The Slaves of Society: A Comedy in Covers


A Comedy in Covers



Copyright, 1900, by Harper & Brothers.

All rights reserved.


I. A Mother’s Cares 1
II. The Course of True Love 19
III. The Slave of Alderman Dobbin 28
IV. The Notorious Belle Yorke 55
V. A Person of Importance 82
VI. What People Said 98
VII. A Question of Chemistry 115
VIII. Cinderella 128
IX. And the Prince 143
X.A Marriage Has Been Arranged”     158
XI.And Will Shortly Take Place 172
XII. The Long Arm of Mr. Despencer 189
XIII. The Marchioness at Bay 214
XIV. Pistols for Two 224
XV. A Misfortune for Society 237




After all,” sighed the marchioness, as she conveyed a three-cornered piece of muffin from the silver chafing-dish to her mouth, and nibbled delicately at one of the corners—“after all, what are we but slaves of society?”

Mr. Despencer extended a hand almost as white and slender as the marchioness’s own, and abstracted a small cube of sugar from the porcelain basin, of the thinness and transparency of a sea-shell, on the marchioness’s silver tray, while he meditated a becoming response.

[2]“Yes,” he exclaimed, giving his head a slow, mournful movement from side to side, “you are right. We are no better off than prisoners on the treadmill. Even you are but a bird of paradise held captive in a gilded cage.”

The bird of paradise removed the piece of muffin from its beak to turn a pair of bright, steel-blue eyes on the speaker, gazing at him for some moments as though in doubt whether to accept this beautiful sentiment as a tribute or to rebuke it as a familiarity.

The cage so feelingly referred to was one of a set of drawing-rooms on the first floor of a mansion in Berkeley Square—that is to say, in the heart of that restricted area within which society requires its bond-servants to reside during the spring and early summer. The gilding consisted in a mural decoration of the very latest and most artistic design, representing a number of Japanese dragons going through a kind of dragon drill, apparently adapted to develop their tail muscles[3] according to the system of Mr. Sandow; in curtains of lemon-colored silk on each side of the window and other curtains of lemon-colored plush across the doorways; in a carpet of that rich but chaotic pattern which has been compared to the poetical style of the late Robert Montgomery, and in a thicket of fantastic and inconvenient chairs, of china-laden cabinets and palms in Satsuma jars, which would have rendered it extremely hazardous for the gymnastic dragons to have come down from the walls and transferred their exercises to the floor of the apartment.

The inhabitant of this dungeon was a handsome young woman of forty, or possibly forty-five, with the fresh complexion and vivacious expression of a girl, united with a certain massiveness of outline, the inseparable distinction of the British matron. Just at this moment, moreover, her features were hardened into that business-like aspect which the British matron assumes when she is engaged in doing that duty which England[4] expects of her no less than of its sea-faring population.

Her companion looked even younger than the marchioness. A rather pale face, set off by a carefully cultivated black mustache, gave him that air of concealed wickedness which women find so interesting. His attire was a little too elegant to be in perfect taste. His bow was tied with an artistic grace repugnant to the feelings of an English gentleman. He was a typical specimen of that class of man whom men instinctively taboo and women instinctively confide in; who are blackballed in the best clubs and invited to all the best country-houses, who have no male friends, and are on intimate terms with half our peeresses. Sometimes these men end by getting found out, and sometimes they marry a dowager countess with money—and a temper. As yet neither fate had overtaken Mr. Despencer.

The marchioness decided that her companion had been familiar.

[5]“Don’t be ridiculous!” she said, with some sharpness. “I sent for you because I want your assistance.”

Despencer meekly submitted to the reproof.

“You know I am always at your disposal,” he murmured.

The marchioness glanced at him with a questioning air, much as King John may be supposed to have glanced at Hubert before proceeding to introduce the subject of Prince Arthur’s eyes.

“They tell me you are horribly wicked,” she remarked, in the tone of one who pays a distinguished compliment, “so I feel I can rely on you.”

“In that case I must positively ask you to go into another room,” returned Despencer, with his best smile. “In your presence I find my better instincts overpower me.”

The marchioness leaned back in her chair, and half closed her eyes with an expression of well-bred fatigue.

“Please don’t begin to say clever things.[6] I want to talk sensibly.” She reopened her eyes. “You see, I can’t speak to the marquis because—well, he is rather old-fashioned in some of his ideas; so I have to fall back on you.”

Despencer slightly shrugged his shoulders.

“Lord Severn is certainly a trifle out of date. He belongs to the solid-tire period.”

“Exactly!” exclaimed the marchioness, with some eagerness. The next moment she recollected herself and frowned. Even the fireside cat will sometimes protrude its claws from under their velvet caps, and the marchioness was not quite sure that she had not felt a scratch. She frowned beautifully—the marchioness’s frown was celebrated. Then she observed: “Though I think it is extremely impertinent of you to say so. Please to remember that the marquis is my husband.”

“Ah! to be sure he is. I apologize. It is so difficult to keep in mind these legal distinctions.”

[7]This time the marchioness felt certain she had been scratched. She glanced furtively at her companion, who preserved the composure of entire innocence as he set down his empty teacup on a small ebony stool, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and made himself more at ease by drawing back into his chair and crossing his superbly trousered legs. After a little pause, she asked suddenly:

“You know Mr. Hammond?”

“No.” The word was spoken with a touch of disdain.

“Not know Mr. Hammond! Why, I thought Hammond’s ales were drunk in all the clubs?”

“It doesn’t follow that you know a man because you drink his beer. But I have heard of him. Isn’t he rather an outsider?”

The marchioness looked indignant.

“He is run after by all the best people,” she remonstrated.

“Yes, but is he worth it?” returned Despencer.

[8]“He is worth two millions,” retorted the marchioness.

Despencer sat up in his chair and glanced at her.

“Rather a loud kind of man, they tell me,” he observed.

“They tell me it is the thing to be loud now,” said his companion.

“The sort of man that takes ballet-girls to Richmond?”

“The sort of man that every mother in England would welcome as a son-in-law.”

Despencer smiled compassionately and leaned back in his chair again.

“Oh, quite so. There could be no possible objection to him as a son-in-law. I thought you meant as an acquaintance.”

“Don’t be so insolent,” said the marchioness; “but listen. A man like that ought to marry, and to marry well. If he were to fall into the clutches of some vulgar adventuress, I should regard it as a misfortune for society.”

[9]“This is very noble of you,” murmured her companion.

She went on: “We are all so wretchedly poor in society now that we can’t afford to lose two millions. Besides, with his money and a seat in Parliament, they are sure to make him a peer.”

“I should think that very likely. The House of Lords is the one club in London where you can’t be blackballed.”

The marchioness condescended to smile.

“How wretchedly jealous and spiteful you are to-day! To come to the point. I have determined to do my duty to society by marrying Victoria to this man.”

“Congratulations! Let me see, ought I to call you a Spartan mother, or a Roman one? I really forget.”

The marchioness raised her hand in languid remonstrance.

“I begged you just now not to be clever. Unfortunately, there is an obstacle in the way.”

[10]“Ah! I think I have heard something about a gallant cousin?” Despencer suggested.

“No, no. Victoria has far too much sense for that sort of thing. Besides, I don’t allow Gerald here now. No, the obstacle I mean is not a man, but a woman.”

“Ah! now I see it is going to be serious. Who is she?”

“Belle Yorke.”

“Belle Yorke!” Even Despencer’s careful training did not enable him to hide his stupefaction on hearing the name. “The celebrated Belle Yorke?” he asked, staring hard at the marchioness.

“The notorious Belle Yorke,” was the scornful answer. “I understand she is all the rage at the music-halls just now, and Mr. Hammond is among her admirers.”

“He is not the only one,” said Despencer, dryly.

“Why do you look like that?” demanded[11] the marchioness. “Is there some mystery about Belle Yorke?”

“Oh no! Oh, dear no! Very little mystery, I should say,” and Despencer smiled.

The marchioness detected a history in the smile.

“Then there is some scandal?” she asked, eagerly, lowering her voice as people do when they do not wish to be overheard by their conscience. “I felt sure of it. I read in a paper only the other day that all those people on the stage were alike. Ahem! Mr. Despencer—what do people say?”

Despencer gave another light shrug. He shrugged consummately. Despencer’s shrugs were as celebrated as the marchioness’s frowns.

“What do people generally say? It is the usual story: the usual little cottage at Hammersmith, the usual widowed mother, and the usual friend who pays the rent.”

The marchioness’s look of horror would have deceived experts.

[12]“How utterly depraved and shocking! I never dreamed it was so bad as that! I almost wish you hadn’t told me anything about it. Ahem! Mr. Despencer—what do they say is the friend’s name?”

“Oh, really!” For a moment Despencer looked startled, then he smiled queerly. “That is not at all a nice question. I really don’t think you ought to ask me that. I have such a dislike for scandal.”

“So have I, except when I am listening to it in the interest of propriety,” was the firm answer. “I insist on knowing the friend’s name.”

“Well, I have heard the lease is in the name of a Mr. Brown.”

“Brown? Nonsense! That must be an assumed name.”

“Very likely. In these cases I believe it is not usual to put the gentleman’s real name in the lease.”

“Then—then—Mr. Despencer, what is the real name?”

[13]“Oh, marchioness!” Despencer drew back and shook his head reproachfully. “Really, you will bore me if you go on. I couldn’t even guess the gentleman’s real name. It might be anything—Smith, or Jones, or President Kruger. It might be Hammond.”

The marchioness shook her head with conviction.

“It isn’t Hammond. I see you don’t understand the situation.” An ironical smile played for a moment on her companion’s face. “No, if it were only idle folly, I should try to shut my eyes to it. But I haven’t told you the worst. I hear that Mr. Hammond’s admiration for this person is perfectly honorable.”

“That does sound bad!” Despencer returned, gravely. “But I warned you against the man. I told you he was an outsider.”

“You are not to be so flippant,” said the marchioness, crossly. “Remember, you are talking to a mother whose child’s happiness[14] is at stake, and tell me what I am to do. You see, the poor man evidently believes that this girl is perfectly proper.”

“Oh, he won’t believe that long, you may be quite sure.”

“The question is, who will undertake to open his eyes? It will really be doing him a kindness.”

“Yes; but people are so ungrateful for kindness,” objected the other. “Does this man Hammond know the marquis?” he asked, after a little hesitation.

“I expect so. But it is quite useless to think of him. He mustn’t be brought into it.”

Despencer smiled discreetly, as if he thought it might be rather difficult to keep the marquis out.

“Now, Mr. Despencer, you are my only hope,” pursued the marchioness. “I appeal to you in the interests of society.”

“You know I am your slave, marchioness. But it will be a difficult thing to manage. I almost think—”

[15]Despencer broke off, and gazed thoughtfully at his companion.

“Well, what is it? What do you suggest?”

“I fancy that the best thing you can do, if you wish to bring matters to a head, is to have Miss Yorke here.”

“Mr. Despencer!”

“Why not? You see, it isn’t as though she weren’t quite respectable. There may be rumors about her, but then there are rumors about everybody. If we paid attention to rumors, we should all have to shut ourselves up like hermits; except you, there is not a woman in London whom I could visit. As long as nothing is known about her, you will be quite safe in having her here—of course, I mean professionally.”

The marchioness looked a little relieved.

“That doesn’t sound quite so bad,” she admitted. “I could have her at my concert, and let her sing something. I suppose she wouldn’t be altogether too frightfully improper?”

[16]“Oh, dear no! you needn’t fear anything of that kind. Improper songs are quite gone out at the halls now. All Belle Yorke’s are about seamstresses who starve to death in the East End, and ragged boys who insist on taking off their jackets to wrap them round their little sisters on doorsteps in the snow. She makes people cry like anything. I have seen a stockbroker sobbing in the stalls of the Empire as if his heart would break when the ragged boy gets frozen to death, and the little sister wonders why he doesn’t answer her any more.”

“How sweetly touching! I shall insist on her singing that one here. I am sure I shall cry.” The marchioness lifted a small gold watch, the size of a bean, that swung from a brooch on her left shoulder. “Can you reach the bell? I must speak to Victoria before anybody comes.”

Despencer rose, and walked across the room to press a small malachite knob placed in the wall beside the fireplace, in accordance[17] with that mysterious law of connection which every one must have observed, though we believe it has never been decided whether the bell is an acquired characteristic of the fireplace, or the fireplace an acquired characteristic of the bell.

A perfectly constructed machine, bearing considerable resemblance to a human being, attired in a chocolate-colored suit relieved with pink braid, opened the door, and glided noiselessly into the room, stopping with a slight jerk, as though the clockwork had run down, at about three paces inside.

“That is settled, then,” the marchioness was saying when the machine entered. “I shall get her here, and see what she is like.” Her ladyship turned to the machine. “Go and find Lady Victoria, and tell her I want to speak to her.”

The machine made an inclination, revolved on its castors, and noiselessly disappeared. The marchioness continued:

[18]“I must have Mr. Hammond here as well, I suppose?”

“That is indispensable,” was the answer. “And, by the way, I think it will be better not to say anything beforehand to Lord Severn.”

The marchioness looked surprised.

“Why?” she demanded.

Despencer gave another shrug.

“I thought we agreed just now that he was a trifle Early Victorian in some of his ideas. He may have heard the rumors, you know.”

The marchioness had caught a step approaching. She raised her hand with a warning gesture.

“Not a word before Victoria!”



While the marchioness was confiding her maternal anxieties to Mr. Despencer’s sympathetic ear, her daughter, Lady Victoria Mauleverer, was engaged in calmly defying her affectionate parent’s behests.

She was now in the adjoining room; but the dust which yet lingered on her small and delicately made shoes of dark green kid would have revealed to the eye of one of those marvels of astuteness who formerly flourished, and, for aught we know, flourish still in the pages of the popular monthlies, that she had recently returned from out of doors. Her perfectly plain skirt, not quite long enough to conceal the shoes already mentioned, might have suggested further[20] that the excursion had not been wholly unconnected with a bicycle. Further incriminating evidence was supplied by a dark cloth jacket, similar in design to that worn by the steward on board a yacht, but ornamented with a number of oxidized steel buttons of the size of crown pieces, and by a straw hat indistinguishable from those ordinarily worn by undergraduates.

In spite of these evidences of that removal of the barrier between the sexes which is the crowning triumph of our civilization, Lady Victoria was a most attractive girl. She was not quite so youthful as the marchioness, but that could hardly have been expected. At twenty, one is usually a hardened woman of the world; at forty, one begins to be an innocent little thing.

We have hinted that Lady Victoria had just returned from a bicycle ride. It is necessary to add that she had not returned alone.

The companion who had escorted her, not[21] only to the door of the house, but up-stairs, to that of the drawing-room, was a tall, fine-looking man of twenty-eight or thirty, whose whole surface, from his boots to his forehead, gleamed with that excess of physical polish which is the religion of the British soldier. It is not the only religion which demands some intellectual sacrifice on the part of its votaries.

As soon as the two were inside the room, Lady Victoria turned to her companion.

“How can you be so imprudent, Gerald! Do you know my mother is in the next room?”

Captain Mauleverer walked boldly forward, and sat down without waiting to be asked.

“Certainly,” he answered, coolly. “That is the reason why I have come into this room. It was not my aunt whom I wanted to see. You know, we are barely on speaking terms.”

“You needn’t tell me that. I assure you my mother has taken good care to let me[22] know her opinion of you. I warn you plainly that if she comes in and finds you here, I shall abandon you to her.”

Captain Mauleverer tried to look unconcerned.

“I didn’t think you were such a coward as that, Vick,” he remonstrated. “But, after all, I don’t see that I have done anything so very dreadful. She can’t forbid me the house altogether, you know. I’m her own husband’s nephew.”

Lady Victoria smiled with good-natured scorn.

“That’s nothing. You don’t know my mother. She wouldn’t hesitate to forbid her husband the house, if she wanted to. Husbands occupy a very uncertain position in society nowadays; they are only tolerated.”

“Is that a warning for me, I wonder?”

Something in her cousin’s tone, and the look with which he accompanied the question, brought out an impatient frown on Victoria’s face. She walked over to the window,[23] and stood tapping her foot against the floor.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Gerald! You know as well as I do that it is not the slightest use for this sort of thing to go on.”

She kept her back turned on him while she spoke. There was a touch of softness in his voice as he answered:

“It has gone on a long time, Vick, hasn’t it?”

“A great deal too long,” was the reply, spoken with decision. “You know it is perfectly hopeless. You can’t afford me; I have told you so over and over again. Why on earth don’t you go and invest yourself in a pork-butcher’s daughter from Chicago, like everybody else?”

She turned on him with some fierceness as she put the question. The captain looked up at her reproachfully as he exclaimed:

“What a hateful girl you are to talk like that! You know perfectly well that you love me.”

[24]“Don’t be vulgar, Gerald!” was the sharp rebuke. “What has that to do with the question? You know I am for sale, just like the Zulu women. I don’t know exactly how many cows I am worth, but I know I am one of the most expensive girls in London.”

Captain Mauleverer pulled his mustache, gazing at her with ill-concealed admiration.

“Well, anyway, that is no reason why I shouldn’t look in at the shop-window,” he retorted, cheerfully.

It was at this moment that the machine despatched by the marchioness entered the room to summon Victoria to her mother’s presence.

“Is there any one with the marchioness?” she inquired.

The machine believed that Mr. Despencer was with her ladyship.

“Very good; I’ll come.”

As soon as the machine had withdrawn to its subterranean abode, Captain Mauleverer[25] asked, in the tone of a man who really desires information:

“Who on earth is that man?”

Victoria looked blandly surprised.

“Mr. Despencer, do you mean? I haven’t the slightest idea.”

It was the captain’s turn to look surprised.

“Why, I thought he was constantly in the house.”

Victoria lifted her shoulders with fine disgust.

“Yes, but I don’t know him. He is not anybody, you know. I call him the Ladies’ Journal. He is not received; he circulates. My mother takes him in, but I don’t.”

“Is he one of those writing chaps?” inquired the captain, with military contempt.

“I dare say. He may be the Poet Laureate for aught I know. But you must really go away now, or there will be a row.”

“And when may I come back?”

“It would be much better if you didn’t come back at all.”

[26]Captain Mauleverer shook his head as he rose reluctantly.

“It’s no good talking like that, Vick. You have got to put up with me, so you may as well make the best of it.”

“Gerald! what nonsense!” Victoria spoke as though she were exceedingly cross. “Go away directly; do you hear?”

“You haven’t told me when I may see you again yet,” returned the obstinate Gerald.

“I am not going to do anything of the kind.”

“Then I shall stay here and compromise you,” said Gerald, preparing to sit down again.

“Well”—she lowered her voice, with a glance towards the door of communication with the next room—“my mother has a concert on Thursday night.”

Captain Mauleverer brightened up.

“But if you come to it, I sha’n’t let you speak to me.”

[27]“Won’t you?” He walked slowly towards her.

As Captain Mauleverer went out of the room by one door to go down-stairs and out of the house, Lady Victoria went through the other into the presence of her mother and Mr. Despencer.



Yes, mother?”

Lady Victoria bowed slightly to Despencer, who had risen at her entrance, and walked across to where the marchioness was seated.

The marchioness gazed at her daughter as if she had been a chimney-sweeper.

“You dreadful child! You know this is my day, and you come in like that! Have you no regard for people’s feelings?”

Victoria smiled disdainfully.

“I suppose you mean Mr. Despencer’s feelings?” she observed.

“I mean the feelings of society,” returned her mother sternly. “You are more like an anarchist than a well-bred girl.”

[29]Lady Victoria indulged in the tiniest of yawns.

“I think the anarchists are very interesting people,” she remarked. “If it weren’t for them, there would be nothing to read about in the papers.”

“There would be China,” returned the marchioness in a shocked voice.

The marchioness considered herself a politician. Her husband had once been Master of the Deerhounds.

“Bother China!” said Lady Victoria, dropping into a chair. “Is that what you sent for me about?”

The marchioness raised her eyes in mute appeal to the ceiling.

“I sent for you because I wanted to speak to you privately before anybody comes.”

Despencer, who had been about to sit down again, stood up, and moved towards the door. The marchioness recalled him.

“Where are you going?”

“I thought you wanted to be alone.”

[30]“Don’t be absurd! I don’t count you.”

“Perhaps Lady Victoria does,” Despencer suggested, with a rather nervous glance in her direction.

Lady Victoria did not condescend to return the look.

“Pray, don’t trouble yourself about me, Mr. Despencer,” she said, negligently. “I assure you I never know that you are in the room.”

“Don’t be rude, Victoria!” said her mother, more crossly than she had spoken yet. “Mr. Despencer is one of your best friends.”

“I suppose that means he has been saying something unpleasant about me?” was the retort.

Despencer ventured to interpose.

“I may be a poet, but my imagination doesn’t carry me so far as that,” he said, in his most insinuating tones.

Lady Victoria gave him one crushing look, and turned to the marchioness.

“My dear mother, I wish you wouldn’t[31] train Mr. Despencer to say these silly things. Surely he is not a suitor for my hand?”

“Be quiet, Victoria!” said her indignant parent. “From the way you treat him he might be your husband. But I’m sure it isn’t a thing for you to joke about. Do you remember that this is your third season, and that you are nearly twenty?”

Her daughter smiled in good-tempered derision.

“I think, as there is only Mr. Despencer here, I may as well remember that it is my fourth season, and that I am over twenty-one.”

The marchioness passed over the correction.

“All the more reason that you should seriously consider your position. The question is whether you really intend to be married or not.”

“Surely it isn’t a question of my intentions. You had better ask the men theirs. I presume they know I am in stock by this time.”

[32]“It is idle to talk like that. I have offered you three men already, and you found fault with each of them.” The marchioness spoke with real feeling. “There was Sir Humphrey Bewley, a most eligible man, who quite raved about you. You complained that he was too old.”

“Old! He was prehistoric. He used to get excited about the Conquest.”

“Then you shouldn’t have encouraged him. You let him spend a fortune in jewelry for you.”

“That was because I mistook his intentions. I thought he wanted to adopt me.”

The marchioness gasped.

“Don’t talk like that! Then there was the Earl of Mullet. You objected to him because he was a Scotchman.”

“And took snuff. Put down the snuff.”

“He wouldn’t have made you take it. And last year you refused Mr. Jacobson, whose father owns three gold mines. You said he was a Jew.”

[33]“No, excuse me, I merely said his father had been one.”

The marchioness shook herself impatiently.

“The Jews are most respectable,” she proclaimed, “when they are rich enough. They go everywhere.”

“Except to the Holy Land, marchioness.”

The interruption came from Despencer. If he threw in the remark with the hope of propitiating Lady Victoria it was a failure. That young lady took not the slightest notice. Her mother glared at the traitor for an instant, and continued as though he had not spoken.

“It is high time you made up your mind. Now, there is Mr. Hammond, who has promised to come here this afternoon. He has been paying you attentions for some time. You can’t say anything against him.”

Victoria had changed color slightly at the mention of this name. But she responded, in the same tone of languid indifference:

“I have nothing to say against him, except[34] that so far his intentions have not been very oppressive. He has danced with me three times, and he once peeled me an orange, but you can hardly found a breach of promise case on that.”

“I’m not sure,” ventured the unabashed Despencer. “I fancy something might be made out of the orange.”

Before the marchioness could proceed with her lecture, the door opened, and the voice of the machine announced, “Mr. Hammond!”

“Bother the man!” muttered the marchioness, impatiently, as she rose to receive him. “He is a quarter of an hour too soon. This is so good of you!” she exclaimed, in an altered voice, as the form of the visitor appeared in the doorway.

Mr. Hammond entered.

About his personal appearance there was nothing remarkable. It is bad form to look remarkable, and much of John Hammond’s life had been devoted to avoiding everything in the way of bad form. His attire was in[35] every respect a perfect replica of that of any other hundred men to be met between Waterloo Place and Hyde Park Corner of an afternoon in the London season. He was clean-shaven, and his clear-cut features were those of an able man, not yet entered upon middle age, who has been accustomed to have the world at his feet, and whose only anxieties have been caused to him by his own ambition.

John Hammond was a favorable representative of the class which is gradually replacing the last remains of our feudal aristocracy. The Hammond fortune had been created by his father, so that he was not a self-made man. In the sense in which the word is used to-day, he was undoubtedly a gentleman. He had been educated at the best public school—that is to say, the most expensive—in England, and in the most fashionable college of the most fashionable university. He had been in the best set, both at school and at college, an advantage[36] which his smartness as a wicket-keeper and his inherited millions perhaps contributed about equally to procure. He had taken a good degree; he now took a cold bath every morning, rode to hounds, and sat in the House of Commons as a Conservative.

But John Hammond lacked one thing, which neither money nor merit could procure. He had not been born and reared in an ancestral mansion, built in the days of the Tudors or the Stuarts, on the site of a Norman keep. He had not wandered as a child through dusty galleries from whose oak-panelled walls looked down the portraits of dead generations of his name. He had not heard from his nurse the story of the loyal ancestor who fought for King Charles, and of the wicked ancestor who killed his rival in a duel, and of the beautiful ancestress in whose praise poems had been written by Waller or by Davenant. He had not roamed as a boy through hereditary woodlands, and bullied the keepers’ sons whose[37] forefathers had served his from time immemorial. He had not grown up with the feeling in his blood that all this was part of him, and he was part and lord of it. He was only lord of a brewery, in which his father had once brewed with his own hands.

If John Hammond had been brought up in that other environment, he might not have set store by it. If his lot had not cast him among those to whom such things were matter of course he might not have felt the deprivation. He knew well enough that he had advantages which, in the world’s estimation, far outweighed those which he was without. He knew that he lived in an age when the homage which birth pays to wealth is open and unashamed. He had seen peers bringing their wives to wait in the halls of African Jews. He had heard of mysterious checks received by men of Norman lineage from millionaires who sprang up in a night like monstrous toadstools, and decayed, leaving the air poisoned all around them. He had[38] seen the noblest blood of England in the dock, and the oldest blood of Scotland warned off the turf.

His reason told him that he was immensely the superior of such men; but no man’s beliefs, any more than his actions, are governed by reason. The acute logician who has failed to prove to himself the existence of a God takes refuge in the infallibility of a man. John Hammond’s instinct told him that the boasts of low-born poets were not altogether truth, that the blood of the Howards did not lose all its virtues even in the veins of sots and slaves, that a gentleman was as much above a king’s might as an honest man was, and that neither kind heart nor simple faith could take the place of one drop of Norman blood.

Every man’s character has its weak spot, and this was the weak spot in John Hammond’s. There were moments when he despised himself for the halo with which his imagination encircled the heads of the caste[39] into which he had not been born. There were other moments when he felt inclined to marry the Lady Victoria Mauleverer.

Mr. Hammond entered.

“I’m afraid you find me brutally punctual, marchioness,” he said, in a vigorous, masculine voice that seemed to go through the atmosphere of the drawing-room like a breath of fresh air. “That is the worst of business habits. I wanted to wait down in the hall till somebody else came, but they wouldn’t let me.”

The marchioness smiled graciously, with a horrible inward misgiving that Mr. Hammond had overheard her rash protest against his arrival.

“But you needn’t talk to me unless you like,” he added, remorselessly, as he finished shaking hands with the two women. “I will sit still and look at photographs. Is this a new one of Lord Severn?”

“You are not a moment too soon,” the dismayed marchioness hastened to say. “Do[40] you know Mr. Cyril Despencer, Mr. Hammond?” The two men bowed with mutual distrust. “I assure you we were absolutely dying when you came.”

“Really! I must apply for a medal from the Royal Humane Society for saving life.” He turned to Victoria, who had dropped into her chair again with an elaborate assumption of being bored to distraction. “Lady Victoria, you are looking remarkably well for a corpse.”

He laid down the marquis’s photograph, and placed himself in a chair beside the young woman. She barely raised her head.

“Thanks. I will tell my maid what you say. She will be glad of a little encouragement, poor thing!”

The marchioness gave a low moan.

“Victoria! I hope you are accustomed to the modern girl, Mr. Hammond.”

“The modern girl is my particular hobby,” was the grave answer. “I may say that I collect her. I keep an album at home, in[41] which I get young ladies to record their most secret thoughts and yearnings for my especial benefit. It is such interesting reading.” He turned again to the scornful beauty beside him. “Mayn’t I put you in my album?”

“I hardly know. I am afraid I should shock you; I am so perfectly depraved,” drawled Victoria. “You would have to keep me apart, like those very select works of which only a hundred copies are printed on hand-made paper and sold by private subscription to scholars.”

“Victoria!” There was a note of real distress in the marchioness’s voice. “What are you talking about?”

“I dare say Mr. Hammond knows,” was the reply, in the same unmoved tone.

“Perhaps Mr. Hammond collects those works as well. They are generally written by young ladies,” Despencer interposed.

Hammond turned and looked at him as if a dog had barked.

“Yes; but I think I have got a volume of[42] yours on the same shelf, if you are the author of Fig Leaves.”

Despencer became loftily indifferent.

“I remember writing a book with that name when I was a boy. Do people still read it?”

“No; but they still look at the illustrations.”

The marchioness came to the rescue of her satellite.

“Ah! but Mr. Despencer has reformed since then,” she said, with unction. “He is writing a novel in favor of marriage.”

“How daring!” Hammond answered. “Of course it will be refused by the libraries.”

“Come, I sha’n’t allow you to say that marriage is improper,” said the marchioness, with an earnestness that was slightly clumsy. “We still marry in society.”

“You don’t say so!” Hammond pretended to exclaim. “I fancied it had quite gone out. Isn’t it considered a rather middle-class thing to do?”

The marchioness refused to be baffled.

[43]“How horrid and cynical of you to talk like that! You know that you ought to get married yourself. Society expects it of you.”

Hammond shook his head.

“My dear marchioness, the views of society are the last thing I think of considering. My life is ordered by the views of Alderman Dobbin.”

“Alderman Dobbin? That person you asked me to send a card to? Who is he?”

“Really, this ignorance is discreditable to you, marchioness. Alderman Dobbin is the autocrat of the constituency I have the honor to represent, the Chairman of the Tooting Conservative Association. In me you behold Alderman Dobbin’s slave. He is my moral mentor and political taskmaster. Since I sat for Tooting I have ceased to be a free citizen with thoughts or ideas of my own. I am a mere puppet, the strings of which are pulled by him. The lips may be the lips of Hammond, but the voice is the voice of Alderman Dobbin.”

[44]Lady Victoria raised her head with an appearance of interest during this speech. She now remarked:

“From what you say, I am sure he is a charming person. You have made me quite in love with him. I shall flirt with him when he comes.”

Hammond gazed at her with stern reproach.

“Lady Victoria, you commit yourself most painfully. Alderman Dobbin is married. Alderman Dobbin is the father of a large family. Alderman Dobbin, moreover, is a church-warden, and in the High Street of Tooting the sinner trembles when he passes the shop which bears Alderman Dobbin’s name and superscription.”

“Don’t you see that you are simply making me more determined by all this?” returned Victoria. “I shall feel like the loreley, or whatever they call it, luring the well-conducted fisherman to his destruction.”

“Did you say he kept a shop?” put in the marchioness, who already began to see in[45] the alderman a possible ally. “What does he sell?”

“Boots. Since I was returned for Tooting my unworthy feet have been clothed in Alderman Dobbin’s handiwork. The shoes which I have on are made of a substance which he supposes to be patent leather. They are his choice, not mine. I am as wax in his hands. If he required me to wear Wellingtons, I should obey. At his bidding I have changed my tailor and discharged my groom; and if ever I want to choose a wife I shall first have to ask Alderman Dobbin’s consent.”

“I have no doubt he is a very sensible man, and you could not do better than take his advice,” said the marchioness, who was quite serious. “I am very glad he is coming here. We don’t see nearly enough of the—er—the other classes. When my husband was Master of the Deerhounds, I once gave a thing they called a Primrose Tea down at our place in Worcestershire, but I didn’t speak to any[46] of the creatures that came to it, except one dreadful person, who, they told me, was a justice of the peace. He called me ‘My lady,’ exactly like that delightful character who wants to murder everybody in one of somebody’s novels.”

“I expect the alderman will call you ‘ma’am,’” observed Hammond, reflectively.

“I once knew a solicitor in a Welsh town,” said Despencer, slowly, “where they had just elected a peer of royal descent as mayor, and this solicitor urged that they should return another solicitor, who happened to be a Jubilee knight, to the town council, in order that his lordship might have some one of his own rank to talk to.”

This time it was the marchioness who administered a snub to the unlucky speaker. She observed severely:

“As soon as any gentleman, in whatever position, has received the accolade of his sovereign, he ceases, in my opinion, to be a proper subject for ridicule.”

[47]Just as this rebuke was ended the door opened quickly, and a small, insignificant-looking man in a rather shabby lounge suit strolled into the room. On catching sight of the group round the marchioness he stopped short, and looked as if meditating flight.

The marchioness promptly took him into custody.

“Pray come in, George! This is quite too charmingly domestic and suburban,” she observed, addressing the company generally. “My husband has actually come home to tea.”

The Marquis of Severn, who was generally supposed to haunt a small dark room somewhere near the kitchen stairs, called by courtesy the library, was plainly disconcerted by the position in which he found himself.

“I’m really very sorry, Jane; but I didn’t know you had a party on.” By this time he had succeeded in recognizing the two men. He gave Despencer a careless nod, and walked[48] across the room to shake hands with Hammond. “How d’ye do? I see you know my women,” he remarked.

“My dear father,” Victoria remonstrated, “if you are not careful you will wake up some day and find yourself covered with moss. Mr. Hammond and I are all but engaged.”

“Victoria!” came in tones of stifled anguish from the marchioness.

“Don’t you believe her, Severn,” laughed Hammond. “I haven’t given your daughter the slightest encouragement—as yet.”

“Well, you should have my consent, if it counted for anything,” said the marquis, beginning to make his retreat from the room.

Again his wife’s voice arrested him.

“George, now you have come in, you must stay, you know. I should consider it very marked if you went away.”

“You don’t want me, Jane; I should only be in the way,” he objected, feebly.

“You underrate your social powers, George.[49] Besides, I don’t ask you to talk to any one. I only want you to show yourself.”

“If that’s all, I’m sure I needn’t stay. But I leave you my photograph.”

With these words Lord Severn made a bolt for it, and succeeded in getting out of hearing before his wife could launch a fresh injunction.

The marchioness bit her lip in some embarrassment. Despencer caught her eye and managed to infuse a certain meaning into his look, as he asked aloud:

“Who are you going to have to sing on Thursday night?”

The marchioness took her cue with the dexterity of an old diplomatist. She leaned back in her chair with an air of utter unconcern, as she responded:

“I have almost forgotten. Some people they recommended to me at the music-seller’s.” She raised her hand to her brow, as though studying to recollect. “Let me see. Oh yes, there is one woman who I believe is[50] perfectly charming. They told me that at the music-halls all the young men were dying for her.”

Hammond moved his head rather abruptly to look at the speaker.

“Do you remember her name?” he asked.

“I think she calls herself Belle Yorke. Why, have you seen her?”

The marchioness’s expression was one of innocent surprise at the strong interest plainly depicted on her listener’s countenance.

Before he could reply to her, the conversation was again interrupted. The machine had brought a Dowager Lady Rollox and an Honorable Edith Rollox to see his mistress.

The marchioness seized the occasion with the instinct of a match-maker.

“Come and help me to talk to these stupid people,” she breathed hurriedly in Despencer’s ear, as she rose and went to meet the newcomers. Despencer meekly obeyed.

The little piece of by-play between her mother and Despencer had not been lost on[51] the Lady Victoria Mauleverer. As soon as she and Hammond were left together she inquired, with an air of doubt:

“Do you know anything about this Belle Yorke?”

Hammond roused himself with a start from his reflections.

“I? Belle Yorke? Yes, yes. I know something about her.”

“I hope there’s nothing wrong about her coming here?” pursued Victoria, with superb coolness. “She won’t do anything dreadful, will she?”

Hammond braced himself up.

“I have the honor of being a friend of Miss Yorke’s, and I respect her as much as any other lady of my acquaintance,” he said firmly.

“I beg your pardon,” Victoria said, lightly. “I only asked because my mother is so very indiscreet. She makes me quite giddy sometimes. One meets such very queer people in this house—the Ladies’ Journal, for instance.”


“Oh, don’t you know? It’s what we call Mr. Despencer behind his back. He is so well informed, you know, on certain subjects.”

“I wonder what you call me behind my back.”

“Oh, we think very highly of you, I can tell you. I believe my mother is quite anxious that I should marry you.”

“Let me see, I rather fancy I am engaged just now, but I shall be charmed to break it off.”

“I hope Alderman Dobbin will approve of me.”

Hammond affected to shake his head in doubt.

“You will have to satisfy him as to your moral character.”

“That will be rather difficult,” Victoria admitted. “Perhaps you had better not let him know that I cycle.” She glanced down at her costume as she spoke. “But I must really go and put on decent things before[53] anybody else comes, or the alderman may hear of it. We shall see you at the concert, I suppose?”

“Yes, and the alderman,” said Hammond.

He was slipping away a few minutes later, when he found himself intercepted in the doorway by Despencer.

Despencer addressed him in a confidential tone.

“I say, you heard what the marchioness said just now. Do you think any one ought to give a hint to Lord Severn?”

“Why, what about?” asked Hammond, surprised.

“About Belle Yorke. She oughtn’t to come here, you know.”

“Why not?” demanded Hammond, frowning angrily.

“Didn’t you know?” Despencer’s expression became that of a man who finds he has innocently committed himself. “Perhaps I ought not to have spoken to you about it; but I thought the story was public property.”

[54]“What story? I wish you would speak out.”

Despencer glanced round cautiously, and lowered his voice.

“Of course it may be only idle rumor. But they say that she is living under his protection.”

“That is false!” said Hammond.



Miss Yorke was out, but the servant, whose dishevelled coiffure indicated that she had been interrupted in the midst of her afternoon toilette, thought that Miss Yorke would be in directly. Would the gentleman like to step in and wait?

The gentleman accepted the invitation, giving his name as Hammond. He found himself in one of those curious apartments characteristic of the suburbs of London, and known as parlors, a word believed to be derived from the French. Like the rooms of state in Buckingham Palace, the parlor does not enter into the daily life of the household, but is reserved for occasions of ceremony, and more particularly, as its name indicates to[56] the learned, for interviews with visitors. The parlor of the notorious Belle Yorke was more old-fashioned in appearance than most rooms of its class. The furniture was veneered in rosewood. There was a round table in the centre, covered with a cloth over which the deadly gift-book and the paralyzing parlor-game were disposed with a carelessness which spoke of greater care. There was a sofa, attired in a chintz dressing-gown. There were two easy-chairs flanking the fireplace, one with arms for the gentleman, and one without for the lady, as in old crinoline days, and there were six little chairs to match, all irresistibly suggestive of one of those ancient tombs on which the father and mother are represented kneeling opposite each other, each with a row of children behind. There was a species of disguised wash-stand, called a chiffonnier, ranged against one side of the room, and a piano against another. The walls were hung with prints, chiefly Scriptural subjects, among which the place of honor[57] was taken by an engraving representing the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. It was a scene of primeval simplicity and Nonconformist peace.

Hammond looked about him with a sense of intrusion, as he found himself for the first time in Belle Yorke’s home. It was utterly unlike anything he had expected to find. Belle Yorke lived in that part of Hammersmith which had not yet succeeded in covering itself with flats and calling itself West Kensington. The house outside was small and unpretentious; but so are the outsides of many houses which are gay enough within. Miss Yorke’s appearance on the boards was too recent for her yet to have furnished a miniature palace and set up a brougham on the proceeds of the public favor. But the domestic, old-fashioned air which pervaded the whole place came on Hammond as a surprise and a rebuke.

The servant who had just shown him in asked a question which further opened his eyes.

[58]“Would you like to see Mrs. Yorke, sir?”

Hammond started.

“Is that Miss Yorke’s mother?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Does she live here?”

The servant opened her eyes.

“Lor’, yes, sir! This is ’er ’ouse!”

Hammond considered for a minute.

“Well, you can tell Mrs. Yorke I am here, if you like.”

The servant nodded and went out, leaving him to his reflections.

In love, as in war, there is an armed neutrality when the period of friendship has passed away, but neither side is yet ready for a declaration. Just such a stage had been reached in the joint history of John Hammond and Belle Yorke.

He had met her in Bohemia, that pleasant country which the passing tourist sees only in its brightest garb, when the trees are green in the valleys and the vines are ripening in the warm sunshine. The manners of[59] Bohemia are freer than those of other lands, and among that friendly folk the course of acquaintanceship between a man and a woman is not curbed and governed and interpreted quite as it is in the dominions of society.

So the millionaire had drifted into a friendship with the music-hall singer without any after-thought; and when the after-thought had gradually grown up of its own accord, he had found it the most comfortable plan to shut his eyes to it and make believe it was not there.

If he had been ten years younger, the Marchioness of Severn might have despaired of her son-in-law. But he had come to that age when life begins to change its aspect; when the white blossom of romance with which it tempts the eye of youth begins to shed its petals, and the red fruit of ambition is disclosed. John Hammond was still young enough to love, but he was old enough to count the cost.

[60]For some time he had been doing his best to convince himself that he had not the slightest intention of marrying Belle Yorke. He had grown more and more assured of this; and, naturally, the more confident he became of his resolution to give her up, the more her charm for him increased. He set up the old, old debtor-and-creditor account between prudence and inclination. He did penance for his friendship with Belle Yorke by his flirtation with Lady Victoria Mauleverer, and repaid himself for his attentions to Lord Severn’s daughter with a smile from the singer.

To a man in such a state of self-deception Despencer’s poison came as a tonic. His wrath at hearing her attacked, and the necessity he felt of being able to rebut the accusation, were the measure of his love for the woman he had resolved never to love.

It was twenty-four hours since the little episode at the Marchioness of Severn’s. Hammond’s blunt contradiction had glided[61] harmless off the imperturbable Despencer, who had murmured some vague apology and made his escape, leaving his sting behind. There was no wisdom in rubbing it in then. It was better to let it rankle during the interval before the concert. It was then that Despencer intended to play out his winning cards.

Despencer’s words had been the first intimation to Hammond of the existence of any such ill report. Promptly as he had spurned it, the incident had served to remind him roughly of how little he really knew of this girl who had come to hold such a large place in his life. He had seen much of her in Bohemia, enough for those lookers-on who always see our motives and aims so much more clearly than we do ourselves to write him down her lover. But then no one lives altogether in Bohemia. Even the oldest inhabitants are only migratory; like the swallows, they have their seasons of coming and of flight, and who knows in what strange lands[62] they spend the other periods of their existence! Intimate as they were in that sunlit region, Hammond felt that there were reserves in the singer’s life. One of those reserves was her home, which she had steadily avoided showing him. He knew as little of her private life, indeed, as any stranger in the stalls who heard her sing.

He had come away from the house in Berkeley Square resolving to dismiss the slander from his mind. He spent the next night and morning in the vain effort, and in the afternoon he came to Belle Yorke’s house. It was not till he found himself waiting alone in the little parlor, surrounded by the Scriptural prints and parlor games, that Hammond began to ask himself what madness had brought him to such a place with any thought of evil in his heart.

He was not left alone for very long. He heard steps outside, and the sound of the door-handle turning in the lock. He rose to his feet, expecting to see Belle Yorke’s[63] mother. Instead there entered a small boy in knickerbockers, apparently about twelve or thirteen years of age.

The boy seemed to be quite as much surprised to see Hammond as Hammond was to see him. He stood in the doorway, frankly staring at the visitor. Hammond had time to notice that he wore a black cloth band on the sleeve of his plain homespun jacket.

“Come in, my boy; don’t be afraid,” he said, with that awkward patronage by which grown-up people render themselves so supremely ridiculous to the intelligent modern child.

“I’m not afraid,” the boy replied, boldly, advancing into the room. “Why should I be afraid of you?”

It was not a question which the man found it easy to reply to. He smiled, and then asked, rather lamely:

“And what might your name be?”

The justly offended youth retorted mercilessly:

[64]“It might be Napoleon Bonaparte, but, as it happens, it’s Robert Mainwaring Yorke.”

Hammond felt that he had put himself in the wrong. He tried to address the boy like one on his own level.

“I called here to see Miss Belle Yorke. She is your sister, I suppose?”

Robert Mainwaring Yorke had not yet lost his sense of irritation.

“Well, you don’t think she’s my mother, do you?” he replied, with severity. “She’s my eldest sister,” he condescended to explain.

“Oh, then there are several of you?” said Hammond, wonderingly. It was the first time he had ever heard of Belle Yorke’s family.

“What do you think?” returned the boy. “There’s Lizzie—that’s my second sister; and Arthur—he’s a year younger than me; and Reggie—he’s a year younger; and the kid—he’s only four. Anything else you’d like to know?”

[65]“And who is Mr. Yorke?” asked Hammond.

“I’m Mr. Yorke.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Hammond began, and then, catching sight of the black band, stopped, as though he had bitten his tongue.

“Father’s dead,” Mr. Yorke explained, unconcernedly. “He died last winter, and I’m the head of the family.”

“I didn’t know; I beg your pardon. Your sister is not in mourning.”

“He wasn’t her father. Belle’s only my half-sister. Her father died when she was a kid.”

“I see. And I suppose your mother married again?”

“I suppose so, or I shouldn’t be here.”

A fresh thought occurred to Hammond. If what the boy said was true, he did not even know Belle Yorke’s real name. He was on the point of putting a question to the boy, but restrained himself. He had no[66] right to seek that information from any one but Belle Yorke herself.

Mr. Yorke seized the opportunity to put in a word for the absent.

“Mind you, I look on Belle as just as good as a whole sister,” he remarked. “I don’t make any difference.”

Hammond smiled.

“She is kind to you, then?” At least he might have the pleasure of listening to Belle Yorke’s praise.

“Well, I don’t know that you can call it kind,” said the boy, with another touch of resentment at the implied inferiority. “She’s just like any other sister. She knits my stockings for me, and does whatever I want her to. She’s not a bad sort.”

“She must be fond of you,” observed the man, gazing at the ungrateful little wretch with wondering amusement.

“Yes, oh, she’s fond of me! When I had the chicken-pox she took me to Brighton for a fortnight, all at her own expense, and[67] stayed with me all the time, and wouldn’t go out anywhere, though she had lots of invitations. Belle’s very good in that way.”

The man felt a strong inclination to shake Belle Yorke’s callous brother, as he thus grudgingly praised her. It was with an uneasy, self-reproachful feeling that he put the next question:

“Your sister must make a good many friends by her singing?”

Mr. Yorke nodded superciliously.

“Yes; but she doesn’t care much for that lot; they’re not very respectable, we think. We don’t like her going on the stage at all; but she wanted to do something to earn her living. As soon as ever I’m a man, and get rich, I’m going to take her out of that and have her live with me.”

Hammond looked up, pleased.

“Why, the little chap’s a brick, after all!” he mentally ejaculated.

“She’ll make a very good housekeeper,” concluded Mr. Yorke.

[68]Hammond started to his feet.

“I can’t question this child,” he said to himself. And turning to the boy, he said, abruptly: “Will you ask your mother if I can see her?”

Mr. Yorke instantly responded to the tone of authority and became respectful.

“Yes, sir,” he answered, and promptly went out of the room.

“By Heaven, I have a great mind to bolt!” exclaimed Hammond as the door closed. “I feel like a miserable spy.”

Before he could act on his impulse the door opened again, and Belle Yorke’s mother came in.

Hammond rose. He saw before him a woman who had once been eminently handsome. She was dressed in the deep mourning of a widow, and to this fact, perhaps, was due the impression of melancholy produced by her appearance. She looked at him with large, apprehensive eyes, as she murmured the conventional expressions[69] which people exchange when they meet. But she did not offer him her hand.

As soon as both were seated, Mrs. Yorke said:

“I understand you have called to see my daughter?”

“Yes. Perhaps she has mentioned my name to you some time?”

“She has. She has often spoken of you. But she didn’t tell me that you were coming here.”

Hammond bit his lip.

“You mean, she told you that I was not coming—that she had discouraged me from visiting her?”

“No, no; I didn’t mean that,” Mrs. Yorke stammered. “I am sure that there is no one whom my daughter would be more pleased to see here than you, if she received any visitors at all outside our friends in the neighborhood. But she has made it a fixed rule not to invite any of the acquaintances[70] she makes on the stage to come here.”

Hammond listened to this explanation with a feeling of relief. It was something to find that if he were excluded the exclusion was not personal to him.

“Please deal frankly with me, Mrs. Yorke,” he said. “If you think Miss Yorke would consider my visit an intrusion, tell me so, and I will go away before she comes.”

“Not an intrusion; that is scarcely the word. But I am afraid she will be disturbed at finding you here.”

“But why? Surely there is no harm in a friend like myself calling on her beneath her own mother’s roof?”

Mrs. Yorke gave a questioning glance at him.

“I hardly know what to say to you, Mr. Hammond. You call yourself my daughter’s friend, but what do you really know about her?”

Hammond was silenced. He recalled the[71] discovery that he had just made, that he did not even know the true name of the girl whom he had come to question, and he began to feel vaguely uncomfortable. He answered, rather lamely:

“I can only say that it is my greatest ambition that you and your daughter should include me among your friends.”

Mrs. Yorke shook her head with a resolution that had a certain sadness in it.

“How can you be our friend? What is there in common between you and us? It would have been better if you had not come here, Mr. Hammond.”

“Why do you say that?” he protested. “Why should you think it necessary to keep me at arm’s length like this?”

“Surely you must see that for yourself. You know well enough what the world thinks of such friendships between a gentleman in your position and a singer on the music-hall stage. What impression would it make on your mind, if you found my daughter[72] receiving the visits of one of your society friends?”

Hammond was staggered by this unconscious reference to his own doubts. He could only reply:

“That would depend on many things—for instance, whether I believed him to be actuated by the same motives as myself.”

“I do not see what difference his motives could make. It is impossible for me to look upon attentions from one in your position as likely to lead to any good result.”

“But why not?” Hammond pleaded, earnestly. “It is true that, as you say, I know but little of Miss Yorke. But that little has been enough to make me wish to know more. Is there any reason why I should not? I will be plain with you, on condition that you will be plain with me. Is there any reason why you should not allow me to visit your house on the footing of one who means to ask you for your daughter’s hand?”

[73]Mrs. Yorke recoiled. Instead of showing common surprise at the question, or that gratification which the ordinary mother feels when such words are addressed to her by a man far her child’s superior in wealth and station, an anxious, frightened look came into her eyes.

“No, you must not think of that!” she exclaimed, hastily; and then added, in a calmer tone: “Such a marriage would be impossible. The difference between her and you is too great.”

“It has been crossed before now,” returned Hammond. “If you have no better reason for your refusal than that, I shall stay.” And he settled himself firmly in his chair.

Mrs. Yorke wrung her hands.

“Why do you compel me like this? I have another reason—don’t ask me what it is!—for telling you that this cannot be.”

Hammond started, and gazed at her with a new apprehension, not less than her own.[74] He could scarcely muster up courage to put his next question.

“I must ask you. You have gone too far, and I have gone too far, to draw back now.”

“I cannot tell you.”

“Then I shall ask your daughter herself.”

“No, anything but that!” She rose to her feet, trembling. “I beg you, I ask you as a gentleman, to go, and leave us.”

Hammond rose dismayed. He had taken two steps towards the door when it was thrown open and Belle Yorke stood revealed on the threshold.

The notorious Belle Yorke did not look the part. People said it was her air of bright, girlish innocence, so foreign to the footlights, which was the secret of her success. When she tripped on to the stage from behind the painted side scenes, looking as if she had just come out of some rustic cottage in that far-off land called “the country,” and began singing one of her simple ballads, in a voice[75] clear and fresh as the tinkle of a brook among the hills, they said it was the contrast with all her surroundings which caused such a thrill of emotion to go through the jaded audience. Of course no one believed that it was real innocence and real freshness. Belle Yorke was simply a little more clever than her professional sisters, and had thought out a “turn” which had the advantage of novelty; that was all. But it was very well done, so well that some quite hardened men of the world were ashamed afterwards to recall how far they had yielded to the spell. They declared that she made up better than any other woman on the stage, and that hers was the art which conceals art, except, of course, from such complete judges as themselves.

Those who had met her off the stage found, to their surprise, perhaps to their disappointment, that Belle Yorke seen close at hand was very much like Belle Yorke upon the boards. She was not to be found drinking[76] brandy in the bar while she was waiting for her turn to go on. She did not go from the music-hall to a fashionable restaurant, and sit in public with a group of male admirers round her. She was generally seen slipping out quietly and going off on foot, or, if she found herself threatened with companionship, she took refuge in a cab. There was clearly some mystery underneath such conduct, and the mystery could be of only one kind.

Belle Yorke was friendly but not familiar with her stage associates. Perhaps there is no course which gives more offence than that. It is much easier to forgive downright rudeness than the perfect courtesy which makes others keep their distance. Some of the affronted ones were women, and the charity of women for women, as a rule, is not of the kind which covereth a multitude of sins. The eyes that began to watch Belle Yorke were robbed of sleep by jealousy. Something like a throb of exultation went through the ranks of those[77] to whom Belle Yorke’s innocence was a stumbling-block when it was discovered that Belle Yorke had a friend.

Mr. Despencer, to do him justice, had not invented, nor had he originated, the report which he had mentioned to the marchioness, and repeated to Hammond. It goes without saying that he believed it to be true. Such reports are like Euclid’s axioms: no one requires to have them demonstrated. It had not even occurred to him that he was doing an injury to Belle Yorke in repeating it; nor did it injure her in the eyes of the public, nor in those of the managers of the music-halls. What a woman loses in reputation she gains in celebrity. As soon as Belle Yorke’s manager heard that she was protected by the Marquis of Severn he rubbed his hands and silently raised her salary.

When Belle Yorke opened the door and saw who was in her mother’s parlor she stood still, betrayed into a stifled cry and a blush that would not be stifled. Then she stepped in[78] slowly, and laid down on the table some paper bags which she was carrying in her hands.

A pang of compunction shot through Hammond’s breast as she raised her eyes to his. There was something in Belle Yorke’s eyes which touched most people. They were always laughing, and yet somehow it always seemed as though they were laughing in order to keep themselves from tears. Looking into their clear depths, the man felt ashamed of his errand, and ashamed of his presence there, and he stood before her unable to speak.

It was she who found words first.

“This is too bad of you, Mr. Hammond! You had no business to come here. You know I don’t allow it.”

But there was something in the voice that undid the reproach of the words. Hammond’s courage came back to him again.

“I have no defence to make,” he answered, in the same light vein. “The temptation was too strong for me, and I yielded to it. I plead the First Offenders’ Act.”

[79]Belle turned gayly to her mother, who had concealed, by a strong effort, all traces of her recent agitation.

“What punishment shall we give him? I think, sir, you shall be sentenced to stay to tea.”

She opened the paper bags, and produced a store of those fearful and wonderful delicacies variously named crumpets, or pikelets, and said to have been invented by a member of the medical profession.

“You see you are in luck. To-day is Bobby’s birthday, and we are going to have a cake and all sorts of luxuries.”

Hammond began to feel like a man in a dream. He had walked straight out of tragedy into comedy. He had come to Hammersmith in search of an answer to the most terrible question which can present itself to a man who loves a woman, and he found himself in the midst of a children’s tea-party. Perhaps this was the answer, the best of answers, to the doubt which had striven to[80] effect a lodgment in his mind. Sitting there, in the midst of Belle Yorke’s little brothers and sisters, as they trooped into the feast, watching her feed the hungry swarm, he found his dark thoughts dying away of themselves. Such an atmosphere was fatal to them; they could not live in it.

So the millionaire forgot his millions and his marchionesses and his ambitions, and threw himself into the spirit of the festival with such cordiality that he won the children’s hearts. Mr. Yorke, forgetting his former animosity, cut him the biggest slice of the birthday-cake with his own hands, and edified him with a full, true, and particular account of his exploits on the football field in that famous match between the Hammersmith Juniors and the Brook Green Stars, which is now matter of history. Master Reginald Yorke insisted on sitting on the stranger’s knee, and sharing with him the contents of a paper of brown sweetmeats, highly flavored with peppermint, which he called bull’s eyes.[81] Belle’s grateful looks repaid him for his submission to these outrages, and when he rose reluctantly to go away he felt there was a new tie between them, stronger than there had been before.

“May I come to tea again, some time?” he pleaded, as she went with him to the door.

“When you are asked,” said Belle.



In a substantially-built house in the important suburb of Tooting, in a dining-room full of substantial furniture in that school of design which is the glory of Britain and the stupefaction of surrounding nations, sat Alderman Dobbin, J. P., reading the Church Gazette, and breathing Protestantism at every pore.

The person of Alderman Dobbin was not less substantial than the chair which supported it. It was the hour of three in the afternoon; the alderman had just achieved a dinner of solid and ample materials, and a gentle flush which overspread his broad face was due perhaps equally to the silent struggle going on in the region of his waistcoat and[83] to indignation at the insidious practices of Rome.

It is not till a gigantic public evil begins to affect us personally that we become really in earnest for its redress. Alderman Dobbin had long marked the stealthy encroachment of ritual in the Church from afar with inward misgiving. But when the arising of a new vicar of the most lawless school brought the mischief to the door of the alderman’s own pew, when the audacious cleric presumed to burn frankincense or some such idolatrous drug under the alderman’s own nostrils, then, in his own words, he realized that we were on the verge of a revolution. It was fortunate indeed for the offender that the ordinary justice of the peace has no jurisdiction in ecclesiastical causes. Alderman Dobbin did not brawl in the church—such a man could not brawl; but he wrote a letter to the paper, and he intimated to his vicar in the privacy of the vestry that he should reconsider his attitude towards disestablishment.

[84]To the culprit, standing on the great peaks of Catholic verity, clasping hands with sixty generations of apostles, fathers, saints, and bishops, his rebellious church-warden naturally mattered no more than a gnat buzzing round the altar. His spiritual predecessors had cast down emperors from their thrones, and given away largess of kingdoms. Was he to surrender the Œcumenical splendors of the Church at the bidding of an obscure suburban tradesman? If this impertinent boot-maker represented the feelings of the laity, so much the worse for the laity. The Church could get on without them, but not without its apostolic priesthood.

Such disdain, to the worthy alderman, was at once an outrage and a revelation. It is possible that there are social circles in which even an alderman is not removed beyond the reach of rivalry; but in the meridian of Tooting, where Alderman Dobbin had passed his life, and where his high office, together with his equally high moral character, had hitherto[85] secured him universal deference, he felt himself to be an important personage. After all, importance is a question of standpoint. Every one has some one to look up to him. Though you be but a youth of lowly birth, engaged in mercantile pursuits, with a stipend of no more than thirty weekly shillings, yet to the landlady who tolls you in a moiety of that sum you are a power whose favor is to be conciliated, and whose wrath is to be dreaded. To the drudge in the basement who blacks your boots and watches you through the area railings as you issue forth of a morning you are as a god moving on Olympus; the conductor who takes you to your work in his omnibus holds you for an undoubted member of the aristocracy; and the drunken artisan on the roof, earning his pound a day on every day that he can spare from the public-house, hates you for your pride and luxury.

Novelists, it is said, are thought much of by young reporters on the provincial press.[86] The secret of true happiness is to turn away from beholding those who are better off than ourselves, and keep the gaze steadily fixed on those who are worse off; and this secret Alderman Dobbin had mastered. Free from that itching to grovel to some one above him which torments so many unfortunate people, he was satisfied with being grovelled to by his inferiors. Thus it was that he had been able to live in the enjoyment of his own greatness without envying that of others. There might be such persons as dukes and archbishops in the world—he was Alderman Dobbin.

So much the greater was the shock administered to his mind by the unveiled disrespect of the vicar. The alderman’s evangelical zeal had received a new edge; and, at the same time, by a natural chain of cause and effect, he was in a mood peculiarly susceptible to the blandishments of one of those magnates of the earth before whom even Oxford divines are but as dust. Such a one was[87] even now approaching the aldermanic dwelling.

A sound of horses’ hoofs and carriage wheels aroused the nodding alderman, and drew him hastily to the window. He beheld a carriage and pair of the most brilliant lustre drawing up in front of his door, and a woman of stately presence looking out, while a liveried footman ascended the steps and rang the bell. The excited master of the house could scarcely refrain from bursting out into the hall, to anticipate the lagging motions of the housemaid. At last that young female, having arranged her cap to her satisfaction, could be heard flouncing past the dining-room door. A short colloquy followed, and the occupant of the carriage emerged, attended by a fashionably dressed gentleman, and entered the house. There was a sound of doors opening and shutting. Finally, the housemaid came to her impatient master.

“A lady by the name of Seven, and a gentleman, to see you, sir.”

[88]“Seven?” The alderman reflected for a moment, and then his eye fell on a card of invitation which had occupied a prominent place on the mantel-piece and in his thoughts for several days past. “You mean Lady Severn,” he cried out—“the Marchioness of Severn!”

“Yes, sir; ‘Lady Severn’ was what she said, sir.”

The alderman cast a glance of despair at his trousers.

“Run and get me the clothes-brush. No—I must change—there isn’t time! Here, run up-stairs and get me my Sunday coat, while I brush these things.”

The marchioness and her companion, seated in the drawing-room, were aware of a commotion outside.

“I am afraid we have thrown the establishment into confusion,” the gentleman remarked.

“These sort of people always lose their heads if any one comes to see them unexpectedly,”[89] the marchioness responded. “I suppose they never visit each other; their houses are too small.”

“Probably it is because they would only bore each other to death if they did. No one in the middle classes ever breaks the moral law, I understand, and so they have nothing interesting to talk about.”

The marchioness frowned severely.

“Silence! Remember you are on your good behavior. You are not to shock this dear, good person.”

The “dear, good person” interrupted the conversation by his appearance. He advanced to the marchioness, and shook hands with so much real regard that her rings were crushed into the flesh.

“I’m delighted to see your ladyship—delighted! It’s so kind of you to come.” He turned to her companion. “And you, my lord.”

In Tooting it is not the custom for married ladies to drive about paying visits with gentlemen[90] other than their husbands or near relations. The marchioness forced a somewhat unnatural smile as she explained:

“Er—let me—Mr. Despencer, a friend of mine.”

A look of hopeless bewilderment appeared on the alderman’s speaking countenance. Despencer skilfully put in:

“A friend of Mr. Hammond’s as well. The marchioness thought it better for me to come here with her.”

The tension was relieved. Alderman Dobbin seated himself facing his visitors, while the marchioness opened the conversation.

“I have taken the liberty of coming here, Mr. Dobbin, without waiting till you came to my house, because I wanted to have a private chat with you. You know how difficult it is to get five minutes’ conversation with any one in those crushes.”

The alderman bowed, much gratified at being supposed to know anything whatever on the subject.

[91]“Of course, what I am going to say to you is in confidence,” the marchioness proceeded. “I am sure you would not dream of mentioning to Mr. Hammond that we had been here.”

“Certainly not. Your ladyship may trust me absolutely. Not a soul shall know of it.”

“I have heard Mr. Hammond speak of you so often that I feel you are quite an old friend. No doubt he has talked of us to you?”

The alderman smiled feebly. He would have given a good deal to be able to say yes, but could not quite bring himself to it.

“Perhaps I ought to say he has talked of my daughter, Lady Victoria?”

Alderman Dobbin had never heard of such a person as Lady Victoria. His smile became feebler still. The marchioness coughed discreetly, and glanced towards Despencer. He came gallantly to the rescue.

“It has been understood for some time that Mr. Hammond was likely to marry Lady Victoria, as, of course, you know.”

“Yes, of course; quite so,” jerked out the[92] alderman, deeply ashamed of his ignorance on the point.

The marchioness heaved a sigh.

“I need not ask if the match had your approval, Mr. Dobbin, because I am sure that you, as a friend of Mr. Hammond’s, must see what an advantage such a connection would be to him in his political career.”

“Certainly, your ladyship. Nothing could be better. It would go a long way in Tooting.”

“Ah! And now, do you know, I am almost afraid that the idea will have to be abandoned. I hesitate whether I ought to allow my daughter to think of Mr. Hammond any longer.”

“Dear me! I am very sorry to hear your ladyship say that.”

Her ladyship shook her head sadly.

“Yes. I have no doubt you understand the reason.”

The alderman’s face again clearly betraying that he had not the remotest idea of[93] the reason, Despencer came to his assistance once more.

“The marchioness refers to Mr. Hammond’s attentions to this music-hall singer, Belle Yorke.”

Alderman Dobbin sat horror-struck. He was not acquainted with Belle Yorke by name, but of music-hall singers as a class his ideas could only have been expressed in language severely Biblical. The marchioness hastened to drive the nail home.

“All his friends must share the same feelings about this unfortunate attachment,” she observed, in a tone of sympathetic condolence. “What effect, in your opinion, Mr. Dobbin, would his marrying a girl of that kind have on his position here?”

“He would never get in for Tooting again. The Liberals have got a very strong candidate—Sir Thomas Huggins, a baronet. I dare say your ladyship knows him?”

Her ladyship was not quite sure whether she had met Sir Thomas Huggins.

[94]“His social influence here is very strong. His wife, Lady Huggins, gives a garden-party every summer, and many Primrose Dames go to it. We are beginning to be afraid for the seat, as it is.”

“Then you consider, speaking as a judge of the political situation, that if Mr. Hammond were to marry beneath him, instead of making such a match as it is in his power to do, it would seriously affect his prospects?”

“It would be fatal to them, my lady.”

The marchioness looked up at the ceiling.

“What a pity he has no wise and candid friend to point this out to him, and remonstrate with him on behalf of the—er—the party!”

Curiously enough, there was just such a wise and candid friend in the room ready and willing to undertake the task.

“Your ladyship may leave it to me,” said the eager alderman. “I will take it on myself to point out to Mr. Hammond the—the—”

“Political situation,” suggested Despencer.

[95]The marchioness threw a smile of admiration at the wise and candid friend.

“The very thing!” she exclaimed, with a fine assumption of having been taken entirely by surprise. “No one else could do this so well. I have no doubt that a few judicious words from you will be sufficient to open Mr. Hammond’s eyes. Ahem! Have the—er—the rumors about this young woman reached you?”

“What rumors, my lady? I haven’t heard anything about her.”

The marchioness raised her eyebrows, and then appealed by an eloquent look to Mr. Despencer. Despencer shook his head with the air of a good man whose righteous soul was vexed by the bare recollection of others’ iniquity.

“I see you don’t know the worst,” he remarked, gravely. “If there were nothing more against Miss Yorke than the mere fact of her being on the music-hall stage it would not matter so much. But—”

[96]Another head-shake completed the sentence, and told the horrified alderman far more than any words could have done.

“Poor girl! let us hope it is not all true,” murmured the marchioness, with Christian compassion.

A minute or two later she rose to go. The alderman, aware from sundry creaking sounds overhead that his wife was hurrying through a frantic toilet up-stairs, remonstrated.

“Won’t your ladyship stay and have a cup of tea? I expect Mrs. Dobbin to come in every minute.”

“I am so sorry. I particularly wish to make Mrs. Dobbin’s acquaintance, but I am afraid I cannot stay another moment. Some other day, if you will allow me, I hope to come out and call on her. But you see this is quite a confidential visit. What a charming situation you have here! Quite rural, I declare! It reminds me of our place in Worcestershire.”

Mr. Despencer added his testimony that it[97] was very like the Marquis of Severn’s place in Worcestershire—indeed it was, for there were grass and laurel-bushes in both.

The visitors tore themselves away at last, and disappeared, a vision of varnished panels and gleaming harness and tossing horses’ heads and flying dust. And what did Alderman Dobbin do when they were gone?

He did what every other well-conducted alderman in his situation would have done. He went forth into the town and bought a peerage.

Then he shut himself up in his counting-house, and sat down to write a letter.



Mr. Hammond!

Thus proclaimed the machine stationed outside the door of the principal drawing-room in Berkeley Square. It was the night of the marchioness’s concert, and a stream of splendidly clad dames, rustling in silk and velvet, and flashing in pearls and diamonds, and of meanly clad men, disguised as waiters, except for an occasional red or blue ribbon, slightly suggestive of that worn by a pet cat, was flowing up the stairs, and through the doorway, where the machine checked them off one by one like an automatic turnstile. And the proclamations were by no means a mere empty ceremony, for without them the marchioness would have been quite[99] ignorant of the names of at least half of those with whom she was shaking hands on the other side of the threshold.

The hygienic regulations by which every Board-School child is entitled to a fixed number of cubic feet of space do not apply to the guests of marchionesses, and it was becoming difficult to move through the concert-room without inflicting physical injury on others. The wiser of the late arrivals, or those more familiar with the locality, backed out as soon as they had mumbled the necessary formula of greeting to their hostess, and took refuge in a smaller drawing-room, where the Lady Victoria was holding a levee of her own particular friends. It was to this room that Hammond made his way after bowing over the marchioness’s hand.

Directly he lifted the curtain which screened the open doorway, Lady Victoria, clad in white, with a string of turquoise forget-me-nots round her bared neck, deserted a group[100] of half a dozen other admirers, and came towards him with a frankness which would have jarred harshly on her mother’s notions of finesse.

“That is right, Mr. Hammond. I am so glad you have come into this room. It is cool, it is comfortable, and, what is better, you can’t hear a note of the music.”

“You have forgotten to mention that you are in this room,” replied Hammond. “But I share your views about the music. If we have got to pretend to enjoy art, why can’t it be painting or poetry, or something that won’t positively annoy us?”

“It wouldn’t do for my mother to hear me,” said Victoria, “but I may as well confess to you that I have absolutely no accomplishments. I don’t play the violin, I don’t model in clay, and I don’t even write answers to questions on etiquette in the Young Ladies’ Journal.”

“Surely you kodak?” Hammond pleaded.

Before Lady Victoria could clear herself[101] from the charge, the voice of the machine sounded through the curtain:

The Dean of Colchester!

Hammond turned pale.

“Whatever is the dean doing here?” he gasped.

Victoria shrugged her shoulders.

“My mother likes to have the higher clergy at her parties. She thinks their costume gives variety.”

“Whenever I meet that man he asks me for a subscription,” Hammond was beginning, when the dean himself, forewarned by some preternatural intuition, turned aside from the reception-room and came through the curtain.

A glad light beamed out on his face as he bore down upon the pair.

“And how is Lady Victoria? I need not ask. Mr. Hammond, this is fortunate!”

Hammond gave a smile, like that of Mr. Charles Hawtrey on the stage when his stage mother-in-law enters and announces that she has come to spend a stage-day with him.

[102]“How much this time, dean?”

The Dean of Colchester drew back; then he put his head on one side and smiled indulgently on his victim.

“He is too bad, isn’t he?” This was to Lady Victoria. “But, do you know, I really was going to write to you this week.”

“How much?” Hammond repeated, drearily.

“Lady Victoria, I appeal to you. I am sure you must think me quite mercenary.”

“Hadn’t you better tell him?” suggested the matter-of-fact Victoria.

The dean shook his head in protest.

“I am actually silenced. The fact is that we are just raising a fund to restore the north tower of the Cathedral, and I thought that, as you had been so generous before, you might possibly see your way to give us some assistance.”

“How much?”

“No, really! But if you did feel disposed to do something, however small—”

[103]The voice of the machine was again heard in the offing:

Mr. Septimus Jones!

“You had better make haste,” said Victoria to the dean.

The dean cast an imploring look at Hammond.

“I am so ashamed! May I really throw myself on your generosity?”

“How much?”

“I couldn’t possibly—” The curtain was lifted from outside. “Well, fifty pounds?” Hammond took out a pocket-book and began to scribble a memorandum in it. “This is too good of you. I assure you I never expected it.”

The curtain had admitted a pale youth, with light-colored hair, parted in the middle, who held a pair of gloves furtively in one hand, having plainly just made the discovery that no one else had brought gloves, and being distracted in consequence by a desire to smuggle them into a pocket unperceived.

[104]Victoria greeted him with suspicious cordiality.

“It is too bad of you to come so late, Mr. Jones. I haven’t enjoyed myself a bit.”

“No, Lady Victoria, you mustn’t blame me.” At this point he made an effort to slip the hand which contained the gloves into a tail-pocket, but catching the unconscious eye of the dean fixed, as he supposed, on the offending articles, he drew them out again hastily. “I couldn’t get here sooner. My brougham wasn’t ready.”

“You should have come in a cab.”

“No, Lady Victoria, I am sure you don’t mean that I could have come in a horrid cab. I would as soon walk.”

“Don’t you ride a bicycle?”

“Oh yes, Lady Victoria, of course I ride a bicycle—in the morning, in the Park, you know, but not in the streets. You don’t mean that I could have come here on a bicycle, do you?”

By this time he had dexterously transferred[105] the gloves to his other hand, and was again cautiously feeling his way round to his coat-tails, when a sudden movement of Hammond’s, who had just completed his business with the dean, caused the unfortunate youth to take fright and once more relinquish his half-executed design.

“I am afraid you are not in earnest, Mr. Jones.”

“Oh yes, Lady Victoria, I am very earnest. Everybody says I am very earnest. I take life quite seriously—I do, indeed. I go to all sorts of lectures and that kind of thing, you know, to improve my mind.”

“You will have to be careful, then,” put in Hammond as he came up, “or they will make you give them a testimonial, and advertise you in all the papers as a marvellous cure.”

Mr. Jones shrank back.

“Ah, now, Hammond, I am afraid of you, because you are so sarcastic. He was sarcastic then, wasn’t he, Lady Victoria?”

“Not very,” replied the person appealed to.[106] The next instant she gave an imperceptible start.

Captain Mauleverer!

“But if you two are going to quarrel I shall go into the next room,” Victoria went on, quickly, beginning to move away.

“Oh no, Lady Victoria,” Mr. Jones remonstrated; “I never quarrel. I am a subscriber to the Peace Society—I really am.”

The Dean of Colchester looked round.

“Then I can leave you in perfect safety,” retorted Victoria, gliding off.

“Dear me! I am afraid that Lady Victoria is sarcastic, too,” Mr. Jones observed, sagaciously, looking after her. “Don’t you think so, Hammond?”

“I have suspected her of it sometimes; but she never admits it, and it is so difficult to prove these things.”

“I will ask the dean; I am sure he is not sarcastic—are you, dean?”

“My dear fellow,” Hammond interrupted, “I am surprised that you should ask such a[107] question. A sarcastic dean would be a moral outrage. You might as well speak of a malicious cathedral.”

The dean thought of his fifty pounds, and smiled like an early Christian martyr commencing an interview with a sharp-set lion.

At this point Hammond’s attention was diverted by the entrance of the latest arrival. As he turned away to greet him, the dean laid a caressing hand on Mr. Jones’s arm.

“Did I hear you say just now that you were a subscriber to—”

Mr. Jones gave a glance round. He was alone with the dean, and the dean was on the wrong side of him. There was no human eye to see the deed. With one swift movement he succeeded in depositing his gloves in their long-sought hiding-place, and then suffered himself to fall an unresisting prey to the north tower of the Colchester Cathedral.

Captain Mauleverer’s face wore a decidedly cross expression as he came into the room.[108] At the sight of Hammond it lighted up, and the two shook hands like old friends.

“So you patronize my aunt’s menagerie?” the captain observed, disrespectfully.

“Well, yes.”

“I should have thought you had too much sense.”

“My dear fellow, you are here yourself,” returned Hammond.

The captain gave an impatient shrug.

“I know, but I shouldn’t be if I could help it. It’s a beastly bore. You can’t smoke, and you can’t drink, and you are expected to sit beside some sentimental woman of fifty and let her gush to you over some beastly novel you haven’t read, and wouldn’t understand if you had.”

Hammond shook his head with a reproving smile.

“Yes, but you should remember that we are not here to please ourselves. We are here to please society.”

“Why should you care about society?[109] You’re not a damned pauper like me. You have everything you want.”

“No one on the face of the earth has everything he wants,” Hammond retorted. “But I see what it is; you are out of sorts. What’s the matter?”

Mauleverer’s only answer was a despairing shrug.

“Been backing a horse?”

“No, it’s not that.”

“What is it, then? Cards?”


“Not drink?” in a tone of incredulity.

“No, no.”

“Tell me.”

The captain hesitated for a moment before he gave the answer:


Hammond let a mild exclamation of surprise escape him. Then he looked at his friend with a certain air of sympathy.

“What should you say if I were to tell you[110] that you and I were in the same boat, old man?”

“You?” The other stared at him in amazement. “You don’t mean to say that there is any girl in England who would refuse you?”

“Suppose there were a girl whom I hadn’t the courage to ask, not because I was afraid of her refusing me, but because I was afraid of her accepting me?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Suppose I had to choose between her and my ambition? Suppose I knew that if I were to ask her to be my wife I might have to abandon my whole career, because society would forbid the banns?”

“I never thought of that,” murmured his friend.

“This very morning,” Hammond went on, “I had a letter from a man who thinks he is acting in my interests to warn me against the woman I love.”

“That is rather rough on you, old man.”

[111]Hammond smiled bitterly.

“You see, even a damned millionaire can’t have everything he wants.”

Miss Yorke!

The name caused a sensation. Heads were turned from all directions, and the Dean of Colchester and his victim hurried back to the neighborhood of the doorway where Hammond and Mauleverer were standing. At the same time Mr. Despencer slipped in from the next room, and stealthily approached the group.

“What Miss Yorke is that?” asked Mauleverer, innocently.

The Miss Yorke, I believe, popularly known as Belle Yorke,” Despencer took it on himself to answer. He affected to keep his eyes turned away from Hammond.

“Belle Yorke!” exclaimed Mr. Septimus Jones, with enthusiasm. “Oh, I dote upon her! I think she is perfectly lovely—don’t you, Hammond?”


The Dean of Colchester gave a sound like an ecclesiastical purr.

“Now, this is very fortunate! I have so often wished to see her, but, of course, I daren’t go to those places where she sings. It is so thoughtful of the marchioness to bring her here. Ahem! isn’t there something or other said about her?”

“They say plenty of things about her, but God knows how much of it is true,” remarked Mauleverer.

“Oh, but Mauleverer,” Mr. Jones burst in, “you know when people say so much it must be some of it true, mustn’t it?”

Hammond turned and looked at the three men, one after the other, and then his eyes wandered to Despencer, who was standing by, with a sneer on his thin lips. Here were these four men all looking at the matter from different points of view, none of them apparently with any reason to wish[113] ill to Belle Yorke, two of them evidently friendly towards her, and yet they all doubted her alike.

Before he could speak he saw a sudden change come over their faces. A man had just come hurriedly through the doorway leading from the reception-room. It was the Marquis of Severn; and he was in full dress, with the blue ribbon of the Garter across his shirt-front. He caught sight of his nephew, and strode up to him, his face working with emotion.

“Here, Gerald, come this way; I want to speak to you!” he exclaimed, without heeding the presence of the others.

He seized Mauleverer’s arm, and half led, half thrust him out of the room. One or two of the by-standers saw what was happening, and smiled. Hammond turned sharply on Despencer, whose smile was peculiarly malicious.

“I shall be obliged if you can come with me into the conservatory for five[114] minutes. I wish to speak to you privately,” he said.

Despencer bowed with an air of bland unconcern, and followed him, while the voice outside sounded again:

Alderman Dobbin!



In order to reach the conservatory Hammond and Despencer had to thread their way through the concert-room. But their task was rendered easier by the fact that Belle Yorke was just standing up to sing. The mob, attracted partly by her reputation as a singer, and partly by the story in circulation about her and their host, whose hurried exit on her appearance had not gone unremarked, were crowding towards that end of the saloon where the piano stood, and thus the two men were able to make their way round the wall at the deserted end.

As Hammond had anticipated, they found the conservatory empty. It was little more than a long, narrow balcony, roofed over with[116] glass, and running along the side of the house.

Hammond was the first to reach it, but he stood back to allow Despencer to enter. Despencer walked past him after a deprecating shrug and bow, and then turned to meet his questioner, who came in quickly, shutting the door behind them.

For a moment the two men stood face to face, scrutinizing each other like two duellists who are uncertain of each other’s play. Hammond’s gaze was stern and threatening. Despencer’s, equally unflinching, was that of a man who does not quite know what is required of him, but has nothing to fear or to conceal.

The situation was exactly what he had foreseen and desired. His former reference to Belle Yorke had had the appearance of being accidental. He had been far too clever to seek to press it home at the time. Now, if Hammond himself chose to revive the subject of his own accord, anything that Despencer[117] might say would appear to be dragged out of him against his will. He felt perfectly satisfied with his play, so far. He still held all his best cards in reserve, and he had thrown the lead into his adversary’s hands.

“Well, what is the mystery?” he said, lightly, after waiting some time for Hammond to speak.

“I want to ask you for some explanation of what you said the other afternoon.”

Despencer was mildly amazed.

“What did I say? I really don’t remember,” he murmured.

“About Miss Yorke. You referred to some story about her—some report connecting her name with Lord Severn’s.”

Despencer drew back; his manner became reproachful.

“Oh, but, my dear sir, you must see that that was pure inadvertence on my part. I was not to know that the lady was a friend of yours.”

[118]It was impossible to quarrel with a man who showed himself so perfectly polite and, at the same time, so perfectly indifferent. Hammond’s tone lost some of its hostility.

“That is not the point. Till you spoke, I had never heard of the existence of this—slander.” The momentary hesitation before the word did not escape the watchful Despencer. “You have spoken, fortunately or unfortunately, and, now I have heard of it, I cannot rest till I know more.”

“Is that necessary?”

The tone in which the question was put made it a friendly remonstrance, as much as if Despencer had said: “My dear fellow, you want to think well of this woman. Why persist in making me undeceive you?”

Hammond felt the implied warning in all its force. Nevertheless he answered:

“Yes, it is necessary. The matter cannot end like this; I have a motive for pursuing it. You heard what those other men said when Miss Yorke was announced. I must[119] be able to satisfy myself that this statement is without foundation.”

Despencer could not quite resist a sneer.

“I should think that was easy enough. You have only to ask the lady if she knows Lord Severn.”

Hammond frowned impatiently as he said, aloud, but rather to himself than to Despencer:

“And what will be her answer?”

Despencer smiled compassionately.

“Judging from my own experience in such cases, I should say that the lady’s answer would be ‘No.’”

For a minute Hammond stood irresolute. Despencer’s sneer had shown him where he stood. Instead of silencing a slanderer, he was discussing the truth of the slander with the man who had uttered it. If he had really had confidence in the woman he had undertaken to defend, it was to her, not to this cynical stranger, that he ought to have been addressing his inquiries. He felt bitterly[120] conscious of his false position, yet he could not resist going on.

“Where did you hear this rumor?” he asked, after a brief pause, during which Despencer had closely watched every shade of expression on his face.

“I can hardly tell you, I have heard it from so many quarters,” was the careless reply. “I thought everybody knew it.”

“Do you mean by that that everybody believes it?” demanded Hammond.

“Yes; but that is no reason why you should, if you would rather not. Take my advice, treat it as a mere passing calumny, and forget all about it.”

Hammond glanced at him questioningly.

“And you, Despencer—of course, you believe this?”

“Well, yes; but I shall be happy to withdraw it.”

Despencer’s mocking smile was lost upon Hammond. He muttered:

“I must get at the truth.”

[121]“Far better not,” observed the cynic. “The truth is sometimes very disagreeable. I myself much prefer to be told pleasant falsehoods.”

“And to tell them, I suppose?”

Despencer did not wince.

“I am always anxious to oblige,” he answered, pointedly.

“You have no prejudice against Miss Yorke?” was Hammond’s next question.

“I have no prejudices at all, I can assure you. I am a most broad-minded person.”

“It would make no difference to you, I suppose, if this report were true? It wouldn’t injure her in your opinion?”

“On the contrary, it would greatly increase my respect for her.”

Hammond seemed to be trying to sound the depths of his companion’s character.

“I congratulate you. But you wouldn’t marry her?”

Despencer drew back, and shook his head with an amused air.

[122]“Oh no! I am afraid I am not broad-minded enough for that.”

“Why not?”

“I couldn’t outrage decency, you know. Society would think me worse than the marquis.”

“Damn society!”

“Oh, it is damned already,” said Despencer, quickly. “But even down below there are certain regulations which must be respected. There is an etiquette of Pandemonium.”

Hammond gave him another thoughtful look.

“You are a very clever man, Despencer, but, do you know, you almost make immorality tedious. If you are not careful, people will begin to get bored by vice, and virtue will become the fashion.”

“That is not a bad idea. There is always something attractive in novelty.”

Again Hammond reflected for a minute, and again he resumed his questioning.

[123]“Tell me, has the marchioness heard this rumor?”

Despencer had not been expecting this question, and it nearly threw him off his guard. His eye met Hammond’s for a moment before he answered.

“I should hardly think so, or she wouldn’t have had her here. That would have been too daring, even for her.”

“It would be equally daring for her to come here if there were anything in it. Surely her very presence here proves her innocence?”

“Yes; but what about Lord Severn’s absence? You saw him hurry out the moment she arrived?”

“My God, yes!” The words were dragged from Hammond in a burst of anguish. “There is some damned mystery in this!” he muttered between his teeth.

“Of course, it may be a mere coincidence,” the tempter threw in, artfully. “But I am always so suspicious of coincidences.”

[124]Hammond was not listening. A new idea had occurred to him.

“I have a great mind to go to Severn himself, and put myself in his hands. But, then, of course, one couldn’t trust him,” he added, regretfully.

“He is a man of honor,” objected the other.

“And when the good name of a woman is at stake, men of honor always lie,” was the stern retort. “Oh would to Heaven you had either never told me this, or else proved it up to the very hilt.”

“I didn’t speak out of any zeal for morality, you may be sure. I had simply heard the common talk, and I naturally assumed that it was true.”


Despencer gave a delicate, self-satisfied smile.

“When there is any doubt, I always believe the worst. I find I am seldom wrong.”

Hammond stepped back, with an indignant[125] gesture. He was beginning to feel ashamed of the discussion.

“And you can stand like that and smile away a reputation!” he exclaimed. “I wonder what they made you of.”

“I believe a chemical analysis of me would yield the ordinary results,” returned Despencer, with unruffled composure. “I rather think that hydrogen is the principal ingredient.”

Hammond gave a short laugh.

“Despencer, I begin actually to respect you. It can be no easy thing to attain to such a height of perfect brutality as yours. You must have taken great pains with yourself.”

“You may say what you like, Hammond, as long as you are not violent. I always draw the line at violence.”

“Do you have to draw it often?”

Even the trained and admirable temper of Despencer gave way under this taunt, and a red flush suffused his pale cheeks.

“Hammond, do you mean to be insulting?”

[126]“Why, do you mind much? I should have thought the hydrogen would have stood it.”

The words were drowned in a sudden crash of music and hand-clapping as the door behind them opened, and Captain Mauleverer came through with Belle Yorke on his arm.

Despencer drew to one side with a bow as they approached.

“Ah, captain, taking Lord Severn’s place, I see,” he remarked, with a sarcastic emphasis intended for Hammond’s ear, and passed back into the concert-room.

Mauleverer stared after him as if he had been some noxious animal.

“What has that damned cad—beg pardon, Miss Yorke—been doing here?” he demanded of Hammond.

“Oh, only taking away some one’s character.”

“Not mine, I hope,” said Belle, with a smile.

“No, not in Hammond’s hearing, I’ll swear,” said the loyal captain.

“It was too bad of you to go outside just[127] as I was going to sing,” said Belle to the silent Hammond. “I shall expect an explanation.”

“I have been waiting here to give it to you,” was the grave answer.

“You seem quite serious about it. I am sure Mr. Despencer has been saying something against me.”

Captain Mauleverer put in a word.

“I can’t let you give your explanation now, because Miss Yorke has promised to sit out this next piece with me. You must wait your turn, old fellow.”

“What does Miss Yorke say?” asked the other.

“I say what they say at the libraries about the book of the season. You shall have me when the captain has done with me.” She turned merrily to the captain. “But you mustn’t skip, you know. I shall allow you fourteen minutes for perusal.”

“I want to read you through,” said Hammond. And he went out.



How very sober Mr. Hammond seems to-night! I hope he isn’t going to be cross.”

Though she spoke gayly enough, a vague sense of ill was stealing over her. She sat down on a low cane settee, over which flowering shrubs made a sort of canopy, and a sadness seemed to breathe in the heavy scent of tuberose and stephanotis.

Captain Mauleverer placed himself beside her, and looked at her with a certain respectful pity as he answered:

“That isn’t likely. I’m sure it wouldn’t be easy to be cross with you, Miss Yorke.”

Belle detected something in his voice which increased her foreboding.

[129]“You look as grave as Mr. Hammond. Is anything the matter?”

“Yes, I’m afraid there is.”

The moment he had spoken the words he wished them unuttered. The light faded out of the beautiful eyes, and a pathetic sadness took its place.

“Oh, please don’t tell me that!” she pleaded. “I am enjoying myself so much this evening.”

“Are you? I am glad of that,” said Mauleverer, tugging uneasily at his mustache.

“Yes; I have never been to a place like this before, you know, and it is all so strange and beautiful. I am a little bit afraid of the Marchioness of Severn, but every one else has been so kind that I haven’t felt myself a stranger. I feel almost like the little chimney-sweep who wandered by accident into the state bedroom of the castle, and turned out to be the rightful heir. Please don’t send me back to my chimney.”

[130]The captain swallowed something in his throat.

“I wish I hadn’t promised to, but the fact is I have undertaken to give you a message.”

This time Belle turned to him with a look of something like alarm.

“Can’t you put it off till to-morrow? Do let me have my dream out to-night.”

Mauleverer shook himself.

“Hang it! I have a great mind to,” he exclaimed.

“Please do, if it is an unkind message. I didn’t think I had any enemies.”

“You have none—at least, I don’t believe you have. It isn’t that. What I have promised to tell you is something about yourself, something you ought to know.”

“Something about myself! Oh, what do you mean? I haven’t been doing anything wrong, have I?”

Captain Mauleverer bit his lip and looked more than half inclined to run away. Then he said, slowly:

[131]“Perhaps I should have said—something about your father.”

“My father!” She gazed at him in astonishment. “But he is dead! He died before I was born.”


The answer struck her dumb. She sat still and pressed her hand against her heart. The man replied to her unspoken questions with a grave shake of the head.

“My father is not dead? Oh, Captain Mauleverer, what are you saying? What do you know about him?”

“I wish I didn’t have to speak to you like this. Your father is alive.”

“And they have always told me he was dead! My mother— Captain Mauleverer, are you sure of what you say?”

“I am. I know your father.”

“Then why—” She broke off in the midst of the question and wrung her hands. “Ah! I begin to understand. My father has done something that has made them hide his existence[132] from me. And you are going to tell me what it is.”

“I—well, I promised that I would.”

She gave a half-sob.

“You may go on now. I find that I am only the little chimney-sweeper after all. But stay!” A fresh thought struck her with overwhelming force. “Perhaps this is some mistake after all. You say my father is alive, but did you know that my mother had been married again?”

The captain clenched his fists.

“God forgive me—I can’t tell you!”

“Then—then there is only one explanation, Captain Mauleverer.” She hid her face in her hands for a minute, and then raised it again and looked him bravely in the face. “Is that it? Tell me the truth.”

Mauleverer sprang from his seat.

“No, I’m damned if I do!”

A burst of music and a babble of tongues told them that the door had opened again,[133] and some one else was coming in. It was the Marchioness of Severn, and she was alone.

Belle rose from her seat dry-eyed.

“Ah, Miss Yorke, they told me I should find you here. That will do, Gerald. Miss Yorke and I are going to have a little talk. Pray sit down again.”

Belle resumed her seat in silence, with an inward dread of what was in store for her next, while Captain Mauleverer walked off with the hang-dog air of a man who feels he has made a brute of himself.

The marchioness sat down beside her guest.

“I have to thank you for a most delightful evening. You sang most charmingly. I almost wish I hadn’t asked you for that one called ‘Little Willy,’ though. I am so sensitive. You almost made me cry—you did, indeed.”

Belle stole a timid glance at her.

“It is very kind of you to praise me so much. That song of mine has always been a favorite.”

[134]“I don’t wonder at it. Dear, sweet little thing, freezing to death like that! Why didn’t some one give him a seal-skin jacket? And do you really sing things like that at those dreadful places in Leicester Square?”

Belle began to feel uncomfortable. The patronage it was difficult to resent, but the hinted disparagement roused her courage.

“I am sorry you think them dreadful,” she said, modestly but quite firmly, “because, you know, I have to sing there for my living.”

The marchioness’s determined good-nature was not to be turned aside.

“No, no; of course, I ought not to have called them that before you. But one reads such shocking things about them in the newspapers when they apply for their licenses to the County Council. I’m sure I hope it isn’t half of it true.”

“I hope you won’t be offended if I stand up for them,” Belle persisted, bravely. “I must be loyal to my own profession, mustn’t I?”

[135]“Of course! Of course! Most properly. I hope—in fact, I am sure, that they have done you no harm. But I have heard so much about these places, and the life, that it makes me feel the very gravest doubt. I take an interest in you, Miss Yorke, and I should be so sorry if you were to lower yourself by your connection with the music-halls.”

Still bleeding from the wound dealt her in all respectful kindness by the man who had been with her just before, Belle roused herself to ward off the more envenomed stabs of the woman who was with her now.

“I don’t intend to lower myself, or to let myself be lowered, by any place I may go to,” she said, with dignity, looking the marchioness in the face.

The marchioness smiled on her like a mother.

“That is right. I am so glad to hear you say that. But you can’t be too careful, you[136] know. The world is so censorious. Society has very keen ears for the least whisper against a woman’s name.”

This time Belle realized that there was some serious purpose beneath her persecutor’s moralizing. She turned on her indignantly.

“I hope you don’t mean that society has been listening to any whispers against my name!” she cried.

The marchioness put out her hands with a soothing gesture.

“Oh, no—not yet, at all events. Still, as I say, you cannot be too careful in your unfortunate position. I thought I ought to take the opportunity of giving you a friendly warning. It is so easy to check a thing of this kind at the outset, but afterwards it may be too late.”

“I am afraid I don’t understand you yet,” said Belle, in a carefully measured voice which would have betrayed the rising anger to a duller ear than the Marchioness of[137] Severn’s. “Do you mean to say that there is anything for me to check?”

The marchioness, becoming slightly nervous, tried to beat about the bush.

“No, no; I won’t go so far as that. I don’t put it in that way—merely a possibility, that is all. Of course, it is very natural that the men who go to such places should admire you, with your voice and figure; only don’t let one particular man admire you more openly than the rest. You understand me?”

Belle’s voice became cold and metallic.

“Do you mean that there is some one whose name has been associated with mine as an admirer more than the rest?”

The marchioness bowed and smiled.

“That is just it. You have put it very nicely.”

“May I ask you to tell me his name?”

The marchioness threw a glance of mild reproach at her young friend.

“Surely, my dear Miss Yorke, you must know that! Every one tells me that his[138] attentions have been most marked—Mr. Hammond.”

The marchioness brought out the name with a jerk, watching her victim keenly the while. But Belle gave her no assurance, by so much as the flutter of an eyelid, that the shaft had gone home.

“Mr. Hammond’s attentions to me have always been perfectly respectful.”

The marchioness positively bubbled over with shame at the implied suggestion that she had thought otherwise.

“Of course! Naturally! But you know, my dear girl, that society will take a very different view. Society is so incredulous. It never believes that a man’s friendship for a woman is perfectly respectful.”

“Not when he asks her to become his wife?” Belle could not resist the question.

“That is quite different.” The marchioness suddenly became the great lady. “We are not talking of that, as you know. Mr. Hammond is not one of those foolish young[139] men who marry a girl out of their own class and regret it ever afterwards. You must put that idea out of your head at once, believe me. I am speaking as your friend and as a woman of the world.”

Belle looked at her friend for a moment with a silence that had something satirical in it.

“What is Mr. Hammond’s class?”

“Don’t you know? Mr. Hammond is a millionaire. He moves in the very best society. He could marry almost any woman in England, except royalty. I know dukes, even, who would feel honored by an alliance with Mr. Hammond.”

All this time it had not occurred to Belle, in her simplicity, that she could possibly be regarded by the great lady beside her as a rival, and a dangerous rival, to her own daughter. She only felt that something very dear to her was at stake, and she wrestled for it blindly.

“Is that simply because he is rich?” she[140] demanded, with the scorn which youth always feels for wealth.

“Not entirely,” the marchioness answered, mildly, “though, of course, that has a great deal to do with it. But Mr. Hammond comes of a most respectable family, I believe. I have heard that his father was quite a gentleman towards the end of his life. And then he has a fine political career before him; he is in Parliament, and may be in the Cabinet. You can’t expect him to throw all that away to marry you, my dear.”

Belle began to fear that she was going to be beaten.

“And would he? Would it be such a very great disgrace?” she murmured below her breath.

I don’t say that it would,” replied her deeply sympathizing friend; “but society would consider it so. You see, we can none of us do all that we like. There are many things that I should like to do, but I dare not. We all feel inclined to rebel sometimes and[141] gratify our own inclinations, but we are restrained by a higher law.”

“What higher law is there than the loyal instinct of our own hearts?” demanded Belle, with a flash of indignation.

“My dear, the prejudices of society! Its feelings must be respected. We have to mould our lives accordingly.”

“Why? Why should we obey such a code? Why should we cringe to this bogie you call society? Why should we make ourselves slaves to one another’s shadows?”

The marchioness drew herself up and regarded her young friend with real pain.

“Miss Yorke, you quite surprise me. I am shocked to hear you use such language. Do you realize what you are saying? You called society a bogie!”

“I was wrong. It is something more.”

“It is true that its dictates sometimes appear harsh and unreasonable, but that is the same for all of us. Why should you expect to be an exception to the rule more than others?”

[142]“Shall I tell you?” All the bitterness of her newly acquired knowledge rang out in Belle’s voice. “Because I am one of the victims of society; because it placed its brand upon me before ever I was born. Society has made me an outlaw, and therefore I owe it no allegiance, and I will give it none. You tell me that because I am a public singer I have no right to the friendship of an honorable man; that there are whispers in circulation against my name already. Let them whisper! I have done with all that. I shall not abandon my friends at society’s bidding, and I won’t give up the man I love because it tells me—I won’t do it!”

The marchioness rose, deeply shocked and grieved.

“Really, I can’t stay here—”

Again the sudden loudness of the sounds from the concert-room. Again the door stood open, and John Hammond in the doorway.



The moment she saw who had come into the conservatory the marchioness sat down again promptly, and with a decision which spoke volumes for her intention to remain.

Hammond advanced, and recognized the marchioness with a look of wonder.

“Where is Mauleverer?” he inquired.

“I sent Gerald away,” replied the marchioness, with an intonation which plainly added: “And I should like to send you away, too.”

“That was considerate of you,” retorted Hammond, with a pleasant smile.

There was a vacant space on the seat between the two women, and he took possession of it with a cool deliberateness which appeared to cause the marchioness some dismay.

[144]“I wanted to have a little private chat with Miss Yorke,” she observed, stiffly.

“The very thing I wanted, too. You have done me out of my turn, hasn’t she, Miss Yorke? You are positively quite a cuckoo, my dear marchioness.”

The marchioness made a painful effort to smile.

“I am not at all sure that I shall allow you to speak to Miss Yorke,” she responded, trying to look past him at Belle herself.

On Hammond’s entrance Belle had shrunk back with a certain apprehension which had afforded secret satisfaction to her hostess. She now waited in silence, nervously plucking at the leaves of a camellia which brushed her shoulder where she sat.

“Now she is under my roof,” pursued the marchioness, “I feel in the position of her guardian. I regard you as a very dangerous character.”

A smile of bitter irony gleamed for a moment on Hammond’s lips.

[145]“I rather think you must be right. I don’t know why it is, but I am feeling in a peculiarly lawless mood this evening. If Miss Yorke were not here, I am not at all sure that your diamonds would be safe.”

Something in the manner of this speech, rather than in the words, caused the marchioness to move several inches farther off along the settee. It was a distinct shock to her to hear the Severn diamonds made the subject of coarse jocularity. The one in the centre of her bosom had been given to the first Mauleverer by King John as a reward for resisting the agitation for Magna Charta. Those in the tiara above her forehead had been brought into the family by a left-handed daughter of John of Gaunt. The value of the whole was nearly a year’s income of the much-mortgaged Severn estates.

“Really, Mr. Hammond, you speak so strangely that if I didn’t know you so well I should think something was the matter with you.”

[146]It was necessary to let her ladyship see clearly that she was out of place. Hammond cast on her a look which she had not seen in his eyes before.

“Do you know me well? Does any of us know another well? Don’t we, most of us, drift through life with our eyes half closed, ignorant of our aims, ignorant of our very natures, till some shock comes to awaken us, and in the moment of trial we find out for the first time who and what we really are?”

A subtle instinct told him, before he had finished speaking, that his words were being eagerly followed by the girl who sat on his right hand. On the marchioness they fell with something of the effect of a cold spray. She shivered and got up.

“Ah, yes, of course, all that is very true, no doubt,” she murmured, hastily. “But I must really be going back to look after the people.” She turned a feline glance on Belle. “I wouldn’t sit out here too long if I were you, Miss Yorke; you may catch cold.”

[147]“Thank you; I am not afraid of that,” was the quiet answer.

The marchioness turned her eyes from one to the other, pursed up her lips with severity, and reluctantly retreated.

Hammond watched her exit with a sarcastic smile.

“I am afraid the marchioness believes I have been drinking,” he observed.

The cynicism jarred on Belle as harshly as the seriousness had jarred on the marchioness. There is no woman who can respond to a man through all his moods, not even she who loves him best.

“I wonder how much truth there is in what you said just now?”

Hammond turned and fixed an earnest gaze on her. He saw her for the first time in his experience with a troubled brow, but he never guessed the cause. There is no man who can follow a woman through all her moods, not even he who loves her best.

“That is what I wanted to ask you,” he[148] said, in answer to her question. “We two have known each other for some time, haven’t we; but how much do I know of you, or you of me?”

Belle felt what was coming. She saw it in his eye, she heard it in his voice. Desperately she resolved to meet it half-way.

“I have been finding that out this evening. Since I have come here I have understood for the first time what you are and what I am. Mr. Hammond, after this evening we must not meet again.”

“Belle! Why do you say that?”

There was a note of anguish in his voice. He had been fighting a battle with himself all this time. It had never occurred to him that there might be another to overcome besides.

She looked him steadily in the face.

“Why do you call me Belle?”

“I thought we were friends,” he said. But he blushed as he said it.

“What kind of friends? Would your[149] friendship with Lady Victoria allow you to call her by her Christian name? Don’t you see that the difference between her and me makes our friendship impossible?”

“Don’t you trust me, then?” asked the man.

“You have no right to ask me for my trust. You and I belong to different worlds. Where there is no equality there can be no friendship. It would have been better if we had never met.”

She spoke with a certain rigidity which baffled him. He did not know that the poor girl was but repeating the bitter lesson which had just been taught to her.

“But why,” he eagerly demanded—“why should you suddenly take this tone with me? I was going to ask you for your confidence. I meant to beg you to let me take your part against your enemies, and you rebuff me at the outset like this.”

“Have I enemies? I didn’t know that.” She spoke with a pathetic resignation. She[150] had heard too much within the last half-hour to be much moved by any new disclosure. “But there is all the more reason that I should give them no handle against me. Consider what society is likely to think of such a friendship as ours—you, a public man, wealthy, ambitious, honored by the world, with a great career before you, and I a humble singer, whose very calling makes her name a mark for every spiteful tongue.”

“Why should we be afraid of what society thinks or says?”

“You can afford to ask that. You are a man, and can defy society; I am a woman, and to me its breath means life or death.”

Hammond sat silent for a minute; he felt that all this conversation was insincere. It was but the preface to what he had come there to say. How was he to pave the way for the questions he had resolved to put?

“Tell me,” he said, earnestly, “have I ever given you cause to think of me as other than an honorable man?”

[151]Belle turned and looked at him.

“No,” was all she said.

“Will you let me tell you something—something that it may be painful for you to hear?”

Belle’s eyes opened wide. The apprehension of what was coming shone out in them, and Hammond, mistaking the meaning of that apprehension, faltered in his purpose.

“Speak! What is it?” she commanded.

“It is something which concerns yourself.”

Was he going to repeat to her the gossip at which the marchioness had only hinted, to tell her to her face that their names had been joined in the world’s calumnious breath? She gazed at him in absolute bewilderment.

“Tell it me—quickly!” she breathed.

“I am ashamed to repeat such a slander. Yet, since it is in circulation, it is only right that you should know it, if only that you may cause it to be crushed.”

[152]“Yes; please go on.”

“They say—they pretend—they connect your name with—”

“With yours, sir?” She sat upright, with flashing eyes.

“Great heavens, no!” He stared back at her with little less amazement than her own.

She sank slowly down again, the anger in her face changing to deepest scorn.

“With whose, then?”

“With the Marquis of Severn’s.”

“What!” She started up again in sheer astonishment. “Who dares? I have never seen nor spoken to him in my life!”

“Thank God!”

Not till he had heard the denial did the man realize what a burden it had lifted from his heart; and yet he believed that he loyally loved this woman.

“Who dares to slander me? Who dares to smirch my name with falsehoods?” Come what might, he should not go away doubting her.

[153]“It was that man Despencer who told me first.”

“And you listened to him—you, an honorable man, and my friend?”

Hammond bowed his head. He thought he could bear her reproaches now.

“Go on; you can say nothing to me that I have not said already to myself. I have been a brute, a fool; I know it. I did give him the lie once, but his words rankled in my mind, and I could not rest till I had had the charge disproved.”

“If you are satisfied, go.”

Hammond started and shivered. He had not heard that tone before; he had not seen that deeply resolute expression, in which Belle’s face was set like stone.

“Oh, not like this! You will forgive me, Belle? You must! This lie has tortured me far worse than you.”

He might have made the excuse that he had only repeated the slander for her sake, and not for the satisfaction of his own doubts.[154] But he scorned to stoop to subterfuge with her.

“Why should I? Your good opinion or your friendship are nothing to me any longer.”

“My good opinion—friendship! Ah, it is more than that! You know, you must know, that I have loved you all the time!”

“So much the worse. For you to speak of love to me is only another insult.”

“I did not mean to insult you,” was the humble answer. “I meant to offer you the love that a man offers to his betrothed.”

“Does a man cast suspicions on his betrothed?”

“I have not cast suspicions. My worst fault is to have listened to those of others. There is no love without jealousy.”

“There is no love without perfect trust. If a man really loves a woman, does he set himself to doubt her, to gather up the malicious tattle of her enemies, and carry it to her, like an accusing judge, and ask her to clear[155] herself? Ah, no! If he loves her, he first crushes the slander and the enemy together, and then comes to tell her what he has done.”

“Listen to me.”

“Wait! But I cannot expect to be treated like that. My good name is of no importance to me; I am public property. There would be nothing to talk about in the club smoking-rooms if we poor singers were to be respected. It is natural that we should be bad. And so you come to me and repeat the accusations which you had not the courage to despise. And that is your love!”

“I implore you—”

“No! With us poor girls it is different. We have not your prudence and self-restraint. Where we love we do not ask for references. We give our hearts without reserve, and from the moment we have given them, instead of searching for stains on the character of the man we love, we set ourselves to see only the good in him; we shut our eyes to the evil; we screen his faults; if others attack[156] him, we defend him; and if the world casts him out, we cling to him all the more.”

Her voice sank down and ended in a sob. Hammond clasped his hands together in despair.

“Why did I ever hesitate? I was a coward. I dreaded the idea of even a whisper being raised against my wife. Forgive me.”

“And you were right. Yes, I forgive you.”

The answer came softly, and the man’s heart was thrilled to the core.

“And something more,” he pleaded passionately. “Tell me that you love me like that.”

Belle slowly, gently shook her head.

“No. Why do you make it so hard for me? Leave me, I entreat you.”

Hammond turned faint.

“You do not love me, then?” he gasped.

She gave him a despairing look, and answered passionately:

“No! I don’t love you—I don’t love you!”

He rose up, without another word, and went[157] away from her. The next instant, as the door closed behind him, Belle sank down on the seat, like a flower whose stem is broken, and the tears began to come like rain.

A door at the far end of the conservatory softly opened, and a man stepped through and came towards her, with his finger on his lips.

It was the Marquis of Severn.



The most secluded place in the house in Berkeley Square was the picture-gallery. The most secluded spot in the picture-gallery was the Lovers’ Window.

The gallery itself ran across the back of the house on the second floor, and was thus outside the legitimate bounds within which the concert guests were entitled to wander. It was approached by a door at each end, giving on to the staircase, and the walls were hung with pictures, chiefly of the faded, washed-out schools of Lawrence and Constable.

The window was a deep and lofty bay, almost a little room, in the centre of the gallery. A cushioned seat, like a divan, ran[159] round the bay, and on either side of the opening hung a thick curtain of dark-purple velvet.

In this sequestered nook no sound of the concert going on below could be heard. It was no doubt for this reason that the Lady Victoria Mauleverer had come thither, and was now reclining on the divan, with one beautiful white elbow resting on the sill of the open window.

As it happened, she was not alone. Captain Gerald Mauleverer, guided possibly by some cousinly instinct, had also sought a refuge from the music in the same spot. He was sitting near her, and regarding her with a reproachful countenance.

“Do you know what my aunt has been telling me about you?” he began.

Victoria gave a shrug of the most supreme indifference.

“No; but I have no doubt it was something interesting. My mother has so much imagination.”

[160]“She told me that you were as good as engaged.”

“Did she? Ah, well, I suppose she has found a purchaser for me at last.”

“How can you!” Gerald stamped his foot. “Who is it?”

“She did tell me his name, but I have forgotten it,” drawled Victoria. “I can tell you his income, though.”

Her cousin looked at her, half angry and half pleased.

“Thank Heaven, you don’t care for him! I believe I have your heart, after all.”

“My what?” asked Victoria, in a tone of surprised curiosity.

“Your heart, you hateful creature.”

“What childish words you use, Gerald! I couldn’t understand what you meant. No; I suppose I shall be bought complete, with all fittings, but I don’t fancy a heart is mentioned in the inventory.”

“Have you really promised to marry this man, Vick?”

[161]His cousin put her head on one side and considered.

“It hasn’t got quite to that point. The customer hasn’t actually given the order yet, but my mother is an expert saleswoman, and I have no doubt that by the next time you see me I shall have the usual ticket on to show that I am disposed of.”

The captain gnawed his mustache as his eyes sought in vain to fix those of the insolent beauty.

“Hang it! don’t you care a little bit? I have loved you for years. Does it all go for nothing with you?”

Victoria sat up and became business-like.

“Stupid fellow, why can’t you look at it rationally, like I do? There, I will give in to you so far as to say that I would much rather you bought me than anybody else. I would even give a discount in your case; you should have me at store prices. But what is the use? We couldn’t live together.[162] You know they separate married couples in the workhouse.”

“I have eight hundred a year,” the man protested.

“That would pay for my frocks. Any debts?”

“Well, I have a little paper out,” he reluctantly admitted.

“So I thought. Small income, large debts—”

“No, not large debts.”

“Several thousands, I have no doubt. Large debts, no occupation—”

“Don’t you count the army?” he interrupted.

“Certainly not,” was the firm answer. “I mean an occupation by which you can earn a living. No occupation, idle habits, expensive tastes—”

“No, Vick!” His tone became one of honest indignation. “No, you can’t charge me with that, you know. I may be idle, but you can’t charge me with extravagance.”

[163]“What do you pay for your cigars?” the merciless inquisitor demanded.

“A shilling. I get them at a little shop in Jermyn Street that nobody else knows of, and they are worth double the money.”


“No, really, Vick, you have no right to talk to me like that. If there’s one thing that I do pride myself on, it is that I am economical.”

“What is the use of being economical on nothing?” She turned and looked him full in the face. “I will be serious with you, Gerald. If you had any means at all, any real income or prospect of it, I would throw over all the millionaires in Christendom to-morrow, but as it is—!” A despairing gesture completed the sentence.

“Why can’t you wait for me, then?” exclaimed the desperate captain. “Give me a chance, and I will go out and raid the Transvaal, or do something desperate.”

“I didn’t know there was anything very[164] desperate in raiding the Transvaal,” retorted Victoria, resuming her cynical vein. “I thought the worst thing you exposed yourself to was to have poetry written about you in the papers.”

A door opened at the end of the gallery, and Gerald hastily rose to his feet.

“Ah! I felt sure we should be interrupted,” said Victoria. “I believe my mother has me shadowed. Don’t go, Gerald,” she added, loudly enough for her parent to hear as she bore down upon the pair, the faithful Despencer following in the wake.

The marchioness came to a full stop at the opening, with a dramatic start.

“Victoria! I thought I had forbidden you to behave like this!”

Her daughter gave an amused smile.

“My dear mother, I thought we agreed only the other day that I was of age.”

The marchioness turned on her nephew as a less dangerous adversary.

“As for you, Gerald, I am surprised at you.[165] You ought to know better than to come and sit here with your cousin.”

Victoria gallantly came to his rescue.

“If you and Mr. Despencer want to sit here, we will go away,” she offered, sweetly.

The marchioness recoiled, and gazed at her like King Lear listening to Goneril’s complaints about his knights.

“When you are married I shall wash my hands of you, and if your unfortunate husband likes to let you carry on an open flirtation with your cousin, he may,” she said, viciously. “But while you are on my hands I am determined to put a stop to these clandestine doings. You hear me, Gerald?”

Gerald felt that he must stand by his cousin.

“Yes, aunt,” he said, with unlooked-for courage; “but I don’t see how our flirtation can be open and yet clandestine at the same time. It must be one or the other, you know.”

As the action was becoming general, the marchioness with a look brought up her light cavalry in the person of Despencer.

[166]“I don’t know that,” he interposed. “There is no better concealment sometimes than a parade of openness.”

“Really, mamma, this won’t do!” Victoria protested. “I have schooled myself to bear Mr. Despencer’s compliments, but I really don’t think I can stand him as a moralist. I must draw the line somewhere.”

The marchioness threw her broad shield over her luckless ally.

“Mr. Despencer was not speaking to you, and I will not allow you to talk like that when he is only acting in your true interests.”

“Well, then, I wish he wouldn’t,” was the rebellious answer. “One’s true interests are always so singularly unpleasant. How should you like it if Gerald or somebody were to begin acting in your true interests?”

The marchioness looked alarmed.

“There, that will do,” she said, hurriedly. “Understand me, Gerald, I particularly wish to speak to Victoria for a minute by herself. You won’t refuse a mother’s request?”

[167]“Not when she is a woman,” returned the reckless youth. And he strolled off.

The marchioness watched him safely through the door of the gallery, and then seated herself by her daughter’s side.

“Thank Heaven, we have got rid of him in time!”

“Why, is anything particular going to happen?” Victoria inquired, carelessly.

The marchioness glowed with triumph.

“Mr. Hammond is coming here to propose to you!”

“Is that all?” said Victoria.

Despencer was becoming anxious to withdraw before being favored with any more of Lady Victoria’s sarcasms. The only way to escape was to take her part against the marchioness. He therefore remarked:

“A most simple occurrence, which might happen to anybody.”

His patroness turned to him indignantly.

“Mr. Despencer, do you wish to encourage her?”

[168]“I fancy Lady Victoria requires no encouragement from me. She appears to face the situation with admirable nerve. Breeding will tell.”

“Go away, directly!” ordered the marchioness.

“Yes; where to?”

The marchioness hesitated a moment.

“To the end of the gallery.” Despencer began to move away. “And wait there for me.”

“Am I not always waiting for you, marchioness?”

And with a graceful bow to both ladies, he retired to the opposite door to that by which they had just entered.

“Aren’t you a little rough with the poor creature?” asked Victoria, in a tone of compassion as he disappeared. “You will break him some day.”

“Do you realize what I have just told you?” said her mother, ignoring the remark.

“I have forgotten. Wasn’t it something[169] about an offer of marriage? Who did you say it was this time?”

“You will drive me distracted! Now, listen to me; this may be your last chance. If you refuse Mr. Hammond you may never get another offer.”

“There is always Gerald to fall back upon.”

“Another decent offer, I mean,” was the stern retort. “Of course, you can always marry. I dare say a dean or a county court judge, or some one of that sort, would be willing to take you with nothing but your clothes. But this is the last respectable match I shall offer you. I have taken the greatest pains to bring this man to the point, and if you refuse him now I sha’n’t try again.”

“You frighten me, mother. I hope you haven’t been resorting to extreme measures against Mr. Hammond! You haven’t been putting pressure on him by threatening to reveal his past?”

The marchioness shook her head impatiently.

[170]“Answer me plainly, Victoria: do you intend to accept him?”

“Are you sure he is going to propose?”

“Morally sure. He just asked me where he was likely to find you, and I told him I thought you would be here about this time.”

“How did you know that?” asked Victoria, with interest.

“Because I meant to look for you myself and send you here,” was the resolute answer. “In these matters I leave nothing to chance.”

“You have taken pains!” exclaimed her daughter, with genuine admiration. “But you don’t know that he is going to propose. He may only be going to say good-bye.”

“Nonsense! I know perfectly well. I can always tell when a man is going to propose. My judgment has never been deceived.”

Victoria affected to conceal a yawn.

“Well, I am much obliged to you for warning me. I shall be prepared.”

“And you will accept him, won’t you, like[171] a good girl?” pleaded the marchioness, with maternal tenderness.

“I haven’t the slightest idea what I shall do,” was the callous reply. “I hope he won’t be sentimental over it.”

“Victoria! Do you refuse to do your duty to society and to your parents?”

Victoria was mildly annoyed.

“There, now you are going to be sentimental!” she protested.

The marchioness rose to her feet in real anger.

“You shameful, depraved, ungrateful child! You wish to break your mother’s heart!”

Victoria darted a strange look at her mother, which the marchioness was unable to meet. Then she observed, quietly:

“Don’t you think the less we say about hearts the better, mamma?”

The marchioness was opening her lips to reply, when her face suddenly changed, a beautiful smile replacing the angry frown. Hammond had just entered the gallery.



It is generally the first impulse of a man who has been rejected by the woman he loves to offer himself to the woman who loves him. When the sun has set the light of the moon becomes precious.

John Hammond did not believe that the Lady Victoria Mauleverer did him the honor to love him after the fashion in which he loved Belle Yorke. But the frankness with which she conducted their mutual flirtation made him think of her as more sincere than the over-innocent maidens who pretended to turn shy at his approach, and practised the blushes which they had been taught by a Bond Street professor at a guinea a blush. He felt that there was something flattering[173] to him in her disdain of the small arts of cajolery, and he told himself that the preference which she so plainly showed for him must needs be genuine.

It does not require very much to convince a man of any self-confidence that he possesses a woman’s regard. The very cynicism with which Victoria discussed their relations might be the cloak of a deeper feeling, which she was too proud to confess until its return was assured. In his present mood, however, Hammond felt no desire to penetrate beneath that surface good-comradeship, which was all that either he or Victoria had yet shown to the other. He could not have gone from his interview with Belle to make love to another woman. He, no more than Victoria, desired to be sentimental. Nevertheless, it soothed him to think that this woman, who was willing to meet him in his own spirit of indifference, might be secretly more fond of him than he was of her.

[174]It seemed to him that the die was cast, and that he could not too soon put it out of his own power to recall the throw. He had fought out the struggle between Love and Ambition, and in the moment of surrendering to Love, Love had failed him. Well, Ambition was left. The marchioness had correctly diagnosed the symptoms, though she had little idea of their cause. John Hammond had come to propose to Victoria.

It only remained for the forethoughtful parent to get herself out of the way.

“It is too bad of you, Mr. Hammond!” she exclaimed, with the playfulness of a boa-constrictor. “I believe you knew I was here, and waited down below on purpose for me to go away.”

Hammond smiled rather wearily.

“Now, that is very artful of you, marchioness. The truth is that you are going away just because I have come.”

“You are perfectly right, Mr. Hammond,” remarked Victoria.

[175]Her mother wrenched her lips into the similitude of a smile.

“I see what it is,” she said, with immense slyness. “You two have an understanding, and you want to get rid of me. Very well, I sha’n’t interfere with your little plans. I always know when I am in the way. Good-bye. Good-bye.”

The devoted parent nodded and smiled herself out of the gallery, consumed with a frantic inward longing to take her stubborn child by the shoulders and shake her into a more becoming frame of mind.

It was fortunate that she could not hear that child’s first remark after she had gone.

“My poor mother amuses me very much. She thinks she is such a deep schemer, and she is so transparent all the time.”

“You mustn’t ask me to take sides with an undutiful daughter,” responded Hammond. “May I sit down? I am lucky in finding you here.”

“There isn’t much luck about it,” said[176] Victoria, bluntly, as she made way for him to sit beside her. “My mother knew you were coming, and ordered me to remain here to meet you.”

“The marchioness is very considerate,” replied Hammond, fairly taken aback by this extraordinary confidence.

“Yes, but I find it a little embarrassing sometimes,” Victoria remarked. “She is so very barefaced, you know. She positively throws me at eligible men. I hope you don’t mind having me thrown at you?”

“On the contrary, I find it rather agreeable than otherwise. You don’t hurt at all.”

“I am so glad. Tell me when you are tired, and I will make her leave off and throw me at some one else.”

“Isn’t there another alternative?” Hammond saw a faint color come into Victoria’s cheeks as he spoke, and went on quietly. “Do you know, I wanted to see you, to consult you about a letter that I received this morning.”

[177]He put his hand into his breast pocket and drew out a blue envelope of the inconvenient oblong shape still in use by so-called business men. Victoria continued to recline in the same lazy attitude on the divan, but she watched him keenly out of the corner of her eyes.

“How interesting!” she murmured, as he drew out a closely written sheet and unfolded it. “I hope it is an anonymous letter taking away my character.”

“No; curiously enough, it is from one who has a very high opinion of you.”

Victoria became more languid still.

“I am dying to hear it.”

“You shall.” He began to read aloud:

“‘Boot and Shoe Emporium,
High Street, Tooting.’”

“I know who it is from!” Victoria exclaimed, eagerly. “That delightful alderman!”

“Don’t interrupt, please. ‘My dear Mr. Hammond—’”

[178]“How sweetly friendly!”

“Hush! ‘It is with considerable reluctance that I have consented, at the request of many of your leading supporters in the Division, to address you on a subject of great delicacy and importance—’”

“Mysterious creature!”

“‘I refer to the question of your marriage—’”

“This is most interesting!”

Hammond frowned sternly at the fair interrupter.

“Wait! ‘Some time ago it was generally rumored in the constituency that you were likely to lead to the altar Lady Victoria Hildegonde Jane Beauchamp-Mauleverer, only daughter of the most noble the Marquis of Severn, K.G.—’”

“He must have looked me up in Whitaker’s ‘Titled Persons.’”

“‘And the news gave us the greatest satisfaction, as it was felt that by so doing you would greatly strengthen your social prestige, and thereby deprive the Liberals of their advantage[179] in having secured a baronet as their candidate—’”

“He quite crushes you there.”

“‘But I regret to state that a report has now reached us that this marriage is not likely to come off, and your enemies have the audacity to allege that you are contemplating a union with a singer on the music-hall stage whose name has been a target for the breath of scandal. Your friends have, of course, indignantly denied the rumor, but we think it would be desirable in your interest that you should at once write me a formal contradiction, which could be inserted, if necessary, in the local press. Trusting you will see your way to do this, and apologizing for the liberty I have taken, with very kind regards, I am, yours sincerely,

“‘Edward Dobbin.’”

“He gets rather prosy towards the end, doesn’t he?” commented Victoria, who had listened in silence to that part of the letter.

“You haven’t heard the postscript,” said[180] Hammond. “‘P.S.—If you could at the same time authorize me to announce your engagement to Lady Beauchamp-Mauleverer, we consider it would have an excellent effect.’”

“Artful old thing! He is almost as bad as my mother.”

Hammond folded up the letter and put it back in his pocket.

“Well, now, what do you advise me to do?”

“Oh, send the contradiction, by all means.”

“And what about the further announcement?”

Their eyes met seriously for the first time. Victoria answered, in the same light tone:

“Well, it seems a pity to disappoint him.”

“Then you won’t contradict it?”

“No, I never write to the papers.”

Hammond bent forward respectfully.

“Thank you. May I kiss your hand?”

“If you will promise not to be sentimental,” said Victoria, yielding gracefully.

“I think I can promise that,” said Hammond,[181] with secret bitterness. And he bowed over the white fingers, wondering if this woman really wished to be his wife, while Victoria wondered in her turn why on earth this man wanted to marry her.

They were not left long in their mutual embarrassment. The marchioness was burning with impatience to learn the result of her arduous campaign, and as soon as she thought she had given the lovers time enough to adjust matters she returned to the spot, Despencer being admitted to share the anticipated triumph.

“So you are still here!” the mother exclaimed, with innocent surprise. “I hope that girl has not been shocking you very much, Mr. Hammond?”

“Well, she has, rather,” he answered, dryly. “She has promised to be my wife!”

“My dear child!” The loving mother rushed to fold her daughter in a close embrace, to which Victoria submitted with silent scorn. “This is sudden, but I cannot[182] say it takes me altogether by surprise. A mother’s eye sees so much,” added the marchioness, plaintively, implying that she had long watched over her child’s secret love and seen it grow from day to day.

Despencer stood viewing the touching scene with an ironical smile. “She will overdo this if she isn’t careful,” was his unspoken comment.

The marchioness turned to her new son.

“I give her to you, John, because I know you will make her happy. If I had had the choice of a son-in-law, there is no one I should have preferred to you.”

As a bald matter of fact, there had been a slight element of choice about it.

Hammond bowed with due gratitude.

“Let me offer my congratulations, too, if I may,” Despencer put in. “This sort of thing quite touches me.”

“Thank you,” said Hammond, curtly. “I hope to have the pleasure of speaking to the[183] marquis in the morning,” he added to the marquis’s wife.

“I will prepare him for it. I am sure you will find him ready to welcome you as a son,” responded the marchioness, with enthusiasm.

Victoria rose from her seat.

“There, that will do, mother. You are not good at domestic sentiment; it isn’t in your line. Can’t we go and bill and coo somewhere else?” she said to her betrothed.

“What a child!” murmured her parent, still deeply affected. “Take care of her, John.”

John intimated his disposition to do so by a bow, and the marchioness and Despencer found themselves alone. The latter hastened to console his companion.

“Don’t mind her, marchioness. You did that very well, indeed. The maternal embrace was perfect.”

The marchioness sat down on the divan and heaved a deep sigh of satisfaction.

“You may be as rude as you like now,”[184] she observed, mildly, “because you have been so clever and wicked in managing this for me. I suppose it is quite settled now. He won’t go back to that horrid girl again?”

Despencer placed himself on the seat beside the marchioness at the exact distance which he thought safe, as he replied:

“I think not. The game is not quite finished yet. I am still waiting to play my ace of trumps.”

The marchioness was too full of her triumph to heed the last words.

“We had better announce this in the papers at once,” she remarked, pursuing her own line of thought. “One cannot make too sure.”

“You will have to wait till he has seen Lord Severn,” suggested the prudent Despencer.

The marchioness made a grimace.

“I suppose so. How tiresome all this etiquette is! I sometimes wish I could go and be a curate’s wife in the country.”

[185]This pathetic yearning failed to move the callous listener. He retorted:

“I believe there is no more rigid code of etiquette than that which obtains among curates’ wives in the country. I used to know three curates’ wives and one rector’s, but they have all dropped me. I never knew why.”

“I am afraid you must have a dreadful reputation,” said the marchioness, admiringly. “I positively don’t think I ought to stay here alone with you. Do you know they call this the Lovers’ Window?”

Despencer’s eyes fell on the marchioness, and he ventured two and a half inches nearer.

“What a romantic situation! You ought not to have told me that. Remember that I am a poet.”

“I am afraid you are only mocking me,” said the marchioness, lowering her eyes with a bashfulness which, regarded as a work of art, was beautiful. “I believe you are a heartless cynic.”

[186]Despencer moved an inch nearer along the divan as he protested—

“No, you are quite wrong. You must not judge me by outward appearances, or you will be deceived. The fact is, I am a hypocrite. I pretend to be more worldly and wicked than I really am. If you could look into my heart you would be surprised.”

“I have no doubt of that. But you are not going to persuade me that I should find much innocence there.”

“Ah! but, my dear marchioness, why speak of it like that? Think how uninteresting innocence is. Believe me, innocence has been sadly overpraised by people who knew very little about it. For my part, I much prefer experience. One is a blank page, the other is a romance, generally of the kind that is not allowed on the railway book-stalls.”

The marchioness was not insensible to the subtle flattery. Her voice became actually soft.

“You are not going to pretend to me that[187] there is anything romantic about an old woman who will soon be forty.” (The marchioness’s own age in society was thirty-seven.)

Despencer moved six inches closer. But there was no softening in his voice; that was where he had the advantage over the marchioness.

“Every woman is romantic when she is seated in the Lovers’ Window with a man,” he murmured in her ear.

What might have happened next it is impossible even to imagine. What did happen was that both started violently apart, and rose to their feet at the same time, the marchioness exclaiming, in a tone of subdued consternation, “Of all men in the world, my husband!”

The Marquis of Severn had come in very quietly by the door at the farther end of the gallery. As his wife and her companion came rather awkwardly out on to the floor of the gallery, he walked past them into the[188] window, scarcely heeding their presence, and stood with his back towards them, looking out at the slowly rising moon.

Throwing an impatient frown behind her, the marchioness led the way out by the other door. Just as they reached it it was opened from without, revealing on the threshold Belle Yorke.

The marchioness stopped abruptly, and directed an astonished and inquisitive glance from Belle to her husband, and from her husband to Belle. Then she took hold of Despencer’s arm and marched off in formidable silence.



George, Marquis of Severn, was one of those unfortunate men who are out of sympathy with the class into which they have been born. As a yeoman, farming his own land, he would have been contented; as a marquis, he was miserable. His rank was irksome to him, he was bored by dignity, he took no interest in politics, and detested what is called society.

If his lot had lain in a humbler sphere of life, he would have had a wife of his own choice, and been a good husband and father. As it was, he had married a woman selected for him by his people, and with whom he had not a thought in common. She was not his wife—she was merely his[190] marchioness. He felt himself a stranger in his own household; his very children grew up to regard him with good-natured contempt, and the people with whom Lady Severn surrounded herself were hardly conscious that there was such a person as Lord Severn in existence.

By natural disposition George Mauleverer was the reverse of a libertine. He was fitted for domestic happiness as it is understood by the middle classes. The irony of his fate compelled him to seek it away from his own hearth, under conditions fatal to its permanence. The woman whom he had taken as his second wife, and whom he would willingly have continued to treat as such, was too much like himself to rest satisfied in a life which outraged the social and moral prejudices of her class. She could not find satisfaction any more than he in that restless, artificial form of existence which is known as a life of pleasure. She hated the gay sisterhood of St. John, and yearned after the respectability[191] in which she had been reared. To these motives for breaking off the connection was added, after a few years, the decisive one of religion. A sermon convicted her of living in sin, and she resolved to return to the paths of righteousness.

George Mauleverer could not oppose her determination. He sorrowfully recognized that she was in the right, and assisted her efforts to regain her natural place in the world. In due course she found a husband, and from that moment all intercourse between the two came to an end.

The only right which the man reserved to himself was that of watching over the child of their former union. He had done this under an assumed name, and in the character of a godfather. Neither he nor the mother had contemplated the necessity of revealing the truth to their daughter. But they had reckoned without the world. Just as Belle was growing into womanhood her stepfather died, and her mother was threatened[192] with disastrous poverty. In that strait she would not consent to take money from her old lover. As a lesser evil, she allowed her daughter to turn her talents to account on the stage.

It had occurred neither to her nor to Belle’s father that the secret which had been kept so successfully while Belle remained in the obscurity of middle-class life might be endangered by the publicity which she must now incur. The father continued to associate with his daughter under the name by which she knew him. But Belle’s comings and goings now fell under the eyes of more than one who knew the Marquis of Severn. London is not such a large place as some of us are apt to suppose; or, rather, within the small area covered by a dozen theatres and restaurants which some of us are apt to mistake for London, there is not much more real privacy than in a village for those whose doings happen to be of interest to the lookers-on.

It did not take long for the world of Piccadilly[193] Circus to discover the identity of the quiet, badly dressed, middle-aged man who was seen from time to time in the company of the celebrated Belle Yorke. Further than that the world could hardly be expected to inquire. It drew its own conclusions, and very naturally judged others by itself.

No whisper of the discovery had yet reached the ears of the Marquis of Severn. When he heard his daughter’s name announced in his wife’s drawing-room, he had realized for the first time the danger and falsity of his position. At once he made up his mind that it was necessary for Belle to know the truth. The merest accident, the sight of one of his portraits, might lead to a scandal. He dared not run the risk of going up to her himself before the crowd. He escaped into another room, and, finding his nephew there, resolved to intrust him with the task of speaking to Belle.

Gerald had always had a loyal regard for[194] his homely and despised uncle. He listened to his confession with sympathy, and undertook to warn Belle that she was in her father’s house. But he had carried out his task imperfectly. The marquis realized that he must himself complete the revelation which Gerald had begun. He had found Belle for a moment by herself, and had arranged this meeting in a spot where he expected to be free from interruption.

“Why should the marchioness look at you like that?” asked Belle, in perfect innocence, as she came towards the window, where her father was waiting for her.

“That is one of the things that I have to tell you,” he answered, gravely. “But sit down, my dear, sit down.”

She obeyed, and gazed up at him wonderingly as he stood before her.

“I thought it better to bring you here,” he explained. “We might have been disturbed down-stairs, but no one ever comes here except the members of the family.”

[195]Belle opened her eyes.

“Are you, then—what about you? Are you a member of the same family as the Marchioness of Severn?”

The marquis bowed his head.

“Yes, I am a member of the family. That is what I want to speak to you about. I want to tell you a family secret.”

“But why? Why should you tell me?” she gasped, with something like dismay. “I don’t belong to the Marquis of Severn’s family.”

Her father stifled a groan.

“Suppose I were to tell you that you did?” he said in a low voice.

The recollection of her interview with Captain Mauleverer rushed over Belle. She shrank back and raised her hands as though for protection.

“No; this—this isn’t the secret, is it?” she whispered.

“Listen,” was the answer. “I have just spoken to Gerald, and he tells me that he[196] only delivered half of the message he was to have given you this evening. Do you think you can bear to hear the rest?”

Again she held up her hands with that pathetic, deprecating gesture.

“Wait! Don’t tell it to me too quickly! Give me time to think a little, won’t you?”

“Poor child!”

He turned away his head, unable to face the sight of her distress, and silence reigned for a minute. Belle was the first to speak.

“Captain Mauleverer told me that my father was still alive. That is true, then?”

“Yes, that is true.”

“And that—that— Oh, tell it me as kindly as you can!”

The marquis caught his breath.

“Your father is a damned villain!” he cried out.

“Don’t speak so harshly as that!” she implored. “Don’t make him out worse than you can help. Remember, I am his daughter, after all.”

[197]“You are too good for him, Belle. He doesn’t deserve that you should call yourself his daughter.”

She looked up quickly.

“You know him, then?”

“Yes, I know him.”

“Then—is he a relation of Lord Severn’s?”

“He is Lord Severn.”

“Ah!” In the midst of her astonishment a bitter thought came into her mind. “Now I begin to understand. So that is why Lord Severn left the house the moment I arrived, without seeing me.”

“Yes, that is the reason.”

“And why was I asked to come here, then? Why did he let his wife bring me here to sing for hire in my own father’s house? Oh, it was cruel, cruel!”

The marquis shook beneath the reproach.

“He did not know; the marchioness arranged it without telling him. Your father knew nothing of it till you were here.”

[198]“And the marchioness?” she demanded, with sudden fire.

“The marchioness has never heard that you are his daughter. It has been kept a secret from every one.”

The expression of Belle’s face became hard.

“I see. Lord Severn is a great nobleman, I suppose, and he was ashamed of the poor little music-hall singer whom he had cast off as soon as she was born, and whom he never wished to see. So that is why he ordered his nephew to speak to me, to warn me off the premises, lest I should embarrass him before his noble wife and daughter. And now he has sent you to complete the work.” She rose to her feet in bitter indignation. “Well, you may tell my father that he has no need to fear. I will not trouble him; I will go.”

Every word stung the marquis like the knot of a lash.

“Stop!” he cried, passionately. “What are you thinking of? You cannot go like this.”

[199]“And do you think,” said Belle, turning on him with flashing eyes, “that now I know the truth I will stop another moment beneath the roof of a father who considers me a disgrace to him? I will go, if I should have to walk the whole way home barefoot!”

“No, stay; you don’t understand! My God, that you should take it like this! Your father is not ashamed of you, but of himself. It is he who disgraces you, not you him. He went away because he had not the courage to meet you, and to tell you with his own lips the injury he had done you.”

“Is that the truth?” She gazed at him in doubt, a half-formed suspicion beginning to struggle faintly for entrance to her mind. “Then why has he never come near me since I was born? Why has he let me grow up in ignorance that I had a father? Why has he never cast one glance of pity towards his nameless child?”

The marquis stood silent, eager to answer,[200] and yet afraid. She went on with increasing vehemence:

“No, I am not his child; the Lady Victoria is his child. She has sat upon his knee; I never have. She bears his name, and is protected by his rank; I bear a name to which I have no right, and have no one to protect me. She has been reared in her father’s house, among riches and splendor; I have grown up in obscurity, and have had to go out to battle with the world. She meets in her father’s drawing-room the men whom I meet in the street. No; you are wrong in telling me that Lord Severn is my father. I have no father. Lady Victoria is his daughter, but I am only his orphan.”

The marquis broke down.

“Belle, don’t make it too hard for me,” he said, humbly. “Your father has not been quite so bad as that. He has watched over you, but, like a coward, in disguise.”

For a minute she stood with heaving breast[201] gazing at him, while his own eyes were cast down before her.

“Father! You!” The words escaped slowly from her lips at last.

Her father gave a bitter sigh.

“If we men could foresee these moments in our lives, we should not sin so lightly. Yes, I have done you the greatest injury that a father can do his child. I have tried all these years to persuade myself that the best atonement I could make was to keep you in ignorance of the truth; but now the truth has been forced from me, and you see me ashamed to look you in the face.”

“Don’t speak like that!” said his daughter, gently; “don’t look away from me! Why, I thought I had no father, but now—”

He looked up swiftly, a new hope in his eyes.

“You are going to forgive me, my child?” he said, and trembled.

“No,” said Belle, simply, “I am going to love you.”

[202]He uttered a cry, and clasped her to him.

“After all,” she said presently with a tearful smile, “I was only a poor little music-hall singer before. It isn’t as if I had much character to lose, is it?”

“You are very good to me, my child. If you knew how often I have wanted to tell you who I was, and been afraid to do it! The Fates prepare some rough places for us, but the beds we make for ourselves are the hardest to lie on.”

“Does any one else know of this, father?” Belle asked.

“No one knows it except Gerald, and I can trust him. This must be a secret between us two, Belle. It is the one favor I have to ask of you; and I don’t ask it for my own sake, but for the sake of my family.”

“For the sake of the Marchioness of Severn. I understand.” There was a touch of resentment in her voice. “She has been good enough to speak to me since I came to[203] this house; she has explained to me the gulf that separates her world from mine.”

“My child! If you knew how bitter it is to me not to be able to spare you such things! But what motive could she have had for speaking to you like that? She can have no suspicion of the truth, surely?”

“Oh, no. She simply wished to point out to me how unworthy I was to receive the honorable addresses of a gentleman such as her daughter might accept.”

“What man is that?”

“Mr. John Hammond.”

The marquis started. It was the first time he had heard Hammond’s name in connection with Belle’s, and he was not ignorant of his wife’s designs on behalf of Victoria.

“The very man!” he exclaimed. “And you—what have you done?”

“I have taken her ladyship’s good advice,” said Belle, proudly. “I have refused Mr. Hammond.”

Her father stood and gazed at her in consternation.[204] This rivalry between his two daughters, the rich one and the poor one, came on him as an unexpected shock. Suddenly there came a sound of the door opening at the end of the gallery.

“We must not be seen!” burst from his lips; and, without pausing to consider the possible consequences, he seized hold of the curtains and drew them across the opening.

There had been two persons outside the door, and they entered together. One was Despencer, the other was John Hammond.

It was not in Despencer’s nature to be revengeful, but he had not been left entirely unmoved by Hammond’s biting taunts during their interview in the conservatory. But for them he might have been satisfied with the success already achieved. His only motive in denouncing Belle Yorke in the first place had been to bring about the engagement which he had just seen ratified. It was Hammond’s insulting treatment of him which had given him a personal interest in[205] the affair. He yielded to the temptation of proving himself right and scoring off the man who had disbelieved him. As soon as he could manage his escape from the marchioness, he went to seek Hammond and bring him to the spot where he had left the marquis and Belle Yorke together.

Hammond at first refused to listen. Belle had assured him with her own lips that she had never even seen the man with whom her name was coupled. But Despencer’s statement compelled him to action. Wondering, reluctant, and dismayed, he allowed himself to be dragged into the gallery.

Both men as they entered glanced eagerly in the direction of the window. The next instant both stopped abruptly, and their eyes met. Despencer’s filled with malicious triumph, Hammond’s with the deepest mortification.

The curtains were closed. Who was behind them?

“Now, if you wish to know the truth,[206] draw that curtain,” the tempter whispered. Then he walked slowly out of the gallery, watching Hammond as he went.

Left to himself, Hammond stood in silent anguish, his gaze fixed on the velvet folds which spared him the sight of the falsehood of the woman he loved. Fresh from his betrothal to Victoria, he had forgotten her already, so much greater was the bitterness of finding that his love was misplaced than the bitterness of having it rejected. He thought he could hear that Belle should not love him, but he found he could not bear that she should love another.

Face to face with that curtain, there seemed to be no more room for doubt. Despencer might not be a man of honor, but he could not, he dared not, have brought Hammond there unless he were sure of the result. What inducement had Despencer to lie? None. And Belle? Alas! it was evident that she had only too much.

He took a step towards the curtain, and[207] then drew back. What right had he to lift it? What right had he, the promised husband of Lady Victoria, to test the faith of the woman who had just refused his hand? Reason bade him go away, satisfied with the silent testimony of that damning screen.

But reason is a mere lawyer, whose client is passion. John Hammond could no more leave that gallery without drawing the curtain than the steel can detach itself from the magnet. It did not take long to reason himself into the belief that to go away now would be disloyalty to Belle herself; it would be to accept Despencer’s word against hers without inquiry. He stepped forward again, and his hand was stretched out towards the curtain, when he was arrested by the entrance of a man at the opposite door.

Captain Mauleverer had taken advantage of his dismissal by the marchioness to wander off to a nook at the top of his uncle’s house and indulge in a quiet smoke. Returning through the gallery, where he had[208] half hoped to find Victoria waiting for him, he was surprised to find himself in the presence of Hammond.

“Why, Hammond, what are you doing here all by yourself?” he exclaimed as he came up.

Hammond drew back a few steps from the curtain.

“What am I doing?” He raised his voice and glanced towards the purple folds as though he would have looked through them to see the effect of his words. “I am wondering why it is that we men are ever fools enough to expect truth from the lips of a woman.”

“Is that all?” returned Mauleverer, his own mood in harmony with his friend’s. “I didn’t know that any sensible man ever did. I’m sure I don’t.”

“Why, what is wrong with you?” asked the other, incredulously. “You haven’t been deceived by the woman you trusted?”

“It seems to me we all have,” was the[209] bitter answer. “Don’t you remember what I was telling you about down-stairs?”

“Ah, yes; I had forgotten it. You mean that girl? Why, have you just discovered that she really loves another man?”

“Not that exactly. She loves me, or she pretends to, but she has sold herself to the other man.”

“She doesn’t love you!” The words were pronounced with an emphasis which Mauleverer could not understand, and which was not meant for his ears. “They all pretend, if not in words, in looks and actions. It is their occupation, like politics with us. I knew a woman once who made me think she loved me. She never said so, you understand, but led me on, and laughed at me in her sleeve all the while. Depend upon it, this girl of yours is like her. She has some secret lover in the background, some man whom she has sworn to you that she has never seen.”

There were three listeners to that savage[210] outburst—two men and a woman; but only the woman understood.

The captain remonstrated.

“I don’t think that of her. No; hang it! the girl is straight enough. She doesn’t think me worth deceiving; I am too poor.”

“I see. Then it is the other man she is deceiving, and you are the lover in the background. You see, it comes to the same thing. I told you they were all alike.”

“It’s not her fault, damn it!” said the loyal Gerald. “She has got to marry the brute; her people have driven her into it.”


“You needn’t ask. Money. It’s some infernal millionaire like you.”

Hammond started. For the first time he turned his attention from the unseen listeners to this dialogue to the man who was speaking to him.

“Who? What did you say? Who is this man?”

“I don’t know his name; she wouldn’t[211] tell me,” replied the suspicious captain. “What does it matter to me who he is?”

“Do I know the girl?”

“Yes. I don’t mind telling you, old man; it’s my cousin Victoria.”

“What!” The word burst from Hammond like a bullet. His eyes sought the curtain. “Are all women traitors?” he cried.

And striding to the curtains, he dragged them back. There in the light of the moon stood the two who had overheard every word. The marquis had his arm round Belle’s neck, and her face was hidden in her father’s breast.

“It is true!” gasped Hammond.

A tremendous silence followed. How long it lasted none of the four could tell. At length the marquis broke it.

“Well, sir?” he said, looking Hammond full in the face with a certain dignity for which the other had not been prepared.

“I beg your pardon, marquis. I was told that you and this lady were strangers, and I believed it, like a fool.”

[212]He had turned on his heel to withdraw, when he was made aware that some one else was coming on the scene. He glanced towards the door, and then with a bow of silent apology drew the curtains across again as he had found them. This done, he turned round and stood facing whoever might come in.

He had expected Despencer, and he was right. But Despencer had not come alone. He had had another object in view all this time, and what that object was was now revealed. Having arranged for what promised to be a stormy scene between Hammond and the Marquis of Severn, having fired his train and calculated the time required for it to reach the mine, he had now brought the marchioness to witness the explosion.

The marchioness entered quickly, her face alight with suspicion. Despencer had skilfully aroused her expectations, without committing himself to any definite statement.[213] Her eye instantly fell on the curtain, and she divined that it concealed a mystery.

“Why is that curtain closed?” she demanded, advancing towards it. “Is there any one in the window?”

There was just one instant in which Hammond hesitated, nearly carried away by the temptation to let her draw back the curtain and overwhelm those two by whom he deemed that he had been deceived. Then, just as the horrified Gerald was about to step forward, Hammond planted himself right in front of the marchioness.

“No!” he said, firmly. “There is no one there.”

She stopped unwillingly and looked at him. He looked at her, and to that look she yielded.

A moment afterwards he was leading her out of the gallery on his arm, while Captain Mauleverer escorted Despencer in the rear.



Has anything happened?”

“The worst has happened.”

It was the morning after the concert, and the sedulous Despencer had called upon his exacting patroness, as in duty bound. The marchioness had only just descended; she had made a hurried toilette, and in consequence the pearl powder was not quite so delicately shaded off round her neck as usual, and her waist was at least half an inch wider than its wont.

Such touching traces of maternal anxiety were not lost on the observant Despencer. There is no eye like that of love.

“Why, what is it? You alarm me,” he said, lazily sinking into a chair in front of the[215] marchioness. They were in her boudoir, an apartment which ladies reserve for the reception of gentlemen who do not happen to be married to them. The Marquis of Severn had not been in his wife’s boudoir for ten years.

“That man Hammond has had the audacity to send a note to Victoria this morning asking her to release him from their engagement,” the marchioness announced.

“Why on earth has he done that?”

“He says he finds he has mistaken the nature of his feelings for her,” said the marchioness, with fine scorn.

“What a ridiculous idea! As if his feelings had anything to do with it! The man must be a scoundrel.”

“He is worse,” said the marchioness with conviction; “he is a fool. Oh, if I had only sent the announcement to the papers last night; then they could neither of them have backed out of it.”

[216]“What does Lady Victoria say?” inquired her friend, cautiously.

“She pretends to be perfectly indifferent. She treats the affair as if it were more my concern than hers. That is what is so hard. If she only took a proper interest in her own position, I should not be afraid; but when I have to deal with a man who says he doesn’t want to marry my daughter, and a daughter who says she doesn’t want to marry him, what am I, as a mother, to do?”

She gazed plaintively at Despencer, who considerately shook his head.

“It is a difficult position, certainly, but I don’t despair,” he remarked, encouragingly. “I have the very greatest confidence in you, marchioness. I shall be quite interested to see how you get on.”

“Don’t be so heartless and unfeeling! I consider this is as much your business as mine. You helped to bring about the engagement, and now you ought to support me in holding this man to his word.”

[217]“Well, if you are going to bring an action, I shall be delighted to give evidence, but I don’t see what else I can do.” He paused a moment, and then asked, in a different tone: “Have you any idea of the cause of this sudden change? I thought everything was going so smoothly last night.”

The marchioness gave an emphatic nod.

“That is just what I want to know. I suspect that it has something to do with that scene in the picture-gallery, and I am determined to get at the truth about it.”

“Really!” Despencer regarded her with an amused smile. “Do you know, I quite envy you. You are so energetic, and so hopeful.”

“You mean by that, I suppose, that you don’t think I shall succeed?”

He shrugged his shoulders with bland deprecation.

“Well, I can only say that in the course of my experience I have several times tried to get at the truth where a man and a woman[218] were concerned, and I never succeeded. You may be more fortunate.”

The marchioness darted a suspicious look at him.

“One thing I mean to know anyway, and that is, who were behind that curtain.”

Despencer stole a glance at her sideways.

“There I think you are unwise. It is always so much better not to know who are behind the curtain.”

The marchioness sat up and frowned in earnest.

“That shows that you think it was my husband and Belle Yorke. Mr. Despencer, I can see that there is some connection between those two, and that you know all about it.”

Despencer smiled pleasantly, with the satisfaction of a general who sees the enemy march straight into the ambush he has prepared. He could even afford to play with his victim.

“Oh, my dear marchioness, what do you[219] take me for?” he returned, with an insincerity not intended to deceive. “Am I a necromancer? Am I the author of ‘Who’s Who’?”

But, much to his inward disappointment, he was saved from further questioning by the entrance at this juncture of the marchioness’s nephew, to whom she had sent an urgent summons before Despencer’s arrival.

Captain Mauleverer came in looking very guilty and ashamed, though he made a poor bravado of ignorance.

“Yes, aunt, what is it?” he inquired, scarcely troubling to acknowledge Despencer’s presence by a nod.

“Sit down, please,” ordered the marchioness. “I want you to tell me exactly what passed in the picture-gallery last night before I came in.”

Gerald sat down with ill-concealed reluctance.

“I am afraid there is nothing I can tell you,” he stammered.

[220]“Oh, yes, there is,” his aunt retorted. “What were you and Mr. Hammond doing there?”

“I am not aware that we were doing anything,” was the sullen answer. “We met there by accident, and we fell into conversation.”

“What was the conversation about?” pursued the relentless examiner.

“I’m afraid I can’t even tell you that.”

“Do you know that Mr. Hammond is engaged to your cousin Victoria?”

“I gathered something of the kind from what he said.”

The marchioness pounced on the admission.

“So much the better. You hear that, Mr. Despencer?”

“Certainly. Most damaging evidence. He can’t possibly get out of that,” murmured the faithful one.

“My dear aunt!” exclaimed the startled[221] captain, “surely you don’t anticipate any trouble with Hammond, do you?”

“Never mind. You say that he has made the engagement a subject of conversation among his friends, and that is sufficient to bind him as an honorable man.”

“But, good heavens! I didn’t say that,” protested her unfortunate nephew.

The marchioness turned coldly to her ally.

“Mr. Despencer, you heard?”

“Most distinctly,” said the witness. “Nothing could be clearer.”

The captain became desperate. He tried to explain:

“No—but really, it was from Victoria that I heard of it first, only she didn’t mention Hammond’s name.”

The marchioness smiled cruelly.

“Very good. Then I shall be able to tell him that she has also announced the engagement among her friends.” She turned to Despencer. “What do you say to that?”

[222]“It is absolutely conclusive. It doesn’t leave him a single loop-hole.”

The miserable captain writhed helplessly, like a victim in the hands of the Holy Office, finding every answer twisted into a fresh heresy.

“Look here, do you mean to say that there is a chance of his breaking it off?” he asked the marchioness.

“Not the very slightest,” was the grim response; “but he may try to.” All at once her manner became coaxing. “Now, I trust to you, Gerald, as a gentleman, not to stand in your cousin’s way. You can’t marry her yourself, as you know perfectly well, and therefore you ought not to prevent her making a good match.”

“I am not likely to,” he answered, gloomily. “As long as Vick and Hammond are engaged, I am out of it altogether.”

The marchioness looked extremely relieved.

“That is right,” she said, approvingly. “I knew I could rely on your good feelings not[223] to let two millions go out of the family. But now, are you quite sure, Gerald, that you said nothing to Mr. Hammond last night that might have led him to suspect that there was something between you and Victoria?”

Gerald, conscious of having assured Hammond with considerable earnestness that Victoria loved himself, turned red as he stammered:

“Oh—er—well—I don’t know; the fact is, you see, I didn’t understand—”

His aunt came to his relief.

“Exactly. I thought as much. Now, Gerald, I shall be seeing Mr. Hammond this morning, and I leave it to your sense of honor to go and speak to him and put things right first. You understand me?”

The wretched Mauleverer rose to go out. On his way to the door he caught Despencer’s mocking smile, and longed to kick him. As soon as he was gone, the other, unconscious of the peril he had run, uttered the words:

“Marchioness, you are a great woman!”



John Hammond, although a bachelor, lived in a very good house, in the same neighborhood as Lord Severn’s, and, strange as it may appear to the author of The Christian, he possessed more than one teaspoon. When he had hospital nurses of doubtful character to tea, which was extremely seldom, he did not even wait on them himself; he kept servants for that very purpose. Possibly those extraordinary facts may be accounted for by his not being a wicked lord, nor even a misguided baronet.

John Hammond was seated at home on the morning after the concert, considering his position. Immediately after the scene in the picture-gallery overnight he had come[225] away, feeling as if his world had crumbled into ruin around him. He had saved the woman he loved from the marchioness’s scorn; he could not save her from his own. And the other woman, whom he had considered his friend, to whom he had offered himself in all good-will, believing that she had affection to give him, if not love—he had discovered that her heart was engaged, and that she regarded marriage with him as a hateful necessity.

He had sent her a note, brief, courteous, and dignified. In it he had not used one word that might seem to accuse her; he had taken the entire blame upon himself. He had stated simply that he found he could not offer her the love of a husband, and he had placed himself in her hands. Now he was waiting for her answer.

But though he was waiting to hear from Lady Victoria, he was thinking of Belle Yorke. There are two kinds of misfortune which sometimes come upon a man at the[226] same time; and one makes a public arrival, and it harasses him a great deal, but the other comes in silence and in secrecy, and it wrecks his life.

There was a knock at the door, and a footman announced Captain Mauleverer.

For the first time in the history of their friendship the two men faced each other with mutual embarrassment. The captain, like a sensible man, went straight at his fence.

“Look here, Hammond, I am awfully sorry I made such an ass of myself last night. I’m afraid I have given you a wrong impression about Victoria.”

“No. Why should you say that?” Hammond replied in a tone of indifference.

Mauleverer looked at him anxiously.

“I’m afraid I have led you to think there was something between us, that she—well, in fact, that she cared about me.”

Hammond gave a weary shrug.

“What of it? What does it matter?”

[227]“It’s very decent of you to take it so well,” said the puzzled captain. “I was afraid that I might have unwittingly injured her in your mind.”

“No, oh no; don’t think that. There was no hypocrisy about Lady Victoria, I can assure you. She didn’t pretend to be in love with me, and I didn’t pretend to be in love with her.”

“You asked her to marry you,” observed the other, in a tone of remonstrance.

“I know; I did it to please my constituents, as she was aware. A public man has to do that sort of thing.”

“Surely you expected her to care for you in time?”

“No; I merely expected her to canvass for me.”

Mauleverer began to feel baffled by this cynical indifference.

“You seem to take a very curious tone,” he said, after a moment. “Of course, you understand that, whatever feeling I may have[228] had for her in the past, I shall never think of her again except as a cousin.”

In spite of his own inward trouble, Hammond could not resist a smile at the honest captain’s efforts to plead against himself. He gave him an amused glance as he retorted:

“I am afraid that is rather ambiguous. I have known cousins who were very much attached to each other.”

“Hammond, do you doubt me when I tell you that from this moment Victoria will be perfectly indifferent to me?”

“Well, you piled it on pretty strongly last night, you know. I can’t help thinking that you are rather more fond of her than you pretend. But there is no need to get excited about it; it makes no difference to me.”

Mauleverer gazed at him in dismay.

“Is that the way in which you speak about your future wife?”

“No,” said Hammond, shaking his head decidedly.

“Hammond, what does this mean? You[229] say that my attachment to Victoria makes no difference to you, and yet you no longer wish to marry her?”

“It means that I have made a mistake, and that I have to get out of it the best way I can.”

“Old man, this is my doing. This is because of what I said to you last night.”

“No.” Hammond became earnest for the first time. “I am very glad you said what you did, because if I had had the vanity to think that Lady Victoria cared twopence about me, you would have undeceived me. But the reason why I have determined not to marry her is not merely because I believe she loves you, but because I have discovered that I love another woman too well ever to marry any one besides.”

“Great heavens! Is that it?” Mauleverer exclaimed. He recalled the scene of last night, and began dimly to understand it.

Hammond proceeded to enlighten him.

“Did you think that I was jealous of you?[230] Why, man, if I had loved your cousin with one-hundredth part of the love I have for that other, I should have taken you by the throat last night when you said what you did. Jealous of you? No, but of that man whose years protect him from my anger, though they have not protected youth and innocence from him. It is Lord Severn, not you, who has robbed me of the woman I love; and let me tell you that if I had no other reason for breaking the hollow, lying pledge I gave last night, I would sooner cut off this hand than give it to the daughter of the man who is guilty of Belle Yorke’s betrayal!”

“My God!”

Mauleverer sat transfixed as the whole truth of the situation burst upon him. Twice he opened his lips to speak, and twice he recollected that the secret had been intrusted to his honor. He was on the point of springing to his feet to go, when the door opened and the footman came in.

“A Mr. Yorke, sir, wishes to see you. He[231] is in the hall,” announced the stately creature with icy impassibility.

“Mr. Yorke?” repeated Hammond, bewildered.

“He is a rather young man, sir.” The information was vouchsafed with a crushing absence of emotion. “I should judge him to be about thirteen.”

Hammond started and changed color. Then he said with quiet emphasis:

“Show the young gentleman in.”

If ever footman permitted himself to show human feelings, assuredly a faint gleam of something resembling surprise played across the visage of that footman as he withdrew.

“Who is it?” asked Mauleverer, amused.

“Belle Yorke’s brother.”

The footman threw open the door. With perfect self-control, with a beautiful unconsciousness of whether he was announcing a member of the royal family or a detective with a warrant for his master’s arrest, he uttered the words:

[232]“Mr. Yorke.”

The captain saw a rather undersized boy in knickerbockers, with his fists tightly clenched and a flush of excitement on his cheeks, who walked boldly into the centre of the room, and there stood still.

Hammond, who had already risen, went towards the boy with extended hand. Mr. Yorke drew back, and kept his own hands down by his side.

“I’d rather not shake hands with you, please, Mr. Hammond.”

The man started, and dropped his hand with a strange look.

“Will you sit down?” he asked, quietly.

“I’d rather not, please.”

Hammond bowed, and remained standing himself.

“I’ve come to see you about my sister. Miss Belle Yorke. She hasn’t any father, you know, so I’m her protector.”

“Yes, my boy, I’m sure you are,” said Hammond, very gently.

[233]Mr. Yorke went on, with a certain feverish energy:

“It’s rather difficult for me to speak to you, because I don’t know exactly what you’ve done to Belle; but I know it’s your doing, whatever it is, because you used to be her sweetheart, and now she says she shall never see you any more. You’ve broken her heart, and she wouldn’t eat any breakfast this morning, and mother says she will give up the stage; and I believe she’s been crying, though she won’t own to it. And I don’t think you’re a gentleman, Mr. Hammond.”

Hammond’s head was drooping on his breast.

“God knows that!” he muttered.

“So I have come here to tell you that I consider you’ve no right to treat Belle like that, and I’m not going to stand it. And as soon as I’m old enough, I’m going to challenge you to a duel.”

“My child!”

[234]The exclamation burst from the man unawares. Mr. Yorke turned very red.

“I think it’s very offensive of you to call me that,” he said, wrathfully, “and it isn’t treating me as you ought to.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the man, humbly.

“And if you think,” Mr. Yorke went on fiercely, “that you can take advantage of my being young to refuse me satisfaction, I shall think you’re not very honorable, because you knew Belle had only me to protect her when you broke her heart. And I’ve come here to ask you, as a gentleman, to wait till I am twenty-one, so that I can fight you. It’s only eight years and two months, and I expect you to give me your word of honor that you will wait till then.”

“I will wait.”

“Thank you, sir.” Mr. Yorke became more friendly. “It’s only fair for me to tell you that I’m going to save up and buy a revolver and practise every day, so you had[235] better do the same. I don’t want to take any advantage of you.”

“You’re a brave fellow,” said Hammond.

“Then I think that’s all. Good-morning, Mr. Hammond.”

“Good-morning, Mr. Yorke.”

Hammond rang the bell, and advanced to open the door of the room. Mr. Yorke was half-way out when he paused in the doorway.

“I say, Mr. Hammond,” he said, his manner suddenly changing to thorough boyishness, “do you mind promising me, as a great favor, that you won’t tell mother or Belle about this, or they mightn’t let me buy the revolver?”

Hammond bowed kindly.

“I promise.”

The footman appeared outside.

“Show Mr. Yorke out.”

Mr. Yorke, regaining his dignity, made his exit in state, leaving the two men looking at each other.

[236]“By Jove! that was a little trump!” Mauleverer burst out as the door closed. “Not much the matter with the modern child, after all.”

Hammond nodded as he cast himself wearily into a chair.

“Do you mind going now, old man?” he said, bluntly.

Mauleverer sprang up with a sudden recollection, hurried out on to the pavement, hailed the nearest cab, and dashed off to Berkeley Square.



Hammond was not left to himself for very long. The marchioness waited to give her nephew time to clear the way, and then took the field in person.

When he heard her name, a sardonic smile crossed Hammond’s lips. He stood up to receive her, a very different man to the one whom Belle Yorke’s brother had encountered.

The marchioness walked in with an angry gleam in her eyes. Hammond at once proceeded to draw first blood.

“Show Mr. Despencer in!” he called out to the footman, looking out through the door as if in the expectation of seeing that gentleman outside.

[238]“Mr. Despencer is not with me, Mr. Hammond,” said the marchioness shortly, biting her lips.

Mr. Hammond affected to be surprised.

“I apologize!” he exclaimed, as the footman withdrew. “But this is very good of you, marchioness. Where will you sit?”

The marchioness planted herself in an arm-chair.

“I suppose you know, Mr. Hammond, why I have called?”

Hammond seated himself comfortably in another easy-chair opposite, and crossed his legs.

“No, unless it’s about that unfortunate affair last evening.”

“Mr. Hammond!” The marchioness darted a glance of withering rebuke at the recalcitrant suitor. “Is that the way in which you refer to the fact that you are engaged to my daughter Victoria?”

Was engaged, excuse me, marchioness,” he corrected, with easy good-nature. “Didn’t[239] you know that I had written to Lady Victoria to beg off?”

“It is in consequence of your extraordinary letter that I have come here,” said the marchioness, scowling. “I trust you will have the good sense and right feeling to withdraw it before my daughter is compelled to give it any reply.”

“I am afraid I can’t oblige you.”

The answer was given quietly enough, but the marchioness looked in his face and saw something there which she did not like.

“Have you considered the effect of such a step as this on my daughter’s reputation?” she demanded, with dignity.

“I don’t see that it need go beyond ourselves,” Hammond replied. “Nobody else knows of it but Mr. Despencer, and your influence with him—”

The marchioness interrupted, breathing angrily:

“You are utterly wrong there. The engagement is public property. I understand[240] you yourself have freely mentioned it to your friends.”

“I? Never!”

He stared at her in amazement.

“Pardon me, I have proof of what I say,” she affirmed. “And Victoria has done the same. She has mentioned it to her friends.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

The marchioness began to hope.

“You must see that, under the circumstances, you have no alternative, as a gentleman, but to withdraw your letter.”

“I am afraid I don’t see it. I would much rather leave myself in Lady Victoria’s hands.”

“Have you no regard for her feelings, pray?”

“Every regard. If she tells me that she still wishes to marry me, I shall keep my word.”

“You have no right whatever to throw the decision on her. Have you no consideration for her parents?”

[241]Hammond’s lip curled.

“I’m afraid I haven’t.”

The marchioness glared at him.

“Mr. Hammond, are you a gentleman?”

“Well, it is rather a question, isn’t it?” he responded, with a cheerful smile which drove her frantic.

“Do you know that our family is one of the oldest in Great Britain?” she demanded, after a moment’s pause.

“Precisely. And mine is one of the newest. It would really have been a mésalliance, my dear marchioness.”

The marchioness could hardly believe her ears.

“Have you no regard for descent?” she gasped. “My daughter has royal blood in her veins, Mr. Hammond.”

“Ah! there you have me at a disadvantage,” he returned. “All my female ancestors were respectable married women.”

The marchioness turned crimson. It was well known that the royal blood in the house[242] of Mauleverer had entered it by irregular channels.

“I am not accustomed to this kind of language,” she proclaimed, rising. “I shall request the marquis to call on you.”

“That will suit me a great deal better. I shall be able to talk to the marquis,” was the grim answer.

The marchioness swept towards the door.

“I see I have made a mistake in coming here. I begin to ask myself whether you were really aware of what you were doing yesterday.”

Hammond smiled pleasantly.

“Ah, now, that sounds like rather a good explanation. I can say I was intoxicated, can’t I?”


The marchioness broke off short, her eyes fixed in stony horror on the doorway.

“Lady Victoria Mauleverer and Mr. Despencer!”

Victoria had been still considering how to[243] deal with the letter she had received from Mr. Hammond, when the treacherous Despencer had come and informed her that her mother was on the way to her lover’s house to bring him to book. Her mind was instantly made up. She put on a hat, impressed Despencer into the service, ordered a hansom, and drove off on the track of her parent.

The two newcomers were in the room, and the door had closed on the departing footman, before the marchioness recovered herself.

“Victoria, you will oblige me by leaving this house immediately. I order it.”

Victoria laughed negligently.

“How absurd you are this morning, mother! You keep forgetting that I am over twenty-one,” she remarked. Then, crossing over to Hammond, she held out her hand with frank good-will. “Good-morning, Mr. Hammond!”

The sight of her daughter calmly shaking[244] hands with the man who had jilted her, as if nothing had happened, nearly turned her mother’s hair gray. Fortunately it was from the best maker, and could not turn gray.

“Victoria,” she said, in a suffocated voice, “if you have no respect for yourself, perhaps you will have some respect for me! Mr. Hammond has grossly insulted me. Mr. Despencer, will you be good enough to take me to my carriage?”

“No, he can’t do that yet,” interposed Victoria. “I brought him here as my chaperon, and I haven’t done with him.”

Despencer glanced from the daughter to the mother. The contest was between fear and love.

“I apologize for being so badly constructed,” he murmured, “but I don’t take in halves. Will it do if I give somebody my visiting-card?”

“I shall not go till you do, Victoria. I decline to leave you alone with Mr. Hammond[245] again,” the marchioness said, spitefully.

“Please don’t be impressive,” was Victoria’s unkind reply. Then, turning to Hammond and speaking rapidly, she went on: “I got that amusing note of yours. I came round to tell you that of course I quite understood that it was all a joke last night. We ought not to have said anything to my mother, because she is so easily taken in, and she believed we were quite serious. But I enjoyed the fun myself very much, and I mean to make Gerald awfully jealous about you when we are married.”

The marchioness blinked her eyes as though a sword had flashed before them, as she saw herself thus shamefully discarded and her last hope gone by the board. As for Despencer, he regarded Victoria with the admiring glance of an artist for a brilliant piece of work, in a kind which he understands.

Hammond bowed gratefully.

[246]“Lady Victoria, you can do anything you like with Mauleverer and me except make us quarrel.”

The marchioness came to herself.

“What do you mean by talking about marrying Gerald?” she demanded.

“My dear mother, I suppose we must marry some time. We have been engaged long enough.”

“Engaged!” the poor marchioness could only ejaculate.

“Well, I thought everybody in London knew that,” said Victoria, calmly. “I am sure Mr. Hammond did.”

“Excellent!” Despencer murmured to himself. “She has come off with flying colors.”

“Engaged to a pauper!” the marchioness exclaimed, tragically. “And, pray, what do you propose to live on?”

“Oh, that is quite settled,” her daughter answered. “I have arranged to open a milliner’s shop in Piccadilly.”

[247]“I thought everybody in London knew that,” remarked Despencer heartlessly.

It was the stab of Brutus. The marchioness turned a look on the traitor that should have rooted him to the floor.

“Mis-ter De-spencer!”

“Yes, marchioness?”

There had been a sound of wheels below. A carriage had driven up to the door. Captain Mauleverer had not been idle during the hour which had elapsed since his departure. Footsteps ascended the staircase; the door leading into an adjoining room was opened and shut. Then—

The Marquis of Severn!

As the marquis entered the room which his wife and daughter were in already, Hammond took a step forward, looking very pale and determined. Lady Victoria drew quietly towards a window, followed by Despencer. The marchioness, standing in the centre of the room, addressed her husband:

[248]“George! Do you know what has happened?”

The marquis, after his first momentary surprise at finding them there, had taken no notice of any one but Hammond, on whom his eyes were fixed with an expression of mingled reproach and excuse. The excuse Hammond thought he understood, but the reproach puzzled him.

“I know too much,” the marquis began. “Hammond, I have something to say to you.”

“Hadn’t we better wait till we are by ourselves?” said Hammond, with a significant look. “I have something to say to you as well.”

The marquis glanced round, first at his wife and then at Despencer.

“No, I cannot have too many listeners, for I have to crush a slander and to make a reparation.” He stepped to the door and opened it. “Come in, Gerald!”

Captain Mauleverer came in, but not alone.[249] Clinging to his arm, with downcast head, as if she almost feared to see her lover’s remorse, came Belle.

“Great God!” As the oath burst from him all the blood in his veins surged up to Hammond’s heart, and ebbed away again, leaving him white and faint. It needed not for Belle’s father to speak, the mere sight of her convicted him.

The marquis spoke, drawing Belle to him, and facing each of his listeners in turn with a brave dignity.

“I have just learned, within the last hour, that this young lady has been made the victim of one of the blackest falsehoods ever uttered, a falsehood in which my name is connected with hers. It is true that she and I are connected. We have been connected for nearly twenty years, and all that time I have endeavored, rightly or wrongly, to keep the fact of our connection a secret from the world. How that secret has been penetrated I do not know; but now that I do know the[250] damnable interpretation which has been placed upon my conduct, I am determined to proclaim the truth to the whole world. I cannot atone for the injury I have done her in the past, but I will at least do my best to guard her in the present. Hammond, this is my daughter.”

A profound silence succeeded. The marchioness was frightened. Despencer was conscious of a faint emotion to which he had long been a stranger, and which he supposed to be honest shame. Hammond was too much moved to speak. Victoria hesitated only for an instant, then she went up to Belle impulsively and kissed her on the cheek.

“Lord Severn,” said Hammond, slowly, as soon as he could master himself, “you have done me the greatest service one man can do to another, and you have crushed me.”

“George!” ventured the marchioness.

Her husband frowned.

“Go home, Jane!” he said, curtly.

[251]And that great woman walked out of the room as crestfallen as a small urchin that has been caught doing mischief and spanked.

Despencer followed of his own accord, without doing more than whisper to Hammond as he passed:

“I never apologize, and I never commit suicide, but I mean to be very firm with that marchioness.”

Victoria took her cousin’s arm.

“And I couldn’t think why Mr. Hammond jilted me this morning,” she laughed.

“I can’t think why he ever proposed to you,” retorted Gerald, smartly.

And they, too, went out.

The marquis stood silent for a minute, his daughter leaning on his arm. She had not yet dared to look up at Hammond.

“Is there anything else that you would like to say?”

Hammond started at the question. The color began slowly to return to his face.

[252]“I should like you to beg your daughter to forgive me—if she ever can.”

The marquis looked down at Belle and gently patted the head that rested on his arm.

“What do you say?” he asked her.

The eyes remained downcast. The answer came, very soft and low:

“Tell him that it wasn’t his fault, and, if it was, I had forgiven him already.”

Her father looked back again at Hammond.

“Anything else?”

Hammond began to tremble. There was color enough, and to spare, in his face now.

“Yesterday evening your daughter told me that she did not love me. I should like you to ask her if there is any hope that she will ever change her mind.”

“Well, my dear?”

It was Belle’s turn to tremble.

“Tell him—tell him that I shall never change my mind. But”—she raised her eyes at last, with that look which only comes into[253] a woman’s eyes once in her life, and which only one man sees there—“but—that I don’t always speak the truth.”

The Marquis of Severn went out quietly, leaving them together.



Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

Archaic or alternate spelling has been retained from the original.