Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond
by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant
Mr and Mrs Lycett-Landon were two middle-aged people in the fulness of
life and prosperity. Though they belonged to the world of commerce, they
were both well-born and well connected, which was not so common,
perhaps, thirty years ago as it is now. He was the son of an Irish
baronet; she was the daughter of a Scotch laird. He had never, perhaps,
been the dashing young man suggested by his parentage, though he rode
better than a business man has any call to ride, and had liked in
moderation all his life the pleasures which business men generally can
only afford themselves when they have grown very rich. Mr Lycett-Landon
was not very rich in the Liverpool sense of the word, and he had never
been very poor. He had accepted his destination in the counting-house of
a distant relation, who was the first to connect the name of Landon with
business, without any heartbreak or abandonment of brighter dreams. It
had seemed to him from the beginning a sensible and becoming thing to
do. The idea of becoming rich had afforded him a rational satisfaction.
He had not envied his brothers their fox-hunting, their adventures in
various parts of the world, their campaigning and colonising. Liverpool,
indeed, was prosaic but very comfortable. He liked the comfort, the
sensation of always having an easy balance at his bankers (bliss,
indeed! and like every other kind of bliss, so out of reach to most of
us), the everyday enjoyment of luxury and well-being, and was
indifferent to the prosaic side of the matter. His marriage was in every
sense of the word a good marriage; one which filled both families with
satisfaction. She had money enough to help him in his business, and
business connections in the West of Scotland (where the finest people
have business connections), which helped him still more; and she was a
good woman, full of accomplishments and good-humour and intelligence. In
those days, perhaps, ladies cultivated accomplishments more than they do
now. They did not give themselves up to music or to art with absorbing
devotion, becoming semi- or more than semi-professional, but rather with
a general sense that to do lovely things was their vocation in the
world, pursued the graces tenderly all round, becoming perhaps excellent
in some special branch because it was more congenial than the others,
but no more. Thus while Mrs Lycett-Landon was far from equal to Mozart
and Beethoven, and would have looked on Bach with alarm, and Brahms with
consternation, in dance music, which her children demanded incessantly,
she had no superior. The young people preferred her to any band. Her
time was perfect, her spirit and fire contagious—nothing under
five-and-twenty could keep still when she played, and not many above.
And she was an admirable mistress of a house, which is the first of all
the fine arts for a woman. What she might have been as a poor man's
wife, with small means to make the best of, it is unnecessary to
inquire, for this was fortunately not her rôle in life. With plenty of
money and of servants, and a pretty house and everything that was
necessary to keep it up, she was the most excellent manager in the
world. Perhaps now and then she was a trifle hard upon other women who
were not so well off as she, and saw the defects in their management,
and believed that in their place she would have done better. But this is
a fault that the most angelic might fall into, and which only becomes
more natural and urgent the more benevolent the critic is, till
sometimes she can scarcely keep her hands from meddling, so anxious is
she to set the other right. It was to Mrs Lycett-Landon's credit, as it
is to that of many like her, that she never meddled; though while she
was silent, her heart burned to think how much better she would have
done it. Her husband was somewhat of the same way of thinking in respect
to men in business who did not get on. He said, "Now, if So-and-so would
only see——" while his wife in her heart would so fain have taken the
house out of the limp hands of Mrs So-and-so and set everything right.
It is a triumph of civilisation, and at the same time a great trial to
benevolent and clear-sighted people, that according to the usages of
society the So-and-so's must always be left to muddle along in their own
Lycett, Landon, Fareham, & Co. (Mr Lycett-Landon combined the names and
succession of two former partners) had houses in Liverpool, Glasgow, and
London, and a large business. I think they were cotton-brokers, without
having any very clear idea what that means. But this will probably be
quite unimportant to the reader. The Lycett-Landons had begun by living
in one of the best parts of Liverpool, which in those days had not
extended into luxurious suburbs as now, or at least had done so in a
very much less degree; and when the children came, and it was thought
expedient to live in the country, they established themselves on the
other side of the Mersey, in a great house surrounded by handsome
gardens and grounds overlooking the great river, which, slave of
commerce as it is and was, was then a very noble sight, as no doubt it
continues to be. To look out upon it in the darkening, or after night
had fallen, to the line of lights opposite, when the darkness hid
everything that was unlovely in the composition of the great town and
its fringe of docks, and to watch the great ships lying in midstream
with lights at their masts and bows, and the small sprites of attendant
steam-boats, each carrying its little lamp, as they rustled to and fro,
threading their way among the anchored giants, crossing and recrossing
at a dozen different points, was an endless pleasure. I do not speak of
the morning, of the sunshine, shining tranquil upon the majestic stream,
flashing back from its miles of waters, glowing on the white spars and
sails, the marvellous aërial cordage, the great ships resting from their
labours, each one of them a picture, because that is a more common
sight. But there are, or were, few things so grand, so varied, so full
of interest and amusement, as the Mersey at night. There were times,
indeed, when it was very cold, and rarer times when it was actually
dangerous to cross the ferry; when the world was lost in a white fog,
and a collision was possible at every moment. But these exciting
occasions were few, and in ordinary cases the Lycett-Landons, great and
small, thought the crossing a pleasant adjunct both to the business and
pleasure which took them to vulgar Liverpool. Vulgar was the name they
were fond of applying to it, with that sense of superiority which is
almost inevitable in the circumstances, in people conscious of living
out of it, and of making of it a point of view, a feature in the
landscape. But yet there was a certain affection mingled with this
contempt. They rather liked to talk of the innumerable masts, the miles
of docks, and when their visitors fell into enthusiasm with the scene,
felt both pleasure and pride as in an excellence which they had
themselves some credit from—"A poor thing, sir, but mine own"; and they
felt a little scorn of those who did not see how fine the Mersey was
with its many ships, although they affected to despise it in their own
persons. These were the affectations of the young. Mr Lycett-Landon
himself had a solid satisfaction in Liverpool. He put all objections
down at once with statistics and an intimation that people who did not
respect the second seaport in the kingdom were themselves but little
worthy of respect. His wife, however, was like the young people, and
patronised the town.
At the time when the following incidents began to happen the family
consisted of six children. These happy people had not been without their
griefs, and there was more than one gap in the family. Horace was not
the eldest, nor was little Julian the youngest of the children. But
these times of grief had passed over, as they do, though no one can
believe it, and scarcely disturbed the general history of happiness
looking back upon it, though they added many experiences, made sad
thoughts familiar, and gave to the mother at least a sanctuary of sorrow
to which she retired often in the bustle of life, and was more
strengthened than saddened, though she herself scarcely knew this.
Horace was twenty, and his sister Millicent eighteen, the others
descending by degrees to the age of six. There was a great deal of
education going on in the family, into which Mrs Lycett-Landon threw
herself with fervour, only regretting that she had not time to get up
classics with the boys, and with great enthusiasm throwing herself into
the music, the reading, all the forms of culture with which she had
already a certain acquaintance. These pursuits filled up the days which
had already seemed very fully occupied, and there were moments when
papa, coming home after his business, declared that he felt himself
quite "out of it," and lingered in the dining-room after dinner and
dozed instead of coming up-stairs. But there is nothing more common than
that a man of fifty, a comfortable merchant, after a very comfortable
dinner, should take a little nap over his wine, and nobody thought
anything of it. Horace was destined for business, to take up the
inheritance of his father, which was far too considerable to be let fall
into other hands; and though the young man had his dreams like most
young men, and now and then had gratified himself with the notion that
he was making a sacrifice, for the sake of his family, of his highest
aspirations, yet in reality he was by no means dissatisfied with his
destination, and contemplated the likelihood of becoming a very rich
man, and raising the firm into the highest regions of commercial
enterprise, with pleasure and a sense of power which is always
agreeable. Naturally, he thought that his father and old Fareham were a
great deal too cautious, and did not make half enough of their
opportunities; and, that when "new blood," meaning himself, came in, the
greatness and the rank of merchant princes, to which they had never
attained, would await the house. He had been a little shy at first to
talk of this, feeling that ambition of a commercial kind was not heroic,
and that his mother and Milly would be apt to gibe. But what ambition of
an aspiring youth was ever gibed at by mother and sister? They found it
a great and noble ambition when they discovered it. Milly's cheeks
glowed and her eyes shone with the thought. She talked of old Venice,
whose merchants were indeed princes, generals, and statesmen, all in
one. There are a great many fine things ready existing to be said on
this subject, and she made the fullest use of them. The father was rich
and prosperous, and able to indulge in any luxury; but Horace should be
great. A great merchant is as great as any other winner of heroic
successes. Thus the young man was encouraged in his aspirations. Mr
Lycett-Landon did not quite take the same view. "He'll do very well if
he keeps up to what has been done before him," he said. "Don't put
nonsense into his head. Yes; all that flummery about merchant princes
and so forth is nonsense. If he goes to London with that idea in his
head, there's no telling what mischief he may do."
"My dear," said Mrs Lycett-Landon, "it must always be well to have a
"A high fiddlestick!" said the father; "if he does as well as I have
done, he'll do very well." And this sentiment was perhaps natural, too;
for though there are indeed parents who rejoice in seeing their sons
surpass them, there are many on the other side who, feeling their own
work extremely meritorious, entertain natural sentiments of derision for
the brags of the inexperienced boy who is going to do so much better.
"Wait till he is as old as I am," Mr Lycett-Landon said.
"So long as he is not swept away into society," said the mother. "Of
course, when he is known to be in town, he will be taken a great deal of
notice of, and asked out——"
"Oh, to Windsor Castle, I daresay," said papa, and laughed. He was in
one of his offensive moods, Milly said. It was very seldom he was
offensive, but there are moments when a man must be so, against the
united forces of youth and maternal sympathy with youth, in
self-defence. Unless he means to let them have it all their own way he
must be disagreeable from time to time. Mr Lycett-Landon asserted
himself very seldom, but still he had to do it now and then; and though
there was nothing in the world (except Milly) that he was more proud of
than Horace, called him a young puppy, and wanted to know what anybody
saw in him that he was to do so much better than his father. But the
ladies, though they resented it for the moment, knew that there was not
very much in this.
It was to the London house that Horace was destined. He was to spend a
year in it "looking about him," picking up an acquaintance with the
London variety of mercantile life, learning all the minutiæ of business,
and so forth. At present it was under the charge of a distant relative
of Mr Fareham's, who, as soon as Horace should be able to go alone in
the paths of duty, was destined to a very important post in the American
house, which at present was small, but which Fareham's cousin was to
make a great deal of. In the meantime, Mr Lycett-Landon himself paid
frequent visits to town to see that all was going well, and would
sometimes stay there for a fortnight, or even three weeks, much jested
at by his wife and daughter when he returned.
"Papa finds he can do a great deal of business at the club," said Milly;
"he meets so many people, you know. The London cotton-brokers go to all
the theatres, and to the Row in the morning. It is so much nicer than at
"You monkey!" her father said with a laugh. He took it very
good-humouredly for a long time. But a joke that is carried on too long
gets disagreeable at the last, and after a while he became impatient.
"There, that's enough of it," he would say, which at first was a little
surprising, for Milly used, so far as papa was concerned, to have
everything her own way.
THE LONDON OFFICE.
This is what Mrs Lycett-Landon and Milly said in chorus as the head of
the house, with something which might have been a little embarrassment,
announced a third visit to London in the course of four months. There
was an absence of his usual assured tone—a sort of apologetic accent,
which neither of them identified, but which both were vaguely conscious
of, as expressing something new.
"Robert," said his wife, "you are anxious about young Fareham; I feel
sure of it. Things are not going as you like."
"Well, my dear, I didn't want to say anything about it, and you must not
breathe a syllable of this to Fareham, who would be much distressed; but
I am a little anxious about the young fellow. Discipline is very slack
at the office. He goes and comes when he likes, not like a man of
business. In short, I want to keep an eye upon him."
"Oh, papa," cried Milly, "what a dear you are! and I that have been
making fun of you about the club and the Row!"
"Never mind, my dear," said her father, magnanimously; "your fun doesn't
hurt. But now that you have surprised my little secret, you must take
care of it. Not a word, not a hint, not so much as a look, to any of the
Farehams. I would not have it known for the world. But, of course, we
must not expose Horace to the risk of acquiring unbusiness-like habits."
"Oh, and most likely fast ways," cried Mrs Lycett-Landon, "for they
seldom stop at unbusiness-like habits." She had grown a little pale with
fright. "Oh, not for the world, Robert—our boy, who has never given us
a moment's anxiety. I would rather go to London myself, or to the end of
"Fortunately, that's not necessary," he said with a smile, "and you must
not jump at the worst, as women are so fond of doing. I have no reason
to suppose he is fast, only a little disorderly, and not exact as a
business man should be—wants watching a little. For goodness sake, not
a word to Fareham of all this. I would not for any consideration have
"Don't you think perhaps he might have a good influence? he has been so
kind to his nephew."
"That is just the very thing," said Mr Lycett-Landon. "He has been very
kind (young Fareham is not his nephew, by the way, only a distant
cousin), and, naturally, he would take a tone of authority, or preach,
or take the after-all-I've-done-for-you tone, which would never do. No,
a little watching—just the sense that there is an eye on him. He has a
great many good qualities," said the head of the house with a little
pomp of manner; "and I think—I really think—with a little care, that
we'll pull him through."
"Papa, you are an old dear," said Milly with enthusiasm. Perhaps he did
not like the familiarity of the address, or the rush she made at him to
give him a kiss. At least, he put her aside somewhat hastily.
"There, there," he said, "that will do. I have got a great many things
to look after. Have my things packed, my dear, and send them over to
Lime Street Station to meet me. You can put in some light clothes, in
case the weather should change. One never knows what turn it may take at
this time of the year."
It was April, and the weather had been gloomy; it was quite likely it
might change, as he said, though it was not so easy to tell what he
could want with his grey suit in town. This, however, the ladies thought
nothing of at the moment, being full of young Fareham and his sudden
declension from the paths of duty. "And he was always so steady and so
well behaved," cried Mrs Lycett-Landon. She saw after her husband's
packing, which was a habit she had retained from the old days, when they
were not nearly so rich. "He was always a model young man; that was why
I was so pleased to think of him as a companion for Horace."
"These model young men are just the ones that go wrong," said Milly,
with that air of wisdom which is so diverting to older intelligences.
Her mother laughed.
"Of course your experience is great," she said; "but I don't think that
I am of that opinion. If a boy is steady till he is five-and-twenty, he
is not very likely to break out after. Perhaps your father's prejudice
in favour of business habits——"
"Mamma! It was you who said a young man seldom stopped there."
"Was it? Well, perhaps it was," said Mrs Lycett-Landon, with a little
confusion. "I spoke without thought. One should not be too hard on young
men. They can't all be made in the same mould. Your father was always so
exact, never missing the boat once—and he cannot bear people who miss
the boat; so, I hope, perhaps it is not so bad as he thinks."
"It would never do," said Milly, still with that air of solemnity, "to
have Horace thrown in the way of any one who is not quite good and
At this her mother laughed, and said, "I am afraid he must be put out of
the world then, Milly. I hope he has principles of his own."
Notwithstanding this sudden levity, Mrs Lycett-Landon fully
agreed—later in the day, when the portmanteau had gone to the Lime
Street Station, and she and her daughter had followed it and seen papa
off by the train—that it was very important Horace should make his
beginning in business under a prudent and careful guide; and that if
there was any irregularity in young Fareham, it was very good of papa to
take so much pains to put it right. Horace, who went home with them, was
but partially let into the secret, lest, perhaps, he might be less
careful than they were, and let some hint drop in the office as to the
object of his father's journey. The ladies questioned him covertly, as
ladies have a way of doing. What did the office think of young Mr
Fareham in London? Was he liked? Was he thought to be a good man of
business? What did Mr Pearce say, who was the head clerk and a great
"I say," said Horace, "why do you ask so many questions about Dick
Fareham? Does he want to marry Milly? Well, it looks like it, for you
never took such notice of him before."
"To marry me!" said Milly, in a blaze of indignation. "I hope he is not
quite so idiotic as that."
"He is not idiotic at all; he is a very nice fellow. You will be very
well off if you get any one half as good."
"I think," said the mother, "that papa and I will make all the necessary
investigations when it comes to marrying Milly. Now make haste,
children, or we shall miss the first boat."
It was an April evening, still light and bright, though the air was
shrewish, and the wind had some east in it, blighting the gardens and
keeping the earth grey, but doing much less harm to the water, which was
all ruffled into edges of white. The ten minutes' crossing was not
enough to make these white crests anything but pleasant, and the big
ships lay serenely in midstream, owning the force of the spring breeze
by a universal strain at their anchors, but otherwise with a fine
indifference to all its petty efforts. The little ferry steam-boat
coasted along their big sides with much rustle and commotion, churning
up the innocent waves. It was quite a considerable little party of
friends and neighbours who crossed habitually in this particular boat,
for the Lycett-Landons lived a little way up the river—not in bustling
Birkenhead. They were all so used to this going and coming, and to
constant meetings during this little voyage, that it was like a
perpetually recurring water-party—a moment of holiday after the work of
the day. The ladies had been shopping, the men had all escaped from
their offices; they had the very last piece of news, and carried with
them the evening papers, the new 'Punch'—everything that was new. If
there was any little cloud upon the family after their parting with
papa, it blew completely away in the fresh wind; but there was not, in
reality, any cloud upon them, nor any cause for anxiety or trouble. Even
the mother had no thought of anything of the kind, no anticipation that
was not pleasant. Life had gone so well with her that, except when one
of the children was ailing, she had no fear.
Mr Lycett-Landon on this occasion was a long time in London. He did not
return till nearly the end of May, and he came back in a very fretful,
uncomfortable state of mind. He told his wife that he was more uneasy
than ever; he did not blame young Fareham; he did not know whether it
was he that was to be blamed; but things were going wrong somehow.
"Perhaps it is only that he doesn't know how to keep up discipline," he
said, "and that the real fault is with the clerks. I begin to doubt if
it's safe to leave a lot of young fellows together. It will be far safer
to keep Horace here under my own eye, and with old Fareham, who is
exactitude itself. He will do a great deal better. I don't think I shall
send him to London."
"Of course, Robert, I should prefer to keep him at home," she said, "but
I am afraid, after all that has been said it will disappoint the boy."
"Oh, disappoint the boy! What does it matter about disappointing them at
that age? They have plenty of time to work it out. It is at my time of
life that disappointment tells."
"That is true, no doubt," said the mother; "but we are used to
disappointment, and they are not."
He turned upon her almost savagely. "You! What disappointments have you
ever had?" he cried, with such an air of contemptuous impatience as
filled her with dismay.
"Oh, Robert!" She looked at him with eyes that filled with tears,
"Disappointment is too easy a word," she said.
"You mean the—the children. What a way you women have of raking up the
departed at every turn. I don't believe, in my view of the word, you
ever had a disappointment in your life. You never desired anything very
much and had it snatched from you just when you thought——" He stopped
suddenly. "How odd," he said, with a strange laugh, "that I should be
discussing these sort of things with you!"
"What sort of things? I can't tell you how much you astonish me, Robert.
Did you ever desire anything so very much and I not know?"
Then he turned away with a shrug of his shoulders. "You are so matter of
fact. You take everything au pied de la lettre," he said.
This conversation remained in Mrs Lycett-Landon's mind in spite of her
efforts to represent to herself that it was only a way of speaking he
had fallen into, and could mean nothing. How could it mean anything
except business, or the good of the children, or some other perfectly
legitimate desire? But yet, in none of these ways had he any
disappointment to endure. The children were all well and vigorous, and,
thank God, doing as well as heart could desire. Horace was as good a boy
as ever was; and business was doing well. There was no failure, so far
as she was aware, in any of her husband's hopes. It must be an
exaggerated way of speaking. He must have allowed the disorder in the
London office to get on his nerves; and he had the pallid, restless look
of a man in suspense. He could not keep quiet. He was impatient for his
letters, and dissatisfied when he had got them. He was irritable with
the children, and even with herself, stopping her when she tried to
consult him about anything. "What is it?" or "About those brats again?"
he said, peevishly. This was when she wanted his opinion about a
governess for little Fanny and Julian.
"What between Milly's balls and Fanny's governess you drive me
distracted. Can't you settle these trifles yourself when you see how
much occupied I am with more important things?"
"I never knew before that you thought anything more important than the
children's welfare," she said.
"If there was any real question of the children's welfare," he answered,
with more than equal sharpness.
It came almost to a quarrel between them. Mrs Lycett-Landon could not
keep her indignation to herself. "Because the London office is not in
good order!" she could not help saying to Milly.
"Oh! mamma, dear, something more than that must be bothering him," the
girl said, and cried.
"I fear that we shall have to leave our nice home and settle in London.
It is like a monomania. I believe your father thinks of nothing else
night and day."
Mrs Lycett-Landon said this as if it were something very terrible; but,
perhaps, it was scarcely to be expected that Milly would take it in the
same way. "Settle in London!" she said; and a gleam of light came into
her eyes. The father came into the room at the end of this consultation
and heard these words.
"Who talks of settling in London?" he said.
"My dear Robert, it seems to me it must come to that; for if you are so
uneasy about the office, and always thinking of it——"
"I suppose," he said, "it is part of your nature to take everything in
that matter-of-fact way. I am annoyed about the London office; but
rather than move you out of this house I would see the London office go
to the dogs any day. I don't mind," he added, with a little vehemence,
"the coming and going; but to break up this house, to transplant you to
London, there is nothing in the world I would not sooner do."
She was a little surprised by his earnestness. "I am very glad you feel
as I do on that point. We have all been so happy here. But I, for my
part, would give up anything to make you more satisfied, my dear."
"That is the last thing in the world to make me satisfied. Whatever
happens, I don't want to sacrifice you," he said, in a subdued tone.
"It would not be a sacrifice at all; what fun it would be: and then
Horry need never leave us," cried Milly. "For my part, I should like it
very much, papa."
"Don't let us hear another word of such nonsense," he said, angrily; and
his face was so dark and his tone so sharp that Miss Milly did not find
another word to say.
It was rather a relief to them all when the father went away again. They
did not say so indeed in so many words, still keeping up the amiable
domestic fiction that the house was not at all like itself when papa was
away. But as a matter of fact there could be little doubt that the
atmosphere was clear after he was gone. A certain sulphurous sense of
something volcanic in the air, the alarm of a possible explosion, or at
least of the heat and mutterings that precede storms, departed with him.
He himself looked brighter when he went away. He was even gay as he
waved his hand to them from the railway carriage, for they had gone very
dutifully to see him off, as was the family custom. "Papa is quite
delighted to get off to his beloved London," Milly said. "He feels that
things go well when he is there," her mother replied, feeling a certain
need to be explanatory. The household life was all the freer when he was
gone. The young people had a great many engagements, and Mrs
Lycett-Landon was very pleasantly occupied with these and with her
younger children, and with all the manifold affairs of a large and full
house. As happens so often, though the fundamental laws were not
infringed, there was yet a little enlarging, a little loosening of bonds
when the head of the house was not there. Mamma never objected to be
"put out" for any summer pleasure that might arise. She did not mind
changing the dinner-hour, or even dispensing with dinner altogether, to
suit a country expedition, a garden-party, or a picnic, which was a
thing impossible when papa's comfort was the first thing to be thought
of. It was June, and life was full of such pleasures to the young
people. Horace, indeed, would go dutifully to the office every morning,
endeavouring to emulate the virtue of his father, and never miss the
nine o'clock boat; though as this high effort cost him in most cases his
breakfast, his mother was much perplexed on the subject, and not at all
sure that such goodness did not cost more than it was worth. But he very
often managed to be back for lunch, and the amusements for the afternoon
were endless. Mr Lycett-Landon wrote very cheerfully when he got back to
London: he told his wife that he thought he saw his way to establishing
matters on a much better footing, and that, after all, Dick Fareham was
not at all a bad fellow; but he would not send Horace there for some
time, till everything was in perfect order, and in the meantime felt
that his own eye and supervision were indispensable. "I shall hope by
next year to get everything into working order," he said. The family
were quite satisfied by these explanations. There was nothing
impassioned in their affection for their father, and Mrs Lycett-Landon
was happy with her children, and quite satisfied that her husband should
do what he thought best. So long as he was well, and pleasing himself,
she was not at all exacting. Marriage is a tie which is curiously
elastic when youth is over and the reign of the sober everyday has come
in. There is no such union, and yet there is no union that sits so
lightly. People who are each other's only confidants, and cannot live
without each other, yet feel a half-relief and sense of emancipation
when accidentally and temporarily they are free of each other. A woman
says to her daughter, "We will do so-and-so and so-and-so when your
father is away," meaning no abatement of loyalty or love, but yet an
unconscious, unaccustomed, not unenjoyable freedom. And the man no doubt
feels it perhaps more warmly on his side. So it was not felt that there
was anything to be uncomfortable about, or even to regret. The letters
were not so frequent as the wife could have wished. She sent a detailed
history of the family, and of everything that was going on, every second
day; but her husband's replies were short, and there were much longer
intervals between. Sometimes a week would elapse without any news; but
so much was going on at home, and all minds were so fully occupied, that
no particular notice was taken. Mrs Lycett-Landon asked, "How is it that
you are so lazy about writing?" and there was an end of it. So long as
he was perfectly well, as he said he was, what other danger could there
be to fear?
There are times when the smallest matter awakens family anxiety, and
there are other times when people are unaccountably, inconceivably easy
in their minds, and will not take alarm whatever indications of peril
may arise. When real calamity is impending how often is this the case!
Ears that are usually on the alert are deafened; eyes that look out the
most eagerly, lose their power of vision. Little Julian had a whitlow on
his finger, and his mother was quite unhappy about it; but as for her
husband, she was at rest and feared nothing. When he wrote, after a long
silence, that he felt one of his colds coming on and was going to nurse
himself, then indeed she felt a momentary uneasiness. But his colds were
never of a dangerous kind; they were colds that yielded at once to
treatment. She wrote immediately, and bade him be sure and stay indoors
for a day or two, and sent him Dr Moller's prescription, which always
did him good. "If you want me, of course you know I will come directly,"
she wrote. To this letter he replied much more quickly than usual,
begging her on no account to disturb herself, as he was getting rapidly
well again. But after this there was a longer pause in the
correspondence than had ever happened before.
On one of these evenings she met her husband's partner, old Fareham, as
he was always called, at dinner, at a large sumptuous Liverpool party.
There was to be a great ball that evening, and Mrs Lycett-Landon and her
two eldest children had come "across" for the two entertainments, and
were to stay all night. The luxury of the food and the splendour of the
accompaniments I may leave to the imagination. It was such a dinner as
is rarely to be seen out of commercial circles. The table groaned, not
under good cheer, as used to be the case, but under silver of the
highest workmanship, and the most costly flowers. The flowers alone cost
as much as would have fed a street full of poor people, for they were
not, I need scarcely say, common ones, things that any poor curate or
even clerk might have on his table, but waxy and wealthy exotics,
combinations of the chemist's skill with the gardener's, all the more
difficult to be had in such profusion because the season was summer and
the gardens full of Nature's easy production. Mr Fareham nodded to his
partner's wife, catching her eye with difficulty between the piles of
flowers. "Heard from London lately?" he said across the table, and
nodded again several times when she answered, "Not for some days." Old
Fareham was usually a jocose old gentleman, less perfect in his manners
than the other member of the firm, and of much lower origin, though
perhaps more congenial to the atmosphere in which he lived; but he was
not at all jocose that evening. He had a cloud upon his face. When his
genial host tried to rouse him to his usual "form" (for what can be more
disappointing than an amusing man who will not do anything to amuse?) he
would brighten up for a moment, and then relapse into dulness. As soon
as he came into the drawing-room after dinner he made his way to his
"So you haven't been hearing regularly from London?" he said, taking up
his post in front of her, and bending over her low chair.
"I didn't say that; I said not for a few days."
"Neither have we," said old Fareham, shaking his white head. "Not at all
regular. D'ye think he is quite well? He has been a deal in town this
She could scarcely restrain a little indignation, thinking if old
Fareham only knew the reason, and how it was to save his relative and
set him right! But she answered in an easy tone, "Yes, he has thought it
expedient—for various reasons." If he had the least idea of his
nephew's irregularities, this, she thought, would make him wince.
But it did not. "Oh, for various reasons?" he said, lifting his shaggy
eyebrows. "And did you think it expedient too?"
"You know I enter very little into business matters," she replied, with
the calm she felt. "Of course we all miss him very much when he is away
from home; but I never have put myself in Robert's way."
"You've been a very good wife to him," said the old man with a slight
shake of the head, "an excellent wife; and you don't feel the least
uneasy? Quite comfortable about his health, and all that sort of thing?
I think I'd look him up if I were you."
"Have you heard anything about his health? Is Robert ill, Mr Fareham,
and you are trying to break it to me?" she said, springing to her feet.
"No, no, nothing of the sort," he said, putting his hand on her arm to
make her reseat herself. "Nothing of the sort; not a word! I know no
more than you do—probably not half or quarter so much. No, no, my dear
lady, not a word."
"Then why should you frighten me so?" she said, sitting down again with
a flutter at her heart, but a faint smile; "you gave me a great fright.
I thought you must have heard something that had been concealed from
"Not at all, not at all," said the old man. "I'm very glad you're not
uneasy. Still it is a bad practice when they get to stay so long from
home. I'd look him up if I were you."
"Do you know anything I don't know?" she said, with a recurrence of her
"No, no!" he cried—"nothing, nothing, I know nothing; but I don't think
Landon should be so long absent. That's all; I'd look him up if I were
Mrs Lycett-Landon did not enjoy the ball that night. For some time
indeed she hesitated about going. But Milly and Horace were much
startled by this idea, and assailed her with questions—What had she
heard? Was papa ill? Had anything happened? She was obliged to confess
that nothing had happened, that she had heard nothing, but that old
Fareham thought papa should not be so long away, and had asked if she
were not uneasy about his health. What if he should be ill and
concealing it from them? The children paled a little, then burst forth
almost with laughter. Papa conceal it from them! he who always wanted so
much taking care of when he was poorly. And why should he conceal it?
This was quite unanswerable; for to be sure there was no reason in the
world why he should not let his wife know, who would have gone to him at
once, without an hour's delay. So they went to the ball, and spent the
night in Liverpool, and next morning remembered nothing save that old
Fareham was always disagreeable. "If he knew your father's real object
in spending so much time in London!" Mrs Lycett-Landon said. It was her
husband's generous wish to keep this anxiety from the old man; and how
little such generous motives are appreciated in this world. It was
evening before they returned home—for of course with so large a family
there is always shopping to do, and the ladies waited till Horace left
the office. But when they reached the Elms, as their house was called,
there was a letter waiting which was not comfortable. It was directed in
a hand which they could scarcely identify as papa's; not from his club
as usual, nor on the office paper—with no date but London. And this was
what it said:—
"My dear,—You must not be disappointed if I write only a few
words. I have hurt my hand, which makes writing uncomfortable. It
is not of the least importance, and you need not be uneasy: but
accept the explanation if it should happen to be some days before
you hear from me again. Love to the children.—Yours
R. L. L."
Mrs Lycett-Landon grew pale as she read this note. "I see it all," she
said; "there has been an accident, and Mr Fareham did not like to tell
me of it. Horace, where is the book of the trains? I must go at once.
Run, Milly, and put up a few things for me in my travelling-bag."
"What is it, mother? Hurt his hand? Oh, but that is not much," Horace
"It is not much perhaps; but to be so careful lest I should be anxious
is not papa's way. 'If it should happen to be some days——' Why, it is
ten days since he wrote last. I am very anxious. Horry, my dear, don't
talk to me, but go and see about the trains at once."
"I know very well about the trains," said Horace. "There is one at ten,
but then it arrives in the middle of the night. Stop at all events till
to-morrow morning. I will telegraph."
"I am going by that ten train," his mother said.
"Which arrives between three and four in the morning!"
"Never mind, I can go to the Euston, where papa always goes. Perhaps I
shall find him there. He has never said where he was living."
"You may be sure," said Horace, "you will not find him at the Euston. No
doubt he is in the old place in Jermyn Street. He only goes to the
Euston when he is up for a day or two."
"I shall find him easily enough," Mrs Lycett-Landon said.
And then a little bustle and commotion ensued. Dinner was had which
nobody could eat, though they all said it was probably nothing, and
that papa would laugh when he knew the disturbance his letter had made.
At least the children said this, their mother making little reply. Milly
thought he would be much surprised to see mamma arrive in the early
morning. He would like it, Milly thought. Papa was always disposed to
find his own ailments very important, and thought it natural to make a
fuss about them. She wanted to accompany her mother, but consented, not
without a sense of dignity, that it was more necessary she should stay
at home to look after the children and the house. But Horace insisted
that he must go; and though Mrs Lycett-Landon had a strange
disinclination to this which she herself could not understand, it seemed
on the whole so right and natural that she could not stand out against
it. "There is no occasion," she said. "I can look after myself quite
well, and your father too." But Horace refused to hear reason, and Milly
inquired what was the good of having a grown-up son if you did not make
any use of him? Their minds were so free, that they both tittered a
little at this, the title of grown-up son being unfamiliar and half
absurd, in Milly's intention at least. She walked down with them to the
boat in the soft summer night. The world was all aglow with softened
lights—the moon in the sky, the lamps on the opposite bank, reflecting
themselves in long lines in the still water, and every dim vessel in the
roadway throwing up its little sea-star of colour. "I shouldn't wonder,"
said Milly, "if it is a touch of the gout, like that he had last year,
and no accident at all."
"So much the more need for good nursing," her mother said, as she
stepped into the boat.
Milly walked back again with Charley, her next brother, who was fifteen.
They went up to the summer-house among the trees and watched the boat as
it went rustling, bustling through the groups of shipping in the river,
and made little bets between themselves as to whether it would beat the
Birkenhead boat, or if the Seacombe would get there first of all. There
were not so many ferry-boats as usual at this hour of the night, but one
or two were returning both up and down the river which had been out with
pleasure-parties, with music sounding softly on the water. "It is only
that horrid old fiddle if we were near it," said Milly, "but it sounds
quite melodious here,"—for the soft night and the summer air, and the
influence of the great water, made everything mellow. The doors and
windows of the happy house were still all open. It was full of sleeping
children and comfortable servants, and life and peace, though the master
and the mistress were both away.
GOING TO LOOK HIM UP.
They reached London in the dawn of the morning, when the blue day was
coming in over the housetops, before the ordinary stir of the waking
world had begun. Of course, at that early hour it was impossible to do
anything save to take refuge in the big hotel, and try to rest a little
till it should be time for further proceedings. They found at once from
the sleepy waiter who received them that Mr Lycett-Landon was not there.
He remembered the gentleman; but they hadn't seen him not since last
summer, the man said.
"I told you so, mamma," said Horace; "he is in Jermyn Street, of course.
If he had been anywhere else, he would have put the address."
They drove together to Jermyn Street as soon as it was practicable, but
he was not there; and the landlord of the house returned the same answer
that the waiter at the Euston had done. Not since last summer, he said.
He had been wondering in his own mind what had become of Mr
Lycett-Landon, and asking himself if the rooms or the cooking had not
given satisfaction. It was a thing that had never happened to him with
any of his gentlemen, but he had been wondering, he allowed, if there
was anything. He would have been pleased to make any alteration had he
but known. Mrs Lycett-Landon and her son looked at each other somewhat
blankly as they turned away from this door. She smiled and said, "It is
rather funny that we should have to hunt your father in this way. One
would think his movements would be well enough known. But I suppose it's
this horrid London." She was a little angry and hurt at the horrid
London which takes no particular note even of a merchant of high
standing. In Liverpool he could not have been lost sight of, and even
here it was ridiculous, a thing scarcely to be put up with.
"Oh, we'll soon find him at the club," Horace said; and they drove there
accordingly, more indignant than anxious. It was still early, and the
club servants had scarcely taken the trouble to wake up as yet. Club
porters are not fond of giving addresses, knowing how uncertain it is
whether a gentleman may wish to be pursued to their last stronghold. The
porter in the present instance hesitated much. He said Mr Lycett-Landon
had not been there for some time; that there was a heap of letters for
him, which he took out of a pigeon-hole and turned over in his hands as
he spoke, and among which Horace (with a jump of his heart) thought he
could see some of his mother's; but nothing had been said about
forwarding them, and he really couldn't take upon himself to say that he
knowed the address.
"But I'm his son," said Horace.
The porter looked at him very knowingly. "That don't make me none the
wiser, sir," he said with great reason.
The youth went out to his mother somewhat aghast. "They don't know
anything of him here," he said; "they say he hasn't been for long.
There's quite a pile of letters for him."
"Then we must go to the office," Mrs Lycett-Landon said. "He must have
been very busy, or—or something."
That was an assertion which no one could dispute. When the cab drove off
again she repeated the former speech with an angry laugh. "It is
ridiculous, Horace, that you and I should have to run about like this
from pillar to post, as if papa could slip out of sight like a—like
a—mere clerk." The mercantile world does not make much account of
clerks, and she did not feel that she could find anything stronger to
"Nobody would believe it," said Horace, "if we were to tell them; but in
the City it will be different," he added, gravely.
In Liverpool it must be allowed the City was not thought very much of.
It had not the same prestige as the great mercantile town of the north.
The merchant princes were considered to belong to the seaports, and the
magnates of the City had an odour of city feasts and vulgarity about
them; but in the present circumstances it had other attractions.
"The name of Lycett-Landon can't be unknown there," said the lad.
His mother was wounded even by this assertion. She drew herself up. "A
Lycett-Landon has no right to be unknown anywhere," she said. "We don't
need to take our importance from any firm, I hope. But London is
insufferable; nobody is anybody that comes from what they are pleased to
call the country 'here.'"
There was an indignant tone in Mrs Lycett-Landon's voice. But yet she
too felt, though she would not acknowledge it, that for once the City
would be the most congenial. They drove along through the crowded, noisy
streets in a hansom, feeling, after all, a little more at home among
people who were evidently going to business as the men did in their own
town. The sight of a well-brushed, well-washed, gold-chained commercial
magnate in a white waistcoat with a rose in his button-hole did them
good. And thus they arrived at "the office," that one home-like spot
amid all the desert of unaccustomed streets.
"Perhaps," the mother said, "we shall find him here, ready to laugh at
us for this ridiculous expedition."
"Well, I hope not," said Horace, "for he will be angry. Papa doesn't
like to be looked after."
This speech chilled Mrs Lycett-Landon a little, for it was quite true;
and for her part she was not a woman who liked to be found fault with on
account of silly curiosity. As a matter of fact, few women do. So that
it was with a little check to their eagerness that they got out at the
office door among all the press of people coming to their daily labour.
Horace, though he had been intended to work there, scarcely knew the
place; and his mother, though she had driven down three or four times to
pick up her husband on the occasions when they were in town together,
was but little better acquainted with it. And the clerks did not at all
recognise these very unlikely visitors. Ladies appeared very seldom at
the office, and at this early hour never.
"Your father, of course, would not be here so early," Mrs Lycett-Landon
said as they went up-stairs; "and I don't suppose young Mr Fareham
either is the sort of person—but we must ask for Mr Fareham."
Remembering all that her husband had said, she did not in the least
expect to find that young representative of the house. How curious it
was to wait until she had been inspected by the clerk, to be asked who
she was, to be requested to take a seat, till it was known if Mr Fareham
was disengaged! An impulse which she could scarcely explain restrained
her from giving her name, which would at once have gained her all the
respect she could have desired; and for the first time in her life Mrs
Lycett-Landon realised what it must be to come as a poor petitioner to
such a place. The clerks made their observations on her and her son
behind their glass screen. They decided that she must want a place in
the office for the young fellow, but that Fareham would soon give her
her answer. These young men did not think much of the personal
appearance of Horace, who was clearly from the country—a lanky youth
whom it would be difficult to make anything of. Their consternation was
extreme when young Mr Fareham, coming out somewhat superciliously to see
who wanted him, exclaimed suddenly, "Mrs Landon!" and went forward
holding out his hands. "If I had known it was you!" he said. "I hope I
have not kept you waiting. But some mistake must have been made, for I
was not told your name."
"It was no mistake," she said, looking graciously at the young clerk,
who stood by very nervous and abashed. "I did not give my name. We shall
not detain you a moment, we only want an address."
While she spoke she had time to remark the perfectly correct and
orthodox appearance of young Fareham, of whom it was almost impossible
to believe that he had ever committed an irregularity of any description
in the course of his life. He led the way into his room with all the
respect which was due to the wife of the chief partner, and gave her a
chair. "My time is entirely at your service," he said; "too glad to be
able to be of any use."
Mrs Lycett-Landon sat down, and then there ensued a moment of such
embarrassment as perhaps in all her life she had never known before.
There was a certain surprise in the air with which he regarded her, and
not the slightest appearance of any idea what she could possibly want
him for at this time in the morning. And somehow this surprised
unconsciousness on his part brought the most curious painful
consciousness to her. She was silent; she looked at him with a kind of
blank appeal. She half rose again to go away without putting her
question. She seemed to be on the eve of a betrayal, of a family
exposure. How foolish it was! She looked at Horace's easy-minded,
tranquil countenance, and took courage.
"Do you expect," she said, "Mr Landon here to-day?" with a smile, yet a
catch of her breath.
"Mr Landon!" The astonishment of young Fareham was extreme. "Is he in
town? We have not seen him since May."
"Horace," said Mrs Lycett-Landon, half-rising from her chair and then
falling back upon it. "Horace, your father must be very ill. He must
have had—some operation—he must have thought I would be
She became very pale as she uttered these broken words, and looked as if
she were going to faint; and Horace, too, stared with bewildered eyes.
Young Fareham began to be alarmed. He saw that his quick response was
altogether unexpected, and that there was evidently some mystery.
"Let me see," he said, appearing to ponder, "perhaps I am making a
mistake. Yes, I am sure he was here in May—he had just come back from
the Continent. Wasn't it so? Oh, then, I must have misunderstood him. I
thought he said——Now I remember, he certainly was here in town. Yes,
came to tell me something about letters—what was it?"
"Perhaps where you were to send his letters," Mrs Landon said quickly.
"That is what we want to know." While she was listening to him, her mind
had been going through a great many questions, and she had brought
herself summarily back to calm. If it should be serious illness, all her
strength would be wanted. She must not waste her forces with foolish
fainting or giving in, but husband them all.
Then there arose an inquiry in the office. One clerk after another was
called in to be questioned. One said Mr Lycett-Landon's letters were all
forwarded to the Liverpool house, or to the Elms, Rockferry, his private
address; another, that they were sent to the club; and it was not till
some time had been lost that one of the youngest remembered an address
to which he had once been sent, to a lodging where Mr Landon was
staying. He remembered all about it, for it was a pretty house, with a
garden, very unlike Jermyn Street.
"It was just after Mr Landon came back from abroad," the youth said; and
by degrees he remembered exactly where it was, and brought it written
down, in a neat, clerkly hand, on an office envelope. It was a flowery
address, a villa in a road, both of them fanciful with a cockney
Mrs Lycett-Landon took the paper from him with a smile of thanks; but
she was so bewildered and confused that she rose up and went out of the
office without even saying good-morning to young Fareham.
"Mamma, mamma," cried Horace after her, "you have never said——"
"Oh, don't trouble her," said young Fareham; "I can see she is anxious.
You'll come back, won't you, and let me know if you've found him? But I
hope there is some mistake."
He did not say what kind of mistake he hoped for, nor did Horace say
anything as he followed his mother. He, like Milly, thought it
impossible that papa would have hidden himself thus to be ill. He was a
little nervous of speaking to his mother when he saw how pale and
preoccupied she looked.
"Shall I call a cab?" he said. "Mother, do you really think there is so
much to fear?"
"He has never been on the Continent," was all his mother could say.
"No; that's true. They just have got that into their heads. It was no
business of theirs where he went."
"It is everybody's business where a man goes—a man like him. I think I
know what it is, Horace. He has been fretful for some time, and
restless; he must have been ill, and he has been going through an
operation. Don't say anything; I feel sure of it. Perhaps there was
danger in it, and he feared the fuss, and that I should be
"We always thought as children that papa liked to be made a fuss with,"
said simple Horace.
"You thought so in the nursery, because you liked it yourselves. Yes, we
had better have a cab. How full the streets are! one cannot hear oneself
Then she was silent a little till the hansom was called. It was a very
noisy part of the City, where the traffic is continual, and it was very
difficult to hear a woman's voice. She paused before she got into the
"Now I think of it," she said, "you had better go and telegraph to
Milly, for she will be anxious. Go back to the hotel and do it. Tell her
that we have got to town all safe, and that you will send her word this
evening how papa is."
"But, mother, you are not going without me! and it will be better to
telegraph after we know."
"That is what I wish you to do, Horace. It might upset him. I think it a
great deal better for me to go by myself. Just do what I tell you. Milly
will want to know that we have arrived all right; and wait at the hotel
till I send for you."
"You had much better let me come with you, mother."
The noise was so great that she only made a "No" with her mouth, shaking
her head as she got into the cab, and gave him the address to show the
cabman. Then, before Horace had awakened from his surprise, she was
gone, and he was left, feeling very solitary, pushed about by all the
passers-by upon the pavement. The youth was half angry, half astonished.
To go back to the hotel was not a thing that tempted him, but he was so
young that he obeyed by instinct, meaning to pour forth his indignation
to Milly. Even in a telegram there is a possibility of easing one's
THE HOUSE WITH THE FLOWERY NAME.
Mrs Lycett-Landon drove off through the crowded City streets in a
curious trace of excited feeling. She had a sense that something was
going to happen to her; but how this was she could not have told. Nor
could she have told why it was she had sent Horace away. Perhaps his
father might not wish to see him, perhaps he might prefer to explain to
her alone the cause of his absence. She felt the need of first seeing
her husband alone, though she could not tell why. It was a very long
drive. Out of the bustling City streets she came to streets more showy,
less encumbered, though perhaps scarcely less crowded, and then to some
which showed the lateness of the season by shut-up houses and diminished
movement, and then to line after line of those dingy streets, all
exactly like each other, which form the bulk of London. There are so
many of them, and they are so indistinguishable. She looked out of the
hansom and noted them all as she drove on—but yet as if she noted them
not, as if it were they that glided by her, as in a dream. Then she
reached the suburbs, the roads with the flowery names, houses buried in
gardens, with trees appearing behind the high enclosing walls. This
perhaps was the strangest of all. She could not think what he could want
here, so far out of the world, until she recalled to herself the idea of
an illness and an operation which had already faded out of her mind—for
that, like every other explanation, was so strange, so much unlike all
his habits. Her heart began to beat as the cab turned into the street,
going slowly along to look for the special house, and she found herself
on the point of arriving at her destination. Though she was so anxious
to find her husband, she would now, if she could, have deferred the
arrival, have called out to the driver that it was not here, and bidden
him go on and on. But there could not be any mistake about it—there was
the name of the house painted on the gate. It was a little gate in a
wall, affording a glimpse of a pretty little garden shaded with trees
inside. She would not let the cabman ring the bell, but got out first
and paid him, and then, when she could not find any further excuse, rang
it—so faintly at first that no sound followed. She waited, though she
knew she could not have been heard, to leave time for an answer. Looking
in under the little arch of roses to the smooth bit of lawn, the flowers
in the borders, she said to herself that there was not very much taste
displayed in the flowers—red geraniums and mignonette, the things that
everybody had, and great yellow nasturtiums clustering behind—not very
much taste or individuality, but yet a great deal of brightness, and the
look as of a home; not lodgings, but a place where people lived. There
were some garden-chairs about, and on a rustic table something that
looked like a woman's work. How natural it all seemed, how peaceable! It
was curious that he should be living in such a place. Perhaps, she said
to herself, it was the house of some clerk of the better sort—some one
who had known him in his early years, and had wished to be kind: and in
good air, and out of the noise of the streets. She made all these
explanations as she stood at the door waiting for some one to answer a
ring which she knew very well could not have been heard—unable to
understand her own strange pause, and the manner in which she dallied
with her anxiety. But this could not last for ever. After she had waited
more than the needful time she rang again, and presently the door was
opened by an unseen spring, and she went in within the pretty enclosure.
How pretty it was—only red geraniums and nasturtiums, it was true, but
the soft odour of the mignonette, and the sunshine, and the silence—all
so peaceful and so calm. There came over her a certain awe as she
stepped across the threshold and closed behind her the garden-door. The
windows were all open, the house-door open. Under the trees on the
little lawn were two basket-chairs, and a white heap of muslin, which
some woman must have been working at, on the table. Mrs Lycett-Landon
felt like an intruder in this peaceful place. She said to herself at
last that there must be some mistake, that it could not be here.
A housemaid, wiping her arms on her apron, came to the house-door—a
round-faced, ruddy, wholesome young woman, just the sort of servant for
such a place. No doubt there were two, cook and housemaid, the visitor
said to herself, just enough for needful service. The young woman was
smiling and pleasant, no forbidding guardian. She did not advance to
meet the stranger, but stood waiting, holding her own place in the
doorway. Her honest, open face confirmed the expression of peace and
comfort that was about the house. The intruder came up softly, not able
to divest herself of that sense of awe.
"Does Mr Lycett-Landon live here?" she said, almost under her breath.
"Yes, ma'am, but he's rather poorly this morning," the housemaid said.
"He is at home then? Will you take me to him, please——"
"Oh, I don't think I can do that, ma'am. He's rather poorly; he's
keeping his room. The doctor don't think that it's anything serious, but
as master is not quite a young gentleman he says it's best to be on the
"Is Mr Lycett-Landon your master?"
"Yes, ma'am," with a little curtsey.
"Has he been ill long?"
"Oh, bless you, not at all. He has his 'ealth as 'well as could be
wished; only a little bilious or that now and then, as gentlemen will
be. They ain't so careful in what they eat and drink as ladies—that's
what I always say."
"He is only bilious then—not ill? not long ill? there has been
"Oh, bless you, nothing of the sort!" the young woman said, with the
most evident astonishment.
Mrs Lycett-Landon put all these questions in a kind of dream. Something
kept her from saying who she was. She felt a curious anxiety to find out
all the details before she announced herself.
"I think he will see me," she said, a little faintly. "I have come a
long way to see him. Take me to him, please."
"Is it business, ma'am?" said the girl.
"Business? yes; you may say it is business. I am his——Take me to him
at once, please."
"Oh dear, I can't do that. I ask your pardon, but the last thing the
doctor said was that he mustn't be troubled with no business."
"But I must see him," Mrs Lycett-Landon said.
"You can't, ma'am, not to-day—it's not possible. To be sure," the girl
added with a pleasant smile, "if Mrs Landon would do as well."
"Mrs Landon—Mrs Lycett-Landon, that's her full name. Oh, didn't you
know as he was married? She'll be down in a moment if you'll step
The woman outside the door felt herself turned to stone. She said
faintly, "Yes, I think I will step inside."
"Do, ma'am: you don't look at all well; you've been standing in the sun.
Missis will be fine and angry if she knows as I let you stand like that.
Take a chair, ma'am, please. She'll be here in a moment," the cheerful
She did not ask for the visitor's name—she was evidently not accustomed
to visits of ceremony—but went up-stairs quickly, with her solid foot
sounding on every step.
The visitor for her part sat down, not feeling able to keep upon her
feet, and faintly looked round her, seeing everything, understanding
nothing. What did it all mean? The room was furnished like that of a
newly-married pair. Little decorations were about, newly-bound books, a
new little desk all ormolu and velvet; albums, photograph-frames,
trifles from Switzerland, carved and painted, like relics of a recent
journey. Nothing was in absolute bad taste, but the fashion of the
furnishing was not of the larger kind, which means wealth. It was
slightly pretty, perhaps a little tawdry, yet not sufficiently worn to
acquire that look as yet. Mingled with all this decoration, however,
there was something else which had a curious effect upon the intruder,
something that reminded her of her husband's library at home, a chair of
the form he liked, a solid table or two, strangely out of place amid the
little low sofas and étagères. She saw all this, and took it into her
mind at a glance, without making any of these observations upon it. She
made no observations. She was unable even to think; the maid's words
went through her head without any will of hers—"Didn't you know as he
was married?" "If Mrs Landon would do as well." Mrs Landon! Who was this
that bore her own name—who was the man up-stairs? She was not in any
hurry to be enlightened. She seemed to herself rather grateful for the
pause; glad to hold off any discovery that there might be to make with
both hands, to keep it at arm's length. She sat quite still in this
strange room, not thinking or able to think, wondering what was about to
happen—what strange thing was coming to her.
At last she heard a footstep, a light step very different from the
maid's, coming down-stairs. She rose up instinctively and took hold of
the back of a chair to support herself. The door opened, and a young
woman, pretty, timid, tall, in a white flowing gown, with a little cap
upon her dark hair, and a pair of appealing eyes, came in. She had an
uncertain look, as if not wholly accustomed to her position. She said
with a pretty blush and shyness, "They tell me that you want to see my
husband on business—but he is not well enough for business. Is it
anything that I could do?"
"Will you tell me who you are?"
The new-comer looked a little surprised at the voice, which was hoarse
and unnatural, of her visitor. She answered with a little dignity,
drawing up her slight young figure. "I am Mrs Lycett-Landon," she said.
What was she to do?
It is not often in life that a woman is brought to such an emergency
without warning, without time for preparation. She did nothing at all at
first, and felt capable of nothing but to stare blankly, almost
stupidly, at her supplanter. She did not feel capable even of rising
from the chair into which she had sunk in the utter blank of
consternation. She could only gaze, interrogating not the face before
her only, but heaven and earth. Was it true? Could it be true?
The young woman was evidently surprised by this pause. She too looked
curiously at her visitor, waited for a minute, and then advancing a
step, asked, with a tone in which there was some surprise and a faint
shadow of impatience, "Is it anything that I can do?"
"Have you been married long?" This was all the visitor could say.
A pretty blush came over the other's face. "We were married in the end
of April," she said. It still seemed quite natural to her that everybody
should be interested in this great event. "We went abroad for a month.
And we were so lucky as to find this house. You know my husband?"
"I think so—well; his Christian name is——"
"Robert is his Christian name. Oh, I am so glad to meet with any one who
has known him!" She drew a chair with a pretty vivacious movement close
to that on which her visitor sat. "I feel sure," she said, "you are a
relation, and have come to find out about us."
There was something in the young creature's air so guileless, so assured
in her innocence, that if there had been any fury in the other's heart,
or on her tongue, it must have been arrested then; but there was no fury
in her heart. After the first unspeakable shock of surprise there was
nothing but a great pang, and that almost more for this young life
blighted than for her own. "It is true," she said, "that I am
a—connection. Is your mother alive?"
"Mamma?" cried the girl, with a laugh. "Oh yes, and she is here to-day.
She does not live with us, you know. She would not. She says married
people should, be left to themselves, though I always told her Mr
Landon was far too sensible to believe in that trash about
mothers-in-law. Don't you think it is rubbish? Young men may believe it;
but when a gentleman is experienced and knows the world——"
"Perhaps I could see your mother," said the old wife. She felt herself
growing a little faint. The day was warm, and she had been travelling
all night. Was not that enough to account for it? And this happy babble
in her ear made her heart sick, which was more.
"Mamma? Oh yes, certainly she will be very glad to see you. She always
wanted to see some of the relations. She said it was not natural;
though, to be sure, at his age——Shall I go and tell her you want to
see her—her and not me? But you must not take any prejudice against me.
Don't, please, if you are his relation: and you look so nice too. I know
I should love you if you would let me."
"Let me see your mother. I have no—prejudice." She scarcely knew what
she was saying. The room was swimming in her eyes, the green of the
closed blinds waving up and down, surrounding her with an uncertain mist
of colour, through which she seemed to see a half-reproachful, wondering
look. And then the white figure was gone. Mrs Lycett-Landon leant her
head upon the back of the chair, and for a minute knew nothing more.
Then the greenness became visible again, and gradually everything
wavered and circled back into its place.
The little house was very still; there were hurried steps overhead, as
if two people were moving about. It was the mother hastily being put in
order for a visitor—her cap arranged, a clean collar put on, the young
wife dancing about her in great excitement to make all nice. This
process of decoration occupied some time, and as it went on the visitor
came fully to herself. What should she do? As she recovered full command
of herself she shrunk from inflicting such a blow even upon the mother.
Should she go away before they came down?—disappear like a dream, take
no notice, but leave the strange little drama—what was it, comedy or
tragedy?—to work itself out? Why should she interfere, after all? If he
liked this best—and all the harm was now done that could be done—the
best thing was to go away and take no more notice. She had risen with
this intention to slip away, to let herself out, not to interfere, when
another sound became audible—the sound of a door opening in the back
part of the house. Then a voice called "Rose"—a voice which, in spite
of herself, made the visitor's brain swim once more. She had to stop
again perforce. And then a step came towards the room in which she was;
a heavy step, with a little gouty limp in it—a step she knew so well.
It came along the passage, accompanied by a running commentary of
half-complaint. "Where are you? I want you." Then the door of the little
drawing-room was pushed open. "Why don't you answer me?" He paused there
in the doorway, seeing a stranger—with a quick apology—"I beg your
pardon." Then suddenly there came from him a cry—a roar like that of a
Neither of the two ever forgot the appearance of the other. She saw him
with the little passage and its stronger light opening behind him, his
large figure relieved against it; the sudden look of consternation,
horror, utter amaze in his face. Horror came first; and then everything
yielded to the culprit's sense of unspeakable downfall, guilt
self-convicted and without excuse. He fell back against the wall; his
jaw dropped; his eyes seemed to turn upon themselves in a flicker of
mortal dismay. The entire failure of all force and self-defence did not
disarm his wife, as might have been supposed, but filled her with a
blaze of sudden vehemence, passion which she could not contain. She had
said his name as he said hers, in a quiet tone enough; but now stamped
her foot and cried out, feeling it intolerable, insupportable. "Well!"
she cried, "stand up for it like a man! Say you are sick of me, of your
children, of living honestly these fifty years. Say something for
yourself. Don't stand there like a whipped child."
But the man had nothing to say. He stood against the wall and looked at
her as if he feared a personal assault. Then he said, "She is not to
blame. She is as innocent as you are."
"I have seen her," said the injured wife. "Do you think you need to tell
me that? But then, what are you?"
He made no reply. And the sight of him in the doorway was unbearable to
the woman. If he had stood up for himself, made a fight of any kind, it
would have been more tolerable. But the very sight of him was
insupportable—something she could not endure. She turned her head away
and went quickly past him towards the open door. "I meant to tell her
mother." She scarcely knew whether she was speaking or only thinking. "I
meant to tell her mother, but I cannot. You must manage it your own
Next moment she found herself out in the street, walking along under the
shadow of the blank wall. She was conscious of having closed both doors
behind her, that of the house and that of the garden. If she could but
have closed the door of her own mind, and put it out of sight, and shut
it up for ever! She hurried away, walking very quickly round one corner
after another, through one street after another, of houses enclosed in
walls and railings, withdrawn among flowers and trees. You may walk long
through these quiet places without finding what she wanted—a cab to
take her out of this strange, still, secluded town of villas. When she
found one at last, she told the driver to take her back to the Euston,
but first to drive round Hyde Park. He thought she must be mad. But that
did not matter much so long as she was able to pay the fare. And then
there followed what she had wanted, a long, endless progress through a
confusion of streets, first quiet, full of gardens and retired houses;
then the long bustling thoroughfares leading back into the noisy world
of London; then the quiet streets on the north side of the park, the
trees of Kensington Gardens, the old red palace, the endless line of
railings and trees on the other side; the bustle of Piccadilly, so
unlike the bustle of the other streets. Naturally the hansom could not
go within the enclosure of the park, but only by the streets. But she
did not care for that. She wanted movement, the air in her face, silence
so that she might think.
So that she might think! But a woman can no more think when she wills
than she can be happy when she wills. All that she thought was this,
going over and over it, and back and back upon it, putting it
involuntarily into words and saying them to herself like a sort of
dismal refrain. At fifty! After living honestly all these fifty years!
Was it possible? was it in the heart of man? At fifty, after all these
years! This wonder was so great that she could think of nothing else.
And he had been a good man—kind, ready to help; not hard upon any
one—fond of his family, liking to have them about him. And now at
fifty! after living honestly——She did not think of it as a matter
affecting herself, and she could not think of what she was to do, which
was the thing she had intended to think of, when she bade the man drive
to the other end of the world. When she perceived, as she did dimly in
the confusion of her mind, that she was approaching the end of her long
round, she would but for very shame have gone over it all again. But by
this time she had begun to see that little would be gained by staving it
off for another hour, and that sooner or later she must descend from
that abstract wandering, which had been more like a wild flight into
space than anything else, and meet the realities of her position. Ah
heavens! the realities of her position were—first of all, Horace, her
boy—her grown-up boy: no longer a child to whom a family misfortune
could be slurred over, but a man, able to understand, old enough to
know. Her very heart died within her as this suddenly flashed upon her
deadened intelligence. Horace and Milly—a young man and a young woman.
How was she to tell them what their father had done? At fifty! after all
She was told at the hotel that the young gentleman had gone out—for
which she was deeply thankful—but would be back immediately. Oh, if he
might but be detained; if something would but happen to keep him away!
She came up the great vulgar common stairs which so many people trod,
some perhaps with hearts as heavy as hers, few surely with such a
problem to resolve. How to tell her boy that his father—oh God! his
father, whom he loved and looked up to; his kind father, who never
grudged him anything; a man so well known; a good man, of whom everybody
spoke well—to tell him that his father——She locked the door of her
room instinctively, as if that would keep Horace out, and keep her
It was one of those terrible hotel rooms, quite comfortable and wholly
unsympathetic, in which many of the sorest hours of life are passed,
where parents come to part with their children, to receive back their
prodigals, to look for the missing, to receive tidings of the worse than
dead; where many a reconciliation has to be accomplished, and
arrangement made that breaks the heart. Strange and cold and miserable
was the unaccustomed place, with no associations or soothing, no rest or
softness in it. She walked about it up and down, and then stopped,
though the movement gave her a certain relief, lest Horace should come
to the door, hear her, and call out in his hearty young voice to be
admitted. She had not been able to think before for the recurrence of
that dismal chorus, "At fifty!" and now she could not think for thinking
that any moment Horace might come to the door. She was more afraid of
her boy than of all the world beside: had some one come to tell her that
an accident had happened, that he had broken an arm or a leg, it seemed
to her that she would have been glad,—anything rather than let him
know. And yet he would have to know. The eldest son, a man grown, after
his father the head of his family, the one who would have to take care
of the children. How would it be possible to keep this from him? And how
could it be told? His mother, who had prided herself on her son's
spotless youth, and rejoiced in the thought that a wanton word was as
impossible from the lips of Horace as from those of Milly, reddened and
felt her very heart burn with shame. How could she tell him? She could
not tell him. It was impossible; it was beyond her power.
And then she shrank into the corner of her seat and held her breath: for
who could this be but Horace, with a foot that scarcely seemed to touch
the ground, rushing with an anxious heart to hear news of his father, up
the echoing empty stair?
"Mother! are you there? Let me in. Mother! open the door."
"In a moment, Horace; in a moment." It could not be postponed any
longer. She rose up slowly and looked at herself in the glass to see if
it was written in her face. She had not taken off her bonnet or made any
change in her outdoor dress, and she was very pale, almost ghastly, with
all the lines deepened and drawn in her face, looking ten years older,
she thought. She put her bonnet straight with a woman's instinct, and
then slowly, reluctantly, opened the door. He came in eager and
impatient, not knowing what to think.
"Did you want to keep me out, mother! Were you vexed not to find me
waiting? And how about papa?"
"No, Horace, not at all vexed."
"I went a little farther than I intended. I don't know my way about.
But, mother, what of papa?"
"Not very much, my dear," she said, turning away. "It must be nearly
time for lunch."
"Yes, it is quite time for lunch; and you had no breakfast. I told them
to get it ready as I came up. But you don't answer me. Of course you
found him. Is he really ill? What does he mean by it? Why didn't he come
with you? Mother dear, is it anything serious? How pale you are! Oh, you
needn't turn away; you can't hide anything from me. What is the matter,
"It is serious, and yet it isn't serious, Horace. He is not ill, which
is the most important thing. Only a little—seedy, as you call it.
That's a word, you know, that always exasperates me."
"Is that all?" the youth said, looking at her with incredulous eyes.
She had turned her back upon him, and was standing before the glass,
with a pretence of taking off her bonnet. It was easier to speak without
looking at him. "No, my dear, that is not all. You will think it very
strange what I am going to say. Papa and I have had a quarrel, Horace."
"You may well be startled, but it is true. Our first quarrel," she said,
turning half round with the ghost of a smile. It was the suggestion of
the moment, at which she had caught to make up for the impossibility of
thinking how she was to do it. "They say, you know, that the longer one
puts off a thing of this kind the more badly one has it, don't you
know?—measles and other natural complaints. We have been a long time
without quarrelling, and now we have done it badly." She turned round
with a faint smile; but Horace did not smile. He looked at her very
gravely, with an astonishment beyond words.
"I cannot understand," he said, almost severely, "what you can mean."
"Well, perhaps it is a little difficult; but still such things do
happen. You must not jump at the conclusion that it is all my fault."
Horace came up to her with his serious face, and put his arm round her,
turning her towards him. "I was not thinking of any fault, mother; but
surely I may know more than this? You and he don't quarrel for nothing,
and I am not a child. You must tell me. Mother, what is the matter?" he
said, with great alarm. For she was overdone in every way, worn out both
body and mind, and when she felt her son's arm round her nature gave
way. She leant her head upon his young shoulder, and fell into that
convulsive sobbing which it is so alarming to bear. It was some time
before she could command herself enough to reply—
"Oh, that is true—that is true! not for nothing. But, dear Horry, you
can't be the judge, can you, between your father and mother? Oh no!
Leave it a little; only leave it. It will perhaps come right of itself."
"Mother, of course I can't be the judge; but still, I'm not a child. May
I go, then, and see papa?"
"Oh no," she cried, involuntarily clasping his arm tight—"oh no! not
for the world."
The youth grew very grave: he withdrew his arm from her almost
unconsciously, and said, "Either it is a great deal more serious than
you say, or else——"
"It is very serious, Horace. I don't deceive you," she said. "It may
come to that—that we shall never—be together any more. But still I
implore you, don't go to your father—oh! not now, my dear. He would not
wish it. You must give me your word not to go."
She could not bear the scrutiny of his eyes. She turned and went away
from him, putting off her light cloak, pulling open drawers as if in a
search for something; but he stood where she had left him, full of
perplexity and trouble. A quarrel between his parents was incredible to
Horace; and the idea of a rupture, a public scandal, a thing that could
be talked about! He stood still, overwhelmed by sudden trouble and
distress, though without the slightest guess of the real tragedy. "I
can't think what you could quarrel about," he said. "It seems a mere
impossibility. Whatever it is, you must make it up, mother, for our
"My dear, anything that can be done, you may be sure will be done, for
"But it is impossible, you know. A quarrel! between you and papa! It is
out of the question. Nobody would believe it. I think you must be joking
all the time," he said, with an abrupt laugh. But his laugh seemed so
strange, even to himself, that he became silent suddenly with a look of
confusion and irritation. Never in his life had he met with anything so
"I am not joking," she said; "but, perhaps, after a while——Come and
have your luncheon, Horace. I know you want it. And perhaps after a
"You are worn out too, mother; that is what it is. One feels irritable
when one is tired. After you have eaten something and rested yourself,
let me go to papa. And we'll have a jolly dinner together and make it
And she had the heroism to say no more, but went down with him, and
pretended to eat, and saw him make a hearty meal. While she sat thus
smiling at her boy, she could not but wonder to herself what he was
doing. Was he smiling too, keeping up a cheerful face for the sake of
the unfortunate girl not much older than Horace? God help her whom he
had destroyed! She kept imagining that other scene while she enacted her
own. Afterwards she persuaded Horace with some difficulty to let
everything stand over till next day, telling him that she had great need
of rest (which was true enough) and would lie down; and that next
evening would be time enough for any further steps. She insisted so upon
her need of rest, that he remembered that Dick Fareham had asked him to
dine with him at his club, and go to the theatre if he had nothing
better to do—a plan which she caught at eagerly.
"But how can I go and leave you alone in a hotel?" he said.
"My dear, I am going to bed," she replied, which was unanswerable. And
after many attempts to know more, and many requests to be allowed to go
to his father, Horace at last yielded, dressed, and went off to the
early dinner which precedes a play. He had brought his dress clothes
with him, though there had been so little time for feasting, confident
that even a few days in London must bring pleasure of some kind. And
already the utterly absurd suggestion that his father and mother could
have had a deadly quarrel began to lose its power in his mind. It was
impossible. His mother was worn out, and had been irritable; and his
father, especially when he had a touch of gout, was, as Horace well
knew, irritable also. To-morrow all that would have blown away, and they
would both be ashamed of themselves. Thus he consoled himself as he went
out; and as the youth never had known what family strife or misfortune
meant, and in his heart felt anything of the kind to be impossible, it
did not take much to drive that incomprehensible spectre away.
Mrs Lycett-Landon was at length left alone to deal with it by herself.
What was she to do? She had a fire lighted in the blank room, though it
was the height of summer, for agitation and misery had made her cold,
and sat over it trembling, and trying to collect her thoughts. Oh, if it
could be but possible to do nothing, to say no word to any one, to
forget the episode of this morning altogether! "If I had not known," she
said to herself, "it would have done me no harm." This modern Eleanor,
who had fallen so innocently into Rosamond's bower, had no thought of
vengeance in her heart. She had no wish to kill or injure the unhappy
girl who had come between her and her husband. What good would that do?
Were Rosamond made an end of in a moment, how would it change the fact?
What could ever alter that? The ancients did not take this view of the
subject. They took it for granted that when the intruder was removed
life went on again in the same lines, and that nothing was irremediable.
But to Mrs Lycett-Landon life could never go on again. It had all come
to a humiliating close; confusion had taken the place of order, and all
that had been, as well as all that was to be, had grown suddenly
impossible. Had she not stopped herself with an effort, her troubled
mind would have begun again that painful refrain which had filled her
mind in the morning, which was perhaps better than the chaos which now
reigned there. So far as he was concerned she could still wonder and
question, but for herself everything was shattered. She could neither
identify what was past nor face what was to come. Everything surged
wildly about her, and she found no footing. What was to be done? These
words intensify all the miseries of life—they make death more terrible,
since it so often means the destruction of all settled life for the
living, as well as the end of mortal troubles for the dead—they have to
be asked at moments when the answer is impossible. This woman could find
no reply as she sat miserable over her fire. She was not suffering the
tortures of jealousy, nor driven frantic with the thought that all the
tenderness which ever was hers was transferred to another. Perhaps her
sober age delivered her from such reflections; they found no place at
all in the tumult of her thoughts; the questions involved to her were
wholly different: what she was to do; how she was to satisfy her
children without shaming their youth and her own mature purity of
matronhood which had protected them from any suggestion of such evil?
How they were ever to be silenced and contented without overthrowing for
ever in their minds their father and the respect they owed him? This was
the treble problem which was before her—by degrees the all-absorbing
one which banished every other from her thoughts. What could she say to
Horace and Milly? How were they to be kept from this shame? Had they
been both boys or both girls, it seemed to their mother that the
question would have been less terrible; but boy and girl, young man and
young woman, how were they ever to be told? How were they to be deceived
and not told? Their mother's powers gave way and all her strength in
face of this question. How was she to do it? How was she to refrain from
doing it? That pretext of a quarrel, how was it to be kept up? and in
what other way—in what other way, oh heaven! was she to explain to them
that their father and she could meet under the same roof no more? She
covered her face with her hands, and wept in the anguish of helplessness
and incapacity; then dried her eyes, and tried again to plan what she
could do. Oh that she had the wings of a dove, that she might flee away
and be at rest!—but whither could she flee? She thought of pretending
some sudden loss of money, some failure of fortune, and rushing away
with the children to America, to Australia, to the end of the world; but
if she did so, what then? Would it become less necessary, more easy to
explain? Alas! no; nothing could change that horrible necessity. The
best thing of all, she said to herself, if she were equal to it, would
be to return home, to live there as long as it was possible, with her
heart shut up, holding her peace, saying nothing—as long as it was
possible!—until circumstances should force upon her the explanation
which would have to be made. Let it be put off for weeks, for months,
even for years, it would have to be made at last.
Thus she sat pondering, turning over everything, considering and
rejecting a thousand plans; and then, after all, acted upon a sudden
impulse, a sudden rising in her of intolerable loneliness and
insufficiency. She felt as if her brain were giving way, her mind
becoming blank, before this terrible emergency, which must be decided
upon at once. Horace was safe for a few hours, separated from all
danger, but how to meet his anxious face in the light of another day his
mother did not know. She sprang up from her seat, and reached towards
the table, on which there were pens and ink, and wrote a telegram
quickly, eagerly, without pausing to think. The young ones were in the
habit of laughing at old Fareham. She herself had joined in the laugh
before now, and allowed that he was methodical and tedious and tiresome.
He was all these, and yet he was an old friend, the oldest friend she
had, one who had known her father, who had seen her married, who had
guided her husband's first steps in the way of business. He was the only
person to whom she could say anything. And he was a merciful old man:
when troubles arose—when clerks went wrong or debtors failed—Mr
Fareham's opinion was always on the side of mercy. This was one of the
reasons why they called him an old fogey in the office; always—always
he had been merciful. And it was this now which came into her mind. She
wrote her telegram hastily, and sent it off at once, lest she should
repent, directing it not to the office, where it might be opened by some
other hand than his, but to his house. "Come to me directly if you can.
I have great need of your advice and help. Tell no one," was what she
said. She liked, like all women, to get the full good of the permitted
His mother was in bed and asleep when Horace returned from his play—or
at least so he thought. He opened her door and found the room dark, and
said, "Are you asleep, mamma?" and got no answer, which he thought
rather strange, as she was such a light sleeper. But, to be sure, last
night had been so disturbed, she had not slept at all, and the day had
been fatiguing and exciting. No doubt she was very tired. He retired on
tiptoe, making, as was natural, far more noise than when he had come in
without any precaution at all. But she made no sign; he did not wake
her, where she lay, very still, with her eyes closed in the dark,
holding her very breath that he might not suspect. Horace had enjoyed
his evening. The play had been amusing, the dinner good. Dick Fareham,
indeed, had asked a few questions.
"I suppose you found the governor all right?" he said.
"I didn't," said Horace; "the mother did."
"And he's all right, I hope?"
"I can't tell you," said Horace, shortly; "I said I hadn't seen him."
The conversation had ended thus for the moment, but young Fareham was
too curious to leave it so. He asked Horace when he was coming to the
London office. "I know I'm only a warming-pan," he said, "keeping the
place warm for you. I suppose that will be settled while you are here."
"I don't know anything about it," said Horace. "We heard you were all at
sixes and sevens in the office."
"I at sixes and sevens!"
"Oh, I don't mean to be disagreeable. We heard so," said Horace, "and
that the governor had his hands full."
"I'd like to know who told you that," said the young man. "I'd like to
punch his head, whoever said it. In the first place, it is not true, and
your father is not the man to put such a story about."
Now Horace had not been told this as the reason of his father's absence,
but had found it out, as members of a family find out what has been
talked of in the house, the persons in the secret falling off their
guard as time goes on. He was angry at the resentment with which he was
met, but a little at a loss for a reply.
"Perhaps you think I have put it about?" he said, indignant. "It has not
been put about at all, but we heard it somehow. That was why my
"I think I can see how it was—I think I can understand," said young
Fareham. "That was what called your father up to London. By Jove!"
And after that he was not so pleasant a companion for the rest of the
evening. But the play was amusing, and Horace partially forgot this
contretemps. When he found his mother's room shut up and quiet, he
went to his own without any burden on his mind. He was not so anxious
about "the governor" as perhaps Milly in his place might have been. It
was highly unpleasant that the mother and he should have quarrelled, and
quite incomprehensible. But Horace went to bed philosophically, and the
trouble in his mind was not enough to keep him from sleep.
Young Fareham, on his side, wrote an indignant letter to his uncle,
demanding to know if his mind too had been poisoned by false reports.
The young man was very angry. He was being made the scapegoat; he was
the excuse for old Landon's absence, who had not been near the office
for months, and he called upon his own particular patron to vindicate
him. Had his private morals been attacked he might have borne it; but to
talk of the office as at sixes and sevens! this was more than he could
Next morning, before anybody else was awake, an early housemaid stole
into Mrs Lycett-Landon's room, and told her that a gentleman had arrived
who wanted to see her. The poor lady had slept a little towards the
morning, and was waked by this message. She thought it must be her
husband, and after a moment of dolorous hesitation got up hastily and
dressed herself, and went to the sitting-room, which was still in the
disorder of last night, and looking, if that were possible, still more
wretched, raw, and unhomelike than in its usual trim. She found, with a
great shock and sense of discouragement, old Mr Fareham, pale after his
night's journey, with all the wrinkles about his eyes more pronounced,
and the slight tremor in his head more visible than ever. He came
forward to meet her, holding out both his hands.
"What can I do for you?" he said. "What has happened? I came off, you
see, by the first train."
"Oh, Mr Fareham, I never expected this! You must have thought me mad. I
think, indeed, I must have been off my head a little last night. I
telegraphed, did I?—I scarcely knew what I was doing——"
"You have not found him, then?"
She covered her face with her hands. To meet the old man's eyes in the
light of day and tell her story was impossible. Why had not she gone
away, buried herself somewhere, and never said a word?
"I have seen Mr Landon, Mr Fareham; he is not—ill: but Horace knows
nothing," she said, hastily.
"My dear lady, if I am to do anything for you I must know."
"I don't think there is anything to be done. We have had a—serious
disagreement; but Horace knows nothing," she repeated again. He looked
at her, and she could not bear his eyes. "I am very sorry to have given
you so much trouble——"
"The trouble is nothing," he said. "I have known you almost all your
life. It would be strange if I could not take a little trouble. I think
I know what you mean. You were distracted last night, and sent for me.
But now in the calm of the morning things do not look so bad, and you
think you have been too hasty. I can understand that, if that is what
She could not bear his eye. She sank down in the chair where she had sat
last night and talked to Horace. In the calm of the morning! It was
only now, when she felt that she had begun to live again, that all her
problems came back to her, full awake, and fell upon her like harpies.
Things do not look so bad! There passed through her mind a despairing
question, whether she had strength to persuade him that this was so, and
that there really was nothing to appeal to him about.
"My dear lady," he said again, "you must be frank with me. Is it a false
alarm, and nothing for me to do? If so, not another word; I will forget
that you ever sent for me. But if there is something more——"
How much was going through her mind, and how many scenes were rising
before her eyes as he spoke! There appeared to her a vision of duty
terrible to perform; of going home, putting on a face of calm, speaking
of papa as usual to the children, living her life as usual, keeping her
secret: and then of the universal questions that would arise, Where was
he? what had become of him? why did he never return? Or she seemed to
see herself going away, making some pretext of health, of education, she
could not tell what, carrying her children, astonished, half unwilling,
full of questions which she could not answer, away with her into the
unknown. These visions rolled upward before her eyes surrounded with
mists and confusion, out of which they appeared and reappeared. When her
old friend stopped speaking her imagination stopped too, and she came to
a pause. And then the impossibility of all these efforts came over her
and overwhelmed her—the mists, the clouds, the chaos of helplessness
and confusion in which there was no standing-ground, nor anything to
grasp at, swallowing her up. She did not know how long she sat silent
while the old man stood and looked at her. Then she burst forth all at
"I cannot tell the children! How is it possible? Horace and Milly, they
are grown up; they will want to know. How can I tell them? I want you to
help me to keep it from them—to think of something. I would rather die
than tell them," she said, starting up wringing her hands.
"My dear lady! my dear lady!—--"
"Mr Fareham, Robert—has married—again!"
The old man gave a loud cry—almost a shriek—of surprise and horror.
"You don't know what you are saying," he said.
"That sounds as if I were dead," she said, calmed by the revelation,
with a faint smile. "Oh yes, I know very well what I am saying. He is
married—as if I were dead—as if I had never existed. I went to see
him, and I saw—her!"
Old Fareham caught her hands in his; he led her to her seat again, and
put her in it, uttering all the time sounds that were half soothing,
half blaspheming. He stood by her, patting her on the shoulder, his old
eyebrows contracted, his lips quivering under their heavy grey
moustache. He was more agitated now than she was. The telling of her
secret seemed to have delivered her soul. When he had recovered himself
he asked a hundred questions, to all which she answered calmly enough.
The room, with its look of disorder—the litter of last night, the fresh
morning sunshine streaming in disregarded, emphasising the squalor of
the ashes in the grate—surrounded with a fitting background the strange
discussion between these two—the old man fatigued with his night
journey, the woman pale as a ghost, with eyes incapable of sleep. She
told him everything, forestalling his half-said protest that it must be
another Lycett-Landon with the fact of her personal encounter with her
husband, forgetting nothing. The facts of the case had by this time
paled of their first importance to her eyes, while they were everything
to his. They no longer agitated her; while that which convulsed her very
soul seemed to him of but little importance. "I cannot tell the
children. How am I to tell the children?" He became weary of this
"We can think of the children later. In the meantime, this other is the
important question. He has brought himself within the range of the law;
you can punish him."
"Punish him?" she said, with a strange smile—"punish him?"
"Yes; you may forgive if you please, but I can't forgive. He deserves to
be punished, and he shall be punished—and the woman——"
"He said she was as innocent—as I am."
"He said! he is a famous authority. One knows what kind of creature——"
"I have seen her," said Queen Eleanor, with a sigh, "poor child. He said
nothing but the truth; she is not in fault. She is the one who is most
injured. I would save her if I could."
"Save her! You would let this sweet establishment go on," he said, with
fine sarcasm, "and not disturb them?"
"Yes," she said. "It may be wrong, but I think I would if I could."
"You are mad!" cried the old man. "You have lost all your good sense,
and your feeling too. What, your own husband! you would let him go on
living in sin—happy——"
She stopped him with a curious kind of authority—a look before which he
paused in spite of himself.
"Happy!" she said; "I suppose so; at fifty, after living honestly all
He stopped and shook his grey head. "I have known such a thing before.
It seems as if they must break out—as if common life and duty became
insupportable. I have known such a case once before."
She cried out eagerly, "Who was it?" then stopped with a half-smile.
"What does it matter to me who it was? The only thing that matters now
is the children. What is to be done about the children? I cannot tell
them; nor can you, nor any one. Mr Fareham, let him alone; let him
be—happy, as you call it—if he can. But the children—what am I to say
to the children?" She rose up again, and began to walk about the room,
unable to keep still. "Horace, who is a man, and Milly. If they were
little things it would not matter; they would not understand."
"And is it possible," said old Fareham, looking at her almost sourly,
"that this is the only thing you can think of?—not your own wrongs, nor
his abominable behaviour, nor——"
She paused a little, standing by the table. "Oh, you do wrong," she
said, "you do wrong! A woman has her pride. If his duty has
become—insupportable; it was you who used the word—and life
insupportable, do you think a woman like me would hold him to it? Oh,
you do wrong! I have put that away. But the children—I cannot put them
away! And he was a good father, a kind father. Think of something. If
only they might never find out!"
Here her voice gave way, and she could say no more.
"Horace will have to know," he said, shaking his head.
"Why? You could tell him there was some difficulty between us, something
that could not be got over. That we were both in the wrong, as people
always are in a quarrel. And no doubt I must have been in the wrong,
or—or Robert would never have gone so far—so far astray. No doubt I
have been wrong; you must have seen it—you with your experience—and
yet you never said a word. Why didn't you tell me?—you might have done
it so easily. Why didn't you say, 'You make life too hum-drum, too
commonplace for him. He wants variety and change?' I would have taken it
very well from you. I am not a woman who will not take advice. Why did
you never tell me? I could have made so many changes if I had known."
He took her hand again, with a great pity, and almost remorse, in his
old face. "It is too early," he said, "to do anything. Tell me where I
shall find him, and go back to your room and try to rest. Say you are
too tired to see the boy, if that is all you are thinking of; and go to
bed—go to bed, and try and get a little sleep. I have a great deal of
experience, as you say. Leave it to me. I will see him, and then we will
talk it over, and think what is best to be done."
"You will see—him? What will you say to him, Mr Fareham? Why should you
see him? Is not the chapter closed so far as he is concerned?"
"Closed? He will come home when he is tired of—the other
establishment—is that what you mean him to do?"
She blushed like a girl, growing crimson to her hair. "Oh yes," she
said, "I know you have a great deal of experience; but, perhaps, here
you do not understand. That—that would not be necessary. He is not a
man who would—Mr Fareham, you don't suppose I wish him any harm?"
"You are a great deal too good—too merciful."
"I am not merciful; it is all ended. Don't you know, since yesterday the
world has come to an end. Life has become impossible—impossible! that
is all about it. I am not angry; it is too serious for that. I would not
harm him for the world. God help him! I don't know how he can live, any
more than I know how I can live. It is—no word will express what it is.
But he will not come back. He is not that kind of man."
"Do you think if you had not seen him yesterday, if he did not know that
you had found him out—do you think," said old Fareham, deliberately,
"that he would not have come back?"
She looked at him for an instant, and then hid her face in her hands.
"I have no doubt on the subject," said the old man, triumphantly. "But
when a man has put himself within the reach of the law he is powerless,
and we have him in our hands."
She woke suddenly with the sense that somebody was by her, and found
Horace seated by her bed. She had fallen asleep in the brightness of the
morning, overcome with fatigue, and also partly calmed by having
confided her secret to another: even when it is painful, when it is
indiscreet, it is always a relief. The bosom is no longer bursting with
that which it is beyond its power to contain. She woke suddenly with
that sense of some one looking at her which breaks the deepest sleep.
She was still in her dressing-gown, lying upon her bed. "Horace!" she
said, springing up.
"I am so glad you have had a sleep. Don't jump up like that; you look so
tired, mother, so worn out."
"Not now, my dear; I feel quite fresh now. Did you enjoy your evening?"
"What does it matter about my evening?" he said, almost sternly.
"Mother, do you know that old Fareham came up by the night train?"
"Yes, Horace," she said, turning her head away.
"You knew? Do you think you are treating me fairly—I that am more
interested than any one? What is the matter? The business has gone
wrong. Do you mean to say that my father—my father——?"
Poor Horace's voice faltered. That it should be his father was the
extraordinary thing, as it always is full of mystery to us how
misfortune, much less shame, should affect us individually. He looked at
his mother with a look which was imperative and almost commanding, not
perplexed and imploring, as it had been before. Mr Fareham's arrival had
thrown light, as Horace thought, on the mystery—light which to him, as
a young man destined to be a merchant prince, and to convey to the world
higher ideas of commerce altogether, was more dreadful than anything
else could have been. He thought he saw it all; and that as no one
would be so deeply affected as he, his mother had been weakly trying to
hide it from him. Horace felt that his spirit would rise with disaster,
and that he was capable of raising the house again and all its concerns
from the ground.
And for a moment she caught at this new idea. To her own feminine mind
disaster to the business was as nothing in comparison with what had
happened. If others could make him believe this, it would be a way out
of the worse revelation. This was how she contemplated the matter. She
said, "It was I who sent for Mr Fareham. He is a very old friend, and
his interests are all bound up with ours."
"Then that is what it is. He has been speculating. Oh, how could you
conceal such a thing from me? How could you keep me in the dark? Mother,
I don't mean to be unkind, but this is nothing to you in comparison with
what it is to me. You don't care for a man's credit," said Horace,
rising and striding about the room, "or the reputation of the firm, or
anything of real importance, in comparison with his health or his
comfort or some personal matter. His health—of what consequence is that
in comparison? Mother, mother, I shall find it hard to forgive you if
you have let our credit be put in danger without warning me."
This reproach was one that she had not looked for, and that took her
entirely by surprise. She looked up at him, still feeling that what
there was to say was worse, far worse than anything he could imagine,
yet startled and confused by his vehemence. "I—I—don't think the
credit of the house will suffer," she said, faltering a little.
"It is not so bad as that? But then why did you send for old Fareham?
You ought to have taken no step without consulting me. I understand this
sort of thing better than you do," he said, with an impatience which he
could not suppress. "Mamma, I beg your pardon; everything else I am sure
you know better—but the business! Don't you know I have been brought up
to that? I mind nothing so much as the credit of the house."
"Nothing, Horace?" she said, faintly.
"Nothing," he repeated with vehemence, "nothing! Of course," he added
after a moment, "if papa were ill I should be very sorry: but he must
not play with our credit, mother—he must not; that is the one thing.
What has he been doing? Surely not anything to do with those new bubble
"Oh, Horace, how can I tell you? Wait till Mr Fareham comes back."
"He has gone to see papa, then? I thought it must be that; but why, why
not tell me? I am not very old, perhaps, but I know about the business,
and care more for it than any one else. I would make any sacrifice, but
our credit must not be touched—it must not be touched."
"Compose yourself, Horace; it need not be touched, so far as I can see."
This calmed him a little, and he sat down by her, and took pains to
explain his views to her. "You see, mamma," he said kindly, but with a
little natural condescension, "ladies have such a different way of
looking at things. You think of health and comfort and good temper, and
all that, when a man thinks of his affairs and his reputation. You would
be more distracted if the governor" (at home Horace never ventured on
this phrase, but it suited the atmosphere of town) "had a bad accident,
or got into a snappish state, than if he had pledged the credit of the
firm. It is nice in you to think so, but it would be silly in a man."
"You think then, Horace, that nothing can be so bad as trouble to the
firm. You think that loss of money——?"
"Loss of money is not everything," he said, testily. "I hope
Lycett-Landon's could lose a lot of money without being much the worse.
The fact is, you don't understand. It is always the personal you dwell
upon. I am not reproaching you, mamma; it is your nature." He patted her
hand as he said this, and looked at her with a half-smile of boyish
wisdom and superiority, very kindly compassionating her limited powers.
This silenced her once more: and so they remained for some time, he
sitting thoughtfully by her, she reclining on the bed looking at him,
trying to read the meaning in his face. At last she said tremulously, "I
am not quite so bad as you think: but perhaps a matter that touched our
family peace, that sundered us from each other—disunited us——"
He kept on patting her hand, but more impatiently than before. "Nothing
could do that—permanently," he said. And he asked no more questions. He
was a little, a very little, contemptuous of his mother. "I ought to
have gone along with old Fareham. We should have talked it over
together. I suppose now I must have patience till he comes back. When do
you think he will come back? Can't I go and join him there? Oh, you
think papa wouldn't like it? Well, perhaps he might not. It is rather
hard upon me, all the same, to wait on and know nothing."
"Don't you think if you were to take a walk, Horace, or go and see the
"Oh, the pictures! in this state of anxiety? Well, yes, I think I will
take a walk; it is better than staying indoors. And don't you make
yourself unhappy, mother. It can't have been going on very long, and no
doubt we shall pull through."
Saying this with a cloudy smile, Horace went away, waving his hand to
her as he went out. She then got up and dressed with a stupefied
sensation, taking all the usual pains about her toilet, though with a
sense that it was absolutely unimportant. She could not remember what
day it was, or what month, or even what year. She was conscious of
having received a remorseless and crushing blow, but that was all; when
she had left home or whether she would ever go back to it, she could not
tell; neither could she form the least idea of what was going to happen
when old Mr Fareham came back. She forgot that she had not breakfasted,
and even, what was more wonderful, that to save appearances it was
necessary to make believe to breakfast. Everything of the kind was swept
away. She went into the sitting-room and sat down at the window like an
abstract woman in a picture. It was very strange to her to do nothing;
and yet she never thought of doing anything, but sat down and
waited—waited for something that was about to happen, not knowing what
it might be.
She had not waited long when one of the hotel servants knocked at the
door, and, opening it, admitted a stranger whom she had never seen
before—a small, thin woman in a widow's dress, who stood hesitating,
looking at her with a pair of anxious eyes, and for the first moment
said nothing. Mrs Lycett-Landon was roused by the unlooked-for
appearance of this visitor. She rose up, wondering, at such a moment,
who it was that could have come to disturb her. The stranger was very
timid and shy. She hung about the door as if there were a protection in
being near it.
"I beg your pardon," she said, "I don't even know by what name to speak
to you. But one of my daughter's maids saw you yesterday get into a cab,
and then we heard you had come here."
"I think I understand; your daughter is——?"
"Mrs Landon, madam, where you called yesterday. You asked for me, and
then went away without seeing me. I could not help feeling anxious. You
may think it presuming in me to track you out like this, but I do feel
anxious. We were afraid perhaps that my son-in-law——"
She had a wistful, deprecating look, like that of a woman who had not
received much consideration in the course of her life. She watched the
face of the person she addressed with an anxiety which evidently was
habitual, as if to see how far she might go, to avoid all possible
offence. Mrs Lycett-Landon returned the look with one which was full of
alarm, almost terror. It seemed impossible that she could get through
this interview without revealing everything; and the small, anxious,
hesitating figure looked so little able to bear any shock.
"Will you sit down?" she said, offering her a chair.
The stranger accepted it gratefully, with a timid smile of thanks. She
seemed to take this little civility as a good omen, and brightened
perceptibly. She was very carefully, neatly dressed, but her crape was
somewhat rusty, and the black gown evidently taken much care of. She
twisted her hands together nervously.
"We were afraid," she repeated, "that perhaps Mr Landon—had got himself
into trouble with his own family because of his marriage; and that you
had come perhaps—to see. We were so delighted that you should have
come; and then when we found you had gone away——"
Her voice trembled a little as she spoke. She watched every movement of
the face which regarded her with such strange emotion, ready to stop, to
modify any word that displeased.
"Then did you let him—did you give him your daughter—without any
inquiries, without knowing anything——?"
"Oh, madam," the widow cried, clasping and unclasping her nervous hands,
"perhaps I was imprudent. But at his age one does not think of the
family approving. If he had been a younger man——But who could have any
right to interfere at his age?"
"That is true—that is very true!"
"And you see it came upon me, you might say, unexpectedly. I saw that he
was getting fond of Rose; but I never thought, if you will excuse me for
saying so, that she would marry a gentleman so much older—and then it
was so sudden at the last. He had leave from his office, and the
opportunity of getting away——"
"Leave from his office!" The listener could not help repeating this with
a curious cry of indignation. It gave her a shock, in the midst of so
many shocks. As for the widow, this interruption confused her. She
trembled and stumbled in her simple tale.
"And so—and so—it was settled at last in a hurry. I have not very
strong health, and I was very glad that Rose should be settled. Oh yes,
I was glad that she should have some one to take care of her in case
anything happened. I had confidence that you could feel for me as a
mother; perhaps you are a mother yourself."
The widow stopped short when she had made this suggestion, with a
momentary panic; for Rose's idea had been that the lady who had appeared
and disappeared so suddenly was a sister, perhaps a maiden sister. Her
mother judged otherwise, but then paused, afraid.
"Yes, I am a mother myself."
"I thought so—I thought so! and I felt sure you would feel for me as a
mother. It was Rose I had to think of. As for his family, at his age,
you will understand——But it makes my poor girl very unhappy to think
she may have been the means of separating him from his relations. I tell
her a wife is more to a man than any other relation. But still, if it
could be possible to make a reconciliation—if you would be so kind as
to help us——"
The nervous hands clasped together; the little hesitating woman looked
with a face full of prayer and entreaty at the lady who sat there before
her, like an arbiter of fate. If she could have known how the heart was
beating in that lady's breast! Mrs Lycett-Landon did not speak for some
time, not being able to command her voice. Then she said, tremulously,
but with a great effort to be calm—
"You don't know what you ask. I am the last person——"
She had an old-fashioned, over-respectful way of using this word. And
there was no fear or suspicion of the truth, though much anxiety, in her
"Oh, madam! you have a kind face; and who should be the one to make
peace but such as you, that can feel for a young creature, and knows
what is in a mother's heart?"
The words were scarcely out of her lips when Horace entered hastily,
asking, before he saw that any stranger was present—
"Mother, has Fareham come back?"
"No, Horace; but you see I am engaged."
"I beg your pardon," he said, surprised by the look of agitation in the
stranger's face. But he was terribly excited. "I won't stay a moment;
but do please tell me papa's address. I cannot wait and knock about all
day. Old Fareham is so tedious; he will take hours about it. Tell me my
Horace was not without wiles of his own. He thought it more likely that
he should extract this address when somebody was there.
"Horace, I am engaged, as you can see."
"Only a moment, mother; it was something flowery—Laburnum, or Acacia,
or something. If I go to the office I can get it in a moment."
The little widow rose up; something strange and terrible came over her
"Young gentleman," she said, "are you any relation to Mr Lycett-Landon?
You will tell me if no one else will."
"Relation?" said Horace, with a laugh, "oh yes; only his son, that is
"And this lady? This lady is——?"
"My mother; who else should she be?" the youth said.
There was a moment during which the two women stood gazing at each other
in an awful suspension of all sound or thought. And then the visitor
uttered a great and terrible cry, and fell down at their feet upon the
The Lycett-Landons went home to the Grove that night. Horace asked his
mother no questions. He helped her to lift up and place upon a sofa the
visitor whose strength had failed her so strangely; but how much he
heard from Mr Fareham, or how much he guessed, she never knew. He was
anxious to go home at once, and, instead of making any objections as she
had feared, facilitated everything. He was very kind and tender to her
on the journey, taking care of her and of her comfort, saving her from
every trouble. This had not heretofore been Horace's way. He was still
so young that the habit of being taken care of was more natural to him
than that of taking care of others; but he had learned a new version
apparently of his duty on that strange and agitating day. It was late
when they reached the Mersey again, and the great river was full of
shooting fireflies, little steamers with their sparks of glowing colour
flitting and rustling to and fro among the steady lights of the moored
ships. The sky was pale with the rising moon, the stars appearing
languidly out of the clouds. As they crossed the river to their home,
sitting close together on the deck, saying nothing to each other,
avoiding in the darkness all contact with the other passengers, two or
three little steam-boats rustled past, full of music and a crowd of
merrymakers going home noisy and happy after a day's pleasure. The sky
was stained all round the horizon behind them by the smoke of the great
town, but before them was soft and clear with fringes of dark foliage
and outlines of peaceful houses rising against it. Everything was full
of quiet and peace, no false or discordant note anywhere; even the
fiddles and flutes of the bands harmonised by the air and water and
magical space about, and the dew dropping, and the moon rising. It was
only forty-eight hours since they had left their home almost under the
same conditions, but what a change there was!
Milly was full of questions and surmises. How was papa? Why did they
leave him? When was he coming home? Why did they return so soon? She
supposed the season was over, and nothing going on, not even the
theatres. She never thought it possible they would come back directly.
She poured a flood of remarks upon them as they walked from the boat to
the house. Fortunately it was dark, and their faces gave her no
information; but their brief replies, and a something indefinable, a
restraint in the atmosphere about them, a something new which she did
not understand, began to affect the girl after the first abandon of her
surprise and her interrogations. As soon as Mrs Lycett-Landon entered
the house she announced that she was very tired and going to bed. "I am
growing old; travelling affects me as it never used to do, and I have
got a headache. I shall go to bed at once, Milly. No, I don't want
anything to eat; quiet and rest—that is all I want. Give Horace his
supper, dear; and you need not come into my room to-night. I shall put
out my light and get to sleep."
"Not even a cup of tea, mamma? Mayn't I come and help you to take off
your things? Let me send White away, and undress you myself."
"I want no one, my darling, neither you nor White. My head aches. I want
darkness and quiet. Good night. To-morrow morning I shall be all right."
She kissed them, her veil still hanging over her face, and hurried
up-stairs. Milly watched her till she had disappeared, and then turned
upon her brother. "What does this mean?" said the girl; "what has
happened to mamma, and where's papa, Horry? Tell me this very moment,
before you have your supper or anything. I know something must be
"Something is wrong," said Horace, "but I can't tell you what it is. I
don't know what it is. Now, Milly, that is all I am going to say. You
need not go on asking and asking, for you will only make me miserable. I
can't tell you anything more."
"You can't tell me anything more?" She was struck, not dumb indeed with
amazement, but into such a quiver and agitation that she could scarcely
speak. Then she regained her courage a little. "Where's papa? He can't
be ill, or you would not have come home."
"I have not seen him," said Horace, doggedly.
"You have not seen him?"
"Mother did, and then old Fareham. I can tell you this: it isn't
speculation, or anything of that sort. The firm is all right. It's
nothing about that."
"The firm—speculation!" cried Milly, with wild contempt; "who cares for
business? What is the matter? and why doesn't he come home?"
"Who cares for it? I care for it. I thought at first that was what had
happened; but we may make our minds quite easy—it's not that." Horace
was really comforted by this certainty, though not perhaps so much as he
pretended to be. "I was very much frightened at first," he said. "It was
a great relief to find that, whatever it is, it is not that."
Milly stood looking at him with scared eyes. "Do you mean to say that
papa is not coming home? Oh, Horry, for goodness' sake tell me something
more. Has he done anything? What has he done? Papa! It is impossible,
impossible!" the girl cried.
"So I should have said too," said Horace, who had now had a long time in
which to accustom himself to the idea. "Perhaps the mother will tell you
something; she has not said a word to me. I don't know, and therefore I
can't tell you. It has been a horrid sort of day," said the lad, "and
perhaps you'll think it unfeeling, Milly, but I'm hungry. I'd like to
have something to eat, and then I'd like to go to bed. I'm horribly
tired, too; wandering about, and always waiting to hear something and
never hearing, and imagining all sorts of things, is very fatiguing, and
I don't think I've eaten anything to-day."
Milly despised her brother for thinking of eating, but yet it was a
relief to superintend his supper and get him all he wanted. They had a
great deal of talk over this strange meal, and though Horace gave his
sister no information, they yet managed to assure themselves somehow
that a terrible catastrophe had happened, and that their father had gone
out of their lives. Milly wept bitterly over it, and even Horace could
not keep the tears from his eyes; but somehow they recognised the fact
between them, far more easily than their mother above stairs or any
bystander could have imagined possible. Two days ago what could have
been more impossible to them? And Milly did not know even so much as
Horace knew, nor had any insight at all into how it was; and yet she,
too, in the course of an hour or so, had accepted the fact. To youth
there is something convincing in certainty, an obedience to what is,
which is one of the most remarkable thinks in life. They acknowledged
the mystery with wonder and pain, but they did not rebel or doubt. Their
mother thought nothing less than that they would struggle, would be
incredulous, would rebel even against her for their father's sake. But
there was nothing of all this. They submitted almost without a struggle,
though they did not understand.
And then the quiet days closed down upon this family, upon which so
mysterious a loss had fallen. It need not be said that there was great
discussion as to the cause of Mr Lycett-Landon's disappearance, both
among the merchants in Liverpool and among their wives and daughters on
the other side of the water. The explanations that were given at first
were many and conflicting; and for a long time people continued to ask,
"When do you expect your husband?" or "your father?" And then there came
the time, not less painful, when people pointedly refrained from asking
any questions, and changed the subject when his name was mentioned,
which was, perhaps, almost less tolerable. Then, gradually, by degrees
it became an old story, and people remembered it no more. Ah, yes! they
remembered it whenever any incident happened in the family—when Horace
took his place as one of the partners in the office, when Milly
married—then it all cropped up again, with supposititious details; but
when nothing was happening to them the family escaped into obscurity,
and their circumstances were discussed no longer. Old Mr Fareham had a
very bad cold after he returned from London, and was for some time
confined to the house, and would see nobody. And then other things
happened, as they are continually happening in a mercantile community. A
great bankruptcy, with many exciting and disgraceful circumstances,
followed soon after, and the attention of the community was distracted.
The Lycett-Landon business remained a mystery, and after a while the
waters closed tranquilly over the spot where this strange shipwreck had
Milly never heard till after her marriage what it was that had happened,
and at no time did Horace ask any questions: how much he divined, how
much he had been told, his mother never knew. And she herself never was
aware how the other story ended: if the poor Rose, her husband's
unfortunate young wife, died of it, or if she abandoned him; or if the
poor mother lacked the courage to tell her; or if between them the young
woman was kept in her poor little suburban paradise deceived. Mrs
Lycett-Landon made many a furtive effort to ascertain how it had ended;
but she was too proud to inquire openly, and though she wondered and
pondered she never knew.
Years, however, after these events, when Horace had begun to be what he
had determined upon being, a merchant prince, and the house of
Lycett-Landon & Co. (old Mr Fareham being dead, and young Mr Fareham at
the head of the American branch, Landon, Fareham, & Co.) was greater
than ever, Mr Lycett-Landon suddenly appeared at the Grove. He came to
make a call in the morning, sending in his name; for the old butler was
dead, and the new one did not know him, and he was admitted like any
other stranger. His wife even did not know who he was—for she had come
down expecting a distant relation—until she had looked a second or
third time at the stout, embarrassed old gentleman, looking very awkward
and deprecating, who stood up when she came into the room, and shrank
with a certain confusion from her inspection. After the first shock of
the recognition they sat down and conversed calmly enough. He inquired
about the children with a little affectation of ease.
"I know about Horace, of course," he said, "and I saw Milly's marriage
in the papers. But I should like to hear a little about the others."
She accepted his curiosity as very natural, and gave him all the
particulars very openly and sedately. He sat for nearly an hour,
sometimes asking questions, sometimes listening, with a curious air of
politeness, like a man on his best behaviour, in the society of a lady a
little above him in station, and with whom his acquaintance was far from
intimate, and then took his leave.
With what thoughts their minds were full as they sat there, in the old
home equally familiar to both, where every article of furniture, every
picture on the walls, had the same associations to both! But nothing was
said to betray the poignant sensation with which the woman,
compunctious, though she had never been revengeful, or the man, so
strangely separated and fallen from all that had been habitual to him,
beheld each other, sat by each other, after these years. He smiled, but
she had not the strength to smile. After this, however, he came again
at intervals, always asking with interest about his children, but not
caring to see them.
"I suppose they don't remember anything about me," he said.
His visits were not frequent, but he became, in the end, acquainted with
all the family, and even resumed a certain intercourse with Horace and
Milly, his first meeting with whom was accidental and very painful. To
see him elderly, stout, and (but perhaps this was one effect of some
refinement of jealous and wounded feeling on the part of Mrs
Lycett-Landon) oh so commonplace! and fallen from his natural level,
shuffling his feet, reddening, smiling that confused and foolish smile,
conciliating his children, gave to his wife almost the keenest pangs she
had yet suffered. She could not bear to see him so lowered from his
natural place. Tragedy is terrible, but when it drops into tragi-comedy,
tragi-farce at the end, that is the most terrible of all. Pity, shame,
something that was like remorse, though she was blameless, was in his
wife's heart. The impulse in her mind was to go away out of the house
that was his, and leave him in possession. But, to do him justice, he
never, by look or word, reminded her that the house had been his, or
that he was anything but a visitor.
And what was the explanation of the strange passion which made him, at
fifty, depart from all the traditions of his virtuous life—whether it
was a passion at all, or only some wonderful, terrible gust of
impatience, which made duty and the rule of circumstances, and all that
he was pledged and bound to, insupportable—she never knew; nor whether
he found that this poor game was even for a moment worth the blazing
flambeau of revolution which it cost; or whether it cost him still more
than that candle—the young life which he had blighted; whether Rose
lived or died; or where he came from when he paid these visits to his
old home, and disappeared into when they were over: all this Mrs
Lycett-Landon lived in ignorance of, and so, in all probability, will