by Henry James
"Upon my honour you must be off your head!" cried Spencer Coyle, as
the young man, with a white face, stood there panting a little and
repeating "Really, I've quite decided," and "I assure you I've thought
it all out." They were both pale, but Owen Wingrave smiled in a manner
exasperating to his interlocutor, who however still discriminated
sufficiently to see that his grimace (it was like an irrelevant leer)
was the result of extreme and conceivable nervousness.
"It was certainly a mistake to have gone so far; but that is
exactly why I feel I mustn't go further," poor Owen said, waiting
mechanically, almost humbly (he wished not to swagger, and indeed he
had nothing to swagger about) and carrying through the window to the
stupid opposite houses the dry glitter of his eyes.
"I'm unspeakably disgusted. You've made me dreadfully ill,"
Mr Coyle went on, looking thoroughly upset.
"I'm very sorry. It was the fear of the effect on you that kept me
from speaking sooner."
"You should have spoken three months ago. Don't you know your mind
from one day to the other?"
The young man for a moment said nothing. Then he replied with a
little tremor: "You're very angry with me, and I expected it. I'm
awfully obliged to you for all you've done for me. I'll do anything
else for you in return, but I can't do that. Everyone else will let me
have it, of course. I'm prepared for it — I'm prepared for
everything. That's what has taken the time: to be sure I was prepared.
I think it's your displeasure I feel most and regret most. But little
by little you'll get over it."
"You'll get over it rather faster, I suppose!" Spencer
Coyle satirically exclaimed. He was quite as agitated as his young
friend, and they were evidently in no condition to prolong an
encounter in which they each drew blood. Mr Coyle was a professional
'coach'; he prepared young men for the army, taking only three or
four at a time, to whom he applied the irresistible stimulus of which
the possession was both his secret and his fortune. He had not a great
establishment; he would have said himself that it was not a wholesale
business. Neither his system, his health nor his temper could have
accommodated itself to numbers; so he weighed and measured his pupils
and turned away more applicants than he passed. He was an artist in
his line, caring only for picked subjects and capable of sacrifices
almost passionate for the individual. He liked ardent young men (there
were kinds of capacity to which he was indifferent) and he had taken a
particular fancy to Owen Wingrave. This young man's facility really
fascinated him. His candidates usually did wonders, and he might have
sent up a multitude. He was a person of exactly the stature of the
great Napoleon, with a certain flicker of genius in his light blue
eye: it had been said of him that he looked like a pianist. The tone
of his favourite pupil now expressed, without intention indeed, a
superior wisdom which irritated him. He had not especially suffered
before from Wingrave's high opinion of himself, which had seemed
justified by remarkable parts; but to-day it struck him as
intolerable. He cut short the discussion, declining absolutely to
regard their relations as terminated, and remarked to his pupil that
he had better go off somewhere (down to Eastbourne, say; the sea would
bring him round) and take a few days to find his feet and come to his
senses. He could afford the time, he was so well up: when Spencer
Coyle remembered how well up he was he could have boxed his ears. The
tall, athletic young man was not physically a subject for simplified
reasoning; but there was a troubled gentleness in his handsome face,
the index of compunction mixed with pertinacity, which signified that
if it could have done any good he would have turned both cheeks. He
evidently didn't pretend that his wisdom was superior; he only
presented it as his own. It was his own career after all that was in
question. He couldn't refuse to go through the form of trying
Eastbourne or at least of holding his tongue, though there was that in
his manner which implied that if he should do so it would be really to
give Mr Coyle a chance to recuperate. He didn't feel a bit
overworked, but there was nothing more natural than that with their
tremendous pressure Mr Coyle should be. Mr Coyle's own intellect
would derive an advantage from his pupil's holiday. Mr Coyle saw what
he meant, but he controlled himself; he only demanded, as his right, a
truce of three days. Owen Wingrave granted it, though as fostering sad
illusions this went visibly against his conscience; but before they
separated the famous crammer remarked:
"All the same I feel as if I ought to see someone. I think you
mentioned to me that your aunt had come to town?"
"Oh yes; she's in Baker Street. Do go and see her," the boy said
Mr Coyle looked at him an instant. "Have you broached this folly
"Not yet — to no one. I thought it right to speak to you first."
"Oh, what you 'think right'!" cried Spencer Coyle, outraged by his
young friend's standards. He added that he would probably call on Miss
Wingrave; after which the recreant youth got out of the house.
Owen Wingrave didn't however start punctually for Eastbourne; he
only directed his steps to Kensington Gardens, from which Mr Coyle's
desirable residence (he was terribly expensive and had a big house)
was not far removed. The famous coach 'put up' his pupils, and Owen
had mentioned to the butler that he would be back to dinner. The
spring day was warm to his young blood, and he had a book in his
pocket which, when he had passed into the gardens and, after a short
stroll, dropped into a chair, he took out with the slow, soft sigh
that finally ushers in a pleasure postponed. He stretched his long
legs and began to read it; it was a volume of Goethe's poems. He had
been for days in a state of the highest tension, and now that the cord
had snapped the relief was proportionate; only it was characteristic
of him that this deliverance should take the form of an intellectual
pleasure. If he had thrown up the probability of a magnificent career
it was not to dawdle along Bond Street nor parade his indifference in
the window of a club. At any rate he had in a few moments forgotten
everything — the tremendous pressure, Mr Coyle's disappointment, and
even his formidable aunt in Baker Street. If these watchers had
overtaken him there would surely have been some excuse for their
exasperation. There was no doubt he was perverse, for his very choice
of a pastime only showed how he had got up his German.
"What the devil's the matter with him, do
Spencer Coyle asked that afternoon of young Lechmere, who had never
before observed the head of the establishment to set a fellow such an
example of bad language. Young Lechmere was not only Wingrave's
fellow-pupil, he was supposed to be his intimate, indeed quite his
best friend, and had unconsciously performed for Mr Coyle the office
of making the promise of his great gifts more vivid by contrast. He
was short and sturdy and as a general thing uninspired, and Mr Coyle,
who found no amusement in believing in him, had never thought him less
exciting than as he stared now out of a face from which you could
never guess whether he had caught an idea. Young Lechmere concealed
such achievements as if they had been youthful indiscretions. At any
rate he could evidently conceive no reason why it should be thought
there was anything more than usual the matter with the companion of
his studies; so Mr Coyle had to continue:
"He declines to go up. He chucks the whole thing!"
The first thing that struck young Lechmere in the case was the
freshness it had imparted to the governor's vocabulary.
"He doesn't want to go to Sandhurst?"
"He doesn't want to go anywhere. He gives up the army altogether.
He objects," said Mr Coyle, in a tone that made young Lechmere almost
hold his breath, "to the military profession."
"Why, it has been the profession of all his family!"
"Their profession? It has been their religion! Do you know Miss
"Oh, yes. Isn't she awful?" young Lechmere candidly ejaculated.
His instructor demurred.
"She's formidable, if you mean that, and it's right she should be;
because somehow in her very person, good maiden lady as she is, she
represents the might, she represents the traditions and the exploits
of the British army. She represents the expansive property of the
English name. I think his family can be trusted to come down on him,
but every influence should be set in motion. I want to know what yours
is. Can you do anything in the matter?"
"I can try a couple of rounds with him," said young Lechmere
reflectively. "But he knows a fearful lot. He has the most
"Then he has told you some of them — he has taken you into his
"I've heard him jaw by the yard," smiled the honest youth. "He has
told me he despises it."
"What is it he despises? I can't make out."
The most consecutive of Mr Coyle's nurslings considered a moment,
as if he were conscious of a responsibility.
"Why, I think, military glory. He says we take the wrong view of
"He oughtn't to talk to
you that way. It's corrupting the
youth of Athens. It's sowing sedition."
"Oh, I'm all right!" said young Lechmere. "And he never told me he
meant to chuck it. I always thought he meant to see it through, simply
because he had to. He'll argue on any side you like. It's a tremendous
pity — I'm sure he'd have a big career."
"Tell him so, then; plead with him; struggle with him — for God's
"I'll do what I can — I'll tell him it's a regular shame."
that note — insist on the disgrace of it."
The young man gave Mr Coyle a more perceptive glance. "I'm sure he
wouldn't do anything dishonourable."
"Well — it won't look right. He must be made to feel
— work it up. Give him a comrade's point of view — that of a
"That's what I thought we were going to be!" young Lechmere mused
romantically, much uplifted by the nature of the mission imposed on
him. "He's an awfully good sort."
"No one will think so if he backs out!" said Spencer Coyle.
"They mustn't say it to
me!" his pupil rejoined with a
Mr Coyle hesitated a moment, noting his tone and aware that in the
perversity of things, though this young man was a born soldier, no
excitement would ever attach to his alternatives save perhaps
on the part of the nice girl to whom at an early day he was sure to be
placidly united. "Do you like him very much — do you believe in him?"
Young Lechmere's life in these days was spent in answering
terrible questions; but he had never been subjected to so queer an
interrogation as this. "Believe in him? Rather!"
"Then save him!"
The poor boy was puzzled, as if it were forced upon him by this
intensity that there was more in such an appeal than could appear on
the surface; and he doubtless felt that he was only entering into a
complex situation when after another moment, with his hands in his
pockets, he replied hopefully but not pompously: "I daresay I can
bring him round!"
Before seeing young Lechmere Mr Coyle had determined to telegraph
an inquiry to Miss Wingrave. He had prepaid the answer, which, being
promptly put into his hand, brought the interview we have just related
to a close. He immediately drove off to Baker Street, where the lady
had said she awaited him, and five minutes after he got there, as he
sat with Owen Wingrave's remarkable aunt, he repeated over several
times, in his angry sadness and with the infallibility of his
experience: "He's so intelligent — he's so intelligent!" He had
declared it had been a luxury to put such a fellow through.
"Of course he's intelligent, what else could he be? We've never,
that I know of, had but one idiot in the family!" said Jane
Wingrave. This was an allusion that Mr Coyle could understand, and it
brought home to him another of the reasons for the disappointment, the
humiliation as it were, of the good people at Paramore, at the same
time that it gave an example of the conscientious coarseness he had on
former occasions observed in his interlocutress. Poor Philip Wingrave,
her late brother's eldest son, was literally imbecile and banished
from view; deformed, unsocial, irretrievable, he had been relegated to
a private asylum and had become among the friends of the family only a
little hushed lugubrious legend. All the hopes of the house,
picturesque Paramore, now unintermittently old Sir Philip's rather
melancholy home (his infirmities would keep him there to the last)
were therefore collected on the second boy's head, which nature, as if
in compunction for her previous botch, had, in addition to making it
strikingly handsome, filled with marked originalities and talents.
These two had been the only children of the old man's only son, who,
like so many of his ancestors, had given up a gallant young life to
the service of his country. Owen Wingrave the elder had received his
death-cut, in close-quarters, from an Afghan sabre; the blow had come
crashing across his skull. His wife, at that time in India, was about
to give birth to her third child; and when the event took place, in
darkness and anguish, the baby came lifeless into the world and the
mother sank under the multiplication of her woes. The second of the
little boys in England, who was at Paramore with his grandfather,
became the peculiar charge of his aunt, the only unmarried one, and
during the interesting Sunday that, by urgent invitation, Spencer
Coyle, busy as he was, had, after consenting to put Owen through,
spent under that roof, the celebrated crammer received a vivid
impression of the influence exerted at least in intention by Miss
Wingrave. Indeed the picture of this short visit remained with the
observant little man a curious one — the vision of an impoverished
Jacobean house, shabby and remarkably 'creepy', but full of character
still and full of felicity as a setting for the distinguished figure
of the peaceful old soldier. Sir Philip Wingrave, a relic rather than
a celebrity, was a small brown, erect octogenarian, with smouldering
eyes and a studied courtesy. He liked to do the diminished honours of
his house, but even when with a shaky hand he lighted a bedroom candle
for a deprecating guest it was impossible not to feel that beneath the
surface he was a merciless old warrior. The eye of the imagination
could glance back into his crowded Eastern past — back at episodes in
which his scrupulous forms would only have made him more terrible.
Mr Coyle remembered also two other figures — a faded inoffensive
Mrs Julian, domesticated there by a system of frequent visits as the
widow of an officer and a particular friend of Miss Wingrave, and a
remarkably clever little girl of eighteen, who was this lady's
daughter and who struck the speculative visitor as already formed for
other relations. She was very impertinent to Owen, and in the course
of a long walk that he had taken with the young man and the effect of
which, in much talk, had been to clinch his high opinion of him, he
had learned (for Owen chattered confidentially) that Mrs Julian was
the sister of a very gallant gentleman, Captain Hume-Walker, of the
Artillery, who had fallen in the Indian Mutiny and between whom and
Miss Wingrave (it had been that lady's one known concession) a passage
of some delicacy, taking a tragic turn, was believed to have been
enacted. They had been engaged to be married, but she had given way to
the jealousy of her nature — had broken with him and sent him off to
his fate, which had been horrible. A passionate sense of having
wronged him, a hard eternal remorse had thereupon taken possession of
her, and when his poor sister, linked also to a soldier, had by a
still heavier blow been left almost without resources, she had devoted
herself charitably to a long expiation. She had sought comfort in
taking Mrs Julian to live much of the time at Paramore, where she
became an unremunerated though not uncriticised housekeeper, and
Spencer Coyle suspected that it was a part of this comfort that she
could at her leisure trample on her. The impression of Jane Wingrave
was not the faintest he had gathered on that intensifying Sunday — an
occasion singularly tinged for him with the sense of bereavement and
mourning and memory, of names never mentioned of the far-away plaint
of widows and the echoes of battles and bad news. It was all military
indeed, and Mr Coyle was made to shudder a little at the profession of
which he helped to open the door to harmless young men. Miss Wingrave
moreover might have made such a bad conscience worse — so cold and
clear a good one looked at him out of her hard, fine eyes and
trumpeted in her sonorous voice.
She was a high, distinguished person; angular but not awkward,
with a large forehead and abundant black hair, arranged like that of a
woman conceiving perhaps excusably of her head as 'noble', and
irregularly streaked to-day with white. If however she represented for
Spencer Coyle the genius of a military race it was not that she had
the step of a grenadier or the vocabulary of a camp-follower; it was
only that such sympathies were vividly implied in the general fact to
which her very presence and each of her actions and glances and tones
were a constant and direct allusion — the paramount valour of her
family. If she was military it was because she sprang from a military
house and because she wouldn't for the world have been anything but
what the Wingraves had been. She was almost vulgar about her
ancestors, and if one had been tempted to quarrel with her one would
have found a fair pretext in her defective sense of proportion. This
temptation however said nothing to Spencer Coyle, for whom as a strong
character revealing itself in colour and sound she was a spectacle and
who was glad to regard her as a force exerted on his own side. He
wished her nephew had more of her narrowness instead of being almost
cursed with the tendency to look at things in their relations. He
wondered why when she came up to town she always resorted to Baker
Street for lodgings. He had never known nor heard of Baker Street as a
residence — he associated it only with bazaars and photographers. He
divined in her a rigid indifference to everything that was not the
passion of her life. Nothing really mattered to her but that, and she
would have occupied apartments in Whitechapel if they had been a
feature in her tactics. She had received her visitor in a large, cold,
faded room, furnished with slippery seats and decorated with alabaster
vases and wax-flowers. The only little personal comfort for which she
appeared to have looked out was a fat catalogue of the Army and Navy
Stores, which reposed on a vast, desolate table-cover of false blue.
Her clear forehead — it was like a porcelain slate, a receptacle for
addresses and sums — had flushed when her nephew's crammer told her
the extraordinary news; but he saw she was fortunately more angry than
frightened. She had essentially, she would always have, too little
imagination for fear, and the healthy habit moreover of facing
everything had taught her that the occasion usually found her a
quantity to reckon with. Mr Coyle saw that her only fear at present
could have been that of not being able to prevent her nephew from
being absurd and that to such an apprehension as this she was in fact
inaccessible. Practically too she was not troubled by surprise; she
recognised none of the futile, none of the subtle sentiments. If
Philip had for an hour made a fool of himself she was angry;
disconcerted as she would have been on learning that he had confessed
to debts or fallen in love with a low girl. But there remained in any
annoyance the saving fact that no one could make a fool of her.
"I don't know when I've taken such an interest in a young man — I
think I never have, since I began to handle them," Mr Coyle said. "I
like him, I believe in him — it's been a delight to see how he was
"Oh, I know how they go!" Miss Wingrave threw back her head with a
familiar briskness, as if a rapid procession of the generations had
flashed before her, rattling their scabbards and spurs. Spencer Coyle
recognised the intimation that she had nothing to learn from anybody
about the natural carriage of a Wingrave, and he even felt convicted
by her next words of being, in her eyes, with the troubled story of
his check, his weak complaint of his pupil, rather a poor creature.
"If you like him," she exclaimed, "for mercy's sake keep him quiet!"
Mr Coyle began to explain to her that this was less easy than she
appeared to imagine; but he perceived that she understood very little
of what he said. The more he insisted that the boy had a kind of
intellectual independence, the more this struck her as a conclusive
proof that her nephew was a Wingrave and a soldier. It was not till
he mentioned to her that Owen had spoken of the profession of arms as
of something that would be 'beneath' him, it was not till her
attention was arrested by this intenser light on the complexity of the
problem that Miss Wingrave broke out after a moment's stupefied
reflection: "Send him to see me immediately!"
"That's exactly what I wanted to ask your leave to do. But I've
wanted also to prepare you for the worst, to make you understand that
he strikes me as really obstinate and to suggest to you that the most
powerful arguments at your command — especially if you should be able
to put your hand on some intensely practical one — will be none too
"I think I've got a powerful argument." Miss Wingrave looked very
hard at her visitor. He didn't know in the least what it was, but he
begged her to put it forward without delay. He promised that their
young man should come to Baker Street that evening, mentioning however
that he had already urged him to spend without delay a couple of days
at Eastbourne. This led Jane Wingrave to inquire with surprise what
virtue there might be in that expensive remedy, and to reply
with decision when Mr Coyle had said "The virtue of a little rest, a
little change, a little relief to overwrought nerves," "Ah, don't
coddle him — he's costing us a great deal of money! I'll talk to him
and I'll take him down to Paramore; then I'll send him back to you
Spencer Coyle hailed this pledge superficially with satisfaction,
but before he quitted Miss Wingrave he became conscious that he had
really taken on a new anxiety — a restlessness that made him say to
himself, groaning inwardly: 'Oh, she is a grenadier at bottom,
and she'll have no tact. I don't know what her powerful argument is;
I'm only afraid she'll be stupid and make him worse. The old man's
better — he's capable of tact, though he's not quite an
extinct volcano. Owen will probably put him in a rage. In short the
difficulty is that the boy's the best of them.'
Spencer Coyle felt afresh that evening at dinner that the boy was
the best of them. Young Wingrave (who, he was pleased to observe, had
not yet proceeded to the seaside) appeared at the repast as usual,
looking inevitably a little self-conscious, but not too original for
Bayswater. He talked very naturally to Mrs Coyle, who had thought him
from the first the most beautiful young man they had ever received; so
that the person most ill at ease was poor Lechmere, who took great
trouble, as if from the deepest delicacy, not to meet the eye of his
misguided mate. Spencer Coyle however paid the penalty of his own
profundity in feeling more and more worried; he could so easily see
that there were all sorts of things in his young friend that the
people of Paramore wouldn't understand. He began even already to react
against the notion of his being harassed — to reflect that after all
he had a right to his ideas — to remember that he was of a substance
too fine to be in fairness roughly used. It was in this way that the
ardent little crammer, with his whimsical perceptions and complicated
sympathies, was generally condemned not to settle down comfortably
either into his displeasures or into his enthusiasms. His love of the
real truth never gave him a chance to enjoy them. He mentioned to
Wingrave after dinner the propriety of an immediate visit to Baker
Street, and the young man, looking 'queer', as he thought — that is
smiling again with the exaggerated glory he had shown in their recent
interview — went off to face the ordeal. Spencer Coyle noted that he
was scared — he was afraid of his aunt; but somehow this didn't
strike him as a sign of pusillanimity. He should have been
scared, he was well aware, in the poor boy's place, and the sight of
his pupil marching up to the battery in spite of his terrors was a
positive suggestion of the temperament of the soldier. Many a plucky
youth would have shirked this particular peril.
"He has got ideas!" young Lechmere broke out to his
instructor after his comrade had quitted the house. He was evidently
bewildered and agitated — he had an emotion to work off. He had
before dinner gone straight at his friend, as Mr Coyle had requested,
and had elicited from him that his scruples were founded on an
overwhelming conviction of the stupidity — the 'crass barbarism' he
called it — of war. His great complaint was that people hadn't
invented anything cleverer, and he was determined to show, the only
way he could, that he wasn't such an ass.
"And he thinks all the great generals ought to have been shot, and
that Napoleon Bonaparte in particular, the greatest, was a criminal, a
monster for whom language has no adequate name!" Mr Coyle rejoined,
completing young Lechmere's picture. "He favoured you, I see, with
exactly the same pearls of wisdom that he produced for me. But I want
to know what you said."
"I said they were awful rot!" Young Lechmere spoke with emphasis,
and he was slightly surprised to hear Mr Coyle laugh incongruously at
this just declaration and then after a moment continue:
"It's all very curious — I daresay there's something in it. But
it's a pity!"
"He told me when it was that the question began to strike him in
that light. Four or five years ago, when he did a lot of reading about
all the great swells and their campaigns — Hannibal and Julius Cæsar,
Marlborough and Frederick and Bonaparte. He has done a lot of
reading, and he says it opened his eyes. He says that a wave of
disgust rolled over him. He talked about the 'immeasurable misery' of
wars, and asked me why nations don't tear to pieces the governments,
the rulers that go in for them. He hates poor old Bonaparte worst of
"Well, poor old Bonaparte
was a brute. He was a frightful
ruffian," Mr Coyle unexpectedly declared. "But I suppose you didn't
"Oh, I daresay he was objectionable, and I'm very glad we laid
him on his back. But the point I made to Wingrave was that his own
behaviour would excite no end of remark." Young Lechmere hesitated an
instant, then he added: "I told him he must be prepared for the worst."
"Of course he asked you what you meant by the 'worst'," said
"Yes, he asked me that, and do you know what I said? I said people
would say that his conscientious scruples and his wave of disgust are
only a pretext. Then he asked 'A pretext for what?'
"Ah, he rather had you there!" Mr Coyle exclaimed with a little
laugh that was mystifying to his pupil.
"Not a bit — for I told him."
"What did you tell him?"
Once more, for a few seconds, with his conscious eyes in his
instructor's, the young man hung fire.
"Why, what we spoke of a few hours ago. The appearance he'd
present of not having—" The honest youth faltered a moment, then
brought it out: "The military temperament, don't you know? But do you
know what he said to that?" young Lechmere went on.
"Damn the military temperament!" the crammer promptly replied.
Young Lechmere stared. Mr Coyle's tone left him uncertain if he
were attributing the phrase to Wingrave or uttering his own opinion,
but he exclaimed:
"Those were exactly his words!"
"He doesn't care," said Mr Coyle.
"Perhaps not. But it isn't fair for him to abuse
fellows. I told him it's the finest temperament in the world, and
that there's nothing so splendid as pluck and heroism."
"Ah! there you had
"I told him it was unworthy of him to abuse a gallant, a
magnificent profession. I told him there's no type so fine as that of
the soldier doing his duty."
your type, my dear boy." Young Lechmere
blushed; he couldn't make out (and the danger was naturally unexpected
to him) whether at that moment he didn't exist mainly for the
recreation of his friend. But he was partly reassured by the genial
way this friend continued, laying a hand on his shoulder: "Keep at
him that way! we may do something. I'm extremely obliged to you."
Another doubt however remained unassuaged — a doubt which led him to
exclaim to Mr Coyle before they dropped the painful subject:
"He doesn't care! But it's awfully odd he shouldn't!"
"So it is, but remember what you said this afternoon — I mean
about your not advising people to make insinuations to you."
"I believe I should knock a fellow down!" said young Lechmere.
Mr Coyle had got up; the conversation had taken place while they sat
together after Mrs Coyle's withdrawal from the dinner-table and the
head of the establishment administered to his disciple, on principles
that were a part of his thoroughness, a glass of excellent claret. The
disciple, also on his feet, lingered an instant, not for another 'go',
as he would have called it, at the decanter, but to wipe his
microscopic moustache with prolonged and unusual care. His companion
saw he had something to bring out which required a final effort, and
waited for him an instant with a hand on the knob of the door. Then as
young Lechmere approached him Spencer Coyle grew conscious of an
unwonted intensity in the round and ingenuous face. The boy was
nervous, but he tried to behave like a man of the world. "Of course,
it's between ourselves," he stammered, "and I wouldn't breathe such a
word to any one who wasn't interested in poor Wingrave as you are. But
do you think he funks it?"
Mr Coyle looked at him so hard for an instant that he was visibly
frightened at what he had said.
"Funks it! Funks what?"
"Why, what we're talking about — the service." Young Lechmere
gave a little gulp and added with a naïveté almost pathetic to
Spencer Coyle: "The dangers, you know!"
"Do you mean he's thinking of his skin?"
Young Lechmere's eyes expanded appealingly, and what his
instructor saw in his pink face — he even thought he saw a tear —
was the dread of a disappointment shocking in the degree in which the
loyalty of admiration had been great.
"Is he — is he
afraid?" repeated the honest lad, with a
quaver of suspense.
"Dear no!" said Spencer Coyle, turning his back.
Young Lechmere felt a little snubbed and even a little ashamed;
but he felt still more relieved.
Less than a week after this Spencer Coyle received a note from Miss
Wingrave, who had immediately quitted London with her nephew. She
proposed that he should come down to Paramore for the following Sunday
— Owen was really so tiresome. On the spot, in that house of examples
and memories and in combination with her poor dear father, who was
'dreadfully annoyed', it might be worth their while to make a last
stand. Mr Coyle read between the lines of this letter that the party
at Paramore had got over a good deal of ground since Miss Wingrave, in
Baker Street, had treated his despair as superficial. She was not an
insinuating woman, but she went so far as to put the question on the
ground of his conferring a particular favour on an afflicted family;
and she expressed the pleasure it would give them if he should be
accompanied by Mrs Coyle, for whom she inclosed a separate invitation.
She mentioned that she was also writing, subject to Mr Coyle's
approval, to young Lechmere. She thought such a nice manly boy might
do her wretched nephew some good. The celebrated crammer determined to
embrace this opportunity; and now it was the case not so much that he
was angry as that he was anxious. As he directed his answer to Miss
Wingrave's letter he caught himself smiling at the thought that at
bottom he was going to defend his young friend rather than to attack
him. He said to his wife, who was a fair, fresh, slow woman — a
person of much more presence than himself — that she had better take
Miss Wingrave at her word: it was such an extraordinary, such a
fascinating specimen of an old English home. This last allusion was
amicably sarcastic — he had already accused the good lady more than
once of being in love with Owen Wingrave. She admitted that she was,
she even gloried in her passion; which shows that the subject, between
them, was treated in a liberal spirit. She carried out the joke by
accepting the invitation with eagerness. Young Lechmere was delighted
to do the same; his instructor had good-naturedly taken the view that
the little break would freshen him up for his last spurt.
It was the fact that the occupants of Paramore did indeed take
their trouble hard that struck Spencer Coyle after he had been an hour
or two in that fine old house. This very short second visit, beginning
on the Saturday evening, was to constitute the strangest episode of
his life. As soon as he found himself in private with his wife — they
had retired to dress for dinner — they called each other's attention
with effusion and almost with alarm to the sinister gloom that was
stamped on the place. The house was admirable with its old grey front
which came forward in wings so as to form three sides of a square,
but Mrs Coyle made no scruple to declare that if she had known in
advance the sort of impression she was going to receive she would
never have put her foot in it. She characterized it as 'uncanny', she
accused her husband of not having warned her properly. He had
mentioned to her in advance certain facts, but while she almost
feverishly dressed she had innumerable questions to ask. He hadn't
told her about the girl, the extraordinary girl, Miss Julian — that
is, he hadn't told her that this young lady, who in plain terms was a
mere dependent, would be in effect, and as a consequence of the way
she carried herself, the most important person in the house. Mrs Coyle
was already prepared to announce that she hated Miss Julian's
affectations. Her husband above all hadn't told her that they should
find their young charge looking five years older.
"I couldn't imagine that," said Mr Coyle, "nor that the character
of the crisis here would be quite so perceptible. But I suggested to
Miss Wingrave the other day that they should press her nephew in real
earnest, and she has taken me at my word. They've cut off his supplies
— they're trying to starve him out. That's not what I meant — but
indeed I don't quite know to-day what I meant. Owen feels the
pressure, but he won't yield." The strange thing was that, now that he
was there, the versatile little coach felt still more that his own
spirit had been caught up by a wave of reaction. If he was there it
was because he was on poor Owen's side. His whole impression, his
whole apprehension, had on the spot become much deeper. There was
something in the dear boy's very resistance that began to charm him.
When his wife, in the intimacy of the conference I have mentioned,
threw off the mask and commended even with extravagance the stand his
pupil had taken (he was too good to be a horrid soldier and it was
noble of him to suffer for his convictions — wasn't he as upright as
a young hero, even though as pale as a Christian martyr?) the good
lady only expressed the sympathy which, under cover of regarding his
young friend as a rare exception, he had already recognised in his own
For, half an hour ago, after they had had superficial tea in the
brown old hall of the house, his young friend had proposed to him,
before going to dress, to take a turn outside, and had even, on the
terrace, as they walked together to one of the far ends of it, passed
his hand entreatingly into his companion's arm, permitting himself
thus a familiarity unusual between pupil and master and calculated to
show that he had guessed whom he could most depend on to be kind to
him. Spencer Coyle on his own side had guessed something, so that he
was not surprised at the boy's having a particular confidence to make.
He had felt on arriving that each member of the party had wished to
get hold of him first, and he knew that at that moment Jane Wingrave
was peering through the ancient blur of one of the windows (the house
had been modernised so little that the thick dim panes were three
centuries old) to see if her nephew looked as if he were poisoning the
visitor's mind. Mr Coyle lost no time therefore in reminding the youth
(and he took care to laugh as he did so) that he had not come down to
Paramore to be corrupted. He had come down to make, face to face, a
last appeal to him — he hoped it wouldn't be utterly vain. Owen
smiled sadly as they went, asking him if he thought he had the general
air of a fellow who was going to knock under.
"I think you look strange — I think you look ill," Spencer Coyle
said very honestly. They had paused at the end of the terrace.
"I've had to exercise a great power of resistance, and it rather
takes it out of one."
"Ah, my dear boy, I wish your great power — for you evidently
possess it — were exerted in a better cause!"
Owen Wingrave smiled down at his small instructor. "I don't
believe that!" Then he added, to explain why: "Isn't what you want, if
you're so good as to think well of my character, to see me exert most power, in whatever direction? Well,
this is the way I
exert most." Owen Wingrave went on to relate that he had had some
terrible hours with his grandfather, who had denounced him in a way to
make one's hair stand up on one's head. He had expected them not to
like it, not a bit, but he had had no idea they would make such a row.
His aunt was different, but she was equally insulting. Oh, they had
made him feel they were ashamed of him; they accused him of putting a
public dishonour on their name. He was the only one who had ever
backed out — he was the first for three hundred years. Every one had
known he was to go up, and now every one would know he was a young
hypocrite who suddenly pretended to have scruples. They talked of his
scruples as you wouldn't talk of a cannibal's god. His grandfather
had called him outrageous names. "He called me — he called me—"
Here the young man faltered, his voice failed him. He looked as
haggard as was possible to a young man in such magnificent health.
"I probably know!" said Spencer Coyle, with a nervous laugh.
Owen Wingrave's clouded eyes, as if they were following the
far-off consequences of things, rested for an instant on a distant
object. Then they met his companion's and for another moment sounded
them deeply. "It isn't true. No, it isn't. It's not that!"
"I don't suppose it is! But what
do you propose instead of
"Instead of what?"
"Instead of the stupid solution of war. If you take that away you
should suggest at least a substitute."
"That's for the people in charge, for governments and cabinets,"
said Owen Wingrave. "They'll arrive soon enough at a
substitute, in the particular case, if they're made to understand
that they'll be hung if they don't find one. Make it a capital crime
— that'll quicken the wits of ministers!" His eyes brightened as he
spoke, and he looked assured and exalted. Mr Coyle gave a sigh of
perplexed resignation — it was a monomania. He fancied after this for
a moment that Owen was going to ask him if he too thought he was a
coward; but he was relieved to observe that he either didn't suspect
him of it or shrank uncomfortably from putting the question to the
test. Spencer Coyle wished to show confidence, but somehow a direct
assurance that he didn't doubt of his courage appeared too gross a
compliment — it would be like saying he didn't doubt of his honesty.
The difficulty was presently averted by Owen's continuing: "My
grandfather can't break the entail, but I shall have nothing but this
place, which, as you know, is small and, with the way rents are going,
has quite ceased to yield an income. He has some money — not much,
but such as it is he cuts me off. My aunt does the same — she has let
me know her intentions. She was to have left me her six hundred a
year. It was all settled; but now what's settled is that I don't get a
penny of it if I give up the army. I must add in fairness that I have
from my mother three hundred a year of my own. And I tell you the
simple truth when I say that I don't care a rap for the loss of the
money." The young man drew a long, slow breath, like a creature in
pain; then he subjoined: "That's not what worries me!"
"What are you going to do?" asked Spencer Coyle.
"I don't know; perhaps nothing. Nothing great, at all events. Only
Owen gave a weary smile, as if, worried as he was, he could yet
appreciate the humorous effect of such a declaration from a Wingrave;
but what it suggested to his companion, who looked up at him with a
sense that he was after all not a Wingrave for nothing and had a
military steadiness under fire, was the exasperation that such a
programme, uttered in such a way and striking them as the last word of
the inglorious, might well have engendered on the part of his
grandfather and his aunt. 'Perhaps nothing' — when he might carry on
the great tradition! Yes, he wasn't weak, and he was interesting; but
there was a point of view from which he was provoking. "What is it then that worries you?" Mr Coyle demanded.
"Oh, the house — the very air and feeling of it. There are
strange voices in it that seem to mutter at me — to say dreadful
things as I pass. I mean the general consciousness and responsibility
of what I'm doing. Of course it hasn't been easy for me — not a bit.
I assure you I don't enjoy it." With a light in them that was like a
longing for justice Owen again bent his eyes on those of the little
coach; then he pursued: "I've started up all the old ghosts. The very
portraits glower at me on the walls. There's one of my
great-great-grandfather (the one the extraordinary story you know is
about — the old fellow who hangs on the second landing of the big
staircase) that fairly stirs on the canvas — just heaves a little —
when I come near it. I have to go up and down stairs — it's rather
awkward! It's what my aunt calls the family circle. It's all
constituted here, it's a kind of indestructible presence, it stretches
away into the past, and when I came back with her the other day Miss
Wingrave told me I wouldn't have the impudence to stand in the midst
of it and say such things. I had to say them to my grandfather;
but now that I've said them it seems to me that the question's ended.
I want to go away — I don't care if I never come back again."
are a soldier; you must fight it out!" Mr Coyle
The young man seemed discouraged at his levity, but as they turned
round, strolling back in the direction from which they had come, he
himself smiled faintly after an instant and replied:
"Ah, we're tainted — all!"
They walked in silence part of the way to the old portico; then
Spencer Coyle, stopping short after having assured himself that he was
at a sufficient distance from the house not to be heard, suddenly put
the question: "What does Miss Julian say?"
"Miss Julian?" Owen had perceptibly coloured.
she hasn't concealed her opinion."
"Oh, it's the opinion of the family circle, for she's a member of
it of course. And then she has her own as well."
"Her own opinion?"
"Her own family-circle."
"Do you mean her mother — that patient lady?"
"I mean more particularly her father, who fell in battle. And her
grandfather, and his father, and her uncles and great-uncles —
they all fell in battle."
"Hasn't the sacrifice of so many lives been sufficient? Why should
she sacrifice you?"
hates me!" Owen declared, as they resumed their
"Ah, the hatred of pretty girls for fine young men!" exclaimed
He didn't believe in it, but his wife did, it appeared perfectly,
when he mentioned this conversation while, in the fashion that has
been described, the visitors dressed for dinner. Mrs Coyle had already
discovered that nothing could have been nastier than Miss Julian's
manner to the disgraced youth during the half-hour the party had spent
in the hall; and it was this lady's judgment that one must have had no
eyes in one's head not to see that she was already trying outrageously
to flirt with young Lechmere. It was a pity they had brought that
silly boy: he was down in the hall with her at that moment. Spencer
Coyle's version was different; he thought there were finer elements
involved. The girl's footing in the house was inexplicable on any
ground save that of her being predestined to Miss Wingrave's nephew.
As the niece of Miss Wingrave's own unhappy intended she had been
dedicated early by this lady to the office of healing by a union with
Owen the tragic breach that had separated their elders; and if in reply
to this it was to be said that a girl of spirit couldn't enjoy in such
a matter having her duty cut out for her, Owen's enlightened friend
was ready with the argument that a young person in Miss Julian's
position would never be such a fool as really to quarrel with a
capital chance. She was familiar at Paramore and she felt safe;
therefore she might trust herself to the amusement of pretending that
she had her option. But it was all innocent coquetry. She had a
curious charm, and it was vain to pretend that the heir of that house
wouldn't seem good enough to a girl, clever as she might be, of
eighteen. Mrs Coyle reminded her husband that the poor young man was
precisely now not of that house: this problem was among the
questions that exercised their wits after the two men had taken the
turn on the terrace. Spencer Coyle told his wife that Owen was afraid
of the portrait of his great-great-grandfather. He would show it to
her, since she hadn't noticed it, on their way down stairs.
"Why of his great-great-grandfather more than of any of the
"Oh, because he's the most formidable. He's the one who's
"Seen where?" Mrs Coyle had turned round with a jerk.
"In the room he was found dead in — the White Room they've always
"Do you mean to say the house has a
ghost?" Mrs Coyle
almost shrieked. "You brought me here without telling me?"
"Didn't I mention it after my other visit?"
"Not a word. You only talked about Miss Wingrave."
"Oh, I was full of the story — you have simply forgotten."
"Then you should have reminded me!"
"If I had thought of it I would have held my peace, for you
wouldn't have come."
"I wish, indeed, I hadn't!" cried Mrs Coyle. "What
"Oh, a deed of violence that took place here ages ago. I think it
was in George the First's time. Colonel Wingrave, one of their
ancestors, struck in a fit of passion one of his children, a lad just
growing up, a blow on the head of which the unhappy child died. The
matter was hushed up for the hour — some other explanation was put
about. The poor boy was laid out in one of those rooms on the other
side of the house, and amid strange smothered rumours the funeral was
hurried on. The next morning, when the household assembled, Colonel
Wingrave was missing; he was looked for vainly, and at last it
occurred to some one that he might perhaps be in the room from which
his child had been carried to burial. The seeker knocked without an
answer — then opened the door. Colonel Wingrave lay dead on the
floor, in his clothes, as if he had reeled and fallen back, without a
wound, without a mark, without anything in his appearance to indicate
that he had either struggled or suffered. He was a strong, sound man
— there was nothing to account for such a catastrophe. He is supposed
to have gone to the room during the night, just before going to bed,
in some fit of compunction or some fascination of dread. It was only
after this that the truth about the boy came out. But no one ever
sleeps in the room."
Mrs Coyle had fairly turned pale. "I hope not! Thank heaven they
haven't put us there!"
"We're at a comfortable distance; but I've seen the gruesome
"Do you mean you've been
"For a few moments. They're rather proud of it and my young friend
showed it to me when I was here before."
Mrs Coyle stared. "And what is it like?"
"Simply like an empty, dull, old-fashioned bedroom, rather big,
with the things of the 'period' in it. It's panelled from floor to
ceiling, and the panels evidently, years and years ago, were painted
white. But the paint has darkened with time and there are three or
four quaint little ancient 'samplers', framed and glazed, hung on the
Mrs Coyle looked round with a shudder. "I'm glad there are no
samplers here! I never heard anything so jumpy! Come down to dinner."
On the staircase as they went down her husband showed her the
portrait of Colonel Wingrave — rather a vigorous representation, for
the place and period, of a gentleman with a hard, handsome face, in a
red coat and a peruke. Mrs Coyle declared that his descendant Sir
Philip was wonderfully like him; and her husband could fancy, though
he kept it to himself, that if one should have the courage to walk
about the old corridors of Paramore at night one might meet a figure
that resembled him roaming, with the restlessness of a ghost, hand in
hand with the figure of a tall boy. As he proceeded to the
drawing-room with his wife he found himself suddenly wishing that he
had made more of a point of his pupil's going to Eastbourne. The
evening however seemed to have taken upon itself to dissipate any such
whimsical forebodings, for the grimness of the family-circle, as
Spencer Coyle had preconceived its composition, was mitigated by an
infusion of the 'neighbourhood'. The company at dinner was recruited
by two cheerful couples — one of them the vicar and his wife, and by
a silent young man who had come down to fish. This was a relief to
Mr Coyle, who had begun to wonder what was after all expected of him
and why he had been such a fool as to come, and who now felt that for
the first hours at least the situation would not have directly to be
dealt with. Indeed he found, as he had found before, sufficient
occupation for his ingenuity in reading the various symptoms of which
the picture before him was an expression. He should probably have an
irritating day on the morrow: he foresaw the difficulty of the long
decorous Sunday and how dry Jane Wingrave's ideas, elicited in a
strenuous conference, would taste. She and her father would make him
feel that they depended upon him for the impossible, and if they
should try to associate him with a merely stupid policy he might end by
telling them what he thought of it — an accident not required to make
his visit a sensible mistake. The old man's actual design was
evidently to let their friends see in it a positive mark of their
being all right. The presence of the great London coach was tantamount
to a profession of faith in the results of the impending examination.
It had clearly been obtained from Owen, rather to Spencer Coyle's
surprise, that he would do nothing to interfere with the apparent
harmony. He let the allusions to his hard work pass and, holding his
tongue about his affairs, talked to the ladies as amicably as if he
had not been 'cut off'. When Spencer Coyle looked at him once or twice
across the table, catching his eye, which showed an indefinable
passion, he saw a puzzling pathos in his laughing face: one couldn't
resist a pang for a young lamb so visibly marked for sacrifice. 'Hang
him — what a pity he's such a fighter!' he privately sighed, with a
want of logic that was only superficial.
This idea however would have absorbed him more if so much of his
attention had not been given to Kate Julian, who now that he had her
well before him struck him as a remarkable and even as a possibly
fascinating young woman. The fascination resided not in any
extraordinary prettiness, for if she was handsome, with her long
Eastern eyes, her magnificent hair and her general unabashed
originality, he had seen complexions rosier and features that pleased
him more: it resided in a strange impression that she gave of being
exactly the sort of person whom, in her position, common
considerations, those of prudence and perhaps even a little those of
decorum, would have enjoined on her not to be. She was what was
vulgarly termed a dependant — penniless, patronized, tolerated; but
something in her aspect and manner signified that if her situation was
inferior, her spirit, to make up for it, was above precautions or
submissions. It was not in the least that she was aggressive, she was
too indifferent for that; it was only as if, having nothing either to
gain or to lose, she could afford to do as she liked. It occurred to
Spencer Coyle that she might really have had more at stake than her
imagination appeared to take account of; whatever it was at any rate
he had never seen a young woman at less pains to be on the safe side.
He wondered inevitably how the peace was kept between Jane Wingrave
and such an inmate as this; but those questions of course were
unfathomable deeps. Perhaps Kate Julian lorded it even over her
protectress. The other time he was at Paramore he had received an
impression that, with Sir Philip beside her, the girl could fight with
her back to the wall. She amused Sir Philip, she charmed him, and he
liked people who weren't afraid; between him and his daughter moreover
there was no doubt which was the higher in command. Miss Wingrave took
many things for granted, and most of all the rigour of discipline and
the fate of the vanquished and the captive.
But between their clever boy and so original a companion of his
childhood what odd relation would have grown up? It couldn't be
indifference, and yet on the part of happy, handsome, youthful
creatures it was still less likely to be aversion. They weren't Paul
and Virginia, but they must have had their common summer and their
idyll: no nice girl could have disliked such a nice fellow for
anything but not liking her, and no nice fellow could have
resisted such propinquity. Mr Coyle remembered indeed that Mrs Julian
had spoken to him as if the propinquity had been by no means constant,
owing to her daughter's absences at school, to say nothing of Owen's;
her visits to a few friends who were so kind as to 'take her' from
time to time; her sojourns in London — so difficult to manage, but
still managed by God's help — for 'advantages', for drawing and
singing, especially drawing or rather painting, in oils, in which she
had had immense success. But the good lady had also mentioned that the
young people were quite brother and sister, which was a little,
after all, like Paul and Virginia. Mrs Coyle had been right, and it
was apparent that Virginia was doing her best to make the time pass
agreeably for young Lechmere. There was no such whirl of conversation
as to render it an effort for Mr Coyle to reflect on these things,
for the tone of the occasion, thanks principally to the other guests,
was not disposed to stray — it tended to the repetition of anecdote
and the discussion of rents, topics that huddled together like uneasy
animals. He could judge how intensely his hosts wished the evening to
pass off as if nothing had happened; and this gave him the measure of
their private resentment. Before dinner was over he found himself
fidgetty about his second pupil. Young Lechmere, since he began to
cram, had done all that might have been expected of him; but this
couldn't blind his instructor to a present perception of his being in
moments of relaxation as innocent as a babe. Mr Coyle had considered
that the amusements of Paramore would probably give him a fillip, and
the poor fellow's manner testified to the soundness of the forecast.
The fillip had been unmistakably administered; it had come in the form
of a revelation. The light on young Lechmere's brow announced with a
candour that was almost an appeal for compassion, or at least a
deprecation of ridicule, that he had never seen anything like Miss
In the drawing-room after dinner the girl found an occasion to
approach Spencer Coyle. She stood before him a moment, smiling while
she opened and shut her fan, and then she said abruptly, raising her
strange eyes: "I know what you've come for, but it isn't any use."
"I've come to look after
you a little. Isn't
"It's very kind. But I'm not the question of the hour. You won't
do anything with Owen."
Spencer Coyle hesitated a moment. "What will
you do with
his young friend?"
She stared, looked round her.
"Mr Lechmere? Oh, poor little lad! We've been talking about Owen.
He admires him so."
"So do I. I should tell you that."
"So do we all. That's why we're in such despair."
"Personally then you'd
like him to be a soldier?" Spencer
"I've quite set my heart on it. I adore the army and I'm awfully
fond of my old playmate," said Miss Julian.
Her interlocutor remembered the young man's own different version
of her attitude; but he judged it loyal not to challenge the girl.
"It's not conceivable that your old playmate shouldn't be fond of
you. He must therefore wish to please you; and I don't see why —
between you — you don't set the matter right."
"Wish to please me!" Miss Julian exclaimed. "I'm sorry to say he
shows no such desire. He thinks me an impudent wretch. I've told him
what I think of him, and he simply hates me."
"But you think so highly! You just told me you admire him."
"His talents, his possibilities, yes; even his appearance, if I
may allude to such a matter. But I don't admire his present behaviour."
"Have you had the question out with him?" Spencer Coyle asked.
"Oh, yes, I've ventured to be frank — the occasion seemed to
excuse it. He couldn't like what I said."
"What did you say?"
Miss Julian, thinking a moment, opened and shut her fan again.
"Why, that such conduct isn't that of a gentleman!"
After she had spoken her eyes met Spencer Coyle's, who looked into
their charming depths.
"Do you want then so much to send him off to be killed?"
"How odd for
you to ask that — in such a way!" she replied
with a laugh. "I don't understand your position: I thought your line
was to make soldiers!"
"You should take my little joke. But, as regards Owen Wingrave,
there's no 'making' needed," Mr Coyle added. "To my sense" — the
little crammer paused a moment, as if with a consciousness of
responsibility for his paradox — "to my sense he is, in a high
sense of the term, a fighting man."
"Ah, let him prove it!" the girl exclaimed, turning away.
Spencer Coyle let her go; there was something in her tone that
annoyed and even a little shocked him. There had evidently been a
violent passage between these young people, and the reflection that
such a matter was after all none of his business only made him more
sore. It was indeed a military house, and she was at any rate a person
who placed her ideal of manhood (young persons doubtless always had
their ideals of manhood) in the type of the belted warrior. It was a
taste like another; but, even a quarter of an hour later, finding
himself near young Lechmere, in whom this type was embodied, Spencer
Coyle was still so ruffled that he addressed the innocent lad with a
certain magisterial dryness. "You're not to sit up late, you know.
That's not what I brought you down for." The dinner-guests were taking
leave and the bedroom candles twinkled in a monitory row. Young
Lechmere however was too agreeably agitated to be accessible to a
snub: he had a happy pre-occupation which almost engendered a grin.
"I'm only too eager for bedtime. Do you know there's an awfully
"Surely they haven't put you there?"
"No indeed: no one has passed a night in it for ages. But that's
exactly what I want to do — it would be tremendous fun."
"And have you been trying to get Miss Julian's permission?"
"Oh, she can't give leave, she says. But she believes in
it, and she maintains that no man dare."
shall! A man in your critical position in
particular must have a quiet night," said Spencer Coyle.
Young Lechmere gave a disappointed but reasonable sigh.
"Oh, all right. But mayn't I sit up for a little go at Wingrave? I
haven't had any yet."
Mr Coyle looked at his watch.
"You may smoke
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and he turned round to see his
wife tilting candle-grease upon his coat. The ladies were going to bed
and it was Sir Philip's inveterate hour; but Mrs Coyle confided to her
husband that after the dreadful things he had told her she positively
declined to be left alone, for no matter how short an interval, in any
part of the house. He promised to follow her within three minutes, and
after the orthodox handshakes the ladies rustled away. The forms were
kept up at Paramore as bravely as if the old house had no present
heartache. The only one of which Spencer Coyle noticed the omission
was some salutation to himself from Kate Julian. She gave him neither
a word nor a glance, but he saw her look hard at Owen Wingrave. Her
mother, timid and pitying, was apparently the only person from whom
this young man caught an inclination of the head. Miss Wingrave
marshalled the three ladies — her little procession of twinkling
tapers — up the wide oaken stairs and past the watching portrait of
her ill-fated ancestor. Sir Philip's servant appeared and offered his
arm to the old man, who turned a perpendicular back on poor Owen when
the boy made a vague movement to anticipate this office. Spencer Coyle
learned afterwards that before Owen had forfeited favour it had
always, when he was at home, been his privilege at bedtime to conduct
his grandfather ceremoniously to rest. Sir Philip's habits were
contemptuously different now. His apartments were on the lower floor
and he shuffled stiffly off to them with his valet's help, after
fixing for a moment significantly on the most responsible of his
visitors the thick red ray, like the glow of stirred embers, that
always made his eyes conflict oddly with his mild manners. They seemed
to say to Spencer Coyle 'We'll let the young scoundrel have it
to-morrow!' One might have gathered from them that the young
scoundrel, who had now strolled to the other end of the hall, had at
least forged a cheque. Mr Coyle watched him an instant, saw him drop
nervously into a chair and then with a restless movement get up. The
same movement brought him back to where his late instructor stood
addressing a last injunction to young Lechmere.
"I'm going to bed and I should like you particularly to conform to
what I said to you a short time ago. Smoke a single cigarette with
your friend here and then go to your room. You'll have me down on you
if I hear of your having, during the night, tried any preposterous
games." Young Lechmere, looking down with his hands in his pockets,
said nothing — he only poked at the corner of a rug with his toe; so
that Spencer Coyle, dissatisfied with so tacit a pledge, presently
went on, to Owen: "I must request you, Wingrave, not to keep this
sensitive subject sitting up — and indeed to put him to bed and turn
his key in the door." As Owen stared an instant, apparently not
understanding the motive of so much solicitude, he added: "Lechmere
has a morbid curiosity about one of your legends — of your historic
rooms. Nip it in the bud."
"Oh, the legend's rather good, but I'm afraid the room's an awful
sell!" Owen laughed.
"You know you don't
believe that, my boy!" young Lechmere
"I don't think he does," said Mr Coyle, noticing Owen's mottled
"He wouldn't try a night there himself!" young Lechmere pursued.
"I know who told you that," rejoined Owen, lighting a cigarette in
an embarrassed way at the candle, without offering one to either of
"Well, what if she did?" asked the younger of these gentlemen,
rather red. "Do you want them all yourself?" he continued
facetiously, fumbling in the cigarette-box.
Owen Wingrave only smoked quietly; then he exclaimed:
"Yes — what if she did? But she doesn't know," he added.
"She doesn't know what?"
"She doesn't know anything! — I'll tuck him in!" Owen went on
gaily to Mr Coyle, who saw that his presence, now that a certain note
had been struck, made the young men uncomfortable. He was curious, but
there was a kind of discretion, with his pupils, that he had always
pretended to practise; a discretion that however didn't prevent him as
he took his way upstairs from recommending them not to be donkeys.
At the top of the staircase, to his surprise, he met Miss Julian,
who was apparently going down again. She had not begun to undress, nor
was she perceptibly disconcerted at seeing him. She nevertheless, in a
manner slightly at variance with the rigour with which she had
overlooked him ten minutes before, dropped the words: "I'm going down
to look for something. I've lost a jewel."
"A rather good turquoise, out of my locket. As it's the only
ornament I have the honour to possess—!" And she passed down.
"Shall I go with you and help you?" asked Spencer Coyle.
The girl paused a few steps below him, looking back with her
"Don't I hear voices in the hall?"
"Those remarkable young men are there."
"They'll help me." And Kate Julian descended.
Spencer Coyle was tempted to follow her, but remembering his
standard of tact he rejoined his wife in their apartment. He delayed
however to go to bed, and though he went into his dressing-room he
couldn't bring himself even to take off his coat. He pretended for
half an hour to read a novel; after which, quietly, or perhaps I
should say agitatedly, he passed from the dressing-room into the
corridor. He followed this passage to the door of the room which he
knew to have been assigned to young Lechmere and was comforted to see
that it was closed. Half an hour earlier he had seen it standing open;
therefore he could take for granted that the bewildered boy had come
to bed. It was of this he had wished to assure himself, and having
done so he was on the point of retreating. But at the same instant he
heard a sound in the room — the occupant was doing, at the window,
something which showed him that he might knock without the reproach of
waking his pupil up. Young Lechmere came in fact to the door in his
shirt and trousers. He admitted his visitor in some surprise, and when
the door was closed again Spencer Coyle said:
"I don't want to make your life a burden to you, but I had it on
my conscience to see for myself that you're not exposed to undue
"Oh, there's plenty of that!" said the ingenuous youth. "Miss
Julian came down again."
"To look for a turquoise?"
"So she said."
"Did she find it?"
"I don't know. I came up. I left her with poor Wingrave."
"Quite the right thing," said Spencer Coyle.
"I don't know," young Lechmere repeated uneasily. "I left them
"I don't understand. They're a quaint pair!"
Spencer Coyle hesitated. He had, fundamentally, principles and
scruples, but what he had in particular just now was a curiosity, or
rather, to recognise it for what it was, a sympathy, which brushed
"Does it strike you that
she's down on him?" he permitted
himself to inquire.
"Rather! — when she tells him he lies!"
"What do you mean?"
me. It made me leave them; it was getting too
hot. I stupidly brought up the question of the haunted room again, and
said how sorry I was that I had had to promise you not to try my luck
"You can't pry about in that gross way in other people's houses —
you can't take such liberties, you know!" Mr Coyle interjected.
"I'm all right — see how good I am. I don't want to go
the place!" said young Lechmere, confidingly. "Miss Julian said to me
'Oh, I daresay you'd risk it, but' — and she turned and
laughed at poor Owen — 'that's more than we can expect of a gentleman
who has taken his extraordinary line.' I could see that
something had already passed between them on the subject — some
teasing or challenging of hers. It may have been only chaff, but his
chucking the profession had evidently brought up the question of his
"And what did Owen say?"
"Nothing at first; but presently he brought out very quietly: 'I
spent all last night in the confounded place.' We both stared and
cried out at this and I asked him what he had seen there. He said he
had seen nothing, and Miss Julian replied that he ought to tell his
story better than that — he ought to make something good of it. 'It's
not a story — it's a simple fact,' said he; on which she jeered at
him and wanted to know why, if he had done it, he hadn't told her in
the morning, since he knew what she thought of him. 'I know, but I
don't care,' said Wingrave. This made her angry, and she asked him
quite seriously whether he would care if he should know she believed
him to be trying to deceive us."
"Ah, what a brute!" cried Spencer Coyle.
"She's a most extraordinary girl — I don't know what she's up to."
"Extraordinary indeed — to be romping and bandying words at that
hour of the night with fast young men!"
Young Lechmere reflected a moment. "I mean because I think she
Spencer Coyle was so struck with this unwonted symptom of subtlety
that he flashed out: "And do you think he likes her?"
But his interlocutor only replied with a puzzled sigh and a
plaintive "I don't know — I give it up! — I'm sure he did see
something or hear something," young Lechmere added.
"In that ridiculous place? What makes you sure?"
"I don't know — he looks as if he had. He behaves as if he had."
"Why then shouldn't he mention it?"
Young Lechmere thought a moment. "Perhaps it's too gruesome!"
Spencer Coyle gave a laugh. "Aren't you glad then
not in it?"
"Go to bed, you goose," said Spencer Coyle, with another laugh.
"But before you go tell me what he said when she told him he was
trying to deceive you."
"'Take me there yourself, then,
and lock me in!'"
"And did she take him?"
"I don't know — I came up."
Spencer Coyle exchanged a long look with his pupil.
"I don't think they're in the hall now. Where's Owen's own room?"
"I haven't the least idea."
Mr Coyle was perplexed; he was in equal ignorance, and he couldn't
go about trying doors. He bade young Lechmere sink to slumber, and
came out into the passage. He asked himself if he should be able to
find his way to the room Owen had formerly shown him, remembering that
in common with many of the others it had its ancient name painted upon
it. But the corridors of Paramore were intricate; moreover some of the
servants would still be up, and he didn't wish to have the appearance
of roaming over the house. He went back to his own quarters, where
Mrs Coyle soon perceived that his inability to rest had not subsided.
As she confessed for her own part, in the dreadful place, to an
increased sense of 'creepiness', they spent the early part of the
night in conversation, so that a portion of their vigil was inevitably
beguiled by her husband's account of his colloquy with little Lechmere
and by their exchange of opinions upon it. Toward two o'clock
Mrs Coyle became so nervous about their persecuted young friend, and
so possessed by the fear that that wicked girl had availed herself of
his invitation to put him to an abominable test, that she begged her
husband to go and look into the matter at whatever cost to his own
equilibrium. But Spencer Coyle, perversely, had ended, as the perfect
stillness of the night settled upon them, by charming himself into a
tremulous acquiescence in Owen's readiness to face a formidable ordeal
— an ordeal the more formidable to an excited imagination as the poor
boy now knew from the experience of the previous night how resolute an
effort he should have to make. "I hope he is there," he said
to his wife: "it puts them all so in the wrong!" At any rate he
couldn't take upon himself to explore a house he knew so little. He
was inconsequent — he didn't prepare for bed. He sat in the
dressing-room with his light and his novel, waiting to find himself
nodding. At last however Mrs Coyle turned over and ceased to talk, and
at last too he fell asleep in his chair. How long he slept he only
knew afterwards by computation; what he knew to begin with was that he
had started up, in confusion, with the sense of a sudden appalling
sound. His sense cleared itself quickly, helped doubtless by a
confirmatory cry of horror from his wife's room. But he gave no heed
to his wife; he had already bounded into the passage. There the sound
was repeated — it was the "Help! help!" of a woman in agonised
terror. It came from a distant quarter of the house, but the quarter
was sufficiently indicated. Spencer Coyle rushed straight before him,
with the sound of opening doors and alarmed voices in his ears and the
faintness of the early dawn in his eyes. At a turn of one of the
passages he came upon the white figure of a girl in a swoon on a
bench, and in the vividness of the revelation he read as he went that
Kate Julian, stricken in her pride too late with a chill of
compunction for what she had mockingly done, had, after coming to
release the victim of her derision, reeled away, overwhelmed, from the
catastrophe that was her work — the catastrophe that the next moment
he found himself aghast at on the threshold of an open door. Owen
Wingrave, dressed as he had last seen him, lay dead on the spot on
which his ancestor had been found. He looked like a young soldier on a