Page images
[ocr errors]

up here," he added, with a sudden accel-
eration of interest, glancing as he spoke
into the vault above his head, where some
lightly attired but decorously obscure
damsels appeared to be disporting them-ing at his destination.
selves against a chocolate-colored sky.
"That must be a Verrio, I declare," he

sense of the unfathomable and immeasur-
able stupidity of things stole gently over
the clever young man's mind, and he twice
shrugged his shoulders again before arriv-

"I intend having it whitewashed, whatever or whoever it is," Borroughdale replied emphatically. "It's most beastly dark in here."

"Whitewashed, my dear fellow! You never surely would be such a Goth? Why, those ceilings are getting tremendously scarce. I don't say Verrio was exactly a Michael Angelo, still, if only as a memento of the period, they are simply priceless."

"I am very sorry to hear it, as I must get it whitened somehow. It's as dark as pitch in here by five o'clock. Could it be scraped off? If so, you're welcome to it, you know."

Farquart smiled derisively.

"You could scrape it off, no doubt, but there wouldn't be much of it left when you had completed your process," he replied, a trifle, perhaps, too disdainfully.

Borroughdale proffered no further suggestion with regard to the ill-fated ceiling, but quietly replaced his phial before him and resumed his contemplation of the amphipoda. Farquart sat by a little longer watching the big fingers plunging down now and then into its depths; then he got up, saying he must be off to the club to lunch, would Borroughdale come too? No, Borroughdale said, he couldn't. He was very sorry to refuse, but he couldn't spare the time, he really couldn't. Accordingly Farquart departed alone, smiling, and lifting his shoulders again with an uncontrollable gesture of pity as he did so.

It was odd, very odd indeed, he thought to himself, as he went his way meditatively along the streets, the way things were managed in this really most incomprehensible of all incomprehensible worlds. Of course if Borroughdale, poor fellow, could find no better way of filling up his interminable hours than by scraping shells and bottling up crabs, why, it was better he should do that than inflict them upon other people. But when one thought, when one simply for an instant considered, what another man in his shoes might get out of his life, what accomplish, what leave as a sort of record and legacy to all coming million aires really it took one's breath away! And as he turned leisurely up Piccadilly a

A few days later he took occasion to call at Professor Holland's house, moved thereto chiefly by a certain curiosity as to the mainspring of this sudden and futile ebullition of energy. He met his cousin as it happened on the doorstep, she having just returned, she told him, from a walk in the park. She was looking, he at once observed, remarkably handsome; the walk had brought a color into her usually pale cheeks; that peculiar look of youth which at times seemed fairly extinguished out of her face triumphing to-day in eyes and lips, and in the girl-like brightness of her glance.

"How well you are looking, Katherine, and how little I have seen of you of late!" he said with an air of gracefully sentimental regret as they went up the stairs together.

Miss Holland smiled a little sceptically. "Whose fault is that, I should like to know?" she answered. "We are not much more difficult to find at home than the snails. You have only to look into our shell."

"True; but then London - you know what London is in the matter of engagements, or rather perhaps, happy being, you do not. Really the calls upon a man's time are maddening, nothing short of maddening. And the more too one tries to shut oneself up, the more the wretched people insist upon pulling one out, and not leaving one a moment's peace."

Miss Holland smiled again, without her face, however, entirely losing its sceptical expression.

Have you finished that picture you were at work at when we were last at your studio?" she presently inquired, turning away as she spoke to lay aside gloves and cloak on the back of a sofa.

Farquart stroked his moustache a moment reflectively.

"The picture? Now let me see which was that, I wonder?" he said in a tone of profound introspection. "Ah, yes; now I remember. Finished it! Heavens no, my dear girl. I've put it away. I haven't even seen it since. I'm trying to forget I ever painted it."

[ocr errors]

Trying to forget it. Why?"

"Well, you see, it is rather a theory of mine. I don't believe in sticking at any one thing beyond a given time. I believe one does oneself more harm than good."

He had by this time seated himself upon a chair, and was glancing up and down the room with that sense of amusement which so often assailed him when he found himself confronted by other people's notions of the decorative. "One makes more way often by resting on one's oars, you know," he added, turning his eyes so as to bring them to bear upon his cousin's face.

"One might rest too long though," she suggested.

"Oh, yes. Of course there is always that risk; still I think on the whole it is less than the opposite one; supposing, that is, that a man has the wherewithal to do anything at all in him; and if he hasn't why of course it doesn't much matter what he does, whether he grinds or whether he does not. But if he has he can't really idle even if he tries. Everything one sees; everything bombastic people call one's environment; the people one meets ; the houses one goes to; that tiresome woman you danced with yesterday, or took into dinner the day before; all form part, artistically speaking, of your daily bread. You don't consciously chronicle them, of course, or sketch them, or any thing of that sort, but they go down somewhere or other, and come out again in one form or other if they're wanted. Forgive my inflicting upon you this elaborate recitation of my artistic creed, but seriously I believe that's about it. The cream of a man's ideas, his best inspirations, all come to him in that sort of unpremeditated way. It gives a better chance, too, to the infin ities and immensities which are always floating about if one can only make use of them. Sticking like a leach to his easel or his desk, as the case may be, his ideas get ossified, and ten to one, he is missing a dozen better ideas while he is pegging away like a cart-horse at one."

Katherine Holland shook her head slightly. She thought her cousin's theories very brilliant, very ingenious, but at the same time slightly unpractical.

"Now, my uncle, would he I wonder get any clearer ideas about his morphology or his comparative anatomy if he took to a course of balls and dinner parties?" she inquired somewhat ironically.

your uncle's pursuits," he added, "reminds me of Borroughdale. You remember my friend Borroughdale, whom I introduced to you at my studio? If I am not mistaken your uncle has got in him a new recruit. I was at his house the other day, and I found him up to the ears in strange and slimy beasts, the room smelling like a seashore at extremely low tide, one hand excitedly twisting up the screws of a microscope, and the other tenderly caressing a dead crab."

Miss Holland smiled.

“Yes, I know. We have seen a good deal of him lately," she said. "He is interested in zoology. He has never studied it at all, it seems, before; but my uncle says that he has never known any one who picked up so much in so short a time."

Farquart laughed, throwing back his head with an intense but perfectly good. humored entertainment.

[ocr errors]

"Then all I can say is that you have worked a miracle amongst you!" he exclaimed. "I have known Borroughdale ages we are almost like brothers. There is not a better-natured, an honester, a kinder-hearted fellow in all England; in fact, I'm perfectly devoted to him: at the same time I am bound in honor to declare that during all the years we have been together I have never once, even once, known him acquire anything of his own free will. And at Oxford, old Godby, who was his tutor, and also mine, told me that in all his experience he never came across so stolidly, respectably, but absolutely impervious, a headpiece."

Miss Holland looked a little surprised. The last part of her cousin's speech did not seem to her to fit particularly well with the profession of friendship at the beginning of it.

Haven't you read something of the same sort in the biography of various illustrious savants before now?" she said quickly. "It seems to me I have. Besides, Lord Borroughdale tells me that he really has always taken an interest in natural history watching the ways of animals, I mean, and that sort of thing only that he was always rather ashamed of it than otherwise, as no one else he knew cared for anything of the sort, and it appeared like a sort of remnant of child.

Farquart shook his head.

"Your uncle? Oh, well-no, very likely not; but that, you will admit, is different," Farquart answered, with a con-ishness." scientious effort at banishing from his tone all sense of the immensity of the difference. "I was speaking, of course, of the more purely creative processes. By the way, talking of the others of

"I expect that their chief attraction in his eyes - latterly, at any rate has lain in the fact that there was no danger of their insisting upon his turning any of them

into a Marchioness of Borroughdale," he said laughingly. "His terror, his absorbing panic, is that every woman he meets, or even hears of, intends to marry him."

Miss Holland's eyebrows contracted. She looked vexed, a blush of displeasure rather than embarrassment rising suddenly to her cheek. Farquart, too, felt unexpectedly annoyed with himself. Now that they were uttered his words some how sounded a good deal more significant than he had ever intended them to be. The last thing in the world that he had proposed to himself that afternoon was what, in the language of slang, is called "crabbing" Borroughdale, still less of openly hinting to his cousin that any good nature of hers in that direction might possibly be misconstrued. What he knew of her, no less than of the peculiarity of her circumstances, making anything of the sort little short of a gratuitous impertinence. Nevertheless, somehow or other, he seemed to have drifted into doing what was at least open to the imputation of being both. Where the deuce had his usually infallible tact got to? he asked himself, with a self-annoyance which was as rare as it was uncomfortable. While he was still industriously cudgelling his brain in search of some newer and happier topic upon which to launch, and before Miss Holland had entirely recovered her composure, the door opened and her aunt, Mrs. Holland, entered; whereupon Farquart promptly recalled to his mind an engagement he had previously forgot ten, and not very many minutes afterwards he rose to take his leave.

Mr. Vansittart, who happened to have been away for a short time from town also about this time, paid his first visit to his son's improvised laboratory, and also went away shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head. The last state of that misguided young man seemed to him to be worse than the first. As if it was not bad enough to have a son who refused to fulfil any of the functions of his position, without having one who made it impossible for you to enter his house without having your nose saluted with the most detestably ungodly smells! Meeting Farquart the same afternoon upon the steps of a club to which he belonged, and which the latter had lately joined, he at once burst upon him with the subject.


My dear Mr. Farquart, how very for. tunate that I should just meet you. Have you seen anything of Borroughdale lately?"

"Not for nearly a week," the other

answered. "By the way, you know, I suppose, that he has become immersed in zoology, since you left town," he added with a smile.

"Know it, my dear sir! I have just come from seeing him. I assure you the smell of that house is enough to knock you down, literally to knock you down. It's perfectly poisonous! We shall have him indicted by the neighborhood as a nuisance if he doesn't mind what he is about."

Farquart laughed.

"It is pretty bad, I know," he said. "Carburetted hydrogen, isn't it? I don't believe there's really any great harm in it, though.'

[ocr errors]

But Mr. Vansittart was far past laughing. All his usual social creeds, his very terror of ridicule being for the moment set aside in the extremity of his parental anguish.

"Harm! heavens and earth, my dear young man! I don't know what you call harm. To my mind it is pitiful simply pitiful. When I think of Borroughdale's position, when I think of his magnificent opportunities, when I think of the care with which he has been brought up, when I think of the trouble which I have always lavished over his education, that now at his age he should be given over to such puerilities, such childishness worthy of some cockney schoolboy out upon his first holiday! Of course I don't expect others to see the thing in the same light, but to my mind it is disastrous - simply disastrous!"


Probably he'll get tired of it after a while, you know," Farquart said consolingly. They were still upon the steps of the club, up which they now began to mount.

[ocr errors]

Mr. Vansittart shook his head. "I don't know; he becomes extraor dinarily set upon a thing-extraordinarily once he takes it up," he said despondently. "I've known him take up the queerest fads; nothing wrong, you know, but queer, very queer, the last things you would imagine any one in his position, and brought up as he has been, would take up. But this is the worst of them all, much, very much the worst!' the unfortunate father ended with a groan.


[ocr errors]

THE very slight amount of esteem expressed for his new studies by his friends and relations gave but little concern to Lord Borroughdale. More accurately it may be said to have concerned him not at

with this resolve clear before his mind he was able, with more semblance of equa nimity, to await the slow but all-decisive course of events.

all. He was not used, as we have seen, to admiration in that quarter. Despite those attributes of his which might, under ordinary circumstances, have been supposed to give rise to some such feeling, a That he was honestly, intensely, irresort of good-humored indulgence, deepen- coverably in love with Katherine Holland ing at times into something like pitying as man need be, he had not a shadow of contempt, was their most familiar attitude doubt. It is true that he had had no towards him, and of this he himself was previous experience of the sensation, but perfectly well aware. Dull as he was, his then neither, on the other hand, had he dulness, as we have also seen, was not ever had any experience of a glow which that truly enviable variety which enwraps had lost its first intensity. He loved her its possessor in a triple-lined coat of mail, for herself; for her grave, slightly, per. through which no dart, however potent, haps, austere beauty, for her brightness can ever penetrate. On the contrary, it- and clear-eyed intelligence, for the unfailhad always been pricked through and ing gentleness with which she met the, through with a certain irritated conscious often, as it seemed to him, unreasonable ness of itself; he hated it; he chafed calls upon her time and patience; finally against it; he longed to get away from it, and chiefly he loved her for that best of to find himself in the freer air, amid the all reasons - because he loved her, be. larger surroundings of those to whose cause everything about her filled him with intelligence what to him was opaque apa joy, a rapture, a sense of exhilaration, peared clear and apprehensible. When of which his previous intercourse with his therefore, for the first time in his life, he fellow-beings had given him no faintest perceived a direction in which his faculties, instead of standing still in torpid ineptitude, seemed to leap, flow, and move of their own accord, it was not very likely that any pressure from without would hinder him from following the invitation.

One thing, and one alone, filled him as the days went on with disquietude, and that was the footing upon which he stood with regard to Katherine Holland. It seemed to him that he made no way at all. He was not, it is true, repulsed, but then neither was he encouraged. He could not even flatter himself that he had made clear his sentiments to her at all. When he called and he called I may say extremely often she was always friendly, always ready to discuss his latest zoologi. cal perplexity, to eke out, so far as her capacity enabled her, his, at present, very limited amount of knowledge in that direction; but whenever the conversation threatened to take a more personal and therefore interesting turn, it seemed to him that she always contrived quietly but determinedly to lead it away to safer and less exciting topics, a manoeuvre which, helpless as ever in conversational mat ters, he found himself powerless to avert, though it inwardly filled him with rage and wild gnashings of teeth at his own stupidity.

If he was helpless, however, he was also very tenacious, a family trait which here as elsewhere stood him in good stead. He swore to himself that he was not going to be balked; that come what would she must, would, should hear him yet; and


One not a little amusing transformation resulted from all this. Borroughdale, to whom the portals of what is called the great world stood as naturally open as his own hall door, and who had hitherto shown such remarkably slight anxiety to get inside them, now, on the contrary, exhibited a willingness to present himself at reunions to which that great world in its ignorance and impertinence would in all probability have turned up its distinguished nose.

Mrs. Holland dearly loved such mild dissipations as came within her sphere, and, more to please her than for any great joy which they afforded her personally, Miss Holland allowed herself to be conducted to them, and, for the sake of seeing, and occasionally, when he summoned courage, of talking to her, Borroughdale too began to frequent them. The diffi culty of procuring invitations was not, as will be imagined, insurmountable. The society which the Hollands moved in was largely made up of the professional ele ment-the medical, as incorporating a greater infusion of science than any other, perhaps preponderating. Science, however, pure and simple, was also to be found, those occasions on which the greater scientific bodies throw wide their doors to the wives, sisters, cousins, and remotest connections of their members constituting perhaps the highest, or at any rate the most striking, points in Mrs. Holland's social horizon. All, or a con siderable portion, of these entertainments,

Lord Borroughdale now took to attending. His mantelpiece, long destitute of those natural adornments of a young man about town, began about this time to bristle with shining announcements that the conversazione of the Microscopical Society would take place upon such a day, or that Professor and Madame van Ovibos would hope for the pleasure of the Marquis of Borroughdale's society at their soirée upon the 22nd. Calling from time to time upon his son, Mr. Vansittart would turn over a dozen, perhaps, or more, similar intimations, lifting them one by one between his finger and thumb, and dropping them again upon the mantelpiece, with a slight elevation of his brows and a perceptible start of astonishment as each fresh, and to his mind, more utterly incongruous announcement met his gaze.

Borroughdale himself was quite unconscious, however, of any incongruity. The society suited him quite well enough quite as well, at any rate, as any society was likely to suit him. That sense of being at odds with his world which had hitherto been such a familiar experience, did not obtrude itself here, at any rate not nearly as much. If he were something of a fish out of water still, it was, at least, in a different and a much more endurable way. To Mrs. Holland or Madame van Ovibos he was not an anomaly at all, but simply an amiable young nobleman, whose presence in their drawing-rooms diffused over their souls a mild sense of beatitude, and whose appearance, way of life, and deportment it did not even enter into their heads to criticise. He might have been on his way to Marlborough House, or returning home from the House of Lords that natural abiding-place of the young hereditary legislator — for anything either of them could tell to the contrary. Now I hope no one will too hastily accredit Borroughdale with any ignoble love of being first in his company, if I say that in this sort of unhesitating acceptance there was no little balm and solace for him. He was so tired, you see, poor fellow, of being criticised, of knowing that every one in and out of his own circle of acquaintance had an eye for his vagaries, and was mentally conning over those points in which he differed from the received type, always of course exclusively to his disadvantage. Amongst the younger scientific portion of these gatherings he made friends, too, as (Farquart excepted) he had never as yet done elsewhere. His leanings had always been to the workaday side of things, and here that side was to be seen in what may

fairly be called its most attractive form, embellished by a thousand possibilities which fired his brain with vague but therefore all the more dazzling notions of what might not yet be in store for a world where all those exciting suggestions would sooner or later become sober and universally accepted matters of fact. If these gatherings had no other merit, moreover, they at least had that of causing Katherine Holland's beauty and bearing to stand out before him in new and more commanding lustre; indeed she seemed to him to be immeasurably more out of keeping with what was ordinary in her surroundings than he was himself. Comparing her, for instance, with the four Miss Macmanuses, daughters of Professor Macmanus, how could he fail to be struck with the difference?

Professor Macmanus was an entomolo. gist, a term which probably sounds quite sufficiently explicit to the outer world, but which the initiated know to be far too coarse and too generalized for anything like accurate definition, entomology, like knowledge itself, having long since passed out of the grasp of any one pair of hands, no matter how strong or how wide-embracing they may be. Professor Macmanus, however, embraced two or three of its divisions, the one in which he had first won his spurs, and made for himself a European reputation, being known as the Heteroptera a term which sounds better perhaps in Latin than its equivalent does in English. He was a widower, and he and his house with all that it contained with the exception only of his entomological boxes and cabinets were wholly ruled over and subjugated by his four daughters.

[ocr errors]

The poor professor himself was like wax in those redoubtable young ladies' hands. If they had only been entomological specimens, no matter how rare or how unique, he would have known in a moment how to deal with them, but being as they were sufficiently average specimens of the genus youthful Englishwoman of the nineteenth century, he simply yielded himself an easy prey, intrenching himself behind his collections, and leaving the whole weight and direction of social ob servations to be determined as they in their united wisdom and experience might see fit.

It so happened that it was at an enter tainment given by this enterprising family that Borroughdale for the first time found courage to break down that bar which her discretion and his own diffi

« PreviousContinue »