THE COVETOUS MAN.
A LONG illness, a
lingering death had eaten up everything the Bertrams possessed.
Before Reginald Bertram was buried his family had but five pounds in
the world, and four human beings were to be fed and clothed out of
that for a quite indefinite time, to say nothing of the landlord,
the tax-gatherer, and all the other claimants on a London household.
So the artist's family had nothing, indeed less than nothing,
for the mourning garments which they wore were still unpaid for.
They had nothing but love for each other. These mourning
garments sat on Margaret with a grave majestic grace; but they
brought out with startling effect the marvellous beauty of her
sisters Alice and May. Perhaps Mrs. Bertram may be pardoned if
she forgot half her grief in looking at them, while the thought lay
inarticulate in her foolish heart that the world could hardly use
them very badly, so gifted with its most desired, most unattainable
That they were good to look at, Margaret herself confessed
with admiring eyes, for she loved beauty with the passionate artist
love. What slender white throats the black frocks encircled!
What exquisite bloom they set off! No colours of flower or gem
were to be compared to the soft hues of those cheeks, the red glow
of those lips, the liquid lustre of those wonderful eyes, expressing
of themselves and without the least effort to their owners all that
was most brilliant in intellect and tender in love. Margaret
sometimes wondered if they ever looked astonished into their own
depths of loveliness.
Alice, the eldest of "the pretty sisters"—they were called
"the pretty sisters" to distinguish them from Margaret, who might
have been called the good one—Alice was the tallest and the fairest,
a paler rose. May sparkled more, had more of the gem lustre in
her blue eyes, more of the red gold in her hair. There was
more fire in her blood too. May could quarrel, kiss, and be
friends again. Alice never relaxed from her stateliness, never
waived her claims of any kind, never met anybody half-way, and would
have taken as her due any amount of homage. They were very
beautiful, yet in repose their faces assumed a look which was not
perfectly sweet, a look of discontent. Their very grief seemed
to assume the shape of discontent—a discontent which was overawed by
a great solemnity, but ready to burst forth whenever the pressure
They had inherited their father's sensuous nature—sensuous,
not sensual. Not a single low pleasure had ever stained
Reginald Bertram's soul. They desired—these daughters of
his—as he had done, the seeing of the eye and the hearing of the
ear. They longed for brightness and freshness, and fulness of
life—for movement and colour, and dance and song, and pleasant
companionship—and they had been condemned to dulness and fadedness,
and pinching and scraping; and even worse things were in store for
them. They would have to earn their bread, and what that meant
they could guess. They were as fruit which wants the sunshine,
and for lack of it may set men's teeth on edge. It seemed
their natural right, ease and brightness of all kinds—ease for the
slower and statelier Alice; brightness for May's quicker and
livelier grace. In smiles May rippled all over—her hair
rippled, and her eyes, and her lips as well. Hers was a
laughing loveliness. Alice only smiled; but neither smiles nor
laughter were their lot—only sordid cares and sorrows.
No servant had been kept in the family since the departure of
the maid-of-all-work when her master became seriously ill.
They could not afford a servant; but working at home was one thing,
and serving strangers was another; yet something must be done, and
done immediately, and done by all, for work as she might—and Mrs.
Bertram would not spare herself where her children were
concerned—she could not provide for so many. Happily, though
there was "little to earn and many to keep," she did not feel
inclined for doing nothing but weeping.
What therefore was to be done? The very evening of the
funeral-day found Mrs. Bertram taking her family into consultation
on the question of ways and means. She broke down at first,
indeed; but necessity was laid upon her—the necessity which seemed
so hard, was in reality tender to her.
"Alice might go out as a governess," suggested May.
"And be miserable all day in a dingy schoolroom, only to be
more miserable out of it," said Alice, but without improving on the
"I don't see that you could do better, Alice," said Mrs.
Bertram, soothingly. "You might get into a good family and be
treated as one of themselves. Your poor dear father always
said that it was only the vulgar rich who ill-treated their
governesses; well-educated people always made an equal, he said, of
a well-educated girl who had charge of their children. It's
better than being a milliner," continued Mrs. Bertram, "and having
everybody looking down on you, besides having to work all the hours
in hot close rooms. I know what that is. I went for a
season just to learn to make my own bonnets, you know."
The alternative of millinery was too shocking. "I shall
certainly not think of that, mamma," said Alice, "so I suppose I
must look out for a situation."
"May will have to help in the house," Mrs. Bertram went on.
"She might get a few hours teaching a day, just to keep her in
clothes; and I must take in lodgers."
"Lodgers!" exclaimed Alice and May, in unfeigned astonishment
"Yes; I would like to know how else I am to live," she
replied sharply. "We must pay house-rent and eat dinners."
The logic of facts was unanswerable, and Mrs. Bertram went
on. "We can let the drawing-rooms and the best bed-room, or
even two bed-rooms. I can make shift down-stairs. I
shall try and get gentlemen; they are out all day, and then, dears,
if any of your friends should call they need never know that the
rooms are let."
"And Margaret?" said May.
Margaret had sat quivering and blushing. She loved her
mother dearly, but oh, at such a distance from the father she had
lost! She had been silent, and her mother had been silent
about her. Margaret was expected to think and act for herself.
It had always been thus from her childish days. So much
more was expected of Margaret than of the others. She had
always been ready to give up her most cherished things if "the
little ones" wanted them—and these little ones wanted everything
they could get. She had had to struggle hard when it came to
parting between her, a tender mamma of six, and her favourite
doll-child, in favour of a ruthless tyrant of two, knowing, by sad
experience, that in a short space of time her darling would look at
her with but one lovely blue eye, while the other rattled ominously
within, till the sensitive child could not bear to touch her
"And what do you think of doing, Margaret?" said her mother.
"I should like to go on with my work, mamma," said Margaret.
"I should like to try and finish papa's last picture for the
exhibition." Margaret had begun to work at her father's art.
She was very clever at illustrations, but to finish a picture for
the exhibition was another thing. "Papa expected fifty guineas
for it," she went on in a hesitating manner.
"But they won't give you so much," said Mrs. Bertram,
"Even if it was sold for half of that it would be something,"
said Margaret, "and it is more than half done; but if—if it is well
done"—she had meant to say "equally"—some one may give the same
price for it. Besides, it is really papa's; he sketched it all
out, and it is only by his telling me all that he meant to make it
that I can carry on the work."
Mrs. Bertram brightened up the drawing-room and best bed-room
in anticipation of a speedy answer to the advertisement, which was
hung in a frame suspended at the door of the bookstall in the
nearest station, without loss of time. With new carpets and
some fresh chintz and muslin, and much polishing, the rooms had been
made to look quite dainty; but as yet no man had hired them.
At the expiration of a month Mrs. Bertram began to despair;
but when Margaret suggested putting a ticket in the window, the idea
was rejected with scorn. To turn the house into a common
lodging-house! Such a thing was not to be thought of.
Margaret, who could see no difference between a house that let
lodgings and a lodging-house, held her tongue and went back to her
She had not yet obtained permanent employment, which she soon
saw would be the best for her—employment on some periodical was what
she sought. But it was so difficult to get an opening, and she
had so much to learn. She worked on bravely, however, earning
a guinea or two here and there, and keeping all her best energies,
her brightest moods for the picture.
At length a lady and gentleman came and looked at the
lodgings—looked and were satisfied; at least the gentleman was, for
the lady seemed quite indifferent. At any rate they took the
rooms, and almost immediately entered on possession. They were
not young people. Their respective ages might be forty-two and
forty-five, the lady being the elder of the two. She was a
small, a very small, slender woman, with what had once been fine
blue eyes; but they were faded, and the expression in them was too
keen and vigilant, as if she was given to suspicious watching.
Her features were sharp, and she had a colour in her face which
looked as if it had cracked in hardening. Mr. Grey was a
complete contrast to his wife, looking all over soft, sleek, and
well-to-do. There were no cracks on his smooth skin. His
complexion was florid, his teeth white. He was altogether a
good-looking man. "Still in his prime," people said, "and his
wife quite an old woman."
He had come into the neighbourhood to superintend the
building of a fine villa on a piece of freehold land which he had
bought. He was building a wide and spacious and many-roomed
mansion for himself and his childless wife, and he wanted to be near
enough for a daily visit to it during its erection. He wanted
to see that the men did their work without scamping—a better man
than he might have done the same, having been taught suspicion by
bitter experience; but this man looked on all other men as brethren
in cheating and overreaching.
He also wanted to look after the laying-out of his spacious
garden, at which an experienced gardener was already employed.
He had managed to secure a screen of fine elms for his shrubbery.
He was setting up green-houses and hot-houses, for he intended to
grow his own grapes and melons and peaches; and he was planting a
rosary, for he meant to revel in flowers, the one taste he had which
was not altogether sensual. In these visits he was never
accompanied by his wife. That he was rather uncomfortable with
her was the first observation his new landlady made, and, as away
from her he was always pleasant and communicative, Mrs. Bertram's
sympathies went with him entirely.
Mrs. Grey was not a first wife. Mr. Grey had come up
from the country, a black-haired stripling, rather good-looking, and
immensely conceited, and bent on making money. He came up to
be assistant to a grocer.
The grocer was a good, simple, kindly man, a widower, with an
only daughter. The grocer's daughter took a fancy to the young
man, and indicated it pretty plainly. He was steady and
well-behaved, and the father did not frown; nay, from the very first
he smiled approval.
The steady, well-behaved young man forgot to say that he had
left behind him a young girl, bright and frank and gay, whom he had
already promised to make his wife, in token of which they had
exchanged prayer-books their last Sunday in each other's company.
The maiden also had in her possession a heart-shaped gold
locket, his parting gift, while she, being poorer than her lover,
had placed in the prayer-book a similar shape in white embossed
The grocer's daughter took a fancy to that identical
prayer-book, which had "Gideon Grey," in conjunction with another
name, scrawled upon its front board. She tried to seize it;
but he would not give it up, and, strange to say, next Sunday it was
Gideon went to chapel with the grocer and his daughter.
He had given Miss Semper his arm, and he must have dropped it as
they were leaving home.
What could Miss Semper do but present him with another, ten
times as costly, modestly requesting a photograph of himself in
exchange, though she could see him every day of her life and every
hour of the day, by only peeping through the muslin curtains which
screened the door of the back parlour.
Selina Semper sat in the front drawing-room, above the shop,
and sighed for her father's assistant. What would she have
felt if she had seen him stand on the bridge one evening, and
deliberately drop the prayer-book she had coveted into the scum of
the river, white heart and all?
Did the girl he had wooed and won, with many a promise and
many a kiss, feel the chill that was creeping over her deepen just
then? She was too proud to appeal when his letters grew
cold—when they ceased she made no sign.
So Gideon Grey married the grocer's sickly, sentimental
daughter, and the old man blessed them when he died, and thanked God
that he left his child and her little fortune in such good hands.
The unfaithful lover proved a perfectly kind and faithful
husband. He was prosperous, he was good-humoured, and his
little wife was happy—only she and her firstborn both died together
within a year.
He mourned in earnest, for the poor girl had loved and
flattered him, and given herself to him body and soul, and she died
"not knowing" that her money had been the bait that lured him.
And then his child! Superstitious dread seized upon him as he
thought of his faithlessness to his first love, and above all, that
deadly sin of his of drowning the prayer-book. He wondered if
it was as bad as burning it. For his faithlessness he could
atone, but how atone for this? The judgment of heaven had
overtaken him. His prosperity would cease. His future he
dared not think of. He was not sure that he had not committed
the unpardonable sin. Covetousness, we are told, is idolatry,
and idolatry and superstition are akin.
To his widowed mother he had sent a notice of his marriage
and a five-pound note—the first present he had ever sent her.
She had shared in his coldness and neglect, and she had had to tell
the girl she loved like a daughter of his final desertion.
And when little more than a year had passed away, Gideon went
back to his village, with a deep band of crape on his hat, and the
evidences of prosperity shining upon him in fine broadcloth and
thick gold chain; and the poor mother could not help being proud of
her son, in spite of his delinquencies.
She was more than proud when be told her that he had come
down on purpose to make it up with Jane, and when he begged her
intervention on his behalf. Jane was asked to tea at his
mother's cottage, and a reconciliation was, with some difficulty,
It was not perfect, that once broken and cemented love.
Both trusted that time might smooth it over, and both repented
bitterly that a reconciliation had ever been made. The husband
was afraid of the wife; he knew that she knew him. He had
furnished her with a key which unlocked the secret recesses of his
heart, and discovered the falsenesses and meannesses hidden there.
And the wife distrusted the husband. Having had such
cause to distrust him once, she trusted him even less than he
deserved thereafter. She was often causelessly jealous of him,
and she had a fearless tongue, which grew more and more bitter as
the days went by. She had no children, and she made no
friends. She grew harder than he did, more grudging; would
neither indulge in fine clothes nor costly food, though they grew
richer and richer. But for all that she had the more generous
nature. It was she who shamed and worried him into supporting
his mother, when he would have let her go to the workhouse, or at
least pinch on a wretched pittance.
Jane Grey was a clever woman of business, and helped her
husband greatly in the making of money, the task to which they set
themselves body and soul. He sold the little grocery business
and entered on a greater. Then he became wholesale provision
merchant besides. With his surplus capital he lent money to
needy tradesmen. He speculated in house property till he owned
whole streets of poor dwellings. And the tradesmen he helped
and the builders he bought of were strangely addicted to bankruptcy,
with no assets. Gideon Grey, however, lost nothing by them.
With the failure of his wife's health, he had lately given up
the shop, and in the wider life he had been living he had acquired
other tastes than those which could be gratified in the narrow home
of their youth. It was accordingly left behind. Jane
Grey sneered bitterly, but gave in to every change. Perhaps
she was weary of the strife. So they changed and changed
again, always to their more complete dissatisfaction, till Mr. Grey
resolved on his villa, and they came to lodge with Mrs. Bertram.
While her husband was absent, Mrs. Grey sat long hours in the
drawing-room, as still as death; her hands clasped round her knees,
or folded in a peculiar fashion over her left breast.
In the every-day looking room sat the everyday looking woman,
idle—for what was there worth doing in the world? loveless—for she
had neither love nor sympathy to support her in her pain. She
was suffering sore. The fierce pangs of jealousy, the ache of
loneliness were deadened now by a terrible torture, sharp as the
bite of a serpent. When she came to know what that pain meant
she sat down to wait for death, to long for it, sometimes wildly to
pray for it.
Passing that closed door, Mrs. Bertram one day stopped and
listened. She had seen Mr. Grey go out that morning—seen him
with her own eyes. He had given her a cheerful good morrow as
he passed, well brushed and well breakfasted; and yet there was some
one with Mrs. Grey, and they were quarrelling. She listened.
"What is the use of torturing a poor creature like me? oh,
what's the use of it? Let me die, let me die."
But the words were addressed to no human ear.
Mrs. Bertram began to tremble, and to think her lodger must
be mad. Mr. Grey was certainly to be pitied to have such a
wife—such a dreadful wife.
Then the voice of reproach sank down into a muttered appeal
for pity. And the next moment when Mrs. Bertram knocked and
entered, Mrs. Grey sat there silent and stony, with hard blue eyes
and puckered mouth.
Mrs. Bertram's report made a profound impression upon
Margaret, only it was the suffering woman she chose to pity, not the
sleek self-indulgent man, and she lost no opportunity of showing her
any little kindness.
Mrs. Bertram, on the other hand, lost no opportunity of
picking up a word here and there which might throw light on the
characters of her lodgers. All that she heard tended to
confirm her bad opinion of Mrs. Grey.
"Will you come and see the place?" she heard Mr. Grey ask one
"No, I don't care to see it," replied his wife; "I shall
never enter it."
"Nonsense, Jane! what new craze is this? But it is just
like you. Whenever I take a pride in anything, you are sure to
spoil it for me. Not enter the house?" and he laughed
unpleasantly. "I say you shall enter it."
"I shall never enter that, nor leave this alive," she said
slowly and clearly. Then she whispered something, and was
silent; and there was silence in the room.
Next day a physician came and saw Mrs. Grey; but neither she
nor her husband said a word concerning his visit
Whatever was wrong, it smote Mr. Grey with visible
compunction. He was restless. He came in oftener, though
he never stayed long at a time. He wanted his wife to go
abroad in a carriage; one of the girls belonging to the house would
go with her. He sent in fruit and flowers, which lay untouched
and untasted, save by himself. Mrs. Grey would or could accept
of no such alleviations, though her husband confessed that it would
greatly increase his comfort for her to do so. He did not
cease, however, to take an interest in the building, which went on
under his directions as briskly as before.
After an interval the physician came again. His
prescription was a powerful opiate. Under its influence she
slept by night, and by day sat in her chair, looking numb and
One day Mr. Grey did not dine at home; did not come home till
the late spring twilight was deepening into darkness. Mrs.
Grey had not rung for lights, and he entered the darkish
drawing-room while Mrs. Bertram prepared to bring them.
"Are you there, Jane?" he called out. There was no
But his eyes, getting used to the half-darkness, could see
her sitting in her accustomed seat.
Mrs. Bertram came in and lit up the room, and with it the
ghastly face of the dead woman!
Gideon Grey cried aloud, and rushed from the room in
uncontrollable fear. He would not encounter those eyes again
for all he possessed in the world.
finished her father's picture, and interest had been made for it by
her father's friends. It had been received and hung, and
appeared in the catalogue as the work of Reginald Bertram, finished
by his daughter. It sold too, and for the £50 at which it was
priced, and Margaret felt more than encouraged. She planned a
picture of her own, but she was wisely working at lower work as
well, working and learning too.
This time she had no subject cut and dry—no materials ready
to be worked up—subject and materials had alike to be furnished out
of her own heart and brain, and her own slender stock of knowledge
and experience. She was entering the boundless domain of art,
in which truth is the only guide. And that the voice of truth
maybe heard, all earthly voices must be silenced. Injustice,
worldliness, above all, bitterness must cease. The artist must
be as the Christian who approaches the chief mystery of his faith—he
must be "in perfect charity with all men."
"Nature interpreted by love is art," and where there is no
love there is no art.
There is a radical difference between work and art, between
the artist and the workman, though the workman may have the help of
art, and the artist must have the help of work.
She found it harder work than she had anticipated, for she
did listen for the voice of truth. She could not and would not
paint what was not true. But she was resolute, and sat on day
after day, her thoughts sometimes as blank as the paper before her,
till at length the images she had conjured up took shape and began
to live in the sketch before her. Day after day she laboured,
scarcely allowing herself time for meals. The summer ripened
into autumn, and the shortening days, and morning and evening
chills, began to foretell the coming of winter. She occupied
what had been her father's studio, at the top of the house. Up
there, with her task, she led a life so separate that she failed to
note the little movements that were going on around her—the
preparations for coming change. The scenes of life will often
appear to shift with phantasmagoric suddenness and completeness,
when, if we had noted the process by which the change was
accomplished, it was slow as the growing of the wheat.
Margaret did not notice, for instance, that Mr. Grey's
footing in the family was becoming more and more friendly—nay,
intimate—till one day her mother told her that from being only a
lodger and outside the family life, as if were, he was to become a
boarder, their daily companion at table and in all their hours of
leisure and of rest.
It was a far more convenient arrangement for her, Mrs.
Bertram demonstrated. Mr. Grey was willing to pay handsomely
for the privilege, and she should be able to keep a servant and get
rid of the constant drudgery which she underwent, to do her justice,
without a murmur.
Margaret acquiesced, as a matter of course, though she shrank
from the idea of sharing with this stranger the sacred home
life—doubly sacred since it had been visited by death, which in
removing the chiefest link had but drawn the circlet closer.
But she soon became reconciled to Mr. Grey as to any other daily
fact. Indeed, his presence was beneficial in more ways than
one. The family meals were pleasanter, setting aside the
material improvement. They were more carefully prepared and
better served. They sat longer over them, and made them more
of a relaxation than they were wont to be.
Nothing more was said about Alice and May looking out for
situations. They had desisted after a few feeble and
ineffectual efforts, and were supposed to give help in the house.
But the help they gave was ridiculously small. They spent
their time in plaiting and adorning, or disfiguring, their
wonderfully beautiful hair, in dressing, and dawdling out of doors,
and sitting down to play, by way of keeping up their practice.
The piano being in the drawing-room, Mr. Grey generally had the
benefit of their company and the music. He had stipulated for
it in the terms he paid.
The sisters seemed to find these occupations quite sufficient
for them. They were apparently satisfied, and the greatest
possible friendship prevailed between them. Each admired the
other immensely, and that without hypocrisy or envy. They
slept together, waked together, dressed together, walked together.
Mr. Grey said any one who wanted to court one of them must court
both. He was very kind to them, but he courted neither.
At length his grand villa was finished, and Mr. Grey took the
ladies to see it—that is, he took Mrs. Bertram, Alice, and May.
He had asked Miss Bertram also, but was told that she was too busy
May ran from room to room, exclaiming with admiration, while
Alice trailed her long black garments after her sister. They
went over the handsome house and really beautiful garden, praising
everything, till the heart of their owner was well-nigh
content—well-nigh. There was one thing more he coveted—a
fitting mistress for the house he had raised, in whom beauty,
goodness, and all good gifts should culminate.
"I worked very hard," he said, complacently, "and I've made
enough, and more than enough, to last my time. Now I mean to
take my ease."
"Eat, drink, and be merry," cried thoughtless May.
"Just so," he answered, and no one thought of the gloomy
connection in which the words occurred.
At dinner that day they discussed the villa, and the
furniture with which it was to be fitted, and planned an immediate
visit to the upholsterer's.
"You were too busy to go with us to-day," said Mr. Grey to
Margaret, "but perhaps you will give me the pleasure of your company
some time soon."
"Yes; he was very kind. She would go some day."
The day did not seem to come, but Mr. Grey did not despair.
For some time he had been putting the three sisters to valuation in
his covetous mind, and at last he had fixed on Margaret,
discovering, what did credit to his taste, that she was even the
most beautiful of the three. She was the tallest and most
womanly, thus he appraised her; the most suitable in person and age
(he might have been her father); her temper was uncommonly sweet;
she was, indeed, yielding to a fault. Mr. Grey was a shrewd
observer, and he had found out that Alice might sulk, and May would
certainly scold. Margaret would do neither. "How
industrious she is, too, over that painting work of hers," he
thought. "She must make money by it." Mr. Grey could
calculate, and knew to a fraction how far he was contributing to the
household expenses; although so long as the household existed pretty
much for him, and for him alone, he did not mind the cost.
"People did make money at that sort of thing, he supposed," still
valuing Margaret and her work, "though what was the use of so many
pictures he could not imagine."
Mr. Grey's villa was at length ready for occupancy, and that
gentleman announced his intention of entering it forthwith.
"It's furnished from garret to cellar, and only wants a mistress,"
he said to Mrs. Bertram, quite jocosely.
The lady's heart beat quickly. There are some things
which cannot be known. What Mrs. Bertram hoped for was one of
"I have been thinking of one of your pretty daughters," he
went on. "Margaret would just suit me. Do you think she
would object to a widower?"
Mrs. Bertram gave a sigh of relief. Margaret was her
least favoured daughter.
"Would Mrs. Bertram say a good word for him? There is
no hurry, you know," he added, thoughtfully. "I should like
her to see the place first. She could make herself comfortable
there, I should think, and I wouldn't object to her sisters and
yourself coming to stay with her now and then."
Before the man had done speaking Mrs. Bertram hated him—not
with the indignant hate of the generous against the mean, but with
the deeper hate of the selfish for the selfish. She kept her
own counsel, however, and his too; but she said no word to Margaret.
Things went on as before, and Mr. Grey at length departed and took
up his abode at Boundary Lodge, his villa and its gardens skirting
the untouched fields.
He gave a party on entering his new house, at which all the
Bertrams were present, Mrs. Bertram doing the honours of the feast.
There were no other ladies among the guests. These were
chiefly men of middle age, remarkable for girth and capacity of
stomach. The only young man among them was remarkable too.
He was a giant in stature and in strength. No one could deny
that there was majesty in the huge muscular form, and even in the
rough-hewn massive face; but the former was already wanting in
grace, and the latter in graciousness. Brute was plainly
written upon both.
He was a contractor, this Mr. Tilley, and the son of a
contractor, and was fabulously wealthy. He seemed quite
smitten with Alice's stately charms, and kept asking her to play and
sing to him all the evening, as if no one else had been there.
The party passed off better than might have been expected,
the unusual beauty of the women having its effect on these rough
men. Curiously enough, Margaret was the favourite with most.
Though far the least showy of the three, there was that in her
shining eyes which made them fear her least, though she would know
them best—that seemed to look at them from a larger sphere—a sphere
in which mercy dwelt supreme. Their verdict confirmed Mr. Grey
in his already overwhelming desire to possess her for his own.
He therefore constituted himself an almost daily visitor at
the Bertrams'. With his departure, the supplies necessary to
carry on the domestic expenditure had ceased, and Gideon Grey knew
it and bided his time.
Again the advertisement was hung out at the station, and
again weeks passed away and nothing came of it. The servant
was once more dispensed with, and Alice and May pressed into the
All this time Margaret was working her hardest, not daring to
think how much depended on her exertions. The thought of it
paralysed her, seemed to bind her imagination and stiffen her hand,
as the frost binds the river and arrests its flow.
Neither Alice nor May seemed to make the least exertion to
obtain employment. Their mother did not urge it, and neither
did Margaret. Delicacy kept her silent on the point. The
food they ate, the clothes they wore were to be paid out of her
earnings, and it might have seemed like a grudge if she had hinted
that they ought not to depend upon her success—a success for which
she trembled. Self-confidence was certainly not one of
Christmas came, and instead of good cheer it brought actual
want to the Bertrams. The tradesmen of the district
desiderated short accounts, and when payment was not forthcoming cut
off the supplies. Butcher, baker, and grocer struck, and
called only for their bills. The rent was in arrears, but the
landlord was patient. In the worst event he was safe: he could
seize the furniture. The greatest misery was, that just at the
crisis in the cold frosty weather, fuel had failed, and was not to
be had on trust at all. The last shovelful was burning in the
kitchen grate. Anywhere else in the house there was no fire at
Alice was out, Mrs. Bertram too, an unusual thing for her.
May sat alone by the kitchen fire. "Margaret must be perishing
with cold up there," she thought suddenly, and started off up-stairs
to the attic studio, where her sister worked.
"Her hands were clasped idly in her lap,
and her cheek was pale as the snow."
May burst in, bright and breathless, but she gave a cry of
alarm as she did so, for Margaret looked like death itself.
Her hands were clasped idly in her lap, and her cheek was pale as
"What is it, dear?" cried May, flinging her arms about her.
"Are you ill? You shall not stay up here."
At length Margaret found voice enough to say that the cold
had made her feel faint. May dragged her down-stairs to the
fire, at which they sat on one chair, with their arms round each
other's waists, and May began to cry. Margaret thawed too.
"Oh, May," she said, "I feel as though I had lost all power to
paint. I have tried and tried again to-day, and when I look at
what I have done, it is worthless. What will become of us if I
"It's the cold," said May, consolingly; "it benumbs one, body
"Yes, but all that I have done seems so poor and feeble and
colourless," said Margaret. "I wish I could get enough of the
poorest, commonest work to do, but I can't."
"I suppose it really is hard work, though it looks so easy,"
said May. "It's a shame of Alice and me to be so idle.
I'm determined to go and do my share," she added resolutely.
When Mrs. Bertram returned, she had managed to stave off the
financial crisis. The coals came in, the butcher and baker
called as before; there was a bit of roast beef and plum pudding for
Christmas day, and a fire burnt brightly in the little stove of the
studio. Margaret did not know that the money which did all
this was borrowed on the strength of her labours, and borrowed from
Gideon Grey. Poor foolish Mrs. Bertram! If Margaret
succeeded, she intended to cheat Mr. Grey—to pay him his money and
keep her money-making Margaret.
May kept her word. She looked out for a situation and
found one, not by much seeking, but by taking the first that
offered, which was certainly not of the ideal sort which her mother
Margaret had found work off and on, work which paid
sufficiently just to keep their heads above water. The
domestic economy had been like to come to a stand more than once;
but it had always moved on again without secret intervention.
Margaret's picture, her great stroke, was finished. With
swaying hopes and fears, she sent it off, the little bark on which
so much depended—no less than the future of herself and all who were
dear to her.
But Mr. Grey was becoming impatient. On the occasion
when Mrs. Bertram had applied to him, he had said, alluding to
Margaret, "If she has no objection to me, as you say—and I think,"
he added, viewing himself in a mirror, "that she has none—had I not
better speak to her at once?"
And Mrs. Bertram had assured him it was useless. She
was too much bound up in her work to listen to him at present, but
she was sure that Margaret preferred no one to him, Mr. Grey.
A week, a fortnight passed by. Margaret started now
with every knock. Each post might bring her the secretary's
note containing the sentence of her picture. She could not
settle herself to work, as she had no order to execute. She
wandered up and down, restless, and chiding her own impatience.
At last it came, the longed-for letter. Her picture was
She had wasted her time and her labours; she was of the
impressionable temperament, and sensitive and humble spirit, which
is so easily discouraged, and she thought so. The repulse
destroyed all her energy, all her little stock of self-confidence.
Her mother, too, began to speak discouragingly.
"I don't believe anything will ever come of that work of
yours. It's all nonsense, and I have been a fool to trust to
"I will take a situation as May has done," replied Margaret,
That was hardly what Mrs. Bertram desired. "You needn't
do that," she answered. "You may have a handsome house of your
own whenever you please, and help us all into the bargain."
Margaret looked her astonishment, and did not speak.
"Haven't you seen through Mr. Grey's attentions?" said her
"Mr. Grey?" repeated Margaret.
"Yes, Mr. Grey," replied her mother with some asperity.
"I am sure he has been attentive enough."
"Not more to me than to the rest of the family," said
Margaret. "Indeed, mamma, I have never in the least
appropriated his kindness. I thought it was meant for you."
The words were spoken in perfect good faith, but they vexed
and angered Margaret's mother, and she was cruel in her vexation and
anger. "But for Mr. Grey we should have starved," she went on
Another speechless question from Margaret. "I had to
borrow from him at Christmas."
"And you have not paid him?"
A speechless answer this time, and Margaret turned white and
then red with shame and vexation. "You never told me this,"
she said, "but only that you had got the tradespeople to go on
"They would not go on without money," said her mother, "and
where was I to get it?"
"Oh, mamma, let us give up the house and sell everything to
pay this man," cried Margaret.
"And what is to become of me?" asked her mother. "The
house is my only hope of getting a living. If we give up the
house, we must go into a worse, and we can't pay the rent of that
any more than we can pay the rent of this."
"What would you have me to do?" asked Margaret, wearily.
"The best thing you could do for yourself and all of us would
be to marry Mr. Grey," replied her mother.
"He has never asked me, mamma," said Margaret, only half
"He is waiting an opportunity," said Mrs. Bertram.
"Are you sure of this, mamma?" asked Margaret.
"I have his word for it," replied Mrs. Bertram. "And if
you'll marry him, he won't press us for the money, and he said we
should always have a home with you."
Then it had all been discussed between them. Her own
mother had forsaken her. "Oh, mamma, I cannot, I cannot!" she
cried, sick with dismay.
"Very well," said Mrs. Bertram, drearily. "I dare say
we shall be sold up, and have to leave our home and go down in the
world, for I'm sure you'll never do anything at that painting of
yours. What's to become of us I can't think;" and she turned
her back upon Margaret, leaving her to solve the problem.
The horizon of the girl's life had closed in as with a thick
fog. The last vestige of faith in herself or hope for the
future seemed to have left her. She imagined she saw her
mother and her lovely sisters turned out into the streets. She
imagined them sinking lower and lower, and she asked herself what
they would do in the end? What did people do when they were
driven from their last refuge—when they had eaten their last meal?
That very evening Mr. Grey came in to tea. Mrs. Bertram
received him with smiles. A close observer would have said she
overdid her welcome. Margaret was still and pale. She
hardly looked at him. Alice it was who entertained him.
She was flattering—almost caressing. "Poor Alice!" thought her
sister, "is she so unhappy in our poverty that this man's wealth
tempts her? I would rather be the victim than let her."
Happily Mr. Grey was undemonstrative; but when he was going
away he spoke of a beautiful bouquet which he had brought with him
as "gathered specially for Miss Bertram."
"Coward that I was, not to tell him that I could not accept
it," she said to herself, as soon as he was gone, "for I would
rather die than marry him."
She made a last effort to obtain employment in her art, and
failed. Her style was too severe to be telling. It had
no vulgarities to catch the vulgar. She acknowledged her
Alice fell ill, too, and Mrs. Bertram, in alarm, sent for the
doctor, whose bill had never been paid, but who came with alacrity
for all that. He reassured them so far by saying that there
was no real disease as yet, but that she ought to have change and a
liberal diet—without the latter especially she might develop a
All through this time of trouble Alice had shown more of
patience than Margaret could have believed possible—a patience in
her illness which was touching in the extreme, seeing that the
illness might have been so easily removed. So easily removed;
and yet Margaret could not change plain bread and weak tea into
beefsteak and chicken broth, any more than she could work another
Then Mr. Grey came and asked the sisters to go to Brighton
for a day. Alice longed to go, and as she could not go unless
Margaret went also, the latter consented. Before their return
she had also consented to be the third wife of Gideon Grey.
After that consent was given Margaret went about the house
more dead than alive. Alice congratulated her with evident
sincerity, and only wished it had been her fate to be the widower's
choice. But when May came home and heard the news, she ran up
to Margaret and kissed her, and, looking in her face, cried, "Don't,
dear, don't. Mother! Alice! She must not marry Mr.
Grey. See, here is my magnificent two pounds ten. We can
each of us earn as much as that surely."
"And where are your clothes to come from? asked her mother,
always alive to the little affairs of life
"Oh, yes; I must have the odd ten shillings for boots.
I have worn out a pair this quarter, walking with the children.
Master Harry has cut a slit in my best merino, too, but it is under
the flounce, so it doesn't matter," May ran on. "Have
you found anything to suit you yet, Alice?" she concluded.
Alice answered, "No."
"You are unlucky," returned May.
"I don't think you have been so very fortunate," said Alice.
"It's better than starving outright," said her sister, "or
than marrying Mr. Grey."
"Hold your tongue, May," said her mother, imperatively.
"Mamma," said the girl, earnestly, when Margaret had left the
room, "Madge looks shocking; don't let her marry this man."
"Nonsense," said her mother; "Alice has been quite as bad;
it's the heat!"
THE day of
Margaret's marriage dawned at last, and the bitterness, not of
death, but of life seemed past to her. Yes, life was bitter;
but she knew the worst of it. So she thought. She knew
nothing at all about it. Life came to her veiled, as it comes
to most of us. Not till the supreme moment of agony or bliss
is the veil wholly lifted. Death is not death till the eye has
ceased its seeing, and the ear its hearing, to give place to we know
not what of wondrous soul-sense.
Margaret Bertram knew nothing of Gideon Grey's antecedents
and character, as we know them. If she had, even at the altar
she might have broken her bond and set herself free. Above all
she did not know, did not conceive or attempt to conceive the
relation she was about to enter into—its closeness, its sacredness,
the awfulness of its profanation, the misery of its misery, lasting
as it lasts till death to one or other.
But her mother, had she no conception of what she was doing?
Cruel, selfish worldling that she was, do not let us be too hard on
her. She knew only how such a fate as she had prepared for her
daughter would affect herself, not how it would affect that other.
She knew not that that other soul would scale the heights of agony
and look over into the gulph of madness, where she would make
herself comfortable —just as the cow in its meadow, the pig in its
Margaret took no part in the simple preparations for her
wedding. Alice and her mother did everything. Gideon
Grey made his penniless bride a present of her wedding-dress of
white satin, and of a whole set of heavy gold ornaments. The
bracelets were in the appropriate shape of a pair of shackles.
Their cold touch on her feverish flesh, as she had them put on that
morning, made her shudder. Her sisters were the bridesmaids,
and decked her out—put on the cold bright satin and the heavy gold,
and threw over her a cloud of transparent net, and fastened the
orange-flowers in her hair. The party were to go to church,
and from church to Boundary Villa, for the wedding breakfast, where
the bride and bridegroom were to be left in possession of their
home. A little later the pair were to go to the seaside,
taking Alice with them.
There was nothing remarkable about the party which drove to
church that morning in two plain broughams with the orthodox white
horses. The little crowd collected round the gate to see them
alight saw nothing to object to —everything to admire. First
there had entered the stout, well-looking bridegroom and groomsman.
They could not tell which was which. Now came the ladylike
bride's mother, in her lilac silk, and one fair bridesmaid, her
golden hair shining under a white cloud fastened with a bunch of
blue forget-me-nots, to match her eyes, they said. Then
another of the same, and then the bride, with her pale face and her
shimmering satin and gleaming gold, her cold white flowers and her
misty veil. It was all exactly as it should be, down to the
great white bouquet which matched the bride's face. The people
who had gathered in the church saw nothing amiss. The
bridegroom was neither wrinkled nor grey, but a middle-aged man, of
fine complexion. The bride was not in hysterics, the
bridesmaids were not weeping. There were no tears among the
wedding party; it was the only thing the gazers missed. Only
once there was a smothered sob. It came from May, and was
unheard except by one. It was when the bride gave up, when
told to do so, the flowers she had held tightly, as if they were a
support, and her hand, cold and trembling, touched her sister's for
There were no tears, as has been said, among the party, but
on one sweet face there was a compassion deeper than tears.
Another pair had come to the wedding, friends of Mr. Grey's.
The gentleman who was to give away the bride was chairman of a board
of guardians, director of a great company, vestryman, what not; the
lady was the gentleman's wife—that and nothing more. The
gentleman was of quite awful ponderosity. He shook with the
weight of his own superfluous flesh, and the earth trembled beneath
him when he moved. His mind, ponderous as his body, was slow
as a tortoise in its movements; therefore everybody trusted in his
judgment, and he had won in the race of life. The lady was the
smallest of women, delicately formed and delicately featured, with a
faint colour on her dear old face, and a hallowed light in her sweet
old eyes. Her perfectly silver hair rested on brow and cheek
in almost childish ringlets; but there was nothing childish about
her. There was the power of intellect as well as the
sanctification of sorrow in every line which time had written there.
Yet that huge flesh-heap by her side had held her all her
life as an inferior being. He belonged to the true Asiatic
school, and barely allowed that a woman had a soul. Save in
relation to man, her master, she was nothing. She lived but
for his use and his pleasure, and to contribute to these was her
highest honour. She had not rebelled against his creed.
She had accepted it and been in his house as a child, as a servant;
but she had feelings he would have failed to fathom, thoughts that
were far beyond his reach.
He knew her not; but, there was the sorrow of it, she knew
him, and though she might obey she could not force her heart to love
or her soul to honour him.
But how did two beings so incongruous come together?
That is the wonder. They had married young, and had grown to
be what they were. From a handsome but rather dull and
conceited young man, he had grown to be a pompous, coarse, unfeeling
old one. From a pretty, simple, humble-minded girl, she had
grown to be what she was—whole a saint, half an angel.
She had been a lady's-maid; but no lady ever possessed more
of all the qualities which go to make up perfect ladyhood than she.
Her courtesy was of nature as well as of habit; her complete
self-command sprang from gentleness and not from pride. God
alone knew the sweetness of the heart which, at its bitterest, had
never rebelled. She had been the mother of many children, and
yet was childless. Each of her dead little ones had left its
love behind, as a treasury from which she drew an exhaustless
tenderness for the children of other mothers. She saw Margaret
on that day for the first time, but she started and thrilled with
emotion as she looked on her. She started, for she knew Gideon
Grey; had known him all his life; and she marvelled how this girl,
on whose face nature had stamped nobility, had come to link her fate
with his. She trembled for her and took refuge in prayer,
perhaps the one soul under that sacred roof which ascended to the
throne of God.
Mrs. Martyn and her husband had come in their own brougham,
and in it they followed the others to the wedding feast. The
order was (as usual) slightly changed. Mr. Grey carried off
his bride. Mr. Tilley, who was the groomsman, claimed Alice,
as May stuck to her mother, and thus they filled up the carriages.
Alice had to drop her eyelids over her lovely eyes, from the
too ardent gaze of Mr. Tilley, but she manifested no displeasure,
nor drew back when he bent over her more closely than was at all
necessary even to make himself heard, as they rattled over the road.
May broke down and cried, and was seriously rated by her mother for
making her eyes red and swollen. Mr. Grey thought his wife was
going to faint, and drew down the windows, but never a word he
spoke. He was glad when the carriage stopped, which it did in
less than ten minutes.
He had never been quite at his ease with Margaret since the
day on which she had promised to be his wife. She had told him
then that she did not love him; but he who had slain his first love
and lived a lifetime with the corpse of it, had come to have no
faith in love at all, to disbelieve in it utterly, as indeed he did
in all the higher emotions. They had no existence for him any
more than colour has for the blind. He told her he did not
expect her to love him, and that she would soon cease to believe in
that romancing nonsense, and make him a good wife.
He complained a little to Mrs. Bertram of her coldness and
impassibility, but that lady took care that they should be together
and alone as seldom as possible. As for her coldness, it was
maidenly reserve, the gravity of a new position and of parting with
her sisters and her home.
She looked a very statue as she sat, crowned and veiled, at
the breakfast-table; but then Mr. Grey even, still less his friends,
did not know her; did not know how blythe and gleeful she could be,
how her speech could flow clear as a river, and her smiles flash
like the sunshine on its breast.
Still Mr. Grey had an undefined sense of discomfort, which
imparted none, however, to his guests, save to gentle Mrs. Martyn.
She felt it, and exerted herself to remove it by keeping up a
quiet little stream of talk.
When the breakfast was over they went out into the garden,
which was glowing in its summer splendour. Mrs. Martyn claimed
Margaret's arm, saying playfully that her husband would have enough
of her by-and-by. Alice went off with Mr. Tilley, and the
others remained in a knot behind.
Mr. Grey had secured a noble garden, and had walled it round
and round. The young fruit-trees were green, on the rich red
background; the broad gravel walks were banked on each side with
flowers after the formal pattern in vogue, but the beds crossing
each other in diamond-shaped lines, the effect was not unpleasant.
At the bottom ran a screen of lofty elms, and advantage had been
taken of the ground to form a terrace, from which a flight of stone
steps descended to a grassy hollow at their feet.
Down these steps went Alice and Mr. Tilley. Mrs. Martyn
advancing with Margaret lost sight of them for a time. When
they caught a glimpse of them once more, they stole a look into each
Then Mrs. Martyn smiled, and turning to Margaret drew her
back a little. "It's what must happen, I suppose," she said;
"you have married, and so will your pretty sisters."
Something like a moan escaped from the lips of the bride.
Mrs. Martyn looked up in her fixed young face with tender pity.
"He hath appointed us bounds that we cannot pass," the dear old
voice murmured on, "only upward to Himself. When we have but
the bare earth for a bed, and the stone for a pillow, He lets down
his ladders of angels, and we can make it a house of God."
Margaret's eyes had rested on her face while she was
speaking. Then she lifted the thin agèd hand from her arm and
pressed her lips upon it. A big tear fell upon the great
rose-diamond which Mr. Martyn had placed on his wife's finger in
token of his wealth.
Soon after the few guests departed, and Mr. and Mrs. Grey
were left alone.
Mr. Grey came in rubbing his hands and evidently intending to
make himself at home; but there came over him that feeling of
inexpressible discomfort which he had experienced in the morning,
and after moving about the room in an aimless way and trying to get
rid of it in vain, he went out to see the gardener about some
plants, telling Margaret that she might like to change her dress now
that she was at home.
He rang the bell, and pompously told the girl who answered it
to see her mistress to her room, and give her what assistance she
Nothing loth, for waiting on a bride was interesting work,
the girl showed her young mistress up-stairs into a handsome
dressing-room, and assisted her to take off her bridal array.
Margaret thanked and dismissed her, saying she would finish dressing
by herself, and the girl hastened down-stairs to convey her
impressions to her companion the cook. These were entirely
favourable. "But she do look sorrowful," she added; "for all
the world as though she had been crossed in love, 'stead o' being
married and 'appy."
"There's nothink 'ud please some folks," said the cook, who
was older than the housemaid, and more inclined to a nil admirari
view of human nature in general and mistresses in particular.
At home! Margaret stood before the open wardrobe, and
the words went echoing through her heart and brain like footsteps in
an empty house. Mechanically she took the dress she had worn
the day before, which had been hung up there with the others of her
still scanty stock by her sister. She had put it on, when,
glancing at the full-length mirror, she saw herself clad in black.
"I have no right now even to this mourning," she said to herself,
and quietly undressed again.
She chose the brightest she had, telling herself that it was
her duty to look bright, that her grief was an insult to the man she
had married. So she put on a pale silvery grey silk, the only
one she had, if the truth is to be told; fixed a knot of
cherry-coloured ribbon in her hair, and came down again to the
There she sat alone and in perfect silence. Margaret
noticed that she had never before been in a room so utterly still.
The very time-piece on the mantel-shelf noted the minutes with
noiseless motion. Every object about her was new and strange.
The room was bare as it had come from the hands of the upholsterer.
There were no pictures on the walls; no books—yes, there was one
upon the table; no little objects of use or interest, or ornament,
such as accumulate in every house, and indicate anything generally
but the taste of the owner, and yet indicate so much else.
She took up the book. It was on botany, and was filled
with magnificent coloured plates. She spent an hour over it.
Mr. Grey came in again, and they adjourned to the dining-room and
had "tea and eating," as ordered by the master of the house.
Margaret poured the tea, Mr. Grey drank it and made a hearty meal
with it. They were a little more at home with each other then,
for a meal makes very few words go a long way.
After tea, Mr. Grey asked for a little music, and they
returned to the drawing-room together. Margaret sat down and
opened the yet unused piano, but there was no music.
"It was a deficiency," he said, "which she could remedy on
the morrow; meantime could she play from memory?"
"A little," she replied, and began to play what she
remembered of the beautiful Songs without Words.
"Could she sing?"
"Not much; a little sacred music."
Mr. Grey would like to hear it, whatever it was, and
Margaret's voice rose obedient to the request, in solo after solo of
Handel's. She went on till it was growing almost dark, and Mr.
Grey rang for light. The housemaid came and lighted the gas,
and then stopped outside to listen. Mr. Grey had begged
Margaret to go on, and she had complied. "O rest in the Lord,
wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thy heart's desire,"
rang out plaintive, as if the melody had been born of ten thousand
sighs. Margaret had played herself into harmony with the words
and the music, which she had often sung, but never with all their
meaning until now.
Mr. Grey was delighted. He praised her playing, he
praised her singing; both were true and sweet, but nothing more.
"They are not much; but I am glad they please you," she
Emboldened by her speech—the first free utterance she had
made—he drew near her. He bade her cease playing and come and
sit beside him.
It almost seemed as if it was about to go well with this
strange loveless union. Gideon Grey began to feel at ease and
to enter into confidential relations with his new wife. He
told her of his riches, he vaunted his successes, won by fraud and
over-reaching. Unconscious of the disgust he was exciting, he
boasted of things that seemed to Margaret little short of villanies.
"I hardly know what to do with my money," he said, "but I have more
than will serve my time, so I have made up my mind to take my
ease—eat, drink, and be merry." He probably did not know that
he was quoting Scripture; he certainly did not know the terrible
context in which the words he had uttered stood. But Margaret
did, and a thrill of horror ran through her. He was about to
put his arm round her, but she started up and recoiled from him step
"What do you mean?" he said angrily, reading but too plainly
the aversion written on her face.
Her movement of recoil had been instinctive. As
suddenly she came to a stand, and her hands dropped by her side; but
she burst into tears.
"Come, no more of that nonsense," he said, assuming an
authoritative tone. "What do you think I married you for?"
"Forgive me," she cried, "forgive me. I ought never to
have married you." In the midst of her own anguish she felt
the keenest compunction for the pain she must inflict upon him.
"Forgive you," he sneered, all the meanness and cold cruelty
of his nature breaking forth. "What am I to understand by
that, except that you are unworthy to come into an honest man's
Margaret looked uncomprehending, but she leant against the
wall while her companion lashed himself into fury before her.
He told her that she had been sold to him for so much money, and
that he had been cheated; that he had a mind to turn her out into
the streets, and a great deal more, which shall not be recorded
She was leaning against the wall and panting like a creature
in terror of its mortal foe; but his language roused her to assert
her own purity and dignity.
"I have done no wrong," she said, "save that of marrying you,
and I shall go from your house at once."
She advanced a step towards him as she spoke. Her looks
and manner overawed him. There was sorrow inexpressible on her
face, but neither rage nor shame. He could not comprehend her.
He coveted her still—coveted her above every earthly possession.
She looked purity itself; but why this horror, this terrible
anguish, if she had done nothing wrong—wrong, too, which she
expected to be found out? What wrong could there be in
marrying him, even if she did not like him? Was it not a
lawful marriage—according to law; and religious—being celebrated in
the church? The moral sense of this man was gone. It
responded no more to appeal than the dead to mortal touch. He
could quail at the breaking of a law—human or divine—which carried
visible, or threatened invisible, penalties—at murder, adultery,
theft—but he had kept clear of such offences; of the blood
guiltiness, the impurity, the dishonesty of the spirit, he took no
What motive had she for acting thus? He paused, and
then said, "You shall not go. You shall stay and conduct
yourself properly. I won't be made a fool of in my own house
and before my own servants. You shall stay," and so saying, he
left her once more alone.
Where he left her, in the corner of the room, Margaret sat
down, suffering in mute amazement. The only man she had ever
intimately known—her father—had been to her, his daughter, full of
tender respect, and to all women he had extended a portion of the
same. He had been chivalrous in his bearing towards them.
The one thing he would not suffer Mrs. Bertram to indulge in was
animadversions on the shortcomings of the sex, either small or
great. Margaret was therefore more ignorant than most girls of
her age of the evil that is in the world. What a revelation
was the character of the man she had married? To her excited
imagination he seemed scarcely human. She seemed given over to
a fiend in mortal shape. Then there rushed over her the bitter
conviction that she had brought all this upon herself; that she was
the author of her own degradation. Why had she not firmly
opposed the marriage, instead of entering into it as she had done?
She had thought herself under the pressure of necessity. She
could not see that necessity now. She could hardly find a
motive for her sacrifice. And had he not told her that it
would be vain, that he would not give a penny to help the family who
had united to deceive him, that he would even contrive that they
should suffer for it?
The horror of her position became every moment more
unbearable. She rose as if to fly, and heard just then the
sounds of bolt and bar; the master of the house was locking up for
GREY had not forbidden
his wife's mother and sisters to come to his house—that would have
created a scandal, and a scandal Mr. Grey held in greater abhorrence
than a sin. But Margaret was ordered never to receive them
except in the presence of her lord and master, and never to exercise
towards them the smallest hospitality. They might have come to
her hungry, and she could not have offered them a meal. She
wondered if they were in want. The pallor of Alice's face had
grown so fixed and deadly, and her mother was looking so worn and
old. Margaret knew that hunger does not always bide with rags,
but may lurk beneath a neat gown and a pretty tucker. The
credit system of the country is not yet quite perfect, so that even
the most respectable-looking people must sometimes want things which
they have not money to pay for.
Mr. Grey had gone to Mrs. Bertram and upbraided her in no
measured terms, for misleading him as to the state of her daughter's
affections. "But it shall not profit you," he had said, white
with rage, "and if you aid and abet her in anything contrary to my
wishes, it will be all the worse for you."
His rage was indeed becoming demoniacal. It tortured
him with a perpetual torture. Margaret had wounded his vanity,
and the wound had festered; for, without acknowledging, he felt that
he was wrong. Nay, sometimes in her presence he caught a
glimpse, as in a mirror, of his own ineffable meanness.
It was a sight to make angels weep to see the queenly and
beautiful girl, more and more queenly under her crown of sorrows,
ordered about, driven almost like a dumb animal by this man who had
undertaken on his part to love and cherish her. He ordered her
to dine, he ordered her to dress, to drive, to receive his company,
as he would have ordered a slave. The men he brought to the
house were of a lower order than any she had seen as yet. He
brought them there to see his fine house and his beautiful wife,
that they might talk about his grandeur and know that it was no
Margaret had to sit and see them eat, and drink brandy till
they looked like a crew bewitched of Circe. Happily they never
thought of invading the drawing-room, but lounged in the
dining-room, smoking and drinking late into the night. Mr.
Grey despised them for a pack of fools, for these were not his
associates, they were only men with whom he did business, and whose
paths were certainly not the paths of prosperity.
And did Margaret sit down under all this insult, endure all
this tyranny with apathy? No; there were times when she felt
it more bitterly, but at no time did she cease to suffer. She
was not constitutionally brave. Few imaginative people are.
She shrank from insult and tyranny more than most. She felt
surrounded with terrors, dreading she knew not what. If she
fled, whither should she flee? Her mother would receive her,
but he would find her there and bring her back.
Gideon Grey's invention was not fertile, otherwise he might
have inflicted greater suffering than he did. He had the will
to inflict it. He thought, however, of one added insult.
He would lock her in when he went out. And he did it.
Margaret nearly went mad over that.
She has in her possession a handful of that beautiful hair of
hers, torn out when the anguish was at its fiercest. There was
not much more than that slender lock between her and madness.
She heard the key turn in the wards, and though it was the key of an
elegant dressing-room, and not of a prison cell, following on so
much mental suffering, it overthrew her self-control. Gideon
Grey may have had the satisfaction of hearing her wildly weeping
before he left the door. There she crouched in a corner, her
spirit abandoned to the full tide of misery, drifting on the rocks
of despair. Hope, the anchor of the soul, had given way.
Belief in goodness, human or Divine, had forsaken her. Still
it was a faith in the invisible that saved her. It was the
thought of her father. "O that he should see me thus!" she
thought, and rose and resumed her right mind.
She rose, too, strengthened and purified, a calmer, stronger,
nobler being. Her good and gentle father came to her as a
revelation of the Father in heaven, to whom she knelt that hour in
childlike submission, and like a child that puts away its
naughtiness, she put away her disorder and effaced her tears before
Then she felt very wearied and lay down on the couch, where
in a little time she would have fallen asleep but for a loud
knocking at the door, and the entrance of some one who hastened
upstairs. The key once more turned, and in rushed her sister
When Gideon Grey was leaving the house, he rang for the
housemaid, and told the girl not to disturb her mistress that
evening. She had been up-stairs, however, and heard the key
turned, and as she passed the door had also heard the sound of
weeping. "I felt all of a tremble," she said, "and I up and
told cook I wouldn't stand it no longer, and she said I was a fool
for my pains, for every lady and gentleman were bound to have their
little tiffs. But I said, ' 'Tain't a little tiff; it's more
This was said to May, on the way from Mrs. Money's. "I
on with my bonnet," the girl continued, "for I knew you were
governess at Mrs. Money's. I was nursemaid there myself once,
and so I seemed to know more of you, miss, and I thought I would
just fetch you. I don't care though I lose my place for it."
"Thank you, thank you," said May, as she hurried along.
Misfortune had developed in her a far greater amount of sympathy
than she was wont to possess. Concealing her agitation as well
as she could, after the girl's hurried statement that her sister
wanted her and was "took very bad," she had gone to Mrs. Morley, and
begged leave to run over for an hour or two to Boundary Lodge.
Mrs. Morley, as the children were up-stairs for the night, had given
an ungracious assent, and thus May had come, receiving on the way a
fuller explanation of the state of matters.
She burst into the room and ran up to her sister. "How
dare he do such a thing!" she cried, embracing her wildly, "and how
can you put up with it?"
"Hush, May," said Margaret; "why are you here?"
"Your own servant came for me," replied May. "She could
not bear to hear you crying, locked in here."
Margaret shuddered. The remembrance of the anguish
through which she had passed almost overpowered her. "I am
glad you have come, and yet sorry," she said. "I shall not
give way again, whatever happens. Now tell me how you are
getting on, and then go," she added. "Indeed, you must"—for
May made a gesture of impatience.
"I mean to stay as long as I can," said May, recklessly.
"But Mr. Grey may come in now at any minute," urged her
"Well," said May, "he can't eat me. He can only send me
away when he does come. I am getting so used to ill-treatment
that I don't mind it."
"But for my sake," urged Margaret.
"I could not have believed that he would turn out a wretch
like this," said May, taking no heed of her words.
"Perhaps he would not, if I had not grievously wronged and
offended him," said Margaret, in a tone of deep regret.
"By showing him so plainly that I did not, could not love
him," answered Margaret.
"Nonsense; it must have been in him," replied May, sharply.
"We none of us know what is in us," returned Margaret.
"I only know too late that I have committed the deadliest sin."
"You!" exclaimed May.
"Yes, in marrying this man. Only think of the
falsehood, the dishonesty it involves. It is like murder
itself; it knows no remedy; and it is killing in my heart and his
every better feeling. Being unloved, I think we become
unloveable. I know I never suffered before from the terrible
feelings I have had this very night—rage and contempt for him and
for myself have drawn me to the verge of madness, and the same evil
spirits are tearing him to pieces."
May Bertram stood aghast at the expression of her sister's
face, as she spoke hurriedly, almost breathlessly. It revealed
a misery she had not fathomed. "I think I would leave him,"
"If only he would bid me go," Margaret answered. "But
don't let us speak of this any more. How are they all at
"You know Ally is to be married at Christmas," said May.
"No, indeed," said Margaret.
"To Mr. Tilley," May went on to say.
"Oh, May, she cannot love him—tell her, implore her to draw
back while she has the power."
"She is not like you, Madge," replied May carelessly.
"I love Ally, and if I thought she was going to be miserable, I
would go down on my knees to her and try to save her; but she is
not, she is going to be quite happy, as a rich man's wife; and Mr.
Tilley is not so bad when you know him."
"You don't like him," said Margaret.
"No; but he is not mean. He is to settle a hundred a
year on mamma."
"But he is a coarse-minded, insolent man," said Margaret.
"He will treat her tyrannically."
"They will have three thousand a year to begin with," said
So the sisters talked together, and the night wore on.
May stayed as long as she dared, and left Margaret still waiting for
her husband's return. It was very late when he came at last,
and he did not come near her. To his question, "Had any one
been there?" the housemaid had boldly answered, "Yes, sir;
mistress's sister has been, and I took her up-stairs."
The girl expected her dismissal; but she quailed before her
master's wrath. She had not thought it possible for the
smooth-surfaced man to be in such a fury.
He left her trembling; but he did not go to his wife.
She heard the storm, and trembled too; but she was left in peace.
Margaret's night was a sleepless one, but so was Mr. Grey's.
He rose early in the morning and went out into his garden; but the
flowers had lost their fragrance, the fruit hung ripe upon the
boughs in vain.
Mr. Grey returned to the house; still he would not go near
his wife. He could not bear to look upon her face, with its
fixedness of woe; he kept out of her way for a time, till he had
made up his mind how to act, and then his treatment of Margaret
underwent yet another change. He told her that henceforth she
was free to go and do as she pleased. He did not tell her to
quit the house, for he knew that such a proceeding would give her a
legal hold upon him; but in his heart he wished that she might go.
His house, his table, all the good things he had hoped to enjoy were
rendered distasteful to him by her presence.
On the morning after the scene recorded above he dismissed
the too-sympathetic housemaid, with her wages and board-wages, of
which she demanded payment in full, and he hesitated about finding
another in her place. He had sufficient sense to know that
this was but a beginning of domestic troubles; his house was divided
against itself, and it could not stand. He debated seriously
whether he should not give up his grand villa and retire once more
into lodgings, which, for Margaret's benefit, he would have as cheap
and comfortless as possible, and from which he could absent himself
as much as he pleased. No! people would think he was coming
down in the world, and such an idea might be but a prelude to the
fact. He always had a presentiment that his riches might take
to themselves wings and fly away. The idea was rejected.
Then came the resolution to tempt her with unlimited freedom—"give
her rope enough," he thought, "and she may hang herself." But
when he told her that she was free—absolutely free—to go where she
pleased and do what she pleased, that he should never interfere with
her liberty again, Margaret perplexed him still more by bursting
into tears of thankfulness.
"We have made an immense mistake," she said, "and one which
we cannot undo; but I will be in your house as a daughter, as a
servant, if you will, and in time something of peace and happiness
may come to us."
He turned away, muttering that he did not want her services.
As it was not possible for him to believe in nobleness, it followed
that he had to believe in lies. "Humbug," his favourite word,
fell from his lips as he went.
A new resolution had been dawning on Margaret. Life was
strong within her, and it was a struggle for life—not the, life of
the body, but the higher life of mind and soul—which was set before
her. She began to think that she must quit her husband at all
hazards. He might leave her free. He might never again
lock her up. That phase of his petty tyranny—his mean
revenge--seemed over; but her better feelings, her nobler energies,
would be locked up, to come forth, perhaps, if they should ever come
forth to life at all, like that unhappy prisoner who crept back into
his prison, rather than face the unfamiliar light of day and walk
through the large, free world with eyes and limbs which were
accustomed to darkness and to chains. But what was she to do?
To whom should she go? She had no money—not a farthing which
she could call her own. Her own ornaments were of the simplest
kind; the gold was Mr. Grey's, and she could take with her nothing
that was or had been his. If she took lodgings, she must pay
for them—and how? No one would receive her as a governess—no,
nor even as a menial of the humblest kind—without a character.
While she deliberated Mr. Grey returned home, more irritable and
gloomy than she had yet seen him. He actually told her to keep
out of his sight, and it seemed as if he was about to offer her the
last base indignity of a blow. Her mind was made up.
Come what might, she would leave him, and that without delay.
Since the day of her marriage Margaret had set eyes on Mrs.
Martyn. She had written once to say that her husband was ill,
and that she could not leave him to pay Mrs. Grey a visit, as she
had longed to do. Lately an intimation of Mr. Martyn's death
had reached Boundary Lodge. Its master had slipped the hideous
black and white monumental card behind the dining-room clock.
He did not care to look on such mementoes of mortality.
But now in her extremity Margaret resolved to seek Mrs.
Martyn's counsel. She found her ill, too ill to rise from her
sofa, slowly recovering from the exhausting sickness which had
followed her husband's death, and been caused from nursing him up to
the very last. She had been with him day and night, when
servants and nurses could no longer endure the loathsomeness of the
corrupting flesh, striving not only to allay his sufferings, but to
lead heavenward the sluggish, sense-bound, earth-clasping soul.
She held out her thin fair hand to Margaret, saying, "It is good of
you to come to me. I would have come to you long ago, but I
have not been able since he died."
"I am not worthy to come to you," said Margaret, kissing the
hand she held, and going down on her knees beside her.
"Don't say that, dear. You have something to tell me."
Margaret told her story.
Mrs. Martyn heard her patiently to the end, and answered, "I
cannot judge for you, dear; none of us can judge for the other.
If, as you say, it is making you wicked to stay with Gideon Grey,
perhaps it is better to leave him. It is very sad, for
whichever way you take you must suffer, only it is better to suffer
in the right way than in the wrong. Marriage is a very sacred
thing. There are your vows to God, not to be lightly broken
for the sake of many who hold them lightly, and there is your duty
to your husband; nothing can alter that, and you must think of these
things before you think even of your soul, my dear. God will
care for that. I don't hold with those," she went on, gently
garrulous, "who spend their lives in trying to save their own souls.
That should be left to Him who made them, I think. But we must
not wilfully peril them. You want freedom. Ah! that is
what I wanted all my married life. Many and many a time, for
instance, I have longed to give the money which was spent on me to
those who needed. I did not want the things it bought—the rich
dresses, the jewels, the fine furniture, the handsome plate—did not
want them and did not care for them; but I could not do as I liked,
I was not free to spend or be spent. I am free now," she went
on, after a pause, "when I feel heart and strength failing, and I
have done little enough of God's work in the world. But that
little was what he gave me to do, and it is wonderful how many in
the course of a long life one can serve and help and comfort,
without going beyond one's own household. It was different
with me. Yes, for I loved him first, and, thank God, I loved
him last, when nobody else would go near him, and he held my hand
sleeping and waking for days before he died. He might have
been one of my lost children, so close he clung to me for
Her voice broke here, and she wept a little, Margaret weeping
with her. "No; I can't advise you to leave your post, dear," she
went on; "but I am free now, and rich, and lonely, and if you want a
home come to me. I will make it as easy as I can for you; for
you will find your way in the world hard and difficult if you take
the step you propose. When you mean to do good you will do
She could not imagine living without trying to do good; and
by good she did not mean giving, what so often stands for charity,
money and goods, but what is charity, thought and care, and sympathy
and love, hope and faith, and long-suffering and kindness.
"Yes, you will do harm; you will find your own desertion of
duty a stumbling-block in your path, if you try to lead others to do
theirs. Your good will be evil spoken of, your charity will be
set down to want of principle; severity will not be tolerated from
you at all."
"I cannot feel as you do," said Margaret; "I grow more and
more hateful to myself every day. I feel as I never felt
before—as if I must go mad."
"I shall not advise you," said the gentle voice. "There
is nothing in my experience that will help you, but I will receive
you if you will come to me, and here you will be at peace. And
if you should ever be willing, I think your husband might not refuse
to take you back from me."
It was late when Margaret got back to Boundary Lodge, later
than she had anticipated. The master of the house had dined,
and the cloth had been withdrawn by his orders. It was some
time before Margaret ventured into the dining-room to announce her
return. She was then going to change her dress, take a few
necessaries that had been in her possession before her marriage, and
go back to Mrs. Martyn that very night, leaving her keys in a note
on her dressing-table. She had parted with Mrs. Martyn on the
understanding that she was to return.
Tremblingly she entered the room where her husband was
sitting; but horror almost froze her on the threshold, as her memory
went back to the night on which they had found the former Mrs. Grey
dead in her chair, in her mother's drawing-room. There he sat,
just as she had sat, livid, staring, dumb. She screamed out,
but he neither moved nor spoke. She dared not touch him with
unloving hands. She stood screaming in the doorway till the
servants came. One stayed with her, trembling too, till the
other fetched the nearest doctor.
"The patient," he said, "had had an attack of apoplexy, and
was totally insensible." Under his orders he was removed to
bed, and then, looking inquiringly at Margaret, he suggested a
A great tide of pity had been surging through Margaret's
heart: the thought of her own desertion, so nearly accomplished, and
of the awful helplessness and loneliness and lovelessness of the
being before her, called it forth.
"Tell me what to do," she said, going up to the bed where
they had laid him. "I will nurse him; I am his wife."
After that threatened blow, Mr. Grey had left Margaret and
walked into the drawing-room. He had worked himself into a
fury, and working himself into a fury was not good for Mr. Grey.
His nerves were getting out of order. Suddenly he had had a
disagreeable illusion which chilled him with deadly fear. He
had seen the late Mrs. Grey sitting just as she sat when he found
her dead, staring at him with those awful eyes, only there was a
smile of mockery on her lips, and she seemed to be saying, "Thou
fool; this night thy soul shall be required of thee."
He had hastened to consult a physician, calling upon him
while Margaret was with Mrs. Martyn, and confessing, in his craven
fear, all that he had felt and thought.
The physician had ordered him to keep quiet and avoid all
occasions of excitement, and had promised to call on him later in
the day. When he came he saw at a glance that human aid was
vain. Before the dawn of another day the soul of Gibeon Grey
had gone to its great account.