Mr. Lismore and the Widow
Late in the autumn, not many years since, a public meeting was held
at the Mansion House, London, under the direction of the Lord Mayor.
The list of gentlemen invited to address the audience had been
chosen with two objects in view. Speakers of celebrity, who would
rouse public enthusiasm, were supported by speakers connected with
commerce, who would be practically useful in explaining the purpose
for which the meeting was convened. Money wisely spent in advertising
had produced the customary result: every seat was occupied before the
Among the late arrivals, who had no choice but to stand or to leave
the hall, were two ladies. One of them at once decided on leaving the
“I shall go back to the carriage,” she said, “and wait for you at
Her friend answered, “I sha'n't keep you long. He is advertised to
support the second resolution; I want to see him, and that is all.”
An elderly gentleman, seated at the end of a bench, rose and
offered his place to the lady who remained. She hesitated to take
advantage of his kindness, until he reminded her that he had heard
what she said to her friend. Before the third resolution was proposed
his seat would be at his own disposal again. She thanked him, and
without further ceremony took his place. He was provided with an
opera-glass, which he more than once offered to her when famous
orators appeared on the platform. She made no use of it until a
speaker, known in the City as a ship-owner, stepped forward to support
the second resolution.
His name (announced in the advertisements) was Ernest Lismore.
The moment he rose the lady asked for the opera-glass. She kept it
to her eyes for such a length of time, and with such evident interest
in Mr. Lismore, that the curiosity of her neighbours was aroused. Had
he anything to say in which a lady (evidently a stranger to him) was
personally interested? There was nothing in the address that he
delivered which appealed to the enthusiasm of women. He was
undoubtedly a handsome man, whose appearance proclaimed him to be in
the prime of life, midway, perhaps, between thirty and forty years of
age. But why a lady should persist in keeping an opera-glass fixed on
him all through his speech was a question which found the general
ingenuity at a loss for a reply.
Having returned the glass with an apology, the lady ventured on
putting a question next. “Did it strike you, sir, that Mr. Lismore
seemed to be out of spirits?” she asked.
“I can't say it did, ma'am.”
“Perhaps you noticed that he left the platform the moment he had
This betrayal of interest in the speaker did not escape the notice
of a lady seated on the bench in front. Before the old gentleman
could answer she volunteered an explanation.
“I am afraid Mr. Lismore is troubled by anxieties connected with
his business,” she said. “My husband heard it reported in the City
yesterday that he was seriously embarrassed by the failure—-”
A loud burst of applause made the end of the sentence inaudible. A
famous member of Parliament had risen to propose the third resolution.
The polite old man took his seat, and the lady left the hall to join
“Well, Mrs. Callender, has Mr. Lismore disappointed you?”
“Far from it! But I have heard a report about him which has alarmed
me: he is said to be seriously troubled about money matters. How can
I find out his address in the City?”
“We can stop at the first stationer's shop we pass, and ask to look
at the directory. Are you going to pay Mr. Lismore a visit?”
“I am going to think about it.”
The next day a clerk entered Mr. Lismore's private room at the
office, and presented a visiting-card. Mrs. Callender had reflected,
and had arrived at a decision. Underneath her name she had written
these explanatory words: “An important business.”
“Does she look as if she wanted money?” Mr. Lismore inquired.
“Oh dear, no! She comes in her carriage.”
“Is she young or old?”
To Mr. Lismore, conscious of the disastrous influence occasionally
exercised over busy men by youth and beauty, this was a recommendation
in itself. He said, “Show her in.”
Observing the lady as she approached him with the momentary
curiosity of a stranger, he noticed that she still preserved the
remains of beauty. She had also escaped the misfortune, common to
persons at her time of life, of becoming too fat. Even to a man's eye,
her dressmaker appeared to have made the most of that favourable
circumstance. Her figure had its defects concealed, and its remaining
merits set off to advantage. At the same time she evidently held
herself above the common deceptions by which some women seek to
conceal their age. She wore her own gray hair, and her complexion bore
the test of daylight. On entering the room, she made her apologies
with some embarrassment. Being the embarrassment of a stranger (and
not of a youthful stranger) it failed to impress Mr. Lismore
“I am afraid I have chosen an inconvenient time for my visit,” she
“I am at your service,” he answered, a little stiffly, “especially
if you will be so kind as to mention your business with me in few
She was a woman of some spirit, and that reply roused her.
“I will mention it in one word,” she said, smartly.” My business
He was completely at a loss to understand what she meant, and he
said so plainly. Instead of explaining herself she put a question.
“Do you remember the night of the 11th of March, between five and
six years since?”
He considered for a moment.
“No,” he said, “I don't remember it. Excuse me Mrs. Callender, I
have affairs of my own to attend to which cause me some anxiety—-”
“Let me assist your memory, Mr. Lismore, and I will leave you to
your affairs. On the date that I have referred to you were on your
way to the railway-station at Bexmore, to catch the night express
from the north to London.”
As a hint that his time was valuable the ship-owner had hitherto
remained standing. He now took his customary seat, and began to
listen with some interest. Mrs. Callender had produced her effect on
“It was absolutely necessary,” she proceeded, “that you should be
on board your ship in the London docks at nine o'clock the next
morning. If you had lost the express the vessel would have sailed
The expression of his face began to change to surprise.
“Who told you that?” he asked.
“You shall hear directly. On your way into the town your carriage
was stopped by an obstruction on the highroad. The people of Bexmore
were looking at a house on fire.”
He started to his feet.
“Good heavens! are you the lady?”
She held up her hand in satirical protest.
“Gently, sir! You suspected me just now of wasting your valuable
time. Don't rashly conclude that I am the lady until you find that I
am acquainted with the circumstances.”
“Is there no excuse for my failing to recognise you?” Mr. Lismore
asked. “We were on the dark side of the burning house; you were
fainting, and I—”
“And you,” she interposed, “after saving me at the risk of your
own life, turned a deaf ear to my poor husband's entreaties when he
asked you to wait till I had recovered my senses.”
“Your poor husband? Surely, Mrs. Callender, he received no serious
injury from the fire?”
“The firemen rescued him under circumstances of peril,” she
answered, “and at his great age he sank under the shock. I have lost
the kindest and best of men. Do you remember how you parted from
him—burned and bruised in saving me? He liked to talk of it in his
last illness. 'At least,' he said to you, 'tell me the name of the man
who preserved my wife from a dreadful death.' You threw your card to
him out of the carriage window, and away you went at a gallop to catch
your train. In all the years that have passed I have kept that card,
and have vainly inquired for my brave sea-captain. Yesterday I saw
your name on the list of speakers at the Mansion House, Need I say
that I attended the meeting? Need I tell you now why I come here and
interrupt you in business hours?”
She held out her hand. Mr. Lismore took it in silence, and pressed
“You have not done with me yet,” she resumed, with a smile. “Do
you remember what I said of my errand when I first came in?”
“You said it was an errand of gratitude.”
“Something more than the gratitude which only says 'thank you,'“
she added. “Before I explain myself, however, I want to know what you
have been doing, and how it was that my inquiries failed to trace you
after that terrible night.” The appearance of depression which Mrs.
Calender had noticed at the public meeting showed itself again in Mr.
Lismore's face. He sighed as he answered her.
“My story has one merit,” he said: “it is soon told. I cannot
wonder that you failed to discover me. In the first place, I was not
captain of my ship at that time; I was only mate. In the second
place, I inherited some money, and ceased to lead a sailor's life, in
less than a year from the night of the fire. You will now understand
what obstacles were in the way of your tracing me. With my little
capital I started successfully in business as a ship-owner. At the
time I naturally congratulated myself on my own good fortune. We
little know, Mrs. Callender, what the future has in store for us.”
He stopped. His handsome features hardened, as if he were suffering
(and concealing) pain. Before it was possible to speak to him there
was a knock at the door. Another visitor without an appointment had
called; the clerk appeared again with a card and a message.
“The gentleman begs you will see him, sir. He has something to tell
you which is too important to be delayed.”
Hearing the message, Mrs. Callender rose immediately.
“It is enough for to-day that we understand each other,” she said.
“Have you any engagement to-morrow after the hours of business?”
She pointed to her card on the writing-table. “Will you come to me
to-morrow evening at that address? I am like the gentleman who has
just called: I too have my reason for wishing to see you.”
He gladly accepted the invitation. Mrs. Callender stopped him as
he opened the door for her.
“Shall I offend you,” she said, “if I ask a strange question before
I go? I have a better motive, mind, than mere curiosity. Are you
“Forgive me again,” she resumed. “At my age you cannot possibly
misunderstand me; and yet—”
She hesitated. Mr. Lismore tried to give her confidence. “Pray
don't stand on ceremony, Mrs. Callender. Nothing that you can
ask me need be prefaced by an apology.”
Thus encouraged, she ventured to proceed. “You may be engaged to
be married?” she suggested. “Or you may be in love?”
He found it impossible to conceal his surprise, but he answered
“There is no such bright prospect in my life,” he said. “I
am not even in love.”
She left him with a little sigh. It sounded like a sigh of relief.
Ernest Lismore was thoroughly puzzled. What could be the old lady's
object in ascertaining that he was still free from a matrimonial
engagement? If the idea had occurred to him in time he might have
alluded to her domestic life, and might have asked if she had
children. With a little tact he might have discovered more than this.
She had described her feeling toward him as passing the ordinary
limits of gratitude, and she was evidently rich enough to be above
the imputation of a mercenary motive. Did she propose to brighten
those dreary prospects to which he had alluded in speaking of his own
life? When he presented himself at her house the next evening would
she introduce him to a charming daughter?
He smiled as the idea occurred to him. “An appropriate time to be
thinking of my chances of marriage!” he said to himself. “In another
month I may be a ruined man.”
The gentleman who had so urgently requested an interview was a
devoted friend, who had obtained a means of helping Ernest at a
serious crisis in his affairs.
It had been truly reported that he was in a position of pecuniary
embarrassment, owing to the failure of a mercantile house with which
he had been intimately connected. Whispers affecting his own solvency
had followed on the bankruptcy of the firm. He had already endeavoured
to obtain advances of money on the usual conditions, and had been met
by excuses for delay. His friend had now arrived with a letter of
introduction to a capitalist, well known in commercial circles for his
daring speculations and for his great wealth.
Looking at the letter, Ernest observed that the envelope was
sealed. In spite of that ominous innovation on established usage in
cases of personal introduction, he presented the letter. On this
occasion he was not put off with excuses. The capitalist flatly
declined to discount Mr. Lismore's bills unless they were backed by
Ernest made a last effort.
He applied for help to two mercantile men whom he had assisted in their difficulties, and whose names would have satisfied the
money-lender. They were most sincerely sorry, but they too refused.
The one security that he could offer was open, it must be owned,
to serious objections on the score of risk. He wanted an advance of
twenty thousand pounds, secured on a homeward-bound ship and cargo.
But the vessel was not insured, and at that stormy season she was
already more than a month overdue. Could grateful colleagues be blamed
if they forgot their obligations when they were asked to offer
pecuniary help to a merchant in this situation? Ernest returned to his
office without money and without credit.
A man threatened by ruin is in no state of mind to keep an
engagement at a lady's tea-table. Ernest sent a letter of apology to
Mrs. Callender, alleging extreme pressure of business as the excuse
for breaking his engagement.
“Am I to wait for an answer, sir?” the messenger asked.
“No; you are merely to leave the letter.”
In an hour's time, to Ernest's astonishment, the messenger returned
with a reply.
“The lady was just going out, sir, when I rang at the door,” he
explained, “and she took the letter from me herself. She didn't
appear to know your handwriting, and she asked me who I came from.
When I mentioned your name I was ordered to wait.”
Ernest opened the letter.
“DEAR MR. LISMORE: One of us must speak out, and your letter of
apology forces me to be that one. If you are really so proud and so
distrustful as you seem to be, I shall offend you; if not, I shall
prove myself to be your friend.
“Your excuse is 'pressure of business'; the truth (as I have good
reason to believe) is 'want of money.' I heard a stranger at that
public meeting say that you were seriously embarrassed by some
failure in the City.
“Let me tell you what my own pecuniary position is in two words: I
am the childless widow of a rich man—”
Ernest paused. His anticipated discovery of Mrs. Callender's
“charming daughter” was in his mind for the moment. “That little
romance must return to the world of dreams,” he thought, and went on
with the letter.
“After what I owe to you, I don't regard it as repaying an
obligation; I consider myself as merely performing a duty when I
offer to assist you by a loan of money.
“Wait a little before you throw my letter into the waste-paper
“Circumstances (which it is impossible for me to mention before we
meet) put it out of my power to help you—unless I attach to my most
sincere offer of service a very unusual and very embarrassing
condition. If you are on the brink of ruin that misfortune will plead
my excuse—and your excuse too, if you accept the loan on my terms. In
any case, I rely on the sympathy and forbearance of the man to whom I
owe my life.
“After what I have now written, there is only one thing to add: I
beg to decline accepting your excuses, and I shall expect to see you
to-morrow evening, as we arranged. I am an obstinate old woman, but I
am also your faithful friend and servant,
Ernest looked up from the letter. “What can this possibly mean?”
But he was too sensible a man to be content with wondering; he
decided on keeping his engagement.
What Dr. Johnson called “the insolence of wealth” appears far more
frequently in the houses of the rich than in the manners of the rich.
The reason is plain enough. Personal ostentation is, in the very
nature of it, ridiculous; but the ostentation which exhibits
magnificent pictures, priceless china, and splendid furniture, can
purchase good taste to guide it, and can assert itself without
affording the smallest opening for a word of depreciation or a look
of contempt. If I am worth a million of money, and if I am dying to
show it, I don't ask you to look at me, I ask you to look at my house.
Keeping his engagement with Mrs. Callender, Ernest discovered that
riches might be lavishly and yet modestly used.
In crossing the hall and ascending the stairs, look where he might,
his notice was insensibly won by proofs of the taste which is not to
be purchased, and the wealth which uses, but never exhibits, its
purse. Conducted by a man-servant to the landing on the first floor,
he found a maid at the door of the boudoir waiting to announce him.
Mrs. Callender advanced to welcome her guest, in a simple evening
dress, perfectly suited to her age. All that had looked worn and faded
in her fine face by daylight was now softly obscured by shaded lamps.
Objects of beauty surrounded her, which glowed with subdued radiance
from their background of sober colour. The influence of appearances is
the strongest of all outward influences, while it lasts. For the
moment the scene produced its impression on Ernest, in spite of the
terrible anxieties which consumed him. Mrs. Callender in his office
was a woman who had stepped out of her appropriate sphere. Mrs.
Callender in her own house was a woman who had risen to a new place in
“I am afraid you don't thank me for forcing you to keep your
engagement,” she said, with her friendly tones and her pleasant
“Indeed I do thank you,” he replied. “Your beautiful house and your
gracious welcome have persuaded me into forgetting my troubles—for a
The smile passed away from her face. “Then it is true,” she said,
“Only too true.”
She led him to a seat beside her, and waited to speak again until
her maid had brought in the tea.
“Have you read my letter in the same friendly spirit in which I
wrote it? “she asked, when they were alone again.
“I have read your letter gratefully, but—”
“But you don't know yet what I have to say. Let us understand each
other before we make any objections on either side. Will you tell me
what your present position is—at its worst? I can, and will, speak
plainly when my turn comes, if you will honour me with your
confidence. Not if it distresses you,” she added, observing him
attentively. He was ashamed of his hesitation, and he made amends for
“Do you thoroughly understand me?” he asked, when the whole truth
had been laid before her without reserve.
She summed up the result in her own words: “If your overdue ship
returns safely within a month from this time, you can borrow the
money you want without difficulty. If the ship is lost, you have no
alternative, when the end of the month comes, but to accept a loan
from me or to suspend payment. Is that the hard truth?”
“And the sum you require is—twenty thousand pounds?”
“I have twenty times as much money as that, Mr. Lismore, at my sole
disposal—on one condition.”
“The condition alluded to in your letter?”
“Does the fulfilment of the condition depend in some way on any
decision of mine?”
“It depends entirely on you.”
That answer closed his lips.
With a composed manner and a steady hand, she poured herself out a
cup of tea. “I conceal it from you,” she said, “but I want confidence
Here” (she pointed to the cup) “is the friend of women, rich or poor,
when they are in trouble. What I have now to say obliges me to speak
in praise of myself. I don't like it; let me get it over as soon as I
can. My husband was very fond of me; he had the most absolute
confidence in my discretion, and in my sense of duty to him and to
myself. His last words before he died were words that thanked me for
making the happiness of his life. As soon as I had in some degree
recovered after the affliction that had fallen on me, his lawyer and
executor produced a copy of his will, and said there were two clauses
in it which my husband had expressed a wish that I should read. It is
needless to say that I obeyed.” mit to certain restrictions, which,
remembering my position, you will understand and excuse.
“We are to live together, it is unnecessary to say, as mother and
son. The marriage ceremony is to be strictly private, and you are so
to arrange our affairs that, immediately afterward, we leave England
for any foreign place which you prefer. Some of my friends, and
(perhaps) some of your friends, will certainly misinterpret our
motives, if we stay in our own country, in a manner which would be
unendurable to a woman like me.
“As to our future lives, I have the most perfect confidence in you,
and I should leave you in the same position of independence which you
occupy now. When you wish for my company you will always be welcome.
At other times you are your own master. I live on my side of the
house, and you live on yours; and I am to be allowed my hours of
solitude every day in the pursuit of musical occupations, which have
been happily associated with all my past life, and which I trust
confidently to your indulgence.
“A last word, to remind you of what you may be too kind to think
“At my age, you cannot, in the course of nature. be troubled by
the society of a grateful old woman for many years. You are young
enough to look forward to another marriage, which shall be something
more than a mere form. Even if you meet with the happy woman in my
lifetime, honestly tell me of it, and I promise to tell her that she
has only to wait.
“In the meantime, don't think, because I write composedly, that I
write heartlessly. You pleased and interested me when I first saw you
at the public meeting. I don't think I could have proposed what you
call this sacrifice of myself to a man who had personally repelled me,
though I have felt my debt of gratitude as sincerely as ever. Whether
your ship is safe or whether your ship is lost, old Mary Callender
likes you, and owns it without false shame.
“Let me have your answer this evening, either personally or by
letter, whichever you like best.”
Mrs. Callender received a written answer long before the evening.
It said much in few words:
“A man impenetrable to kindness might be able to resist your
letter. I am not that man. Your great heart has conquered me.”
The few formalities which precede marriage by special license were
observed by Ernest. While the destiny of their future lives was still
in suspense, an unacknowledged feeling of embarrassment on either side
kept Ernest and Mrs. Callender apart. Every day brought the lady her
report of the state of affairs in the City, written always in the same
words: “No news of the ship.”
On the day before the ship-owner's liabilities became due the terms
of the report from the City remained unchanged, and the special
license was put to its contemplated use. Mrs. Callender's lawyer and
Mrs. Callender's maid were the only persons trusted with the secret.
Leaving the chief clerk in charge of the business, with every
pecuniary demand on his employer satisfied in full, the strangely
married pair quitted England.
They arranged to wait for a few days in Paris, to receive any
letters of importance which might have been addressed to Ernest in
the interval. On the evening of their arrival a telegram from London
was waiting at their hotel. It announced that the missing ship had
passed up channel—undiscovered in a fog until she reached the Downs
—on the day before Ernest's liabilities fell due.
“Do you regret it?” Mrs. Lismore said to her husband.
“Not for a moment!” he answered.
They decided on pursuing their journey as far as Munich.
Mrs. Lismore's taste for music was matched by Ernest's taste for
painting. In his leisure hours he cultivated the art, and delighted
in it. The picture-galleries of Munich were almost the only galleries
in Europe which he had not seen. True to the engagements to which she
had pledged herself, his wife was willing to go wherever it might
please him to take her. The one suggestion she made was that they
should hire furnished apartments. If they lived at a hotel friends of
the husband or the wife (visitors like themselves to the famous city)
might see their names in the book or might meet them at the door.
They were soon established in a house large enough to provide them
with every accommodation which they required. Ernest's days were
passed in the galleries, Mrs. Lismore remaining at home, devoted to
her music, until it was time to go out with her husband for a drive.
Living together in perfect amity and concord, they were nevertheless
not living happily. Without any visible reason for the change, Mrs.
Lismore's spirits were depressed. On the one occasion when Ernest
noticed it she made an effort to be cheerful, which it distressed him
to see. He allowed her to think that she had relieved him of any
further anxiety. Whatever doubts he might feel were doubts delicately
concealed from that time forth.
But when two people are living together in a state of artificial
tranquillity, it seems to be a law of nature that the element of
disturbance gathers unseen, and that the outburst comes inevitably
with the lapse of time.
In ten days from the date of their arrival at Munich the crisis
came. Ernest returned later than usual from the picture-gallery, and,
for the first time in his wife's experience, shut himself up in his
He appeared at the dinner hour with a futile excuse. Mrs. Lismore
waited until the servant had withdrawn.
“Now, Ernest,” she said, “it's time to tell me the truth.”
Her manner, when she said those few words, took him by surprise.
She was unquestionably confused, and, instead of looking at him, she
trifled with the fruit on her plate. Embarrassed on his side, he could
“I have nothing to tell.”
“Were there many visitors at the gallery?” she asked.
“About the same as usual.”
“Any that you particularly noticed?” she went on. “I mean among
He laughed uneasily.
“You forget how interested I am in the pictures,” he said.
There was a pause. She looked up at him, and suddenly looked away
again; but—he saw it plainly—there were tears in her eyes.
“Do you mind turning down the gas?” she said. “My eyes have been
weak all day.”
He complied with her request the more readily, having his own
reasons for being glad to escape the glaring scrutiny of the light.
“I think I will rest a little on the sofa,” she resumed. In the
position which he occupied his back would have been now turned on
her. She stopped him when he tried to move his chair. “I would rather
not look at you, Ernest,” she said, “when you have lost confidence in
Not the words, but the tone, touched all that was generous and
noble in his nature. He left his place and knelt beside her, and
opened to her his whole heart.
“Am I not unworthy of you?” he asked, when it was over.
She pressed his hand in silence.
“I should be the most ungrateful wretch living,” he said, “if I did
not think of you, and you only, now that my confession is made. We
will leave Munich to-morrow, and, if resolution can help me, I will
only remember the sweetest woman my eyes ever looked on as the
creature of a dream.”
She hid her face on his breast, and reminded him of that letter of
her writing which had decided the course of their lives.
“When I thought you might meet the happy woman in my lifetime I
said to you, 'Tell me of it, and I promise to tell her that she has
only to wait.' Time must pass, Ernest, before it can be needful to
perform my promise, but you might let me see her. If you find her in
the gallery to-morrow you might bring her here.”
Mrs. Lismore's request met with no refusal. Ernest was only at a
loss to know how to grant it.
“You tell me she is a copyist of pictures,” his wife reminded him.
“She will be interested in hearing of the portfolio of drawings by
the great French artists which I bought for you in Paris. Ask her to
come and see them, and to tell you if she can make some copies; and
say, if you like, that I shall be glad to become acquainted with her.”
He felt her breath beating fast on his bosom. In the fear that she
might lose all control over herself, he tried to relieve her by
“What an invention yours is!” he said. “If my wife ever tries to
deceive me, I shall be a mere child in her hands.”
She rose abruptly from the sofa, kissed him on the forehead, and
said wildly, “I shall be better in bed!” Before he could move or
speak she had left him.
The next morning he knocked at the door of his wife's room, and
asked how she had passed the night.
“I have slept badly,” she answered, “and I must beg you to excuse
my absence at breakfast-time.” She called him back as he was about to
withdraw. “Remember,” she said, “when you return from the gallery
to-day I expect that you will not return alone.”
Three hours later he was at home again. The young lady's services
as a copyist were at his disposal; she had returned with him to look
at the drawings.
The sitting-room was empty when they entered it. He rang for his
wife's maid, and was informed that Mrs. Lismore had gone out. Refusing
to believe the woman, he went to his wife's apartments. She was not to
When he returned to the sitting-room the young lady was not
unnaturally offended. He could make allowances for her being a little
out of temper at the slight that had been put on her; but he was
inexpressibly disconcerted by the manner—almost the coarse manner—in
which she expressed herself.
“I have been talking to your wife's maid while you have been away,”
she said. “I find you have married an old lady for her money. She is
jealous of me, of course?”
“Let me beg you to alter your opinion,” he answered. “You are
wronging my wife; she is incapable of any such feeling as you
attribute to her.”
The young lady laughed. “At any rate, you are a good husband,” she
said, satirically. “Suppose you own the truth: wouldn't you like her
better if she was young and pretty like me ?”
He was not merely surprised, he was disgusted. Her beauty had so
completely fascinated him when he first saw her that the idea of
associating any want of refinement and good breeding with such a
charming creature never entered his mind. The disenchantment to him
was already so complete that he was even disagreeably affected by the
tone of her voice; it was almost as repellent to him as thie
exhibition of unrestrained bad temper which she seemed perfectly
careless to conceal.
“I confess you surprise me,” he said, coldly.
The reply produced no effect on her. On the contrary, she became
more insolent than ever.
“I have a fertile fancy,” she went on, “and your absurd way of
taking a joke only encourages me! Suppose you could transform this
sour old wife of yours, who has insulted me, into the sweetest young
creature that ever lived by only holding up your finger, wouldn't you
This passed the limits of his endurance. “I have no wish,” he said,
“to forget the consideration which is due to a woman. You leave me
but one alternative.” He rose to go out of the room.
She ran to the door as he spoke, and placed herself in the way of
his going out.
He signed to her to let him pass.
She suddenly threw her arms round his neck, kissed him
passionately, and whispered, with her lips at his ear, “O Ernest,
forgive me! Could I have asked you to marry me for my money if I had
not taken refuge in a disguise?”
When he had sufficiently recovered to think he put her back from
him. “Is there an end of the deception now?” he asked, sternly. “Am I
to trust you in your new character?”
“You are not to be harder on me than I deserve,” she answered,
gently. “Did you ever hear of an actress named Miss Max?”
He began to understand her. “Forgive me if I spoke harshly,” he
said. “You have put me to a severe trial.”
She burst into tears. “Love,” she murmured. “is my only excuse.”
From that moment she had won her pardon. He took her hand and made
her sit by him.
“Yes,” he said, “I have heard of Miss Max, and of her wonderful
powers of personation; and I have always regretted not having seen
her while she was on the stage.”
“Did you hear anything more of her, Ernest?”
“Yes; I heard that she was a pattern of modesty and good conduct,
and that she gave up her profession at the height of her success to
marry an old man.”
“Will you come with me to my room?” she asked. “I have something
there which I wish to show you.”
It was the copy of her husband's will.
“Read the lines, Ernest, which begin at the top of the page. Let
my dead husband speak for me.”
The lines ran thus:
“My motive in marrying Miss Max must be stated in this place, in
justice to her, and, I will venture to add, in justice to myself. I
felt the sincerest sympathy for her position. She was without father,
mother, or friends, one of the poor forsaken children whom the mercy
of the foundling hospital provides with a home. Her after life on the
stage was the life of a virtuous woman, persecuted by profligates,
insulted by some of the baser creatures associated with her, to whom
she was an object of envy. I offered her a home and the protection of
a father, on the only terms which the world would recognise as worthy
of us. My experience of her since our marriage has been the experience
of unvarying goodness, sweetness, and sound sense. She has behaved so
nobly in a trying position that I wish her (even in this life) to have
her reward. I entreat her to make a second choice in marriage, which
shall not be a mere form. I firmly believe that she will choose well
and wisely, that she will make the happiness of a man who is worthy of
her, and that, as wife and mother, she will set an example of
inestimable value in the social sphere that she occupies. In proof of
the heartfelt sincerity with which I pay my tribute to her virtues, I
add to this, my will, the clause that follows.”
With the clause that followed Ernest was already acquainted.
“Will you now believe that I never loved till I saw your face for
the first time?” said his wife. “I had no experience to place me on
my guard against the fascination—the madness, some people might call
it—which possesses a woman when all her heart is given to a man.
Don't despise me, my dear! Remember that I had to save you from
disgrace and ruin. Besides, my old stage remembrances tempted me. I
had acted in a play in which the heroine did—what I have done. It
didn't end with me as it did with her in the story. She was
represented as rejoicing in the success of her disguise. I have known
some miserable hours of doubt and shame since our marriage. When I
went to meet you in my own person at the picture-gallery, oh, what
relief, what joy I felt when I saw how you admired me! It was not
because I could no longer carry on the disguise; I was able to get
hours of rest from the effort, not only at night, but in the daytime,
when I was shut up in my retirement in the music-room, and when my
maid kept watch against discovery. No, my love! I hurried on the
disclosure because I could no longer endure the hateful triumph of my
own deception. Ah, look at that witness against me! I can't bear even
to see it.”
She abruptly left him. The drawer that she had opened to take out
the copy of the will also contained the false gray hair which she had
discarded. It had only that moment attracted her notice. She snatched
it up and turned to the fireplace.
Ernest took it from her before she could destroy it. “Give it to
me,” he said.
He drew her gently to his bosom, and answered, “I must not forget
my old wife.”