Since the domestic incidents connected with that unpleasant review in The Current, the relations between Alfred Yule and his daughter had suffered a permanent change, though not in a degree noticeable by any one but the two concerned. To all appearances, they worked together and conversed very much as they had been wont to do; but Marian was made to feel in many subtle ways that her father no longer had complete confidence in her, no longer took the same pleasure as formerly in the skill and conscientiousness of her work, and Yule on his side perceived too clearly that the girl was preoccupied with something other than her old wish to aid and satisfy him, that she had a new life of her own alien to, and in some respects irreconcilable with, the existence in which he desired to confirm her. There was no renewal of open disagreement, but their conversations frequently ended by tacit mutual consent, at a point which threatened divergence; and in Yule’s case every such warning was a cause of intense irritation. He feared to provoke Marian, and this fear was again a torture to his pride.
Beyond the fact that his daughter was in constant communication with the Miss Milvains, he knew, and could discover, nothing of the terms on which she stood with the girls’ brother, and this ignorance was harder to bear than full assurance of a disagreeable fact would have been. That a man like Jasper Milvain, whose name was every now and then forced upon his notice as a rising periodicalist and a faithful henchman of the unspeakable Fadge – that a young fellow of such excellent prospects should seriously attach himself to a girl like Marian seemed to him highly improbable, save, indeed, for the one consideration, that Milvain, who assuredly had a very keen eye to chances, might regard the girl as a niece of old John Yule, and therefore worth holding in view until it was decided whether or not she would benefit by her uncle’s decease. Fixed in his antipathy to the young man, he would not allow himself to admit any but a base motive on Milvain’s side, if, indeed, Marian and Jasper were more to each other than slight acquaintances; and he persuaded himself that anxiety for the girl’s welfare was at least as strong a motive with him as mere prejudice against the ally of Fadge, and, it might be, the reviewer of ‘English Prose.’ Milvain was quite capable of playing fast and loose with a girl, and Marian, owing to the peculiar circumstances of her position, would easily be misled by the pretence of a clever speculator.
That she had never spoken again about the review in The Current might receive several explanations. Perhaps she had not been able to convince herself either for or against Milvain’s authorship; perhaps she had reason to suspect that the young man was the author; perhaps she merely shrank from reviving a discussion in which she might betray what she desired to keep secret. This last was the truth. Finding that her father did not recur to the subject, Marian concluded that he had found himself to be misinformed. But Yule, though he heard the original rumour denied by people whom in other matters he would have trusted, would not lay aside the doubt that flattered his prejudices. If Milvain were not the writer of the review, he very well might have been; and what certainty could be arrived at in matters of literary gossip?
There was an element of jealousy in the father’s feeling. If he did not love Marian with all the warmth of which a parent is capable, at least he had more affection for her than for any other person, and of this he became strongly aware now that the girl seemed to be turning from him. If he lost Marian, he would indeed be a lonely man, for he considered his wife of no account.
Intellectually again, he demanded an entire allegiance from his daughter; he could not bear to think that her zeal on his behalf was diminishing, that perhaps she was beginning to regard his work as futile and antiquated in comparison with that of the new generation. Yet this must needs be the result of frequent intercourse with such a man as Milvain. It seemed to him that he remarked it in her speech and manner, and at times he with difficulty restrained himself from a reproach or a sarcasm which would have led to trouble.
Had he been in the habit of dealing harshly with Marian, as with her mother, of course his position would have been simpler. But he had always respected her, and he feared to lose that measure of respect with which she repaid him. Already he had suffered in her esteem, perhaps more than he liked to think, and the increasing embitterment of his temper kept him always in danger of the conflict he dreaded. Marian was not like her mother; she could not submit to tyrannous usage. Warned of that, he did his utmost to avoid an outbreak of discord, constantly hoping that he might come to understand his daughter’s position, and perhaps discover that his greatest fear was unfounded.
Twice in the course of the summer he inquired of his wife whether she knew anything about the Milvains. But Mrs Yule was not in Marian’s confidence.
‘I only know that she goes to see the young ladies, and that they do writing of some kind.’
‘She never even mentions their brother to you?’
‘Never. I haven’t heard his name from her since she told me the Miss Milvains weren’t coming here again.’
He was not sorry that Marian had taken the decision to keep her friends away from St Paul’s Crescent, for it saved him a recurring annoyance; but, on the other hand, if they had continued to come, he would not have been thus completely in the dark as to her intercourse with Jasper; scraps of information must now and then have been gathered by his wife from the girls’ talk.
Throughout the month of July he suffered much from his wonted bilious attacks, and Mrs Yule had to endure a double share of his ill-temper, that which was naturally directed against her, and that of which Marian was the cause. In August things were slightly better; but with the return to labour came a renewal of Yule’s sullenness and savageness. Sundry pieces of ill-luck of a professional kind – warnings, as he too well understood, that it was growing more and more difficult for him to hold his own against the new writers – exasperated his quarrel with destiny. The gloom of a cold and stormy September was doubly wretched in that house on the far borders of Camden Town, but in October the sun reappeared and it seemed to mollify the literary man’s mood. Just when Mrs Yule and Marian began to hope that this long distemper must surely come to an end, there befell an incident which, at the best of times, would have occasioned misery, and which in the present juncture proved disastrous.
It was one morning about eleven. Yule was in his study; Marian was at the Museum; Mrs Yule had gone shopping. There came a sharp knock at the front door, and the servant, on opening, was confronted with a decently-dressed woman, who asked in a peremptory voice if Mrs Yule was at home.
‘No? Then is Mr Yule?’
‘Yes, mum, but I’m afraid he’s busy.’
‘I don’t care, I must see him. Say that Mrs Goby wants to see him at once.’
The servant, not without apprehensions, delivered this message at the door of the study.
‘Mrs Goby? Who is Mrs Goby?’ exclaimed the man of letters, irate at the disturbance.
There sounded an answer out of the passage, for the visitor had followed close.
‘I am Mrs Goby, of the ‘Olloway Road, wife of Mr C. O. Goby, ‘aberdasher. I just want to speak to you, Mr Yule, if you please, seeing that Mrs Yule isn’t in.’
Yule started up in fury, and stared at the woman, to whom the servant had reluctantly given place.
‘What business can you have with me? If you wish to see Mrs Yule, come again when she is at home.’
‘No, Mr Yule, I will not come again!’ cried the woman, red in the face. ‘I thought I might have had respectable treatment here, at all events; but I see you’re pretty much like your relations in the way of behaving to people, though you do wear better clothes, and – I s’pose – call yourself a gentleman. I won’t come again, and you shall just hear what I’ve got to say.
She closed the door violently, and stood in an attitude of robust defiance.
‘What’s all this about?’ asked the enraged author, overcoming an impulse to take Mrs Goby by the shoulders and throw her out – though he might have found some difficulty in achieving this feat. ‘Who are you? And why do you come here with your brawling?’
‘I’m the respectable wife of a respectable man – that’s who I am, Mr Yule, if you want to know. And I always thought Mrs Yule was the same, from the dealings we’ve had with her at the shop, though not knowing any more of her, it’s true, except that she lived in St Paul’s Crezzent. And so she may be respectable, though I can’t say as her husband behaves himself very much like what he pretends to be. But I can’t say as much for her relations in Perker Street, ‘Olloway, which I s’pose they’re your relations as well, at least by marriage. And if they think they’re going to insult me, and use their blackguard tongues – ’
‘What are you talking about?’ shouted Yule, who was driven to frenzy by the mention of his wife’s humble family. ‘What have I to do with these people?’
‘What have you to do with them? I s’pose they’re your relations, ain’t they? And I s’pose the girl Annie Rudd is your niece, ain’t she? At least, she’s your wife’s niece, and that comes to the same thing, I’ve always understood, though I dare say a gentleman as has so many books about him can correct me if I’ve made a mistake.’
She looked scornfully, though also with some surprise, round the volumed walls.
‘And what of this girl? Will you have the goodness to say what your business is?’
‘Yes, I will have the goodness! I s’pose you know very well that I took your niece Annie Rudd as a domestic servant’ – she repeated this precise definition – ’as a domestic servant, because Mrs Yule ‘appened to ‘arst me if I knew of a place for a girl of that kind, as hadn’t been out before, but could be trusted to do her best to give satisfaction to a good mistress? I s’pose you know that?’
‘I know nothing of the kind. What have I to do with servants?’
‘Well, whether you’ve much to do with them or little, that’s how it was. And nicely she’s paid me out, has your niece, Miss Rudd. Of all the trouble I ever had with a girl! And now when she’s run away back ‘ome, and when I take the trouble to go arfter her, I’m to be insulted and abused as never was! Oh, they’re a nice respectable family, those Rudds! Mrs Rudd – that’s Mrs Yule’s sister – what a nice, polite-spoken lady she is, to be sure? If I was to repeat the language – but there, I wouldn’t lower myself. And I’ve been a brute of a mistress; I ill-use my servants, and I don’t give ‘em enough to eat, and I pay ‘em worse than any woman in London! That’s what I’ve learnt about myself by going to Perker Street, ‘Olloway. And when I come here to ask Mrs Yule what she means by recommending such a creature, from such a ‘ome, I get insulted by her gentleman husband.’
Yule was livid with rage, but the extremity of his scorn withheld him from utterance of what he felt.
‘As I said, all this has nothing to do with me. I will let Mrs Yule know that you have called. I have no more time to spare.’
Mrs Goby repeated at still greater length the details of her grievance, but long before she had finished Yule was sitting again at his desk in ostentatious disregard of her. Finally, the exasperated woman flung open the door, railed in a loud voice along the passage, and left the house with an alarming crash.
It was not long before Mrs Yule returned. Before taking off her things, she went down into the kitchen with certain purchases, and there she learnt from the servant what had happened during her absence. Fear and trembling possessed her – the sick, faint dread always excited by her husband’s wrath – but she felt obliged to go at once to the study. The scene that took place there was one of ignoble violence on Yule’s part, and, on that of his wife, of terrified self-accusation, changing at length to dolorous resentment of the harshness with which she was treated. When it was over, Yule took his hat and went out.
He did not return for the mid-day meal, and when Marian, late in the afternoon, came back from the Museum, he was still absent.
Not finding her mother in the parlour, Marian called at the head of the kitchen stairs. The servant answered, saying that Mrs Yule was up in her bedroom, and that she didn’t seem well. Marian at once went up and knocked at the bedroom door. In a moment or two her mother came out, showing a face of tearful misery.
‘What is it, mother? What’s the matter?’
They went into Marian’s room, where Mrs Yule gave free utterance to her lamentations.
‘I can’t put up with it, Marian! Your father is too hard with me.
I was wrong, I dare say, and I might have known what would have come of it, but he couldn’t speak to me worse if I did him all the harm I could on purpose. It’s all about Annie, because I found a place for her at Mrs Goby’s in the ‘Olloway Road; and now Mrs Goby’s been here and seen your father, and told him she’s been insulted by the Rudds, because Annie went off home, and she went after her to make inquiries. And your father’s in such a passion about it as never was. That woman Mrs Goby rushed into the study when he was working; it was this morning, when I happened to be out. And she throws all the blame on me for recommending her such a girl. And I did it for the best, that I did! Annie promised me faithfully she’d behave well, and never give me trouble, and she seemed thankful to me, because she wasn’t happy at home. And now to think of her causing all this disturbance! I oughtn’t to have done such a thing without speaking about it to your father; but you know how afraid I am to say a word to him about those people. And my sister’s told me so often I ought to be ashamed of myself never helping her and her children; she thinks I could do such a lot if I only liked. And now that I did try to do something, see what comes of it!’
Marian listened with a confusion of wretched feelings. But her sympathies were strongly with her mother; as well as she could understand the broken story, her father seemed to have no just cause for his pitiless rage, though such an occasion would be likely enough to bring out his worst faults.
‘Is he in the study?’ she asked.
‘No, he went out at twelve o’clock, and he’s never been back since. I feel as if I must do something; I can’t bear with it, Marian. He tells me I’m the curse of his life – yes, he said that. I oughtn’t to tell you, I know I oughtn’t; but it’s more than I can bear. I’ve always tried to do my best, but it gets harder and harder for me. But for me he’d never be in these bad tempers; it’s because he can’t look at me without getting angry. He says I’ve kept him back all through his life; but for me he might have been far better off than he is. It may be true; I’ve often enough thought it. But I can’t bear to have it told me like that, and to see it in his face every time he looks at me. I shall have to do something. He’d be glad if only I was out of his way.’
‘Father has no right to make you so unhappy,’ said Marian. ‘I can’t see that you did anything blameworthy; it seems to me that it was your duty to try and help Annie, and if it turned out unfortunately, that can’t be helped. You oughtn’t to think so much of what father says in his anger; I believe he hardly knows what he does say. Don’t take it so much to heart, mother.’
‘I’ve tried my best, Marian,’ sobbed the poor woman, who felt that even her child’s sympathy could not be perfect, owing to the distance put between them by Marian’s education and refined sensibilities. ‘I’ve always thought it wasn’t right to talk to you about such things, but he’s been too hard with me to-day.’
‘I think it was better you should tell me. It can’t go on like this; I feel that just as you do. I must tell father that he is making our lives a burden to us.’
‘Oh, you mustn’t speak to him like that, Marian! I wouldn’t for anything make unkindness between you and your father; that would be the worst thing I’d done yet. I’d rather go away and work for my own living than make trouble between you and him.’
‘It isn’t you who make trouble; it’s father. I ought to have spoken to him before this; I had no right to stand by and see how much you suffered from his ill-temper.’
The longer they talked, the firmer grew Marian’s resolve to front her father’s tyrannous ill-humour, and in one way or another to change the intolerable state of things. She had been weak to hold her peace so long; at her age it was a simple duty to interfere when her mother was treated with such flagrant injustice. Her father’s behaviour was unworthy of a thinking man, and he must be made to feel that.
Yule did not return. Dinner was delayed for half an hour, then Marian declared that they would wait no longer. They two made a sorry meal, and afterwards went together into the sitting-room. At eight o’clock they heard the front door open, and Yule’s footstep in the passage. Marian rose.
‘Don’t speak till to-morrow!’ whispered her mother, catching at the girl’s arm. ‘Let it be till to-morrow, Marian!’
‘I must speak! We can’t live in this terror.’
She reached the study just as her father was closing the door behind him. Yule, seeing her enter, glared with bloodshot eyes; shame and sullen anger were blended on his countenance.
‘Will you tell me what is wrong, father?’ Marian asked, in a voice which betrayed her nervous suffering, yet indicated the resolve with which she had come.
‘I am not at all disposed to talk of the matter,’ he replied, with the awkward rotundity of phrase which distinguished him in his worst humour. ‘For information you had better go to Mrs Goby – or a person of some such name – in Holloway Road. I have nothing more to do with it.’
‘It was very unfortunate that the woman came and troubled you about such things. But I can’t see that mother was to blame; I don’t think you ought to be so angry with her.’
It cost Marian a terrible effort to address her father in these terms. When he turned fiercely upon her, she shrank back and felt as if strength must fail her even to stand.
‘You can’t see that she was to blame? Isn’t it entirely against my wish that she keeps up any intercourse with those low people? Am I to be exposed to insulting disturbance in my very study, because she chooses to introduce girls of bad character as servants to vulgar women?’
‘I don’t think Annie Rudd can be called a girl of bad character, and it was very natural that mother should try to do something for her. You have never actually forbidden her to see her relatives.’
‘A thousand times I have given her to understand that I utterly disapproved of such association. She knew perfectly well that this girl was as likely as not to discredit her. If she had consulted me, I should at once have forbidden anything of the kind; she was aware of that. She kept it secret from me, knowing that it would excite my displeasure. I will not be drawn into such squalid affairs; I won’t have my name spoken in such connection. Your mother has only herself to blame if I am angry with her.’
‘Your anger goes beyond all bounds. At the very worst, mother behaved imprudently, and with a very good motive. It is cruel that you should make her suffer as she is doing.’
Marian was being strengthened to resist. Her blood grew hot; the sensation which once before had brought her to the verge of conflict with her father possessed her heart and brain.
‘You are not a suitable judge of my behaviour,’ replied Yule, severely.
‘I am driven to speak. We can’t go on living in this way, father. For months our home has been almost ceaselessly wretched, because of the ill-temper you are always in. Mother and I must defend ourselves; we can’t bear it any longer. You must surely feel how ridiculous it is to make such a thing as happened this morning the excuse for violent anger. How can I help judging your behaviour? When mother is brought to the point of saying that she would rather leave home and everything than endure her misery any longer, I should be wrong if I didn’t speak to you. Why are you so unkind? What serious cause has mother ever given you?’
‘I refuse to argue such questions with you.’
‘Then you are very unjust. I am not a child, and there’s nothing wrong in my asking you why home is made a place of misery, instead of being what home ought to be.’
‘You prove that you are a child, in asking for explanations which ought to be clear enough to you.’
‘You mean that mother is to blame for everything?’
‘The subject is no fit one to be discussed between a father and his daughter. If you cannot see the impropriety of it, be so good as to go away and reflect, and leave me to my occupations.’
Marian came to a pause. But she knew that his rebuke was mere unworthy evasion; she saw that her father could not meet her look, and this perception of shame in him impelled her to finish what she had begun.
‘I will say nothing of mother, then, but speak only for myself. I suffer too much from your unkindness; you ask too much endurance.’
‘You mean that I exact too much work from you?’ asked her father, with a look which might have been directed to a recalcitrant clerk.
‘No. But that you make the conditions of my work too hard. I live in constant fear of your anger.’
‘Indeed? When did I last ill-use you, or threaten you?’
‘I often think that threats, or even ill-usage, would be easier to bear than an unchanging gloom which always seems on the point of breaking into violence.’
‘I am obliged to you for your criticism of my disposition and manner, but unhappily I am too old to reform. Life has made me what I am, and I should have thought that your knowledge of what my life has been would have gone far to excuse a lack of cheerfulness in me.’
The irony of this laborious period was full of self-pity. His voice quavered at the close, and a tremor was noticeable in his stiff frame.
‘It isn’t lack of cheerfulness that I mean, father. That could never have brought me to speak like this.’
‘If you wish me to admit that I am bad-tempered, surly, irritable – I make no difficulty about that. The charge is true enough. I can only ask you again: What are the circumstances that have ruined my temper? When you present yourself here with a general accusation of my behaviour, I am at a loss to understand what you ask of me, what you wish me to say or do. I must beg you to speak plainly. Are you suggesting that I should make provision for the support of you and your mother away from my intolerable proximity? My income is not large, as I think you are aware, but of course, if a demand of this kind is seriously made, I must do my best to comply with it.’
‘It hurts me very much that you can understand me no better than this.’
‘I am sorry. I think we used to understand each other, but that was before you were subjected to the influence of strangers.’
In his perverse frame of mind he was ready to give utterance to any thought which confused the point at issue. This last allusion was suggested to him by a sudden pang of regret for the pain he was causing Marian; he defended himself against self-reproach by hinting at the true reason of much of his harshness.
‘I am subjected to no influence that is hostile to you,’ Marian replied.
‘You may think that. But in such a matter it is very easy for you to deceive yourself.’
‘Of course I know what you refer to, and I can assure you that I don’t deceive myself.’
Yule flashed a searching glance at her.
‘Can you deny that you are on terms of friendship with a – a person who would at any moment rejoice to injure me?’
‘I am friendly with no such person. Will you say whom you are thinking of?’
‘It would be useless. I have no wish to discuss a subject on which we should only disagree unprofitably.’
Marian kept silence for a moment, then said in a low, unsteady voice:
‘It is perhaps because we never speak of that subject that we are so far from understanding each other. If you think that Mr Milvain is your enemy, that he would rejoice to injure you, you are grievously mistaken.’
‘When I see a man in close alliance with my worst enemy, and looking to that enemy for favour, I am justified in thinking that he would injure me if the right kind of opportunity offered. One need not be very deeply read in human nature to have assurance of that.’
‘But I know Mr Milvain!’
‘You know him?’
‘Far better than you can, I am sure. You draw conclusions from general principles; but I know that they don’t apply in this case.’
‘I have no doubt you sincerely think so. I repeat that nothing can be gained by such a discussion as this.’
‘One thing I must tell you. There was no truth in your suspicion that Mr Milvain wrote that review in The Current. He assured me himself that he was not the writer, that he had nothing to do with it.’
Yule looked askance at her, and his face displayed solicitude, which soon passed, however, into a smile of sarcasm.
‘The gentleman’s word no doubt has weight with you.’
‘Father, what do you mean?’ broke from Marian, whose eyes of a sudden flashed stormily. ‘Would Mr Milvain tell me a lie?’
‘I shouldn’t like to say that it is impossible,’ replied her father in the same tone as before.
‘But – what right have you to insult him so grossly?’
‘I have every right, my dear child, to express an opinion about him or any other man, provided I do it honestly. I beg you not to strike attitudes and address me in the language of the stage. You insist on my speaking plainly, and I have spoken plainly. I warned you that we were not likely to agree on this topic.’
‘Literary quarrels have made you incapable of judging honestly in things such as this. I wish I could have done for ever with the hateful profession that so poisons men’s minds.’
‘Believe me, my girl,’ said her father, incisively, ‘the simpler thing would be to hold aloof from such people as use the profession in a spirit of unalloyed selfishness, who seek only material advancement, and who, whatever connection they form, have nothing but self-interest in view.’
And he glared at her with much meaning. Marian – both had remained standing all through the dialogue – cast down her eyes and became lost in brooding.
‘I speak with profound conviction,’ pursued her father, ‘and, however little you credit me with such a motive, out of desire to guard you against the dangers to which your inexperience is exposed. It is perhaps as well that you have afforded me this – ’
There sounded at the house-door that duplicated double-knock which generally announces the bearer of a telegram. Yule interrupted himself, and stood in an attitude of waiting. The servant was heard to go along the passage, to open the door, and then return towards the study. Yes, it was a telegram. Such despatches rarely came to this house; Yule tore the envelope, read its contents, and stood with gaze fixed upon the slip of paper until the servant inquired if there was any reply for the boy to take with him.
He slowly crumpled the envelope, and stepped aside to throw it into the paper-basket. The telegram he laid on his desk. Marian stood all the time with bent head; he now looked at her with an expression of meditative displeasure.
‘I don’t know that there’s much good in resuming our conversation,’ he said, in quite a changed tone, as if something of more importance had taken possession of his thoughts and had made him almost indifferent to the past dispute. ‘But of course I am quite willing to hear anything you would still like to say.
Marian had lost her vehemence. She was absent and melancholy.
‘I can only ask you,’ she replied, ‘to try and make life less of a burden to us.’
‘I shall have to leave town to-morrow for a few days; no doubt it will be some satisfaction to you to hear that.’
Marian’s eyes turned involuntarily towards the telegram.
‘As for your occupation in my absence,’ he went on, in a hard tone which yet had something tremulous, emotional, making it quite different from the voice he had hitherto used, ‘that will be entirely a matter for your own judgment. I have felt for some time that you assisted me with less good-will than formerly, and now that you have frankly admitted it, I shall of course have very little satisfaction in requesting your aid. I must leave it to you; consult your own inclination.’
It was resentful, but not savage; between the beginning and the end of his speech he softened to a sort of self-satisfied pathos.
‘I can’t pretend,’ replied Marian, ‘that I have as much pleasure in the work as I should have if your mood were gentler.’
‘I am sorry. I might perhaps have made greater efforts to appear at ease when I was suffering.’
‘Do you mean physical suffering?’
‘Physical and mental. But that can’t concern you. During my absence I will think of your reproof. I know that it is deserved, in some degree. If it is possible, you shall have less to complain of in future.’
He looked about the room, and at length seated himself; his eyes were fixed in a direction away from Marian.
‘I suppose you had dinner somewhere?’ Marian asked, after catching a glimpse of his worn, colourless face.
‘Oh, I had a mouthful of something. It doesn’t matter.’
It seemed as if he found some special pleasure in assuming this tone of martyrdom just now. At the same time he was becoming more absorbed in thought.
‘Shall I have something brought up for you, father?’
‘Something – ? Oh no, no; on no account.’
He rose again impatiently, then approached his desk, and laid a hand on the telegram. Marian observed this movement, and examined his face; it was set in an expression of eagerness.
‘You have nothing more to say, then?’ He turned sharply upon her.
‘I feel that I haven’t made you understand me, but I can say nothing more.’
‘I understand you very well – too well. That you should misunderstand and mistrust me, I suppose, is natural. You are young, and I am old. You are still full of hope, and I have been so often deceived and defeated that I dare not let a ray of hope enter my mind. Judge me; judge me as hardly as you like. My life has been one long, bitter struggle, and if now – . I say,’ he began a new sentence, ‘that only the hard side of life has been shown to me; small wonder if I have become hard myself. Desert me; go your own Way, as the young always do. But bear in mind my warning. Remember the caution I have given you.’
He spoke in a strangely sudden agitation. The arm with which he leaned upon the table trembled violently. After a moment’s pause he added, in a thick voice:
‘Leave me. I will speak to you again in the morning.’
Impressed in a way she did not understand, Marian at once obeyed, and rejoined her mother in the parlour. Mrs Yule gazed anxiously at her as she entered.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Marian, with difficulty bringing herself to speak. ‘I think it will be better.’
‘Was that a telegram that came?’ her mother inquired after a silence.
‘Yes. I don’t know where it was from. But father said he would have to leave town for a few days.’
They exchanged looks.
‘Perhaps your uncle is very ill,’ said the mother in a low voice.
The evening passed drearily. Fatigued with her emotions, Marian went early to bed; she even slept later than usual in the morning, and on descending she found her father already at the breakfast-table. No greeting passed, and there was no conversation during the meal. Marian noticed that her mother kept glancing at her in a peculiarly grave way; but she felt ill and dejected, and could fix her thoughts on no subject. As he left the table Yule said to her:
‘I want to speak to you for a moment. I shall be in the study.’
She joined him there very soon. He looked coldly at her, and said in a distant tone:
‘The telegram last night was to tell me that your uncle is dead.’
‘He died of apoplexy, at a meeting in Wattleborough. I shall go down this morning, and of course remain till after the funeral. I see no necessity for your going, unless, of course, it is your desire to do so.’
‘No; I should do as you wish.’
‘I think you had better not go to the Museum whilst I am away. You will occupy yourself as you think fit.’
‘I shall go on with the Harrington notes.’
‘As you please. I don’t know what mourning it would be decent for you to wear; you must consult with your mother about that. That is all I wished to say.’
His tone was dismissal. Marian had a struggle with herself but she could find nothing to reply to his cold phrases. And an hour or two afterwards Yule left the house without leave-taking.
Soon after his departure there was a visitor’s rat-tat at the door; it heralded Mrs Goby. In the interview which then took place Marian assisted her mother to bear the vigorous onslaughts of the haberdasher’s wife. For more than two hours Mrs Goby related her grievances, against the fugitive servant, against Mrs Yule, against Mr Yule; meeting with no irritating opposition, she was able in this space of time to cool down to the temperature of normal intercourse, and when she went forth from the house again it was in a mood of dignified displeasure which she felt to be some recompense for the injuries of yesterday.
A result of this annoyance was to postpone conversation between mother and daughter on the subject of John Yule’s death until a late hour of the afternoon. Marian was at work in the study, or endeavouring to work, for her thoughts would not fix themselves on the matter in hand for many minutes together, and Mrs Yule came in with more than her customary diffidence.
‘Have you nearly done for to-day, dear?’
‘Enough for the present, I think.’
She laid down her pen, and leant back in the chair.
‘Marian, do you think your father will be rich?’
‘I have no idea, mother. I suppose we shall know very soon.’
Her tone was dreamy. She seemed to herself to be speaking of something which scarcely at all concerned her, of vague possibilities which did not affect her habits of thought.
‘If that happens,’ continued Mrs Yule, in a low tone of distress, ‘I don’t know what I shall do.’
Marian looked at her questioningly.
‘I can’t wish that it mayn’t happen,’ her mother went on; ‘I can’t, for his sake and for yours; but I don’t know what I shall do. He’d think me more in his way than ever. He’d wish to have a large house, and live in quite a different way; and how could I manage then? I couldn’t show myself; he’d be too much ashamed of me. I shouldn’t be in my place; even you’d feel ashamed of me.’
‘You mustn’t say that, mother. I have never given you cause to think that.’
‘No, my dear, you haven’t; but it would be only natural. I couldn’t live the kind of life that you’re fit for. I shall be nothing but a hindrance and a shame to both of you.’
‘To me you would never be either hindrance or shame; be quite sure of that. And as for father, I am all but certain that, if he became rich, he would be a very much kinder man, a better man in every way. It is poverty that has made him worse than he naturally is; it has that effect on almost everybody. Money does harm, too, sometimes; but never, I think, to people who have a good heart and a strong mind. Father is naturally a warm-hearted man; riches would bring out all the best in him. He would be generous again, which he has almost forgotten how to be among all his disappointments and battlings. Don’t be afraid of that change, but hope for it.’
Mrs Yule gave a troublous sigh, and for a few minutes pondered anxiously.
‘I wasn’t thinking so much about myself’ she said at length. ‘It’s the hindrance I should be to father. Just because of me, he mightn’t be able to use his money as he’d wish. He’d always be feeling that if it wasn’t for me things would be so much better for him and for you as well.’
‘You must remember,’ Marian replied, ‘that at father’s age people don’t care to make such great changes. His home life, I feel sure, wouldn’t be so very different from what it is now; he would prefer to use his money in starting a paper or magazine. I know that would be his first thought. If more acquaintances came to his house, what would that matter? It isn’t as if he wished for fashionable society. They would be literary people, and why ever shouldn’t you meet with them?’
‘I’ve always been the reason why he couldn’t have many friends.’
‘That’s a great mistake. If father ever said that, in his bad temper, he knew it wasn’t the truth. The chief reason has always been his poverty. It costs money to entertain friends; time as well. Don’t think in this anxious way, mother. If we are to be rich, it will be better for all of us.’
Marian had every reason for seeking to persuade herself that this was true. In her own heart there was a fear of how wealth might affect her father, but she could not bring herself to face the darker prospect. For her so much depended on that hope of a revival of generous feeling under sunny influences.
It was only after this conversation that she began to reflect on all the possible consequences of her uncle’s death. As yet she had been too much disturbed to grasp as a reality the event to which she had often looked forward, though as to something still remote, and of quite uncertain results. Perhaps at this moment, though she could not know it, the course of her life had undergone the most important change. Perhaps there was no more need for her to labour upon this ‘article’ she was manufacturing.
She did not think it probable that she herself would benefit directly by John Yule’s will. There was no certainty that even her father would, for he and his brother had never been on cordial terms. But on the whole it seemed likely that he would inherit money enough to free him from the toil of writing for periodicals. He himself anticipated that. What else could be the meaning of those words in which (and it was before the arrival of the news) he had warned her against ‘people who made connections only with self-interest in view?’ This threw a sudden light upon her father’s attitude towards Jasper Milvain. Evidently he thought that Jasper regarded her as a possible heiress, sooner or later. That suspicion was rankling in his mind; doubtless it intensified the prejudice which originated in literary animosity.
Was there any truth in his suspicion? She did not shrink from admitting that there might be. Jasper had from the first been so frank with her, had so often repeated that money was at present his chief need. If her father inherited substantial property, would it induce Jasper to declare himself more than her friend? She could view the possibility of that, and yet not for a moment be shaken in her love. It was plain that Jasper could not think of marrying until his position and prospects were greatly improved; practically, his sisters depended upon him. What folly it would be to draw back if circumstances led him to avow what hitherto he had so slightly disguised! She had the conviction that he valued her for her own sake; if the obstacle between them could only be removed, what matter how?
Would he be willing to abandon Clement Fadge, and come over to her father’s side? If Yule were able to found a magazine?
Had she read or heard of a girl who went so far in concessions, Marian would have turned away, her delicacy offended. In her own case she could indulge to the utmost that practicality which colours a woman’s thought even in mid passion. The cold exhibition of ignoble scheming will repel many a woman who, for her own heart’s desire, is capable of that same compromise with her strict sense of honour.
Marian wrote to Dora Milvain, telling her what had happened. But she refrained from visiting her friends.
Each night found her more restless, each morning less able to employ herself. She shut herself in the study merely to be alone with her thoughts, to be able to walk backwards and forwards, or sit for hours in feverish reverie. From her father came no news. Her mother was suffering dreadfully from suspense, and often had eyes red with weeping. Absorbed in her own hopes and fears, whilst every hour harassed her more intolerably, Marian was unable to play the part of an encourager; she had never known such exclusiveness of self-occupation.
Yule’s return was unannounced. Early in the afternoon, when he had been absent five days, he entered the house, deposited his travelling-bag in the passage, and went upstairs. Marian had come out of the study just in time to see him up on the first landing; at the same moment Mrs Yule ascended from the kitchen.
‘Wasn’t that father?’
‘Yes, he has gone up.’
‘Did he say anything?’
Marian shook her head. They looked at the travelling-bag, then went into the parlour and waited in silence for more than a quarter of an hour. Yule’s foot was heard on the stairs; he came down slowly, paused in the passage, entered the parlour with his usual grave, cold countenance.