Holme Lee.

This work-a-day world (Volume 2) online

. (page 10 of 13)
Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

pleading eyes. It would be a delusion and a
snare, forbidden of all wise men and prudent
women. But never mind for the present, he
is not back in England yet, and I permit you
to cherish his memory at a distance. I wish
his wife were in heaven ! '

* O Georgie, don t wish anything so wicked,'
remonstrated Winny.

* But, indeed, I do. You know that I was
in Wales last summer. I heard the whole story
of his marriage from the clergyman of the


place where it happened. What a fool he
was ! '

' Amongst all the variety of men's follies I
don't call Mr Durant's the worst,' said Winny.

* It is almost ; for it is one of the irretrievable
follies. Take this as a rule — when a young
woman offers to throw herself into a mill-
stream for love, it will save trouble to let her
go, and do it. If it be convenient, you may
have a man ready with a pole and hook to
fish her out after she has had a cooling. The
prescription will apply to the youth of the other
sex as well.'

*You are an advocate for heroic remedies,
Georgie. I wonder how you would behave if
you were in love.'

''So do I. I should like to know — for the
curiosity of the thing.' Georgie gazed at the
buckles of her shoes with admirable serenity for
the space of a minute, then slowly all over her
face warmed a delightful blush. Winny's eyes
asked an explanation. ' It signifies nothing
but my own thoughts at the absurd idea,' was
Georgie's reply.


She had great audacity. At that very
moment she was engaged to be married, con-
ditionally on her not repenting within a certain
rather long period of probation. She believed
that she would repent, and she decided not to
admit Winny to a knowledge of her interesting
position, lest Winny should retaliate when she
jibed at Mr Durant. Georgie abhorred being
laughed at, though she was not herself always
sparing of sarcasm. She turned the conversa-
tion to another subject, to matters literary,
and produced from a drawer in her writing-
table several small rolls of soiled manuscript
which Winny recognised as rejected addresses
to public editors. Georgie had got nothing
accepted yet, and was plaintive about it. She
felt convinced that she would succeed if she
could once win a hearing. Winny was con-
vinced of it too.

* Have you anything that has not been up on
its approval ? ' she asked. ' A tale of some
sort ? '

' Yes — here is one : *' Job's Wife," and an
" Essay on the Providence that defeats our


bad intentions." I prefer the essay my-

WInny was skimming the tale with a rapid
eye. * It is the philosophy of the pole and the
hook, I see,' was her comment. ' I am going
to send up some pieces of my own, and I will
send this with them, if you like. But you have
signed it "George."' ''George Denham," de-
murring. ' If I am to take you in tow I should
prefer Georgiana.'

' I cannot indulge you, Winny. " George "
is to be my signature. I shall not submit to be
lectured by puny critics as an ungrammatical
school-girl. I do not much care for appearing
in the magazine that suits you, but one must
begin somewhere,' and she elevated her chin
in her happy, superior, complacent way.

' I should never be surprised if you fell into
the critical line yourself, Georgie — you have an
incisive style.'

Georgie seemed to reflect, to hesitate, and
then, with an embarrassed laugh, produced
another soiled roll of manuscript from the
drawer, and tossed it into Winny's lap : 'I


have tried my hand at criticism too. Read
that. How do you think it would do ?*

Winny compHed, and read that. It was a
criticism on her own book. Once Georgie
made a movement to snatch it out of her
hands, but sat down again under a look
from Winny.

' The editor I offered It to sent it back on the
plea that he did not agree with it/ Georgie
tittered as her comrade .finished the paper, and
tossed it over to her. Winny s visage was rather
hot ; you would have said she was pained. She
was mentally quoting the prayer to be saved
from her friends. * You are not vext, Winny ? '
Georgie said rather compunction sly.

* Vext ? No ! We must learn not to quarrel
with dispassionate opinions. But you have
taught me an evil lesson against yourself— eh ? '
Georgie reddened, and fell to remonstrance.
* Never fear! you shall go scatheless for me.
But I am glad the editor, whoever he was, did
not agree with that damaging criticism. Don't
protest — I know you did not mean it. You
are no worse than the boys pelting the frogs —


Sport to you, death to us. But about your
name, Georgie. Sign none at all, and then,
when you are famous, you may sign your own,
and enjoy it.'

But Georgie obstinately adhered to her
original intention, and Winny had to yield.
She requested the editor's special attention to
the work of the new volunteer, and he gave
it an attention so special that he printed it,
while he returned her articles to Winny for
want of room. Georgie chuckled with glee
over this result, such a perfect fulfilment of
Winny's prediction ; and Winny, with magna-
nimity, congratulated her friend, and bade her
go on and prosper. She hoped for better luck
herself next time ; and having pretty tales and
sketches to dispose of meanwhile, she sought
other pages to fill, and found them.

Mrs Hesketh was sorry to see that Winny
was as much and more than ever devoted to
her idle scribbling these holidays — the widow
had not changed or modified her judgment
about it one iota. Perhaps she had a pride in
remaining of the same opinion. Whether she



had read Winny's book or not Winny did not
inquire, and her mother did not inform her.
But It was to be had at the pubHc library, and
to intimate old friends like Mrs Knox and Miss
Baxter, she had plainly stated her disapproba-
tion. It seemed that they coincided with her ;
for they observed a strict silence. Also to Mrs
Wedge, a clergywoman of Low Church persua-
sion, who visited the district including Castle
Green, the widow had revealed her trouble, and
Winny heard of It again in a pious homily from
that lady, which struck her as the height of im-
pertinence. Mrs Fleetwood, grown infirm now,
and confined to her easy-chair, was the only
person who offered Winny, as an authoress, any
countenance, and that was slight before folks :
no more than a furtive wink. As much as to
say that being in a minority of one against the
saints, she must go softly in the error of her

But in a private moment she committed her-
self to livelier counsels of encouragement. * My
dear Winny, prize yourself more!' cried she,
struggling with shortness of breath to be em-


phatlc. * Never hold yourself cheap. The
world takes us all at our own valuation, and
the self-asserting people get the best of it. It
has not leisure to look into their claims, and
passes them without investigation. Assert
yourself, my dear, assert yourself ! '

But Winny only sat still. She did not care
enough for general approbation to levy^ it
perforce ; if it reached her as a voluntary,
spontaneous contribution, well and good, but
she was very unlikely to seek it. But Georgie
demanded praise, exacted it as her due, and she
had it abundantly. Her clever father put on
his spectacles, and read her production aloud
to her delighted family, who laughed and cried,
and discovered in it traits of the finest
humour and pathos. The fact that she had
entered upon a literary career was announced
to the most distant of the family connections
as a fact to be proud of and at home she
was honoured and privileged like an eldest

* What do you think ! I have bought a
ledger to paste in it all her articles, and the


notices out of the papers ! ' her sister mentioned
to WInny in accents of jubilation.

' A Httle flattery will do her no harm/ said
Winny, quietly amused. * Georgie works the
better for cordial appreciation.'

Georgie's sister thought it rather nice of
Winny not to be jealous or envious ; but Winny
was quite prepared to see Georgie pass her
without the least feeling of outrivalry. Her
penny-fee of flattery was to be derived from
strangers, or almost strangers. Mr Caleb
meeting her in the street one day, gave her a
painfully hard squeeze of the hand, with con-
gratulatory nods, and promises to enrich her
repository of strange and moving incidents from
his own experience.

* I fell in with your book at the London
Library — they take no trash there,' said he. ' I
can tell you queer stories without end, real,
live stories.' Winny did not doubt it. She
only doubted whether the queer stories would
be much in her way.

The next morning the old painter called at
Mrs Hesketh's house, and was shown into the


parlour where WInny sat amidst billows of
muslin curtains, sewing on rings for her mother.
He called to invite Winny to go to London —
a wonderful and charming shock of surprise
— he lived in London now more than in
Cotham, though he still kept up his
establishment at the north end of Castle

* You are not acquainted with Mrs Caleb,
but I'll introduce you, and we will show you
something of life,* said he briskly. ' We return
to town on Monday. Think about it, and say
you will come.'

Winny's countenance said for her frankly
how much she would like to come, and when
Mrs Caleb appeared, a homely little woman,
much younger than her husband, but equally
cordial, and anxious to second his invitation,
she accepted it. The widow Hesketh wore a
very reserved air about it, but she could not
deny that it was kind, and she did not refuse
her consent.

' Why, you are going to be a lion ! ' Miss
Denham said, quizzing her, when Winny re-


ported her happy fortune. * Buy a black net
bonnet and a black net dress, and they will see
you through your frolic'

' But I hate black — it does not suit me/ said

* Then go in your straw-plait and white
frocks, and look like a country mawkin ! I
wish I were in your place. I adore London.
Perhaps we may meet there — my worthy
friends, the Harvey-Phillipps', are quick at
seeing my desires and deservings. If you
have the chance, mind you go to see Mario in
' Faust.' That is the most valuable recom-
mendation I can give you for the present



Mr Caleb's house in town was not three
minutes' walk from Mr Hayland's — only just
round the corner in another street. Winny
Hesketh was made aware of this by a letter
that Aunt Agnes wrote to her in reply to her
announcement that she was about to revisit
London : * The Calebs are almost next door
to us. You must drop in as soon as you can ;
and we should like to have you altogether for
a week or two before you go back to Cotham.
Dear Lucy is quite impatient to see you since
she has heard you are coming.' Winny was in
as much glee over her anticipated visits as she
ever was over anything now.

Her mother said : *Your two months will
run away very fast. And you have promised


to go to Southmead too.' Southmead was the
residence of Mr and Mrs Frank Jarvis at

* I must stay with Mildred on my way home,'
Winny said.

Her mother was not unthankful that she
should have opportunities of change and
amusement. Her life seemed but a dull life
on the whole. One morning while she was
still on Castle Green, she received that Indian
letter which was on its road when she got her
valentine. The widow asked her whence it
was, and Winny told her.

It is probable that recent events had
afforded to Mrs Hesketh fresh light by which
to review those maxims and theories on which
she had striven to mould her daughter's prin-
ciples and rule her conduct. Not that she
ever changed her formulas or admitted that she
had spoken hard sentences ; but her air, her
actions, a certain downcast sad look she had
expressed inward doubt and, perhaps, recanta-
tion. Winny was sorry for her mother. She
saw that she was grieving. Her method of


consolation was to bid her not grieve for
what could not be helped.

' There is a fate in it, mother/ said she with
a pathetic carelessness. ' Don't fret for me —
it is quite sure that I shall never entangle
myself in the toils of matrimony now. I
remember long ago how Mildred Hutton
predicted that I should fall in love perversely
as a punishment for my pride. But I would
rather keep my trouble, such as it is, than
never have had it ; and it is not so sore but that
it might be a great deal worse.'

' You talk nonsense, Winny. It is doing you
harm. It weighs on your spirits. Oh, you
need not tell me ! I know what that trouble
does,' rejoined her mother. * You must try to
forget it.'

Winny did not try to forget it. She cherished
it as a possession, rather; and did not recog-
nise that it could do her a mischief. She still
enjoyed the sight of the sun, and of all things
that the sun shone upon. Nevertheless, the
change that had struck Miss Denham was too
marked to be long dissembled before her


mother's eyes. The morning she left Cotham
to go to London she was cheerful, but the
buoyant vivacity of her girlishness was gone —
there was even a degree of effort to keep up,
and when the moment of parting arrived she
had to drop her veil over her face to hide her
tears. They kept each other in view to the
last. Winny was thinking that her mother's
figure had lost a little of its erectness ; and the
widow was reflecting how time stood still with
neither of them.

That evening, however, sitting round the
library fire at Mr Caleb's (the old painter loved
a fire at dusk, let the season be what it might)
Winny was quite pleasantly gay. Mr Cairns
had been invited to dinner to make a fourth,
and the conversation was all about Cotham and
Cotham folks. Mrs Caleb had a long memory
for social histories, and was delighted to astonish
Winny Hesketh with revelations respecting her
neighbours at home. Mr Caleb had, now and
then, to moderate the indiscretion of her too
frank disclosures. Mr Cairns seemed to


colour sometimes as he heard her. He was a
quiet young fellow — too young yet to be quite
free from uneasy recollections of his humble
origin, but rising into repute and prosperity fast.

' I was at Cotham for Christmas. My mother
was saying that she had not seen you she did
not know when, Miss Hesketh,' he told
Winny. ' She thinks you have forgotten your
way to our house.'

* I have not forgotten it — but I live away
from Cotham now, up in Rusdale, and am only
there for my holidays. I am a governess, you
know ? '

*Yes — I understood so from your brother

Winny inquired if he saw much of Dick.
Not much, the young artist said ; in London
people did not see much of one another unless
similar occupations brought them together.

'We will ask Dick Hesketh to dine on
Sunday, and you shall come and meet him,'
said Mr Caleb heartily. But Cairns regretted
that he was engaged elsewhere, and Winny
knew by his manner that he was not anxious


to renew his Intimacy with her brother. Mr
Caleb said no more of inviting Dick.

Old times in Cotham turned up for discussion,
and Winny asked Mr Caleb if he had known
her father. * If I knew him ? Of course, I
knew him — a bit of the best company I ever
did know ; but too merry to be always

* And you knew my mother too, then ? *
Winny inquired further.

' That does not follow. We were irr awe of
Mrs Hesketh. She was a very pretty woman,
but there was too much grit in her compo-
sition to let her be easy with us light-hearted

* Before he married me, he often heard the
chimes at midnight,' said Mrs Caleb, shaking a
reprehensive head at her husband, who nodded
her back a defiance, and threatened to hear
them often again if she dared to make herself
awful to him.

' I will not make myself awful to you,' said

* I don't fear that you will,' said he. They


were, in fact, a couple quite devoted to each
other's comfort.

At a quarter to ten Mr Cairns went away
to put in his appearance at a late reception
before going home to bed.

' He is getting over it,' was the mysterious
comment of his hostess as soon as he had

' Getting over it, indeed ! He can scarcely
contain his sensations of relief and blessedness,'
cried the old painter.

' Now that is too bad — I am sure he felt it
very much at the time,' persisted Mrs Caleb
with a sentimental air.

* Humph ! An artist cannot make a worse
mistake than to marry when he is a youngster.
I am ver^^ glad Miss Cracknell neglected to
mend that rent in her petticoat.'

* It was not in her petticoat — it was in the
parlour-curtain. But Miss Hesketh must won-
der what we are talking about — she may as
well know — perhaps, she could give conso-
lation. S/ze, Sit any rate, is as neat as a new


* I don't think there is a rent in my petticoat,'
said Winny.

* I daresay not. Let me tell my tale. When
Cairns came to London he was nineteen, and
engaged to Miss Maria Cracknell — you know
CracknelFs the confectioner's, at the corner of
Castle Gate ? She was about twenty-three,
fat and not at all nice-looking. Ill-educated,
too, and vulgar, but good-natured '

* You are not very good-natured, my dear,'
interrupted Mr Caleb.

' Who talked of a rent in her petticoat ?
Certainly not /.'

' No, my dear. It was /. Go on — Miss
Hesketh's eyes are shining with innocent
curiosity. She shall stand for a model of Eve.'

' Miss Hesketh shall do nothing of the kind
— don't be impertinent, sir.'

^ Miss Hesketh does not think me imperti-
nent — she discerns the flattering implication.
Miss Hesketh is very clever.'

Winny laughed, blushed, and intimated her
wish to hear Mrs Caleb's story to the end.
The lady proceeded.


* The moral of it Is *' a stitch in time saves
nine.'* It was on a day last Christmas that
Cairns went to visit his lady-love, and espied
a little slit in the parlour-curtain. For that
time he said nothing. When next he called,
the slit had grown a yard long, and he asked
his lazy dear Maria if she did not think she
ought to mend that curtain. His lazy Maria
was huffed. He coolly proposed to bid her
good-bye. She as coolly took him at his word,
and said good-bye and a good riddance too,
if he were so mighty fine and particular. Per-
haps he was a little tired of her before — but
that was the conclusion of a five years'

* I don't believe he cried much — or had
much reason to cry,' said Winny, more amused
than touched.

' He did not cry at all — unless when she sent
him In a prodigious bill for raspberry tarts,'
said Mr Caleb.

* That bill for raspberry tarts is pure fiction,
invented for a hit at Cairns' close-fistedness/
asseverated his wife.


^ Is he close-fisted ? ' Winny asked with
a sudden illumination on his manifest avoid-
ance of her brother Dick.

'He is very prudent. He cannot endure
a poor fellow down on his luck. We all have
our pet weakness, but avarice is not a common
vice amongst our tribe. Cairns pleads that a
man is known by the company he keeps, and
he has no taste for the company of

'Small blame to him there. You are not
over fond of them yourself. But does Miss
Hesketh know what a Bohemian is?' Mrs
Caleb said with a glance of inquiry at the
young lady from the country.

* If she does not, she soon can know,' said
the old painter. ' I have promised to show her
something of life.'

Winny had not long to wait or far to go to
learn what a Bohemian is. The next morning
at breakfast Mr Caleb remarked that he sup-
posed she was in a hurry to see her brother,
and as he had business in the same quarter he
would convoy her to Dick's door, and call for


her again to escort her to the Academy when
his business was done. Winny conjectured from
what she knew of her brother that the uncer-
tainty of finding him if she called by chance was
not much greater than if she called by appoint-
ment, so she acquiesced in the arrangement, and
was left at his lodgings about nine o'clock.
The woman of the" house said In reply to Mr
Caleb's inquiry: No, Mr Hesketh was not
gone out yet : and, in fact, the young man was
not up from his bed yet. Dick had always
been fond of his bed in the morning, as Winny
well remembered. Nearly an hour elapsed
before he could prevail on himself to appear.
Winny had plenty of time to make her reflec-
tions. She had heard from Dick that he had
furnished his lodgings himself, and he had not
furnished them without comforts. His sister
was in possession of a superior easy chair, and
the fellow to it faced her. There was a piano.
There was a small billiard-table. There was
an unfinished game at chess, the chess-men in
ivory of oriental carving. There were engrav-
ings of high class upon the walls to show that

VOL. II. o


Dick had a taste — perhaps, Dick's comforts
surprised his sister.

By and by an untidy Httle girl brought up
his breakfast. Ten minutes longer Winny had
the pleasure of contemplating his coffee-pot,
new loaf and fresh butter, and then, at last,
Dick came himself. Winny 's eyes were accus-
tomed to the nicety of gentlemen, and Dick was
slippered and unshorn. Winny coloured as he
kissed her, and thought, if this was the aspect
of Bohemians, young Cairns was not altogether
wrono^ in avoidinor their association. Then she
felt very sorry for Dick ; very kind and pitiful,
though it was his own fault. His visage was
sleepy ; he groaned, and yawned, and stretched
himself. His slumbers had been prematurely
disturbed. His sister guessed that he had not
been in bed until after twelve o'clock last
night. Dick drily avowed that he had not — he
never was in bed until after twelve o'clock —
unless she meant twelve o'clock at noon.

Winny's heart sank. She was distressed,
perplexed, not liking to ask questions, nor,
indeed, knowing what questions to ask. Dick


was never communicative of his affairs. At
last she said : * Have you nothing to tell me,

' What should I have to tell ? It is you
that must have news,' was his answer with a
touch of sullenness ; and he sat down to his
late breakfast.

Winny resumed her cheerfulness with an
effort. * Well, then, for my news : I am
staying with the Calebs this week, and next
week I move on to Uncle Hay land's.'

' Staying with the Calebs ! How come you
to be there ? Has the old man taken a wife,
and set up house in London ? '

' Yes. It was my having written a book
brought them to call upon me at home, and
then they invited me to town for a glimpse
of the world. So good of them — and even
mother could not object. So here I am —
prepared to enjoy whatever comes in my

' I have read better books than yours, Winny,
and I have read worse,' said Dick with brotherly
candour. ' I like your short stories pretty well,


but I aofree with mother that it would be best to
stick to your teaching. If I could not be in the
first rank of Hterature or art, I would rather
be nowhere.'

* I must thank God for giving me a dis-
position to be satisfied with small things/
said Winny, and sighed and winced a little
at the uncompromising quality of the family
criticism. Then she mentioned, for a diver-
sion of the subject, having seen Mr Cairns the
previous evening.

* Cairns ? Ah, Cairns is aiming for the
top o' the tree,' said Dick in his accent of dis-
content. * He will be in the Academy before
long — he has a picture on the line now, sold,
too. He is a bit of a genius, is Cairns, and
will hardly look at a poor fellow like me now-a-
days. If mother had kept me at school, and
given me as good an education as she gave you,
I might have got on as well as Cairns. What
was to hinder me ? '

Winny was never more astonished than by
this speech of Dick's. It was her turn to be
candid. ' Be fair to mother, Dick — she did her


duty to both of us as far as we would let her.
You were long enough at the Grammar School
if you had chosen to learn, but you were always
a lazy, idle boy — and you are lazy and idle still,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13

Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 13)