination is perfectly natural and
Chough started up. "Oh, you saint! you noble heroic woman!" he
cried, kissing Anne's dress enthusiastically.
"What are you doing, Mr Chough?" she asked angrily.
"I am kissing the holiest thing I shall ever touch," answered the
little man solemnly. "Yes! you are a saint, an Alkertis, an Iphigenia!
But we will not let the monstrous self-sacrifice take place! No, by
heaven! never, never! You shall not give up your happiness; I will
speak to Hamlin. I will tell him all, all—that you love him . . ."
"I do not love Hamlin," said Anne sternly, pronouncing every word
clearly and slowly.
"You do not love Hamlin!—you do not want—"
Poor little Chough was so utterly dumfounded that he had not the
breath to finish his sentence.
"You have obliged me to say what I never intended to say to any
one," said Anne. "No; I do not love Hamlin; and if he marry his
cousin, I shall be happier than I thought I ever could be."
"You love another!" whispered Chough, his eyebrows and whiskers
standing on end.
"Neither him nor any one else."
"Then why—why have you not told him so? Why make the sacrifice of
your inclinations—because, marrying him, you would be—why?"
"Mr Hamlin has done everything for me. I was a penniless, ignorant
servant. He had me taught, he gave me his money, he gave me more
kindness and trustfulness and generosity than any man ever gave any
woman I think, and I must pay my debt. If he wants me, he shall have
me. If not, so much the better for me."
There was a silence. Anne took up her piece of work; Chough sat
rapping gently on the table with his finger-tips, looking wonderingly
At last Miss Brown spoke.
"You have got my secret out of me, Mr Chough. I don't believe much
in you poets; and I think you are a giddy, often a foolish man. But I
think you are a gentleman at heart, and a good man; and as such, I
trust you never to let out, either by speech or hint or look,
positively or negatively, a word of what I have told you. If Mr Hamlin
marry his cousin, so much the better; if he marry me, so much the
worse. But what must be, must be. And come what may, I depend upon
you, as the only friend upon whom I can rely, to forget all that I
have told you to-day. Will you promise?"
Miss Brown looked very solemn; and Chough was overcome by an almost
"I promise never to reveal," he said quietly, "but you must not ask
me to forget; I have neither the power nor the right to forget the
best thing I have known in my life. Goodbye, Miss Brown, and God bless
And Anne, who believed only in right and wrong, felt really the
better and stronger for the blessing of the preposterous little poet
of Messalina and Lucrezia Borgia, who declared himself to be an
atheist when he did not declare himself to be a Catholic mystic.
SOME time after this conversation with Cosmo Chough, a
circumstance took place which caused great momentary excitement, and
considerably unsettled Miss Brown's mind. The summer had come with a
sudden rush; and Hamlin had had the notion of taking his aunt and Miss
Brown, and two or three friends, to spend a week at Wotton. Among
these friends was Madame Elaguine. That Hamlin should care to take his
cousin to the house where she had played so lamentable a part in her
childhood; that Sacha should endure to confront those invisible ghosts
of her uncle, her cousins, her own former self, of all the shameful
past, which haunted that house, was quite incomprehen- sible to Anne.
But day by day she was forced to recognise that she was surrounded by
incomprehensible ways of feeling and thinking, that she was, in a way,
like a person solitary among mankind from deafness or blindness, from
incapacity to put herself in their place; and recognising this, she
recognised also, with her unflinching justice, that she had no right
to hastily condemn the things which she could not understand. So when
Madame Elaguine, on the evening of her arrival at Wotton, insisted on
wandering all over the once familiar house, and openly said that she
felt a pleasure, the bitter pleasure of self-inflicted penance, in
confronting the past, in humiliating her present self by the company
of her former self, Anne merely said to herself that she could not
conceive a woman feeling like that—but that, nevertheless, this
theatrical and hysterical excitement might, after all, lead to as good
a result as her own silent and painful solitary self-absorption.
"She is a brazen creature!" Aunt Claudia had cried, when she heard
that Sacha was going to Wotton; "corrupt like her father, and
fantastic like her mother. She must get Mrs Spencer or some one else
to chaperon her in that house, if indeed she wants any one. I shall
stay behind. As to you, Annie, you are at liberty to go or not go, of
"I shall go, Aunt Claudia," Anne had answered resolutely, "because
I don't see that I have a right to imply by my absence that I
disapprove of Madame Elaguine's going to Wotton. I neither approve nor
disapprove; and I think that, however little we may sympathise with
her notions of self-humiliation, we must give her the benefit of
supposing that she is honest in them."
So Anne had gone.
The self-humiliation of Madame Elaguine, and the hours she had
spent in her room—she had asked for the room which had been hers as a
child—crying over the past, did not prevent her being in excessively
high spirits the evening following their arrival and the successive
one. It would seem as if the painful associations in which she had
steeped herself had produced a reaction in her whole nature. She was
childishly, almost uproariously gay, played with little Helen the
greater part of the afternoon, and after dinner treated the
company—that is to say, Anne, Mrs Spencer, Lewis, and Hamlin—to a
perfect concert of all manner of wild gipsy songs, Spanish and
Russian, sung with a fury which amounted almost to genius; and
followed these up with little French songs, old and new, picked up
heaven knows where—from operettes, from peasants, from books—the
words of which and the astonishing gaminerie with which they
were delivered, amused Lewis to fits of laughing, threw Chough into
enthusiasm, annoyed Hamlin a little, puzzled poor Mrs Spencer, and
made Anne reflect, as charitably as she could, upon the different
standards of propriety which seemed to exist for Englishwomen and for
Madame Elaguine's songs made Anne feel quite uncomfortable and
angry; but she said nothing, seeing Mrs Spencer, who could tolerate
any amount of impropriety as long as it was medieval and poetic, was
evidently putting down this French levity as a mark of the Russian
woman's depravity; and she felt somehow, that though she was annoyed
herself, and annoyed with good cause, she must not back up Mrs
Spencer's prejudiced indignation.
Cousin Sacha seemed to take a pleasure in vexing Hamlin, in shocking
Anne, in making Mrs Spencer think her a wicked creature; she sang on,
in her devil-may-care, street-boy way, with a malicious, childish
impudence in her face; then suddenly, when she saw Hamlin get
positively black at what he considered her bad taste—suddenly dropped
from her leste French couplets into a strange, wild, Spanish
gipsy song, sad and despairing beyond saying.
She looked very fascinating, as she sat near the window, resting her
guitar on her knee, her tiny feet and embroidered stockings very
visible beneath the lace flounces and frills of her thistle-down
dress; her deep, Russian blue eyes looking, as it seemed, rather into
the past than the present, her whole slight, even emaciated, body and
face tense with a sort of hysterical emotion.
Suddenly she threw the guitar on the sofa.
"Bah!" she cried, "what is the use of singing sad things when one
is sad? and what is the use of pretending to be merry, and shocking
people with polissoneries when one feels as old and dismal as
at ninety? I hate music."
And she walked through the French window on to the wide terrace
which surrounded one side of the house and overlooked the lawn.
"The only good thing," she said, "in this world is tobacco-smoke.
If," turning with affected deference and timidity to Mrs Spencer, who
considered a woman who smoked as little short of an adventuress, "you
have no objection, these gentlemen and I will have a smoke."
"Oh, pray don't mind me," snorted Mrs Spencer, stalking back into
the drawing-room, and sitting down near the window.
The three men immediately produced cigars and cigarettes and
"No, thank you, Walter," said Madame Elaguine; "your cigarettes are
too weak for me—too ladylike, like their owner, for a badly brought
up woman. I must make mine myself." And she went into her bedroom, the
last room opening out to the terrace, to fetch her box of tobacco and
In a minute she returned, whistling, in a curious bird-like
whistle, below her breath, and rolling a cigarette in her fingers.
Some of the party were seated, some standing. Madame Elaguine came to
where Miss Brown was seated, looking into the twilight park.
"Dear Annie," she murmured, putting her arm round Miss Brown's
neck, in her childish way, and which yet always affected Anne as might
the caress of a lamia's clammy scales.
"I fear," she said, putting her face close to Anne, and lowering
her voice to a whisper, "that you must have thought me horribly vulgar
and undignified and indecent just now. I don't know why I sang all
those nasty songs; I suppose it was to vex Walter. I don't like them
myself. But sometimes a sort of horrible desire, a kind of demon
inside me, makes me wish to do something which I know is disgusting; I
feel as if I could be the lowest of women, just from perversity. Ah,
it is sickening."
Anne did not answer.
"Where did you learn those wonderful little Burgundian couplets,
Sacha?" asked Lewis, in his sultan-like familiar way. He had a trick
of calling her Sacha every now and then, as he had tried, but failed,
to call Miss Brown Annie.
"I don't know. I ought not to have learned them at all; and I ought
not to have sung them before a man like you, who notices all the
nastiness there is in anything, and a great deal more besides,"
answered Madame Elaguine, coldly.
"What a Southern evening!" exclaimed Cosmo Chough, looking up at
the blue evening sky, singularly pure and blue and high, twinkling
with stars, and against which the distant trees stood out clear like
the sidescenes of a theatre. "It is sad that our cigars should have to
do for fireflies,—to be the only thing imitating that," and he
pointed at the sky.
"A lit cigar is the only imitation of the stars which people like
ourselves can attempt," said the Russian. "It's so in everything—our
poetry, our passions—nothing but cigar-lights for stars; don't you
think so, Annie?"
"What's that?" asked Chough, suddenly.
They looked up at his startled voice.
"What's what?" asked Madame Elaguine, quietly. "Have you seen the
ghost of Imperia of Rome, Mr Chough?"
"What the deuce is that?" exclaimed Lewis. In the midst of the
general blue dusk, one of the cedars on the lawn, and a screen of
trees beyond, had suddenly burst into sight, enveloped in a bright
light, which made the grass all round burn out a vivid yellowish-green
against the darkness.
Anne turned round quickly and looked behind her.
"The house is on fire!" she cried. "Madame Elaguine's room!" And
before the others could understand, she had rushed towards the other
end of the terrace.
The light, which had suddenly illumined the piece of lawn, the trees
opposite, did issue, a brilliant broad sheet like that of large
chandelier, from out of the open window of Sacha's room.
"Good heavens!" cried Hamlin, "you must have set the curtains on
fire with the match of your cigarette!"
"No, no," cried Madame Elaguine, "I lit my cigarette here outside;
it must be . . ." and she rushed wildly after Anne into her bedroom.
An extraordinary spectacle met Miss Brown first, and the rest of
the party an instant or two later.
The large old-fashioned bed of Cousin Sacha, which stood in the
centre of the room, was burning, blazing like a Christmas pudding, its
whole top, coverlet and pillows, turned into a roaring mass of bluish
flame, whence arose an acrid stifling smell.
"They have done it! they have done it!" shrieked Madame Elaguine,
throwing herself into Hamlin's arms. "They want to kill me! they have
always said so!"
But before he had had time to answer, she had rushed off into a
neighbouring room, and, with a presence of mind most unexpected in
her, returned with a heap of woollen blankets which she had dragged
off a bed.
"Pour the water on this!" she cried to Anne, who, with her strong
arms, had immediately dashed the contents of a bath on to the flames.
"Soak this! it is useless throwing water on the flames;" and taking
the soaking blankets, the little woman threw them dexterously on to
the blazing bed, among the hissing of the smoke and fire.
In a minute every one had brought blankets, cushions, water; the
servants had run up; and in about five minutes the flames were
The damages were very trifling compared with the appearance of
danger. The fire had not spread beyond the surface of the bed, and
consumed only the upper layer of bedding. But the sight of that
expanse of waving blue flame had been frightful, and it seemed
impossible to realise that no harm had been done.
"How has it happened?"—"How have they done it?"—"Send to the
police station."—"Scour the park!"—every one was talking at the
"I'll go down into the park and have a good hunt," said Hamlin,
taking down one of the guns which hung in the hall; "they can't have
got far yet."
"I don't think you'll catch them," answered Lewis, in his drawling
"We're not in Russia, Mr Lewis," rejoined Mrs Spencer, bridling up;
"here any one can be caught; it's not an incompetent
police as abroad."
"Some things can't be caught," said Lewis, with an odd wise smile.
While they were standing discussing in the hall, they were startled
by a sudden thump on the floor. Madame Elaguine, who had hitherto been
singularly calm and energetic, had fallen in a half-fainting
condition, like a column on to the ground. She was carried in to a
couch in the drawing-room, and Anne called the Swiss maid, who came,
with that sort of insolent indifference to the condition of her
mistress, which had struck Miss Brown on more than one similar
occasion. Madame Elaguine was in a state of hysterical panic—she
wept, and laughed, and talked, and moaned; but she absolutely refused
to be put to bed, and insisted with great violence that some of the
company should remain about her. She kept Hamlin seated by the side of
the sofa, his hand in hers, until the arrival of the police, and of
neighbours who had heard of the burning bed, obliged him and the men
to leave her. As soon as only Mrs Spencer and Anne Brown remained, she
became more calm, and merely lamented over her fate, and over the
probability that some day her enemies would really succeed in killing
either her or her child.
A curious coincidence occurred, which remained impressed in Anne's
mind. While the rest of the party, including Mrs Spencer, were
examining the house in company with the policemen, Miss Brown, who was
seated near Madame Elaguine's sofa—a sense of unreality, as of being
at the play, filling her whole nature after that terrible sight of the
blazing bed—mechanically opened a book which was lying on the table
at her elbow. It was a child's story which she had bought on a railway
bookstall and given to little Helen Ela- guine to keep her quiet
during the journey to Wotton. Mechanically her eye ran along the page;
but suddenly it stopped, as she read the following sentence, printed
in rather larger type than the rest—
"And they never forgot, as long as they lived, that terrible
For a moment the words echoed through Anne's mind as merely so much
sound; but, as is the case when we hear a name which awakens
associations which we cannot at first define to ourselves, she was
conscious at the same time of an effort to adjust her faculties, to
seize a meaning which was there, but which she could not at once
"And they never forgot, as long as they lived, that terrible
Anne kept on repeating those words to herself. They made her
restless. She went to the window, and looked out into the night. The
vision of that broad sheet of white light on the terrace and bushes,
of that expanse of waving blue flamelets, rose up in her mind.
"That terrible burning bed." She saw the printed page again. Then,
as to a central bubble, other ideas which bubbled up slowly began to
gravitate. Madame Elaguine's perfect, and, in a woman so excitable,
unaccountable presence of mind until all chance of further mischief
had been over; the blankets which she had immediately dragged out of
the next room, as a fireman might have dragged them; the rapid
instruction, as of a person accustomed to such things, to wet the
blankets instead of pouring water on the flames, as all the others had
done; the insolent, indifferent look of the maid; the going into her
room to fetch the cigarette-papers only a minute or two before the
conflagration, and when it would seem that whoever had set the bed
aflame must have been making the necessary preparations. Then also,
the fire had been so carefully limited to the bed, as if no real
damage had been meant. No; that was merely consistent with the usual
policy of Madame Elaguine's mysterious enemies, who wished to
frighten, but not to kill her. But another thought arose. Madame
Elaguine possessed a good deal of valuable old lace, indeed more than
her fortune at all warranted. Old lace was her hobby and her pride;
she had always a lot on her dress, on her night-gown, on everything.
Some of the very finest that she possessed existed in large quantity
as the trimming of a white satin dressing-gown, which, towards the
evening, was always put on her bed. Anne had noticed it this very
evening, when Madame Elaguine had called her into her bedroom to ask
her advice, as, with a spoilt child's coquetry, she often did, about
some flowers which she was putting in her hair for dinner. For some
reason the maid had already arranged the room for the night, and, as
usual, the white satin dressing-gown trimmed with lace had been lying
on the bed. Anne had made a note of the fact, because she had thought
at the moment how absurd it was of the Russian to put such valuable
lace upon a garment which was perpetually knocking about, and in
which, as it seemed to Miss Brown, she would scarcely be seen except
by her own servant. Now, while extinguishing the flames, one of Anne's
first thoughts had somehow been the white satin dressing-gown. What a
pity that all that lace should have been consumed! What an annoyance
to Cousin Sacha! But, to her surprise and relief, she had seen the
dressing-gown, a mass of satin and lace, hanging in perfect safety on
a peg at the furthest end of the room—the dressing-gown which, an
hour before, had already lain in readiness on the bed.
All these ideas moved confusedly through Miss Brown's brain. Was it
a mere ordinary mental delusion, one of those impressions which
physiologists explain by the imperfect momentary double action of the
two brain-lobes; or was it a recollection of a suspicion which had
long existed in her mind, but unconsciously, not daring to come to the
surface? Anyhow, it seemed to Anne, as she stood by the open window
looking into the night, and listening to Sacha's faint moanings, as
if she had gone through that or something similar before—as if it
were not the first time that she was invaded by the thought that all
this persecution by invisible and uncatchable enemies was a deception
practised by Madame Elaguine herself, a kind of artificial excitement
and interest got up for the benefit of her friends, for the benefit of
her own morbid and theatrical temper? It was difficult for a woman,
simple, sincere, completely all of a piece, like Anne Brown, to
conceive such a possibility, and still more difficult for her not to
revolt from its contemplation as from an act of disloyalty. But, on
the other hand, Anne, just in proportion to her slowness of mental
perception, had not the power, which so many of us possess, of denying
the evidence of her reason for the sake of her feelings. So the words
in the book, which seemed as if they contained the suggestion of the
whole performance (if performance it was); the fact of the
dressing-gown having been out of reach of all danger; the manner of
Madame Elaguine and of her maid on this and previous
occasions,—haunted Anne, and united with the sudden recollection of
what she had read in one of Marjory Leigh's scientific books about the
connection between hysteria and monomania, about the strange passion
for deceit, for hoax, for theatricality, sometimes observable in
hysterical women. And then she remembered the face and voice of Edmund
Lewis, his ironical remark about the impossibility of finding the
culprits, his indifference and amused superiority. Could he too have
guessed?—and, it suddenly struck her, could Hamlin have had the same
thought? No, she felt sure Hamlin had not.
THE incident of the burning bed left the inmates of Wotton Hall
in a state of excitement which outlasted their stay in the country.
All attempts to find the culprits had been useless; and Madame
Elaguine had begged Hamlin not to permit any regular judicial inquiry,
lest the story of her persecution, about which she affected to be
excessively jealous, should become public property. Hamlin, who hated
vulgar publicity, easily consented. But the mysterious story was now
known to all the guests at Wotton, and soon became known to the whole
pre-Raphaelite set which centred round the house at Hammersmith, with
the result of turning Madame Elaguine, in the eyes of Mrs Spencer and
her friends, from something not much better than an adventuress, into
something uncommonly like a heroine and a martyr; for it seemed as if
these good folk, whose life was the most humdrum prose and whose ideal
was the most far-fetched poetry, felt absolute gratitude towards the
remarkable individual who supplied them with a real mystery, a real
persecution by unknown enemies, a real romance. So when Sacha, on her
return to town, began to suffer or to think that she suffered from
nervous prostration due to this terrible shock, and to lie even more
than usual on sofas in even more than usually picturesque
dressing-gowns, she found herself surrounded by a crowd of
sympathising and admiring artists, writers, and critics, to whom she
confided, one by one, and in slightly different versions, the details
of her strange history.
The only person who seemed displeased was Hamlin; and the only
person who seemed cold was Miss Brown. Hamlin always required to
absorb the whole attention of any person to whom he took a liking; to
see his cousin fenced round with idiots, as he described it, was
almost a physical annoyance to him; he was cross, captious, bitter,
and gruff; and the more he showed his temper the more pleasure Madame
Elaguine took in provoking him. As usual, when out of sorts with the
world, and especially when he felt himself neglected, Hamlin began
once more to pay attentions to Miss Brown, to bemoan his own baseness
and weakness, to throw himself on her compassion, to insinuate that in
her lay his only hope.
This sort of talk, with his beautiful dreamy eyes fixed adoringly
upon her, his slow quiet voice sounding like that of a votary before
an altar, had long become for Anne a mere additional bitterness; a
bitterness of comprehension proportionate to the long delusion which
had made her see in this sort of behaviour the dissatisfaction of a
noble nature, the yearnings of real love. She was accustomed to it;
and would have merely smiled the bitter smile which had become part of
her nature. But now, every lover-like look or word from Ham- lin
inspired Anne with positive terror; it seemed as if he had let her
fancy that he loved his cousin—that he had let her dream of release,
of freedom from the life captivity which threatened her soul, only to
creep back, as a cat creeps back to the mouse with which it is playing,
and slowly stretch forth his hand to seize her. This feeling became so
strong in Anne that little by little there developed in her a nervous
dread of Hamlin: every time that he approached her alone, that he
fixed his eyes on her face or addressed her by her name, she was aware
of a chill throughout her body, of a sudden pallor in her face; a
chill, a pallor which, if noticed, must mean to Hamlin that she loved
Into this vague and painful suspense were vaguely mingled the
suspicions which she had formed regarding Madame Elaguine. Confusedly
Anne was conscious that the worthiness or unworthiness of Sacha was
not a matter of indifference to her; if Sacha was a mere hysterical
liar, she could not sincerely love Hamlin, Hamlin could not love her;
and if this man and this woman did not love one another, Anne Brown
was once more, what she had for a brief time imagined that she was no
longer, the slave of her protector, as Mademoiselle Aïssé had been the
slave of M. de Ferréol.
Suddenly, one day, there came a change, and with it the end of the
terrible doubt and fear which were corroding Miss Brown's soul. What
had happened Anne never clearly understood; she only perceived a
change, and guessed that it was connected in some manner with the
sudden disappearance of Edmund Lewis, and with some tremendous quarrel
between him and Hamlin which seemed to have preceded it. Mr Lewis, who
had spent all his mornings in Hamlin's studio, and all his evenings in
Madame Elaguine's boudoir, appeared to have sunk into the ground; his
very name was scarcely mentioned; and Anne Brown, who hated the very
sight of the little man with the sealing-wax lips and green cat-like
eyes, who instinctively felt that he personified all the
peculiarities which degraded Hamlin in her eyes, had a vague
superstitious notion that now that he was gone everything would settle
What had Lewis done? Had he insulted Madame Elaguine; and had this
insulting, by a man who was his friend, of a woman whom he loved, made
Hamlin suddenly conscious of his love for Sacha, and of his duty to
protect an irresponsible little woman whom his indecision was putting
into a false position? The more Miss Brown pored over the subject, the
more did it seem as if there could be no other explanation.
But whatever the explanation, the result was unmistakable. On the
score of ill-health, Madame Elaguine had more or less dismissed all
those admiring and sympathising friends who had given Hamlin so much
umbrage, and Hamlin had become almost her sole and constant visitor.
He appeared to have almost taken up his abode at the Russian's. He
came to Hammersmith for lunch as usual, but always found some excuse
or other for leaving immediately after: he was painting a portrait of
his cousin, and his cousin was too delicate to give him sittings
except in her drawing-room. He not merely neglected Anne, but
obviously avoided her. He seemed to dread being left alone with her,
as much as she, for such very different reasons, had dreaded to be
left alone with him: when he did not succeed in getting away, he was
moody and depressed; yet he seemed moody and depressed also whenever,
as was frequently the case, he was sent for by his cousin, and
whenever Anne met them together.
It seemed to Miss Brown as if she could understand it all so well:
she, who was slow in understanding others, felt as if she knew
Hamlin's character as her own father must have known the construction
and working of the machines which she remembered seeing him
continually taking to pieces and setting up again. Hamlin had been, so
Anne thought, obliged to admit to himself that he loved his cousin,
and that he had made her love him; and he was depressed and irritated
at his own inability to take any decided course, at his humiliation in
finding that this was the end of all his romance with Anne, at his
dread of being obliged, sooner or later, to tell Anne the truth; nay,
Miss Brown thought she knew Hamlin sufficiently well to be persuaded
that there entered into his feelings a certain annoyance at having to
forfeit the exotic and unhealthy pleasure of being partially in love
with two women at a time, and at the impetuosity of Sacha
precipitating matters from a position of hesitation and self-reproach,
which was in some ways pleasant to his peculiar temper, into a
situation requiring a definite and prompt solution.
Oh, Anne had not suffered silently these two years, without getting
to understand the strange character to which her suffering was due.
Yes, she knew Hamlin and what was passing in his mind; and the sense
of power implied in this knowledge, the power of following all that
he felt and thought, gave her a sort of pleasure, proportionate to
that very sense of her difficulty in understanding any character save
her own; a curious rare pleasure, in which mingled the consciousness
of the price at which it had been bought, and the almost ineffable
consciousness that this that she was studying concerned her no more;
the pleasure, so often talked about, of the man who has escaped the
shipwreck and looks down upon the dangerous waters in safety. Yes; she
was safe; she was free.
It gave her a morbid pleasure also to watch Madame Elaguine, who, in
the last month or so, ever since the quarrel with Edmund Lewis and the
consequent intimacy with her cousin, had suddenly changed in her
manner towards Anne—had shown a half-savage, half-childish desire to
parade her conquest before her rival, to let her see how completely
she had taken Hamlin away from her, to humiliate and insult her: the
flaunting perversity of a new sultana towards an old one. Anne had
hitherto in- sisted on thinking that Madame Elaguine was really a very
noble little woman, and this revelation of a base wish to wound and
humiliate, hurt her at first like some nauseous smell arising suddenly
beneath her nostrils. But disgust was soon replaced by that new and
secret pleasure in the consciousness of understanding this woman
better than she understood herself; by the pleasure in feeling how
wasted were all Madame Elaguine's insults—how startled would not the
little woman be, could she but know that every proof of her supremacy
over Hamlin was to Miss Brown as each successively sawed-through
window-bar is to the prisoner pining for the day of deliverance.
Anne felt herself getting into so singular a condition of
excitement, losing so completely, under the pressure of these
conflicting doubts and hopes in the past, of the great joy in the
present, all her usual self-composure and self-control, that she took
fiercely to working, to hurrying in every way through those studies
which she had long since begun in the sickening often-deferred hope
that they might become her livelihood if she should ever be released
from Hamlin. Miss Brown had often and often, even when the sense of
hopelessness had been bitterest, consoled herself with what she
believed to be unrealisable dreams for the future; and after going
through many possible plans, she had decided that if—if—she should
ever become her own mistress, she would employ, resolutely determined
to return it to him some day, part of the money which Hamlin had
settled upon her, in entering Girton or Newnham, where she would train
herself to become a teacher in a public school. Almost mechanically,
her studies (and restlessness, and the desire for something that
should not be the harassing reality, had developed in her a perfect
passion for study) fell into this programme. She had gone in for
political economy, history, and what people are pleased to call moral
Now that liberty seemed on the point of being realised, and that
she felt the want of something to steady her shaken nature, she
applied herself to this work with redoubled ardour.
"If you go on like that you will get seedy, Annie," warned the
practical Marjory Leigh, now on the eve of becoming Mrs Harry Collett.
And Marjory Leigh proved right. The secret excitement of the last
months, joined to the recent overwork, was too much for Anne. One day
she was suddenly taken ill, and a little time later she was delirious.
"Nervous prostration from overwork," said the doctors.
A great remorse, which was at the same time a great triumph, rose up
in Hamlin's heart.
"Sacha," he cried, one day as Madame Elaguine came into the studio
at Hammersmith, after visiting the sick woman, "it is I who am killing
Anne; and it is you—you—who are forcing me to do it,"—and he tore
the portrait of Madame Elaguine off the board of his easel, and pulled
the paper, in long ribbons, through his fingers.
"It's no great harm," said the Russian, quietly; "I'm not quite
such a guy as you represented me, Watty, and I'm the better pleased
not to go down to posterity like that. As to Anne, don't flatter
yourself you are breaking her heart, for the excellent reason that
there is none to break. Too much study! the doctor says, and he knows.
A woman like that works only with her brain. Too much Euclid, Kant,
Hegel, Fichte, &c. You needn't flatter yourself that you
are of the company. Seriously, can you be such a baby as to imagine
that if that woman loved you she wouldn't have turned me out of doors
ages ago? Besides, she talked only of Girton College and of her cousin
Richard when she was delirious, the nurse tells me."
Madame Elaguine watched Hamlin as she let these words drop, then she
burst out laughing.
"Poor Walter! what a misfortune it is to be a poet and to be vain!
I am really grieved for you. But sooner or later you would understand
that when a woman has no heart, but only 'a muscle for pumping the
blood to the extremities,' as one of her professors calls it, she
can't love; and that, moreover, no woman will ever understand or love
you, you silly person, except your cousin Sacha."
Cosmo Chough, who had come to the studio door, and, not being
troubled with scruples when base creatures like Madame Elaguine were
concerned, and having, moreover, a violent curiosity about everything
concerning the Eternal Feminine, had listened at the keyhole, affirmed
to Miss Brown some time after that Madame Elaguine had then and there
put her arms round Hamlin's neck, and called him a poor, vain little
ON recovering from that long delirium, during which she had
raved only about the past and the future, about Miss Curzon, the
Perrys, the Villa Arnolfini, Cousin Dick, Girton College, and
political economy, but never—by some singular obliviousness of the
present—about Hamlin and Sacha,—the first persons that Anne Brown
recognised about her were the Leigh girls. Marjory had postponed her
marriage in order to help her sister in nursing Miss Brown; and Mrs
Macgregor had gladly accepted their proposal to settle for the time
being in the house at Hammersmith, she herself being far too
unpractical to be of any use. Anne's impressions were vague, diffuse;
the ideas aud sensations, the slight amount of life of one day of
early convalescence being, so to speak, diluted into what were really
days and weeks, day and night succeeding each other confusedly to the
girl, but feebly awake and for ever falling asleep. It was a dream,
but a pleasant one, consisting of veiled misty impressions, separated
by tracts of lethargy: impressions of the kind faces and voices of
Mary and Marjory, of the gleams of sunshine on the carpet, of the
waving of treetops outside the window, of the whistle of the steamboat
on the Thames; the song of the canary in the housekeeper's room—the
cry of the milkman; of the bunches of big red and yellow roses put
down upon the sheet before her; of the broth and jelly and tea feebly
refused, and yet greedily swallowed,—trifles, nothings, but
transformed by the haze of mixed weakness and relief into things
possessing a charm, and never to be forgotten.
The mere sense of rest and renovation constituted a sort of
happiness, with which mingled the consciousness of the kindness of
those round her,—of the Leigh girls and Mrs Macgregor, who were in
her room nearly all day; of Mrs Spencer, who came from the other end
of London every afternoon; of Chough and Cousin Dick, who came to make
inquiries; even of Hamlin, whose magnificent bundles and baskets of
flowers and fruit arrived regularly, together with the bunch of
sweet-peas and pinks which Chough had bought at the greengrocer's, or
the sprigs of laburnum which he had stolen in the park. Everything in
the world seemed so good and simple; all worries and doubts had gone
with the dreadful visions of the delirious nights. Anne had never in
her life felt so simply, completely happy; perhaps because, with her
tense and tragic character, perfect happiness was possible only in
weakness and vagueness.
Little by little the past became concrete once more; but it became
concrete as the past, all her doubts and difficulties remaining far
distant behind her, like the Alps which the traveller has arduously
crossed, and looks back upon from the warm Lombard plain. She took up
her position and feelings where she had left them: she felt herself
free. At first she could scarcely tell why, as we sometimes can
scarcely account to ourselves for something which has happened the
previous day, and which, though forgotten, fills us with vague
pleasure or pain on awakening. Then she began to understand once more,
and to add to her recollections what she could make out of the
present. She noticed that the Leighs scarcely ever spoke of Hamlin;
that they brought in his flowers, books, and messages with a certain
constraint, even, she thought, with an occasional look of disgust and
indignation. And they never, never once mentioned Madame EIaguine.
"What has become of Sacha Elaguine?" she asked one day, rolling her
head, with face even paler than before, and black crisp hair just
beginning to cluster after cropping short, on the pillows. "Has she
gone out of town? You have never spoken about her, Mary."
Mary Leigh, who was seated, holding Anne's thin white hand, did
not raise her head; and Marjory, who was pouring out the tea hard by,
"Haven't I? Oh yes, I must," answered Mary Leigh, still keeping her
eyes on the pattern of the carpet. "Madame Elaguine? Oh, she's just as
"Odious little brute," scowled Marjory.
Mary raised her head sharply, and gave her sister a look of reproof.
Anne asked no more. She had understood: during her illness Sacha
had tightened her hold on Hamlin; the Leighs had seen it, or been
told, and Mary was afraid lest her sister should let out to the
invalid what she imagined to be a heart-breaking secret.
"I am free!" thought Anne; and repeated these words to herself
every time that one of the Leighs spoke coldly of Hamlin, or looked
savage when he was mentioned. And sometimes she fancied that she could
distinguish in the face and manner of the true-hearted Mary, of the
indignant Marjory, the pain and perplexity of foreseeing that they
possessed a terrible secret, that they must make a terrible
revelation. Once, she felt sure, Mary's heart had almost burst for her
silence. Miss Leigh had brought in Hamlin's usual gift of flowers, a
bunch of beautiful white roses and jasmine; she was going to hand it
to Anne, when her face suddenly contracted, and she stuffed the
flowers roughly into a jar.
"Won't you let me smell Mr Hamlin's flowers, Mary?" asked Anne from
Mary Leigh gave her a long strange look.
"They aren't fit for you, Anne," said Mary, in a hoarse voice;
"they're horrible, morbid sort of things—they'll just make your head
"My head is much stronger than you think," said Anne; "let me have
them—they are lovely. The jasmine doesn't smell like ordinary
jasmine. What is it?—it smells like the incense that Sacha Elaguine
burns in her boudoir; it's nice, but too strong. I wonder whether
they have been in her boudoir to catch it. It's very kind of Mr Hamlin
to bring them to me, especially as"—Anne looked up with a smile which
frightened Mary Leigh out of her wits—"he doesn't care a bit about me
any longer, you know."
Mary Leigh threw herself on her knees before Anne's bed, and
drawing her head to her, kissed her.
"Oh, Annie, Annie, my darling!" she cried.
"You are good," answered Anne—"you are good to love me so. But Mr
Hamlin is also very good, although he doesn't love me. I am very
happy—so happy, Mary dear."
"She is mad," thought Mary, in terror, as Anne threw her head back,
smiling, her onyx-grey eyes beaming, on the pillow. And she resolved
that, as long as she could help, Anne Brown should not know what she
knew, and what, every time that Hamlin's name was mentioned, sickened
Some days later Miss Brown was sufficiently well to exchange her bed
for a couch in the drawing-room down-stairs; and then Hamlin asked
whether he might be admitted to see her for a few minutes. He seemed
painfully impressed at the sight of Anne, whom he was accustomed to
see looking the embodiment of physical strength, a sort of primeval
warrior-woman, stretched out on the sofa, so thin and hollow-checked,
so pale, with a pallor quite different from the natural opaque ivory
pallor of her complexion; so weak of voice and gesture, so wholly
despoiled, it seemed to him, of her usual sombre haughtiness:
resigned, and with the gentleness of a sick child. He was silent and
depressed, as a man might be who knew her to be more seriously ill
than she thought; and yet, as Anne was well aware, it was most obvious
to him and to every one that she was entirely out of danger, and
rapidly recovering. Miss Brown understood: he was weighed down, but
with a worse conscience than Mary Leigh,—by the thought that this
woman was unaware of the sort of treachery which was being committed
behind her back. Anne, on the other hand, felt more really pleased to
see him than she had done this long time past; it seemed as if, now
that the bond which tied her to him was loosened, she could see once
more all that was amiable and noble in him,—that she could like him
again, feel towards him simply, naturally, as towards a friend and
benefactor. And she felt sorry for his depression, for what she
imagined to be his self-reproach; desirous of telling him almost, then
and there, that he need not make himself unhappy, that he was free to
love his cousin.
Miss Brown was still unfit for much conversation; and Hamlin seemed
glad to cut short the interview. She asked him to raise one of the
blinds; and when the light streamed upon his face, she thought she saw
in it something unusual, something beyond his mere usual melancholy, a
lassitude and look of being worried; again she felt sorry for him.
"How is your cousin Sacha?" she asked.
"She is well," he answered briefly, "and —sends you many messages.
I don't let her come, because she would excite you. Goodbye."
Every afternoon Hamlin returned for a short time. Anne's first
impression was merely strengthened; Hamlin was extraordinarily
depressed, worried-looking, taciturn. Anne felt really sorry for him;
he was evidently, she thought, eating his heart out in doubts and
self-reproach; he had gone too far with Sacha to retreat, and yet his
engagement to Miss Brown forbade his taking a decisive step. After all,
he was truer and nobler than she had thought, more of her real Hamlin
of former days; she reflected that this hostility of temperament and
aims between them, this long and sickening endurance of a bond which
suited neither, had made her unjust and bitter towards him, prone to
seek for only his worse sides, neglectful of his good ones. She felt
that it was not the least benefit of her release that she could now be
perfectly grateful once more; that she could give to this man the
affection which he really deserved, and which she really felt, now
that the terrible debt of love was cancelled. She was sorry, very
sorry for him, and determined that, since he had not the heart, it was
for her to speak. But invariably, and as if warned by a secret
intuition, he had interrupted the conversation, and gone away whenever
she had been on the point of speaking. The bare name of Madame
Elaguine seemed enough to send him away; and yet, whenever Anne
succeeded in making him speak of his cousin, he had spoken of her with
a strange bitterness, and almost disgust.
"He is mean, after all," thought Anne; "he is angry with poor Sacha
for being the cause of his finding himself in a false position." And
she determined that she would speak, not to him but to Madame
Elaguine; she felt that she could not endure the way in which he would
assuredly seek to whitewash himself at his cousin's expense. Mean,
very mean; nay, something more than mean. What irritation or hypocrisy
could induce him to speak of the woman whom he loved with a sort of
constant innuendo, a constant sort of undercurrent of disgust?
And again she began to despise and dislike him. Another thing soon
struck her. There was something unusual about Hamlin's appearance.
Somewhat effeminate he had always been in his aristocratic refinement;
but now it seemed to her as if there were in his face a something,
half physical, half spiritual, a vague, helpless, half-stupefied look,
which made her think of that hysterical tippling little poet
Dennistoun, whom she disliked so much. Her mind reverted to what she
had heard about Edmund Lewis having, at one period, induced Hamlin to
"Is Mr Lewis back?" she asked.
Hamlin flushed all over.
"Lewis is not likely to return," he answered briefly.
What was the meaning of it all? Hamlin was also, she noticed, no
longer as careful in his dress as he had formerly been; there was
something vaguely rowdy about him. And once, as he stooped over her to
rearrange the cushions under her head, it seemed to her—was it true
or not?—that she felt a sickening whiff, like those which she well
remembered since her childhood, when her father had come in from
drinking and taken her on his knees.
Was it possible that Hamlin, weak as he was, and feeling himself
cornered in a false position, had taken to drinking—to drinking,
which had been the fatal vice of his family, of his brother, father,
and of his uncles, in order to rid himself of his worries?
She must speak to Madame Elaguine. She must let them know that they
WHILE she was in this perplexity about Hamlin, Miss Brown
received a visit from her cousin Dick. She had scarcely seen him, and
never alone, since that memorable walk home from Professor Richmond's
lecture. Whether from the sense that he had gone too far, that his
violence had offended and frightened her; or whether, more probably,
from his having rushed to the conclusion that she was unattainable and
perhaps unworthy of his seeking, Richard Brown had kept studiously out
of her way.
For the first time in his life he came in with hesitation and almost
shyness. He sat down by the side of her arm-chair, and spoke with a
gentleness, a courtesy, that were quite unusual in him, and had a
charm just from their contrast with his downright and gruff
personality. The conversation rolled upon various indifferent
subjects; he seemed to be feeling his way to something, trying to
decide whether she was strong enough to admit of his saying something
which weighed on his mind.
"You are nearly recovered now?" he asked. "Do you feel as if you
were getting your strength back, Anne?"
"Oh yes," she answered; "I feel wonderfully well. I have been for a
drive these last few days, and I am sure I could walk, if only they
would let me. I only feel very tired and lazy every now and then."
There was a pause.
"Do you remember what you told me that afternoon when we walked
home from Richmond's lecture—a rainy day at the end of March?" he
"Yes, I do."
"You said, if you remember, that you did not care for Mr Hamlin,
and that you felt yourself bound to him only by gratitude and the
sense that he wanted you—do you remember, Nan?"
"I remember perfectly. Well?"
Richard Brown had spoken slowly and watching her face; and he seemed
surprised at the perfect calm which he read in it.
"Well, I think it is right that you should know what is by this
time known by all your acquaintances. Walter Hamlin no longer wants
you; he has entirely thrown you over for another woman. He is—I don't
know exactly what to call it, and don't mean any innuendo—well—the
accepted lover of Madame Elaguine."
"I know it," she answered coolly. "I have known it, or at least
guessed it, since a long while."
Richard was surprised, and, unconsciously perhaps to himself,
mortified. He had always resented his cousin's fidelity to Hamlin, had
always, with his tendency to seek for base motives wherever he could
not sympathise, suspected that this fidelity was a mere cover for an
unworthy love of the fine æsthetic gentleman or for his fortune and
position; and he had anticipated a certain pleasure in seeing Anne
wince beneath his revelation.
"It is no business of mine to pass a judgment over Mr Hamlin," he
proceeded slowly, and wondering, suspicious as he always was with
women, of the genuineness of Anne's imperturbability; "the whole
business seems to me quite consonant with all my notions of his
"I do not think Mr Hamlin has acted dishonourably towards me," put
in Anne, quietly; "on the contrary, I feel sure that he reproaches
himself much more than he need."
"Very likely. What I was going to say is merely that this new turn
which matters have taken necessarily implies an entire change in your
position towards Mr Hamlin. He no longer wants you; you are therefore
free. Am I correct in my view of the case?"
He was speaking with a deference to her opinion quite new in him.
"As far as I can judge," answered Anne, playing with a big
lapis-lazuli rosary which she had taken off her neck, "I think you
are quite correct, Dick. I believe I am free."
She hesitated and spoke the last words almost inaudibly, as if
superstitiously afraid that they should be heard.
"In that case I presume you will have to remodel your life. Have
you thought of any plans?"
"I have thought over the matter a good deal. My intention, as soon
as Mr Hamlin and I have come to an explanation, which will be shortly,
is to go to Ireland for a few months with Mary Leigh, to finish
getting well and to finish some preparatory work, and then to go up to
Girton. I should be able to pass the entrance examination in another
three months. You see," she added, "Mr Hamlin, in spending the money
that he has in turning me into a lady, has made it difficult for me
to take to any such livelihood as would have naturally been mine under
other circumstances; and I think, therefore, that I have a right to
invest a portion of the money which he has settled upon me, and which
he fully intended me to keep in any ease, in qualifying myself for the
only sort of business for which I am now fit. He has settled upon me
the equivalent of five hundred a-year, apart from the expenses of this
house, of which I know nothing. Much less than that would more than
cover the expenses of keeping me at Girton and of starting me as a
teacher or journalist; and once fairly started, I hope I should be
able to support myself and gradually to refund this money. Do you
think that would be fair, Dick? You see, it is quite useless for me to
think of ever repaying, even if money could repay in such matters,
what Mr Hamlin has spent upon me during all these years."
She seemed to hesitate, to be afraid of being mean, of appearing to
take advantage of Hamlin's generosity.
"Do you really contemplate renouncing the fortune which Mr Hamlin
settled on you? giving up all the luxury to which he has accustomed
Richard Brown, disinterested though he was, was too deeply impressed
with the mercenary temper of mankind, to believe very easily in such
"Why, of course," answered Anne. "When Mr Hamlin marries his
cousin, he will find, that he has not too much with all his money. And
I would certainly not keep any of it as soon as I could do without;
though heaven knows I am not ungrateful, nor so silly as to fancy that
I should be in the very least lightening my obligation towards him."
Richard did not answer for a moment. "Listen," he said, not without
hesitation "I am nearer to you than Walter Hamlin and whatever I am, I
owe it to your father. I find I have just made a very consider able
and quite unexpected profit off some mining shares which Mr Gillespie
left me. Let me advance you out of this money whatever may be wanted
to defray your expenses at college; you will repay me when you find it
convenient. In this way, you will be entirely independent of Mr Hamlin
at once: you can let him have all his money."
Richard Brown hesitated, in a way very singular in his cut-and-dry
nature; he seemed prepared for a rebuff.
"You are very kind, Dick; but I can't accept your offer. I owe it
to Mr Hamlin, in return for all the generosity he has shown towards me
and would still show, that I should never accept anything from any man
but him, even if I were not resolved never to put myself under such an
obligation again. I have no right to prefer your generosity to his."
Richard Brown was silent. Then, after a moment, they fell to talking
about the plans and theories which occupied Cousin Dick's mind. He
was unusually gentle and modest; he really seemed to be losing some
of that narrowness which had been the ugly side of his powerful and
"You are becoming quite tolerant, Dick," remarked Anne. "Six months
ago you could never have conceived that any one unlike yourself or
differing from your views could have anything good in him. I am very
glad; it will make you more hopeful of the world, and show you a lot
of energy and good faith which deserves to be united to your own, and
which you would formerly have thrown upon the dust-heap."
"You are right," answered Brown. "I feel that I have diminished my
own usefulness by not admitting any other kind of usefulness than my
own. I often catch myself thinking, now, that my great danger lies in
my tendency to underrate people; sometimes it seems as if, unless I can
struggle against it, it will invade and sterilise my whole nature."
"I am so glad you feel like that, Dick."
"And do you know," he continued, "I think this change is due to
you; knowing you has shown me how horribly unreasonable and unjust I
am apt to be in my preconceived notions. I really did think you an
æsthete once, Annie; nay, at one time, I was so base as to think that
you were base, that you cared for Hamlin's position and money and good
looks, while not caring for him. Will you forgive me, Annie?"
He bent over her, and took her hand. She let him hold it for a
minute. She felt so strangely free, so safe, so happy somehow with
this man, whose presence had so often been a threat and an insult.
"I wonder whether you will ever learn to be just to Mr Hamlin," she
"I will do my best."
She had withdrawn her hand from his.
"I wonder whether I have ever been just to Mr Hamlin," said Anne.
"What makes you say that, Nan?"
"I don't know. I feel how difficult it is for a nature like mine to
be just towards, to understand, any one outside it."
"Can you be just towards me?" he suddenly asked.
"I am, I think."
"Do you think, then," went on Richard Brown, "that during the time
you spend at Girton you could try a little and understand me,—you
could try and like me a little, Annie?"
"I do like you, Richard," she answered coldly; but a quiet
happiness, like that of a windless, half-covered morning in the
fields, stole over her.
"I don't mean this," he said, rising. "I want you to like me, Nan,
as much—as much as you thought you liked Walter Hamlin."
Anne shook her head sadly.
"That is quite impossible," she said: "one doesn't feel like that
twice, I fancy, Richard, any more than one believes twice in angels or
Richard Brown frowned. She could never pluck Hamlin, Hamlin in some
shape, real or false, out of her heart.
"Good-bye," he said; "I fear I have tired you. Annie," he added,
"it is idiotic, isn't it? but all the time you were ill, even until I
came into this room, I kept hoping that you might have lost your
looks—that Hamlin might be quite unable ever to care for you
again—that you might have ceased to be, in this sort of way, above
me. And yet, when I saw you, I was glad it was not so. Oh, Nan,
promise me you will try and like me a little."
"Please don't say that, Dick. I have been a slave, a prisoner.
Can't you understand that my great joy is the sense of my freedom, my
sense of belonging to no one, caring about no one? Can't you
understand that it seems horrible to me to even think that I could ever
care for any one again? Can't you let me enjoy my liberty, at least
until I have realised that it isn't a dream?"
She spoke with impetuosity, but gently; and her cousin did not feel
"By the way," he said, "I suppose you have heard who is expected
here soon—your old friend, Melton Perry."
"Melton Perry!" cried Anne. It seemed such centuries since she had
heard that name last. "Oh, I shall be so glad to see him, he is such a
She walked up and down after Dick had left.
Melton Perry! the name brought up the far, far distant past—a
vision of the untidy house at Florence; of Mrs Perry's lean and
Sapphic profile; of the tall grass and crushed herbs in the vineyard
of the Villa Arnolfini; of Hamlin as she had first known him—a
mysterious, unattainable ideal high above her; of the studio at the
top of the tower; of herself, as she recollected herself to have been,
a sombre, unhappy creature, with whose identity she seemed to have no
connection, and into whose dark and confused mind she felt unable to
see. There was something very painful in this sudden return of the
past in company with her old friend, and Anne thought bitterly of the
difference between the dreams of happiness, so positive, so perfect,
of those days, and the reality of happiness, so negative, so
poor—consisting in what? in being left to herself—which belonged to
her now. And yet, after all, as she looked into her girlhood before
Hamlin's coming, she recognised the same negativeness; she had wished
to be free, to be a daily governess, to depend upon no one for her
livelihood, to be able to know something of a wider life. She had
never hoped, scarcely even wished, for happiness; the semblance of it
had passed before her eyes, had, for a brief time, made her life more
acutely sensitive; but she returned to the negative: it was the law of
And, as she cleared her mind of all vain regrets, she became aware
that, in a manner, this return upon her scene of Melton Perry was
like the ringing of the bell, the orchestral flourish, which ends a
piece as it has begun it. The comedy of her love for Hamlin, and of
Hamlin's love for her, was over; and she felt impatient for Melton
THE day after this visit from Cousin Dick, came the first visit
from Madame Elaguine. It seemed to Anne that, from the very moment of
her entering the room, she could perceive something strange in Sacha's
manner—something brazen, flaunting, cruel. The little woman somehow
no longer looked so small and that childish appealingness had entirely
left her manner; she was self-possessed, cynical, triumphant. Her very
dress was different from anything in which Miss Brown had hitherto
seen her; exotic indeed and fantastic, like everything that she wore,
but certainly not turned out by Madame Elaguine's maid. She kissed
Anne familiarly on both cheeks, enveloping her in an atmosphere of
heady Eastern perfumes.
"Poor Annie," she said, "you have been very ill, and must have
thought me a great brute for not coming to see you before. But Walter
absolutely forbade my coming—stood in front of your door, so to
speak, and shut it in my face. He pretended that I should have excited
you too much. Perhaps I should; I am a wretched, excitable creature.
Perhaps he was right; what do you think?" Madame Elaguine fixed her
eyes on those of Anne; a long look of scrutiny and triumph, as if she
had expected to see her wince.
"I think Mr Hamlin was quite mistaken," answered Miss Brown
quietly, understanding the meaning of that look. "I am much less
subject to excitement than he supposes; and your presence would not
have excited me more than any one else's."
"Really!" and Madame Elaguine's mouth took a peculiar little
sneering turn; "I should have thought that I was
exciting, now. Not more exciting, for instance, than the Miss Leighs?
or than your cousin, Mr Richard Brown?" and she again looked
scrutinisingly at Anne, who merely shook her head. "By the way, your
cousin has quite cut me of late, Annie—ask him why. I suspect that he
thinks me a dangerous woman, quite without moral ballast,—what my
German teacher used to call Sittlicher Ernst. He was such a
funny creature that German teacher of mine; did I ever tell you about
him? He taught at the school where I was in Petersburg: a thin lank
creature, with long red wrists projecting a yard from his sleeves, and
a waistcoat which would ride up whenever he was excited; he used to
lean against the wall, any part of his body at random, and bend and
sway the rest of him about, like a caterpillar. He taught us German
literature, and was very shocked because I said the 'Bride of Corinth'
was the only amusing thing Goethe had ever written. He believed in
Schopenhauer—and hated women, and me in particular, because I had no Sittlicher Ernst; and one day, what do you think he did? he fell
on his knees and tried to catch me round the waist. Poor devil! he was
turned out of doors, and drowned himself later. I wonder whether it
was out of despair at my want of Sittlicher Ernst? He was
such a queer creature. I sometimes think, after all, he was the only
man I could really have loved, if only his waistcoat had not ridden
up, and his wrists projected so much from his cuffs."
Sacha laughed, and bit her lower lip a little, so that it suddenly
became scarlet, like the lips of Edmund Lewis. She threw herself back
in her chair, one foot crossed over the other, her eyes fixed on the
Venetian chandelier, which caught opalescent lights in the sunshine;
she was smiling, perhaps in recollection of the professor with his
wrists and his waistcoat.
Anne did not know what to say; the presence of this woman seemed to
freeze her, like the contact of some clammy thing: it was as if the
soul of Edmund Lewis had entered her body and had become more active,
more subtle in its new habitation. Mechanically her eyes rested upon
Madame Elaguine's dress, a marvellous vague thing, made in some
confused resemblance of the men's dress of Moliére's time,—a crimson
plush coat and a big man's cravat of Flanders lace, but all bursting
out, by every conceivable slashing and gap, into a mass of lace, which
hung about her like a cloud of thistle-down, beneath which her thin
and nervous little body seemed to twist and writhe with every word.
"It's a pretty frock, isn't it?" she remarked, looking down upon it
with satisfaction. "Oh no, I didn't make this; I am bored with always
making my own frocks. It's from Worth. I swore I would bring round
Watty from belief in pre-Adamitic skirts and purfled sleeves and
eighteen-penny medievalism to a belief in Worth; you know he used
always to rant at Paris clothes. Well, I've been as good as my word;
this is from Worth, and what's more, Walter has paid my bill.
Humiliating, rather, isn't it? but then, you see, I'm a pauper, and
can't buy Worth frocks on a thousand a-year, including subscription
for a copy of Chough's new translation of 'Villon,' with all the
improprieties annotated, Dutch paper, morocco, rough edges, price
three guineas, can I?"
Anne flushed. Hamlin had paid for Sacha's dress! And yet, had
Hamlin not paid for not merely one, but all Anne's dresses these
years—nay, for everything that Anne saw about her—nay, for
everything almost that Anne knew and was? And still, how was it, there
was a difference? and as she looked at Sacha in her fantastic Molière
coat of crimson plush and watered white silk and lace, which Hamlin
had paid for, she could not get out of her mind the image of certain
French kept women whom she had seen, in their elaborate dresses and
well-appointed victorias, driving in the Park. It was very unjust and
horrible, yet she could not get it out of her mind.
"Walter is a queer creature," went on Madame Elaguine; "somewhat
like my Ger- man caterpillar professor: I don't mean in the matter of
wrists and waistcoats, but in the matter of women. I don't know how
to say it; my ideas aren't ever very clear: I suppose it's want of Sittlicher Ernst, and also because I'm hysterical—at least the
doctors say so; because I insist on having my own way. I mean that
Walter, for instance, hates me in a certain sense just as that
professor did. I'm sure he sometimes feels as if he could throttle me,
because I have no Sittlicher Ernst, and because I made love
to him, and offered him barley-sugar and tops when I was ten. And yet!
Ah, well, I suppose I am a wretch! Oh, Annie dear, I fear, I fear I am
a wretch!" and Madame Elaguine suddenly jumped up from her chair and
flung her arms round Miss Brown's neck and kissed her, with such
violence that Anne felt her lips almost like leeches and her teeth
pressing into her cheeks.
"Oh Annie, I am an unworthy wretch! I am a beast towards you!" she
Anne felt a horror, a kind of fear of death; and yet she felt sorry
for this woman; was she not a wretch in not clearing up the
position—in letting this woman continue to love in shame, when she
might love openly and honourably? She loosened herself from Sacha's
"Madame Elaguine" she began, feeling her face still burning from
this strangling embrace, and mechanically smoothing her ruffled hair,
"I have long wanted to tell you something with regard to Mr
Hamlin—indeed I feel I ought to have told it you before, but . . ."
At this moment the door opened and Hamlin entered.
Anne had missed her opportunity; it was impossible to speak before
Hamlin, although she had once or twice contemplated clearing up
matters to him and his cousin at the same time. But it was impossible
now. Sacha had something strange, brazen, about her, which froze
Anne's soul. Hamlin was listless, depressed, with that hang-dog,
stupefied air that Miss Brown had noticed in him of late. He spoke
little, barely answered any of Sacha's remarks: every time that he
raised his eyes upon his cousin, it was with an expression that
amounted almost to disgust; and she seemed nowise hurt, but rather
amused and pleased at this look, and took a pleasure in provoking it
by a hundred absurdities, and by a sort of bullying way, as if
expressly to show her power over this sullen creature.
They did not stay long. Madame Elaguine rose, and Hamlin
mechanically followed her example: was it that he could not see her go
away by herself, or that he was afraid of being left alone with Miss
"This is my first visit to you since your illness, and it will be
my last for a little time," said Madame Elaguine, letting Hamlin help
her on with her cloak, and spinning out the operation, as if to show
that this depressed and sullen creature, for all his sulkiness, was
"Are you going away?" cried Anne, a sudden fear entering her heart.
Sacha no- ticed her involuntary flush, and mistook its meaning.
"Only for a fortnight," she answered, with an odd smile. "Oh no; I
can't do without London and my friends—hideous London and
disagreeable friends, at least so far as Walter is concerned. I
suppose it's my perversity and want of Sittlicher Ernst,
again. I am going to Paris this evening. I have a notion of taking
Boris out of his English school and sending him to the Lycée. I feel I
have had a surfeit of respectability and æstheticism, and that I'd
rather my son were a Frenchman and a Bohemian. It's a whim. Perhaps it
will make me return a frantic Anglomaniac. Fancy if Boris were to grow
up a thing like this!" pointing to Hamlin,—"a horrible pseudo Sir
Galahad, as Watty was at sixteen. Faugh! I couldn't bear it. Good-bye,
Annie dear; I fear you must think me an immoral woman, and that my
German professor wasn't so far wrong. Good-bye, my beautiful Madonna
of the Glaciers," and again Miss Brown was half stifled in the cloud
of oriental perfumes, as Madame Elaguine kissed her cavalierly on both
"Come along, Watty!" cried Sacha; "can't you learn to open the door
for a woman?"
"Good-bye, Miss Brown," and Hamlin gave a little sigh of weariness
as he pressed Anne's hand.
Miss Brown remained in a state of vague fear all that day. Was that
love—at least on Hamlin's part—that look of bored disgust with
which he had responded to Madame Elaguine's provocation? Anne grew
pale at the notion of that fortnight of Sacha's absence. Would Hamlin,
fickle, easily wounded in his vanity, sated with Madame Elaguine's
Russian ways, remain faithful to the absent woman? Would he not rather
return and begin afresh that old, old story of Platonic adoration, of
self-reproach, with what his cousin called Madonna of the Glaciers?
And as Hamlin was leaving, he had said to her half audibly, "If you
will allow me, I will come to-morrow afternoon and see what can be
done to my Vision of Beatrice, if you will give me a sitting."
A sitting! Anne's heart had sunk at the mere word.
But the next morning she found on the tray on which her breakfast
was brought up a twisted note. It was from Hamlin, written late the
"DEAR MISS BROWN," it said,—"I fear you will think me very
uncourteous to break through our engagement for to-morrow morning. But
I am feeling rather anxious lest Madame Elaguine should get imposed on
about the school for her boy; so I shall join her for a few days in
Paris. Pray forgive my apparent rudeness.—Yours sincerely, W. H."
"What's your news, Annie?" asked Mary Leigh, who had come in to see
after her invalid. "You look as if you had come in for a fortune!"
Anne made an effort and laughed.
"It was only Mr Hamlin postponing a sitting which I was to give
him. I really don't feel much like sitting yet. Mr Hamlin's gone to
Paris to look after a school for Boris Elaguine."
"And Madame Elaguine?"
"Madame Elaguine—went yesterday."
"Oh, indeed!" answered Mary Leigh; and as she said that, a wave of
red came into Miss Brown's pale face—why, Anne could not herself have
THE day after Hamlin's departure to join Madame Elaguine,
Richard Brown paid another visit at Hammersmith; and he dropped in
frequently in the next few days. He never spoke of his hopes, he never
inquired about Anne's plans; he scarcely so much as alluded to
Hamlin's departure. He seemed satisfied to see his cousin, to explain
to her all the things that he hoped some day to do. This forbearance,
this delicate discretion, on the part of one of the most tactless and
exacting of men; this something which implied that Cousin Dick had
learned to consult her wishes, touched Miss Brown very much. Love, or
by whatever other name (since the name of love was discredited to
Anne) she might choose to call Richard's strong and steady feeling,
seemed to have purified this powerful and generous temper of that
alloy of coarse and contemptuous suspicion that had occasionally
repelled her so much.
Richard Brown had become comparatively quite charitable in his
judgments, sincerely anxious to be just. He tried to see things a
little from her point of view—nay, even to understand whatever good
there was or had been in Hamlin. This big and self-reliant man, who
had already thought and done so much for himself and for others, began
to appear to his cousin as less mature than she had fancied, and even
less self-reliant; new instincts and perceptions, new sides of his
nature—making it fuller, richer, purer—developing under her
influence. Anne did not love her cousin; she did not even anticipate
loving him anything as she had once loved Hamlin. She recognised that,
in her nature, love could exist only for an ideal, and in an ideal she
could never again believe; but she became aware of a relation of
frank comradeship, of mutual respect and attachment and usefulness,
which warmed her nature, and made hopes and projects bud and blossom
up. She was nervously anxious for that fortnight to have come to an
end, to have Hamlin back, to speak to him; and yet, at the same time,
it seemed to her dreadful that these few days of freedom from care,
freedom from the shadow which had so long hung over her, should so
soon come to an end.
The fortnight was drawing to a close; Hamlin would soon be back.
Anne began to be filled with unendurable impatience; she even, once or
twice, began a letter telling him everything, and tore it up only from
the fear that it might seem harsh, ungrateful, that it might (and the
idea was terrible to her) make him suppose that she was jealous, that
she loved him. It was a great relief to her when there suddenly came a
telegram, sent on from Hamlin's lodgings, and opened by his servant,
which announced for next evening the arrival of Melton Perry, who
knew nothing of Hamlin's momentary absence from town.
"Oh, Aunt Claudia," cried Anne, "Mr Perry is coming to-morrow
evening! Do you think—oh, do you think you could have him to stay
here till Mr Hamlin return?"
"Who is Mr Perry?" asked Chough, who was dining with them, suddenly
pricking up his ears at Anne's excited tone. Could he
be the explanation of Anne's indifference to Hamlin? thought the poet
of the Eternal Feminine.
"Mr Perry," answered Anne, "is the gentleman in whose house I was a
servant until I met Mr Hamlin—the father of the little girls whose
maid I was. He was very kind to me, and I am very fond of him."
Cosmo Chough stared at her in amazement. He had quite forgotten,
indeed he had never properly realised, that this queenly woman, this
more than Dante's Beatrice or Petrarch's Laura, had actually been a
nursemaid—a servant! She a servant! he repeated to himself, looking
at Miss Brown as she sat opposite him; at this goddess, it seemed to
him, with the wonderful face as of one of Michelangelo's Titanesses;
the solemn, mysterious, onyx-grey eyes; the something superhumanly
grand in person and movement. To have been a servant, and to remind
people of it, was his next thought; and this Cosmo Chough, conscious
of his supposed father the duke, and of his real father the apothecary
at Limerick, was absolutely unable to comprehend.
"Mr Perry, except Miss Curzon, was the only friend I ever had,
until—until I met Mr Hamlin," went on Miss Brown. "You will give him
the spare room, Aunt Claudia, for my sake, won't you? And you will let
me arrange it for him, and make it look a little untidy, and put
match-boxes and pipe-lights about, so that he may feel a little
Mrs Macgregor laughed.
"Put as many pipe-lights about as you please, my dear; but if he
fill Watty's studio with pipe-smoke, you will be responsible, not I."
The next afternoon Anne Brown was just in the midst of what she
called making the spare room look untidy, taking out the superfluous
æsthetic furniture which would, she knew, fidget her former master to
death, dragging in leather arm-chairs instead of imitation Queen Anne
things, and piling newspapers and novels on the table, when a visitor
was announced. She went down into the drawing-room, and, to her
surprise, found Edmund Lewis. An inexpressible sense of disgust came
over her, This man personified all that she hated most of that past
with which she was about to break for ever. The little man with the
auburn beard and sealing-wax lips was considerably less free-and-easy
and sultan-like than usual; his humiliation, whatever it was, had
evidently done him good. Indeed, Miss Brown was almost beginning to
ask herself whether she might not have been a little unjust towards
him also, so respectful and amiable had he made himself, when it began
to dawn upon her that there was an explanation for his visit much
more in keeping with the character she had hitherto attributed to him.
"I hear that Walter Hamlin is in Paris with his cousin," he had
remarked, after a few minutes' conversation. He had tried to say it in
an off-hand manner; but Anne had felt his green eyes fixed curiously
"Yes; they have gone to settle about sending Boris to the Lycée."
Lewis hereupon made some remarks about English and French schools,
and upon the education of Boris Elaguine; but slowly and dexterously
he made the conversation return to Sacha and Hamlin; he made the
conspicuous matter no longer the object of Madame Elaguine's and
Hamlin's journey to Paris, but the journey itself.
"I don't think Madame Elaguine's Russian relations—her aunt who
lives in Paris and Boris's grandfather—will be particularly pleased
at her going about like that with a young man," he said. "Russians are
such corrupt people, they see mischief in everything."
Anne understood. Edmund Lewis, who always hated her, had been
unable to resist the temptation, now that both Hamlin and Sacha were
safe out of the way, of seeing the proud Miss Brown wince beneath his
compassion. He was artistically playing upon the feelings of
humiliation and anger with which he imagined her to be filled.
"Madame Elaguine is Mr Hamlin's cousin, you must remember,"
answered Anne, quietly bending over her embroidery.
"True; but the people who meet them in Paris won't know that, or
won't believe it. Besides, it's not as if they had always lived
together and been as brother and sister, as some cousins have. I think
Madame Elaguine is very rash to run the risk of unnecessary gossip;
and I must say I can't understand Hamlin being so dense as not to see
that he was compromising his cousin, especially as people were
beginning to notice his assiduity to his cousin even here. Of course,
however," added Lewis, fixing his eyes on Miss Brown, "being engaged,
to you makes a difference to Hamlin. A man who is engaged to be
married may, I suppose, go about with any woman—it is as if he were
married. I am very sorry I shall be far away, somewhere in Central
Asia or South America—I don't know where—when your marriage will
come off, Miss Brown. I must make my congratulations betimes."
"There is nothing to congratulate about," answered Anne, quietly;
"there has been no question of my marrying Mr Hamlin. I am sorry such
an idea should have got abroad. I was, you know, Mr Hamlin's ward till
lately, and I am now taking advantage of his aunt's kindness to stay
here till—till I settle what I am going to do; I may be going to
Girton—I don't know."
"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed Lewis; "pray forgive my unintentional
impertinence then. Girton? Ah—How long do you intend remaining
"I don't know. Nothing is settled yet." Anne was determined not to
let this man enjoy his impertinence and spitefulness: he should go
"I may stay there altogether. I should rather like to be a
"And I," said Lewis, with one of his would-be fascinating smiles,
"would, in that case, like to be a pupil, Miss Brown."
Anne did not answer. He must be disappointed, she thought. But he
was determined to get some satisfaction out of her.
"I can't get over Hamlin's thoughtlessness in accompanying Madame
Elaguine to Paris," he said. "It would have been so simple to ask some
lady to be of the party. I suppose you did not like leaving Mrs
Macgregor? I was sorry to hear that she was ailing."
"There was no question of my going," answered Anne; "and I do think
it is such silly nonsense about any one being required. If people
choose to think that Mr Hamlin is going to marry his cousin—well, why
not? It would be a very natural thing if he did."
She looked Lewis boldly in the face. It was the first time that she
had said the thing which she believed, hoped for, prayed for.
Edmund Lewis was evidently staggered; and Anne enjoyed watching his
discomfiture. But a thought soon came into his subtle head.
"I suppose you see a good deal of Mr Richard Brown?" he asked;
"he's an extraordinarily clever man."
"Yes; he is very able. I see him often enough. At present his
electioneering business doesn't leave him much time."
"Ah, to be sure. It costs a lot of money, doesn't it, to get into
Parliament? But I suppose Mr Brown is rich now, is he not?"
"He is well off."
"And he is sure to succeed. He has a fine career before him," mused
Lewis. He had, as he thought, grasped the situation: there had been an
amicable exchange—Anne was to marry Richard Brown, and Sacha was to
have Hamlin. All his enemies—for Sacha and Hamlin had evidently sent
him to the right- about—were going to be happily settled. His
paste-coloured face grew pastier than ever; he bit his scarlet lips
and auburn moustache; he looked horribly angry and malignant; wickeder
than even Anne, who had always hated him, would have believed it
But he kept his temper—nay, he was quite unusually deferential and
sweet. He led the conversation to other topics; and Anne thought that
his only object was now to talk no more about the affairs which he had
so misjudged, when, she scarcely knew how, he began to talk about
Wotton Hall—first about the scenery, then about the grounds, then the
house, then their stay there, and finally about the incident of the
He went over all the circumstances of it; he summed up all that he
and Anne knew of Madame Elaguine's persecution; and then, as if
discussing a curious psychological problem, he asked her whether it
had ever occurred to her that there was any possibility that the
persecution should be a fraud, and that the bed had been set fire to
by Madame Elaguine herself. "I don't know whether you remarked at the
time, that the flames burst out just two minutes after Madame Elaguine
had fetched the cigarette-papers out of her room, and that she had
given orders to her maid not to come until she should be rung for,"
said Lewis; "also, that Madame Elaguine seemed extremely unwilling
that any inquiry should be made into the matter afterwards."
Anne said nothing; the recollection of the precious lace-trimmed
dressing-gown, placed carefully out of the way of the flames, and of
that sentence, "And they never forgot, so long as they lived, that
terrible burning bed," which had caught her eye in little Hélène
Elaguine's story-book, came into her mind. She had put that matter of
the persecution behind her of late, and yet in her heart she felt that
she believed it to be a fraud.
"I have had my doubts about it," bending over her work lest Lewis
should see her face. "Indeed," she added boldly, indignant at her own
want of frankness, "I am inclined to believe that Madame Elaguine did
set that bed on fire. Several things have made me think so."
Lewis smiled. "I am glad to find that you take my view of the case,
Miss Brown. The chemist at Appledore—where, if you remember, Madame
Elaguine went for some shopping the day before the fire—showed me
himself the bottle of acid from which he had helped Madame Elaguine—I
forget the name of the stuff—she said she wanted some to take spots
out of a dress."
"Indeed," went on Lewis, "I think that we have in Madame Elaguine a
very curious instance of a sort of monomania which has, I believe, its
scientific name,"—and Lewis began to retail a variety of instances,
culled out of some volume of 'Causes célèbres,' of persons who had
elaborately made up persecutions of which themselves were victims. He
had always been fond of talking as if he knew a great deal about
morbid conditions of the brain, and, indeed, morbid things of all
sorts; and he talked for some time as if he took a purely abstract
interest in the case.
"One is apt to meet very singular types among Russian women,
especially such as have led a wandering life like Madame Elaguine,"
went on Lewis. "They are devoured by a passion for the forbidden, or
at least for the unreal and theatrical; there is something strangely
crooked in their moral vision, something discordant in their nature.
They are extraordinary, charming, intelligent, depraved creatures.
Only a Russian woman could be at once so childish and so theatrical
and insincere, so full of idealism and of cynicism, as Madame
Elaguine. Ah, she is a wonderful being! That matter of the burning bed
finishes her off perfectly."
Edmund Lewis fixed his green magnetic eyes on Anne. He still
believed that she must hate Sacha, as it was clear that, for some
reason or other, he hated the Russian; and he wished, by giving Miss
Brown these notions about Madame Elaguine, to induce her to revenge
herself and him. But Anne had become quite dense to his intentions.
She did not connect these ideas with Lewis; his words seemed to her
now the mere expression of all the things which her own instinct had
revealed, and which she had put behind her in her desire that Sacha
should relieve her of the intolerable debt to Hamlin. The creature
described by this odious man was the real Sacha; she was Madame
Elaguine as she now clearly appeared to Miss Brown. And yet how
unjust! Lewis had wanted to torment her by making her jealous of
Madame Elaguine; he now wished to pay off Madame Elaguine for having,
in some manner, slighted his own vanity.
"I think you take a dreadful view of the matter," she said; "you
explain Madame Elaguine, who is only half a Russian, by all the
horrible Russians you have ever met or imagined. I think there is a
much simpler explanation. Madame Elaguine has been very strangely
brought up; she has lived with very bad people; her husband was a
horrible wretch, we all know. She is excessively hysterical—her
mother, Mr Hamlin's aunt, was so also—and we all know that the
desire to be prominent, to deceive, is a common form of hysteria. And
as she has never been brought up to restrain herself, she imagines
herself to be persecuted, and makes up the persecution. She is much
more to be pitied than to be blamed."
Anne spoke rapidly. She seemed to be speaking fairly; and yet she
knew she was wilfully misrepresenting, that Madame Elaguine was
something more than a hysterical monomaniac: she remembered Mrs
Macgregor's stories of Sacha's degraded childhood, all the accusations
of her precocious lying and unchasteness, of her having led one of her
cousins into mischief, and set the house by the ears. She was
indignant with herself for defending this woman—out of charity? out
of conviction? No. But merely because she required that this woman be
sufficiently innocent to become Hamlin's wife.
Edmund Lewis stroked his auburn beard meditatively.
"I don't believe in praise and blame," he answered; "I believe
merely in fate. Some people are born noble, truthful, chaste—others
just the reverse. It is the fault of neither; and each, in its way, is
equally interesting and valuable to the artist or the psychologist.
The curious thing about Madame Elaguine is, that she apparently stands
half-way; she is, according to the ideas of the world, half
responsible and half irresponsible. We see in her a hysterical woman,
troubled by a morbid love of deceit; and at the same time a woman to
whom such deceit is or has been practically necessary. Madame Elaguine
continues for her amusement, and develops to the utmost, an imaginary
persecution, whose origin must be sought in some intrigue which it was
her interest to veil by a mystification," Lewis drawled on in his
omniscient, half-pedantic way, as if the intrigues of married women
were the most usual subject of conversation between a man and a young
lady, and as if to suggest that Madame Elaguine had led a loose life
were the most obvious and inoffensive of proceedings.
Miss Brown blushed crimson; but she felt something more than
insulted, something more than indignant. What right had this man to
focus all her own suspicions concerning a woman whom she fervently
wished not to suspect?
"Mr Lewis," she said, "I don't think those things should be
listened to by me or said by you. I believe that Madame Elaguine is
not sound in her mind, and that her persecution is a hoax; but I
believe that she is an honest woman in other respects. She is a friend
of mine, and I will not hear her slandered."
"Heaven forbid that I should wish to slander her! I think she is a
fascinating woman; and she is—at least she was—quite as great a
friend of mine as of yours. I was only telling you how I explain her
Lewis had always appeared a reptile in Anne's eyes; but never so
much as just now.
"I hate scandal," he said, taking his hat, "and I am most grieved
to have appeared to be talking scandal. People always misunderstand
the sort of passionate interest I take in every kind of curious
character. I suppose you would call it morbid, Miss Brown; but I
really was considering Madame Elaguine merely as an interesting
All this kind of talk, of which Hamlin was so fond, perfectly
sickened Anne; and the sudden stirring up of all her old suspicions
"That is all very fine," she said angrily; "but do you, or do you
not, believe Madame Elaguine to be a dishonourable woman, apart from
"It is very hard to say. You know I disbelieve in what you call
moral responsibilities. I imagine Madame Elaguine to have found her
mania for persecution very convenient at one period of her life—yes,
cer- tainly. I think it is the only rational way to account for the
beginning of it—don't you?"
Miss Brown took no notice of Lewis's insolent inquisitiveness of
"If you think that, Mr Lewis," she said, "may I ask how you
reconciled with your notions of gentlemanly behaviour the calm way in
which you let Mr Hamlin introduce such a woman as you describe to me,
and let me continue to know her? No; you are perfectly aware that all
this is merely trumped up at the moment." And she put her hand on the
bell-handle, for the door to be opened to Lewis.
Edmund Lewis smiled.
"Walter Hamlin's eyes are quite as good as mine. As regards my
behaviour towards you, I cannot go into details, but you may
understand, dear Miss Brown, that two or three months ago I may not,
as a man of honour, have been at liberty to discuss Madame Elaguine's
character in the way that I have done now that Madame Elaguine's
relations with me have entirely changed their nature. Good-bye, dear
Miss Brown. I am most truly grieved if I have offended you in any
Anne merely made an impatient gesture, a gesture almost of disgust,
as Edmund Lewis left the room.
So this was the explanation of Edmund Lewis's apparent disgrace!
Sacha Elaguine had repelled his odious advances, she had closed her
door to him, she had complained to Hamlin; and now, as soon as their
backs were turned, Lewis had come to slander them without fear of a
horsewhipping. Anne seemed to breathe once more—thank heaven that the
wretch had overreached himself in his malice!
THE door had scarcely closed upon Edmund Lewis, when it opened
"Mr Perry!" cried Anne, rising and running forward as a child might
run to meet a former kind and encouraging teacher; "Mr Perry! oh I am
so glad to see you!"
It really seemed to her that this dear, good, open familiar face,
with the untidy yellow hair and beard,—that this well-known, boyish,
slouching figure drove away like some cabalistic sign the loathsome
creature who had been there a few minutes before,—that Melton Perry
dispelled all the horrid vision left behind by Edmund Lewis.
"Didn't expect me yet, eh, Annie—I mean Miss Brown?" said Melton
Perry, as she seized his hand in both hers. "I suppose you expected me
by the Dover train. But I came by Dieppe, six hours' agony, but a
saving of twelve-and-sixpence. I was always an economical creature,
wasn't I? Why, what's that you have round your neck? That beastly
little pewter and horn rosary that I got you at the Fair of the
Impruneta, by George! Fancy your having kept such a thing!"
"It's one of the best things I have," said Anne, the tears coming
into her eyes as this well-known voice brought back the far-distant
past—"it's the present of a friend."
"And all this, isn't this also the present of a friend?" said
Perry, throwing himself into an arm-chair, and looking round the room
with much the same wonder with which Anne had looked at its strange
furniture, its brocades and embroideries, and Japanese vases and
lustre plates, when she first came; "but I forgot, Walter Hamlin isn't
a particular friend of yours."
To this jest Miss Brown made no answer: if only Melton Perry could
guess at the literal truth of his words!
"Lord, what a damned gorgeous place this is!" cried Perry, still
looking round; and then, suddenly turning towards Anne, where she sat,
in a wonderful trailing dress of deep crimson stamped velvet, a big
bunch of blackish crimson roses marking off, throwing into relief, the
strange opaque ivory of her face, "what a beautiful woman you are,
Annie! Do you know, I usen't to believe it, when Watty raved about
you at the Villa Arnolfini. What a crusty old jackass I must have
been! But tell, why in the wide world aren't you married yet? What
have you been doing all this time?"
"Mr Hamlin has not asked me to marry him yet," answered Anne,
Melton Perry thrust his hands upon the arms of his chair, and his
whole body forward. "Not asked you to marry him yet!" he repeated;
"do you mean to say you aren't engaged to him . . .?"
Anne shook her head.
"That he's been going loafing, and spooning, and doing
Nuova all this time? I thought that he must have lost two dozen
grandfathers and grandmothers in rapid succession, so that one
mourning postponed your marriage after the other, or something
similar." Then a thought suddenly struck him. "Hamlin's not ill?" he
cried. "Consumption, madness, doctors' consultations,—anything of
Miss Brown could not help smiling.
"Oh no, Mr Hamlin has been quite well. He is in Paris at present;
he didn't expect you quite so soon, but he will be back in a day or
Melton Perry rose and looked Anne very earnestly in the face—
"Miss Brown—no, I can't call you Miss Brown—Annie, tell me the
truth. Has Hamlin not kept his word—has he played you any dirty
trick? No, no, I don't mean anything,—but, has Hamlin played fast and
loose with you?"
"Mr Hamlin never intended asking me to marry him at once,"
answered Anne, evasively. She felt in Melton Perry's suspicions that
again, as with her cousin, Hamlin would be attacked, maligned, that
she would have to defend him. "Don't you remember, Mr Perry? We were
to wait, to see whether we really . . . I will tell you all about it
later—to-morrow. It is a long story; I want to hear about you now,
about Italy—about your work, the children, Mrs Perry."
"Mr Hamlin," she added, fearing lest her evasive answers, her haste
to get rid of the subject, should prejudice Perry against his friend,
"has been most generous and noble towards me; indeed much more than I
can ever say."
"I'm damned if I understand any of it," said Perry to himself, as
he proceeded to answer Anne's rapid strings of questions about his
wife, his little girls, his pictures, his etchings,—those etchings,
never thought of before, which had revealed in this sixth-rate painter
a great artist, and had brought him, in good case to make money, to
England. Miss Brown insisted upon showing him up to his room herself.
As she was leaving him, he looked at her long and seriously.
"Annie," he said, "if it's not rude to ask, for I've forgotten—how
old are you?"
"I was twenty-four last month. Why do you ask? Do you think I look
more?"—she added, with a smile whose bitterness he did not catch. She
could scarcely realise it herself; she seemed to have lived so long,
such years and years since she had seen him last—nay, since she had
first entered this room.
"Twenty-four," repeated Perry, stupidly. "Well now, don't be
offended—of course you couldn't be more, for you weren't of age when
you left us; but somehow—it isn't that you don't look young, you
know, but all the same I should have thought . . . I'm a rude brute."
"That I was much older," laughed Miss Brown. "Well, I often think
"It's something, I don't know what. You are far handsomer than in
Italy, and you never did look much like a girl—you know what I mean;
but now, upon my word, I don't know how to say it, I never saw an
unmarried woman look like you. You look as if you had seen and
understood such a heap of things. I feel quite a fool before you.
Forgive me," he said, "I'm always a blundering tomfool. I had somehow
thought of you as something like my own girls. Winnie's sixteen, you
know, and such a strapping girl. But I feel as if you might be my
Anne laughed. "I have always felt as if I were your grandmother. I
was born old. Good-bye, Mr Perry. Remember that dinner is at seven;
and put on a dress-coat if you want to win the heart of my aunt—I
mean Mr Hamlin's aunt."
Melton Perry whistled as he stooped to unbuckle his portmanteau.
"I'm damned if I understand anything of it all, and Annie least of
any of them," he mused.
"AFTER all," said Melton Perry to himself next morning, as he
sat under the big apple-trees in the garden, smoking his pipe and
looking at Miss Brown stitching at a piece of embroidery and
overwhelming him with questions about Winnie, Mildred, Leila, the
baby, Mrs Perry—nay, even about all her former fellow-servants in
Italy, and the grocer round the corner, and the milkman, and the man
who came from the country every Monday to fetch the linen,—"after
all, it was a very bright idea of old Watty's to fall in love with our
nursemaid and turn her into a wonderful æsthetic being in a wonderful
æsthetic house: it was very sensible of Mrs Perry to encourage him in
the idea; and it was just like a confounded, fumbling, purblind old
pig and ass like me to try and prevent it."
After lunch Anne took Melton Perry up into the drawing-room, cool,
and almost Italian, with drawn blinds and a faint smell of flowers in
the dusk, on one of the most stifling London afternoons. Perry
mechanically took out a cigarette; but he hastily put it in again. It
seemed to him profanation to smoke in such a wonderful room, in the
presence of such a wonderful woman.
"Please smoke; you used always to smoke after lunch with Mrs
Perry," said Anne.
"But—this isn't Florence; and you—you aren't Mrs Perry."
Anne made an impatient gesture that he should take out his
cigarettes again. She had determined that she must speak to him before
Hamlin came; that she must try and get him to understand, to explain
things to Hamlin. But how get this good-natured, kindly, childish, yet
in a way chivalrous, harum-scarum creature to understand her story?
She had a great dread of the impossibility of making him understand
that Hamlin had never acted meanly towards her—that their
estrangement was due to nothing voluntary on Hamlin's part, to nothing
but the disappointing of her own perhaps unwarranted ideals; of making
him understand that Hamlin's connection with Madame Elaguine, instead
of being a grievance in her eyes, was the greatest happiness she could
conceive. Perry was sure to burst out against Hamlin, to refuse to
listen to her explanations, to insist upon fighting the battle of an
Anne groaned at the thought, as she might have groaned at some
immense stone to roll uphill. It was always so difficult for her to
understand others, so intolerably more difficult to make herself
understood. But she had resolved.
"I must tell you all my history since last we saw each other," she
said; "you will want to hear it, won't you, Mr Perry?"
Perry, to whose brain all the unwonted splendour of this house, all
the fantasticalness of finding his former nursemaid changed into a
magnificently dressed goddess, had gone with a sort of narcotic
effect, answered in a stupefied way, "Oh dear, yes—of course—I'm
dying to hear it. I can't at all realise that it is really you, Annie,
or really anybody and anything. Do you remember when we went into
Lucca that day for the feast of the Holy Face, and I left you with
Winnie and Mildred to go to the opera with Hamlin? D'you remember the
plaster bust of Castruccio at the top of the hotel stairs, with the
old woman's night-cap on? I don't know why that bust haunted me so.
What tiny trots Winnie and Mildred were, with sashes down at their
knees! and such confounded young flirts, five feet seven, as they are
now! I see you have Winnie's photograph. How comic those brats must
have looked! . . . But won't you tell me all your marvellous and
"I scarcely know where to begin; perhaps I had better begin at the
end. You wanted to know," said Anne, making a great effort to arrest
Perry's attention, "why Mr Hamlin and I weren't married yet, nor even
engaged . . ."
"Oh yes; what the deuce is the meaning of it, Annie? You are
certainly the queerest people, you æsthetic folk. By Jove! you
actually have a photograph of yourself with the children. I had clean
forgotten its existence; and now I remember as if it were yesterday
taking you to Alinari's, and how beastly naughty Winnie was! Oh, what
a sulky blackamoor you do look, Annie! Good gracious! you don't mean
to say you know her?" and Melton Perry suddenly
turned the album, at which he was looking, towards Anne. "Where in the
world did you pick up a photograph of Mrs Constantine Bulzo?"
"Mrs Constantine Bulzo ?" asked Anne, in amazement. "Whom do you
mean? I never heard of such a person. That photograph?—why, that's a
half-Russian cousin of Mr Ham- lin's, Sacha Elaguine, who was a Miss
"Hamlin's cousin!" whistled Melton Perry,—"well, upon my word . .
. yes, of course, I had forgotten—of course, her name isn't Mrs
Constantine Bulzo any longer. But may I ask, how under heaven do you
come to know Madame Elaguine?"
"I don't understand a word. This lady is Madame Elaguine; she is Mr
Hamlin's first cousin, and that's of course how I come to know her."
"Hamlin's cousin or not Hamlin's cousin, how in the wide world
could a woman like you ever know, ever meet such a—such a—excuse the
word, but it's the least bad I can find—such an abominable baggage as
this woman, Elaguine, or Bulzo, or Polozoff—as this abominable
Miss Brown turned white and almost green; the embroidery slipped out
of her hands—she gasped.
"Good Lord, what's the matter with you, Annie?" cried Perry,
jumping up; "you surely didn't imagine that—you surely can't be a
great friend of such a creature as that. What's the matter?—are you
"It's nothing—the heat, I suppose," said Anne, stooping to pick up
her embroidery; "and then, also, I suppose I'm not very strong yet;
I've had brain fever, and you took me by surprise. But I oughtn't to
have been surprised, because I know Sacha Elaguine has a great many
enemies, and that her circumstances, her history, and in some measure,
unfortunately, her ways and character, rather lend themselves to all
manner of horrible stories. She's a frightfully tried and slandered
little woman, poor thing. But I don't—I don't believe any of it."
Anne was conscious of a horrible effort as she spoke these words;
lying was difficult to her; and she remembered Edmund Lewis's words.
"Are you really fond of Madame Bulzo—I mean Madame Elaguine?"
asked Perry, grown very serious suddenly, and looking Anne in the face
with an expression of surprise and pain. "Are you intimate with her?"
"I am intimate in the sense of having been with her a good deal,
and knowing more than other people about her," answered Anne; "but I
can't say I am a great friend of hers. She is Mr Hamlin's cousin; she
has settled in England recently; he—we, I mean—see a good deal of
her. I am awfully sorry for her, poor little woman; but there isn't
very much in common between us."
"Thank goodness!" cried Perry. "Do you know, the sight of that
photograph made me feel quite sick—the thought that you, Annie,
should be the friend of such a creature. But I knew you couldn't be."
"But I am Madame Elaguine's friend; I don't believe a word of the
infamous stories that are told about her; and you wouldn't believe
them either, if you knew all that I do."
do you know ?" asked Perry, slowly and
pityingly; "about the iniquities of Monsieur Elaguine, about the
terrible persecution, the bits of letters, the pistol-shots, the
poisoned chocolate, the lit spirits of wine poured under the
door,—all that crazy imposture, I suppose? Well, I hope that Hamlin
knows no more than you; otherwise, by God! he's no better than a
blackguard to let you associate with this woman, be she his cousin a
hundred times over; and you must never see that woman again, Annie. I
forbid you to—I, as the oldest friend you have in the world—I
forbid you to defile yourself by knowing that infamous creature." And
Perry walked fiercely up and down, while Miss Brown, her whole body,
it seemed to her, melting away from her soul, sat speechless looking
"Listen to me, Anne," he said, "and judge whether I am unfair. God
knows I'm not a Puritan, neither towards myself nor towards others.
I've been a very rowdy man; I've knowu a great many rowdy women—what
you call regular bad women—Russians, who are the worst of all—by
the dozen. I'm not a red-tapist; I can quite understand women
misbehaving,—having lovers—that sort of thing,—or even, if they are
very wretched, selling themselves. It's beastly immoral to say so
before a woman, but still, there it is, it's the truth. Well, such as
you see me, I wouldn't touch that woman with the
longest pair of tongs in all the devil's kitchen. That woman is really
wicked—not merely immoral, but abominable, atrocious; she is the sort
of woman who absolutely degrades a man, takes a pleasure in turning
him into a beast and a madman—whose greatest pleasure would be to
degrade and make a beast of an honest woman. Just listen to me. Some
five years ago I knew a Greek couple—a young man and his sister,
called Constantine and Marie Bulzo. They were orphans, very young,
very handsome, especially the boy, who was only eighteen or nineteen.
They were a sort of half-English Greeks, and went in for being
æsthetical and artistic, all that sort of thing. I knew them in
Florence, where Miss Bulzo, who was four or five years older than her
brother, was studying painting. I gave them both lessons. I never met
two such beautiful creatures, body and soul, as those young Bulzos.
They were like young saints, and yet perfectly childish and merry, and
they were quite devoted to each other: Marie really lived only for the
boy. Well, six months later I met the two at Venice. They were staying
at the same hotel as your Madame Elaguine, who immediately proceeded
to make herself awfully fascinating and pathetic to them. Of course
the poor children swallowed all about the persecutions by the
Nihilists as so much Gospel. They introduced me, and Madame Elaguine
rather amused me; but I saw very soon that she wasn't a woman for
them to know. There was a man staying in the same hotel, an old friend
of hers, and, in fact, her lover, who was one of the vilest scoundrels
the world ever bred—a horrible loathsome old Russian. I used to
wonder how Madame Elaguine could endure him, but then I found out that
he paid her bills for her. I tried to warn the Bulzos, especially
Constantine, as, being a man, he might be expected to understand such
things rather better. But, figurati! (and Perry made an
expressive gesture of Italian exaggeration,) they wouldn't hear a word
against their beloved, deeply injured, martyrised Madame Elaguine.
Well, we half quarrelled; I scarcely saw anything of them. At the end
of four months what do I hear, but that Miss Bulzo was married to
Madame Elaguine's loathsome Russian; and then, a week later, I see
Constantine and Madame Elaguine go off in the train together. Do you
understand? Madame Elaguine, who was in love with young Bulzo, wanted
to go off with him, and not knowing what to do with Marie, and wishing
to dismiss and settle accounts with her quondam lover, had,
in some fiendish way, induced this innocent girl of twenty-four to
marry this frightful old Russian sinner—had sold her to the loathsome
beast as a settlement to their debts; and Marie, after a few months,
simply pined away and died of shame and disgust at the slavery she had
been sold into. Do you understand that?"
"I understand; but I don't see why I should believe—it's too
horrible to be true."
"It is true, though, for Constantine Bulzo told it me all himself
later; how the Elaguine had talked him over to consent, and had
regularly bullied his sister into the marriage, by pretending that it
was the only way of paying a lot of imaginary debts of her brother's,
and had forced Constantine, who was raving in love with her, to hold
his tongue. That was the end of Marie Bulzo. Now as to Constantine.
His sister once safely married to her old beast, he went off with the
Elaguine, or rather, the Elaguine went off with him. Next summer I met
them at Perugia; they were travelling about in remote places as Mr and
Mrs Bulzo; and English people were so kind as to believe that this
Russian woman of thirty and this Greek boy of twenty were married.
Constantine perfectly adored her; but I never saw a man more changed:
he looked thirty, a miserable, hang-dog, effeminate sort of creature,
quite unable to do anything except drag after his so-called wife. That
woman had regularly ruined the poor boy, broken his spirit, turned him
into a kind of male odalisque of hers. Two years later the Bulzos were
at Venice again; and I came just in time for the catastrophe. One fine
morning Mrs Constantine Bulzo, become Madame Elaguine once more,
packed her trunks and went off with a French painter, leaving her
supposed husband to pay the hotel bill."
"I saw Constantine shortly after; the woman had spent nearly all
his money, and he was living, or starving, in a room in a beastly
court, slinking out only early in the morning and late at night,
spending the day lying in his bed, eating opium and drinking. I never
saw such a wreck in my life. As he was starving, I got him a place as
clerk at a picture-shop, and tried to get him to work; but he didn't
seem to care about living, and went on drinking and stupefying
himself, till one day he drowned himself in the lagoon—they say
accidentally, but I shall never believe it. That is the story of your
Madame Elaguine; and I swear to you I have not exaggerated one word of
it. Do you still think she is a woman fit to be known by you? By
heaven! when I think what that miserable boy was when I saw him last,
and what he had been when first I knew him, I feel as if it would be
the greatest possible pleasure to throttle your Madame Elaguine with
my own hands! Upon my soul, I do!"
Perry was walking up and down rapidly. Anne had never seen him so
excited in his life.
"But," remarked Miss Brown, coldly, "even admitting your story to
be true, which I suppose, as it comes from you, that I must, was it
all the woman's fault? You men always throw the blame on the woman.
But your Constantine Bulzo must have been a wretched weak creature."
Perry stopped short.
"No one has a right to expect every man or every woman to be very
strong," he answered, sadly. "This poor boy was kind and trusting,
and, when left to his own devices, honest. He was not weaker than most
men, especially than most artistic natures—not weaker, for instance,
than Walter Hamlin."
Anne Brown did not answer. But next morning she greatly surprised
Melton Perry by asking him, in a voice that affected him as being very
"Did you tell me something—a dreadful story—about Madame Elaguine
and a young Greek friend of yours, yesterday afternoon?"
Perry looked at her with surprise. There was something in her
wide-opened, strained eyes, in her rigidity of features, that made
him think of a sleep-walker.
"Of course I did. Why?"
"Oh, nothing. I had only a very bad night—all manner of horrible
dreams, and I was not sure whether this might not be one of them."
"DO you know, Annie," said Melton Perry, two or three days
later, "I find Watty very much altered. He seems so fearfully
depressed and broken-spirited. He used always to be bored, but not
like this; he has got to look so old, with those great rings under his
Miss Brown did not answer. Hamlin had returned the previous evening
from Paris, and she also had noticed that he was changed—not so much,
indeed, as Melton Perry seemed to think, for Melton Perry had not seen
him for four or five years; and she—she had watched a change coming
over him during the last months. Yet even she must own to herself that
this change had made rapid progress during his fortnight or three
weeks in Paris, or at least that this absence enabled her to notice
the change much more. He was even more than usually apathetic and
silent, and his pleasure at seeing his old friend once more was so
slight, or rather so tempered by a kind of indifference and even
annoyance, that Miss Brown felt perfectly nervous lest poor
warm-hearted Melton Perry should feel mortally wounded. The next day
Hamlin made an effort over himself: he seemed anxious to be as kind
as possible to Perry; but somehow it did not succeed. Melton Perry
would have liked, as he said, to have Walter all to himself, to sit
with him by the hour together, or walk out alone with him, talking of
old times; but Hamlin seemed possessed by a nervous dread of a tête-à-tête. He could not sit in the studio with Perry for more
than half an hour without, on some excuse or other, calling his aunt
or Miss Brown. He seemed to have invited a lot of people to drop in at
all hours, as if to protect him from his old friend.
"It's awfully good of old Hamlin to wish me to know all these grand
swell painters and newspaper writers," said Perry to Anne, in the tone
of a disappointed child; "and I suppose it is very
useful to me. But still, I wish I could get him to understand that
what I want at present is to see just him and you; that all these
confounded influential people will keep; and that I'd rather have a
good talk over a pipe with him alone, as in old days."
Anne did not answer. It seemed to her that she understood so well
why Hamlin dreaded a tête-à-tête with Melton Perry; a
tête-à-t;ête which would be, largely, a talk about the past and
the future, about her, Anne Brown. But Anne could not think about poor
Perry and his disappointed friendliness; her whole nature seemed to be
staggering and reeling, and the concerns of other folk were as
distant, as unattainable, as they might be to a person tossed for
hours on a stormy sea, paralysed, removed as it were from the world by
an unspeakable sense of nausea. The days seemed to reel past, and yet
not a week was gone since the arrival of Melton Perry.
One afternoon, they were seated—Hamlin, Perry, and she—with Mrs
Macgregor at tea in the dim, shuttered drawing-room, with the heavy
scent of flowers, when Richard Brown was announced. If a ghost had
appeared on the threshold, Anne could not have turned paler, and
trembled harder in all her limbs—this man, whom she had seen but a
week ago, seemed indeed a spectre out of the past, the long dead past,
with which all connection was severed. It was an immense relief to her
not to be alone; she had an instinct that Richard had come to ask her
whether, at last, she had settled matters with Hamlin; she thought she
could see his eyes going from Hamlin's face to her own inquiringly.
The conversation was languid and indifferent. Richard Brown wished for
an explanation from her; Melton Perry hoped for an explanation from
Richard Brown; Hamlin looked on passively, with that half-stupefied
look which she had noticed in him lately.
Hamlin was more than merely depressed, he was very sad; his face, so
handsome and still so young, so perfectly unmarked in feature,
contrasted strikingly with the pleased, happy-go-lucky, kindly face
of Perry; with the strong, eager, contemptuous face of Brown. For a
moment Anne wondered what this sadness meant; whether there was in him
any recollection of what he was, of what he might be; whether the poet,
the dreamer, the chivalrous Hamlin of former days, still existed and
suffered within this weak and degraded Hamlin of the present; and
then, suddenly, this thought came in violent contact with the
remembrance of Perry's story of Constantine Bulzo. Had Constantine
Bulzo looked like that?
Richard Brown, obviously disappointed in his visit, rose.
"Why are you going so soon, Brown ?" asked Hamlin, rising and
making an effort over himself; "you never give me a chance of seeing
you. Won't you stay to dinner? It is very impertinent of me to invite
people in a house that isn't mine; but I feel sure Miss Brown is
disappointed in not having had any talk with you. Chough is coming to
see Perry this evening, so you and your cousin might have a chat
He spoke simply, in his quiet, subdued, melancholy voice. Richard
Brown looked at him rapidly from head to foot; what was the meaning of
this? And Anne felt herself growing very red. Had Hamlin guessed what
she scarcely herself knew?
"Thank you," answered Richard; "I am dining with some of my
would-be constituents to-night. You know," he said to Anne, "I am
going into Parliament, I believe. I will return soon; many thanks, Mr
"I have a good many things to tell you, Nan," he said, as Miss
Brown accompanied him to the room-door. "I have heard of a scholarship
which I am sure you could take if you would cram for six months; and I
want to ask you a lot of things also. I will come back in two or three
He squeezed her hand; and Anne felt her heart thump at that
hand-squeeze, so frank and affectionate.
"Good-bye, Cousin Dick," she said. Her voice and eyes and hand
lingered in that farewell, in a way quite unusual to her reserved and
decided nature. She was saying goodbye she knew not exactly to what,
but she felt that the farewell was the last, and that it meant
farewell to her happiness.
Chough came to dinner and stayed during the evening.
When he and Hamlin had taken their departure, Perry remained for a
few moments standing by the open window, looking vacantly at the
trees, the outlines of the craft moored opposite, the long trails of
moonlight on the water. Then he came back into the room, and began
fiddling with some roses in a glass.
"Beautiful roses," he said, in an awkward drawl; "we have none like
them in Italy. Why don't Italians cultivate flowers? What do you call
this? Is it a La France? I never knew a turnip from a jasmine."
"I think it is a La France; I don't know," answered Anne, taking a
candlestick off the dining-room mantelpiece. "I think I must leave you
now. You will find a box of cigarettes on the sideboard. Forgive me, I
feel so tired and stupid."
"One moment!" cried Perry. "It's a very disagreeable thing I have
to say, Annie; but I think I ought to say it. I guessed it the second
time I saw him already; but now I am quite sure of it—Hamlin drinks."
Anne did not answer.
"I don't mean to say that he gets drunk. But he drinks—spirits;
I've seen him to-night after dinner, and I'm sure he's going to take
more at home. There's no mistaking the look. It isn't that he takes
much, not more than I or most men might take; but it is that he
oughtn't to take any. He used, you know, never even to take wine,
except with gallons of water. He can't take anything of the sort. I
remember already when we were at college together, Watty was a
teetotaller. It appears some people are like that; I've heard doctors
say that it's not unusual in families where there has been much
drinking: it's a sort of diseased sensitiveness to alcohol—it becomes
a kind of poison. You know that Hamlin's father drank, and one of his
uncles died of drink, and his brother is either dead or dying,
somewhere in a maison de santé, of a sort of mixed delirium tremens and craziness. It's a thing," went on Perry,
keeping his eyes fixed on the pattern of the Persian rug under his
feet, "which grieves and alarms me horribly; and in which I feel that
you are probably the only person who could have any influence with
him. It's useless my speaking. He must have got in among a bad lot.
That little Chough seems harmless enough;but I hear that he was very
close with a nasty fellow called Lewis—a spiritualist, opium-eater,
haschisch-eater, and heaven knows what. Does he see much of him now?"
"He has quarrelled with Edmund Lewis, I fancy."
"Ah—so much the better. Then this would evidently be the moment to
act. Of course I know it will be awfully difficult and horrible for
you; because he'll feel so miserably ashamed before you, and, of
course, you will feel it almost as badly as he. But still, you are the
only person that can influence him. You see he loves you, worships
you, all that sort of thing. And I am sure you will have the courage
to get over your repugnance to a disagreeable half-hour, won't you,
Annie, for your own sake as well as his?"
"I will do my best," said Miss Brown.
MISS BROWN went up to her room slowly, and slowly proceeded to
"You look very tired, miss," said her maid; "haven't you perhaps
been overtiring yourself so soon after your illness? and don't you
think you had better let me brush your hair for you?"
Anne shook her head; she had never consented to let any one wait
upon her except when ill, with that odd feeling that she, a servant,
had no right to have a servant; and the maid whom Hamlin considered as
a sort of necessary institution for a woman in Miss Brown's position,
had been virtually put at the disposal of Mrs Macgregor, whose
constant fidgeting over her clothes, and tea, and coffee, and food,
according to hygienic theories of thirty years back, might have
afforded occupation not to two but to twenty maids. Anne really did
look very worn out; more so than she had seemed these several weeks,
thought the maid.
"No, thank you, Laura," said Miss Brown. She really did not feel at
all as if she could sleep; she felt the blood rushing through every
artery of her body, and a hot faintness overtake her.
"It won't do to make myself ill again," she said to herself. The
doctor had said that for the present she must try and get as much
sleep as possible; and she was a practical, methodical person. She
brushed her hair, still in short wavy masses since it was cut during
the fever, carefully, slowly. It seemed to her as if, in the half
light, it looked more grey than black. She pulled out a few white
hairs: they come early in hair as dark and wiry as hers. She folded
her clothes methodically, as she used to fold the clothes of the
little Perrys, put out her light and lay down.
"It won't do to make myself ill again," she said; and, closing her
eyes, determined to sleep.
She remained stretched out rigidly, like a dead woman, her head
straight on her pillows, and trying to keep her mind as rigid as her
body. But it was of no use. She could not sleep; her blood and her
thoughts seemed to throb furiously within her.
Anne's mind had been made up, quietly, methodically, much in the
same way as her hair had been brushed and her clothes folded, already
a good hour ago, when talking to Melton Perry; she had seen the
necessity of a decision coming, had waited for the moment when the
decision should be made, ever since she had heard that story of Madame
Elaguine and Constantine Bulzo. There had been, it seemed to her, no
alternative; and there seemed to her that there was no alternative
now, either. But as she lay motionless in her bed, and stared into
the darkness with wide-opened eyes, she began, once more, to go over
slowly and repeatedly the steps of the argument, which had, three or
four days ago, become manifest to her as might the mechanism of a
broken watch to a watchmaker, of any very inevitable and obvious
Hamlin had done everything for her; he had turned what she looked
back upon with horror, as a kind of intellectual and moral death, into
life. He had bought her soul free, had nourished and nurtured it, as a
man might have redeemed, nourished, and nurtured the body of some
slave child, doomed to be a cripple in a crippling occupation; he had
done, she felt assured, what no other man had ever done for a woman,
since no other woman, she thought, could have escaped from such a
state of utter soul stagnation as had already begun, those five years
ago, in her slow, sullen nature. It was more than had ever been done
for another woman, and Anne felt its value more than any other; for
despite the modesty and frankness which often took others aback, the
very stuff of her soul, like the very mould of her features, was
pride. She knew herself to be nobler than the majority of men and
women; not more intelligent, nor more honest, nor more kindly, nor any
one particular quality, but more homogeneous of nature; not alloyed in
any portion, whatever she might be; upright, sincere, practical, harsh
even, through and through: a reality, where they seemed but half
reality and half make-up. And that she should be this she owed to
Hamlin; without him she would have been equally homogeneous of soul,
but it would have been with the uniformity, the rigidity of spiritual
What Hamlin had done, he had done from no base motives, and without
the smallest taint of baseness in the doing: he had not actually
wanted her, he had wanted merely to perfect a thing that seemed to him
good of its sort, to make her a soul that should suit her body; he
had done it deliberately, consistently, unwearyingly, with a
gentleness, a generous tact, which had themselves been a benefit.
That Hamlin had acted from an imaginative whim, that he had carried
out an exotic artistic caprice, played a sublimated game of artistic
skill, Anne could not at this moment take into account. She knew, and
only too well, that Hamlin was selfish, whimsical, fantastic, vain, a
seeker after new poses and new sensations; but she knew all
this analytically, piecemeal as the result of thought; and she was in a
sense too dull, too unable to comprehend others, and, above all, too
utterly devoid of all vanity, whimsicalness, and theatricality, too
completely of a piece, a mass of granite, as she often felt, to
conceive these analytically recognised peculiarities as absolutely
organic and active forces. She had conceived Hamlin to be that which
to her was the easiest conception—generous; and nothing could make
her conceive his behaviour towards her in any any other light.
Moreover, there remained in this frank and fearless nature, shrinking
from no disillusions, one delusion which was the safer for her very
consciousness of uncompromising hatred of all delusions. She clung,
without knowing it, to the belief that in one thing at least Hamlin
had been perfectly noble, that no subsequently discovered weakness and
baseness could ever alter that; she treasured up a shred of her old
ideal, the belief that whatever Hamlin might be towards others and
towards himself, towards her he had been the real Hamlin whom she had
loved and worshipped.
And now this Hamlin, this man to whom she owed all, and whose past
she still loved, was gradually being alienated from all the nobler
things for which he was fit—gradually being separated from his nobler
self, and dragged, stripped of all his better qualities, into a moral
quagmire, a charnel, a cloaca, to stick and rot inchwise. And this,
Anne said to herself, to some degree by her own fault; for had she
not let her antipathy for the tendencies which she had gradually
discovered in him, and her loathing for the tendencies of the men who
surrounded him, smother her gratitude, her sympathy, turn her away in
sullen scorn and isolation, from the man whom she was bound to help,
and the men whom she was bound to combat? She forgot for the moment
the many abortive attempts she had made to awaken the better qualities
of Hamlin; or rather, she could no longer conceive that those attempts
had been sufficiently strenuous and determined; it seemed to her,
forgetful of the dead-weight of opposition, that she must have been
very feeble and half-hearted. Instead of thinking of him, she had
thought only of herself, of preserving her own soul from infection, of
keeping her own soul strong and active; she had selfishly thought of
the world's miseries, which she could not prevent, instead of thinking
of Hamlin, whom she might have saved; and finally, she had let herself
indulge in dreams of liberty, that is to say, of deser- tion of her
duty. Those monks and nuns of former days, for whom she felt such
unutterable contempt, had they acted differently from her when they
left their fellow-men to perish in sin, in order that they might enjoy
the luxury of virtue in a convent or a desert? She loathed æsthetes
like Hamlin; and yet, what had she herself been, save an æsthete of
another sort, selfishly preoccupied with spiritual comfort, and worse
than any of them for the very moral consciousness which lay at the
root of this immorality?
Why had she not driven away Edmund Lewis, opposing herself to him
with all her might? Why had she not driven away Sacha Elaguine? Now
that she had learned from Melton Perry what this woman really was,
every single circumstance of their former intercourse, every single
fact and suggestion that had come to her, from Mrs Macgregor's
warnings to Edmund Lewis's cowardly accusation,—all the hundred
little impressions which she herself had received, grouped themselves
together, and made it obvious that Sacha must be, could only have
been, the horrible walking depravity which she had been revealed.
Essentially unanalytic of mind, Miss Brown could now no longer
conceive how it was that she had not understood Madame Elaguine at
once; in that massive horror with which the Russian woman had filled
her, it was impossible to remember all the deluding little
circumstances which had closed her heart to suspicion—nay, all the
purity of her own nature, the charity, the desire to be equitable,
which had made this now so overpowering mass of abomination not merely
impossible to realise, but impossible to conceive. It seemed to her as
if Sacha must always have shown herself what she was; and that she,
Anne Brown, must have wilfully closed her eyes. She had never asked
herself whether it was not her duty towards Hamlin to come to some
conclusion about his cousin; she had let their connection drift on;
she had seen in the ruin of the man to whom she owed all, only a means
to her own deliverance from a life which she hated, from a duty which
she shirked. Anne remembered how she had watched with terror that look
of weariness and shame on Hamlin's face, which ought to have told her
that this poor, weak, sick soul might still be saved; she remembered
the joy with which she had heard of Hamlin's departure for Paris—that
is to say, of the crowning act of weakness and folly which had made
him the chattel of his cousin. Anne loathed herself as a woman might
loathe herself, who recognised that she had let some living creature
die of hunger and want of nursing. Shame she did not feel, nor yet
remorse; she cared too little for herself to care for her own ideals;
she did not once think that she had been mistaken, that she had been
base, ungrateful, that she was dishonoured in her own eyes; she merely
thought that Hamlin was on the brink of ruin, ruin of all his nobler
self and of his happiness—that she had done it, and that she was
there, alone, to save him. In those long hours, lying motionless in
the dark, the face of Hamlin, as she had recently seen it, that weak,
profoundly depressed, half-degraded face, was constantly before her
eyes; and surrounding it, vague and threatening, the faces—so
strangely like it and transfigured in a kind of tragic degradation, of
the portraits at Wotton Hall—of Hamlin's half-crazy, disgraced
brother; of his odious, passion-stained father; of his drunken uncles;
above all, that beautiful woman's face, with the curled hair and loose
collar—that face so curiously compounded of effeminacy,
whimsicalness, and cynical self-abandonment; of his great-uncle
Mordaunt, whose portrait had been exiled to the lumber-room, whose
name banished from the memory of his relatives; and along with them,
and resembling them like a brother, the confused, imaginary image of
that miserable Greek lad whom Sacha Elaguine had ruined.
Was it still time? Could Hamlin still be saved? was he already
hopelessly bound for life to Madame Elaguine? Had Anne waked up too
late? She did not know. She only knew that there was not an hour, not
a moment to lose; and that there was but one thing to be done. Hamlin
must not, should not, marry Sacha. And the only way to prevent it was
that he should marry Anne Brown. He might, as Lewis said, and as she
believed, already be the lover of Madame Elaguine; but he was not yet
the husband, and most probably not yet the betrothed. And was he not
bound, by that paper which the ignoble suspiciousness of Richard Brown
had required of him in that distant past in Florence, to marry Anne
Brown at whatever time she rnight call upon him to do so?
"I must become his wife," said Anne to herself; and she said it as
she might have said "the sun must rise in so many hours." There was no
room for hesitation on her part; the choice, the act of volition, was
so decided, that there ceased to be either choice or volition; to
become Hamlin's wife seemed to Anne as an inevitable necessity coming
from without. But little by little: as she lay there broad awake, yet
with somewhat of that tendency, as of an opium-dreamer, to see things
exaggerated which comes to us in darkness, she began to realise the
meaning of this formula—to become Hamlin's wife. The whole past
rushed into her mind, and became, as it were, the mirage of the
future, and that mirage was horrible. To be Hamlin's wife meant to
relinquish the liberty which had, for the last two or three months,
been safe within her grasp, the liberty of being herself. Anne was one
of those natures which, though able, by moments, to enjoy themselves
like children, do not believe much in happiness; to whom, singled out,
as it were, to achieve self-sacrifice or endure martyrdom, happiness
is a mere name, a negative thing—but to whom unhappiness is a
positive reality, the thing which they expect, with which their soul
seems, in some pre-natal condition, to have become familiar as the one
great certainty. The happiness, therefore, which she was losing—the
independence, the activity, the serenity, the possibility of a life of
noble companionship with Richard Brown—all this was only a distant
and unsubstantial thing; she had never experienced it, and it could
not well be realised. But she knew by experience, familiar with its
every detail, the unhappiness which lay in the future as Hamlin's
wife, for this future would be but a return to the past; and she felt
as might a person lost in a catacomb, and who, having got to a chink,
having seen the light and breathed the air, should be condemned to
wander again, to rethread for ever the black and choking corridors
leading nowhere. That Hamlin was lost if he married Sacha, she knew as
she knew that two and two make four; but she did not in the least
flatter herself that her own influence would be as potent for good, as
Madame Elaguine's must be potent for evil. She knew Hamlin too well
for that, and herself also. If Hamlin had remained weak, cold, vain,
and mean under her influence hitherto, he must remain so for ever; he
was born all these things. She could prevent his growing worse, she
could not make him grow better; her position would be as that of a
woman who devoted herself to nurse a person sick of an incurable
disease: there would be none of the excitement of a possible cure,
only the routine, the anxiety peculiar to a case where the patient is
for ever on the brink of getting worse.
To be understood, to be sympathised with, to be loved really and
really to love—none of these things would be for her. But, after all,
what right had she to any of them? Anne was, in all matters concerning
herself, a born fatalist and pessimist; the words of Goethe,
"Entbehren sollst du, sollst entbehren," were to her not an
admonition, but a mere statement of fact. She had, for a time, fancied
that she clutched happiness; if it had turned out, like the goddess
clutched by Ixion, a mere mist, why, that was quite natural; there was
nothing to complain of in that.
But suddenly there came a sense not any longer of the loss of
happiness, but of a sickened revolt from all the things which this
sacrifice of happiness implied. Not to love, not to be loved. Well,
that was natural; but to submit to becoming the property of a man whom
she did not love, and who could not, in her eyes, ever love her, that
was another thing. Edmund Lewis and Madame Elaguine, learned in such
matters, had been perfectly correct when they declared that Anne was,
in their sense of the word, passionless, cold. To this woman, consumed
by intellectual and moral passion, her womanhood meant merely the
instincts of superior chastity, of superior soul cleanness, which seem
the birthright of women, as the instincts of superior generosity, of
superior soul energy, seem the birthright of men; and this, to her the
only result of womanhood, merely added a positive element of repulsion
to the disdain for what the world is pleased to call love already
existing in her. Anne Brown, born of the people, grown up as a
servant, left to take care of herself when scarcely more than a child,
and then thrust into the midst of a demoralised school of literature
which gloried in moral indifference,—Anne Brown had none of those
misty notions of marriage so easily transfigured into poetry, and
which make (and perhaps fortunately) many clean-souled and disdainful
girls enter unconsciously and unabashed upon a life frequently neither
very noble nor very clean. Without formulating it to herself—for she
never formulated anything—Miss Brown had a very strong sense that
marriage without love was a mere legalised form of prostitution. To
become, therefore, the wife of Hamlin, was an intolerable
self-degradation—nay, a pollution; for it seemed to her, and the
idea sickened her whole soul, that the moral pollution of Sacha
Elaguine would be communicated to her. To become the wife of Sacha's
lover! Her limbs seemed to give way, to dissolve; a horrible warm
clamminess overtook her; she could not breathe, or breathed only
Anne rose from her bed, and wrapping her- self in her
dressing-gown, sat down by the window, partly ajar. She threw it wide
open, pulled up the blinds, and, gasping, looked out into the
darkness. The sky was covered, not a ray of light; it was raining—she
heard the drops fall heavily on the leaves under the window; a warm
damp gust of air blew in her face. Anne did not know what it was to
faint, and her limbs did not give way beneath her; but she felt as if
her mind, her soul, were fainting, growing clammy—slipping, slipping
away, dissolving into nothingness. To be the wife of Sacha's lover!
With the scornful aversion which a woman of actively chaste nature
(for the virtue exists in most women only in a negative, passive
condition) experiences for the more abstract idea of weakness and
unchastity, was mingled—perhaps not very clearly to herself—somewhat
already of the wrath of the outraged wife. Under her very eyes, before
all the world, Hamlin had deceived her—had been another woman's
lover—and had let her associate with his mistress! the kind of
resentment which the world sometimes mistakes for jealousy, but into
which there enters no love,—the sense not of being neglected as an
individual, but being insulted as a woman. To be the wife of Sacha's
lover! Anne's imagination—slow in all things, and slowest where any
ignoble or impure thing was concerned—was trailed as by an
inexplicable force along a dim tract of foulness.
No; she could not marry this man. She had no right to forego her
just resentment, to stifle her just disgust, no right to degrade her
soul in order to save his. If he was weak, vain, foredoomed to
baseness, let him run his career—fulfil his destiny. Some sacrifices
are sins. Without identifying the case, Anne's thoughts reverted to
the story, to the words of Isabella in 'Measure for Measure'; and the
pride that lay at the bottom of her soul—the pride of purity and
strength—rose like a great wind within her. No; she would not pollute
her cleanness, prostitute her nobility, for this man. Anne folded her
dressing-gown close about her, and extended her strong fingers tight
over the arms of her chair—a movement like that of a judge about to
pronounce a sentence. Any one who could have seen her sitting thus by
the window—who could have seen that pale stern face, those
wide-opened onyx-grey eyes looking steadfastly into the
darkness—would have said that this magnificent young woman with the
tragic features was capable of cold cruelty.
But though in some measure right, since there is a destructive
element in all strong souls, the person who should have thought like
this would yet have been mistaken. Anne's ruthlessness, her cruelty,
could exist only against herself; the sacrifice, which seemed to her
no very great matter, was the sacrifice of herself.
Anne remained seated for a few minutes by the window, that storm of
pride and contempt rushing in great gusts through her whole nature.
But then suddenly the storm dropped.
Here was Hamlin, to whom she owed everything, owed this very soul
which seemed too good to be wasted upon him, in danger of being
degraded for ever by this loathsome woman, this incarnation of all his
own vices, this moral disease become a human creature. This fate must be averted, Hamlin
must be saved, for
his own sake and for the sake of the world—of all those nobler things
that he might still do; he must be saved, and only one thing could
save him—hence that one thing must be done. Anne rose from the
window. This darkness unnerved her. She struck a light and lit the
candles on the mantelpiece; they were in clustered candlesticks, and
the room was brilliantly illuminated. Anne looked round her. There was
a heap of books and papers on her table,—she had been interrupted in
tidying them the previous day. She began to put them to rights. Some
of the books were the manuals of political economy and works on
philosophy which she was studying with a view to Girton. The sight of
them made a knot rise in her throat and the tears come into her eyes.
She felt that she would never read them again. She took them in her
arms, and opening the lowest drawer of her writing-table, locked them
up. "I will give them to Marjory's women's club," she thought. Then
she opened another drawer, and got out all her note-books and
copy-books,—her many months' work, ever since Richard Brown had first
lent her his primer. She turned over a few pages slowly. The sentences
seemed to have no meaning; her brain refused to act. She took the
papers one by one and tore them into small shreds, and threw them into
the waste-paper basket. "There is an end of that," she said to herself
quietly. Anne looked round the room once more,—at the spruce Queen
Anne furniture which had surprised her so much, at the blue and white
vases, the shimmering plates, the pieces of embroidery on the
wall—all the things which Hamlin had put there to please her. Was
there anything more—anything more to be done? On the mantelpiece
stood a photograph of Richard Brown, unframed, which he had recently
given her: she had asked him for a photograph during Hamlin's absence
with Sacha. She took the photograph and held it over one of the
candles; it curled up, charred, only the rim which she held remaining
to show what it had been; she turned it round and round over the
flame, and then threw the crumpled piece of charred pasteboard into the
The first pale light of dawn was beginning to mingle with the light
of the candles, making them burn yellow, and surrounded by a sort of
halo, like the tapers round a catafalque. Outside she saw the chilly
grey streaks of light, the faint cold rose veinings of sunrise. But
the sunrise itself did not come; the sky gradually appeared, clotted
with red and purplish reflections; then the colour died away, and
there remained instead a pale, suffused, grey heaven. It began to
drizzle. Anne left the window. The room was light now with
daylight—the candle-flames mere yellow specks. Anne put them out;
she pulled down the blinds and got into bed, and again stretched
herself out in that stiff way, her head propped up on the pillows,
trying not to think. In a few minutes she was asleep.
When the maid came in, she did not wake up as usual, and the girl
was half-frightened and very much awed by seeing Miss Brown lying
straight and motionless; her face, surrounded by a sort of wreath of
short, curling, iron-black locks, stiff on the pillow, looking, in the
grey morning light which came through the pale-blue blinds, like a
Anne opened her eyes and looked round slowly, as if trying to
collect her thoughts. "Ah," she said, half audibly, "I remember."
BY an effort of manoeuvring which was not very natural to her,
Miss Brown induced Melton Perry to take himself off after breakfast
and go and see some studios, an expedition which would keep him out of
the way till lunch. She would have Hamlin all to herself. When Perry
was gone, Anne sat down to write to Mary Leigh, who was in the
country. There was absolutely no reason why she should write to Mary,
nor had she anything whatever to tell her; but she was devoured by a
restlessness—by a vague desire to talk to some one who cared for her.
She told Mary Leigh nothing of what was passing through her mind, nor
of the event which was pending: there was not, in her letter, a word
to suggest anything of the sort; but there was in it the expression,
vague and without motives, of the great emotion which occupied her
soul. "I want to tell you, dear Mary," wrote Anne, "how grateful I am
for the affection which you and Marjory have shown towards me lately.
If I had died of that illness, it would have been a great consolation
to know that you cared for me so much." She did not know why, the tone
of the whole letter, with all these expressions of gratitude, had the
solemnity of a farewell, as if written by a woman who expected to die
soon. And Anne really felt as if her life were coming to an end.
When she had finished writing, she went down to Hamlin's studio. He
would come soon, and she would wait for him here.
It was still drizzling, and the room opening on to the garden, with
its silk blinds drawn down, was full of a kind of twilight. Anne
walked up and down for a minute or two, looking vaguely round her. A
drowsy scent of faded flowers, of cigarette-smoke, of she knew not
what scent, made her feel weak and dreamy, and reminded her, with a
movement of disgust, of Sacha Elaguine's rooms. She had not been in
the studio of late, except for a few minutes at a time. Everything
seemed to her untidy and dusty—easels and boards thrown about in a
way which was not usual with Hamlin. She looked vaguely at the various
things,—at the drawings by Rossetti and Burne Jones on the walls, the
books in cases, the terra cottas and bits of carving on brackets, the
piano with the brocade cover thrown back, and the score of Wagner's
Tristram still on the desk. She looked at the score and played a few
notes, but stopped. She loathed that music which Hamlin and Sacha so
admired—that music, with its strange, insidious faintings and
sobbings, its hot, enervating gusts of passion. On the mantelpiece,
among the Japanese jars, the bronze lamps, and other similar
properties, her eye caught a small bottle of blue glass. She took it
up: it was not labelled, or the label was removed, but it left a sort
of sickly-smelling stickiness on her fingers. So Perry was right;
Hamlin had returned to his old practice of taking opium. She put the
bottle back, and walked up and down once more. Then her eye fell upon
an unfinished portrait of herself, or what was intended to be herself,
which stood in the shadow. A solemn sombre woman in green, with very
blue peaks and glaciers in the distance, twisting the faded green
leaves of a palm-branch. It was the picture which Hamlin had begun
long, long ago in Florence; and her mind went back to that other rainy
day, as gloomy as this one, seemingly centuries ago, when she had
stood in the tower studio, about to take leave of Hamlin, as she
thought, for the last time. Was she really as sombre as that picture?
thought Anne. On a table, gritty with dust, lay an open sketch-book;
Anne took it up listlessly. The sheet was scrawled with several
versions of an allegorical design, feebly drawn, scarcely more than
outlined, and, as it seemed, in a moment of weariness. A beautiful
naked youth was clutched by a huge, haggard woman, her torn dress
licking his body like flames, her lips greedily advancing to his
delicate face, which shrank back, like a flower withering in the heat
of a furnace. There were several versions, crossing and recrossing
each other oddly, but always the same flower-like winged boy writhing
in the terrible breath of this embrace, always that fainting beautiful
face, and those burning lips with the suction of flame. Beneath one of
the versions was scrawled, "Amor a Libidine interfectus," and a few
lines, half scratched out, of a sonnet. Anne did not read them; she
put down the sketch-book. She knew the sense of that allegory, even
before her eye caught the words, "and thus my soul," which formed one
of the lines of the rough-scrawled sonnet. Anne shuddered. Steps came
along the corridor—Hamlin's steps. She sat down near the window, for
she expected her heart would have begun beating even to bursting. But
it was not so; Miss Brown felt wonderfully calm.
"I want to talk to you about something, Mr Hamlin," she said, when
he had recovered from the surprise of finding her in the studio. "You
have nothing very pressing to do just now, I hope?"
"Nothing," answered Hamlin; "I am at your disposal." He sat down
opposite to her, and began to fidget with the pencils and pen-knives
lying on the table. He was very pale, haggard, and looked tired and
"You don't seem well," said Anne, mechanically.
"I am horribly nervous, that's all," he answered, passing his hand
through his hair. "I suppose it's this damp heat. Will it annoy you if
I smoke a cigarette? I feel my brain spinning."
Anne nodded, and waited in silence till he had taken two or three
"Mr Hamlin," she suddenly began, in a low, steady voice, rather
like a person reciting a lesson, "it is going on three years since I
left Coblenz and came into this house. I am over twenty-four, and I
don't think it is possible to continue much longer on the theory that
I am your ward. It is time that something should be decided about my
Hamlin listened quietly, with a certain listless and helpless look
that was very painful.
"I quite agree with you," he answered, "and I fully see how greatly
I am to blame in not having forestalled you. You must not suppose that
I have not thought more than once about this matter. I have done so, I
assure you. But somehow, things have always come in the way; and then,
you know, I—I did not wish to put any pressure upon you. In short, I
am unable to say how it is that I have placed myself in what may
appear to be the wrong in this matter."
Again he passed his hand across his head.
"Forgive me," he said, "for being so feeble this morning. I really
have a wretched headache."
"I am very sorry for you," answered Anne, but adding with the same
deliberate resolu- tion, "but all the same, I feel that I can no
longer delay, and that I must avail myself of this opportunity to ask
you a question. Have you any intention of marrying me?"
Hamlin, who had been sitting with his head resting on his hand,
vacantly watching the wreathing smoke of his cigarette, suddenly
looked up at Anne. She was seated very erect in a high-backed chair
opposite, looking taller, calmer than ever, less girlish than ever
also, although he had never thought of her, even years ago, as a girl.
He looked at her for a moment in silence; a long, lingering, and very
"Miss Brown," he answered, and his voice became tremulous towards
the end of his speech, "you have, if you remember the terms of our
reciprocal engagement, always been free; and you are free. It is
rather sad for me to reflect—and perhaps a little sad for you
also—how very differently things have turned out from what I believe
both of us anticipated. And it is, as you may understand, not a little
sad to part with what has been the best thing in my life—to end my
best episode. But you must remember that I never wished you to be
otherwise than perfectly independent; it has been a great matter in a
useless life like mine to have contributed to reinstate you, as it
were, in your birthright; it will be something to think of later, that
I have been conducive in making you what you are; and"—Hamlin had
risen from his chair and stretched out his hand—"will you believe me
also when I say that I am very, very happy that you have found a man
whom you can love and respect, and who can make you happy?"
Hamlin's mouth, that delicate mouth with the uncertain lines, began
to quiver. Anne turned very red, and then, suddenly, very white. She
did not take his hand; she did not look at him as he stood before her;
her eyes seemed fixed in space, as she answered in a voice which
became steadier and louder as she went on—
"You don't understand me. I was not alluding to any notion of
marrying my cousin. I don't want to marry Richard. What I want to ask
you is this: Will you marry me, Mr Hamlin?"
Anne, spoke very slowly, gravely, and calmly; but as she spoke, she
felt her heart tighten. There remained still one chance, one shred of
hope, and in another moment that might be gone.
A sudden convulsion passed over Hamlin's face; he caught at the
back of a chair, for he seemed trembling and reeling, his eyes closed
for a moment as if he were choking, and he made a vague helpless
movement with one hand, as a man who cannot speak. Then, suddenly, he
flung himself down before Miss Brown's chair, seized both her hands,
and covered his face with them.
"Anne—Anne!" he cried.
They remained thus for a moment; she seated upright in the chair, he
on his knees, her hands pressed to his face.
"Anne—you love me," he murmured.
Miss Brown did not answer. She looked straight before her into
space, fixedly, vaguely, taking in nothing, with her solemn, tearless,
grey eyes. She felt as if she were waiting she knew not for what,
counting the tickings of an unheard clock.
"You love me, Anne; you love me!" cried Hamlin, louder; and
pressing closer to her, he put out his arms, and drew down her face to
his, and kissed her, twice, thrice, a long kiss on the mouth.
It seemed to Anne as if she felt again the throttling arms of Sacha
Elaguine about her neck, her convulsive kiss on her face, the cloud of
her drowsily scented hair stifling her. She drew back, and loosened
his grasp with her strong hands.
Hamlin sprang up. His face was changed: he was radiant. He took her
hand in both his, and looked long into her eyes.
"Forgive me," he whispered; "forgive me—oh, forgive me, Anne. That
all this time I should have been so blind—thought you indifferent
and contemptuous. Oh, forgive me for all my wickedness, my folly;
forgive me, my darling, for not having understood that I belonged to
you, that you loved me."
Anne nodded without speaking. She could not tell a lie, even now;
and she knew she must not tell the truth. Yet never perhaps had she
loathed Hamlin as she loathed him—vain, fatuously happy—at this
moment that he believed she had confessed that she loved him.
"Well, then," she said quickly, "perhaps you can understand
that—after what has passed, you understand—I am anxious that we
should get married at once. Perry was asking me, only the other day,
why things had dragged on so long; and then also there is . . ."
"I understand," interrupted Hamlin. "Oh, forgive me, dearest. I
never, never really loved that woman: I could not have loved her. I
have never loved but you. Will you believe it?"
"You will never see her again?—I mean, never except in my
presence? " went on Anne. "Will you promise that? And will you
promise to leave London in a day or two—to go to Italy, anywhere
where she is not—and wait till I can join you with Aunt Claudia?"
"I promise; I will do anything. Oh, Anne, if only you will forget
all that; if you will believe me when I tell you that I never loved
that woman—that I felt the whole time that she was debasing,
humiliating me, making me forfeit all my honour and my happiness . .
Anne paid no attention to these assurances. So he was shifting all
the shame of his weakness and baseness and sensuality on to
another,—washing his hands of the woman who had given herself to him.
How like him! How well, how terribly well, Anne knew him!
"You have promised, remember," she repeated,—"you will leave
to-morrow, the day after—as soon as you can. You won't tell her where
you are going—do you understand? You will write to-day, and tell her
of our marriage, and that you have promised never to see her again."
Hamlin kissed her hand with passion.
"And listen," went on Miss Brown; "this evening there is a big
party at the Argiropoulos. I did not intend going; but I wish to go
now. Write to Mrs Argiropoulo to tell her we are coming together;
explain that we are going to be married; ask her to tell all her
guests. I want every one to know. Do you understand, Mr
Hamlin—Walter, I mean? You won't lose time, will you?"
"No, no!" cried Hamlin; "I understand. Only forgive me; and tell me
that you love me, my darling;" and he seized Anne, and kissed her
again with a sort of fury. "Tell me that you forgive me for all that I
have made you suffer, Anne. Speak,—only one word, Anne—one word."
Anne covered her eyes with her hand.
"I forgive you, Walter," she answered, and burst into tears. But
she wiped them away, and, rising suddenly, left the room.
"Walter is leaving for Italy to-morrow," she said, as she met
Melton Perry in the corridor. "I want you to accompany me and Aunt
Claudia there in a few days. Mr Hamlin and I are going to be married."
"God bless my soul!" cried Perry. "When—where—why didn't you tell
me before?" But Anne was out of sight.
IN the blazing drawing-room, where a crowd of black coats and
shining bare shoulders and fashionable dresses contrasted drolly with
the melancholy thin Cupids of Burne Jones, the mournful mysterious
ladies of Rossetti, which adorned the walls, one of Mrs Argiropoulo's
many musical celebrities was wailing Austrian popular songs at the
piano. Miss Brown, who had undergone the universal staring and
received the general congratulations with a monosyllabic composure
much criticised on all hands, had slipped away, when the Austrian
tenor approached the piano, to the furthest end of the room, where she
was half protected from sight by the plants of an adjacent
conservatory. All this triumph, people said to them- selves, as they
looked round at her seated alone in the corner, dressed in a wonderful
garment of cloth-of-silver, resting her dark head on her hand, was too
much even for her. Yet in reality Miss Brown did not feel any emotion;
she was too tired for that. She felt as if she had just finished a
long journey, or as she used sometimes to do years ago after a hard
morning's ironing in summer—weary, broken, too numb for thought or
for pain. The guttural voice of the Austrian tenor, wailing out the
simple little mountain songs, which would at any other time have
brought the tears into her eyes and a thought of death into her heart,
seemed to her vague and distant like a voice in a dream; and like a
crowd seen through a mist seemed all these very concrete men and women
all about her. As the last notes of the song died away, she felt the
touch of a fan, the downy stroke of a bunch of feathers, on her neck.
It was Madame Elaguine behind her; but the sight of Madame Elaguine
caused Anne no emotion, and she followed the Russian woman, who
beckoned her into the neighbouring conservatory, in the same absent
way as she had answered the congratulations of her acquaintances.
"You are very tired, Annie dear," said Madame Elaguine, in one of
her caressing half-whispers, but fixing her eyes on Miss Brown with a
look which was anything but a caress. "All this emotion—this general
ovation and triumph, this great joy of satisfied love—has been too
much for you, poor child!"
Anne shook her head, thrown back on the Persian embroidery of an
ottoman, among the large tropical leaves and the delicate stems of
bamboos and fern plants. She knew that this woman wished to insult
her; but she was too weary and absent-minded to care.
"I am merely rather tired. I didn't get much sleep last night," she
answered, as she might have answered the maid who pulled up her blinds
in the morning. Madame Elaguine seemed a hundred miles away from her:
she shrank neither from a woman whom she loathed, nor from a woman
who, she felt, was bent upon insulting her.
She did not feel Madame Elaguine's glance, although the glance was
concentrated hatred and outrage.
"Poor child!" repeated Sacha, taking one of her hands and pressing
it between her own burning ones. "Poor child! Ah, well, I won't bore
you with congratulations. I know Walter sufficiently well to know how
happy he will make you; and I know how deeply you have loved him all
the while, and how faithfully he has always loved you. But I want to
give you a little wedding-present. I have brought it here, because
Walter has written to me that you don't want to have your bliss
disturbed, and are going off at once. Quite right. When people are
very happy, there's something immodest in letting the world see it
and be jealous; that's the classic view, isn't it?" As she spoke she
drew from out of her cloud of lace and feather trimmings a little
"Oh dear no," went on Madame Elaguine, "you mustn't think I've
been ruining myself. I'm far too much of a pauper and far too selfish
to go making handsome presents. It doesn't cost me anything, you see,
for Walter gave me them last month; and as I really don't care a
jackstraw about pearls, and I accepted them merely to please him, I
think it's much better you should have them to make the set complete,
since you have the necklace."
The case contained two large pearl ear-rings, which Anne
immediately recognised as part of the set once belonging to Hamlin's
mother which he had shown her long ago at Wotton. Round her own neck
was the former Mrs Hamlin's pearl necklace; he had given it to her
that evening, not a fortnight, perhaps, since giving Sacha the
Anne looked at the ear-rings for a moment, feeling the triumphant
eyes of Sacha upon her; she felt also her face grow crimson, and her
soul waking out of its state of lethargic indifference, with a fierce
desire to tear the pearls off her own throat, and crush them into the
carpet with her foot.
"Thank you," she merely said, closing the box and handing it back
to Sacha; "I don't think I could wear them, Madame Elaguine. And I
don't think my husband would wish me to wear them," she added, but the
words half stuck in her throat.
"Won't you, really?" said the Russian. "I assure you Walter will be
most mortified if he hear that you have refused them. It would be a
hundred pities that the set should be spoilt. I wouldn't have taken
these, if he hadn't told me that I should have the rest. You see, I
was the nearest of kin last month. And I'm sure it would make poor
Aunt Philippa turn in her grave to know that all her things did not go
to Miss Anne Brown. Ah, well—as you like. I can always get them
exchanged at the jeweller's for something else—or I'll tell Walter,
and he can buy them back for you. That's more like a pauper's
"Thank you, Madame Elaguine," said Anne, preparing to rise, "I
think I ought to go and talk to some of the people in the next room."
But Madame Elaguine laid hold of her wrist. "Don't go yet, my dear
Madonna of the Glaciers—I shan't see you again, perhaps, for a long
while, and I want you to tell me some things. I'm a horrible ill-bred
little creature, I know, but I can't help it. I've always had a lot of
morbid curiosities. One of them is how love-marriages are made up—how
it all comes about. You see I wasn't married for love—I was married
for money by my Russian relations. But I always think I should like to
know about love-marriages. Tell me what Walter said to you—how he did
it. I wish I'd seen it."
Anne's face was burning. Each of Madame Elaguine's words was a
piece of insolence.
"Did you always love him—ever since the beginning—ever since he
sent you to school; and have you always gone on caring for him in the
same way?" went on Madame Elaguine. "Fancy, I thought you didn't care
much for Walter, almost disliked him; I almost thought you were in
love with your big black cousin. It was like my obtuseness! Do tell me
all about it . . ."
"There is nothing to tell you, Madame Elaguine," said Anne. "Mr
Hamlin and I are going to be married, that's all."
"In short," answered Madame Elaguine, bursting into an angry laugh,
"you thought better of it; you learned to appreciate the satisfaction
of getting a handsome husband, with a good name and a good fortune. I
think you are quite right. Mrs Hamlin of Wotton sounds better than Mrs
Richard Brown. Or else are you still sufficiently human to enjoy
making a man give the cold shoulder to another woman? I fear I must
spoil your satisfaction in this. I have never cared a button for
Walter. I would not have married Walter for anything you could offer
me; I only cared to bring down his pride a little, in remembrance of
the days when his great virtue of seventeen had me turned out of my
uncle's house, like a housemaid who has made love with the butler. As
to Walter himself, you are welcome to him, though I don't promise that
some day the whim may not return to me to amuse myself a little more
at his expense." Miss Brown looked at Madame Elaguine with disgust:
this delicate charming little creature seemed suddenly transformed
into Mrs Perry's housemaid Beppa, whom she had overtaken one day,
years ago in Florence, browbeating and insulting the laundress's girl,
accusing her of trying to get between herself and the man-cook.
"All this is very useless and disagreeable," she said, rising to
go. "Good-bye, Madame Elaguine."
But Sacha laid her hand on Miss Brown's arm.
"I see," she said, "your friend and former master Mr Perry has been
entertaining you with anecdotes of my life, and perhaps Edmund Lewis
has been doing so also. Very shocking, weren't they? Well, I won't
insult you any longer with my presence. But I think it's as well that
you should know in time that if I have been in the mud according to
your ideas, Walter Hamlin has been into it with me. It's rather
difficult to make such things clear to a Madonna of the Glaciers, but
perhaps Mr Perry will help you to understand the matter. To put it
plainly, ever since you fell ill, Walter has been my lover."
The little woman spoke in a very low but very distinct voice,
unabashed, brazen, almost smiling. She said the last words not in
shame, but in triumph; hurled them at Anne as an outrage, almost as a
"I knew it already," answered Miss Brown, gathering her white
brocade skirts about her.
"You knew it!" exclaimed Madame Elaguine, staring at her as if she
could not believe her ears.
"You knew it!" she repeated after a moment, a sudden triumphant
scorn coming into her face. "You knew it, and you make him marry you
all the same! Well, I wish you all possible happiness, and I rejoice
that Walter has got a wife who understands so well how to deal with
him. As to me, pray don't think that I bear you any malice. I am only
surprised and amused; and extremely interested, from the psychological
point of view, in finding that a virtuous woman may condescend to
things which would turn the stomach of a woman who has no pretence to
Anne brushed aside the palm-leaves and ferns of the conservatory
door. A sudden pain, as of a blow with the fist, was at her heart. She
did not answer, for she felt that there was truth in Sacha's insult.
Miss Brown had forgotten that ignominy is an almost indispensable
part of all martyrdom.
She found Hamlin standing in a little knot of friends.
"I fear I must be going home rather early," he said, "as I set off
for the Italian lakes tomorrow morning, and all my packing still
remains to be done. And I think," he added, with a kind of
supplicating look, "that Miss Brown looks rather tired also, and ought
to let me escort her home."
Anne nodded. She saw the burly shoulders, the bushy black head of
Richard Brown in the crowd, and she dreaded meeting him.
"Let us go," she said.
But as they were turning away, Richard made his way to his cousin.
"Good evening, Annie," he said, in an off-hand voice; "I have had
no opportunity of congratulating you and Mr Hamlin."
"Thank you, Dick," answered Miss Brown, her eyes mechanically
avoiding his. "I'm sorry it's so late; the carriage is at the door,
and Mr Hamlin and I must be leaving."
"Ah, very good!" said Brown. "Well, then, I will take you down, and
help you to get your wraps, while Mr Hamlin finishes taking leave of
his friends." He gave a contemptuous nod to Hamlin, waited for Anne to
have said good-bye to her friends, and pushed his way with her through
the crowd, while Mrs Argiropoulo murmured, for the thirtieth or
fortieth time that evening—
"Well, I must say it is a satisfaction to see two people who are
really made for each other, like Walter Hamlin and dear Anne."
There was no one as yet in the highly æsthetic study, which had
been turned into a perfect exhibition of fantastic shawls and
opera-cloaks. They had said nothing while going down-stairs, and even
now Richard Brown was silent, as he hunted about for his cousin's
"Anne, are you there?" asked Hamlin's voice from the corridor.
Richard Brown's heavy brows contracted. "Here's your fan," he said,
stooping to pick it up. "Good-bye, Nan! I hope you may be happy—"
She stretched out her hand. "Good-bye, Dick!" said Miss Brown,
raising her eyes shyly upon him; "you have been very good to me—"
Richard looked at her for a moment as she stood under the lamp, in
her shimmering white dress. Then, as she was going away on Hamlin's
entrance, he turned round suddenly to her and murmured, in his hot
"Good-bye, Nan—you mercenary creature!"
A few intimate friends had assembled near the hall door, to say
"Here, Mr Chough," cried fat old Mr Saunders, the impeccable
disciple of Fra Angelico, "you'll be just in time to write a nice
bridal ode while Miss Brown packs her boxes to-morrow. Mind you cut
out Spenser and Suckling and all the rest of them, old boy."
Cosmo Chough, his cat-like black whiskers brushed fiercely over a
shirt fantastically frilled and starched, to show his
eighteenth-century proclivities, made one of his beautiful bows.
"Some better poet than I must write that ode," he said; "all that
her poor servant Cosmo can do, is to thank Miss Brown from all his
heart for marrying his dearest friend."
Anne heard the voice of the Poet of Womanhood vaguely, distantly,
like all the others.
"Is the carriage there, Mr Hamlin?" she asked.
"Here it is. Good night! Good-bye!" cried Hamlin. He jumped in
"Oh, Anne! that you should really have loved me all this time—you,
really you; and that I should never have understood it," he whispered,
pressing her hand, as the carriage rolled off.
"Are you cold, my love?"
Miss Brown suddenly shivered, as he put his arm round her shoulder.
The flash of a street lamp as they passed quickly, had shown her
Hamlin's face close to her own, and radiant with the triumph of