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   Chapter 4 MIRIAM'S BROTHER

The Emancipated By George Gissing Characters: 33723

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


But for the aid of his wife's more sympathetic insight, Edward Spence would have continued to interpret Miriam's cheerless frame of mind as a mere result of impatience at being removed from the familiar scenes of her religious activity, and of disquietude amid uncongenial surroundings. "A Puritan at Naples"-that was the phrase which represented her to his imagination; his liking for the picturesque and suggestive led him to regard her solely in that light. No strain of modern humanitarianism complicated Miriam's character. One had not to take into account a possible melancholy produced by the contrast between her life of ease in the South, and the squalor of laborious multitudes under a sky of mill-smoke and English fog. Of the new philanthropy she spoke, if at all, with angry scorn, holding it to be based on rationalism, radicalism, positivism, or whatsoever name embodied the conflict between the children of this world and the children of light. Far from Miriam any desire to abolish the misery which was among the divinely appointed conditions of this preliminary existence. No; she was uncomfortable, and content that others should be so, for discomfort's sake. It fretted her that the Sunday in Naples could not be as universally dolorous as it was at Bartles. It revolted her to hear happy voices in a country abandoned to heathendom.

"Whenever I see her looking at old Vesuvius," said Spence to Eleanor, his eye twinkling, "I feel sure that she muses on the possibility of another tremendous outbreak. She regards him in a friendly way; he is the minister of vengeance."

Eleanor's discernment was not long in bringing her to a modification of this estimate.

"I am convinced, Ned, that her thoughts are not so constantly at Bartles as we imagine. In any case, I begin to understand what she suffers from most. It is want of occupation for her mind. She is crushed with ennui."

"This is irreverence. As well attribute ennui to the Prophet Jeremiah meditating woes to come."

"I allow you your joke, but I am right for all that. She has nothing to think about that profoundly interests her; her books are all but as sapless to her as to you or me. She is sinking into melancholia."

"But, my dear girl, the chapel!"

"She only pretends to think of it. Miriam is becoming a hypocrite I have noted several little signs of it since Cecily came. She poses-and in wretchedness. Please to recollect that her age is four-and-twenty."

"I do so frequently, and marvel at human nature."

"I do so, and without marvelling at all, for I see human nature justifying itself. I'll tell you what I am going to do, I shall propose to her to begin and read Dante."

"The 'Inferno.' Why, yes."

"And I shall craftily introduce to her attention one or two wicked and worldly little books, such as, 'The Improvisatore,' and the 'Golden Treasury,' and so on. Any such attempts at first would have been premature; but I think the time has come."

Miriam knew no language but her own, and Eleanor by no means purposed inviting her to a course of grammar and exercise. She herself, with her husband's assistance, had learned to read Italian in the only rational way for mature-minded persons-simply taking the text and a close translation, and glancing from time to time at a skeleton accidence. This, of course, will not do in the case of fools, but Miriam Baske, all appearances notwithstanding, did not belong to that category. On hearing her cousin's proposition, she at first smiled coldly; but she did not reject it, and in a day or two they had made a fair beginning of the 'Inferno.' Such a beginning, indeed, as surprised Eleanor, who was not yet made aware that Miriam worked at the book in private with feverish energy-drank at the fountain like one perishing of thirst. Andersen's exquisite story was not so readily accepted, yet this too before long showed a book-marker. And Miriam's countenance brightened; she could not conceal this effect. Her step was a little lighter, and her speech became more natural.

A relapse was to be expected; it came at the bidding of sirocco. One morning the heavens lowered, grey, rolling; it might have been England. Vesuvius, heavily laden at first with a cloud like that on Olympus when the gods are wrathful, by degrees passed from vision, withdrew its form into recesses of dun mists. The angry blue of Capri faded upon a troubled blending of sea and sky; everywhere the horizon contracted and grew mournful; rain began to fall.

Miriam sank as the heavens darkened. The strength of which she had lately been conscious forsook her; all her body was oppressed with languor, her mind miserably void. No book made appeal to her, and the sight of those which she had bought from home was intolerable. She lay upon a couch, her limbs torpid, burdensome. Eleanor's company was worse than useless.

"Please leave me alone," she said at length. "The sound of your voice irritates inc."

An hour went by, and no one disturbed her mood. Her languor was on the confines of sleep, when a knock at the door caused her to stir impatiently and half raise herself. It was her maid who entered, holding a note.

"A gentleman has called, ma'am. He wished me to give you this."

Miriam glanced at the address, and at once stood up, only her pale face witnessing the lack of energy of a moment ago.

"Is he waiting?"

"Yes, ma'am."

The note was of two or three lines:-"Will you let me see you? Of course I mean alone. It's a long time since we saw each other.-R. E."

"I will see him in this room."

The footstep of the maid as she came back along the tiled corridor was accompanied by one much heavier. Miriam kept her eyes turned to the door; her look was of pained expectancy and of sternness. She stood close by the window, as if purposely drawing as far away as possible. The visitor was introduced, and the door closed behind him.

He too, stood still, as far from Miriam as might be. His age seemed to be seven- or eight-and-twenty, and the cast of his features so strongly resembled Miriam's that there was no doubt of his being her brother. Yet he had more beauty as a man than she as a woman. Her traits were in him developed so as to lose severity and attain a kind of vigour, which at first sight promised a rich and generous nature; his excellent forehead and dark imaginative eyes indicated a mind anything but likely to bear the trammels in which Miriam had grown up. In the attitude with which he waited for his sister to speak there was both pride and shame; his look fell before hers, but the constrained smile on his lips was one of self-esteem at issue with adversity. He wore the dress of a gentleman, but it was disorderly. His light overcoat hung unbuttoned, and in his hand he crushed together a bat of soft felt.

"Why have you come to see me, Reuben?" Miriam asked at length, speaking with difficulty and in an offended Lone.

"Why shouldn't I, Miriam?" he returned quietly, stepping nearer to her. "Till a few days ago I knew nothing of the illness you have had, or I should, at all events, have written. When I heard you had come to Naples, I-well, I followed. I might as well be here as anywhere else, and I felt a wish to see you."

"Why should you wish to see me? What does it matter to you whether I am well or ill?"

"Yes, it matters, though of course you find it hard to believe."

"Very, when I remember the words with which you last parted from me. If I was hateful to you then, how am I less so now?"

"A man in anger, and especially one of my nature, often says more than he means. It was never you that were hateful to me, though your beliefs and your circumstances might madden me into saying such a thing."

"My beliefs, as I told you then, are a part of myself-are myself."

She said it with irritable insistence-an accent which would doubtless have been significant in the ears of Eleanor Spence.

"I don't wish to speak of that. Have you recovered your health, Miriam?"

"I am better."

He came nearer again, throwing his hat aside.

"Will you let me sit down? I've had a long journey in third-class, and I feel tired. Such weather as this doesn't help to make me cheerful. I imagined Naples with a rather different sky."

Miriam motioned towards a chair, and looked drearily from the window at the dreary sea. Neither spoke again for two or three minutes. Reuben Elgar surveyed the room, but inattentively.

"What is it you want of me?" Miriam asked, facing him abruptly.

"Want? You hint that I have come to ask you for money?"

"I shouldn't have thought it impossible. If you were in need-you spoke of a third-class journey-I am, at all events, the natural person for your thoughts to turn to."

Reuben laughed dispiritedly.

"No, no, Miriam; I haven't quite got to that. You are the very last person I should think of in such a case."

"Why?"

"Simply because I am not quite so contemptible as you think me. I don't quarrel with my sister, and come back after some years to make it up just because I want to make a demand on her purse."

"You haven't accustomed me to credit you with high motives, Reuben."

"No. And I have never succeeded in making you understand me. I suppose it's hopeless that you ever will. We are too different. You regard me as a vulgar reprobate, who by some odd freak of nature happens to be akin to you. I can picture so well what your imagination makes of me. All the instances of debauchery and general blackguardism that the commerce of life has forced upon your knowledge go towards completing the ideal. It's a pity. I have always felt that you and I might have been a great deal to each other if you had had a reasonable education. I remember you as a child rebelling against the idiocies of your training, before your brain and soul had utterly yielded; then you were my sister, and even then, if it had been possible, I would have dragged you away and saved you."

"I thank Heaven," said Miriam, "that my childhood was in other hands than yours!"

"Yes; and it is very bitter to me to hear you say so."

Miriam kept silence, but looked at him less disdain fully.

"I suppose," he said, "the people you are staying with have much the same horror of my name as you have."

"You speak as loosely as you think. The Spences can scarcely respect you."

"You purpose remaining with them all the winter?"

"It is quite uncertain. With what intentions have you come here? Do you wish me to speak of you to the Spences or not?"

He still kept looking about the room. Perhaps upon him too the baleful southern wind was exercising its influence, for he sat listlessly when he was not speaking, and had a weary look.

"You may speak of me or not, as you like. I don't see that anything's to be gained by my meeting them; but I'll do just as you please."

"You mean to stay in Naples?"

"A short time. I've never been here before, and, as I said, I may as well be here as anywhere else."

"When did you last see Mr. Mallard?"

"Mallard? Why, what makes you speak of him?"

"You made his acquaintance, I think, not long after you last saw me."

"Ha! I understand. That was why he sought me out. You and your friends sent him to me as a companion likely to 'do me good.'"

"I knew nothing of Mr. Mallard then-nothing personally. But he doesn't seem to be the kind of man whose interest you would resent."

"Then you know him?" Reuben asked, in a tone of some pleasure.

"He is in Naples at present."

"I'm delighted to hear it. Mallard is an excellent fellow, in his own way, Somehow I've lost sight of him for a long time. He's painting here, I suppose? Where can I find him?"

"I don't know his address, but I can at once get it for you. You are sure that he will welcome you?"

"Why not? Have you spoken to him about me?"

"No," Miriam replied distantly.

"Why shouldn't he welcome me, then? We were very good friends. Do you attribute to him such judgments as your own?"

His way of speaking was subject to abrupt changes. When, as in this instance, he broke forth impulsively, there was a corresponding gleam in his fine eyes and a nervous tension in all his frame. His voice had an extraordinary power of conveying scornful passion; at such moments he seemed to reveal a profound and strong nature.

"I am very slightly acquainted with Mr. Mallard," Miriam answered, with the cold austerity which was the counterpart in her of Reuben's fiery impulsiveness, "but I understand that he is considered trustworthy and honourable by people of like character."

Elgar rose from his chair, and in doing so all but flung it down.

"Trustworthy and honourable! Why, so is many a greengrocer. How the artist would be flattered to hear this estimate of his personality! The honourable Mallard! I must tell him that."

"You will not dare to repeat words from my lips!" exclaimed Miriam, sternly. "You have sunk lower even than I thought."

"What limit, then, did you put to my debasement? In what direction had I still a scrap of trustworthiness and honour left?"

"Tell me that yourself, instead of talking to no purpose in this frenzied way. Why do you come here, if you only wish to renew our old differences?"

"You were the first to do so."

"Can I pretend to be friendly with you, Reuben? What word of penitence have you spoken? In what have you amended yourself? Is not every other sentence you speak a defence of yourself and scorn upon me?"

"And what right have you to judge me? Of course I defend myself, and as scornfully as you like, when I am despised and condemned by one who knows as little of me as the first stranger I pass on the road. Cannot you come forward with a face like a sister's, and leave my faults for my own conscience? You judge me! What do you, with your nun's experiences, your heart chilled, your paltry view of the world through a chapel window, know of a man whose passions boil in him like the fire in yonder mountain? I should subdue my passions. Excellent text for a copy book in a girls' school! I should be another man than I am; I should remould myself; I should cool my brain with doctrine. With a bullet, if you like; say that, and you will tell the truth. But with the truth you have nothing to do; too long ago you were taught that you must never face that. Do you deal as truthfully with yourself as I with my own heart? I wonder, I wonder."

Miriam's eyes had fallen. She stood quite motionless, with a face of suffering.

"You want me to confess my sins?" Reuben continued, walking about in uncontrollable excitement. "What is your chapel formula? Find one comprehensive enough, and let me repeat it after you; only mind that it includes hypocrisy, for the sake of the confession. I tell you I am conscious of no sins. Of follies, of ignorances, of miseries-as many as you please. And to what account should they all go? Was I so admirably guided in childhood and boyhood that my subsequent life is not to be explained? It succeeded in your case, my poor sister. Oh, nobly! Don't be afraid that I shall outrage you by saying all I think. But just think of me as a result of Jewish education applied to an English lad, and one whose temperament was plain enough to eyes of ordinary penetration. My very name! Your name, too! You it has made a Jew in soul; upon me it weighs like a curse as often as I think of it. It symbolizes all that is making my life a brutal failure-a failure-a failure!"

He threw himself upon the couch and became silent, his strength at an end, even his countenance exhausted of vitality, looking haggard and almost ignoble. Miriam stirred at length, for the first time, and gazed steadily at him.

"Reuben, let us have an end of this," she said, in a voice half choked. "Stay or go as you will; but I shall utter no more reproaches. You must make of your life what you can. As you say, I don't understand you. Perhaps the mere fact of my being a woman is enough to make that impossible. Only don't throw your scorn at me for believing what you can't believe. Talk quietly; avoid those subjects; tell me, if you wish to, what you are doing or think of doing."

"You should have spoken like this earlier, Miriam. It would have spared my memory its most wretched burden."

"How?"

"You know quite well that I valued your affection, and that it had no little importance in my life. Instead of still having my sister, I had only the memory of her anger and injustice, and of my own cursed temper."

"I had no influence for good."

"Perhaps not in the common sense of the words. I am not going to talk humbug about a woman's power to make a man angelic; that will do for third-rate novels and plays. But I shouldn't have thrown myself away as I have done if you had cared to know what I was doing."

"Did I not care, Reuben?

"

"If so, you thought it was your duty not to show it. You thought harshness was the only proper treatment for a case such as mine. I had had too much of that."

"What did you mean just now by speaking as though you were poor?"

"I have been poor for a long time-poor compared with what I was. Most of my money has gone-on the fool's way. I haven't come here to lament over it. It's one of my rules never, if I can help it, to think of the past. What has been, has been; and what will be, will be. When I fume and rage like an idiot, that's only the blood in me getting the better of the brain; an example of the fault that always wrecks me. Do you think I cannot see myself? Just now, I couldn't keep back the insensate words-insensate because useless-but I judged myself all the time as distinctly as I do now it's over."

"Your money gone, Reuben?" murmured his sister, in consternation.

"You might have foreseen that. Come and sit down by me, Miriam. I am tired and wretched. Where is the sun? Surely one may have sunshine at Naples!"

He was now idly fretful. Miriam seated herself at his side, and he took her hand.

"I thought you might perhaps receive me like this at first. I came only with that hope. I wish you looked better, Miriam. How do you employ yourself here?"

"I am much out of doors. I get stronger."

"You spoke of old Mallard. I'm glad he is here, really glad. You know, Mallard's a fellow of no slight account; I should think you might even like him."

"But yourself, Reuben?"

"No, no; let me rest a little. I'm sick and tired of myself. Let's talk of old Mallard. And what's become of little Cecily Doran?"

"She is here-with her aunt."

"She here too! By Jove! Well, of course, I shall have nothing to do with them. Mallard still acting as her guardian, I suppose. Rather a joke, that. I never could get him to speak on the subject. But I feel glad you know him. He's a solid fellow, tremendously conscientious; just the things you would like in a man, no doubt. Have you seen any of his paintings?"

Miriam shook her head absently, unable to find voice for the topic, which was remote from her thoughts.

"He's done fine things, great things. I shall look him up, and we'll drink a bottle of wine together."

He kept stroking Miriam's hand, a white hand with blue veins-a strong hand, though so delicately fashioned. The touch of the wedding-ring again gave a new direction to his discursive thoughts.

"After this, shall you go back to that horrible hole in Lancashire?"

"I hope to go back home, certainly."

"Home, home!" he muttered, impatiently. "It has made you ill, poor girl. Stay in Italy a long time, now you are once here. For you to be here at all seems a miracle; it gives me hopes."

Miriam did not resent this, in word at all events. She was submitting again to physical oppression; her head drooped, and her abstracted gaze was veiled with despondent lassitude. Reuben talked idly, in loose sentences.

"Do you think of me as old or young, Miriam?" he asked, when both had kept silence for a while.

"I no longer think of you as older than myself."

"That is natural. I imagined that. In one way I am old enough, but in another I am only just beginning my life, and have all my energies fresh. I shall do something yet; can you believe it?"

"Do what?" she asked, wearily.

"Oh, I have plans; all sorts of plans."

He joined his hands together behind his head, and began to stir with a revival of mental energy.

"But plans of what sort?"

"There is only one direction open to me. My law has of course gone to-to limbo; it was always an absurdity. Most of my money has gone the same way, and I'm not sorry for it. If I had never had anything, I should have set desperately to work long ago. Now I am bound to work, and you will see the results. Of course, in our days, there's only one road for a man like me. I shall go in for literature."

Miriam listened, but made no comment.

"My life hitherto has not been wasted," Elgar pursued, leaning forward with a new light on his countenance. "I have been gaining experience. Do you understand? Few men at my age have seen more of life-the kind of life that is useful as literary material. It's only quite of late that I have begun to appreciate this, to see all the possibilities that are in myself. It has taken all this time to outgrow the miserable misdirection of my boyhood, and to become a man of my time. Thank the fates, I no longer live in the Pentateuch, but at the latter end of the nineteenth century. Many a lad has to work this deliverance for himself nowadays. I don't wish to speak unkindly any more, Miriam, but I must tell you plain facts. Some fellows free themselves by dint of hard study. In my case that was made impossible by all sorts of reasons-temperament mainly, as you know. I was always a rebel against my fetters; I had not to learn that liberty was desirable, but how to obtain it, and what use to make of it. All the disorder through which I have gone was a struggle towards self-knowledge and understanding of my time. You and others are wildly in error in calling it dissipation, profligacy, recklessness, and so on. You at least, Miriam, ought to have judged me more truly; you, at all events, should not have classed me with common men."

His eyes were now agleam, and the beauty of his countenance fully manifest. He held his head in a pose of superb confidence. There was too much real force in his features to make this seem a demonstration of idle vanity. Miriam regarded him, and continued to do so.

"To be sure, my powers are in your eyes valueless," he pursued; "or rather, your eyes have never been opened to anything of the kind. The nineteenth century is nothing to you; its special opportunities and demands and characteristics would revolt you if they were made clear to your intelligence. If I tell you I am before everything a man of my time, I suppose this seems only a cynical confession of all the weaknesses and crimes you have already attributed to me? It shall not always be so! Why, what are you, after all, Miriam? Twenty-three, twenty-four-which is it? Why, you are a child still; your time of education is before you. You are a child come to Italy to learn what can be made of life!"

She averted her face, but smiled, and not quite so coldly as of wont. She could not but think of Cecily, whose words a few days ago had been in spirit so like these, so like them in the ring of enthusiasm.

"Some day," Elgar went on, exalting himself more and more, "you shall wonder in looking back on this scene between us-wonder how you could have been so harsh to me. It is impossible that you and I, sole brother and sister, should move on constantly diverging paths. Tell me-you are not really without some kind of faith in my abilities?"

"You know it has always been my grief that you put the in to no use."

"Very well. But it remains for you to learn what my powers really are, and to bring yourself to sympathize with my direction. You are a child-there is my hope. You shall be taught-yes, yes! Your obstinacy shall be overcome; you shall be made to see your own good!"

"And who is to be so kind as to take charge of my education?" Miriam asked, without looking at him, in an idly contemptuous tone.

"Why not old Mallard?" cried Reuben, breaking suddenly into jest. "The tutorship of children is in his line."

Miriam showed herself offended.

"Please don't speak of me. I am willing to hear what you purpose for yourself, but don't mix my name with it."

Elgar resumed the tone of ambition. Whether he had in truth definite literary schemes could not be gathered from the rhetoric on which he was borne. His main conviction seemed to be that he embodied the spirit of his time, and would ere long achieve a work of notable significance, the fruit of all his experiences. Miriam, though with no sign of strong interest, gave him her full attention.

"Do you intend to work here?" she asked at length.

"I can't say. At present I am anything but well, and I shall get what benefit I can from Naples first of all. I suppose the sun will shine again before long? This sky is depressing."

He stood up, and went to the windows; then came back with uncertain step.

"You'll tell the Spences I've been?"

"I think I had better. They will know, of course, that I have had a visitor."

"Should I see them?" he asked, with hesitation.

"Just as you please."

"I shall have to, sooner or later. Why not now?"

Miriam pondered.

"I'll go and see if they are at leisure."

During her absence, Elgar examined the books on the table. He turned over each one with angry mutterings. The chapel plans were no longer lying about; only yesterday Miriam had rolled them up and put them away-temporarily. Before the "St. Cecilia" he stood in thoughtful observation, and was still there when Miriam returned. She had a look of uneasiness.

"Miss Doran and her aunt are with Mrs. Spence, Reuben."

"Oh, in that case-" he began carelessly, with a wave of the arm.

"But they will be glad to see you."

"Indeed? I look rather seedy, I'm afraid."

"Take off your overcoat."

"I'm all grimy. I came here straight from the railway."

"Then go into my bedroom and make yourself presentable."

A few moments sufficed for this. As she waited for his return, Miriam stood with knitted brows, her eyes fixed on the floor. Reuben reappeared, and she examined him.

"You're bitterly ashamed of me, Miriam."

She made no reply, and at once led the way along the corridor.

Mrs. Spence had met Reuben in London, since her marriage; by invitation he came to her house, but neglected to repeat the visit. To Mrs. Lessingham he was personally a stranger. But neither of these ladies received the honour of much attention from him for the first few moments after he had entered the room; his eyes and thoughts were occupied with the wholly unexpected figure of Cecily Doran. In his recollection, she was a slight, pale, shy little girl, fond of keeping in corners with a book, and seemingly marked out for a life of dissenting piety and provincial surroundings. She had interested him little in those days, and seldom did anything to bring herself under his notice. He last saw her when she was about twelve. Now he found himself in the presence of a beautiful woman, every line of whose countenance told of instruction, thought, spirit; whose bearing was refined beyond anything he had yet understood by that word; whose modest revival of old acquaintance made his hand thrill at her touch, and his heart beat confusedly as he looked into her eyes. With difficulty he constrained himself to common social necessities, and made show of conversing with the elder ladies. He wished to gaze steadily at the girl's face, and connect past with present; to revive his memory of six years ago, and convince himself that such development was possible. At the same time he became aware of a reciprocal curiosity in Cecily. When he turned towards her she met his glance, and when he spoke she gave him a smile of pleased attentiveness. The consequence was that he soon began to speak freely, to pick his words, no balance his sentences and shun the commonplace.

"I saw Florence and Rome in '76," he replied to a question from Mrs. Lessingham. "In Rome my travelling companion fell ill, and we returned without coming further south. It is wrong, however, to say that I saw anything; my mind was in far too crude a state to direct my eyes to any purpose. I stared about me a good deal, and got some notions of topography, and there the matter ended for the time."

"The benefit came with subsequent reflection, no doubt," said Mrs. Lessingham, who found one of her greatest pleasures in listening to the talk of young men with brains. Whenever it was possible, she gathered such individuals about her and encouraged them to discourse of themselves, generally quite as much to their satisfaction as to her own. Already she had invited with some success the confidence of Mr. Clifford Marsh, who proved interesting, but not unfathomable; he belonged to a class with which she was tolerably familiar. Reuben Elgar, she perceived at once, was not without characteristics linking him to that same group of the new generation, but it seemed probable that its confines were too narrow for him. There was comparatively little affectation in his manner, and none in his aspect; his voice rang with a sincerity which claimed serious audience, and his eyes had something more than surface gleamings. Possibly he belonged to the unclassed and the unclassable, in which case the interest attaching to him was of the highest kind.

"Subsequent reflection," returned Elgar, "has, at all events, enabled me to see myself as I then was; and I suppose self-knowledge is the best result of travel."

"If one agrees that self-knowledge is ever a good at all," said the speculative lady, with her impartial smile.

"To be sure." Elgar looked keenly at her, probing the significance of the remark. "The happy human being will make each stage of his journey a phase of more or less sensual enjoyment, delightful at the time and valuable in memory. The excursion will be his life in little. I envy him, but I can't imitate him."

"Why envy him?" asked Eleanor.

"Because he is happy; surely a sufficient ground."

"Yet you give the preference to self-knowledge."

"Yes, I do. Because in that direction my own nature tends to develop itself. But I envy every lower thing in creation. I won't pretend to say how it is with other people who are forced along an upward path; in my own case every step is made with a groan, and why shouldn't I confess it?"

"To do so enhances the merit of progress," observed Mrs. Lessingham, mischievously.

"Merit? I know nothing of merit. I spoke of myself being forced upwards. If ever I feel that I am slipping back, I shall state it with just as little admission of shame."

Miriam heard this modern dialogue with grave features. At Bartles, such talk would have qualified the talker for social excommunication, and every other pain and penalty Bartles had in its power to inflict. She observed that Cecily's interest increased. The girl listened frankly; no sense of anything improper appeared in her visage. Nay, she was about to interpose a remark.

"Isn't there a hope, Mr. Elgar, that this envy of which you speak will be one of the things that the upward path leaves behind?"

"I should like to believe it, Miss Doran," he answered, his eyes kindling at hers. "It's true that I haven't yet gone very far."

"I like so much to believe it that I do believe it," the girl continued impulsively.

"Your progress in that direction exceeds mine."

"Don't be troubled by the compliment," interjected Eleanor, before Cecily could speak. "There is no question of merit."

Mrs. Lessingham laughed.

The rain still fell, and the grey heavens showed no breaking. Shortly after this, Elgar would have risen to take his leave, but Mrs. Spence begged him to remain and lunch with them. The visitors from the Mergellina declined a similar invitation.

Edward Spence was passing his morning at the Museum. On his return at luncheon-time, Eleanor met him with the intelligence that Reuben Elgar had presented himself, and was now in his sister's room.

"In forma pauperis, presumably," said Spence, raising his eyebrows.

"I can't say, but I fear it isn't impossible. Cecily and her aunt happened to call this morning, and he had some talk with them."

"Is he very much of a blackguard?" inquired her husband, disinterestedly.

"Indeed, no. That is to say, externally and in his conversation. It's a decided improvement on our old impressions of him."

"I'm glad to hear it," was the dry response.

"He has formed himself in some degree. Hints that he is going to produce literature."

"Of course." Spence laughed merrily. "The last refuge of a scoundrel."

"I don't like to judge him so harshly, Ned. He has a fine face."

"And is Miriam killing the fatted calf?"

"His arrival seems to embarrass rather than delight her."

"Depend upon it, the fellow has come to propose a convenient division of her personal property."

When he again appeared, Elgar was in excellent spirits. He met Spence with irresistible frankness and courtesy; his talk made the luncheon cheery, and dismissed thought of sirocco. It appeared that he had as yet no abode; his luggage was at the station. A suggestion that he should seek quarters under the same roof with Mallard recommended itself to him.

"I feel like a giant refreshed," he declared, in privately taking leave of Miriam. "Coming to Naples was an inspiration."

She raised her lips to his for the first time, but said nothing.

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