IMPROVING PROSPECTS

Clare Stanley was the mistress of Aspinshaw, and of a good deal of
bricks and mortar, stocks and shares, and Three per Cent. Consols
besides. Mrs Stanley was comfortably provided for, but it was Clare who
was to profit by the hard work, the self-denial and forethought of some
three generations of Stanleys, or, as some might think, of their greed,
their grasping, and their over-reaching of their less crafty fellow-men.
The will that had laid the burden of wealth upon her, at an age when
most young women of her class are engaged in constant differences with
their parents and guardians on the subject of pin-money, had been the
one act of eccentricity of Mr Stanley’s whole life.
For some days her grief for her father’s loss had been too absorbing to
permit of her thinking of much else besides, but on this first day of
the new year she felt more able to think, and as she sat alone by the
drawing-room fire she began for the first time to realise her position.
About one thing she had made up her mind; she must leave this horrible
house, where the shadow had fallen on her which she felt just then
could never be lifted again.
Between Clare and her father’s second wife there had always been
perfectly cordial relations, but they were not bound together by any
ties of love.
Mrs Stanley had always done her duty to her husband and his child, but
hers was a cold nature, and not one which had drawn out Clare’s heart
towards itself. She was now going to stay with her own relatives, and
was perfectly willing to take her step-daughter with her; but the girl
decided, without much need for reflection, that there would be many
things better than to be buried alive in a Yorkshire village, with
no one more congenial to talk to than Mrs Stanley or Mrs Stanley’s
relations, whom Clare had been wont to term ‘the fossils.’
An unposted letter lay on the little table at her elbow, in which
she had accepted an invitation to spend an indefinite time with the
Quaids. She thought that in London, away from the associations of the
recent past, she would be better able to plan out the course of her
future life. She knew that that course would now be a very different
one from what it would have been had she had the planning of it three
months ago, before she met Count Litvinoff or spent that evening at
the Cleon. She was sorrowfully glad that her father’s will was what it
was, for she was conscious in a vague sort of way that wealth meant
power, and she was determined that in her hands it should mean power to
do good and to make others happy. Her plans went no further than this
at present, and she knew that even to carry this out she would need
teaching and help and counsel from those who had more experience of the
world and its needs than she had. It was, perhaps, this thought that
had mainly influenced her in her acceptance of Mrs Quaid’s very kind
and cordial invitation, for Marlborough Villa was not the most unlikely
place in the world at which to meet some one who had just that which
she lacked. There she had first been forced to think; perhaps there she
would first be taught how to act.
Why does one never learn at school the things one needs when one leaves
it? ‘How much there is to know–how much there is for me to learn,’ she
said to herself, with a little sigh, leaning forward and gazing into
the glowing fire, resting her elbow on her knee and her cheek on her
clasped hands.
She started and rose at a loud, clanging ring of the door-bell. As she
had expected, the servant announced ‘Count Litvinoff.’ He came forward
with a low and deferential bow.
‘You must forgive me,’ he said, ‘for calling on you on Sunday
afternoon, which, I believe, is not the rule in England; but I heard
that you were leaving Aspinshaw to-morrow, and I could not run the risk
of not seeing you again.’
‘We are always pleased to see you,’ said Clare; ‘but I am not going to
London for some time yet. There will be a good deal of law business, I
suppose, and it is not fair to carry the trouble of that to my friend’s
house. Is Mr Roland well?’
‘He is on duty,’ said Litvinoff; ‘he has gone to a chapel with his
aunt, which is good of him, as his views are not that way.’
Clare drew a breath of relief. She had not felt comfortable in Roland’s
presence since that interview with Litvinoff in the National Gallery.
‘I myself shall be returning to London in a few weeks,’ the young man
went on. ‘I have already stayed as long as I at first intended to do,
but now Ferrier is good enough to wish me to stay until the household
at Thornsett Edge is broken up.’
‘Ah, yes, I had forgotten that. What a horrible thing! What are they
going to do?’
‘I believe Mr Roland will live with his aunt at Chelsea.’
‘We seem to be all going to London,’ said Clare, with an effort to be
as cheerful as possible.
‘True; but London is so vast, and in it I know so few people whom
you are likely to know, that I feel I might as well be going back to
Siberia for any chance I shall have of seeing you.’ This with the air
of one who would as soon go to Siberia as not while he was about it.
‘Oh, I daresay we shall see each other,’ she answered, leaning back in
her chair and trifling with a big screen of peacock’s feathers, which
she had idly taken up. ‘I’m going to stay with a lady who is madly
anxious to know you.’
Count Litvinoff looked intensely surprised, as though that had been
almost impossible.
‘I think I told you about her,’ she continued; ‘Mrs Quaid, who belongs
to the Cleon, you know, where I heard all about Socialism, you
remember?’
‘Oh, yes, I remember,’ said Litvinoff, which was true. He did.
‘I do hope I shall see you again, because you and Mr Petrovitch are the
only two people I know who can help me.’
‘It is a great privilege my fellow-countryman shares with me, Miss
Stanley. May I be the first to hear of what help you stand in need?’
‘I daresay you have heard,’ she answered, ‘that my father’–here her
voice trembled a little–‘has left me nearly all his money, and it is
mine now, though I am not of age.’
Ah, no, Count Litvinoff had certainly not heard that.
‘And then, you see,’ she went on, knitting her brows under the stress
of the difficulty she found in putting her thoughts into words, ‘the
question is, what am I to do with it? A little time ago I should have
found it easy enough to do with it what every one else does; but I
have been thinking a great deal–a very great deal lately–ever since
I heard Mr Petrovitch; and now I feel the responsibility of it so much
more than I should have done before.’
Count Litvinoff thought to himself that that was the sort of
responsibility he was admirably adapted to share. He merely looked
sympathetic, and Miss Stanley went on.


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‘And then I feel sure money may be a fearful curse if one doesn’t use
it properly. Of course, I can’t disguise from myself that this money
was made in the usual way, and that others have lost all that my father
and his father have gained, and I wish I could think of some way in
which it might give as much happiness as it would have done had it been
left in the hands of the workers who toiled to produce it. You are one
who should be able to advise me. What shall I do?’
Litvinoff’s hair almost stood on end. This was getting his own coin
back with a vengeance.
‘My dear Miss Stanley,’ he said gravely, ‘if I were to advise you in
the only way which seems possible to me now, your friends would all
look upon me as your worst enemy–as an adventurer, as a rogue. Whereas
I desire to be looked on as your faithful friend and servant–as the
man who, more than all others, would go through fire and water to do
you the slightest service.’
‘I should hardly have thought you would have cared what my friends or
anybody else thought of you,’ was Miss Stanley’s only reply to this
fervid declaration.
‘Under most circumstances,’ said the Count, with a little wave of his
hand, ‘I do care for nothing and for nobody; but’–he went on, with
a slight tremor in his voice–‘rather than incur the dislike of any
one whom you respect and love, I would abjure every principle, and
sacrifice every cause.’
‘I asked for advice,’ said Clare, not seeing her way to a more direct
answer.
‘I know you did,’ he spoke rapidly, dropping into a foreign accent;
‘and I–I cannot give it you, Miss Stanley. Let me tell you one thing.
You know–you have heard, you have read–how in Russia, when money
is wanted for our cause, it is the duty of some of us to get it–to
persuade it out of those who have. That has often been my duty, and I
have never failed. I have taken, over and over again, all, all from
those as young as you, and have left them with nothing. I have had to
raise enthusiasm by every means, to urge to self-sacrifice, and then
to take unsparingly. There are men now, my _friends_, who, if they
knew that you–rich, young, enthusiastic–had asked me for _advice_,
and that I had refused to give it, would say, “Michael Litvinoff has
become traitor,” and would kill me like a rat. But,’ he went on,
rising and stretching out his clenched fist, ‘did I know that a legion
of such men were outside that door, armed and waiting for me, and
hearing every word I speak, I would still say that for no cause in the
world must you make sacrifices or must you suffer; and I would still
say that I would serve you before all causes.’
‘Count Litvinoff, I can hear no more of this. Please talk of something
else.’
‘Ah! now yet once more I have offended you. It is part of my unhappy
lot that whenever I speak in earnest I offend you. But I can’t talk of
something else to-day. I must say adieu, Miss Stanley. If I stayed I
should disobey you, and I cannot disobey you.’
‘Good-bye, then,’ said Clare, extending her hand.
He caught her hand, held it tightly an instant, bent over it as though
he were about to raise it to his lips, then dropped it as if it had
burned him. ‘Adieu,’ he said, ‘I know that in England the hand-shake
means forgivenness, and that once more I am forgiven–for speaking the
truth–and that I may see you again.’
Clare did not gainsay it, and he left the room.
Count Litvinoff was marching back to Thornsett with a very elate
step, and a good deal of military swagger, and Clare had resumed her
thinking–she was thinking of him, and he was thinking of her. He
thought aloud, as usual.
‘H’m,’ he said to the grey stone walls on each side of him, and to
the plovers who were wheeling and screaming overhead, ‘_la belle_ was
offended, but not so much. When she thinks over it she will say,–“He
is not a good patriot and friend of liberty, this Litvinoff, for he
forgets his mistress, _La Révolution_; therefore he is unfaithful.”
Ay, but she will add, “He only forgets her when I am near, and he is
only unfaithful for me,” _C’est bien–c’est bien–c’est très bien!_’ he
added, vaulting a gate and making a short cut home.