Although among his more recent writings, the author of The Dolly Dialogues has done some rather serious and careful work, there is no exaggeration in saying that in literarv technique and human interest and the various other qualities that go to make good fiction The Great Miss Driver is easily the biggest, best rounded, and altogether worthiest story he has ever written, and yet, the first thing you are apt to think of is that the germ idea of the story goes straight back to the Dolly Dialogues; that in a superficial way, yes and perhaps in a deeper way, too, there is a certain rather absurd similarity between them; just as though the author, having once made a pleasant little comedy out of a certain situation, had ever since been turning over in his mind the possibility of using it in a bigger and more serious way, until eventually he evolved the present volume. Not that Jennie Driver, heiress to Breysgate Priory, bears any close resemblance to Lady Mickleham beyond the very feminine desire for conquest,—any more than the Air. Austin of the one story is a close relative of Mr. Carter in the other. The resemblance lies in this, that both stories are told in the first person by the man who in his secret heart loves the woman of whom he writes, but knows that because he is poor, because he has the natural instinct of an old bachelor, because, also, she has given her heart elsewhere he must remain content to look upon her joys and sorrows in the capacity of a friend, and not that of a lover.
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The Great Miss Driver
Anthony Hope – His Life And Work
The Great Miss Driver
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
By Frederick Taber Cooper
It is a sufficiently pleasant task to undertake to write a brief appreciation of Mr. Anthony Hope. The prevailing urbanity of his manner, the sustained sparkle of his wit, the agreeable expectation that he arouses of something stimulating about to happen, largely disarm criticism. Besides, he does not seem to demand to be taken too seriously; he is not a preacher or reformer, he is not trying to revolutionize the world; he is too well pleased with men and women as they actually are, to desire to make them something different. In short, he is a suave and charming public entertainer, and like all wise entertainers he alters the character of his program in accordance with the fluctuations of public taste. And being both versatile and farsighted he is usually in the van of each new movement. The God in the Car, his story of gigantic land speculations in South Africa, with the Herculean figure whom he chooses to disguise under the name of " Juggernaut," appeared in 1894, thus antedating by five years The Colossus, by Morley Roberts. Phroso, with its romantic setting among the islands of modern Greece, anticipated by a year Mr. E. F. Benson's analogous attempts, The Vintage and The Capsina. When the revival of the English historical novel was at its height, he succeeded once more in coming in ahead of his competitors, and Simon Dale, which appeared in 1898 and is a study of Restoration manners, with Nell Gwynn for its central interest, led the way for The Orange Girl by Sir Walter Besant, issued in 1899, and F. Frankfort Moore's Nell Gwynn, Comedian, which was not published until 1900.
But although he so cleverly adapts himself to the trend of public taste, Mr. Anthony Hope is not an innovator; he adapts but does not originate. Yet it is no uncommon thing to hear him erroneously praised for having created two new and widely popular types of fiction, the Zenda type and that of The Dolly Dialogues. Now, The Prisoner of Zenda, as we remember at once when we stop to think, is not the first up-to-date sword and buckler story of an imaginary principality; it was preceded, by nearly a decade, by Stevenson's Prince Otto; and the only reason that it so often gets the credit of being the forerunner of its class is simply because it was done with a defter, lighter touch, a more spontaneous inspiration. Similarly, The Dolly Dialogues are not the first attempt to imitate in English the sparkle and the piquancy of the Gallic dialogue in the form that " Gyp " and Henri Lavedan have made familiar. Although it is quite likely that at that time Anthony Hope had never even heard of it, The Story of the Gadsbys had at least three years the start of The Dolly Dialogues, and even though it was done with a heavier hand, it succeeded in getting a greater effectiveness out of the type.
But, after all, statistics of this sort, while interesting to a person of precise and inquiring mind, have little or no bearing upon the sources of enjoyment which a surprisingly large number of people undoubtedly find in Mr. Hope's writings. And there is variety enough among them to suit all tastes. He began in a spirit of blithe and irresponsible romanticism; he has gradually come, in his later years, to look upon life in a rather matter-of-fact way and to picture, by choice, the more serious problems of life in the social world to which he belongs. Yet his novels, even the most ambitious of them, never suggest the ponderousness of a novel-with-a-purpose; he never forgets what is expected from a conscientious entertainer. And one reason why he so uniformly succeeds is that he is an exceedingly good craftsman; he has mastered the sheer mechanics of his art. It is never wise for a novelist, whatever his literary creed may be, to be wantonly scornful of technique. There are just a few erratic geniuses who, because they have in them certain big thoughts that are struggling for utterance and apparently cannot be uttered in the simple usual way, boldly break the established rules and make new ones to suit their needs. To draw an offhand parallel, they are somewhat in the position of a man who, although untrained in public speaking, is listened to indulgently because of the importance of what he has to say. But your public entertainer enjoys no such license; and the lighter and more irresponsible his theme the more perfect must be his execution. And it is because Mr. Hope possesses that magic touch of the born story teller, that such delightful triflings as The Dolly Dialogues and The Indiscretion of the Duchess seem to linger in the memory with perennial youth, while many another weightier volume has faded out with the passage of years.
Accordingly, Mr. Hope belongs to that order of novelists about whom it is not only more enjoyable but more profitable to gossip genially than to weigh strictly in the balance. It is so easy to become garrulous over volumes that have worn well and afford many a pleasant hour of relaxation. It would be purposeless to take up serially each one of his many volumes, analyze and pigeonhole it according to its relative value. The better and the franker thing to do is to admit that there are certain volumes by Mr. Hope which gave the present writer genuine pleasure, and certain others that gave him no pleasure at all, and that those falling under the first division are the only ones which it seems worth while to discuss. In his earlier period the mere mention of Anthony Hope conjured up scenes of spirited adventure, reckless daring, gallant heroes combining the good breeding, the patrician ease, the assured manner of the better class of young Englishmen possessing the double advantage of birth and education, who, nevertheless, despite their studied reserve and immaculateness of dress, are plunged by a whim of fate into adventures of extraordinary daring and sublime audacity, adventures that would have taxed the prowess of Dumas's Immortal Three. It is a clever formula, this trick of taking certain types of familiar everyday people straight out of prosaic actuality and compelling them, whether they will or no, to perform romantic deeds against a romantic background. This peculiar combination was certainly a happy thought. It appealed to that latent thirst for adventure which we almost all possess; it unconsciously flattered the reader with a new sense of daring, a feeling that he too, if thus suddenly and surprisingly transported into Zendaland, might similarly rise to the occasion and achieve great deeds. There is no purpose served by analyzing once again the story of The Prisoner of Zenda. It is one of those stories the artificiality of which stands out glaringly the moment one starts to lay its bones bare.
Any story which depends upon the chance resemblance of two human beings, a resemblance so close, so misleading, that even the wife of one of the two is at a loss to distinguish them, takes on, when stated briefly, apart from the glamour of the tale itself, an air of palpable falsity to life. And yet the fact remains that tens of thousands of readers have lost themselves, forgotten time and space, in their utter absorption in the dilemma of the Princess Flavia, who finds in Rudolph Rassendyl all the qualities which might have made it possible for her to love her husband, if only he had been as close a replica of Rassendyl morally as he was physically.
I do not mind admitting that personally I revert more frequently to The Dolly Dialogues than to any other volume by Mr. Hope. This is not merely because of the delicate touch and epigrammatic neatness for which they have been so universally praised. Superficially considered they are a series of encounters between a sparkling and fascinating little lady and a sedate and nimble-witted gentleman, whom it is insinuated that the Lady Dolly has jilted. Now, the real fascination about these brilliant exchanges of repartee lies chiefly in the subtle and yet elusive implications that we are always on the point of reading between the lines, and yet never quite get in their entirety. That Mr. Carter has long been a worshiper at the shrine of Lady Dolly, that he has many a time felt a pang of regret that his fortune in life has made him ineligible, that he considers her husband not half grateful enough to Providence and that his own assumed air of sentimental resignation has in it a little touch of genuine regret, all this we get pretty clearly. And yet, we are well aware, all the time, that Mr. Carter, in spite of an occasional twinge of envy, would not change his condition if he could; that, although he may not be precisely aware of it, he is already confirmed in his bachelor habits; that he likes his freedom from responsibility, his harmless, unprofitable daily routine, his favorite corner in his favorite club, his innocent philandering with various young women, married and unmarried. He may, at times, deceive the Lady Dolly into commiserating him and blaming herself as a thoughtless coquette, but never for very long at a time. The whole thing is a sort of grown-up game of make-believe in which the players get a curious transitory, almost illogical enjoyment in feigning broken hearts and blighted lives. And yet there is just enough truth underlying it all to suggest that Mr. Hope was capable of more serious work than he had yet done. There was, for instance, everywhere a pervading suggestion of the infinite number of contradictory motives and impulses that determine every human action, and the impossibility which every man and woman must admit to themselves of deciding just how much gladness and how much regret is entailed in every least little thing that they do.
Almost without warning Mr. Hope proved that the vague promise of more serious work was well founded, by producing what, I think, the sober judgment of posterity will recognize as his most ambitious and most enduring work, Quisante. Alexander Quisante, from whom the volume takes its name, is not an Englishman either by birth or ancestry. He comes of antecedents almost unknown beyond the fact that they are a mixture of French and Spanish. With scanty means he comes, an absolute outsider, preparing to lay siege to the political and social world of London. In every way he finds himself handicapped. The foreordained course of education through which the English ruling classes pass as a matter of course and by which their prejudices and points of view are determined, has not been his privilege. In addition to this he lacks that inborn refinement which sometimes makes up for good breeding and social experience. His taste is often exceedingly bad; his manner is alternately too subservient and too arrogant. Of the higher standards of morality he has no perception; he is the typical adventurer, unscrupulous, insincere, monumentally selfish. But, to offset all this, his intellect is quite extraordinary; his brain is an instrument marvelously under control, and he uses it at his pleasure, to bring the lesser intellects about him under his dominion. Above all, he has the gift of eloquence; and when he chooses to give full rein to his rhetorical powers, he can sway his audience at will, and thrill and sweep them with him through the whole gamut of human emotions. Of the men and women whom he meets, fully one-half are antagonized and repelled; the others give him an unquestioning, almost slavish devotion. But he has a personality which cannot leave negative results; it must breed love or hate.
The other character in the book who shares the central interest is Lady May Gaston, a woman who, by birth and training, participates in all those special privileges of rank and caste, all the traditions of her order from which Quisante is shut out. There is another man, one in her own class, who would be glad to make her his wife. He is in all respects the sort of man whom she is expected to marry; and she is not wholly indifferent to him. But she meets Quisante, and, from the first, comes under the spell of his dominant personality. There is much in him from which she shrinks. His social ineptitude, his faculty for doing the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, makes her shudder. Although fascinated, she is not blinded. She sees his vulgarities, she questions his sincerity, she even doubts whether he is deserving of her respect. Nevertheless, the spectacular, flamboyant brilliancy of the man dominates her better judgment, and in spite of her relatives' remonstrances, in spite of warnings from a member of Quisante's own family, she marries him, unable to resist the almost hypnotic spell cast over her by this man, who is something of a charlatan and something of a cad. The greater part of the book concerns itself with the story of the married life of this curiously ill-assorted couple; of his success in the public eye; of her gradual disillusionment, which, bitter though it is in its completeness, finds her somewhat apathetic, unable to feel the resentment that she knows she ought, unable to acknowledge that she regrets her choice. This, indeed, is the most interesting aspect of the book, the domination, mentally and morally, of a woman of rare sensitiveness and infinite possibilities by a man with whom companionship inevitably means deterioration.
The next of Mr. Anthony Hope's volumes, which personally appealed to the present writer, is entitled A Servant of the Public, and is enjoyable chiefly because of the tantalizing witchery of its heroine. Ora Pinsent is a young actress, who has taken London by storm. She has a husband somewhere, it is said, " whose name does not matter "; indeed, it matters so little that it does not prevent her from letting Ashley Mead make ardent love to her, one Sunday afternoon, though all the while she " preserves wonderfully the air of not being responsible for the thing, of neither accepting nor rejecting, of being quite passive, of having it just happen to her." Thus with a single pen stroke Mr. Hope has set the woman unmistakably before us. Throughout the book she practices the art of having things just happen to her, the art of dodging responsibility. With Ashley she drifts, dangerously one thinks, at first, until one sees how easily she checks his ardor when she chooses, with a nervous laugh, and a low whispered " Don't, don't make love to me any more now." She talks much solemn nonsense about her duty to the husband whose name does not matter, and about her intention to renounce Ashley, although one realizes that there is really nothing to renounce, nor ever will be. And when the time comes for her company to leave London and start on their American tour, here also she plays the passive role, neither accepting nor rejecting. It is only when the weary months of her absence are over and she comes back as the wife of her leading man, that Ashley begins to see her as she really is; only then that he feels her power over him has ceased; only then that he can say, " I no longer love her, but I wish to God I did! " It is not easy to convey an impression of a woman's charm, when it lies not in what she says, but in the way she says it; not in what she does, but in the way she does it. But this is precisely what Anthony Hope has done triumphantly in his portraiture of Ora Pinsent, Ora, with her upturned face, with its habitual expression of expecting to be kissed, is one of the heroines in contemporary fiction that will not easily be forgotten.
Helena's Path deserves something more than a passing word of commendation, for it is an excellent example of Mr. Hope's deftness in doing a very slight thing extremely well. It has an outward framework of actuality, the atmosphere of present day English country life; yet into this he has infused a certain spirit of old-time chivalry and homage that gives to his whole picture something of the grace and charm of a Watteau landscape. The whole theme of the volume, which is scarcely more than a novelette, concerns itself with a right of way. The hero's estates lie somewhere on the east coast of England; but between his land and the strip of beach where he and his fathers before him have for generations been in the habit of bathing lies the property which the heroine has recently purchased; and, unaware of any right of way, she closes up the gate through which it is his habit to pass for his daily swim. He writes courteously but firmly, insisting on his right. She answers in the same spirit, emphatically denying it. He refuses to be robbed of his legal rights, even by a pretty woman; she refuses to yield, at a command, what she would have graciously granted to a prayer. As neither side chooses to adopt legal measures, a state of mimic war ensues, in which he continues to invade the enemy's territory, while she continues to barricade and entrench. And all the while, although they have not once met face to face, each is quietly falling in love with the other, so that when finally honorable terms of peace are concluded, it is already a foregone conclusion that the whole dainty little comedy will end with oaths of fealty and bestowal of favors worthy of a knight and a lady of the olden times.
With the passage of years, however, the author of The Dotty Dialogues has tended to give us fewer and fewer of these dainty trifles and more and more of his serious and careful social studies. In this class belongs The Great Miss Driver, and there is no exaggeration in saying that since the publication of Quisante it is easily the biggest, best-rounded, and altogether worthiest book he has written. And yet, the first thing you are apt to think of is that the germ idea of the story goes straight back to The Dolly Dialogues; that in a superficial way, yes, and perhaps in a deeper way, too, there is a certain rather absurd similarity between them; just as though the author, having once made a pleasant little comedy out of a certain situation, had ever since been turning over in his mind the possibility of using it in a bigger and more serious way, until eventually he evolved the present volume. Not that Jennie Driver, heiress to Breysgate Priory, bears any close resemblance to Lady Mickleham beyond the very feminine desire for conquest, any more than the Mr. Austin of the one story is a close relative of Mr. Carter in the other. The resemblance lies in this, that both stories are told in the first person by the man who in his secret heart loves the woman of whom he writes, but knows that because he is poor, because he has the natural instinct of an old bachelor, because, also, she has given her heart elsewhere, he must remain content to look upon her joys and sorrows in the capacity of a friend, and not that of a lover. To this extent The Great Miss Driver may be defined as The Dolly Dialogues rendered in a different tempo.
Yet, such a definition gives no hint of the strength, the variety, the vital interest of this story. In the character of Jennie Driver Mr. Hope has given us a woman whose ruling passion is to hold sway, to fascinate and bend to her will every one who comes within her sphere. And because of this desire she can never bear to lose the allegiance of any man, no matter how mean and unworthy he has proved himself; and herein lies the source of her life's tragedy. She is not content to be merely the richest woman in the county, to play the part of Lady Bountiful, and build memorials and endow institutions with fabulous sums; she wants also to be a social leader with undisputed right to take precedence over all the other ladies of the community, and this she could do if she married Lord Fillingford, whom she respects, and who badly needs her fortune; but not if she should marry Leonard Octon, big, brusque, rather brutal, who is cut by the whole county, and whom she happens to love. It is a rather unique situation in fiction for a woman to be forced into publicly slighting the one man on earth that she cares for; still more unique for a woman who is pledged to marry one man to be secretly meeting the other man, and thus atoning for deliberately cutting him whenever they meet in public. And, surely, it was a rather audacious thing for Mr. Hope to attempt to make us feel that in spite of her double-dealing Jennie Driver is a rather big and fine and splendid sort of woman; that she would have kept faith with Fillingford had he been big enough to trust her when appearances were heavily against her; and that in defying convention and scandalizing the little world she lives in by fleeing with Octon to Paris, she is doing the one big, brave, inevitable act. Yet, that is precisely what the author does succeed in making us feel; and when because Fate intervenes and wrecks the last chance of Jennie's happiness through the death of Octon, we not only sympathize with her bitterness toward the narrow-minded social circle that had forced her lover into exile, but we also glory with her in the big, carefully planned and altogether adequate revenge by which she forces the county to pay tardy homage to the name of Octon.
Notwithstanding the statement made at the beginning of this chapter, to the effect that Mr. Anthony Hope does not write problem novels, the volume entitled Mrs. Maxon Protests comes critically near the border-line. Mrs. Maxon is simply one more young woman who has discovered marriage to be something vastly different from what she had imagined; and her difficulty is of the variety which she regards as almost humiliatingly commonplace namely, incompatibility. Her husband happens to be one of those narrow, self-satisfied, dictatorial men, with old-fashioned ideas about women in general and a rooted conviction that a man has a high moral responsibility for his wife's conduct and must mould her in all fashions to his own way of thinking. Mrs. Maxon bears the strain for five years; then she consults a lawyer. She learns that while she cannot get a divorce in England, she can leave her husband and he cannot force her to come back. At the time of their separation, or to be more accurate, her desertion of him for Maxon refuses to take the matter seriously there is no other man in her life; but in the weeks that follow during which she stays at the country home of some friends with lax ideas of life and a houseful of curious and often irregular people, she suddenly surprises herself by falling in love with a certain Godfrey Ledstone and promptly scandalizes society by eloping with him openly and unashamed. The rest of the book traces, with a clear-sightedness that Mr. Hope has not always shown in his books, the subsequent career of a woman who thinks that by the force of her own example she can bring the whole world over to her way of thinking. He does not spare us any of her disillusions, her humiliations, her heartache and loneliness. But through it all she is learning, strangely and cruelly learning, much that is exceedingly good for her. She is learning, for instance, that charity and sympathy and understanding are often found where least expected. She is learning, too, that there are many other standards in this world as well as her own and that they are just as reasonable and perhaps nobler. She learns that one of the best men she has ever had the good fortune to meet, loving her, pitying her, utterly disapproving of her, would nevertheless have made her his wife in spite of the scandal that had preceded and followed her divorce but for one reason: he is an army officer, and a woman with a taint upon her name would lower the social tone of his regiment and be in some degree a menace to the moral tone of the younger set. It is a temptation to analyze at some length the separate episodes of this rather unusual book throughout the years while Mrs. Maxon is slowly finding her way out of the quagmire of her own making into a belated peace and happiness. Yet, after all, what the book stands for is so admirably summed up in the concluding paragraph that one cannot do it a greater service than to close with one brief quotation. It is a satisfaction to find a book written upon this theme which, while recognizing that there is much to be said on both sides, shows neither vindictiveness toward the woman nor a misplaced championship that would exalt her into a martyr.
In the small circle of those with whom she had shared the issues of destiny she had unsettled much; of a certainty she had settled nothing. Things were just as much in solution as ever; the welter was not abated. Man being imperfect, laws must be made. Man being imperfect, laws must be broken or ever new laws will be made. Winnie Maxon had broken a law and asked a question. When thousands do the like, the Giant, after giving the first comers a box on the ear, may at last put his hand to his own and ponderously consider.
Such are the volumes chosen as a matter of personal preference, out of the generous series that Mr. Hope has so industriously turned out, during a score of years. Another reader's choice might be different, and who shall say whether it would not be as well justified? Because, the first duty of a public entertainer is to entertain; and, taking this for a criterion, the most that any one can say of his own knowledge is, such-and-such volumes have entertained me. It is obvious that Mr. Hope's own preference is for his more serious work, that with the passage of years he has grown more willing to allow the books of his romantic period to fade from sight. Yet, by doing this, he challenges a harder competition, a stricter measurement against a host of rivals. There has been no one to give us a second Prisoner of Zenda, excepting Mr. Hope himself, notwithstanding that many another writer has tried his best. But it would be easy to name a dozen contemporary novelists who could give us the annals of another Servant of the People, or chronicle some further Intrusions of Peggy, and one or two who, perhaps, could do it better. Mr. Hope is not one of the great novelists of his generation; but he is never mediocre, and even in his uninspired moments never dull. His Prisoner of Zenda and his Dolly Dialogues were both gems of the first water; his Quisante certainly suffers nothing by comparison with George Gissing's Charlatan, separated from it by barely a year. As a chronicler of English manners he is certainly of rather more importance than Mr. E. F. Benson or Mr. Maarten Maartens, although not in the same class with Galsworthy, Bennett, or W. H. Maxwell. He will be remembered, I think, somewhat as William Black and Marion Crawford are remembered, as having preserved a wholesome optimism, an unshaken belief in human nature, and as having done his part to keep the tone of the modern novel clean and wholesome.
What Is She Like?
"Perhaps you won't believe me," said I, "but till yesterday I never so much as heard of her existence."
"I've not the least difficulty in believing you. That was old Nick's way. It wasn't your business—was it?—so he didn't talk to you about it. On the other hand, when a thing was your business—that's to say, when he wanted your services—he told you all about it. But I believe I'm the only person he did tell. I'm sure he didn't tell a soul down in Catsford. Finely put about they'll be!"
Mr. Cartmell, of Fisher, Son, & Cartmell (he was the only surviving representative of the firm), broke off to hide a portion of his round red face in a silver tankard; Loft, the butler, had brought it to him on his arrival without express orders given; I had often seen the same vessel going into Mr. Driver's study on the occasion of the lawyer's calls.
He set the tankard—much lightened it must have been—on the mantelpiece and walked to the window, taking a pull at his cigar. We were in my room—my "office" it was generally called in the household. He stood looking out, talking to me half over his shoulder.
"A man's mind turns back at times like these. I remember him hard on forty years ago. I was a lad then, just gone into the business. Mr. Fisher was alive—not the one you remember—not poor Nat—but the old gentleman. Nat was the junior, and I was in the last year of my articles. Well, Nick Driver came to the old gentleman one morning and asked him to act for him—said he thought he was big enough by now. The old gentleman didn't want to, but poor Nat had an eye for a man and saw that Driver meant to get on. So they took him, and we've acted for him ever since. It wasn't many years before he—" Cartmell paused a moment, laying the finger-tips of his right hand against the finger-tips of his left, and straightening his arms from the elbow like a swimmer—"before he began to drive his wedge into the county."
The good man was fairly launched on his subject; much of it was new to me, in detail if not in broad outline, and I listened with interest. Besides, there was nothing else to do until the time came to start. But the story will bear a little summarizing, like a great many other stories; Cartmell was too fond of anecdotes. Thus summarized then:
Nicholas Driver began life as a tanner in Catsford. He was thrifty and saved money. With the money he bought land and built some villas; with the rent of the villas—more land. He had faith in the development of Catsford. He got early news of the coming of the railway; he pledged every house and every inch of land—and bought more land. So the process went on—detailed by Mr. Cartmell, indicated here. Nicholas Driver became moderately rich—and, by the way, his Catsford property had never ceased to rise in value and was rising still. Then, as it seemed (even Mr. Cartmell spoke conjecturally), an era of speculation followed—first in England, then in America. "That," Cartmell interjected, "was when he picked up this girl's mother, not that she was American, but he met her about that time." He must have speculated largely and successfully, or he could not have made all that money—so stood the case. The money made, the process of "driving his wedge into the county" began. "The county" must, here and henceforward, be carefully distinguished from "the town." Geographical contiguity does not bridge a social chasm.
First he bought Hatcham Ford, a small but beautiful Jacobean house lying on the banks of the river, some mile and a half out of Catsford at that time, now caught in the lengthening fringe of the town. While in residence there, he spread his territory to the north and west, acquiring all the outlying farms which the Lord Fillingford of the day was free to sell; then, too, he made his first audacious bid for Fillingford Manor itself—the first of many, it appeared. Though the later no longer seemed audacious, all had been fruitless; Lord Fillingford could not sell without his son's consent, and that was withheld. The family struggled on in perpetual financial straits, hating Nicholas Driver, but envying him his money, never coming to an open rupture with him for fear of his power or apprehension of its own necessities; never sparing a sneer or a secret thrust when either was safe. For his part, baffled in that quarter, he turned to the east and approached Mr. Dormer of Breysgate Priory. It was a beautiful place. Down by the lake lay the old Cistercian monastery; the original building was in ruins, but a small house had been built on in the days of Elizabeth, and this was still habitable. High on the hill stood the big, solidly handsome, Georgian mansion, erected by the Dormer of the day when the estate came into the hands of the family. From the hilltop the park rolled out and out in undulating curves of rich grass-land and spreading woods. To Nicholas Driver's joy and surprise—he had anticipated another struggle and feared another rebuff—Mr. Dormer was ready to sell—for a price. He was elderly, his wife middle-aged, his only heir a cousin toward whom he was indifferent and who, though heir of entail to the property, would be unable to keep it up, unless his predecessor left him money for the purpose. In these circumstances matters were soon arranged. The cousin was bought off, his consent given, and the Dormers retired to a smaller place, properly the dower house—Hingston Hall, situated fifteen miles from Catsford. Behold Nicholas Driver a country gentleman on a distinctly large scale!
"And with how much ready money to his name besides you'll get some idea about when the will is proved," Mr. Cartmell ended impressively.
His impressiveness impressed me; I do not know why I should be ashamed to confess it. A great deal of anything impresses ordinary people; a great deal of hill is a mountain, a great deal of water is an ocean, a great deal of brain is a genius; and so on. Similarly, a great deal of money has its grandeur—for ordinary people.
"It might be a million and a half—a million and a half sovereigns, Austin!—and it's growing every night while you sleep! And now—he's dead!"
"You do die just the same—that's the worst of it."
"And not an old man either!"
"Tut—I shall be that myself in three years—and you can't tire me yet!"
"Perhaps making millions and driving wedges is—rather exhausting, Cartmell. You split the tree; don't you blunt the wedge in time, too?"
"The end came easy, did it?"
"Oh, yes, in his sleep. So the nurse tells me. I wasn't there myself."
"I'm glad it was easy. After all, he was a very old friend of mine—and a very valuable client. Let's see, how long have you been with him?"
"Going to stay?"
I rose and began to brush my hat. "If you come to that," said I, "are you going to stay either, Cartmell? I gather that she can do as she pleases about that?"
"Every rod of ground and every farthing of money—bating decent charities! It's a great position."
"It's a very unexplored one so far as we're concerned," I made bold to remark.
"Have you seen him since—since the end, Austin?"
"Yes. Would you like to?"
"No, I shouldn't," he answered bluntly. "Perhaps it's brutal. I know it's cowardly. But I don't like death."
"Nonsense! You make half your income out of it. I say, I suppose we might as well start?"
"Yes," he assented absently. "I wonder how she's turned out!"
I looked at him with quickened interest. "Turned out? That sounds almost as if you'd seen her."
"I have seen her. Come along. I'll tell you about it as we drive down."
We traversed the long corridor which leads from my office to the hall. Loft was waiting for us, with an attendant footman. Loft addressed me in a muffled voice; his demeanor might always be relied on for perfection—he would not once unmuffle his voice till his master was buried.
"The landau is waiting, sir. The omnibus for Miss Driver's maid and the luggage has gone on." Wonderful man! He spoke of "Miss Driver" as if she had lived for years in the house.
Cartmell gave him a queer look and emitted a low chuckle as we got into the landau, behind the big grays. Mr. Driver always drove grays, and he liked them big, so that he could rattle up the hill to his house.
"Maid! Luggage!" muttered Cartmell. "The bus'll hold 'em, I think, with a bit to spare! By his orders I sent her twenty pounds on Tuesday; that's all she's had as yet. I only had time to telegraph about—the rest."
"Interesting wire to get! But about your seeing her, Cartmell?"
In honor of the occasion Cartmell, like myself, had put on a black frock coat and a silk hat, properly equipped with a mourning band of respectful width. But he wore the coat with a jaunty air, and the hat slightly but effectively cocked on one side, so that the quiet yet ingrained horsiness of his aspect suffered little from the unwonted attire. The confidential wink with which he now turned his plump rubicund face toward me preserved his general harmony. With the mournful atmosphere of Breysgate Priory, however, I could not help feeling that my own lank jaws and more precisely poised head-gear consorted better.
"You can hold your tongue, Austin?"
"A very shrewd man has paid me four hundred a year for four years past on that understanding."
"Then what happened at the Smalls, at Cheltenham?"
"Isn't that beginning the story at the wrong end?" I asked.
"That was where she was"—he searched for a word—"where she was planted. She lived at three or four different places altogether, you know."
"And the mother?"
"Mother died—vanished anyhow—early in the proceedings. Well, word came of trouble at Cheltenham. Small, though of my own profession, was an ass. He wrote a bleating letter—yes, he was more like a sheep, really—to old Nick. Nick told me I must go and put it to rights. So I went."
"Why didn't he go himself?"
"I think," said Cartmell cautiously, "that he had some kind of a feeling against seeing the girl. Really that's the only thing that accounts for his behavior all through."
"Did he never see her?"
"Never—since she was quite a child. So he told me. But let me finish the story—if you want to hear it. Being ordered, I went. They lived in a beastly villa and were, to speak generally, a disgrace to humanity by their utter flabbiness. But there was a flashy sort of a gentleman, by the name of Powers." He stopped and looked at me for a minute. "A married flashy gentleman named Nelson Powers. She was sixteen—and she wrote to Powers. A good many letters she'd written to Powers. Small was such a fool that Powers guessed there was money in it. And she, of course, had never thought of a Mrs. Powers. How should she? Sixteen and——"
"I really think so," he answered with an air, rather odd, of advancing a paradox. "She let him worm out of her all that she knew about her father—which was that he paid the bills for her and that Small had told her that he was rich. She didn't know where he lived, but Powers got that out of Small without much trouble, and then it was blackmail on Mr. Driver, of course."
"Did you get at Powers? Had to pay him something, I suppose?"
"I got at Mrs. Powers—and paid her. Much better! We had the letters in twenty-four hours. Powers really repented that time, I think! But I had orders to take her away from the Smalls. The same man never failed Nick Driver twice! I sent her under escort to Dawlish—at least near there—to a clergyman's family, where she's been ever since. But it can't be denied that she left Cheltenham rather—well, rather under a cloud. If you ask me what I think about it——"
I had been growing interested—yet not interested in precisely the point about which Mr. Cartmell conjectured that I might be about to inquire.
"Did she say anything about it herself?" I interrupted.
He stroked his chin. "She said rather a curious thing—she was only sixteen, you know. She said that we might have given her credit for being able to take just a little care of herself."
"That sounds like underrating your diplomacy, Cartmell."
"I thought myself that it reflected on the bill I proposed to send in! Funny, wasn't it? From a chit like that!"
"What did you say?"
"Asked her if she'd like a foot-warmer for the journey to Dawlish."
"Capital! You were about to tell me what you thought about it?"
"The folly of a young ignorant girl, no doubt. Powers was an insinuating rascal—and a girl doesn't know at that age the difference between a gentleman and a cad. He moved too soon, though. We were in lots of time to prevent real mischief—and Mrs. Powers came up to the scratch!" He drummed his fingers on the window of the landau, looking thoughtful and, as it seemed to me, retrospectively puzzled.
"And did all go smoothly with the clergyman's family?"
"She's been there ever since. I've heard of no trouble. The governess's reports of her were excellent, I remember Mr. Driver telling me once."
"Well then, we can forget all about Powers."
"Yes, yes," said Cartmell, drumming his fingers still.
"And what was she like?"
Cartmell looked at me, a smile slowly breaking across his broad face. "Here's the station. Suppose you see for yourself," he suggested.
We had ten minutes to wait before Miss Driver's train was due—we had been careful to run no risk of not being on the spot to receive her. Cartmell was at no loss to employ the time. I left him plunging into an animated discussion of the points of a handsome cob which stood outside the station: on the handsome cob's back was a boy, no less handsome, fresh of color and yellow-haired. I knew him to be young Lord Lacey, heir to the Fillingford earldom, but I had at that time no acquaintance with him, and passed on into the station, where I paced up and down among a crowd of loiterers and hasteners—for Catsford was by now a bustling center whence and whither men went and came at all hours of the day and most hours of the night. Driver had foreseen that this would come about! It had come about; he had grown rich; he lay dead. It went on happening still, and thereby adding to the piles of gold which he could no longer handle.
Instead of indulging in these trite reflections—to be excused only by the equal triteness of death, which tends to evoke them—I should have done well to consider my own position. A man bred for a parson but, for reasons of his own, averse from adopting the sacred calling, is commonly not too well fitted for other avocations—unless perhaps he would be a schoolmaster, and my taste did not lie that way. In default of private means, an easy berth at four hundred pounds a year may well seem a godsend. It had assumed some such celestial guise to me when, on the casual introduction of my uncle one day in London, Mr. Driver had offered it to me. As his private secretary, I drew the aforementioned very liberal salary, I had my "office" in the big house on the hill, I dwelt in the Old Priory (that is to say, in the little dwelling house built on to the ruinous remains of the ancient foundation), I was seldom asked for more than three hours' work a day, I had a horse to ride, and plenty of leisure for the books I loved. It would be very unfortunate to have to give up all that. Verily the question "What is she like?" had a practical, an economic, importance for me which raised it far above the sphere of mere curiosity or the nonsense of irrelevant romance. Was she a sensible young woman who would know a good secretary when she saw one? Or, on the other hand, was she not? A secretary of some sort she would certainly require.
Nay, perhaps, she wouldn't. The one utterance of hers which had been, so far, credibly reported to my ears was to the effect that she could take care—just a little care—of herself. This at sixteen! This on the top of circumstances which at first sight indicated that she had taken particularly bad care of herself! Letters to a man like Powers! My imagination, forsaking my own position and prospects, constructed a confident picture of Powers, proceeded to sketch Mrs. Powers—strong lights here!—and to outline the family of the Smalls of Cheltenham. It ended by rejoicing that she had been removed from the influence of Powers and the environment of the Smalls of Cheltenham. Because, look at the matter how one might or could, there was no denying that it was the sort of incident which might just as well—or even better—not have happened at all. At the best, it was not altogether pleasant. Surely that was the truth—and not merely the abortive parson talking again? Well, even the abortive parson was sometimes right.
Cartmell clapped me on the shoulder. The handsome boy had, it appeared, departed, after receiving from an obsequious porter the copy of Country Life, in quest of which he had ridden to the station from Fillingford Manor.
"Here comes the train! I wonder if I shall know her again!"
Two minutes later, that observation of Cartmell's seemed to me plainly foolish. A man might like her or dislike her, trust her or not trust her—oh, away with these fatal alternatives, antitheses, or whatever they are! They confine judgment, and often falsify it. He might do all these things at once—and I fancied that she might welcome his perplexity. He would not be very likely to forget her—nor she to be pleased if he did.
That was only a first impression of her, as she got out of the train.
Cartmell's talk, as we drove back, was calculated to give her an almost overwhelming idea of her possessions and (if her temperament set that way) of her responsibilities. Big commercial buildings, blocks of shops, whole streets of small houses, drew from the lawyer a point of the finger and a brief, "That's yours"—or sometimes he would tell how her father had bought, how built, and how profited by the venture. Every time she would turn her head to look where his finger pointed, and nod slightly, gravely, composedly. She seemed to be reserving her opinion of it all. The only time she spoke was when we were emerging from the town and he showed her Hatcham Ford, saying, as usual, "That's yours," but adding that it was let furnished to Mr. Leonard Octon, who was abroad just now. Then her nod of understanding was accompanied by a low murmur, "It's very pretty."
She said nothing when we drove into the park of Breysgate Priory itself: yet I saw her eyes fixed intently on the great house on the hill, which comes into view directly the drive is entered, and certainly looks imposing enough. After the first formal greeting she did not speak to me, nor I to her, until her reception at the house was over and we had sat down to luncheon. But she had smiled at me once—when we were still standing by the door, on the terrace at the top of the steps, and Cartmell was showing her what he called "the lie of the land." The omnibus with its pair of big horses and its pair of big men came trotting up the hill, and on its big roof lay one small battered trunk. Loft was waiting to give orders to his footmen for the disposal of her luggage: when he saw the solitary and diminutive article, he advanced and, with pronounced graciousness, received it from the omnibus himself. She watched, and then gave me the smile that I have mentioned; evidently Loft—or Loft in conjunction with that humble box—appealed to her sense of humor.
Cartmell was soon at his ease with her: he called her "My dear" twice before we got to the sweets. The second time he apologized for taking the liberty—on the first occasion, I suppose, the words slipped out unnoticed by himself.
"But I like it," she said. "My father spoke so warmly about you in his letter."
Cartmell looked at me for a moment; we neither of us knew of a letter.
"He told me never to part with Mr. Cartmell because an honest lawyer was worth his weight in gold."
"I ride fourteen-seven," said Cartmell with a chuckle.
"And he said something about you, too," she added, looking at me, "but perhaps I'd better not repeat that."
"Shall I try to guess it?" I asked. "Did he say I was a scholar?"
"And a gentleman?"
"But confoundedly conceited?"
"No—well, not quite. Something like it, Mr. Austin. How did you know?"
"It's what he use to say to me himself three times a week?"
Her face had lit up in merriment during this little talk, but now she grew thoughtful again. I might well have looked thoughtful, too; so far as had appeared at present, there was no injunction against parting with me—no worth-his-weight-in-gold appraisement of the secretary!
"I expect he liked the scholar-and-gentleman part," she reflected. "He wasn't at all a scholar himself, I suppose?"
"He'd had no time for that," said Cartmell.
"Nor a gentleman?"
It was an embarrassing question—from a daughter about her father—addressed to Cartmell who owed him much and to me who had eaten his bread. Besides—he was lying there in his room upstairs. Cartmell faced the difficulty with simple directness.
"He wasn't polished in manner; when he was opposed or got angry, he was rough. But he was honest and straight, upright and just, kind and——"
"Kind?" she interrupted, a note of indignation plain to hear in her voice. "Not to me!"
That was awkward again!
"My dear Miss Driver, for what may have been amiss he's made you the best amends he could." He waved his arm as though to take in all the great house in which we sat. "Handsome amends!"
"Yes," she assented—but her assent did not sound very hearty.
A long silence followed—an uncomfortable silence. She was looking toward the window, and I could watch her face unperceived. From our first meeting I had been haunted by a sense of having seen her before, but I soon convinced myself that this was a delusion. I had not seen her, nor anyone like her (she was not at all like her father), in the flesh, but I had seen pictures that were like her. Not modern pictures, but sixteenth- or seventeenth-century portraits. Her hair was brown with ruddy tips, her brows not arched but very straight, her nose fine-cut and high, her mouth not large but her lips very red. Her chin was rather long, and her face wore the smooth, almost waxy, pallor which the pictures I was reminded of are apt to exhibit. Her eyes were so pronounced and bright a hazel that, seeing them on a canvas, one might have suspected the painter of taking a liberty with fact for the sake of his composition.
Cartmell broke the silence. "Since he wrote you a letter, may I venture to ask—?" He stopped and glanced at me. "Perhaps you wouldn't mind giving us five minutes to ourselves, Austin?"
I thought the request not unnatural, and rose promptly from my chair. But we had reckoned without our host—our new host.
"Why do you tell him to go?" she demanded of Cartmell with a sudden sharpness. "I don't ask him to go. I don't want him to go. Sit down, please, Mr. Austin."
Cartmell had his two elbows on the table; he bit his thumb as he glanced up at her from under raised brows. He was not often called to book so sharply as that. I thought that she would make apology, but she made none. As I obediently—and, I fear, hastily—sat down again, she took a letter from a little bag which hung at her waist.
"What did you want to ask?" she said to Cartmell in a tone which was smooth but by no means overconciliatory.
Cartmell's manner said "Have it if you want it!" as he inquired bluntly, "Does your father say anything about your mother?"
She took the letter from its envelope and unfolded it. "About my mother he says this: 'It is necessary for me to say a few words about your mother. Mr. Cartmell is in possession of all proofs necessary to establish your position as my daughter, and there is no need for you to trouble your head about that, as not the smallest difficulty can arise. The personal aspect of the case is that on which I must touch. Three years after your birth your mother left me under circumstances which made it impossible for me to have any further communication with her. She went to Australia, and died five years later in Melbourne from an attack of typhoid fever. I caused constant inquiry to be made as to her position and took measures to secure that she should suffer no hardship. The circumstances to which I have referred made it imperative that I should remove you from her charge. As she consented to give up all claim on you, I did not go to the trouble of obtaining a divorce—which she did not desire either, as matters had been kept quiet. You will ask, and with reason, why I did not bring you up myself, and why I have delayed publicly acknowledging you as my daughter till the hour of my death. I can give no reason good to the world. I can give none good to my own conscience, unless it is a good one to say that a man is what God made him and that there are some things impossible to some men. It will seem a hard saying, but I could not endure to have you with me. I know myself, and I can only assure you that, if your childhood has not been a very happy one as it is, it would have been no happier if spent under my roof. Now we have been only strangers—you would have been worse than a stranger then.'"
Miss Driver, who had read in a low but level and composed voice, paused here for a moment—perhaps in doubt whether to read more. Then she went on: "'With that much excuse—for I have none other—I must now, my daughter, say good-by, for I am dying. Though of my own choice I have not seen you since your infancy. I have not been without thought for you. I hesitated long before throwing on your shoulders all the burden which I have created for my own and carried on them. But in the end nature has seemed to say to me—and to speak more strongly as I grow weaker—that you are the person to whom it should belong and that, if things go wrong, it will be nature's fault, not mine. Don't spend more than two-thirds of your income—the other third should go back to work and bring in more. Give handsomely when you give, but don't be always dribbling out small sums; they mount up against you without aiding the recipients. Go to church unless you really dislike it. Be independent, but not eccentric. You have a great position; make it greater. Be a power in your world. About love and marriage, remember always that being sensible in general matters is no guarantee that you will act sensibly there. So be doubly on your guard. Suspect and fear marriage, even while you seek the best alliance you can find. Be you man or woman, by marriage you give another a power over you. Suspect it—suspect your lover—suspect yourself. You need fear no man except the man to whom you have given yourself. With earnest wishes for your welfare, I remain your affectionate father—Nicholas Driver.'"
During the reading Cartmell's face had been disturbed and sad; once or twice he fidgeted restively in his chair. I had listened intently, seeming again to hear the measured full voice, the hard clean-cut counsels, to which I had listened almost daily for the last four years. Fine sense! And a heart somewhere? I was inclined to answer yes—but how deep it lay, and what a lot of digging to get there! He had never given his daughter one chance of so much as putting her hand to the spade.
She tucked the letter away in her little bag; she was smiling again by now. I had smiled myself—my memories being so acutely touched; but she must have smiled for discernment, not for memory.
"Now I think I should like to go and see him."
Cartmell excused himself, as I knew he would.
"I've never seen him, that I can remember, you know," she said.
The meeting of the Catsford Corporation (the town had become a borough ten years before—largely owing to Mr. Driver's efforts) could not wait. But Cartmell had one thing to say before he went; it was not on business, nor arising out of the letter; he was to have a full business discussion with her on the morrow. He took her hand in both of his and pressed it—forgetful apparently of her sharp rebuke.
"You can't live in this great house all alone," he said. "I wonder your father said nothing about that!"
"Oh, that's all right. Chat's coming in a week. She'd have come with me, but Mrs. Simpson wouldn't let her go till a new governess could be got. Four girls, you see, and Mrs. Simpson thinks she's an invalid. Besides, Chat wouldn't come without a new black silk dress. So I had to give her most of that money—and she'll be here in a week—and I haven't got a new dress."
I noticed that her black dress was far from new. It was, in fact, rather rusty. Her black straw hat, however, appeared to be new. It was a large spreading sort of hat.
"Yes, Mr. Austin, the hat's new," she remarked.
The girl seemed to have a knack of noticing where one's eyes happened to be.
"I can give you lots of money," Cartmell assured her. "And—er—'Chat' was governess at the Simpsons', was she?"
"Yes, she's been there for years, but she's very fond of me, and agreed to come and be my companion. She taught me all I know. I'm sure you'll like Chat."
"You can only try her," said he, rather doubtfully. I think that he would have preferred, Miss Driver, to cut loose from the old days altogether. "But, you know, we can't call her just 'Chat.' It must be short for something?"
"Short for Chatters—Miss Chatters. And she says Chatters is really—or was really—Charteris. That's pronounced Charters, isn't it?" She addressed the last question to me, and I said that I believed she was right. "I shall get on very well by myself till she comes." She questioned me again. "Do you live in the house?"
"No, I live down at the Old Priory. But I have my office in the house."
"Oh, yes. Now, if Mr. Cartmell must go, will you take me up?"
She stopped a moment, though, to look at the pictures—old Mr. Driver had bought some good ones—and so gave me one word with Cartmell.
"Depend upon it," he whispered. "Chat's a fool. People who keep telling you their names ought to be spelt like better names, when they aren't, are always fools. Why don't they spell 'em that way, or else let it alone?"
There seemed to be a good deal in that.
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