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Denzil Quarrier, a successful, active man, becomes a candidate for Parliament, and, in the moment of triumph, is stricken by the treachery of his best friend, the meaningless treachery of a clever, bored man.
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First published in 2016
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For half an hour there had been perfect silence in the room. The cat upon the hearthrug slept profoundly; the fire was sunk to a still red glow; the cold light of the autumn afternoon thickened into dusk.
Lilian seemed to be reading. She sat on a footstool, her arm resting on the seat of a basket-chair, which supported a large open volume. But her hand was never raised to turn a page, and it was long since her eyes had gathered the sense of the lines on which they were fixed. This attitude had been a favourite one with her in childhood, and nowadays, in her long hours of solitude, she often fell into the old habit. It was a way of inviting reverie, which was a way of passing the time.
She stirred at length; glanced at the windows, at the fire, and rose.
A pleasant little sitting-room, furnished in the taste of our time; with harmonies and contrasts of subdued colour, with pictures intelligently chosen, with store of graceful knick-knacks. Lilian’s person was in keeping with such a background; her dark gold hair, her pale, pensive, youthful features, her slight figure in its loose raiment, could not have been more suitably displayed. In a room of statelier proportions she would have looked too frail, too young for significance; out of doors she was seldom seen to advantage; here one recognized her as the presiding spirit in a home fragrant of womanhood. The face, at this moment, was a sad one, but its lines expressed no weak surrender to dolefulness; her lips were courageous, and her eyes such as brighten readily with joy.
A small table bore a tea-tray with a kettle and spirit-lamp; the service for two persons only. Lilian, after looking at her watch, ignited the lamp and then went to the window as if in expectation of some one’s arrival.
The house stood in a row of small new dwellings on the outskirts of Clapham Common; there was little traffic along the road at any time, and in this hour of twilight even a passing footstep became a thing to notice. Some one approached on her side of the way she listened, but with disappointment; it was not the step for which she waited. None the less it paused at this house, and she was startled to perceive a telegraph messenger on the point of knocking. At once she hastened to the front door.
“Mrs. Quarrier?” inquired the boy, holding out his missive.
Lilian drew back with it into the passage. But there was not light enough to read by; she had to enter the sitting-room and hold the sheet of paper close to the kettle-lamp.
“Very sorry that I cannot get home before ten. Unexpected business.”
She read it carefully, then turned with a sigh and dismissed the messenger.
In a quarter of an hour she had made tea, and sat down to take a cup. The cat, refreshed after slumber, jumped on to her lap and lay there pawing playfully at the trimming of her sleeves. Lilian at first rewarded this friendliness only with absent stroking, but when she had drunk her tea and eaten a slice of bread and butter the melancholy mood dispersed; pussy’s sportiveness was then abundantly indulged, and for awhile Lilian seemed no less merry than her companion.
The game was interrupted by another knock at the house-door; this time it was but the delivery of the evening paper. Lilian settled herself in a chair by the fireside, and addressed herself with a serious countenance to the study of the freshly-printed columns. Beginning with the leading-article, she read page after page in the most conscientious way, often pausing to reflect, and once even to pencil a note on the margin. The paper finished, she found it necessary for the clear understanding of a certain subject to consult a book of reference, and for this purpose she went to a room in the rear—a small study, comfortably but plainly furnished, smelling of tobacco. It was very chilly, and she did not spend much time over her researches.
A sound from the lower part of the house checked her returning steps; some one was rapping at the door down in the area. It happened that she was to-day without a servant; she must needs descend into the kitchen herself and answer the summons. When the nether regions were illumined and the door thrown open, Lilian beheld a familiar figure, that of a scraggy and wretchedly clad woman with a moaning infant in her arms.
“Oh, it’s you, Mrs. Wilson!” she exclaimed. “Please to come in. How have you been getting on? And how is baby?”
The woman took a seat by the kitchen fire, and began to talk in a whining, mendicant tone. From the conversation it appeared that this was by no means the first time she had visited Lilian and sought to arouse her compassion; the stories she poured forth consisted in a great measure of excuses for not having profited more substantially by the help already given her. The eye and the ear of experience would readily enough have perceived in Mrs. Wilson a very coarse type of impostor, and even Lilian, though showing a face of distress at what she heard, seemed to hesitate in her replies and to entertain troublesome doubts. But the objection she ventured to make to a flagrant inconsistency in the tale called forth such loud indignation, such a noisy mixture of insolence and grovelling entreaty, that her moral courage gave way and Mrs. Wilson whined for another quarter of an hour in complete security from cross-examination. In the end Lilian brought out her purse and took from it half-a-sovereign.
“Now, if I give you this, Mrs. Wilson, I do hope to have a better account”——
Her admonitions were cut short, and with difficulty she managed to obtain hearing for a word or two of what was meant for grave counsel whilst taking leave of her visitor. Mrs. Wilson, a gleam in her red eyes, vanished up the area steps, and left Lilian to meditate on the interview.
The evening passed on, and her solitude was undisturbed. When dinner-time came, she sat down to the wing of a cold chicken and a thimbleful of claret much diluted; the repast was laid out with perfection of neatness, and at its conclusion she cleared the table like the handiest of parlour-maids. Whatever she did was done gracefully; she loved order, and when alone was no less scrupulous in satisfying her idea of the becoming than when her actions were all observed.
After dinner, she played a little on the piano. Here, as over her book in the afternoon, the absent fit came upon her. Her fingers had rested idly on the keyboard for some minutes, when they began to touch solemn chords, and at length there sounded the first notes of a homely strain, one of the most familiar of the Church’s hymns. It ceased abruptly; Lilian rose and went to another part of the room.
A few minutes later her ear caught the sound for which she was now waiting—that of a latch-key at the front door. She stepped quickly out into the passage, where the lamp-light fell upon a tall and robust man with dark, comely, bearded visage.
“Poor little girl!” he addressed her, affectionately, as he pulled off his overcoat. “I couldn’t help it, Lily; bound to stay.”
“Never mind!” was her laughing reply, as she stood on tip-toe and drew down his face to hers. “I was disappointed, but it’s as well you didn’t come to dinner. Sarah had to go away this morning.”
“Oh! How’s that? How have you managed then?”
They passed into the front room, and Quarrier repeated his inquiries.
“She had a letter from Birmingham,” Lilian explained. “Her brother has been all but killed in some dreadful accident, and he’s in a hospital. I saw she wished to go—so I gave her some money and sent her off as soon as possible. Perhaps it was her only chance of seeing him alive, Denzil.”
“Yes, yes of course you did right,” he answered, after a moment’s hesitation.
“I knew you wouldn’t mind a dinner of my cooking—under the circumstances.”
“But what are we to do? You can’t take her place in the kitchen till she comes back.”
“I’ll get some one for a few days.”
“But, confound it! how about to-morrow morning? It’s very awkward”——
“Oh, I shall easily manage.”
“What?—go down at eight o’clock and light fires! Hang it, no! All right; I’ll turn out and see to breakfast. But you must get another girl; a second servant, I mean. Yes, you ought really to have two. Get a decent cook.”
“Do you think it necessary?”
Quarrier was musing, a look of annoyance on his face.
“It couldn’t have happened more inconveniently,” he said, without regard to Lilian’s objection. “I had better tell you at once, Lily: I’ve asked a friend of mine to come and dine with us to-morrow.”
She started and looked at him with anxious eyes.
“Yes; Glazzard—the man who spoke to me at Kew Station the other day—you remember?”
Lilian seated herself by the piano and stroked the keys with the tips of her fingers. Standing on the hearth-rug, her companion watched her closely for a moment; his forehead was wrinkled, and he did not seem quite at ease.
“Glazzard is a very good fellow,” he pursued, looking about the room and thrusting his hands into his trouser-pockets. “I’ve known him since I was a boy—a well-read man, thoughtful, clever. A good musician; something more than an amateur with the violin, I believe. An artist, too; he had a ‘bust in the Academy a few years ago, and I’ve seen some capital etchings of his.”
“A universal genius!” said Lilian, with a forced laugh.
“Well, there’s no doubt he has come very near success in a good many directions. Never quite succeeded; there’s the misfortune. I suppose he lacks perseverance. But he doesn’t care; takes everything with a laugh and a joke.”
He reached for the evening newspaper, and glanced absently over the columns. For a minute or two there was silence.
“What have you told him?” Lilian asked at length, in an undertone.
“Why, simply that I have had reasons for keeping my marriage secret.”
He spoke in a blunt, authoritative way, but with his usual kindly smile.
“I thought it better,” he added, “after that chance meeting the other day. He’s a fellow one can trust, I assure you. Thoroughly good-hearted. As you know, I don’t readily make friends, and I’m the last man to give my confidence to any one who doesn’t deserve it. But Glazzard and I have always understood each other pretty well, and—at all events, he knows me well enough to be satisfied with as much as I choose to tell him.”
Quarrier had the air of a man who, without any vulgar patronage, and in a spirit of abundant good-nature, classifies his acquaintance in various degrees of subordination to himself. He was too healthy, too vigorous of frame and frank in manner to appear conceited, but it was evident that his experience of life had encouraged a favourable estimate of his own standing and resources. The ring of his voice was sound; no affectation or insincerity marred its notes. For all that, he seemed just now not entirely comfortable; his pretence of looking over the paper in the intervals of talk was meant to cover a certain awkwardness in discussing the subject he had broached.
“You don’t object to his coming, Lily?”
“No; whatever you think best, dear.”
“I’m quite sure you’ll find him pleasant company. But we must get him a dinner, somehow. I’ll go to some hotel to-morrow morning and put the thing in their hands; they’ll send a cook, or do something or other. If the girl had been here we should have managed well enough; Glazzard is no snob.—I want to smoke; come into my study, will you? No fire? Get up some wood, there’s a good girl, we’ll soon set it going. I’d fetch it myself, but I shouldn’t know where to look for it.”
A flame was soon roaring up the chimney in the little back room, and Quarrier’s pipe filled the air with fragrant mist.
“How is it,” he exclaimed, settling in the arm-chair, “that there are so many beggars in this region? Two or three times this last week I’ve been assailed along the street. I’ll put a stop to that; I told a great hulking fellow to-night that if he spoke to me again (it was the second time) I would take the trouble of marching him to the nearest police station.”
“Poor creatures!” sighed Lilian.
“Pooh! Loafing blackguards, with scarcely an exception! Well, I was going to tell you: Glazzard comes from my own town, Polterham. We were at the Grammar School there together; but he read AEschylus and Tacitus whilst I was grubbing over Eutropius and the Greek declensions.”
“Is he so much older then? He seemed to me”——
“Six years older—about five-and-thirty. He’s going down to Polterham on Saturday, and I think I shall go with him.”
“Go with him? For long?”
“A week, I think. I want to see my brother-in-law. You won’t mind being left alone?”
“No; I shall do my best to keep in good spirits.”
“I’ll get you a batch of new books. I may as well tell you, Liversedge has been persuaded to stand as Liberal candidate for Polterham at the next election. It surprised me rather; I shouldn’t have thought he was the kind of fellow to go in for politics. It always seemed to be as little in his line as it is in mine.”
“And do you wish to advise him against it?”
“Oh no; there’s no harm in it. I suppose Beaconsfield and crew have roused him. I confess I should enjoy helping to kick them into space. No, I just want to talk it over with him. And I owe them a visit; they took it rather ill that I couldn’t go with them to Ireland.”
Lilian sat with bent head. Casting a quick glance at her, Quarrier talked on in a cheerful strain.
“I’m afraid he isn’t likely to get in. The present member is an old fogey called Welwyn-Baker; a fat-headed Tory; this is his third Parliament. They think he’s going to set up his son next time—a fool, no doubt, but I have no knowledge of him. I’m afraid Liversedge isn’t the man to stir enthusiasm.”
“But is there any one to be made enthusiastic on that side?” asked Lilian.
“Well, it’s a town that has changed a good deal of late years. It used to be only an agricultural market, but about twenty years ago a man started a blanket factory, and since then several other industries have shot up. There’s a huge sugar-refinery, and a place where they make jams. That kind of thing, you know, affects the spirit of a place. Manufacturers are generally go-ahead people, and mill-hands don’t support high Tory doctrine. It’ll be interesting to see how they muster. If Liversedge knows how to go to work”—he broke into laughter. “Suppose, when the time comes, I go down and harangue the mob in his favour?”
Lilian smiled and shook her head.
“I’m afraid you would be calling them ‘the mob’ to their faces.”
“Well, why not? I dare say I should do more that way than by talking fudge about the glorious and enlightened people. ‘Look here, you blockheads!’ I should shout, ‘can’t you see on which side your interests lie? Are you going to let England be thrown into war and taxes just to please a theatrical Jew and the howling riff-raff of London?’ I tell you what, Lily, it seems to me I could make a rattling good speech if I gave my mind to it. Don’t you think so?”
“There’s nothing you couldn’t do,” she answered, with soft fervour, fixing her eyes upon him.
“And yet I do nothing—isn’t that what you would like to add?”
“Oh, but your book is getting on!”
“Yes, yes; so it is. A capital book it’ll be, too; a breezy book—smelling of the sea-foam! But, after all, that’s only pen-work. I have a notion that I was meant for active life, after all. If I had remained in the Navy, I should have been high up by now. I should have been hoping for war, I dare say. What possibilities there are in every man!”
He grew silent, and Lilian, her face shadowed once more, conversed with her own thoughts.
In a room in the west of London—a room full of pictures and bric-a-brac, of quaint and luxurious furniture, with volumes abundant, with a piano in a shadowed corner, a violin and a mandoline laid carelessly aside—two men sat facing each other, their looks expressive of anything but mutual confidence. The one (he wore an overcoat, and had muddy boots) was past middle age, bald, round-shouldered, dressed like a country gentleman; upon his knees lay a small hand-bag, which he seemed about to open, He leaned forward with a face of stern reproach, and put a short, sharp question:
“Then why haven’t I heard from you since my nephew’s death?”
The other was not ready with a reply. Younger, and more fashionably attired, he had assumed a lounging attitude which seemed natural to him, though it served also to indicate a mood of resentful superiority. His figure was slight, and not ungraceful; his features—pale, thin, with heavy nose, high forehead—were intellectual and noteworthy, but lacked charm.
“I have been abroad till quite recently,” he said at length, his fine accent contrasting with that of the questioner, which had a provincial note. “Why did you expect me to communicate with you?”
“Don’t disgrace yourself by speaking in that way, Mr. Glazzard!” exclaimed the other, his voice uncertain with strong, angry feeling. “You know quite well why I have come here, and why you ought to have seen me long ago!”
Thereupon he opened the bag and took out a manuscript-book.
“I found this only the other day among Harry’s odds and ends. It’s a diary that he kept. Will you explain to me the meaning of this entry, dated in June of last year: ‘Lent E. G. a hundred pounds’?”
Glazzard made no answer, but his self-command was not sufficient to check a quivering of the lips.
“There can be no doubt who these initials refer to. Throughout, ever since my nephew’s intimacy with you began, you are mentioned here as ‘E. G.’ Please to explain another entry, dated August: ‘Lent E. G. two hundred pounds.’ And then again, February of this year: ‘Lent E. G. a hundred and fifty pounds’—and yet again, three months later: ‘Lent E. G. a hundred pounds’—what is the meaning of all this?”
“The meaning, Mr. Charnock,” replied Glazzard, “is indisputable.”
“You astound me!” cried the elder man, shutting up the diary and straightening himself to an attitude of indignation. “Am I to understand, then, that this is the reason why Harry left no money? You mean to say you have allowed his relatives to believe that he had wasted a large sum, whilst they supposed that he was studying soberly in London”——
“If you are astounded,” returned the other, raising his eyebrows, “I certainly am no less so. As your nephew made note of these lendings, wasn’t he equally careful to jot down a memorandum when the debt was discharged?”
Mr. Charnock regarded him fixedly, and for a moment seemed in doubt.
“You paid back these sums?”
“With what kind of action did you credit me?” said Glazzard, quietly.
The other hesitated, but wore no less stern a look.
“I am obliged to declare, Mr. Glazzard, that I can’t trust your word. That’s a very strong thing to have to say to a man such as I have thought you—a man of whom Harry always spoke as if there wasn’t his like on earth. My acquaintance with you is very slight; I know very little indeed about you, except what Harry told me. But the man who could deliberately borrow hundreds of pounds from a lad only just of age—a simple, trustful, good-natured country lad, who had little but his own exertions to depend upon—such a man will tell a lie to screen himself! This money was not paid back; there isn’t a word about it in the diary, and there’s the fact that Harry had got rid of his money in a way no one could explain. You had it, and you have kept it, sir!”
Glazzard let his eyes stray about the room. He uncrossed his legs, tapped on the arm of his easy-chair, and said at length:
“I have no liking for violence, and I shall try to keep my temper. Please to tell me the date of the last entry in that journal.”
Mr. Charnock opened the book again, and replied at once:
“June 5th of this year—1879.”
“I see. Allow me a moment.” He unlocked a drawer in a writing-table, and referred to some paper. “On the 1st of June—we were together the whole day—I paid your nephew five hundred and fifty pounds in bank-notes. Please refer to the diary.”
“You were together on that day, but there is no note of such a transaction. ‘With E. G. Much talk about pictures, books, and music—delightful!’ That’s all.”
“Have you added up the sums mentioned previously?”
“Yes. They come to what you say. How did it happen, Mr. Glazzard, that you had so large a sum in bank-notes? It isn’t usual.”
“It is not unheard of, Mr. Charnock, with men who sometimes play for money.”
“What! Then you mean to tell me that Harry learnt from you to be a gambler?”
“Certainly not. He never had the least suspicion that I played.”
“And pray, what became of those notes after he received them?”
“I have no idea. For anything I know, you may still find the money.”
Mr. Charnock rose from his seat.
“I see,” he said, “that we needn’t talk any longer. I don’t believe your story, and there’s an end of it. The fact of your borrowing was utterly disgraceful; it shows me that the poor boy had fallen in a trap, instead of meeting with a friend who was likely to guide and improve him. You confess yourself a gambler, and I go away with the conviction that you are something yet worse.”
Glazzard set his lips hard, but fell back into the lounging attitude.
“The matter doesn’t end here,” went on his accuser, “be sure of that! I shall light upon evidence sooner or later. Do you know, sir, that Harry had a sister, and that she earns her own living by giving lessons? You have robbed her—think it over at your leisure. Why, less than a fortnight after that day you and he spent together—the 1st of June—the lad lay dying; yet you could deliberately plan to rob him. Your denial is utterly vain; I would pledge my life on the charge! I read guilt in your face when I entered—you were afraid of me, Mr. Glazzard! I understand now why you never came to see the lad on his death-bed, though he sent for you—and of course I know why he was anxious to speak to you. Oh, you have plenty of plausible excuses, but they are lies! You felt pretty sure, I dare say, that the lad would not betray you; you knew his fine sense of honour; you calculated upon it. All your conduct is of a piece!”
“Mr. Charnock, please to leave me.—I oughtn’t to have borrowed that money; but having paid it back, I can’t submit to any more of your abuse. My patience has its limits.”
“I am no brawler,” replied the other, “and I can do no good by talking to you. But if ever I come across any of your acquaintances, they shall know, very plainly, what opinion I have of you. Prosecute me for slander, Mr. Glazzard, if you dare—I desire nothing better!”
And Mr. Charnock went hurriedly from the room.
For several minutes Glazzard kept the same attitude, his eyes fixed on the floor, one hand behind his back, the other thrust into his waistcoat. Then he uttered an inarticulate exclamation, and walked with hurried, jerky step across the room; his facial muscles quivered ceaselessly, distorting the features into all manner of grotesque and ugly expressions. Again the harsh sound escaped him, and again he changed his place as though impelled by a sudden pain. It was a long time before he took a seat; on doing so, he threw up his feet, and rested them against the side of the fireplace. His hands were thrust into his trouser-pockets, and his head fell back, so that he stared at the ceiling. At one moment he gave out a short mocking laugh, but no look of mirth followed the explosion. Little by little he grew motionless, and sat with closed eyes.
From the walls about him looked down many a sweet and noble countenance, such as should have made the room a temple of serenity. Nowhere was there a token of vulgar sensualism; the actress, the ballet-nymph had no place among these chosen gems of art. On the dwarf book-cases were none but works of pure inspiration, the best of old and new, the kings of intellect and their gentlest courtiers. Fifteen years had gone to the adorning of this sanctuary; of money, no great sum, for Glazzard had never commanded more than his younger-brother’s portion of a yearly five hundred pounds, and all his tastes were far from being represented in the retreat where he spent his hours of highest enjoyment and endeavour. Of late he had been beset by embarrassments which a man of his stamp could ill endure: depreciation of investments, need of sordid calculation, humiliating encounters. To-day he tasted the very dregs of ignoble anguish, and it seemed to him that he should never again look with delight upon a picture, or feast his soul with music, or care to open a book.
A knock at the door aroused him. It was a civil-tongued serving-woman who came to ask if he purposed having luncheon at home to-day. No; he was on the point of going forth.
Big Ben was striking twelve. At a quarter-past, Glazzard took a cab which conveyed him to one of the Inns of Court. He ascended stairs, and reached a door on which was inscribed the name of Mr. Stark, Solicitor. An office-boy at once admitted him to the innermost room, where he was greeted with much friendliness by a short, stout man, with gleaming visage, full lips, chubby hands.
“Well, what is it now?” inquired the visitor, who had been summoned hither by a note that morning.
Mr. Stark, with an air of solemnity not wholly jocose, took his friend’s arm and led him to a corner of the room, where, resting against a chair-back, was a small ill-framed oil painting.
“What have you to say to that?”
“The ugliest thing I’ve seen for a long time.”
“But—but—” the solicitor stammered, with indignant eagerness—”but do know whose it is?”
The picture represented a bit of country road, with a dung-heap, a duck-pond, a pig asleep, and some barn-door fowls.
“I know whose you think it is,” replied Glazzard, coldly. His face still had an unhealthy pallor, and his eyes looked as if they had but just opened after the oppression of nightmare. “But it isn’t.”
“Come, come, Glazzard! you are too dictatorial, my boy.”
Mr. Stark kept turning a heavy ring upon his finger, showing in face and tone that the connoisseur’s dogmatism troubled him more than he wished to have it thought.
“Winterbottom warrants it,” he added, with a triumphant jerk of his plump body.
“Then Winterbottom is either cheating or cheated. That is no Morland; take my word for it. Was that all you wanted me for?”
Mr. Stark’s good-nature was severely tried. Mental suffering had made Glazzard worse than impolite; his familiar tone of authority on questions of art had become too frankly contemptuous.
“You’re out of sorts this morning,” conjectured his legal friend. “Let Morland be for the present. I had another reason for asking you to call, but don’t stay unless you like.”
Glazzard looked round the office.
“Well?” he asked, more gently.
“Quarrier tells me you are going down to Polterham. Any special reason?”
“Yes. But I can’t talk about it.”
“I was down there myself last Sunday. I talked politics with the local wiseacres, and—do you know, it has made me think of you ever since?”
Mr. Stark consulted his watch.
“I’m at leisure for just nineteen minutes. If you care to sit down, I have an idea I should like to put before you.”
The visitor seated himself and crossed his legs. His countenance gave small promise of attention.
“You know,” resumed Mr. Stark, leaning forward and twiddling his thumbs, “that they’re hoping to get rid of Welwyn-Baker at the next election?”
“What of that?”
“Toby Liversedge talks of coming forward—but that won’t do.”
The solicitor bent still more and tapped his friend’s knee.
“Glazzard, here is your moment. Here is your chance of getting what you want. Liversedge is reluctant to stand; I know that for certain. To a more promising man he’ll yield with pleasure.—St! st! listen to me!—you are that man. Go down; see Toby; see the wiseacres and wire-pullers; get your name in vogue! It’s cut out for you. Act now, or never again pretend that you want a chance.”
A smile of disdain settled upon Glazzard’s lips, but his eyes had lost their vacancy.
“On the Radical side?” he asked, mockingly. “For Manchester and Brummagem?”
“For Parliament, my dear boy! For Westminster, St. Stephen’s, distinction, a career! I should perhaps have thought of your taking Welwyn-Baker’s place, but there are many reasons against it. You would lose the support of your brother and all his friends. Above all, Polterham will go Liberal—mark my prediction!”
“I doubt it.”
“I haven’t time to give you all my reasons. Dine with me this evening, will you?”
“Can’t. Engaged to Quarrier.”
“All right!” said the latter. “To-morrow, then?”
“Yes, I will dine to-morrow.”
Mr. Stark jumped up.
“Think of it. I can’t talk longer now; there’s the voice of a client I’m expecting. Eight sharp tomorrow!”
Glazzard took his leave.
Like so many other gentlemen whose function in the world remains indefinite, chiefly because of the patrimony they have inherited, Denzil Quarrier had eaten his dinners, and been called to the Bar; he went so far in specification as to style himself Equity barrister. But the Courts had never heard his voice. Having begun the studies, he carried them through just for consistency, but long before bowing to the Benchers of his Inn he foresaw that nothing practical would come of it. This was his second futile attempt to class himself with a recognized order of society. Nay, strictly speaking, the third. The close of his thirteenth year had seen him a pupil at Polterham Grammar School; not an unpromising pupil by any means, but with a turn for insubordination, much disposed to pursue with zeal anything save the tasks that were set him. Inspired by Cooper and Captain Marryat, he came to the conclusion that his destiny was the Navy, and stuck so firmly to it that his father, who happened to have a friend on the Board of Admiralty, procured him a nomination, and speedily saw the boy a cadet on the “Britannia.” Denzil wore Her Majesty’s uniform for some five years; then he tired of the service and went back to Polterham to reconsider his bent and aptitudes.
His father no longer dwelt in the old home, but had recently gone over to Norway, where he pursued his calling of timber-merchant. Denzil’s uncle—Samuel Quarrier—busied in establishing a sugar-refinery in his native town, received the young man with amiable welcome, and entertained him for half a year. The ex-seaman then resolved to join his parents abroad, as a good way of looking about him. He found his mother on her death-bed. In consequence of her decease, Denzil became possessed of means amply sufficient for a bachelor. As far as ever from really knowing what he desired to be at, he began to make a show of interesting himself in timber. Perhaps, after all, commerce was his forte. This, then, might be called a second endeavour to establish himself.
Mr. Quarrier laughed at the idea, and would not take it seriously. And of course was in the right, for Denzil, on pretence of studying forestry, began to ramble about Scandinavia like a gentleman at large. Here, however, he did ultimately hit on a pursuit into which he could throw himself with decided energy. The old Norsemen laid their spell upon him; he was bitten with a zeal for saga-hunting, studied vigorously the Northern tongues, went off to Iceland, returned to rummage in the libraries of Copenhagen, began to translate the Heimskringla, planned a History of the Vikings. Emphatically, this kind of thing suited him. No one was less likely to turn out a bookworm, yet in the study of Norse literature he found that combination of mental and muscular interests which was perchance what he had been seeking.
But his father was dissatisfied; a very practical man, he saw in this odd enthusiasm a mere waste of time. Denzil’s secession from the Navy had sorely disappointed him; constantly he uttered his wish that the young man should attach himself to some vocation that became a gentleman. Denzil, a little weary for the time of his Sea-Kings, at length consented to go to London and enter himself as a student of law. Perhaps his father was right. “Yes, I need discipline—intellectual and moral. I am beginning to perceive my defects. There’s something in me not quite civilized. I’ll go in for the law.”
Yet Scandinavia had not seen the last of him. He was backwards and forwards pretty frequently across the North Sea. He kept up a correspondence with learned Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, and men of Iceland; when they came to England he entertained them with hearty hospitality, and searched with them at the British Museum. These gentlemen liked him, though they felt occasionally that he was wont to lay down the law when the attitude of a disciple would rather have become him.
He had rooms in Clement’s Inn, retaining them even when his abode, strictly speaking, was at the little house by Clapham Common. To that house no one was invited. Old Mr. Quarrier knew not of its existence; neither did Mr. Sam Quarrier of Polterham, nor any other of Denzil’s kinsfolk. The first person to whom Denzil revealed that feature of his life was Eustace Glazzard—a discreet, upright friend, the very man to entrust with such a secret.
It was now early in the autumn of 1879. Six months ago Denzil had lost his father, who died suddenly on a journey from Christiania up the country, leaving the barrister in London a substantial fortune.
This change of circumstances had in no way outwardly affected Denzil’s life. As before, he spent a good deal of his time in the rooms at Clement’s Inn, and cultivated domesticity at Clapham. He was again working in earnest at his History of the Vikings. Something would at last come of it; a heap of manuscript attested his solid progress.
To-day he had come to town only for an hour or two. Glazzard was to call at half-past six, and they would go together to dine with Lilian. In his report to her, Quarrier had spoken nothing less than truth. “The lady with whom you chanced to see me the other day was my wife. I have been married for a year and a half—a strictly private matter. Be so good as to respect my confidence.” That was all Glazzard had learnt; sufficient to excite no little curiosity in the connoisseur.
Denzil’s chambers had a marked characteristic; they were full of objects and pictures which declared his love of Northern lands and seas. At work he sat in the midst of a little museum. To the bear, the elk, the seal, he was indebted for comforts and ornaments; on his shelves were quaint collections of crockery; coins of historical value displayed themselves in cases on the walls; shoes and garments of outlandish fashion lay here and there. Probably few private libraries in England could boast such an array of Scandinavian literature as was here exhibited. As a matter of course the rooms had accumulated even more dirt than one expects in a bachelor’s retreat; they were redolent of the fume of many pipes.
When Glazzard tapped at the inner door and entered, his friend, who sat at the writing-table in evening costume, threw up his arms, stretched himself, and yawned noisily.
“Working at your book?” asked the other.
“No; letters. I don’t care for the Sea-Kings just now. They’re rather remote old dogs, after all, you know.”
“Distinctly, I should say.”
“A queer thing, on the whole, that I can stick so to them. But I like their spirit. You’re not a pugnacious fellow, I think, Glazzard?”
“No, I think not.”
“But I am, you know. I mean it literally. Every now and then I feel I should like to thrash some one. I read in the paper this morning of some son of a”——(Denzil’s language occasionally reminded one that he had been a sailor) “who had cheated a lot of poor servant-girls out of their savings. My fists itched to be at that lubber! There’s a good deal to be said for the fighting instinct in man, you know.”
“So thinks ‘Arry of the music-halls.”
“Well, we have heard before of an ass opening its mouth to prophesy. I tell you what: on my way here this afternoon I passed the office of some journal or other in the Strand, where they’re exhibiting a copy of their paper returned to them by a subscriber in Russia. Two columns are completely obliterated with the censor’s lamp-black,—that’s how it reaches the subscriber’s hands. As I stood looking at that, my blood rose to boiling-point! I could have hurrah’d for war with Russia on that one account alone. That contemptible idiot of a Czar, sitting there on his ant-hill throne, and bidding Time stand still!”
He laughed long and loud in scornful wrath.
“The Czar can’t help it,” remarked Glazzard, smiling calmly, “and perhaps knows nothing about it. The man is a slave of slaves.”
“The more contemptible and criminal, then!” roared Denzil. “If a man in his position can’t rule, he should be kicked out of the back-door of his palace. I have no objection to an autocrat; I think most countries need one. I should make a good autocrat myself—a benevolent despot.”
“We live in stirring times,” said the other, with a fine curl of the lips. “Who knows what destiny has in store for you?”
Quarrier burst into good-natured merriment, and thereupon made ready to set forth.
When they reached the house by Clapham Common, Denzil opened the door with his latch-key, talked loud whilst he was removing his overcoat, and then led the way into the sitting-room. Lilian was there; she rose and laid down a book; her smile of welcome did not conceal the extreme nervousness from which she was suffering. Quarrier’s genial contempt of ceremony, as he performed the introduction, allowed it to be seen that he too experienced some constraint. But the guest bore himself with perfect grace and decorum. Though not a fluent talker, he fell at once into a strain of agreeable chat on subjects which seemed likely to be of interest; his success was soon manifest in the change of Lilian’s countenance. Denzil, attentive to both, grew more genuinely at ease. When Lilian caught his eye, he smiled at her with warmth of approving kindness. It must have been a fastidious man who felt dissatisfied with the way in which the young hostess discharged her duties; timidity led her into no gaucherie, but was rather an added charm among the many with which nature had endowed her. Speech and manner, though they had nothing of the conventional adornment that is gathered in London drawing-rooms, were those of gentle breeding and bright intelligence; her education seemed better than is looked for among ladies in general. Glazzard perceived that she had read diligently, and with scope beyond that of the circulating library; the book with which she had been engaged when they entered was a Danish novel.
“Do you also look for salvation to the Scandinavians?” he asked.
“I read the languages—the modern. They have a very interesting literature of to-day; the old battle-stories don’t appeal to me quite so much as they do to Denzil.”
“You ought to know this fellow Jacobsen,” said Quarrier, taking up the novel. “’Marie Grubbe’ doesn’t sound a very aesthetic title, but the book is quite in your line—a wonderfully delicate bit of work.”
“Don’t imagine, Mrs. Quarrier,” pleaded Glazzard, “that I am what is called an aesthete. The thing is an abomination to me.”
“Oh, you go tolerably far in that direction!” cried Denzil, laughing. “True, you don’t let your hair grow, and in general make an ass of yourself; but there’s a good deal of preciosity about you, you know.”
Seeing that Mr. Glazzard’s crown showed an incipient baldness, the allusion to his hair was perhaps unfortunate. Lilian fancied that her guest betrayed a slight annoyance; she at once interposed with a remark that led away from such dangerous ground. It seemed to her (she had already received the impression from Quarrier’s talk of the evening before) that Denzil behaved to his friend with an air of bantering superiority which it was not easy to account for. Mr. Glazzard, so far as she could yet judge, was by no means the kind of man to be dealt with in this tone; she thought him rather disposed to pride than to an excess of humility, and saw in his face an occasional melancholy which inspired her with interest and respect.
A female servant (the vacancy made by Lilian’s self-denying kindness had been hastily supplied) appeared with summons to dinner. Mr. Glazzard offered an arm to his hostess, and Quarrier followed with a look of smiling pleasure.
Hospitality had been duly cared for. Not at all inclined to the simple fare which Denzil chose to believe would suffice for him, Glazzard found more satisfaction in the meal than he had anticipated. If Mrs. Quarrier were responsible for the menu (he doubted it), she revealed yet another virtue. The mysterious circumstances of this household puzzled him more and more; occasionally he forgot to speak, or to listen, in the intensity of his preoccupation; and at such moments his countenance darkened.
On the whole, however, he seemed in better spirits than of wont. Quarrier was in the habit of seeing him perhaps once a month, and it was long since he had heard the connoisseur discourse so freely, so unconcernedly. As soon as they were seated at table, Denzil began to talk of politics.
“If my brother-in-law really stands for Polterham,” he exclaimed, “we must set you canvassing among the mill-hands, Glazzard!”
“As much as to say,” remarked the other to Lilian, “that he would see them all consumed in furnaces before he stretched forth a hand to save them.”
“I know very well how to understand Denzil’s exaggerations,” said Lilian, with a smile to her guest.
“He thinks,” was Glazzard’s reply, “that I am something worse than a high Tory. It’s quite a mistake, and I don’t know how his belief originated.”
“My dear fellow, you are so naturally a Tory that you never troubled to think to what party you belong. And I can understand you well enough; I have leanings that way myself. Still, when I get down to Polterham I shall call myself a Radical. What sensible man swears by a party? There’s more foolery and dishonesty than enough on both sides, when you come to party quarrelling; but as for the broad principles concerned, why, Radicalism of course means justice. I put it in this way: If I were a poor devil, half starved and overworked, I should be a savage Radical; so I’ll go in for helping the poor devils.”
“You don’t always act on that principle, Denzil,” said Lilian, with a rallying smile. “Not, for instance, when beggars are concerned.”
“Beggars! Would you have me support trading impostors? As for the genuine cases—why, if I found myself penniless in the streets, I would make such a row that all the country should hear of it! Do you think I would go whining to individuals? If I hadn’t food, it would be the duty of society to provide me with it—and I would take good care that I was provided; whether in workhouse or gaol wouldn’t matter much. At all events, the business should be managed with the maximum of noise.”
He emptied his wine-glass, and went on in the same vigorous tone.
“We know very well that there are no such things as natural rights. Nature gives no rights; she will produce an infinite number of creatures only to torture and eventually destroy them. But civilization is at war with nature, and as civilized beings we have rights. Every man is justified in claiming food and shelter and repose. As things are, many thousands of people in every English county either lack these necessaries altogether, or get them only in return for the accursed badge of pauperdom. I, for one, am against this state of things, and I sympathize with the men who think that nothing can go right until the fundamental injustice is done away with.”
Glazzard listened with an inscrutable smile, content to throw in a word of acquiescence from time to time. But when the necessity of appeasing his robust appetite held Quarrier silent for a few minutes, the guest turned to Lilian and asked her if she made a study of political questions.
“I have been trying to follow them lately,” she replied, with simple directness.
“Do you feel it a grievance that you have no vote and no chance of representing a borough?”
“No, I really don’t.”
“I defy any one to find a dozen women who sincerely do,” broke in Denzil. “That’s all humbug! Such twaddle only serves to obscure the great questions at issue. What we have to do is to clear away the obvious lies and superstitions that hold a great part of the people in a degrading bondage. Our need is of statesmen who are bold enough and strong enough to cast off the restraints of party, of imbecile fears, of words that answer to no reality, and legislate with honest zeal for the general good. How many men are there in Parliament who represent anything more respectable than the interest of a trade, or a faction, or their own bloated person?”
“This would rouse the echoes in an East-end club,” interposed Glazzard, with an air of good-humoured jesting.
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