Jasper’s favourite walk led him to a spot distant perhaps a mile and a half from home. From a tract of common he turned into a short lane which crossed the Great Western railway, and thence by a stile into certain meadows forming a compact little valley. One recommendation of this retreat was that it lay sheltered from all winds; to Jasper a wind was objectionable. Along the bottom ran a clear, shallow stream, overhung with elder and hawthorn bushes; and close by the wooden bridge which spanned it was a great ash tree, making shadow for cows and sheep when the sun lay hot upon the open field. It was rare for anyone to come along this path, save farm labourers morning and evening.
But to-day – the afternoon that followed his visit to John Yule’s house – he saw from a distance that his lounging-place on the wooden bridge was occupied. Someone else had discovered the pleasure there was in watching the sun-flecked sparkle of the water as it flowed over the clean sand and stones. A girl in a yellow-straw hat; yes, and precisely the person he had hoped, at the first glance, that it might be. He made no haste as he drew nearer on the descending path. At length his footstep was heard; Marian Yule turned her head and clearly recognised him.
She assumed an upright position, letting one of her hands rest upon the rail. After the exchange of ordinary greetings, Jasper leaned back against the same support and showed himself disposed for talk.
‘When I was here late in the spring,’ he said, ‘this ash was only just budding, though everything else seemed in full leaf.’
‘An ash, is it?’ murmured Marian. ‘I didn’t know. I think an oak is the only tree I can distinguish. Yet,’ she added quickly, ‘I knew that the ash was late; some lines of Tennyson come to my memory.’
‘Which are those?’
‘Delaying, as the tender ash delays To clothe herself when all the woods are green,
somewhere in the "Idylls."’
‘I don’t remember; so I won’t pretend to – though I should do so as a rule.’
She looked at him oddly, and seemed about to laugh, yet did not.
‘You have had little experience of the country?’ Jasper continued.
‘Very little. You, I think, have known it from childhood?’
‘In a sort of way. I was born in Wattleborough, and my people have always lived here. But I am not very rural in temperament. I have really no friends here; either they have lost interest in me, or I in them. What do you think of the girls, my sisters?’
The question, though put with perfect simplicity, was embarrassing.
‘They are tolerably intellectual,’ Jasper went on, when he saw that it would be difficult for her to answer. ‘I want to persuade them to try their hands at literary work of some kind or other. They give lessons, and both hate it.’
‘Would literary work be less – burdensome?’ said Marian, without looking at him.
‘Rather more so, you think?’
‘It depends, of course, on – on several things.’
‘To be sure,’ Jasper agreed. ‘I don’t think they have any marked faculty for such work; but as they certainly haven’t for teaching, that doesn’t matter. It’s a question of learning a business. I am going through my apprenticeship, and find it a long affair. Money would shorten it, and, unfortunately, I have none.’
‘Yes,’ said Marian, turning her eyes upon the stream, ‘money is a help in everything.’
‘Without it, one spends the best part of one’s life in toiling for that first foothold which money could at once purchase. To have money is becoming of more and more importance in a literary career; principally because to have money is to have friends. Year by year, such influence grows of more account. A lucky man will still occasionally succeed by dint of his own honest perseverance, but the chances are dead against anyone who can’t make private interest with influential people; his work is simply overwhelmed by that of the men who have better opportunities.’
‘Don’t you think that, even to-day, really good work will sooner or later be recognised?’
‘Later, rather than sooner; and very likely the man can’t wait; he starves in the meantime. You understand that I am not speaking of genius; I mean marketable literary work. The quantity turned out is so great that there’s no hope for the special attention of the public unless one can afford to advertise hugely. Take the instance of a successful all-round man of letters; take Ralph Warbury, whose name you’ll see in the first magazine you happen to open. But perhaps he is a friend of yours?’
‘Well, I wasn’t going to abuse him. I was only going to ask: Is there any quality which distinguishes his work from that of twenty struggling writers one could name? Of course not. He’s a clever, prolific man; so are they. But he began with money and friends; he came from Oxford into the thick of advertised people; his name was mentioned in print six times a week before he had written a dozen articles. This kind of thing will become the rule. Men won’t succeed in literature that they may get into society, but will get into society that they may succeed in literature.’
‘Yes, I know it is true,’ said Marian, in a low voice.
‘There’s a friend of mine who writes novels,’ Jasper pursued. ‘His books are not works of genius, but they are glaringly distinct from the ordinary circulating novel. Well, after one or two attempts, he made half a success; that is to say, the publishers brought out a second edition of the book in a few months. There was his opportunity. But he couldn’t use it; he had no friends, because he had no money. A book of half that merit, if written by a man in the position of Warbury when he started, would have established the reputation of a lifetime. His influential friends would have referred to it in leaders, in magazine articles, in speeches, in sermons. It would have run through numerous editions, and the author would have had nothing to do but to write another book and demand his price. But the novel I’m speaking of was practically forgotten a year after its appearance; it was whelmed beneath the flood of next season’s literature.’
Marian urged a hesitating objection.
‘But, under the circumstances, wasn’t it in the author’s power to make friends? Was money really indispensable?’
‘Why, yes – because he chose to marry. As a bachelor he might possibly have got into the right circles, though his character would in any case have made it difficult for him to curry favour.
But as a married man, without means, the situation was hopeless. Once married you must live up to the standard of the society you frequent; you can’t be entertained without entertaining in return. Now if his wife had brought him only a couple of thousand pounds all might have been well. I should have advised him, in sober seriousness, to live for two years at the rate of a thousand a year. At the end of that time he would have been earning enough to continue at pretty much the same rate of expenditure.’
‘Well, I ought rather to say that the average man of letters would be able to do that. As for Reardon – ’
He stopped. The name had escaped him unawares.
‘Reardon?’ said Marian, looking up. ‘You are speaking of him?’
‘I have betrayed myself Miss Yule.’
‘But what does it matter? You have only spoken in his favour.’
‘I feared the name might affect you disagreeably.’
Marian delayed her reply.
‘It is true,’ she said, ‘we are not on friendly terms with my cousin’s family. I have never met Mr Reardon. But I shouldn’t like you to think that the mention of his name is disagreeable to me.’
‘It made me slightly uncomfortable yesterday – the fact that I am well acquainted with Mrs Edmund Yule, and that Reardon is my friend. Yet I didn’t see why that should prevent my making your father’s acquaintance.’
‘Surely not. I shall say nothing about it; I mean, as you uttered the name unintentionally.’
There was a pause in the dialogue. They had been speaking almost confidentially, and Marian seemed to become suddenly aware of an oddness in the situation. She turned towards the uphill path, as if thinking of resuming her walk.
‘You are tired of standing still,’ said Jasper. ‘May I walk back a part of the way with you?’
‘Thank you; I shall be glad.’
They went on for a few minutes in silence.
‘Have you published anything with your signature, Miss Yule?’ Jasper at length inquired.
‘Nothing. I only help father a little.’
The silence that again followed was broken this time by Marian.
‘When you chanced to mention Mr Reardon’s name,’ she said, with a diffident smile in which lay that suggestion of humour so delightful upon a woman’s face, ‘you were going to say something more about him?’
‘Only that – ’ he broke off and laughed. ‘Now, how boyish it was, wasn’t it? I remember doing just the same thing once when I came home from school and had an exciting story to tell, with preservation of anonymities. Of course I blurted out a name in the first minute or two, to my father’s great amusement. He told me that I hadn’t the diplomatic character. I have been trying to acquire it ever since.
‘It’s one of the essentials of success in any kind of public life. And I mean to succeed, you know. I feel that I am one of the men who do succeed. But I beg your pardon; you asked me a question. Really, I was only going to say of Reardon what I had said before: that he hasn’t the tact requisite for acquiring popularity.’
‘Then I may hope that it isn’t his marriage with my cousin which has proved a fatal misfortune?’
‘In no case,’ replied Milvain, averting his look, ‘would he have used his advantages.’
‘And now? Do you think he has but poor prospects?’
‘I wish I could see any chance of his being estimated at his right value. It’s very hard to say what is before him.’
‘I knew my cousin Amy when we were children,’ said Marian, presently. ‘She gave promise of beauty.’
‘Yes, she is beautiful.’
‘And – the kind of woman to be of help to such a husband?’
‘I hardly know how to answer, Miss Yule,’ said Jasper, looking frankly at her. ‘Perhaps I had better say that it’s unfortunate they are poor.’
Marian cast down her eyes.
‘To whom isn’t it a misfortune?’ pursued her companion. ‘Poverty is the root of all social ills; its existence accounts even for the ills that arise from wealth. The poor man is a man labouring in fetters. I declare there is no word in our language which sounds so hideous to me as "Poverty."’
Shortly after this they came to the bridge over the railway line. Jasper looked at his watch.
‘Will you indulge me in a piece of childishness?’ he said. ‘In less than five minutes a London express goes by; I have often watched it here, and it amuses me. Would it weary you to wait?’
‘I should like to,’ she replied with a laugh.
The line ran along a deep cutting, from either side of which grew hazel bushes and a few larger trees. Leaning upon the parapet of the bridge, Jasper kept his eye in the westward direction, where the gleaming rails were visible for more than a mile. Suddenly he raised his finger.
Marian had just caught the far-off sound of the train. She looked eagerly, and in a few moments saw it approaching. The front of the engine blackened nearer and nearer, coming on with dread force and speed. A blinding rush, and there burst against the bridge a great volley of sunlit steam. Milvain and his companion ran to the opposite parapet, but already the whole train had emerged, and in a few seconds it had disappeared round a sharp curve. The leafy branches that grew out over the line swayed violently backwards and forwards in the perturbed air.
‘If I were ten years younger,’ said Jasper, laughing, ‘I should say that was jolly! It enspirits me. It makes me feel eager to go back and plunge into the fight again.’
‘Upon me it has just the opposite effect,’ fell from Marian, in very low tones.
‘Oh, don’t say that! Well, it only means that you haven’t had enough holiday yet. I have been in the country more than a week; a few days more and I must be off. How long do you think of staying?’
‘Not much more than a week, I think.’
‘By-the-bye, you are coming to have tea with us to-morrow,’ Jasper remarked a propos of nothing. Then he returned to another subject that was in his thoughts.
‘It was by a train like that that I first went up to London. Not really the first time; I mean when I went to live there, seven years ago. What spirits I was in! A boy of eighteen going to live independently in London; think of it!’
‘You went straight from school?’
‘I was for two years at Redmayne College after leaving Wattleborough Grammar School. Then my father died, and I spent nearly half a year at home. I was meant to be a teacher, but the prospect of entering a school by no means appealed to me. A friend of mine was studying in London for some Civil Service exam., so I declared that I would go and do the same thing.’
‘Did you succeed?’
‘Not I! I never worked properly for that kind of thing. I read voraciously, and got to know London. I might have gone to the dogs, you know; but by when I had been in London a year a pretty clear purpose began to form in me. Strange to think that you were growing up there all the time. I may have passed you in the street now and then.’
‘And I did at length see you at the British Museum, you know.’
They turned a corner of the road, and came full upon Marian’s father, who was walking in this direction with eyes fixed upon the ground.
‘So here you are!’ he exclaimed, looking at the girl, and for the moment paying no attention to Jasper. ‘I wondered whether I should meet you.’ Then, more dryly, ‘How do you do, Mr Milvain?’
In a tone of easy indifference Jasper explained how he came to be accompanying Miss Yule.
‘Shall I walk on with you, father?’ Marian asked, scrutinising his rugged features.
‘Just as you please; I don’t know that I should have gone much further. But we might take another way back.’
Jasper readily adapted himself to the wish he discerned in Mr Yule; at once he offered leave-taking in the most natural way. Nothing was said on either side about another meeting.
The young man proceeded homewards, but, on arriving, did not at once enter the house. Behind the garden was a field used for the grazing of horses; he entered it by the unfastened gate, and strolled idly hither and thither, now and then standing to observe a poor worn-out beast, all skin and bone, which had presumably been sent here in the hope that a little more labour might still be exacted from it if it were suffered to repose for a few weeks. There were sores upon its back and legs; it stood in a fixed attitude of despondency, just flicking away troublesome flies with its grizzled tail.
It was tea-time when he went in. Maud was not at home, and Mrs Milvain, tormented by a familiar headache, kept her room; so Jasper and Dora sat down together. Each had an open book on the table; throughout the meal they exchanged only a few words.
‘Going to play a little?’ Jasper suggested when they had gone into the sitting-room.
‘If you like.’
She sat down at the piano, whilst her brother lay on the sofa, his hands clasped beneath his head. Dora did not play badly, but an absentmindedness which was commonly observable in her had its effect upon the music. She at length broke off idly in the middle of a passage, and began to linger on careless chords. Then, without turning her head, she asked:
‘Were you serious in what you said about writing storybooks?’
‘Quite. I see no reason why you shouldn’t do something in that way. But I tell you what; when I get back, I’ll inquire into the state of the market. I know a man who was once engaged at Jolly & Monk’s – the chief publishers of that kind of thing, you know; I must look him up – what a mistake it is to neglect any acquaintance! – and get some information out of him. But it’s obvious what an immense field there is for anyone who can just hit the taste of the’ new generation of Board school children. Mustn’t be too goody-goody; that kind of thing is falling out of date. But you’d have to cultivate a particular kind of vulgarity.
There’s an idea, by-the-bye. I’ll write a paper on the characteristics of that new generation; it may bring me a few guineas, and it would be a help to you.’
‘But what do you know about the subject?’ asked Dora doubtfully.
‘What a comical question! It is my business to know something about every subject – or to know where to get the knowledge.’
‘Well,’ said Dora, after a pause, ‘there’s no doubt Maud and I ought to think very seriously about the future. You are aware, Jasper, that mother has not been able to save a penny of her income.’
‘I don’t see how she could have done. Of course I know what you’re thinking; but for me, it would have been possible. I don’t mind confessing to you that the thought troubles me a little now and then; I shouldn’t like to see you two going off governessing in strangers’ houses. All I can say is, that I am very honestly working for the end which I am convinced will be most profitable.
I shall not desert you; you needn’t fear that. But just put your heads together, and cultivate your writing faculty. Suppose you could both together earn about a hundred a year in Grub Street, it would be better than governessing; wouldn’t it?’
‘You say you don’t know what Miss Yule writes?’
‘Well, I know a little more about her than I did yesterday. I’ve had an hour’s talk with her this afternoon.’
‘Met her down in the Leggatt fields. I find she doesn’t write independently; just helps her father. What the help amounts to I can’t say. There’s something very attractive about her. She quoted a line or two of Tennyson; the first time I ever heard a woman speak blank verse with any kind of decency.’
‘She was walking alone?’
‘Yes. On the way back we met old Yule; he seemed rather grumpy, I thought. I don’t think she’s the kind of girl to make a paying business of literature. Her qualities are personal. And it’s pretty clear to me that the valley of the shadow of books by no means agrees with her disposition. Possibly old Yule is something of a tyrant.’
‘He doesn’t impress me very favourably. Do you think you will keep up their acquaintance in London?’
‘Can’t say. I wonder what sort of a woman that mother really is? Can’t be so very gross, I should think.’
‘Miss Harrow knows nothing about her, except that she was a quite uneducated girl.’
‘But, dash it! by this time she must have got decent manners. Of course there may be other objections. Mrs Reardon knows nothing against her.’
Midway in the following morning, as Jasper sat with a book in the garden, he was surprised to see Alfred Yule enter by the gate.
‘I thought,’ began the visitor, who seemed in high spirits, ‘that you might like to see something I received this morning.’
He unfolded a London evening paper, and indicated a long letter from a casual correspondent. It was written by the authoress of ‘On the Boards,’ and drew attention, with much expenditure of witticism, to the conflicting notices of that book which had appeared in The Study. Jasper read the thing with laughing appreciation.
‘Just what one expected!’
‘And I have private letters on the subject,’ added Mr Yule.
‘There has been something like a personal conflict between Fadge and the man who looks after the minor notices. Fadge, more so, charged the other man with a design to damage him and the paper. There’s talk of legal proceedings. An immense joke!’
He laughed in his peculiar croaking way.
‘Do you feel disposed for a turn along the lanes, Mr Milvain?’
‘By all means. – There’s my mother at the window; will you come in for a moment?’
With a step of quite unusual sprightliness Mr Yule entered the house. He could talk of but one subject, and Mrs Milvain had to listen to a laboured account of the blunder just committed by The Study. It was Alfred’s Yule’s characteristic that he could do nothing lighthandedly. He seemed always to converse with effort; he took a seat with stiff ungainliness; he walked with a stumbling or sprawling gait.
When he and Jasper set out for their ramble, his loquacity was in strong contrast with the taciturn mood he had exhibited yesterday and the day before. He fell upon the general aspects of contemporary literature.
‘... The evil of the time is the multiplication of ephemerides. Hence a demand for essays, descriptive articles, fragments of criticism, out of all proportion to the supply of even tolerable work. The men who have an aptitude for turning out this kind of thing in vast quantities are enlisted by every new periodical, with the result that their productions are ultimately watered down into worthlessness.... Well now, there’s Fadge. Years ago some of Fadge’s work was not without a certain – a certain conditional promise of – of comparative merit; but now his writing, in my opinion, is altogether beneath consideration; how Rackett could be so benighted as to give him The Study – especially after a man like Henry Hawkridge – passes my comprehension. Did you read a paper of his, a few months back, in The Wayside, a preposterous rehabilitation of Elkanah Settle? Ha! Ha! That’s what such men are driven to. Elkanah Settle! And he hadn’t even a competent acquaintance with his paltry subject. Will you credit that he twice or thrice referred to Settle’s reply to "Absalom and Achitophel" by the title of "Absalom Transposed," when every schoolgirl knows that the thing was called "Achitophel Transposed"! This was monstrous enough, but there was something still more contemptible. He positively, I assure you, attributed the play of "Epsom Wells" to Crowne! I should have presumed that every student of even the most trivial primer of literature was aware that "Epsom Wells" was written by Shadwell.... Now, if one were to take Shadwell for the subject of a paper, one might very well show how unjustly his name has fallen into contempt. It has often occurred to me to do this. "But Shadwell never deviates into sense." The sneer, in my opinion, is entirely unmerited. For my own part, I put Shadwell very high among the dramatists of his time, and I think I could show that his absolute worth is by no means inconsiderable. Shadwell has distinct vigour of dramatic conception; his dialogue....’
And as he talked the man kept describing imaginary geometrical figures with the end of his walking-stick; he very seldom raised his eyes from the ground, and the stoop in his shoulders grew more and more pronounced, until at a little distance one might have taken him for a hunchback. At one point Jasper made a pause to speak of the pleasant wooded prospect that lay before them; his companion regarded it absently, and in a moment or two asked:
‘Did you ever come across Cottle’s poem on the Malvern Hills? No?
It contains a couple of the richest lines ever put into print:
It needs the evidence of close deduction To know that I shall ever reach the top.
Perfectly serious poetry, mind you!’
He barked in laughter. Impossible to interest him in anything apart from literature; yet one saw him to be a man of solid understanding, and not without perception of humour. He had read vastly; his memory was a literary cyclopaedia. His failings, obvious enough, were the results of a strong and somewhat pedantic individuality ceaselessly at conflict with unpropitious circumstances.
Towards the young man his demeanour varied between a shy cordiality and a dignified reserve which was in danger of seeming pretentious. On the homeward part of the walk he made a few discreet inquiries regarding Milvain’s literary achievements and prospects, and the frank self-confidence of the replies appeared to interest him. But he expressed no desire to number Jasper among his acquaintances in town, and of his own professional or private concerns he said not a word.
‘Whether he could be any use to me or not, I don’t exactly know,’ Jasper remarked to his mother and sisters at dinner. ‘I suspect it’s as much as he can do to keep a footing among the younger tradesmen. But I think he might have said he was willing to help me if he could.’
‘Perhaps,’ replied Maud, ‘your large way of talking made him think any such offer superfluous.’
‘You have still to learn,’ said Jasper, ‘that modesty helps a man in no department of modern life. People take you at your own valuation. It’s the men who declare boldly that they need no help to whom practical help comes from all sides. As likely as not Yule will mention my name to someone. "A young fellow who seems to see his way pretty clear before him." The other man will repeat it to somebody else, "A young fellow whose way is clear before him," and so I come to the ears of a man who thinks "Just the fellow I want; I must look him up and ask him if he’ll do such-and-such a thing." But I should like to see these Yules at home; I must fish for an invitation.’
In the afternoon, Miss Harrow and Marian came at the expected hour. Jasper purposely kept out of the way until he was summoned to the tea-table.
The Milvain girls were so far from effusive, even towards old acquaintances, that even the people who knew them best spoke of them as rather cold and perhaps a trifle condescending; there were people in Wattleborough who declared their airs of superiority ridiculous and insufferable. The truth was that nature had endowed them with a larger share of brains than was common in their circle, and had added that touch of pride which harmonised so ill with the restrictions of poverty. Their life had a tone of melancholy, the painful reserve which characterises a certain clearly defined class in the present day. Had they been born twenty years earlier, the children of that veterinary surgeon would have grown up to a very different, and in all probability a much happier, existence, for their education would have been limited to the strictly needful, and – certainly in the case of the girls – nothing would have encouraged them to look beyond the simple life possible to a poor man’s offspring. But whilst Maud and Dora were still with their homely schoolmistress, Wattleborough saw fit to establish a Girls’ High School, and the moderateness of the fees enabled these sisters to receive an intellectual training wholly incompatible with the material conditions of their life. To the relatively poor (who are so much worse off than the poor absolutely) education is in most cases a mocking cruelty. The burden of their brother’s support made it very difficult for Maud and Dora even to dress as became their intellectual station; amusements, holidays, the purchase of such simple luxuries as were all but indispensable to them, could not be thought of. It resulted that they held apart from the society which would have welcomed them, for they could not bear to receive without offering in turn. The necessity of giving lessons galled them; they felt – and with every reason – that it made their position ambiguous. So that, though they could not help knowing many people, they had no intimates; they encouraged no one to visit them, and visited other houses as little as might be.
In Marian Yule they divined a sympathetic nature. She was unlike any girl with whom they had hitherto associated, and it was the impulse of both to receive her with unusual friendliness. The habit of reticence could not be at once overcome, and Marian’s own timidity was an obstacle in the way of free intercourse, but Jasper’s conversation at tea helped to smooth the course of things.
‘I wish you lived anywhere near us,’ Dora said to their visitor, as the three girls walked in the garden afterwards, and Maud echoed the wish.
‘It would be very nice,’ was Marian’s reply. ‘I have no friends of my own age in London.’
She was about to add something, but in the end kept silence.
‘You seem to get along with Miss Yule pretty well, after all,’ said Jasper, when the family were alone again.
‘Did you anticipate anything else?’ Maud asked.
‘It seemed doubtful, up at Yule’s house. Well, get her to come here again before I go. But it’s a pity she doesn’t play the piano,’ he added, musingly.
For two days nothing was seen of the Yules. Jasper went each afternoon to the stream in the valley, but did not again meet Marian. In the meanwhile he was growing restless. A fortnight always exhausted his capacity for enjoying the companionship of his mother and sisters, and this time he seemed anxious to get to the end of his holiday. For all that, there was no continuance of the domestic bickering which had begun. Whatever the reason, Maud behaved with unusual mildness to her brother, and Jasper in turn was gently disposed to both the girls.
On the morning of the third day – it was Saturday – he kept silence through breakfast, and just as all were about to rise from the table, he made a sudden announcement:
‘I shall go to London this afternoon.’
‘This afternoon?’ all exclaimed. ‘But Monday is your day.’
‘No, I shall go this afternoon, by the 2.45.’
And he left the room. Mrs Milvain and the girls exchanged looks.
‘I suppose he thinks the Sunday will be too wearisome,’ said the mother.
‘Perhaps so,’ Maud agreed, carelessly.
Half an hour later, just as Dora was ready to leave the house for her engagements in Wattleborough, her brother came into the hall and took his hat, saying:
‘I’ll walk a little way with you, if you don’t mind.’
When they were in the road, he asked her in an offhand manner:
‘Do you think I ought to say good-bye to the Yules? Or won’t it signify?’
‘I should have thought you would wish to.’
‘I don’t care about it. And, you see, there’s been no hint of a wish on their part that I should see them in London. No, I’ll just leave you to say good-bye for me.’
‘But they expect to see us to-day or to-morrow. You told them you were not going till Monday, and you don’t know but Mr Yule might mean to say something yet.’
‘Well, I had rather he didn’t,’ replied Jasper, with a laugh.
‘I don’t mind telling you,’ he laughed again. ‘I’m afraid of that girl. No, it won’t do! You understand that I’m a practical man, and I shall keep clear of dangers. These days of holiday idleness put all sorts of nonsense into one’s head.’
Dora kept her eyes down, and smiled ambiguously.
‘You must act as you think fit,’ she remarked at length.
‘Exactly. Now I’ll turn back. You’ll be with us at dinner?’
They parted. But Jasper did not keep to the straight way home. First of all, he loitered to watch a reaping-machine at work; then he turned into a lane which led up the hill on which was John Yule’s house. Even if he had purposed making a farewell call, it was still far too early; all he wanted to do was to pass an hour of the morning, which threatened to lie heavy on his hands. So he rambled on, and went past the house, and took the field-path which would lead him circuitously home again.
His mother desired to speak to him. She was in the dining-room; in the parlour Maud was practising music.
‘I think I ought to tell you of something I did yesterday, Jasper,’ Mrs Milvain began. ‘You see, my dear, we have been rather straitened lately, and my health, you know, grows so uncertain, and, all things considered, I have been feeling very anxious about the girls. So I wrote to your uncle William, and told him that I must positively have that money. I must think of my own children before his.’
The matter referred to was this. The deceased Mr Milvain had a brother who was a struggling shopkeeper in a Midland town. Some ten years ago, William Milvain, on the point of bankruptcy, had borrowed a hundred and seventy pounds from his brother in Wattleborough, and this debt was still unpaid; for on the death of Jasper’s father repayment of the loan was impossible for William, and since then it had seemed hopeless that the sum would ever be recovered. The poor shopkeeper had a large family, and Mrs Milvain, notwithstanding her own position, had never felt able to press him; her relative, however, often spoke of the business, and declared his intention of paying whenever he could.
‘You can’t recover by law now, you know,’ said Jasper.
‘But we have a right to the money, law or no law. He must pay it.’
‘He will simply refuse – and be justified. Poverty doesn’t allow of honourable feeling, any more than of compassion. I’m sorry you wrote like that. You won’t get anything, and you might as well have enjoyed the reputation of forbearance.’
Mrs Milvain was not able to appreciate this characteristic remark. Anxiety weighed upon her, and she became irritable.
‘I am obliged to say, Jasper, that you seem rather thoughtless. If it were only myself I would make any sacrifice for you; but you must remember – ’
‘Now listen, mother,’ he interrupted, laying a hand on her shoulder; ‘I have been thinking about all this, and the fact of the matter is, I shall do my best to ask you for no more money. It may or may not be practicable, but I’ll have a try. So don’t worry. If uncle writes that he can’t pay, just explain why you wrote, and keep him gently in mind of the thing, that’s all. One doesn’t like to do brutal things if one can avoid them, you know.’
The young man went to the parlour and listened to Maud’s music for awhile. But restlessness again drove him forth. Towards eleven o’clock he was again ascending in the direction of John Yule’s house. Again he had no intention of calling, but when he reached the iron gates he lingered.
‘I will, by Jove!’ he said within himself at last. ‘Just to prove I have complete command of myself. It’s to be a display of strength, not weakness.’
At the house door he inquired for Mr Alfred Yule. That gentleman had gone in the carriage to Wattleborough, half an hour ago, with his brother.
Yes, she was within. Jasper entered the sitting-room, waited a few moments, and Marian appeared. She wore a dress in which Milvain had not yet seen her, and it had the effect of making him regard her attentively. The smile with which she had come towards him passed from her face, which was perchance a little warmer of hue than commonly.
‘I’m sorry your father is away, Miss Yule,’ Jasper began, in an animated voice. ‘I wanted to say good-bye to him. I return to London in a few hours.’
‘You are going sooner than you intended?’
‘Yes, I feel I mustn’t waste any more time. I think the country air is doing you good; you certainly look better than when I passed you that first day.’
‘I feel better, much.’
‘My sisters are anxious to see you again. I shouldn’t wonder if they come up this afternoon.’
Marian had seated herself on the sofa, and her hands were linked upon her lap in the same way as when Jasper spoke with her here before, the palms downward. The beautiful outline of her bent head was relieved against a broad strip of sunlight on the wall behind her.
‘They deplore,’ he continued in a moment, ‘that they should come to know you only to lose you again so soon.
‘I have quite as much reason to be sorry,’ she answered, looking at him with the slightest possible smile. ‘But perhaps they will let me write to them, and hear from them now and then.’
‘They would think it an honour. Country girls are not often invited to correspond with literary ladies in London.’
He said it with as much jocoseness as civility allowed, then at once rose.
‘Father will be very sorry,’ Marian began, with one quick glance towards the window and then another towards the door. ‘Perhaps he might possibly be able to see you before you go?’
Jasper stood in hesitation. There was a look on the girl’s face which, under other circumstances, would have suggested a ready answer.
‘I mean,’ she added, hastily, ‘he might just call, or even see you at the station?’
‘Oh, I shouldn’t like to give Mr Yule any trouble. It’s my own fault, for deciding to go to-day. I shall leave by the 2.45.’
He offered his hand.
‘I shall look for your name in the magazines, Miss Yule.’
‘Oh, I don’t think you will ever find it there.’
He laughed incredulously, shook hands with her a second time, and strode out of the room, head erect – feeling proud of himself.
When Dora came home at dinner-time, he informed her of what he had done.
‘A very interesting girl,’ he added impartially. ‘I advise you to make a friend of her. Who knows but you may live in London some day, and then she might be valuable – morally, I mean. For myself, I shall do my best not to see her again for a long time; she’s dangerous.’
Jasper was unaccompanied when he went to the station. Whilst waiting on the platform, he suffered from apprehension lest Alfred Yule’s seamed visage should present itself; but no acquaintance approached him. Safe in the corner of his third-class carriage, he smiled at the last glimpse of the familiar fields, and began to think of something he had decided to write for The West End.