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Regard our verse with fascination,
Through asinine-paternal eyes,
And hues of fancy's own creation!'"


A vociferous little clock on the mantelpiece struck ten.

"I must be off," said Frank; "there will be my model waiting for me. I
am afraid I have wasted a great deal of your time this morning."

"No, indeed," said Lucy, as Gertrude rose and folded the seductive
_Woodcut_, with a get-thee-behind-me-Satan air; "though I am glad to say
we are quite busy."

"There are Lord Watergate's slides," added Phyllis; "and Mr. Darrell's
sketches to finish off; not to speak of possible chance-comers."

"How do you get on with Darrell?" said Frank, who seemed to have
forgotten his model, and made no movement to go.

"He has only been here once," answered Lucy, promptly; "but I like what
I have seen of him."

"So do I," cried Phyllis.

"And I," added Frank.

In the face of this unanimity Gertrude wisely held her peace.

"Well then, good-bye," said Frank, reluctantly holding out his hand to
each in turn - to Lucy, last. "I am dining out to-night and to-morrow, so
shall not see you for an age, I suppose."

"Gay person," said Lucy, whose hand lingered in his; held there firmly,
and without resistance on her part.

"It's a bore," cried Frank, making wistful eyebrows, and looking at her
very hard.

Gertrude started, struck for the first time by something in the tone and
attitude of them both. With a shock that bewildered her, she realised
the secret of their mutual content; and, stirred up by this unconscious
revelation, a conflicting throng of thoughts, images, and emotions arose
within her.

Gertrude worked like a nigger that day, which, fortunately for her state
of mind, turned out an unusually busy one. Lucy was industrious too, but
went about her work humming little tunes, with a serenity that
contrasted with her sister's rather feverish laboriousness. Even Phyllis
condescended to lend a hand to the finishing off of the prints of Sidney
Darrell's sketches.

All three were rather tired by the time they joined Fanny round the
supper-table, who, herself, presented a pathetic picture of ladylike
boredom.

The meal proceeded for some time in silence, broken occasionally by a
professional remark from one or other of them; then Lucy said -

"You're not eating, Fanny."

"I'm not hungry," answered Fan, with an injured air.

She looked more like a superannuated baby than ever, with her pale
eyebrows arched to her hair, and the corners of her small thin mouth
drooped peevishly.

"This pudding isn't half bad, really, Fan," said Phyllis,
good-naturedly, as she helped herself to a second portion. "I should
advise you to try it."

Fanny's under-lip quivered in a touchingly infantile manner, and, in
another moment, splash! fell a great tear on the table-cloth.

"It's all very well to talk about pudding," she cried, struggling
helplessly with the gurgling sobs. "To leave one alone all the blessed
day, and not a word to throw at one when you do come upstairs, unless,
if you please, it's 'pudding!' Pudding!" went on Fan, with contemptuous
emphasis, and abandoning herself completely to her rising emotions. "You
seem to take me for an idiot, all of you, who think yourselves so
clever. What do you care how dull it is for me up here all day, alone
from morning till night, while you are amusing yourselves below, or
gadding about at gentlemen's studios."

"That sounds just like Aunt Caroline," said Phyllis, in a stage-whisper;
but Lucy, rising, went round to her weeping sister, and, gathering the
big, silly head, and wide moist face to her bosom, proceeded to
administer comfort after the usual inarticulate, feminine fashion.

"Fanny is right," cried Gertrude, smitten with sudden remorse. "It is
horribly dull for her, and we are very thoughtless."

"I am sorry I said anything about it," sobbed Fanny; "but flesh and
blood couldn't stand it any longer."

"You were quite right to tell us, Fan. We have been horrid," cried Lucy,
as she gently led her from the room. "Come upstairs with me, and lie
down. You have not been looking well all the week."

In about ten minutes Lucy re-appeared alone, to find the table cleared,
and her sisters sewing by the lamplight.

"Fan has gone to bed," she announced; "she was a little hysterical, and
I persuaded her to undress."

"It _is_ dull for her, I know," said Gertrude, really distressed; "but
what is to be done?"

"And she has been so good all these months," answered Lucy. "She has had
none of the fun, and all the anxiety and pinching, and this is the first
complaint we have heard from her."

"Yes, she has come out surprisingly well through it all."

Gertrude sighed as she spoke, secretly reproaching herself that there
was not more love in her heart for poor Fanny.

Mrs. Maryon appeared at this point to offer the young ladies her own
copy of the _Waterloo Place Gazette_, a little bit of neighbourly
courtesy in which she often indulged, and which to-night was especially
appreciated, as creating a diversion from an unpleasant topic.

"'A woman shot at Turnham Green,'" cried Phyllis, glancing down a column
of miscellaneous items, while the lamplight fell on her bent brown head.
"'More fighting in Africa.' Ah, here's something interesting at
last. - 'We understand that the exhibition of Mr. Sidney Darrell,
A.R.A.'s pictures, to be held in the Berkeley Galleries, New Bond
Street, will be opened to the public on the first of next month. The
event is looked forward to with great interest in artistic circles, as
the collection is said to include many works never before exhibited in
London.' _I_ shall go like a shot; sha'n't you, Gerty?"

"Yes, and slip little dynamite machines behind the pictures. Let me look
at that paper, Phyllis."

Phyllis pushed it towards her, and, as she took it up, her eye fell on
the date of the month printed at the top of the page.

"Do you know," she said, "that it is a year to-day that we finally
decided on starting our business?"

"Is it?" said Lucy. "Do you mean from that day when Aunt Caroline came
and pitched into us all?"

"Yes; and when Mr. Russel's letter appeared on the scene, just as we
were thinking of rushing in a body to the nearest chemist's for
laudanum."

"And when we made a lot of good resolutions; do you remember?" cried
Phyllis.

"What were they?" said Gertrude. "One was, that we would be happy."

"Well, I think we have kept that one at least," observed Lucy, with
decision.

Gertrude looked across at her sister rather wistfully, as she answered,
"Yes, on the whole. What was the other resolution? That we would not be
cynical, was it not?"

"There hasn't been the slightest ground for cynicism; quite the other
way," said Lucy. "It is not much credit to us to have kept that
resolution."

"Oh, I don't know," observed Phyllis, lightly; "some people have been
rather horrid; have forgotten all about us, or not been nice. Don't you
remember, Gerty, how Gerald St. Aubyn dodged round the corner at Baker
Street the other day because he didn't care to be seen bowing to two
shabby young women with heavy parcels? And, Lucy, have you forgotten
what you told us about Jack Sinclair, when you met him, travelling from
the north? How he never took any notice of you, because you happened to
be riding third class, and had your old gown on? Jack, who used to make
such a fuss about picking up one's pocket-handkerchief and opening the
door for one."

"It seems to me," said Gertrude, "that to think about those sort of
things makes one almost as mean as the people who do them."

"And directly a person shows himself capable of doing them, why, it
ceases to matter about him in the least," added Lucy, with youthful
magnificence.

Gertrude was silent a moment, then said, with something of an effort:
"Let us direct our attention to the charming new people we have got to
know. One gets to know them in such a much more pleasant way, somehow."

Lucy bent her head over her work, hiding her flushed face as she
answered, "That is the best of being poor; one's chances of artificial
acquaintanceships are so much lessened. One gains in quality what one
loses in quantity."

"How moral we are growing," cried Phyllis. "We shall be quoting
Scripture next, and saying it is harder for the camel to get through the
needle's eye, &c., &c."

Gertrude laughed.

"There is another point to consider," she said. "I suppose you both know
that we are not making our fortunes?"

"Yes," answered Lucy; "but, at the same time, the business has almost
doubled itself in the course of the last three months."

"That sounds more prosperous than it really is, Lucy. If it hadn't done
so, we should have had to think seriously of giving it up. And, as it
is, we cannot be sure, till the end of the year, that we shall be able
to hold on."

"You mean the end of the business year; next June?"

"Yes; Mr. Russel is coming, and there is to be a great overhauling of
accounts."

Gertrude lay awake that night long after her sisters were asleep. Her
brief rebellious mood of the morning had passed away, and, looking back
on the year behind her, she experienced a measure of the content which
we all feel after something attempted, something done. That she had been
brought face to face with the sterner side of life, had lost some
illusions, suffered some pain, she did not regret. It seemed to her that
she had not paid too great a price for the increased reality of her
present existence.

She fell asleep, then woke at dawn with a low cry. She had been dreaming
of Lucy and Frank; had seen their faces, as she had seen them the day
before, bright with the glow of the light which never was on sea and
land. Oh, she had always known, nay, hoped, that this, or rather
something akin to this, would come; yet sharp was the pang that ran
through her at the recollection.

It had always seemed to her highly improbable that her sisters,
portionless as they were, should remain unmarried. One day, she had
always told herself, they would go away, and she and Fanny would be left
alone. She did not wish it otherwise. She had a feminine belief in love
as the crown and flower of life; yet, as the shadow of the coming
separation fell upon her, her spirit grew desolate and afraid; and,
lying there in the chill grey morning, she wept very bitterly.

FOOTNOTE:

[A] From _Lawn Tennis_.

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XI.

A CONFIDENCE.

_It may be one will dance to-day,
And dance no more to-morrow;
It may be one will steal away,
And nurse a lifelong sorrow;
What then? The rest advance, evade,
Unite, disport, and dally,
Re-set, coquet, and gallopade,
Not less - in "Cupid's Alley."_
AUSTIN DOBSON.


"Mr. Darrell has sent us a card for his Private View," announced
Gertrude, as they sat at tea one Saturday afternoon in the sitting-room.

"Oh, let me look, Gerty," cried Phyllis, taking possession of the bit of
pasteboard. "'The Misses Lorimer and friends.' Why Conny might go with
us."

Constance Devonshire had dropped in upon them unexpectedly that
afternoon, after an absence of several weeks. She was looking wretchedly
ill. Her usually blooming complexion had changed to a curious waxen
colour; her round face had fallen away; there were dark hollows under
the unnaturally brilliant eyes.

"I should rather like to go, if you think you may take me," she said;
then added, with an air of not very spontaneous gaiety; "I suppose it
will be what the society papers call a 'smart function.'"

Stoicism, it has been observed, is a savage virtue. There was something
of savagery in Conny's fierce reserve; in the way in which she
resolutely refused to acknowledge, what was evident to the most casual
observer, that there was something seriously amiss with her health and
spirits.

"Is it not fortunate," said Lucy, "that Uncle Sebastian should have sent
us that cheque? Now we shall be able to get ourselves some decent
clothes."

"I mean to have a grey cachemire walking-dress, and my evening dress
shall be grey too," announced Phyllis, who was one of the rare people
who can wear that colour to advantage. Fanny, who had rigid ideas about
mourning, declared with an air of severity that her own new outfit
should be black, then sighed, as though to call attention to the fact of
her constancy to the memory of the dead, in the face of the general
heedlessness.

"Gerty is thinking of rose-colour, is she not?" asked Phyllis,
innocently, as she marked Gertrude's rapidly-suppressed movement of
irritation.

"As regards a gown for this precious Private View - I am not going to
it."

"The head of the firm ought to show up on such an occasion, as a mere
matter of business," observed Lucy, smiling amiably at every one in
general.

"Yes, really, Gerty," added Phyllis, "you are the person to inspire
confidence as to the quality of our work. No one would suspect
_us_" - indicating herself and her two other sisters - "of being clever.
It would be considered unlikely that nature should heap up _all_ her
benefits on the same individuals."

"Am I such a fright?" asked Gertrude, a little wistfully.

"No, darling; but there could be no doubt about your brains with that
face."

"Wait a few years," said Conny; "she will be the best looking of you
all."

"We will 'wait till she is eighty in the shade,'" quoted Phyllis; "but
when one comes to think of it, what a well-endowed family we are. Not
only is our genius good-looking; that is a comparatively common case;
but our beauties are so exceedingly intelligent; aren't they, Lucy?"

Constance Devonshire was right. Sidney Darrell's Private View at the
Berkley Galleries, held on the last day of April, was a very smart
function indeed. There were duchesses, beauties, statesmen, and clever
people of every description galore. In the midst of them all Darrell
himself shone resplendent; gracious, urbane, polished; infusing just the
right amount of cordiality into his many greetings, according to the
deserts of the person greeted.

"I never saw any one who possessed to greater perfection the art of
impressing his importance on other people," whispered Conny to Gertrude,
as the two girls strolled off together into one of the smaller rooms.
Lucy had been led off by Frank and one of his friends. That young woman
was never long in any mixed assembly without attracting persons of the
male sex to her side.

As for Phyllis, radiant in the new grey costume, its soft tints set off
by a knot of Parma violets at the throat, she was making the round of
the pictures under the escort of no less a person than Lord Watergate,
who had come up to the Lorimers at the moment of their entrance; and
Fanny, in a jetted mantle and bonnet, clanked about with Mr. Oakley,
happy in the consciousness of being for once in the best society.

"What a dreary thing a London crowd is," grumbled Conny, who was not
accustomed, in her own set, to being left squireless.

"Oh, but this is fun. So different from the parties one used to go to,"
said Gertrude, smiling, as Lord Watergate and her sister came up to
them, to direct their attention to a particular canvas in the other
room.

As they sauntered, in a body, to the entrance, Darrell came up with a
young man of the masher type in his wake, whom he introduced to Phyllis
as Lord Malplaquet.

"Lord Malplaquet is dying to hear your theories of life," he said
playfully, bestowing a beaming and confidential smile upon her.

"Mr. Darrell, you shall not amuse yourself at my expense," she responded
gaily, as she plunged into the crowd under the wing of her new escort,
who was staring at her with the languid yet undisguised admiration of
his class.

"Now this is the real thing," said Lord Watergate to Gertrude, as they
stopped before the canvas they had come to seek.

"Yes," said Gertrude, in mechanical acquiescence.

She was thinking: "What a mean soul I must have. Every one seems to like
and admire this Sidney Darrell: and I suspect everything about him - even
his art. For the sake of a prejudice; of a little hurt vanity, perhaps,
as well."

"That, 'yes,' hasn't the ring of the true coin, Miss Lorimer."

"This is scarcely the time and place for criticism, Lord Watergate,"
laughed Gertrude.

"For hostile criticism, you mean. You are a terrible person to please,
are you not?"

As the room began to clear Darrell took Frank aside, and glancing in
the direction of the sisters, who had re-united their forces, said: "You
know those girls, intimately, I believe."

"Yes." (Very promptly.)

"I wonder if that beautiful Phyllis would sit to me?"

"She would probably be immensely honoured."

"Well, you see, it's this: I want her for Cressida."

"Rather a disagreeable sort of subject isn't it?" said Frank,
doubtfully; then added, with professional interest: "I didn't know you
had such a picture on hand, Mr. Darrell."

"The idea occurred to me this very afternoon. It was the sight of the
fair Phyllis, in fact, which suggested it."

"Were you thinking of the scene in the orchard, or in the Greek camp?"

"Neither; one could hardly ask a lady to sit for such a picture. No, it
is Cressida, before her fall, I want; as she stands at the street corner
with Pandarus, waiting for the Trojan heroes to pass, don't you know?
Half ironical, half wistful; with the light of that little _tendre_ for
Troilus just beginning to dawn in her eyes. She would be the very thing
for it."

"Are you going to propose it to her?" said Frank, who looked as if he
did not much relish the idea.

"I shall ask her to sit for me, at any rate. There's the dragon-sister
to be got round first."

"Indeed you are mistaken about Miss Lorimer."

Darrell gave a short laugh. "I beg your pardon, my dear fellow!"

Frank frowned, and Darrell, going forward to the Lorimers, preferred his
request.

Phyllis looked pleased; and Gertrude, suppressing the signs of her
secret dislike to the scheme, said, quietly:

"Phyllis must refer you to her sister Fanny. It depends on whether she
can spare the time to bring her to your studio."

She glanced up as she spoke, and met, almost with open defiance, the
heavy grey eyes of the man opposite. From these she perceived the irony
to have faded; she read nothing there but a cold dislike.

It was an old, old story the fierce yet silent opposition between these
two people; an inevitable antipathy; a strife of type and type, of
class and class, rather than of individuals: the strife of the woman who
demands respect, with the man who refuses to grant it.

* * * * *

Phyllis was in high feather at her successful afternoon, at the
compliment paid her by the great Sidney in particular; and Fanny rather
brightened at the prospect of what bore even so distant a resemblance to
an occupation, as chaperoning her sister to a studio.

Only Conny was silent and depressed, and when they reached Baker-street,
followed Gertrude to her room. Here she flung herself on the bed,
regardless of her new transparent black hat, and its daffodil trimmings.

"Gerty, 'the world's a beast, and I hate it!'"

"You are not well, Conny. If you would only acknowledge the fact, and
see a doctor."

"Gerty, come here."

Gertrude went over to the bed, secretly alarmed; something in her
friend's tones frightened her.

Conny crushed her face against the pillows, then said in smothered
tones:

"I can't bear it any longer. I must tell some one or it will kill me."

Gertrude grew pale; instinctively she felt what was coming;
instinctively she desired to ward it off.

"Can't you guess? Oh, you may say it is humiliating, unworthy; I know
that." She raised her face suddenly: "Oh, Gerty, how can I help it? He
is so different from them all; from the sneaks who want one's money;
from the bad imitations of fashionable young men, who snub, and
patronise, and sneer at us all. Who could help it? Frank - - "

"Conny, Conny, you musn't tell me this."

Gertrude caught her friend in her arms, so as to shield her face. She
disapproved, generally speaking, of confidences of this kind,
considering them bad for both giver and receiver; but this particular
confidence she felt to be simply intolerable.

"Gerty, what have I done, what have I said?"

"Nothing, really nothing, Con, dear old girl. You have told me nothing."

A pause; then Conny said, between the sobs which at last had broken
forth: "How can I bear my life? How can I bear it?"

Gertrude was very pale.

"We all have to bear things, Conny; often this kind of thing, we women."

"I don't think I _can_."

"Yes, you will. You have no end of pluck. One day you are going to be
very happy."

"Never, Gerty. We rich girls always end up with sneaks - no decent person
comes near us."

"There are other things which make happiness besides - pleasant things
happening to one."

"What sort of things?"

Gertrude paused a minute, then said bravely: "Our own self-respect, and
the integrity of the people we care for."

"That sounds very nice," replied Conny, without enthusiasm, "but I
should like a little of the more obvious sorts of happiness as well."

Gertrude gave a laugh, which was also a sob.

"So should I, Conny, so should I."


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XII.

GERTRUDE IS ANXIOUS.

_Lady, do you know the tune?
Ah, we all of us have hummed it!
I've an old guitar has thrummed it
Under many a changing moon._
THACKERAY.


When Frank next saw Sidney Darrell, the latter told him that he had
abandoned the idea of the "Cressida," and was painting Phyllis Lorimer
in her own character.

"Grey gown; Parma violets; grey and purplish background. Shall let Sir
Coutts have it, I think," he added; "it will show up better at his place
than amid the _profanum vulgus_ of Burlington House."

"Mr. Darrell doesn't often paint portraits, does he?" Lucy said, when
Jermyn was discussing the matter one evening in Baker Street.

"Not often; but those that he has done are among his finest work. That
one of poor Lady Watergate for instance - it is Carolus Duran at his very
best."

"By the bye, what an incongruous friendship it always seems to me - Lord
Watergate and Mr. Darrell," said Lucy.

"Oh, I don't know that it's much of a friendship," answered Frank.

"Lord Watergate often drops in at The Sycamores," put in Phyllis,
helping herself from a smart _bonbonnière_ from Charbonnel and Walker's;
for Sidney found many indirect means of paying his pretty model; "I
think he is such a nice old person."

"Old," cried Fanny; "he is not old at all. I looked him out in Mr.
Darrell's Peerage. He is thirty-seven, and his name is Ralph."

"'I love my love with an R..' You said it just in that way, Fan,"
laughed Phyllis. "Yes, it is an odd friendship, if one comes to think of
it - that big, kind, simple, Lord Watergate, and my elaborate friend,
Sidney."

"Mr. Darrell is a perfect gentleman," interposed Fan, with dignity.

The occasional mornings at The Sycamores, afforded a pleasant break in
the monotony of her existence. Darrell treated her with a careful, if
ironical politeness, which she accepted in all good faith.

"Fan, as they call her, is a fool, but none the worse for that," had
been his brief summing up of the poor lady, whom, indeed, he rather
liked than otherwise.

It was the end of May, and the sittings had been going on in a
spasmodic, irregular fashion, throughout the month. Both the girls
enjoyed them. Darrell, like the rest of the world, treated Phyllis as a
spoilt child; gave her sweets and flowers galore; and what was better,
tickets for concerts, galleries, and theatres, of which her sisters also
reaped the benefit.

Gertrude secretly disliked the whole proceeding, but, aware that she had
no reasonable objection to offer, wisely held her peace; telling herself
that if one person did not turn her little sister's head, another was
sure to do so; and perhaps the sooner she was accustomed to the process
the better.

"Why won't you come up and see my portrait?" Phyllis had pleaded; "I am
going next Sunday, so you can have no excuse."

"I shall see it when it is finished," Gertrude had answered.

"Oh, but you can get a good idea of what it will look like, already. It
is a great thing, life-size, and ends at about the knees. I am standing
up and looking over my shoulder, so. I suppose Mr. Darrell has found out
how nicely my head turns round on my neck."

Gertrude had laughed, and even attempted a pun in her reply, but she did


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