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   Chapter 10 No.10

Our Friend the Charlatan By George Gissing Characters: 31361

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


The dinner went off very well indeed.

It was not merely her animus against Mr. Robb which supported Lady Ogram's belief in the future of the Liberals at Hollingford. A certain restiveness could be noted in the public mind, heretofore so obedient to the long Tory tradition. Mr. Breakspeare's paper certainly had an increasing sale, and an attention to Mr. Robb in public gatherings other than political was not so sure of cordial response as formerly. This might only imply a personal dissatisfaction with the borough's representative, who of late had been very visibly fossilising; it would be difficult to explain a marked reaction in Hollingford against the tendencies of the country at large. Still, a number of more or less active and intelligent persons had begun to talk of contesting the Tory seat, and with these the lady at Rivenoak held active communication. They gathered about her this evening; enjoyed the excellent meal provided for them; inspected Mr. Dyce Lashmar, and listened attentively even to his casual remarks. Mr. Lashmar might or might not prove to be the candidate of their choice; there was plenty of time to think about that; in the meantime, no one more suitable stood before them, and, having regard to Lady Ogram's social authority, considerable from one point of view, they were very willing to interest themselves in a man of whom she thought so highly. Very little was definitely known about him. He was understood to be a gentleman of means and erudite leisure, nor did his appearance conflict with this description. Now and then Dyce's talk had an impressive quality; he spoke for the most part in brief, pregnant sentences, which seemed the outcome of solid thought and no little experience. Constance Bride, observing him studiously, often admired his grave, yet easy, bearing, his facile, yet never careless speech. Herself in doubt as to his real weight, whether as man or politician, she carefully watched the impression he produced on others; on the whole it seemed to be favourable, and once or twice she caught a remark decidedly eulogistic. This pleased her. Like everybody else this evening, she was in good spirits.

Mrs. Toplady, much observed and courted, but seemingly quite indifferent to homage, watched the scene with her eyes of placid good-humour, the roguish smile ever and again appearing on her lips. She lost no opportunity of letting fall a laudatory word concerning Dyce Lashmar. Her demeanour with humdrum persons was courteous amiability almost in excess; to the more intelligent she behaved with a humourous frankness which was very captivating. At a certain moment of the evening, she found occasion to sit down by Constance Bride, and Constance would have been more than human had she altogether resisted the charm of that fine contralto modulating graceful compliments. Mrs. Toplady had read the report of the social work at Shawe; it interested her keenly; she could not sufficiently admire the philanthropic energy which had been put into this undertaking-in so great a part, as she heard, due to Miss Bride's suggestions.

"I am glad to hear from Lady Ogram," she said, "that there is a probability of your being in town before long. If so, I hope you will let me have a long talk with you, about all sorts of things. One of them, of course, must be Mr. Lashmar's candidature."

Saying this, Mrs. Toplady beamed with kindness. Constance noted the words and the look for future reflection. At this moment, she was occupied with the news that Lady Ogram thought of going to London, no hint of any such intention having before this reached her ear.

In the course of the afternoon, Lady Ogram had held private colloquy with her guest from the brilliant world, a conversation more intimate on her part than any that had ever passed between them. Such expansion was absolutely necessary to the agitated old lady, and she deemed it good fortune that a confidante in whom she put so much trust chanced to be near her. Speaking of Lashmar, she mentioned his acquaintance with Lord Dymchurch, and inquired whether Mrs. Toplady knew that modest peer.

"He is only a name to me," was the reply, "and I should rather like to see him in the flesh. Mr. Lashmar must bring him to Pont Street-if he can."

"That's what I'm a little doubtful about," said Lady Ogram. "I have been thinking it might help us if a real live lord casually walked about Hollingford with our candidate. We have to use means, you know."

The old lady grimaced her scorn, and the leader of Society smiled. One thing Mrs. Toplady had learnt which interested her, that her autocratic friend's faith in Dyce Lashmar as a "coming man" was unaffected and sturdy. She mused upon this. Rivenoak had often supplied entertainment to her sportive mind; now, as shadows of night were gathering over it, there seemed to be preparing in this corner of the human stage a spectacle of unforeseen piquancy.

Also with Mr. Kerchever the old lady had had an afternoon's talk. Her emotion being now more under command, she could listen to the solicitor's advice, which dissuaded from abrupt action with reference to Miss Tomalin. Mr. Kerchever thought it would be unwise to reveal all the interest she felt in this late-discovered representative of her family. Had he not better write to Mr. Rooke, saying that his client, a widowed lady living at her country house, hoped to have the pleasure of making her young relative's acquaintance, and would shortly address a letter to Miss Tomalin? This course finally met with Lady Ogram's approval; she agreed to let a week pass before taking the next step.

Whatever the ultimate effect of her joyous agitation, for the present it seemed to do her nothing but good. She walked with lighter step, bore herself as though she had thrown off years, and, all through the evening, was a marvel of untiring graciousness and cordiality. The reaction came when she found herself at liberty to feel weary, but no eye save that of the confidential maid beheld her collapse. Even whilst being undressed like a helpless infant, the old lady did not lose her temper. Even whilst gulping an unpleasant draught, well aware that she was not likely to sleep until dawn, if then, she smiled at her thoughts. The maid wondered what it all meant.

Dyce Lashmar was abundantly satisfied with himself. "Am I doing it well?" he quietly asked of Constance, somewhere about ten o'clock, and on receiving the reply, "Very well," he gave his friend a more benignant smile than he had bestowed upon her since the old days of semi-sentimental intimacy. He would much have liked to talk over the evening with her before he went to bed; as that was impossible, he pressed her hand very warmly at leave-taking, looking her steadily in the eyes, and said in a low voice.

"To-morrow."

He was greatly satisfied with himself, and, in consequence, felt overflowing with kindliness towards all the sons and daughters of men. One by one he reviewed the persons with whom he had conversed. How pleasant they were! How sensible and well-meaning! What excellent material for the formation of a really civilised State? They had evidently been impressed with him, and, on going home, would make him the subject of their talk. To-morrow his name would sound frequently in several houses, always with complimentary adjunct. The thought made his pulses throb. To be talked of, to be admired, was the strongest incentive known to him.

Of Lady Ogram he thought with positive affection; to the end of his life he would revere her memory. Constance Bride he esteemed as a loyal friend; never would he fail in gratitude to her; she should have his confidence, and he would often seek her counsel; a good, able girl of the best modern type. Last of all there came into his mind the visage of a small, impulsive woman, with freckled oval face, and hair the colour of an autumn elm-leaf, Iris Woolstan; to her, too, how much he was beholden. Good, foolish, fidgetty Iris Woolstan! Never again could he be impatient with her. Of course he must pay back her money as soon as possible. Brave little creature, light-heartedly sending him her cheque for three hundred pounds; why, there was something heroic in it. Yes, he acknowledged himself lucky in his woman friends; few men could be so fortunate. To be sure, it was the result of his rational views, of his straightforward, honest method. He saw his way to do noble service in the cause of womanhood, and that by following the path of mere common sense-all sentimental and so-called chivalrous humbug cast aside, all exaggerated new conceptions simply disregarded. His bosom swelled with glorious faith in his own future and in that of the world.

Among the guests had figured Mr. Breakspeare, looking a trifle fresher than usual in his clean linen and ceremonial black. Hearing that Lashmar was to spend a couple of days more at Rivenoak, he asked him to dine on the following evening, Lady Ogram readily permitting the invitation.

"I say dine; sup would be the better word, for I can offer you only simple entertainment. We shall be alone; I want the full advantage of your talk. Afterwards, if you approve, we will look in upon an old friend of mine who would have great satisfaction in exchanging ideas with you. Something of an original; at all events you will find him amusing."

To this relaxation Dyce looked forward with pleasure. Nearly the whole of the next day he spent in solitude; for Lady Ogram did not appear until the afternoon, and then only for an hour. Mrs. Toplady took her leave before mid-day. Miss Bride showed herself only at breakfast and luncheon, when she was friendly, indeed, but not much disposed for talk. Dyce had anticipated a growth of intimacy with Constance; he was prepared for long, confidential gossip in the library or the garden; but his friend briefly excused herself. She had a lot of reading and extracting to do.

"You have told me very little about yourself," he remarked, when she rose to withdraw after luncheon.

"What's there to tell?"

"It would interest me to know more of your own thoughts-apart from the work you are engaged in."

"Oh, those are strictly for home consumption," said Constance with a smile; and went her way.

So Dyce paced the garden by himself, or read newspapers and reviews, or lolled indolently in super-comfortable chairs. He had promised to write to Mrs. Woolstan, and in the morning said to himself that he would do so in the afternoon; but he disliked letter-writing, shrank at all times, indeed, from use of the pen, and ultimately the duty was postponed till to-morrow. His exertions of the evening before had left a sense of fatigue; it was enough to savour the recollection of triumph. He mused a little, from time to time, on Constance, whose behaviour slightly piqued his curiosity. That she was much occupied with the thought of him, he never doubted, but he could not feel quite sure of the colour of her reflections-a vexatious incertitude. He lazily resolved to bring her to clearer avowal before quitting Rivenoak.

At evening, the coachman drove him to Hollingford, where he alighted at Mr. Breakspeare's newspaper office. The editor received him in a large, ill-kept, barely furnished room, the floor littered with journals.

"How will that do, Mr. Lashmar?" was his greeting, as he held out a printed slip.

Dyce perused a leading article, which, without naming him, contained a very flattering sketch of his intellectual personality. So, at least, he understood the article, ostensibly a summing of the qualifications which should be possessed by an ideal Liberal candidate. Large culture, a philosophical grasp of the world's history, a scientific conception of human life; again, thorough familiarity with the questions of the day, a mind no less acute in the judgment of detail than broad in its vision of principles: moreover, genuine sympathy with the aspirations of the average man, yet no bias to sentimental weakness; with all this, the heaven-sent gift of leadership, power of speech, calm and justified self-confidence. Lashmar's face beamed as he recognised each trait. Breakspeare, the while, regarded him with half-closed eyes in which twinkled a world of humour.

"A little too generous, I'm afraid," Dyce remarked at length, thoughtfully.

"Not a bit of it!" cried the editor, scratching the tip of his nose, where he had somehow caught a spot of ink. "Bald facts; honest portraiture. It doesn't displease you?"

"How could it? I only hope I may be recognised by such of your readers as have met me."

"You certainly will be. I shall follow this up with a portrait of the least acceptable type of Conservative candidate, wherein all will recognise our Parliamentary incubus. Thus do we open the great campaign! If you would care to, pray keep that proof; some day it may amuse you to look at it, and to recall these early days of our acquaintance. Now I will take you to my house, which, I need not say, you honour by this visit. You are a philosopher, and simplicity will not offend you."

They walked along one or two main streets, the journalist, still ink-spotted on the nose, nodding now and then to an acquaintance, and turned at length into a by-way of dwelling-houses, which did not, indeed, suggest opulence, but were roomy and decent. At one of the doors, Breakspeare paused, turned the handle, and ushered in his guest.

Almost immediately, Dyce was presented to his hostess, on whose thin but pleasant face he perceived with satisfaction a reverential interest. Mrs. Breakspeare had few words at her command, and was evidently accustomed to be disregarded; she knew that her husband admired intellectual women, and that he often privately lamented his mistake in marriage; but none the less was she aware that he enjoyed the comfort of his home-to her a sufficient recompense. Like many a man, Breakspeare would have been quite satisfied with his wife, if, at the same time, he could have had another. He heartily approved the domestic virtues; it would have exasperated him had the mother of his children neglected home duties for any intellectual pursuit; yet, as often as he thought of Miss Bride, contemptuous impatience disturbed his tranquillity. He desired to unite irreconcilable things. His practical safeguard was the humour which, after all, never allowed him to take life too seriously.

A boy of sixteen, the eldest of seven children, sat down to table with them. Breakspeare made a slight apology for his presence, adding genially: "Meminisse juvabit." The meal was more than tolerable; the guest thoroughly enjoyed himself, talking with as little affectation as his nature permitted, and, with a sense of his own graciousness, often addressing to Mrs. Breakspeare a remark on the level of her intelligence.

"When you come down to Hollingford," said the journalist, "I suppose you will generally stay at Lady Ogram's?"

"Possibly," was the reply. "But I think I had better decide which is to be my hotel, when I have need of one. Will you advise me in that matter?"

Breakspeare recommended the house which Lashmar already knew, and added hints concerning the political colour of leading trades-folk. When they rose, the host reminded Dyce of his suggestion that they should go and see an old friend of his, one Martin Blaydes.

"We shall find him smoking his pipe, with a jug of beer at his elbow. Martin is homely, but a man of original ideas, and he will appreciate your visit."

So they set forth, and walked for a quarter of an hour towards the outskirts of the town. Mr. Blaydes, who held a small municipal o

ffice, lived alone in a very modest dwelling, his attendant a woman of discreet years. As Breakspeare had foretold, he was found sitting by the fireside the evening was cool enough to make a fire agreeable a churchwarden between his lips, and a brown jug of generous capacity on the table beside him. As the door opened, he turned a meditative head, and blinked myopically at his visitors before rising. His movements were very deliberate; his smile, which had the odd effect of elevating one eyebrow and depressing the other, made him look as if he were about to sneeze. Not without ceremony, Breakspeare presented his companion, whom the old man (his years touched on seventy) greeted in the words of Belshazzar to Daniel:

"I have heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and wisdom and excellent understanding are found in thee.-Be seated, Mr. Lashmar, be seated. Friend Breakspeare, put your toes on the fender. Mr. Lashmar, my drink is ale; an honest tap which I have drunk for some three score years, and which never did me harm. Will you join me?"

"With pleasure, Mr. Blaydes."

A touch upon the bell summoned the serving woman.

"Mrs. Ricketts, another jug of the right amber, and two beakers. I know not if you smoke, Mr. Lashmar?-Why, that's right. Two yards of Broseley also, Mrs. Ricketts."

Breakspeare had produced his pouch, which he opened and held to Martin.

"Here's a new mixture, my own blending, which I should like you to try. I see your pipe is empty."

"Gramercy," replied the other, with a wave of the hand. "I stick to my own mundungus; any novelty disturbs my thoughts. Offer it to Mr. Lashmar, who might find this weed of mine a trifle rank.-Here comes the jug. What say you to that for a head, Mr. Lashmar? A new nine-gallon, tapped before breakfast this morning, now running clear and cool as a mountain burn. What would life be without this? Elsewhere our ale degenerates; not many honest brewers are left. Druggist's wine and the fire of the distilleries will wreck our people. Whenever you have a chance, Mr. Lashmar, speak a word for honest ale. Time enough is wasted at Westminster; they may well listen to a plea for the source of all right-feeling and right-thinking-amber ale."

Dyce soon understood that here, at all events, he was not called upon for eloquence, or disquisition. Martin Blaydes had become rather dull of car, and found it convenient to do most of the talking himself. Now and then he turned his sneeze-menacing smile this way or that, and a remark always claimed his courteous attention, but in general his eyes were fixed on the glow of the fireplace, 'whilst he pursued a humorous ramble from thought to thought, topic to topic. Evidently of local politics he knew nothing and recked not at all; he seemed to take for granted that Lashmar was about to sit in Parliament for Hollingford, and that the young man represented lofty principles rarely combined with public ambition.

"You may do something; I don't know, I don't know. Things are bad, I fear, and likely to be worse. We had hopes, Mr. Lashmar, when the world and I were young. In those days there was such a thing as zeal for progress and progress didn't necessarily mean money. You know my view of the matter, friend Breakspeare. Two causes explain the pass we've come to-the power of women and the tyranny of finance. How does that touch you, Mr. Lashmar?"

"Finance yes," Dyce replied. "It's the curse of the modern world. But women?"

"Yes, yes, the 'monstrous regiment of women,' as the old writer hath it. Look at the diseases from which we are suffering-materialism and hysteria. The one has been intensified and extended, the other has newly declared itself, since women came to the front. No materialist like a woman; give her a voice in the control of things, and good-bye to all our ideals. Hard cash, military glory, glittering and clanging triumph-these be the gods of a woman's heart. Thought and talk drowned by a scream; nerves worried into fiddle-strings. We had our vain illusion; we were generous in our manly way. Open the door! Let the women come forth and breathe fresh air! Justice for wives, an open field for those who will not or cannot wed! We meant well, but it was a letting out of the waters. There's your idle lady with the pretty face, who wants to make laws for the amusement of breaking them. 'As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman without discretion.' There's your hard-featured woman who thinks that nobody in the world but she has brains. And our homes are tumbling about our heads, because there's no one to look after them. 'One man among a thousand have I found, but a woman among all those have I not found.' Back with them to nursery and kitchen, pantry and herb-garden! Back with them, or we perish."

Dyce wore a broad smile. He knew that he himself would have spoken thus had he not been committed to another way of talking. Breakspeare, too, smiled, but with only half-assent; he reserved his bigamous alternative. Martin Blaydes took a long draught from his beaker, puffed half-a-dozen rings of smoke, and pursued his diatribe in the same good-natured growl.

"The fury to get rich-who is so responsible for it as the crowd of indolent, luxurious and vain women? The frenzy to become notorious-almost entirely women's work. The spirit of reckless ambition in public life encouraged by the sex which has never known the meaning of responsibility. Decay of the arts-inevitable result of the predominance of little fools who never admired anything but art in millinery. Revival of delight in manslaying-what woman could ever resist a uniform? Let them be; let them be. Why should they spoil our ale and tobacco? Friend Breakspeare, how's your wife? Now there, Mr. Lashmar, there is a woman such as I honour! 'She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.' A woman of the by-gone day-gentle but strong, silent and wise. 'Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates!' Mr. Lashmar, your beaker stands empty. So, by the bye, does the jug. Mrs. Ricketts!"

The little room contained many books, mostly old and such as had seen long service. As his habit was when a friend sat with him, Mr. Blaydes presently reached down a volume, and, on opening it, became aware of a passage which sent him into crowing laughter.

"Ha, ha, friend Breakspeare, here's something for thee! Thou art the Sophist of our time, and list how the old wise man spoke of thy kind. 'They do but teach the collective opinion of the many; 'tis their wisdom, forsooth. I might liken them to a man who should study the temper or the desires of a great strong beast, which he has to keep and feed; he learns how to approach and handle the creature, also at what times and from what cause it is dangerous, or the reverse; what is the meaning of its several cries, and by what sounds it may be soothed or infuriated. Furthermore, when, by constantly living with the huge brute, he has become perfect in all this, he calls it philosophy, and makes a system or art of it, which forthwith he professes. One thing he names honourable, another base; this good, that evil; this just, that unjust; all in accordance with the tastes and words of the great animal, which he has studied from its grunts and snarls.'-Ha, ha, friend Breakspeare! Does it touch thee? 'Comes it not something near?'-Nay, nay, take it not in dudgeon! 'Tis old Plato who speaks."

"What, I?" cried the journalist, gaily. "I'm infinitely obliged to you. The passage shall do me yeoman's service-turned against the enemy. For it is not I who speak for the many at Hollingford, as well you know. We Liberals are the select, the chosen spirits. The mighty brute is Toryism."

Only the fear of reaching Rivenoak at too late an hour constrained Lashmar to rise at length and take his leave.

"I hope you will let me come and see you again, Mr. Blaydes," he exclaimed heartily, as he grasped the old man's hand.

"Here you will commonly find me, Mr. Lashmar, after eight o'clock, and if you bear with my whimsies I shall thank you for your company. This ale, I try to believe, will last my time. If a company corrupt it, I forswear all fermented liquor, and go to the grave on mere element-'honest water which ne'er left man in the mire.' But I hope better things-I hops better things."

"And what do you think of Martin?" asked the journalist, as he and Lashmar walked to the nearest place where a vehicle could be obtained for the drive to Rivenoak.

"A fine old cynic!" answered Dyce. "I hope often to drink ale with him."

"Luckily, it doesn't compromise you. Martin belongs to no party, and gives no vote. I could tell you a good story about his reception of a canvasser-a lady, by Jove!-at the last election; but I'll keep it till we meet again, as you are in a hurry. You have put me in spirits, Mr. Lashmar; may it not be long before I next talk with you. Meanwhile, I dig the trenches!"

Ale and strong tobacco, to both of which he was unaccustomed, wrought confusingly upon Dyce's brain as he was borne through the night. He found himself murmuring the name of Constance, and forming a resolve to win her to intimacy on the morrow. Yes, he liked Constance after all. Then came a memory of Martin Blaydes's diatribe, and he laughed approvingly. But Constance was an exception, the best type of modern woman. After all, he liked her.

Again they two breakfasted together. Dyce gave a mirthful description of his evening, and gaily reported Mr. Blaydes's eloquence on the subject of woman.

"On the whole, I agree with him," said Constance. "And I know, of course, that you do."

"Indeed? You agree with him?"

"So does every sensible person. But the subject doesn't interest me. I hate talk about women. We've had enough of it: it has become a nuisance-a cant, like any other. A woman is a human being, not a separate species."

"Why, of course!" cried Lashmar. "Just what I am always saying."

"Say it no more," interrupted his companion. "There are plenty of other things to talk about."

Whereupon, she finished her cup of coffee, nodded a leave-taking, and went at a brisk pace from the room. Dyce continued his meal, meditative, a trifle wounded in self-esteem.

Later in the morning, he saw Constance wheeling forth her bicycle. He ran, and gained her side before she had mounted.

"As you are going out, why shouldn't we have a walk together? Give up your ride this morning."

"I'm very sorry I can't," Constance answered, pleasantly. "The exercise is necessary for me."

"But just this once-"

"Impossible! The morning is too fine and the roads too good."

She sprang into the saddle, and was off-much to Dyce's mortification. He had not dreamt that she could refuse his request. And he had meant to talk with such generous confidence, such true comradeship; it was even his intention to tell Constance that he looked more for her sympathy and aid than for that of anyone else. Surely this would have been very gratifying to her; she could not but have thanked him with real feeling.

At luncheon, Miss Bride was obviously unrepentant. One would have said that it amused her to notice the slight coldness 'which Lashmar put into his manner towards her. She had never seemed in better spirits.

In the afternoon Dyce was summoned to a private interview with Lady Ogram. It took place in an upstairs room he had not yet entered. His hostess sat before a wood-fire (though the day was warm) and her face now and then had a look of suffering, but she spoke cheerfully, and in a tone of much kindness.

"Well, have you enjoyed your stay with me?-You must come down again presently; but, in the meantime, you'll be busy. Go and see Mrs. Toplady, and get to know all the useful people you can. We shall be working here for you, of course. Miss Bride will keep you posted about everything."

The dark eyes, at this moment pain-troubled, were reading his countenance.

"I needn't tell you," Lady Ogram continued, "that Miss Bride has my entire and perfect confidence. I don't think I'm easily deceived in people, and-even before she spoke to me of you-I had made up my mind that' in some way or other, she must be given a chance of doing something in life. You know all about her ways of thinking-perhaps better than I do."

In the pause which followed, Dyce was on the point of disclaiming this intimacy; but the drift of Lady Ogram's talk, exciting his curiosity, prevailed to keep him silent. He bent his look and smiled modestly.

"She's one of the few women," went on his friend, "who do more than they promise. She'll never be what is called brilliant. She won't make much of a figure in the drawing-room. But, give her a chance, and she'll do things that people will talk about. She has powers of organising; I don't know whether you understand how well she is getting to be known by serious workers in the social reform way. There's not one of them can write such good letters-tell so much in few words. But we must give her a chance-you and I together."

Dyce was startled. His smile died away, and, involuntarily, he turned a look of surprise on the speaker.

"You mean," said Lady Ogram, as though answering a remonstrance, "that you know all about that without my telling you. Don't be touchy; you and I can understand each other well enough, if we like. What I want to let yon know is, that I consider she has a claim upon me. Not in the ordinary sense. Perhaps I'm not quite an ordinary woman, and I see things in a way of my own. She has a claim upon me, because she's one of the few women who have nothing of the baby or the idiot in them, and I've been looking out for that sort all my life. If Constance Bride"-the voice became slower, as if for emphasis-"is put into a position of trust, she'll do all that is expected of her. There's no particular hurry; she's young enough still. And as for you, you've got your hands full."

Dyce felt so puzzled that he could not shape a word. One thing was growing clear to him; but what did the old woman mean by her "position of trust?" How was Constance to be given her "chance?" And what' exactly, was she expected to do?

"Well, we've had our talk," said the old lady, moving as if in pain and weariness. "Go back to town to-night or to-morrow morning, as you like. Write to me, mind, as well as to Miss Bride, and let me know of all the acquaintances you make. It's just possible I may be in London myself next month; it depends on several things."

She became dreamy. Dyce, though he would have liked to say much, knew not how to express himself; it was plain, moreover, that his hostess had little strength to-day. He rose.

"I think I shall catch the evening train, Lady Ogram."

"Very well. A pleasant journey!"

She gave her hand, and Dyce thought it felt more skeleton-like than ever. Certainly her visage was more cadaverous in line and hue than he had yet seen it. Almost before he had turned away, Lady Ogram closed her eyes, and lay back with a sigh.

So here were his prospects settled for him! He was to marry Constance Bride-under some vague conditions which perturbed him almost as much as the thought of the marriage itself. Impossible that he could have misunderstood. And how had Lady Ogram hit upon such an idea? It was plain as daylight that the suggestion had come from Constance herself. Constance had allowed it to be understood that he and she were, either formally, or virtually, affianced.

He stood appalled at this revelation in a sphere of knowledge which he held to be particularly his own.

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