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life. And now she threw herself with immense zeal and devotion into the
absorbing business of house-hunting, on which, for the time being, all
Gertrude's thoughts were centred.

After the sale, and the winding up (mysterious process) of poor Mr.
Lorimer's affairs, it was intimated to the girls that they were the
joint possessors of £600; not a large sum, when regarded as almost the
entire fortune of four people, but slightly in excess of that which they
had been led to expect. I said almost, for it must not be forgotten that
Fanny had a modest income of £50 coming to her from her mother, of which
the principal was tied up from her reach.

There was nothing now to do but to choose their quarters, settle down in
them, and begin the enterprise on which they were bent.

For many weary days, Gertrude and Conny, sometimes accompanied by Fred
or Mr. Devonshire, paced the town from end to end, laden with sheaves of
"orders to view" from innumerable house-agents.

Phyllis was too delicate for such expeditions, and sat at home with Mrs.
Devonshire, or drove out shopping; amiable but ironical; buoyant but
never exuberant; the charming child that everybody conspired to spoil,
that everybody instinctively screened from all unpleasantness.

One day, the two girls came back to Queen's Gate in a state of
considerable excitement.

"It certainly is the most likely place we have seen," said Gertrude, as
she sipped her tea, and blinked at the fire with dazzled, short-sighted
eyes.

"But such miles away from South Kensington," grumbled Conny, unfastening
her rich cloak, and falling upon the cake with all the appetite born of
honest labour.

"And the rent is a little high; but Mr. Russel says it would be bad
economy to start in some cheap, obscure place."

"So we are to flaunt expensively," said Phyllis, lightly; "but all this
is very vague, is it not Mrs. Devonshire? Please be more definite, Gerty
dear."

"We have been looking at some rooms in Upper Baker Street," explained
Gertrude, addressing her hostess; "there are two floors to be let
unfurnished, above a chemist's shop."

"Two floors, and what else?" cried Conny; "you will never guess!
Actually a photographer's studio built out from the house."

Mrs. Devonshire disapproved secretly of their scheme, and had only been
won over to countenance it after days of persuasion.

"Some one has been failing in business there," she said, "or why should
the studio stand empty?"

The girls felt this to be a little unreasonable, but Gertrude only
laughed, and said: "No, but somebody has been dying. Our predecessor in
business died last year."

"At least we should be provided with a ghost at once," said Phyllis; "I
suppose if we go there we shall be 'Lorimer, late so-and-so?'"

"What ghouls you two are!" objected Conny, with a shudder; then resumed
the more practical part of the conversation. "The studio is in rather a
dilapidated condition; but if it were not it would only count for more
in the rent; it has to be paid for one way or another."

"There are a great many photographers in Baker Street already," demurred
Mrs. Devonshire.

She liked the Lorimers, but feared them as companions for her daughter;
there was no knowing on what wild freak they might lead Constance to
embark.

"But, Mrs. Devonshire," protested Gertrude, with great eagerness, "I am
told that it is the right thing for people of the same trade to
congregate together; they combine, as it were, to make a centre, which
comes to be regarded as the emporium of their particular wares."

Gertrude laughed at her own phrases, and Phyllis said:

"Don't look so poetical over it all, Gerty! Your hat has found its way
to the back of your head, and there is a general look of inspiration
about you."

She straightened the hat as she spoke, and put back the straggling wisps
of hair.

"There is no bath-room!" went on Conny, sternly. She had a love of
practical details and small opportunity for indulging it, except with
regard to her own costume; and now she proceeded to plunge into
elaborate statements on the subject of hot water, and the practicability
of having it brought up in cans.

The end of it was that an expedition to Baker Street was organised for
the next day; when the whole party drove across the park to that
pleasant, if unfashionable, region, for the purpose of inspecting the
hopeful premises.

It was a chill, bright afternoon, and notwithstanding that it was the
end of May, the girls wore their winter cloaks, and Mrs. Devonshire her
furs.

"What number did you say, Gertrude?" asked Phyllis, as the carriage
turned into New Street, from Gloucester Place.

"Twenty B."

As they came into Baker Street, a young man, slim, high-coloured,
dark-haired, darted out, with some impetuosity, from the post-office at
the corner, and raised his hat as his eye fell on the approaching
carriage.

Constance bowed, colouring slightly.

"Who is your friend, Conny?" said her mother.

"Oh, a man I meet sometimes at dances. I believe his name is Jermyn. He
dances rather well."

Conny spoke with somewhat exaggerated indifference, and the colour on
her cheek deepened perceptibly.

"Here we are!" cried Phyllis.

The carriage had drawn up before a small, but flourishing-looking shop,
above which was painted in gold letters; _Maryon; Pharmaceutical
Chemist_.

"This is it."

Gertrude spoke with curious intensity, and her heart beat fast as they
dismounted and rang the bell.

Mrs. Maryon, the chemist's wife, a thin, thoughtful-looking woman of
middle-age, with a face at once melancholy and benevolent, opened the
door to them herself, and conducted them over the apartments.

They went up a short flight of stairs, then stopped before the opening
of a narrow passage, adorned with Virginia cork and coloured glass.

"We will look at the studio first, please," said Gertrude, and they all
trooped down the little, sloping passage.

"Reminds one forcibly of a summer-house at a tea-garden, doesn't it?"
said Phyllis, turning her pretty head from side to side. They laughed,
and the melancholy woman was seen to smile.

Beyond the passage was a little room, designed, no doubt, for a waiting
or dressing-room; and beyond this, divided by an aperture, evidently
intended for curtains, came the studio itself, a fair-sized glass
structure, in some need of repair.

"You will have to make this place as pretty as possible," said Conny;
"you will be nothing if not æsthetic. And now for the rooms."

The floor immediately above the shop had been let to a dressmaker, and
it was the two upper floors which stood vacant.

On the first of these was a fair-sized room with two windows, looking
out on the street, divided by folding doors from a smaller room with a
corner fire-place.

"This would make a capital sitting-room," said Conny, marching up and
down the larger apartment.

"And this," cried Gertrude, from behind the folding-doors, which stood
ajar, "could be fitted up beautifully as a kitchen."

"You will have to have a kitchen-range, my dears," remarked Mrs.
Devonshire, who was becoming deeply interested, and whose spirits,
moreover, were rising under the sense that here, at least, she could
speak to the young people from the heights of knowledge and experience;
"and water will have to be laid on; and you will certainly need a
sink."

"This grey wall-paper," went on Conny, "is not pretty, but at least it
is inoffensive."

"And the possibilities for evil of wall-papers being practically
infinite, I suppose we must be thankful for small mercies in that
respect," answered Gertrude, emerging from her projected kitchen, and
beginning to examine the uninteresting decoration in her short-sighted
fashion.

Upstairs were three rooms, capable of accommodating four people as
bed-rooms, and which bounded the little domain.

Mr. and Mrs. Maryon and their servant inhabited the basement and the
parlour behind the shop; and it was suggested by the chemist's wife
that, for the present at least, the ladies might like to enter on some
arrangement for sharing Matilda's services; the duties of that maiden,
as matters now stood, not being nearly enough to fill up her time.

"That would suit us admirably," answered Gertrude; "for we intend to do
a great deal of the work ourselves."

They drove away in hopeful mood; Mrs. Devonshire as much interested as
any of them. It took, of course, some days before they were able to come
to a final decision on the subject of the rooms. Various persons had to
be consulted, and various matters inquired into. Mr. Russel came flying
down from the north directly Gertrude's letter reached him. He surveyed
the premises in his rapid, accurate fashion; entered into details with
immense seriousness; pronounced in favour of taking the apartments; gave
a glowing account of Lucy; and rushed off to catch his train.

A few days afterwards the Lorimers found themselves the holders of a
lease, terminable at one, three, or seven years, for a studio and upper
part of the house, known as 20B, Upper Baker Street.

Then followed a period of absorbing and unremitting toil. All through
the sweet June month the girls laboured at setting things in order in
the new home. Expense being a matter of vital consequence, they
endeavoured to do everything, within the limits of possibility,
themselves. Workmen were of course needed for repairing the studio and
fitting the kitchen fire-place, but their services were dispensed with
in almost every other case. The furniture stored at the Pantechnicon
proved more than enough for their present needs; Gertrude and Conny
between them laid down the carpets and hung up the curtains; and Fred,
revealing an unsuspected talent for carpentering, occupied his leisure
moments in providing the household with an unlimited quantity of
shelves.

Indeed, the spectacle of that gorgeous youth hammering away in his shirt
sleeves on a pair of steps, his immaculate hat and coat laid by, his
gardenia languishing in some forgotten nook, was one not easily to be
overlooked or forgotten. It was necessary, of course, to buy some
additional stock-in-trade, and this Mr. Russel undertook to procure for
them at the lowest possible rates; adding, on his own behalf, a large
burnishing machine. The girls had hitherto been accustomed to have their
prints rolled for them by the Stereoscopic Company.

In their own rooms everything was of the simplest, but a more ambitious
style of decoration was attempted in the studio.

The objectionable Virginia cork and coloured glass of the little passage
were disguised by various æsthetic devices; lanterns swung from the
roof, and a framed photograph or two from Dürer and Botticelli, Watts
and Burne-Jones, was mingled artfully with the specimens of their own
work which adorned it as a matter of course.

A little cheap Japanese china, and a few red-legged tables and chairs
converted the waiting-room, as Phyllis said, into a perfect bower of art
and culture; while Fred contributed so many rustic windows, stiles and
canvas backgrounds to the studio, that his bankruptcy was declared on
all sides to be imminent.

Over the street-door was fixed a large black board, on which was painted
in gold letters:


G. & L. LORIMER: THE PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDIO


and in the doorway was displayed a showcase, whose most conspicuous
feature was a cabinet portrait of Fred Devonshire, looking, with an air
of mingled archness and shamefacedness, through one of his own elaborate
lattices in Virginia cork.

The Maryons surveyed these preparations from afar with a certain amused
compassion, an incredulous kindliness, which were rather exasperating.

Like most people of their class, they had seen too much of the ups and
downs of life to be astonished at anything; and the sight of these
ladies playing at photographers and house decorators, was only one more
scene in the varied and curious drama of life which it was their lot to
witness.

"I wish," said Gertrude, one day, "that Mrs. Maryon were not such a
pessimist."

"She _is_ rather like Gilbert's patent hag who comes out and prophesies
disaster," answered Phyllis. "She always thinks it is going to rain, and
nothing surprises her so much as when a parcel arrives in time."

"And she is so very kind with it all."

The sisters had been alone in Baker Street that morning; Constance being
engaged in having a ball-dress tried on at Russell and Allen's; and now
Gertrude was about to set out for the British Museum, where she was
going through a course of photographic reading, under the direction of
Mr. Russel.

"Look," cried Phyllis, as they emerged from the house; "there goes
Conny's impetuous friend. I have found out that he lodges just opposite
us, over the auctioneer's."

"What busybodies you long-sighted people always are, Phyllis!"

At Baker Street Station they parted; Phyllis disappearing to the
underground railway; Gertrude mounting boldly to the top of an Atlas
omnibus.

"Because one cannot afford a carriage or even a hansom cab," she argued
to herself, "is one to be shut up away from the sunlight and the
streets?"

Indeed, for Gertrude, the humours of the town had always possessed a
curious fascination. She contemplated the familiar London pageant with
an interest that had something of passion in it; and, for her part, was
never inclined to quarrel with the fate which had transported her from
the comparative tameness of Campden Hill to regions where the pulses of
the great city could be felt distinctly as they beat and throbbed.

By the end of June the premises in Upper Baker Street were quite ready
for occupation; but Gertrude and Phyllis decided to avail themselves of
some of their numerous invitations, and strengthen themselves for the
coming tussle with fortune with three or four weeks of country air.

At last there came a memorable evening, late in July, when the four
sisters met for the first time under the roof which they hoped was to
shelter them for many years to come.

Gertrude and Phyllis arrived early in the day from Scarborough, where
they had been staying with the Devonshires, and at about six o'clock
Fanny appeared in a four-wheel cab; she had been borne off to Tunbridge
Wells by the Pratts, some six weeks before.

When she had given vent to her delight at rejoining her sisters, and had
inspected the new home, Phyllis led her upstairs to the bedroom,
Gertrude remaining below in the sitting-room, which she paced with a
curious excitement, an irrepressible restlessness.

"Poor old Fan!" said Phyllis, re-appearing; "I don't think she was ever
so pleased at seeing any one before."

"Fancy, all these months with Aunt Caroline!"

"She says little," went on Phyllis; "but from the few remarks dropped, I
should say that her sufferings had been pretty severe."

"Yes," answered Gertrude, absently. The last remark had fallen on
unheeding ears; her attention was entirely absorbed by a cab which had
stopped before the door. One moment, and she was on the stairs; the
next, she and Lucy were in one another's arms.

"Oh, Gerty, is it a hundred years?"

"Thousands, Lucy. How well you look, and I believe you have grown."

Up and down, hand in hand, went the sisters, into every nook and corner
of the small domain, exclaiming, explaining, asking and answering a
hundred questions.

"Oh, Lucy," cried Gertrude, in a burst of enthusiasm, as they stood
together in the studio, "this is work, this is life. I think we have
never worked or lived before."

Fan and Phyllis came rustling between the curtains to join them.

"Here we all are," went on Gertrude. "I hope nobody is afraid, but that
every one understands that this is no bed of roses we have prepared for
ourselves."

"We shall have to work like niggers, and not have very much to eat. I
think we all realise that," said Lucy, with an encouraging smile.

"Plain living and high thinking," ventured Fanny; then grew overwhelmed
with confusion at her own unwonted brilliancy.

"At least," said Phyllis, "we can all of us manage the plain living. And
as a beginning, I vote we go upstairs to supper."

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER V.

THIS WORKING-DAY WORLD.

_O the pity of it._
OTHELLO.


If a sudden reverse of fortune need not make us cynical, there is
perhaps no other experience which brings us face to face so quickly and
so closely with the realities of life.

The Lorimers, indeed, had no great cause for complaint; and perhaps, in
condemning the Timons of this world, forgot that, as interesting young
women, embarked moreover on an interesting enterprise, they were not
themselves in a position to gauge the full depths of mundane perfidy.

Of course, after a time, they dropped off from the old set, from the
people with whom their intercourse had been a mere matter of social
commerce; but, as Phyllis justly observed, when you have no time to pay
calls, no clothes to your back, no money for cabs, and very little for
omnibuses, you can hardly expect your career to be an unbroken course of
festivities.

On the other hand, many of their friends drew closer to them in the hour
of need, and a great many good-natured acquaintances amused themselves
by patronising the studio in Upper Baker Street, and recommending other
people to go and do likewise.

Certainly these latter exacted a good deal for their money; were restive
when posed, expected the utmost excellence of work and punctuality of
delivery, and, like most of the Lorimers' customers, seemed to think the
sex of the photographers a ground for greater cheapness in the
photographs.

One evening, towards the middle of October, the girls had assembled for
the evening meal - it could not, strictly speaking, be called dinner - in
the little sitting-room above the shop.

They were all tired, for the moment discouraged, and had much ado to
maintain that cheerfulness which they held it a point of honour never to
abandon.

"How the evenings do draw in!" observed Fan, who sat near the window,
engaged in fancy-work.

Fanny's housekeeping, by the way, had been tried, and found wanting; and
the poor lady had, with great delicacy, been relegated to the vague duty
of creating an atmosphere of home for her more strong-minded sisters.
Fortunately, she believed in the necessity of a thoroughly womanly
presence among them, womanliness being apparently represented to her
mind by any number of riband bows on the curtains, antimacassars on the
chairs, and strips of embroidered plush on every available article of
furniture; and accepted the situation without misgiving.

"Yes," answered Lucy, rather dismally; "we shall soon have the winter in
full swing, fogs and all."

She had been up to the studio of an artist at St. John's Wood that
morning, making photographs of various studies of drapery for a big
picture, and the results, when examined in the dark-room later on, had
not been satisfactory; hence her unusual depression of spirits.

"For goodness' sake, Lucy, don't speak in that tone!" cried Phyllis,
who was standing idly by the window. "What does it matter about Mr.
Lawrence's draperies? Nobody ever buys his pokey pictures. You've not
been the same person ever since you developed those plates this
afternoon."

"Don't you see, Phyllis, Mr. Russel introduced us to him; and besides,
though he is obscure himself, he might recommend us to other artists if
the work was well done."

"Oh, bother! Come over here, Lucy. Do you see that lighted window
opposite? It is Conny's Mr. Jermyn's."

"What an interesting fact!"

"Conny said he danced well. I wish he would come and dance with us
sometimes. It is ages and ages since I had a really good waltz."

"Phyllis! do you forget that you are in mourning?" cried Fanny, shocked,
as she moved towards the table, where Lucy had lit the lamp.

Gertrude came through the folding-doors bearing a covered dish. Her
aspect also was undeniably dejected. Business had been slacker, if
possible, than usual, during the past week; regarded from no point of
view could their prospects be considered brilliant; and, to crown all,
Aunt Caroline had paid them a visit in the course of the day, in which
she had propounded some very direct questions as to the state of their
finances; questions which it had been both difficult to answer and
difficult to evade.

Phyllis ceased her chatter, which she saw at once to be out of harmony
with the prevailing mood, and took her place in silence at the table.

At the same moment the studio-bell echoed with considerable violence
throughout the house.

"What can any one want this time of night?" cried Fan, in some
agitation.

"They must have pulled the wrong bell," said Lucy; "but one of us had
better go down and see."

Gertrude lighted a candle, and went downstairs, and the rest proceeded
rather silently with their meal.

In about five minutes Gertrude re-appeared with a grave face.

"Well?"

They all questioned her, with lips and eyes.

"Some one has been here about work," she said, slowly; "but it's rather
a dismal sort of job. It is to photograph a dead person."

"Gerty, what _do_ you mean?"

"Oh, I believe it is quite usual. A lady - Lady Watergate - died to-day,
and her husband wishes the body to be photographed to-morrow morning."

"It is very strange," said Fanny, "that he should select ladies, young
girls, for such a piece of work!"

"Oh, it was a mere chance. It was the housekeeper who came, and we
happened to be the first photographer's shop she passed. She seemed to
think I might not like it, but we cannot afford to refuse work."

"But, Gertrude," cried Fan, "do you know what Lady Watergate died of?
Perhaps scarlet fever, or smallpox, or something of the sort."

"She died of consumption," said Gertrude shortly, and put her arm round
Phyllis, who was listening with a curious look in her great, dilated
eyes.

"I wonder," put in Lucy, "if this poor lady can be the wife of _the_
Lord Watergate?"

"I rather fancy so; I know he lives in Regent's Park, and the address
for to-morrow is Sussex Place."

A name so well known in the scientific and literary world was of course
familiar to the Lorimers. They had, however, little personal
acquaintance with distinguished people, and had never come across the
learned and courteous peer in his social capacity, his frequent presence
in certain middle-class circles notwithstanding.

Mrs. Maryon, coming up later on for a chat, under pretext of discussing
the unsatisfactory Matilda, was informed of the new commission.

"Ah," she said, shaking her head, "it was a sad story that of the
Watergates." So passionately fond of her as he had been, and then for
her to treat him like that! But he took her back at the last and forgave
her everything, like the great-hearted gentleman that he was. "And do
you mean," she added, fixing her melancholy, humorous eyes on them,
"that you young ladies are actually going by yourselves to the house to
make a picture of the body?"

"I am going - no one else," answered Gertrude calmly, passing over
Phyllis's avowed intention of accompanying her.

"She always has some dreadful tale about everybody you mention," cried
Lucy, indignantly, when Mrs. Maryon had gone. "She will never rest
content until there is something dreadful to tell of us."

"Yes, I'm sure she regards us as so many future additions to her Chamber
of Horrors," said Phyllis, reflectively, with a smile.

"And oh," added Fan, "if she would only not compare us so constantly
with that poor man who had the studio last year! It makes one positively
creep."

"Nonsense," said Gertrude; "she is quite as fond of pleasant events as
sad ones. Weddings, for instance, she describes with as much unction as
funerals."

"We will certainly do our best to add to her stock of tales in that
respect," cried Phyllis, with an odd burst of high spirits. "Who votes
for getting married? I do. So do you, don't you, Fan? It must be such
fun to have one's favourite man dropping in on one every evening."

* * * * *

At an early hour the next morning, Gertrude Lorimer started on her
errand. She went alone; Lucy of course must remain in the studio;
Phyllis was in bed with a headache, and Fan was ministering to her
numerous wants. As she passed out, laden with her apparatus, Mdlle.
Stéphanie, the big, sallow Frenchwoman who occupied the first floor,
entered the house and grinned a vivacious "_Bon jour!_"

"A fine, bright morning for your work, miss!" cried the chemist from his
doorstep; while his wife stood at his side, smiling curiously.


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