A LITTLE REBEL
BY THE DUCHESS
Author of "Her Last Throw," "April's Lady," "Faith and Unfaith," etc.,
JOHN LOVELL & SON,
23 St. Nicholas Street.
Entered according to Act of Parliament in the year 1891, by John Lovell
& Son, in the office of the Minister of Agriculture and Statistics at
"Perplex'd in the extreme."
"The memory of past favors is like a rainbow, bright, vivid and
The professor, sitting before his untasted breakfast, is looking the
very picture of dismay. Two letters lie before him; one is in his hand,
the other is on the table-cloth. Both are open; but of one, the opening
lines—that tell of the death of his old friend—are all he has read;
whereas he has read the other from start to finish, already three times.
It is from the old friend himself, written a week before his death, and
very urgent and very pleading. The professor has mastered its contents
with ever-increasing consternation.
Indeed so great a revolution has it created in his mind, that his
face—(the index of that excellent part of him)—has, for the moment,
undergone a complete change. Any ordinary acquaintance now entering the
professor's rooms (and those acquaintances might be whittled down to
quite a little few), would hardly have known him. For the abstraction
that, as a rule, characterizes his features—the way he has of looking
at you, as if he doesn't see you, that harasses the simple, and enrages
the others—is all gone! Not a trace of it remains. It has given place
to terror, open and unrestrained.
"A girl!" murmurs he in a feeble tone, falling back in his chair. And
then again, in a louder tone of dismay—"A girl!" He pauses again, and
now again gives way to the fear that is destroying him—"A grown
After this, he seems too overcome to continue his reflections, so goes
back to the fatal letter. Every now and then, a groan escapes him,
mingled with mournful remarks, and extracts from the sheet in his hand—
"Poor old Wynter! Gone at last!" staring at the shaking signature at the
end of the letter that speaks so plainly of the coming icy clutch that
should prevent the poor hand from forming ever again even such sadly
erratic characters as these. "At least," glancing at the half-read
letter on the cloth—"this tells me so. His solicitor's, I suppose.
Though what Wynter could want with a solicitor——Poor old fellow! He
was often very good to me in the old days. I don't believe I should have
done even as much as I have done, without him.... It must be fully ten
years since he threw up his work here and went to Australia! ... ten
years. The girl must have been born before he went,"—glances at
letter—"'My child, my beloved Perpetua, the one thing on earth I love,
will be left entirely alone. Her mother died nine years ago. She is only
seventeen, and the world lies before her, and never a soul in it to care
how it goes with her. I entrust her to you—(a groan). To you I give
her. Knowing that if you are living, dear fellow, you will not desert me
in my great need, but will do what you can for my little one.'"
"But what is that?" demands the professor, distractedly. He pushes his
spectacles up to the top of his head, and then drags them down again,
and casts them wildly into the sugar-bowl. "What on earth am I to do
with a girl of seventeen? If it had been a boy! even that would have
been bad enough—but a girl! And, of course—I know Wynter—he has died
without a penny. He was bound to do that, as he always lived without
one. Poor old Wynter!"—as if a little ashamed of himself. "I don't
see how I can afford to put her out to nurse." He pulls himself up with
a start. "To nurse! a girl of seventeen! She'll want to be going out to
balls and things—at her age."
As if smitten to the earth by this last awful idea, he picks his glasses
out of the sugar and goes back to the letter.
"You will find her the dearest girl. Most loving, and tender-hearted;
and full of life and spirits."
"Good heavens!" says the professor. He puts down the letter again,
and begins to pace the room. "'Life and spirits.' A sort of young
kangaroo, no doubt. What will the landlady say? I shall leave these
rooms"—with a fond and lingering gaze round the dingy old apartment
that hasn't an article in it worth ten sous—"and take a small
house—somewhere—and ... But—er——It won't be respectable, I think.
I—I've heard things said about—er—things like that. It's no good in
looking an old fogey, if you aren't one; it's no earthly use"—standing
before a glass and ruefully examining his countenance—"in looking fifty
if you are only thirty-four. It will be a scandal," says the professor
mournfully. "They'll cut her, and they'll cut me, and—what the deuce
did Wynter mean by leaving me his daughter? A real live girl of
seventeen! It'll be the death of me," says the professor, mopping his
brow. "What"——wrathfully——"that determined spendthrift meant, by
flinging his family on my shoulders, I——Oh! Poor old Wynter!"
Here he grows remorseful again. Abuse a man dead and gone, and one, too,
who had been good to him in many ways when he, the professor, was
younger than he is now, and had just quarrelled with a father who was
always only too prone to quarrel with anyone who gave him the chance
seems but a poor thing. The professor's quarrel with his father had been
caused by the young man's refusal to accept a Government
appointment—obtained with some difficulty—for the very insufficient
and, as it seemed to his father, iniquitous reason, that he had made up
his mind to devote his life to science. Wynter, too, was a scientist of
no mean order, and would, probably, have made his mark in the world, if
the world and its pleasures had not made their mark on him. He had been
young Curzon's coach at one time, and finding the lad a kindred spirit,
had opened out to him his own large store of knowledge, and steeped him
in that great sea of which no man yet has drank enough—for all begin,
and leave it, athirst.
Poor Wynter! The professor, turning in his stride up and down the
narrow, uncomfortable room, one of the many that lie off the Strand,
finds his eyes resting on that other letter—carelessly opened, barely
From Wynter's solicitor! It seems ridiculous that Wynter should have
had a solicitor. With a sigh, he takes it up, opens it out and begins
to read it. At the end of the second page, he starts, re-reads a
sentence or two, and suddenly his face becomes illuminated. He throws up
his head. He cackles a bit. He looks as if he wants to say something
very badly—"Hurrah," probably—only he has forgotten how to do it, and
finally goes back to the letter again, and this time—the third
Yes. It is all right! Why on earth hadn't he read it first? So, the
girl is to be sent to live with her aunt after all—an old lady—maiden
lady. Evidently living somewhere in Bloomsbury. Miss Jane Majendie.
Mother's sister evidently. Wynter's sisters would never have been old
maids if they had resembled him, which probably they did—if he had any.
What a handsome fellow he was! and such a good-natured fellow too.
The professor colors here in his queer sensitive way, and pushes his
spectacles up and down his nose, in another nervous fashion of his.
After all, it was only this minute he had been accusing old Wynter of
anything but good nature. Well! He had wronged him there. He glances at
the letter again.
He has only been appointed her guardian, it seems. Guardian of her
fortune, rather than of her.
The old aunt will have the charge of her body, the—er—pleasure of her
society—he, of the estate only.
Fancy Wynter, of all men, dying rich—actually rich. The professor
pulls his beard, and involuntarily glances round the somewhat meagre
apartment, that not all his learning, not all his success in the
scientific world—and it has been not unnoteworthy, so far—has enabled
him to improve upon. It has helped him to live, no doubt, and distinctly
outside the line of want, a thing to be grateful for, as his family
having in a measure abandoned him, he, on his part, had abandoned his
family in a measure also (and with reservations), and it would have
been impossible to him, of all men, to confess himself beaten, and
return to them for assistance of any kind. He could never have enacted
the part of the prodigal son. He knew this in earlier days, when husks
were for the most part all he had to sustain him. But the mind requires
not even the material husk, it lives on better food than that, and in
his case mind had triumphed over body, and borne it triumphantly to a
safe, if not as yet to a victorious, goal.
Yet Wynter, the spendthrift, the erstwhile master of him who now could
be his master, has died, leaving behind him a fortune. What was the
sum? He glances back to the sheet in his hand and verifies his thought.
Yes—eighty thousand pounds! A good fortune even in these luxurious
days. He has died worth £80,000, of which his daughter is sole heiress!
Before the professor's eyes rises a vision of old Wynter. They used to
call him "old," those boys who attended his classes, though he was as
light-hearted as the best of them, and as handsome as a dissipated
Apollo. They had all loved him, if they had not revered him, and,
indeed, he had been generally regarded as a sort of living and lasting
joke amongst them.
Curzon, holding the letter in his hand, and bringing back to his memory
the handsome face and devil-may-care expression of his tutor, remembers
how the joke had widened, and reached its height when, at forty years of
age, old Wynter had flung up his classes, leaving them all planté la
as it were, and declared his intention of starting life anew and making
a pile for himself in some new world.
Well! it had not been such a joke after all, if they had only known.
Wynter had made that mythical "pile," and had left his daughter an
Not only an heiress, but a gift to Miss Jane Majendie, of somewhere in
The professor's disturbed face grows calm again. It even occurs to him
that he has not eaten his breakfast. He so often remembers this, that
it does not trouble him. To pore over his books (that are overflowing
every table and chair in the uncomfortable room) until his eggs are
India-rubber, and his rashers gutta-percha, is not a fresh experience.
But though this morning both eggs and rasher have attained a high place
in the leather department, he enters on his sorry repast with a glad
Sweet are the rebounds from jeopardy to joy! And he has so much of
joy! Not only has he been able to shake from his shoulders that awful
incubus—and ever-present ward—but he can be sure that the absent ward
is so well-off with regard to this word's goods, that he need never give
her so much as a passing thought—dragged, torn as that thought would
be from his beloved studies.
The aunt, of course, will see about her fortune. He has has only a
perfunctory duty—to see that the fortune is not squandered. But he is
safe there. Maiden ladies never squander! And the girl, being only
seventeen, can't possibly squander it herself for some time.
Perhaps he ought to call on her, however. Yes, of course, he must call.
It is the usual thing to call on one's ward. It will be a terrible
business no doubt. All girls belong to the genus nuisance. And this
girl will be at the head of her class no doubt. "Lively, spirited," so
far went the parent. A regular hoyden may be read between those kind
The poor professor feels hot again with nervous agitation as he imagines
an interview between him and the wild, laughing, noisy, perhaps horsey
(they all ride in Australia) young woman to whom he is bound to make his
How soon must this unpleasant interview take place? Once more he looks
back to the solicitor's letter. Ah! On Jan. 3rd her father, poor old
Wynter, had died, and on the 26th of May, she is to be "on view" at
Bloomsbury! and it is now the 2nd of February. A respite! Perhaps, who
knows? She may never arrive at Bloomsbury at all! There are young men in
Australia, a hoyden, as far as the professor has read (and that is
saying a good deal), would just suit the man in the bush.
"A maid so sweet that her mere sight made glad men sorrowing."
Nevertheless the man in the bush doesn't get her.
Time has run on a little bit since the professor suffered many agonies
on a certain raw February morning, and now it is the 30th of May, and a
glorious finish too to that sweet month.
Even into this dingy old room, where at a dingy old table the professor
sits buried in piles of notes, and with sheets of manuscript knee-deep
scattered around him, the warm glad sun is stealing; here and there, the
little rays are darting, lighting up a dusty corner here, a hidden heap
of books there. It is, as yet, early in the afternoon, and the riotous
beams, who are no respecter of persons, and who honor the righteous and
the ungodly alike, are playing merrily in this sombre chamber, given so
entirely up to science and its prosy ways, daring even now to dance
lightly on the professor's head, which has begun to grow a little bald.
"The golden sun, in splendor likest heav'n,"
is proving perhaps a little too much for the tired brain in the small
room. Either that, or the incessant noises in the street outside, which
have now been enriched by the strains of a broken-down street piano,
causes him to lay aside his pen and lean back in a weary attitude in his
What a day it is! How warm! An hour ago he had delivered a brilliant
lecture on the everlasting Mammoth (a fresh specimen just arrived from
Siberia), and is now paying the penalty of greatness. He had done
well—he knew that—he had been interesting, that surest road to
public favor—he had been applauded to the echo; and now, worn out,
tired in mind and body, he is living over again his honest joy in his
In this life, however, it is not given us to be happy for long. A knock
at the professor's door brings him back to the present, and the
knowledge that the landlady—a stout, somewhat erratic person of
fifty—is standing on his threshold, a letter in her hand.
"For you, me dear," says she, very kindly, handing the letter to the
She is perhaps the one person of his acquaintance who has been able to
see through the professor's gravity and find him young.
"Thank you," says he. He takes the letter indifferently, opens it
languidly, and——Well, there isn't much languor after the perusal of
The professor sits up; literally this time slang is unknown to him; and
re-reads it. That girl has come! There can't be any doubt of it. He
had almost forgotten her existence during these past tranquil months,
when no word or hint about her reached him, but now, here she is at
last, descending upon him like a whirlwind.
A line in a stiff, uncompromising hand apprises the professor of the
unwelcome fact. The "line" is signed by "Jane Majendie," therefore there
can be no doubt of the genuineness of the news contained in it. Yes!
that girl has come!
The professor never swears, or he might now perhaps have given way to
Instead of that, he pulls himself together, and determines on immediate
action. To call upon this ward of his is a thing that must be done
sooner or later, then why not sooner? Why not at once? The more
unpleasant the duty, the more necessity to get it off one's mind without
He pulls the bell. The landlady appears again.
"I must go out," says the professor, staring a little helplessly at her.
"An' a good thing too," says she. "A saint's day ye might call it, wid
the sun. An' where to, sir, dear? Not to thim rascally sthudents, I do
"No, Mrs. Mulcahy. I—I am going to see a young lady," says the
"The divil!" says Mrs. Mulcahy with a beaming smile. "Faix, that's a
turn the right way anyhow. But have ye thought o' yer clothes, me dear?"
"Clothes?" repeats the professor vaguely.
"Arrah, wait," says she, and runs away lightly, in spite of her fifty
years and her too, too solid flesh, and presently returns with the
professor's best coat and a clothes brush that, from its appearance,
might reasonably be supposed to have been left behind by Noah when he
stepped out of the Ark. With this latter (having put the coat on him)
she proceeds to belabor the professor with great spirit, and presently
sends him forth shining—if not internally, at all events
In truth the professor's mood is not a happy one. Sitting in the hansom
that is taking him all too swiftly to his destination, he dwells with
terror on the girl—the undesired ward—who has been thrust upon him. He
has quite made up his mind about her. An Australian girl! One knows what
to expect there! Health unlimited; strength tremendous; and
Yes, she is sure to be a big girl. A girl with branching limbs, and a
laugh you could hear a mile off. A young woman with no sense of the
fitness of things, and a settled conviction that nothing could shake,
that "'Strailia" is the finest country on earth! A bouncing creature
who never sits down; to whom rest or calm is unknown, and whose
highest ambition will be to see the Tower and the wax-works.
Her hair is sure to be untidy; hanging probably in straight, black locks
over her forehead, and her frock will look as if it had been pitchforked
on to her, and requires only the insubordination of one pin to leave
her without it again.
The professor is looking pale, but has on him all the air of one
prepared for anything as the maid shows him into the drawing-room of
the house where Miss Jane Majendie lives.
His thoughts are still full of her niece. Her niece, poor woman, and
his ward—poor man! when the door opens and some one comes in.
The professor gets slowly on to his feet, and stares at the advancing
apparition. Is it child or woman, this fair vision? A hard question to
answer! It is quite easy to read, however, that "some one" is very
"It is you; Mr. Curzon, is it not?" says the vision.
Her voice is sweet and clear, a little petulant perhaps, but still
very sweet. She is quite small—a little girl—and clad in deep
mourning. There is something pathetic about the dense black surrounding
such a radiant face, and such a childish figure. Her eyes are fixed on
the professor, and there is evident anxiety in their hazel depths; her
soft lips are parted; she seems hesitating as if not knowing whether she
shall smile or sigh. She has raised both her hands as if unconsciously,
and is holding them clasped against her breast. The pretty fingers are
covered with costly rings. Altogether she makes a picture—this little
girl, with her brilliant eyes, and mutinous mouth, and soft black
clinging gown. Dainty-sweet she looks,
"Sweet as is the bramble-flower."
"Yes," says the professor, in a hesitating way, as if by no means
certain of the fact. He is so vague about it, indeed, that "some one's"
dark eyes take a mischievous gleam.
"Are you sure?" says she, and looks up at him suddenly, a little
sideways perhaps, as if half frightened, and gives way to a naughty sort
of little laugh. It rings through the room, this laugh, and has the
effect of frightening her altogether this time. She checks herself,
and looks first down at the carpet with the big roses on it, where one
little foot is wriggling in a rather nervous way, and then up again at
the professor, as if to see if he is thinking bad things of her. She
"Have you come to see me or Aunt Jane?" asks she; "because Aunt Jane is
out—I'm glad to say"—this last pianissimo.
"To see you," says the professor absently. He is thinking! He has taken
her hand, and held it, and dropped it again, all in a state of high
Is this the big, strong, noisy girl of his imaginings? The bouncing
creature with untidy hair, and her clothes pitchforked on to her?
"Well—I hoped so," says she, a little wistfully as it seems to him,
every trace of late sauciness now gone, and with it the sudden shyness.
After many days the professor grows accustomed to these sudden
transitions that are so puzzling yet so enchanting, these rapid,
inconsequent, but always lovely changes
"From grave to gay, from lively to severe."
"Won't you sit down?" says his small hostess gently, touching a chair
near her with her slim fingers.
"Thank you," says the professor, and then stops short.
"Your ward," says she, ever so gently still, yet emphatically. It is
plain that she is now on her very best behavior. She smiles up at him
in a very encouraging way. "And you are my guardian, aren't you?"
"Yes," says the professor, without enthusiasm. He has seated himself,
not on the chair she has pointed out to him, but on a very distant
lounge. He is conscious of a feeling of growing terror. This lovely
child has created it, yet why, or how? Was ever guardian mastered by a
ward before? A desire to escape is filling him, but he has got to do his
duty to his dead friend, and this is part of it.
He has retired to the far-off lounge with a view to doing it as
distantly as possible, but even this poor subterfuge fails him. Miss
Wynter, picking up a milking-stool, advances leisurely towards him, and
seating herself upon it just in front of him, crosses her hands over her
knees and looks expectantly up at him with a charming smile.
"Now we can have a good talk," says she.
"And if you dreamed how a friend's smile
And nearness soothe a heart that's sore,
You might be moved to stay awhile
Before my door."
"About?" begins the professor, and stammers, and ceases.
"Everything," says she, with a little nod. "It is impossible to talk to
Aunt Jane. She doesn't talk, she only argues, and always wrongly. But
you are different. I can see that. Now tell me,"—she leans even more
forward and looks intently at the professor, her pretty brows wrinkled
as if with extreme and troublous thought—"What are the duties of a
"Eh?" says the professor. He moves his glasses up to his forehead and
then pulls them down again. Did ever anxious student ask him question so
difficult of answer as this one—that this small maiden has propounded?
"You can think it over," says she most graciously. "There is no hurry,
and I am quite aware that one isn't made a guardian every day. Do you
think you could make it out whilst I count forty?"
"I think I could make it out more quickly if you didn't count at all,"
says the professor, who is growing warm. "The duties of a
guardian—are—er—to—er—to see that one's ward is comfortable and
"Then there is a great deal of duty for you to do," says she solemnly,
letting her chin slip into the hollow of her hand.
"I know—I'm sure of it," says the professor with a sigh that might be
called a groan. "But your aunt, Miss Majendie—your mother's
"I don't believe she's my mother's sister," says Miss Wynter calmly. "I
have seen my mother's picture. It is lovely! Aunt Jane was a
changeling—I'm sure of it. But never mind her. You were going to
"That Miss Majendie, who is virtually your guardian—can explain it all
to you much better than I can."
"Aunt Jane is not my guardian!" The mild look of enquiry changes to
one of light anger. The white brow contracts. "And certainly she could
never make one happy and comfortable. Well—what else?"
"She will look after——"
"I told you I don't care about Aunt Jane. Tell me what you can do——"
"See that your fortune is not——"
"I don't care about my fortune either," with a little gesture. "But I
do care about my happiness. Will you see to that?"
"Of course," says the professor gravely.
"Then you will take me away from Aunt Jane!" The small vivacious face is
now all aglow. "I am not happy with Aunt Jane. I"—clasping her hands,
and letting a quick, vindictive fire light her eyes—"I hate Aunt
Jane. She says things about poor papa that——Oh! how I hate her!"
"But—you shouldn't—you really should not. I feel certain you ought
not," says the professor, growing vaguer every moment.
"Ought I not?" with a quick little laugh that is all anger and no mirth.
"I do though, for all that! I"—pausing, and regarding him with a
somewhat tragic air that sits most funnily upon her—"am not going to
stay here much longer!"
"What?" says the professor aghast. "But my dear——Miss Wynter, I'm
afraid you must."
"Why? What is she to me?"
"That's nothing—nothing at all—even a guardian is better than that.
And you are my guardian. Why," coming closer to him and pressing five
soft little fingers in an almost feverish fashion upon his arm, "why
can't you take me away?"
"Yes, yes, you." She comes even nearer to him, and the pressure of the
small fingers grows more eager—there is something in them now that
might well be termed coaxing. "Do," says she.
"Oh! Impossible!" says the professor. The color mounts to his brow. He
almost shakes off the little clinging fingers in his astonishment and
agitation. Has she no common-sense—no knowledge of the things that be?
She has drawn back from him and is regarding him somewhat strangely.
"Impossible to leave Aunt Jane?" questions she. It is evident she has
not altogether understood, and yet is feeling puzzled. "Well,"
defiantly, "we shall see!"
"Why don't you like your Aunt Jane?" asks the professor distractedly.
He doesn't feel nearly as fond of his dead friend as he did an hour ago.
"Because," lucidly, "she is Aunt Jane. If she were your Aunt Jane
you would know."
"But my dear——"
"I really wish," interrupts Miss Wynter petulantly, "you wouldn't call
me 'my dear.' Aunt Jane calls me that when she is going to say something
horrid to me. Papa——" she pauses suddenly, and tears rush to her dark
"Yes. What of your father?" asks the professor hurriedly, the tears
raising terror in his soul.
"You knew him—speak to me of him," says she, a little tremulously.
"I knew him well indeed. He was very good to me, when—when I was
younger. I was very fond of him."
"He was good to everyone," says Miss Wynter, staring hard at the
professor. It is occurring to her that this grave sedate man with his
glasses could never have been younger. He must always have been older
than the gay, handsome, debonnaire father, who had been so dear to
"What are you going to tell me about him?" asks the professor gently.
"Only what he used to call me—Doatie! I suppose," wistfully, "you
couldn't call me that?"
"I am afraid not," says the professor, coloring even deeper.
"I'm sorry," says she, her young mouth taking a sorrowful curve. "But
don't call me Miss Wynter, at all events, or 'my dear.' I do so want
someone to call me by my Christian name," says the poor child sadly.
"Perpetua—is it not?" says the professor, ever so kindly.
"No—'Pet,'" corrects she. "It's shorter, you know, and far easier to
"Oh!" says the professor. To him it seems very difficult to say. Is it
possible she is going to ask him to call her by that familiar—almost
affectionate—name? The girl must be mad.
"Yes—much easier," says Perpetua; "you will find that out, after a bit,
when you have got used to calling me by it. Are you going now, Mr.
Curzon? Going so soon?"
"I have classes," says the professor.
"Students?" says she. "You teach them? I wish I was a student. I
shouldn't have been given over to Aunt Jane then, or," with a rather
wilful laugh, "if I had been I should have led her, oh!" rapturously,
"such a life!"
It suggests itself to the professor that she is quite capable of doing
that now, though she is not of the sex male.
"Good-bye," says he, holding out his hand.
"You will come soon again?" demands she, laying her own in it.
"Not till then? I shall be dead then," says she, with a rather mirthless
laugh this time. "Do you know that you and Aunt Jane are the only two
people in all London whom I know?"
"That is terrible," says he, quite sincerely.
"Yes. Isn't it?"
"But soon you will know people. Your aunt has acquaintances.
They—surely they will call; they will see you—they——"
"Will take an overwhelming fancy to me? just as you have done," says
she, with a quick, rather curious light in her eyes, and a tilting of
her pretty chin. "There! go," says she, "I have some work to do; and
you have your classes. It would never do for you to miss them. And as
for next week!—make it next month! I wouldn't for the world be a
trouble to you in any way."
"I shall come next week," says the professor, troubled in somewise by
the meaning in her eyes. What is it? Simple loneliness, or misery
downright? How young she looks—what a child! That tragic air does not
belong to her of right. She should be all laughter, and lightness, and
"As you will," says she; her tone has grown almost haughty; there is a
sense of remorse in his breast as he goes down the stairs. Has he been
kind to old Wynter's child? Has he been true to his trust? There had
been an expression that might almost be termed despair in the young face
as he left her. Her face, with that expression on it, haunts him all
down the road.
Yes. He will call next week. What day is this? Friday. And Friday next
he is bound to deliver a lecture somewhere—he is not sure where, but
certainly somewhere. Well, Saturday then he might call. But that——
Why not call Thursday—or even Wednesday?
Wednesday let it be. He needn't call every week, but he had said
something about calling next week, and—she wouldn't care, of
course—but one should keep their word. What a strange little face she
has—and strange manners, and—not able to get on evidently with her
What an old devil that aunt must be.
"Dear, if you knew what tears they shed,
Who live apart from home and friend,
To pass my house, by pity led,
Your steps would tend."
He makes the acquaintance of the latter very shortly. But requires no
spoon to sup with her, as Miss Majendie's invitations to supper, or
indeed to luncheon, breakfast or dinner, are so few and rare that it
might be rash for a hungry man to count on them.
The professor, who has felt it to be his duty to call on his ward
regularly every week, has learned to know and (I regret to say) to
loathe that estimable spinster christened Jane Majendie.
After every visit to her house he has sworn to himself that "this one"
shall be his last, and every Wednesday following he has gone again.
Indeed, to-day being Wednesday in the heart of June, he may be seen
sitting bolt upright in a hansom on his way to the unlovely house that
holds Miss Jane Majendie.
As he enters the dismal drawing-room, where he finds Miss Majendie and
her niece, it becomes plain, even to his inexperienced brain, that there
has just been a row on somewhere.
Perpetua is sitting on a distant lounge, her small vivacious face one
thunder-cloud. Miss Majendie, sitting on the hardest chair this hideous
room contains, is smiling. A terrible sign. The professor pales before
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Curzon," says Miss Majendie, rising and
extending a bony hand. "As Perpetua's guardian, you may perhaps have
some influence over her. I say 'perhaps' advisedly, as I scarcely dare
to hope anyone could influence a mind so distorted as hers."
"What is it?" asks the professor nervously—of Perpetua, not of Miss
"I'm dull," says Perpetua sullenly.
The professor glances keenly at the girl's downcast face, and then at
Miss Majendie. The latter glance is a question.
"You hear her," says Miss Majendie coldly—she draws her shawl round her
meagre shoulders, and a breath through her lean nostrils that may be
heard. "Perhaps you may be able to discover her meaning."
"What is it?" asks the professor, turning to the girl, his tone anxious,
uncertain. Young women with "wrongs" are unknown to him, as are all
other sorts of young women for the matter of that. And this particular
young woman looks a little unsafe at the present moment.
"I have told you! I am tired of this life. I am dull—stupid. I want to
go out." Her lovely eyes are flashing, her face is white—her lips
trembling. "Take me out," says she suddenly.
"Perpetua!" exclaims Miss Majendie. "How unmaidenly! How immodest!"
Perpetua looks at her with large, surprised eyes.
"Why?" says she.
"I really think," interrupts the professor hurriedly, who sees breakers
ahead, "if I were to take Perpetua for a walk—a drive—to—er—to some
place or other—it might destroy this ennui of which she complains. If
you will allow her to come out with me for an hour or so, I——"
"If you are waiting for my sanction, Mr. Curzon, to that extraordinary
proposal, you will wait some time," says Miss Majendie slowly, frigidly.
She draws the shawl still closer, and sniffs again.
"There is no 'But,' sir. The subject doesn't admit of argument. In my
young days, and I should think"—scrutinizing him exhaustively through
her glasses—"in yours, it was not customary for a young gentlewoman
to go out walking, alone, with 'a man'!!" If she had said with a
famished tiger, she couldn't have thrown more horror into her tone.
The professor had shrunk a little from that classing of her age with
his, but has now found matter for hope in it.
"Still—my age—as you suggest—so far exceeds Perpetua's—I am indeed
so much older than she is, that I might be allowed to escort her
wherever it might please her to go."
"The real age of a man now-a-days, sir, is a thing impossible to
know," says Miss Majendie. "You wear glasses—a capital disguise! I mean
nothing offensive—so far—sir, but it behoves me to be careful, and
behind those glasses, who can tell what demon lurks? Nay! No offence! An
innocent man would feel no offence!"
"Really, Miss Majendie!" begins the poor professor, who is as red as
though he were the guiltiest soul alive.
"Let me proceed, sir. We were talking of the ages of men."
"Certainly! It was you who suggested the idea, that, being so much older
than my niece, Miss Wynter, you could therefore escort her here and
there—in fact everywhere—in fact"—with awful meaning—"any
"I assure you, madam," begins the professor, springing to his
feet—Perpetua puts out a white hand.
"Ah! let her talk," says she. "Then you will understand."
"But men's ages, sir, are a snare and a delusion!" continues Miss
Majendie, who has mounted her hobby, and will ride it to the death. "Who
can tell the age of any man in this degenerate age? We look at their
faces, and say he must be so and so, and he a few years younger, but
looks are vain, they tell us nothing. Some look old, because they are
old, some look old—through vice!"
The professor makes an impatient gesture. But Miss Majendie is equal to
"'Who excuses himself accuses himself,'" quotes she with terrible
readiness. "Why that gesture, Mr. Curzon? I made no mention of your
name. And, indeed, I trust your age would place you outside of any such
suspicion, still, I am bound to be careful where my niece's interests
are concerned. You, as her guardian, if a faithful guardian" (with
open doubt, as to this, expressed in eye and pointed finger), "should be
the first to applaud my caution."
"You take an extreme view," begins the professor, a little feebly,
perhaps. That eye and that pointed finger have cowed him.
"One's views have to be extreme in these days if one would continue in
the paths of virtue," said Miss Majendie. "Your views," with a
piercing and condemnatory glance, "are evidently not extreme. One word
for all, Mr. Curzon, and this argument is at an end. I shall not permit
my niece, with my permission, to walk with you or any other man whilst
under my protection."
"I daresay you are right—no doubt—no doubt," mumbles the professor,
incoherently, now thoroughly frightened and demoralized. Good heavens!
What an awful old woman! And to think that this poor child is under her
care. He happens at this moment to look at the poor child, and the scorn
for him that gleams in her large eyes perfects his rout. To say that
she was right!
"If Perpetua wishes to go for a walk," says Miss Majendie, breaking
through a mist of angry feeling that is only half on the surface, "I am
here to accompany her."
"I don't want to go for a walk—with you," says Perpetua, rudely it must
be confessed, though her tone is low and studiously reserved. "I don't
want to go for a walk at all." She pauses, and her voice chokes a
little, and then suddenly she breaks into a small passion of vehemence.
"I want to go somewhere, to see something," she cries, gazing
imploringly at Curzon.
"To see something!" says her aunt, "why it was only last Sunday I took
you to Westminster Abbey, where you saw the grandest edifice in all the
"Most interesting place," says the professor, sotto voce, with a wild
but mad hope of smoothing matters down for Perpetua's sake.
If it was for Perpetua's sake, she proves herself singularly
ungrateful. She turns upon him a small vivid face, alight with
"You support her," cries she. "You! Well, I shall tell you!
I"—defiantly—"I don't want to go to churches at all. I want to go to
There is an awful silence. Miss Majendie's face is a picture! If the
girl had said she wanted to go to the devil instead of to the theatre,
she could hardly have looked more horrified. She takes a step forward,
closer to Perpetua.
"Go to your room! And pray—pray for a purer mind!" says she. "This is
hereditary, all this! Only prayer can cast it out. And remember, this is
the last word upon this subject. As long as you are under my roof you
shall never go to a sinful place of amusement. I forbid you ever to
speak of theatres again."
"I shall not be forbidden!" says Perpetua. She confronts her aunt with
flaming eyes and crimson cheeks. "I do want to go to the theatre, and
to balls, and dances, and everything. I"—passionately, and with a
most cruel, despairing longing in her young voice, "want to dance, to
laugh, to sing, to amuse myself—to be the gayest thing in all the
She stops as if exhausted, surprised perhaps at her own daring, and
there is silence for a moment, a little moment, and then Miss Majendie
looks at her.
"'The gayest thing in all the world:' and your father only four months
dead!" says she, slowly, remorselessly.
All in a moment, as it were, the little crimson angry face grows
white—white as death itself. The professor, shocked beyond words,
stands staring, and marking the sad changes in it. Perpetua is trembling
from head to foot. A frightened look has come into her beautiful
eyes—her breath comes quickly. She is as a thing at bay—hopeless,
horrified. Her lips part as if she would say something. But no words
come. She casts one anguished glance at the professor, and rushes from
It was but a momentary glimpse into a heart, but it was terrible. The
professor turns upon Miss Majendie in great wrath.
"That was cruel—uncalled for!" says he, a strange feeling in his heart
that he has not time to stop and analyze then. "How could you hurt her
so? Poor child! Poor girl! She loved him!"
"Then let her show respect to his memory," says Miss Majendie
vindictively. She is unmoved—undaunted.
"She was not wanting in respect." His tone is hurried. This woman with
the remorseless eye is too much for the gentle professor. "All she
does want is change, amusement. She is young. Youth must enjoy."
"In moderation—and in proper ways," says Miss Majendie stonily. "In
moderation," she repeats mechanically, almost unconsciously. And then
suddenly her wrath gets the better of her, and she breaks out into a
violent range. That one should dare to question her actions! "Who are
you?" demands she fiercely, "that you should presume to dictate right
and wrong to me."
"I am Miss Wynter's guardian," says the professor, who begins to see
visions—and all the lower regions let loose at once. Could an original
Fury look more horrible than this old woman, with her grey nodding head,
and blind vindictive passion. He hears his voice faltering, and knows
that he is edging towards the door. After all, what can the bravest man
do with an angry old woman, except to get away from her as quickly as
possible? And the professor, though brave enough in the usual ways, is
not brave where women are concerned.
"Guardian or no guardian, I will thank you to remember you are in my
house!" cries Miss Majendie, in a shrill tone that runs through the
"Certainly. Certainly," says he, confusedly, and then he slips out of
the room, and having felt the door close behind him, runs tumultuously
down the staircase. For years he has not gone down any staircase so
swiftly. A vague, if unacknowledged, feeling that he is literally making
his escape from a vital danger, is lending wings to his feet. Before him
lies the hall-door, and that way safety lies, safety from that old
gaunt, irate figure upstairs. He is not allowed to reach, however—just
A door on the right side of the hall is opened cautiously; a shapely
little head is as cautiously pushed through it, and two anxious red lips
"Mr. Curzon," first, and then, as he turns in answer to the whisper,
"My love is like the sea,
As changeful and as free;
Sometimes she's angry, sometimes rough,
Yet oft she's smooth and calm enough—
Ay, much too calm for me."
It is Perpetua. A sad-eyed, a tearful-eyed Perpetua, but a lovely
Perpetua for all that.
"Well?" says he.
"Sh!" says she again, shaking her head ominously, and putting her
forefinger against her lip. "Come in here," says she softly, under her
"Here," when he does come in, is a most untidy place, made up of all
things heterogeneous. Now that he is nearer to her, he can see that she
has been crying vehemently, and that the tears still stand thick within
"I felt I must see you," says she, "to tell you—to ask you. To—Oh!
you heard what she said! Do—do you think——?"
"Not at all, not at all," declares the professor hurriedly.
"Don't—don't cry, Perpetua! Look here," laying his hand nervously
upon her shoulder and giving her a little angry shake. "Don't cry!
Good heavens! Why should you mind that awful old woman?"
Nevertheless, he had minded that awful old woman himself very
"But—it is soon, isn't it?" says she. "I know that myself, and yet—"
wistfully—"I can't help it. I do want to see things, and to amuse
"Naturally," says the professor.
"And it isn't that I forget him," says she in an eager, intense tone,
"I never forget him—never—never. Only I do want to laugh sometimes
and to be happy, and to see Mr. Irving as Charles I."
The climax is irresistible. The professor is unable to suppress a smile.
"I'm afraid, from what I have heard, that won't make you laugh," says
"It will make me cry then. It is all the same," declares she,
impartially. "I shall be enjoying myself, I shall be seeing things.
You—" doubtfully, and mindful of his last speech—"Haven't you seen
"Not for a long time, I regret to say. I—I'm always so busy," says the
"Always studying?" questions she.
"For the most part," returns the professor, an odd sensation growing
within him that he is feeling ashamed of himself.
"'All work and no play,'" begins Perpetua, and stops, and shakes her
charming head at him. "You will be a dull boy if you don't take care,"
A ghost of a little smile warms her sad lips as she says this, and
lights up her shining eyes like a ray of sunlight. Then it fades, and
she grows sorrowful again.
"Well, I can't study," says she.
"Why not?" demands the professor quickly. Here he is on his own ground;
and here he has a pupil to his hand—a strange, an enigmatical, but a
lovely one. "Believe me knowledge is the one good thing that life
contains worth having. Pleasure, riches, rank, all sink to
insignificance beside it."
"How do you know?" says she. "You haven't tried the others."
"I know it, for all that. I feel it. Get knowledge—such knowledge as
the short span of life allotted to us will allow you to get. I can lend
you some books, easy ones at first, and——"
"I couldn't read your books," says she; "and—you haven't any novels,
"No," says he. "But——"
"I don't care for any books but novels," says she, sighing. "Have you
read 'Alas?' I never have anything to read here, because Aunt Jane says
novels are of the devil, and that if I read them I shall go to hell."
"Nonsense!" said the professor gruffly.
"You mustn't think I'm afraid about that" says Perpetua demurely; "I'm
not. I know the same place could never contain Aunt Jane and me for
long, so I'm all right."
The professor struggles with himself for a moment and then gives way to
"Ah! now you are on my side," cries his ward exultantly. She tucks her
arm into his. "And as for all that talk about 'knowledge'—don't bother
me about that any more. It's a little rude of you, do you know? One
would think I was a dunce—that I knew nothing—whereas, I assure you,"
throwing out her other hand, "I know quite as much as most girls, and
a great deal more than many. I daresay," putting her head to one side,
and examining him thoughtfully, "I know more than you do if it comes to
that. I don't believe you know this moment who wrote 'The Master of
Ballantrae.' Come now, who was it?"
She leans back from him, gazing at him mischievously, as if anticipating
his defeat. As for the professor, he grows red—he draws his brows
together. Truly this is a most impertinent pupil! 'The Master of
Ballantrae.' It sounds like Sir Walter, and yet—The professor
hesitates and is lost.
"Scott," says he, with as good an air as he can command.
"Wrong," cries she, clapping her hands softly, noiselessly. "Oh! you
ignorant man! Go buy that book at once. It will do you more good and
teach you a great deal more than any of your musty tomes."
She laughs gaily. It occurs to the professor, in a misty sort of way,
that her laugh, at all events, would do anyone good.
She has been pulling a ring on and off her finger unconsciously, as if
thinking, but now looks up at him.
"If you spoke to her again, when she was in a better temper, don't you
think she would let you take me to the theatre some night?" She has come
nearer, and has laid a light, appealing little hand upon his arm.
"I am sure it would be useless," says he, taking off his glasses and
putting them on again in an anxious fashion. They are both speaking in
whispers, and the professor is conscious of feeling a strange sort of
pleasure in the thought that he is sharing a secret with her. "Besides,"
says he, "I couldn't very well come here again."
"Not come again? Why?"
"I'd be afraid," returns he simply. Whereon Miss Wynter, after a
second's pause, gives way and laughs "consumedly," as they would have
said long, long years before her pretty features saw the light.
"Ah! yes," murmurs she. "How she did frighten you. She brought you to
your knees—you actually"—this with keen reproach—"took her part
"I took her part to help you;" says the professor, feeling absurdly
"Yes," sighing, "I daresay. But though I know I should have suffered for
it afterwards, it would have done me a world of good to hear somebody
tell her his real opinion of her for once. I should like," calmly, "to
see her writhe; she makes me writhe very often."
"This is a bad school for you," says the professor hurriedly.
"Yes? Then why don't you take me away from it?"
"If I could——but——Well, I shall see," says he vaguely.
"You will have to be very quick about it," says she. Her tone is quite
ordinary; it never suggests itself to the professor that there is
meaning beneath it.
"You have some friends surely?" says he.
"There is a Mrs. Constans who comes here sometimes to see Aunt Jane. She
is a young woman, and her mother was a friend of Aunt Jane's, which
accounts for it, I suppose. She seems kind. She said she would take me
to a concert soon, but she has not been here for many days, I daresay
she has forgotten all about it by this time."
She sighs. The charming face so near the professor's is looking sad
again. The white brow is puckered, the soft lips droop. No, she cannot
stay here, that is certain—and yet it was her father's wish, and who
is he, the professor, that he should pretend to know how girls should be
treated? What if he should make a mistake? And yet again, should a
little brilliant face like that know sadness? It is a problem difficult
to solve. All the professor's learning fails him now.
"I hope she will remember. Oh! she must," declares he, gazing at
Perpetua. "You know I would do what I could for you, but your aunt—you
heard her—she would not let you go anywhere with me."
"True," says Perpetua. Here she moves back, and folds her arms stiffly
across her bosom, and pokes out her chin, in an aggressive fashion, that
creates a likeness on the spot, in spite of the youthful eyes, and brow,
and hair. "'Young gentlewomen in our time, Mr. Curzon, never, went
out walking, alone, with A Man!"
The mimicry is perfect. The professor, after a faint struggle with his
dignity, joins in her naughty mirth, and both laugh together.
"'Our' time! she thinks you are a hundred and fifty!" says Miss
"Well, so I am, in a way," returns the professor, somewhat sadly.
"No, you're not," says she. "I know better than that. I," patting his
arm reassuringly, "can guess your age better than she can. I can see at
once, that you are not a day older than poor, darling papa. In fact,
you may be younger. I am perfectly certain you are not more than fifty."
The professor says nothing. He is staring at her. He is beginning to
feel a little forlorn. He has forgotten youth for many days, has youth
in revenge forgotten him?
"That is taking off a clear hundred all at once," says she lightly. "No
small amount." Here, as if noticing his silence, she looks quickly at
him, and perhaps something in his face strikes her, because she goes on
hurriedly. "Oh! and what is age after all? I wish I were old, and then
I should be able to get away from Aunt Jane—without—without any
"I am afraid you are indeed very unhappy here," says the professor
"I hate the place," cries she with a frown. "I shan't be able to stay
here. Oh! why didn't poor papa send me to live with you?"
Why indeed? That is exactly what the professor finds great difficulty in
explaining to her. An "old man" of "fifty" might very easily give a home
to a young girl, without comment from the world. But then if an "old man
of fifty" wasn't an old man of fifty——The professor checks his
thoughts, they are growing too mixed.
"We should have been so happy," Perpetua is going on, her tone
regretful. "We could have gone everywhere together, you and I. I should
have taken you to the theatre, to balls, to concerts, to afternoons. You
would have been so happy, and so should I. You would—wouldn't you?"
The professor nods his head. The awful vista she has opened up to him
has completely deprived him of speech.
"Ah! yes," sighs she, taking that deceitful nod in perfect good faith.
"And you would have been good to me too, and let me look in at the shop
windows. I should have taken such care of you, and made your tea for
you, just," sadly, "as I used to do for poor papa, and——"
It is becoming too much for the professor.
"It is late. I must go," says he.
It is a week later when he meets her again. The season is now at its
height, and some stray wave of life casting the professor into a
fashionable thoroughfare, he there finds he.
Marching along, as usual, with his head in the air, and his thoughts in
the ages when dates were unknown, a soft, eager voice calling his name
brings him back to the fact that he is walking up Bond Street.
In a carriage, exceedingly well appointed, and with her face wreathed in
smiles, and one hand impulsively extended, sits Perpetua. Evidently the
owner of the carriage is in the shop making purchases, whilst Perpetua
sits without, awaiting her.
"Were you going to cut me?" cries she. "What luck to meet you here. I am
having such a lovely day. Mrs. Constans has taken me out with her, and
I am to dine with her, and go with her to a concert in the evening."
She has poured it all out, all her good news in a breath, as though sure
of a sympathetic listener.
He is too good a listener. He is listening so hard, he is looking so
intensely, that he forgets to speak, and Perpetua's sudden gaiety
forsakes her. Is he angry? Does he think——?
"It's only a concert," says she, flushing and hesitating. "Do you
think that one should not go to a concert when——"
"Yes?" questions the professor abstractedly, as she comes to a full
stop. He has never seen her dressed like this before. She is all in
black to be sure, but such black, and her air! She looks quite the
little heiress, like a little queen indeed—radiant, lovely.
"Well—when one is in mourning," says she somewhat impatiently, the
color once again dyeing her cheek. Quick tears have sprung to her eyes.
They seem to hurt the professor.
"One cannot be in mourning always," says he slowly. His manner is still
"You evade the question," says she frowning. "But a concert isn't like
a ball, is it?"
"I don't know," says the professor, who indeed has had little knowledge
of either for years, and whose unlucky answer arises solely from
inability to give her an honest reply.
"You hesitate," says she, "you disapprove then. But," defiantly, "I
don't care—a concert is not like a ball."
"No—I suppose not!"
"I can see what you are thinking," returns she, struggling with her
mortification. "And it is very hard of you. Just because you don't
care to go anywhere, you think I oughtn't to care either. That is what
is so selfish about people who are old. You," wilfully, "are just as bad
as Aunt Jane."
The professor looks at her. His face is perplexed—distressed—and
something more, but she cannot read that.
"Well, not quite perhaps," says she, relenting slightly. "But nearly.
And if you don't take care you will grow like her. I hate people who
lecture me, and besides, I don't see why a guardian should control one's
whole life, and thought, and action. A guardian," resentfully, "isn't
"No. No. Thank Heaven!" says the professor, shocked. Perpetua stares at
him a moment and then breaks into a queer little laugh.
"You evidently have no desire to be mixed up with my conscience," says
she, a little angry in spite of her mirth. "Well, I don't want you to
have anything to do with it. That's my affair. But, about this
concert,"—she leans towards him, resting her hand on the edge of the
carriage. "Do you think one should go nowhere when wearing black?"
"I think one should do just as one feels," says the professor nervously.
"I wonder if one should say just what one feels," says she. She draws
back haughtily, then wrath gets the better of dignity, and she breaks
out again. "What a horrid answer! You are unfeeling if you like!"
"Yes, yes! You would deny me this small gratification, you would lock me
up forever with Aunt Jane, you would debar me from everything! Oh!" her
lips trembling, "how I wish—I wish—guardians had never been
The professor almost begins to wish the same. Almost—perhaps not quite!
That accusation about wishing to keep her locked up forever with Miss
Majendie is so manifestly unjust that he takes it hardly. Has he not
spent all this past week striving to open a way of escape for her from
the home she so detests! But, after all, how could she know that?
"You have misunderstood me," says he calmly, gravely. "Far from wishing
you to deny yourself this concert, I am glad—glad from my heart—that
you are going to it—that some small pleasure has fallen into your life.
Your aunt's home is an unhappy one for you, I know, but you should
remember that even if—if you have got to stay with her until you become
your own mistress, still that will not be forever."
"No, I shall not stay there forever," says she slowly. "And so—you
really think——" she is looking very earnestly at him.
"I do, indeed. Go out—go everywhere—enjoy yourself, child, while you
He lifts his hat and walks away.
"Who was that, dear?" asks Mrs. Constans, a pretty pale woman, rushing
out of the shop and into the carriage.
"My guardian—Mr. Curzon."
"Ah!" glancing carelessly after the professor's retreating figure. "A
"No, old," says Perpetua, "at least I think—do you know," laughing,
"when he's gone I sometimes think of him as being pretty young, but
when he is with me, he is old—old and grave!"
"As a guardian should be, with such a pretty ward," says Mrs. Constans,
smiling. "His back looks young, however."
"And his laugh sounds young."
"Ah! he can laugh then?"
"Very seldom. Too seldom. But when he does, it is a nice laugh. But he
wears spectacles, you know—and—well—oh, yes, he is old, distinctly
"He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper; but he is more
excellent who can suit his temper to any circumstances."
"The idea of your having a ward! I could quite as soon imagine your
having a wife," says Hardinge. He knocks the ash off his cigar, and
after meditating for a moment, leans back in his chair and gives way to
"I don't see why I shouldn't have a wife as well as another," says the
professor, idly tapping his forefinger on the table near him. "She would
bore me. But a great many fellows are bored."
"You have grasped one great truth if you never grasp another!" says Mr.
Hardinge, who has now recovered. "Catch me marrying."
"It's unlucky to talk like that," says the professor. "It looks as
though your time were near. In Sophocles' time there was a man who——"
"Oh, bother Sophocles, you know I never let you talk anything but
wholesome nonsense when I drop in for a smoke with you," says the
younger man. "You began very well, with that superstition of yours, but
I won't have it spoiled by erudition. Tell me about your ward."
"Would that be nonsense?" says the professor, with a faint smile.
They are sitting in the professor's room with the windows thrown wide
open to let in any chance gust of air that Heaven in its mercy may send
them. It is night, and very late at night too—the clock indeed is on
the stroke of twelve. It seems a long, long time to the professor since
the afternoon—the afternoon of this very day—when he had seen Perpetua
sitting in that open carriage. He had only been half glad when Harold
Hardinge—a young man, and yet, strange to say, his most intimate
friend—had dropped in to smoke a pipe with him. Hardinge was fonder of
the professor than he knew, and was drawn to him by curious intricate
webs. The professor suited him, and he suited the professor, though in
truth Hardinge was nothing more than a gay young society man, with just
the average amount of brains, but not an ounce beyond that.
A tall, handsome young man, with fair brown hair and hazel eyes, a dark
moustache and a happy manner, Mr. Hardinge laughs his way through life,
without money, or love, or any other troubles.
"Can you ask?" says he. "Go on, Curzon. What is she like?"
"It wouldn't interest you," says the professor.
"I beg your pardon, it is profoundly interesting; I've got to keep an
eye on you, or else in a weak moment you will let her marry you."
The professor moves uneasily.
"May I ask how you knew I had a ward?"
"That should go without telling. I arrived here to-night to find you
absent and Mrs. Mulcahy in possession, pretending to dust the furniture.
She asked me to sit down—I obeyed her.
"'How's the professor?'" said I.
"'Me dear!' said she, 'that's a bad story. He's that distracted over a
young lady that his own mother wouldn't know him!'
"I acknowledge I blushed. I went even so far as to make a few pantomimic
gestures suggestive of the horror I was experiencing, and finally I
covered my face with my handkerchief. I regret to say that Mrs. Mulcahy
took my modesty in bad part.
"'Arrah! git out wid ye!' says she, 'ye scamp o' the world. 'Tis a
ward the masther has taken an' nothin' more.'
"I said I thought it was quite enough, and asked if you had taken it
badly, and what the doctor thought of you. But she wouldn't listen to
"'Look here, Misther Hardinge,' said she. 'I've come to the conclusion
that wards is bad for the professor. I haven't seen the young lady, I
confess, but I'm cock-sure that she's got the divil's own temper!'"
Hardinge pauses, and turns to the professor—"Has she?" says he.
"N——o,"—says the professor—a little frowning lovely crimson face
rises before him—and then a laughing one. "No," says he more boldly,
"she is a little impulsive, perhaps, but——"
"Just so. Just so," says Mr. Hardinge pleasantly, and then, after a
kindly survey of his companion's features, "She is rather a trouble to
you, old man, isn't she?"
"She? No," says the professor again, more quickly this time. "It is only
this—she doesn't seem to get on with the aunt to whom her poor father
sent her—he is dead—and I have to look out for some one else to take
care of her, until she comes of age."
"I see. I should think you would have to hurry up a bit," says Mr.
Hardinge, taking his cigar from his lips, and letting the smoke curl
upwards slowly, thoughtfully. "Impulsive people have a trick of being
impatient—of acting for themselves——"
"She cannot," says the professor, with anxious haste. "She knows
nobody in town."
"Except me, and a woman who is a friend of her aunt's. If she were to go
to her, she would be taken back again. Perpetua knows that."
"Perpetua! Is that her name? What a peculiar one? Perpetua——"
"Miss Wynter," sharply.
"Perpetua—Miss Wynter! Exactly so! It sounds like—Dorothea—Lady
Highflown! Well, your Lady Highflown doesn't seem to have many friends
here. What a pity you can't send her back to Australia!"
The professor is silent.
"It would suit all sides. I daresay the poor girl is pining for the
freedom of her old home. And, I must say, it is hard lines for you. A
girl with a temper, to be——"
"I did not say she had a temper."
Hardinge has risen to get himself some whisky and soda, but pauses to
pat the professor affectionately on the back.
"Of course not! Don't I know you? You would die first! She might worry
your life out, and still you would rise up to defend her at every
corner. You should get her a satisfactory home as soon as you can—it
would ease your mind; and, after all, as she knows no one here, she is
bound to behave herself until you can come to her help."
"She would behave herself, as you call it," says the professor angrily,
"any and everywhere. She is a lady. She has been well brought up. I am
her guardian, she will do nothing without my permission!"
A sound, outside the door strikes on the ears of both men at this
moment. It is a most peculiar sound, as it were the rattle of beads
"What's that?" said Hardinge. "Everett" (the man in the rooms below,)
"is out, I know."
"It's coming here," says the professor.
It is, indeed! The door is opened in a tumultuous fashion, there is a
rustle of silken skirts, and there—there, where the gas-light falls
full on her from both room and landing—stands Perpetua!
The professor has risen to his feet. His face is deadly white. Mr.
Hardinge has risen too.
"Perpetua!" says the professor; it would be impossible to describe his
"I've come!" says Perpetua, advancing into the room. "I have done with
Aunt Jane, for ever," casting wide her pretty naked arms, "and I have
come to you!"
As if in confirmation of this decision, she flings from her on to a
distant chair the white opera cloak around her, and stands revealed as
charming a thing as ever eye fell upon. She is all in black, but black
that sparkles and trembles and shines with every movement. She seems,
indeed, to be hung in jet, and out of all this sombre gleaming her white
neck rises, pure and fresh and sweet as a little child's. Her long
slight arms are devoid of gloves—she had forgotten them, do doubt, but
her slender fingers are covered with rings, and round her neck a diamond
necklace clings as if in love with its resting place.
Diamonds indeed are everywhere. In her hair, in her breast, on her neck,
her fingers. Her father, when luck came to him, had found his greatest
joy in decking with these gems the delight of his heart.
The professor turns to Hardinge. That young man, who had risen with the
intention of leaving the room on Perpetua's entrance, is now standing
staring at her as if bewitched. His expression is half puzzled, half
amused. In this the professor's troublesome ward? This lovely,
"Leave us!" says the professor sharply. Hardinge, with a profound bow,
quits the room, but not the house. It would be impossible to go without
hearing the termination of this exciting episode. Everett's rooms being
providentially empty, he steps into them, and, having turned up the gas,
drops into a chair and gives way to mirth.
Meantime the professor is staring at Perpetua.
"What has happened?" says he.
"Take it to thy breast;
Though thorns its stem invest,
Gather them, with the rest!"
"She is unbearable. Unbearable!" returns Perpetua vehemently. "When I
came back from the concert to-night, she——But I won't speak of her. I
won't. And, at all events, I have done with her; I have left her. I
have come"—with decision—"to stay with you!"
"Eh?" says the professor. It is a mere sound, but it expresses a great
"To stay with you. Yes," nodding her head, "it has come to that at last.
I warned you it would. I couldn't stay with her any longer. I hate
her! So I have come to stay with you—for ever!"
She has cuddled herself into an armchair, and, indeed, looks as if a
life-long residence in this room is the plan she has laid out for
"Great heavens! What do you mean?" asks the poor professor, who should
have sworn by the heathen gods, but in a weak moment falls back upon the
good old formula. He sinks upon the table next him, and makes ruin of
the notes he had been scribbling—the ink is still wet—even whilst
Hardinge was with him. Could he only have known it, there are first
proofs of them now upon his trousers.
"I have told you," says she. "Good gracious, what a funny room this is!
I told you she was abominable to me when I came home to-night. She said
dreadful things to me, and I don't care whether she is my aunt or not, I
shan't let her scold me for nothing; and—I'm afraid I wasn't nice to
her. I'm sorry for that, but—one isn't a bit of stone, you know, and
she said something—about my mother," her eyes grow very brilliant here,
"and when I walked up to her she apologized for that, but afterwards she
said something about poor, poor papa—and ... well, that was the end.
I told her—amongst other things—that I thought she was 'too old to
be alive,' and she didn't seem to mind the 'other things' half as much
as that, though they were awful. At all events," with a little wave of
her hands, "she's lectured me now for good; I shall never see her
again! I've run away to you! See?"
It must be acknowledged that the professor doesn't see. He is still
sitting on the edge of the table—dumb.
"Oh! I'm so glad I've left her," says Perpetua, with indeed heartfelt
delight in look and tone. "But—do you know—I'm hungry. You—you
couldn't let me make you a cup of tea, could you? I'm dreadfully
thirsty! What's that in your glass?"
"Nothing," says the professor hastily. He removes the half-finished
tumbler of whisky and soda, and places it in the open cupboard.
"It looked like something," says she. "But what about tea?"
"I'll see what I can do," says he, beginning to busy himself amongst
many small contrivances in the same cupboard. It has gone to his heart
to hear that she is hungry and thirsty, but even in the midst of his
preparations for her comfort, a feeling of rage takes possession of him.
He pulls his head out of the cupboard and turns to her.
"You must be mad!" says he.
"Mad? Why?" asks she.
"To come here. Here! And at this hour!"
"There was no other place; and I wasn't going to live under her roof
another second. I said to myself that she was my aunt, but you were my
guardian. Both of you have been told to look after me, and I prefer to
be looked after by you. It is so simple," says she, with a suspicion of
contempt in her tone, "that I wonder why you wonder at it. As I
preferred you—of course I have come to live with you."
"You can't!" gasps the professor, "you must go back to Miss Majendie
"To her! I'm not going back," steadily. "And even if I would,"
triumphantly, "I couldn't. As she sleeps at the top of the house (to get
air, she says), and so does her maid, you might ring until you were
black in the face, and she wouldn't hear you."
"Well! you can't stay here!" says the professor, getting off the table
and addressing her with a truly noble attempt at sternness.
"Why can't I?" There is some indignation in her tone. "There's lots of
room here, isn't there?"
"There is no room!" says the professor. This is the literal truth.
"The house is full. And—and there are only men here."
"So much the better!" says Perpetua, with a little frown and a great
deal of meaning. "I'm tired of women—they're horrid. You're always kind
to me—at least," with a glance, "you always used to be, and you're a
man! Tell one of your servants to make me up a room somewhere."
"There isn't one," says the professor.
"Oh! nonsense," says she leaning back in her chair and yawning softly.
"I'm not so big that you can't put me away somewhere. That woman says
I'm so small that I'll never be a grown-up girl, because I can't grow up
any more. Who'd live with a woman like that? And I shall grow more,
"I daresay," says the professor vaguely. "But that is not the question
to be considered now. I must beg you to understand, Perpetua, that your
staying here is out of the question!"
"Out of the——Oh! I see" cries she, springing to her feet and turning
a passionately reproachful face on his. "You mean that I shall be in
your way here!"
"No, no, no!" cries he, just as impulsively, and decidedly
very foolishly; but the sight of her small mortified face has proved too
much for him. "Only——"
"Only?" echoes the spoiled child, with a loving smile—the child who has
been accustomed to have all things and all people give way to her during
her short life. "Only you are afraid I shall not be comfortable. But I
shall. And I shall be a great comfort to you too—a great help. I
shall keep everything in order for you. Do you remember the talk we had
that last day you came to Aunt Jane's? How I told you of the happy days
we should have together, if we were together. Well, we are together
now, aren't we? And when I'm twenty-one, we'll move into a big, big
house, and ask people to dances and dinners and things. In the
meantime——" she pauses and glances leisurely around her. The glance is
very comprehensive. "To-morrow," says she with decision, "I shall settle
The professor's breath fails him. He grows pale. To "settle" his room!
"Perpetua!" exclaims he, almost inarticulately, "you don't understand."
"I do indeed," returns she brightly. "I've often settled papa's den.
What! do you think me only a silly useless creature? You shall see! I'll
settle you too, by and by." She smiles at him gaily, with the most
charming innocence, but oh! what awful probabilities lie within her
words. Settle him!
"Do you know I've heard people talking about you at Mrs. Constans',"
says she. She smiles and nods at him. The professor groans. To be talked
about! To be discussed! To be held up to vulgar comment! He writhes
inwardly. The thought is actual torture to him.
"What?" demands the professor, almost fiercely. How dare a feeble
feminine audience appreciate or condemn his honest efforts to enlighten
his small section of mankind!
"That you ought to be married," says Perpetua, sympathetically. "And
they said, too, that they supposed you wouldn't ever be now; but that it
was a great pity you hadn't a daughter. I think that too. Not about
your having a wife. That doesn't matter, but I really think you ought to
have a daughter to look after you."
This extremely immoral advice she delivers with a beaming smile.
"I'll be your daughter," says she.
The professor goes rigid with horror. What has he done that the Fates
should so visit him?
"They said something else too," goes on Perpetua, this time rather
angrily. "They said you were so clever that you always looked unkempt.
That," thoughtfully, "means that you didn't brush your hair enough.
Never mind, I'll brush it for you."
"Look here!" says the professor furiously, subdued fury no doubt, but
very genuine. "You must go, you know. Go, at once! D'ye see? You can't
stay in this house, d'ye hear? I can't permit it. What did your father
mean by bringing you up like this!"
"Like what?" She is staring at him. She has leant forward as if
surprised—and with a sigh the professor acknowledges the uselessness of
a fight between them; right or wrong she is sure to win. He is bound to
go to the wall. She is looking not only surprised, but unnerved. This
ebullition of wrath on the part of her mild guardian has been a slight
shock to her.
"Tell me?" persists she.
"Tell you! what is there to tell you? I should think the veriest infant
would have known she oughtn't to come here."
"I should think an infant would know nothing," with dignity. "All your
scientific researches have left you, I'm afraid, very ignorant. And I
should think that the very first thing even an infant would do, if she
could walk, would be to go straight to her guardian when in trouble."
"At this hour?"
"At any hour. What," throwing out her hands expressively, "is a guardian
for, if it isn't to take care of people?"
The professor gives it up. The heat of battle has overcome him. With a
deep breath he drops into a chair, and begins to wonder how long it will
be before happy death will overtake him.
But in the meantime, whilst sitting on a milestone of life waiting for
that grim friend, what is to be done with her? If—Good heavens! if
anyone had seen her come in!
"Who opened the door for you?" demands he abruptly.
"A great big fat woman with a queer voice! Your Mrs. Mulcahy of course.
I remember your telling me about her."
Mrs. Mulcahy undoubtedly. Well, the professor wishes now he had told
this ward more about her. Mrs. Mulcahy he can trust, but she—awful
thought—will she trust him? What is she thinking now?
"I said, 'Is Mr. Curzon at home?' and she said, 'Well I niver!' So I saw
she was a kindly, foolish, poor creature with no sense, and I ran past
her, and up the stairs, and I looked into one room where there were
lights but you weren't there, and then I ran on again until I saw the
light under your door, and," brightening, "there you were!"
Here she is now at all events, at half-past twelve at night!
"Wasn't it fortunate I found you?" says she. She is laughing a little,
and looking so content that the professor hasn't the heart to contradict
her—though where the fortune comes in——
"I'm starving," says she, gaily, "will that funny little kettle soon
boil?" The professor has lit a spirit-lamp with a view to giving her
some tea. "I haven't had anything to eat since dinner, and you know she
dines at an ungodly hour. Two o'clock! I didn't know I wanted anything
to eat until I escaped from her, but now that I have got you,"
triumphantly, "I feel as hungry as ever I can be."
"There is nothing," says the professor, blankly. His heart seems to stop
beating. The most hospitable and kindly of men, it is terrible to him to
have to say this. Of course Mrs. Mulcahy—who, no doubt, is still in the
hall waiting for an explanation, could give him something. But Mrs.
Mulcahy can be unpleasant at times, and this is safe to be a "time." Yet
without her assistance he can think of no means by which this pretty,
slender, troublesome little ward of his can be fed.
"Nothing!" repeats she faintly. "Oh, but surely in that cupboard over
there, where you put the glass, there is something; even bread and
butter I should like."
She gets up, and makes an impulsive step forward, and in doing so
brushes against a small rickety table, that totters feebly for an
instant and then comes with a crash to the ground, flinging a whole heap
of gruesome dry bones at her very feet.
With a little cry of horror she recoils from them. Perhaps her nerves
are more out of order than she knows, perhaps the long fast and long
drive here, and her reception from her guardian at the end of it—so
different from what she had imagined—have all helped to undo her.
Whatever be the cause, she suddenly covers her face with her hands and
bursts into tears.
"Take them away!" cries she frantically, and then—sobbing heavily
between her broken words—"Oh, I see how it is. You don't want me here
at all. You wish I hadn't come. And I have no one but you—and poor papa
said you would be good to me. But you are sorry he made you my
guardian. You would be glad if I were dead! When I come to you in my
trouble you tell me to go away again, and though I tell you I am hungry,
you won't give me even some bread and butter! Oh!" passionately, "if
you came to me starving, I'd give you things, but—you——"
"Stop!" cries the professor. He uplifts his hands, and, as though in
the act of tearing his hair, rushes from the room, and staggers
downstairs to those other apartments where Hardinge had elected to sit,
and see out the farce, comedy, or tragedy, whichever it may prove, to
its bitter end.
The professor bursts in like a maniac!
"The house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress, as
well for his defence against injury and violence as for his
"She's upstairs still," cries he in a frenzied tone. "She says she has
come for ever. That she will not go away. She doesn't understand.
Great Heaven! What I am to do?"
"She?" says Hardinge, who really in turn grows petrified for the
moment—only for the moment.
"That girl! My ward! All women are demons!" says the professor
bitterly, with tragic force. He pauses as if exhausted.
"Your demon is a pretty specimen of her kind," says Hardinge, a little
frivolously under the circumstances it must be confessed. "Where is she
"Upstairs!" with a groan. "She says she's hungry, and I haven't a
thing in the house! For goodness sake think of something, Hardinge."
"Mrs. Mulcahy!" suggests Hardinge, in anything but a hopeful tone.
"Yes—ye-es," says the professor. "You—you wouldn't ask her for
something, would you, Hardinge?"
"Not for a good deal," says Hardinge, promptly. "I say," rising, and
going towards Everett's cupboard, "Everett's a Sybarite, you know, of
the worst kind—sure to find something here, and we can square it with
him afterwards. Beauty in distress, you know, appeals to all hearts.
Here we are!" holding out at arm's length a pasty. "A 'weal and
ammer!' Take it! The guilt be on my head! Bread—butter—pickled onions!
Oh, not pickled onions, I think. Really, I had no idea even Everett
had fallen so low. Cheese!—about to proceed on a walking tour! The
young lady wouldn't care for that, thanks. Beer! No. No.
"Give me that pie, and the bread and butter," says the professor, in
great wrath. "And let me tell you, Hardinge, that there are occasions
when one's high spirits can degenerate into offensiveness and
He marches out of the room and upstairs, leaving Hardinge, let us hope,
a pray to remorse. It is true, at least of that young man, that he
covers his face with his hands and sways from side to side, as if
overcome by some secret emotion. Grief—no-doubt.
Perpetua is graciously pleased to accept the frugal meal the professor
brings her. She even goes so far as to ask him to share it with
her—which invitation he declines. He is indeed sick at heart—not for
himself—(the professor doesn't often think of himself)—but for her.
And where is she to sleep? To turn her out now would be impossible!
After all, it was a puerile trifling with the Inevitable, to shirk
asking Mrs. Mulcahy for something to eat for his self-imposed
guest—because the question of Bed still to come! Mrs. Mulcahy,
terrible as she undoubtedly can be, is yet the only woman in the house,
and it is imperative that Perpetua should be given up to her protection.
Whilst the professor is writhing in spirit over this ungetoutable fact,
he becomes aware of a resounding knock at his door. Paralyzed, he gazes
in the direction of the sound. It can't be Hardinge, he would never
knock like that! The knock in itself, indeed, is of such force and
volume as to strike terror into the bravest breast. It is—it must
And Mrs. Mulcahy it is! Without waiting for an answer, that virtuous
Irishwoman, clad in righteous indignation and a snuff-colored gown,
marches into the room.
"May I ask, Mr. Curzon," says she, with great dignity and more temper,
"what may be the meanin' of all this?"
The professor's tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth, but Perpetua's
tongue remains normal. She jumps up, and runs to Mrs. Mulcahy with a
beaming face. She has had something to eat, and is once again her own
buoyant, wayward, light-hearted little self.
"Oh! it is all right now, Mrs. Mulcahy," cries she, whilst the
professor grows cold with horror at this audacious advance upon the
militant Mulcahy. "But do you know, he said first he hadn't anything to
give me, and I was starving. No, you mustn't scold him—he didn't mean
anything. I suppose you have heard how unhappy I was with Aunt
Jane?—he's told you, I daresay,"—with a little flinging of her hand
towards the trembling professor—"because I know"—prettily—"he is very
fond of you—he often speaks to me about you. Oh! Aunt Jane is horrid!
I should have told you about how it was when I came, but I wanted so
much to see my guardian, and tell him all about it, that I forgot to
be nice to anybody. See?"
There is a little silence. The professor, who is looking as guilty as if
the whole ten commandments have been broken by him at once, waits,
shivering, for the outburst that is so sure to come.
It doesn't come, however! When the mists clear away a little, he finds
that Perpetua has gone over to where Mrs. Mulcahy is standing, and is
talking still to that good Irishwoman. It is a whispered talk this time,
and the few words of it that he catches go to his very heart.
"I'm afraid he didn't want me here," Perpetua is saying, in a low
distressed little voice—"I'm sorry I came now—but, you don't know
how cruel Aunt Jane was to me, Mrs. Mulcahy, you don't indeed! She—she
said such unkind things about—about——" Perpetua breaks down
again—struggles with herself valiantly, and finally bursts out crying.
"I'm tired, I'm sleepy," sobs she miserably.
Need I say what follows? The professor, stung to the quick by those
forlorn sobs, lifts his eyes, and—behold! he sees Perpetua gathered to
the ample bosom of the formidable, kindly Mulcahy.
"Come wid me, me lamb," says that excellent woman. "Bad scran to the one
that made yer purty heart sore. Lave her to me now, Misther Curzon,
dear, an' I'll take a mother's care of her." (This in an aside to the
astounded professor.) "There now, alanna! Take courage now! Sure 'tis to
the right shop ye've come, anyway, for 'tis daughthers I have meself, me
dear—fine, sthrappin' girls as could put you in their pockits. Ye poor
little crather! Oh! Murther! Who could harm the likes of ye? Faix, I
hope that ould divil of an aunt o' yours won't darken these doors, or
she'll git what she won't like from Biddy Mulcahy. There now! There now!
'Tis into yer bed I'll tuck ye meself, for 'tis worn-out ye are—God
She is gone, taking Perpetua with her. The professor rubs his eyes, and
then suddenly an overwhelming sense of gratitude towards Mrs. Mulcahy
takes possession of him. What a woman! He had never thought so much
moral support could be got out of a landlady—but Mrs. Mulcahy has
certainly tided him safely over one of his difficulties. Still, those
that remain are formidable enough to quell any foolish present attempts
at relief of mind. "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow!"
How many to-morrows is she going to remain here? Oh! Impossible! Not an
hour must be wasted. By the morning light something must be put on
foot to save the girl from her own foolhardiness, nay ignorance!
Once again, sunk in the meshes of depression, the persecuted professor
descends to the room where Hardinge awaits him.
"Anything new?" demands the latter, springing to his feet.
"Yes! Mrs. Mulcahy came up." The professor's face is so gloomy, that
Hardinge may be forgiven for saying to himself, "She has assaulted him!"
"I'm glad it isn't visible," says he, staring at the professor's nose,
and then at his eye. Both are the usual size.
"Eh?" says the professor. "She was visible of course. She was kinder
than I expected."
"So, I see. She might so easily have made it your lip—or your
"What is there in Everett's cupboard besides the beer?" demands the
professor angrily. "For Heaven's sake! attend to me, and don't sit there
grinning like a first-class chimpanzee!"
This is extremely rude, but Hardinge takes no notice of it.
"I tell you she was kind—kinder than one would expect," says the
professor, rapping his knuckles on the table.
"Oh! I see. She? Miss Wynter?"
"No—Mrs. Mulcahy!" roars the professor frantically. "Where's your head,
man? Mrs. Mulcahy came into the room, and took Miss Wynter into her
charge in the—er—the most wonderful way, and carried her off to bed."
The professor mops his brow.
"Oh, well, that's all right," says Hardinge. "Sit down, old chap, and
let's talk it over."
"It is not all right," says the professor. "It is all wrong. Here she
is, and here she apparently means to stay. The poor child doesn't
understand. She thinks I'm older than Methusaleh, and that she can live
here with me. I can't explain it to her—you—don't think you could,
do you, Hardinge?"
"No, I don't, indeed," says Hardinge, in a hurry. "What on earth has
brought her here at all?"
"To stay. Haven't I told you? To stay for ever. She says"—with a
groan—"she is going to settle me! To—to brush my hair! To—make my
tea. She says I'm her guardian, and insists on living with me. She
doesn't understand! Hardinge," desperately, "what am I to do?"
"Marry her!" suggests Hardinge, who I regret to say is choking with
"That is a jest!" says the professor haughtily. This unusual tone from
the professor strikes surprise to the soul of Hardinge. He looks at him.
But the professor's new humor is short-lived. He sinks upon a chair in a
tired sort of a way, letting his arms fall over the sides of it. As a
type of utter despair he is a distinguished specimen.
"Why don't you take her home again, back to the old aunt?" says
Hardinge, moved by his misery.
"I can't. She tells me it would be useless, that the house is locked up,
and—and besides, Hardinge, her aunt—after this, you know—would
"Naturally," says Hardinge, after which he falls back upon his cigar.
"Light your pipe," says he, "and we'll think it over." The professor
lights it, and both men draw nearer to each other.
"I'm afraid she won't go back to her aunt any way," says the professor,
as a beginning to the "thinking it over." He pushes his glasses up to
his forehead, and finally discards them altogether, flinging them on the
"If she saw you now she might understand," says Hardinge—for, indeed,
the professor without his glasses loses thirty per cent. of old Time.
"She wouldn't," says the professor. "And never mind that. Come back to
the question. I say she will never go back to her aunt."
He looks anxiously at Hardinge. One can see that he would part with a
good deal of honest coin of the realm, if his companion would only not
agree with him.
"It looks like it," said Hardinge, who is rather enjoying himself. "By
Jove! what a thing to happen to you, Curzon, of all men in the world.
What are you going to do, eh?"
"It isn't so much that," says the professor faintly. "It is what is
she going to do?"
"Next!" supplements Hardinge. "Quite so! It would be a clever fellow
who would answer that, straight off. I say, Curzon, what a pretty girl
she is, though. Pretty isn't the word. Lovely, I——"
The professor gets up suddenly.
"Not that," says he, raising his hand in his gentle fashion—that has
now something of haste in it. "It—I—you know what I mean, Hardinge. To
discuss her—herself, I mean—and here——"
"Yes. You are right," says Hardinge slowly, with, however, an
irrepressible stare at the professor. It is a prolonged stare. He is
very fond of Curzon, though knowing absolutely nothing about him beyond
the fact that he is eminently likeable; and it now strikes him as
strange that this silent, awkward, ill-dressed, clever man should be the
one to teach him how to behave himself. Who is Curzon? Given a better
tailor, and a worse brain, he might be a reasonable-looking fellow
enough, and not so old either—forty, perhaps—perhaps less. "Have you
no relation to whom you could send her?" he says at length, that sudden
curiosity as to who Curzon may be prompting the question. "Some old
lady? An aunt, for example?"
"She doesn't seem to like aunts" says the professor, with deep
"Small blame to her," says, Hardinge, smoking vigorously. "I've an
aunt—but 'that's another story!' Well—haven't you a cousin then?—or
"I have a sister," says the professor slowly.
("Fusty old person, out somewhere in the wilds of Finchley," says
Hardinge to himself. "Poor little girl—she won't fancy that either!")
"Why not send her to your sister then?" says he aloud.
"I'm not sure that she would like to have her," says the professor, with
hesitation. "I confess I have been thinking it over for some days,
"But perhaps the fact of your ward's being an heiress——" begins
Hardinge—throwing out a suggestion as it were—but is checked by
something in the professor's face.
"My sister is the Countess of Baring," says he gently.
Hardinge's first thought is that the professor has gone out of his mind,
and his second that he himself has accomplished that deed. He leans
across the table. Surprise has deprived him of his usual good manners.
"Lady Baring!—your sister!" says he.
"Your face, my Thane, is as a book, where men
May read strange matters."
"I see no reason why she shouldn't be," says the professor calmly—is
there a faint suspicion of hauteur in his tone? "As we are on the
subject of myself, I may as well tell you that my brother is Sir
Hastings Curzon, of whom"—he turns back as if to take up some imaginary
article from the floor—"you may have heard."
"Sir Hastings!" Mr. Hardinge leans back in his chair and gives way to
thought. This quiet, hard-working student—this man whom he had counted
as a nobody—the brother of that disreputable Hastings Curzon! "As good
as got the baronetcy," says he still thinking. "At the rate Sir Hastings
is going he can't possibly last for another twelvemonth, and here is
this fellow living in these dismal lodgings with twenty thousand a year
before his eyes. A lucky thing for him that the estates are so strictly
entailed. Good heavens! to think of a man with all that almost in his
grasp being happy in a coat that must have been built in the Ark, and
caring for nothing on earth but the intestines of frogs and such-like
"You seem surprised again," says the professor, somewhat satirically.
"I confess it," says Hardinge.
"I can't see why you should be."
"I do," says Hardinge drily. "That you," slowly, "you should be Sir
Hastings' brother! Why——"
"No more!" interrupts the professor sharply. He lifts his hand. "Not
another word. I know what you are going to say. It is one of my greatest
troubles, that I always know what people are going to say when they
mention him. Let him alone, Hardinge."
"Oh! I'll let him alone," says Hardinge, with a gesture of disgust.
There is a pause.
"You know my sister, then?" says the professor presently.
"Yes. She is very charming. How is it I have never seen you there?"
"At her house?"
"At her receptions?"
"I have no taste for that sort of thing, and no time. Fashionable
society bores me. I go and see Gwen, on off days and early hours, when I
am sure that I shall find her alone. We are friends, you will
understand, she and I; capital friends, though sometimes," with a sigh,
"she—she seems to disapprove of my mode of living. But we get on very
well on the whole. She is a very good girl," says the professor kindly,
who always thinks of Lady Baring as a little girl in short frocks in her
nursery—the nursery he had occupied with her.
To hear the beautiful, courted, haughty Lady Baring, who has the best of
London at her feet, called "a good girl," so tickles Mr. Hardinge, that
he leans back in his chair and bursts out laughing.
"Yes?" says the professor, as if asking for an explanation of the joke.
"Oh! nothing—nothing. Only—you are such a queer fellow!" says
Hardinge, sitting up again to look at him. "You are a rara avis, do
you know? No, of course you don't! You are one of the few people who
don't know their own worth. I don't believe, Curzon, though I should
live to be a thousand, that I shall ever look upon your like again."
"And so you laugh. Well, no doubt it is a pleasant reflection," says the
professor dismally. "I begin to wish now I had never seen myself."
"Oh, come! cheer up," says Hardinge, "your pretty ward will be all
right. If Lady Baring takes her in hand, she——"
"Ah! But will she?" says the professor. "Will she like Per——Miss
"Sure to," said Hardinge, with quite a touch of enthusiasm. "'To see her
is to love her, and love but'——"
"That is of no consequence where anyone is concerned except Lady
Baring," says the professor, with a little twist in his chair, "and my
sister has not seen her as yet. And besides, that is not the only
question—a greater one remains."
"By Jove! you don't say so! What?" demands Mr. Hardinge, growing
"Will Miss Wynter like her?" says the professor. "That is the real
"Oh! I see!" says Hardinge thoughtfully.
The next day, however, proves the professor's fears vain in both
quarters. An early visit to Lady Baring, and an anxious appeal, brings
out all that delightful woman's best qualities. One stipulation alone
she makes, that she may see the young heiress before finally committing
herself to chaperone her safely through the remainder of the season.
The professor, filled with hope, hies back to his rooms, calls for Mrs.
Mulcahy, tells her he is going to take his ward for a drive, and gives
that worthy and now intensely interested landlady full directions to see
that Miss Wynter looks—"er—nice! you know, Mrs. Mulcahy, her best
Mrs. Mulcahy came generously to the rescue.
"Her best frock, sir, I suppose, an' her Sunday bonnet. I've often
wished it before, Mr. Curzon, an' I'm thinkin' that 'twill be the makin'
of ye; an' a handsome, purty little crathur she is an' no mistake. An'
who is to give away the poor dear, sir, askin' yer pardon?"
"I am," says the professor.
"Oh no, sir; the likes was never known. 'Tis the the father or one of
his belongings as gives away the bride, niver the husband to be, 'an
if ye have nobody, sir, you two, why I'm sure I'd be proud to act for
ye in this matther. Faix I don't disguise from ye, Misther Curzon, dear,
that I feels like a mother to that purty child this moment, an' I tell
ye this, that if ye don't behave dacent to her, ye'll have to answer
to Mrs. Mulcahy for that same."
"What d'ye mean, woman?" roars the professor, indignantly. "Do you
imagine that I——?"
"No. I'd belave nothin' bad o' ye," says Mrs. Mulcahy solemnly. "I've
cared ye these six years, an' niver a fault to find. But that child
beyant, whin ye take her away to make her yer wife——"
"You must be mad," says the professor, a strange, curious pang
contracting his heart. "I am not taking her away to——I—I am taking
her to my sister, who will receive her as a guest."
"Mad!" repeats Mrs. Mulcahy furiously. "Who's mad? Faix," preparing to
leave the room, "'tis yerself was born widout a grain o' sinse!"
The meeting between Lady Baring and Perpetua is eminently satisfactory.
The latter, looking lovely, but a little frightened, so takes Lady
Baring's artistic soul by storm, that that great lady then and there
accepts the situation, and asks Perpetua if she will come to her for a
week or so. Perpetua, charmed in turn by Lady Baring's grace and beauty
and pretty ways, receives the invitation with pleasure, little dreaming
that she is there "on view," as it were, and that the invitation is to
be prolonged indefinitely—that is, till either she or her hostess tire
one of the other.
The professor's heart sinks a little as he sees his sister rise and
loosen the laces round the girl's pretty, slender throat, begging her to
begin to feel at home at once. Alas! He has deliberately given up his
ward! His ward! Is she any longer his? Has not the great world claimed
her now, and presently will she not belong to it? So lovely, so sweet
she is, will not all men run to snatch the prize?—a prize, bejewelled
too, not only by Nature, but by that gross material charm that men call
wealth. Well, well, he has done his best for her. There was, indeed,
nothing else left to do.
"The sun is all about the world we see,
The breath and strength of very Spring; and we
Live, love, and feed on our own hearts."
The lights are burning low in the conservatory, soft perfumes from the
many flowers fill the air. From beyond—somewhere—(there is a delicious
drowsy uncertainty about the where)—comes the sound of music, soft,
rhymical, and sweet. Perhaps it is from one of the rooms outside—dimly
seen through the green foliage—where the lights are more brilliant, and
forms are moving. But just in here there is no music save the tinkling
drip, drip of the little fountain that plays idly amongst the ferns.
Lady Baring is at home to-night, and in the big, bare rooms outside
dancing is going on, and in the smaller rooms, tiny tragedies and
comedies are being enacted by amateurs, who, oh, wondrous tale! do know
their parts and speak them, albeit no stage "proper" has been prepared
for them. Perhaps that is why stage-fright is not for them—a stage as
big as "all the world" leaves actors very free.
But in here—here, with the dainty flowers and dripping fountains, there
is surely no thought of comedy or tragedy. Only a little girl gowned all
in white, with snowy arms and neck, and diamonds gittering in the soft
masses of her waving hair. A happy little girl, to judge by the soft
smile upon her lovely lips, and the gleam in her dark eyes. Leaning back
in her seat in the dim, cool recesses of the conservatory, amongst the
flowers and the greeneries, she looks like a little nymph in love with
the silence and the sense of rest that the hour holds.
It is broken, however.
"I am so sorry you are not dancing," says her companion, leaning towards
her. His regret is evidently genuine, indeed, to Hardinge the evening is
an ill-spent one that precludes his dancing with Perpetua Wynter.
"Yes?" she looks up at him from her low lounge amongst the palms. "Well,
so am I, do you know!" telling the truth openly, yet with an evident
sense of shame. "But I don't dance now because—it is selfish, isn't
it?—because I should be so unhappy afterwards if I did!"
"A perfect reason," says Hardinge very earnestly. He is still leaning
towards her, his elbows on his knees, his eyes on hers. It is an intent
gaze that seldom wanders, and in truth why should it? Where is any other
thing as good to look at as this small, fair creature, with the eyes,
and the hair, and the lips that belong to her?
He has taken possession of her fan, and gently, lovingly, as though
indeed it is part of her, is holding it, raising it sometimes to sweep
the feathers of it across his lips.
"Do you think so?" says she, as if a little puzzled. "Well, I confess I
don't like the moments when I hate myself. We all hate ourselves
sometimes, don't we?" looking at him as if doubtfully, "or is it only I
"Oh, no!" says Hardinge. "All! All of us detest ourselves now and
again, or at least we think we do. It comes to the same thing, but
you—you have no cause."
"I should have if I danced," says she, "and I couldn't bear the after
reproach, so I don't do it."
"And yet—yet you would like to dance?"
"I don't know——" She hesitates, and suddenly looks up at him with eyes
as full of sorrow as of mirth. "At all events I know this," says she,
"that I wish the band would not play such nice waltzes!"
Hardinge gives way to laughter, and presently she laughs too, but
softly, and as if afraid of being heard, and as if too a little ashamed
of herself. Her color rises, a delicate warm color that renders her
"Shall I order them to stop?" asks Hardinge, laughing still, yet with
something in his gaze that tells her he would forbid them to play if
he could, if only to humor her.
"No!" says she, "and after all,"—philosophically—"enjoyment is only a
"That's all!" says Hardinge, smiling. "But a very good one."
"Let us forget it," with a little sigh, "and talk of something else,
She gives way to his mood and laughs afresh.
"Ah! you have me there!" says she.
"I have not, indeed," he returns, quietly and with meaning. "Neither
there, nor anywhere."
He gets up suddenly, and going to her, bends over the chair on which she
"We were talking of what?" asks she, with admirable courage, "of names,
was it not? An endless subject. My name now? An absurd one surely.
Perpetua! I don't like Perpetua, do you?" She is evidently talking at
"I do indeed!" says Hardinge, promptly and fervently. His tone
accentuates his meaning.
"Oh, but so harsh, so unusual!"
"Unusual! That in itself constitutes a charm."
"I was going to add, however—disagreeable."
"Not that—never that," Says Hardinge.
"You mean to say you really like Perpetua?" her large soft eyes
opening with amazement.
"It is a poor word," says he, his tone now very low. "If I dared say
that I adored 'Perpetua,' I should be——"
"Oh, you laugh at me," interrupts she with a little impatient gesture,
"you know how crude, how strange, how——"
"I don't indeed. Why should you malign yourself like that?
He stops short, driven to silence by a look in the girl's eyes.
"What have I to do with it? I did not christen myself," says she.
There is perhaps a suspicion of hauteur in her tone. "I am talking to
you about my name. You understand that, don't you?"—the hauteur
increasing. "Do you know, of late I have often wished I was somebody
else, because then I should have had a different one."
Hardinge, at this point, valiantly refrains from a threadbare quotation.
Perhaps he is too far crushed to be able to remember it.
"Still it is charming," says he, somewhat confusedly.
"It is absurd," says Perpetua coldly. There is evidently no pity in her.
And alas! when we think what that sweet feeling is akin to, on the
highest authority, one's hopes for Hardinge fall low. He loses his head
"Not so absurd as your guardian's, however," says he, feeling the
necessity for saying something without the power to manufacture it.
"Mr. Curzon's? What is his name?" asks she, rising out of her lounging
position and looking, for the first time, interested.
Perpetua, after a prolonged stare, laughs a little.
"What a name!" says she. "Worse than mine. And yet," still laughing, "it
suits him, I think."
Hardinge laughs with her. Not at his friend, but with her. It seems
clear to him that Perpetua is making gentle fun of her guardian, and
though his conscience smites him for encouraging her in her naughtiness,
still he cannot refrain.
"He is an awfully good old fellow," says he, throwing a sop to his
"Is he?" says Perpetua, as if even more amused. She looks up at him,
and then down again, and trifles with the fan she has taken back from
him, and finally laughs again; something in her laugh this time,
however, puzzles him.
"You don't like him?" hazards he. "After all, I suppose it is hardly
natural that a ward should like her guardian."
"Yes? And why?" asks Perpetua, still smiling, still apparently amused.
"For one thing, the sense of restraint that belongs to the relations
between them. A guardian, you know, would be able to control one in a
"Well, I imagine so. It is traditionary. And you?"
"I don't know about other people," says Miss Wynter, calmly, "I know
only this, that nobody ever yet controlled me, and I don't suppose now
that anybody ever will."
As she says this she looks at him with the prettiest smile; it is a
mixture of amusement and defiance. Hardinge, gazing at her, draws
conclusions. ("Perfectly hates him," decides he.)
It seems to him a shame, and a pity too, but after all, old Curzon was
hardly meant by Nature to do the paternal to a strange and distinctly
spoilt child, and a beauty into the bargain.
"I don't think your guardian will have a good time," says he, bending
over her confidentially, on the strength of this decision of his.
"Don't you?" She draws back from him and looks up. "You think I shall
lead him a very bad life?"
"Well, as he would regard it. Not as I should," with a sudden,
Miss Wynter puts that glance behind her, and perhaps there is
something—something a little dangerous in the soft, soft look she now
turns upon him.
"He thinks so, too, of course?" says she, ever so gently. Her tone is
half a question, half an assertion. It is manifestly unfair, the whole
thing. Hardinge, believing in her tone, her smile, falls into the trap.
Mindful of that night when the professor in despair at her untimely
descent upon him, had said many things unmeant, he answers her.
"Hardly that. But——"
"There was a little word or two, you know," laughing.
"A hint?" laughing too, but how strangely! "Yes? And——?"
"Oh! a mere hint! The professor is too loyal to go beyond that. I
suppose you know you have the best man in all the world for your
guardian? But it was a little unkind of your people, was it not, to give
you into the keeping of a confirmed bookworm—a savant—with scarcely a
thought beyond his studies?"
"He could study me!" says she. "I should be a fresh specimen."
"A rara avis, indeed! but not such as the professor's soul covets. No,
believe me, you are as dust before the wind in his learned eye."
"You think then—that I—am a trouble to him?"
"It is inconceivable," says he, with a shrug of apology, "but he has no
room in his daily thoughts, I verily believe, for anything beyond his
beloved books, and notes, and discoveries."
"Yet I am a discovery," persists she, looking at him with anxious
eyes, and leaning forward, whilst her fan falls idly on her knees.
"Ah! But so unpardonably recent!" returns he with a smile.
"True!" says she. She gives him one swift brilliant glance, and then
suddenly grows restless. "How warm it is!" she says fretfully. "I
What she was going to say, will never now be known. The approach of a
tall, gaunt figure through the hanging oriental curtains at the end of
the conservatory checks her speech. Sir Hastings Curzon is indeed taller
than most men, and is, besides, a man hardly to be mistaken again when
once seen. Perpetua has seen him very frequently of late.
"But all was false and hollow; though his tongue
Dropped manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash
"Shall I take you to Lady Baring?" says Hardinge, quickly, rising and
bending as if to offer her his arm.
"No, thank you," coldly.
"I think," anxiously, "you once told me you did not care for Sir——"
"Did I? It seems quite terrible the amount of things I have told
everybody." There is a distinct flash in her lovely eyes now, and her
small hand has tightened round her fan. "Sometimes—I talk folly! As a
fact" (with a touch of defiance), "I like Sir Hastings, although he is
my guardian's brother!—my guardian who would so gladly get rid of me."
There is bitterness on the young, red mouth.
"You should not look at it in that light."
"Should I not? You should be the last to say that, seeing that you were
the one to show me how to regard it. Besides, you forget Sir Hastings is
Lady Baring's brother too, and—you haven't anything to say against
her, have you? Ah!" with a sudden lovely smile, "you, Sir Hastings?"
"You are not dancing," says the tall, gaunt man, who has now come up to
her. "So much I have seen. Too warm? Eh? You show reason, I think. And
yet, if I might dare to hope that you would give me this waltz——"
"No, no," says she, still with her most charming air. "I am not dancing
to-night. I shall not dance this year."
"That is a Median law, no doubt," says he. "If you will not dance with
me, then may I hope that you will give me the few too short moments that
this waltz may contain?"
Hardinge makes a vague movement but an impetuous one. If the girl had
realized the fact of his love for her, she might have been touched and
influenced by it, but as it is she feels only a sense of anger towards
him. Anger unplaced, undefined, yet nevertheless intense.
"With pleasure," says she to Sir Hastings, smiling at him almost across
Hardinge's outstretched hand. The latter draws back.
"You dismiss me?" says he, with a careful smile. He bows to her—he is
"A well-meaning young man," says Sir Hastings, following Hardinge's
retreating figure with a delightfully lenient smile. "Good-looking too;
but earnest. Have you noticed it? Entirely well-bred, but just a little
earnest! Such a mistake!"
"I don't think that," says Perpetua. "To be earnest! One should be
"Should one?" Sir Hastings looks delighted expectation. "Tell me about
it," says he.
"There is nothing to tell," says Perpetua, a little petulantly perhaps.
This tall, thin man! what a bore he is! And yet, the other—Mr.
Hardinge—well he was worse; he was a fool, anyway; he didn't
understand the professor one bit! "I like Mr. Hardinge," says she
"Happy Hardinge! But little girls like you are good to everyone, are you
not? That is what makes you so lovely. You could be good to even a
scapegrace, eh? A poor, sad outcast like me?" He laughs and leans
towards her, his handsome, dissipated, abominable face close to hers.
Involuntarily she recoils.
"I hope everyone is good to you," says she. "Why should they not be? And
why do you call yourself an outcast? Only bad people are outcasts. And
bad people," slowly, "are not known, are they?"
"Certainly not," says he, disconcerted. This little girl from a far land
is proving herself too much for him. And it is not her words that
disconcert him so much as the straight, clear, open glance from her
To turn the conversation into another channel seems desirable to him.
"I hope you are happy here with my sister," says he, in his anything but
"Quite happy, thank you. But I should have been happier still, I think,
if I had been allowed to stay with your brother."
Sir Hastings drops his glasses. Good heavens! what kind of a girl is
"To stay with my brother! To stay," stammers he.
"Yes. He is your brother, isn't he? The professor, I mean. I should
quite have enjoyed living with him, but he wouldn't hear of it. He—he
doesn't like me, I'm afraid?" Perpetua looks at him anxiously. A little
hope that he will contradict Hardinge's statement animates her mind. To
feel herself a burden to her guardian—to anyone—she, who in the old
home had been nothing less than an idol! Surely Sir Hastings, his own
brother, will say something, will tell her something to ease this
chagrin at her heart.
"Who told you that?" asks Sir Hastings. "Did he himself? I shouldn't put
it beyond him. He is a misogynist; a mere bookworm! Of no account. Do
not waste a thought on him."
"That he detests the best part of life—that he has deliberately turned
his back on all that makes our existence here worth the having. I should
call him a fool, but that one so dislikes having an imbecile in one's
"The best part of life! You say he has turned his back on that." She
lets her hands fall upon her knees, and turns a frowning, perplexed, but
always lovely face to his. "What is it," asks she, "that best part?"
"Women!" returns he, slowly, undauntedly, in spite of the innocence, the
serenity, that shines in the young and exquisite face before him.
Her eyes do not fall before his. She is plainly thinking. Yes; Mr.
Hardinge was right, he will never like her. She is only a stay, a
hindrance to him!
"I understand," says she sorrowfully. "He will not care—ever. I shall
be always a trouble to him. He——"
"Why think of him?" says Sir Hastings contemptuously. He leans towards
her: fired by her beauty, that is now enhanced by the regret that lies
upon her pretty lips, he determines on pushing his cause at once. "If
he cannot appreciate you, others can—I can. I——" He pauses; for
the first time in his life, on such an occasion as this, he is conscious
of a feeling of awkwardness. To tell a woman he loves her has been the
simplest thing in the world hitherto, but now, when at last he is in
earnest—when poverty has driven him to seek marriage with an heiress as
a cure for all his ills—he finds himself tongue-tied; and not only by
the importance of the situation, so far as money goes, but by the clear,
calm, waiting eyes of Perpetua.
"Yes?" says she; and then suddenly, as if not caring for the answer she
has demanded. "You mean that he——You, too, think that he dislikes
me?" There is woe in the pale, small, lovely face.
"Very probably. He was always eccentric. Perfect nuisance at home. None
of us could understand him. I shouldn't in the least wonder if he had
taken a rooted aversion to you, and taken it badly too! Miss Wynter! it
quite distresses me to think that it should be my brother, of all men,
who has failed to see your charm. A charm that——" He pauses
effectively, to let his really fine eyes have some play. The
conservatory is sufficiently dark to disguise the ravages that
dissipation has made upon his handsome features. He can see that
Perpetua is regarding him earnestly, and with evident interest. Already
he regards his cause as won. It is plain that the girl is attracted by
his face, as indeed she is! She is at this moment asking herself, who is
it he is like?
"You were saying?" says she dreamily.
"That the charm you possess, though of no value in the eyes of your
guardian, is, to me, indescribably attractive. In fact—I——"
A second pause, meant to be even more effective.
Perpetua turns her gaze more directly upon him. It occurs to her that he
is singularly dull, poor man.
"Go on," says she. She nods her head at him with much encouragement.
Her encouragement falls short. Sir Hastings, who had looked for girlish
confusion, is somewhat disconcerted by this open patronage.
"May I?" says he—"You permit me then to tell you what I have so
longed, feared to disclose. I"—dramatically—"love you!"
He is standing over her, his hand on the back of her chair, waiting for
the swift blush, the tremor, the usual signs that follow on one of his
declarations. Alas! there is no blush now, no tremor, no sign at all.
"That is very good of you," says Perpetua, in an even tone. She moves a
little away from him, but otherwise shows no emotion whatever. "The more
so, in that it must be so difficult for you to love a person in fourteen
days! Ah! that is kind, indeed."
A curious light comes into Sir Hastings' eyes. This little Australian
girl, is she laughing at him? But the fact is that Perpetua is hardly
thinking of him at all, or merely as a shadow to her thoughts. Who is
he like? that is the burden of her inward song. At this moment she
knows. She lifts her head to see the professor standing in the curtained
doorway down below. Ah! yes, that is it! And, indeed, the resemblance
between the two brothers is wonderfully strong at this instant! In the
eyes of both a quick fire is kindled.
"Love, like a June rose,
Buds and sweetly blows—
But tears its leaves disclose,
And among thorns it grows."
The professor had been standing inside the curtain for a full minute
before Perpetua had seen him. Spell-bound he had stood there, gazing at
the girl as if bewitched. Up to this he had seen her only in
black—black always—severe, cold—but now!
It is to him as though he had seen her for the first time. The graceful
curves of her neck, her snowy arms, the dead white of the gown against
the whiter glory of the soft bosom, the large, dark eyes so full of
feeling, the little dainty head! Are they all new—or some sweet,
fresher memory of a picture well beloved?
Then he had seen his brother!—Hastings—the disgrace, the
roué ... and bending over her!... There had been that little
movement, and the girl's calm drawing back, and——
The professor's step forward at that moment had betrayed him to
She rises now, letting her fan fall without thought to the ground.
"You!" cries she, in a little, soft, quick way. "You!" Indeed it seems
to her impossible that it can be he.
She almost runs to him. If she had quite understood Sir Hastings is
impossible to know, for no one has ever asked her since, but certainly
the advent of her guardian is a relief to her.
"You!" she says again, as if only half believing. Her gaze grows
bewildered. If he had never seen her in anything but black before, she
had never seen him in ought but rather antiquated morning clothes. Is
this really the professor? Her eyes ask the question anxiously. This
tall, aristocratic, perfectly-appointed man; this man who looks
positively young. Where are the glasses that until now hid his eyes?
Where is that old, old coat?
"Yes." Yes, the professor certainly and as disagreeable as possible. His
eyes are still aflame; but Perpetua is not afraid of him. She is angry
with him, in a measure, but not afraid. One might be afraid of Sir
Hastings, but of Mr. Curzon, no!
The professor had seen the glad rush of the girl towards him, and a
terrible pang of delight had run through all his veins—to be followed
by a reaction. She had come to him because she wanted him, because he
might be of use to her, not because.... What had Hastings been saying to
her? His wrathful eyes are on his brother rather than on her when he
"You are tired?"
"Yes," says Perpetua.
"Shall I take you to Gwendoline?"
"Yes," says Perpetua again.
"Miss Wynter is in my care at present," says Sir Hastings, coming
indolently forward. "Shall I take you to Lady Baring?" asks he,
addressing Perpetua with a suave smile.
"She will come with me," says the professor, with cold decision.
"A command!" says Sir Hastings, laughing lightly. "See what it is, Miss
Wynter, to have a hard-hearted guardian." He shrugs his shoulders.
Perpetua makes him a little bow, and follows the professor out of the
"If you are tired," says the professor, somewhat curtly, and without
looking at her, "I should think the best thing you could do would be to
go to bed!"
This astounding advice receives but little favor at Miss Wynter's hands.
"I am tired of your brother," says she promptly. "He is as tiresome a
creation as I know—but not of your sister's party; and—I'm too old to
be sent to bed, even by a Guardian!!" She puts a very big capital to
the last word.
"I don't want to send you to bed," says the professor simply. "Though I
think little girls like you——"
"I am not a little girl," indignantly.
"Certainly you are not a big one," says he. It is an untimely remark.
Miss Wynter's hitherto ill-subdued anger now bursts into flame.
"I can't help it if I'm not big," cries she. "It isn't my fault. I can't
help it either that papa sent me to you. I didn't want to go to you.
It wasn't my fault that I was thrown upon your hands. And—and"—her
voice begins to tremble—"it isn't my fault either that you hate me."
"That I—hate you!" The professor's voice is cold and shocked.
"Yes. It is true. You need not deny it. You know you hate me." They
are now in an angle of the hall where few people come and go, and are,
for the moment, virtually alone.
"Who told you that I hated you?" asks the professor in a peremptory sort
"No," says she, shaking her head, "I shall not tell you that, but I have
heard it all the same."
"One hears a great many things if one is foolish enough to listen,"
Curzon's face is a little pale now. "And—I can guess who has been
talking to you."
"Why should I not listen? It is true, is it not?"
She looks up at him. She seems tremulously anxious for the answer.
"You want me to deny it then?"
"Oh, no, no!" she throws out one hand with a little gesture of mingled
anger and regret. "Do you think I want you to lie to me? There I am
wrong. After all," with a half smile, sadder than most sad smiles
because of the youth and sweetness of it, "I do not blame you. I am a
trouble, I suppose, and all troubles are hateful. I"—holding out her
hand—"shall take your advice, I think, and go to bed."
"It was bad advice," says Curzon, taking the hand and holding it. "Stay
up, enjoy yourself, dance——"
"Oh! I am not dancing," says she as if offended.
"Why not?" eagerly, "Better dance than sleep at your age. You—you
mistook me. Why go so soon?"
She looks at him with a little whimsical expression.
"I shall not know you at all, presently," says she. "Your very
appearance to-night is strange to me, and now your sentiments! No, I
shall not be swayed by you. Good-night, good-bye!" She smiles at him in
the same sorrowful little way, and takes a step or two forward.
"Perpetua," says the professor sternly, "before you go you must listen
to me. You said just now you would not hear me lie to you—you shall
hear only the truth. Whoever told you that I hated you is the most
unmitigated liar on record!"
Perpetua rubs her fan up and down against her cheek for a little bit.
"Well—I'm glad you don't hate me," says she, "but still I'm a worry.
Never mind,"—sighing—"I daresay I shan't be so for long."
"You mean?" asks the professor anxiously.
"Nothing—nothing at all. Good-night. Good-night, indeed."
"Must you go? Is enjoyment nothing to you?"
"Ah! you have killed all that for me," says she. This parting shaft she
hurls at him—malice prepense. It is effectual. By it she murders
sleep as thoroughly as ever did Macbeth. The professor spends the
remainder of the night pacing up and down his rooms.
"Through thick and thin, both over bank and bush,
In hopes her to attain by hook or crook.
"You will begin to think me a fixture," says Hardinge with a somewhat
embarrassed laugh, flinging himself into an armchair.
"You know you are always welcome," says the professor gently, if
It is next morning, and he looks decidedly the worse for his
sleeplessness. His face seems really old, his eyes are sunk in his head.
The breakfast lying untouched upon the table tells its own tale.
"Dissipation doesn't agree with you," says Hardinge with a faint smile.
"No. I shall give it up," returns Curzon, his laugh a trifle grim.
"I was never more surprised in my life than when I saw you at your
sister's last evening. I was relieved, too—sometimes it is necessary
for a man to go out, and—and see how things are going on with his own
"I wonder when that would be?" asks the professor indifferently.
"When a man is a guardian," replies Hardinge promptly, and with evident
The professor glances quickly at him.
"You mean——?" says he.
"Oh! yes, of course I mean something," says Hardinge impatiently. "But I
don't suppose you want me to explain myself. You were there last
night—you must have seen for yourself."
"Pshaw!" says Hardinge, throwing up his head, and flinging his cigarette
into the empty fireplace. "I saw you go into the conservatory. You found
her there, and—him. It is beginning to be the chief topic of
conversation amongst his friends just now. The betting is already pretty
"Go on," says the professor.
"I needn't go on. You know it now, if you didn't before."
"It is you who know it—not I. Say it!" says the professor, almost
fiercely. "It is about her?"
"Your ward? Yes. Your brother it seems has made his mind to bestow upon
her his hand, his few remaining acres, and," with a sneer, "his spotless
"Hardinge!" cries the professor, springing to his feet as if shot. He
is evidently violently agitated. His companion mistakes the nature of
"Forgive me!" says he quickly. "Of course nothing can excuse my
speaking of him like that—to you. But I feel you ought to be told. Miss
Wynter is in your care, you are in a measure responsible for her future
happiness—the happiness of her whole life, Curzon—and if anything
goes wrong with her——"
The professor puts up his hand as if to check him. He has grown
ashen-grey, and the other hand resting on the back of the chair is
"Nothing shall go wrong with her," says he, in a curious tone.
Hardinge regards him keenly. Is this pallor, this unmistakable
trepidation, caused only by his dislike to hear his brother's real
"Well, I have told you," says he coldly.
"It is a mistake," says the professor. "He would not dare to approach a
young, innocent girl. The most honorable proposal such a man as he could
make to her would be basely dishonorable."
"Ah! you see it in that light too," says Hardinge, with a touch of
relief. "My dear fellow, it is hard for me to discuss him with you, but
yet I fear it must be done. Did you notice nothing in his manner last
Yes, the professor had noticed something. Now there comes back to him
that tall figure stooping over Perpetua, the handsome, leering face bent
low—the girl's instinctive withdrawal.
"Something must be done," says he.
"Yes. And quickly. Young girls are sometimes dazzled by men of his sort.
And Per—Miss Wynter ... Look here, Curzon," breaking off hurriedly.
"This is your affair, you know. You are her guardian. You should see
"I could speak to her."
"That would be fatal. She is just the sort of girl to say 'Yes' to him
because she was told to say 'No.'"
"You seem to have studied her," says the professor quietly.
"Well, I confess I have seen a good deal of her of late."
"And to some purpose. Your knowledge of her should lead you to making a
way out of this difficulty."
"I have thought of one," says Hardinge boldly, yet with a quick flush.
"You are her guardian. Why not arrange another marriage for her, before
this affair with Sir Hastings goes too far."
"There are two parties to a marriage," says the professor, his tone
always very low. "Who is it to whom you propose to marry Miss Wynter?"
Hardinge, getting up, moves abruptly to the window and back again.
"You have known me a long time, Curzon," says he at last. "You—you have
been my friend. I have family—position—money—I——"
"I am to understand, then, that you are a candidate for the hand of my
ward," says the professor slowly, so slowly that it might suggest itself
to a disinterested listener that he has great difficulty in speaking at
"Yes," says Hardinge, very diffidently. He looks appealingly at the
professor. "I know perfectly well she might do a great deal better,"
says he, with a modesty that sits very charmingly upon him. "But if it
comes to a choice between me and your brother, I—I think I am the
better man. By Jove, Curzon," growing hot, "it's awfully rude of me, I
know, but it is so hard to remember that he is your brother."
But the professor does not seem offended. He seems, indeed, so entirely
unimpressed by Hardinge's last remark, that it may reasonably be
supposed he hasn't heard a word of it.
"And she?" says he. "Perpetua. Does she——" He hesitates as if finding
it impossible to go on.
"Oh! I don't know," says the younger man, with a rather rueful smile.
"Sometimes I think she doesn't care for me more than she does for the
veriest stranger amongst her acquaintances, and sometimes——"
"She has seemed kind."
"Kind? How kind?"
"Well—friendly. More friendly than she is to others. Last night she let
me sit out three waltzes with her, and, she only sat out one with your
"Is it?" asks the professor, in a dull, monotonous sort of way. "Is
it—I am not much in your or her world, you know—is it a very marked
thing for a girl to sit out three waltzes with one man?"
"Oh, no. Nothing very special. I have known girls do it often, but she
is not like other girls, is she?"
The professor waves this question aside.
"Keep to the point," says he.
"Well, she is the point, isn't she? And look here, Curzon, why aren't
you of our world? It is your own fault surely; when one sees your
sister, your brother, and—and this," with a slight glance round the
dull little apartment, "one cannot help wondering why you——"
"Let that go by," says the professor. "I have explained it before. I
deliberately chose my own way in life, and I want nothing more than I
have. You think, then, that last night Miss Wynter gave
"Oh! hardly that. And yet—she certainly seemed to like—that is not to
dislike my being with her: and once—well,"—confusedly—"that was
"It must have been something."
"No, really; and I shouldn't have mentioned it either—not for a
The professor's face changes. The apathy that has lain upon it for the
past five minutes now gives way to a touch of fierce despair. He turns
aside, as if to hide the tell-tale features, and going to the window,
gazes sightlessly on the hot, sunny street below.
What was it—what? Shall he ever have the courage to find out? And is
this to be the end of it all? In a flash the coming of the girl is
present before him, and now, here is her going. Had she—had she—what
was it he meant? No wonder if her girlish fancy had fixed itself on
this tall, handsome, young man, with his kindly, merry ways and honest
meaning. Ah! that was what she meant perhaps when last night she had
told him "she would not be a worry to him long." Yes, she had meant
that; that she was going to marry Hardinge!
But to know what Hardinge means! A torturing vision of a little lovely
figure, gowned all in white—of a little lovely face uplifted—of
another face down bent! No! a thousand times, no! Hardinge would not
speak of that—it would be too sacred; and yet this awful doubt——
"Look here. I'll tell you," says Hardinge's voice at this moment. "After
all, you are her guardian—her father almost—though I know you scarcely
relish your position; and you ought to know about it, and perhaps you
can give me your opinion, too, as to whether there was anything in it,
you know. The fact is, I,"—rather shamefacedly—"asked her for a flower
out of her bouquet, and she gave it. That was all, and," hurriedly, "I
don't really believe she meant anything by giving it, only," with a
nervous laugh, "I keep hoping she did!"
A long, long sigh comes through the professor's lips straight from his
heart. Only a flower she gave him! Well——
"What do you think?" asks Hardinge after a long pause.
"It is a matter on which I could not think."
"But there is this," says Hardinge. "You will forward my cause rather
than your brother's, will you not? This is an extraordinary demand to
make I know—but—I also know you."
"I would rather see her dead than married to my brother," says the
professor, slowly, distinctly.
"And——?" questions Hardinge.
The professor hesitates a moment, and then:
"What do you want me to do?" asks he.
"Do? 'Say a good word for me' to her; that is the old way of putting it,
isn't it? and it expresses all I mean. She reveres you, even if——"
"She revolts from your power over her. She is high-spirited, you know,"
says Hardinge. "That is one of her charms, in my opinion. What I want
you to do, Curzon, is to—to see her at once—not to-day, she is going
to an afternoon at Lady Swanley's—but to-morrow, and to—you
know,"—nervously—"to make a formal proposal to her."
The professor throws back his head and laughs aloud. Such a strange
"I am to propose to her—I?" says he.
"For me, of course. It is very usual," says Hardinge. "And you are her
guardian, you know, and——"
"Why not propose to her yourself?" says the professor, turning violently
upon him. "Why give me this terrible task? Are you a coward, that you
shrink from learning your fate except at the hands of another—another
"To tell you the truth, that is it," interrupts Hardinge, simply. "I
don't wonder at your indignation, but the fact is, I love her so much,
that I fear to put it to the touch myself. You will help me, won't
you? You see, you stand in the place of her father, Curzon. If you were
her father, I should be saying to you just what I am saying now."
"True," says the professor. His head is lowered. "There, go," says he,
"I must think this over."
"But I may depend upon you"—anxiously—"you will do what you can for
"I shall do what I can for her."
"Now, by a two-headed Janus,
Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time."
Hardinge is hardly gone before another—a far heavier—step sounds in
the passage outside the professor's door. It is followed by a knock,
almost insolent in its loudness and sharpness.
"What a hole you do live in," says Sir Hastings, stepping into the room,
and picking his way through the books and furniture as if afraid of
being tainted by them. "Bless me! what strange beings you scientists
are. Rags and bones your surroundings, instead of good flesh and blood.
Well, Thaddeus—hardly expected to see me here, eh?"
"You want me?" says the professor. "Don't sit down there—those notes
are loose; sit here."
"Faith, you've guessed it, my dear fellow, I do want you, and
most confoundedly badly this time. Your ward, now, Miss Wynter!
Deuced pretty little girl, isn't she, and good form too? Wonderfully
"I don't suppose you have come here to talk about Miss Wynter's good
"By Jove! I have though. You see, Thaddeus, I've about come to
the length of my tether, and—er—I'm thinking of turning over
a new leaf—reforming, you know—settling down—going in for
dulness—domesticity, and all the other deuced lot of it."
"It is an excellent resolution, that might have been arrived at years
ago with greater merit," says the professor.
"A preacher and a scientist in one! Dear sir, you go beyond the
possible," says Sir Hastings, with a shrug. "But to business. See here,
Thaddeus. I have told you a little of my plans, now hear the rest. I
intend to marry—an heiress, bien entendu—and it seems to me that
your ward, Miss Wynter, will suit me well enough."
"And Miss Wynter, will you suit her well enough?"
"A deuced sight too well, I should say. Why, the girl is of no family to
signify, whereas the Curzons——It will be a better match for her than
in her wildest dreams she could have hoped for."
"Perhaps, in her wildest dreams, she hoped for a good man, and one who
could honestly love her."
"Pouf! You are hardly up to date, my dear fellow. Girls, now-a-days, are
wise enough to know they can't have everything, and she will get a good
deal. Title, position——I say, Thaddeus, what I want of you is
to—er—to help me in this matter—to—crack me up a bit, eh?—to—you
The professor is silent, more through disgust than want of anything to
say. Staring at the man before him, he knows he is loathsome to
him—loathsome, and his own brother! This man, who with some of the best
blood of England in his veins, is so far, far below the standard that
marks the gentleman. Surely vice is degrading in more ways than one. To
the professor, Sir Hastings, with his handsome, dissipated face, stands
out, tawdry, hideous, vulgar—why, every word he says is tinged with
coarseness; and yet, what a pretty boy he used to be, with his soft,
sunny hair and laughing eyes——
"You will help me, eh?" persists Sir Hastings, with his little dry
chronic cough, that seems to shake his whole frame.
"Impossible," says the professor, simply, coldly.
The professor looks at him (a penetrating glance), but says nothing.
"Oh! damn it all!" says his brother, his brow darkening. "You had
better, you know, if you want the old name kept above water much
"You mean——?" says the professor, turning a grave face to his.
"Nothing but what is honorable. I tell you I mean to turn over a new
leaf. 'Pon my soul, I mean that. I'm sick of all this old racket, it's
killing me. And my title is as good a one as she can find anywhere, and
if I'm dipped—rather—her money would pull me straight again, and——"
He pauses, struck by something in the professor's face.
"You mean——?" says the latter again, even more slowly. His eyes are
beginning to light.
"Exactly what I have said," sullenly. "You have heard me."
"Yes, I have heard you," cries the professor, flinging aside all
restraints and giving way to sudden violent passion—the more violent,
coming from one so usually calm and indifferent. "You have come here
to-day to try and get possession, not only of the fortune of a young and
innocent girl, but of her body and soul as well! And it is me, me
whom you ask to be a party to this shameful transaction. Her dead father
left her to my care, and I am to sell her to you, that her money may
redeem our name from the slough into which you have flung it? Is
innocence to be sacrificed that vice may ride abroad again? Look here,"
says the professor, his face deadly white, "you have come to the wrong
man. I shall warn Miss Wynter against marriage with you, as long as
there is breath left in my body."
Sir Hastings has risen too; his face is dark red; the crimson flood
has reached his forehead and dyed it almost black. Now, at this terrible
moment, the likeness between the two brothers, so different in spirit,
can be seen; the flashing-eyes, the scornful lips, the deadly hatred. It
is a shocking likeness, yet not to be denied.
"What do you mean, damn you?" says Sir Hastings; he sways a little, as
if his passion is overpowering him, and clutches feebly at the edge of
"Exactly what I have said," retorts the professor, fiercely.
"You refuse then to go with me in this matter?"
"Finally. Even if I would, I could not. I—have other views for her."
"Indeed! Perhaps those other views include yourself. Are you thinking of
reserving the prize for your own special benefit? A penniless
guardian—a rich ward; as a situation, it is perfect; full of
"Take care," says the professor, advancing a step or two.
"Tut! Do you think I can't see through your game?" says Sir Hastings, in
his most offensive way, which is nasty indeed. "You hope to keep me
unmarried. You tell yourself, I can't live much longer, at the pace
I'm going. I know the old jargon—I have it by heart—given a year
at the most the title and the heiress will both be yours! I can read
you—I—" He breaks off to laugh sardonically, and the cough catching
him, shakes him horribly. "But, no, by heaven!" cries he. "I'll destroy
your hopes yet. I'll disappoint you. I'll marry. I'm a young man
yet—yet—with life—long life before me—life——"
A terrible change comes over his face, he reels backwards, only saving
himself by a blind clinging to a book-case on his right.
The professor rushes to him and places his arm round him. With his foot
he drags a chair nearer, into which Sir Hastings falls with a heavy
groan. It is only a momentary attack, however; in a little while the
leaden hue clears away, and, though still ghastly, his face looks more
"Brandy," gasps he faintly. The professor holds it to his lips, and
after a minute or two he revives sufficiently to be able to sit up and
look round him.
"Thought you had got rid of me for good and all," says he, with a
malicious grin, terrible to see on his white, drawn face. "But I'll beat
you yet! There!—Call my fellow—he's below. Can't get about without a
damned attendant in the morning, now. But I'll cure all that. I'll see
you dead before I go to my own grave. I——"
"Take your master to his carriage," says the professor to the man, who
is now on the threshold. The maunderings of Sir Hastings—still hardly
recovered from his late fit—strike horribly upon his ear, rendering him
My love is like the sky,
As distant and as high;
Perchance she's fair and kind and bright,
Perchance she's stormy—tearful quite—
Alas! I scarce know why."
It is late in the day when the professor enters Lady Baring's house. He
had determined not to wait till the morrow to see Perpetua. It seemed to
him that it would be impossible to go through another sleepless night,
with this raging doubt, this cruel uncertainty in his heart.
He finds her in the library, the soft light of the dying evening falling
on her little slender figure. She is sitting in a big armchair, all in
black—as he best knows her—with a book upon her knee. She looks
charming, and fresh as a new-born flower. Evidently neither last night's
party nor to-day's afternoon have had power to dim her beauty. Sleep had
visited her last night, at all events.
She springs out of her chair, and throws her book on the table near her.
"Why, you are the very last person I expected," says she.
"No doubt," says the professor. Who was the first person she has
expected? And will Hardinge be here presently to plead his cause in
person? "But it was imperative I should come. There is something I have
to tell you—to lay before you."
"Not a mummy, I trust," says she, a little flippantly.
"A proposal," says the professor, coldly. "Much as I know you dislike
the idea, still; it was your poor father's wish that I should, in a
measure, regulate your life until your coming of age. I am here to-day
to let you know—that—Mr. Hardinge has requested me to tell you that
The professor pauses, feeling that he is failing miserably. He, the
fluent speaker at lectures, and on public platforms, is now bereft of
the power to explain one small situation.
"What's the matter with Mr. Hardinge," asks Perpetua, "that he can't
come here himself? Nothing serious, I hope?"
"I am your guardian," says the professor—unfortunately, with all the
air of one profoundly sorry for the fact declared, "and he wishes me
to tell you that he—is desirous of marrying you."
Perpetua stares at him. Whatever bitter thoughts are in her mind, she
"He is a most thoughtful young man," says she, blandly. "And—and you're
"I hope I am thoughtful, if I am not young," says the professor, with
dignity. Her manner puzzles him. "With regard to Hardinge, I wish you to
know that—that I—have known him for years, and that he is in my
opinion a strictly honorable, kind-hearted man. He is of good family. He
has money. He will probably succeed to a baronetcy—though this is not
certain, as his uncle is, comparatively speaking, young still. But,
even without the title, Hardinge is a man worthy of any woman's esteem,
and confidence, and——"
He is interrupted by Miss Wynter's giving way to a sudden burst of
mirth. It is mirth of the very angriest, but it checks him the more
effectually, because of that.
"You must place great confidence in princes!" says she. "Even 'without
the title, he is worthy of esteem.'" She copies him audaciously. "What
has a title got to do with esteem?—and what has esteem got to do with
"I should hope——" begins the professor.
"You needn't. It has nothing to do with it, nothing at all. Go back
and tell Mr. Hardinge so; and tell him, too, that when next he goes
a-wooing, he had better do it in person."
"I am afraid I have damaged my mission," says the professor, who has
never once looked at her since his first swift glance.
"Yes. It was mere nervousness that prevented him coming to you first
himself. He said he had little to go on, and he said something about a
flower that you gave him——"
Perpetua makes a rapid movement toward a side table, takes a flower from
a bouquet there, and throws it at the professor. There is no excuse to
be made for her beyond the fact that her heart feels breaking, and
people with broken hearts do strange things every day.
"I would give a flower to anyone!" says she in a quick scornful
fashion. The professor catches the ungraciously given gift, toys with
it, and—keeps it. Is that small action of his unseen?
"I hope," he says in a dull way, "that you are not angry with him
because he came first to me. It was a sense of duty—I know, I
feel—compelled him to do it, together with his honest diffidence
about your affection for him. Do not let pride stand in the way of——"
"Nonsense!" says Perpetua, with a rapid movement of her hand. "Pride has
no part in it. I do not care for Mr. Hardinge—I shall not marry him."
A little mist seems to gather before the professor's eyes. His glasses
seem in the way, he drops them, and now stands gazing at her as if
disbelieving his senses. In fact he does disbelieve in them.
"Are you sure?" persists he. "Afterwards you may regret——"
"Oh, no!" says she, shaking her head. "Mr. Hardinge will not be the
one to cause me regret."
"Think! Do you imagine I have not been thinking?" cries she, with sudden
passion. "Do you imagine I do not know why you plead his cause so
eloquently? You want to get rid of me. You are tired of me. You
always thought me heartless, about my poor father even, and unloving,
"Not heartless; what have I done, Perpetua, that you should say that?"
"Nothing. That is what I detest about you. If you said outright what
you were thinking of me, I could bear it better."
"But my thoughts of you. They are——" He pauses. What are they? What
are his thoughts of her at all hours, all seasons? "They are always
kind," says he, lamely, in a low tone, looking at the carpet. That
downward glance condemns him in her eyes—to her it is but a token of
his guilt towards her.
"They are not!" says she, with a little stamp of her foot that makes
the professor jump. "You think of me as a cruel, wicked, worldly girl,
who would marry anyone to gain position."
Here her fury dies away. It is overcome by something stronger. She
trembles, pales, and finally bursts into a passion of tears that have no
anger in them, only an intense grief.
"I do not," says the professor, who is trembling too, but whose
utterance is firm. "Whatever my thoughts are, your reading of them is
"Well, at all events you can't deny one thing," says she checking her
sobs, and gazing at him again with undying enmity. "You want to get rid
of me, you are determined to marry me to some one, so as to get me out
of your way. But I shan't marry to please you. I needn't either. There
is somebody else who wants to marry me besides your—your candidate!"
with an indignant glance. "I have had a letter from Sir Hastings this
afternoon. And," rebelliously, "I haven't answered it yet."
"Then you shall answer it now," says the professor. "And you shall say
'no' to him."
"Why? Because you order me?"
"Partly because of that. Partly because I trust to your own instincts to
see the wisdom of so doing."
"Ah! you beg the question," says she, "but I'm not so sure I shall obey
you for all that."
"Perpetua! Do not speak to me like that, I implore you," says the
professor, very pale. "Do you think I am not saying all this for your
good? Sir Hastings—he is my brother—it is hard for me to explain
myself, but he will not make you happy."
"Happy! You think of my happiness?"
"Of what else?" A strange yearning look comes into his eyes. "God knows
it is all I think of," says he.
"And so you would marry me to Mr. Hardinge?"
"Hardinge is a good man, and he loves you."
"If so, he is the only one on earth who does," cries the girl bitterly.
She turns abruptly away, and struggles with herself for a moment, then
looks back at him. "Well. I shall not marry him," says she.
"That is in your own hands," says the professor. "But I shall have
something to say about the other proposal you speak of."
"Do you think I want to marry your brother?" says she. "I tell you no,
no, no! A thousand times no! The very fact that he is your brother
would prevent me. To be your ward is bad enough, to be your
sister-in-law would be insufferable. For all the world I would not be
more to you than I am now."
"It is a wise decision," says the professor icily. He feels smitten to
his very heart's core. Had he ever dreamed of a nearer, dearer tie
between them?—if so the dream is broken now.
"Decision?" stammers she.
"Not to marry my brother."
"Not to be more to you, you mean!"
"You don't know what you are saying," says the professor, driven beyond
his self-control. "You are a mere child, a baby, you speak at random."
"What!" cries she, flashing round at him, "will you deny that I have
been a trouble to you, that you would have been thankful had you never
heard my name?"
"You are right," gravely. "I deny nothing. I wish with all my soul I had
never heard your name. I confess you troubled me. I go beyond even
that, I declare that you have been my undoing! And now, let us make an
end of it. I am a poor man and a busy one, this task your father laid
upon my shoulders is too heavy for me. I shall resign my guardianship;
Gwendoline—Lady Baring—will accept the position. She likes you,
and—you will find it hard to break her heart."
"Do you mean," says the girl, "that I have broken yours? Yours? Have I
been so bad as that? Yours? I have been wilful, I know, and troublesome,
but troublesome people do not break one's heart. What have I done then
that yours should be broken?" She has moved closer to him. Her eyes are
gazing with passionate question into his.
"Do not think of that," says the professor, unsteadily. "Do not let that
trouble you. As I just now told you, I am a poor man, and poor men
cannot afford such luxuries as hearts."
"Yet poor men have them," says the girl in a little low stifled tone.
"And—and girls have them too!"
There is a long, long silence. To Curzon it seems as if the whole world
has undergone a strange, wild upheaval. What had she meant—what? Her
words! Her words meant something, but her looks, her eyes, oh, how much
more they meant! And yet to listen to her—to believe—he, her
guardian, a poor man, and she an heiress! Oh! no. Impossible.
"So much the worse for the poor men," says he deliberately.
There is no mistaking his meaning. Perpetua makes a little rapid
movement towards him—an almost imperceptible one. Did she raise her
hands as if to hold them out to him? If so, it is so slight a gesture as
scarcely to be remembered afterwards, and at all events the professor
takes no notice of it, presumably, therefore, he does not see it.
"It is late," says Perpetua a moment afterwards. "I must go and dress
for dinner." Her eyes are down now. She looks pale and shamed.
"You have nothing to say, then?" asks the professor, compelling himself
to the question.
The girl turns a white face to his.
"Will you then compel me to marry him?" says she. "Am
I"—faintly—"nothing to you? Nothing——" She seems to fade back from
him in the growing uncertainty of the light into the shadow of the
corner beyond. Curzon makes a step towards her.
At this moment the door is thrown suddenly open, and a man—evidently a
professional man—advances into the room.
"Sir Thaddeus," begins he, in a slow, measured way.
The professor stops dead short. Even Perpetua looks amazed.
"I regret to be the messenger of bad news, sir," says the solemn man in
black. "They told me I should find you here. I have to tell you, Sir
Thaddeus, that your brother, the late lamented Sir Hastings is dead."
The solemn man spread his hands abroad.
'Till the secret be secret no more
In the light of one hour as it flies,
Be the hour as of suns that expire
Or suns that rise."
It is quite a month later. August, hot and sunny, is reigning with quite
a mad merriment, making the most of the days that be, knowing full well
that the end of the summer is nigh. The air is stifling; up from the
warm earth comes the almost overpowering perfume of the late flowers.
Perpetua moving amongst the carnations and hollyhocks in her soft white
cambric frock, gathers a few of the former in a languid manner to place
in the bosom of her frock. There they rest, a spot of blood color upon
their white ground.
Lady Baring, on the death of her elder brother, had left town for the
seclusion of her country home, carrying Perpetua with her. She had grown
very fond of the girl, and the fancy she had formed (before Sir
Hastings' death) that Thaddeus was in love with the young heiress, and
that she would make him a suitable wife, had not suffered in any way
through the fact of Sir Thaddeus having now become the head of the
Perpetua, having idly plucked a few last pansies, looked at them, and as
idly flung them away, goes on her listless way through the gardens. A
whole long month and not one word from him! Are his social duties now
so numerous that he has forgotten he has a ward? "Well," emphatically,
and with a vicious little tug at her big white hat, "some people have
strange views about duty."
She has almost reached the summer-house, vine-clad, and temptingly cool
in all this heat, when a quick step behind her causes her to turn.
"They told me you were here," says the professor, coming up with her. He
is so distinctly the professor still, in spite of his new mourning, and
the better cut of his clothes, and the general air of having been
severely looked after—that Perpetua feels at home with him at once.
"I have been here for some time," says she calmly. "A whole month, isn't
"Yes, I know. Were you going into that green little place. It looks
It is cool, and particularly empty. One small seat occupies the back of
it, and nothing else at all, except the professor and his ward.
"Perpetua!" says he, turning to her. His tone is low, impassioned. "I
have come. I could not come sooner, and I would not write. How could I
put it all on paper? You remember that last evening?"
"I remember," says she faintly.
"And all you said?"
"All you said."
"I said nothing. I did not dare. Then I was too poor a man, too
insignificant to dare to lay bare to you the thoughts, the fears, the
hopes that were killing me."
"Nothing!" echoes she. "Have you then forgotten?" She raises her head,
and casts at him a swift, but burning glance. "Was it nothing? You
came to plead your friend's cause, I think. Surely that was something? I
thought it a great deal. And what was it you said of Mr. Hardinge? Ah! I
have forgotten that, but I know how you extolled him—praised him to
the skies—recommended him to me as a desirable suitor." She makes an
impatient movement, as if to shake something from her. "Why have you
come to-day?" asks she. "To plead his cause afresh?"
"Whose then? Another suitor, maybe? It seems I have more than even I
"I do not know if you have dreamed of this one," says Curzon, perplexed
by her manner. Some hope had been in his heart in his journey to her,
but now it dies. There is little love truly in her small, vivid face,
her gleaming eyes, her parted, scornful lips.
"I am not given to dreams," says she, with a petulant shrug, "I know
what I mean always. And as I tell you, if you have come here to-day to
lay before me, for my consideration, the name of another of your friends
who wishes to marry me, why I beg you to save yourself the trouble. Even
the country does not save me from suitors. I can make my choice from
many, and when I do want to marry, I shall choose for myself."
"Still—if you would permit me to name this one," begins Curzon, very
humbly, "it can do you no harm to hear of him. And it all lies in your
own power. You can, if you will, say yes, or——" He pauses. The pause
is eloquent, and full of deep entreaty.
"Or no," supplies she calmly. "True! You," with a half defiant, half
saucy glance, "are beginning to learn that a guardian cannot control one
"I don't think I ever controlled you, Perpetua."
"N—o! Perhaps not. But then you tried to. That's worse."
"Do you forbid me then to lay before you—this name—that I——?"
"I have told you," says she, "that I can find a name for myself."
"You forbid me to speak," says he slowly.
"I forbid! A ward forbid her guardian! I should be afraid!" says she,
with an extremely naughty little glance at him.
"You trifle with me," says the professor slowly, a little sternly, and
with uncontrolled despair. "I thought—I believed—I was mad enough to
imagine, from your manner to me that last night we met, that I was
something more than a mere guardian to you."
"More than that. That seems to be a Herculean relation. What more
would you be?"
"I am no longer that, at all events."
"What!" cries she, flushing deeply. "You—you give me up——"
"It is you who give me up."
"You say you will no longer be my guardian!" She seems struck with
amazement at this declaration on his part. She had not believed him when
he had before spoken of his intention of resigning. "But you cannot,"
says she. "You have promised. Papa said you were to take care of me."
"Your father did not know."
"He did. He said you were the one man in all the world he could
"Impossible," says the professor. "A—lover—cannot be a guardian!" His
voice has sunk to a whisper. He turns away, and makes a step towards the
"You are going," cries she, fighting with a desperate desire for tears,
that is still strongly allied to anger. "You would leave me. You will be
no longer my guardian, Ah! was I not right? Did I not tell you you
were in a hurry to get rid of me?"
This most unfair accusation rouses the professor to extreme wrath. He
turns round and faces her like an enraged lion.
"You are a child," says he, in a tone sufficient to make any woman
resentful. "It is folly to argue with you."
"A child! What are you then?" cries she tremulously.
"A fool!" furiously. "I was given my cue, I would not take it. You
told me that it was bad enough to be your ward, that you would not on
any account be closer to me. That should have been clear to me, yet,
like an idiot, I hoped against hope. I took false courage from each
smile of yours, each glance, each word. There! Once I leave you now, the
chain between us will be broken, we shall never, with my will, meet
again. You say you have had suitors since you came down here. You hinted
to me that you could mention the name of him you wished to marry. So be
it. Mention it to Gwendoline—to any one you like, but not to me."
He strides towards the doorway. He has almost turned the corner.
"Thaddeus" cries a small, but frantic voice. If dying he would hear that
and turn. She is holding out her hands to him, the tears are running
down her lovely cheeks.
"It is to you—to you I would tell his name," sobs she, as he returns
slowly, unwillingly, but surely, to her. "To you alone."
"To me! Go on," says Curzon; "let me hear it. What is the name of this
man you want to marry?"
"Thaddeus Curzon!" says she, covering her face with her hands, and,
indeed, it is only when she feels his arms round her, and his heart
beating against hers, that she so far recovers herself as to be able to
add, "And a hideous name it is, too!"
But this last little firework does no harm. Curzon is too ecstatically
happy to take notice of her small impertinence.