Menu Close


In Dull Brown

” ALL the same,” said Nancy, who was lazily sipping her coffee
in bed, ” brown doesn’t suit you a bit.”

” No,” said Jean sadly, ” and I should not be wearing it at all
if my other skirt did not want brushing. Nevertheless, a russet-
brown frock demands adventures. The girls in novels always wear
russet-brown, whatever their complexion is, and they always have
adventures. Now—”

” Isn’t it time you started ? ” asked the gentle voice of her sister.
Jean glanced at the clock and said something in English that was
not classical.

” I shall have to take an omnibus. Bother ! ” she said, and the
heroine of the russet-brown frockmade an abrupt andundignified exit.

It was a fine warm morning in November, the sort of day that
follows a week of stormy wet weather as though to cheat the un-
wary into imagining that the spring instead of the winter is on
its way. The pavements were still wet from yesterday’s rain, the
trees in the park stood stripped by yesterday’s gale ; only the sun
and the sparrows kept up the illusion that it was never going to
rain any more. But the caprices of the atmosphere made no im-
pression on the people who cannot help being out ; and Jean, as
she made the fourteenth passenger on the top of an omnibus, had

                                                a vague

                        182 In Dull Brown

a vague feeling of contempt for the other thirteen who were en-
grossed in their morning papers.

” Just imagine missing that glorious effect,” she thought to her-
self, as they rumbled along the edge of the Green Park where the
mist was slowly yielding to the warmth of the sun and allowing
itself to be coaxed out of growing into a fog. And almost simul-
taneously she became as material as the rest, in her annoyance with
her neighbour for taking more than his share of the seat.

” Nice morning ! ” he said at that moment, and folded up his

Yes,” said Jean, in a tone that was not encouraging. That
the morning was ” nice ” would never have occurred to her ; and
it seemed unfair to sacrifice the effect over the Green Park, even
for conversational purposes. Then she caught sight of his face,
which was a harmless one, and in an ordinary way good-looking,
and she accused herself of priggishness, and stared at the uncon-
scious passenger in front, preparatory to cultivating the one at her

We deserve some compensation for yesterday,” she continued,
more graciously.

Yesterday ? Oh, it was beastly wet, wasn’t it ? I suppose
you don’t like wet weather, eh ? ” said the man, with a suspicion
of familiarity in his tone. Jean frowned a little.

“That comes of the simple russet gown,” she thought ; “of
course he thinks I am a little shop-girl.” But the sun was
shining, and life had been very dull lately, and she would be
getting down at Piccadilly Circus. Besides, he was little more
than a boy, and she liked boys, and there would be no harm in
having five minutes’ conversation with this one.

” I suppose no one does. I wasn’t trying to be particularly
original,” she replied carelessly.


                        By Evelyn Sharp 183

He smiled and glanced at her with more interest. Her identity
was beginning to puzzle him.

” Going to business ? ” he asked tentatively.

Well, yes, I suppose so. At least, I am going to teach three
children all sorts of things they don’t want to learn a bit.”

” How awfully clever of you ! “

The little obvious remark made her laugh. In spite of the
humble brown dress that did not suit her, she looked very pretty
when she threw back her head and laughed.

That is because you have never taught,” she said ; ” to be a
really good teacher you must systematically forget quite half of
what you do know. For instance, I can teach German better than
anything else in the world, because I know less about it. Perhaps
that is why I always won the German prizes at school,” she added

You are very paradoxical—or very cynical, which is it ? ” asked
her neighbour, smiling.

” Oh, I don’t know. Am I ? But did you ever try to
teach ? ”

” Not I. Gives one the hump, doesn’t it ? I should just whack
the little beasts when they didn’t work. Don’t you feel like that
sometimes ? ”

” Clearly you never tried to teach,” she said, and laughed

Those are lucky pupils of yours,” he observed.

Why ? ” she asked abruptly, and flashed a stern look at him

” Oh, because you—seem right on it, don’t you know,” he
answered hastily. The adroitness of his answer pleased her, and
she put him down as a gentleman, and felt justified in going a little

                                                ” I like

                        184 In Dull Brown

” I like teaching, yes,” she went on gravely. ” But all the same
I am glad that I only teach for my living and can draw for my
pleasure. Now whatever made me tell you that I wonder ? ”

” It was awfully decent of you to tell me,” he said ; ” I suppose
you thought I should be interested, eh ? ”

” I suppose I did,” she assented, and this time she laughed for no
reason whatever.

” Will you let me say something very personal ? ” he asked,
waxing bolder. But his tone was still humble, and she felt more
kindly towards him now that he evidently knew she was not to be
patronised. Besides, she was curious. So she said nothing to dis-
suade him, and he went on.

” Why do you look so beastly happy, and all that, don’t you
know ? Is it because you work so hard ? ”

” I look happy ! ” she exclaimed. ” I suppose it is the sun,
then, or the jolly day, or—or the feel of everything after the rain.
Yes, I suppose it must be that.”

” I don’t, then. Lots of girls might feel all that and not look
as you do. I think it is because you have such a bally lot to

” I should stop thinking that, if I were you,” said Jean a little
bitterly ; ” I know that is the usual idea about women who work
—among those who don’t. They should try it for a time, and

” I believe you are cynical after all,” observed her companion.
” Don’t you like being called happy ? ”

” Oh, yes, I like it. But I hate humbug, and it is all nonsense
to pretend that working hard for one’s living is rather an amusing
thing to do. Because it isn’t, and if it has never been so for a
man, why should it be for a woman ? If anything, it is worse
for women. For one happy hour it gives us two sad ones ; it


                        By Evelyn Sharp 185

makes us hard—what you call cynical. It builds up our characters
at the expense of our hearts. It makes heroines of us and spoils
the woman in us. We learn to look the world in the face, and it
teaches us to be prigs. We probe into its realities for the first
time, and the disclosure is too much for us. Working hard to get
enough bread and butter to eat is a sordid, demoralising thing,
and the people who talk .cant about it never had to do it them-
selves. You don’t like the kind of woman who works, you know
you don’t ! ”

The omnibus was slowing at the Circus. Jean stopped
suddenly and glanced up at her companion with an amused, half
shamefaced look.

” I am so sorry. You see how objectionable it has made me.
Aren’t you glad you will never see me again ?

And before he had time to speak she had slipped away, and the
omnibus was turning ruthlessly down Waterloo Place.

” What deuced odd things women are,” he reflected, by way of
deluding himself into the belief that amusement and not interest
was the predominant sensation in his mind. But the next morn-
ing saw him waiting carefully in West Kensington for the same
City omnibus as before ; and when it rumbled on its way to
Piccadilly Circus and no one in russet-brown got up to relieve the
monotony of black coats and umbrellas round him, he was quite
unreasonably disappointed, though he told himself savagely at the
same time that of course he had never expected to see her at all.

” And if I had, she would have avoided me at once. Women
are always like that,” he thought, and just as the reflection shaped
itself in his mind he caught a glimpse of Air Street that sent his
usual composure to the winds and brought him down the steps at
a pace that upset the descent of all the other passengers who had
no similar desire to rush in the direction of Air Street.

The Yellow Book—Vol. VIII. L

                                                ” Did

                        186 In Dull Brown

” Did yer expect us to take yer to Timbuctoo ? ” scoffed the
conductor, with the usual contempt of his kind for the passenger
who gets into the wrong omnibus. But the victim of his scorn
was as regardless of it as of the pink ticket he was grinding into
pulp in his hand ; and he stood on the pavement with his under-
lip drawn tightly inwards, until he had regained his customary air
of gentlemanly indifference. Then he turned up into Regent
Street and made a cross cut through the slums that lie on the
borders of Soho.

And as Jean was hastening along Oxford Street, ten minutes
later, she met him coming towards her with a superb expression of
pleased surprise on his face, which deceived her so completely that
she bowed at once and held out her hand to him, although,
as she said afterwards to Nancy, ” he was being most dreadfully
unconventional, and I couldn’t help wondering if he would have
spoken to me again, if I had worn my new tailor-made gown and
looked ordinary.” At the time she only felt that Oxford Street,
even on a damp and muggy morning, was quite a nice place for a

” Beastly day for you to be out,” he began, taking away her
umbrella and holding his own over her head. To be looked after
was a novel experience to Jean, and she found herself half resenting
his air of protection.

” Oh, it’s all right. You get used to it when you have to,”
she said with a short laugh. It was not at all what she wanted to
say to him, but the perversity of her nature was uppermost and she
had to say it.

” All the same, it is beastly rough on you,” he persisted.

” Why ? Some one must do the work,” she said defiantly.

” Is it so important, then ? ” he asked with a smile that was
half a sneer. Jean blushed hotly.

                                                ” It

                        By Evelyn Sharp 187

” It means my living to me,” she said ; and he winced at her
unpleasant frankness.

” You were quite different yesterday, weren’t you ? ” he com-
plained gently.

” You speak as though my being one thing or another ought
to depend on your pleasure,” she retorted ; ” of course, you think
like everybody else that a woman is only to be tolerated as long
as she is cheerful. How can you be cheerful when the weather is
dreary, and you are tired out with yesterday’s work ? You don’t
know what it is like. You should keep to the women who don’t
work ; they will always look pretty, and smile sweetly and behave
in a domesticated manner.”

” I don’t think I said anything to provoke all that, did I ? “

” Yes, you did,” she answered unreasonably. ” I said—I mean
you said, oh never mind ! But you do like domesticated women
best, don’t you ? On your honour now ? ”

There was no doubt that he did, especially at that moment.
But he lied, smilingly, and well.

” I like all women. But most of all, women like you. Didn’t
I tell you yesterday how happy you looked ? You are such a rum
little girl—oh hang, please forgive me. But without any rotting,
I wish you’d tell me what you do want me to say. When I said
how jolly you looked, you were offended ; and now I pity you
for being out in the rain, you don’t like that any better. What
am I to do ? ”

” I don’t see why you should do anything,” she said curtly.
They had reached the corner of Berners Street, and she came to a
standstill. ” I am glad I met you again,” she added very quickly,
without meeting his eyes. And then she ran down the street,
and disappeared inside a doorway.

Tom Unwin stepped into a hansom with two umbrellas and an


                        188 In Dull Brown

unsatisfactory impression of the last quarter of an hour. And for
the next two mornings he went to the City by train. But the
third saw him again in Oxford Street shortly before nine o’clock,
and he held a small and elegant umbrella in his hand, although it
was a cloudless day, and there was hoar frost beneath the gravel on
the wood pavement.

” How very odd that we should meet again,” she exclaimed,
blushing in spite of the self-possession on which she prided her-

” Not so very odd,” he replied ; ” I believe I am responsible for
this meeting.”

” I feel sure there is a suitable reply to that, but you mustn’t
expect me to make it. I am never any good at making suitable
replies,” said Jean ; and she laughed as she had done the first time
they met.

” I don’t want suitable replies from you,” he rejoined, just as
lightly ; ” tell me what you really think instead.”

” That it was quite charming of you to come this particular
way to the City on this particular morning,” said Jean demurely.
” Now, do you know, I should have thought it was ever so much
quicker to go along the Strand.”

” On the contrary, I find it very much quicker when I come
along Oxford Street.”

” At all events, you know how to make suitable replies.”

” Then you thought that was a suitable reply ? Got you
there, didn’t I ? ” and he laughed, which pleased her immensely,
although she pretended to be hurt.

” Isn’t it queer how one can live two perfectly different lives at
the same time ? ” she said irrelevantly.

” Two ? I live half a dozen. But let’s hear yours first.”

” I was only thinking,” continued Jean, ” that if the mother of


                        By Evelyn Sharp 189

my pupils knew I was walking along Oxford Street with some one
I had never been introduced to—”

” Well ? ” he said, as she paused.

” Oh, well, it isn’t exactly an ordinary thing to do, is it ? ”

” Why not ? “

“Well, it isn’t, is it ?”

” But must one be ordinary ? “

” People won’t forgive you for being anything else, unless you
are in a history book, where you can’t do any harm.”

” People be hanged ! When shall I see you again ? “

” Next time you take a short cut to the City, I suppose. Good-

” Stop ! ” he cried. And when she did stop, with an air of
innocent inquiry on her face, he found he had nothing whatever
to say.

” You—you haven’t told me your name,” he stammered

” Is that all ? You needn’t make me any later just for that,”
she exclaimed, turning away again. ” Besides, you haven’t told
me yours,” she added, over her shoulder.

” Do you want to know it ?

” Why, no ; it doesn’t matter to me. But I thought you
wanted to make some more conversation. Good-bye, again.”

” Well, I’m hanged ! Look here, if I tell you mine, will you
tell me yours ?:

” But I don’t mind a bit if you don’t tell me yours.”

” Will you, though ? “

” Oh, make haste, or else I can’t wait to hear it.”

” Here you are, then. It is—Tom.”

She faced him sternly.

” Why don’t you go on ? “

                                                ” Unwin,”

                        190 In Dull Brown

” Unwin,” he added, hastily. ” Now yours, please.”

But the only answer he got was a mocking smile ; and he was
again left at the corner of Berners Street with a lady’s umbrella in
his hand.

The next morning there was a dull yellow fog, and Jean was in
a perverse mood.

” I think you are very mistaken to walk to business on a day
like this, when you might go by train,” she said, as she reluctantly
gave up her books to be carried by him. The fog was making
her eyes smart, and she felt cross.

” But I shall get my reward,” he said, with elaborate

” Oh, please don’t. The fog is bad enough without allusions
to the hymn-book. Besides, I can’t stand being used as a means
for somebody else to get into heaven. It is very selfish of me, I
suppose, but I don’t like it.”

” I am afraid you mistake me. I never for a moment associated
you with my chances of salvation.”

” Then why didn’t you ? ” she cried indignantly. ” I should
like to know why you come and bother me every morning like
this if you think I am as hopelessly bad as all that ! I didn’t ask
you to come, did I ? Please give me my books and let me go.”

” I think you hopelessly bad ? Why, I assure you—”

” Give me my books. Can’t you see how late I am ? ” she
said, stamping her foot impetuously. And she seized Bright’s
English History and Cornwall’s Geography out of his hand, and
left him precipitately, without another word.

” You are a most unreasonable little girl,” he exclaimed hotly ;
and the policeman to whom he said it smiled patiently.

He started with the intention of going by train on the following
morning ; then he changed his mind, and ran back to take an


                        By Evelyn Sharp 191

omnibus. After that he found it was getting late, so he took a
cab to Oxford Circus, and then strolled on towards Holborn as
though nothing but chance or necessity had brought him there.
But, although he walked as far as Berners Street and back again
to the Circus, he met no one in a dull brown frock. And he was
just as unsuccessful the next morning, and the one after, and at
the end of a week he found himself the sad possessor of a slender silk
umbrella, a regretful remembrance, and a fresh store of cynicism.

” She is like all the others,” he told himself, with a shrug of his
shoulders ; ” they play the very devil with you until they begin to
get frightened of the consequences, and then they fight shy. And
I’m hanged if I even know her name ! ”

And the days wore on, and the autumn grew into winter, and
Oxford Street no longer saw the playing of a comedy at nine
o’clock in the morning. And Tom Unwin found other interests
in life, and if a chance occurrence reminded him of a determined
little figure in russet brown, the passing thought brought nothing
but an amused smile to his lips.

Then the spring came, suddenly and completely, on the heels
of a six weeks’ frost ; and chance took him down Piccadilly one
morning in March, where the budding freshness of the trees drew
him into the Green Park. The impression of spring met him
everywhere, in the fragrance of the almond-trees, and the quarrel-
ling of the sparrows, and the transparency of the blue haze over
Westminster ; and, indifferent though he was to such things,
there was a note of familiarity in it all that affected him strangely,
and left him with a lazy sensation of pleasure. What that some-
thing was he did not realise until his eyes fell on one of the chairs
under the trees, and then, as he stood quite still and wondered
whether she would know him again, he discovered what there was
in the air that had seemed to him so familiar and so pleasant.

                                                ” I was

                        192 In Dull Brown

” I was just thinking about you,” he said deliberately, when she
had shown very decidedly that she did mean to know him. He
spoke with an easy indifference that she showed no signs of

” Oh, I have been wondering—” she began, in a voice that
trembled with eagerness.

” Yes ? Supposing we sit down. That s better. You have
been wondering—? ”

She leaned back in her chair, and looked up through the branches
at the pale blue sky beyond. There was an odd little look of
defiance on her face.

” So, after all, you did find that the Strand was the quickest
way,” she said abruptly.

” Possibly. And you ? ” he asked, with his customary smile.

” How often did you go down Oxford Street after—the last time
I saw you ? ”

” As far as I can remember, the measure of my endurance was
a week. And how much longer did you take the precaution of
avoiding such a dangerous person as myself ? ”

She turned round and stared at him with great wondering eyes,
into which a look of comprehension was slowly creeping.

” You actually thought I did that ? And all the time I was ill,
I was having visions of you—”

” Ill ? You never told me you had been ill,” he interrupted.

” You didn’t exactly give me the chance, did you ? It was the
fog, I suppose. I am all right now. They thought I should
never go down Oxford Street again. But I take a good deal of
killing; and so here I am again.” She ended with a cynical smile.
He was making holes in the soft turf with his walking-stick. She
went on speaking to the pale blue sky and the network of branches
above her.

                                                ” And

                        By Evelyn Sharp 193

“And the odd part is that I did not mind the illness so much
as—” And she paused again.

” Yes ? ” he said, in a voice that had lost some of its jauntiness.
” I think it won’t interest you.”

” How can you say that unless you tell me ? “

” I am sure it won’t,” she said decidedly. ” And I couldn’t
possibly tell you, really.”

” Go on, please,” he said, looking round at her ; and she went
on meekly.

” The thing that bothered me was my having been cross the
last time we met. You see, it was not the being cross that I
minded exactly ; that wouldn’t have mattered a bit if I had seen
you again the next day, but—

” I quite understand. Bad temper is a luxury we keep for our
most familiar friends. I am honoured by the distinction,” he said,
and his smile was not a sneer.

” I wish you wouldn’t laugh at me,” she said, a little wistfully.

” I am not laughing at you, child,” he hastened to assure her,
and he took one of her hands in his. ” I have missed you, too,”
he went on, in a low tone that he strove to make natural.

” Did you really ? I thought you would at first, perhaps, and
then I thought you would just laugh, and forget. And you really
did think of me sometimes ? I am so glad.”

He had a twinge of conscience. But a reputation once acquired
is a tender thing, and must be handled with delicacy.

” I have not forgotten,” he said, and tried to change the con-
versation. ” And you never even told me your name, you perverse
little person,” he added playfully.

” You told me yours,” she said, and laughed triumphantly.

” And yours, please ?

” It will quite spoil it all,” she objected.

                                                ” Is

                        194 In Dull Brown

” Is it so bad as that, then ? Never mind, I can bear a good
deal. What is it—Susan, Jemima, Emmelina ? ”

There was a little pause, and then she nodded at the pale
blue sky above and said ” Jean ” in a hurried whisper. And he
was less exigent than she had been, for he did not ask for any more.

When he left her on her own doorstep she lingered for a
moment in the sunlight before she went in to Nancy.

“And he really is coming to see me to-morrow,” she said out
loud with a joyous laugh ; ” I wonder, shall I tell Nancy or not ? “
After mature consideration she decided not to tell Nancy, though
if Nancy had been less unsuspicious she would certainly have
noticed something unusual in the manner of her practical little
eldest sister, when she started for Berners Street on the following
morning, and twice repeated that she would be back to tea should
any one call and ask for her.

” Nobody is likely to ask for you,” said Nancy with sisterly
frankness, ” nobody ever does. You needn’t bother to be back to
tea unless you like,” she added with a self-conscious smile.
” Jimmy said he might look in.”

” So much the better,” thought Jean ; ” I can bring in a cake
without exciting suspicion.” And she started gaily on her way,
and wondered ingenuously why all the people in the street seemed
so indifferent to her happiness. At Berners Street, a shock was
awaiting her. Would Miss Moreen kindly stay till five to-day as
the children’s mother was obliged to go out, and nurse had a
holiday ? And as the children’s mother had already gone out and
nurse’s holiday had begun before breakfast, there was no appeal
left to poor Jean, and she settled down to her day’s work with a
sense of injustice in her mind and a queer feeling in her throat
that had to be overcome during an arithmetic lesson. But as the
day wore on her spirits rose to an unnatural pitch ; she spent the


                        By Evelyn Sharp 195

afternoon in romping furiously with her pupils ; and when five
o’clock came, she was standing outside in the street counting the
coins in her little purse.

” I can just do it, and I shall ! ” she cried, and a passing cabby
pulled up in answer to her graphic appeal and carried her away
westwards. He whistled when she paid him an extravagant fare,
and watched her with a chuckle as she flew up the steps and
fumbled nervously at the keyhole before she was able to unlock
the door. He would have wondered more, or perhaps less, had he
seen her standing on the mat outside the front room on the first
floor, giving her hat and hair certain touches which did not affect
their appearance in the least, and listening breathlessly to the
sound of voices that came from within. Then she turned the
handle suddenly and went in.

The lamp was not yet lighted and the daylight was waning.
The room was in partial darkness, but the fire was burning brightly,
and it shone on the face of a man as he leaned forward in a low
chair, and talked to the beautiful girl who lay on the sofa, smiling
up at him in a gentle deprecating manner, as if his homage were
new and overwhelming to her.

The man was not the expected Jimmy, and Jean took two swift
little steps into the room. The spell was broken and they looked
round with a start.

” Oh, here you are,” cried Nancy, gliding off the sofa and
putting her arms round her in her pretty affectionate manner.
” Poor Mr. Unwin has been waiting quite an hour for you.
Whatever made you so late ?

Jean disengaged herself a little roughly, and held out her hand
to Tom.

” Have you been very bored ? ” she asked him with a slight curl
of her lip.

                                                ” That

                        196 In Dull Brown

” That could hardly be the case in Miss Nancy’s company,” he
replied in his best manner ; ” but if she had not been so kind to
me your tardiness in coming would certainly have been harder to

The carefully picked words did not come naturally from the
boyish fellow who had talked slang to her on the top of the
omnibus, but Tom Unwin never talked slang when there was a
situation of any kind. Jean was bitterly conscious of being
the only one of the three who was not behaving in a picturesque
manner. The other two vied with each other in showing
her little attentions, a fact that entirely failed to deceive her.

” Do they think I am a fool ? ” she thought scornfully. ” Why
should they suppose that I need propitiating ? ”

And she insisted curtly on pouring out her own cup of tea, and
sat down obstinately on a high chair, without noticing the low one
he was pulling forward for her.

” Don’t let me disturb you,” she said calmly ; ” you made such a
charming picture when I came in.”

They only seemed to her to be making a ridiculous picture now.
She was conscious of nothing but the satirical view of the situation,
and she had a mad desire to point at them and scream with
laughter at their fatuity in supposing that she did not see through
their discomfiture.

” We thought you were never coming,” began Nancy in her
gentle tired voice ; ” I was afraid you had been taken ill or

” Yes, indeed,” added Tom with strained jocularity ; ” it was
all I could do to restrain Miss Nancy from sending a telegram
to somebody about you. She only gave up the idea when
I got her to acknowledge that she didn t even know where to
send it.”

                                                ” Now,

                        By Evelyn Sharp 197

” Now, that is really too bad of you,” exclaimed Nancy with a
carefully studied pout ; ” you know quite well—”

” Indeed, I appeal to you, Miss Moreen—”

” Don’t listen to him, Jean.”

” It doesn’t seem to me to matter very much,” said Jean with
much composure ; ” I am very glad that I gave you so much to
talk about.”

They made another attempt to conciliate her.

” Do have some cake. It isn’t bad,” said Nancy invitingly.

” Or some more tea ? ” added Tom anxiously. ” You must be
so played out with your long day’s work. Have the little brats
been very trying ? ”

” Oh, you needn’t worry about the little brats, thanks,” said Jean,
eating bread and butter voraciously for the sake of an occupation.
” Come nearer the fire,” said Nancy coaxingly ; ” Mr. Unwin
will move up that other chair.”

” Of course,” said Mr. Unwin with alacrity, glad of any
excuse that removed him for a moment from the unpleasant
scrutiny of her large cold eyes.

” You are both very kind to bother about me like this. I am
really not used to it,” said Jean with a hard little laugh. ” Won’t
you go on with your conversation while I write a postcard ?

She made a place for her cup on the tea-tray, strolled across the
room to the bureau, and sat down to look vacantly at a blank
postcard. The other two seated themselves stiffly at opposite
ends of the hearthrug, and manufactured stilted phrases for the
ears of Jean.

” Your sister draws, I believe ? “

” Oh, yes. Jean is fearfully clever, you know. She used to
win prizes and things. I never won a prize in my life. Oh, yes ;
Jean is certainly very clever indeed.”

                                                ” I am

                        198 In Dull Brown

” I am sure of it. It must be charming to be so clever.”

” Yes. Nothing else matters if you are as clever as all that.
It doesn’t affect Jean in the least if things happen to go wrong,
because she always has her cleverness to console her, don’t you

” Brains are a perennial consolation,” said Tom solemnly ; ” I
always knew, Miss Nancy, that your sister was very exceptional.”

” Exceptional ! Yes, I suppose I am that,” thought Jean with
a curious feeling of dissatisfaction. The burden of her own clever-
ness was almost too much for her, and she would have given
worlds, just then, to have been as ordinary as Nancy—and as

” Will you forgive me if I go upstairs and finish a drawing ? ”
she said, coming forward into the firelight again. They uttered
some conventional regrets, and Tom held the door open for her.
” Good-bye,” she said, smiling, ” I am sorry my drawing won’t
wait. It has to go in to-morrow morning.”

” I envy you your charming talent,” he said with a sigh that
was a little overdone.

” Do you ? It prevents me from being domesticated, you know,
and that is always a pity, isn’t it ? ” she said, and drew her hand
away quickly.

Upstairs with her head on an old brown cloak she lay and
listened to the hum of voices below.

” Why wasn’t I born a fool with a pretty face ? ” she murmured.
” Fools are the only really happy people in the world, for they are
the only people the rest of us have the capacity to understand.
And to be understood by the majority of people is the whole secret
of happiness. No one would take the trouble to understand me.
Of course, it is unbearably conceited to say so, but there is no one
to hear.”


                        By Evelyn Sharp 199

When Nancy came up to bed, she found her sister working
away steadily at her drawing.

” It was very mean of you to leave me so long with that man,
Jean ; he stayed quite an hour after you left,” she said, suppressing
a yawn.

” Oh, I thought you wouldn’t mind ; I don’t get on with him
half so well as you do. Stand out of the light, will you ? ”

” He thinks you’re immensely clever,” said Nancy ; ” he says he
never met any one so determined and plucky in his life. Of course
you will get on, he says.”

” Yes,” said Jean with a strange smile, as she nibbled the top
of her pencil ; ” I suppose I shall get on. And to the end of my
days people will admire me from a distance, and talk about my
talent and my determination, just as they talk about your beauty
and your womanly ways. That is so like the world ; it always
associates us with a certain atmosphere and never admits the
possibility of any other.”

Nancy was perched on the end of the bed in her white peignoir,
with her knees up to her chin and a puzzled expression on her face.
” How queer you are to-night, Jean,” she said ; ” I don’t think I

” My atmosphere,” continued Jean in the same passionless tone,
“is the clever and capable one. It is the one that is always
reserved for the unattractive people who have understanding, the
sort of people who know all there is to know, from observation, and
never get the chance of experiencing one jot of it. They are the
people who learn about life from the outside, and remain half alive
themselves to the end of time. Nobody would think of falling in
love with them, and they don’t even know how to be lovable. It
is a very clinging atmosphere,” she added sadly ; ” I shall never
shake it off.”


                        200 In Dull Brown

Nancy stopped making a becoming wreck of her coils of hair,
and looked more bewildered than before.

” I don’t understand, Jean,” she said again.

Jean looked at her for a moment with eyes full of admiration.

” Don’t worry about it, child,” she said slowly ; ” you will never
have to understand.”

MLA citation:

Sharp, Evelyn. “In Dull Brown.” The Yellow Book, vol. 8, January 1896, pp. 181-200. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digtial Humanities, 2020.