There was not any reply made for a moment

It was a day or two after these events before any new incident happened;
and, indeed, the appearance of Mr. Swinford in the village of Watcham
was not a very remarkable incident. For Watcham was not in the depths of
the country, where the sight of a new face was in itself extraordinary.
People from London were continually appearing in this little place. To
be sure, it was too early in March for the shoals of men in flannels who
were to be seen lounging about in summer; but still there were people
who would come down ‘to have a look at the river’ even in the winter
season, when the boats were laid up. And boating men, and indeed others,
had a way of appearing at the ‘Blue Boar’ on visits from Saturday till
Monday, and were very correct in their town costumes when they arrived,
though afterwards falling into many eccentricities of apparel. Mr.
Swinford might have been one of them, as he walked down on Saturday
afternoon. He was not very fond of walking, having had a French rather
than an English education. It had already been discovered that his usual
way of going about was in an exceedingly smart dog-cart, which he drove
in a way rather unusual to the aborigines, with a rein in each hand. I
need not pause to point out that Leo Swinford, an Englishman educated in
France, was not at all an Anglomane, but probably more French than most
young Frenchmen whose desire would have been to look English–at least
in everything that had to do with riding or driving. But on this
occasion he walked, and might have been taken simply for one of the
Saturday to Monday men. But no; Watcham was too clever for that. None of
them were so point devise as the young master of the Hall. Though it is
always a little muddy on this riverside road, he still had the
_chaussure_, so much admired yet scorned by the young ladies who had
discussed it–the red silk stockings and glistening patent-leather shoes
which had filled Mab with wonder and disdain. He had a warm greatcoat
buttoned over a white silk _cache-nez_ which was round his throat. The
cut of the coat, though excellent, was not like Bond Street–or is it
Savile Row? I am of opinion that it had been made there, but it had
acquired from the wearer a something, a little more shape than is common
to a young Englishman, a _je ne sais quoi_ of foreign and stranger. His
hat, I suppose, was also an English hat, but somehow curled at the brim,
as an Englishman’s hat rarely does. The village got note of his arrival
in some extraordinary way before he was within its bounds. People peeped
over the little muslin blinds in the cottages; a woman or two bolder
than the rest came out to the door to have a good look at him. Even the
men in the bakers’ and butchers’ carts stopped and winked at each other;
‘awful Frenchy,’ they thought he was.

After a while it became apparent that this exquisite figure was bound
for the Rectory; and some thrill running through the very path brought
the news before he did to the Plowdens, who came together as by some
electric current driving the different atoms towards each other. I have
no doubt this is an impossible metaphor, and that electric currents have
nothing to do with atoms; but the reader who knows better will, I hope,
derive a little gratification from his smile at my ignorance. Anyhow,
the ladies of the house flew as by an instinctive movement into the
drawing-room. Mrs. Plowden was the first to get there; and the girls
found her shaking up the sofa cushions, and drawing the chairs
about–not to range them against the wall and make everything tidy as
her grandmother would have done, but to give them that air of
comfortable disorder which is the right thing nowadays. Emmy followed
her mother’s example with a little, flutter and agitation, shaking up
anew the sofa cushions which Mrs. Plowden had just arranged to the best
advantage, while Florence gathered up a leaf or two which had fallen
from the flower vases, and picked off a faded flower or two from the
pots of narcissus and jonquils which were in the room. It might have
been the Queen who was coming, though it was only a natty young man.
Then the Rector appeared, a little anxious, rubbing his hands. ‘What had
I better do?’ he said; ‘shall I be here with you to receive him, or wait
in my study? He may be coming only to call on me.’

This view of the subject filled the ladies with consternation, though
they allowed there was a certain truth in it.

‘You had better be in the study, anyhow, James,’ Mrs. Plowden said; ‘and
if he asks for me, of course I will send for you; if he is shown in to
you instead, of course you will say, after you have had your
conversation, “You must come into the drawing-room, Mr. Swinford; my
wife and daughters will be rejoiced to see you;” or words to that
effect.’

‘Oh, I don’t suppose I shall be at a loss for words,’ said the Rector,
who had no respect for his wife’s style. He gave a glance round the
room; not with any satisfaction, for he felt that it was rather dingy,
and that a stranger would not be likely to see what he felt, being so
accustomed to it, to be the real comfort of the room. It was looking its
best, however. The sunshine was bright in the windows, the jonquils and
narcissus filling it with the fragrance of spring–a little too much,
perhaps; but then one window was open, so that it was not overpowering.
The green of the lawn showed through that open window, just on a level
with the carpet; but it was so bright outside that there was no chilling
suggestion in this. And the girls looked animated, with more colour than
usual, in their fervour of anticipation. The Rector gave a little note
of semi-satisfaction, semi-dissatisfaction peculiar to men and fathers,
and which is not in the least expressed by the conventional Humph! but I
don’t know what better synonym to give than this time-honoured one; and
then he turned away and shut himself into his study to await there the
advent of the great man. There was no reason why he should be deeply
moved by the coming of Leo Swinford. It would be well that the Rectory
and the Hall should maintain amicable relations, but that was all. Mr.
Plowden was not likely to be any the better whatever happened, except
perhaps through the parish charities. There was no better living or
dignity of any kind to which this young man’s influence was likely to
help him. Jim? Was there perhaps a possibility that Leo, if he pleased,
might do something for Jim? or at least bring him into better society,
make him turn to better things, even if he did nothing more? There was
surely that possibility. One young man can do more for another, if he
likes to try, than any one else could do–if Jim would but allow himself
to be influenced. And surely he would in this case. He would be
flattered if Mr. Swinford sought him, if he was invited and made welcome
at the Hall. These thoughts were not very clearly formed, as I set them
down, in Mr. Plowden’s head; but they flitted through his mind, as many
an anxious parent will know how. And this was what made his middle-aged
bosom stir as he sat and waited for Leo Swinford. Then a smile just
crept about his month as he remembered what his wife had been saying
about, perhaps, one of the girls. But the Rector shook his head. No,
no, that was not to be thought of. They were good girls–invaluable
girls. But she might as well think of a prince for them as of Leo
Swinford, who was a sort of prince in his way. No, not that; but perhaps
Jim—-

The question between the drawing-room and the study was now put to rest,
for Mr. Swinford, when he had walked up briskly to the door, admired by
the ladies from between the bars of the venetian blinds in the end
window, asked for Mrs. Plowden, and was triumphantly ushered into the
room by the parlourmaid, who secretly shared the excitement, wondering
within herself _which_ of the young ladies? And he was received and
shaken hands with, and set in a comfortable chair; and a polite
conversation began, before Mrs. Plowden, looking as if the matter had
just occurred to her, in the midst of her inquiries for Mrs. Swinford,
broke off, and said, ‘Florry, my dear, your papa will be in the study;
go and tell him that Mr. Swinford is here.’

‘Can I go?’ said the young man; ‘it is a shame to disturb Miss Florry on
my account; tell me which door, and I will beard the Rector in his den.’

‘No, no! run, Flo; my husband will be so glad to see you here. I daresay
you remember him in old times, though we were not here when you were a
child. It was his father then who was Rector, and Lady William–I mean
my sister-in-law Emily–was the young lady at home, as it might be one
of my girls now.’

‘I recollect it all very well,’ said Leo, with a look and a smile which
did not betray his sense that the girls now were not by any means what
the Emily Plowden he remembered had been. He even paused, and said with
a tone which naturally came into his voice when he spoke to a young
woman–‘I see now how like your daughter is to the Miss Plowden who used
to play with me, and put up with me when I was a disagreeable little
boy.’

‘I am sure you never were a disagreeable little boy,’ said Mrs. Plowden.
‘I have often heard Emily speak of you. She was very fond of you as a
child.’

‘I hope she will not give up that good habit now I am a man. I hope,
indeed, I am a little more bearable than I was then. I was a spoiled
brat, I am afraid. Now, I am more aware of my deficiencies. Ah, Rector,
how do you do? I am so glad to meet another old friend.’

‘How do you do, Leo?’ said the Rector. The girls admired and wondered,
to hear that their father did not hesitate to call this fine gentleman
by his Christian name. ‘It is a very long time since we met, and I
don’t know that I should have recognised you: a boy of twelve, and a man
of—-’

‘Thirty,’ said Leo, with a laugh, ‘don’t spare me–though it is a little
hard in presence of these young ladies. But it has not made any such
change in you, sir, and I should have known you anywhere.’

‘Twenty years is a long time. What do you say, Jane? Eighteen years:
well, there’s no great difference. And so you have come home at last,
and I hope now you are at home you mean to stay, and take up the duties
of an English country gentleman, my dear fellow–which is your real
vocation, you know, as your father’s son.’

‘And what are those duties, my dear Rector,’ said Leo, with a laugh;
‘perhaps my ideas are rather muddled by my French habits–to keep up a
pack of fox-hounds, and ride wildly across country: and provide a beef
roasted whole for Christmas?’

‘Well, you can never go wrong about the beef at Christmas–but I think
we’ll let you off the fox-hounds. If you’ll subscribe to the hunt, that
will be enough.’

‘That is a comfort,’ said the unaccustomed squire, ‘for I am not, I
fear, a Nimrod at all.’

To hear the familiar way in which their father talked, laying down the
law, but not in the least in his imperative way, filled the girls, and
even Mrs. Plowden, with an admiration for the Rector which was not
invariable in his own house. He was at once so bold and so genial, so
entirely at his ease with this gentleman, who was so much out of their
way, and beyond their usual range, that they were at once astonished and
proud–proud of their father, who spoke to Leo as if he were no better
than any other young man in the place, and astonished that he should be
able to do so. But Mrs. Plowden could not longer allow these two to have
it all their own way.

‘It is so nice of Mrs. Swinford to give up her favourite place, and to
consent to come home, in order that you may live among your own
people–for it must be a sacrifice. We can’t say anything in favour of
our English climate, I fear. We all get on very well, but then we are
used to it–but Mrs. Swinford—-’

‘Oh, your mother is with you, of course,’ the Rector said in no such
conciliatory tone.

‘Yes, my mother is with me. But, so far as that goes, Mrs. Plowden,
Paris, where we have chiefly lived, is no great improvement, that I
know, upon England. It’s very cold, and now and then it’s foggy too: but
she likes the society: you know it’s generally supposed to be more easy
than in England. Not knowing England, except as a child, I can’t tell;
but if you can manage to be more conventional here than people are in
France, I shall be surprised. Of course, I should not have come, unless
my mother had seen the necessity: for I am all she has, you know,
now—-’

‘_Now_,’ said the Rector, with pointed emphasis.

At which Leo Swinford showed a little uneasy feeling. ‘For a great many
years,’ he said. ‘You know my father died–shortly after we left here.’

‘I know,’ said the Rector, very gravely. Then he added, in a softened
tone, ‘It is a very long time ago.’

‘Yes,’ said the young man, more cheerfully, ‘so long, that almost my
only experience of life is, that of being always with my mother, her
companion in everything. We have been a sort of lovers,’ he said, with a
laugh; ‘everything in the world to each other.’

Oh, how the girls admired this man, who said that his mother was
everything in the world to him! It brought the tears to their eyes. An
Englishman, they thought, would not have said it, however much it might
have been the case: and Leo said it so pleasantly, as if it were the
most natural thing in the world; but papa, who had been so
cheerful–papa kept a very serious face.

‘I hope it will be found that Watcham is not injurious to Mrs.
Swinford’s health,’ he said, and then there was an uncomfortable pause.

‘I suppose,’ cried Mrs. Plowden, rushing in to break it, ‘that you do
not know any of your neighbours in the county, Mr. Swinford? They will
be eager, of course, to make your acquaintance. There is quite a nice
society in the county. We only see them now and then, of course, in this
little village.’

‘Lady Wade was here on Tuesday, mamma, and the Lenthall people the
Saturday before, and Miss Twyford—-’

‘Yes, that is true,’ said Mrs. Plowden, delighted that Emmy had been
sensible enough to remember so opportunely, and bring in all these
appropriate names. ‘They do not neglect us, though it is rather a long
drive, from Lenthall especially; but Mr. Swinford will have better
opportunities of seeing a great deal of them. When you have plenty of
carriages and horses, everything is so much easier.’

‘Bobby Wade came to see us in Paris,’ said Mr. Swinford, ‘a funny little
man: and I have met some of the Lenthalls. One drifts across most
people one time or another. The world is such a small world.’

‘Oh, then you won’t feel such a stranger among them,’ Mrs. Plowden said;
but she was a little disappointed. It had seemed to her that there would
be a fine rôle to play in presenting this young potentate, so to speak,
to the people about; but as she reflected, with a sort of disgust,
people in that position have a way of knowing each other, and are always
drifting across each other in that wonderful thing called society, which
is such a mystery to those that are out of it. She made a little pause
of partial discomfiture, and then she said, ‘Emmy, do you know where Jim
is? Is Jim in the house, my dear? I should so like to introduce to Mr.
Swinford our boy Jim.’

‘Most happy, I am sure. Is that the one who has religious doubts?’ said
Leo, smiling. ‘Perhaps, as I am not very orthodox, the Rector may think
he will not get any good from me.’

‘Has Jim doubts?’ said the Rector, with his severe, precise air,
transfixing the anxious mother with that regard: and then he added,
‘Quite the reverse, Leo, the society of a man like you could not but be
good for my boy; I should like you to know him. I’ll go and fetch him
myself.’

But, alas! Jim was not to be found. He had gone out, the maid said,
immediately after Mr. Swinford came in. He had indeed seized the
opportunity to escape, fearing that he would be called in, and made to
form an acquaintance with this new man, for whom he had a kind of
aimless dislike, as quite different from himself. The Rector came back
with a serious face, which he tried to conceal with a laugh.

‘We might have known,’ he said, ‘this was not a time to find Jim. He is
reading with me to make up a little special work for his college, and as
soon as his hours of work are over, he–bolts: as I suppose most young
men in these circumstances would.’

‘Every one of them,’ said Leo. ‘And do you find it answer, sir, this
work at home? Mr. Jim must be a wonderful man if he keeps hours, and all
that–at home with you.’

There was not any reply made for a moment, but the father and mother
exchanged a glance. Oh! God bless the man who speaks such words; it
seemed as if there was nothing wrong, nothing but what was natural and
universal in the shortcomings of their boy.

Mr. Swinford was afterwards watched by the village in his progress from
one house to another of the great people of Watcham–the General’s,
where the family were at home, and he went in and stayed for a quarter
of an hour: the Archdeacon’s, where they were out, and where some close
observers felt that he showed great satisfaction in leaving cards: and
then he walked with his alert quick step round the village, as if to
take a general view of it, and then returned towards the cottage, which
all the spectators thought he was neglecting, the house of Lady William,
generally the first on the list of all callers. He was not very tall, as
Emmy Plowden had so regretfully allowed, but yet not short either, as
she had indignantly asserted after. And it was true that he was neither
dark nor fair, but brown, common brown, according to Florence’s
conclusion, the most well-wearing and steadygoing of all colours. His
eyes, I think, were blue, which is a pleasant combination; but I don’t
mean by that the heroical sentimental combination of black hair and dark
blue eyes which is so dear to romance, and so distinct a type of beauty.
Mr. Swinford’s eyes were of rather an ordinary blue, as his hair was of
an ordinary brown, a little curly on his temples. And he had a pleasant
colour, and, what was really the only very striking thing about him, a
waxed and pointed moustache, after the fashion of his former
dwelling-place. He walked briskly, but like a man not used to rough and
muddy roads; stumbling sometimes, not remembering that it was necessary
to look where he set his foot, and looking down now and then, with a
sort of smiling dismay, upon the spots of mud upon his varnished shoes;
yet he pushed on briskly all the same; and walked down to the
landing-place to take a look at the river, which was looking its best,
reflecting the sunshine which began to get low, and to dazzle in the
eyes of the gazer. He gave a little pleased nod, as of approval to the
river, and then he came back again to the village green, meeting the
bands of children just dismissed, who had poured out of the school doors
the minute before. He smiled upon them too, and their noise and their
games, with little involuntary shrugs of his shoulders and uplifting of
his eyebrows as he had to step out of their way: for they did not make
room for him as they ought to have done, being rough and healthy village
children, invaded by the spirit of the nineteenth century, and having
passed beyond the age of curtseys and bows to the gentry. Some of the
girls, indeed, stood aside with a little curiosity and pointed him out
to each other, with whispers and giggles, which were less agreeable than
the uproarious indifference of the rest. When he had got through the
crowd, and passed the doors of the empty school, Leo suddenly stopped
short at the sight of a face he knew. ‘What!’ he said, ‘you here?’ with
very little pleasure in his tone.

‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Brown, with a slight sweep of a curtsey, ‘I am here.
You do not say you are glad to see me, Leo.’

‘You know I am not glad to see you, and I do not pretend it. What are
you doing here?’

Mrs. Brown smiled. She was a handsome woman, and looked, as all the
village allowed, ‘superior’ to a village schoolmistress. She was tall
and dark, not like Leo, but there was a resemblance in her face to that
of his mother which filled him with an angry impatience whenever this
woman crossed his path. She smiled, and again made a scarcely
perceptible obeisance as of satirical humility. ‘That is my own
concern,’ she said.

‘It is not mine, certainly: and I have no desire to know: but there is
one thing I have to say,’ he said sternly. ‘Don’t come to the Hall–I
won’t have you there. If I do you injustice I am sorry, but I don’t want
you, please, in my house.’

‘And what then about your mother’s house?’ she said. ‘Has she no house;
or where are her friends to see her? It is hard if at her age she has no
place of her own to receive her friends.’

‘How do you venture to call yourself one of her friends?’

‘Ask her,’ said Mrs. Brown, with a smile. ‘I am sorry you let your
prejudice carry you so far. Ask your mother, Leo, and then forbid me the
house if you think well. I am going to see Mrs. Swinford to-night.’

He turned away from her angrily with a wave of his hand, while she stood
for a moment looking after him. There was a faint smile of triumph on
her face, but it was not malicious or unkind.

‘Bless us all, Mrs. Brown,’ said her colleague, the master, coming up
with no very amiable look, ‘so it appears you know Mr. Swinford, and all
the rest of the grandees?’

‘I don’t know anything about grandees: but I taught Leo Swinford his
letters,’ said Mrs. Brown.

‘Oh, that’s it,’ said the schoolmaster, with a sort of satisfaction. It
was an intelligible relationship, and seemed rather to temper than
enhance the painful superiority in appearance and manners of Mrs. Brown.
He added, ‘It’s a fine evening,’ and went upon his way. He had no house
attached to the school, while the mistress had: and he had wanted to get
the appointment for his wife, who was not qualified, on the idea that he
could help her to ‘rub through somehow,’ and that the house would be
very convenient; but this point of view had not been taken by the
authorities, and there was thus ‘a little coolness’ between him and his
colleague, though she, of course, could not be supposed to be in fault.
Now to hear that she had taught Mr. Swinford his letters partly consoled
Mr. Atkinson. It showed she was no lady who had seen better days, no
fallen star, but only a member of the profession all through, probably a
nursery governess. He liked to be assured of this, and thought the
better of her from that time.

Leo’s light-hearted and amiable countenance was covered by a passing
cloud. He went on quickly, as if trying to throw off the impression. He
had many recollections in his life connected with this woman, who had
been a member of his family in his earliest remembrance, who had taught
him his letters, as she said, and who had always played a part, he did
not know what, in his mother’s life. She was not a servant, nor was she
an equal. She had disappeared when they left the Hall in his childhood,
but only to reappear again at intervals, and, he had always felt, for
harm, though he could not tell what harm. The faint resemblance between
her and his mother was a horror and annoyance to him more than words
could say. It was, perhaps, her greatest offence, one he could not get
over. And now to find her here, at their very door, as soon as they had
settled in their own house, gave him a feeling of angry impatience which
was intolerable. He hurried on to the only place in Watcham which was
not strange to him, the little house which the village speculators
thought he was neglecting, the cottage of Lady William. All the rest
were curiosities to this young man of the world–the village Rectory,
the retired old soldier, the decorous little establishments where
everything was on so moderate a scale, yet where the inhabitants were
so calmly secure in their position, their social elevation above the
masses. The stranger from a larger sphere is apt to smile in all
circumstances at such a little hierarchy. But to Leo Swinford it was, in
addition to all, so quaintly characteristically English, so unlike
anything to be seen elsewhere, especially so unlike France, to which he
was most accustomed, that he had felt himself walking rather through a
mild English novel–one of those he had read, amid more exciting fare,
with amusement yet tenderness for the peculiarities of his own
country–than through a real village and actual life. He had felt that
he was playing his part in this simple society, doing his social duty,
much amused and often tickled by the oddity of all its novel ways. He
had meant all along, when those duties had been done, and when he had
shown himself the amiable young squire, friendly and accessible, to go
to Lady William and laugh with her over the humours of Watcham. She
would understand all that. She knew the other point of view, and how odd
it must all seem in the eyes of the cosmopolitan, who knew French curés
better than English churchmen, and to whom the rural parish was the
quaintest thing. But in the meantime this last encounter was not in the
harmony of the rural parish; there was another element, a tone of the
more meretricious drama, a sort of Porte St. Martin, he said to himself,
thrown in. Somehow that which was so much more exciting seemed vulgar to
him in this quiet place. It was all so tranquil here and seemed so pure,
that the other tone of the fictitious and conventional came in with a
shock. Porte St. Martin, that was what this woman was. Whereas there was
nothing here that savoured of the theatre in any way, but all pure
nature and simplicity, and real, though to him almost inconceivable
life.

He went on all the same, even after this shock, to Lady William, with a
wonderful comfort in finding that here was somebody who would understand
him when he spoke. The cottage looked more ridiculously small than ever
when he reached it. The Rectory, and the red brick mansions on the other
side, were large in comparison with this little place standing lowly in
its garden, with the trees hanging over it, and all the crop of climbing
plants with the spring sap pushing up through their long shoots, and
their new leaves forming. He almost stumbled over the gate, and felt
that to step over it would be more natural than to open it and go in.
Mab was in the garden busy about some new flower beds, at which she was
working with a child’s spade and trowel. She lifted her honest simple
face flushed with work, and laughed that she could not offer him such a
dirty hand. ‘I have been grubbing,’ she said, ‘but mother is in the
drawing-room.’ Her face was not only flushed, which sounds well enough,
but red, and her fair hair a little in disorder from stooping over her
‘grubbing.’ Her plump arm was half bare, and looked very capable of
work. She was a girl totally unconscious as yet of anything that was not
homely and actual, not a budding woman with nerves and feelings, ready
to thrill at a new presence. Whether it were Leo Swinford or any old
woman that came in, it was quite the same to Mab. She laughed and
pointed behind her to the tiny house, and the little open window. Even
Emmy Plowden at the Rectory in all her English shyness and correctness
might have made a timid effort to detain him a moment, to exchange a
single word or two; but not Mab, who wanted to be rid of him simply, or
even did not want that so much as to care whether he went or came.
‘Mother is in the drawing-room.’ She waited a moment with her trowel in
her dirty hand till he should pass, then explained that she was in a
hurry to get done before night, and stooped down again over her work.

‘Can I help you?’ he said, with the instinct of politeness, looking
helplessly at her.

‘Oh dear, no!’ said Mab, with energy. ‘I don’t suppose you know anything
about gardening; and then I like best to do it myself. Go in and talk to
mother, Mr. Swinford. You’ll find her there.’

What a change it was to go into that little drawing-room! I am not of
opinion that there was more ‘taste’ shown in this little room than in
the other houses about. There were no art stuffs, no decorative articles
to speak of; one or two sketches which were not very good, and one or
two prints which were better, hung on the walls; even the cheap ‘pots’
which country ladies prize were not to be seen here: there were no
Japanese fans. But Leo felt there was something in the room which he had
not found anywhere else, and which made him feel himself at home, not
playing the simple drama of a country life. But I really think that he
deceived himself, and that the only thing different was Lady William,
who was sitting by the table at her needlework, which she laid down when
he came in. She was very constant at her needle, always busy, but she
knew better than to keep on sewing when a man came to see her,
especially such a man as Leo Swinford, who probably would have thought
it an affectation, if not in her, yet in any one else who had treated
him so. A conventional man would naturally think that the woman thought
herself pretty in that attitude with her eyes cast down.

‘Well,’ said Lady William, ‘you have been parading the village, paying
your visits. I have heard of your progress this hour past; and now I
presume they are over, and you have come here to rest.’

‘How pleasant it is,’ said Leo, throwing himself into a chair, ‘to be
understood before one says anything! That is precisely what I have been
doing, and what I have come to do.’

‘There was no great insight required in either case,’ said Lady William.
‘And how do you like us now you have seen us, Leo? The Rectory is
homely, but they’re all as good as gold. Yes, they are, though they are
my people. You know one doesn’t often admire one’s sister-in-law, and I
don’t pretend to admire her; but she’s a good woman, and the girls are
excellent.’

Leo allowed to breathe into his voice a slight, though very slight,
suspicion of fatigue.

‘You will not be surprised, dear lady,’ he said, ‘if I say that the
member of the family who interested me most was your brother; and who is
the son who could not be found, who is reading with his father?’

‘Ah, Jim, poor boy!’

‘Yes? I think I understand; there are then troubles even in this idyllic
life?’

‘It is so little a stranger knows. I think there is no idyllic life. We
are very prosaic and poor, and our troubles are so very real–vulgar,
you might call them. We look up, on the other hand, to what we call your
brilliant and gay life, and think, surely there are no troubles there.
Thus it is true, you see, the one half of the world never understands
the other.’

‘But you,’ said Leo, ‘know both.’

‘Do I? I had a little share of the other, very short, and not, perhaps,
very satisfactory. I never found it very brilliant or gay. The village
life I know by heart, and its troubles, which are bad enough; small
little vices and weakness, dreadfully poor and commonplace: you can’t
understand how pitiful they are.’

‘Can’t I? Well, so far as it is of any use, you must teach me. For you
know from henceforth I am English, and will do my duty. My duty,
perhaps, does not demand an endless seclusion here.’

‘Seclusion do you call it? You will have half the people in London
pouring down soon, when your mother feels she has got established, and
is ready to receive them.’

‘Very likely,’ he said. ‘That will not change matters much. Society is
the same everywhere. At all events, I shall always have you to come to.’

‘It is very good of you to think that I can help you. There’s metal more
attractive. The village is not everything; in the county there are some
pleasant people.’

‘If you knew how sick I am of pleasant people! In sober fact, don’t you
know, I want to feel that I have something to do in the world, and if
this is my sphere, to make it really so, and fill the place which you
would say God had appointed for me.’

‘Don’t you say so, Leo?’

‘I don’t refuse to say so. I know so little. Religion has not held much
place in my life. Between the abbé of the stage and the “clergyman” of
the English, what have I ever known? I have not been instructed by any
one, except’–he laughed a little. ‘Do you know I remember scraps among
all sorts of stuff, of the hymns you used to teach me–how long, long
ago!’

‘Yes, it is very long ago.’ The room was rather dark; the day was
waning. Mab outside was putting her tools together to leave off work. It
was not possible for the two indoors to see each other’s faces, but
there was something tremulous in Lady William’s tone. Leo Swinford put
out his hand and laid it upon hers.

‘You must begin again–not with the hymns, perhaps–but to teach me what
is the best way.’

Evidently there was a great deal of discrimination in what Emmy Plowden
said.