"I knew you could do it," said Hodgson, "I felt sure of it merely from seeing that comedietta of yours at the Queen's. I never make a mistake."
Correction under the circ.u.mstances would have been unkind. Promising to see him again in the morning, I left him with his customary good conceit of himself unimpaired, and went on to the Square. I rang twice, but there was no response. I was about to sound a third and final summons, when Norah joined me on the step. She had been out shopping and was laden with parcels.
"We must wait to shake hands," she laughed, as she opened the door. "I hope you have not been kept long. Poor Annette grows deafer every day."
"Have you n.o.body in the house with you but Annette?" I asked.
"No one. You know it was a whim of his. I used to get quite cross with him at times. But I should not like to go against his wishes--now."
"Was there any reason for it?" I asked.
"No," she answered; "if there had been I could have argued him out of it." She paused at the door of the studio. "I'll just get rid of these,"
she said, "and then I will be with you."
A wood fire was burning on the open hearth, flashing alternate beams of light and shadow down the long bare room. The high oak stool stood in its usual place beside the engraving desk, upon which lay old Deleglise's last unfinished plate, emitting a dull red glow. I paced the creaking boards with halting steps, as through some ghostly gallery hung with dim portraits of the dead and living. In a little while Norah entered and came to me with outstretched hand.
"We will not light the lamp," she said, "the firelight is so pleasant."
"But I want to see you," I replied.
She had seated herself upon the broad stone kerb. With her hand she stirred the logs; they shot into a clear white flame. Thus, the light upon her face, she raised it gravely towards mine. It spoke to me with fuller voice. The clear grey eyes were frank and steadfast as ever, but shadow had pa.s.sed into them, deepening them, illuminating them.
For a s.p.a.ce we talked of our two selves, our trivial plans and doings.
"Tom left something to you," said Norah, rising, "not in his will, that was only a few lines. He told me to give it to you, with his love."
She brought it to me. It was the picture he had always treasured, his first success; a child looking on death; "The Riddle" he had named it.
We spoke of him, of his work, which since had come to be appraised at truer value, for it was out of fashion while he lived.
"Was he a disappointed man, do you think?" I asked.
"No," answered Norah. "I am sure not. He was too fond of his work."
"But he dreamt of becoming a second Millet. He confessed it to me once.
And he died an engraver."
"But they were good engravings," smiled Norah.
"I remember a favourite saying of his," continued Norah, after a pause; "I do not know whether it was original or not. 'The stars guide us. They are not our goal.'"
"Ah, yes, we aim at the moon and--hit the currant bush."
"It is necessary always to allow for deflection," laughed Norah.
"Apparently it takes a would-be poet to write a successful comic opera."
"Ah, you do not understand!" I cried. "It was not mere ambition; cap and bells or laurel wreath! that is small matter. I wanted to help. The world's cry of pain, I used to hear it as a boy. I hear it yet. I meant to help. They that are heavy laden. I hear their cry. They cry from dawn to dawn and none heed them: we pa.s.s upon the other side. Man and woman, child and beast. I hear their dumb cry in the night. The child's sob in the silence, the man's fierce curse of wrong. The dog beneath the vivisector's knife, the overdriven brute, the creature tortured for an hour that a gourmet may enjoy an instant's pleasure; they cried to me.
The wrong and the sorrow and the pain, the long, low, endless moan G.o.d's ears are weary of; I hear it day and night. I thought to help."
I had risen. She took my face between her quiet, cool hands.
"What do we know? We see but a corner of the scheme. This fortress of laughter that a few of you have been set apart to guard--this rallying-point for all the forces of joy and gladness! how do you know it may not be the key to the whole battle! It is far removed from the grand charges and you think yourself forgotten. Trust your leader, be true to your post."
I looked into her sweet grey eyes.
"You always help me," I said.
"Do I?" she answered. "I am so glad."
She put her firm white hand in mine.
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