A Strange World_ A Novel. Volume 1 (of 3)
A STRANGE WORLD
BY THE AUTHOR OF
'LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET'
ETC. ETC. ETC.
IN THREE VOLUMES
JOHN MAXWELL AND CO.
4, SHOE LANE, FLEET STREET
[All rights reserved.]
CONTENTS TO VOL. I.
|ii.||Behind the Scenes||32|
|iii.||Eveillons le plaisir, son aurore est la nuit||49|
|iv.||'Love's a mighty lord'||64|
|v.||'Il ne faut pas pousser au bout les malheureux'||80|
|vi.||'There is no life on earth but being in love'||93|
|vii.||'Let the world slip; we shall ne'er be younger'||105|
|viii.||'Have the high gods anything left to give?'||123|
|ix.||'Other sins only speak; murder shrieks out'||140|
|x.||'Nothing comes amiss, so money come withal'||155|
|xi.||'What, then, you knew not this red work indeed?'||179|
|xii.||'Brave spirits are a balsam to themselves'||186|
|xiii.||'My love, my love, and no love for me'||201|
|xiv.||'Truth is truth, to the end of time'||217|
|xv.||'They shall pass, and their places be taken'||233|
|xvi.||'There is a history in all men's lives'||244|
|xvii.||'Death could not sever my soul and you'||253|
|xviii.||'What great ones do, the less will prattle of'||271|
A STRANGE WORLD
A fair slope of land in buttercup-time, just whenMay, the capricious, melts into tender June—aslope of fertile pasture within two miles of the cityof Eborsham, whose cathedral towers rise tall in theblue dim distance—a wealth of hedgerow flowers onevery side, and all the air full of their faint sweetperfume, mixed with the odorous breath of the fastperishing hawthorn. Two figures are seated in acorner of the meadow, beneath the umbrage of anancient thorn not Arcadian or pastoral figures byany means;—not Phillis the milkmaid, with sun-brownedbrow and carnation cheeks, not Corydonfluting sweetly on his tuneful pipe as he reclines ather feet;—but two figures which carry the unmistakable2stamp of city life in every feature and everygarment. One is a tall, slender girl of seventeen,with a pale, tired face, and a look of having outgrownher strength, shot up too swiftly from childhoodto girlhood, like a fast-growing weed. Theother is a man who may be any age from forty tosixty, a man with sparse grey hair crowning a highforehead, bluish-grey eyes, under thick dark brows,a red nose, a mouth that looks as if it had beenmade for eating and drinking rather than oratory, aheavy jaw, and a figure inclining to corpulence.
The girl's eyes are large and clear, and changeful,of that dark blue-grey which often looks like black.The delicate young face possesses no other strongclaim to be admired, and would be a scarcelynoticeable countenance, perhaps, save for those greyeyes.
The raiment of both man and girl is of theshabbiest. His threadbare coat has become luminouswith much friction, a kind of phosphorescentbrightness pervades the sleeves, like the oleaginousscum that pollutes the surface of a city river; thetall hat which lies beside him in the deep grass has3a look of having been soaped. His boots haveobviously been soled and heeled, and have arrived atthat debatable period in boot-life when they musteither be soled again or hie them straight to thedust-hole. The girl's gown is faded and too shortfor her long legs, her mantle a flimsy silken thing ofan almost forgotten fashion, her hat a fabric oftawdry net and ribbon patched together by her ownunskilled hands.
She sits with her lap full of bluebells and hawthorn,looking absently at the landscape, with thosesolemn towers rising out of the valley.
'How grand they are, father!'
The father is agreeably occupied in filling a cuttypipe, embrowned by much smoking, which he handlesfondly, as if it were a sentient thing.
'The cathedral towers. I could look at them forhours together—with that wide blue sky above them,and the streets and houses clustering at their feet.There's a bird's nest in one of them, oh! so high up,squeezed behind a horrid grinning face. Do youknow, father, I've stood and looked at it sometimes4till I've strained my eyes with looking? And I'vewished I was a bird in that nest, and to live upthere in the cool shadow of the stone; no care, notrouble, no work, and all that blue sky above me forever and ever.'
'The sky isn't always blue, stupid,' answeredthe father, contemptuously. 'Your bird's nestwould be a nice place in stormy weather. You talklike a fool, Justina, with your towers, and nests, andblue skies; and you're getting a young woman now,and ought to have some sense. As for cathedraltowns, for my part I've never believed in 'em.Never saw good business for a fortnight on end in acathedral town. It's all very well for a race week,or you may pull up with a military bespeak, ifthere's a garrison. But in a general way, as far as theprofession goes, your cathedral town is a dead failure.'
'I wasn't thinking of the theatre, father,' saidthe girl, with a contemptuous shrug of her thinshoulders. 'I hate the theatre, and everythingbelonging to it.'
'There's a nice young woman, to quarrel withyour bread and butter!'
'Bread and ashes, I think, father,' she said,looking downward at the flowers, with a moody face.'It tastes bitter enough for that.'
'Did ever any one hear of such discontent?'ejaculated the father, lifting his eyes towards theheavens, as if invoking Jove himself as a witness ofhis child's depravity. 'To go and run down the Pro.!Hasn't the Pro. nourished you and brought you up,and maintained you since you were no higher thanthat?'
He spread his dingy hand a foot or so above thebuttercups to illustrate his remark.
The Pro. of which he spoke with so fond an airwas the calling of an actor, and this elderly gentleman,in threadbare raiment, was Mr. MatthewElgood, a performer of that particular line ofdramatic business known in his own circle as 'thefirst heavies,' or, in less technical phrase, Mr. Elgoodwas the heavy man—the King in Hamlet, Iago,Friar Lawrence, the Robber Chief of melodrama—therelentless father of the ponderous top-booted andpig-tailed comedy. And Justina Elgood, his seventeenyear old daughter, commonly called Judy?6Was she Juliet or Desdemona, Ophelia or Imogen?No. Miss Elgood had not yet soared above thehumblest drudgery. Her line was general utility, inwhich she worked with the unrequited patience ofan East-end shirtmaker.
'Hasn't the Pro. supported you from the cradle?'growled Mr. Elgood between short, thoughtful puffsat his pipe.
'Had I ever a cradle, father?' the girl demanded,wonderingly. 'If you were always moving aboutthen as you are now, a cradle must have been a greatinconvenience.'
'I've a sort of recollection of seeing you in one, forall that,' replied Mr. Elgood, shutting his eyes witha meditating air, as if he were casting his gaze backinto the past,—'a clumsy edifice of straw, bulky andawkward of shape. It might have held propertiespretty well—but I don't remember travelling with it.I dare say your mother borrowed the thing of herlandlady. In the days of your infancy we were atSlowberry in Somersetshire, and the Slowberrypeople are uncommonly friendly. I make no doubtyour mother borrowed it.'
'I dare say, father. We're great people forborrowing!'
'Why not?' asked Mr. Elgood, lightly; 'give andtake, you know, Judy: that's a Christian sentiment.'
'Yes, father, but we always take.'
'Man is the slave of circumstances, my dear."Give to him that asketh thee, and from him thatwould borrow of thee turn not away." That's thegospel, Justina. If I have been rather in theposition of the borrower than the lender, that hasbeen my misfortune, and not my fault. Had Ibeen the possessor of ten thousand per annum, Iwould have been the last of men to refuse to take abox-ticket for a fellow-creature's benefit.'
The girl gave a faint sigh, and began to arrangethe bluebells and hawthorn into a nosegay somewhatlistlessly, as if even her natural joy in thesethings were clouded by a settled gloom within hermind.
'You're in the first piece, aren't you, Judy?' inquiredMatthew Elgood, after indulging himself witha snatch of slumber, his elbow deep in the buttercups,and his head rested on his hand.
'Yes, father,' with a sigh, 'the countess, youknow.'
'The countess in "The Stranger," a most profitablepart. Don't put on that hat and feather you worelast time we played the piece. It made the gallerylaugh. I wonder whether you'll ever be fit for thejuvenile lead, Judy?' he went on meditatively. 'Doyou know, sometimes I am afraid you never will;you're so gawky and so listless. The gawkinesswould be nothing—you'll get over that when you'vedone growing, I dare say—but your heart is not inyour profession, Justina. There's the rub.'
'My heart in it,' echoed the girl, with a drearylaugh. 'Why, I hate it, father; you must knowthat. Hasn't it kept me ignorant and shabby, andlooked down upon all the days of my life, since Iwas two years old, and went on as the child in"Pizarro?" Hasn't it kept me hanging about thewings till midnight, from year's end to year's end,when other children were snug in bed with a motherto look after them? Haven't I been told oftenenough that I've no talents, and no good looks tohelp me, and that I must be a drudge all my