successful party

Mrs. Nugent had been very unwilling to fulfill her promise and appear at
Mrs. Wradisley’s party. She had put off her arrival till the last
moment, and as she walked up from the village with her little girl she
had flattered herself that, arriving late under shelter of various other
parties who made much more commotion, she might have escaped
observation. But if Bertram, of whom she knew nothing, had been intent
on finding Tiny, Mr. Wradisley was much more intent on finding Tiny’s
mother. He had been on the watch and had not missed her from the first
moment of her appearance, carefully as she thought she had sheltered it
from observation. And even her appearance, though she had condemned it
herself as excited and sullen, when she gave herself a last look in the
glass before coming away, did not discourage him. Excitement brightens a
woman’s eye and gives additional color to her face, or at least it did
so to Nelly. The gentle carelessness of the ordinary was not in her
aspect at all. She was more erect, carrying her animated head high.
Nobody could call her ordinary at any time. She was so full of life and
action. But on that day every line of her soft, light dress seemed to
have expression. The little curls on her forehead were more crisp, the
shining of her eyes more brilliant. There was a little nervous movement
about her mouth which testified to the agitation in her. “Is there
anything wrong, dear?” asked Mrs. Wradisley, pausing, holding her by the
hand, looking into her face, startled by this unusual look, even in the
midst of her guests.

“Oh, no–yes. I have had some disturbing news, but nothing to take any
notice of. I will tell you afterwards,” Mrs. Nugent said. Lucy too hung
upon her, eager to know what was the matter. “Only some blunders–about
my affairs,” she had replied, “which I can set right.”

“Oh, if that is all!” Lucy had cried, running off to salute some other
new-comers and carrying Tiny in her train. “Affairs” meant business to
Lucy, and business, so far as she was aware, touched only the outside,
and could have nothing to do with any one’s happiness. Besides, her mind
was in a turmoil for the moment with that strange story of Mrs. Bertram
which her mother had just told her by way of precaution, filtered from
Ralph. “Mr. Bertram is married, it appears; but he and his wife don’t
get on,” was what Mr. Wradisley had said. Lucy’s imagination had, as we
are aware, been busy about Bertram, and she was startled by this strange
and sudden conclusion to her self-inquiry whether by any chance he might
be the Ideal man.

It was thus that Mrs. Nugent had been suddenly left without even the
protection of her child, and though she had managed for some time to
hide herself, as she supposed (though his watchful gaze in reality
followed her everywhere), from her host amid the crowd of other people
assembled, there came the inevitable moment when she could keep herself
from him no longer. He came up to her while the people who surrounded
dispersed to examine his collection or to go in for tea.

“But I have seen your collection, Mr. Wradisley,” she said; “you were so
kind as to show me everything.”

“It is not my collection,” he said; “it is–a flower I want to show you.
The new orchid–the new–Let me take you into the conservatory. I must,”
he said, in a lower tone. “You must be merciful and let me speak to

“Mr. Wradisley,” she cried, almost under her breath, “do not, for pity’s
sake, say any more.”

“I must,” he said, impetuously. “I must know.” And then he added in his
usual tone, “Stevenson is very proud of it. It is a very rare kind, you
know, and the finest specimen, he says.”

“Oh, what is that, Mr. Wradisley?–an orchid? May I come too?” said
another guest, without discrimination.

“Certainly,” he said; “but all in its order. Simmons comes first,
Stevenson afterwards. You have not seen my Etruscan collection.” Mrs.
Nugent was aware that he had caught a floating ribbon of the light cloak
she carried on her arm, and held it fast while he directed with his
usual grave propriety the other lady by her side. “Now,” he said,
looking up to her. If it was the only thing that could be done, then
perhaps it was better that it should be done at once. He led her through
the lines of gleaming glass, the fruit, and the flowers, for Wradisbury
was famous for its vineries and its conservatories–meeting a few
wanderers by the way, whom it was difficult to prevent from
following–till at last they got to the inner sanctuary of all, where a
great fantastic blossom, a flower, but counterfeiting something that was
not a flower, blazed aloft in the ruddy afternoon light, which of itself
could never have produced that unnatural tropical blossom. Neither the
man nor the woman looked at the orchid. She said to him eagerly before
he could speak: “This is all dreadful to me. You ought to let me go. You
ought to be satisfied with my word. Should I speak as I have done if I
had not meant it? Mr. Wradisley, for God’s sake, accept what I have
already said to you and let me go.”

“No,” he said. She stood beside the flower, her brown beauty shining
against the long leaves and strong stem of the beautiful monster, and he
planted himself in front of her as if to prevent her escape. “You think
I am tyrannical,” he said; “so I am. You are shocked and startled by
what I have said to you. It is because I understand that that I am so
pressing, so arbitrary now. Mrs. Nugent, you can’t bear that a man
should speak to you of love. You think that love only comes once, that
your heart should be buried with your husband; that is folly, it is
fancy, it is prejudice, it is not a real feeling. That is why I force
you almost to hear me. Pause a moment, and hear me.”

“Not a moment, not a moment!” she cried. “It is more than that. Take my
word for it, and let me go and say no more.”

“A widow,” he said, “you make up an idea to yourself that it’s something
sacred. You are never to love, never to think of any one again. But all
that is fiction–don’t interrupt me–it is mere fiction. You are living,
and he is dead.”

“You force me,” she cried, “to betray myself. You force me–to tell you
my secrets. You have no right to force my secret from me. Mr. Wradisley,
every word you say to me is an offense. It is my own fault; but a man
ought surely to be generous and take a woman’s word without compelling
her in self defense–”

“I know by heart all that you can say in self-defense,” he cried,
vehemently, “and you ought to be told that these are all
fictions–sentimentalisms–never to be weighed against a true
affection–a man’s love–and home and protection–both for yourself and
your child.”

The young woman’s high spirit was aroused. “I will have no more of
this,” she said. “I am quite able to protect myself and my child. Let
me go–I will go, Mr. Wradisley. I do not call this love. I call it
persecution. Not a word more.”

Mr. Wradisley was more astonished than words could say. He fell back,
and allowed her to pass. He had thought, with a high hand, in the
exercise of that superior position and judgment which everybody allowed
him, to bring her to reason. Was it possible that she was not to be
brought to reason? “I think,” he said, “Mrs. Nugent, that when you are
calm and consider everything at your leisure you will feel–that I am

“You can never be justified in assuming that you know–another person’s
position and feelings; which you don’t, and can’t know.”

“I argue from the general,” said Mr. Wradisley, with an air almost of
meekness, “and when you think–when you take time to consider–”

“No time would make any difference,” she said, quickly; and then, for
she was now free and going back again toward the lawn, her heart smote
her. “Don’t bear me any malice,” she said. “I respect you very much; any
woman might be proud–of your love”–her face gave a little twitch,
whether toward laughing or crying it was difficult to tell–“but I
couldn’t have given you mine in any circumstances, not if I had
been–entirely free.”

“Which you are–from everything but false sentiment,” he said, doggedly.

But what did it matter?–he was following her out, her face was turned
from him, her ears were deaf to his impressive words, as her eyes were
turned from his looks, which were more impressive still. Mr. Wradisley
had failed, and it was the first time for many years that he had done
so; he had even forgotten that such a thing was possible. When they
came, thus walking solemnly one behind the other, to the outer house
where some of the other guests were lingering, Mrs. Nugent stopped to
speak to some of them, to describe the new orchid. “It is the most
uncanny thing I ever saw,” she said. And then Lady Dulham, the great
lady of that side of the county, the person whom he most disliked,
appealed to Mr. Wradisley to show her too the new wonder. It was perhaps
on the whole the best way he could have got out of this false position.
He offered the old lady his arm with a deeply wounded, hotly offended

Mrs. Nugent lingered a little with the others in the great relief and
ease of mind which, though it was only momentary, was great. She had not
after all been obliged to reveal any of her secrets, whatever they might
be. If he had been less peremptory, more reasonable, she would have been
obliged to explain to him; and that she had very little mind to do.
After the first relief, however, she began to feel what a blow had been
struck at her temporary comfort in this place by so untoward an
accident. His mother and sister were her chief friends; they had
received her so generously, so kindly, with such confidence. Her secret
was no guilty one, but still it had made her uncomfortable, it had been
the subject of various annoyances; but none of these kind people had
asked her any questions; they had received her for herself, never
doubting. And now it seemed that she had only appeared among them to do
harm. She was a pretty and attractive young woman, and not altogether
unaware that people liked her on that account; but yet she never had
been one of those women with whom everybody is acquainted, in novels, at
least, before whom every man falls down. She had had her share, but she
had not been persecuted by inopportune lovers. And she had not
entertained any alarm in respect to Mr. Wradisley. She hoped now that
his pride would help him through it, and that nobody would be the wiser;
but still she could not continue here under the very wing of the family
after so humiliating its head, either meeting him, or compelling him to
avoid her. She went on turning over this question in her mind, pausing
to talk to this one and that one, to do her duty to Mrs. Wradisley still
by amusing and occupying her guests, putting on her smiles as if they
bad been ribbons to conceal some little spot or rent beneath. Indeed,
it was no rent. She had not been very long at Wradisbury. It would be no
dreadful business to go away. She was neither without friends nor
protectors, and London was always a ready and natural refuge, where it
would be so simple to go. But this fiasco, as she called it to herself,
vexed her. She wanted to get away as soon as possible, to think it over
at leisure, to find Tiny, who no doubt was hanging on Lucy Wradisley’s
skirts somewhere, or else playing with the other children, and to steal
home as soon as there was any pretext for departure. She felt that she
would prefer not to meet his mother’s eye.

She was beginning to get very impatient of waiting when at last she
caught sight of Tiny being set down on the ground from somebody’s
shoulders. She did not pay any attention for the moment to the man. Tiny
had so many friends; for the child was not shy; she had no objection to
trust herself to any one who pleased her, though it was not every one
who had this advantage and pleased Tiny. The mother saw at once that
Tiny’s best frock had suffered, and a momentary alarm about the pond,
which was one of her favorite panics, seized her. But the child was
evidently quite right, which settled that question. She went to meet
Tiny with a word of playful reproof for her disheveled condition on her
lips. The child and her guardian were coming round a clump of trees
which hid them for a moment, and toward which Mrs. Nugent turned her
steps. She heard the small voice running on in its usual little
sing-song of monologue.

“Have zoo dot a little girl? Have zoo dot a little girl?”

What an odd question for Tiny to ask! The child must really be trained
to be a little more like other children, not to push her little
inquiries so far, not to ask questions. Mrs. Nugent could not help
smiling a little at the sound of her small daughter’s voice, especially
as there was no reply made to it. The man had a big beard, that was all
she had observed of him; perhaps it was the other son, the brother Raaf,
the adventurer, or perhaps prodigal, who had newly come home.

These were her thoughts as she turned round the great bole of that big
tree of which the Wradisleys were so proud. Bertram was coming on the
other side, half smiling, too, at Tiny’s little song; while she, spying
some children in the distance, swayed backward from his hold to call to
them, and then detaching herself from his hand altogether, ran back a
few paces to show them her treasures. His face half averted for a moment
looking after her thus, gave Mrs. Nugent one breath of preparation, but
none to him, who turned round again half conscious of some one coming to
meet him, with still that half smile and the tender expression in his
eyes. He stood still, he wavered for a moment as if, strong man as he
was, he would have fallen.

“My God–Nelly!” he cried.

After the most successful party, even if it is only a garden party, a
flatness is apt to fall upon the family of the entertainers who have
been so nobly doing their best to amuse their friends. Besides the
grateful sense of success, and of the fact that the trouble is well
over, comes a flagging of both physical and mental powers. The dinner at
Wradisbury was heavy after the great success of the afternoon; there was
a little conversation about that, and about how everybody looked, and on
Ralph’s part, who was decidedly the least dull of the party, on the
changes that time had made, especially upon the women whom he remembered
as little girls, and who were now, as he said, “elderly,” some of them
with little girls of their own; but neither Mr. Wradisley nor Mr.
Bertram were at all amused, and Lucy was tired, and agreeing with Ralph
completely in his estimation of the old young ladies, was not
exhilarated by it as she might have been. The master of the house did
not indeed betray fatigue or ill-humor, he was too well bred for that.
But he was a little cross to the butler, and dissatisfied with the
dinner, which was an unusual thing; he even said something to his mother
about “_your_ cook,” as if he thought the sins of that important person
resulted from the fact that she was Mrs. Wradisley’s cook, and had
received bad advice from her mistress. When he was pleased he said “my
cook,” and on ordinary occasions “the cook,” impersonally and
impartially. Bertram on the other hand, had the air of a man who had
fallen from a great height, and had not been able to pick himself up–he
was pale, his face was drawn. He scarcely heard when he was spoken to.
When he perceived that he was being addressed he woke up with an effort.
All this Lucy perceived keenly and put down to what was in fact its
real reason, though with a difference. She said to herself:

“Nelly Nugent must have known him. She must have known his wife and all
about him, and how it was they didn’t get on. I’ll make her tell me,”
Lucy said to herself, and she addressed herself very particularly to Mr.
Bertram’s solace and entertainment, partly because she was romantically
interested and very sorry for him, and partly to show her mother, who
had told her with a certain air that Mr. Bertram was married, that his
marriage made not the slightest difference to her. She tried to draw him
out about Tiny, who was the first and most natural subject.

“Isn’t she a delightful little thing? I am sure she made a slave of you,
Mr. Bertram, and got you to do everything she wanted. She always does.
She is a little witch,” Lucy said.

“Oh, Tiny,” said Bertram, with a slight change of color. “Yes–I had not
been thinking. What is her–real name?”

“I believe it is Agnes, and another name too–an old-fashioned name; do
you remember, mother?”

“Laetitia. I don’t know what you mean by an old-fashioned name. I had
once a great friend whose name was Laetitia. It means light-heartedness,
doesn’t it?–joy. And a very nice meaning, too. It would just suit Tiny.
They can call her Letty when she gets a little older. But the worst of
these baby names is that there is no getting rid of them; and Tiny is so
absurd for a big girl.”

During this rather long speech Bertram sat with a strange look, as if he
could have cried, Lucy thought, which, however, must have been absurd,
for what he did do was to laugh. “Yes, they do stick; and the more
absurd they are the longer they last.”

“Tiny, however, is not absurd in the least; and isn’t she a delightful
little thing?” Lucy repeated. She was not, perhaps, though so very good
a girl, very rapid in her perceptions, and besides, it would have been
entirely idiotic to imagine the existence of any reason why Bertram
should not discuss freely the little characteristics of Mrs. Nugent’s

“Poor little Tiny!” he said, quite inappropriately, with a sort of
stifled sigh.

“Oh! do you mean because her father is dead?” said Lucy, with a
countenance of dismay. She blamed herself immediately for having thought
so little of that misfortune. Perhaps the thing was that Mr. Bertram had
been a friend of Tiny’s father, and it was this that made him so grave.
She added, “I am sure I am very sorry for poor Mr. Nugent; but then I
never knew him, or knew anybody that knew him. Yes, to be sure, poor
little Tiny! But, Mr. Bertram, she has such a very nice mother. Don’t
you think for a girl the most important thing is to have a nice mother?”

“No doubt,” Bertram said very gravely, and again he sighed.

Lucy was full of compunction, but scarcely knew how to express it. He
must have been a very great friend of poor Mr. Nugent, and perhaps he
had felt, seeing Nelly quite out of mourning, and looking on the whole
so bright, that his friend had been forgotten. But no! Lucy was ready to
go to the stake for it, that Mrs. Nugent had not forgotten her
husband–more at least than it was inevitable and kind to her other
friends to forget.

And then Mr. Wradisley, having finished his complaints about “your
cook,” told his mother across the table that it was quite possible he
might have to go to town in a few days. “Perhaps to-morrow,” he said.
The dealer in antiquities, through whose hands he spent a great deal of
money, had some quite unique examples which it would be sinful to let
slip by.

Mrs. Wradisley exclaimed against this suggestion. “I thought, Reginald,
you were to be at home with us all the winter; and Ralph just come,
too,” she said.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” said Ralph.

“Ralph may be sure, mother,” said Mr. Wradisley, with his usual dignity,
“that I mind him very much. Still there are opportunities that occur but
once in a lifetime. But nothing,” he added, “need be settled till

What did Reginald expect to-morrow? Mr. Bertram looked up too with a
sort of involuntary movement, as if he were about to say something
concerning to-morrow; but then changed his mind and did not speak. This
was Lucy’s observation, who was uneasy, watching them all, and feeling
commotion, though she knew not whence it came, in the air.

In the morning there was still the same commotion in the air to Lucy’s
consciousness, who perhaps, however, was the only person who was aware
of it. But any vague sensation of that sort was speedily dispersed by
the exclamation of Mrs. Wradisley, after she had poured out the tea and
coffee (which was an office she retained in her own hands, to Lucy’s
indignation). While she did this she glanced at the outside of the
letters which lay by the side of her plate; for they retained the bad
habit in Wradisbury of giving you your letters at breakfast, instead of
sending them up to your room as soon as they arrived; so that you
received your tailor’s bill or your lover’s letter before the curious
eyes of all the world, so to speak. Mrs. Wradisley looked askance at her
letters as she poured out the tea, and said, half to herself, “Ah! Mrs.
Nugent. Now what can she be writing to me about? I saw her last night,
and I shall probably see her to-day.”

“It will be about those cuttings for the garden, mother,” said Lucy.
“May I open it and see?”

Mrs. Wradisley put her hand for a moment on the little pile. “I prefer
to open my letters myself. No one has ever done that for me yet.”

“Nor made the tea either, mother,” said Ralph.

“Nor made the tea either, Raaf, though Lucy would like to put me out, I
know,” said Mrs. Wradisley, with a little nod of her head; and then,
having finished that piece of business like one who felt her very life
attacked by any who should question her powers of doing it, she
proceeded to open her letters–one or two others before that on which
she had remarked.

Lucy was so much interested herself that she did not see how still her
elder brother sat behind his paper, or how uneasy Bertram was, cutting
his roll into small pieces on his plate. Then Mrs. Wradisley gave a
little scream, and gave them all an excuse for looking up at her, and
Mr. Wradisley for demanding, “What is the matter, mother?” in his quiet

“Dear me! I beg your pardon, Reginald, for crying out; how very absurd
of me. Mrs. Nugent has gone away! I was so startled I could not help it.
She’s gone away! This is to tell me–and she was here all the afternoon
yesterday, and never said a word.”

“Oh, that’s the little widow,” said Ralph; “and a very good thing too, I
should say, mother. Nothing so dangerous as little widows about.”

Again I am sorry that Lucy was so much absorbed in her own emotions as
not to be capable of general observation, or she would have seen that
both her brother Reginald and Mr. Bertram looked at Raaf as if they
would like to cut his throat.

“She says she did tell me yesterday,” said Mrs. Wradisley, reading her
letter. “‘I mentioned that I had news that disturbed me a little.’ Yes,
now I recollect she did. I thought she wasn’t looking herself, and of
course I asked what was the matter. But I had forgotten all about it,
and I never thought it was serious. ‘And now I find that I must go. You
have all been so kind to me, and I am so sorry to leave. Tiny, too, will
break her little heart; only a child always believes she is coming back
again to-morrow; and the worst of it is I don’t know when I may be able
to get back.’”

“But, mother, she can’t have gone yet; there will be time to run and say
good-by by the ten o’clock train,” said Lucy, getting up hurriedly.

Once more Mrs. Wradisley raised a restraining hand, “Listen,” she said,
“you’ve not heard the end. ‘To-night I am going up to town by the eight
o’clock train. I have not quite settled what my movements will be
afterwards; but you shall hear when I know myself.’ That’s all,” said
the mother, “and very unsatisfactory I call it; but you see you will do
no manner of good, Lucy, jumping up and disturbing everybody at
breakfast on account of the ten o’clock train.”

“Well,” said Lucy, drawing a long breath, “that is something at
least–if she will really let us know as soon as she knows herself.”

“Gammon,” said Ralph. “My belief is you will never hear of your pretty
widow again. She’s seen somebody that is up to her tricks, or she’s
broken down in some little game, or–”

“Raaf!” cried mother and sister together.

But that was not all. Mr. Wradisley put down his newspaper; his
countenance appeared from behind it a little white and drawn, with his
eyebrows lowering. “I am sorry, indeed,” he said, “to hear a man of my
name speak of a lady he knows nothing about as perhaps–a cad might
speak, but not a gentleman.”

“Reginald!” the ladies cried now in chorus, with tones of agitation and

Meanwhile Bertram had got up from the table with a disregard of good
manners of which in the tumult of his feelings he was quite unconscious,
and stalked away, going out of the room and the house, his head thrust
forward as if he did not quite realize where he was going. The ladies
afterwards, when they discussed this incident, and had got over their
terror lest hot words should ensue between the brothers, as for the
moment seemed likely–gave Bertram credit for the greatest tact and
delicacy; since it was evident that he too thought a crisis was coming,
and would not risk the chance of being a spectator of a scene which no
stranger to the family ought to see.

But none of these fine sentiments were in Bertram’s mind. He went out,
stumbling as he went, because a high tide of personal emotion had surged
up in him, swelling to his very brain. That may not be a right way to
describe it, because they say all feeling comes from the brain–but that
was how he felt. He scarcely heard the jabberings of these Wradisley
people, who knew nothing about it. He who was the only man who had
anything to say in the matter, to defend her or to assail her–he would
have liked to knock down that fellow Ralph; but he would have liked
still more to kick Ralph’s brother out of the way, who had taken upon
him to interfere and stand up for her, forsooth, as if he knew anything
about her, whereas it was he, only he, Frank Bertram, who knew. He went
staggering out of the house, but shook himself up when he got into the
open air, and pulled himself together. There had been such a strong
impulse upon him to go after her last night and seize hold upon her, to
tell her all this was folly and nonsense, and couldn’t be. Why had he
not done it? He couldn’t tell. To think that was his own child that he
had carried about, and that after all she had been called Laetitia,
after his mother, though _her_ mother had cut him off and banished him
for no immediate fault of his. It was his fault, but it was the fault of
ignorance, not of intention. He had believed what he had so intently
wished to be true, but he had no more meant to harm Nelly or her child
than to sully the sunshine or the skies. And now, when chance or
providence, or whatever you chose to call it, had brought them within
sight of each other again, that he should not have had the heart to
follow that meeting out at once, and insist upon his rights! Perhaps she
would not have denied him–he had thought for a moment that there had
been something in her eyes–and then, like the dolt he was, like the
coward he was, he had let her go, and had gone in to dinner, and had sat
through the evening and listened to their talk and their music, and had
gone to bed and tossed and dreamed all night, and let her go. There had
been impulses in him against all these things. He had thought of
excusing himself from dinner. He had thought of pretending a headache,
and stealing out later; but he had not done it. He had stuck there in
their infernal routine, and let her go. Oh, what a dolt and coward slave
am I! He would not put forth a hand to hold her, to clutch her, not a
finger! But began to bestir himself as soon as she was out of his reach
and had got clear away.

He went straight on toward the gate and the village, not much thinking
where he was going, nor meaning anything in particular by it; but
before he was aware found himself at Greenbank, where he had stopped
once in the darkness, all unaware who was within, and listened to Ralph
Wradisley (the cad! his brother was right) bringing forth his foolish
rubbish about the pretty widow, confound him! And some one had asked him
if perhaps he knew the Nugents, and he had said, Yes; but they were old
people. Yes, he knew some Nugents, he had said. They had only been her
grandparents, that was all. It was her mother’s name she had taken, but
he never guessed it, never divined it, though Tiny had divined it when
she suddenly grew silent in his hands and gave him that look. Tiny had
recognized him, like a shot! Though she had never seen him, though she
was only five weeks old when–But he had not known her, had not known
anything, nor how to behave himself when Providence placed such an
unlooked for chance in his hands.

He went up to the house, the door of which stood wide open, and went in.
All the doors were open with a visible emptiness, and that look of mute
disorder and almost complaint which a deserted house bears when its
inmates have gone away. A woman came out of the back regions on hearing
his step, and explained that she had acted as Mrs. Nugent’s cook, but
was the caretaker put in by the landlord, and let or not with the house
as might suit the inmate. Mrs. Nugent had behaved very handsome to her,
she said, with wages and board wages, and to Lizzie too, the housemaid,
who had gone back to her mother’s, and refused to stay and help to clean
out the house. It was out of order, as Mrs. Nugent only went last night;
but if the gentleman would like to see over it–Bertram behaved handsome
to her also, bidding her not trouble herself, and then was permitted to
wander through the house at his will. There was nothing to be seen
anywhere which had any association either to soothe or hurt his excited
mind–a broken doll, an old yellow novel, a chair turned over in one
room, the white coverlet in another twisted as if packing of some sort
had been performed upon it–nothing but the merest vulgar traces of a
sudden going away. In the little drawing-room there were some violets in
water in a china cup–he remembered that she had worn them
yesterday–and by their side and on the carpet beneath two or three of
the forget-me-nots he had gathered for Tiny. He had almost thought of
taking some of the violets (which was folly) away with him. But when he
saw the forget-me-nots he changed his mind, and left them as he found
them. His flowers had not found favor in her sight, it appeared! It was
astonishing how much bitterness that trivial circumstance added to his
feelings. He went out by the open window, relieved to get into the open
air again, and went round and round the little garden, finding here and
there play places of Tiny, where a broken toy or two, and some daisies
threaded for a chain, betrayed her. And then it suddenly occurred to him
that there were but two or three forget-me-nots, which might easily have
fallen from Tiny’s hot little hand, whereas there had been a large
number gathered. What had been done with the rest? Had they by any
possibility been carried away? The thought came with a certain balm to
his heart. He said Folly! to himself, but yet there was a consolation in
the thought.

He was seated on the rude little bench where Tiny had played, looking at
her daisies, when he heard a step; and, looking through the hedge of
lilac bushes which enclosed him, he saw to his great surprise Mr.
Wradisley walking along the little terrace upon which the drawing-room
windows opened. Mr. Wradisley could not be stealthy, that was
impossible, but his step was subdued; and if anything could have made
his look furtive, as if he were afraid of being seen, that would have
been his aspect. He walked up and down the little terrace once or twice,
and then he went in softly by the open window. In another moment he
reappeared. He was carefully straightening out in his hands the limp
forget-me-nots which had fallen from the table to the carpet out (no
doubt) of Tiny’s little hot hands. Mr. Wradisley took out a delicate
pocket-book bound in morocco, and edged with silver, and with the
greatest care, as if they had been the most rare specimens, arranged in
it the very limp and faded flowers. Then he placed the book in his
breast-pocket, and turned away. Bertram, in the little damp arbor, laid
himself upon the bench to suppress the tempest of laughter which tore
him in two. It was more like a convulsion than a fit of merriment, for
laughter is a tragic expression sometimes, and it came to an end very
abruptly in something not unlike a groan. Mr. Wradisley was already at
some distance, but he stopped involuntarily at the sound of this groan,
and looked back, but seeing nothing to account for it, walked on again
at his usual dignified pace, carrying Tiny’s little muddy, draggled
forget-me-nots over his heart.

It was not till some time after that Bertram followed him up to the
hall. He had neither taken Nelly’s violets nor Tiny’s daisies, though he
had looked at them both with feelings which half longed for and half
despised such poor tokens of the two who had fled from him. The thought
of poor Mr. Wradisley’s mistake gave him again and again a spasm of
inaudible laughter as he went along the winding ways after him. After
all, was it not a willful mistake, a piece of false sentiment
altogether? for the man might have remembered, he said to himself, that
Nelly wore violets, autumn violets, and not forget-me-nots. When he got
to the house, Bertram found, as he had expected, a telegram summoning
him to instant departure. He had taken means to have it sent when he
passed through the village. And the same afternoon went away, offering
many regrets for the shortness of his visit.

“Three days–a poor sort of Saturday to Monday affair,” said Mrs.
Wradisley. “You must come again and give us the rest that is owing to

“It is just my beastly luck,” Bertram said.

As for Lucy, she tried to throw a great deal of meaning into her eyes as
she bade him good-by; but Bertram did not in the least understand what
the meaning was. He had an uncomfortable feeling for the moment, as if
it might be that Lucy’s heart had been touched, unluckily, as her
brother’s had been; but grew hot all over with shame, looking again at
her innocent, intent face though what was in it, it was not given to him
to read. What Lucy would have said had she dared would have been, “Oh,
Mr. Bertram, go home to your wife and live happy ever after!” but this
of course she had no right to say. Ralph, however, the downright, whom
no one suspected of tact or delicacy, said something like it as he
walked with his friend to the station. Or rather it was at the very last
moment as he shook hands through the window of the railway carriage.

“Good-by, Bertram,” he said; “I’d hunt up Mrs. Bertram and make it up,
if I were you. Things like that can’t go on forever, don’t you know.”

“There’s something in what you say, Wradisley,” Bertram replied.