The Changeling - Walter Besant - ebook
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"Pray be seated, madam." The doctor offered his visitor a chair. Then he closed the door, with perhaps a more marked manner than one generally displays in this simple operation. "I am happy to inform you," he began, "that the arrangements—the arrangements," he repeated with meaning, "are now completed."

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The Changeling

By

Walter Besant

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER_I

CHAPTER_II

CHAPTER_III

CHAPTER_IV

CHAPTER_V

CHAPTER_VI

CHAPTER_VII

CHAPTER_VIII

CHAPTER_IX

CHAPTER_X

CHAPTER_XI

CHAPTER_XII

CHAPTER_XIII

CHAPTER_XIV

CHAPTER_XV

CHAPTER_XVI

CHAPTER_XVII

CHAPTER_XVIII

CHAPTER_XIX

CHAPTER_XX

CHAPTER_XXI

CHAPTER_XXII

CHAPTER_XXIII

CHAPTER_XXIV

CHAPTER_XXV

CHAPTER_XXVI

CHAPTER_XXVII

CHAPTER I.WAS IT SUBSTITUTION?

"Pray be seated, madam." The doctor offered his visitor a chair. Then he closed the door, with perhaps a more marked manner than one generally displays in this simple operation. "I am happy to inform you," he began, "that the arrangements—the arrangements," he repeated with meaning, "are now completed."

The lady was quite young—not more than twenty-two or so—a handsome woman, a woman of distinction. Her face was full of sadness; her eyes were full of trouble; her lips trembled; her fingers nervously clutched the arms of the chair. When the doctor mentioned the arrangements, her cheek flushed and then paled. In a word, she betrayed every external sign of terror, sorrow, and anxiety.

"And when can I leave this place?"

"This day: as soon as you please."

"The woman made no objections?"

"None. You can have the child."

"I have told you my reasons for wishing to adopt this child"—he had never asked her reasons, yet at every interview she repeated them: "my own boy is dead. He is dead." There was a world of trouble in the repetition of the word.

The doctor bowed coldly. "Your reasons, madam," he said, "are sufficient for yourself. I have followed your instructions without asking for your reasons. That is to say, I have found the kind of child you want: light hair and blue eyes, apparently sound and healthy; at all events, the child of a sound and healthy mother. As for your reasons, I do not inquire."

"I thought you might like——"

"They are nothing to do with me. My business has been to find a child, and to arrange for your adoption of it. I have therefore, as I told you, arranged with a poor woman who is willing to part with her child."

"On my conditions?"

"Absolutely. That is—she will never see the child again; she will not ask who takes the child, or where it is taken, or in what position of life it will be brought up. She accepts your assurance that the child will be cared for, and treated kindly. She fully consents."

"Poor creature!"

"You will give her fifty pounds, and that single payment will terminate the whole business."

"Terminate the whole business? Oh, it will begin the whole business!"

"There are many reasons for adoption," the doctor continued, returning to the point with which he had no concern. "I have read in books of substituting a child—introducing a child—for the sake of keeping a title, or an estate, or a family."

The lady answered as if she had not heard this remark. "The mother consents to sell her child! Poor creature!"

"She accepts your conditions. I have told you so. Go your way—she goes hers."

The lady reflected for a moment. "Tell me," she said,—"you are a man of science,—in such an adoption——"

"Or, perhaps, such a substitution," interrupted the doctor.

"Is there not danger of inherited vice, or disease?"

"Certainly there is. It is a danger which you must watch in educating the child. He may inherit a tendency to drink: guard against it by keeping him from alcohol of any kind. He may show physical weakness; watch him carefully. But nine-tenths of so-called hereditary disease or vice are due to example and conditions of life."

"If we do not know the character of the parents—they may be criminals. What if the child should inherit these instincts?"

The doctor, who had been standing, took a chair, and prepared himself to argue the point. He was a young man, with a strong jaw and a square forehead. He had a face and features of rude but vigorous handling; such a face as a noble life would make beautiful in age, and an ignoble life would make hideous. Every man has as many faces as there are years of his life, and we heed them not; yet each follows each in a long procession, ending with the pale and waxen face in the coffin—that solemn face which tells so much.

"There is," he said, "a good deal of loose talk about heredity. Some things external are hereditary—face, eyes, figure, stature, hands, certainly descend from father to son; some diseases, especially those of the nervous kind; some forms of taste and aptitude, especially those which are artistic. Things which are not natural, but acquired, are never hereditary—never. If the boy's father is the greatest criminal in the country, it won't hurt him a bit, because he is taken away too early to have observed or imitated. The sons are said to take after the mothers; that is, perhaps, because they have always got the models before them. In your case, you will naturally become the child's most important model. Later on, will come in the male influence. If there is, for instance, a putative father——"

"There will be, of course, my husband."

The doctor bowed again. Then there was a husband living. "He will become the boy's second model," he said. "In other words, madam, the vices of the boy's parents—if they have vices—will not affect him in the least. Gout, rheumatism, asthma, consumption,—all these things, and many more, a child may inherit; but acquired criminality, never. Be quite easy on that point."

"My desire is that the child may become as perfect a gentleman at all points as his—as my husband."

"Why should he not? He has no past to drag him down. You will train him and mould him as you please—exactly as you please."

"You have not told me anything about the mother, except that she is in want."

"Why should you learn her name, or she yours?"

"I have no desire to learn her name. I was thinking whether she is the kind of woman to feel the loss of her child."

The doctor, as yet inexperienced in the feminine nature, marvelled at this sympathy with the mother whose child the lady was buying.

"Well," he said, "she is a young woman—of respectable character, I believe; good looking; in her speech something of a cockney, if I understand that dialect."

"The more respectable she is, the more she will feel the loss of her child."

"Yes; but there is another consideration. This poor creature has a husband who has deserted her."

"Then her child should console her."

"Her husband is a comedian—actor—singing fellow,—a chap who asks for nothing but enjoyment. As for wife and children, they may look out for themselves. When I saw him, I read desertion in his face; in his wife's face, it was easy to read neglect."

"Poor creature!"

"Now he's gone—deserted her. Nothing will do but she must go in search of him. Partly for money to help her along, partly because the workhouse is her only refuge, she sells her baby."

The lady was silent for a while, then she sighed. "Poor creature! There are, then, people in the world as unhappy as I myself?"

"If that is any consolation, there are. Well, madam, you now know the whole history; and, as it doesn't concern you, nor the child, best forget it at once."

"Poor mother!"

She kept harping on the bereavement, as though Providence, and not she herself, was the cause.

"I have told her that the boy will be brought up in ease—affluence even"—the lady inclined her head—"and she is resigned."

"Thank you. And when——?"

"You would like to go up to London this afternoon? Well, I will myself bring the child to the railway station. Once more, as regards heredity. If the child should inherit his mother's qualities, he will be truthful and tenacious, or obstinate and perhaps rather stupid; if his father's, he will be artistic and musical, selfish, cold-hearted, conceited."

"He might inherit the better qualities of both."

"Ah, then he will be persevering, high-principled, a man of artistic feeling—perhaps of power,—ambitious, and desirous of distinction. I wish, madam, that he may become so perfect and admirable a young man." He rose. "I have only, I think, to receive the money which will start this poor woman on her wild-goose chase. Thank you. Ten five-pound notes. I will take care that the woman has it at once."

"For your own trouble, Dr. Steele?"

"My fee is three guineas. Thank you."

"I shall be on the platform or in the train at a quarter before three. Please look about for an Indian ayah, who will receive the child. You are sure that there will never be any attempt made to follow and discover my name?"

"As to discovery," he said, "you may rest quite easy. For my own part, my work lies in this slum of Birmingham; it is not likely that I shall ever get out of it. I am a sixpenny doctor; you are a woman of society: I shall never meet you. This little business will be forgotten to-morrow. If, in the future, by any accident I were to meet you, I should not know you. If I were to know you, I should not speak to you. Until you yourself give me leave, even if I should recognize you, I should not speak about this business."

"Thank you," she said coldly. "It is not, however, likely that you will be tempted."

He took up an open envelope lying on the table—it was the envelope in which the lady had brought the notes,—replaced them, and put them in his pocket. Then he opened the door for the lady, who bowed coldly, and went out.

**********************

A few days before this, the same lady, with an Indian ayah, was bending over a dying child. They sent for the nearest medical man. He came. He tried the usual things; they proved useless. The child must die.

The child was dead.

The child was buried.

The mother sat stupefied. In her hand she held a letter—her husband's latest letter. "In a day or two," he said, "my life's work will be finished. In a fortnight after you get this, I shall be at Southampton. Come to meet me, dear one, and bring the boy. I am longing to see the boy and the boy's mother. Kiss the boy for me;" and so on, and so on—always thinking of the boy, the boy, the boy! And the boy was dead! And the bereaved father was on his way home! She laid down the letter, and took up a telegram. Already he must be crossing the Alps, looking forward to meeting the boy, the boy, the boy!

And the boy was dead.

The ayah crouched down on a stool beside her mistress, and began whispering in her own language. But the lady understood.

As she listened her face grew harder, her mouth showed resolution.

"Enough," she said; "you have told me enough. You can be silent?—for my sake, for the sake of the sahib? Yes—yes—I can trust you. Let me think."

Presently she went out; she walked at random into street after street. She stopped, letting chance direct her, at a surgery with a red lamp, in a mean quarter. She read the name. She entered, and asked to see Dr. Steele, not knowing anything at all about the man.

She was received by a young man of five and twenty or so. She stated her object in calling.

"The child I want," she said, "should be something like the child I have lost. He must have light hair and blue eyes."

"And the age?"

"He must not be more than eighteen months or less than a year. My own child was thirteen months old. He was born on December 2, 1872."

"I have a large acquaintance in a poor neighbourhood," said the doctor. "The women of my quarter have many babies. If you will give me a day or two, I may find what you want." He made a note—"Light hair, blue eyes; birth somewhere near December 2, 1872,—age, therefore, about thirteen months."

At a quarter before three in the afternoon a woman, carrying a baby, stood inside the railway station at Birmingham. She was young, thinly clad, though the day was cold; her face was delicate and refined, though pinched with want and trouble. She looked at her child every minute, and her tears fell fast.

The doctor arrived, looked round, and walked up to her. "Now, Mrs. Anthony," he said, "I've come for the baby."

"Oh! If it were not for the workhouse I would never part with him."

"Come, my good woman, you know you promised."

"Take him," she said suddenly. She almost flung him in the doctor's arms, and rushed away.

Above the noise of the trains and the station, the doctor heard her sobbing as she ran out of the station.

"She'll soon get over it," he said. But, as has already been observed, the doctor was as yet inexperienced in the feminine heart.

**********************

About six o'clock that evening the lady who had received the baby had arrived at her house in Bryanston Square.

"Now," she said, when she had reached the nursery, "we will have a look at the creature—oh! the little gutter-born creature!—that is to be my own all the rest of my life."

The ayah threw back the wraps, and disclosed a lusty boy, about a year or fifteen months old.

The lady sat down by the table, and dropped her hands in her lap.

"Oh," she cried, "I could not tell him! It broke my heart to watch the boy on his deathbed: it would kill him—it would kill him—the child of his old age, his only child! To save my husband I would do worse things than this—far worse things—far worse things."

Among the child's clothes, which were clean and well kept, there was a paper. The lady snatched it up. There was writing on it. "His name"—the writing was plain and clear, not that of a wholly uneducated woman—"is Humphrey. His surname does not matter. It begins with 'W.'"

"Why," cried the lady, "Humphrey! Humphrey! My boy's own name! And his surname begins with 'W'—my boy's initial! If it should be my own boy!—oh! Ayah, my own boy come back again!"

The ayah shook her head sadly. But she changed the child's clothes for those of the dead child; and she folded up his own things, and laid them in a drawer.

"The doctor has not deceived me," said the lady. "Fair hair, blue eyes; eyes and hair the colour of my boy." The tears came into her eyes.

"He's a beautiful boy," said the nurse; "not a spot nor a blemish, and his limbs round and straight and strong. See how he kicks. And look—look! Why, if he hasn't got the chin—the sahib's chin!"

It was not much: a dimple, a hollow between the lower lip and the end of the chin.

"Strange! So he has. Do you think, nurse, the sahib, his father, will think that the child looks his age? He is to be a year and a quarter, you know."

The ayah laughed. "Men know nothing," she said.

In a day or two the supposed parent returned home. He was a man advanced in years, between sixty and seventy. He was tall and spare of figure. His features were strongly marked, the features of a man who administers and commands. His face was full of authority; his eyes were as keen as a hawk's. He stepped up the stairs with the spring of five and twenty, and welcomed his wife with the sprightliness of a bridegroom of that elastic age. The man was, in fact, a retired Indian. He had spent forty years or so in administrating provinces: he was a king retired from business, a sovereign abdicated, on whose face a long reign had left the stamp of kingcraft. It was natural that in the evening of his life this man should marry a young and beautiful girl; it was also quite natural that this girl should entertain, for a husband old enough to be her grandfather, an affection and respect which dominated her.

He held out both arms; he embraced his wife with the ardour of a young lover; he turned her face to the light.

"Lilias!" he murmured, "let me look at you. Why, my dear, you look pale—and worried! Is anything the matter?"

"Nothing—nothing—now you are home again."

"And the boy? Where is the boy?"

"He shall be brought in." The ayah appeared carrying the child. "Here he is; quite well—and strong—and happy. Your son is quite happy—quite happy——" Her voice broke. She sank into a chair, and fell into hysterical sobbing and weeping. "He is quite—quite—quite happy."

They brought cold water, and presently she became calmer. Then the father turned again to consider the boy.

"He looks strong and hearty; but he doesn't seem much bigger than when you carried him off six months ago."

"A little backward with his growth." The mother had now recovered. "But that's nothing. He's made a new start already. Feel his fingers. There's a grip! Your own living picture, Humphrey!"

"Ay, ay. Perhaps I would rather, for good looks, that he took after his mother. Blue eyes, fair hair, and the family dimple in the chin."

**********************

When the doctor was left alone, he took the envelope containing the bank-notes from his pocket, and threw it on his desk. Then he sat down, and began to think over the situation.

"What does she do it for?" he asked. "Her own child is dead. There is no doubt about that; her face is so full of trouble. She wants to deceive her husband: at least, I suppose so. She will keep that secret to herself. The ayah is faithful—that's pretty certain. There will be no blackmailing in that quarter. A fine face she has"—meaning the lady, not the ayah. "Hard and determined, though. I should like to see it soften. I wish she had trusted me. But there, one couldn't expect it of a woman of that temperament—cold, reserved, haughty; a countess, perhaps. It's like the old story-books. Somebody will be disinherited. This boy is going to do it. Nobody will ever find it out. And that's the way they build up their fine pedigrees!"

**********************

The doctor was quite wrong. Nobody was to be disinherited; nor was there an estate. This you must understand, to begin with. The rest I am going to tell you.

"No clue," the doctor continued. "She is quite safe, unless she were to meet me. No other clue. Nobody else knows." He took up the envelope, and observed that it had part of an address upon it. All he could read, however, was one word—"Lady." "Oho!" he said; "there is a title, after all. It looks as if the latter half were a 'W.' There's a conspiracy, and I'm a conspirator! Humph! She's a beautiful creature!"

He fell into meditation on that subject which is always interesting to mere man—the face of a woman. Then his thoughts naturally wandered off to the conversation he had held with that memorable face.

"I should like, if I could, to learn how this job will turn out from the hereditary point of view! Will that interesting babe take after his father? Will he astonish his friends by becoming a low comedian? Or will he take after his mother, and become a simple, honourable Englishman? Or will he combine the inferior qualities of both, and become a beautiful and harmonious blend, which may make him either a villain of the deeper dye, or a common cold-blooded man of the world, with a touch of the artist?"

CHAPTER II.THE ONLY WITNESS GONE.

One afternoon, about eighteen years later, certain mourning-coaches, returning home from a funeral, drew up before a house in Bryanston Square. There were three coaches. From the first descended a young man of twenty or thereabouts, still slight and boyish in figure. He had been sitting alone in the carriage.

From the second came a middle-aged man of the greatest respectability, to look at. He was so respectable, so eminently respectable, that he could not possibly be anything but a butler. With him was a completely respectable person of the other sex, who could be no other than a housekeeper.

In the third carriage there were two young maid-servants in black, and a boy in buttons. At the halting of the carriage they clapped their handkerchiefs to their eyes, because they knew what was expected on such an occasion; and they kept up this external show of grief until they had mounted the steps and the door was shut. The page, who was with them, had been weeping freely ever since they started; not so much from unavailing grief, as from the blackness of the ceremony, and the dreadfulcoffin, and the horror and terror and mystery of the thing. He went up the stairs snuffling, and so continued for the rest of the day.

The young gentleman mounted to the drawing-room, where his mother, sitting in a straight, high chair, more like an office-chair than one designed for a drawing-room, was dictating to a shorthand girl secretary. The table was covered with papers. In the back drawing-room two other girls were writing. For Lady Woodroffe was president of one society, chairman of committee of another, honorary secretary of a third; her letters and articles were on subjects and works of philanthropy, purity, rescue, white lilies, temperance, and education. Her platform advocacy of such works had placed her in the forefront of civilizing women; she was a great captain in Israel, a very Deborah, a Jael.

She was also, which certainly assisted her efforts, a very handsome woman still, perhaps austere: but then her eloquence was of the severe order. She appealed to the conscience, to duty, to responsibility, to honour. If sinners quailed at contemplating the gulf between themselves and the prophetess, who, like Jeremiah, had so little sympathy with those who slide backwards and enjoy the exercise, it was a perpetual joy to ladies of principle to consider an example so powerful.

She was dressed in black silk, but wore no widow's weeds; her husband, the first Sir Humphrey, had been dead four years.

The young gentleman threw himself into a chair. Lady Woodroffe nodded to her secretary, who gathered up her papers and retreated to the back drawing-room, closing the door.

"Well, mother," said the boy, carelessly, "we've buried the old woman."

"Yes. I hope you were not too much distressed, Humphrey. I am pleased that you went to the funeral, if only to gratify the servants."

"How could I refuse to attend her funeral?—an old servant like that. It's a beastly thing—a funeral,—and a beastly nuisance."

"We must not forget her services," the lady replied. "It was in return for those services that I kept her here, and nursed her through her old age. One does not encumber one's self with sick old women except in such cases as this."

"No, thank goodness." The young man was in no gracious mood. "Give me a servant who takes her wages and goes off, without asking for our gratitude."

"Still, she was your nurse—and a good nurse."

"Too ostentatious of her affection, especially towards the end."

"She was also"—Lady Woodroffe pursued her own thoughts, which was her way—"a silent woman; a woman who could be trusted, if necessary, with secrets—family secrets."

"Thank goodness, we've got none. From family secrets, family skeletons, family ghosts, good Lord, deliver us!"

"There are secrets, or skeletons, in every family, I suppose. Fortunately, we forget some, and we never hear of others. You are fortunate, Humphrey, that you are free from the vexation—or the shame—or the shock—of family secrets, which mean family scandals. Now, at all events, you are perfectly safe, because there is no one living who can create a family ghost for you, or provide you with a skeleton."

Humphrey laughed lightly. "Let the dead bury their dead," he replied. "So long as I know nothing about the skeleton, it can go on grinning in the cupboard, for aught I care.

"Did I tell you," the young man continued, after a pause, "of her last words?"

"What last words?"

"I thought I had told you. Curious words they were. I suppose her mind was wandering."

"Humphrey," said his mother, sharply, "what did she say? What words?"

"Well, they sent for me. It was just before the end. She was lying apparently asleep, her eyes shut. I thought she was going. The nurse was at the other end of the room, fussing with the tea-cups. Then she opened her eyes and saw me. She whispered, 'Low down, low down, Master Humphrey.' So I stooped down, and she said, 'Don't blame her, Master Humphrey. I persuaded her, and we kept it up, for your sake. Nobody suspects. All for your sake I kept it up,' then she closed her eyes, and opened them no more."

"What do you understand by those words, Humphrey?"

"Nothing. I cannot understand them. She was accusing herself, I suppose, of something—I know not what. What did she keep up? Whom did she persuade? But why should we want to know?"

"Wandering words. Nurses will tell you that no importance can be attached to the last words when the brain wanders. Well, Humphrey, while you were at the funeral I unlocked her drawers and examined the contents. I found that she had quite a large sum of money invested. One is not in good service for all these years without saving something. There is a little pile of photographs of yourself at various ages. I have put them aside for you, if you like to have them."

"I don't want them," he replied carelessly.

"I shall keep them, then. There is her wardrobe also. I believe she had nephews and nieces and cousins in her native village in India. All her possessions shall be sent out to them. Meanwhile, there is a little packet of things which she tied up a great many years ago, and has kept ever since. The sight of them caused me a strange shock. I thought they had been long destroyed. They revived my memories of a day—an event—certain days—when you were an infant."

"What things are these, then?"

"They were your own things—some of the things which you wore when you were a child in arms, not more than a few months old."

"Oh, they are not very interesting, are they?"

"Perhaps not." Lady Woodroffe had in her lap a small packet tied up in a towel or a serviette. She placed it on the table. "Humphrey, I always think, when I look at old things, of the stories they might tell, if they could, of the histories and the changes which might have happened."

"Well, I don't know, mother. I am very well contented with things as they are, though they might have given my father a peerage. As for thinking of what they might have been, why, I might, perhaps, have been born in a gutter."

"You might, Humphrey"—the widow laughed, which was an unwonted thing in her—"you certainly might. And you cannot imagine what you would be now, had you been born in a gutter."

"What's the good of asking, then?"

"Look at this bundle of your things."

"I don't want to look at them."

"No, I dare say not. But I do. They tell a story to me which they cannot tell to you. I am glad the old woman kept them."

Lady Woodroffe untied the parcel, and laid open the things.

"The story is so curious that I cannot help looking at the things. I have opened the bundle a dozen times to-day, since I found it. I believe I shall have to tell you that story some day, Humphrey, whether I like it or not."

"What story can there be connected with a parcel of socks and shoes?"

"To you, at present, none. To me, a most eventful story. The old nurse knew the story very well, but she never talked about it. See, Humphrey, the things are of quite coarse materials—one would think they were made for that gutter child we talked about."

Her son stooped and picked up a paper that had fallen on the floor.

"'His name is Humphrey,'" he read. "A servant's handwriting, one would think. What was the use of writing what everybody knew?"

"Perhaps some servant was practising the art of penmanship. Well"—she tied up the parcel again—"I shall keep these things myself."

She put the parcel on the table, and presently carried it to her room. Her son immediately forgot all about the old nurse's strange last words, and the parcel of clothes, and everything. This was not unnatural, because he presently went back to Cambridge, where there is very little sympathy with the sentiment of baby linen.

When the door closed upon her son, his mother sprang to her feet.

"Oh!" she clasped her hands. Can we put her thoughts into words—the thoughts that are so swift, into words that are so slow—the thoughts that can so feebly express the mind with words that are so imperfect? "I have never felt myself free until to-day. She is dead; she is buried. On her death-bed she kept the secret. She never wrote it down; she never told any one: had she written it I should have found it; had she told any one I should have heard of it before now. And all, as she said, for the sake of the boy. She meant her long silence. I feared that at the last, when she lay a-dying, she might have confessed. I sat in terror when I knew that the boy was at her death-bed. I thought that when Sir Humphrey died, and the boy succeeded, she might have confessed. But she did not. Good woman, and true! Never by a word, or by a look, or by a sigh, did she let me know that she remembered."

She breathed deeply, as if relieved from a great anxiety.

"I have thought it all over, day after day. There is nothing that can be found out now. The doctor would not recognize me. I suppose he is still slaving at Birmingham; he did not know my name. The mother never saw me. At last, I am free from danger! After all these years, I have no longer any fear."

Over the mantel hung a portrait of her late husband.

"Humphrey," she said, talking to it familiarly, "I did it for your sake. I could not bear that you should lose your boy. All for your sake—all for your sake I screened the child from you. At least you never knew that there is not—there has never been—the least touch of your nobility in the gutter child. He is mean; he is selfish. He has never done a kind action, or said a generous word. He has no friends, only companions. He has already all the vices, but is never carried away; he will become a sensualist, a cold and heartless sensualist. I am sorry, Humphrey, truly sorry, my most noble and honourable husband, that I have given you so unworthy a successor. Yet he is careful; he will cause no scandal. So far, my husband, your name is safe."

CHAPTER III.THE THREE COUSINS.

"Is it possible?" they repeated, gazing each upon each in the triangular fashion.

Every incident in life is a coincident. That is to say, nothing happens as one expects. The reason is that no one considers the outside forces, which are unseen; very few, indeed, take into consideration the inside forces, which are obvious. The trade of prophet has fallen into decay, because we no longer believe in him; we know that he cannot really prophesy the coincidence: to him, as to us, the future is the unexpected. Wise folk, therefore, go about prepared for anything: they carry an umbrella in July; they build more ships when peace is most profound. The unexpected, the coincidence, gives to life its chief charm: it relieves the monotony; it breaks the week, so to speak. Formerly it might take the form of invasion, a descent upon the coast: dwellers by the seaside enjoyed, therefore, the most exciting lives possible. To-day it comes by telegraph, by post, by postal express. The philosopher of tears says that the unexpected is always disagreeable; he of smiles says that, on the whole, he has received more good gifts unexpectedly than thwacks. Mostly however, the opinion of the multitude, which is always right, is summed up in the words of the itinerant merchant—the man with the barrow and the oranges. "We expex a shilling," he says, "and we gits tuppence."

"Is it possible?"

These three people had arisen and gone forth that morning expecting nothing, and lo! a miracle! For they were enriched, suddenly, and without the least expectation, by the discovery that they were all three of common kin. Imagine the boundless possibilities of newly recovered cousinship! No one knows what may come out of it—an augmentation of family pride, an increase of family griefs, the addition of sympathy with the lowly, the shame and honour of ancient scandals, more money perhaps, more influence perhaps. It may be a most fortunate event. On the other hand—— But for the moment, these three had not begun to consider the other side.

"Is it possible?" Well, it is sometimes best to answer a question by repeating it. The place was a country churchyard; the time, a forenoon in July. In the churchyard was a group of four. They were all young, and two of them were of one sex, and two were of the other.

The girls were the first to arrive. They entered by a gate opening into the churchyard from a small coppice on the north side.

One of the girls, evidently the leader, had in her face, her form, her carriage, something of Pallas Athênê. She was grave—the goddess, I believe, seldom laughed; she was one of those girls who can smile readily and pleasantly, but are not anxious to hear good stories, like the frivolous man at his club, and really saw very little to laugh at even in the unexpectedness of men—nothing, of course, in the ways of women. Her seriousness was sweet in the eyes of those who loved her—that is to say, of all who had the privilege of knowing her. Her head was large and shapely—a shapely head is a very lovely thing in woman. Her figure matched her head in being large and full. Her features were regular, her cheek was ample, like that of a certain bronze Venus in the Museum. Her hair was light in colour, and abundant, not of the feathery kind, but heavy, and easily coiled in classical fashion. Her eyes were of that dark blue which is wickedly said to accompany a deceitful nature. If this is ever true, it certainly was not true of Hilarie Woodroffe. She was dressed in white, as becomes a girl on a summer morning, with a rose at her throat for a touch of colour. As a child of her generation, she was naturally tall; and being, as she was, a girl of the highest refinement and culture after such an education as girls can now command, and being, moreover, much occupied with the difficulties and problems of the age, she bore upon her brow an undoubted stamp of intellectual endeavour. Twenty years ago, such a girl would have been impossible. If you are still, happily, so young that you can doubt this assertion, read the novels—the best and the worst—of that time.

Her companion showed in her face and her appearance more of Aphrodite than the sister goddess. She looked as sprightly as L'Allegra herself; of slighter figure than the other, she was one of those fortunate girls who attract by their manner more than by their beauty. Indeed, no one could call her beautiful; but many called her charming. Her grey eyes danced and sparkled; her lips were always smiling; her head was never still; her face was made for laughing and her eyes for joy; her hair was of the very commonest brown colour—every other kind of girl has that kind of hair, yet upon her it looked distinguished. The dress she wore—she had designed and made it herself—seemed craftily intended to set off her figure and her face and her eyes. In a word, she was one of those girls—a large class—who seem born especially for the delight and happiness of the male world. They are acting girls, singing girls, dancing girls, even stay-at-home girls; but always they delight their people or the public with their vivacity, and their cheerfulness, and their sympathy. By the side of the other girl she looked like an attendant nymph. I have always thought that it would be a pleasing thing to detach from Diana's train one of those attendant nymphs, whose undeveloped mind knew nothing but the narrow round of duty; to run breathlessly after the huntress, or to bathe with her in a cold mountain stream. I would take her away, and teach her other things, and make her separate and individual. But the fear of Dian has hitherto prevented me. Ladies-in-waiting, in other words, must have a dull time of it.

Both girls, of course, were strong, healthy, and vigorous: they thought nothing of twenty miles on a bicycle; they could row; they could ride; they