Phyllis meant the half hour which would elapse before her tea was brought to her to be a very grateful space. She meant to dwell upon the achievement of her freedom, for the feeling that she was free was very sweet to her. The fetters that had bound her had been flung away, and she now only had a splendid sense of freedom. So sweet was this sense that she made up her mind that in future it would never do for her to run any such risk as that to which she had just subjected herself. How could she ever have been such a fool as to promise to marry George Holland? That was what she was asking herself as she lay back on the pillows of the French sofa, and listened to the soft sound of the carriage wheels of the callers at the other houses in the square.

What a singular wish that was of hers—to become the wife of a clergyman! It seemed very singular to her just now. Just now she did not want to become the wife of anyone, and she hoped that no one would ask her. She did not want the worry of it. Ah, she would be very careful in the future: she would take very good care that the fact of other girls wanting to marry one particular man would not make her anxious to have him all to herself.

Before her resolutions on this very important point had been fully considered in all their bearings, her maid entered to ask if she was at home. The butler had sent a footman to her to make that inquiry, the fact being that her particular friend, Mrs. Linton, had called to see her.

Phyllis jumped up, saying:

“Of course I am home to Mrs. Linton. She will have tea with me.”

She went to a glass to see if the tears which had been in her eyes—they had not fallen—had left any traces that the acuteness of Ella Linton might detect. The result of her observation was satisfactory; she would not even need to sit with her back to the light.

Then Mrs. Linton was announced, and flowed into the arms of her friend Phyllis, crying:

“Of course I knew that you would be at home to me, my beloved, even though you might be in the midst of one of those brilliant speeches which you write out for your father to deliver in the House and cause people to fancy that he is the wittiest man in place—so unlike that dreadful teetotal man who grins through the horse collar and thinks that people are imposed on. Now let me look at you, you lucky girl! You are a lucky girl, you know.”

“Yes,” said Phyllis, “you have called on me. We shall have tea in a minute. How good of you to come to me the first day you arrived in town! How well you are looking, my Ella!”

“So glad you think so,” said Ella. “I haven’t aged much during the eight months we have been apart. I have had a very good time on the whole, and so had Stephen, though he was with me for close upon a month, poor little man! But it is you, Phyllis, it is you who are the girl of the hour. Heavens! you were farsighted! Who could have imagined that he would become so famous all in a moment? I must confess that when you wrote to me that letter telling me of your engagement, and how happy you were, I was a little cross. I could not clearly see you the wife of a parson, even so presentable a parson as Mr. Holland. Oh, of course I wrote you the usual exuberant letter—what would be the good of doing anything else? But now that he has become famous—Oh, I want you to bring him with you to my first At Home—Tuesday week. It’s very short notice, I know, but you must come, and bring him. You are both certain to be in great demand. Why do you shake your head that way? You need not say that you are engaged for Tuesday week.”

“I will not say that I am engaged at all, in any sense,” said Phyllis, with a very shallow laugh, at laugh that sounded like a ripple among pebbles; her usual laugh was like a ripple upon a silver sand.

“In any sense—for Tuesday week?”

Ella raised her eyebrows to the extent of the eighth of an inch. She lowered them in a moment, however, for the tea was being brought in. It required two able-bodied men (in plush) to carry in a dainty little silver tray, with a little silver tea-pot of a pattern that silversmiths, for reasons which have never been fully explained, call “Queen Anne.” One of the men, however, devoted himself to the care of the hot cakes of various subtle types which were inclosed in silver covered dishes.

With the lowering of her eyebrows Mrs. Linton’s voice lost its previous inflection.

“I have been fortunate enough to hit upon something distinctly new in that way”—she indicated the muffin dishes. “A cake that may be eaten hot without removing one’s gloves.”

“What a boon!” cried Phyllis. “You got it at Vienna, of course.”

“Of course. You will learn all about it when you come.”

The able-bodied men withdrew, and before the door was quite closed behind them, Ella was gazing at her friend, her face alight with inquiry.

“Now pray explain yourself,” she whispered. “Not engaged in any sense—those were your words. What do they mean?”

“Take them literally, my Ella,” said Phyllis.

“Literally? But you wrote to me that you had engaged yourself to marry Mr. Holland?”

“And now I tell you by word of mouth that I have disengaged myself.”

“Good Heavens! You, I fancied, would be the last girl in the world to promise to marry a man and then back out of it.”

“That was what I myself fancied up till Monday last.”

“But how can you have changed your mind? Isn’t it very unfortunate—just when the man has become famous?”

“How could it be otherwise, Ella, when the man wrote so horrible a book as that?”

“Horrible? Is it horrible? I had no idea. I’m no judge of what is horrible in theology, or metaphysics, or whatever it is. But I do profess to know when a man has made a hit, whether in theology or anything else; and I perceive quite clearly that your Mr. Holland—well, not your Mr. Holland, has made a distinct hit. What sort of face is that you’re making at me? Oh, I see. It’s the face of the orthodox at the mention of something not quite orthodox. Pshut! don’t be a goose, Phyllis.”

“I don’t intend. Have I not told you that I’m not going to marry Mr. Holland?”

“That is like one of the phrases which you give to your father, so that the people might think him clever. Orthodox! Who cares nowadays for what is dully orthodox? Who ever heard of a hero in orthodoxy nowadays? The thing is impossible. There may be, of course, thousands of orthodox heroes, but one never hears anything of them. The planets Jupiter and Saturn and Mercury and Mars and the rest of them come and go at their appointed seasons, and no one ever gives them a second thought, poor old respectable things! but the moment a comet appears in the sky everyone rushes out to gaze at it, and the newspapers deal with it from day to day, and the illustrated papers give its portrait. Nothing could be more unorthodox than your comet. Oh, Phyllis, my child, don’t talk nowadays of orthodoxy or the other—what do they call it?—heterodoxy. Mr. Holland’s name will be in everyone’s mouth for the next year at least, and if his bishop or a friendly church warden prosecutes him, and the thing is worked up properly, he ought to be before the public for the next five years.”

“Oh, Ella!”

“I’m not overstating the case, I assure you, my dear. A man was telling me about one Colenso—he was, so far as I could gather, a first-class man at algebra and heresy and things like that. He was Bishop of Zanzibar or Uganda or some place, and he wrote a book about Moses—showing that Moses couldn’t have written something or other. Well, he took a bit of prosecuting, five or six years, I believe, and he didn’t go nearly so far as Mr. Holland does in that book of his. All this time people talked about little else but Colenso, and his books made him a fortune. That was before our time, dear—when the newspapers weren’t worked as they are now. Block printing has made more heroes than the longest campaign on record. Yes, Mr. Courtland said so two days ago. I think I’ll try some more of that lovely cake: it’s like warm ice, isn’t it? Oh, you’ll not be so foolish as to throw over your Mr. Holland.”

“It is already done,” said Phyllis. “I’m so glad that you like the cake. It is very subtle. What a delightful idea—warm ice!”

“Never mind the cake. I want to hear more of this matter of Mr. Holland,” said Ella. “Do you mean to tell me plainly that you threw over Mr. Holland because he wrote a book that will bring him fame and fortune?”

“I have thrown over Mr. Holland because he has written a book to make people have contempt for the Bible,” said Phyllis.

“Then all I can say is that you were never in love with the man,” cried Ella.

“You may say that if you please.”

“I do say it. If a girl really loves a man, she will marry him even though he should write a book against Darwin. If a girl really loves a man she will stand by him all the closer when he is undergoing a course of honorable persecution, with his portrait in every paper that one picks up.”

“I dare say that is true enough,” assented Phyllis. “Perhaps I never did really love Mr. Holland. Perhaps I only fancied I cared for him because I saw that so many other girls—took to wearing chocolates and grays and kept their sleeves down just when sleeves were highest.”

“Of course it was only natural that you should wish to—well, colloquially, to wipe the eyes of the other girls. How many girls, I should like to know, begin to think of a man as a possible husband until they perceive that the thoughts of other girls are turned in his direction?”

“At any rate, whatever I may have done long ago—”

“Three months ago.”

“Three months ago. Whatever I may have done then, I know that I don’t love him now.”

“Don’t be too sure, my dear Phyllis. If there is one thing more than another about which a woman should never be positive, it is whether or not she loves a particular man. What mistakes they make! No, I’ll never believe that you turned him adrift simply because he wrote something disparagingly about Solomon, or was it David? And I did so want you and him for my next day; I meant it to be such a coup, to have returned to town only a week and yet to have the most outrageously unorthodox parson at my house. Ah, that would indeed have been a coup! Never mind, I can at least have the beautiful girl who, though devoted to the unorthodox parson, threw him over on account of his unorthodoxy.”

“Yes, you are certain of me—that is, if you think I should—if it wouldn’t seem a little——”

“What nonsense, Phyllis! Where have you been living for the past twenty-three years that you should get such a funny notion into your head? Do you think that girls nowadays absent themselves from felicity awhile when they find it necessary to become—well, disengaged—yes, or divorced, for that matter?”

“I really can’t recollect any case of—”

“Of course you can’t. They don’t exist. The proper thing for a women to do when she gets a divorce is to take a box at a theatre and give the audience a chance of recognizing her from her portraits that have already appeared in the illustrated papers. The block printing has done that too. There’s not a theatre manager in London who wouldn’t give his best box to a woman who has come straight from the divorce court. The managers recognize the fact that she is in the same line as themselves. But for you, my dear Phyllis—oh, you will never do him the injustice to keep your throwing over of him a secret.”

“Injustice? Oh, Ella!”

“I say injustice. Good gracious, child! cannot you see that if it becomes known that the girl who had promised to marry him has broken off her engagement to him simply because he has written that book, the interest that attaches to him on account of his unorthodoxy will be immeasurably increased?”

“I will not do him the injustice of fancying for a moment that he would be gratified on this account. Whatever he may be, Ella, he is at least sincere and single-minded in his aims.”

“I have no doubt of it, my only joy. But however sincere a man may be in his aims, he still cannot reasonably object to the distinction that is thrust upon him when he has done something out of the common. The men who make books know that that sort of thing pays. Someone told me the other day—I believe it was Herbert Courtland—that it is the men who write books embodying a great and noble aim who make the closest bargains with their publishers. I heard of a great and good clergyman the other day who wrote a Life of Christ, and then complained in the papers of his publishers having only given him a miserable percentage on the profits. That is how they talk nowadays; the profit resulting from the Life of Christ is to be measured in pounds, shillings, and pence.”

“Mr. Holland is not a man of this stamp, Ella.”

“I’m sure he is not. At the same time if he isn’t prosecuted for heterodoxy no one will be more disappointed than Mr. Holland, unless, indeed, it be Mr. Holland’s publisher. Who would begrudge the martyr his halo, dear? Even the most sincere and single-minded martyr has an eye on that halo. The halo of the up-to-date martyr is made up of afternoon teas provided by fair women, and full-page portraits in the illustrated papers.”

“And all this leads to—what?”

“It leads to—let me see—oh, yes, it leads to your appearance at my little gathering. Of course, you’ll come. Believe me, you’ll not feel the least uncomfortable. You will be The Girl who Sacrificed her Love for Conscience’ Sake. That’s a good enough qualification for distinction on the part of any girl in these hard times. But I might have known long ago that you would play this part. That sweetly pathetic voice, with that firm mouth and those lovely soft gray eyes that would seem to a casual observer to neutralize the firmness of the mouth. Oh, yes, my Phyllis, you have undoubtedly la physionomie du role.”

“What role?”

“The role of the girl who is on the side of the Bible.”

“I am certainly on the side of the Bible.”

“And so am I. So I will look for you to be by my side on Tuesday week, and as often as you please in the meantime. By the way, you will probably meet Herbert Courtland at our house. He is the New Guinea man, you know.”

“Of course I know. You talk of wanting heroes in orthodoxy at your house, while you have Mr. Courtland, the New Guinea explorer, drinking his tea at your elbow? Oh, go away!”

“I hope you will like him. We saw a good deal of him in Italy, and will probably see a good deal of him here.”

“I’m certain to like him: you like him.”

“Ah, that’s what you said to the young women who put off their colors and took to sackcloth in the presence of Mr. Holland. Don’t be too sure that you will like any man because other women like him. Now, I have, as usual, remained too long with you. I’m greatly impressed with the situation of the moment. I don’t say that I think you are wrong, mind you. Girls should always be on the side of the Bible. At any rate you have, I repeat, la physionomie du role, and you can’t be far astray if you act up to it. Good-bye, my dearest.”

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook