tune moment possible, and it came accordingly now.

For as he made that pause, some one passed him whom he could not but look after with a certain interest. She went past him with a whisk, as if she too was not without reminiscences. It was not such a figure as a romantic young man would be attracted by on such a sudden meeting, and it was not attraction but recollection that moved Mr Cavendish. It was the figure of a large woman in a large shawl, not very gracefully put on, and making her look very square about the shoulders and bunchy at the neck; and the robe that was whisked past him was that peculiar kind of faded silk gown which looks and rustles like tin, or some other thin metallic substance. He made that momentary pause at the street corner, and then he went on slowly, not following her, to be sure, but merely, as he said to himself, pursuing his own course; for it was just as easy to get into Grange Lane by the farther end as by this end. He went along very slowly, and the lady before him walked quickly, even with something like a bounce of excitement, and went in at Mr Lake's door long before Mr Cavendish had reached it. When he came up on a level with the parlour window, which was partially open though the evening was so cold, Mr Cavendish positively started, notwithstanding the old associations which had been rising in his mind; for there was pouring forth from the half-open window such a volume of melody as had not been heard for years in Grove Street. Perhaps the voice had lost some of its freshness, but in the surprise of the moment the hearer was not critical; and its volume and force seemed even greater than before.

It has been already mentioned in this history that a contralto had a special charm for Mr Cavendish. He was so struck that he stood stock-still for the moment, not knowing what to make of it; and then he wavered for another moment, with a sudden sense that the old allegorical crisis had occurred to him, and that Pleasure, in a magnificent gush of song, wooed him on one side, while Duty, with still small voice, called him at the other. He stood still, he wavered—for fifty seconds perhaps the issue was uncertain, and the victim was still within reach of salvation; but the result in such a case depends very much upon whether a man really likes doing his duty, which is by no means an invariable necessity. Mr Cavendish had in the abstract no sort of desire to do his unless when he could not help it, and consequently his resistance to temptation was very feeble. He was standing knocking at Mr Lake's door before half the thoughts appropriate to the occasion had got through his mind, and found himself sitting on the Httle sofa in Mr Lake's parlour as he VOL. III. N

used to do ten years ago, before he could explain to himself how he came there. It was all, surely, a kind of enchantment altogether. He was there—he who had been so long away from Carlingford—he who had been so deeply offended by hearing his name seriously coupled with that of Barbara Lake—he who ought to have been anywhere in the world rather than here upon the eve of his election, when all the world was keeping watch over his conduct. And it was Barbara who sat at the piano singing—singing one of the same songs, as if she had spent the entire interval in that occupation, and never had done anything else all these years. The sensation was so strange that Mr Cavendish may be excused for feeling a little uncertainty as to whether or not he was dreaming, which made him unable to answer himself the graver question whether or not he was doing what he ought to do. He did not seem to be able to make out whether it was now or ten years ago—whether he was a young man free to amuse himself, or a man who was getting stout, and upon whom the eyes of an anxious constituency were fixed. And then, after being so virtuous for a length of time, a forbidden pleasure was sweet.

Mr Cavendish's ideas, however, gradually arranged themselves as he sat in the corner of the little haircloth sofa, and began to take in the differences as well as the bewildering resemblances of the present and past. Barbara, like himself, had changed. She did not insult him, as Lucilla had done, by fresh looks and mischievous candour about " going off." Barbara had gone off, like himself, and, like himself, did not mean to acknowledge it. She had expanded all over, as was natural to a contralto. Her eyes were blacker and more brilliant in a way, but they were eyes which owned an indescribable amount of usage; and her cheeks, too, wore the deep roses of old, deepened and fixed by wear and tear. Instead of feeling ashamed of himself in her presence, as he had done in Lucilla's, Mr Cavendish felt somehow consoled and justified and sympathetic. "Poor soul!" he said to himself, as he sat by while she was singing. She, too, had been in the wars, and had not come out scatheless. She did not reproach him, nor commiserate him, nor look at him with that mixture of wonder and tolerance and pity which other people had manifested. She did not even remark that he had grown stout. He was not a man fallen, fallen, fallen from his high estate, to Barbara. She herself had fallen from the pinnacles of youth, and Mr Cavendish was still a great man in her eyes. She sang for him as she had sung ten years ago, and received him with a flutter of suppressed delight, and in her satisfaction was full of excitement. The hard-worked candidate sank deeper and deeper into the corner of the sofa and listened to the music, and felt it very soothing and pleasant, for everybody had united in goading him on rather than petting him for the last month or two of his life.

"Now tell me something about yourself," he said, when the song was over, and Barbara had turned round, as she used to do in old times, on her musicstool; "I hear you have been away, like me."

"Not like you," said Barbara, "for you went because you pleased, and I went"

"Why did you go?" asked Mr Cavendish.

"Because I could not stay here any longer," said Barbara, with her old vehemence; "because I was

talked about, and looked down upon, and Well,

never mind, that's all over now; and I am sure I am very glad to see you, Mr Cavendish, as & friend."

And with that something like a tear came into her eye. She had been knocked about a good deal in the world, and though she had not learned much, still she had learned that she was young no longer, and could not indulge in the caprices of that past condition of existence. Mr Cavendish, for his part, could not but smile at this intimation that he was to be received as a friend, and consequently need not have any fear of Barbara's fascinations,—as if a woman of her age, worn and gone off as she was, could be supposed dangerous; but still he was touched by her tone.

"We were once very good friends, Barbara," said

« ForrigeFortsett »