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Three Stories

 By V., O., C.S

I—Honi soit qui mal y pense

By C. S.

BUT I’m not very tall, am I ?” said the little book-keeper,
coming close to the counter so as to prevent me from
seeing that she was standing on tiptoe.

” A p’tite woman,” said I, “goes straight to my heart.”

The book-keeper blushed and looked down, and began finger-
ng a bunch of keys with one hand.

” How is the cold ? ” I asked. ” You don’t seem to cough so
much to-day.”

” It always gets bad again at night,” she answered, still looking
down and playing with her keys.

I reached over to them, and she moved her hand quickly away
and clasped it tightly with the other.

I picked up the keys :—” Store-room, Cellar, Commercial
Room, Office,” said I, reading off the names on the labels—
” why, you seem to keep not only the books, but everything else
as well.”

She turned away to measure out some whisky at the other


                        By V., O., C.S. 145

window, and then came back and held out her hand for the

” What a pretty ring,” I said ; ” I wonder I haven’t noticed
it before. You can’t have had it on lately.”

She looked at me fearfully and again covered her hand.

‘Please give me my keys.’

” Yes, if I may look at the ring.”

The little book-keeper turned away, and slipping quietly on to
her chair, burst into tears.

I pushed open the door of the office and walked in.

” What is it ? ” I whispered, bending over her and gently
smoothing her hair.

” I—I hate him ! ” she sobbed.

” Him ?—Him ? “

” Yes,—the—the ring man.”

I felt for the little hand among the folds or the inky table
cloth, and stooped and kissed her forehead. ” Forgive me, dear-

” Go away,” she sobbed, ” go away. I wish I had never seen
you. It was all my fault : I left off wearing the ring on purpose,
but he’s coming here to-day—and—and we are so many at
home—and have so little money—”

And as I went upstairs to pack I could see the little brown
head bent low over the inky table-cloth.

                        146 Three Stories

II—A Purple Patch

By O.


IT was nearly half-past four. Janet was sitting in the drawing-
room reading a novel and waiting for tea. She was in one of
those pleasing moods when the ordinary happy circumstances of
life do not pass unnoticed as inevitable. She was pleased to be
living at home with her father and sister, pleased that her father
was a flourishing doctor, and that she could sit idle in the drawing-
room, pleased at the pretty furniture, at the flowers which she had
bought in the morning.

She seldom felt so. Generally these things did not enter her
head as a joy in themselves ; and this mood never came upon her
when, according to elderly advice, it would have been useful. In
no trouble, great or small, could she gain comfort from remember-
ing that she lived comfortably ; but sometimes without any
reason, as now, she felt glad at her position.

When the parlour-maid came in and brought the lamp, Janet
watched her movements pleasurably. She noticed all the ways of
a maid in an orderly house : how she placed the lighted lamp on
the table at her side, then went to the windows and let down the
blinds and drew the curtains, then pulled a small table forward,
spread a blue-edged cloth on it, and walked out quietly, pushing
her cuffs up a little.

She was pleased too with her novel, Miss Braddon’s Asphodel.
For some time she had enjoyed reading superior books. She knew
that Asphodel was bad, and saw its inferiority to the books which


                        By V., O., C.S. 147

she had lately read ; but that did not prevent her pleasure at being
back with Miss Braddon.

The maid came in and set the glass-tray on the table which she
had just covered, took a box of matches from her apron pocket, lit
the wick of the silver spirit-stove and left the room. Janet watched
the whole proceeding with pleasure, sitting still in the arm-chair.
Three soft raps on the gong and Gertrude appeared. She made the
tea, and they talked. When they had finished, Gertrude sat at her
desk and began to write a lettter, and still talking, Janet gradually
let herself into her novel once more. There was plenty of the
story left, she would read right on till dinner.

They had finished talking for some minutes when they heard a

” Oh, Gerty, suppose this is a visitor ! ” Janet said, looking up
from her book.

Gertrude listened. Janet prayed all the time that it might not
be a visitor, and she gave a low groan as she heard heavy steps
upon the stairs. Gertrude’s desk was just opposite the door, and
directly the maid opened it she saw that the visitor was an
awkward young man who never had anything to say. She ex-
changed a glance with Janet, then Janet saw the maid who
announced, “Mr. Huddleston.”

And then she saw Mr. Huddleston. She laid her book down
open on the table behind her, and rose to shake hands with him.

Janet had one conversation with Mr. Huddleston—music : they
were very slightly acquainted, and they never got beyond that
subject. She smiled at the inevitableness of her question as she
asked :

” Were you at the Saturday Afternoon Concert ? “

When they had talked for ten minutes with some difficulty,
Gertrude, who had finished her letter, left the room : she was

The Yellow Book Vol. II. I


                        148 Three Stories

engaged to be married, and was therefore free to do anything
she liked. After a visit of half an hour Huddleston went.

Janet rang the bell, and felt a little guilty as she took up the
open book directly her visitor had gone. She did not know quite
why, but she was dissatisfied. However, in a moment or two she
was deep in the excitement of Asphodel.

She read on for a couple of hours, and then she heard the
carriage drive up to the door. She heard her father come into
the house and go to his consulting-room, then walk upstairs to his
bedroom, and she knew that in a few minutes he would be down
in the drawing-room to talk for a quarter of an hour before dinner.
When she heard him on the landing, she put away her book ;
Gertrude met him just at the door ; they both came in together,
and then they all three chatted. But instead of feeling in a con-
tented mood, because she had read comfortably, as she had intended
all the afternoon, Janet was dissatisfied, as if the afternoon had
slipped by without being enjoyed, wasted over the exciting

And towards the end of dinner her thoughts fell back on an
old trouble which had been dully threatening her. Gertrude
was her father’s favourite ; gay and pretty, she had never been
difficult. Janet was more silent, could not amuse her father and
make him laugh, and he was not fond of her. She would find
still more difficulty when Gertrude was married, and she was
left alone with him. His health was failing, and he was growing
very cantankerous. She dreaded the prospect, and already the
doctor was moaning to Gerty about her leaving, and she was
making him laugh for the last time over the very cause of his
dejection. Not that he would have retarded her marriage by a
day ; he was extremely proud of her engagement to the son of the
great Lady Beamish.


                        By V., O., C.S. 149

That thought had been an undercurrent of trouble ever since
Gertrude’s engagement, and she wondered how she could have
forgotten it for a whole afternoon. Now she was as fully miserable
as she had been content four hours before, and her trouble at the
moment mingled with her unsatisfactory recollection of the
afternoon, her annoyance at Mr. Huddleston’s interruption,
and the novel which she had taken up directly he had left the


A year after Gertrude’s marriage Dr. Worgan gave up his work
and decided at last to carry out a cherished plan. One of his oldest
friends was going to Algiers with his wife and daughter. The
doctor was a great favourite with them ; he decided to sell his house
in London, and join the party in their travels. The project had
been discussed for a long time, and Janet foresaw an opportunity of
going her own way. She was sure that her father did not want
her. She had hinted at her wish to stay in England and work for
herself; but she did not insist or trouble her father, and as he did
not oppose her she imagined that the affair was understood. When
the time for his departure drew close, Janet said something about
her arrangements which raised a long discussion. Dr. Worgan
expressed great astonishment at her resolution, and declared that
she had not been open with him. Janet could not understand his
sudden opposition ; perhaps she had not been explicit enough ;
but surely they both knew what they wereabout, and it was obviously
better that they should part.

They were in the drawing-room. Dr. Worgan felt aggrieved
that the affair should be taken so completely out of his hands ; he
had been reproaching her, and arguing for some time. Janet’s


                        150 Three Stories

tone vexed him. She was calm, disinclined to argue, behaving as
if the arrangement were quite decided : he would have been better
pleased if she had cried or lost her temper.

” It’s very easy to say that ; but, after all, you’re not independ-
ent. You say you want to get work as a governess ; but that’s
only an excuse for not going away with me.”

“You never let me do anything for you.”

” I don’t ask you to. I never demand anything of you. I’m
not a tyrant ; but that’s no reason why you should want to desert
me ; you’re the last person I have.”

Janet hated arguments and talk about affairs which were
obviously settled. They had talked for almost an hour, they
could neither of them gain anything from the conversation, and
yet her father seemed to delight in prolonging it. She did not
wish to defend her course. She would willingly have allowed her
father to put her in the wrong, if only he had left her alone to do
what both of them wanted.

” You want to pose as a kind of martyr, I suppose. Your
father hasn’t treated you well, he only loved your sister ; you’ve a
grievance against him.”

” No, indeed ; you know it’s not so.”

The impossibility of answering such charges, all the unnecessary
fatigue, had brought her very near crying : she felt the lump in
her throat, the aching in her breast. Be a governess ? Why,
she would willingly be a factory girl, working her life out for a
few shillings a week, if only she could be left alone to be straight
forward. The picture of the girls with shawl and basket leaving the
factory came before her eyes. She really envied them, and pictured
herself walking home to her lonely garret, forgotten and in peace.

” But that’s how our relations and friends will look upon your


                        By V., O., C.S. 151

” Oh no,” she answered, trying to smile and say something
amusing after the manner of Gertrude ; “they will only shake
their heads at their daughters and say, There goes another rebel
who isn’t content to be beautiful, innocent, and protected. ”

But Janet’s attempts to be amusing were not successful with
her father.

” They won’t at all. They’ll say, At any rate her father is
well off enough to give her enough to live upon, and not make
her work as a governess.”

We know that’s got nothing to do with it. If I were depend
ent, I should feel I’d less right to choose— ”

“But you’re mistaken; that’s not honesty, but egoism, on
your part.”

Janet had nothing to answer ; there was a pause, as if her father
wished her to argue the point. She thought, perhaps, she had
better say something, else she would show too plainly that she
saw he was in the wrong ; but she said nothing, and he went on :
“And what will people say at the idea of you’re being a gover-
ness ? Practically a servant in a stranger’s house, with a pretence
of equality, but less pay than a good cook. What will all our
friends say ? ”

Janet did not wish to say to herself in so many words that her
father was a snob. If he had left her alone, she would have been
satisfied with the unacknowledged feeling that he attached import-
ance to certain things.

” Surely people of understanding know there’s no harm in being
a governess, and I’m quite willing to be ignored by any one who
can’t see that.”

These were the first words she spoke with any warmth.

“Selfishness again. It’s not only your concern: what will
your sister think and feel about it ? ”

                                                ” Gerty

                        152 Three Stories

“Gerty is sensible enough to think as I do ; besides, she is very
happy, and so has no right to dictate to other people about their
affairs ; indeed, she won’t trouble about it— why should she ? I’m
not part of her.”

” You’re unjust to Gertrude : your sister is too sweet and
modest to wish to dictate to any one.”

“Exactly.” Janet could not help saying this one word, and yet
she knew that it would irritate her father still more.

” And who would take you as a governess ? You don’t find
it easy to live even with your own people, and I don’t know what
you can teach. Perhaps you will reproach me as Laura did her
mother, and say it was my fault you didn’t go to Girton ? ”

” Oh, I think I can manage. My music is not much, I
know ; but I think it’s good enough to be useful.”

” Are you going to say that I was wrong in not encouraging
you to train for a professional musician ? ”

” I hadn’t the faintest notion of reproaching you for anything :
it was only modesty.”

She knew that having passed the period when she might have
cried, she was being fatigued into the flippant stage, and her
father hated that above everything.

” Now you’re beginning to sneer in your superior way,”
Dr. Worgan said, walking up the room, ” talking to me as if
I were an idiot—— ”

He was interrupted by the maid who came in to ask Janet
whether she could put out the light in the hall. Janet looked
questioningly at her father, who had faced round when he heard
the door open, and he said yes.

“And, Callant,” Janet cried after her, and then went on in
a lower tone as she reappeared, ” we shall want breakfast at eight
to-morrow ; Dr. Worgan is going out early.”


                        By V., O., C.S. 153

The door was shut once more. Her father seemed vexed at
the interruption so welcome to her.

Well, I never could persuade you in anything; but I resent
the way in which you look on my advice as if it were selfish—
I’m only anxious for your own welfare.”

* * * * *

In bed Janet lay awake thinking over the conversation. She
had an instinctive dislike to judging any one, especially her father.
Why couldn’t people who understood each other remain satisfied
with their tacit understanding, and each go his own way with
out pretence ? She was sure her father did not really want her,
he was only opposing her desertion to justify himself in his
own eyes, trying to persuade himself that he did love her. If he
had just let things take their natural course and made no
objections against his better judgment, she would not have
criticised him ; she had never felt aggrieved at his preference
for Gertrude : it so happened that she was not sympathetic
to him, and they both knew it. Over and over again as she lay
in bed, she argued out all these points with herself. If he had
said, ” You’re a good girl, you’re doing the right thing ; I admire
you, though we’re not sympathetic,” his humanity would have
given her deep pleasure, and they might have felt more loving
towards each other than ever before. Perhaps that was too
much to expect ; but at any rate he might have left her alone.
Anything rather than all this pretence, which forced her to
criticise him and defend herself.

But perhaps she had not given him a chance ? She knew that
every movement and look of hers irritated him : if only she
could have not been herself, he might have been generous. But
then, as if to make up for this thought, she said aloud to herself:

” Generosity, logic, and an objection to unnecessary talking


                        154 Three Stories

are manly qualities.” And then she repented for becoming

” But why must all the hateful things in life be defined and
printed on one’s mind in so many words ? I could face diffi-
culties quite well without being forced to set all the unpleas-
antnesses in life clearly out. And this makes me bitter.”

She was terribly afraid of becoming bitter. Bitterness was for
the failures, and why should she own to being a failure ; surely
she was not aiming very high? She was oppressed by the
horrible fear of becoming old-maidish and narrow. Perhaps she
would change gradually without being able to prevent, without
even noticing the change. Every now and then she spoke her
thoughts aloud.

“I can’t have taking ways : some people think I’m superior
and crushing, father says I’m selfish ; ” and yet she could not
think of any great pleasures which she had longed for and
claimed. Gerty had never hidden her wishes or sacrificed anything
to others, and she always got everything she fancied ; yet she was
not selfish.

Then the old utter dejection came over her as she thought of
her life ; if no one should love her, and she should grow old
and fixed in desolation ? This was no sorrow at an unfortunate
circumstance, but a dejection so far-reaching that its existence
seemed to her more real than her own ; it must have existed in the
world before she was born, it must have been since the beginning.
The smaller clouds which had darkened her day were forced aside,
and the whole heaven was black with this great hopelessness. If
any sorrow had struck her, death, disgrace, crime, that would have
been a laughing matter compared with this.

Perhaps life would be better when she was a governess ; she
would be doing something, moulding her own life, ill-treated with


                        By V., O., C.S. 155

actual wrongs perhaps. In the darkness of her heaven there
came a little patch of blue sky, the hopefulness which was always
there behind the cloud, and she fell asleep, dreamily looking forward
to a struggle, to real life with possibilities—dim pictures.


A month afterwards, on a bitterly cold February day, Janet was
wandering miserably about the house. She was to start in a few
days for Bristol, where she had got a place as governess to two
little girls, the daughters of a widower, a house-master at the
school. Her father had left the day before. Janet could not help
crying as she sat desolately in her cold bedroom trying to concern
herself with packing and the arrangements for her journey. She
was to dine that evening with Lady Beamish, to meet Gerty and
her husband and say good-bye. She did not want to go a bit, she
would rather have stayed at home and been miserable by herself.
She had, as usual, asked nothing of any of her friends ; she felt
extraordinarily alone, and she grew terrified when she asked
herself what connected her with the world at all, how was she
going to live and why ? What hold had she on life ? She might
go on as a governess all her life and who would care ? What
reason had she to suppose that anything would justify her living ?
From afar the struggle had looked attractive, there was something
fine and strong in it ; that would be life indeed when she would
have to depend entirely upon herself and work her way ; but now
that the time was close at hand, the struggle only looked very
bitter and prosaic. In her imagination beforehand she had always
looked on at herself admiringly as governess and been strengthened


                        156 Three Stories

by the picture. Now she was acting to no gallery. Whatever
strength and virtue there was in her dealing met no one’s approval ;
and all she had before her in the immediate future was a horrible
sense of loneliness, a dreaded visit, two more days to be occupied
with details of packing, a cab to the station, the dull east wind, the
journey, the leave-taking all the more exquisitely painful because
she felt that no one cared. The sense of being neglected gave her
physical pain all over her body until her finger-tips ached. How
is it possible, she thought, that a human being in the world for
only a few years can be so hopeless and alone ?

In the cab on her way to Lady Beamish she began to think
at once of the evening before her. She tried to comfort herself
with the idea of seeing Gerty, sweet Gerty, who charmed every
one, and what close friends they had been ! But the thought of
Lady Beamish disturbed and frightened her. Lady Beamish
was a very handsome woman of sixty, with gorgeous black hair
showing no thread of white. She had been a great beauty, and a
beauty about whom no one could tell any stories ; she had married
a very brilliant and successful man, and seconded him mostably
during his lifetime. Those who disliked her declared she was
fickle, and set too much value on her social position. Janet had
always fancied that she objected from the beginning to her second
son’s engagement to Gertrude ; but there was no understanding
her, and if Janet had been asked to point to some one who was
radically unsimple, she would at once have thought of Lady
Beamish. She had been told of many charming things which she
had done, and she had heard her say the sweetest things ; but then
suddenly she was stiff and unforgiving. There was no doubt
about her cleverness and insight ; many of her actions showed
complete disregard of convention, and yet, whenever Janet had
seen her, she had always been lifted up on a safe height by her


                        By V., O., C.S. 157

own high birth, her dead husband’s distinctions, her imposing
appearance, and hedged round by all the social duties which she
performed so well. Janet saw that Lady Beamish’s invitation was
kind ; but she was the last person with whom she would have
chosen to spend that evening. But here she was at the door,
there was no escape.

Lady Beamish was alone in the drawing-room. “I’m very
sorry, I’m afraid I’ve brought you here on false pretences. I’ve
just had a telegram from Gertrude to say that Charlie has a cold.
I suppose she’s afraid it may be influenza, and so she’s staying
at home to look after him. And Harry has gone to the play, so
we shall be quite alone.” Janet’s heart sank. Gerty had been
the one consoling circumstance about that evening ; besides, Lady
Beamish would never have asked her if Gerty had not been
coming. How would she manage with Lady Beamish all alone ?
She made up her mind to go as soon after dinner as she could.

They talked about Gertrude ; that was a good subject for Janet,
and she clung to it ; she was delighted to hear Lady Beamish praise
her warmly.

As they sat down to dinner Lady Beamish said :

” You’re not looking well, Janet ? “

” I’m rather tired,” she answered lightly ; ” I’ve been troubled
lately, the weight of the world—but I’m quite well.”

Lady Beamish made no answer. Janet could not tell why she
had felt an impulse to speak the truth, perhaps just because she
was afraid of her, and gave up the task of feeling easy as hopeless.
They talked of Gertrude again. Dinner was quickly finished.
Instead of going back into the drawing-room, Lady Beamish took
her upstairs into her own room.

” I’m sorry you have troubles which are making you thin and
pale. At your age life ought to be bright and full of romance :


                        158 Three Stories

you ought to have no troubles at all. I heard that you weren’t going
to travel with your father, but begin work on your own account :
it seems to me you’re quite right, and I admire your courage.”

Janet was surprised that Lady Beamish should show so much

” My courage somehow doesn’t make me feel cheerful,” Janet
answered, laughing, ” and I can’t see anything hopeful in the
future to look forward to—” Why am I saying all this to
her ? ” she wondered.

” No ? And the consciousness of doing right as an upholding
power—that is generally a fallacy. I think you are certainly
right there.”

Janet looked at Lady Beamish, astonished and comforted to hear
these words from the lips of an old experienced woman.

” I am grateful to you for saying that ?”

“It must be a hard wrench to begin a new kind of life.”

” It’s not the work or even the change which I mind ; if only
there were some assurance in life, something certain and hopeful :
I feel so miserably alone, acting on my own responsibility in the
only way possible, and yet for no reason—— ”

” My poor girl——” and she stretched out her arms. Janet rose
from her chair and took both her hands and sat down on the foot
stool at her feet. She looked up at her handsome face ; it seemed
divine to her lighted by that smile, and the wrinkles infinitely
touching and beautiful. There was an intimate air about the

” You’ve decided to go away to Bristol ? ”

” I thought I’d be thorough : I might stay in London and get
work ; a friend of mine is editor of a lady’s paper, and I suppose
she could give me something to do ; and there are other things I
could do ; but that doesn’t seem to me thorough enough—— ”


                        By V., O., C.S. 159

The superiority of the older experienced women made the girl
feel weak. She would have a joy in confessing herself.

” I suppose it was chiefly Gerty’s marriage which set me think
ing I’d better change. Until then I’d lived contentedly enough.
I’m easily occupied, and I felt no necessity to work. But when I
was left alone with father, I began gradually to feel as if I couldn’t
go on living so, as if I hadn’t the right ; nothing I ever did pleased
him. And then I wondered what I was waiting for——

She looked up at Lady Beamish and saw her fine features set
attentively to her story ; she could tell everything to such a face—
all these things of which she had never spoken to any one. She
looked away again.

” Was I waiting to get married ? That idea tortured me.
Why should ideas come and trouble us when they’re untrue and
bear no likeness to our character ? ”

She turned her head once more to glance at the face above

” I looked into myself. Was it true of me that my only out
look in life was a man, that that was the only aim of my life ? It
wasn’t necessary to answer the question, for it flashed into my
mind with bitter truth that if I’d been playing that game, I’d
been singularly unsuccessful, so I needn’t trouble about the

Astonished at herself, she moved her hand up, and Lady
Beamish stretched out hers, and held the girl’s hand upon her lap.
Then, half ashamed of her frankness, she went on quickly and in
a more ordinary tone :

” Oh, that and everything else—I was afraid of growing bitter.
When my father threw up his work and decided to go to Algiers
with his old friends, that seemed a good opportunity : I would do
something for myself, you’re justified if you work. It seemed


                        160 Three Stories

hopeful then ; but now the prospect is as hopeless and desolate as

Janet saw the tears collecting in Lady Beamish’s eyes, and her
underlip beginning to quiver. Lady Beamish dared not kiss the
girl for fear of breaking into tears : she stood up and went to-
wards the fire, and trying to conquer her tears said : ” Seeing you
in trouble makes all my old wounds break out afresh.”

Janet gazed in wonder at her, feeling greatly comforted. Lady
Beamish put her hand on the girl’s head as she sat before her and
said smiling : ” It’s strange how one sorrow brings up another,
and if you cry you can’t tell for what exactly you’re crying.
As I hear you talk of loneliness, I m reminded of my own loneli-
ness, so different from yours. As long as my own great friend
was living, there was no possibility of loneliness ; I was proud, I
could have faced the whole world. But since he died, every year
has made me feel the want of a sister or brother, some one of my
own generation. I don’t suppose you can understand what I
mean. You say : ‘You have sons, and many friends who love and
respect you’ ; that’s true, and, indeed, without my sons I should
not live ; but they’ve all got past me, even Harry, the youngest.
I can do nothing more for them, and as years go by I grow less
able to do anything for anybody; my energy leaves me, and I sit
still and see the world in front of me, see men and women whom
I admire, whose conduct I commend inwardly, but that is all.
My heart aches sometimes for a companion of my own age who
would sit still with me, who understands my ideas, who has no
new object in view, who has done life and has been left behind
too—— ”

” Extremes meet,” she broke off. ” I wish to comfort you, who
are looking hopelessly forward, and all I can do is to show you an
old woman’s sorrow.”


                        By V., O., C.S. 161

“But wait,” she went on, sitting down, “let us be practical ;
you needn’t go back to-night, I’ll tell some one to fetch your
things. And will you let me try and help you ? I don’t know
whether I can ; but may I try ? Won’t you stay a bit herewith
me ? You would then have time to think over your plans ; it
would do no harm, at any rate. Or, if you would prefer living
alone, would you let me help you ? Sometimes it’s easier to be
indebted to strangers. Don’t answer now, you know my offer is
sincere, coming at this time ; you can think it over.”

She left her place and met the servant at the door, to give her
the order for the fetching of Janet’s things. She came back and
stood with her hands behind her, facing Janet, who looked up to
her from her stool, adoring her as if she were a goddess.

” There’s only one thing to do in life, to try and help those
whom we can help ; but it’s very difficult to help you young
people,” she said, drying her eyes ; ” you generally want something
we cannot give you.”

” You comforted me more than I can say. I never dreamed of
the possibility of such comfort as you’re giving me.”

Still standing facing Janet, she suddenly began : ” I knew a
girl a long time ago ; she was the most exquisite creature I’ve ever
seen. She was lovely as only a Jewess can be lovely : by her side
English beauties looked ridiculous, as if their features had been
thrown together by mistake a few days ago ; this girl’s beauty was
eternal, I don’t know how else to describe her superiority. There
was a harmony about her figure—not as we have pretty figures—
but every movement seemed to be the expression of a magnificent
nature. She had that strange look in her face which some Jews
have, a something half humorous half pitiful about the eyebrows ;
it was so remarkable in a young girl, as if an endless experience of
the world had been born in her—not that she was tired or blasé ;


                        162 Three Stories

she wasn’t at all one of those young people who have seen the
vanity of everything, she was full of enthusiasm, fascinatingly
fresh ; she was so capable and sensitive that nothing could be
foreign or incomprehensible to her. I never saw any one so
unerring ; I would have wagered the world that she could never
be wrong in feeling. I never saw her misunderstand any one,
except on purpose.”

Janet was rapt in attention, loving to hear this beauty’s
praises in the mouth of Lady Beamish. She kept her gaze
fixed on the face, which now was turned towards her, now
towards the fire.

” At the time I remember some man was writing in the paper
about the inferiority of women, and as a proof he said quite truly
that there were no women artists except actresses. He happened
to mention one or two well-known living artists whom I knew
personally ; they weren’t to be compared with this girl, and they
would have been the first to say so themselves. She had no need
to write her novels and symphonies ; she lived them. One would
have said a person most wonderfully fitted for life. Oh, I
could go on praising her for ever ; except once, I never fell
so completely in love as I did with her. To see her dance
and romp—I hadn’t realised before how a great nature can
show itself in everything a person does. It is a joy to think
of her.

” One day she came to me, it was twenty years ago, I was a little
over forty, she was just nineteen. She had fallen in love with a
boy of her own age, and was in terrible difficulties with herself. I
suppose it would have been more fitting if I’d given her advice ;
but I was so full of pity at the sight of this exquisite nature in
torments that I could only try and comfort her and tell her above
all things she musn’t be oppressed by any sense of her own

                                                wickedness ;

                        By V., O., C.S. 163

wickedness ; we all had difficulties of the same kind, and we couldn’t
expect to do more than just get along somehow as well as we
could. I was angry with Fate that such a harmonious being had been
made to jar with so heavy a strain. She had been free, and now she
was to be confounded and brought to doubt. I don’t think I can
express it in words ; but I feel as if I really understood why she
killed herself a few days later. She had come among us, a wonder,
ignoring the littlenesses of life, or else making them worthy by
the spirit in which she treated them, and the first strain of this
dragging ordinary affliction bewildered her. Whether a little more
experience would have saved her, or whether it was a superior flash
of insight which prompted her to end her life—at any rate it wasn’t
merely unreturned love which oppressed her.”

” And what was the man like ? “

” He was quite a boy, and never knew she was in love with him ;
in fact I can’t tell how far she did love him. The older I grow the
more certain I feel that this actual love wasn’t deep ; but it was
the sudden revelation of a whole mystery, a new set of difficulties,
which confounded an understanding so far-reaching and superior.
I remember her room distinctly ; she was unlike most women in
this respect, she had no desire to furnish her own room and be sur-
rounded by pretty things of her own choice. She left the room
just as it was when the family took the furnished house, with
its very common ugly furniture, vile pictures on the walls, and
things under glasses. She carried so much beauty with her, she
didn’t think her room worth troubling about. I always imagine
that her room has never been entered or changed since her death :
nothing stirs there, except in the summer a band of small flies
dance their mazy quadrille at the centre of the ceiling. I re-
member how she used to lie on the sofa and wonder at them with
her half-laughing, half-pathetic eyes.”

The Yellow Book— Vol. II. K


                        164 Three Stories

” And what did her people think ? “

” Her family adored her : they were nice people, very ordi-

There was a knock at the door and Henry appeared, red-
cheeked and smelling of the cold street. Janet rose from her stool
to shake hands with him : his entrance was an unpleasant inter-
ruption ; she thought that his mother too must feel something of
the sort, although he was the one thing in the world she loved

” How was your play, Harry ? “

” Oh, simply wonderful.”

” Was the house pretty full ? “

” Not very, though people were fairly enthusiastic ; but there
was a fool of a girl sitting in front of us, I could have kicked her,
she would go on laughing.”

“Perhaps she thought you were foolish for not laughing !”

“But such a sloppy-looking person had no right to laugh.”

” Opinions differ about personal appearance.”

” Well, at any rate she had a dirty dress on ; the swan’s-down
round her cloak was perfectly black.”

” Ah, now your attack becomes more telling ! ”

Lady Beamish had not changed her position. When Henry
left, Janet feared she might want to stop their confidential talk ;
but she showed no signs of wishing to go to bed.

” I wish boys would remain boys, and not grow older ; they
never grow into such nice men, they don’t fulfil their promise.”

She sat down once more, and went on to tell Janet
another story, a love story. When Janet, happy as she had
not been for months, kissed her and said good-night, she told
her how glad she was that no one else had been with her that


                        By V., O., C.S. 165

Janet went to bed, feeling that the world was possible once
more. Her mind was relieved of a great weight, she was wonder
fully light-hearted, now that she rested weakly upon another’s
generosity, and was released from her egotistical hopelessness. She
no longer had a great trouble which engrossed her thoughts, her
mind was free to travel over the comforting circumstances of that
evening : the intimate room, Lady Beamish’s face with the tears
gathering in her eyes, the confession she had made of her own
loneliness, her offer of help which had made the world human
again, her story and Henry’s interruption, and the funny little
argument between the mother and the son whom she adored ; and
after that, Lady Beamish had still stayed talking, and had dropped
into telling of love as willingly as any school-girl, only everything
came with such sweet force from the woman with all that
experience of life. Every point in the evening with Lady
Beamish had gone to give her a deep-felt happiness ; hopes sprang
up in her mind, and she soon fell asleep filled with wonder and
pity, thinking of the lovely Jewess whom Lady Beamish had
known and admired so long ago, when Janet herself was only
five or six years old.

The older woman lay awake many hours thinking over her own
life, and the sorrows of this poor girl.

* * * * *

Janet did not take Lady Beamish’s offer, but went to Bristol,
upheld by the idea that her friend respected her all the more for
keeping to her plans. The first night at Bristol, in the room
which was to be hers, she took out the old letter of invitation for
that evening, and before she went to bed she kissed the signature
” Clara Beamish “—the Christian name seemed to bring them
close together.


                        166 Three Stories

When she had overcome the strangeness of her surroundings,
life was once more what it had always been ; there was no particular
struggle, no particular hopefulness. She was cheerful for no
reason on Monday, less cheerful for no reason on Wednesday.
The correspondence with Lady Beamish, which she had hoped
would keep up their friendship, dropped almost immediately ; the
two letters she received from her were stiff, far off. Janet heard of
her now and then, generally as performing some social duty.
They met too a few times, but almost as strangers.

But Janet always remembered that she had gained the commenda-
tion of the wonderful woman, and that she approved of her ; and
she never forgot that evening, and the picture of Clara Beamish,
exquisitely sympathetic, adorable. It stood out as a bright spot
in life, nothing could change its value and reality.

III—Sancta Maria

By V.

THE fire had grown black and smoky, and the room felt cold.
It was about four o’clock on a dark day in November. Black
snow-fraught clouds had covered the sky since the dawn. They
seemed to be saving up their wrath for the storm to come. A
woman sat close to the fire with a child in her arms. From time
to time she shuddered involuntarily. It was miserably cold. In
the corner of the room a man lay huddled up in a confusion of
rags and covers. He moaned from time to time. Suddenly
the fire leaped into a yellow flame, which lit up the room and
revealed all its nakedness and filth. The floor was bare, and


                        By V., O., C.S. 167

there were lumps of mud here and there on the boards, left
by the tramp of heavy boots. There was a strip of paper that
had come unfastened from the wall, and hung over in a large
curve. It was black and foul, but here and there could be seen
faintly a pattern of pink roses twined in and out of a trellis.
There was no furniture in the room but the chair on which the
woman sat. By the sick man’s side was a white earthenware
bowl, full of a mixture that gave out a strong pungent smell which
pervaded the room. On the floor by the fireside was a black
straw hat with a green feather and a rubbed velvet bow in it.
The woman’s face was white, and the small eyes were full of an
intense despair. As the flame shot up feebly and flickered about
she looked for something to keep alive the little bit of coal. She
glanced at the heap in the corner which had become quiet, then,
turning round, caught sight of the hat on the floor. She looked
at it steadily for a minute between the flickers of the flame,
then stooped down and picked it up. Carefully detaching the
trimming from the hat, she laid it on the chair. Then she tore
the bits of straw and lay them across each other over the little
piece of coal. The fire blazed brightly for a few minutes after
the straw had caught. It covered the room with a fierce light
and the woman looked afraid that the sick man might be disturbed.
But he was quiet as before. Almost mechanically she pulled a
little piece of the burning straw from the fire and, shading it with
her hand, stole softly to the other end of the room after depositing
the child on the chair.

She looked for some minutes at the figure stretched before
her. He lay with his face to the wall. He was a long thin
man, and it seemed to her as she looked that his length was
almost abnormal. Holding the light that was fast burning to
the end away from her, she stooped down and laid her finger


                        168 Three Stories

lightly on his forehead. The surface of his skin was cold
as ice. She knew that he was dead. But she did not cry out.
The eyes were filled with a look of bitter disappointment, and she
dropped the bit of burning straw, and then, moving suddenly from
her stooping posture, crushed out the little smouldering heap with
her heel. She looked about the room for something ; then
repeating a prayer to herself hurriedly, hastened to the child who
had woke up and was crying and kicking the bars of the wooden
chair. There was something in the contrast between the stillness
of the figure in the corner and the noise made by the child that
made the woman shiver. She took up the child in her arms,
comforted him, and sat down before the fire. She was thinking
deeply. So poor ! Scarcely enough to keep herself and the child
till the end of the week, and then the figure in the corner !
For some time she puzzled and puzzled. The burning straw
had settled into a little glowing heap. She rose and went to a little
box on the mantel-piece, and, opening it, counted the few coins
in it. Then she seemed to reckon for a few moments, and a
look of determination came into her face. She put the child
down again and went to the other end of the room. She stood a
moment over the prostrate figure, and then stooped down and took
off an old rag of a shawl and a little child’s coat which lay over
the dead man’s feet. She paused a moment. Again she stooped
down and stripped the figure of all its coverings, until nothing
was left but the dull white nightshirt that the man wore. She
put the bundle which she had collected in a little heap on the
other side of the room. Then she came back, and with an almost
superhuman effort reared the figure into an upright position
against the wall. She looked round for a moment, gathered up
the little bundle, and stole softly from the room. A few hours
later she came back. There was a gas lamp outside the window,


                        By V., O., C.S. 169

and by the light of it she saw the child sitting at the feet of the
figure, staring up at it stupidly.

* * * * *

Four days passed by, and still the figure stood against the wall.
The woman had grown very white and haggard. She had only
bought food enough for the child, and had scarce touched a
morsel herself. It was Saturday. She was expecting a few pence
for some matches which she had sold during the week. She was
not allowed to take her money immediately, but had to hand it
over to the owvner of the matches, who had told her that if she
had sold a certain quantity by the end of the week she should
be paid a small percentage.

So she went out on this Saturday and managed to get rid of
the requisite number, and carrying the money as usual to the
owner, received a few pence commission. There was an eager
look in her pale face as she hurried home and hastened to the
box on the mantel-shelf. She emptied its contents into her
hand, quickly counted up the total of her fortune, and then crept
out again.

It was snowing heavily, but she did not mind. The soft
flakes fell on her weary face, and she liked their warm touch.
She hurried along until she came to a tiny grocer’s shop. The
red spot on her cheeks deepened as she asked the shopkeeper for
twelve candles—”Tall ones, please,” she said in a whisper. She
pushed the money on to the counter and ran away home with
her parcel. Then she went up to the figure against the wall,
and gently placed it on the ground, away from the wall. She
opened the parcel and carefully stood up the twelve candles in
a little avenue, six each side of the dead man. With a feverous
excitement in her eyes she pulled a match from her pocket and


                        170 Three Stories

lit them. They burned steadily and brightly, casting a yellow
light over the cold naked room, and over the blackened face of
the dead man. The child that was rolling on the floor at the
other end of the room uttered a coo of joy at the bright lights,
and stretched out his tiny hands towards them. And the face
of the mother was filled with a divine pleasure.

The articles of her faith had been fulfilled.

MLA citation:

V. [Stanley V. Makower], O. [Oswald Sickert], C. S. [Arthur Cosslett Smith]. “Three Stories.” The Yellow Book, vol. 2, July 1894, pp. 144-170. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digitial Humanities, 2019.