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So now Hubert understood it all. What he
had dimly feared was true, and the woman
whom he knew to be unfit for the companion-
ship of even the ordinarily frail was the
affianced wife of Geoffrey Ponsonby the boy


for whose life he had made himself in a manner
responsible the brother of his own future
wife. Mariquita Marillier, the sister-in-law of
Naomi Mariquita, the woman whom he had
known as the wife of Auguste Delmare ! The
ghost of the past had risen up against him
the after crop was sprouting and the mills of
Grod were grinding, not slowly now ! This
marriage must be prevented if it broke
Geoffrey's heart and his own. He knew
Naomi's high standard of morality ; he knew,
too, the strain of jealousy which lifted up her
love from what else might have been something
like the abjectness of devotion and gave it the
dignity of self-respect. She was utterly
ignorant of life as it is ; and she was of the
school which makes no distinction between
men and women. The little that she knew of
vice all in the clouds as it was made the
dereliction of the one as shameful as the
abandonment of the other ; and it had not been


Hubert's duty to enlighten her. He therefore
knew how she would feel and where he should
stand. It would be the overthrowing evidence,
and perhaps her love would go with her ideal.
She had often said that her love for him was
so great because of her respect. Her perfect
man as he was what would it be when she
found out how imperfect he had been ? jealous
as well as pure ; when she learned that he had
loved so passionately and sinned so deeply,
what would she do ? And if even she forgave
him but she would not would not the bloom
of her nature, of her very love, be gone ?
Would it not be like the violation of her soul,
and the acceptance of his sin because she had
lost her virginal horror of evil ?

Still it had to be done, come what would.
He must be so far faithful to that higher law
which sacrifices ease and happiness and love
itself to duty and the right.

It was impossible to go to Ivy Lodge for the


next day or two, but Hubert wrote to Geoffrey
asking him what he knew of the fascinating
widow, other than by her own report ? where
he had met her ? who had vouched for her ?
what he knew of her past history, her family,
her money itself ? Had he had any corrobora-
tion of her own story, or had he taken every-
thing on trust ? The world was full of these
desultory women, these quasi adventuresses
who thought to efface in a foreign country the
tainted record of their own. He must be quite
sure who it was he was trusting, and who it
was he proposed to give as a daughter to his
mother and a sister to Naomi.

The boy wrote back a fiery letter, as was to
be expected. To have saved his life from
drowning did not entitle Hubert to doubt his"
beloved one of the noblest, purest, most saintly
women that ever lived. If he heard her talk
as she did last night, he would know then what
a priceless treasure he (Geoffrey) had found,


and would blush for his base suspicions.
Besides, he (Geoffrey) was satisfied, and he was
the person most nearly concerned. His
marriage was to take place now at once.
There was nothing to wait for ; and his mother
had consented. She saw the exquisite loveli-
ness, the rare nobility of Mariquita's nature ;
and Naomi too loved her. Yet, sweet good
girl as Naomi was, she was not equal to
Mariquita in sublimity of thought. Hubert
would love her too. He must come now at
once to Ivy Lodge and join the circle of wor-
shippers. He could not resist ; no one could.

The lad blew off the steam as he wrote, and
by the time he ended had got through his
anger, and was once more the old, joyous,
irresponsible boy-lover who saw no dangers
and no difficulties anywhere. He was so
happy that he could afford to be magnanimous
and to forgive the insult of the doubt.

How well Hubert knew it all ! The false


modesties, the artificial refinement, the high
poetic moralities said beneath the moon the
lies, deceptions, devilries practised in the face
of day ; the cleverness which made infamy
look like purity overcome by love, and gave
to the putrescent shimmer of corruption the
glory of God's own sun ! He knew it all, and

understood the net in which she had taken

those dear ones in their quiet Devonshire

home ; for had he not himself once been held
fast even as the boy was held now as Naomi
and her mother were held ?

They met alone on the sands, where he had
sat with Naomi on that blessed day of summer
only so short a time ago by the passage of the
days, but so long long as eternity by the
dating of events.

" I give you your choice," he said. " Leave
the house as you like, secretly or openly take
your own way of rupture but break the


engagement and set the boy free at any cost,
or I will break it by telling all I know. In
the former way you keep your fair fame here ;
in the latter you lose it. This marriage has
to be cancelled in either case."

"By the first Mr. Hubert Gainsborough
escapes scot-free ; by the second he suffers with
me," said Mariquita, quietly.

" That I know and am prepared for," was
Hubert's answer.

44 And companionship in misfortune is plea-
sant," she returned. " If you are really set on
this absurd bit of Quixotism you shall smart
for it, mon cher. I am not disposed to be made
the scapegoat, and sent into the wilderness
carrying your sins as well as my own. We
will go together, Hubert."

" I am ready," said Hubert, sternly.

" To give up Naomi ? "

" To give up Naomi that I may save


She laughed in a mocking kind of way.

" You were not such a tepid lover to me,"
she said. "I do not think you would have
given up me for any such high-falutin morality !
At least I know that Mr. Delmare my husband
then and the seventh commandment did not
terrify you ! "

" I did not give you up till I knew you,"
said Hubert. " While I believed in you I
would have gone down into hell for you. To
have died for you would have been easy."

" And I for you," she said, suddenly changing
her tone ; u for I loved you, Hubert loved you
faithfully loved you as I never loved before
nor have since. I had to deceive you. Bad
as I was how could I tell my sad story to a
man so young as you were then, with all your
illusions unbroken ? It would have killed you.
I loved you, my darling, and you loved me.
Will not the memory of that love soften you ?
I want only the opportunity to be good. I am



not bad at heart I never was. I have been
the victim of a cruel fate and the sport of
circumstances, but I was never really vicious.
Help me to redeem myself and to make
Geoffrey's life blessed, as I can and will make
it. He will never know. I will be so good to
him ! Help me, Hubert, for old times' sake ! "

She spoke with inconceivable passion. Her
words flowed like a stream of fiery lava ; and
as she uttered her last appeal she knelt on the
sands at his feet and took his hand in both of
hers, carrying it to her lips.

Lovely in her passion, graceful in her self-
abandonment, with the eloquence of despair in
her voice and manner, with the wonderful
magnetism of her nature shining in her eyes
and drawing out the very heart of her hearer,
she was at this moment as dangerous to Hubert's
resolve as she had formerly been to his soul.
Her appeal was one which touches every true
man. To help her to be good ! to help her to



redeem herself! to lift her from the mire
where, as she said, a cruel fate had cast her,
and where he himself had helped to fling her,
and set her cleansed among the shining ranks
of the redeemed ! If he would not ! If for
the shadowy idealism of exclusiveness he failed
to do the real good laid before him to do !

Genuine tears came into her eyes ; her
painted lips quivered with a genuine emotion.
Hubert put his hand over his eyes. He was
trembling like a leaf, for the task was very

" It cannot be ! " he said with a sob. " For
her sake and his, I must not ! "

A boat drifted noiselessly round the head-
land, and Naomi and Geoffrey sprang on shore.

" God in Heaven, what does this mean ? "
cried Geoffrey, dashing up the beach, to seize
Hubert by the throat.

Naomi stood where she was, paralyzed and
as if in a dream.


Mariquita started to her feet. She read her
doom in Hubert's face, now stern and stiffened
as if carved in stone, and she knew that the
game was lost.

"I was rehearsing an old play with my
former lover, Hubert Gainsborough," she said
in her hard, harsh, strident voice ; " the man
who seduced me when I was Auguste Delmare's

Years had passed since this bolt fell from
the blue and shattered the lives of all con-
cerned. How often the summer had faded
into the autumn, and the autumn had died
into winter since then, and what tragedies had
wrought out their course to the end ; Geoffrey's
lifeless body cast up by the tide, how drowned,
whether by accident or design, no one ever
knew ; the beautiful woman by whom had
been wrought all this woe, dead of misery and
want, stranded like so much drift wood on


the shores of time and disease ; Naomi and
her mother, like dim spectres of their former
selves, wandering restlessly, aimlessly, joylessly
through the world; Hubert banished like another
Adam from the paradise where he had lived
with Love and walked with Grod ; all the roses
dead, all the sunlight gone ; what a term of
isolation ! what a blank life was to the three
remaining ! The two who had found their rest
in the grave were happier than those who still
lived beneath the sky. Sorrow, shame, futile
despair and as futile repentance what an after-
crop of that bitter harvest of youthful folly !

" Ought I to have pardoned him ? " said
Naomi, often to herself; but Hubert never
asked his heart : " Ought I to have concealed
it ? " Cost all it had, it was better than a life
of deception, the white-washing of infamy, and
the association of Naomi and Geoffrey with
the wife of Auguste Delmare the widow of
Marillier, the stockbroker of San Francisco.


Long parted, they met again one winter
moonlight night in the Coliseum at Rome.
This place of death and ruin, filled with the
memories of love, joy, glory, and martyrdom,
all buried deep in the past, it was the fitting
place for them to meet. And it was the fitting
time night for day; winter for summer; the
pale moon, which threw black fantastic shadows
on a ruin, for the glorious sun which had
touched all living nature with gold and colour.
When they met it was almost as if they too
were ghosts with the rest ; but that momentary
hesitation of each passed like a cloud, and their
hands clasped, one the other, too frankly for
even the shadow of doubt.

" Shall we never bury our dead, Naomi ? "
he asked. " Will you never forgive me ?
never reinstate me ? "

" Not while she lives. She stands between
us," said Naomi ; but she spoke faintly, and as
if with reluctance.


" She is dead," he answered ; " only the
ghost of the past divides us. Is that as strong
as the living present ? "

" Can I ever trust or believe you again ? "
she asked sadly.

" If the anguish of all these years gives
assurance, yes," he returned. " Oh, Naomi,
did you not swear to be always true to me ?
always, always, and through everything?"

" I have been true," she said. " I have
never loved any one else, not for a moment."

"But if you love me?"

She turned away her head. She did not
wish the moonlight to shine on the tears that
came into her eyes.

He took her hands and drew them up to his
breast, and she did not resist.

" But if you love me ? " he said again, very

She hesitated ; her heart beating fast, her
bosom palpitating. Then suddenly, with the


old sweet action of self-surrender, she turned
to him looking at him with the same eyes of
love as used to look at him in the summer-time
so long ago.

" I have always loved you, Hubert," she
said softly; "and I have never ceased to pray
for you. Perhaps God has heard me and has
given us back to each other as an answer to
my prayers for pardon pardon for myself as
well as for you. Perhaps I was too hard will
you accept my repentance ? "



IT is not unusual with young
men of philanthropical or re-
ligious instincts to seek their
work, on taking orders, in
the East End of London, and
to turn their backs upon
fashionable congregations and
gift slippers ; and yet those
" angels of fiction," as they have been termed,
the doctors, are never credited with the same
self-sacrificing motives. No medical man is
ever described as preferring a poor neighbour-
hood to a rich one ; he goes to Bays water if he



cannot get to Belgravia, and to Bloornsbury if
he cannot get to Bayswater, but further east
than Bloomsbury he is not to be found in
fiction. This is not in accordance with his
angelic character ; with his sending in his little
account receipted to his poor patient ; with his
giving him the money for a seaside holiday
instead of a prescription ; or with the furnishing
of every comfort for mind and body which that
marvellous diagnosis of his has discerned to be
necessary at the first glance. This is hard, as
there really are doctors in the East End of
London, and I once had a practice there myself.
It was not a good one in point of remunera-
tion, and there were plenty of patients; the
sort of " practice " that makes one " perfect "
from a professional point of view ; and at the
same time absolves one from the income tax.
I confess, however, that I did not make this
choice of my own free will. " Not grace, nor
zeal," but a quarrel with my respected uncle, on


whom I was entirely dependent, had been the
cause of it. I had, I allow, considerably ex-
ceeded my allowance at college, and my hos-
pital career in London had been expensive ;
but his conduct in buying a practice for me in
the east instead of the west, as a punishment
for, what he did not hesitate to term, my
reckless extravagance, was, I think it will be
admitted, vindictive. He made me, however,
an allowance, which, though one would have
called it moderate in a more fashionable
locality, was ample enough for such a neigh-
bourhood. Pleasures were very cheap there,
and not very attractive. Its concerts were not,
at the time of which I am speaking, classical ;
though of late years music of quite a high class
has emigrated thither, and Bethnal Grreen itself
has become an art centre. The dances one was
invited to (by advertisement) were of a public
nature, and were too much of a maritime
character to suit the landsman. There was


no shop where you could spend money to any
extent save that wonderful emporium where
not only lions and tigers are as plentiful as
chickens in Leadenhall Market, but much finer
" curios" are to be found than can be picked
up in Piccadilly. But lions were not in my
way (though I had kept a " tiger " at the
University), and I was much too young to care
for curios, a taste for which does not usually
develop till the mind has given way a little.

This enforced economy had, however, one
very pleasant side to it ; I generally found my-
self with money in my pocket, a most unusual
experience with an East End doctor. There is
nothing more distressing to him- if he is a
good fellow, or even if he has a human heart
in his breast than the knowledge that half
the patients who come under his care are not
so much in need of medicine, as of the neces-
saries of life, with which he is unable to supply
them. No one knows what poverty is, who


has not seen the East End during a bad time ;
for my part it was a revelation to me, and
when one saw how far, not a shilling, but even
a penny was made to go, it gave one a nasty
jar to remember the hundreds one had squan-
dered for spending's sake. At first, indeed,
brought face to face with such urgent want,
one's heart made one lose one's head, and I
found myself, not from philanthropy, but from
fastidious disgust at squalor and wretchedness,
supporting some of the idlest and most worth-
less scoundrels in the parish ; but after a while
one grew wiser or less emotional, and learnt
discretion, which is the better part of charity.
It was a good school for me, in many ways,
though I did not like being sent to it.

People talk of " genteel poverty " as being
the worst sort of it, but at the risk of being
thought material and commonplace, I venture
to remark that abject poverty the halfpenny-
worth of bread, and the sack instead of a bed


on the floor is much more hard to bear.
There are degrees even in that, or rather the
same wretchedness seems greater or less, ac-
cording to the habits of those who endure it.
It is possible, though by no means easy, to be
cleanly under the most sordid conditions ; the
house or rather the one room may be swept,
though it cannot be garnished ; the broken
tea-cup may be washed ; the ragged blanket
mended, but when squalor is added to want,
pity is lost in disgust, and the attempt to cling
to the decencies of life is the most touching of
all the attributes of the very poor. It is not,
Grod help them, often made ; when everything
else has gone by the board, it seems useless to
look after the hen-coop.

Star Court, a locality where some of my most
wretched clients dwelt, made very little effort
in this direction, though, as a rule, they were
decent people who dwelt there. We have all
a tendency to live among those of our own


calling how else (since they are far from
loving one another) can the congregation of
doctors in Wimpole Street, or lawyers in
Bedford Row, be accounted for ? and when we
have no calling, among those of our own taste
and habits, and so Star Court had become
known in time as a quiet street. New-comers,
impecunious as the rest of my colony, but averse
to rows and ruffianism, gravitated thither sooner
or later ; I used^to fancy there were more
people who had seen better days there than
elsewhere ; but, at all events, they could hardly
have seen worse. It was a miserable spot ; but
it was not necessary to ask the policeman to
keep his eye on you, when you went into Star
Court, which was but a reasonable precaution
in some other localities.

My first introduction to it was owed to
Eebecca Bent, who called upon me one very
warm evening in late August to ask for medi-
cal advice. I had seen her before, for she had


been charwoman for a few weeks at the little
house I occupied, when one of my two domes-
tics was away. I remembered her, because she
had worked so hard (" like a horse," my cook
had said) during that temporary engagement,
and given much greater satisfaction than
charwomen usually do. Otherwise there was
nothing about her to enlist the memory. She
was not young five and forty, one would say,
at least, and she had not even the remains of
good looks. A tall, big-boned masculine
woman, her only claim on the sentimental
emotions that look of hopeless discontent worn
by so many of her class and age, she was cer-
tainly not an attractive person. She was
strong enough, however, and to all appearance
healthy, and the last person I should have
expected to need my professional services.
Still, strange as it may seem in the case of
those who have so many genuine troubles, it
is not more unusual for the very poor to imagine


themselves ill, when there is little the matter
with them, than for a fine lady ; if they cut
their finger, they think they are like to die.
And the woman had rung the surgery bell,
which (though scarcely in the City sense)
meant business. *

" Well, Rebecca, nothing gone wrong, I
hope?" I said cheerfully. "You look all

" Appearances are deceitful, sir, Heavens
knows," she answered, with what seemed, for so
trite a proverb, a most unnecessary significance.
" It's weakness so that one cannot lift one's
hand to one's head, and thirst so that one wants
a bucketful, and a cough that seems to tear
one's inside out, and besides that there's fever."

" So bad as that, is it ? "

I made the usual examination. Her pulse
was all right, her tongue quite a pleasure to
look at, as compared with most of those organs
submitted to my inspection (especially that



most common variety, the drunken tongue),
she had not coughed at all throughout the
ordeal, and there was not a trace of fever.

"You're nervous about yourself, my good
woman," I said, " which in your case surprises
me; you're too hard a worker to have such

"Still, them are the symptoms," she answered,
doggedly, " and I want a prescription." And
she held out her hand, with eighteenpence in
it. Such is not the fee in Wimpole Street, but
in the East End we are less exacting ; and we
have the same excuse for taking less as the
barrister gave for taking half a crown instead
of a guinea ; it is often all our clients have in
the world.

" I don't want your money, Rebecca, any
more than you want my prescription," I said.

" For mercy's sake give it me," she cried,
imploringly. " It's not for me, sir ; it's for
my sister."


" For your sister ? I did not know you had
a sister. How is it possible for me to prescribe
for a patient I have never seen ? "

" She is ill, sir, deadly ill," she pleaded.

" The more reason I should see her."

" But she will not see you, sir ; she made me
promise that I would not bring you. She has
seen no one but me for years. She's an

" Well, of course, and has an invalid's fancies,
no doubt. Come, take me to her." And I took
up rny hat.

Then, to my amazement, the big, strong
woman burst into tears. " Oh, sir, you don't
understand me," she sobbed. " She is not ac-
customed to be seen like this ; you will break
her heart."

" Pooh, pooli ! " I said ; " on the contrary, it
is my business to mend it."

Not that I had the least belief in what she
said; for, indeed, I began to think that her


sister might be a lusus naturce, of which I had
seen more than one in my East End practice.
Poor creatures that were not good enough, or
bad enough, for a show ; two-headed nightin-
gales who had just missed their chance, as it
were, by half a head; elephant-men with im-
perfectly developed trunks. When poverty
goes hand-in-hand with disfigurement, it can-
not close door and window, or hide in secluded
grounds ; but, still, it will shrink from obser-
vation all it can, like some shy creature on the
seashore whose shell is too small for it.

Seeing it was useless to argue with me,
Rebecca led the way to Star Court. Dry,
dusty, airless, but without sunshine because
the tall black houses are huddled too close
together it was, indeed, a cheerless spot for
the sound, far more for the sick to dwell in.
A few ragged children were dancing in the
centre of it round a barrel-organ, to the super-
ficial eye an example of how happiness is found


in every spot. But well I knew that in more
than one of these abodes lay women and
children down with fever, to each of whom
every note of the instrument was torture. But
there w r as no liveried footman there to warn
the unwelcome musician, or policeman to bid
him " move on " the police in that neighbour-
hood had their hands full of more serious
matters. Up three flights of stairs we went,
steep enough to suggest the aid of the ban-
isters had they been less grimy and slimy,
and at last into an attic with a sloping roof.

At the first glance, I thought a sunbeam had
found its way there ; but it was only a head
of golden hair upon a coarse pillow. The face
was turned to the wall, and Rebecca held her
finger up stained with toil and rough with
work to warn me that the invalid was sleeping.

Why I noted the finger was because of the
contrast it exhibited to the thin, white, delicate
hand that lay outside the blanket, for counter-


pane there was none. There was a marriage-
ring on the hand, and it was the only article

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Online LibraryThomas HardyStories in Black and white → online text (page 7 of 13)