'Jasper has shown himself in an unusually amiable light since we left town. I looked forward to this holiday with some misgivings, as I know by experience that it doesn't do for him and us to be too much together; he gets tired of our company, and then his selfishness--believe me, he has a good deal of it--comes out in a way we don't appreciate. But I have never known him so forbearing. To me he is particularly kind, on account of my headaches and general shakiness. It isn't impossible that this young man, if all goes well with him, may turn out far better than Maud and I ever expected. But things will have to go very well, if the improvement is to be permanent. I only hope he may make a lot of money before long. If this sounds rather gross to you, I can only say that Jasper's moral nature will never be safe as long as he is exposed to the risks of poverty. There are such people, you know. As a poor man, I wouldn't trust him out of my sight; with money, he will be a tolerable creature--as men go.'
Dora, no doubt, had her reasons for writing in this strain. She would not have made such remarks in conversation with her friend, but took the opportunity of being at a distance to communicate them in writing.
On their return, the two girls made good progress with the book they were manufacturing for Messrs Jolly and Monk, and early in October it was finished. Dora was now writing little things for The English Girl, and Maud had begun to review an occasional novel for an illustrated paper. In spite of their poor lodgings, they had been brought into social relations with Mrs Boston Wright and a few of her friends; their position was understood, and in accepting invitations they had no fear lest unwelcome people should pounce down upon them in their shabby little sitting-room. The younger sister cared little for society such as Jasper procured them; with Marian Yule for a companion she would have been quite content to spend her evenings at home. But Maud relished the introduction to strangers. She was admired, and knew it. Prudence could not restrain her from buying a handsomer dress than those she had brought from her country home, and it irked her sorely that she might not reconstruct all her equipment to rival the appearance of well-to-do girls whom she studied and envied. Her disadvantages, for the present, were insuperable. She had no one to chaperon her; she could not form intimacies because of her poverty. A rare invitation to luncheon, a permission to call at the sacred hour of small-talk--this was all she could hope for.
'I advise you to possess your soul in patience,' Jasper said to her, as they talked one day on the sea-shore. 'You are not to blame that you live without conventional protection, but it necessitates your being very careful. These people you are getting to know are not rigid about social observances, and they won't exactly despise you for poverty; all the same, their charity mustn't be tested too severely. Be very quiet for the present; let it be seen that you understand that your position isn't quite regular--I mean, of course, do so in a modest and nice way. As soon as ever it's possible, we'll arrange for you to live with someone who will preserve appearances. All this is contemptible, of course; but we belong to a contemptible society, and can't help ourselves. For Heaven's sake, don't spoil your chances by rashness; be content to wait a little, till some more money comes in.'
Midway in October, about half-past eight one evening, Jasper received an unexpected visit from Dora. He was in his sitting-room, smoking and reading a novel.
'Anything wrong?' he asked, as his sister entered.
'No; but I'm alone this evening, and I thought I would see if you were in.
'She went to see the Lanes this afternoon, and Mrs Lane invited her to go to the Gaiety to-night; she said a friend whom she had invited couldn't come, and the ticket would be wasted. Maud went back to dine with them. She'll come home in a cab.'
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