B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Duchess of Rosemary Lane online

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detestable. Either way it is bad and degrading."

"Admitting all this - which I do not - to what do you attribute this
worse condition of affairs?"

"If you will pardon me," replied Arthur with modesty, "I have not
gone as far as that. I have my thoughts, but I must see more before I
should consider myself justified in accusing. I merely record what
present themselves as clear pictures to my mind."

"When you see more, and are able from positive experience and
observation to form just conclusions, you will admit that we must
accept the world as we find it, and that the only wise course is to
make use of it to our advantage."

"To turn its foibles to our advantage, sir?"

"Most certainly."

"Its shipwrecks and calamities - you know what I mean, sir - to turn
even those to our advantage?"

"It is always a difficult thing to argue with an enthusiast,
especially with an enthusiast whom one loves as I love you."

"I know you love me, sir," interrupted Arthur, warmly, "but I do not
like the idea you have expressed. I think you would scarcely uphold it
in its fulness."

"It is not difficult for a skilful disputant to turn his adversary's
words against himself, and so to colour them as to make them bear a
stronger and therefore different interpretation. Logic is an excellent
weapon, Arthur, but it may be much abused."

"Admitted, sir. But it seems to me that it would be more noble and
honourable to turn the experience we gained of the world to the
world's advantage instead of to our own."

"The two aims may go together; but it is an absolute necessity that we
should never lose sight of ourselves."

"And of our own aggrandisement?" interrupted Arthur.

"Yes, if you put it that way, though there are pleasanter ways of
expressing it."

"More polished ways, sir?"


"But not more truthful."

"Probably not," said Mr. Temple, with no show of irritation, though he
was secretly annoyed. "Remember that self-preservation is Nature's
first law."

"Which does not mean," said Arthur, flying off at a tangent, as is the
way with most impulsive natures, "that we should be continually
stabbing our comrades in the race, or grudging to others honours
worthily won - such as yours, sir - or withholding from others a true
meed of admiration because our own merits - which, of course in our own
estimation, are very great - have not been so generally recognised."

"These are common phrases, Arthur. Let me warn you to beware of
platitudes. No platitudinarian ever rose in the world, or made for
himself more than a mediocre reputation."

"That is flying away from the argument, sir," said Arthur vivaciously.

"Very well, then. I understand you to express that you should deem
yourself as fortunate if you were unsuccessful in an ambition as if
you had accomplished it."

"Not quite that, sir, but in some small way I can imagine
circumstances in which I should deem defeat a victory."

"Do not imagine, Arthur - or, at all events, imagine as little as you
can. Action is what the world calls for, is what the world demands of
its leaders. And if you can act in such a way as not to oppose an
established order of things, success is all the more sure."

"There is much to admire in souls which, animated by high desires,
suffer from opposing an established order of things, and are
consequently not prosperous."

"You have hit a nail, Arthur," said Mr. Temple, with emphasis;
"'_consequently_ not prosperous.'"

"Exactly so, sir; you take my meaning. I see in these unprosperous men
much more to admire than in successful time-servers. And remember,
sir," said Arthur, who frequently showed much pertinaciousness in
argument, "that the very carrying out in its integrity of the axiom
that preservation is Nature's first law would rob history of its most
noble and heroic examples. I hope you do not mind my expressing myself
thus plainly and, as I perceive, antagonistically to your views."

"Not at all. It is better that you should speak plainly to me what is
in your mind than that you should needlessly betray yourself to
strangers, who would not understand you." (Arthur was about to say
here that he should not be deterred from expressing himself clearly in
any society, but his father anticipated the declaration, and gave him
no opportunity of expressing it.) "It does one good to be able to
relieve himself in confidence of the vapours that oppress him. The air
becomes clearer afterwards. Notwithstanding our seeming difference, I
trust that our sympathies are in common - - "

"I trust so, sir."

"We speak and judge from different standpoints; I from a long and
varied experience of human nature, you from the threshold of life.
When you are my age, you will think exactly as I do, and will be
perhaps endeavouring, as I am endeavouring now, to check in your own
children the enthusiasm which blinds one with excess of light, and
which almost invariably leads to false and unpractical conclusions."

Arthur pondered over these words in silence, as he sat and glanced at
a newspaper, as his father was doing. The calm judicial air which Mr.
Temple assumed in these arguments enabled him generally to obtain an
apparent victory, but it was seldom that either of the disputants was
satisfied with the result. Purposely cultivating the intimacy between
himself and Arthur, so that he might counteract the enthusiasm which
he feared might step in the worldly way of his son, Mr. Temple was
conscious that he effected but little good, and he could not but
acknowledge to himself with inward trepidation that Arthur never
failed to advocate the nobler side. This acknowledgment brought to his
soul a sense of deep reproach - reproach which had he not loved his
son, and based all his hopes upon him, might have caused an
estrangement between them. For it was Arthur's words which awoke, not
exactly his conscience, but his intellectual judgment, which compelled
him to admit within the recesses of his own heart that he always
played the meaner and the baser part in their arguments. Sometimes he
asked himself if the lad was sincere; he subjected his own life as a
young man to a critical analysis, to discover whether he had been led
away in his estimate of men and things as he feared Arthur was being
led away. It was characteristic of the man that at this period of his
life - whatever he may have done in his more youthful days - he did not
juggle with himself. In his solitary musings and communings with his
inner nature he admitted the truth - but the glowing and delicate
promptings never passed his lips, never found utterance. So now, on
looking back, he saw at a single mental glance the wide barrier which
divided his passions and his enthusiasms from those of his son. This
barrier may be expressed in one word: selfishness. It was this
sentiment that had ruled his life, that had made him blind to the
consequences he might inflict upon others by his acts. Whether it were
a voluntary or involuntary guiding, by this sentiment had he been led
step by step up the ladder, casting no look at the despair which lay
behind him. It was otherwise with Arthur; his father recognised that
his son's promptings were generous and noble, and that there was no
atom of selfishness in his judgment of this and that. And when he came
to this point a smile played about his lips, and a world of meaning
found expression in his unuttered thought: "Arthur has not yet begun
to live."

The lad thought also; he did not pause to ask himself whether his
convictions were right or wrong - to those he was fixed by an unerring
instinct. But he tried, with little success, to bring his views into
harmony with his father's worldly wisdom. The only consolation he
derived was in the reflection that there was more than one fair road
to a goal. As to throwing a doubt upon his father's rectitude and
honour, no shadow of such a thought crossed his mind. He felt, as his
father did, that there was a barrier between them, and he mentally
resolved to endeavour to break it down. He glanced at his father's
immovable face and tightly-closed lips, and saw that he was occupied
by musings that distressed him. "It is I," thought Arthur, "who have
given him pain. He is disappointed in me. Surely it is only because we
cannot arrive at an understanding." How to commence to break down this
barrier? The first means were in his hands - a newspaper, the epitome
of life in all its large and small aspects, from the deposing of an
emperor to the celebration of a new style in bonnets, from the
horrible massacre of thousands of human beings in the East of Europe
to the mild kicking of his wife by a costermonger in the East of

He commenced in a trembling voice - for the lad was the soul of
ingenuousness, and could not play a part, however small, without
betraying himself - by an introductory comment on a political question
of the day. Mr. Temple instantly aroused himself, and replied, without
observing Arthur's agitation. Gaining confidence, Arthur proceeded,
and an animated conversation ensued. Their views were again
antagonistic, but there was nothing personally painful in their
dissent. With the skill of long experience Mr. Temple drew Arthur out
upon the theme, and the lad became eloquent, as earnestness generally
is - but this eloquence, combined with this earnestness, was of a
standard so high, and the language and periods in which Arthur
illustrated his points were at once so powerful and polished, that Mr.
Temple thrilled with exultation, and he thought, "All is well." His
face cleared, his manner was almost joyous, and when the subject was
exhausted he said:

"Arthur, you have afforded me great delight. I cannot express my pride
and pleasure. You are an orator."

Arthur blushed and stammered; the praise unnerved him, and brought him
back to sober earth.

"Yes," continued Mr. Temple, "you are an orator, and you will fall
into your proper groove in life - - Nay, do not interrupt me; you will
verify my prediction. When a great, a noble gift is given to a man,
and he knows that it is his, and when opportunity is given to him as
it will be given to you, it is impossible for him to neglect it. God
has given you the gift of eloquence, and you will fail in your duty if
you do not properly use it. You are far in advance of me; I am
accounted a good speaker, but I confess to you that I never lose
myself in my words; if I did, I should become incoherent. I know
beforehand what I am about to say; your words are unstudied, and are
conveyed with a fire which cannot but stir your listeners to
enthusiasm. That your political views differ from mine hurts me but
little." Arthur raised his face to his father's in quick, affectionate
response. "I am a Conservative; if your views do not undergo change,
you will become a Liberal; and in this you will but march with the
times. The fields are equally honourable. You will become a champion,
a leader of your party. My dear boy, my fondest hopes will be realised
in you."

From politics they passed to other themes, drawn from the columns of
the newspaper, and then silence reigned for a little while. Mrs.
Temple had left the room, and Arthur was now engaged in a column which
appeared to interest him more than politics, foreign complications or
the state of the money market, all of which matters had formed subject
of conversation.

Presently he spoke.

"It is a great pleasure to me to be able to speak openly to you, sir,
and to feel that, though you do not always agree with me, I can say
exactly what is in my mind."

"Unhappily, Arthur, this kind of confidence is too rarely cultivated.
It needs no cultivation in us. It already exists."

As he spoke his arm stole about Arthur's shoulder, and fondly rested

"You have so directed my thoughts to myself and the career before me
that as I read I find myself almost unconsciously examining the
relative impressions produced upon me by current events."

"An intellectual sign, Arthur."

"Pray, sir, do not flatter me too much," said Arthur, seriously; "it
produces in me a sensation which is not entirely agreeable."

"You must make allowance, Arthur, for a father's pride in his son."

"Forgive me for my remark; I forgot myself for a moment. I doubt
whether I deserve the love you bestow upon me."

"You more than deserve it, my dear boy, by returning it."

"Which I do sir, heartily, sincerely. Well then, I was about to say
that I find myself much more affected by the domestic and social
incidents in the newspapers than by the larger historical records. For
instance, neither the political crisis nor the war produces within me
so strong an impression as the sad history comprised in this short

Mr. Temple turned his head towards the paper, and glanced at the
paragraph pointed out by Arthur, making no attempt to read it.

"Concerning any public person, Arthur?"

"No, sir. Concerning one whose name might never have been known but
for her misfortunes."

"_Her_ misfortunes! A woman, then?"

"A poor girl, found drowned in the river."


"She met her death by her own hands. On the river bank she had
placed her child, a mere infant three or four months old. The poor
girl - scarcely my age, and well-looking, the account says - must have
drowned herself in the night when it was dark. First she stripped
herself of her warm underclothing, and wrapped her baby in it to
protect it from the cold, hoping, no doubt, that it would fall into
humane hands soon after she walked to her doom. But the night passed,
and the child was not discovered. By a strange fatality, within a few
hours after the girl-mother was drowned, the waves washed her body on
to the river's bank near to the form of her child, and when the sun
shone, its light fell upon the dead mother and her living child lying
side by side. There was nothing about her to prove her identity; even
the initials on her clothes had been carefully removed. But a paper
was found, on which was written, evidently by one of fair education:
'By my sinful act I remove myself and my shame from the eyes of a
cruel world. I die in despair, unconsoled by the belief that
retribution will fall upon the head of him who betrayed and deserted
me.' On the head of him who betrayed her! Is it possible that such a
man, after reading this record of his guilt - as perhaps he may be
doing at this very moment - can enjoy a moment's happiness? Is it
possible that he can sleep? Though by this dead girl's generosity his
secret is safe, retribution will fall upon him - as surely as there is
a heaven above us! If I discovered that ever in my life I had clasped
the hand of such a man, I should be tempted to cut mine from its wrist
to rid myself of the shameful contamination of his touch! What is the
matter, sir? You are ill!"

"A sudden faintness, Arthur - nothing more. I have been working hard
lately, and I need rest. Goodnight."

As Mr. Temple rose to leave the room, he turned from Arthur's anxious
gaze a face that was like the face of a ghost.


In more than one respect Mrs. Lenoir was an object of interest to her
neighbours, and in some sense a mystery, which they solved after a
fashion not uncommon among poor people. That she was a woman of
superior breeding to themselves, and that she did not associate freely
with them, would certainly, but for one consideration, have stirred
their resentment against her. Mrs. Lenoir did not, to adopt their own
vernacular, give herself airs. "At all events," said they, "there's
nothing stuck up about her." Moving among them, with her silent ways,
she exhibited no consciousness of superiority, as other women in a
similar position might have done; instead of holding her head above
them, she walked the streets with a demeanour so uniformly sad and
humble, that the feeling she evoked was one more of pity than of
resentment. There is in some humilities a pride which hurts by
contact. Had this been apparent in Mrs. Lenoir, her neighbours'
tongues would have wagged remorselessly in her disfavour; but the
contrary was the case. There was expressed in her bearing a mute
appeal to them to be merciful to her; instead of placing herself above
them, she seemed to place herself below them, and she conveyed the
impression of living through the sad days weighed down by a grief too
deep for utterance, and either too sacred or too terrible for human
communion. When circumstances brought her into communication with her
neighbours, her gentleness won respect and consideration; and what was
known of her life outside the boundary of the lonely room she
occupied, and which no person was allowed to enter, touched their
hearts in her favour. Thus, as far as her means allowed her - and
indeed, although they were not aware of it, far beyond her means - she
was kind to the sick and to those who were poorer than herself, and
she frequently went hungry to bed because of the sacrifices she made
for them. Such small help as she could give was invariably proffered
unobtrusively, almost secretly; but it became known, and it did her no
harm in the estimation of her neighbours.

But what excited the greatest curiosity and the most frequent comment
was the strange fancy which possessed her of seeking out young girls
who were sweethearting, and voluntarily rendering them just that kind
of service which they were likely most to value - ministering to their
innocent vanities in a manner which they regarded as noble and
generous. Mrs. Lenoir was a cunning needlewoman, and in the cutting
out of a dress had no equal in the neighbourhood. She possessed, also,
the art rare among Englishwomen, of knowing precisely the style,
colours, and material which would best become the girl she desired to
serve. To many such Mrs. Lenoir would introduce herself, and offer her
services as dressmaker, stipulating beforehand that she should be
allowed to work for love, and not for money. The exercise of this
singular fancy made her almost a public character; and many a girl who
was indebted to her, and whose wooing was brought to a happy
conclusion, endeavoured gratefully to requite her services by pressing
an intimacy upon her. Mrs. Lenoir steadily repelled every advance made
in this direction. She gave them most willingly the work of her hands,
but she would not admit them to her heart, nor would she confide her
sorrows to them. She received their confidences, and sympathised with
and advised them; but she gave no confidence in return.

Had they been cognisant of the life that was hidden from them, they
might have declared her to be mad. This silent, reserved, and
strangely-kind woman was subject to emotions and passions which no
human eye witnessed, which no human breast shared. In the solitude of
her poorly-furnished attic, she would stand motionless for hours,
looking out upon the darkness of the night. At these times, not a
sound, not a movement escaped her; she was as one in a trance,
incapable of motion. And not unlikely, as is recorded of those who lie
in that death-like sleep, there was in her mind a chaos of thought,
terrible and overwhelming. It was always in the night that these moods
took possession of her. It was a peculiar phase of her condition that
darkness had no terrors for her. When dark shadows only were visible,
she was outwardly calm and peaceful; but moonlight stirred her to
startling extravagances. She trembled, she shuddered, her white lips
moved convulsively, she sank upon her knees, and strove, with
wildly-waving hands, to beat away the light. But she was dominated by
a resistless force which compelled her to face the light, and draw
from it memories which agonised her. The brighter and more beautiful
was the night, the keener was her pain, and she had no power to fly
from it. If she awoke from sleep, and saw the moon shining through the
window, she would hide her eyes in the bedclothes, with tears and sobs
that came from a broken heart, and the next moment her feeble hands
would pluck the clothes aside, so that she might gaze upon the
peaceful light which stabbed her like a knife. She was ruled by other
influences, scarcely less powerful. Moonlight shining on still waters;
certain flowers; falling snow - all these terribly disturbed her, and
aroused in full force the memories which tortured her. Had her
neighbours witnessed her paroxysms on on these occasions, they would
have had the fairest reason for declaring that Mrs. Lenoir was mad.

She lived entirely out of the world; read no newspapers; played a part
in no scandals; and the throbs of great ambitions which shook thrones
and nations never reached the heart, never touched the soul of this
lonely woman, who might have been supposed to be waiting for death to
put an end to her sorrows.

A few weeks after she had made Lizzie's dress, Mrs. Lenoir was sitting
as usual alone in her room. She was not at work; with her hand
supporting her face, she was gazing with tearful eyes upon three
pictures, which she had taken from a desk which stood open on the
table. This desk was in itself a remarkable possession for a woman in
her position in life. It was inlaid with many kinds of curious woods,
and slender devices in silver; it was old, and had seen service, but
it had been carefully used. The three pictures represented sketches of
a beautiful face, the first of a child a year old, the second the
child grown to girlhood, the third the girl grown to womanhood. The
pictures were painted in water-colours, and the third had been but
recently sketched. Over the mantelshelf hung a copy of this last
picture, which - as was the case with all of them - though the hand of
the amateur was apparent, evidenced a loving care in its execution.
Long and with yearning eyes did Mrs. Lenoir gaze upon the beautiful
face; had it been warm and living by her side, a more intense and
worshipping love could not have been expressed by the lonely woman.
The striking of eight o'clock from an adjacent church roused her; with
a sigh that was like a sob, she placed the pictures in her desk, and
setting it aside, resumed the needlework which she had allowed to fall
into her lap.

Winter had come somewhat suddenly upon the city, and snow had fallen
earlier than usual. One candle supplied the room with light, and a
very small fire with warmth. For an hour Mrs. Lenoir worked with the
monotony of a machine, and then she was disturbed by a knock at the
door. She turned her head, but did not speak. The knock was repeated,
and a voice from without called to her.

"Are you at home, Mrs. Lenoir?"

"Yes, Lizzie."

"Let me in."

"I will come to you."

Mrs. Lenoir went to the door, which was locked, and, turning the key,
stepped into the passage.

"Well, Lizzie?"

"But you must let me in, Mrs. Lenoir. I want to tell you something,
and I can't speak in the dark."

"Lizzie, you must bear with my strange moods. You know I never receive

"To call me a visitor! And I've run to tell you the very first! Mrs.
Lenoir, I have no mother."

Lizzie's pleading conquered. She glided by Mrs. Lenoir, and entered
the room. Mrs. Lenoir slowly followed. Lizzie's face was bright, her
manner joyous. "Guess what has happened, Mrs. Lenoir!"

Mrs. Lenoir cast a glance at Lizzie's happy face.

"You will soon be married, Lizzie."

"Yes," said Lizzie, with sparkling eyes, "it was all settled this
evening. And do you know, Mrs. Lenoir, that though I've been thinking
of it and thinking of it ever since me and Charlie have known each
other, it seems as if something wonderful has happened which I never
could have hoped would come true. But it _is_ true, Mrs. Lenoir. In
three weeks from this very day. It's like a dream."

Mrs. Lenoir had resumed her work while Lizzie was speaking, and now
steadily pursued it as the girl continued to prattle of her hopes and

"You will make my dress, Mrs. Lenoir?"

"Yes, Lizzie."

"And you'll let Charlie pay for the making?"

"You must find another dressmaker, then. What I do for you I do
for - - "


"If you like to call it so, Lizzie. At all events I will not take
money for it."

"You are too good to me, Mrs. Lenoir. I can't help myself; you _must_
make my dress, because no one else could do it a hundredth part as
well, and because, for Charlie's sake, I want to look as nice as
possible. And that's what I mean to do all my life. I'll make myself
always look as nice as I can, so that Charlie shall never get tired of
me. But one thing you _must_ promise me, Mrs. Lenoir."

"What is that, Lizzie?"

"You'll come to the wedding."

Mrs. Lenoir shook her head.

"I go nowhere, as you know, Lizzie. You must not expect me."

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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 18 of 24)