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Chapter 5 A check

  • Marian was at work as usual in the Reading-room. She did her best, during th_ours spent here, to convert herself into the literary machine which it wa_er hope would some day be invented for construction in a less sensitiv_aterial than human tissue. Her eyes seldom strayed beyond the limits of th_esk; and if she had occasion to rise and go to the reference shelves, sh_ooked at no one on the way. Yet she herself was occasionally an object o_nterested regard. Several readers were acquainted with the chief facts of he_osition; they knew that her father was now incapable of work, and was waitin_ill his diseased eyes should be ready for the operator; it was surmised, moreover, that a good deal depended upon the girl's literary exertions. M_uarmby and his gossips naturally took the darkest view of things; they wer_onvinced that Alfred Yule could never recover his sight, and they had _olorous satisfaction in relating the story of Marian's legacy. Of he_elations with Jasper Milvain none of these persons had heard; Yule had neve_poken of that matter to any one of his friends.
  • Jasper had to look in this morning for a hurried consultation of certai_ncyclopaedic volumes, and it chanced that Marian was standing before th_helves to which his business led him. He saw her from a little distance, an_aused; it seemed as if he would turn back; for a moment he wore a look o_oubt and worry. But after all he proceeded. At the sound of his 'Good- morning,' Marian started—she was standing with an open book in hand—and looke_p with a gleam of joy on her face.
  • 'I wanted to see you to-day,' she said, subduing her voice to the tone o_rdinary conversation. 'I should have come this evening.'
  • 'You wouldn't have found me at home. From five to seven I shall be franticall_usy, and then I have to rush off to dine with some people.'
  • 'I couldn't see you before five?'
  • 'Is it something important?'
  • 'Yes, it is.'
  • 'I tell you what. If you could meet me at Gloucester Gate at four, then _hall be glad of half an hour in the park. But I mustn't talk now; I'm drive_o my wits' end. Gloucester Gate, at four sharp. I don't think it'll rain.'
  • He dragged out a tome of the 'Britannica.' Marian nodded, and returned to he_eat.
  • At the appointed hour she was waiting near the entrance of Regent's Park whic_asper had mentioned. Not long ago there had fallen a light shower, but th_ky was clear again. At five minutes past four she still waited, and had begu_o fear that the passing rain might have led Jasper to think she would no_ome. Another five minutes, and from a hansom that rattled hither at ful_peed, the familiar figure alighted.
  • 'Do forgive me!' he exclaimed. 'I couldn't possibly get here before. Let us g_o the right.'
  • They betook themselves to that tree-shadowed strip of the park which skirt_he canal.
  • 'I'm so afraid that you haven't really time,' said Marian, who was chilled an_onfused by this show of hurry. She regretted having made the appointment; i_ould have been much better to postpone what she had to say until Jasper wa_t leisure. Yet nowadays the hours of leisure seemed to come so rarely.
  • 'If I get home at five, it'll be all right,' he replied. 'What have you t_ell me, Marian?'
  • 'We have heard about the money, at last.'
  • 'Oh?' He avoided looking at her. 'And what's the upshot?'
  • 'I shall have nearly fifteen hundred pounds.'
  • 'So much as that? Well, that's better than nothing, isn't it?'
  • 'Very much better.'
  • They walked on in silence. Marian stole a glance at her companion.
  • 'I should have thought it a great deal,' she said presently, 'before I ha_egun to think of thousands.'
  • 'Fifteen hundred. Well, it means fifty pounds a year, I suppose.'
  • He chewed the end of his moustache.
  • 'Let us sit down on this bench. Fifteen hundred—h'm! And nothing more is to b_oped for?'
  • 'Nothing. I should have thought men would wish to pay their debts, even afte_hey had been bankrupt; but they tell us we can't expect anything more fro_hese people.'
  • 'You are thinking of Walter Scott, and that kind of thing'— Jasper laughed.
  • 'Oh, that's quite unbusinesslike; it would be setting a pernicious exampl_owadays. Well, and what's to be done?'
  • Marian had no answer for such a question. The tone of it was a new stab to he_eart, which had suffered so many during the past half-year.
  • 'Now, I'll ask you frankly,' Jasper went on, 'and I know you will reply in th_ame spirit: would it be wise for us to marry on this money?'
  • 'On this money?'
  • She looked into his face with painful earnestness.
  • 'You mean,' he said, 'that it can't be spared for that purpose?'
  • What she really meant was uncertain even to herself. She had wished to hea_ow Jasper would receive the news, and thereby to direct her own course. Ha_e welcomed it as offering a possibility of their marriage, that would hav_laddened her, though it would then have been necessary to show him all th_ifficulties by which she was beset; for some time they had not spoken of he_ather's position, and Jasper seemed willing to forget all about tha_omplication of their troubles. But marriage did not occur to him, and he wa_vidently quite prepared to hear that she could no longer regard this money a_er own to be freely disposed of. This was on one side a relief but on th_ther it confirmed her fears. She would rather have heard him plead with he_o neglect her parents for the sake of being his wife. Love excuse_verything, and his selfishness would have been easily lost sight of in th_ssurance that he still desired her.
  • 'You say,' she replied, with bent head, 'that it would bring us fifty pounds _ear. If another fifty were added to that, my father and mother would b_upported in case the worst comes. I might earn fifty pounds.'
  • 'You wish me to understand, Marian, that I mustn't expect that you will brin_e anything when we are married.'
  • His tone was that of acquiescence; not by any means of displeasure. He spok_s if desirous of saying for her something she found a difficulty in sayin_or herself.
  • 'Jasper, it is so hard for me! So hard for me! How could I help rememberin_hat you told me when I promised to be your wife?'
  • 'I spoke the truth rather brutally,' he replied, in a kind voice. 'Let al_hat be unsaid, forgotten. We are in quite a different position now. Be ope_ith me, Marian; surely you can trust my common sense and good feeling. Pu_side all thought of things I have said, and don't be restrained by any fea_est you should seem to me unwomanly—you can't be that. What is your own wish?
  • What do you really wish to do, now that there is no uncertainty calling fo_ostponements?'
  • Marian raised her eyes, and was about to speak as she regarded him; but wit_he first accent her look fell.
  • 'I wish to be your wife.'
  • He waited, thinking and struggling with himself.
  • 'Yet you feel that it would be heartless to take and use this money for ou_wn purposes?'
  • 'What is to become of my parents, Jasper?'
  • 'But then you admit that the fifteen hundred pounds won't support them. Yo_alk of earning fifty pounds a year for them.'
  • 'Need I cease to write, dear, if we were married? Wouldn't you let me hel_hem?'
  • 'But, my dear girl, you are taking for granted that we shall have enough fo_urselves.'
  • 'I didn't mean at once,' she explained hurriedly. 'In a short time—in a year.
  • You are getting on so well. You will soon have a sufficient income, I a_ure.'
  • Jasper rose.
  • 'Let us walk as far as the next seat. Don't speak. I have something to thin_bout.'
  • Moving on beside him, she slipped her hand softly within his arm; but Jaspe_id not put the arm into position to support hers, and her hand fell again, dropped suddenly. They reached another bench, and again became seated.
  • 'It comes to this, Marian,' he said, with portentous gravity. 'Support you, _ould—I have little doubt of that. Maud is provided for, and Dora can make _iving for herself. I could support you and leave you free to give you_arents whatever you can earn by your own work. But—'
  • He paused significantly. It was his wish that Marian should supply th_onsequence, but she did not speak.
  • 'Very well,' he exclaimed. 'Then when are we to be married?'
  • The tone of resignation was too marked. Jasper was not good as a comedian; h_acked subtlety.
  • 'We must wait,' fell from Marian's lips, in the whisper of despair.
  • 'Wait? But how long?' he inquired, dispassionately.
  • 'Do you wish to be freed from your engagement, Jasper?'
  • He was not strong enough to reply with a plain 'Yes,' and so have done wit_is perplexities. He feared the girl's face, and he feared his own subsequen_motions.
  • 'Don't talk in that way, Marian. The question is simply this: Are we to wait _ear, or are we to wait five years? In a year's time, I shall probably be abl_o have a small house somewhere out in the suburbs. If we are married then, _hall be happy enough with so good a wife, but my career will take a differen_hape. I shall just throw overboard certain of my ambitions, and work steadil_n at earning a livelihood. If we wait five years, I may perhaps have obtaine_n editorship, and in that case I should of course have all sorts of bette_hings to offer you.'
  • 'But, dear, why shouldn't you get an editorship all the same if you ar_arried?'
  • 'I have explained to you several times that success of that kind is no_ompatible with a small house in the suburbs and all the ties of a narro_ncome. As a bachelor, I can go about freely, make acquaintances, dine a_eople's houses, perhaps entertain a useful friend now and then—and so on. I_s not merit that succeeds in my line; it is merit plus opportunity. Marryin_ow, I cut myself off from opportunity, that's all.'
  • She kept silence.
  • 'Decide my fate for me, Marian,' he pursued, magnanimously. 'Let us make u_ur minds and do what we decide to do. Indeed, it doesn't concern me so muc_s yourself. Are you content to lead a simple, unambitious life? Or should yo_refer your husband to be a man of some distinction?'
  • 'I know so well what your own wish is. But to wait for years—you will cease t_ove me, and will only think of me as a hindrance in your way.'
  • 'Well now, when I said five years, of course I took a round number. Three—tw_ight make all the difference to me.'
  • 'Let it be just as you wish. I can bear anything rather than lose your love.'
  • 'You feel, then, that it will decidedly be wise not to marry whilst we ar_till so poor?'
  • 'Yes; whatever you are convinced of is right.'
  • He again rose, and looked at his watch.
  • 'Jasper, you don't think that I have behaved selfishly in wishing to let m_ather have the money?'
  • 'I should have been greatly surprised if you hadn't wished it. I certainl_an't imagine you saying: "Oh, let them do as best they can!" That would hav_een selfish with a vengeance.'
  • 'Now you are speaking kindly! Must you go, Jasper?'
  • 'I must indeed. Two hours' work I am bound to get before seven o'clock.'
  • 'And I have been making it harder for you, by disturbing your mind.'
  • 'No, no; it's all right now. I shall go at it with all the more energy, now w_ave come to a decision.'
  • 'Dora has asked me to go to Kew on Sunday. Shall you be able to come, dear?'
  • 'By Jove, no! I have three engagements on Sunday afternoon. I'll try and kee_he Sunday after; I will indeed.'
  • 'What are the engagements?' she asked timidly.
  • As they walked back towards Gloucester Gate, he answered her question, showin_ow unpardonable it would be to neglect the people concerned. Then the_arted, Jasper going off at a smart pace homewards.
  • Marian turned down Park Street, and proceeded for some distance along Camde_oad. The house in which she and her parents now lived was not quite so fa_way as St Paul's Crescent; they rented four rooms, one of which had to serv_oth as Alfred Yule's sitting-room and for the gatherings of the family a_eals. Mrs Yule generally sat in the kitchen, and Marian used her bedroom as _tudy. About half the collection of books had been sold; those that remaine_ere still a respectable library, almost covering the walls of the room wher_heir disconsolate possessor passed his mournful days.
  • He could read for a few hours a day, but only large type, and fear o_onsequences kept him well within the limit of such indulgence laid down b_is advisers. Though he inwardly spoke as if his case were hopeless, Yule wa_ery far from having resigned himself to this conviction; indeed, the prospec_f spending his latter years in darkness and idleness was too dreadful to hi_o be accepted so long as a glimmer of hope remained. He saw no reason why th_ustomary operation should not restore him to his old pursuits, and he woul_ave borne it ill if his wife or daughter had ever ceased to oppose th_espair which it pleased him to affect.
  • On the whole, he was noticeably patient. At the time of their removal to thes_odgings, seeing that Marian prepared herself to share the change as a matte_f course, he let her do as she would without comment; nor had he since spoke_o her on the subject which had proved so dangerous. Confidence between the_here was none; Yule addressed his daughter in a grave, cold, civil tone, an_arian replied gently, but without tenderness. For Mrs Yule the disaster t_he family was distinctly a gain; she could not but mourn her husband'_ffliction, yet he no longer visited her with the fury or contemptuou_mpatience of former days. Doubtless the fact of needing so much tendance ha_ts softening influence on the man; he could not turn brutally upon his wif_hen every hour of the day afforded him some proof of her absolute devotion.
  • Of course his open-air exercise was still unhindered, and in this season o_he returning sun he walked a great deal, decidedly to the advantage of hi_eneral health—which again must have been a source of benefit to his temper.
  • Of evenings, Marian sometimes read to him. He never requested this, but he di_ot reject the kindness.
  • This afternoon Marian found her father examining a volume of prints which ha_een lent him by Mr Quarmby. The table was laid for dinner (owing to Marian'_requent absence at the Museum, no change had been made in the order o_eals), and Yule sat by the window, his book propped on a second chair. _hiteness in his eyes showed how the disease was progressing, but his face ha_ more wholesome colour than a year ago.
  • 'Mr Hinks and Mr Gorbutt inquired very kindly after you to-day,' said th_irl, as she seated herself.
  • 'Oh, is Hinks out again?'
  • 'Yes, but he looks very ill.'
  • They conversed of such matters until Mrs Yule—now her own servant—brought i_he dinner. After the meal, Marian was in her bedroom for about an hour; the_he went to her father, who sat in idleness, smoking.
  • 'What is your mother doing?' he asked, as she entered.
  • 'Some needlework.'
  • 'I had perhaps better say'—he spoke rather stiffly, and with averte_ace—'that I make no exclusive claim to the use of this room. As I can n_onger pretend to study, it would be idle to keep up the show of privacy tha_ustn't be disturbed. Perhaps you will mention to your mother that she i_uite at liberty to sit here whenever she chooses.'
  • It was characteristic of him that he should wish to deliver this permission b_roxy. But Marian understood how much was implied in such an announcement.
  • 'I will tell mother,' she said. 'But at this moment I wished to speak to yo_rivately. How would you advise me to invest my money?'
  • Yule looked surprised, and answered with cold dignity.
  • 'It is strange that you should put such a question to me. I should hav_upposed your interests were in the hands of—of some competent person.'
  • 'This will be my private affair, father. I wish to get as high a rate o_nterest as I safely can.'
  • 'I really must decline to advise, or interfere in any way. But, as you hav_ntroduced this subject, I may as well put a question which is connected wit_t. Could you give me any idea as to how long you are likely to remain wit_s?'
  • 'At least a year,' was the answer, 'and very likely much longer.'
  • 'Am I to understand, then, that your marriage is indefinitely postponed?'
  • 'Yes, father.'
  • 'And will you tell me why?'
  • 'I can only say that it has seemed better—to both of us.'
  • Yule detected the sorrowful emotion she was endeavouring to suppress. Hi_onception of Milvain's character made it easy for him to form a just surmis_s to the reasons for this postponement; he was gratified to think that Maria_ight learn how rightly he had judged her wooer, and an involuntary pity fo_he girl did not prevent his hoping that the detestable alliance was doomed.
  • With difficulty he refrained from smiling.
  • 'I will make no comment on that,' he remarked, with a certain emphasis. 'Bu_o you imply that this investment of which you speak is to be solely for you_wn advantage?'
  • 'For mine, and for yours and mother's.'
  • There was a silence of a minute or two. As yet it had not been necessary t_ake any steps for raising money, but a few months more would see the famil_ithout resources, save those provided by Marian, who, without discussion, ha_een simply setting aside what she received for her work.
  • 'You must be well aware,' said Yule at length, 'that I cannot consent t_enefit by any such offer. When it is necessary, I shall borrow on th_ecurity of—'
  • 'Why should you do that, father?' Marian interrupted. 'My money is yours. I_ou refuse it as a gift, then why may not I lend to you as well as a stranger?
  • Repay me when your eyes are restored. For the present, all our anxieties ar_t an end. We can live very well until you are able to write again.'
  • For his sake she put it in his way. Supposing him never able to earn anything, then indeed would come a time of hardship; but she could not contemplate that.
  • The worst would only befall them in case she was forsaken by Jasper, and i_hat happened all else would be of little account.
  • 'This has come upon me as a surprise,' said Yule, in his most reserved tone.
  • 'I can give no definite reply; I must think of it.'
  • 'Should you like me to ask mother to bring her sewing here now?' asked Marian, rising.
  • 'Yes, you may do so.'
  • In this way the awkwardness of the situation was overcome, and when Maria_ext had occasion to speak of money matters no serious objection was offere_o her proposal.
  • Dora Milvain of course learnt what had come to pass; to anticipate criticism, her brother imparted to her the decision at which Marian and he had arrived.
  • She reflected with an air of discontent.
  • 'So you are quite satisfied,' was her question at length, 'that Marian shoul_oil to support her parents as well as herself?'
  • 'Can I help it?'
  • 'I shall think very ill of you if you don't marry her in a year at latest.'
  • 'I tell you, Marian has made a deliberate choice. She understands m_erfectly, and is quite satisfied with my projects. You will have th_indness, Dora, not to disturb her faith in me.'
  • 'I agree to that; and in return I shall let you know when she begins to suffe_rom hunger. It won't be very long till then, you may be sure. How do yo_uppose three people are going to live on a hundred a year? And it's ver_oubtful indeed whether Marian can earn as much as fifty pounds. Never mind; _hall let you know when she is beginning to starve, and doubtless that wil_muse you.'
  • At the end of July Maud was married. Between Mr Dolomore and Jasper existed n_uperfluous kindness, each resenting the other's self-sufficiency; but Jasper, when once satisfied of his proposed brother-in-law's straightforwardness, wa_areful not to give offence to a man who might some day serve him. Provide_his marriage resulted in moderate happiness to Maud, it was undoubtedly _agnificent stroke of luck. Mrs Lane, the lady who has so often been casuall_entioned, took upon herself those offices in connection with the ceremon_hich the bride's mother is wont to perform; at her house was held th_edding-breakfast, and such other absurdities of usage as recommend themselve_o Society. Dora of course played the part of a bridesmaid, and Jasper wen_hrough his duties with the suave seriousness of a man who has convince_imself that he cannot afford to despise anything that the world sanctions.
  • About the same time occurred another event which was to have more importanc_or this aspiring little family than could as yet be foreseen. Whelpdale'_oteworthy idea triumphed; the weekly paper called Chat was thoroughl_ransformed, and appeared as Chit- Chat. From the first number, the success o_he enterprise was beyond doubt; in a month's time all England was ringin_ith the fame of this noble new development of journalism; the proprietor sa_is way to a solid fortune, and other men who had money to embark began t_cheme imitative publications. It was clear that the quarter-educated woul_oon be abundantly provided with literature to their taste.
  • Whelpdale's exultation was unbounded, but in the fifth week of the life o_hit-Chat something happened which threatened to overturn his sober reason.
  • Jasper was walking along the Strand one afternoon, when he saw his ingeniou_riend approaching him in a manner scarcely to be accounted for, unles_helpdale's abstemiousness had for once given way before convivial invitation.
  • The young man's hat was on the back of his head, and his coat flew wildly a_e rushed forwards with perspiring face and glaring eyes. He would have passe_ithout observing Jasper, had not the latter called to him; then he turne_ound, laughed insanely, grasped his acquaintance by the wrists, and drew hi_side into a court.
  • 'What do you think?' he panted. 'What do you think has happened?'
  • 'Not what one would suppose, I hope. You seem to have gone mad.'
  • 'I've got Lake's place on Chit-Chat!' cried the other hoarsely. 'Two hundre_nd fifty a year! Lake and the editor quarrelled— pummelled each other—neithe_now nor care what it was about. My fortune's made!'
  • 'You're a modest man,' remarked Jasper, smiling.
  • 'Certainly I am. I have always admitted it. But remember that there's m_onnection with Fleet as well; no need to give that up. Presently I shall b_aking a clear six hundred, my dear sir!
  • A clear six hundred, if a penny!'
  • 'Satisfactory, so far.'
  • 'But you must remember that I'm not a big gun, like you! Why, my dear Milvain, a year ago I should have thought an income of two hundred a gloriou_ompetence. I don't aim at such things as are fit for you. You won't b_ontent till you have thousands; of course I know that. But I'm a humbl_ellow. Yet no; by Jingo, I'm not! In one way I'm not—I must confess it.'
  • 'In what instance are you arrogant?'
  • 'I can't tell you—not yet; this is neither time nor place. I say, when wil_ou dine with me? I shall give a dinner to half a dozen of my acquaintance_omewhere or other. Poor old Biffen must come. When can you dine?'
  • 'Give me a week's notice, and I'll fit it in.'
  • That dinner came duly off. On the day that followed, Jasper and Dora left tow_or their holiday; they went to the Channel Islands, and spent more than hal_f the three weeks they had allowed themselves in Sark. Passing over fro_uernsey to that island, they were amused to see a copy of Chit-Chat in th_ands of an obese and well-dressed man.
  • 'Is he one of the quarter-educated?' asked Dora, laughing.
  • 'Not in Whelpdale's sense of the word. But, strictly speaking, no doubt he is.
  • The quarter-educated constitute a very large class indeed; how large, the hug_uccess of that paper is demonstrating. I'll write to Whelpdale, and let hi_now that his benefaction has extended even to Sark.'
  • This letter was written, and in a few days there came a reply.
  • 'Why, the fellow has written to you as well!' exclaimed Jasper, taking up _econd letter; both were on the table of their sitting-room when they came t_heir lodgings for lunch. 'That's his hand.'
  • 'It looks like it.'
  • Dora hummed an air as she regarded the envelope, then she took it away wit_er to her room upstairs.
  • 'What had he to say?' Jasper inquired, when she came down again and seate_erself at the table.
  • 'Oh, a friendly letter. What does he say to you?'
  • Dora had never looked so animated and fresh of colour since leaving London; her brother remarked this, and was glad to think that the air of the Channe_hould be doing her so much good. He read Whelpdale's letter aloud; it wa_acetious, but oddly respectful.
  • 'The reverence that fellow has for me is astonishing,' he observed with _augh. 'The queer thing is, it increases the better he knows me.'
  • Dora laughed for five minutes.
  • 'Oh, what a splendid epigram!' she exclaimed. 'It is indeed a queer thing, Jasper! Did you mean that to be a good joke, or was it better still by comin_ut unintentionally?'
  • 'You are in remarkable spirits, old girl. By-the-by, would you mind letting m_ee that letter of yours?'
  • He held out his hand.
  • 'I left it upstairs,' Dora replied carelessly.
  • 'Rather presumptuous in him, it seems to me.'
  • 'Oh, he writes quite as respectfully to me as he does to you,' she returned, with a peculiar smile.
  • 'But what business has he to write at all? It's confounded impertinence, now _ome to think of it. I shall give him a hint to remember his position.'
  • Dora could not be quite sure whether he spoke seriously or not. As both o_hem had begun to eat with an excellent appetite, a few moments were allowe_o pass before the girl again spoke.
  • 'His position is as good as ours,' she said at length.
  • 'As good as ours? The "sub." of a paltry rag like Chit-Chat, and assistant t_ literary agency!'
  • 'He makes considerably more money than we do.'
  • 'Money! What's money?'
  • Dora was again mirthful.
  • 'Oh, of course money is nothing! We write for honour and glory. Don't forge_o insist on that when you reprove Mr Whelpdale; no doubt it will impres_im.'
  • Late in the evening of that day, when the brother and sister had strolled b_oonlight up to the windmill which occupies the highest point of Sark, and a_hey stood looking upon the pale expanse of sea, dotted with the gleam o_ight-houses near and far, Dora broke the silence to say quietly:
  • 'I may as well tell you that Mr Whelpdale wants to know if I will marry him.'
  • 'The deuce he does!' cried Jasper, with a start. 'If I didn't half suspec_omething of that kind! What astounding impudence!'
  • 'You seriously think so?'
  • 'Well, don't you? You hardly know him, to begin with. And then— oh, confoun_t!'
  • 'Very well, I'll tell him that his impudence astonishes me.'
  • 'You will?'
  • 'Certainly. Of course in civil terms. But don't let this make any differenc_etween you and him. Just pretend to know nothing about it; no harm is done.'
  • 'You are speaking in earnest?'
  • 'Quite. He has written in a very proper way, and there's no reason whatever t_isturb our friendliness with him. I have a right to give directions in _atter like this, and you'll please to obey them.'
  • Before going to bed Dora wrote a letter to Mr Whelpdale, not, indeed, accepting his offer forthwith, but conveying to him with much gracefulness a_nmistakable encouragement to persevere. This was posted on the morrow, an_ts writer continued to benefit most remarkably by the sun and breezes an_ock-scrambling of Sark.
  • Soon after their return to London, Dora had the satisfaction of paying th_irst visit to her sister at the Dolomores' house in Ovington Square. Maud wa_stablished in the midst of luxuries, and talked with laughing scorn of th_ays when she inhabited Grub Street; her literary tastes were henceforth t_erve as merely a note of distinction, an added grace which made evident he_uperiority to the well-attired and smooth-tongued people among whom she wa_ontent to shine. On the one hand, she had contact with the world o_ashionable literature, on the other with that of fashionable ignorance. Mr_ane's house was a meeting-point of the two spheres.
  • 'I shan't be there very often,' remarked Jasper, as Dora and he discusse_heir sister's magnificence. 'That's all very well in its way, but I aim a_omething higher.'
  • 'So do I,' Dora replied.
  • 'I'm very glad to hear that. I confess it seemed to me that you were rathe_oo cordial with Whelpdale yesterday.'
  • 'One must behave civilly. Mr Whelpdale quite understands me.'
  • 'You are sure of that? He didn't seem quite so gloomy as he ought to hav_een.'
  • 'The success of Chit-Chat keeps him in good spirits.'
  • It was perhaps a week after this that Mrs Dolomore came quite unexpectedly t_he house by Regent's Park, as early as eleven o'clock in the morning. She ha_ long talk in private with Dora. Jasper was not at home; when he returne_owards evening, Dora came to his room with a countenance which disconcerte_im.
  • 'Is it true,' she asked abruptly, standing before him with her hands straine_ogether, 'that you have been representing yourself as no longer engaged t_arian?'
  • 'Who has told you so?'
  • 'That doesn't matter. I have heard it, and I want to know from you that it i_alse.'
  • Jasper thrust his hands into his pockets and walked apart.
  • 'I can take no notice,' he said with indifference, 'of anonymous gossip.'
  • 'Well, then, I will tell you how I have heard. Maud came this morning, an_old me that Mrs Betterton had been asking her about it. Mrs Betterton ha_eard from Mrs Lane.'
  • 'From Mrs Lane? And from whom did she hear, pray?'
  • 'That I don't know. Is it true or not?'
  • 'I have never told anyone that my engagement was at an end,' replied Jasper, deliberately.
  • The girl met his eyes.
  • 'Then I was right,' she said. 'Of course I told Maud that it was impossible t_elieve this for a moment. But how has it come to be said?'
  • 'You might as well ask me how any lie gets into circulation among people o_hat sort. I have told you the truth, and there's an end of it.'
  • Dora lingered for a while, but left the room without saying anything more.
  • She sat up late, mostly engaged in thinking, though at times an open book wa_n her hand. It was nearly half-past twelve when a very light rap at the doo_aused her to start. She called, and Jasper came in.
  • 'Why are you still up?' he asked, avoiding her look as he moved forward an_ook a leaning attitude behind an easy-chair.
  • 'Oh, I don't know. Do you want anything?'
  • There was a pause; then Jasper said in an unsteady voice:
  • 'I am not given to lying, Dora, and I feel confoundedly uncomfortable abou_hat I said to you early this evening. I didn't lie in the ordinary sense; it's true enough that I have never told anyone that my engagement was at a_nd. But I have acted as if it were, and it's better I should tell you.'
  • His sister gazed at him with indignation.
  • 'You have acted as if you were free?'
  • 'Yes. I have proposed to Miss Rupert. How Mrs Lane and that lot have come t_now anything about this I don't understand. I am not aware of any connectin_ink between them and the Ruperts, or the Barlows either. Perhaps there ar_one; most likely the rumour has no foundation in their knowledge. Still, i_s better that I should have told you. Miss Rupert has never heard that I wa_ngaged, nor have her friends the Barlows—at least I don't see how they coul_ave done. She may have told Mrs Barlow of my proposal—probably would; an_his may somehow have got round to those other people. But Maud didn't mak_ny mention of Miss Rupert, did she?'
  • Dora replied with a cold negative.
  • 'Well, there's the state of things. It isn't pleasant, but that's what I hav_one.'
  • 'Do you mean that Miss Rupert has accepted you?'
  • 'No. I wrote to her. She answered that she was going to Germany for a fe_eeks, and that I should have her reply whilst she was away. I am waiting.'
  • 'But what name is to be given to behaviour such as this?'
  • 'Listen: didn't you know perfectly well that this must be the end of it?'
  • 'Do you suppose I thought you utterly shameless and cruel beyond words?'
  • 'I suppose I am both. It was a moment of desperate temptation, though. I ha_ined at the Ruperts'—you remember—and it seemed to me there was no mistakin_he girl's manner.'
  • 'Don't call her a girl!' broke in Dora, scornfully. 'You say she is severa_ears older than yourself.'
  • 'Well, at all events, she's intellectual, and very rich. I yielded to th_emptation.'
  • 'And deserted Marian just when she has most need of help and consolation? It'_rightful!'
  • Jasper moved to another chair and sat down. He was much perturbed.
  • 'Look here, Dora, I regret it; I do, indeed. And, what's more, if that woma_efuses me—as it's more than likely she will—I will go to Marian and ask he_o marry me at once. I promise that.'
  • His sister made a movement of contemptuous impatience.
  • 'And if the woman doesn't refuse you?'
  • 'Then I can't help it. But there's one thing more I will say. Whether I marr_arian or Miss Rupert, I sacrifice my strongest feelings—in the one case to _ense of duty, in the other to worldly advantage. I was an idiot to write tha_etter, for I knew at the time that there was a woman who is far more to m_han Miss Rupert and all her money—a woman I might, perhaps, marry. Don't as_ny questions; I shall not answer them. As I have said so much, I wished yo_o understand my position fully. You know the promise I have made. Don't sa_nything to Marian; if I am left free I shall marry her as soon as possible.'
  • And so he left the room.
  • For a fortnight and more he remained in uncertainty. His life was ver_ncomfortable, for Dora would only speak to him when necessity compelled her; and there were two meetings with Marian, at which he had to act his part a_ell as he could. At length came the expected letter. Very nicely expressed, very friendly, very complimentary, but—a refusal.
  • He handed it to Dora across the breakfast-table, saying with a pinched smile:
  • 'Now you can look cheerful again. I am doomed.'