When the fitting moment arrived, Alfred Yule underwent an operation fo_ataract, and it was believed at first that the result would be favourable.
This hope had but short duration; though the utmost prudence was exercised, evil symptoms declared themselves, and in a few months' time all prospect o_estoring his vision was at an end. Anxiety, and then the fatal assurance, undermined his health; with blindness, there fell upon him the debility o_remature old age.
The position of the family was desperate. Marian had suffered much all th_inter from attacks of nervous disorder, and by no effort of will could sh_roduce enough literary work to supplement adequately the income derived fro_er fifteen hundred pounds. In the summer of 1885 things were at the worst; Marian saw no alternative but to draw upon her capital, and so relieve th_resent at the expense of the future. She had a mournful warning before he_yes in the case of poor Hinks and his wife, who were now kept from th_orkhouse only by charity. But at this juncture the rescuer appeared. M_uarmby and certain of his friends were already making a subscription for th_ules' benefit, when one of their number—Mr Jedwood, the publisher— cam_orward with a proposal which relieved the minds of all concerned. Mr Jedwoo_ad a brother who was the director of a public library in a provincial town, and by this means he was enabled to offer Marian Yule a place as assistant i_hat institution; she would receive seventy-five pounds a year, and thus, adding her own income, would be able to put her parents beyond the reach o_ant. The family at once removed from London, and the name of Yule was n_onger met with in periodical literature.
By an interesting coincidence, it was on the day of this departure that ther_ppeared a number of The West End in which the place of honour, that of th_eek's Celebrity, was occupied by Clement Fadge. A coloured portrait of thi_llustrious man challenged the admiration of all who had literary tastes, an_wo columns of panegyric recorded his career for the encouragement of aspirin_outh. This article, of course unsigned, came from the pen of Jasper Milvain.
It was only by indirect channels that Jasper learnt how Marian and her parent_ad been provided for. Dora's correspondence with her friend soon languished; in the nature of things this could not but happen; and about the time whe_lfred Yule became totally blind the girls ceased to hear anything of eac_ther. An event which came to pass in the spring sorely tempted Dora to write, but out of good feeling she refrained.
For it was then that she at length decided to change her name for that o_helpdale. Jasper could not quite reconcile himself to this condescension; i_arious discourses he pointed out to his sister how much higher she might loo_f she would only have a little patience.
'Whelpdale will never be a man of any note. A good fellow, I admit, but born_n all senses. Let me impress upon you, my dear girl, that I have a futur_efore me, and that there is no reason—with your charm of person and mind—wh_ou should not marry brilliantly. Whelpdale can give you a decent home, _dmit, but as regards society he will be a drag upon you.'
'It happens, Jasper, that I have promised to marry him,' replied Dora, in _ignificant tone.
'Well, I regret it, but—you are of course your own mistress. I shall make n_npleasantness. I don't dislike Whelpdale, and I shall remain on friendl_erms with him.'
'That is very kind of you,' said his sister suavely.
Whelpdale was frantic with exultation. When the day of the wedding had bee_ettled, he rushed into Jasper's study and fairly shed tears before he coul_ommand his voice.
'There is no mortal on the surface of the globe one-tenth so happy as I am!'
he gasped. 'I can't believe it! Why in the name of sense and justice have _een suffered to attain this blessedness? Think of the days when I all bu_tarved in my Albany Street garret, scarcely better off than poor, dear ol_iffen! Why should I have come to this, and Biffen have poisoned himself i_espair? He was a thousand times a better and cleverer fellow than I. And poo_ld Reardon, dead in misery! Could I for a moment compare with him?'
'My dear fellow,' said Jasper, calmly, 'compose yourself and be logical. I_he first place, success has nothing whatever to do with moral deserts; an_hen, both Reardon and Biffen were hopelessly unpractical. In such a_dmirable social order as ours, they were bound to go to the dogs. Let us b_orry for them, but let us recognise causas rerum, as Biffen would have said.
You have exercised ingenuity and perseverance; you have your reward.'
'And when I think that I might have married fatally on thirteen or fourtee_ifferent occasions. By-the-by, I implore you never to tell Dora those storie_bout me. I should lose all her respect. Do you remember the girl fro_irmingham?' He laughed wildly. 'Heaven be praised that she threw me over!
Eternal gratitude to all and sundry of the girls who have plunged me int_retchedness!'
'I admit that you have run the gauntlet, and that you have had marvellou_scapes. But be good enough to leave me alone for the present. I must finis_his review by midday.'
'Only one word. I don't know how to thank Dora, how to express my infinit_ense of her goodness. Will you try to do so for me? You can speak to her wit_almness. Will you tell her what I have said to you?'
'Oh, certainly.—I should recommend a cooling draught of some kind. Look in a_ chemist's as you walk on.'
The heavens did not fall before the marriage-day, and the wedded pair betoo_hemselves for a few weeks to the Continent. They had been back again an_stablished in their house at Earl's Court for a month, when one morning abou_welve o'clock Jasper dropped in, as though casually. Dora was writing; sh_ad no thought of entirely abandoning literature, and had in hand at present _ery pretty tale which would probably appear in The English Girl. Her boudoir, in which she sat, could not well have been daintier and more appropriate t_he charming characteristics of its mistress.
Mrs Whelpdale affected no literary slovenliness; she was dressed in ligh_olours, and looked so lovely that even Jasper paused on the threshold with _mile of admiration.
'Upon my word,' he exclaimed, 'I am proud of my sisters! What did you think o_aud last night? Wasn't she superb?'
'She certainly did look very well. But I doubt if she's very happy.'
'That is her own look out; I told her plainly enough my opinion of Dolomore.
But she was in such a tremendous hurry.'
'You are detestable, Jasper! Is it inconceivable to you that a man or woma_hould be disinterested when they marry?'
'By no means.'
'Maud didn't marry for money any more than I did.'
'You remember the Northern Farmer: "Doan't thou marry for money, but go wher_oney is." An admirable piece of advice. Well, Maud made a mistake, let u_ay. Dolomore is a clown, and now she knows it. Why, if she had waited, sh_ight have married one of the leading men of the day. She is fit to be _uchess, as far as appearance goes; but I was never snobbish. I care ver_ittle about titles; what I look to is intellectual distinction.'
'Combined with financial success.'
'Why, that is what distinction means.' He looked round the room with a smile.
'You are not uncomfortable here, old girl. I wish mother could have lived til_ow.'
'I wish it very, very often,' Dora replied in a moved voice.
'We haven't done badly, drawbacks considered. Now, you may speak of money a_cornfully as you like; but suppose you had married a man who could only kee_ou in lodgings! How would life look to you?'
'Who ever disputed the value of money? But there are things one mustn'_acrifice to gain it.'
'I suppose so. Well, I have some news for you, Dora. I am thinking o_ollowing your example.'
Dora's face changed to grave anticipation.
'And who is it?'
His sister turned away, with a look of intense annoyance.
'You see, I am disinterested myself,' he went on. 'I might find a wife who ha_ealth and social standing. But I choose Amy deliberately.'
'An abominable choice!'
'No; an excellent choice. I have never yet met a woman so well fitted to ai_e in my career. She has a trifling sum of money, which will be useful for th_ext year or two—'
'What has she done with the rest of it, then?'
'Oh, the ten thousand is intact, but it can't be seriously spoken of. It wil_eep up appearances till I get my editorship and so on. We shall be marrie_arly in August, I think. I want to ask you if you will go and see her.'
'On no account! I couldn't be civil to her.'
Jasper's brows blackened.
'This is idiotic prejudice, Dora. I think I have some claim upon you; I hav_hown some kindness—'
'You have, and I am not ungrateful. But I dislike Mrs Reardon, and I couldn'_ring myself to be friendly with her.'
'You don't know her.'
'Too well. You yourself have taught me to know her. Don't compel me to sa_hat I think of her.'
'She is beautiful, and high-minded, and warm-hearted. I don't know a womanl_uality that she doesn't possess. You will offend me most seriously if yo_peak a word against her.'
'Then I will be silent. But you must never ask me to meet her.'
'Then we shall quarrel. I haven't deserved this, Dora. If you refuse to mee_y wife on terms of decent friendliness, there's no more intercourse betwee_our house and mine. You have to choose. Persist in this fatuous obstinacy, and I have done with you!'
'So be it!'
'That is your final answer?'
Dora, who was now as angry as he, gave a short affirmative, and Jasper at onc_eft her.
But it was very unlikely that things should rest at this pass. The brother an_ister were bound by a strong mutual affection, and Whelpdale was not long i_ffecting a compromise.
'My dear wife,' he exclaimed, in despair at the threatened calamity, 'you ar_ight, a thousand times, but it's impossible for you to be on ill terms wit_asper. There's no need for you to see much of Mrs Reardon—'
'I hate her! She killed her husband; I am sure of it.'
'I mean by her base conduct. She is a cold, cruel, unprincipled creature!
Jasper makes himself more than ever contemptible by marrying her.'
All the same, in less than three weeks Mrs Whelpdale had called upon Amy, an_he call was returned. The two women were perfectly conscious of reciproca_islike, but they smothered the feeling beneath conventional suavities. Jaspe_as not backward in making known his gratitude for Dora's concession, an_ndeed it became clear to all his intimates that this marriage would be by n_eans one of mere interest; the man was in love at last, if he had never bee_efore.
Let lapse the ensuing twelve months, and come to an evening at the end o_uly, 1886. Mr and Mrs Milvain are entertaining a small and select party o_riends at dinner. Their house in Bayswater is neither large nor internall_agnificent, but it will do very well for the temporary sojourn of a young ma_f letters who has much greater things in confident expectation, who is a goo_eal talked of, who can gather clever and worthy people at his table, an_hose matchless wife would attract men of taste to a very much poorer abode.
Jasper had changed considerably in appearance since that last holiday that h_pent in his mother's house at Finden. At present he would have been taken fo_ive-and-thirty, though only in his twenty-ninth year; his hair was noticeabl_hinning; his moustache had grown heavier; a wrinkle or two showed beneath hi_yes; his voice was softer, yet firmer. It goes without saying that hi_vening uniform lacked no point of perfection, and somehow it suggested a mor_laborate care than that of other men in the room. He laughed frequently, an_ith a throwing back of the head which seemed to express a spirit of triumph.
Amy looked her years to the full, but her type of beauty, as you know, wa_ndependent of youthfulness. That suspicion of masculinity observable in he_hen she became Reardon's wife impressed one now only as the consummate grac_f a perfectly-built woman. You saw that at forty, at fifty, she would be on_f the stateliest of dames. When she bent her head towards the person wit_hom she spoke, it was an act of queenly favour. Her words were uttered wit_ust enough deliberation to give them the value of an opinion; she smiled wit_ delicious shade of irony; her glance intimated that nothing could be to_ubtle for her understanding.
The guests numbered six, and no one of them was insignificant. Two of the me_ere about Jasper's age, and they had already made their mark in literature; the third was a novelist of circulating fame, spirally crescent. The three o_he stronger sex were excellent modern types, with sweet lips attuned t_pigram, and good broad brows.
The novelist at one point put an interesting question to Amy.
'Is it true that Fadge is leaving The Current?'
'It is rumoured, I believe.'
'Going to one of the quarterlies, they say,' remarked a lady. 'He is gettin_erribly autocratic. Have you heard the delightful story of his telling M_owland to persevere, as his last work was one of considerable promise?'
Mr Rowland was a man who had made a merited reputation when Fadge was still o_he lower rungs of journalism. Amy smiled and told another anecdote of th_reat editor. Whilst speaking, she caught her husband's eye, and perhaps thi_as the reason why her story, at the close, seemed rather amiabl_ointless—not a common fault when she narrated.
When the ladies had withdrawn, one of the younger men, in a conversation abou_ certain magazine, remarked:
'Thomas always maintains that it was killed by that solemn old stager, Alfre_ule. By the way, he is dead himself, I hear.'
Jasper bent forward.
'Alfred Yule is dead?'
'So Jedwood told me this morning. He died in the country somewhere, blind an_allen on evil days, poor old fellow.'
All the guests were ignorant of any tie of kindred between their host and th_an spoken of.
'I believe,' said the novelist, 'that he had a clever daughter who used to d_ll the work he signed. That used to be a current bit of scandal in Fadge'_ircle.'
'Oh, there was much exaggeration in that,' remarked Jasper, blandly. 'Hi_aughter assisted him, doubtless, but in quite a legitimate way. One used t_ee her at the Museum.'
The subject was dropped.
An hour and a half later, when the last stranger had taken his leave, Jaspe_xamined two or three letters which had arrived since dinner-time and wer_ying on the hall table. With one of them open in his hand, he suddenly spran_p the stairs and leaped, rather than stepped, into the drawing-room. Amy wa_eading an evening paper.
'Look at this!' he cried, holding the letter to her.
It was a communication from the publishers who owned The Current; they state_hat the editorship of that review would shortly be resigned by Mr Fadge, an_hey inquired whether Milvain would feel disposed to assume the vacant chair.
Amy sprang up and threw her arms about her husband's neck, uttering a cry o_elight.
'So soon! Oh, this is great! this is glorious!'
'Do you think this would have been offered to me but for the spacious life w_ave led of late? Never! Was I right in my calculations, Amy?'
'Did I ever doubt it?'
He returned her embrace ardently, and gazed into her eyes with profoun_enderness.
'Doesn't the future brighten?'
'It has been very bright to me, Jasper, since I became your wife.'
'And I owe my fortune to you, dear girl. Now the way is smooth!'
They placed themselves on a settee, Jasper with an arm about his wife's waist, as if they were newly plighted lovers. When they had talked for a long time, Milvain said in a changed tone:
'I am told that your uncle is dead.'
He mentioned how the news had reached him.
'I must make inquiries to-morrow. I suppose there will be a notice in Th_tudy and some of the other papers. I hope somebody will make it a_pportunity to have a hit at that ruffian Fadge. By-the-by, it doesn't muc_atter now how you speak of Fadge; but I was a trifle anxious when I hear_our story at dinner.'
'Oh, you can afford to be more independent.—What are you thinking about?'
'Why do you look sad?—Yes, I know, I know. I'll try to forgive you.'
'I can't help thinking at times of the poor girl, Amy. Life will be easier fo_er now, with only her mother to support. Someone spoke of her this evening, and repeated Fadge's lie that she used to do all her father's writing.'
'She was capable of doing it. I must seem to you rather a poor- brained woma_n comparison. Isn't it true?'
'My dearest, you are a perfect woman, and poor Marian was only a cleve_chool-girl. Do you know, I never could help imagining that she had ink-stain_n her fingers. Heaven forbid that I should say it unkindly! It was touchin_o me at the time, for I knew how fearfully hard she worked.'
'She nearly ruined your life; remember that.'
Jasper was silent.
'You will never confess it, and that is a fault in you.'
'She loved me, Amy.'
'Perhaps! as a school-girl loves. But you never loved her.'
Amy examined his face as he spoke.
'Her image is very faint before me,' Jasper pursued, 'and soon I shal_carcely be able to recall it. Yes, you are right; she nearly ruined me. An_n more senses than one. Poverty and struggle, under such circumstances, woul_ave made me a detestable creature. As it is, I am not such a bad fellow, Amy.'
She laughed, and caressed his cheek.
'No, I am far from a bad fellow. I feel kindly to everyone who deserves it. _ike to be generous, in word and deed. Trust me, there's many a man who woul_ike to be generous, but is made despicably mean by necessity. What a tru_entence that is of Landor's: "It has been repeated often enough that vic_eads to misery; will no man declare that misery leads to vice?" I have muc_f the weakness that might become viciousness, but I am now far from th_ossibility of being vicious. Of course there are men, like Fadge, who see_nly to grow meaner the more prosperous they are; but these are exceptions.
Happiness is the nurse of virtue.'
'And independence the root of happiness.'
'True. "The glorious privilege of being independent"—yes, Burns understood th_atter. Go to the piano, dear, and play me something. If I don't mind, I shal_all into Whelpdale's vein, and talk about my "blessedness". Ha! isn't th_orld a glorious place?'
'For rich people.'
'Yes, for rich people. How I pity the poor devils!—Play anything. Better stil_f you will sing, my nightingale!'
So Amy first played and then sang, and Jasper lay back in dreamy bliss.