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Title: Sir George Tressady — Volume II
Author: Ward, Humphry, Mrs., 1851-1920
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sir George Tressady — Volume II" ***

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SIR GEORGE TRESSADY, VOLUME II

IN TWO VOLUMES

BY

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

AUTHOR OF "MARCELLA," "THE HISTORY OF DAVID GRIEVE,"
"ROBERT ELSMERE," ETC.



VOLUME II.



PART II



CHAPTER XIII


On a hot morning at the end of June, some four weeks after the Castle
Luton visit, George Tressady walked from Brook Street to Warwick Square,
that he might obtain his mother's signature to a document connected with
the Shapetsky negotiations, and go on from there to the House of Commons.

She was not in the drawing-room, and George amused himself during his
minutes of waiting by inspecting the various new photographs of the
Fullerton family that were generally to be found on her table. What a
characteristic table it was, littered with notes and bills, with patterns
from every London draper, with fashion-books and ladies' journals
innumerable! And what a characteristic room, with its tortured
decorations and crowded furniture, and the flattered portraits of Lady
Tressady, in every caprice of costume, which covered the walls! George
looked round it all with an habitual distaste; yet not without the secret
admission that his own drawing-room was very like it.

His mother might, he feared, have a scene in preparation for him.

For Letty, under cover of some lame excuse or other, had persisted in
putting off the visit which Lady Tressady had intended to pay them at
Ferth during the Whitsuntide recess, and since their return to town
there had been no meeting whatever between the two ladies. George,
indeed, had seen his mother two or three times. But even he had just let
ten days pass without visiting her. He supposed he should find her in a
mood of angry complaint; nor could he deny that there would be some
grounds for it.

"Good morning, George," said a sharp voice, which startled him as he was
replacing a photograph of the latest Fullerton baby. "I thought you had
forgotten your way here by now."

"Why, mother, I am very sorry," he said, as he kissed her. "But I
have really been terribly busy, what with two Committees and this
important debate."

"Oh! don't make excuses, pray. And of course--for Letty--you won't even
attempt it. I wouldn't if I were you."

Lady Tressady settled herself on a chair with her back to the light, and
straightened the ribbons on her dress with hasty fingers. Something in
her voice struck George. He looked at her closely.

"Is there anything wrong, mother? You don't look very well."

Lady Tressady got up hurriedly, and began to move about the room, picking
up a letter here, straightening a picture there. George felt a sudden
prick of alarm. Were there some new revelations in store for him? But
before he could speak she interrupted him.

"I should be very well if it weren't for this heat," she said pettishly.
"Do put that photograph down, George!--you do fidget so! Haven't you got
any news for me--anything to amuse me? Oh! those horrid papers!--I see.
Well! they'll wait a little. By the way, the 'Morning Post' says that
young scamp, Lord Ancoats, has gone abroad. I suppose that girl was
bought off."

She sat down again in a shady corner, fanning herself vigorously.

"I am afraid I can't tell you any secrets," said George, smiling, "for I
don't know any. But it looks as though Mrs. Allison and Maxwell between
them had somehow found a way out."

"How's the mother?"

"You see, she has gone abroad, too--to Bad Wildheim. In fact, Lord
Ancoats has taken her."

"That's the place for heart, isn't it?" said his mother, abruptly.
"There's a man there that cures everybody."

"I believe so," said George. "May we come to business, mother? I have
brought these papers for you to sign, and I must get to the House in
good time."

Lady Tressady seemed to take no notice. She got up again, restlessly, and
walked to the window.

"How do you like my dress, George? Now, don't imagine anything absurd!
Justine made it, and it was quite cheap."

George could not help smiling--all the more that he was conscious of
relief. She would not be asking him to admire her dress if there were
fresh debts to confess to him.

"It makes you look wonderfully young," he said, turning a critical eye,
first upon the elegant gown of some soft pinky stuff in which his mother
had arrayed herself, then upon the subtly rouged and powdered face above
it. "You are a marvellous person, mother! All the same, I think the heat
must have been getting hold of you, for your eyes are tired. Don't racket
too much!"

He spoke with his usual careless kindness, laying a hand upon her arm.

Lady Tressady drew herself away, and, turning her back upon him, looked
out of the window.

"Have you seen any more of the Maxwells?" she said, over her shoulders.

George gave a slight involuntary start. Then it occurred to him that his
mother was making conversation in an odd way.

"Once or twice," he said, reluctantly, in reply. "They were at the
Ardaghs' the other night, of course."

"Oh! you were there?"--Lady Tressady's voice was sharp again. "Well, of
course. Letty went as your wife, and you're a member of Parliament. Lady
Ardagh knows _me_ quite well--but I don't count now; she used to be glad
enough to ask me."

"It was a great crush, and very hot," said George, not knowing
what to say.

Lady Tressady frowned as she looked out of the window.

"Well!--and Lady Maxwell--is she as absurd as ever?"

"That depends upon one's point of view," said George, smiling. "She
seemed as convinced as ever."

"Who sent Mrs. Allison to that place? Barham, I suppose. He always sends
his patients there. They say he's in league with the hotel-keepers."

George stared. What was the matter with her? What made her throw out
these jerky sentences with this short, hurried breath.

Suddenly Lady Tressady turned.

"George!"

"Yes, mother." He stepped nearer to her. She caught his sleeve.

"George "--there was something like a sob in her voice--"you were quite
right. I am ill. There, don't talk about it. The doctors are all fools.
And if you tell Letty anything about it, I'll never forgive you."

George put his arm round her, but was not, in truth, much disturbed. Lady
Tressady's repertory, alas! had many _rôles_. He had known her play that
of the invalid at least as effectively as any other.

"You are just overdone with London and the heat," he said. "I saw it at
once. You ought to go away."

She looked up in his face.

"You don't believe it?" she said.

Then she seemed to stagger. He saw a terrible drawn look in her face,
and, putting out all his strength, he held her, and helped her to a sofa.

"Mother!" he exclaimed, kneeling beside her, "what is the matter?"

Voice and tone were those of another man, and Lady Tressady quailed
under the change. She pointed to a small bag on a table near her. He
opened it, and she took out a box, from which she swallowed something.
Gradually breath and colour returned, and she began to move restlessly.

"That was nothing," she said, as though to herself--"nothing--and it
yielded at once. Well, George, I knew you thought me a humbug!"

Her eyes glanced at him with a kind of miserable triumph. He looked down
upon her, still kneeling, horror-struck against his will. After a life of
acting, was this the truth--this terror, which spoke in every movement,
and in some strange way had seized upon and infected himself?

He urgently asked her to be frank with him. And with a sob she poured
herself out. It was the tragic, familiar story that every household
knows. Grave symptoms, suddenly observed--the hurried visit to a
specialist--his verdict and his warnings.

"Of course, he said at first I ought to give up everything and go
abroad--to this very same place--Bad-what-do-you-call-it? But I told him
straight out I couldn't and wouldn't do anything of the sort. I am just
eaten up with engagements. And as to staying at home and lying-up, that's
nonsense--I should die of that in a fortnight. So I told him to give me
something to take, and that was all I could do. And in the end he quite
came round--they always do if you take your own line--and said I had
much better do what suited me, and take care. Besides, what do any of
them know? They all confess they're just fumbling about. Now, surgery,
of course--that's different. Battye"--Battye was Lady Tressady's ordinary
medical adviser--"doesn't believe all the other man said. I knew he
wouldn't. And as for making an invalid of me, he sees, of course, that it
would kill me at once. There, my dear George, don't make too much of it.
I think I was a fool to tell you."

And Lady Tressady struggled to a sitting position, looking at her son
with a certain hostility. The frown on her white face showed that she was
already angry with him for his emotion--this rare emotion, that she had
never yet been able to rouse in him.

He could only implore her to be guided by her doctor--to rest, to give up
at least some of the mill-round of her London life, if she would not go
abroad. Lady Tressady listened to him with increasing obstinacy and
excitability.

"I tell you I know best!" she said, passionately, at last. "Don't go on
like this--it worries me. Now, look here--"

She turned upon him with emphasis.

"Promise me not to tell Letty a word of this. Nobody shall know--she
least of all. I shall do just as usual. In fact, I expect a very gay
season. Three 'drums' this afternoon and a dinner-party--it doesn't
look as though I were quite forgotten yet, though Letty does think me
an old fogey!"

She smiled at him with a ghastly mixture of defiance and conceit. The old
age in her pinched face, fighting with the rouged cheeks and the gaiety
of her fanciful dress, was pitiful.

"Promise," she said. "Not a word--to her!"

George promised, in much distress. While he was speaking she had a slight
return of pain, and was obliged to submit to lie down again.

"At least," he urged, "don't go out to-day. Give yourself a rest. Shall I
go back, and ask Letty to come round to tea?"

Lady Tressady made a face like a spoilt child.

"I don't think she'll come," she said. "Of course, I know from the first
she took an ungodly dislike to me. Though, if it hadn't been for
me--Well, never mind! Yes, you can ask her, George--do! I'll wait and see
if she comes. If she comes, perhaps I'll stay in. It would amuse me to
hear what she has been doing. I'll behave quite nicely--there!"

And, taking up her fan, Lady Tressady lightly tapped her son's hand with
it in her most characteristic manner.

He rose, seeing from the clock that he should only just have time to
drive quickly back to Letty if he was to be at the House in time for an
appointment with a constituent, which had been arranged for one o'clock.

"I will send Justine to you as I go out," he said, taking up his hat,
"and I shall hear of you from Letty this evening."

Lady Tressady said nothing. Her eyes, bright with some inner
excitement, watched him as he looked for his stick. Suddenly she said,
"George! kiss me!"

Her tone was unsteady. Infinitely touched and bewildered, the young man
approached her, and, kneeling down again beside her, took her in his
arms. He felt a quick sobbing breath pass through her; then she pushed
him lightly away, and, putting up the slim, pink-nailed hand of which she
was so proud, she patted him on the cheek.

"There--go along! I don't like that coat of yours, you know. I told you
so the other day. If your figure weren't so good, you'd positively look
badly dressed in it. You should try another man."

Tressady hailed a hansom outside, and drove back to Brook Street. On the
way his eyes saw little of the crowded streets. So far, he had had no
personal experience of death. His father had died suddenly while he was
at Oxford, and he had lost no other near relation or friend. Strange!
this grave, sudden sense that all was changed, that his careless,
half-contemptuous affection for his mother could never again be what it
had been. Supposing, indeed, her story was all true! But in the case of a
character like Lady Tressady's, there are for long, recurrent,
involuntary scepticisms on the part of the bystander. It seems
impossible, unfitting, to grant to such persons _le beau rôle_ they
claim. It outrages a certain ideal instinct, even, to be asked to believe
that they too can yield, in their measure, precisely the same tragic
stuff as the hero or the saint.

Letty was at home, just about to share her lunch with Harding Watton, who
had dropped in. Hearing her husband's voice, she came out to the
stairhead to speak to him.

But after a minute or two George dashed down again to his study, that he
might write a hurried note to a middle-aged cousin of his mother's,
asking her to go round to Warwick Square early in the afternoon, and
making excuses for Letty, who was "very much engaged."

For Letty had met his request with a smiling disdain. Why, she was simply
"crowded up" with engagements of all sorts and kinds!

"Mother is really unwell," said George, standing with his hands on his
sides, looking down upon her. He was fuming with irritation and hurry,
and had to put a force on himself to speak persuasively.

"My dear old boy!"--she rose on tiptoe and twisted his moustache for
him--"don't we know all about your mother's ailments by this time? I
suppose she wants to give me a scolding, or to hear about the Ardaghs, or
to tell me all about the smart parties _she_ has been to--or something of
the sort. No, really, it's quite impossible--this afternoon. I know I
must go and see her some time--of course I will."

She said this with the air of someone making a great concession. It was,
indeed, her first formal condonement of the offence offered her just
before the Castle Luton visit.

George attempted a little more argument and entreaty, but in vain. Letty
was rather puzzled by his urgency, but quite obdurate. And as he ran down
the stairs, he heard her laugh in the drawing-room mingled with Harding
Watton's. No doubt they were making merry over the "discipline" which
Letty found it necessary to apply to her mother-in-law.

In the House of Commons the afternoon was once more given up to the
adjourned debate on the second reading of the Maxwell Bill. The House was
full, and showing itself to advantage. On the whole, the animation and
competence of the speeches reflected the general rise in combative energy
and the wide kindling of social passions which the Bill had so far
brought about, both in and out of Parliament. Those who figured as the
defenders of industries harassed beyond bearing by the Socialist meddlers
spoke with more fire, with more semblance, at any rate, of putting their
hearts into it than any men of their kind had been able to attain since
the "giant" days of the first Factory debates. Those, on the other hand,
who were urging the House to a yet sterner vigilance in protecting the
worker--even the grown man--from his own helplessness and need, who
believed that law spells freedom, and that the experience of half a
century was wholly on their side--these friends of a strong cause were
also at their best, on their mettle. Owing to the widespread flow of a
great reaction, the fight had become a representative contest between two
liberties--a true battle of ideas.

Yet George, sitting below the Gangway beside his leader, his eyes staring
at the ceiling, and his hands in his pockets, listened to it all in much
languor and revolt. He himself had made his speech on the third day of
the debate. It had cost him endless labour, only to seem to him in the
end--by contrast with the vast majority of speeches made in the course of
the debate, even those by men clearly inferior to himself in mind and
training--to be a hollow and hypocritical performance. What did he
really think and believe? What did he really desire? He vowed to himself
once more, as he had vowed at Ferth, that his mind was a chaos, without
convictions, either intellectual or moral; that he had begun what he was
not able to finish; and that he was doomed to make a failure of his
parliamentary career, as he was already making a failure of coal-owning
and a failure--

He curbed something bitter and springing that haunted his most inmost
mind. But his effort could not prevent his dwelling angrily for a minute
on the thought of Letty laughing with Harding Watton--laughing because he
had asked her a small kindness, and she had most unkindly refused it.

Yet she _must_ help him with his poor mother. How softened were all his
thoughts about that difficult and troublesome lady! As it happened, he
had a good deal of desultory medical knowledge, for the problems and
perils of the body had always attracted his pessimist sense. Yet it did
not help him much at this juncture. At one moment he said to himself,
"eighteen months--she will live eighteen months," and at another, "Battye
was probably right; Barham took an unnecessarily gloomy view--she may
quite well last as long as the rest of us."

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly he was startled by a movement beside him.

"The honourable member has totally misunderstood me," cried Fontenoy,
springing to his feet and looking eagerly towards the Speaker.

The member who was speaking on the Government side smiled, put on his
hat, and sat down. Fontenoy flung out a few stinging sentences, was hotly
cheered both by his own supporters and from a certain area of the Liberal
benches, and sat down again triumphant, having scored an excellent point.

George turned round to his companion.

"Good!" he said, with emphasis. "That rubbed it in!"

But when the man opposite was once more on his legs, labouring to undo
the impression which had been made, George found himself wondering
whether, after all, the point had been so good, and why he had been so
quick to praise. _She_ would have said, of course, that it was a point
scored against common-sense, against humanity. He began to fancy the
play of her scornful eyes, the eloquence of her white hand moving and
quivering as she spoke.

How long was it--one hurried month only--since he had walked with her
along the river at Castle Luton? While the crowded House about him was
again listening with attention to the speech which had just brought the
protesting Fontenoy to his legs; while his leader was fidgeting and
muttering beside him; while to his left the crowd of members round the
door was constantly melting, constantly reassembling, Tressady's mind
withdrew itself from its surroundings, saw nothing, heard nothing, but
the scenes of a far-off London and a figure that moved among them.

How often had he been with her since Castle Luton? Once or twice a week,
certainly, either at St. James's Square or in the East End, in spite of
Parliament, and Fontenoy, and his many engagements as Letty's husband.
Strange phenomenon--that little _salon_ of hers in the far East! For it
was practically a _salon_, though it existed for purposes the Hôtel
Rambouillet knew nothing of. He found himself one of many there. And,
like all _salons_, it had an inner circle. Charles Naseby, Edward Watton,
Lady Madeleine Penley, the Levens--some or all of these were generally to
be found in Lady Maxwell's neighbourhood, rendering homage or help in one
way or another. It was touching to see that girl, Lady Madeleine, looking
at the docker or the shirtmaker, with her restless greenish eyes, as
though she realised for the first time what hideous bond it is--the one
true commonalty--that crushes the human family together!

Well!--and what had he seen? Nothing, certainly, of which he had not had
ample information before. Under the fresh spur of the talk that occupied
the Maxwell circle he had made one or two rounds through some dismal
regions in Whitechapel, Mile End, and Hackney, where some of the worst of
the home industries to which, at last, after long hesitation on the part
of successive Governments, Maxwell's Bill was intended to put an end,
crowded every house and yard. He saw some of it in the company of a lady
rent-collector, an old friend of the Maxwells, who had charge of several
tenement blocks where the trouser and vest trade was largely carried on;
and he welcomed the chance of one or two walks in quest of law-breaking
workshops with a young inspector, who could not say enough in praise of
the Bill. But if it had been only a question of fact, George would have
felt when the rounds were done merely an added respect for Fontenoy,
perhaps even for his own party as a whole. Not a point raised by his
guides but had been abundantly discussed and realised--on paper, at any
rate--by Fontenoy and his friends. The young inspector, himself a hot
partisan, and knowing with whom he had to deal, would have liked to
convict his companion of sheer and simple ignorance; but, on the
contrary, Tressady was not to be caught napping. As far as the trade
details and statistics of this gruesome slopwork of East London went, he
knew all that could be shown him.

Nevertheless, cool and impassive as his manner was throughout, the
experience in the main did mean the exchange of a personal for a paper
and hearsay knowledge. When, indeed, had he, or Fontenoy, or anyone else
ever denied that the life of the poor was an odious and miserable
struggle, a scandal to gods and men? What then? Did they make the world
and its iron conditions? And yet this long succession of hot and smelling
dens, this series of pale, stooping figures, toiling hour after hour, at
fever pace, in these stifling backyards, while the June sun shone
outside, reminding one of English meadows and the ripple of English
grass; these panting, dishevelled women, slaving beside their husbands
and brothers, amid the rattle of the machines and the steam of the
pressers' irons, with the sick or the dying, perhaps, in the bed beside
them, and their blanched children at their feet--sights of this sort,
thus translated from the commonplace of reports and newspapers into a
poignant, unsavoury truth, had at least this effect--they vastly
quickened the personal melancholy of the spectator, they raised and drove
home a number of piercing questions which, probably, George Tressady
would never have raised, and would have lived happily without raising, if
it had not been for a woman, and a woman's charm.

For that woman's _solutions_ remained as doubtful to him as ever. He
would go back to that strange little house where she kept her strange
court, meet her eager eyes, and be roused at once to battle. How they had
argued! He knew that she had less hope than ever of persuading him even
to modify his view of the points at issue between the Government and his
own group. She could not hope for a moment that any act of his would be
likely to stand between Maxwell and defeat. He had not talked of his
adventures to Fontenoy--would rather, indeed, that Fontenoy knew nothing
of them. But he and she knew that Fontenoy, so far, had little to fear
from them.

And yet she had not turned from him. To her personal mood, to her wifely
affection even, he must appear more plainly than ever as the callous and
selfish citizen, ready and glad to take his own ease while his brethren
perished. He had been sceptical and sarcastic; he had declined to accept
her evidence; he had shown a persistent preference for the drier and more
brutal estimate of things. Yet she had never parted from him without
gentleness, without a look in her beautiful eyes that had often
tormented his curiosity. What did it mean? Pity? Or some unspoken comment
of a personal kind she could not persuade her womanly reticence to put
into words?

Or, rather: had she some distant inkling of the real truth--that he was
beginning to hate his own convictions--to feel that to be right with
Fontenoy was nothing, but to be wrong with her would be delight?

What absurdity! With a strong effort, he pulled himself
together--steadied his rushing pulse. It was like someone waking at night
in a nervous terror, and feeling the pressure of some iron dilemma, from
which he cannot free himself--cold vacancy and want on the one side,
calamity on the other.

For that cool power of judgment in his own case which he had always
possessed did not fail him now. He saw everything nakedly and coldly. His
marriage was not three months old, but no spectator could have discussed
its results more frankly than he was now prepared to discuss them with
himself. It was monstrous, no doubt. He felt his whole position to be as
ugly as it was abnormal. Who could feel any sympathy with it or him? He
himself had been throughout the architect of his own misfortune. Had he
not rushed upon his marriage with less care--relatively to the weight of
the human interest in such a matter--than an animal shows when it mates?

Letty's personal idiosyncrasies even--her way of entering a room, her
mean little devices for attracting social notice, the stubborn
extravagance of her dress and personal habits, her manner to her
servants, her sharp voice as she retailed some scrap of slanderous
gossip--her husband had by now ceased to be blind or deaf to any of
them. Indeed, his senses in relation to many things she said and did were
far more irritable at this moment--possibly far less just--than a
stranger's would have been. Often and often he would try to recall to
himself the old sense of charm, of piquancy. In vain. It was all gone--he
could only miserably wonder at the past. Was it that he knew now what
charm might mean, and what divinity may breathe around a woman!

       *       *       *       *       *

"I say, where are you off to?"

Tressady looked up with a start as Fontenoy rose beside him.

"Good opportunity for dinner, I think," said Fontenoy, with a motion of
the head towards the man who had just caught the Speaker's eye. "Are you
coming? I should like a word with you."

George followed him into the Lobby. As the swing-door closed behind him,
they plunged into a whirlpool of talk and movement. All the approaches to
the House were full of folk; everybody was either giving news or getting
it. For the excitement of a coming crisis was in the air. This was
Friday, and the division on the second reading was expected on the
following Monday.

"What a crowd, and what a temperature!" said Fontenoy. "Come on to the
Terrace a moment."

They made their way into the air, and as they walked up and down Fontenoy
talked in his hoarse, hurried voice of the latest aspect of affairs. The
Government would get their second reading, of course that had never been
really doubtful; though Fontenoy was certain that the normal majority
would be a good deal reduced. But all the hopes of the heterogeneous
coalition which had been slowly forming throughout the spring hung upon
the Committee stage, and Fontenoy's mind was now full of the closest
calculations as to the voting on particular amendments.

For him the Bill fell into three parts. The first part, which was mainly
confined to small amendments and extensions of former Acts, would be
sharply criticised, but would probably pass without much change. The
second part contained the famous clause by which it became penal to
practise certain trades, such as tailoring, boot-finishing, and
shirt-making, in a man's or woman's own home--in the same place, that is
to say, as the worker uses for eating and sleeping. This clause, which
represented the climax of a long series of restrictions upon the right of
a man to stitch even his own life away, still more upon his right to
force his children or bribe his neighbour to a like waste of the nation's
force, was by now stirring the industrial mind of England far and wide.

And not the mind of England only. Ireland and Scotland, town and country,
talked of it, seethed with it. The new law, if it passed, was to be
tried, indeed, at first, in London only. But every provincial town and
every country district knew that, if it succeeded, there was not a corner
of the land that would not ultimately feel the yoke, or the deliverance,
of it Every workman's club, every trade-union meeting, every mechanics'
institute was ringing with it. Organised labour, dragged down at every
point--in London, at any rate--by the competition of the starving and
struggling crew of home-workers, clamoured for the Bill. The starving and
struggling crew themselves were partly voiceless, partly bewildered; now
drawn by the eloquence of their trade-union fellows to shout for the
revolution that threatened them, now surging tumultuously against it.

On this vital clause, in Fontenoy's belief, the Government would go down.
But if, by amazing good-fortune and good generalship, they should get
through with it, then the fight would but rage the more fiercely round
the last two sections of the Bill.

The third section dealt with the hours of labour in the new workshops
that were to be. For the first time it became directly penal for a man,
as well as a woman, to work more than the accepted factory-day of ten and
a half hours, with a few exceptions and exemptions in the matter of
overtime. On this clause, if it were ever reached, the Socialist vote,
were it given solidly for the Government, might, no doubt, pull them
through. "But if we have any luck--damn it! they won't get the chance!"
Fontenoy would say, with that grim, sudden reddening which revealed from
moment to moment the feverish tension of the man.

In the last section of the Bill the Government, having made its
revolution, looked round for a class on which to lay the burden of
carrying it into action, and found it in the landlords. The landlords
were to be the policemen of the new Act. To every owner of every tenement
or other house in London the Bill said: _You_ are responsible. If, after
a certain date, you allow certain trades to be carried on within your
walls at all, even by the single man or the single woman working in their
own room, penalty and punishment shall follow.

Of this clause in the Bill Fontenoy could never speak with calmness. One
might see his heart thumping in his breast as he denounced it. At bottom
it was to him the last and vilest step in a long and slanderous campaign
against the class to which he belonged, against property,--against the
existing social order. He fell upon the subject to-night _à propos_ of a
Socialist letter in the morning papers; and George, who was mostly
conscious at the moment of a sick fatigue with Fontenoy and Fontenoy's
arguments, had to bear it as best he might. Presently he interrupted:

"One assumption you make I should like to contest. You imagine, I think,
that if they carry the prohibition and the hours clauses we shall be able
to whip up a still fiercer attack on the 'landlords' clause. Now, that
isn't my view."

Fontenoy turned upon him, startled.

"Why isn't it your view?" he said abruptly.

"Because there are always waverers who will accept a _fait accompli_; and
you know how opposition has a trick of cooling towards the end of a Bill.
Maxwell has carried his main point, they will say; this is a question of
machinery. Besides, many of those Liberals who will be with us on the
main point don't love the landlords. No! don't flatter yourself that, if
we lose the main engagement, there will be any Prussians to bring up. The
thing will be done."

"Well, thank God!" grumbled Fontenoy, "we don't mean to lose the main
engagement. But if one of _our_ men were to argue in that way, I should
know what to say to him."

George made no reply.

They walked on in silence, the summer twilight falling softly over the
river and the Hospital, over the Terrace with its groups, and the
towering pile of buildings beside them.

Presently Fontenoy said, in another voice:

"I have really never had the courage to talk to you of the matter,
Tressady, but didn't you see something of that lad Ancoats before he went
off abroad?"

"Yes, I saw him several times, first at the club; then he came and dined
with me here one night."

"And did he confide in you?"

"More or less," said George, smiling rather queerly at the recollection.

Fontenoy made a sound between a growl and a sigh.

"Really, it's rather too much to have to think out that young
man's affairs as well as one's own. And the situation is so
extraordinary!--Maxwell and I have to be in constant consultation. I went
to see him in his room in the House of Lords the other night, and met a
man coming out, who stopped, and stared as though he were shot. Luckily I
knew him, and could say a word to him, or there would have been all sorts
of cock-and-bull stories abroad."

"Well, and what are you and Maxwell doing?"

"Trying to get at the young woman. One can't buy her off, of course.
Ancoats is his own master, and could outbid us. But Maxwell has found a
brother--a decent sort of fellow--a country solicitor. And there is a
Ritualist curate, a Father somebody,"--Fontenoy raised his
shoulders,--"who seems to have an intermittent hold on the girl. When
she has fits of virtue she goes to confess to him. Maxwell has got hold
of _him_."

"And meanwhile Ancoats is at Bad Wildheim?"

"Ancoats is at Bad Wildheim, and behaving himself, as I hear from his
poor mother." Fontenoy sighed. "But the boy was frightened, of course,
when they went abroad. Now she is getting better, and one can't tell--"

"No, one can't tell," said George.

"I wish I knew what the thing really _meant_," said Fontenoy, presently,
in a tone of perplexed reverie. "What do you think? Is it a passion--?"

"Or a pose?"

George pondered.

"H'm," he said at last--"more of a pose, I think, than a passion. Ancoats
always seems to me the _jeune premier_ in his own play. He sees his life
in scenes, and plays them according to all the rules."

"Intolerable!" said Fontenoy, in exasperation. "And at least he might
refrain from dragging a girl into it! We weren't saints in my day, but we
weren't in the habit of choosing well-brought-up maidens of twenty in our
own set for our confidantes. You know, I suppose, what broke up the party
at Castle Luton?"

"Ancoats told me nothing. I have heard some gossip from Harding Watton,"
said George, unwillingly. It was one of his strongest characteristics,
this fastidious and even haughty dislike of chatter about other people's
private affairs, a dislike which, in the present case, had been
strengthened by his growing antipathy to Harding.

"How should he know?" said Fontenoy, angrily. He was glad enough to use
Watton as a political tool, but had never yet admitted him to the
smallest social intimacy.

Yet with Tressady he felt no difficulty in talking over these private
affairs; and he did, in fact, report the whole story--that same story
with which Marcella had startled Betty Leven on the night in question:
how Ancoats on this Sunday evening had decoyed this handsome,
impressionable girl, to whom throughout the winter he had been paying
decided and even ostentatious court, into a _tête-à-tête_--had poured out
to her frantic confessions of his attachment to the theatrical lady--a
woman he could never marry, whom his mother could never meet, but with
whom, nevertheless, come what might, he was determined to live and die.
She--Madeleine--was his friend, his good angel. Would she go to his
mother and break it to her? Would she understand, and forgive him? There
must be no opposition, or he would shoot himself. And so on, till the
poor girl, worn out with excitement and grief, tottered into Mrs.
Allison's room more dead than alive.

But at that point Fontenoy stopped abruptly.

George agreed that the story was almost incredible, and added the inward
and natural comment of the public-school man--that if people will keep
their boys at home, and defraud them of the kickings that are their due,
they may look out for something unwholesome in the finished product.
Then, aloud, he said:

"I should imagine that Ancoats was acting through the greater part of
that. He had said to himself that such a scene would be effective--and
would be new."

"Good heavens!--why, that makes it ten thousand times more abominable
than before!"

"I daresay," said George, coolly. "But it also makes the future, perhaps,
a little more hopeful--throws some light on the passion or pose
alternative. My impression is, that if we can only find an effective exit
for Ancoats,--a last act that he would consider worthy of him,--he will
bow himself out of the business willingly enough."

Fontenoy smiled rather gloomily, and the two walked on in silence.

Once or twice, as they paced the Terrace, George glanced sidelong at his
leader. A corner of Fontenoy's nightly letter to Mrs. Allison was, he
saw, sticking out of the great man's coat-pocket. Every night he wrote a
crowded sheet upon his knee, under the shelter of a Blue Book, and on one
or two nights George's quick eyes had not been able to escape from the
pencilled address on the envelope to which it was ultimately consigned.
The sheet was written with the regularity and devotion of a Prime
Minister reporting to the Sovereign.

Well! it was all very touching and very remarkable. But George had some
sympathy with Ancoats. To be virtually saddled with a stepfather, with
whom your minutest affairs are confidentially discussed, and yet to have
it said by all the world that your poor mother is too unselfish and too
devoted to her son to marry again--the situation is not without its
pricks. And that Ancoats was acutely conscious of them George had good
reason to know.

"I say, Tressady, will you pair till eleven?" cried a man, swinging
bareheaded along the Terrace with his hat in his hand. "I want an hour or
two off badly, and there will be no big guns on till eleven or so."

George exchanged a word or two with Fontenoy, then stood still, and
thought a moment. A sudden animation flushed into his face. Why not?

"All right!" he said; "till eleven."

Then he and Fontenoy went back to dine. As they mounted the dark
staircase leading from the Terrace another man caught Tressady by the
arm.

"The strike notices are out," he said. "I have just had a wire. Everyone
leaves work to-night."

George shrugged his shoulders. He had been expecting the news at any
moment, and was glad that the long shilly-shallying on both sides was at
last over.

"Good luck to them!" he said. "I'm glad. The fight had to come."

"Oh! we shall be in the middle of arbitration before a fortnight's up.
The men won't stand."

George shook his head. He himself believed that the struggle would last
on through the autumn.

"Well, to be sure, there's Burrows," said his informant, himself a large
coal-owner in the Ferth district; "if Burrows keeps sober, and if
somebody doesn't buy him, Burrows will do his worst."

"That we always knew," said George, laughing, and passed on. He had but
just time to catch his train.

He walked across to the Underground station, and by the time he reached
it he had clean forgotten his pits and the strike, though as he passed
the post-office in the House a sheaf of letters and telegrams had been
put into his hands. Rather, he was full of a boy's eagerness and
exultation. He had never supposed he could be let off to-night, till the
offer of Dudley's pair tempted him. And now, in half an hour he would be
in that queer Mile End room, watching her--quarrelling with her.

A little later, however, as he was sitting quietly in the train, quick
composite thoughts of Letty, of his miners, and his money difficulties
began to clutch at him again. Perhaps, now that the strike was a reality,
it might even be a help to him and a bridle to his wife. Preposterous,
what she was doing and planning at Perth! His face flushed and hardened
as he thought of their many wrangles during the past fortnight, her
constant drag upon his purse, his own weakness, the annoyance and
contempt that made him yield rather than argue.

What was that fellow, Harding Watton, doing in the house at all hours,
and beguiling Letty, by his collector's airs, into a hundred foolish
wants and whims? And that brute Cathedine! Was it decent, was it
bearable, that a bride of three months should take no more notice of her
husband's wishes and dislikes in such a matter than Letty had shown with
regard to her growing friendship with that disreputable person? It seemed
to George that he called most afternoons. Letty laughed, excused herself,
or abused her visitor as soon as he had departed; but the rebuff which
George's pride would not let him ask of her directly, while yet his
whole manner demanded it, was never given.

He sat solitary in his brilliantly lit carriage, staring at the
advertisements opposite, his long chin thrust forward, his head, with its
fair curls, thrown moodily back. And all the time his mind was working
with an appalling clearness. This cold light, in which he was beginning
to see his wife and all she did--it was already a tragedy.

What was he flying to, what was he in search of--there in the East End?
His whole being flung the answer. A little sympathy, a little heart, a
little tenderness and delicacy of soul!--nothing else. He had once taken
it for granted that every woman possessed them in some degree. Or, was it
only since he had found them in this unexampled fulness and wealth that
he had begun to thirst for them in this way? He made himself face the
question. "One needn't lie to oneself!"

At Aldgate, as he was making his way out of the station, he stumbled upon
Edward Watton.

"Hullo! You bound for No. 20, too?"

"No; there is no function to-night. Lady Maxwell is at a meeting. It has
grown rather suddenly from small beginnings, and two days ago they made
her promise to speak. I came down because I am afraid of a row. Things
are beginning to look ugly down here, and I don't think she has much idea
of it. Will you come?"

"Of course."

Watton looked at him with an amused and friendly eye.

It was another instance of her power--that she had been able to bind
even this young enemy to her chariot-wheels. He hoped Letty had the sense
to approve! As a matter of fact, Watton had never, by his own choice,
become well acquainted with his cousin Letty, and had always secretly
marvelled at Tressady's sudden marriage.



CHAPTER XIV


The two men were soon on the top of the Mile End Road tramcar, on their
way eastward. It was a hot, dull evening. The setting sun behind them was
already swallowed up in mist, and the heavy air held down and made
palpable all the unsavoury odours of street and shop. Before them
stretched the wide, interminable road which was once the highway from the
great city to Colchester and East Anglia. A broad and comely thoroughfare
on the whole, save that from end to end it has now the dyed and patched
look that an old village street inevitably puts on when it has been
swallowed up by the bricks and mortar of an overtaking town.

Tressady looked round him in a reverie, interested in the place and the
streets because _she_ cared for them, and had struck one of her roots
here. Strange medley everywhere--in this main street, at all events--of
old and new! Here were the Trinity almshouses, with their Jacobean gables
and their low, spreading quadrangle behind the fine ironwork that
shelters them from the street--a poetic fragment from the days of Wren
and Dryden, sore threatened now by an ever-advancing London, hungry for
ground and space. Here was a vast mission-hall, there a still vaster
brewery; on the right, the quiet entrance to the oldworld quiet of
Stepney-Green; and to the left a huge flame-ringed gin-palace, with shops
on either side, hung to the roof with carpets, or brooms, or umbrellas,
plastered with advertisements, and blazing with gas. While in the street
between streamed the ever-moving crowd of East London folk, jostling,
chattering, loafing, doing their business or their pleasure, and made
perpetually interesting, partly by their frank preoccupation with the
simplest realities of life: with eating, drinking, earning, marrying,
child-rearing; still more, perhaps, by the constant presence among them
of that "leisured class" which, alike at the bottom and the top of
things, has time to be gay, curious, and witty.

As he rolled along, watching the scene, Tressady thought to himself, as
he had often thought before, that the East End, in many of its aspects,
is a very decentish sort of place, about which many people talk much
nonsense. He made the remark, carelessly, to Watton.

Watton shrugged his shoulders, and pointed silently to the entrances,
right and left, of two side-streets, the typical streets of the East End:
long lines of low houses,--two storeys always, or two storeys and a
basement,--all of the same yellowish brick, all begrimed by the same
smoke, every door-knocker of the same pattern, every window-blind hung in
the same way, and the same corner "public" on either side, flaming in the
hazy distance.

Watton hardly put his comment into words; but Tressady, who knew him
well, understood, and nodded over his cigarette. Watton meant, of course,
to suggest the old commonplace of the mean and dull monotony that weighs
like a nightmare upon this vast East London and its human hive, which
hums and toils, drones and feeds, by night and day, in these numberless
featureless boxes of wood and stone, on this flat, interminable earth
that stretches eastward to Essex marshes and southward to the river, and
bears yellow brick and cemeteries for corn. Well! Tressady knew that the
thought of this monotony, and of the thousands under its yoke, was to
Watton a constant sting and oppression; he knew, too, or guessed, the
religious effects it produced in him. For Watton was a religious man, and
the action of the dream within showed itself in him and all he did. But
why should everyone make a grief of East London? He was in the mood again
to-night to feel it a kind of impertinence, this endless, peering anxiety
about a world you never planned and cannot mend. Whose duty is it to cry
for the moon?

"Better get down here, I think," said Watton, signalling to the
tram-conductor, "and find out whether they have really gone, or not."

They stopped, half-way down the Mile End Road, before a piece of wall
with a door in it. A trim maiden of fifteen in a spotless cotton frock
and white apron opened to them.

Inside was a small flagged courtyard and the old-fashioned house that
Marcella Maxwell, a year before,--some time after their first lodging had
been given up,--had rescued from demolition and the builder, to make an
East End home out of it. Somewhere about 1750 some City tradesman had
built it among fields, and taken his rest there; while somewhat later, in
a time of Evangelical revival, a pious widow had thrown out a low room to
one side for class-meetings. In this room Marietta now held her
gatherings, and both Tressady and Watton knew it well.

The little handmaid bubbled over with willing talk. Oh, yes, there was a
meeting up Manx Road, and her Ladyship had gone with Lord Naseby, and
Lady Madeleine, and Mr. Everard, the inspector, and, she thought, one or
two besides. She expected the ladies back about ten, and they were to
stay the night.

"An they do say, sir," she said eagerly, looking up at Watton, whom she
knew, "as there'll be a lot o' rough people at the meetin."

"Oh! I daresay," said Watton. "Well, we're going up, too, to look
after her."

As they walked on they talked over the general situation in the district,
and Watton explained what he knew of this particular meeting. In the
first place, he repeated, he could not see that Lady Maxwell understood
as yet the sort of opposition that the Bill was rousing, especially in
these East End districts. The middle-class and parliamentary resistance
she had always appreciated; but the sort of rage that might be awakened
among a degraded class of workers by proposals that seemed to threaten
their immediate means of living, he believed she had not yet realised, in
anything like its full measure and degree. And he feared that this
meeting might be a disagreeable experience.

For it was the direct fruit of an agitation that, as Tressady knew, was
in particular Fontenoy's agitation. The Free Workers' League, which had
called upon the trade-unionist of Mile End to summon the meeting, and to
hear therein what both sides had to say, was, in fact, Fontenoy's
creation. It had succeeded especially in organising the women
home-workers of Mile End and Poplar. Two or three lady-speakers employed
by the League had been active to the point of frenzy in denouncing the
Bill and shrieking "Liberty!" in the frightened ear of Mile End. Watton
could not find a good word for any of them--was sure that what mostly
attracted them was the notoriety of the position, involving, as it did,
a sort of personal antagonism to Lady Maxwell, who had, so to speak,
made Mile End her own. And to be Lady Maxwell's enemy was, Watton
opined, the next best thing, from the point of view of advertisement, to
being her friend.

"Excellent women, I daresay," said Tressady, laughing--"talking excellent
sense. But, tell me, what is this about Naseby--why Naseby?--on all these
occasions?"

"Why not, indeed?" said Watton. "Ah! you don't know? It seems to be
Naseby that's going to get the egg out of the hat for us."

And he plunged eagerly into the description of certain schemes wherewith
Naseby had lately astonished the Maxwell circle. Tressady listened,
languidly at first, then with a kind of jealous annoyance that
scandalised himself. How well he could understand the attraction of such
things for her quick mind! Life was made too easy for these "golden
lads." People attributed too much importance to their fancies.

Naseby, in fact,--but so much George already knew,--had been for some
months now the comrade and helper of both the Maxwells. His friends still
supposed him to be merely the agreeable and fashionable idler. In
reality, Naseby for some years past had been spending all the varied
leisure that his commission in the Life Guards allowed him upon the work
of a social and economic student. He had joined the staff of a well-known
sociologist, who was at the time engaged in an inquiry into certain
typical East London trades. The inquiry had made a noise, and the
evidence collected under it had already been largely used in the debates
on the Maxwell Bill. Tressady, for instance, had much of it by heart,
although he never knew, until he became a haunter of Lady Maxwell's
circle, that Naseby had played any part in the gathering of it.

At the same time, as George had soon observed, Naseby was no blind
follower of the Maxwells. In truth, under his young gaiety and coolness
he had the temper of the student, who was more in love with his problem
itself than with any suggested solution of it. As he had told Lady
Betty, he had "no opinions"--would himself rather leave the sweated
trades alone, and trust to much slower and less violent things than
law-making. All this the Maxwells knew perfectly, and liked and trusted
him none the less.

Now, however, it seemed there was a new development. If the Bill passed,
Naseby had a plan. He was already a rich man, independently of the
marquisate to come. His grandmother had left him a large preliminary
fortune, and through his friends and connections besides he seemed to
command as much money as he desired. And of this money, supposing the
Bill passed, he proposed to make original and startling use. He had
worked out the idea of a syndicate furnished with, say, a quarter of a
million of money, which should come down upon a given district of the
East End, map it out, buy up all the existing businesses in its typical
trade, and start a system of new workshops proportioned to the
population, supplying it with work just as the Board schools supply it
with education. The new scheme was to have a profit-sharing element: the
workers were to be represented on the syndicate, and every nerve was to
be strained to secure the best business management. The existing
middlemen would be either liberally bought out, or absorbed into the new
machine. It was by no means certain that they would show it any strong
resistance.

Tressady made a number of unfriendly comments on the scheme as Watton
detailed it. A bit of amateur economics, which would only help the Bill
to ruin a few more people than would otherwise have gone down!

"Ah! well," said Watton, "if this thing passes there are bound to be
experiments, and Naseby means to be in 'em. So do I, only I haven't got a
quarter of a million. Here's our road! We're late, of course--the
meeting's begun. I say, just look at this!"

For Manx Road, as they turned into it, was already held by another big
meeting of its own. The room in the Board school which crossed the end of
the street must be full, and this crowd represented, apparently, those
who had been turned away.

As the two friends pushed their way through, Tressady's quick eye
recognised in the throng a number of familiar types. Well-to-do
"pressers" and machinists, factory-girls of different sorts, hundreds of
sallow women, representing the home-workers of Mile End, Bow, and
Stepney--poor souls bowed by toil and maternity, whose marred fingers
labour day and night to clothe the Colonies and the army; their husbands
and brothers, too, English slop-tailors for the most part, of the humbler
sort--the short side-street was packed with them. It was an anxious,
sensitive crowd, Tressady thought, as he elbowed his passage through it.
A small thing might inflame it; and he saw a number of rough lads on the
skirts of it.

Jews, too, there were in plenty. For the stress of this Bill had brought
Jew and Gentile together in a new comradeship that amazed the East End.
Here were groups representing the thrifty, hard-working London Jew of
the second generation,--small masters for the most part, pale with the
confinement and "drive" of the workshop,--men who are expelling and
conquering the Gentile East Ender, because their inherited passion for
business is not neutralised by any of the common English passions for
spending--above all by the passion for drink. Here, too, were men of a
far lower type and grade--the waste and refuse of the vast industrial
mill. Tressady knew a good many of them by sight--sullen, quick-eyed
folk, who buy their "greeners" at the docks, and work them day and night
at any time of pressure; whose workshops are still flaring at two
o'clock in the morning, and alive again by the winter dawn; who fight
and flout the law by a hundred arts, and yet, brutal and shifty as many
of them are, have a curious way of winning the Gentile inspector's
sympathy, even while he fines and harasses them, so clearly are they and
their "hands" alike the victims of a huge world-struggle that does but
toss them on its surge.

These gentry, however, were hard hit by more than one clause of the
Maxwell Bill, and they were here to-night to protest, as they had been
already protesting at many meetings, large and small, all over the East
End. And they had their slaves with them,--ragged, hollow-eyed creatures,
newly arrived from Russian Poland, Austria, or Romania, and ready to
shout or howl in Yiddish as they were told,--men whose strange faces and
eyes under their matted shocks of black or reddish hair suggested every
here and there the typical history and tragic destiny of the race which,
in other parts of the crowd, was seen under its softer and more
cosmopolitan aspects.

As the two men neared the door of the school, where the press was
densest, they were recognised as probably belonging to the Maxwell party,
and found themselves a good deal jeered and hustled, and could hardly
make any way at all. However, a friendly policeman came to their aid.
They were passed into a lobby, and at last, with much elbowing and
pushing, found themselves inside the schoolroom.

So crowded was the place and so steaming the atmosphere, that it was
some minutes before Tressady could make out what was going on. Then he
saw that Naseby was speaking--Naseby, looking remarkably handsome and
well curled, and much at his ease, besides, in the production of a string
of Laodicean comments on the Bill, his own workshop scheme, and the
general prospects of East End labour. He described the scheme, but in
such a way as rather to damn it than praise it; and as for the Bill
itself, which he had undertaken to compare with former Factory Bills,
when he sat down he left it, indeed, in a parlous case--a poor, limping,
doubtful thing, quite as likely to ruin the East End as to do it a hand's
turn of good.

Just as the speaker was coming to his peroration Tressady suddenly caught
sight of a delicate upraised profile on the platform, behind Naseby. The
repressed smile on it set him smiling, too.

"What on earth do they make Naseby speak for!" said Watton, indignantly.
"Idiocy! He spoils everything he touches. Let him give the money, and
other people do the talking. You can see the people here don't know what
to make of him in the least. Look at their faces.--Who's he talking to?"

"Lady Madeleine, I think," said Tressady. "What amazing red hair that
girl has! and what queer, scared eyes! It is like an animal--one wants to
stroke her."

"Well, Naseby strokes her," said Watton, laughing. "Look at her; she
brightens up directly he comes near."

Tressady thought of the tale Fontenoy had just told him, and wondered.
Consolation seemed to come easy to maidens of quality.

Meanwhile various trade-unionists--sturdy, capable men, in black
coats--were moving and seconding resolutions; flinging resentful
comments, too, at Naseby whenever occasion offered. Tressady heard very
little of what they had to say. His eyes and thoughts were busy with the
beautiful figure to the left of the chair. Its dignity and charm worked
upon him like a spell--infused a kind of restless happiness.

When he woke from his trance of watching, it was to turn upon Watton
with impatience. How long was this thing going on? The British workman
spoke with deplorable fluency. Couldn't they push their way through to
the platform?

Watton looked at the crowd, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Not yet--I say! who's this they've put up. Come, my dear fellow, that
looks like the real thing!"

Tressady turned, and saw an old man, a Jew, with a long greyish beard,
coming slowly to the front of the platform. His eyes were black and deep,
sunk under white brows; he was decently but poorly dressed; and he began
to speak with a slight German accent, in an even, melancholy voice,
rather under-pitched, which soon provoked the meeting. He was
vociferously invited to speak up or sit down; and at the first
interruption he stopped timorously, and looked towards the Chair.

An elderly, grey-haired woman was presiding--no doubt to mark the
immense importance of the Bill for the women of the East End. She came
forward at the man's appeal.

"My friends," she said quietly, "you let this man speak, and don't you be
hard on him. He's got a sad story to tell you, and he won't be long about
it. You give him his chance. Some of you shall have yours soon."

Up. The speaker was the paid secretary of one of the women's unions; but
she had been a tailoress for years, and had known a tragic life. Once, at
a meeting where some flippant speaker had compared the reality and
frequency of "starvation" in London to the reality and frequency of the
sea serpent, Tressady had seen her get up and, with a sudden passion,
describe the death of her own daughter from hardship and want, with the
tears running down her cheeks. Her appeal to the justice of the meeting
succeeded, and the old man was allowed to go on. It soon appeared that he
had been put up by one of the tailoring unions to denounce the long hours
worked in some of the Whitechapel and Spitalfields workshops. His H facts
were appalling. But he put them badly, with a dull, stumbling voice, and
he got no hold on the meeting at all till suddenly he stepped forward,
paused,--his miserable face working, his head turning from if side to
side,--and finally said, with a sharp change of note:

"And now, if you please, I will tell you how it was about Isaac--my
brother Isaac. It was Mr. Jacobs "--he looked round, and pointed to the
tradeunion secretary who had been speaking before him--"Mr. Jacobs it
was that put it in my mind to come here and tell you about Isaac. For the
way Isaac died was like this. He and I were born in Spitalfields; he
wasn't one of your greeners--he was a reg'lar good worker, first-rate
general coat-hand, same as me. But he got with a hard master. And last
winter season but one there came a rush. And Isaac must be working six
days a week--and he must be working fourteen hours a day--and, more'n
that, he must be doing his bastes overtime, two hours one time, and an
hour or so, perhaps, another; anyway, they made it up to half a
day--eight hours and more in the week. _You_ know how they reckon it."

He stopped, grinning feebly. The trade-unionists about the platform
shouted or groaned in response. The masters round the door, with their
"greeners," stood silent.

"And about Wednesday in the third week," he went on, "he come to the
master, and he says--Isaac was older than me, and his chest it would be
beginning to trouble him pretty bad, so he says: 'I'm done,' he says; 'I
must go home. You can get another chap to do my bastes to-night--will
you?' And the master says to Isaac: 'If you don't do your bastes
overtime, if you're too high and mighty,' he says, 'why, there's plenty
as will, and you don't need to come to-morrow neither.' And Isaac had his
wife Judith at home, and four little uns; and he stopped and done his
bastes, of _course_. And next night he couldn't well see, and he'd been
dreadful sick all day, and he says to the master again, he says as he
must go home. And the master, he says the same to him--and Isaac stops.
And on Friday afternoon he come home. And the shop had been steamin hot,
but outside it was a wind to cut yer through. And his wife Judith says to
him, 'Isaac, you look starved!' and she set him by the fire. And he sat
by the fire, and he didn't say nothing. Then his hands fell down sudden
like that--"

The old man let his hands drop heavily by his side with a simple dramatic
gesture. By this time there was not a sound in the crowded room. Even the
wildest and most wolfish of the greeners were staring silently, craning
brown necks forward.

"And his wife ran to him, and he falls against her; and he says, 'Lay me
down, Judith, and don't you let em wake me--not the young uns,' he says
'not for nothing and nobody. For if it was the trump of the Most High,'
he says--and Isaac was a religious man, and careful in his speech--'I
must have my sleep.' And she laid him down, and the children and she
watched--and by midnight Isaac turned himself over. He just opened his
eyes once, and groaned. And he never spoke no more--he was gone before
mornin.--And his master gave Judith five shillings towards the coffin,
and the men in the shop, they raised the rest."

The old man paused. He stood considering a moment, his face and ragged
beard thrown out--a spot of greyish white--against the figures behind,
his eyes blinking painfully under the gas.

"Well, we've tried many things," he said at last. "We've tried strikes
and unions, and it isn't no good. There's always one treading on
another, and if you don't do it, someone else will. It's the _law_ as'll
have to do it. You may take that and smoke it!--you won't get nothing
else. Why!"--his hoarse voice trembled--"why, they use us up cruel in the
sort of shop I work for. Ten or twelve years, and a man's all to pieces.
It's the irons, and the heat, and the sitting--_you_ know what it is.
I've lasted fifteen year, but I'm breaking up now. If my master give me
the sack for speaking here I'll have nothing but the Jewish Board of
Guardians to look to. All the same, I made up my mind as I'd come and say
how they served Isaac."

He stopped abruptly, and stood quite still a moment, fronting the
meeting, as though appealing to them, through the mere squalid physical
weakness he could find no more words to express. Then, with a sort of
shambling bow, he turned away, and the main body of the meeting clapped
excitedly, while at the back some of the "sweaters" grinned, and chatted
sarcastic things in Yiddish with their neighbours. Tressady saw Lady
Maxwell rise eagerly as the old man passed her, take his hand, and find
him a seat.

"That, I suppose, was an emotion," said Tressady, looking down upon his
companion.

"Or an argument," said Watton--"as you like!"

One other "emotion" of the same kind--the human reality at its simplest
and cruellest--Tressady afterwards remembered.

A "working-woman" was put up to second an amendment condemning the
workshops clause, which had been moved in an angry speech by one of
"Fontenoy's ladies," a shrill-voiced, fashionable person, the secretary
to the local branch of the Free Workers' League. Tressady had yawned
impatiently through the speech, which had seemed to him a violent and
impertinent performance. But as the speaker sat down he was roused by an
exclamation from a man beside him.

"_That_ woman!" cried a tall curate, straining on tiptoe to see. "No!
They ought to be ashamed of themselves!"

Tressady wondered who and why; but all that he saw was that a thin, tall
woman was being handed along the bench in front of him, while her
neighbours and friends clapped her on the back as she passed, laughing
and urging her on. Then, presently, there she stood on the platform, a
thin, wand-like creature, with her battered bonnet sideways on her head,
a woollen crossover on her shoulders, in spite of July, her hands clasped
across her chest, her queer light eyes wandering and smiling hither and
thither. In her emaciation, her weird cheerfulness, she was like a figure
from a Dance of Death. But what was amazing was her self-possession.

"Now yer laffin' at me," she began in a conversational tone, nodding
towards the group of women she had just left. "You go 'long! I told the
lidy I'd speak, an I will. Well, they comes to me, an they ses, Mrs.
Dickson, yer not to work at 'ome no longer--they'll put yer in prison if
yer do't, they ses; yer to go out ter work, same as the shop 'ands, they
ses; and what's more, if they cotch Mr. Butterford--that's my landlord;
p'raps yer dunno 'im--"

She looked down at the meeting with a whimsical grin, her eyes screwed up
and her crooked brows lifted, so that the room roared merely to look at
her. The trim lady-secretary, however, bent forward with an air of
annoyance. She had not, perhaps, realised that Mrs. Dickson was so much
of a character.

"If they cotch Mr. Butterford, they'll make 'im pay up smart for lettin
yer do such a thing as make knickers in 'is 'ouse. So I asks the lidy,
Wot's ter become o' me an the little uns? An she says she done know, but
yer mus come and speak Tuesday night, she says--Manx Road Schools, she
says--if yer want to perwent em making a law ov it. Which I'm a doin
of--aint I?"

Fresh laughter and response from the room. She went on satisfied.

"An, yer know, if I can't make the knickers at 'ome, I can't make 'em
awy from 'ome. For ther aint no shops as want kids squallin round, as
fer as I can make out. An Jimmy's a limb, as boys mos'ly are in my
egsperience. Larst week 'e give the biby a 'alfpenny and two o' my
biggest buttons to swaller, an I ony jest smacked 'em out of 'er in
time. Ther'd be murder done if I was to leave 'em. An 'ow 'ud I be able
to pay anyone fer lookin' after em? I can't git much, yer know, shop or
no shop. I aint wot I was."

She stopped, and pointed significantly to her chest. Tressady shuddered
as the curate whispered to him.

"I've been in orspital--cut about fearful. I can't go at the pace them
shops works at. They'd give me the sack, double-quick, if I was to go try
in 'em. No, it's _settin_ as does it--settin an settin. I'm at it by
seven, an my 'usband--yer can see im there--e'll tell yer."

She stopped, and pointed to a burly ruffian standing amid a group of
"pals" round the door. This gentleman had his arms folded, and was
alternately frowning and grinning at this novel spectacle of his wife as
a public performer. Bribes had probably been necessary to bring him to
consent to the spectacle at all. But he was not happy, and when his wife
pointed at him, and the meeting turned to look, he suddenly took a dive
head-foremost into the crowd about him; so that when the laughter and
horse-play that followed had subsided, it was seen that Mr. Tom Dickson's
place knew him no more.

Meanwhile Mrs. Dickson stood grinning--grinning wide and visibly. It was
the strangest mirth, as though hollow pain and laughter strove with each
other for the one poor indomitable face.

"Well, ee _could_ 'a told yer, if e'd ad the mind," she said, nodding,
"for ee knows. Ee's been out o' work this twelve an a arf year--well,
come, I'll bet yer, anyway, as ee 'asn't done a 'and's turn this three
year--an I don't blime im. Fust, there isn't the work to be got, and
then yer git out of the way o' wantin it. An beside, I'm used to im.
When Janey--no, it were Sue!--were seven month old, he come in one
night from the public, an after ee'd broke up most o' the things, he
says to me, 'Clear out, will yer!' An I cleared out, and Sue and me
set on the doorstep till mornin. And when mornin come, Tom opened the
door, an ee says, 'What are you doin there, mother? Why aint yer got my
breakfast?' An I went in an got it. But, bless yer, nowadays--the
_women won't do it_!--"

Another roar went up from the meeting. Mrs. Dickson still grinned.

"An so there's nothink but _settin_', as I said before--settin' till yer
can't set no more. If I begin o' seven, I gets Mr. Dickson to put the
teathings an the loaf andy, so as I don't 'ave to get up more'n jes to
fetch the kettle; and the chillen gets the same as me--tea an bread, and
a red 'erring Sundays; an Mr. Dickson, 'e gets 'is meals out. I gives
'im the needful, and 'e don't make no trouble; an the children is
dreadful frackshus sometimes, and gets in my way fearful. But there, if
I can _set_--set till I 'ear Stepney Church goin twelve--I can earn my
ten shillin a week, an keep the lot of 'em. Wot does any lidy or
genelman want, a comin' meddlin down 'ere? Now, that's the middle an
both ends on it. Done? Well, I dessay I is done. Lor, I ses to em in the
orspital it do seem rummy to me to be layin abed like that. If Tom was
'ere, why, 'e'd--"

She made a queer, significant grimace. But the audience laughed no
longer. They stared silently at the gaunt creature, and with their
silence her own mood changed.

Suddenly she whipped up her apron. She drew it across her eyes, and flung
it away again passionately.

"I dessay we shall be lyin abed in Kingdom Come," she said defiantly, yet
piteously. "But we've got to git there fust. An I don't want no shops,
thank yer!"

She rambled on a little longer, then, at a sign from the lady-secretary,
made a grinning curtsy to the audience and departed.

"What do they get out of that?" said Watton, in Tressady's ear--"Poor
galley-slave in praise of servitude!"

"Her slavery keeps her alive, please."

"Yes--and drags down the standard of a whole class!"

"You'll admit she seemed content?"

"It's that content we want to kill.--Ah! _at last!_" and Watton clapped
loudly, followed by about half the meeting, while the rest sat silent.
Then Tressady perceived that the chair-woman had called upon Lady Maxwell
to move the next resolution, and that the tall figure had risen.

She came forward slowly, glancing from side to side, as though doubtful
where to look for her friends. She was in black, and her head was covered
with a little black lace bonnet, in the strings of which, at her throat,
shone a small diamond brooch. The delicate whiteness of her face and
hands, and this sparkle of light on her breast, that moved as she moved,
struck a thrill of pleasure through Tressady's senses. The squalid
monotony and physical defect of the crowd about him passed from his mind.
Her beauty redressed the balance. "'Loveliness, magic, and grace--they
are here; they are set in the world!'--and ugliness and pain have not
conquered while this face still looks and breathes." This, and nothing
less, was the cry of the young man's heart and imagination as he
strained forward, waiting for her voice.

Then he settled himself to listen--only to pass gradually from
expectation to nervousness, from nervousness to dismay.

What was happening? She had once told him that she was not a speaker, and
he had not believed her. She had begun well, he thought, though with a
hesitation he had not expected. But now--had she lost her thread--or
what? Incredible! when one remembered her in private life, in
conversation. Yet these stumbling sentences, this evident distress!

Tressady found himself fidgeting in sympathetic misery. He and Watton
looked at each other.

A little more, and she would have lost her audience. She _had_ lost it.
At first there had been eager listening, for she had plunged
straightway into a set explanation and defence of the Bill point by
point, and half the room knew that she was Lord Maxwell's wife. But by
the end of ten minutes their attention was gone. They were only staring
at her because she was handsome and a great lady. Otherwise, they
seemed not to know what to make of her. She grew white; she wavered.
Tressady saw that she was making great efforts, and all in vain. The
division between her and her audience widened with every sentence, and
Fontenoy's lady-organiser, in the background, sat smilingly erect.
Tressady, who had been at first inclined to hate the thought of her
success in this Inferno, grew hot with wrath and irritation. His own
vanity suffered in her lack of triumph.

Amazing! How _could_ her personal magic--so famous on so many
fields--have deserted her like this in an East End schoolroom, before
people whose lives she knew, whose griefs she carried in her heart?

Then an idea struck him. The thought was an illumination--he understood.
He shut his eyes and listened. Maxwell's sentences, Maxwell's
manner--even, at times, Maxwell's voice! He had been rehearsing to her
his coming speech in the House of Lords, and she was painfully repeating
it! To his disgust, Tressady saw the reporters scribbling away--no doubt
they knew their business! Aye, there was the secret. The wife's adoration
showed through her very failure--through this strange conversion of all
that was manly, solid, and effective in Maxwell, into a confused mass of
facts and figures, pedantic, colourless, and cold!

Edward Watton began to look desperately unhappy. "Too long," he said,
whispering in Tressady's ear, "and too technical. They can't follow."

And he looked at a group of rough factory-girls beginning to scuffle with
the young men near them, at the restless crowd of "greeners," at the
women in the centre of the hall lifting puzzled faces to the speaker, as
though in a pain of listening.

Tressady nodded. In the struggle of devotion with a half-laughing
annoyance he could only crave that the thing should be over.

But the next instant his face altered. He pushed forward instinctively,
turning his back on Watton, hating the noisy room, that would hardly
let him hear.

Ah!--those few last sentences, that voice, that quiver of passion--they
were her own--herself, not Maxwell. The words were very simple, and a
little tremulous--words of personal reminiscence and experience. But for
one listener there they changed everything. The room, the crowd, the
speaker--he saw them for a moment under another aspect: that poetic,
eternal aspect, which is always there, behind the veil of common things,
ready to flash out on mortal eyes. He _felt_ the woman's heart, oppressed
with a pity too great for it; the delicate, trembling consciousness, like
a point in space, weighed on by the burden of the world; he stood, as it
were, beside her, hearing with her ears, seeing the earth-spectacle as
she saw it, with that terrible second sight of hers: the all-environing
woe and tragedy of human things--the creeping hunger and pain--the
struggle that leads no whither--the life that hates to live and yet
dreads to die--the death that cuts all short, and does but add one more
hideous question to the great pile that hems the path of man.

A hard, reluctant tear rose in his eyes. Is it starved tailoresses and
shirtmakers alone who suffer? Is there no hunger of the heart, that
matches and overweighs the physical? Is it not as easy for the rich as
the poor to miss the one thing needful, the one thing that matters and
saves? Angrily, and in a kind of protest, he put out his hand, as it
were, to claim his own share of the common pain.

"Make way there! make way!" cried a police-sergeant, holding back the
crowd, "and let the lady pass."

Tressady did his best to push through with Lady Maxwell on his arm. But
there was an angry hum of voices in front of him, an angry pressure round
the doors.

"We shall soon get a cab," he said, bending over her. "You are very
tired, I fear. Please lean upon me."

Yet he could but feel grateful to the crowd. It gave him this joy of
protecting and supporting her. Nevertheless, as he looked ahead, he
wished that they were safely off, and that there were more police!

For this meeting, which had been only mildly disorderly and inattentive
while Marcella was speaking, had suddenly flamed, after she sat down,
into a fierce confusion and tumult--why, Tressady hardly now understood.
A man had sprung up to speak as she sat down who was apparently in bad
repute with most of the unions of the district. At any rate, there had
been immediate uproar and protest. The trade-unionists would not hear
him--hurled names at him--"thief," "blackleg"--as he attempted to speak.
Then the Free Workers, for whom this dubious person had been lately
acting, rose in a mass and booed at the unionists; and finally some of
the dark-eyed, black-bearded "greeners" near the door, urged on,
probably, by the masters, whose slaves they were, had leaped the benches
near them, shouting strange tongues, and making for the hostile throng
around the platform.

Then it had been time for Naseby and the police to clear the platform and
open a passage for the Maxwell party. Unfortunately, there was no outlet
to the back, no chance of escaping the shouting crowd in Manx Road.
Tressady, joining his friends at last by dint of his height and a free
play of elbows, found himself suddenly alone with Lady Maxwell, Naseby
and Lady Madeleine borne along far behind, and no chance but to follow
the current, with such occasional help as the police stationed along the
banks of it might be able to give.

Outside, Tressady strained his eyes for a cab.

"Here, sir!" cried the sergeant in front, carving a passage by dint of
using his own stalwart frame as a ram.

They hurried on, for some rough lads on the edges of the crowd had
already begun stone-throwing. The faces about them seemed to be partly
indifferent, partly hostile. "Look at the bloomin bloats!" cried a wild
factory-girl with a touzled head as Lady Maxwell passed. "Let 'em stop at
'ome and mind their own 'usbands--yah!"

"Garn! who paid for your bonnet?" shouted another, until a third girl
pulled her back, panting, "If you say that any more I'll scrag yer!" For
this third girl had spent a fortnight in the Mile End Road house, getting
fed and strengthened before an operation.

But here was the cab! Lady Maxwell's foot was already on the step, when
Tressady felt something fly past him.

There was a slight cry. The form in front of him seemed to waver a
moment. Then Tressady himself mounted, caught her, and in another moment,
after a few plunges from the excited horse, they were off down Manx
Road, followed by a shouting crowd that gradually thinned.

"You are hurt!" he said.

"Yes," she said faintly, "but not much. Will you tell him to drive first
to Mile End Road?"

"I have told him. Can I do anything to stop the bleeding?"

He looked at her in despair. The handkerchief, and the delicate hand
itself that she was holding to her brow, were dabbled in blood.

"Have you a silk handkerchief to spare?" she asked him, smiling slightly
and suddenly through her pallor, as though at their common predicament.

By good fortune he had one. She took off her hat, and gave him a few
business-like directions. His fingers trembled as he tried to obey her;
but he had the practical sense that the small vicissitudes and hardships
of travel often develop in a man, and between them they adjusted a rough
but tolerable bandage.

Then she leant against the side of the cab, and he thought she would
have swooned. There was a pause, during which he watched the quivering
lines of the lips and nostrils and the pallor of the cheeks with a
feeling of dismay.

But she did not mean to faint, and little by little her will answered to
her call upon it. Presently she said, with eyes shut and brow contracted:

"I _trust_ the others are safe. Oh! what a failure--what a failure! I am
afraid I have done Aldous harm!"

The tone of the last words touched Tressady deeply. Evidently she could
hardly restrain her tears.

"They were not worthy you should go and speak to them," he said quickly.
"Besides, it was only a noisy minority."

She did not speak again till they drew up before the house in the Mile
End Road. Then she turned to him.

"I was to have stayed here for the night, but I think I must go home.
Aldous might hear that there had been a disturbance. I will leave a
message here, and drive home."

"I trust you will let me go with you. We should none of us be happy to
think of you as alone just yet. And I am due at the House by eleven."

She smiled, assenting, then descended, leaning heavily upon him in
her weakness.

When she reappeared, attended by her two little servants, all frightened
and round-eyed at their mistress's mishap, she had thrown a thick lace
scarf round her head, which hid the bandage and gave to her pale beauty a
singularly touching, appealing air.

"I wish I could see Madeleine," she said anxiously, standing beside the
cab and looking up the road. "Ah!"

For she had suddenly caught sight of a cab in the distance driving
smartly up. As it approached, Naseby and Lady Madeleine were plainly to
be seen inside it. The latter jumped out almost at Marcella's feet,
looking more scared than ever as she saw the bandage and the black scarf
twisted round the white face. But in a few moments Marcella had soothed
her, and given her over, apparently, to the care of another lady staying
in the house. Then she waved her hand to Naseby, who, with his usual
coolness, asked no questions and made no remarks, and she and Tressady
drove off.

"Madeleine will stay the night," Marcella explained as they sped towards
Aldgate. "That was our plan. My secretary will look after her. She has
been often here with me lately, and has things of her own to do. But I
ought not to have taken her to-night. Lady Kent would never have forgiven
me if she had been hurt. Oh! it was all a mistake--all a great mistake! I
suppose I imagined--that is one's folly--that I could really do some
good--make an effect."

She bit her lip, and the furrow reappeared in the white brow.

Tressady felt by sympathy that her heart was all sore, her moral being
shaken and vibrating. After these long months of labour and sympathy and
emotion, the sudden touch of personal brutality had unnerved her.

Mere longing to comfort, to "make-up," overcame him.

"You wouldn't talk of mistake--of failing--if you knew how to be near
you, to listen to you, to see you, touches and illuminates some of us!"

His cheek burnt, but he turned a manly, eager look upon her.

Her cheek, too, flushed, and he thought he saw her bosom heave.

"Oh no!--no!" she cried. "How _impossible!_--when one feels oneself so
helpless, so clumsy, so useless. Why couldn't I do better? But perhaps it
is as well. It all prepares one--braces one--against--"

She paused and leaned forward, looking out at the maze of figures and
carriages on the Mansion House crossing, her tight-pressed lips trembling
against her will.

"Against the last inevitable disappointment." That, no doubt, was what
she meant.

"If you only understood how loth some of us are to differ from you," he
cried,--"how hard it seems to have to press another view,--to be
already pledged."

"Oh yes!--_please_--I know that you are pledged," she said, in
hasty distress, her delicacy shrinking as before from the direct
personal argument.

They were silent a little. Tressady looked out at the houses in Queen
Victoria Street, at the lamplit summer night, grudging the progress of
the cab, the approach of the river, of the Embankment, where there would
be less traffic to bar their way--clinging to the minutes as they passed.

"Oh! how could they put up that woman?" she said presently, her eyes
still shut, her hand shaking, as it rested on the door. "How _could_
they? It is the thought of women like that--the hundreds and thousands of
them--that goads one on. A clergyman who knows the East End well said to
me the other day, 'The difference between now and twenty years ago is
that the women work much more, the men less.' I can never get away from
the thought of the women! Their lives come to seem to me the mere refuse,
the rags and shreds, that are thrown every day into the mill and ground
to nothing--without a thought--without a word of pity, an hour of
happiness! Cancer--three children left out of nine--and barely forty,
though she looked sixty! They tell me she may live eighteen months. Then,
when the parish has buried her, the man has only to hold up his finger to
find someone else to use up in the same way. And she is just one of
thousands."

"I can only reply by the old, stale question," said Tressady, sturdily.
"Did we make the mill? Can we stop its grinding? And if not, is it fair
even to the race that has something to gain from courage and gaiety--is
it _reasonable_ to take all our own poor little joy and drench it in
this horrible pain of sympathy, as you do! But we have said all these
things before."

He bent over to her, smiling. But she did not look up. And he saw a tear
which her weakness, born of shock and fatigue, could not restrain, steal
from the lashes on the cheek. Then he added, still leaning towards her:

"Only, what I never have said--I think--is what is true to-night. At last
you have made one person feel--if that matters anything!--the things you
feel. I don't know that I am particularly grateful to you! And,
practically, we may be as far apart as ever. But I was without a sense
when I went into this game of politics; and now--"

His heart beat. What would he not have said, mad youth!--within the
limits imposed by her nature and his own dread--to make her look at him,
to soften this preposterous sadness!

But it needed no more. She opened her eyes, and looked at him with a wild
sweetness and gratitude which dazzled him, and struck his memory with the
thought of the Southern, romantic strain in her.

"You are very kind and comforting!" she said; "but then, from the
first--somehow--I knew you were a friend to us. One felt it--through all
difference."

The little sentences were steeped in emotion--emotion springing from
many sources, fed by a score of collateral thoughts and memories--with
which Tressady had, in truth, nothing to do. Yet the young man gulped
inwardly. She had been a tremulous woman till the words were said.
Now--strange!--through her very gentleness and gratefulness, a barrier
had risen between them. Something stern and quick told him this was
the very utmost of what she could ever say to him--the farthest limit
of it all.

They passed under Charing Cross railway bridge. Beside them, as they
emerged, the moon shone out above the darks and silvers of the river, and
in front, the towers of Westminster rose purplish grey against a west
still golden.

"How were things going in the House this afternoon?" she asked, looking
at the towers. "Oh! I forgot. You see, the clock says close on eleven.
Please let me drop you here. I can manage by myself quite well."

He protested, and she yielded, with a patient kindness that made him
sore. Then he gave his account, and they talked a little of Monday's
division and of the next critical votes in Committee--each of them, so he
felt in his exaltation, a blow dealt to her--that he must help to deal.
Yet there was a fascination in the topic. Neither could get away from it.

Presently, Pall Mall being very full of traffic, they had to wait a
moment at the corner of the street that turns into St. James's Square. In
the pause Tressady caught sight of a man on the pavement. The man smiled,
looked astonished, and took off his hat. Lady Maxwell bowed coldly, and
immediately looked away. Tressady recognised Harding Watton. But neither
he nor she mentioned his name.

In another minute he had seen her vanish within the doors of her own
house. Her hand had rested gently, willingly, in his.

"I am so grateful!" she had said; "so will Maxwell be. We shall meet
soon, and laugh over our troubles!"

And then she was gone, and he was left standing a moment, bewildered.

Eleven? What had he to do?

Then he remembered his pair, and that he had promised to call for Letty
at a certain house, and take her on to a late ball. The evening, in fact,
instead of ending, was just beginning. He could have laughed, as he got
back into his cab.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Marcella had sped through the outer hall into the inner, where
one solitary light, still burning, made a rather desolate dark-in-light
through the broad, pillared space. A door opened at the farther side.

"Aldous!"

"You!"

He came out, and she flew to him. He felt her trembling as she touched
him. In ten words she told him something of what had happened. Then
he saw the bandage round her temple. His countenance fell. She knew
that he turned white, and loved him for it. How few things had power
to move him so!

He wanted to lead her back into his library, where he was at work. But
she resisted.

"Let me go up to Annette," she said. "The little wound--oh! it is not
much, I _know_ it is not much--ought to be properly seen to. We will do
it between us in a moment. Then come--I will send her down for you. I
want to tell you."

But in her heart of hearts she was just a little afraid of telling him.
What if an exaggerated version should get into the papers--if it should
really do him harm--at this critical moment! She was always tormented by
this dread, a dread born of long-past indiscretions and mistakes.

He acquiesced, but first he insisted on half leading, half carrying her
upstairs; and she permitted it, delighting in his strong arm.

Half an hour later she sent for him. The maid found him pacing up and
down the hall, waiting.

When he entered her room she was lying on her sofa in a white wrapper of
some silky stuff. The black lace had been drawn again round her head, and
he saw nothing but a very pale face and her eager, timid eyes--timid for
no one in the world but him. As he caught sight of her, she produced in
him that exquisite mingled impression of grace, passion, self-yielding,
which in all its infinite variations and repetitions made up for him the
constant poem of her beauty. But though she knew it, she glanced at him
anxiously as he approached her. It had been to her a kind of luxury of
feeling, in the few moments that she had been waiting for him, to cherish
a little fear of him--of his displeasure.

"Now describe exactly what you have been doing," he said, sitting down by
her with a troubled face and taking her hand, as soon as he had assured
himself that the cut was slight and would leave no scar.

She told her tale, and was thrilled to see that he frowned. She laid her
hand on his shoulder.

"It is the first public thing I have done without consulting you. I meant
to have asked you yesterday, but we were both so busy. The meeting was
got up rather hurriedly, and they pressed me to speak, after all the
arrangements were made."

"We are both of us too busy," he said, rather sadly; "we glance, and nod,
and bustle by--"

He did not finish the quotation, but she could. Her eyes scanned his
face. "Do you think I ought to have avoided such a thing at such a time?
Will it do harm?"

His brow cleared. He considered the matter.

"I think you may expect some of the newspapers to make a good deal of
it," he said, smiling.

And, in fact, his own inherited tastes and instincts were all chafed by
her story. His wife--the wife of a Cabinet Minister--pleading for her
husband's Bill, or, as the enemy might say, for his political existence,
with an East End meeting, and incidentally with the whole
public--exposing herself, in a time of agitation, to the rowdyism and
the stone-throwing that wait on such things! The notion set the
fastidious old-world temper of the man all on edge. But he would never
have dreamed of arguing the matter so with her. A sort of high chivalry
forbade it. In marrying her he had not made a single condition--would
have suffered tortures rather than lay the smallest fetter upon her. In
consequence, he had been often thought a weak, uxorious person. Maxwell
knew that he was merely consistent. No sane man lays his heart at the
feet of a Marcella without counting the cost.

She did not answer his last remark. But he saw that she was wistful and
uneasy, and presently she laid her fingers lightly on his.

"Tell me if I am too much away from you--too much occupied with
other people."

He sighed,--the slightest sigh,--but she winced. "I had just an hour
before dinner," he said; "you were not here, and the house seemed very
empty. I would have come down to fetch you, but there were some important
papers to read before to-morrow." A Cabinet meeting was fixed, as she
knew, for the following day. "Then, I have been making Saunders draw up a
statement for the newspapers in answer to Watton's last attack, and it
would have been a help to talk to you before we sent it off. Above all,
if I had known of the meeting I should have begged you not to go. I ought
to have warned you yesterday, for I knew that there was some ugly
agitation developing down there. But I never thought of you as likely to
face a mob. Will you please reflect"--he pressed her hand almost roughly
against his lips--"that if that stone had been a little heavier, and
flung a little straighter--"

He paused. A dew came to her eyes, a happy glow to her cheek. As for her,
she was grateful to the stone that had raised such heart-beats.

Perhaps some instinct told him not to please her in this way too much,
for he rose and walked away a moment.

"There! don't let's think of it, or I shall turn tyrant after all, and
plunge into 'shalls' and 'sha'n'ts'! You _know_ you carry two lives, and
all the plans that either of us care about, in your hand. You say that
Tressady brought you home?"

He turned and looked at her.

"Yes. Edward Watton brought him to the meeting."

"But he has been down to see you there several times before, as well as
coming here?"

"Oh yes! almost every week since we met at Castle Luton."

"It is curious," said Maxwell, thoughtfully; "for he will certainly vote
steadily with Fontenoy all through. His election speeches pledged him
head over ears."

"Oh! of course he will vote," said Marcella, moving a little uneasily;
"but one cannot help trying to modify his way of looking at things. And
his tone _is_ changed."

Maxwell stood at the foot of her sofa, considering, a host of perplexed
and unwelcome notions flitting across his mind. In spite of his idealist
absorption in his work, his political aims, and the one love of his
life, he had the training of a man of the world, and could summon the
shrewdness of one when he pleased. He had liked this young Tressady, for
the first time, at Castle Luton, and had seen him fall under Marcella's
charm with some amusement. But this haunting of their camp in the East
End, at such a marked and critical moment, was strange, to say the least
of it. It must point, one would think, to some sudden and remarkable
strength of personal influence.

Had she any real consciousness of the power she wielded? Once or twice,
in the years since they had been married, Maxwell had watched this spell
of his wife's at work, and had known a moment of trouble. "If I were the
fellow she had talked and walked with so," he had once said to himself,
"I must have fallen in love with her had she been twenty times another
man's wife!" Yet no harm had happened; he had only reproached himself for
a gross mind without daring to breathe a word to her.

And he dared not now. Besides, how absurd! The young man was just
married, and, to Maxwell's absent, incurious eyes, the bride had seemed a
lively, pretty little person enough. No doubt it was the nervous strain
of his political life that made such fancies possible to him. Let him not
cumber her ears with them!

Then gradually, as he stood at her feet, the sight of her, breathing
weakness, submission, loveliness, her eyes raised to his, banished every
other thought from his happy heart, and drew him like a magnet.

Meanwhile she began to smile. He knelt down beside her, and she put both
hands on his shoulders.

"Dear!" she said, half laughing and half crying, "I did speak so badly;
you would have been ashamed of me. I couldn't hold the meeting. I didn't
persuade a soul. Lord Fontenoy's ladies had it all their own way. And
first I was dreadfully sorry I couldn't do such a thing decently--sorry
because of one's vanity, and sorry because I couldn't help you. And now I
think I'm rather glad."

"Are you?" said Maxwell, drily; "as for me, I'm enchanted! There!--so
much penalty you _shall_ have."

She pressed his lips with her hand.

"Don't spoil my pretty speech. I am only glad because--because public
life and public success make one stand separate--alone. I have gone
far enough to know how it might be. A new passion would come in, and
creep through one like a poison. I should win you votes--and our
hearts would burn dry! There! take me--scold me--despise me. I am a
poor thing--but yours!"

With such a humbleness might Diana have wooed her shepherd, stooping her
goddess head to him on the Latmian steep.



CHAPTER XV


George went back to the House, and stayed for half an hour or so,
listening to a fine speech from a member of a former Liberal Cabinet. The
speech was one more sign of the new cleavage of parties that was being
everywhere brought about by the pressure of the new Collectivism.

"We always knew," said the speaker, referring to a Ministry in which
he had served seven years before, "that we should be fighting
Socialism in good earnest before many years were over; and we knew,
too, that we should be fighting it as put forward by a Conservative
Government. The hands are the hands of the English Tory, the voice is
the voice of Karl Marx."

The Socialists sent forth mocking cheers, while the Government benches
sat silent. The rank-and-file of the Conservative party already hated the
Bill. The second reading must go through. But if only some rearrangement
were possible without rushing the country into the arms of
revolutionists--if it were only conceivable that Fontenoy, or even the
old Liberal gang, should form a Government, and win the country, the
Committee stage would probably not trouble the House long.

Meanwhile in the smoking-rooms and lobbies the uncertainties of the
coming division kept up an endless hum of gossip and conjecture. Tressady
wandered about it all like a ghost, indifferent and preoccupied, careful
above all to avoid any more talk with Fontenoy. While he was in the House
itself he stood at the door or sat in the cross-benches, so as to keep a
space between him and his leader.

A little before twelve he drove home, dressed hastily, and went off to a
house in Berkeley Square, where he was to meet Letty. He found her
waiting for him, a little inclined to be reproachful, and eager for her
ball. As they drove towards Queen's Gate she chattered to him of her
evening, and of the people and dresses she had seen.

"And, you foolish boy!" she broke out, laughing, and tapping him on the
hand with her fan--"you looked so glum this morning when I couldn't go
and see Lady Tressady--and--what do you think? Why, she has been at a
party to-night--at a party, my dear!--and _dressed_! Mrs. Willy Smith
told me she had seen her at the Webers'."

"I daresay," said George, rather shortly; "all the same, this morning she
was very unwell."

Letty shrugged her shoulders, but she did not want to be disagreeable and
argue the point. She was much pleased with her dress--with the last
glance of herself that she had caught in the cloak-room looking-glass
before leaving Berkeley Square--and, finally, with this well-set-up,
well-dressed husband beside her. She glanced at him every now and then as
she put on a fresh pair of gloves. He had been very much absorbed in this
tiresome Parliament lately, and she thought herself a very good and
forbearing wife not to make more fuss. Nor had she made any fuss about
his going down to see Lady Maxwell at the East End. It did not seem to
have made the smallest difference to his opinions.

The thought of Lady Maxwell brought a laugh to her lips.

"Oh! do you know, Harding was so amusing about the Maxwells to-day!" she
said, turning to Tressady in her most good-humoured and confiding mood.
"He says people are getting so tired of her,--of her meddling, and her
preaching, and all the rest of it,--and that everybody thinks him so
absurd not to put a stop to it. And Harding says that it doesn't succeed
even--that Englishmen will never stand petticoat government. It's all
very well--they have to stand it in some forms!"

And, stretching her slim neck, she turned and gave her husband a tiny
flying kiss on the cheek. Mechanically grateful, George took her hand in
his, but he did not make her the pretty speech she expected. Just before
she spoke he was about to tell her of his evening--of the meeting, and of
his drive home with Lady Maxwell. He had been far too proud hitherto, and
far too confident in himself, to make any secret to Letty of what he did.
And, luckily, she had raised no difficulties. In truth, she had been too
well provided with amusements and flatteries of her own since their
return from the country to leave her time or opportunities for jealousy.
Perhaps, secretly, the young husband would have been more flattered if
she had been more exacting.

But as she quoted Harding something stiffened in him. Later, after the
ball, when they were alone, he would tell her--he would try and make her
understand what sort of a woman Marcella Maxwell was. In his trouble of
mind a confused plan crossed his thoughts of trying to induce Lady
Maxwell to make friends with Letty. But a touch of that charm, that
poetry!--he asked no more.

He glanced at his wife. She looked pretty and young as she sat beside
him, lost in a pleasant pondering of social successes. But he wondered,
uncomfortably, why she must use such a thickness of powder on her still
unspoilt complexion; and her dress seemed to him fantastic, and not
over-modest. He had begun to have the strangest feeling about their
relation, as though he possessed a double personality, and were looking
on at himself and her, wondering how it would end. It was characteristic,
perhaps, of his half-developed moral life that his sense of ordinary
husbandly responsibility towards her was not strong. He always thought of
her as he thought of himself--as a perfectly free agent, dealing with him
and their common life on equal terms.

The house to which they were going belonged to very wealthy people, and
Letty was looking forward feverishly to the cotillon.

"They say, at the last dance they gave, the cotillon gifts cost eight
hundred pounds," she said gleefully, to George. "They always do things
extraordinarily well."

No doubt it was the prospect of the cotillon that had brought such a
throng together. The night was stifling; the stairs and the supper-room
were filled with a struggling mob; and George spent an hour of purgatory
wondering at the gaieties of his class.

He had barely more than two glimpses of Letty after they had fought their
way into the room. On the first occasion, by stretching himself to his
full height so as to look over the intervening crowd, he saw her seated
in a chair of state, a mirror in one hand and a lace handkerchief in the
other. Young men were being brought up behind her to look into the glass
over her shoulder, and she was merrily brushing their images away.
Presently a tall, dark fellow advanced, with jet-black moustache and red
cheeks. Letty kept her handkerchief suspended a moment over the
reflection in the glass. George could see the corners of her lips
twitching with amusement. Then she quietly handed the mirror to the
leader of the cotillon, rose, gathered up her white skirt a little, the
music struck up joyously, and she and Lord Cathedine spun round the room
together, followed by the rest of the dancers.

George meanwhile found few people to talk to. He danced a few dances,
mostly with young girls in the white frocks of their first season--a
species of partner for which, as a rule, he had no affinity at all. But
on the whole he passed the time leaning against the wall in a corner,
lost in a reverie which was a vague compound of this and that, there and
here; of the Manx Road schoolroom, its odours and heats, its pale,
uncleanly crowd absorbed in the things of daily bread, with these gay,
scented rooms, and this extravagance of decoration, that made even
flowers a vulgarity, with these costly cotillon gifts--pins, bracelets,
rings--that were being handed round and wondered over by people who had
already more of such things than they could wear; of these rustling
women, in their silks and diamonds, with that gaunt stooping image of the
loafer's wife, smiling her queer defiance at pain and fate, and letting
meddling "lidies" know that without sixteen hours' "settin" she could not
keep her husband and children alive. Stale commonplace, that all the
world knows by heart!--the squalor of the _pauperum tabernae_ dimming the
glory of the _regum turres_. Yet there are only a few men and women in
each generation who really pass into the eclipsing shadow of it. Others
talk--_they_ feel and struggle. There were many elements in Tressady's
nature that might seem destined to force him into their company. Yet
hitherto he had resolutely escaped his destiny--and enjoyed his life.

About supper-time he found himself near Lady Cathedine, a thin-faced,
silent creature, whose eyes suddenly attracted him. He took her down to
supper, and spent an exceedingly dull time. She had the air of one pining
to talk, to confide herself. Yet in practice it was apparently impossible
for her to do it. She fell back into monosyllables or gentle banalities;
and George noticed that she was always restlessly conscious of the
movements in the room--who came in, who went out--and throwing little
frightened glances towards the door.

He was glad indeed when his task was over. On their way to the
drawing-rooms they passed a broad landing, which on one side led out to a
balcony, and had been made into a decorated bower for sitting-out. At
the farther end he saw Letty sitting beside Harding Watton. Letty was
looking straight before her, with a flushed and rather frowning face.
Harding was talking to her, and, to judge from his laughing manner, was
amusing himself, if not her.

George duly found Lady Cathedine a seat, and returned himself to ask
Letty whether it was not time to go. He found, however, that she had been
carried off by another partner, and could only resign himself to a fresh
twenty minutes of boredom. He leant, yawning, against the wall, feeling
the evening interminable.

Then a Harrow and Oxford acquaintance came up to him, and they chatted
for a time behind a stand of flowers that stood between them and one of
the doorways to the ballroom. At the end of the dance George saw Lady
Cathedine hurrying up to this door with the quick, furtive step that was
characteristic of her. She passed on the other side of the flowers, and
George heard her say to someone just inside the room:

"Robert, the carriage has come!"

A pause; then a thick voice said, in an emphatic undertone:

"Damn the carriage!--go away!"

"But, Robert, you know we _promised_ to look in at Lady Tuam's on the
way home."

The thick voice dropped a note lower.

"Damn Lady Tuam! I shall come when it suits me."

Lady Cathedine fell back, and George saw her cross the landing, and drop
into a chair beside an old general, who was snoozing in a peaceful corner
till his daughters should see fit to take him home. The old general took
no notice of her, and she sat there, playing with her fan, her rather
prominent grey eyes staring out of her white face.

Both George and his friend, as it happened, had heard the conversation.
The friend raised his eyebrows in disgust.

"What a brute that fellow is! They have been married four months.
However, she was amply warned."

"Who was she?"

"The daughter of old Wickens, the banker. He married her for her money,
and lives upon it religiously. By now, I should think, he has dragged her
through every torture that marriage admits of."

"So soon?" said George, drily.

"Well," said the friend, laughing, "no doubt it admits of a great many."

"I am ready to go home," said a voice at Tressady's elbow.

Something in the intonation surprised him, and he turned quickly.

"By all means," he said, throwing an astonished look at his wife, who had
come up to him on Lord Cathedine's arm. "I will go and look for the
carriage."

What was the matter, he asked himself as he ran downstairs--what was the
meaning of Letty's manner and expression?

But by the time he had sent for the carriage the answer had suggested
itself. No doubt Harding Watton had given Letty news of that hansom in
Pall Mall, and no doubt, also--He shrugged his shoulders in annoyance.
The notion of having to explain and excuse himself was particularly
unpalatable. What a fool he had been not to tell Letty of his East End
adventure on their way to Queen's Gate.

He was standing in a little crowd at the foot of the stairs when Letty
swept past him in search of her wraps. He smiled at her, but she held her
head erect as though she did not see him.

So there was to be a scene. George felt the rise of a certain inner
excitement. Perhaps it was as well. There were a good many things he
wanted to say.

At the same time, the Cathedine episode had filled him with a new disgust
for the violences and brutalities to which the very intimacy of the
marriage relation may lead. If a scene there was to be, he meant to be
more or less frank, and at the same time to keep both himself and her
within bounds.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You can't deny that you made a secret of it from me," cried Letty,
angrily. "I asked you what had been doing in the House, and you never let
me suspect that you had been anywhere else the whole evening."

"I daresay," said George, quietly. "But I never meant to make any
mystery. Something you said about Lady Maxwell put me off telling
you--then. I thought I would wait till we got home."

They were in George's study--the usual back-room on the ground-floor,
which George could not find time to make comfortable, while Letty had
never turned her attention to it. Tressady was leaning against the
mantelpiece. He had turned up a solitary electric light, and in the cold
glare of it Letty was sitting opposite to him, angrily upright. The ugly
light had effaced the half-tones of the face and deepened the lines of
it, while it had taken all the grace from her extravagant dress and
tumbled flowers. She seemed to have lost her prettiness.

"Something I said about Lady Maxwell?" she repeated scornfully. "Why
shouldn't I say what I like about Lady Maxwell? What does she matter
either to you or to me that I should not laugh at her if I please?
Everybody laughs at her."

"I don't think so," said Tressady, quietly. "I have seen her to-night in
a curious and touching scene--in a meeting of very poor people. She tried
to make a speech, by the way, and spoke badly. She did not carry the
meeting with her, and towards the end it got noisy. As we came out she
was struck with a stone, and I got a hansom for her, and drove her home
to St. James's Square. We were just turning into the Square when Harding
saw us. I happened to be with her in the crowd when the stone hit her.
What do you suppose I could do but bring her home?"

"Why did you go? and why didn't you tell me at once?"

"Why did I go?" Tressady hesitated, then looked down upon his wife.
"Well!--I suppose I went because Lady Maxwell is very interesting to
watch--because she is sympathetic and generous, and it stirs one's mind
to talk to her."

"Not at all!" cried Letty, passionately. "You went because she is
handsome--because she is just a superior kind of flirt. She is always
making women anxious about their husbands under this pretence of
politics. Heaps of women hate her, and are afraid of her."

She was very white, and could hardly save herself from the tears of
excitement. Yet what was working in her was not so much Harding Watton's
story as this new and strange manner of her husband's. She had sat
haughtily silent in the carriage on their way home, fully expecting him
to question her--to explain, entreat, excuse himself, as he had generally
been ready to do whenever she chose to make a quarrel. But he, too, said
nothing, and she could not make up her mind how to begin. Then, as soon
as they were shut into his room her anger had broken out, and he had not
yet begun to caress and appease her. Her surprise had brought with it a
kind of shock. What was the matter? Why was she not mistress as usual?

As she made her remark about Marcella, Tressady smiled a little, and
played with a cigarette he had taken up.

"Whom do you mean?" he asked her. "One often hears these things said of
her in the vague, and never with any details. I myself don't believe it.
Harding, of course, believes anything to her disadvantage."

Letty hesitated; then, remembering all she could of Harding's ill-natured
gossip, she flung out some names, exaggerating and inventing freely. The
emphasis with which she spoke reddened all the small face again--made it
hot and common.

Tressady raised his shoulders as she came to the end of her tirade.

"Well, you know I don't believe all that--and I don't think Harding
believes it. Lady Maxwell, as you once said yourself, is not, I suppose,
a woman's woman. She gets on better, no doubt, with men than with women.
These men you speak of are all personal and party friends. They support
Maxwell, and they like her. But if anybody is jealous, I should think
they might remember that there is safety in numbers."

"Oh, that's all very well! But she wants _power_, and she doesn't care a
rap how she gets it. She is a dangerous, intriguing woman--and she just
trades upon her beauty!"

Tressady, who had been leaning with his face averted from her, turned
round with sparkling eyes.

"You foolish child!" he said slowly--"you foolish child!"

Her lips twitched. She put out a shaking hand to her cloak, that had
fallen from her arms.

"Oh! very well. I sha'n't stay here to be talked to like that, so
good-night."

He took no notice. He walked up to her and put his hands on her
shoulders.

"Don't you know what it is"--he spoke with a curious imperiousness--"that
protects any woman--or any man either for the matter of that--from
Marcella Maxwell's beauty? Don't you know that she adores her husband?"

"That's a pose, of course, like everything else," cried Letty, trying to
move herself away; "you once said it was."

"Before I knew her. It's not a pose--it's the secret of her whole life."

He walked back to the mantelpiece, conscious of a sudden rise of inward
bitterness.

"Well, I shall go to bed," said Letty, again half rising. "You might, I
think, have had the kindness and the good taste to say you were sorry I
should have the humiliation of finding out where my husband spends his
evenings, from Harding Watton!"

Tressady was stung.

"When have I ever concealed what I did from you?" he asked her hotly.

Letty, who was standing stiff and scornful, tossed her head
without speaking.

"That means," said Tressady after a pause, "that you don't take my word
for it--that you suspect me of deceiving you before to-night?"

Letty still said nothing. His eyes flashed. Then a pang of conscience
smote him. He took up his cigarette again with a laugh.

"I think we are both a pair of babies," he said, as he pretended to look
for matches. "You know very well that you don't really think I tell you
mean lies. And let me assure you, my dear child, that fate did not mean
Lady Maxwell to have lovers--and that she never will have them. But when
that's said there's something else to say."

He went up to her again, and touched her arm.

"You and I couldn't have this kind of scene, Letty, could we, if
everything was all right?"

Her breast rose and fell hurriedly.

"Oh! I supposed you would want to retaliate--to complain on your side!"

"Yes," he said deliberately, "I think I do want to complain. Why is it
that--I began to like going down to see Lady Maxwell--why did I like
talking to her at Castle Luton? Well! of course it's pleasant to be with
a beautiful person--I don't deny that in the least. But she might have
been as beautiful as an angel, and I mightn't have cared twopence about
her. She has something much less common than beauty. It's very simple,
too--I suppose it's only _sympathy_--just that. Everybody feels the same.
When you talk to her she seems to care about it; she throws her mind into
yours. And there's a charm about it--there's no doubt of that."

He had begun his little speech meaning to be perfectly frank and
honest--to appeal to her better nature and his own. But something
stopped him abruptly, perhaps the sudden perception that he was after
playing the hypocrite--perhaps the consciousness that he was only making
matters worse.

"It's a pity you didn't say all these things before," she said, with
a hard laugh, "instead of denouncing the political woman, as you
used to do."

He sat down on the arm of the chair beside her, balancing lightly, with
his hands in his pockets.

"Did I denounce the political woman? Well, the Lord knows I'm not in love
with her now! It isn't politics, my dear, that are attaching--it's the
kind of human being. Ah! well, don't let's talk of it. Let's go back to
that point of sympathy. There's more in it than I used to think. Suppose,
for instance, you were to try and take a little more interest in my
political work than you do? Suppose you were to try and see money matters
from my point of view, instead of driving us"--he paused a moment, then
went on coolly, lifting his thin, long-chinned face to her as she stood
quivering beside him--"driving us into expenses that will, sooner or
later, be the ruin of us--that rob us, too, of self-respect. Suppose you
were to take a little more account, also, of my taste in people? I am
afraid I don't like Harding, though he is your cousin, and I don't
certainly see why he should furnish our drawing-rooms and empty our purse
for us as he has been doing. Then, as to Lord Cathedine, I'm really not
over-particular, but when I hear that fellow's in the house, my impulse
is to catch the nearest hansom and drive away from it. I heard him speak
to his wife to-night in a way for which he ought to be kicked down Oxford
Street--and, in general, I should say that it takes the shine off a
person to be much seen with Cathedine."

The calm attitude--the voice, just a shade interrogative, exasperated
Letty still more. She, too, sat down, her cheeks flaming.

"I am _extremely_ obliged to you! You really couldn't have been more
frank. I am sorry that _nothing_ I do pleases you. You must be quite
sorry by now you married me--but really I didn't force you! Why should I
give up my friends? You know very well you won't give up Lady Maxwell."

She looked at him keenly, her little foot beating the ground.
George started.

"But what is there to give up?" he cried. "Come and see her
yourself--come with me, and make friends with her. You would be
quite welcome."

But as he spoke he knew that he was talking absurdly, and that Letty had
reason for her laugh.

"Thank you! Lady Maxwell made it _quite_ plain to me at Castle Luton that
she didn't want _my_ acquaintance. I certainly sha'n't force myself upon
her any more. But if you'll give up going to see her--well, perhaps I'll
see what can be done to meet your wishes; though, of course, I think all
you say about Harding and Lord Cathedine is just unreasonable prejudice!"

George was silent. His mind was torn between the pricks of a conscience
that told him Letty had in truth, as far as he was concerned, a far more
real grievance than she imagined, and a passionate intellectual contempt
for the person who could even distantly imagine that Marcella Maxwell
belonged to the same category as other women, and was to be won by the
same arts as they. At last he broke out impatiently:

"I cannot possibly show discourtesy to one who has been nothing but
kindness to me, as she is to scores of others--to old friends like Edward
Watton, or new ones like--"

"She wants your vote, of course!" threw in Letty, with an excited laugh.
"_Either_ she is a flirt--_or_ she wants your vote. Why should she take
so much notice of you? She isn't your side--she wants to get hold of
you--and it makes you ridiculous. People just laugh at you and her!" She
turned upon him passionately. A little more, and the wish to say the
wounding, venomous thing would have grown like a madness upon her. But
George kept his self-possession.

"Well, they may laugh," he said, with a strong effort to speak
good-humouredly. "But politics aren't managed like that, as you and they
will find out. Votes are not so simple as they sound."

He got up and walked away from her as he spoke. As usual, his mood was
beginning to cool. He saw no way out. They must both accept the _status
quo_. No radical change was possible. It is character that makes
circumstance, and character is inexorable.

"Well, of course I didn't altogether believe that you would really be
such a fool, and wreck all your prospects!" said Letty, violently, her
feverish eyes intent the while on her husband and on the thin fingers
once more busied with the cigarette. "There now! I think we have had
enough of this! It doesn't seem to have led to much, does it?"

"No," said George, coolly; "but perhaps we shall come to see more alike
in time. I don't want to tyrannise--only to show you what I think. Shall
I carry up your cloak for you?"

He approached her punctiliously. Letty gathered her wraps upon her arm in
a disdainful silence, warding him off with a gesture. As he opened the
door for her she turned upon him:

"You talk of my extravagance, but you never seem to consider what you
might do to make up to me for the burden of being your mother's relation!
You expect me to put up with the annoyance and ridicule of belonging to
her--and to let her spend all your money besides. I give you fair warning
that I sha'n't do it! I shall try and spend it on my side, that she
sha'n't get it."

She was perfectly conscious that she was behaving like a vixenish child,
but she could not restrain herself. This strange new sense that she could
neither bend nor conquer him was becoming more than she could bear.

George looked at her, half inclined to shake her first, and then insist
on making friends. He was conscious that he could probably assert himself
with success if he tried. But the impulse failed him. He merely said,
without any apparent temper, "Then I shall have to see if I can invent
some way of protecting both myself and you."

She flung through the door, and almost ran through the long passage to
the stairs, in a sobbing excitement. A sudden thought struck George as he
stood looking after her. He pursued her, caught her at the foot of the
stairs, and held her arm strongly.

"Letty! I wasn't to tell you, but I choose to break my promise. Don't be
too cruel, my dear, or too angry. My mother is dying!"

She scanned him deliberately, the flushed face--the signs of strongly
felt yet strongly suppressed emotion. The momentary consciousness flew
through her that he was at bottom a very human, impressionable
creature--that if she could but have broken down and thrown herself on
his neck, this miserable evening might open for both of them a new way.
But her white-heat of passion was too strong. She pushed him away.

"She made you believe that this morning? Then I'd better hurry up at
Ferth; for of course it only means that there will be a fresh list of
debts directly!"

He let her go, and she heard him walk quickly back to his study and
shut the door. She stared after him triumphantly for a moment, then
rushed upstairs.

In her room her maid was waiting for her. Grier's sallow face and gloomy
eyes showed considerable annoyance at being kept up so late. But she said
nothing, and Letty, who in general was only too ready to admit the woman
to a vulgar familiarity, for once held her tongue. Her state of
excitement and exhaustion, however, was evident, and Grier bestowed many
furtive, examining glances upon her mistress in the course of the
undressing. She thought she had heard "them" quarrelling on the stairs.
What a pity she had been too tired and cross to listen!

Of course they must come to quarrelling! Grier's sympathies were
tolerably impartial. She had no affection for her mistress, and she
cordially disliked Sir George, knowing perfectly well that he thought ill
of her. But she had a good place, and meant to keep it if she could. To
which end she had done her best to strengthen a mean hold on Letty. Now,
as she was brushing out Letty's brown hair, and silently putting two and
two together the while, an idea occurred to her which pleased her.

After Grier had left her, Letty could not make up her mind to go to bed.
She was still pacing up and down the room in her dressing-gown, when she
heard a knock--Grier's knock.

"Come in!"

"Please, my lady," said Grier, appearing with something in her hand,
"doesn't this belong to your photograph box? I found it on the floor in
Sir George's dressing-room this morning."

Letty hastily took it from her, and, in spite of an instant effort to
control herself, the red flushed again into a cheek that had been very
pale when Grier came in.

"Where did you find it?"

"It had tumbled off Sir George's table, I think," said Grier, with
elaborate innocence; "someone must have took it out of your photo-box."

"Thank you," said Letty, shortly. "You may go, Grier."

The maid went, and Letty was left standing with the photograph in
her hands.

Two days before Tressady had been in Edward Watton's room in St.
James's Street, and had seen this amateur photograph of Marcella
Maxwell and her boy on Watton's table. The poetic charm of it had
struck him so forcibly that he had calmly put it in his pocket, telling
the protesting owner that he in his _rôle_ of great friend could easily
procure another, and must beware of a grudging spirit. Watton had
laughed and submitted, and Tressady had carried off the picture,
honestly meaning to present it to Letty for a collection of
contemporary "beauties" she had just begun to make.

Later in the day, as he was taking off his coat in the evening to dress
for dinner, Tressady drew out the photograph. A sudden instinct, which he
himself could hardly have explained, made him delay handing it over to
Letty. He thrust it into the top tray of his collar-and-shirt wardrobe.
Two days later the butler, coming in a hurry before breakfast to put out
his master's clothes, shook the photograph out of the folds of the shirt,
where it had hidden itself, without noticing what he had done. The
picture slipped between the wardrobe and the wall of the recess in which
it stood, was discovered later in the day by the housemaid, and given to
Lady Tressady's maid.

Letty laid the photograph down on the dressing-table, and stood leaning
upon her hands, looking at it. Marcella was sitting under one of the
cedars of Maxwell Court with her boy beside her. A fine corner of the old
house made a background, and the photographer had so dealt with his
picture as to make it a whole, full of significance, and culminating in
the two faces--the sensitive, speaking beauty of the mother, the sturdy
strength of the child. Marcella had never looked more wistful, more
attaching. It was the expression of a woman at rest, in the golden moment
of her life, yet conscious--as all happiness is conscious--of the common
human doom that nothing escapes. Meanwhile the fine, lightly furrowed
brow above the eyes spoke action and power; so did the strong waves of
black hair blown back by the breeze. A noble, strenuous creature, yet
quivering through and through with the simplest, most human instincts. So
one must needs read her, as one looked from the eyes to the eager clasp
of the arm about the boy.

Letty studied it, as though she would pierce and stab it with looking.
Then, with a sudden wild movement, she took up the picture, and tore it
into twenty pieces. The pieces she left strewn on the floor, so that they
must necessarily strike the eye of anyone coming into the room. And in a
few more minutes she was in bed, lying still and wakeful, with her face
turned away from the door.

About an hour afterwards there was a gentle knock at her door. She made
no answer, and Tressady came in. He stepped softly, thinking she was
asleep, and presently she heard him stop, with a stifled exclamation. She
made no sound, but from his movement she guessed that he was picking up
the litter on the floor. Then she heard it thrown into the basket under
her writing-table, and she waited, holding her breath.

Tressady walked to a far window, drew a curtain back softly, and stood
looking out at the starlight over the deserted street. Once, finding him
so still, she ventured a hasty glance at him over the edge of the sheet.
But she could see nothing. And after a time he turned and came to his
accustomed place beside her. In twenty minutes at latest, she knew, much
to her chagrin, that he was asleep.

She herself had no sleep. She was stung to wakefulness by that recurrent
sense of the irrevocable which makes us say to ourselves in wonder, "How
can it have happened? Two hours ago--such a little while--it had not
happened!" And the mind clutches at the bygone hour, so near, so
eternally distant--clutches at its ghost, in vain.

Yet it seemed to her now that she had been jealous from the first moment
when she and George had come into contact with Marcella Maxwell. During
the long hours of this night her jealousy burnt through her like a hot
pain--jealousy, mixed with reluctant memory. Half consciously she had
always assumed that it had been a piece of kindness on her part to marry
George Tressady at all. She had almost condescended to him. After all,
she had played with ambitions so much higher! At any rate, she had taken
for granted that he would always admire and be grateful to her--that in
return for her pretty self she might at least dispose of him and his as
she pleased.

And now, what galled her intolerably was this discernment of the way in
which--at least since their honeymoon--he must have been criticising
and judging her--judging her by comparison with another woman. She
seemed to see at a glance, the whole process of his mind, and her
vanity writhed under it.

How much else than vanity? As she turned restlessly from side to side,
possessed by plans for punishing George, for humiliating Lady Maxwell,
and avenging herself, she said to herself that she did not care,--that it
was not worth caring about,--that she would either bring George to his
senses, or manage to amuse herself without him.

But in reality she was held tortured and struggling all the time in the
first grip of that masterful hold wherewith the potter lifts his clay
when he lays it on the eternal whirring of the wheel.



CHAPTER XVI


The newspapers of the morning following these events--that is to say,
of Saturday, July 5--gave very lively accounts of the East End meeting,
at which, as some put it, Lady Maxwell "had got her answer" from the
East End mob. The stone-throwing, the blow, the woman, and the cause
were widely discussed that same day throughout the clubs and
drawing-rooms of Mayfair and Belgravia, no less than among the clubs and
"publics" of the East End; and the guests at country-house parties as
they hurried out of town for the Sunday, carried the gossip of the
matter far and wide. The Maxwells went down alone to Brookshire, and the
curious visitors who called in St. James's Square "to inquire" came away
with nothing to report.

"A put-up thing, the whole business," said Mrs. Watton, indignantly, to
her son Harding, as she handed him the "Observer," on the Sunday morning,
in the dining-room of the family house in Tilney Street. "Of course, a
little martyrdom just now suits her book excellently. How that man _can_
let her make him a laughing-stock in this way--"

"A laughing-stock?" said Harding, smiling. "Not at all. Don't spoil your
first remark, mother. For, of course, it is all practical politics. The
handsomest woman in England doesn't give her temple to be gashed for
nothing. You will see what her friends will make out of it!--and out of
the brutal violence of our mob."

"Disgusting!" said Mrs. Watton, playing severely with the lid of the
mustard-pot that stood beside her.

She and Harding were enjoying a late breakfast _tête-à-tête._ The old
Squire had finished long before, and was already doing his duty with a
volume of sermons in the library upstairs, preparatory to going to
church. Mrs. Watton and Harding, however, would accompany him thither
presently; for Harding was a great supporter of the Establishment.

The son raised his shoulders at his mother's adjective.

"What I want to know," he said, "is whether Lady Maxwell is going to bag
George Tressady, or not. He brought her home from the meeting on Friday."

"Brought her home from the meeting?--_George Tressady?_"

Mrs. Watton raised her masculine head and frowned at her son, as though
he were, in some sense, personally responsible for this unseemly fact.

"He has been haunting her in the East End for weeks. I got that out of
Edward. But, of course, one knew that was going to happen as soon as
one saw them together at Castle Luton. She throws her flies cleverly,
that woman!"

"All I can say is," observed Mrs. Watton, ponderously, "that in any
decent state of society such a woman would be banned!"

Harding rose, and stood by the open window caressing his moustache. It
was a perception of long standing with him, that life would have been
better worth living had his mother possessed a sense of humour.

"It seems to me," his mother resumed after a pause, "that someone at
least should give Letty a hint."

"Oh! Letty can take care of herself," said Watton, laughing. He might
have said, if he had thought it worth while, that somebody had already
given Letty a hint. Tressady, it appeared, disliked him. Well, people
that disliked you were fair game. However, in spite of Tressady's
dislike, he had been able to amuse himself a good deal with Letty and
Letty's furnishing during the last few months. Harding, who prided
himself on the finest of tastes, liked to be consulted; he liked
anything, also, that gave him importance, if it were only with the master
of a curiosity shop, and, under cover of Letty's large dealings, he had
carried off various spoils of his own for his rooms in the Temple--spoils
which were not to be despised--at a very moderate price indeed.

"Who could have thought George Tressady would turn out such a weak
creature," said his mother, rising, "when one remembers how Lord Fontenoy
believed in him?"

"And does still believe in him, more or less," said Harding; "but
Fontenoy will have to be warned."

He looked at the clock, to see if there was time for a cigarette before
church, lit it, and, leaning against the window, gazed towards the hazy
park with a meditative air.

"Do you mean there is any question of his ratting?" said his mother.

Harding raised his eyebrows.

"Well, no--hardly anything so gross as that. But you can see all the
spirit has gone out of him. He does no work for us. The party gets
nothing out of him."

Harding spoke as if he had the party in his pocket. His mother looked at
him with a severely concealed admiration. There were few limits to her
belief in Harding. But it was not her habit to flatter her sons.

"What makes one so mad," she said, as she sailed towards the door in a
stiff rustle of Sunday brocade, "is the way in which the people who
admire her talk of her. When one thinks that all this 'slumming,' and all
this stuff about the poor, only means keeping her husband in office and
surrounding herself with a court of young men, it turns one sick!"

"My dear mother, we keep all our little hypocrisies," said Harding,
indulgently. "Don't forget that Lady Maxwell provides me with a deal of
good copy."

And after his mother had left him he smoked on, thinking with pleasure of
an article of his on "The Woman of the Slums," packed with allusions to
Marcella Maxwell, which was to appear in the next number of the
"Haymarket Reporter," the paper that he and Fontenoy were now running.
Harding was not the editor. He disliked drudgery and office-hours; and
his father was good for enough to live upon. But he was a powerful
adviser in the conduct of the new journal, and wrote, perhaps, the
smartest articles.

The paper, indeed, was written by the smartest people conceivable, and
had achieved the smartest combinations. "Liberty" was its catchword; but
the employer must be absolute. To care or think about religion was
absurd; but whoso threw a stone at the Established Church, let him die
the death. Christianity must be steadily, even ferociously supported; in
the policing of an unruly world it was indispensable. But the perennial
butt of the paper was the fool who "went about doing good." The young men
who lived in "settlements," for instance, and gave University Extension
Lectures--the paper pursued all such with a hungry malice, only less
biting than that wherewith day by day it attacked Lord Maxwell, the arch
offender of all the philanthropic tribe. To help a man who had toiled his
ten or twelve hours in the workshop or the mine to read Homer or Dante in
the evening,--well! in the language of Hedda Gabler "people don't do
these things,"--not people with any sense of the humorous or the seemly.
Harding and his crew had required a good deal of help in their time
towards the reading of those authors; that, however, was only their due,
and in the order of the universe. The same universe had sent the miner
below to dig coals for his betters, while Harding Watton went to college.

But the last and worst demerit in the eyes of Harding and his set was
that old primitive offence that Cain already found so hard to bear. Half
the violence which the new paper had been lavishing on Maxwell--apart
from passionate conviction of the Fontenoy type, which also spoke through
it--sprang from this source. Maxwell, in spite of his obvious drawbacks,
threatened to succeed, to be accepted, to take a large place in English
political life. And his wife, too, reigned, and had her way without the
help of clever young men who write. There was the sting. Harding at any
rate found it intolerable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, in spite of newspapers to right of it and newspapers to left
of it, the political coach clattered on.

The following day--Monday--was a day of early arrivals, packed benches,
and much excitement in the House of Commons; for the division on the
second reading was to be taken after the Home Secretary's reply on the
debate. Dowson was expected to get up about ten o'clock, and it was
thought that the division would be over by eleven.

On this afternoon and evening Fontenoy was ubiquitous. At least so it
seemed to Tressady. Whenever one put one's head into the Smoking-room or
the Library, whenever one passed through the Lobby, or rushed on to the
Terrace for ten minutes' fresh air, Fontenoy's great brow and rugged face
were always to be seen, and always in fresh company.

The heterogeneous character of the Opposition with which the Government
was confronted, the conflicting groups and interests into which it was
split up, offered large scope for the intriguing, contriving genius of
the man. And he was spending it lavishly. The small eyes were more
invisible, the circles round them more saucer-like than ever.

Meanwhile George Tressady had never been so keenly conscious as on
this critical afternoon that his party had begun to drop him out of
its reckonings. Consultations that would once have included him as a
matter of course were going on without him. During the whole of this
busy day Fontenoy even had hardly spoken to him; the battle was
leaving him on one side.

Well, what room for bitterness?--though, with the unreason that no man
escapes, he was not without bitterness. He had disappointed them as a
debater--and, in other ways, what had he done for them since Whitsuntide?
No doubt also the mention of his name in the reports of the Mile End
meeting had not been without its effect. He believed that Fontenoy's
personal regard for him still held. Otherwise, he was beginning to feel
himself placed in a tacit isolation.

What wonder, good Lord! During the dinner-hour he found himself in a
corner of the library, dreaming over a biography of Lord Melbourne. Poor
Melbourne! in those last tragic years of waiting and pining, every day
expecting the proffer of office that never came and the familiar
recognition that would be his no more. But Melbourne was old, and had
had his day.

"I wanted to speak to you," said a hoarse voice, over his shoulder.

"Say on, and sit down," said George, smiling, and pushing forward a chair
beside him. "I should think you'll want a week's sleep after this."

"Have you got some time to spare this week," said Fontenoy, abruptly, as
he sat down.

George hesitated.

"Well, no. I ought to go down to the country immediately, and see after
my own affairs and the strike, before Committee begins. There is a
meeting of coal-owners on Wednesday."

"What I want wouldn't take long," said Fontenoy, persistently, after a
pause. "I hear you have been going round workshops lately?"

His keen, peremptory eyes fixed his companion.

"I had a round or two with Everard," said George. "We saw a fair
representative lot."

The thought that flashed through Fontenoy's mind was, "Why the deuce
didn't you speak of it to me?" Aloud, he said with impatience:

"Representing what Everard chose to show, I should think. However, what I
want is this. You know the series of extracts from reports that has been
going on lately in the 'Chronicle.'"

George nodded.

"We want something done to correct the impression that has been made. You
and I know perfectly well that the vast majority of workshops work
factory-hours and an average of four and a half days a week. You have
just had personal experience, and you can write. Will you do three or
four signed articles for the 'Reporter' this week or next? Of course the
office will give you every help."

George considered.

"I think not," he said presently, looking up. "I shouldn't do it well.
Perhaps I have become too conscious of the exceptions--the worst cases.
Frankly, the whole thing has become more of a problem to me than it was."

Fontenoy moved, and grunted uneasily.

"Does that mean," he said at last, in his harshest manner, "that you
will feel any difficulty in--?"

"In voting? No. I shall vote right enough. I am all for delay. This
particular Bill doesn't convince me any more than it did. But I don't
want to take a strong public part just at present."

The two men eyed each other in silence.

"I thought there was something brewing," said Fontenoy at last.

"Well, I'm not sorry to have had these few words," was George's reply,
after a pause. "I wanted to tell you that, though I shall vote, I don't
think I shall speak much more. I don't believe I'm the stuff people in
Parliament ought to be made of. I shall be remorseful presently for
having led you into a mistake!" He forced a smile.

"I made no mistake," said Fontenoy, grimly, and departed. Then, as he
walked down the corridor, he completed his sentence--"except in not
seeing that you were the kind of man to be made a fool of by women!"

First of all, a hasty marriage with a silly girl who could be no help to
him or to the cause; now, according to Watton--who had called upon
Fontenoy that morning, at his private house, to discuss various matters
of business--the Lady-Maxwell fever in a pronounced form. Most likely. It
was the best explanation.

The leader's own sense of annoyance and disappointment was considerable.
There was no man for whom he had felt so much personal liking as for
Tressady since the fight began.

Somewhere before midnight the division on the second reading was taken,
amid all those accompaniments of crowd, expectation, and commotion, that
are usually evoked by the critical points of a contested measure. The
majority for Government was forty-four--less by twenty-four votes than
its normal figure.

As the cheers and counter-cheers subsided, George found himself borne
into the Lobby with the crowd pouring out of the House. As he approached
the door leading to the outer lobby, a lady in front of him turned.
George received a lightning impression of beauty, of a kind of anxious
joy, and recognised Marcella Maxwell.

She held out her hand.

"Well, the first stage is over!" she said.

"Yes, and well over," he said, smiling. "But you have shed a great many
men already."

"Oh! I know--I know. The next few weeks will be intolerable; one will
feel sure of nobody." Then her voice changed--took a certain shyness. "A
good many people from here are coming down to us at Mile End during the
next few weeks--will you come some time, and bring Lady Tressady?"

"Thank you," said George, rather formally. "It is very kind of you."
Then, in another voice: "And you are really none the worse?"

His eyes sought the injured temple, and she instinctively put up her
hand to the black wave of hair that had been drawn forward so as to
conceal the mark.

"Oh no! That boy was not an expert, luckily. How absurd the papers
have been!"

George shook his head.

"I don't know what else one could expect," he said, laughing.

"Not at all!"--the flush mounted in the delicate hollow of the cheek.
"Why should there be any more fuss about a woman's being struck than a
man? We don't want any of this extra pity and talk."

"Human nature, I am afraid," said George, raising his shoulders. Did she
really suppose that women could mix in the political fight on the same
terms as men--could excite no more emotion there than men? Folly!

Then Maxwell, who was standing behind her, came forward, greeted Tressady
kindly, and they talked for a few minutes about the evening's debate. The
keen look of the elder scanned the younger's face and manner the while
with some minuteness. As for George, his dialogue with the Minister, at
which more than one passer-by threw looks of interest and amusement, gave
him no particular pleasure. Maxwell's qualities were not of the kind that
specially appealed to him; nor was he likely to attract Maxwell.
Nevertheless, he could have wished their ten minutes' talk to last
interminably, merely because of the excuse it gave him to be near
her!--played upon by her movements and her tones. He talked to Maxwell of
speeches, and votes, and little incidents of the day. And all the time he
knew how she was surrounded; how the crowd that was always gathering
about her came and went; with whom she talked; above all, how that eager,
sensitive charm which she had shown in its fulness to him--perhaps to
him only, beside her husband, of all this throng--played through her
look, her voice, her congratulations, and her dismays. For had he not
seen her in distress and confusion--seen her in tears, wrestling with
herself? His heart caressed the thought like a sacred thing, all the time
that he was conscious of her as the centre of this political throng--the
adored, detested, famous woman, typical in so many ways of changing
custom and of an expanding world.

Then, in a flash, as it were, the crowd had thinned, the Maxwells had
gone, and George was running down the steps of the members' entrance,
into the rain outside. He seemed to carry with him the scent of a
rose,--the rose she had worn on her breast,--and his mind was tormented
with the question he had already asked himself: "How is it going to end?"

He pushed on through the wet streets, lost in a hundred miseries and
exaltations. The sensation was that of a man struggling with a rising
tide, carried helplessly in the rush and swirl of it. Yet conscience had
very little to say, and, when it did speak, got little but contempt for
its pains. What had any clumsy code, social or moral, to do with it? When
would Marcella Maxwell, by word or look or thought, betray the man she
loved? Not till

A' the seas gang dry, my dear,
An the rocks melt wi' the sun!

How he found his way home he hardly knew; for it was a moment of blind
crisis with him. All that crowded, dramatic scene of the House--its
lights, its faces, its combinations--had vanished from his mind. What
remained was a group of three people, contemplated in a kind of
terror--terror of what this thing might grow to! Once, in St. James's
Street, the late hour, the soft, gusty night, suddenly reminded him of
that other gusty night in February when he had walked home after his
parting with Letty, so well content with himself and the future, and
had spoken to Marcella Maxwell for the first time amid that little
crowd in the Mall. Nothing had been irreparable then. He had his life
in his hands.

As for this passion, that was creeping into all his veins, poisoning and
crippling all his vitalities, he was still independent enough of it to be
able to handle it with the irony it deserved. For it was almost as
ludicrous as it was pitiable. He did not want any man of the world, any
Harding Watton, to tell him that.

What amazed him was the revelation of his own nature that was coming out
of it. He had always been rather proud to think of himself as an
easygoing fellow with no particular depths. Other men were proud of a
"storm period"--of feasting and drinking deep--made a pose of it.
Tressady's pose had been the very opposite. Out of a kind of good taste,
he had wished to take life lightly, with no great emotion. And marriage
with Letty had seemed to satisfy this particular canon.

Now, for the first time, certain veils were drawn aside, and he knew what
this hunger for love, and love's response, can do with a man--could do
with _him_, were it allowed its scope!

Had Marcella Maxwell been another woman, less innocent, less secure!

As it was, Tressady no sooner dared to give a sensuous thought to her
beauty than his own passion smote him back--bade him beware lest he
should be no longer fit to speak and talk with her, actually or
spiritually. For in this hopeless dearth of all the ordinary rewards and
encouragements of love he had begun to cultivate a sort of second, or
spiritual, life, in which she reigned. Whenever he was alone he walked
with her, consulted her, watched her dear eyes, and the soul playing
through them. And so long as he could maintain this dream he was
conscious of a sort of dignity, of reconciliation with himself; for the
passions and tragedies of the soul always carry with them this dignity,
as Dante, of all mortals, knew first and best.

But with the turn into Upper Brook Street, the dream suddenly and
painfully gave way. He saw his own house, and could forget Letty and the
problem of his married life no more. What was he going to do with her and
it? What relation was he going to establish with his wife, through all
these years that stretched so interminably before them? Remorse mingled
with the question. But perhaps impatience, still more--impatience of his
own misery, of this maze of emotion in which he felt himself entangled,
as it were against his will.

During the three days which had passed since his quarrel with Letty,
their common life had been such a mere confusion of jars and discomforts
that George's hedonist temper was almost at the end of its patience; yet
so far, he thought, he had not done badly in the way of forbearance.
After the first moment of angry disgust, he had said to himself that the
tearing up of the photograph was a jealous freak, which Letty had a right
to if it pleased her. At any rate, he had made no comment whatever upon
it, and had done his best to resume his normal manner with her the next
day. She had been, apparently, only the more enraged; and, although there
had been no open quarrelling since, her cutting, contemptuous little airs
had been very hard to bear. Nor was it possible for George to ignore her
exasperated determination to have her own way in the matter both of
friends and expenses.

As he took his latch-key out of the lock, and turned up the electric
light, he saw two handsome marqueterie chairs standing in the hall. He
went to look at them in some perplexity. Ah! no doubt they had been sent
as specimens. Letty had grown dissatisfied with the chairs originally
bought for the dining-room. He remembered to have heard her say something
about a costly set at a certain Asher's, that Harding had found.

He studied them for a few moments, his mouth tightening. Then, instead of
going upstairs, he went into his study, and sat down to his table to
write a letter.

Yes--he had better go off to Staffordshire by the early train; and this
letter, which he would put upon her writing-desk in the drawing-room,
should explain him to Letty.

The letter was long and candid, yet by no means without tenderness. "I
have written to Asher," it said, "to direct him to send in the morning
for the chairs I found in the hall. They are too expensive for us, and I
have told him that I will not buy them, I need not say that in writing to
him I have avoided every word that could be annoying to you. If you would
only trust me, and consult me a little about such things,--trifles as
they be,--life just now would be easier than it is."

Then he passed to a very frank statement of their financial position, and
of his own steady resolve not to allow himself to drift into hopeless
debt. The words were clear and sharp, but not more so than the course of
the preceding six weeks made absolutely necessary. And their very
sharpness led him to much repentant kindness at the end. No doubt she was
disappointed both in him and in his circumstances; and, certainly,
differences had developed between them that they had never foreseen at
the time of their engagement. But to "make a good thing" of living
together was never easy. He asked her not to despair, not to judge him
hardly. He would do his best--let her only give him back her confidence
and affection.

He closed the letter, and then paced restlessly about the little room for
a time. It seemed to him that he was caught in a vice--that neither
happiness, nor decent daily comfort, nor even the satisfactions of
ambition, were ever to be his.

Next day he was off to Euston before Letty was properly awake. She found
his letter waiting for her when she descended, and spent the day in a
pale excitement. Yet by the end of it she had pretty well made up her
mind. She would have to give in on the money question. George's figures
and her natural shrewdness convinced her that the ultimate results of
fighting him in this matter could only be more uncomfortable for herself
than for him. But as to her freedom in choosing her own friends, or as
to her jealousy of Lady Maxwell, she would never give in. If George had
ceased to court his wife, then he could have nothing to say if she
looked for the amusement and admiration that were her due from other
people. There was no harm in that. Everybody else did it; and she was
not going to be pretty and young for nothing. Whereupon she sat down and
wrote a line to Lord Cathedine to tell him that she and "Tully" would be
at the Opera on the following night, and to beg him to make sure that
she got her "cards for Clarence House." Moreover, she meant to make use
of him to procure her a card for a very smart ball, the last of the
season, which was coming off in a fortnight. That could be arranged, no
doubt, at the Opera.

       *       *       *       *       *

George returned from the North in a few days looking, if possible,
thinner and more careworn than when he went. He had found the strike a
very stubborn business. Burrows was riding the storm triumphantly; and
while upon his own side Tressady looked in vain for a "man," there was a
dogged determination to win among the masters. George's pugnacity shared
it fully. But he was beginning to ask himself a number of questions about
these labour disputes which, apparently, his co-employers did not ask
themselves. Was it that here, no less than in matters that concerned the
Bill before Parliament, _her_ influence, helped by the power of an
expanding mind, had developed in him that fatal capacity for sympathy,
for the double-seeing of compromise, which takes from a man all the joy
of battle.

Letty, at any rate, was not troubled by anything of the sort. When he
came back he found that she was ready to be on fairly amicable terms with
him. Moreover, she had postponed the more expensive improvements and
changes she had begun to make at Perth against his will; nor was there
any sign of the various new purchases for the London house with which she
had threatened him. On the other hand, she ceased to consult him about
her own engagements; and she let him know, though without any words on
the subject, that she had entirely broken with his mother--would neither
see her nor receive her. As her attitude on this point involved--or,
apparently, must involve--a refusal to accept her husband's statement
made solemnly under strong emotion, George's pride took it in absolute
silence. No doubt it was her revenge upon him for their crippled
income--and for Lady Maxwell.

The effect of her behaviour on this point was to increase his own pity
for his mother. He told her frankly that Letty could not get over the
inroads upon their income and the shortening of their resources produced
by the Shapetsky debt, just at a time when they should have been able to
spend, and were already hampered by the state of the coal trade. It would
be better that she and Letty should not meet for a time. He would do his
best to make it up.

Lady Tressady took his news with a curious equanimity.

"Well, she always hated me!" she said--"I don't exactly know why--and was
a little jealous of my gowns, too, I think. Don't mind, George. I must
say it out. You know, she doesn't really dress very well--Letty doesn't.
Though, my goodness, the bills! Wait till you see them before you call
_me_ extravagant. You should make her go to that new woman--what do they
call her? She's a _darling_, and such a style! Never mind about Letty;
you needn't bother. I daresay she isn't very nice to _you_ about it. But
if you don't come and see me, I shall cut my throat, and leave a note on
the dressing-table. It would spoil your career dreadfully, so you'd
better take care."

But, indeed, George came, without any pressing, almost every day. He saw
her in her bursts of gaiety and affectation, when the habits of a
lifetime asserted themselves as strongly as ever; and he saw her in her
moments of pain and collapse, when she could hide the omens of inexorable
physical ill neither from herself nor him. By the doctor's advice, he
ceased to press her to give in, to resign herself to bed and invalidism.
It was best, even physically, to let her struggle on. And he was both
astonished and touched by her pluck. She had never been so repellent to
him as on those many occasions in the past when she had feigned illness
to get her way. Now that Death was really knocking, the half-gay,
half-frightened defiance with which she walked the palace of life, one
moment listening to the sounds at the gate, the next throwing herself
passionately into the revelry within, revealed to the son a new fact
about her--a fact of poetry unutterably welcome.

Even her fawning dependents, the Fullertons, ceased to annoy him. They
were poor parasites, but she thought for them, and they professed to love
her in return. She had emptied her life of finer things, but this
relation of patron and flatterer, such as it was, did something to fill
the vacancy; and George made no further effort to disturb it.

It was surprising, indeed, how easily, as the weeks went on, he came
to bear many of those ways of hers which had once set him most on
edge--even her absurd outbursts of affection towards him, and
preposterous praise of him in public. In time he submitted even to
being flown at and kissed before the Fullertons. Amazing into what new
relations that simple perspective of _the end_ will throw all the
stuff of life!

       *       *       *       *       *

In Parliament the weeks rushed by. The first and comparatively
non-contentious sections of the Bill passed with a good deal of talk and
delay. George spoke once or twice, without expecting to speak,
instinctively pleasing Fontenoy where he could. They had now but little
direct intercourse. But George did not feel that his leader had become
his enemy, and was not slow to recognise a magnanimity he had not
foreseen. Yet, after all, he had not offered the worst affront to party
discipline. Fontenoy could still count on his vote. As to the rest of
his party, he saw that he was to be finally reckoned as a "crank," and
let alone. It was not, he found, altogether to be regretted. The position
gave him a new freedom of speech.

Meanwhile he and Marcella Maxwell rarely met. Week after week passed, and
still Tressady avoided those gatherings at the Mile End house, of which
he heard full accounts from Edward Watton. He once formally asked Letty
if she would go with him to one of Lady Maxwell's East End "evenings,"
and she, with equal formality, refused. But he did not take advantage of
her refusal to go himself. Was it fear of his own weakness, or
compunction towards Letty, or the mere dread of being betrayed into
something at once ridiculous and irreparable?

At the same time, it was surprising how often during these weeks he had
occasion to pass through St. James's Square. Once or twice he saw her go
out or come in, and sometimes was near enough to catch the sudden smile
and look which surely must be the smile and look she gave her friends,
and not to every passing stranger! Once or twice, also, he met her for a
few minutes in the Lobby, or on the Terrace, but always in a crowd. She
never repeated her invitation. He divined that she was, perhaps, vexed
with herself for having seemed to press the point on the night of the
second reading.

       *       *       *       *       *

July drew to an end. The famous "workshop clause" had been debated for
nearly ten days, the whole country, as it were, joining in. One evening
in the last week of the month Naseby and Lady Madeleine were sitting
together in a corner of a vast drawing-room in Carlton House Terrace.
The drawing-room was Mrs. Allison's. She had returned about a fortnight
before from Bad Wildheim, and was now making an effort, for the boy's
sake, to see some society. As she moved about the room in her black silk
and lace she was more gentle, but in a sense more inaccessible, than
ever. She talked with everyone, but her eyes followed her son's auburn
head, with its strange upstanding tufts of hair above the fair, freckled
face; or they watched the door, even when she was most animated. She
looked ill and thin, and the many friends who loved her would have
gladly clung about her and cherished her. But it was not easy to cherish
Mrs. Allison.

"Do you see how our hostess keeps a watch for Fontenoy?" said Naseby, in
a low voice, to Lady Madeleine.

Madeleine turned her startled face to him. Nature had given her this
hunted look--the slightly open mouth, the wide eyes of one who
perpetually hears or expects bad news. Naseby did not like it, and had
tried to laugh her out of her scared ways before this. But he had no
sooner laughed at her than he found himself busy--to use Watton's
word--in "stroking" and making it up to her, so tender and clinging was
the girl's whole nature, so golden was her hair, so white her skin!

"Isn't it the division news she is expecting?"

"Yes--but don't look so unhappy! She will bear up--even if they are
beaten. And they will be beaten. Fontenoy's hopes have been going down.
The Government will get through this clause at all events--by a shave."

"What a fuss everybody is making about this Bill!"

"Well, you don't root up whole industries without a fuss. But, certainly,
Maxwell has roused the country finely."

"_She_ will break down if it goes on," said Lady Madeleine, in a
melancholy voice.

Naseby laughed.

"Not at all! Lady Maxwell was made for war--she thrives on it. Don't you,
too, enjoy it?"

"I don't know," said the girl, drearily. "I don't know what I was
made for."

And over her feather fan her wide eyes travelled to the distant ogress
figure of her mother, sitting majestical in black wig and diamonds beside
the Russian Ambassador. Naseby's also travelled thither--unwillingly. It
was a disagreeable fact that Lady Kent had begun to be very amiable to
him of late.

Lady Madeleine's remark made him silent a moment. Then he looked at
her oddly.

"I am going to offend you," he said deliberately. "I am going to tell you
that you were made to wear white satin and pearls, and to look as you
look this evening."

The girl flushed hotly.

"I knew you despised women," she said, in a strained voice, staring back
at him reproachfully. During her months of distress and humiliation she
had found her only comfort in "movements" and "causes"--in the moral
aspirations generally--so far as her mother would allow her to have
anything to do with them. She had tried, for instance, to work with
Marcella Maxwell--to understand her.

But Naseby held his ground.

"Do I despise women because I think they make the grace and poetry of the
world?" he asked her. "And, mind you, I don't draw any lines. Let them be
county councillors and guardians, and inspectors, and queens as much as
they like. I'm very docile. I vote for them. I do as I'm told."

"Only, you don't think that _I_ can do anything useful!"

"I don't think you're cut out for a 'platform woman,' if that's what you
mean," he said, laughing--"even Lady Maxwell isn't. And if she was, she
wouldn't count. The women who matter just now--and you women are getting
a terrible amount of influence--more than you've had any time this half
century--are the women who sit at home in their drawing-rooms, wear
beautiful gowns, and attract the men who are governing the country to
come and see them."

"Lady Maxwell doesn't sit at home and wear beautiful gowns!"

"I vow she does!" said Naseby, with spirit. "I can vouch for it. I was
caught that way myself. Not that I belong to the men who are governing
the country. And now she has roped me to her chariot for good and all.
Ah, Ancoats! how do you do?"

He got up to make room for the master of the house as he spoke. But as
he walked away he said to himself, with a kind of delight: "Good! she
didn't turn a hair."

Lady Madeleine, indeed, received her former suitor with a cool dignity
that might have seemed impossible to anyone so plaintively pretty. He
lingered beside her, twirling his carefully pointed moustache, that
matched the small Richelieu chin, and looking at her with a furtive
closeness from time to time.

"Well--so you have just come back from Paris?" she said indifferently.

"Yes; I stayed a day or two after my mother. One didn't want to come back
to this dull hole."

"Did you see the new piece at the Francais?"

He made a face.

"Not I! One couldn't be caught by such _vieux jeu_ as that! There was a
splendid woman in one of the _cafés chantants_--but I suppose you don't
go to _cafés chantants?"_

"No," said Madeleine, eyeing him over her fan with a composure that
astonished herself. "No, I don't go to _cafés chantants_."

Ancoats looked blank a moment, then resumed, with fervour:

"This woman's divine--_épatant_! Then, at the Chat Noir--but--ah! well,
perhaps you don't go to the Chat Noir?"

"No, I don't go to the Chat Noir."

He fidgeted for a minute. She sat silent. Then he said:

"There are some new French pictures in the next room. Will you come and
see them?"

"Thank you, I think I'll stay here," she said coldly.

He lingered another second or two, then departed. The girl drew a long
breath, then instinctively turned her white neck to see if Naseby had
really left her. Strange! he too, from far away, was looking round. In
another moment he was making his way slowly back to her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Ah, there's Tressady! Now for news."

The remark was Naseby's. He and Lady Madeleine were, as it happened,
inspecting the very French pictures that the girl had just refused to
look at in Ancoats's company.

But now they hurried back to the main drawing-room where the Tressadys
were already surrounded by an eager crowd.

"Eighteen majority," Tressady was saying. "The Socialists saved it at
the last moment, after growling and threatening till nobody knew what
was going to happen. Forty Ministerialists walked out, twenty more, at
least, were away unpaired, and the Old Liberals voted against the
Government to a man."

"Oh! they'll go--they'll go on the next clause," said an elderly peer,
whose ruddy face glowed with delight. "Serve them right, too! Maxwell's
whole aim is revolution made easy. The most dangerous man we have had for
years! Looks so precious moderate, too, all the time. Tell me how did
Slade vote after all?"

And Tressady found himself buttonholed by one person after another;
pressed for the events and incidents of the evening: how this person had
voted, how that; how Ministers had taken it; whether, after this Pyrrhic
victory there was any chance of the Bill's withdrawal, or at least of
some radical modification in the coming clauses. Almost everyone in the
crowded room belonged, directly or indirectly, to the governing political
class. Barely three people among them could have given a coherent account
of the Bill itself. But to their fathers and brothers and cousins would
belong the passing or the destroying of it. And in this country there is
no game that amuses so large a number of intelligent people as the
political game.

"I don't know why he should look so d--d excited over it," said Lord
Cathedine to Naseby in a contemptuous aside, with a motion of the head
towards Tressady, showing pale and tall above the crowd. "He seems to
have voted straight this time, but he's as shaky as he can be. You
never know what that kind of fellow will be up to. Ah, my lady! and
how are you?"

He made a low bow, and Naseby, turning, saw young Lady Tressady
advancing.

"Are you, too, talking politics?" said Letty, with affected disgust,
giving her hand to Cathedine and a smile to Naseby.

"We will now talk of nothing but your scarlet gown," said Cathedine in
her ear. "Amazing!"

"You like it?" she said, with nonchalant self-possession. "It makes me
look dreadfully wicked, I know." And she threw a complacent glance at a
mirror near, which showed her a gleam of white shoulders in a setting of
flame-coloured tulle.

"Well, you wouldn't wish to look good," said Cathedine, pulling his
black moustache. "Any fool can do that!"

"You cynic!" she said, laughing. "Come and talk to me over there. Have
you got me my invitations?"

Cathedine followed, a disagreeable smile on his full lips, and they
settled themselves in a corner out of the press. Nor were they disturbed
by the sudden hush and parting of the crowd when, five minutes later,
amid a general joyous excitement, Fontenoy walked in.

Mrs. Allison forgot her usual dignity, and hurried to meet the leader as
he came up to her, with his usual flushed and haggard air.

"Magnificent!" she said tremulously. "Now you are going to win!"

He shook his head, and would hardly let himself be congratulated by any
of the admirers, men or women, who pressed to shake hands with him. To
most of them he said, impatiently, that it was no good hallooing till
one was out of the wood, that for his own part he had expected more, and
that the Government might very well rally on the next clause. Then, when
he had effectively chilled the enthusiasm of the room, he drew his
hostess aside.

"Well, and are you happier?" he said to her in a low voice, his whole
expression changing.

"Oh, dear friend! don't think of me," she said, putting out a thin hand
to him with a grateful gesture. "Yes, the boy has been very good--he
gives me a great deal of his time. But how can one _know_--how can one
possibly know?"

Her pale, small face contracted with a look of pain. Fontenoy, too,
frowned as he looked across at Ancoats, who was leaning against the wall
in an affected pose, and quoting bits from a new play to George Tressady.

After a pause, he said:

"I think if I were you I should cultivate Tressady. Ancoats likes him. It
might be possible some time for you to work through him."

The mother assented eagerly, then said, with a smile:

"But I gather you don't find him much to be depended on in the House?"

Fontenoy shrugged his shoulders.

"Lady Maxwell has bedevilled him somehow. You're responsible!"

"Poor Castle Luton! You must tell me how it and I can make up. But you
don't mean that there is any thought of his going over?"

"His vote's all safe--I suppose. He would make too great a fool of
himself if he failed us there. But he has lost all heart for the
business. And Harding Watton tells me it's all her doing. She has been
taking him about in the East End--getting her friends to show him round."

"And _now_ you are in the mood to put the women down--to show them
their place?"

She looked at him with gentle humour--a very delicate high-bred figure,
in her characteristic black-and-white. Fontenoy's whole aspect changed as
he caught the reference to their own relation. The look of premature old
age, of harsh fatigue, was for the moment effaced by something young and
ardent as he bent towards her.

"No--I take the rough with the smooth. Lady Maxwell may do her worst. We
have the counter-charm."

A flush showed itself in her lined cheek. She was fourteen years older
than he, and had refused a dozen times to marry him. But she would have
found it hard to live without his devotion, and she had brought him by
now into such good order that she dared to let him know it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later George and Letty mounted another palatial staircase,
and at the top of it Letty put on fresh smiles for a new hostess. George,
tired out with the drama of the day, could hardly stifle his yawns; but
Letty had treated the notion of going home after one party when, they
might, if they pleased, "do" four, with indignant amazement.

So here they were at the house of one of the greatest of bankers, and
George stalked through the rooms in his wife's train, taking
comparatively little part in the political buzz all about him, and
thinking mostly of a hurried little talk with Mrs. Allison that had taken
up his last few minutes in her drawing-room. Poor thing! But what could
he do for her? The lad was as stage-struck as ever--could barely talk
sense on any other subject, and not much on that.

But if he, owing to the clash of an inner struggle, was weary of
politics, the world in general could think and speak of nothing else. The
rooms were full of politicians and their wives, of members just arrived
from the House, of Ministers smiling at each other with lifted eyebrows,
like boys escaped from a birching. A tempest of talk surged through the
rooms--talk concerned with all manner of great issues, with the fate of a
Government, the rousing of a country, the fortunes of individual
statesmen. Through it all the little host himself, a small fair-haired
man, with the tired eyes and hot-house air of the financier, walked about
from group to group, gossiping over the incidents of the division, and
now and then taking up some newcomer to be introduced to his pretty and
fashionable wife.

Somewhere in the din George stumbled across Lady Leven, who was talking
merrily to young Bayle; and found her, notwithstanding, very ready to
turn and chat with him.

"Of course we are all waiting for the Maxwells," she said to him. "Will
they come, I wonder?"

"Why not?"

"Do people show on their way to disaster? I think I should stay at home
if I were she."

"Why, they have to hearten their friends!"

"No good," said Betty, pursing her pretty lips; "and they have
fought so hard."

"And may win yet," said George, an odd sparkle in his eye, as he stood
looking over his tiny companion to the door. "Nobody is sure of anything,
I can tell you."

"I don't believe _you_ care," she said audaciously, shaking her golden
head at him.

"Pray, why?"

"Oh! you don't seem at all desperate," she said coolly. "Perhaps you're
like Frank--you think the other side make so much better points than you
do. 'If Dowson makes another speech,' Frank said to me yesterday, 'I vow
I shall rat!' There's a way of talking of your own chiefs. Oh! I shall
have to take him out of politics."

And she unfurled her fan with a jerk half melancholy, half decided.
Then, suddenly, a laugh flashed over her face; she raised herself
eagerly on tiptoe.

"Ah! bravo!" she said. "Here they are!"

George turned with the crowd, and saw them enter, Marcella first,
in a blaze of diamonds; then the quiet face and square shoulders of
her husband.

Nothing, he thought, could have been better than the manner in which both
bore themselves as they passed through the throng, answering the
greetings of friend and foe, and followed by the keen or hostile scrutiny
of hundreds. There was no bravado, no attempt to disguise the despondency
that must naturally follow on a division so threatening and in many ways
so wounding. Maxwell looked grey with fatigue and short nights, while her
black eyes passed wistfully from friend to friend, and had never been
more quick, more responsive. Their cause was in danger; nevertheless, the
impression on Tressady's mind was of two people consciously in the grip
of forces infinitely greater than they--forces that would hold on their
path whatever befell their insignificant mortal agents.

I steadier step when I recall,
Howe'er I slip, thou canst not fall.

So cries the thinker to his mistress, Truth. And in the temper of that
cry lies the secret of brave living. One looker-on, at least,--and that
an opponent,--recalled the words as he watched Marcella and her husband
taking their way through the London crowd, amid the doubts of their
friends and the half-concealed triumph of their foes.

It seemed to him that he could have no chance of speech with her. But
presently, from the other side of the room, he saw that she had
recognised and was greeting him, and, do what he would, he must needs
make his way to her.

She welcomed him with great friendliness, and without a word of small
reproach on the score of the weeks he had let pass without coming to see
her. They fell into talk about the speeches of the evening. George
thought he could see that she, or Maxwell speaking through her, was
dissatisfied with Dowson's conduct of the Bill in the House, and chafing
under the constitutional practice that made it necessary to give him so
large a share in the matter. But she said nothing ungenerous; nor was
there any bitterness towards the many false friends who had deserted them
that night in the division-lobby. She spoke with eager hope of a series
of speeches Maxwell was about to make in the North, and then she turned
upon her companion.

"You haven't spoken since the second reading--on any of the fighting
points, at least. I have been wondering what you thought of many things."

George threw his head back against the wall beside her, and was silent a
moment. At last he said, looking down upon her:

"Perhaps, very often I haven't known what to think."

She started--reddened ever so little. "Does that mean"--she hesitated for
a phrase--"that you have moved at all on the main question?"

"No," he said deliberately--"no! I think as I always did, that you are
calling in law to do what law can't do. But perhaps I appreciate better
than I once did what provokes you to it. It seems to me difficult now to
meet the case your side is putting forward by a mere _non possumus_. One
wants to stop the machine a bit and think it out. So much I admit."

She met his smile with a curious, tremulous look. Instinctively he
guessed that this partial triumph in him of her cause--of Maxwell's
cause--had let flow some inner font of feeling.

"If you only knew," she said, "how all this Parliamentary rush and
clatter seem to me beside the mark. People talk to me of divisions and
votes. I think all the time of persons I know--of faces of
children--sick-beds, horrible rooms--"

She had turned her face from the crowd towards the open window, in whose
recess they were standing. As she spoke they both fell back a little into
comparative solitude, and he drew her on to talk--trying in a young eager
way to make her rest in his kindness, to soothe her weariness and
disappointment. And as she spoke, he clutched at the minutes; he threw
more and more sympathy at her feet to keep her talking, to enchain her
there beside him, in her lovely whiteness and grace. And, mingled with it
all, was the happy guess that she liked to linger with him--that amid
all this hard clamour of public talk and judgment she felt him a friend
in a peculiar sense--a friend whose loyalty grew with misfortune. As for
this wild-beast world, that was thwarting and libelling her, he began to
think of it with a blind, up-swelling rage--a desire to fight and win
for her--to put down--

"Tressady, your wife sent me to find you. She wishes to go home."

The voice was Harding Watton's. That observant young man advanced bowing,
and holding out his hand to Lady Maxwell.

When Marcella had drifted once more into the fast-melting crowd, George
found himself face to face with Letty. She was very white, and stared at
him with wide, passionate eyes.

And on the way home George, with all his efforts, could not keep the
peace. Letty flung at him a number of bitter and insulting things that he
found very hard to bear.

"What do you want me to do?" he said to her at last, impatiently. "I have
hardly spoken six sentences to Lady Maxwell, since the meeting, till
tonight--I suppose because you wished it. But neither you nor anyone else
shall make me rude to her. Don't be such a fool, Letty! Make friends with
her, and you will be ashamed of saying or even thinking such things."

Whereat Letty burst into hysterical tears, and he soon found himself
involved in all the remorseful, inconsequent speeches to which a man in
such a plight feels himself driven. She allowed herself to be calmed,
and they had a dreary making-up. When it was over, however, George was
left with the uneasy conviction that he knew very little of his wife. She
was not of a nature to let any slight to her go unpunished. What was she
planning? What would she do?



CHAPTER XVII


"Hullo! Are you come back?"

The speaker was George Tressady. He was descending the steps of his club
in Fall Mall, and found his arm caught by Naseby, who had just dismissed
his hansom outside.

"I came back last night. Are you going homewards? I'll walk across the
Square with you."

The two men turned into St. James's Square, and Naseby resumed:

"Yes, we had a most lively campaign. Maxwell spoke better than I ever
heard him."

"The speeches have been excellent reading, too. And you had good
meetings?"

"Splendid! The country is rallying, I can tell you. The North is now
strong for Maxwell and the Bill--or seems to be."

"Just as we are going to kick it out in the House! It's very queer--for
no one could tell, a month ago, how the big towns were going. And it
looked as though London even were deserting them."

"A mere wave, I think. At least, I'll bet you anything they'll win this
Stepney election. Shall we get the division on the hours clause
to-morrow?"

"They say so."

"If you know your own interests, you'll hurry up," said Naseby, smiling.
"The country is going against you."

"I imagine Fontenoy has got his eye on the country! He's been letting the
Socialists talk nonsense till now to frighten the steady-going old
fellows on the other side or putting up our men to mark time. But I saw
yesterday there was a change."

"Between ourselves, hasn't he been talking a good deal of nonsense on his
own account?"

Naseby threw a glance of laughing inquiry at his companion. George
shrugged his shoulders in silence. It had become matter of public remark
during the last few days that Fontenoy was beginning at last to show the
strain of the combat--that his speeches were growing hysterical and his
rule a tyranny. His most trusted followers were now to be heard grumbling
in private over certain aspects of his bearing in the House. He had come
into damaging collision with the Speaker on one or two occasions, and had
made here and there a blunder in tactics which seemed to show a weakening
of self-command. Tressady, indeed, knew enough to wonder that the man's
nerve and coolness had maintained themselves in their fulness so long.

"So Maxwell took a party to the North?" said George, dropping the subject
of Fontenoy.

"Lady Maxwell, of course--myself, Bennett, and Madeleine Penley. It was a
pleasure to see Lady Maxwell. She has been dreadfully depressed in town
lately. But those trade-union meetings in Lancashire and Yorkshire were
magnificent enough to cheer anyone up."

George shook his head.

"I expect they come too late to save the Bill."

"I daresay. Well, one can't help being tremendously sorry for her. I
thought her looking quite thin and ill over it. It makes one doubt about
women in politics! Maxwell will take it a deal more calmly, unless one
misunderstands his cool ways. But I shouldn't wonder if _she_ had a
breakdown."

George made no reply. Naseby talked a little more about Maxwell and the
tour, the critical side of him gaining upon the sympathetic with every
sentence. At the corner of King Street he stopped.

"I must go back to the club. By the way, have you heard anything of
Ancoats lately?"

George made a face.

"I saw him in a hansom last night, late, crossing Regent Circus with a
young woman--_the_ young woman, to the best of my belief."

In the few moments' chat that followed Tressady found that Naseby, like
Fontenoy, regarded him as the new friend who might be able to do
something for a wild fellow, now that mother and old friends were alike
put aside and ignored. But, as he rather impatiently declared--and was
glad to declare--such a view was mere nonsense. He had tried, for the
mother's sake, and could do nothing. As for him, he believed the thing
was very much a piece of _blague_--

"Which won't prevent it from taking him to the devil," said Naseby,
coolly; "and his mother, by all accounts, will die of it. I'm sorry for
her. He seems to think tremendous things of you. I thought you might,
perhaps, have knocked it out of him." George shook his head again, and
they parted.

In truth, Tressady was not particularly flattered by Ancoats's fancy for
him. He did not care enough about the lad in return. Yet, in response to
one or two outbreaks of talk on Ancoats's part--talks full of a stagey
railing at convention--he had tried, for the mother's sake, to lecture
the boy a little--to get in a word or two that might strike home. But
Ancoats had merely stared a moment out of his greenish eyes, had shaken
his queer mane of hair, as an animal shakes off the hand that curbs it,
had changed the subject at once, and departed. Tressady had seen very
little of him since.

And had not, in truth, taken it to heart. He had neither time nor mind to
think about Ancoats. Now, as he walked home to dinner, he put the subject
from him impatiently. His own moral predicament absorbed him--this weird,
silent way in which the whole political scene was changing in aspect and
composition under his eyes, was grouping itself for him round one
figure--one face.

Had he any beliefs left about the Bill itself? He hardly knew. In truth
it was not his reason that was leading him. It now was little more than a
passionate boyish longing to wrench himself free from this odious task of
hurting and defeating Marcella Maxwell. The long process of political
argument was perhaps tending every day to the loosening and detaching of
those easy convictions of a young Chauvinism, that had drawn him
originally to Fontenoy's side. Intellectually he was all adrift. At the
same time he confessed to himself, with perfect frankness, that he could
and would have served Fontenoy happily enough, but for another
influence--another voice.

Yet his old loyalty to Fontenoy tugged sorely at his will. And with this
loyalty of course was bound up the whole question of his own personal
honour and fidelity--his pledges to his constituents and his party.

Was there no rational and legitimate way out? He pondered the political
situation as he walked along with great coolness and precision. When the
division on the hours clause was over the main struggle on the Bill, as
he had all along maintained, would be also at an end. If the Government
carried the clause--and the probability still was that they would carry
it by a handful of votes--the two great novelties of the Bill would have
been affirmed by the House. The homework in the scheduled trades would
have been driven by law into inspected workshops, and the male workers in
these same trades would have been brought under the time-restrictions of
the Factory Acts.

Compared to these two great reforms, or revolutions, the remaining
clause--the landlords clause--touched, as he had already said to
Fontenoy, questions of secondary rank, of mere machinery. Might not a man
thereupon--might not he, George Tressady--review and reconsider his
whole position?

He had told Fontenoy that his vote was safe; but must that pledge extend
to more than the vital stuff, the main proposals of the Bill? The hours
clause?--yes. But after it?

Fontenoy, no doubt, would carry on the fight to the bitter end, counting
on a final and hard-wrung victory. The sanguine confidence which had
possessed him about the time of the second reading was gone. He did not,
Tressady knew, reckon with any certainty on turning out the Government in
this coming division. The miserable majority with which they had carried
the workshops clause would fall again--it would hardly be altogether
effaced. That final wiping-out would come--if indeed it were attained--in
the last contest of all, to which Fontenoy was already heartening and
urging on his followers.

Fontenoy's position, of course, in the matter was clear. It was that of
the leader and the irreconcilable.

But for the private member, who had seen cause to modify some of his
opinions during the course of debate, who had voted loyally with his
party up till now--might not the division on the hours clause be said to
mark a new stage in the Bill--a stage which restored him his freedom?

The House would have pronounced on the main points of the Bill; the
country was rallying in a remarkable and unexpected way to the
Government--might it not be fairly argued that the war had been carried
far enough?

He already, indeed, saw signs of that backing down of opposition which he
had prophesied to Fontenoy. The key to the whole matter lay, he believed,
in the hands of the Old Liberals, that remnant of a once great host, who
were now charging the Conservative Government with new and damaging
concessions to the Socialist tyranny. These men kept a watchful eye on
the country; they had maintained all along that the country had not
spoken. George had already perceived a certain weakening among them. And
now, this campaign of Maxwell's, this new enthusiasm in the industrial
North--no doubt they would have their effect.

He hurried on, closely weighing the whole matter, the prey to a strange
and mingled excitement.

Meanwhile the streets through which he walked had the empty, listless air
which marks a stage from which the actors have departed. It was nearing
the middle of August, and society had fled.

All the same, as he reflected with a relief which was not without its
sting, he and Letty would not be alone at dinner. Some political friends
were coming, stranded, like themselves, in this West End, which had by
now covered up its furniture and shut its shutters.

What a number of smart invitations had been showering upon them during
the last weeks of the season, and were now still pursuing them, for the
country-house autumn! The expansion of their social circle had of late
often filled George with astonishment. No doubt, he said to
himself,--though with a curious doubtfulness,--Letty was very successful;
still, the recent rush of attentions from big people, who had taken no
notice of them on their marriage, was rather puzzling. It had affected
her so far more than himself. For he had been hard pressed by Parliament
and the strike, and she had gone about a good deal alone--appearing,
indeed, to prefer it.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Come out with me on the Terrace," said Marcella to Betty Leven; "I had
rather not wait here. Aldous, will you take us through?"

She and Betty were standing in the inner lobby of the House of Commons.
The division had just been called and the galleries cleared. Members were
still crowding into the House from the Library, the Terrace, and the
smoking-rooms; and all the approaches to the Chamber itself were filled
with a throng about equally divided between the eagerness of victory and
the anxieties of defeat.

Maxwell took the ladies to the Terrace, and left them there, while he
himself went back to the House. Marcella took a seat by the parapet,
leant both hands upon it, and looked absently at the river and the
clouds. It was a cloudy August night, with a broken, fleecy sky, and
gusts of hot wind from the river. A few figures and groups were moving
about the Terrace in the flickering light and shade--waiting like
themselves.

"Will you be very sad if it goes wrongly?" said Betty, in a low voice, as
she took her friend's hand in hers.

"Yes--" said Marcella, simply. Then, after a pause, she added, "It will
be all the harder after this time in the North. Everything will have come
too late."

There was a silence; then Betty said, not without sheepishness, "Frank's
all right."

Marcella smiled. She knew that little Betty had been much troubled by
Frank's tempers of late, and had been haunted by some quite serious
qualms about his loyalty to Maxwell and the Bill. Marcella had never
shared them. Frank Leven had not grit enough to make a scandal and desert
a chief. But Betty's ambition had forced the boy into a life that was
not his; had divided him from the streams and fields, from the country
gentleman's duties and pleasures, that were his natural sphere. In this
hot town game of politics, this contest of brains and ambitions, he was
out of place--was, in fact, wasting both time and capacity. Betty would
have to give way, or the comedy of a lovers' quarrel might grow to
something ill-matched with the young grace and mirth of such a pair of
handsome children.

Marcella meant to tell her friend all this in due time. Now she
could only wait in silence, listening for every sound, Betty's soft
fingers clasping her own, the wind as it blew from the bridge
cooling her hot brow.

"Here they are!" said Betty.

They turned to the open doorway of the House. A rush of feet and voices
approached, and the various groups on the Terrace hurried to meet it.

"Just saved! By George, what a squeak!" said a man's voice in the
distance; and at the same moment Maxwell touched his wife on the
shoulder.

"A majority of ten! Nobody knew how it had gone till the last moment."

She put up her face to him, leaning against him.

"I suppose it means we can't pull through?" He bent to her.

"I should think so. Darling, don't take it to heart so much!"

In the darkness he felt the touch of her lips on his hand. Then she
turned, with a white cheek and smiling mouth, to meet the greetings and
rueful congratulations of the friends that were crowding about them.

The Terrace was soon a moving mass of people, eagerly discussing the
details of the division. The lamps, blown a little by the wind, threw
uncertain lights on faces and figures, as they passed and re-passed
between the mass of building on the one hand and the wavering darkness of
the river on the other. To Marcella, as she stood talking to person after
person--talking she hardly knew what--the whole scene was a dim
bewilderment, whence emerged from time to time faces or movements of
special significance.

Now it was Dowson, the Home Secretary, advancing to greet her, with his
grey shaven face, eyelids somewhat drooped, and the cool, ambiguous look
of one not quite certain of his reception. He had been for long a close
ally of Maxwell's. Marcella had thought him a true friend. But certainly,
in his conduct of the Bill of late there had been a good deal to suggest
the attitude of a man determined to secure himself a retreat, and
uncertain how far to risk his personal fortunes on a doubtful issue. So
that she found herself talking to him with a new formality, in the tone
of those who have been friends, yet begin to foresee the time when they
may be antagonists.

Or, again, it was Fontenoy--Fontenoy's great head and overhanging brows,
thrown suddenly into light against the windy dusk. He was walking with a
young viscount whose curls, clothes, and shoulders were alike
unapproachable by the ordinary man. This youth could not forbear an
exultant twitching of the lip as he passed the Maxwells. Fontenoy
ceremoniously took off his hat. Marcella had a momentary impression of
the passionate, bull-like force of the man, before he disappeared into
the crowd. His eye had wavered as it met hers. Out of courtesy to the
woman he had tried not to _look_ his triumph.

And now it was quite another face--thin, delicately marked, a noticeable
chin, an outstretched hand.

She was astonished by her own feeling of pleasure.

"Tell me," she said quickly, as she moved eagerly forward--"tell me! is
it about what you expected?"

They turned towards the river. George Tressady hung over the wall
beside her.

"Yes. I thought it might be anything from eight to twenty."

"I suppose Lord Fontenoy now thinks the end quite certain."

"He may. But the end is not certain!"

"But what can prevent it! The despairing thing for us is, that if the
country had been roused earlier, everything might have been different.
But now the House--"

"Has got out of hand? It may be; but I find a great many people affected
by Lord Maxwell's speeches in the North, and his reception there.
To-day's result was inevitable, but, if I'm not mistaken, we shall now
see a number of new combinations."

The sensitive face became in a moment all intelligence. She played the
politician, and cross-examined him. He hesitated. What he was doing was
already a treachery. But he only hesitated to give way. They lingered by
the wall together, discussing possibilities and persons; and when Maxwell
at last turned from his own conversations to suggest to his wife that it
was time to go home, she came forward with a mien of animation that
surprised him. He greeted Tressady with friendliness, and then, as though
a thought had struck him, suddenly drew the young man aside.

"Ancoats, of course," said George to himself; and Ancoats it was.

Maxwell, without preliminaries, and taking his companion's knowledge of
the story for granted--no doubt on Fontenoy's information--said a few
words about the renewal of the difficulty. Did he not think it had all
begun again? Yes, George had some reason to think so. "If you can do
anything for us--"

"Of course! but what can I do? As we all know, Ancoats does not sit still
to be scolded."

Their colloquy lasted only a minute or two; yet when it was over, and
the Maxwells had gone, George was left with a vivid impression of the
great man's quiet strength and magnanimity. No one could have guessed
from his anxious and well-considered talk on this private matter that he
was in the very heat of a political struggle that must affect all his
own fortunes. Tressady had been accustomed to spend his wit on the
heavier sides of Maxwell's character. To-night, he said to himself, half
in a passion, grudging the confession, that it was not wonderful she
loved him!

She! The remembrance of how her whole nature had brightened from its
cloud as he drew out for her his own forecast of what might still happen;
the sweet confidence and charm that she had shown him; the intimacy of
the tone she had allowed between them; the mingling all through of a
delicate abstinence from anything touching on his own personal position,
with an unspoken recognition of it--the impulse of a generosity that
could not help rewarding what seemed to it the yielding of an adversary;
these things filled him with a delicious pleasure as he walked home. In a
hundred directions--political, social, spiritual--the old horizons of the
mind seemed to be lightening and expanding. The cynical, indifferent
temper of his youth was breaking down; the whole man was more
intelligent, capable, tender. Yet what sadness and restlessness of soul
as soon as the brief moment of joy had come and gone!

A few afternoons of Supply encroached upon the eight days that still
remained before the last clause of the Bill came to a division. But the
whole eight days, nevertheless, were filled with the new permutations and
combinations which Tressady had foreseen. The Government carried the
Stepney election, and in other quarters the effects of the speechmaking
in the North began to be visible. Rumours of the syndicate already formed
to take over large numbers of workshops in both the Jewish and Gentile
quarters of the East End, and of the hours and wages that were likely to
obtain in the new factories, were driving a considerable mass of
working-class opinion, which had hitherto held aloof, straight for the
Government, and splitting up much of that which had been purely hostile.

Nevertheless, the situation in the House itself was hardly changing with
the change in the country. The Socialist members very soon developed the
proposal to make the landlords responsible for the carrying-out of the
new Act into a furious general attack on the landlords of London. Their
diatribes kept up the terrors which had already cost the Government so
many men. It was not possible, not seemly, to yield, as Maxwell was
yielding, all along the line to these fellows!

But the Old Liberals, or the New Whigs, as George had expected, were
restless. They felt the country, and they had no affection for landlords
as such. Did a man arise who could give them a lead, there was no saying
how soon they might not break away from the Fontenoy combination.
Fontenoy felt it, and prowled among them like a Satan, urging them to
complete their deed, to give the _coup de grâce_.

On the Wednesday afternoon before the Friday on which he thought the
final vote would be taken, George let himself into his own house about
six o'clock, thankful to feel that he had a quiet evening before him. He
had been wandering about the House of Commons and its appurtenances all
day, holding colloquies with this person and that, unable to see his
way--to come to any decision. And, as was now usual, he and Fontenoy had
been engaged in steering out of each other's way as much as possible.

As he went upstairs he noticed a letter lying on the step. He took it up,
and found an open note, which he read, at first without thinking of it:

"My dear Lady,--Chatsworth can't be done. I have thrown my flies with
great skill, but--no go! I don't seem to have influence enough in that
quarter. But I have various other plans on hand. You shall have a jolly
autumn, if I can manage it. There are some Scotch invitations I can
certainly get you--and I should like to show you the ways of those
parts. By the way, I hope your husband shoots decently. People are very
particular. And you really must consult me about your gowns--I'm deuced
clever at that sort of thing! I shall come to-morrow, when I have packed
off my family to the country. Don't know why God made families!

"Yours always,

"CATHEDINE."

"George! is that you?" cried Letty from above him, in a voice half angry,
half hesitating; "and--and--that's my note. Please give it me at once."

He finished it under her eyes, then handed it to her with formal
courtesy. They walked into the drawing-room, and George shut the door. He
was very pale, and Letty quailed a little.

"So Cathedine has been introducing us into society," he said, "and
advising you as to your gowns. Was that--quite necessary--do you think?"

"It's very simple what he has been doing," was her angry reply. "You
never take any pains to make life amusing to me, so I must look
elsewhere, if I want society--that's all."

"And it never occurs to you that you are thereby incurring an unseemly
obligation to a man whom I dislike, whom I have warned you against, who
bears everywhere an evil name? You think I am likely to enjoy--to put up
with, even--the position of being asked on sufferance--as your
appendage--provided I 'shoot decently'?"

His tone of scorn, his slight figure, imperiously drawn up, sent her a
challenge, which she answered with sullen haste.

"That's all nonsense, of course! And he wouldn't be rude to you if you
weren't always rude to him."

"Rude to him!" He smiled. "But now, let us get to the bottom of this
thing. Did Cathedine get us the cards for Clarence House--and that
Goodwood invitation?"

Letty made no answer. She stared at him defiantly, twisting and
untwisting the ribbons of her blue dress.

George reddened hotly. His personal pride in matters of social manners
was one of his strongest characteristics.

"Let me beg you, at any rate, to write and tell Lord Cathedine that we
will not trouble him for any more of these kind offices. And, moreover, I
shall not go to any of these houses in the autumn unless I am quite
certain he has had nothing to do with it."

"I have accepted," said Letty, breathing hard.

"I cannot help that. You should have been frank with me. I am not going
to do what would destroy my own self-respect."

"No--you prefer making love to Lady Maxwell!"

He looked steadily a moment at her pallor and her furious eyes. Then he
said, in another tone:

"Letty, does it ever occur to you that we have not been married yet five
months? Are our relations to each other to go on for ever like this? I
think we might make something better of them."

"That's your lookout. But as to these invitations, I have accepted them,
and I shall go."

"I don't think you will. You would find it wouldn't do. Anyway,
Cathedine must be written to."

"I shall do nothing of the kind!" she cried.

"Then I shall write myself."

She rose, quivering with passion, supporting herself on the arm of
her chair.

"If you do, I will find some way of punishing you for it. Oh, if I had
never made myself miserable by marrying you!"

Their eyes met. Then he said:

"I think I had better go and dine at the club. We are hardly fit to be
together."

"Go, for heaven's sake!" she said, with a disdainful gesture.

Outside the door he paused a moment, head bent, hands clenched. Then a
wild, passionate look overspread his young face. "It is her evening," he
said to himself. "Letty turns me out. I will go."

Meanwhile Letty stood where he had left her till she had heard the
street-door close. The typical, significant sound knelled to her heart.
She began to walk tempestuously up and down, crying with excitement.

Time passed on. The August evening closed in; and in this deserted London
nobody came to see her. She dined alone, and afterwards spent what seemed
to her interminable hours pacing the drawing-room and meditating. At last
there was a pause in the rush of selfish or jealous feeling which had
been pulsing through her for weeks past, dictating all her actions,
fevering all her thoughts. And there is nothing so desolate as such a
pause, to such a nature. For it means reflection; it means putting one's
life away from one, and looking at it as a whole. And to the Lettys of
this world there is no process more abhorrent--none they will spend more
energy in escaping.

It was inexplicable, intolerable that she should be so unhappy. What was
it that tortured her so--hatred of Marcella Maxwell, or pain that she had
lost her husband? But she had never imagined herself in love with him
when she married him. He had never obtained from her before a tenth part
of the thought she had bestowed upon him during the past six weeks.
During all the time that she had been flirting with Cathedine, and
recklessly placing herself in his power by the favours she asked of him,
she saw now, with a kind of amazement, that she had been thinking
constantly of George, determined to impress him with her social success,
to force him to admire her and think much of her.

Cathedine? Had he any real attraction for her? Why, she was afraid of
him, she knew him to be coarse and brutal, even while she played with him
and sent him on her errands. When she compared him with George--even
George as she had just seen him in this last odious scene--she felt the
tears of anger and despair rising.

But to be forced to dismiss him at George's word, to submit in this
matter of the invitations, to let herself be trampled on, while George
gave all his homage, all his best mind, to Lady Maxwell--something
scorching flew through her veins as she thought of it. Never! never!
She would find, she had already thought of, a startling way of
avenging herself.

Late at night George came home. She had locked her door, and he turned
into his dressing-room. When the house was quiet again, she pressed her
face into the pillows, and wept till she was amazed at her own pain, and
must needs turn her rage upon herself.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Tressady arrived at the house in Mile End Road he found the pretty,
bare room where Marcella held her gatherings full of guests. The East End
had not "gone out of town." The two little workhouse girls, in the
whitest of caps and aprons, were carrying round trays of coffee and
cakes; and beyond the open window was a tiny garden, backed by a huge
Board School and some tall warehouses, yet as pleasant within its own
small space as a fountain and flowers, constantly replenished from
Maxwell Court, could make it.

Amid the medley of workmen, union officials, and members of Parliament
that the room contained, George was set first of all to talk to a young
schoolmaster or two, but he had never felt so little able to adjust his
mind to strangers. The thought of his home miseries burnt within him.
When could he get his turn with her? He was thirsty for the sound of her
voice, the kindness of her eyes.

She had received him with unusual warmth, and an eagerness of look that
seemed to show she had at least as much to say to him as he to her. And
at last his turn came. She took some of her guests into the garden.
George followed, and they found themselves side by side. He noticed that
she was very pale. Yet how was it that fatigue and anxiety instead of
marring her physical charm, only increased it? This thin black dress in
which the tall figure moved so finely, the black lace folded in a fashion
all her own about her neck and breast, the waving lines of hair above the
delicate stateliness of the brow--those slight tragic hollows in cheek
and temple with their tale of spirit and passionate feeling, and all the
ebb and flow of noble life--he had never felt her so rare, so adorable.

"Well! what do you think of it all to-day? Are you still inclined to
prophesy?" she asked him, smiling.

"I might be--if I saw any chance of the man you want. But he doesn't seem
to be forthcoming, and--"

"And to-morrow is the end!"

"The Government has quite made up its mind not to take defeat--not to
accept modifications?"

She shook her head.

They were standing at the end of the garden, looking into the brightly
lit windows of the Board School, where evening-classes were going on. She
gave a long sigh.

"As for us personally, we can only be thankful to have it over. Neither
of us could have borne it much longer. I suppose, when the crisis is all
over, we shall go away for a long time."

By "the crisis" she meant, of course, the resignation of Ministers and
a change of Government. So that a few days hence she would be no longer
within his reach at all. Maxwell, once out of office, would, no doubt,
for a long while to come prefer to spend the greater part of his time
in Brookshire, away from politics. A sudden sharp perception woke in
Tressady of what it would mean to him to find himself in a world
where, on going out of a morning, it would be no longer possible to
come across her.

At last she broke the silence.

"How little I really thought, in spite of all one's anxiety, that Lord
Fontenoy was going to win! He has played his cards amazingly well."

George took no notice. Thoughts were whirling in his brain.

"What would you say to me, I wonder," he said at last, "if _I_ were to
try the part?"

He spoke in a bantering tone, poking at the black London earth with
his stick.

"What part?"

"Well, it seems to me I might put the case. One wants to argue the thing
in a common-sense way. I don't feel towards this clause as I did towards
the others. I know a good many men don't."

He turned to her with a light composure.

She stared in bewilderment.

"I don't understand."

"Well; why shouldn't one put the case? We have always counted on the
hostility of the country. But the country seems to be coming round. Some
of us now feel the Bill should have its chance--we are inclined to let
Ministers take the responsibility. But, gracious heavens!--to suppose the
House would pay any attention to me!"

He took up a stone and jerked it over the wall. She did not speak for a
moment. At last she said:

"It would be a grave thing for _you_ to do."

He turned, and their eyes met, hers full of emotion, and his hesitating
and reflective. Then he laughed, his pride stung a little by her
expression.

"You think I should do myself more harm, than good to anybody else?"

"No.--Only it would be serious," she repeated after a pause.

Instantly he dropped the subject as far as his own action was
concerned. He led her back into discussion of other people, and of the
situation in general.

Then suddenly, as they talked, a host of thoughts fled cloud-like,
rising and melting, through Marcella's memory. She remembered with what
prestige--considering his youth and inexperience--he had entered
Parliament, the impression made by the short and brilliant campaign of
his election. Now, since the real struggle of the session had begun, his
energies seemed to have been unaccountably in abeyance, and eclipse.
People she noticed had ceased to talk of him. But supposing, after all,
there had been a crisis of mind and conviction underlying it?--supposing
that now, at the last moment, in a situation that cried out for a
leader, something should suddenly release his powers and gifts to do
their proper work--

It vexed her to realise her own excitement, together with an odd
shrinking and reluctance that seemed to be fighting with it. All in a
moment, to Tressady's astonishment, she recalled the conversation to the
point where it had turned aside.

"And you think--you _really_ think"--her voice had a nervous appealing
note--"that even at this eleventh hour--No, I don't understand!--I
_can't_ understand!--why, or how you should still think it possible to
change things enough!"

He felt a sting of pleasure, and the passing sense of hurt pride was
soothed. At least he had conquered her attention, her curiosity!

"I am sure that anything might still happen," he said stubbornly.

"Well, only let it be settled!" she said, trying to speak lightly, "else
there will be nothing left of some of us."

She raised her hand, and pushed back her hair with a childish gesture of
weariness, that was quite unconscious, and therefore touching.

As she spoke, indeed, the thought of a strong man harassed with overwork,
and patiently preparing to lay down his baffled task, and all his
cherished hopes, captured her mind, brought a quick rush of tears even to
her eyes. Tressady looked at her; he saw the moisture in the eyes, the
reddening of the cheek, the effort for self-control.

"Why do you let yourself feel it so much?" he said resentfully; "it is
not natural, nor right."

"That's our old quarrel, isn't it?" she answered, smiling.

He was staring at the ground again, poking with his stick.

"There are so many things one _must_ feel," he said in a bitter low
voice; "one may as well try to take politics calmly."

She looked down upon him, understanding, but not knowing how to meet him,
how to express herself. His words and manner were a confession of
personal grief,--almost an appeal to her,--the first he had ever made.
Yet how to touch the subject of his marriage! She shrank from it
painfully. What ominous, disagreeable things she had heard lately of the
young Lady Tressady from people she trusted! Why, oh! why had he ruined
his own life in such a way!

And with the yearning towards all suffering which was natural to her,
there mingled so much else--inevitable softness and gratitude for that
homage towards herself, which had begun to touch and challenge all the
loving, responsive impulse which was at the root of her character--an
eager wish to put out a hand and guide him--all tending to shape in her
this new longing to rouse him to some critical and courageous action,
action which should give him at least the joy that men get from the
strenuous use of natural powers, from the realisation of themselves. And
through it all the most divinely selfish blindness to the real truth of
the situation! Yet she tried not to think of Maxwell--she wished to think
only of and for her friend.

After his last words they stood side by side in silence for a few
moments. But the expression of her eyes, of her attitude, was all
sympathy. He must needs feel that she cared, she understood, that his
life, his pain, his story mattered to her. At last she said, turning her
face away from him, and from the few people who had not yet left the
garden to go and listen to some music that was going on in the
drawing-room:

"Sometimes, the best way to forget one's own troubles--don't you
think?--is to put something else first for a time--perhaps in your
case, the public life and service. Mightn't it be? Suppose you thought it
all really out, what you have been saying to me--gave yourself up to
it--and then _determined_. Perhaps afterwards--"

She paused--overcome with doubt, even shyness--and very pale too, as she
turned to him again. But so beautiful! The very perplexity which spoke in
the gently quivering face as it met his, made her lovelier in his eyes.
It seemed to strike down some of the barrier between them, to present her
to him as weaker, more approachable.

But after waiting a moment, he gave a little harsh laugh.

"Afterwards, when one has somehow settled other people's affairs, one
might see straighter in one's own? Is that what you mean?"

"I meant," she said, speaking with difficulty, "what I have often
found--myself--that it helps one sometimes, to throw oneself altogether
into something outside one's own life, in a large disinterested way.
Afterwards, one comes back to one's own puzzles--with a fresh strength
and hope."

"Hope!" he said despondently, with a quick lifting of the shoulders.
Then, in another tone--

"So that's your advice to me--to take this thing seriously--to take
myself seriously--to think it out?"

"Yes, yes," she said eagerly; "don't trifle with it--with what you might
think and do--till it is too late to think and do anything."

Suddenly it flashed across them both how far they had travelled since
their first meeting in the spring. Her mind filled with a kind of dread,
an uneasy sense of responsibility--then with a tremulous consciousness of
power. It was as though she felt something fluttering like a bird in her
hands. And all the time there echoed through her memory a voice speaking
in a moonlit garden--"You know--you don't mind my saying it?--nobody is
ever converted--politically--nowadays."

No, but there may be honest advance and change--why not? And if she had
influenced him--was it not Maxwell's work and thought that had spoken
through her?

"Well, anyway," said Tressady's voice beside her, "whatever
happens--you'll believe--"

"That you won't help to give us the _coup de grâce_ unless you must?" she
said, half laughing, yet with manifest emotion. "Anyway, I should have
believed that."

"And you really care so much?" he asked her again, looking at her
wondering.

She suddenly dropped her head upon her hands. They were alone now in the
moonlit garden, and she was leaning over the low wall that divided them
from the school enclosure. But before he could say anything--before he
could even move closer to her--she had raised her face again, and drawn
her hand rapidly across her eyes.

"I suppose one is tired and foolish after all these weeks," she said,
with a breaking voice--"I apologise. You see when one comes to see
everything through another's eyes--to live in another's life--" He felt
a sudden stab, then a leap of joy--hungry, desolate joy--that she should
thus admit him to the very sanctuary of her heart--let him touch the
"very pulse of the machine." At the same moment that it revealed the
eternal gulf between them, it gave him a delicious passionate sense of
intimity--of privilege.

"You have--a marvellous idea of marriage"--he said, under his breath, as
he moved slowly beside her towards the house.

She made no answer. In another minute she was talking to him of
indifferent things, and immediately afterwards he found himself parted
from her in the crowd of the drawing-room.

When the party dispersed and he was walking alone towards Aldgate through
the night, he could do nothing but repeat to himself fragments of what
she had said to him--lost all the time in a miserable yearning memory of
her eyes and voice.

His mind was made up. And as he lay sleepless and solitary through the
night, he scarcely thought any more of the strait to which his married
life had come. Forty-eight hours hence he should have time for that. For
the present he had only to "think out" how it might be possible for him
to turn doubt and turmoil into victory, and lay the crown of it at
Marcella Maxwell's feet.

Meanwhile Marcella, on her return to St. James's Square, put her hands on
Maxwell's shoulders, and said to him, in a voice unlike herself: "Sir
George Tressady was at the party to-night. I _think_ he may be going to
throw Lord Fontenoy over. Don't be surprised if he speaks in that sense
to-morrow."

Maxwell looked extraordinarily perturbed.

"I hope he will do nothing of the kind," he said, with decision. "It will
do him enormous harm. All the conviction he has ever shown has been the
other way. It will be thought to be a mere piece of caprice and
indiscipline."

Marcella said nothing. She walked away from him, her hands clasped behind
her, her soft skirt trailing--a pale muse of meditation--meditation in
which for once she did not invite him to share.

"Tressady, by all that's wonderful!" said a member of Fontenoy's party to
his neighbour. "What's _he_ got to say?"

The man addressed bent forward, with his hands on his knees, to look
eagerly at the speaker.

"I knew there was something up," he said. "Every time I have come across
Tressady to-day he has been deep with one or other of those fellows"--he
jerked his head towards the Liberal benches. "I saw him buttonholing
Green in the Library, then with Speedwell on the Terrace. And just look
at their benches! They're as thick as bees! Yes, by George! there _is_
something up."

His young sportsman's face flushed with excitement, and he tried hard
through the intervening heads to get a glimpse of Fontenoy. But nothing
was to be seen of the leader but a hat jammed down over the eyes, a
square chin, and a pair of folded arms.

The House, indeed, throughout the day had worn an aspect which, to the
experienced observer--to the smooth-faced Home Secretary, for instance,
watching the progress of this last critical division--meant that
everything was possible, the unexpected above all. Rumours gathered and
died away. Men might be seen talking with unaccustomed comrades; and
those who were generally most frank had become discreet. It was known
that Fontenoy's anxiety had been growing rapidly; and it was noticed that
he and the young viscount who acted as the Whip of the party had kept an
extraordinarily sharp watch on all their own men through the dinner-hour.

Fontenoy himself had spoken before dinner, throwing scorn upon the
clause, as the ill-conceived finish of an impossible Bill. So the
landlords were to be made the executants, the police, of this precious
Act? Every man who let out a tenement-house in workmen's dwellings was to
be haled before the law and punished if a tailor on his premises did his
work at home, if a widow took in shirtmaking to keep her children. Pass,
for the justice or the expediency of such a law in itself. But who but a
madman ever supposed you could get it carried out! What if the landlords
refused or neglected their part? _Quis custodiet?_ And was Parliament
going to make itself ridiculous by setting up a law, which, were it a
thousand times desirable, you simply could not enforce?

The speech was delivered with amazing energy. It abounded in savage
epigram and personality; and a month before it would have had great
effect. Every Englishman has an instinctive hatred of paper reforms.

During the dinner-hour Tressady met Fontenoy in the Lobby, and
suddenly stopped to speak. The young man was deeply flushed and
holding himself stiffly erect. "If you want me," he said--"you will
find me in the Library. I don't want to spring anything upon you. You
shall know all I know."

"Thank you," said the other with slow bitterness--"but we can look after
ourselves. I think you and I understood each other this morning."

The two men parted abruptly. Tressady walked on, stung and excited afresh
by the memory of the hateful half hour he had spent that morning in
Fontenoy's library. For after all, when once he had come to his decision,
he had tried to behave with frankness, with consideration.

Fontenoy hurried on to look for the young viscount with the curls and
shoulders, and the two men stood about the inner lobby together, Fontenoy
sombrely watching everybody who came out or in.

It was about ten o'clock when Tressady caught the Speaker's eye. He
rose in a crowded House, a House conscious not only that the division
shortly to be taken would decide the fate of a Government, but vaguely
aware, besides, that something else was involved--one of those
personal incidents that may at any moment make the dullest piece of
routine dramatic, or rise into history by the juxtaposition of some
great occasion.

The House had not yet made up its opinion about him as a speaker. He had
done well; then, not so well. And, moreover, it was so long since he had
taken any part in debate that the House had had time to forget whatever
qualities he might once have shown.

His bearing and voice won him a first point. For youth, well-bred and
well-equipped, the English House of Commons has always shown a
peculiar indulgence. Then members began to bend eagerly forward, to
crane necks, to put hands to ears. The Treasury Bench was seen to be
listening as one man.

Before the speech was over many of those present had already recognised
in it a political event of the first order. The speaker had traced with
great frankness his own relation to the Bill--from an opinion which was
but a prejudice, to a submission which was still half repugnance. He drew
attention to the remarkable and growing movement in support of the
Maxwell policy which was now spreading throughout the country, after a
period of coolness and suspended judgment; he pointed to the probable
ease with which, as it was now seen, the "harassed trades" would adapt
themselves to the new law; he showed that the House, in at least three
critical divisions, and under circumstances of enormous difficulty, had
still affirmed the Bill; that the country, during the progress of the
measure, had rallied unmistakably to the Government, and that all that
remained was a question of machinery. That being so, he--and, he
believed, some others--had reconsidered their positions. Their electoral
pledges, in their opinion, no longer held, though they would be ready at
any moment to submit themselves to consequences, if consequences there
were to be.

Then, taking up the special subject-matter of the clause, he threw
himself upon his leader's speech with a nervous energy, an information,
and a resource which held the House amazed. He tore to pieces
Fontenoy's elaborate attack, showed what practical men thought of the
clause, and with what careful reliance upon their opinion and their
experience it had been framed; and, finally--with a reference not
lacking in a veiled passion that told upon the House, to those "dim
toiling thousands" whose lot, "as it comes to work upon the mind, is
daily perplexing if not transforming the thoughts and ideals of such men
as I"--he, in the plainest terms, announced his intention of voting with
the Government, and sat down, amid the usual mingled storm, in a
shouting and excited House.

The next hour passed in a tumult. One speaker after another got up from
the Liberal benches--burly manufacturers and men of business, who had so
far held a strong post in the army of resistance--to tender their
submission, to admit that the fight had gone far enough, that the country
was against them, and that the Bill must be borne. What use, too, in
turning out a Government which would either be sent back with redoubled
strength or replaced by combinations that had no attractions whatever
from men of moderate minds? Sadness reigned in the speeches of this
Liberal remnant; nor could the House from time to time forbear to jeer
them. But they made their purpose plain, and the Government Whip,
standing near the door, gleefully struck off name after name from his
Opposition list.

Then followed the usual struggle between the division that all men
wanted and the speakers that no man could endure. But at last the bell
was rung, the House cleared. As Tressady turned against the stream of
his party, Fontenoy, with a sarcastic smile, stood elaborately aside to
let him pass.

"We shall soon know what you have cost us," he said hoarsely in
Tressady's ear; then, advancing a little towards the centre of the
floor, he looked up markedly and deliberately at the Ladies' Gallery.
Tressady made no reply. He held his fair head higher than usual as he
passed on his unaccustomed way to the Aye Lobby. Many an eager eye
strained back to see how many recruits would join him as he reached the
Front Opposition Bench; many a Parliamentary Nestor watched the young
man's progress with a keenness born of memory--memory that burnt anew
with the battles of the past.

"Do you remember Chandos," said one old man to another--"young Chandos,
that went for Peel in '46 against his party? It was my first year in
Parliament. I can see him now. He was something like this young fellow."

"But _his_ ratting changed nothing," said his companion, with an uneasy
laugh; and they both struggled forward among the Noes.

Twenty minutes later the tellers were at the table, and the moment that
was to make or mar a great Ministry had come.

"Ayes, 306; Noes, 280. The Ayes have it!"

"By Jove, he's done it!--the Judas!" cried a young fellow, crimson with
excitement, who was standing beside Fontenoy!

"Yes--he's done it!" said Fontenoy, with grim composure, though the hand
that held his hat shook. "The curtain may now fall."

"Where is he?" shouted the hot bloods around him, hooting and groaning,
as their eyes searched the House for the man who had thus, in an
afternoon, pulled down and defeated all their hopes.

But Tressady was nowhere to be seen. He had left the House just as the
great news, surging like a wave through Lobby and corridor, reached a
group of people waiting in a Minister's private room--and Marcella
Maxwell knew that all was won.



CHAPTER XVIII


"I Shall go straight to Brook Street, and see if I can be a comfort to
Letty," said Mrs. Watton, with a tone and air, however, that seemed to
class her rather with the Sons of Thunder than the Sons of Consolation.

She was standing on the steps of the Ladies' Gallery entrance to the
House of Commons, and Harding, who had just called a cab for her, was
beside her.

"Could you see from the Gallery whether George had left?"

"He was still there when I came down," said Mrs. Watton, ungraciously, as
though she grudged to talk of such a monster. "I saw him near the door
while they hooted him. But, anyway, I should go to Letty--I don't forget
that I am her only relative in town."

As a matter of fact, her eyes had played her false. But the wrath with
which her large face and bonnet were shaking was cause enough for
hallucinations.

"Then I'll go, too," said Harding, who had been hesitating. "No doubt
Tressady'll stay for his thanks! But I daresay we sha'n't find Letty at
home yet. I know she was to go to the Lucys' to-night."

"Poor lamb!" said Mrs. Watton, throwing up her hands.

Harding laughed.

"Oh! Letty won't take it like a lamb--you'll see!"

"What can a woman do?" said his mother, scornfully. "A decent woman, I
mean, whom one can still have in one's house. All she can do is to cry,
and take a district."

When they reached Upper Brook Street, the butler reported that his
mistress had just come in. He made, of course, no difficulty about
admitting Lady Tressady's aunt, and Mrs. Watton sailed up to the
drawing-room, followed by Harding, who carried his head poked forward, as
was usual to him, an opera-hat under his arm, and an eyeglass swinging
from a limp wrist.

As they entered the drawing-room door, Letty, in full evening-dress, was
standing with her back to them. She had the last edition of an evening
paper open before her, so that her small head and shoulders seemed buried
in the sheet. And so eager was her attention to what she was reading that
she had not heard their approach.

"Letty!" said Mrs. Watton.

Her niece turned with a violent start.

"My dear Letty!" The aunt approached, quivering with majestic sympathy,
both hands outstretched.

Letty looked at her a moment, frowning; then recoiled impatiently,
without taking any notice of the hands.

"So I see George has spoken against his party. There has been a scene.
What has happened? What's the end?"

"Only that the Government has won its clause," said Harding, interposing
his smooth falsetto--"won by a substantial majority, too. No chance of
the Lords playing the fool!"

"The Government has won?--the Maxwells have won, that is,--she has won!"
said Letty, still frowning, her voice sharp and tingling.

"If you like to put it so," said Harding, raising his shoulders. "Yes, I
should think that set's pretty jubilant to-night."

"And you mean to say that George did and said nothing to prepare you, my
poor child?" cried Mrs. Watton, in her heaviest manner. She had picked up
the newspaper, and was looking with disgust at the large head-lines with
which the hastily printed sheet strove to eke out the brevity of the few
words in which it announced the speech of the evening: "_Scene in the
House of Commons--Break-down of the Resistance to the Bill--Sir George
Tressady's Speech--Unexampled Excitement_."

Letty breathed fast.

"He said something a day or two ago about a change, but of course I never
believed--He has disgraced himself!"

She began to pace stormily up and down the room, her white skirts
floating behind her, her small hands pulling at her gloves. Harding
Watton stood looking on in an attitude of concern, one pensive finger
laid upon his lip.

"Well, my dear Letty," said Mrs. Watton, impressively, as she laid down
the newspaper, "the only thing to be done is to take him away. Let people
forget it--if they can. And let me tell you, for your comfort, that he is
not the first man, by a long way, that woman has led astray--nor will he
be the last."

Letty's pale cheeks flamed into red. She stopped. She turned upon her
comforter with eyes of hot resentment and dislike.

"And they dare to say that he did it for her! What right has anybody
to say it?"

Mrs. Watton stared. Harding slowly and compassionately shook his head.

"I am afraid the world dares to say a great many unpleasant things--don't
you know? One has to put up with it. Lady Maxwell has a characteristic
way of doing things. It's like a painter: one can't miss the touch."

"No more than one can mistake a saying of Harding Watton's," said a
vibrating voice behind them.

And there in the open doorway stood Tressady, pale, spent, and
hollow-eyed, yet none the less the roused master of the house, determined
to assert himself against a couple of intruders.

Letty looked at him in silence, one foot beating the ground. Harding
started, and turned aside to search for his opera-hat, which he had
deposited upon the sofa. Mrs. Watton was quite unabashed.

"We did not expect you so soon," she said, holding out a chilly hand.
"And I daresay you will misunderstand our being here. I cannot help that.
It seemed to me my duty, as Letty's nearest relative in London, to come
here and condole with her to-night on this deplorable event."

"I don't know what you mean," said Tressady, coolly, his hand on his
side. "Are you speaking of the division?"

Mrs. Watton threw up her hands and her eyebrows. Then, gathering up her
dress, she marched across the room to Letty.

"Good-night, Letty. I should have been glad to have had a quiet talk with
you, but as your husband's come in I shall go. Oh! I'm not the person to
interfere between husband and wife. Get him to tell you, if you can,
_why_ he has disappointed the friends and supporters who got him into
Parliament; why he has broken all his promises, and given everybody the
right to pity his unfortunate young wife! Oh! don't alarm yourself, Sir
George! I say my mind, but I'm going. I know very well that I am
intruding. Good-night. Letty understands that she will always find
sympathy in _my_ house."

And the fierce old lady swept to the door, holding the culprit with her
eyes. Harding, too, stepped up to Letty, who was standing now by the
mantelpiece, with her back to the room. He took the hand hanging by her
side, and folded it ostentatiously in both of his.

"Good-night, dear little cousin," he said, in his most affected voice.
"If you have any need of us, command us."

"Are you going?" said Tressady. His brow was curiously wrinkled.

Harding made him a bow, and walked with rather sidling steps to the door.
Tressady followed him to the landing, called to the butler, who was still
up, and ceremoniously told him to get Mrs. Watton a cab. Then he walked
back to the drawing-room, and shut the door behind him.

"Letty!"

His tone startled her. She looked round hastily.

"Letty! you were defending me as I came in."

He was extraordinarily pale--his blue eyes flashed. Every trace of the
hauteur with which he had treated the Wattons had disappeared.

Letty recovered herself in an instant. The moment he showed softness she
became the tyrant.

"Don't come!--don't touch me!" she said passionately, putting out her
hand as he approached her. "If I defended you, it was just for decency's
sake. You _have_ disgraced us both. It is perfectly true what Aunt Watton
says. I don't suppose we shall ever get over it. Oh! don't try to bully
me"--for Tressady had turned away with an impatient groan. "It's no use.
I know you think me a little fool! _I'm_ not one of your great political
ladies, who pretend to know everything that they may keep men dangling
after them. I don't pose and play the hypocrite, as some--some people do.
But, all the same, I know that you have done for yourself, and that
people will say the most disgraceful things. Of course they will! And you
can't deny them--you know you can't. Why did you never tell me a thing?
_Who_ made you change over? Ah! you can't answer--or you won't!"

Tressady was walking up and down with folded arms. He paused at her
challenge.

"Why didn't I tell you? Do you remember that I wanted to talk to you
yesterday morning--that I suggested you should come and hear my
speech--and you wouldn't have it? You didn't care about politics, you
said, and weren't going to pretend.--What made me go over? Well--I
changed my mind--to some extent," he said slowly.

"To some extent?" She laughed scornfully, mimicking his voice. "_To
some extent_! Are you going to try and make me believe there was
nothing else?"

"No. As I walked home to-night I determined not to conceal the truth
from you. Opinions counted for something. I voted--yes, taking all
things together, I think it may be said that I voted honestly. But I
should never have taken the part I did but--" he hesitated, then went
on deliberately--"but that I had come to have a strong--wish--to give
Lady Maxwell her heart's desire. She has been my friend. I repaid her
what I could."

Letty, half beside herself, flung at him a shower of taunts hysterical
and hardly intelligible. He showed no emotion. "Of course," he said
disdainfully, "if you choose to repeat this to others you will do us both
great damage. I suppose I can't help it. For anybody else in the
world--for Mrs. Watton and her son, for instance--I have a perfectly good
political defence, and I shall defend myself stoutly. I have no intention
whatever of playing the penitent in public."

And what, she asked him, striving with all her might to regain the
self-command which could alone enable her to wound him, to get the
mastery--what was to be her part in this little comedy? Did he expect
_her_ to put up with this charming situation--to take what Marcella
Maxwell left?

"No," he said abruptly. "You have no right to reproach me or her in any
vulgar way. But I recognise that the situation is impossible. I shall
probably leave Parliament and London."

She stared at him in speechless passion, then suddenly gathered up her
fan and gloves and fled past him.

He caught at her, and stopped her, holding her satin skirt.

"My poor child!" he cried in remorse; "bear with me, Letty--and
forgive me!"

"I hate you!" she said fiercely, "and I will never forgive you!"

She wrenched her dress away; he heard her quick steps across the floor
and up the stairs.

Tressady fell into a chair, broken with exhaustion. His day in the House
of Commons alone would have tried any man's nervous strength; this final
scene had left him in a state to shrink from another word, another sound.

He must have dozed as he sat there from pure fatigue, for he found
himself waking suddenly, with a sense of chill, as the August dawn was
penetrating the closed windows and curtains.

He sprang up, and pulled the curtains back with a stealthy hand, so as to
make no noise. Then he opened the window and stepped out upon the
balcony, into a misty haze of sun.

The morning air blew upon him, and he drew it in with delight. How
blessed was the sun, and the silence of the streets, and the dappled sky
there to the east, beyond the Square!

After those long hours of mental tension in the crowd and heat of the
House of Commons, what joy! what physical relief! He caught eagerly at
the sensation of bodily pleasure, driving away his cares, letting the
morning freshness recall to him a hundred memories--the memories of a
traveller who has seen much, and loved Nature more than man. Blue
surfaces of rippling sea, cool steeps among the mountains, streams
brawling over their stones, a thousand combinations of grass and trees
and sun--these things thronged through his brain, evoked by the wandering
airs of this pale London sunrise and the few dusty plains which he could
see to his right, behind the Park railings. And, like heralds before the
presence, these various images flitted, passed, drew to one side, while
memory in trembling revealed at last the best she had--an English river
flowing through June meadows under a heaven of flame, a woman with a
child, the scents of grass and hawthorn, the plashing of water.

He hung over the balcony, dreaming.

But before long he roused himself, and went back into the house. The
gaudy drawing-room looked singularly comfortless and untidy in the
delicate purity of the morning light. The flowers Letty had worn in her
dress the night before were scattered on the floor, and the evening paper
lay on the chair, where she had flung it down.

He stood in the centre of the room, his head raised, listening. No sound.
Surely she was asleep. In spite of all the violence she had shown in
their after-talk, the memory of her speech to Mrs. Watton lingered in the
young fellow's mind. It astonished him to realise, as he stood there, in
this morning silence, straining to hear if his wife were moving overhead,
how, _pari passu_ with the headlong progress of his act of homage to the
one woman, certain sharp perceptions with regard to the other had been
rising in his mind.

His life had been singularly lacking till now in any conscious moral
strain. That a man's desires should outrun his conscience had always
seemed to him, on the whole, the normal human state. But all sorts of new
standards and ideals had begun to torment him since the beginning of his
friendship with Marcella Maxwell, and a hundred questions that had never
yet troubled him were even now pressing through his mind as to his
relations to his wife, and the inexorableness of his debt towards her.

Moreover, he had hardly left the House of Commons and its uproar--his
veins were still throbbing with the excitement of the division--when a
voice said to him, "This is the end! You have had your 'moment'--now
leave the stage before any mean anti-climax comes to spoil it all. Go.
Break your life across. Don't wait to be dismissed and shaken off--take
her gratitude with you, and go!"

Ah! but not yet--not yet! He sat down before his wife's little
writing-table, and buried his face in his hands, while his heart burnt
with longing. One day--then he would accept his fate, and try and mend
both his own life and Letty's.

Would it be generous to drop out of her ken at once, leave the gift
in her lap, and say nothing? Ah! but he was not capable of it. His
act must have its price. Just one half hour with her--face to face.
Then, shut the door--and, good-bye! What was there to fear? He could
control himself. But after all these weeks, after their conversation
of the night before, to go away without a word would be
discourteous--unkind even--almost a confession to her of the whys and
wherefores of what he had done.

He had a book of hers which he had promised to return. It was a precious
little manuscript book, containing records written out by herself of
lives she had known among the poor. She prized it much, and had begged
him to keep it safe and return it.

He took it out of his pocket, looked at it, and put it carefully back. In
a few hours the little book should pass him into her presence. The
impulse that possessed him barred for the moment all remorse, all regret.

Then he looked for paper and pen and began to write.

He sat for some time, absorbed in his task, doing his very best with it.
It was a letter to his constituents, and it seemed to him he must have
been thinking of it in his sleep, so easily did the sentences run.

No doubt, ill-natured gossip of the Watton type would be humming and
hissing round her name for the next few days. Well, let him write his
letter as well as he could, and publish it as soon as possible! It took
him about an hour and a half, and when he read it over it appeared to him
the best piece of political statement he had yet achieved. Very likely it
would make Fontenoy more savage still. But Fontenoy's tone and attitude
in the House of Commons had been already decisive. The breech between
them was complete.

He put the sheets down at last, groaning within himself. Fustian and
emptiness! What would ever give him back his old self-confidence, the gay
whole-heartedness with which he had entered Parliament? But the thing had
to be done, and he had done it efficiently. Moreover, the brain-exercise
had acted as a tonic; his tension of nerve had returned. He stood beside
the window once more, looking out into a fast-awakening London with an
absent and frowning eye. He was thinking out the next few hours.

       *       *       *       *       *

A little after eight Letty was roused from a restless sleep by the sound
of a closing door. She rang hastily, and Grier appeared.

"Who was that went out?"

"Sir George, my lady. He's just dressed and left word that he had gone to
take a packet to the 'Pall Mall' office. He said it must be there early,
and he would breakfast at his club."

Letty sat up in bed, and bade Grier draw the curtains, and be quick
in bringing her what she wanted. The maid glanced inquisitively,
first at her mistress's haggard looks, then at the writing-table, as
she passed it on her way to draw the blinds. The table was littered
with writing-materials; some torn sheets had been transferred to the
waste-paper basket, and a sealed letter was lying, address
downwards, on the blotting-book. Letty, however, did not encourage
her to talk. Indeed, she found herself sent away, and her mistress
dressed without her.

Half an hour later Letty in her hat and cape slipped out of her room. She
looked over the banisters into the hall. No one was to be seen, and she
ran downstairs to the hall-door, which closed softly behind her. Five
minutes later a latch-key turned quietly in the lock, and Letty
reappeared. She went rapidly up to her room, a pale, angry ghost,
glancing from side to side.


"Is Lady Maxwell at home?"

The butler glanced doubtfully at the inquirer.

"Sir George Tressady, I believe, sir? I will go and ask, if you will
kindly wait a moment. Her ladyship does not generally see visitors in
the morning."

"Tell her, please, that I have brought a parcel to return to her."

The butler retired, and shortly appeared at the corner of the stairs
beckoning to the visitor. George mounted.

They passed through the outer drawing-room, and the servant drew aside
the curtain of the inner room. Was it February again? The scent of
hyacinth and narcissus seemed to be floating round him.

There was a hasty movement, and a tall figure came with a springing step
to meet him.

"Sir George! How kind of you to come! I wish Maxwell were in. He would
have enjoyed a chat with you so much. But Lord Ardagh sent him a note at
breakfast-time, and he has just gone over to Downing Street. Hallin,
move your puzzle a little, and make a way for Sir George to pass. Will
you sit there?"

Hallin sprang up readily enough at the sight of his friend Sir George,
put a fat hand into his, and then gave his puzzle-map of Europe a
vigorous push to one side that drove Crete helplessly into the arms of
the United Kingdom.

"Oh! what a muddle!" cried his mother, laughing, and standing to look at
the disarray. "You must try, Hallin, and see if you can straighten it
out--as Sir George straightened out father's Bill for him last night."

She turned to him; but the softness of her eyes was curiously veiled. It
struck George at once that she was not at her ease--that there had been
embarrassment in her very greeting of him.

They began to talk of the debate. She asked him minutely about the
progress of the combination that had defeated Fontenoy. They discussed
this or that man's attitude, or they compared the details of the division
with those of the divisions which had gone before.

All through it seemed to Tressady that the person sitting in his chair
and talking politics was a kind of automaton, with which the real George
Tressady had very little to do. The automaton wore a grey summer suit,
and seemed to be talking shrewdly enough, though with occasional lapses
and languors. The real Tressady sat by, and noted what passed. "_How pale
she is! She is not really happy--or triumphant. How she avoids all
personal talk--nothing to be said_, _or hardly, of my part in it--my
effort. Ah! she praises my speech, but with no warmth--I see! she would
rather not owe such a debt to me. Her mind is troubled--perhaps
Maxwell?--or some vile talk?"_

Meanwhile, all that Marcella perceived was that the man beside her
became gradually more restless and more silent. She sat near him, with
Hallin at her feet, her beautiful head held a little stiffly, her eyes
at once kind and reserved. Nothing could have been simpler than her cool
grey dress, her quiet attitude. Yet it seemed to him he had never felt
her dignity so much--a moral dignity, infinitely subtle and exquisite,
which breathed not only from her face and movements, but from the room
about her--the room which held the pictures she loved, the books she
read, the great pots of wild flowers or branching green it was her joy
to set like jewels in its shady corners. He looked round it from time to
time. It had for him the associations and the scents of a shrine, and he
would never see it again! His heart swelled within him. The strange
double sense died away.

Presently, Hallin, having put his puzzle safely into its box, ran off to
his lessons. His mother looked after him, wistfully. And he had no sooner
shut the door than Tressady bent forward. "You see--I thought it out!"

"Yes indeed!" she said, "and to some purpose."

But her voice was uncertain, and veiled like her eyes. Something in her
reluctance to meet him, to talk it over, both alarmed and stung him. What
was wrong? Had she any grievance against him? Had he so played his part
as to offend her in any way? He searched his memory anxiously, his
self-control, that he had been so sure of, failing him fast.

"It was a strange finish to the session--wasn't it?" he said, looking at
her. "We didn't think it would end so, when we first began to argue. What
a queer game it all is! Well, my turn of it will have been exciting
enough--though short. I can't say, however, that I shall much regret
putting down the cards. I ought never to have taken a hand."

She turned to him, in flushed dismay.

"You _are_ thinking of leaving Parliament? But why--_why_ should you?"

"Oh yes!--I am quite clear about that," he said deliberately. "It was
not yesterday only. I am of no use in Parliament. And the only use it
has been to me, is to show me--that--well!--that I have no party really,
and no convictions. London has been a great mistake. I must get out of
it--if only--lest my private life should drift on a rock and go to
pieces. So far as I know it has brought me one joy only, one happiness
only--to know you!"

He turned very pale. The hand that was lying on her lap suddenly shook.
She raised it hastily, took some flowers out of a jar of poppies and
grass that was standing near, and nervously put them back again. Then she
said gently, almost timidly:

"I owe a great deal to your friendship. My mind--please believe it--is
full of thanks. I lay awake last night, thinking of all the thousands of
people that speech of yours would save--all the lives that hang upon it."

"I never thought of them at all," he said abruptly. His heart seemed to
be beating in his throat.

She shrank a little. Evidently her presence of mind failed her, and he
took advantage.

"I never thought of them," he repeated, "or, at least, they weighed with
me as nothing compared with another motive. As for the thing itself, by
the time yesterday arrived I had given up my judgment to yours--I had
simply come to think that what you wished was good. A force I no longer
questioned drove me on to help you to your end. That was the whole secret
of last night. The rest was only means to a goal."

But he paused. He saw that she was trembling--that the tears were
in her eyes.

"I have been afraid," she said, trying hard for composure--"it has been
weighing upon me all through these hours--that--I had been putting a
claim--a claim of my own forward." It seemed hardly possible for her to
find the words. "And I have been realising the issues for _you_, feeling
bitterly that I had done a great wrong--if it were not a matter of
conviction--in--in wringing so much from a friend. This morning
everything,--the victory, the joy of seeing hard work bear fruit,--it has
all been blurred to me."

He gazed at her a moment--fixing every feature, every line upon
his memory.

"Don't let it be," he said quietly, at last. "I have had my great moment.
It does not fall to many to feel as I felt for about an hour last night.
I had seen you in trouble and anxiety for many weeks. I was able to
brush them away, to give you relief and joy,--at least, I thought I
was"--he drew himself up with a half-impatient smile. "Sometimes I
suspected that--that your kindness might be troubled about me; but I said
to myself, 'that will pass away, and the solid thing--the fact--will
remain. She longed for this particular thing. She shall have it. And if
the truth is as she supposes it,--why not?--there are good men and keen
brains with her--what has been done will go on gladdening and satisfying
her year by year. As for me, I shall have acknowledged, shall have
repaid--'"

He hesitated--paused--looked up.

A sudden terror seized her--her lips parted.

"Don't--don't say these things!" she said, imploring, lifting her hand.
It was like a child flinching from a punishment.

He smiled unsteadily, trying to master himself, to find a way through the
tumult of feeling.

"Won't you listen to me?" he said at last, "I sha'n't ever trouble
you again."

She could make no reply. Intolerable gratitude and pain held her, and he
went on speaking, gazing straight into her shrinking face.

"It seems to me," he said slowly, "the people who grow up in the dry and
mean habit of mind that I grew up in, break through in all sorts of
different ways. Art and religion--I suppose they change and broaden a
man. I don't know. I am not an artist--and religion talks to me of
something I don't understand. To me, to know you has broken down the
walls, opened the windows. It always used to come natural to me--well!
to think little of people, to look for the mean, ugly things in them,
especially in women. The only people I admired were men of
action--soldiers, administrators; and it often seemed to me that women
hampered and belittled them. I said to myself, one mustn't let women
count for too much in one's life. And the idea of women troubling their
heads with politics, or social difficulties, half amused, half disgusted
me. At the same time I was all with Fontenoy in hating the usual
philanthropic talk about the poor. It seemed to be leading us to
mischief--I thought the greater part of it insincere. Then I came to know
you.--And, after all, it seemed a woman could talk of public things, and
still be real--the humanity didn't rub off, the colour stood! It was
easy, of course, to say that you had a personal motive--other people said
it, and I should have liked to echo it. But from the beginning I knew
that didn't explain it. All the women,"--he checked himself,--"most of
the women I had ever known judged everything by some petty personal
standard. They talked magnificently, perhaps, but there was always
something selfish and greedy at bottom. Well, I was always looking for it
in you! Then instead--suddenly--I found myself anxious lest what I said
should displease or hurt you--lest you should refuse to be my friend. I
longed, desperately, to make you understand me--and then, after our
talks, I hated myself for posing, and going further than was sincere. It
was so strange to me not to be scoffing and despising."

Marcella woke from her trance of pain--looked at him with amazement.
But the sight of him--a man, with the perspiration on his brow,
struggling now to tell the bare truth about himself and his
plight--silenced her. She hung towards him again, as pale as he, bearing
what fate had sent her.

"And ever since that day," he went on, putting his hand over his eyes,
"when you walked home with me along the river, to be with you, to watch
you, to puzzle over you, has built up a new self in me, that strains
against and tears the old one. So these things--these heavenly, exquisite
things that some men talk of--this sympathy, and purity, and
sweetness--were true! They were true because you existed--because I had
come to know something of your nature--had come to realise what it might
be--for a man to have the right--"

He broke off, and buried his face in his hands, murmuring incoherent
things. Marcella rose hurriedly, then stood motionless, her head turned
from him, that she might not hear. She felt herself stifled with rising
tears. Once or twice she began to speak, and the words died away again.
At last she said, bending towards him:

"I have done very ill--very, _very_ ill. I have been thinking all through
of my personal want--of personal victory."

He shook his head, protesting. And she hardly knew how to go on. But
suddenly the word of nature, of truth, came; though in the speaking it
startled them both.

"Sir George!"--she put out her hand timidly and touched him--"may I tell
you what I am thinking of? Not of you, nor of me--of another person
altogether!"

He looked up.

"My wife?" he said, almost in his usual voice.

She said nothing; she was struggling with herself. He got up abruptly,
walked to the open window, stood there a few seconds, and came back.

"It has to be all thought out again," he said, looking at her
appealingly. "I must go away, perhaps--and realise--what can be done. I
took marriage as carelessly as I took everything else. I must try and do
better with it."

A sudden perception leapt in Marcella, revealing strange worlds. How she
could have hated--with what fierceness, what flame!--the woman who taught
ideal truths to Maxwell! She thought of the little self-complacent being
in the white satin wedding-dress, that had sat beside her at Castle
Luton--thought of her with overwhelming soreness and pain. Stepping
quickly, her tears driven back, she went across the room to Tressady.

"I don't know what to say," she began, stopping suddenly beside him, and
leaning her hand for support on a table while her head drooped. "I have
been very selfish--very blind. But--mayn't it be the beginning--of
something quite--quite--different? I was thinking only of Maxwell--or
myself. But I ought to have thought of you--of my friend. I ought to have
seen--but oh! how _could_ I!" She broke off, wrestling with this amazing
difficulty of choosing, amid all the thoughts that thronged to her lips,
something that might be said--and if said, might heal.

But before he could interrupt her, she went on: "The harm was, in acting
all through--by myself--as if only you and I, and Maxwell's work--were
concerned. If I had made you known to _him_--if I had remembered--had
thought--"

But she stopped again, in a kind of bewilderment. In truth she did not
yet understand what had happened to her--how it could have happened to
her--to _her_, whose life, soul, and body, to the red ripe of its inmost
heart, was all Maxwell's, his possession, his chattel.

Tressady looked at her with a little sad smile.

"It was your unconsciousness," he said, in a low trembling voice, "of
what you are--and have--that was so beautiful."

Somehow the words recalled her natural dignity, her noble pride as
Maxwell's wife. She stood erect, composure and self-command returning.
She was not her own, to humble herself as she pleased.

"We must never talk to each other like this again," she said gently,
after a little pause. "We must try and understand each other--the _real_
things in each other's lives.--Don't lay a great remorse on me, Sir
George!--don't spoil your future, and your wife's--don't give up
Parliament! You have great, great gifts! All this will seem just a
passing misunderstanding--both to you--and me--by and by. We shall learn
to be--real friends--you and we--together?"

She looked at him appealing--her face one prayer.

But he, flushing, shook his head.

"I must not come into your world," he said huskily. "I must go."

The wave of grief rolled upon her again. She turned away, looking
across the room with wide dim eyes, as though asking for some help that
did not come.

Tressady walked quickly back to the chair where he had been sitting, and
took up his hat and gloves. Suddenly, as he looked back to her, he struck
one of the gloves across his hand.

"What a _coward_--what a mean whining wretch I was to come to you this
morning! I said to myself--like a hypocrite--that I could come--and
go--without a word. My God--if I had!"--the low hoarse voice became a cry
of pain--"I might still have taken some joy--"

He wrestled with himself.

"It was mad selfishness," he said at last, recovering himself by a fierce
effort. "Mad it must have been--or I could never have come here to give
you pain. Some demon drove me. Oh, forgive me!--forgive me! Good-bye! I
shall bless you while I live. But you--you must never think of me, never
speak of me--again."

She felt his grasp upon her fingers. He stooped, passionately kissed her
hand and a fold of her dress. She rose hurriedly; but the door had
closed upon him before she had found her voice or choked down the sob in
her throat.

She could only drop back into her chair, weeping silently, her face
hidden in her hands.

A few minutes passed. There was a step outside. She sprang up and
listened, ready to fly to the window and hide herself among the curtains.
Then the colour flooded into her cheek. She waited. Maxwell came in. He,
too, looked disturbed, and as he entered the room he thrust a letter into
his pocket, almost with violence. But when his eyes fell on his wife a
pang seized him. He hurried to her, and she leant against him, saying in
a sobbing voice:

"George Tressady has been here. I seem to have done him a wrong--and his
wife. I am not fit to help you, Aldous. I do such rushing, blind, foolish
things--and all that one hoped and worked for turns to mere selfishness
and misery. Whom shall I hurt next? You, perhaps--_you_!"

And she clung to him in despair.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few minutes later the husband and wife were in conference together,
Marcella sitting, Maxwell standing beside her. Marcella's tears had
ceased; but never had Maxwell seen her so overwhelmed, so sad, and he
felt half ashamed of his own burning irritation and annoyance with the
whole matter.

Clearly, what he had dimly foreseen on the night of her return from the
Mile End meeting had happened. This young man, ill-balanced, ill-mated,
yet full of a sensitive ability and perception, had fallen in love with
her; and Maxwell owed his political salvation to his wife's charm.

The more he loved her, the more odious the situation was to him. That any
rational being should have even the shred of an excuse for regarding her
as the political coquette, using her beauty for a personal end, struck
him as a kind of sacrilege, and made him rage inwardly. Nevertheless, the
idea struck him--struck and kindled him all at once that the very
perfectness of this tie that bound them together weakened her somewhat as
a woman in her dealing with the outside world. It withdrew from her some
of a woman's ordinary intuitions with regard to the men around her. The
heart had no wants, and therefore no fears. To any man she liked she was
always ready, as she came to know him, to show her true self with a
freedom and loveliness that were like the freedom and loveliness of a
noble child. To have supposed that such a man could have any feelings
towards her other than those she gave to her friends would have seemed to
her a piece of ill-bred vanity. Such contingencies lay outside her ken;
she would have brushed them away with a laughing contempt had they been
presented to her. Her life was at once too happy and too busy for such
things. How could anyone fall in love with Aldous's wife? Why should
they?--if one was to ask the simplest question of all.

Yet Maxwell, as he stood looking down upon her, conscious of a certain
letter in his inner pocket, felt with growing yet most unwilling
determination that he must somehow try and make her turn her eyes upon
this dingy world and see it as it is.

For it was not the case merely of a spiritual drama in which a few souls,
all equally sincere and void of offence, were concerned. That, in
Maxwell's eyes, would have been already disagreeable and tragic enough.
But here was this keen, spiteful crowd of London society watching for
what it might devour--those hateful newspapers!--not to speak of the
ordinary fool of everyday life.

There had not been wanting a number of small signs and warnings. The
whole course of the previous day's debate, the hour of Tressady's speech,
while Maxwell sat listening in the Speaker's Gallery overhead, had been
for him--for her, too--poisoned by a growing uneasiness, a growing
distaste for the triumph laid at their feet. She had come down to him
from the Ladies' Gallery pale and nervous, shrinking almost from the
grasp of his hand.

"What will happen? Has he made his position in Parliament impossible?"
she had said to him as they stood together for a moment in the Home
Secretary's room; and he understood, of course, that she was speaking of
Tressady. In the throng that presently overwhelmed them he had no time to
answer her; but he believed that she, too, had been conscious of the
peculiar note in some of the congratulations showered upon them on their
way through the crowded corridors and lobbies. On the steps of St.
Stephen's entrance an old white-haired gentleman, the friend and
connection of Maxwell's father, had clapped the successful Minister on
the back, with a laughing word in his ear: "Upon my word, Aldous, your
beautiful lady is a wife to conjure with! I hear she has done the whole
thing--educated the young man, brought him to his bearings, spoilt all
Fontenoy's plans, broken up the group, in fact. Glorious!" and the old
man looked with eyes half sarcastic, half admiring at the form of Lady
Maxwell standing beside the carriage-door.

"I imagine the group has broken itself up," said Maxwell, shortly,
shaking off his tormentor. But as he glanced back from, the
carriage-window to the crowded doorway, and the faces looking after them,
the thought of the talk that was probably passing amid the throng set
every nerve on edge.

Meanwhile she sat beside him, unconsciously a little more stately than
usual, but curiously silent--till at last, as they were nearing Trafalgar
Square, she threw out her hand to him, almost timidly:

"You _do_ rejoice?"

"I do," he said, with a long breath, pressing the hand. "I suppose
nothing ever happens as one has foreseen it. How strange, when one looks
back to that Sunday!"

She made no reply, and since then Tressady's name had been hardly
mentioned between them. They had discussed every speech but his--even
when the morning papers came, reflecting the astonishment and
excitement of the public. The pang in Marcella's mind was--"Aldous
thinks I asked a personal favour--_Did_ I?" And memory would fall back
into anxious recapitulation of the scene with Tressady. Had she indeed
pressed her influence with him too much--taken advantage of his
Parliamentary youth and inexperience? In the hours of the night that
followed the division, merely to ask the question tormented a
conscience as proud as it was delicate.

And now!--this visit--this incredible declaration--this eagerness for his
reward! Maxwell's contempt and indignation were rising fast. Mere
chivalry, mere decent manners even, he thought, might have deterred a man
from such an act. Meanwhile, in rapid flashes of thought he began to
debate with himself how he should use this letter in his pocket--this
besmirching, degrading letter.

But Marcella had much more to say. Presently she roused herself from her
trance and looked at her husband.

"Aldous!"--she touched him on the arm, and he turned to her
gravely--"There was one moment at Mile End, when--when I did play upon
his pity--his friendship. He came down to Mile End on Thursday night. I
told you. I saw he was unhappy--unhappy at home. He wanted sympathy
desperately. I gave it him. Then I urged him to throw himself into his
public work--to think out this vote he was to give. Oh! I don't know!--I
don't know--" she broke off, in a depressed voice, shaking her head
slowly--"I believe I threw myself upon his feelings--I felt that he was
very sympathetic, that I had a power over him--it was a kind of bribery."

Her brow drooped under his eye.

"I believe you are quite unjust to yourself," he said unwillingly. "Of
course, if any man chooses to misinterpret a confidence--"

"No," she said steadily. "I knew. It was quite different from any other
time. I remember how uncomfortable I felt afterwards. I did try to
influence him--just through, being a woman. There!--it is quite true."

He could not withdraw his eyes from hers--from the mingling of pride,
humility, passion, under the dark lashes.

"And if you did, do you suppose that _I_ can blame you?" he said slowly.

He saw that she was holding an inquisition in her own heart, and looking
to him as judge. How could he judge?--whatever there might be to judge.
He adored her.

For the moment she did not answer him. She clasped her hands round her
knees, thinking aloud.

"From the beginning, I remember I thought of him as somebody quite new
and fresh to what he was doing--somebody who would certainly be
influenced--who ought to be influenced. And then"--she raised her eyes
again, half shrinking--"there was the feeling, I suppose, of personal
antagonism to Lord Fontenoy! One could not be sorry to detach one of his
chief men. Besides, after Castle Luton, George Tressady was so
attractive! You did not know him, Aldous; but to talk to him stirred all
one's energies; it was a perpetual battle--one took it up again and
again, enjoying it always. As we got deeper in the fight I tried never to
think of him as a member of Parliament--often I stopped myself from
saying things that might have persuaded him, as far as the House was
concerned. And yet, of course"--her face, in its nobility, took a curious
look of hardness--"I _did_ know all the time that he was coming to think
more and more of me--to depend on me. He disliked me at first--afterwards
he seemed to avoid me--then I felt a change. Now I see I thought of him
all along; just in one capacity--in relation to what I wanted--whether I
tried to persuade him or no. And all the time--"

A cloud of pain effaced the frown. She leant her head against her
husband's arm.

"Aldous!"--her voice was low and miserable,--"what can his wife have
felt towards me? I never thought of her after Castle Luton--she seemed to
me such a vulgar, common little being. Surely, surely!--if they are so
unhappy, it can't be--_my_ doing; there was cause enough--"

Nothing could have been more piteous than the tone. It was laden with the
remorse that only such a nature could feel for such a cause. Maxwell's
hand touched her head tenderly. A variety of expressions crossed his
face, then a sharp flash of decision.

"Dear! I think you ought to know--she has written to me."

Marcella sprang up. Face and neck flushed crimson. She threw him an
uncertain look, the nostrils quivering.

"Will you show me the letter?"

He hesitated. On his first reading of it he had vowed to himself that she
should never see it. But since her confessions had begun to make the
matter clearer to him a moral weight had pressed upon him. She must
realise her power, her responsibility! Moreover, they two, with
conscience and good sense to guide them, had got to find a way out of
this matter. He did not feel that he could hide the letter from her if
there was to be common action and common understanding.

So he gave it to her.

She read it pacing up and down, unconscious sounds of pain and protest
forcing themselves to her lips from time to time, which made it very
difficult for him to stand quietly where he was. On that effusion of gall
and bitterness poor Letty had spent her sleepless night. Every charge
that malice could bring, every distortion that jealousy could apply to
the simplest incident, every insinuation that, judged by her own
standard, had seemed to her most likely to work upon a husband--Letty had
crowded them all into the mean, ill-written letter--the letter of a
shopgirl trying to rescue her young man from the clutches of a rival.

But every sentence in it was a stab to Marcella. When she had finished it
she stood with it in her hand beside her writing-table, looking absently
through the window, pale, and deep in thought. Maxwell watched her.

When her moment of consideration broke her look swept round to him.

"I shall go to her," she said simply. "I must see her!"

Maxwell pondered.

"I think," he said reluctantly, "she would only repulse and insult you."

"Then it must be borne. It cannot end so."

She walked up to him and let him draw his arm about her. They stood in
silence for a minute or two. When she raised her head again, her eyes
sought his beseechingly.

"Aldous, help me! If we cannot repair this mischief,--you and I,--what
are we worth? I will tell you my plan--"

There was a sound at the door. Husband and wife moved away from each
other as the butler entered.

"My lord, Mrs. Allison and Lord Fontenoy are in the library. They asked
me to say that they wish to consult your lordship on something very
urgent. I told them I thought your lordship was engaged, but I would
come and see."

Marcella and Maxwell looked at each other. Ancoats! No doubt the
catastrophe so long staved off had at last arrived. Maxwell's stifled
exclamation was the groan of the overworked man who hardly knows how to
find mind enough for another anxiety. But a new and sudden light shone in
his wife's face. She turned to the servant almost with eagerness:

"Please tell Mrs. Allison and Lord Fontenoy to come up."



CHAPTER XIX


The door opened silently, and there came in a figure that for a moment
was hardly recognised by either Maxwell or his wife. Shrunken, pale, and
grief-stricken, Ancoats's poor mother entered, her eye seeking eagerly
for Maxwell, perceiving nothing else. She was in black, her veil
hurriedly thrown back, and the features beneath it were all blurred by
distress and fatigue.

Marcella hurried to her. Mrs. Allison took her hand in both her own with
the soft, appealing motion habitual to her, then said hastily, still
looking at Maxwell:

"Maxwell, the boy has gone. He left me two days ago. This morning, in my
trouble, I sent for Lord Fontenoy, my kind, kind friend. And he persuaded
me to come to you at once. I begged him to come too--"

She glanced timidly from one to the other, implying many things.

But even with this preface, Maxwell's greeting of his defeated
antagonist was ceremony itself. The natural instinct of such a man is to
mask victory in courtesy. But a paragraph that morning in Fontenoy's
paper--a paragraph that he happened to have seen in Lord Ardagh's
room--had appealed to another natural instinct, stronger and more
primitive. It amazed him that even this emergency and Mrs. Allison's
persuasions could have brought the owner of the paper within his doors
on this particular morning.

Fontenoy, immersed in the correspondence of the morning, had not yet
chanced to see the paragraph, which was Harding Watton's. Yet, if he had,
he could not have shown a more haughty and embarrassed bearing. He was
there under a compulsion he did not know how to resist, a compulsion of
tears and grief; but the instinct for manners, which so often upon
occasion serves the man of illustrious family, as well, almost, as good
feeling or education may serve another, had been for the time weakened in
him by the violences and exhaustion of the political struggle, and he did
not feel certain that he could trust himself. He was smarting still
through every nerve, and the greeting especially that Maxwell's tall wife
extended to him was gall and bitterness. She meanwhile, as she advanced
towards him, was mostly struck with the perfection of his morning dress.
The ultra-correctness and strict fashion that he affected in these
matters were generally a surprise to those who knew him only by
reputation.

After five minutes' question and answer the Maxwells understood something
of the situation. A servant of Ancoats's had been induced to disclose
what he knew. There could be no question that the young fellow had gone
off to Normandy, where he possessed a chalet close to Trouville, in the
expectation that his fair lady would immediately join him there. She had
not yet started. So much Fontenoy had already ascertained. But she had
thrown up a recent engagement within the last few days, and before
Ancoats's flight all Fontenoy's information had pointed to the likelihood
of a _coup_ of some sort. As for the boy himself, he had left his mother
at Castle Luton, three days before, on the pretext of a Scotch visit, and
had instead taken the evening train to Paris, leaving a letter for his
mother in which the influence of certain modern French novels of the
psychological kind could perhaps be detected. "The call of the heart that
drives me from you," wrote this incredible young man, "is something
independent of myself. I wring my hands, but I follow where it leads.
Love has its crimes,--that I admit,--but they are the only road to
experience. And experience is all I care to live for! At any rate, I
cannot accept the limits that you, mother, would impose upon me. Each of
us must be content to recognise the other's personality. I have tried to
reconcile you to an affection that must be content to be irregular. You
repel it and me, under the influence of a bigotry in which I have ceased
to believe. Suffer me, then, to act for myself in this respect. At any
time that you like to call upon me I will be your dutiful son, so long as
this matter is not mentioned between us. And let me implore you not to
bring in third persons. They have already done mischief enough. Against
them I should know how to protect myself."

Maxwell returned the letter with a disgust he could hardly repress.
Everything in it seemed to him as pinchbeck as the passion itself. Mrs.
Allison took it with the same miserable look, which had in it, Marcella
noticed, a certain strange sternness, as of some frail creature nerving
itself to desperate things.

"Now what shall we do?" said Maxwell, abruptly.

Fontenoy moved forward. "I presume you still command the same persons you
set in motion before? Can you get at them to-day?"

Maxwell pondered. "Yes, the clergyman. The solicitor-brother is too far
away. Your idea is to stop the girl from crossing?"

"If it were still possible." Fontenoy dropped his voice, and his gesture
induced Maxwell to follow him to the recess of a distant window.

"The chief difficulty, perhaps," said Fontenoy, resuming, "concerns the
lad himself. His mother, you will understand, cannot run any risk of
being brought in contact with that woman. Nor is she physically fit for
the voyage; but someone must go, if only to content her. There has been
some wild talk of suicide, apparently--mere bombast, of course, like so
much of it, but she has been alarmed."

"Do you propose, then, to go yourself?"

"I am of no use," said Fontenoy, decisively.

Maxwell had cause to know that the statement was true, and did not press
him. They fell into a rapid consultation.

Meanwhile, Marcella had drawn Mrs. Allison to the sofa beside her, and
was attempting a futile task of comfort. Mrs. Allison answered in
monosyllables, glancing hither and thither. At last she said in a low,
swift voice, as though addressing herself, rather than her companion, "If
all fails, I have made up my mind. I shall leave his house. I can take
nothing more from him."

Marcella started. "But that would deprive you of all chance, all hope of
influencing him," she said, her eager, tender look searching the other
woman's face.

"No; it would be my duty," said Mrs. Allison, simply, crossing her hands
upon her lap. Her delicate blue eyes, swollen with weeping, the white
hair, of which a lock had escaped from its usual quiet braids and hung
over her blanched cheeks, her look at once saintly and indomitable--every
detail of her changed aspect made a chill and penetrating impression.
Marcella began to understand what the Christian might do, though the
mother should die of it.

Meanwhile she watched the two men at the other side of the room, with a
manifest eagerness for their return. Presently, indeed, she half rose
and called:

"Aldous!"

Lord Maxwell turned.

"Are you thinking of someone who might go to Trouville?" she asked him.

"Yes, but we can hit on no one," he replied, in perplexity.

She moved towards him, bearing herself with a peculiar erectness
and dignity.

"Would it be possible to ask Sir George Tressady to go?" she said
quietly.

Maxwell looked at her open-mouthed for an instant. Fontenoy, behind him,
threw a sudden, searching glance at the beautiful figure in grey.

"We all know," she said, turning back to the mother, "that Ancoats likes
Sir George."

Mrs. Allison shrunk a little from the clear look. Fontenoy's rage of
defeat, however modified in her presence, had nevertheless expressed
itself to her in phrases and allusions that had both perplexed and
troubled her. _Had_ Marcella indeed made use of her beauty to decoy a
weak youth from his allegiance? And now she spoke his name so simply.

But the momentary wonder died from the poor mother's mind.

"I remember," she said sadly, "I remember he once spoke to me very kindly
about my son."

"And he thought kindly," said Marcella, rapidly; "he is kind at heart.
Aldous! if Cousin Charlotte consents, why not at least put the case to
him? He knows everything. He might undertake what we want, for her
sake,--for all our sakes,--and it might succeed."

The swift yet calm decision of her manner completed Maxwell's
bewilderment.

His eyes sought hers, while the others waited, conscious, somehow, of a
dramatic moment. Fontenoy's flash of malicious curiosity made him even
forget, while it lasted, the little tragic figure on the sofa.

"What do you say, Cousin Charlotte?" said Maxwell at last.

His voice was dry and business-like. Only the wife who watched him
perceived the silent dignity with which he had accepted her appeal.

He went to sit beside Mrs. Allison, stooping over her, while they talked
in a low key. Very soon she had caught at Marcella's suggestion, with an
energy of despair.

"But how can we find him?" she said at last, looking helplessly round
the room, at the very chair, among others, where Tressady had just
been sitting.

Maxwell felt the humour of the situation without relishing it.

"Either at his own house," he said shortly, "or the House of Commons."

"He may have left town this morning. Lord Fontenoy thought"--she looked
timidly at her companion--"that he would be sure to go and explain
himself to his constituents at once."

"Well, we can find out. If you give me instructions,--if you are sure
this is what you want,--we will find out at once. Are you sure?"

"I can think of nothing better," she said, with a piteous gesture.
"And if he goes, I have only one message to give him. Ancoats knows
that I have exhausted every argument, every entreaty. Now let him tell
my son"--her voice grew firm, in spite of her look of anguish--"that
if he insists on surrendering himself to a life of sin I can bear him
company no more. I shall leave his house, and go somewhere by myself,
to pray for him."

Maxwell tried to soothe her, and there was some half-whispered talk
between them, she quietly wiping away her tears from time to time.

Meanwhile, Marcella and Fontenoy sat together a little way off, he at
first watching Mrs. Allison, she silent, and making no attempt to play
the hostess. Gradually, however, the sense of her presence beside him,
the memory of Tressady's speech, of the scene in the House of the night
before, began to work in his veins with a pricking, exciting power. His
family was famous for a certain drastic way with women; his father, the
now old and half-insane Marquis, had parted from his mother while
Fontenoy was still a child, after scenes that would have disgraced an
inn parlour. Fontenoy himself, in his reckless youth, had simply avoided
the whole sex, so far as its reputable members were concerned; till one
woman by sympathy, by flattery perhaps, by the strange mingling in
herself of iron and gentleness, had tamed him. But there were brutal
instincts in his blood, and he became conscious of them as he sat beside
Marcella Maxwell.

Suddenly he broke out, bending forward, one hand on his knee, the other
nervously adjusting the eyeglass without which he was practically blind.

"I imagine your side had foreseen last night better than we had?"

She drew herself together instantly.

"One can hardly say. It was evident, wasn't it, that the House as a whole
was surprised? Certainly, no one could have foreseen the numbers."

She met his look straight, her white hand playing with Mrs.
Allison's card.

"Oh! a slide of that kind once begun goes like the wind," said Fontenoy.
"Well, and are you pleased with your Bill--not afraid of your
promises--of all the Edens you have held out?"

The smile that he attempted roused such ogerish associations in Marcella,
she must needs say something to give colour to the half-desperate laugh
that caught her.

"Did you suppose we should be already _en penitence?_" she asked him.

The man's wrath overcame him. So England--all the serious forces of the
country--were to be more and more henceforward at the mercy of this kind
of thing! He had begun the struggle with a scornful disbelief in current
gossip. He--politically and morally the creation of a woman--had yet not
been able to bring himself to fear a woman. And now he sat there,
fiercely saying to himself that this woman, playing the old game under
new names, had undone him.

"Ah! I see," he said. "You are of the mind of the Oxford don--never
regret, never retract, never apologise?"

The small, reddish eyes, like needle-points, fixed the face before him.
She looked up, her beautiful lips parting. She felt the insult--marvelled
at it! On such an errand, in her own house! Scorn was almost lost in
astonishment.

"A quotation which nobody gets right--isn't it so?" she said calmly. "If
a wise man said it, I suppose he meant, 'Don't explain yourself to the
wrong people,' which is good advice, don't you think?"

She rose as she spoke, and moved away from him, that she might listen to
what her husband was saying. Fontenoy was left to reflect on the folly of
a man who, being driven to ask a kindness of his enemy, cannot keep his
temper in the enemy's house. Yet his temper had been freshly tried since
he entered it. The whole suggestion of Tressady's embassy was to himself
galling in the extreme. "There is a meaning in it," he thought; "of
course she thinks it will save appearances!" There was no extravagance,
no calumny, that this cold critic of other men's fervours was not for the
moment ready to believe.

Nevertheless, as he threw himself back in his chair, and his eye caught
Mrs. Allison's bent figure on the other side of the room, he knew that he
must needs submit--he did submit--to anything that could give that torn
heart ease. Of his two passions, one, the passion for politics, seemed
for the moment to have lost itself in disgust and disappointment; to the
other he clung but the more strongly. Once or twice in her talk with
Maxwell, Mrs. Allison raised her gentle eyes and looked across to
Fontenoy. "Are you there, my friend?" the glance seemed to say, and a
thrill spread itself through the man's rugged being. Ah, well! the
follies of this young scapegrace must wear themselves out in time, and
either he would marry and so free his mother, or he would so outrage her
conscience that she would separate herself from him. Then would come
other people's rewards.

Presently, indeed, Mrs. Allison rose from her seat and advanced to him
with hurried steps.

"We have settled it, I think; Maxwell will do all he can. It seems hard
to trust so much to a stranger like Sir George Tressady, but if he will
go--if Ancoats likes him? We must do the best, mustn't we?"

She raised to him her delicate, small face, in a most winning dependence.
Fontenoy did not even attempt resistance.

"Certainly--it is not a chance to lose. May I suggest also"--he looked
at Maxwell--"that there is no time to lose?"

"Give me ten minutes, and I am off," said Maxwell, hurriedly carrying a
bundle of unopened letters to a distance. He looked through them, to see
if anything especially urgent required him to give instructions to his
secretary before leaving the house.

"Shall I take you home?" said Fontenoy to Mrs. Allison.

She drew her thick veil round her head and face, and said some tremulous
words, which unconsciously deepened the gloom on Fontenoy's face.
Apparently they were to the effect that before going home she wished to
see the Anglican priest in whom she especially confided, a certain Father
White, who was to all intents and purposes her director. For in his
courtship of this woman of fifty, with her curious distinction and her
ethereal charm, which years seemed only to increase, Fontenoy had not one
rival, but two--her son and her religion.

Fontenoy's fingers barely touched those of Maxwell and his wife. As he
closed the door behind Mrs. Allison, leaving the two together, he said to
himself contemptuously that he pitied the husband.

When the latch had settled, Maxwell threw down his letters and crossed
the room to his wife.

"I only half understood you," he said, a flush rising in his face. "You
really mean that we, on this day of all days--that I--am to personally
ask this kindness of George Tressady?"

"I do!" she cried, but without attempting any caress. "If I could only go
and ask it myself!" "That would be impossible!" he said quickly.

"Then you, dear husband--dear love!--go and ask it for me! Must we
not--oh! do see it as I do!--must we not somehow make it possible to be
friends again, to wipe out that--that half-hour once for all?"--she threw
out her hand in an impetuous gesture. "If you go, he will feel that is
what we mean--he will understand us at once--there is nothing vile in
him--nothing! Dear, he never said a word to me I could resent till this
morning. And, alack, alack! was it somehow my fault?" She dropped her
face a moment on the back of the chair she held. "How I am to play my own
part--well! I must think. But I cannot have such a thing on my heart,
Aldous--I cannot!"

He was silent a moment; then he said:

"Let me understand, at least, what it is precisely that we are doing. Is
the idea that it should be made possible for us all to meet again as
though nothing had happened?"

She shrank a moment from the man's common sense; then replied,
controlling herself:

"Only not to leave the open sore--to help him to forget! He must know--he
does know"--she held herself proudly--"that I have no secrets from you.
So that when the time comes for remembering, for thinking it over, he
will shrink from you, or hate you. Whereas, what I want"--her eyes filled
with tears--"is that he should _know_ you--only that! I ought to have
brought it about long ago."

"Are you forgetting that I owe him this morning my political existence?"

The voice betrayed the inner passion.

"He would be the last person to remember it!" she cried. "Why not take it
quite, quite simply?--behave so as to say to him, without words, 'Be our
friend--join with us in putting out of sight what hurts us no less than
you to think of. Shut the door upon the old room--pass with us into a
new!'--oh! if I could explain!"

She hid her face in her hands again.

"I understand," he said, after a long pause. "It is very like you. I am
not quite sure it is very wise. These things, to my mind, are best left
to end themselves. But I promised Mrs. Allison; and what you ask, dear,
you shall have. So be it."

She lifted her head hastily, and was dismayed by the signs of
agitation in him as he turned away. She pursued him timidly, laying
her hand on his arm.

"And then--"

Her voice sank to its most pleading note. He caught her hand; but she
withdrew herself in haste.

"And then," she went on, struggling for a smile, "then you and I have
things to settle. Do you think I don't know that I have made all your
work, and all your triumph, gall and bitterness to you--do you think I
don't know?"

She gazed at him with a passionate intensity through her tears, yet by
her gesture forbidding him to come near her. What man would not have
endured such discomforts a thousand times for such a look?

He stooped to her.

"We are to talk that out, then, when I come back?--Please give these
letters to Saunders--there is nothing of importance. I will go first to
Tressady's house."

       *       *       *       *       *

Maxwell drove away through the sultry streets, his mind running on his
task. It seemed to him that politics had never put him to anything so
hard. But he began to plan it with his usual care and precision. The
butler who opened the door of the Upper Brook Street house could only say
that his master was not at home.

"Shall I find him, do you imagine, at the House of Commons?"

The butler could not say. But Lady Tressady was in, though just on the
point of going out. Should he inquire?

But the visitor made it plain that he had no intention of disturbing Lady
Tressady, and would find out for himself. He left his card in the
butler's hands.

"Who was that, Kenrick?" said a sharp voice behind the man as the hansom
drove away. Letty Tressady, elaborately dressed, with a huge white hat
and lace parasol, was standing on the stairs, her pale face peering out
of the shadows. The butler handed her the card, and telling him to get
her a cab at once, she ran up again to the drawing-room.

Meanwhile Maxwell sped on towards Westminster, frowning over his problem.
As he drove down Whitehall the sun brightened to a naked midday heat,
throwing its cloak of mists behind it. The gilding on the Clock Tower
sparkled in the light; even the dusty, airless street, with its withered
planes, was on a sudden flooded with gaiety. Two or three official or
Parliamentary acquaintances saluted the successful minister as he passed;
and each was conscious of a certain impatience with the gravity of the
well-known face. That a great man should not be content to look victory,
as well as win it, seemed a kind of hypocrisy.

In the House of Commons, a few last votes and other oddments of the now
dying session were being pushed through to an accompaniment of empty
benches. Tressady was not there, nor in the library. Maxwell made his way
to the upper lobby, where writing-tables and materials are provided in
the window-recesses for the use of members.

He had hardly entered the lobby before he caught sight at its further end
of the long straight chin and fair head of the man he was in quest of.
And almost at the same moment, Tressady, who was sitting writing amid a
pile of letters and papers, lifted his eyes and saw Lord Maxwell
approaching.

He started, then half rose, scattering his papers. Maxwell bowed as he
neared the table, then stopped beside it, without offering his hand.

"I fear I may be disturbing you," he said, with simple but cold courtesy.
"The fact is I have come down here on an urgent matter, which may perhaps
be my excuse. Could you give me twenty minutes, in my room?"

"By all means," said Tressady. He tried to put his papers together, but
to his own infinite annoyance his hand shook. He seemed hardly to know
what to do with them.

"Do not let me hurry you," said Maxwell, in the same manner. "Will you
follow me at your leisure?"

"I will follow you immediately," said Tressady; "as soon as I have put
these under lock and key."

His visitor departed. Tressady remained standing a moment by the table,
his blue eyes, unusually wide open, fixed absently on the river, a dark
red flush overspreading the face. Then he rapidly threw his papers
together into a black bag that stood near, and walked with them to his
locker in the wall.

For an hour after he left Marcella Maxwell he had wandered blindly up
and down the Green Park; at the end of it a sudden impulse had driven
him to the House, as his best refuge both from Letty and himself. There
he found waiting for him a number of letters, and a sheaf of telegrams
besides from his constituency, with which he had just begun to grapple
when Maxwell interrupted him. Some hours of hard writing and thinking
might, he thought, bring him by reaction to some notion of what to do
with the next days and nights--how to take up the business of his
private life again.

Now, as he withdrew his key from the lock, in a corridor almost empty of
inhabitants, abstraction seized him once more. He leant against the wall
a moment, with his hands in his pockets, seeing her face--the tears on
her cheek--feeling the texture of her dress against his lips. Barely two
hours ago! No doubt she had confided all to Maxwell in the interval. The
young fellow burnt with mingled rage and shame. This interview with the
husband seemed to transform it all to vaudeville, if not to farce. How
was he to get through it with any dignity and self-command? Moreover, a
passionate resentment towards Maxwell developed itself. His telling of
his secret had been no matter for a common scandal, a vulgar jealousy.
_She_ knew that--she could not have so misrepresented him. A sense of the
situation to which he had brought himself on all sides made his pride
feel itself in the grip of something that asked his submission. Yet why,
and to whom?

He walked along through the interminable corridors towards Maxwell's room
in the House of Lords, a prey to what afterwards seemed to him the
meanest moment of his life. Little knowing the pledges that a woman had
given for him, he did say to himself that Maxwell owed him much--that he
was not called upon to bear everything from a man he had given back to
power. And all the time his thoughts built a thorn-hedge about her face,
her pity. Let him see them no more, not even in the mirror of the mind.
Great heaven! what harm could such as he do to her?

By the time he reached Maxwell's door he seemed to himself as hard and
cool as usual. As he entered, the minister was standing by an oriel
window, overlooking the river, turning over the contents of a
despatch-box that had just been brought him. He advanced at once; and
Tressady noticed that he had already dismissed his secretary.

"Will you sit by the window?" said Maxwell. "The day promises to be
extraordinarily hot."

Tressady took the seat assigned him. Maxwell's grey eye ran over the
young man's figure and bearing. Then he bent forward from a chair on the
other side of a small writing-table.

"You will probably have guessed the reason of my intrusion upon you--you
and I have already discussed this troublesome affair--and the kind manner
in which you treated our anxieties then--"

"Ancoats!" exclaimed Tressady, with a start he could not control. "You
wish to consult me about Ancoats?"

A flash of wonder crossed the other's mind. "He imagined--" Instinctively
Maxwell's opening mildness stiffened into a colder dignity.

"I fear we may be making an altogether improper claim upon you," he said
quietly; "but this morning, about an hour ago, Ancoats's mother came to
us with the news that he had left her two days ago, and was now
discovered to be at Trouville, where he has a chalet, waiting for this
girl, of whom we all know, to join him. You will imagine Mrs. Allison's
despair. The entanglement is in itself bad enough. But she--I think you
know it--is no ordinary woman, nor can she bring any of the common
philosophy of life to bear upon this matter. It seems to be sapping her
very springs of existence, and the impression she left upon myself--and
upon Lady Maxwell"--he said the words slowly--"was one of the deepest
pity and sorrow. As you also know, I believe, I have till now been able
to bring some restraining influence to bear upon the girl, who is of
course not a girl, but a very much married woman, with a husband always
threatening to turn up and avenge himself upon her. There is a good man,
one of those High Church clergymen who interest themselves specially in
the stage, who has helped us many times already. I have telegraphed to
him, and expect him here before long. We know that she has not yet left
London, and it may be possible again, at the eleventh hour, to stop her.
But that--"

"Is not enough," said Tressady, quickly, raising his head. "You want
someone to grapple with Ancoats?"

Face and voice were those of another man--attentive, normal, sympathetic.
Maxwell observed him keenly.

"We want someone to go to Ancoats; to represent to him his mother's
determination to leave him for good if this disgraceful affair goes on;
to break the shock of the girl's non-arrival to him, if, indeed, we
succeed in stopping her; and to watch him for a day or two, in case there
should be anything in the miserable talk of suicide with which he seems
to have been threatening his mother."

"Oh! Suicide! Ancoats!" said Tressady, throwing back his head.

"We rate him, apparently, much the same," said Maxwell, drily. "But it
is not to be wondered at that the mother should be differently affected.
She sent you"--the speaker paused a moment--"what seemed to me a
touching message."

Tressady bent forward.

"'Tell him that I have no claim upon him--that I am ashamed to ask this
of him. But he once said some kind words to me about my son, and I know
that Ancoats desired his friendship. His help _might_ save us. I can say
no more.'"

Tressady looked up quickly, reddening involuntarily.

"Was Fontenoy there--did he agree?"

"Fontenoy agreed," said Maxwell, in the same measured voice. "In fact,
you grasp our petition. To speak frankly, my wife suggested it, and I was
deputed to bear it to you. But I need not say that we are quite prepared
to find that you are not able to do what we have ventured to ask of you,
or that your engagements will not permit it."

A strange gulp rose in Tressady's throat. He understood--oh! he
understood her--perfectly.

He leant back in his chair, looking through the open window to the
Thames. A breeze had risen and was breaking up the thunderous sky into
gay spaces of white and blue. The river was surging and boiling under the
tide, and strings of barges were mounting with the mounting water,
slipping fast along the terrace wall. The fronts of the various buildings
opposite rose in shadow against the dazzling blue and silver of the
water. Here over the river, even for this jaded London, summer was still
fresh; every mast and spar, every track of boat or steamer in the burst
of light, struck the eye with sharpness and delight.

Each line and hue printed itself on Tressady's brain. Then he turned
slowly to his companion. Maxwell sat patiently waiting for his reply; and
for the first time Tressady received, as it were, a full impression of a
personality he had till now either ignored or disliked. In youth Maxwell
had never passed for a handsome man. But middle life and noble habit were
every year giving increased accent and spiritual energy to the youth's
pleasant features; and Nature as she silvered the brown hair, and drove
deep the lines of thought and experience, was bringing more than she took
away. A quiet, modest fellow Maxwell would be to the end; not witty; not
brilliant; more and more content to bear the yoke of the great
commonplaces of life as subtlety and knowledge grew; saying nothing of
spiritual things, only living them--yet a man, it seemed, on whom England
would more and more lay the burden of her fortunes.

Tressady gazed at him, shaken with new reverences, new compunctions.
Maxwell's eyes were drawn to his--mild, penetrating eyes, in which for an
instant Tressady seemed to read what no words would ever say to him. Then
he sprang up.

"There is an afternoon train put on this month. I can catch it. Tell me,
if you can, a few more details."

Maxwell took out a half-sheet of notes from his pocket, and the two men
standing together beside the table went with care into a few matters it
was well for Tressady to know. Tressady threw a quick intelligence into
his questions that inevitably recalled to Maxwell the cut-and-thrust of
his speech on the preceding evening; nor behind his rapid discussion of a
vulgar business did the constrained emotion of his manner escape his
companion.

At last all was settled. At the last moment an uneasy question rose in
Maxwell's mind. "Ought _we_, at such a crisis, to be sending him away
from his wife?" But he could not bring himself to put it, even lightly,
into words, and as it happened Tressady did not leave him in doubt.

"I am glad you caught me," he said nervously, in what seemed an awkward
pause, while he looked for his hat, forgetting where he had put it. "I
was intending to leave London to-night. But my business can very well
wait till next week. Now I think I have everything."

He gathered up a new Guide-Chaix that Maxwell had put into his hand, saw
that the half-sheet of notes was safely stowed into his pocket-book, and
took up his hat and stick. As he spoke, Maxwell had remembered the
situation and Mrs. Allison's remark. No doubt Tressady had proposed to go
north that night on a mission of explanation to his Market Malford
constituents, and it struck one of the most scrupulous of men with an
additional pang, that he should be thus helping to put private motives in
the way of public duty. But what was done was done. And it seemed
impossible that either should speak a word of politics.

"I ought to say," said Tressady, pausing once more as they moved
together towards the door, "that I have not ultimately much hope for
Mrs. Allison. If this entanglement is put aside, there will be something
else. Trouville itself, in August, I should imagine, is a place of
_bonnes fortunes_ for the man who wants them, and Ancoats's mind runs to
such things."

He spoke with a curious eagerness, like one who pleads that his good-will
shall not be judged by mere failure or success.

Maxwell raised his shoulders.

"Nothing that can happen will in the least affect our gratitude to
_you_," he said gravely.

"Gratitude!" muttered the young man under his breath. His lip trembled.
He looked uncertainly at his companion. Maxwell did not offer his hand,
yet as he opened the door for his visitor there was a quiet cordiality
and kindness in his manner that made his renewed words of thanks sound
like a strange music in Tressady's ears.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the minister was once more alone he walked back to the window, and
stood looking down thoughtfully on the gay pageant of the river. She was
right--she was always right. There was nothing vile in that young fellow,
and his face had a look of suffering it pained Maxwell to remember. Why
had he personally not come to know him better? "I think too little of
men, too much of machinery," he said to himself, despondently;
"unconsciously I leave the dealing with human beings far too often to
her, and then I wonder that a man sees and feels her as she is!"

Yet as he stood there in the sunshine a feeling of moral relief stole
upon him, the feeling that rewards a man who has tried to deal greatly
with some common and personal strait. Some day, not yet, he would make
Tressady his friend. He calmly felt it to be within his power.

Unless the wife!--He threw up his hand, and turned back to his
writing-table. What was to be done with that letter? Had Tressady
any knowledge of it? Maxwell could not conceive it possible that he
had. But, no doubt, it would come to his knowledge, as well as
Maxwell's reply.

For he meant to reply, and as he glanced at the clock on his table he saw
that he had just half an hour before his clergyman-visitor arrived.
Instantly, in his methodical way, he sat down to his task, labouring it,
however, with toil and difficulty, when it was once begun.

The few words he ultimately wrote ran as follows:

"Dear Lady Tressady,--Your letter was a great surprise and a great pain
to me. I believe you will recognise before long that you wrote it under a
delusion, and that you have said in it both unkind and unjust things of
one who is totally incapable of wronging you or anyone else. My wife read
your letter, for she and I have no secrets. She will try and see you at
once, and I trust you will not refuse to see her. She will prove to you,
I think, that you have been giving yourself quite needless torture, for
which she has no responsibility, but for which she is none the less
sorrowful and distressed.

"I have treated your letter in this way because it is impossible to
ignore the pain and trouble which drove you to write. I need not say that
if it became necessary for me to write or act in another way, I should
think only of my wife. But I will trust to the effect upon you of her own
words and character; and I cannot believe that you will misconstrue the
generosity that prompts her to go to you.

"Is it not possible, also, that your misunderstanding of your husband
may be in its own way as grave as your misunderstanding of Lady Maxwell?
Forgive an intrusive question, and believe me,

"Yours faithfully,

"MAXWELL."

He read it anxiously over and over, then took a hasty copy of it, and
finally sealed and sent it. He was but half satisfied with it. How was
one to write such a letter without argument or recrimination? The poor
thing had a vulgar, spiteful, little soul; that was clear from her
outpouring. It was also clear that she was miserable; nor could Maxwell
disguise from himself that in a sense she had ample cause. From that hard
fact, with all its repellent and unpalatable consequences, a weaker man
would by now have let his mind escape, would at any rate have begun to
minimise and make light of George Tressady's act of the morning. In
Maxwell, on the contrary, after a first movement of passionate resentment
which had nothing whatever in common with ordinary jealousy, that act was
now generating a compelling and beneficent force, that made for healing
and reparation. Marcella had foreseen it, and in her pain and penitence
had given the impulse. For all things are possible to a perfect
affection, working through a nature at once healthy and strong.

Yet when Maxwell was once more established in his room at the Privy
Council, overwhelmed with letters, interviews, and all the routine of
official business, those who had to do with him noticed an unusual
restlessness in their even-tempered chief. In truth, whenever his work
left him free for a moment, all sorts of questions would start up in his
mind: "Is she there? Is that woman hurting and insulting her? Can I do
nothing? My love! my poor love!"

       *       *       *       *       *

But Marcella's plans so far had not prospered.

When George Tressady, after hastily despatching his most urgent business
at the House, drove up to his own door in the afternoon just in time to
put his things together and catch a newly-put-on dining-train to Paris,
he found the house deserted. The butler reminded him that Letty
accompanied by Miss Tulloch had gone to Hampton Court to join a river
party for the day. George remembered; he hated the people she was to be
with, and instinct told him that Cathedine would be there.

A rush of miserable worry overcame him. Ought he to be leaving her?

Then, in the darkness of the hall, he caught sight of a card lying on the
table. _Her card_! Amazement made him almost dizzy, while the man at his
arm explained.

"Her ladyship called just after luncheon. She thought she would have
found my lady in--before she went out. But her ladyship is coming again,
probably this evening, as she wished to see Lady Tressady particularly."

Tressady gave the man directions to pack for him immediately, then took
the card into his study, and stood looking at it in a tumult of feeling.
Ah! let him begone--out of her way! Oh, heavenly goodness and compassion!
It seemed to him already that an angel had trodden this dark house, and
that another air breathed in it.

That was his first thought. Then the rush of sore longing, of unbearable
self-contempt, stirred all his worser self to life again. Had she not
better after all have left him and Letty alone! What did such lives as
theirs matter to her?

He ran upstairs to make his last preparations, wrote a few lines to Letty
describing Mrs. Allison's plight and the errand on which he was bound,
and in half an hour was at Charing Cross.



CHAPTER XX


"Did you ring, my lady?"

"Yes. Kenrick, if Lady Maxwell calls to see me to-night, you will say,
please, that I am particularly engaged, and unable to receive anyone."

Letty Tressady had just come in from her river party. Dressed in a
delicate gown of lace and pale green chiffon, she was standing beside her
writing-table with Lady Maxwell's card in her hand. Kenrick had given it
to her on her arrival, together with the message which had accompanied
it, and she had taken a few minutes to think it over. As she gave the man
his order, the energy of the small figure, as it half turned towards the
door, the brightness of the eyes under the white veil she had just thrown
back, no less than the emphasis of her tone, awakened in the butler the
clear perception that neither the expected visit nor his mistress's
directions were to be taken as ordinary affairs. After he left the
drawing-room, Grier passed him on the stairs. He gave her a slight
signal, and the two retired to some nether region to discuss the secrets
of their employers.

Meanwhile Letty, having turned on the electric light in the room, walked
to the window and set it half open behind the curtain. In that way she
would hear the carriage approaching, it was between eight and nine
o'clock. No doubt Lady Maxwell would drive round after dinner.

Then, still holding the card lightly in her hand, she threw herself on
the sofa. She was tired, but so excited that she could not rest--first,
by the memory of the day that had just passed; still more by the thought
of the rebuff she was about to administer to the great lady who had
affronted her. No doubt her letter had done its work. The remembrance of
it tilled her with an uneasy joy. Did George know of it by now? She did
not care. Lady Maxwell, of course, was coming to try and appease her, to
hush it up. There had been a scene, it was to be supposed, between her
and her stiff husband. Letty gloated over the dream of it. Tears,
humiliation, reproaches, she meted them all out in plenty to the woman
she hated. Nor would things end there. Why, London was full of gossip!
Harding's paragraph--for of course it was Harding's--had secured that.
How clever of him! Not a name!--not a thing that could be taken hold
of!--yet so clear. Well!--if she, Letty, was to be trampled on and set
aside, at any rate other people should suffer too.

So George had gone off to France, leaving her alone, without "Good-bye."
She did not believe a word of his excuse; and, if it were true, it was
only another outrage that he should have thought twice of such a matter
at such a crisis. But it was probably a mere device of his and
_hers_--she would find out for what.

Her state of tension was too great to allow her to stay in the same place
for more than a few minutes. She got up, and went to the glass before the
mantelpiece. Taking out the pins that held her large Gainsborough hat,
she arranged her hair with her hands, putting the curls of the fringe in
their right place, fastening up some stray ends. She had given orders, as
we have seen, to admit no one, and was presumably going to bed.
Nevertheless, her behaviour was instinctively the behaviour of one who
expects a guest.

When, more or less to her satisfaction, she had restored the symmetry of
the little curled and crimped head, she took her face between her hands,
and stared at her own reflection. Memories of the party she had just
left, of the hot river, the slowly filling locks, the revelry, the
champagne, danced in her mind, especially of a certain walk through a
wood. She defiantly watched the face in the glass grow red, the eyelids
quiver. Then, like the tremor from some volcanic fire far within, a
shudder ran through her. She dropped her head on her hands. She
hated--_hated_ him! Was it to-morrow evening she had told him he might
come? She would go down to Ferth.

Wheels in the quiet street! Letty flew to the window like an excited
child, her green and white twinkling through the room.

A brougham, and a tall figure in black stepping slowly out of it. Letty
sheltered herself behind a curtain, held her breath, and listened.

Presently her lower lip dropped a little. What was Kenrick about? The
front door had closed, and Lady Maxwell had not re-entered her carriage.

She opened the drawing-room door with care, and was stooping over the
banisters when she saw Kenrick on the stairs. He seemed to be coming
from the direction of George's study.

"What have you been doing?" she asked him in a hard under-voice, looking
at him angrily. "I told you not to let Lady Maxwell in."

"I told her, my lady, that you were engaged and could see no one. Then
her ladyship asked if she might write a few lines to you and send them
up, asking when you would be able to see her. So I showed her into Sir
George's study, my lady, and she is writing at Sir George's desk."

"You should have done nothing of the sort," said Letty, sharply. "What is
that letter?"

She took it from his hand before the butler, somewhat bewildered by the
responsibilities of his position, could explain that he had just found it
in the letterbox, where it might have been lying some little time, as he
had heard no knock.

She let him go downstairs again, to await Lady Maxwell's exit, and
herself ran back to read her letter, her heart beating, for the address
of the sender was on the envelope.

When she had finished she threw it down, half suffocating.

"So I am to be lectured and preached to besides. Good heavens! In his
lofty manner, I suppose, that people talk of. Prig--odious,
insufferable prig! So I have mistaken George, have I? My own husband!
And insulted her--_her_! And she is actually downstairs, writing to me,
in my own house!"

She locked her hands, and began stormily to pace the room again. The
image of her rival, only a few feet from her, bending over George's
table, worked in her with poisonous force. Suddenly she swept to the bell
and rang it. A door opened downstairs. She ran to the landing.

"Kenrick!"

"Yes, my lady." She heard a pause, and the soft rustle of a dress.

"Tell Lady Maxwell, please"--she struggled hard for the right, the
dignified tone--"that if it is not too late for her to stay, I am now
able to see her."

She hurried back into the drawing-room and waited. _Would_ she come?
Letty's whole being was now throbbing with one mad desire. If Kenrick
let her go!

But steps approached; the door was thrown open.

Marcella Maxwell came in timidly, very pale, the dark eyes shrinking from
the sudden light of the drawing-room. She was bareheaded, and wore a long
cloak of black lace over her white evening dress. Letty's flash of
thought as she saw her was twofold: first, hatred of her beauty, then
triumph in the evident nervousness with which her visitor approached her.

Without making the slightest change of position, the mistress of the
house spoke first.

"Will you please tell me," she said, in her sharpest, thinnest voice, "to
what I owe the honour of this visit?"

Marcella paused half-way towards her hostess.

"I read your letter to my husband," she said quietly, though her voice
shook, "and I thought you would hardly refuse to let me speak to you
about it."

"Then perhaps you will sit down," said Letty, in the same voice; and she
seated herself.

If she had wished to heighten the effect of her reception by these small
discourtesies she did not succeed. Rather, Marcella's self-possession
returned under them. She looked round simply for a chair, brought one
forward within speaking distance of her companion, moving once more, in
her thin, tall grace, with all that unconscious dignity Letty had so
often envied and admired from a distance.

But neither dignity nor grace made any bar to the emotion that filled
her. She bent forward, clasping her hands on her knee.

"Your letter to my husband made me so unhappy--that I could not help
coming," she said, in a tone that was all entreaty, all humbleness.
"Not--of course--that it seemed to either of us a true or just account of
what had happened"--she drew herself up gently--"but it made me
realise--though indeed I had realised it before I read it--that in my
friendship with your husband I had been forgetting--forgetting those
things--one ought to remember most. You will let me put things, won't
you, in my own way, as they seem to me? At Castle Luton Sir George
attracted me very much. The pleasure of talking to him there first made
me wish to try and alter some of his views--to bring him across my poor
people--to introduce him to our friends. Then, somehow, a special bond
grew up between him and me with regard to this particular struggle in
which my husband and I"--she dropped her eyes that she might not see
Letty's heated face--"have been so keenly interested. But what I ought to
have felt--from the very first--was, that there could be, there ought to
have been, something else added. Married people "--she spoke hurriedly,
her breath rising and falling--"are not two, but one--and my first step
should have been to come--and--and ask you to let me know you too--to
find out what your feelings were, whether you wished for a
friendship--that--that I had perhaps no right to offer to Sir George
alone. I have been looking into my own heart"--her voice trembled
again--"and I see that fault, that great fault. To be excluded myself
from any strong friendship my husband might make, would be agony to me!"
The frank, sudden passion of her lifted eyes sent a thrill even through
Letty's fierce and hardly, kept silence. "And that I wanted to say to
you, first of all. I wronged my own conception of what marriage should
be, and you were quite, quite right to be angry!"

"Well, I think it's quite clear, isn't it, that you forgot from the
beginning George had a wife?" cried Letty, in her most insulting voice.
"That certainly can't be denied. Anybody could see that at Castle Luton!"

Marcella looked at her in perplexity. What could suggest to her how to
say the right word, touch the right chord? Would she be able to do more
than satisfy her own conscience and then go, leaving this strange little
fury to make what use she pleased of her visit and her avowals?

She shaded her eyes with her hand a moment, thinking. Then she said:

"Perhaps it is of no use for me to ask you to remember how full our
minds--my husband's and mine--have been of one subject--one set of
ideas. But, if I am not keeping you too long, I should like to give you
an account, from my point of view, of the friendship between Sir George
and myself. I think I can remember every talk of ours, from our first
meeting in the hospital down to--down to this morning."

"This morning!" cried Letty, springing up. "This _morning_! He went to
you to-day?"

The little face convulsed with passion raised an intolerable distress
in Marcella.

"Yes, he came to see me," she said, her dark eyes, full of pain, full,
too, once more, of entreaty, fixed upon her interrogator. "But do let me
tell you! I never saw anyone in deeper trouble--trouble about
you--trouble about himself."

Letty burst into a wild laugh.

"Of course! No doubt he went to complain of me--that I flirted--that I
ill-treated his mother--that I spent too much money--and a lot of other
pleasant little things. Oh! I can imagine it perfectly. Besides that, I
suppose he went to be thanked. Well, he deserved _that_. He has thrown
away his career to please you; so if you didn't thank him, you ought!
Everybody says his position in Parliament now isn't worth a straw--that
he must resign--which is delightful, of course, for his wife. And I saw
it all from the beginning--I understood exactly what you _wanted_ to do
at Castle Luton--only I couldn't believe then--I was only six weeks
married--"

A wave of excitement and self-pity swept over her. She broke off
with a sob.

Marcella's heart was wrung. She knew nothing of the real Letty Tressady.
It was the wife as such, slighted and set aside, that appealed to the
imagination, the remorse of this happy, this beloved woman. She rose
quickly, she held out her hands, looking down upon the little venomous
creature who had been pouring these insults upon her.

"Don't--_don't_ believe such things," she said, with sobbing breath. "I
never wronged you consciously for a moment. Can't you believe that Sir
George and I became friends because we cared for the same kind of
questions; because I--I was full of my husband's work and everything that
concerned it; because I liked to talk about it, to win him friends. If it
had ever entered my mind that such a thing could pain and hurt you--"

"Where have you sent him to-day?" cried Letty, peremptorily, interrupting
her, while she drew her handkerchief fiercely across her eyes.

Instantly Marcella was conscious of the difficulty of explaining her own
impulse and Maxwell's action.

"Sir George told me," she said, faltering, "that he must go away from
London immediately, to think out some trouble that was oppressing him.
Only a few minutes after he left our house we heard from Mrs. Allison
that she was in great distress about her son. She came, in fact, to beg
us to help her find him. I won't go into the story, of course; I am sure
you know it. My husband and I talked it over. It occurred to us that if
Maxwell went to him--to Sir George--and asked him to do us and her this
great kindness of going to Ancoats and trying to bring him back to his
mother, it would put everything on a different footing. Maxwell would
get to know him,--as I had got to know him. One would find a way--to
silence the foolish, unjust things--that have been said--I suppose--I
don't know--"

She paused, confused by the difficulties in her path, her cheeks hot and
flushed. But the heart knew its own innocence. She recovered herself; she
came nearer.

"--If only--at the same time--I could make you realise how truly--how
bitterly--I had felt for any pain you might have suffered--if I could
persuade you to look at it all--your husband's conduct and mine--in its
true light, and to believe that he cares--he _must_ care--for nothing in
the world so much as his home--as you and your happiness!"

The nobleness of the speaker, the futility of the speech, were about
equally balanced! Candour was impossible, if only for kindness' sake. And
the story, so told, was not only unconvincing, it was hardly intelligible
even, to Letty. For the two personalities moved in different worlds, and
what had seemed to the woman who was all delicate impulse and romance the
natural and right course, merely excited in Letty, and not without
reason, fresh suspicion and offence. If words had been all, Marcella had
gained nothing.

But a strange tumult was rising in Letty's breast. There was something in
this mingling of self-abasement with an extraordinary moral richness and
dignity, in these eyes, these hands that would have so gladly caught and
clasped her own, which began almost to intimidate her. She broke out
again, so as to hold her own bewilderment at bay:

"What right had you to send him away--to plan anything for _my_ husband
without my consent? Oh, of course you put it very finely; I daresay you
know about all sorts of things _I_ don't know about; I'm not clever, I
don't talk politics. But I don't quite see the good of it, if it's only
to take husbands away from their wives. All the same, I'm not a
hypocrite, and I don't mean to pretend I'm a meek saint. Far from it.
I've no doubt that George thinks he's been perfectly justified from the
beginning, and that I have brought everything upon myself. Well! I don't
care to argue about it. Don't imagine, please, that I have been playing
the deserted wife all the time. If people injure me, it's not my way to
hold my tongue, and I imagine that, after all, I do understand my own
husband, in spite of Lord Maxwell's kind remarks!" She pointed scornfully
to Maxwell's letter on the table. "But as soon as I saw that nothing I
said mattered to George, and that his whole mind was taken up with your
society, why, of course, I took my own measures! There are other men in
the world--and one of them happens to amuse me particularly at this
moment. It's your doing and George's, you see, if he doesn't like it!"

Marcella recoiled in sudden horror, staring at her companion with wide,
startled eyes. Letty braved her defiantly, her dry lips drawn into a
miserable smile. She stood, looking very small and elegant, beside her
writing-table, her hand, blazing with rings, resting lightly upon it, the
little, hot withered face alone betraying the nerve tension behind.

The situation lasted a few seconds, then with a quick step Marcella
hurried to a chair on the further side of the room, sank into it, and
covered her face with her hands.

Letty's heart seemed to dip, as it were, into an abyss. But there was a
frenzied triumph in the spectacle of Marcella's grief and tears.

_Marcella Maxwell_--thus silenced, thus subdued! The famous name, with
all that it had stood for in Letty's mind, of things to be envied and
desired, echoed in her ear, delighted her revenge. She struggled to
maintain her attitude.

"I don't know why what I said should make you so unhappy," she said
coldly, after a pause.

Marcella did not reply. Presently Letty saw that she was resting her
cheek on her hand and gazing before her into vacancy. At last she turned
round, and Letty could satisfy herself that in truth her eyes were wet.

"Is there no one," asked the full, tremulous voice, "whom you care for,
whom you would send for now to advise and help you?"

"Thank you!" said Letty, calmly, leaning against the little
writing-table, and beating the ground slightly with her foot. "I don't
want them. And I don't know why you should trouble yourself about it."

But for the first time, and against its owner's will, the hard
tone wavered.

Marcella rose impetuously again, and came towards her.

"When one thinks of all the long years of married life," she said, still
trembling, "of the children that may come--"

Letty lifted her eyebrows.

"If one happened to wish for them. But I don't happen to wish for them,
never did. I daresay it sounds horrid. Anyway, one needn't take that into
consideration."

"And your husband? Your husband, who must be miserable, whose great gifts
will be all spoiled unless you will somehow give up your anger and make
peace. And instead of that, you are only thinking of revenging yourself,
of making more ruin and pain. It breaks one's heart! And it would need
such a _little_ effort on your part, only a few words written or spoken,
to bring him back, to end all this unhappiness!"

"Oh! George can take care of himself," said Letty, provokingly; "so can
I. Besides, you have sent him away."

Marcella looked at her in despair. Then silently she turned away, and
Letty saw that she was searching for some gloves and a handkerchief she
had been carrying in her hand when she came in.

Letty watched her take them up, then said suddenly, "Are you going away?"

"It is best, I think. I can do nothing."

"I wish I knew why you came to see me at all! They say, of course,
you are very much in love with Lord Maxwell. Perhaps--that made you
sorry for me?"

Marcella's pride leapt at the mention by those lips of her own married
life. Then she drove her pride down.

"You have put it better than I have been able to do, all the time." Her
mouth parted in a slight, sad smile--"Good-night."

Letty took no notice. She sat down on the arm of a chair near her. Her
eyes suddenly blazed, her face grew dead-white.

"Well, if you want to know--" she said--"no, don't go--I don't mean to
let you go just yet--I _am_ about the most miserable wretch going! There,
you may take it or leave it; it's true. I don't suppose I cared much
about George when I married him; plenty of girls don't. But as soon as he
began to care about _you_,--just contrariness, I suppose,--I began to
feel that I could kill anybody that took him from me, and kill myself
afterwards! Oh, good gracious! there was plenty of reason for his getting
tired of me. I'm not the sort of person to let anyone get the whip-hand
of me, and I _would_ spend his money as I liked, and I _would_ ask the
persons I chose to the house; and, above all, I wasn't going to be
pestered with looking after and giving up to his _dreadful_ mother, who
made my life a burden to me. Oh! why do you look so white? Well, I
daresay it does sound atrocious. I don't care. Perhaps you'll be still
more horrified when you know that they came round this afternoon, when I
was out and George was gone, to tell me that Lady Tressady was
frightfully ill--dying, I think my maid said. And I haven't given it
another thought since--not one--till now"--she struck one hand against
the other--"because directly afterwards the butler told me of your visit
this afternoon, and that you were coming again--and I wasn't going to
think of anything else in the world but you, and George. No, don't look
like that, don't come near me--I'm not mad. I assure you I'm not mad! But
that's all by the way. What was I saying? Oh! that George had cause
enough to stop caring about me. Of course he had; but if he's lost to
me--I shall give him a good deal more cause before we've done. That
other man--you know him--Cathedine--gave me a kiss this afternoon, when
we were in a wood together"--the same involuntary shudder overtook her,
while she still held her companion at arm's length. "Oh, he is a
brute--a _brute_! But what do I care what happens to me? It's so strange
I don't--rather creditable, I think--for after all I like parties, and
being asked about. But now George hates me--and let you send him away
from me--why, of course, it's all simple enough! I--Don't--don't come. I
shall never, never forgive--it's just being tired--"

But Marcella sprang forward. Mercifully, there is a limit to nerve
endurance, and Letty in her raving had overpassed it. She sank gasping on
a sofa, still putting out her hand as though to protect herself. But
Marcella knelt beside her, the tears running down her cheeks. She put her
arms--arms formed for tenderness, for motherliness--round the girl's
slight frame. "Don't--don't repulse me," she said, with trembling lips,
and suddenly Letty yielded. She found herself sobbing in Lady Maxwell's
embrace, while all the healing, all the remorse, all the comfort that
self-abandonment and pity can pour out on such a plight as hers,
descended upon her from Marcella's clinging touch, her hurried,
fragmentary words. Assurances that all could be made right entreaties for
gentleness and patience--revelations of her own inmost heart as a wife,
far too sacred for the ears of Letty Tressady--little phrases and
snatches of autobiography steeped in an exquisite experience: the nature
Letty had rained her blows upon, kept nothing back, gave her all its
best. How irrelevant much of it was!--chequered throughout by those
oblivions, and optimisms, and foolish hopes by which such a nature as
Marcella's protects itself from the hard facts of the world. By the time
she had ranged through every note of entreaty and consolation, Marcella
had almost persuaded herself and Letty that George Tressady had never
said a word to her beyond the commonplaces of an ordinary friendship; she
had passionately determined that this blurred and spoiled marriage could
and should be mended, and that it lay with her to do it; and in the
spirit of her audacious youth she had taken upon herself the burden of
Letty's character and fate, vowing herself to a moral mission, to a long
patience. The quality of her own nature, perhaps, made her bear Letty's
violences and frenzies more patiently than would have been possible to a
woman of another type; generous remorse and regret, combined with her
ignorance of Letty's history and the details of Letty's life, led her
even to look upon these violences as the effects of love perverted, the
anguish of a jealous heart. Imagination, keen and loving, drew the
situation for her in rapid strokes, draped Letty in the subtleties and
powers of her own heart, and made forbearance easy.

As for Letty, her whole being surrendered itself to a mere ebb and flow
of sensations. That she had been able thus to break down the barriers of
Marcella's stateliness filled her all through, in her passion as in her
yielding, with a kind of exultation. A vision of a tall figure in a white
and silver dress, sitting stiff and unapproachable beside her in the
Castle Luton drawing-room, fled through her mind now and then, only
to make the wonder of this pleading voice, these confidences, this
pity, the more wonderful. But there was more than this, and better
than this. Strange up-wellings of feelings long trampled on and
suppressed--momentary awakenings of conscience, of repentance, of
regret--sharp realisations of an envy that was no longer ignoble but
moral, softer thoughts of George, the suffocating, unwilling recognition
of what love meant in another woman's life--these messengers and
forerunners of diviner things passed and repassed through the spaces of
Letty's soul as she lay white and passive under Marcella's yearning look.
There was a marvellous relief besides, much of it a physical relief, in
this mere silence, this mere ceasing from angry railing and offence.

Marcella was still sitting beside her, holding her hands, and talking in
the same low voice, when suddenly the loud sound of a bell clanged
through the house. Letty sprang up, white and startled.

"What can it be? It's past ten o'clock. It can't be a telegram."

Then a guilty remembrance struck her. She hurried to the door as
Kenrick entered.

"Lady Tressady's maid would like to see you, my lady. They want Sir
George's address. The doctors think she will hardly live over to-morrow."

And behind Kenrick, Justine, the French maid, pushed her way in, weeping
and exclaiming. Lady Tressady, it seemed, had been in frightful pain all
the afternoon. She was now easier for the moment, though dangerously
exhausted. But if the heart attacks returned during the next twenty-four
hours, nothing could save her. The probability was that they would
return, and she was asking piteously for her son, who had seen her,
Justine believed, the day before these seizures began, just before his
departure for Paris, and had written. "Et la pauvre âme!" cried the
Frenchwoman at last, not caring what she said to this amazing
daughter-in-law, "elle est là toujours, quand les douleurs s'apaisent un
peu, écoutant, espérant--et personne ne vient--_personne_! Voulez-vous
bien, madame, me dire où on peut trouver Sir George?"

"Poste Restante, Trouville," said Letty, sullenly. "It is the only
address that I know of."

But she stood there irresolute and frowning, while the French girl,
hardly able to contain herself, stared at the disfigured face, demanding
by her quick-breathing silence, by her whole attitude, something else,
something more than Sir George's address.

Meanwhile Marcella waited in the background, obliged to hear what passed,
and struck with amazement. It is perhaps truer of the moral world than
the social that one half of it never conceives how the other half lives.
George Tressady's mother--alone--dying--in her son's absence--and Letty
Tressady knew nothing of her illness till it had become a question of
life and death, and had then actually refused to go--forgotten the
summons even!

When Letty, feverish and bewildered, turned back to the companion
whose heart had been poured out before her during this past hour of
high emotion, she saw a new expression in Lady Maxwell's eyes from
which she shrank.

"Ought I to go?" she said fretfully, almost like a peevish child, putting
her hand to her brow.

"My carriage is downstairs," said Marcella, quickly. "I can take you
there at once. Is there a nurse?" she asked, turning to the maid.

Oh, yes; there was an excellent nurse, just installed, or Justine could
not have left her mistress; and the doctor close by could be got at a
moment's notice. But the poor lady wanted her son, or at least some one
of the family,--Justine bit her lip, and threw a nervous side glance at
Letty,--and it went to the heart to see her. The girl found relief in
describing her mistress's state to this grave and friendly lady, and
showed more feeling and sincerity in speaking of it than might have been
expected from her affected dress and manner.

Meanwhile Letty seemed to be wandering aimlessly about the room. Marcella
went up to her.

"Your hat is here, on this chair. I have a shawl in the carriage. Won't
you come at once, and leave word to your maid to bring after you what
you want? Then I can go on, if you wish it, and send your telegram to
Sir George."

"But you wanted him to do something?" said Letty, looking at her
uncertainly.

"Mothers come first, I think!" said Marcella, with a smile of wonder.
"It is best to write it before we go. Will you tell me what to say?"

She went to the writing-table, and had to write the telegram with small
help from Letty, who in her dazed, miserable soul was still fighting some
demonic resistance or other to the step asked of her. Instinctively and
gradually, however, Marcella took command of her. A few quiet words to
Justine sent her to make arrangements with Grier. Then Letty found a
cloak that had been sent for being drawn round her shoulders, and was
coaxed to put on her hat. In another minute she was in the Maxwells'
brougham, with her hand clasped in Marcella's.

"They will want me to sit up," she said, dashing an irrelevant tear from
her eyes, as they drove away. "I am so tired--and I hate illness!"

"Very likely they won't let you see her to-night. But you will be there
if the illness comes on again. You would feel it terribly if--if she died
all alone, with Sir George away."

"Died!" Letty repeated, half angrily. "But that would be so
horrible--what could I do?"

Marcella looked at her with a strange smile.

"Only be kind, only forget everything but her!"

The softness of her voice had yet a severity beneath it that Letty felt,
but had no spirit to resent, Rather it awakened an uneasy and painful
sense that, after all, it was not she who had come off conqueror in this
great encounter. The incidents of the last half-hour seemed in some
curious way to have reversed their positions. Letty, smarting, felt that
her relation to George's dying mother had revealed her to Lady Maxwell
far more than any wild and half-sincere confessions could have done. Her
vanity felt a deep inner wound, yet of a new sort. At any rate,
Marcella's self-abasement was over, and Letty instinctively realised that
she would never see it again, while at the same time a new and clinging
need had arisen in herself. The very neighbourhood of the personality
beside her had begun to thrill and subjugate her. She had been conscious
enough before--enviously, hatefully conscious--of all the attributes and
possessions that made Maxwell's wife a great person in the world of
London. What was stealing upon her now was glamour and rank and influence
of another kind.

Not unmixed, no doubt, with more mundane thoughts! No ordinary preacher,
no middle-class eloquence perhaps would have sufficed--nothing less
dramatic and distinguished than the scene which had actually passed, than
a Marcella at her feet. Well! there are many modes and grades of
conversion. Whether by what was worst in her, or what was best; whether
the same weaknesses of character that had originally inflamed her had now
helped to subdue her or no, what matter? So much stood--that one short
hour had been enough to draw this vain, selfish nature within a moral
grasp she was never again to shake off.

Meanwhile, as they drove towards Warwick Square Marcella's only thought
was how to hand her over safe to her husband. A sense of agonised
responsibility awoke in the elder woman at the thought of Cathedine. But
no more emotion--only common sense and gentleness.

As they neared Warwick Square, Letty withdrew her hand.

"I don't suppose you will ever want to see me again," she said huskily,
turning her head away.

"Do you think that very possible between two people who have gone
through such a time as you and I have?" said Marcella, pale, but
smiling. "When may I come to see you to-morrow? I shall send to inquire,
of course, very early."

Some thought made Letty's breath come quickly. "Will you come in the
afternoon--about four?" she said hastily. "I suppose I shall be here."
They were just stopping at the door in Warwick Square. "You said you
would tell me--"

"I have a great deal to tell you.... I will come, then, and see if you
can be spared.... Good-night. I trust she will be better! I will go on
and send the telegram."

Letty felt her hand gravely pressed, the footman helped her out, and
in another minute she was mounting the stairs leading to Lady
Tressady's room, having sent a servant on before her to warn the nurse
of her arrival.

The nurse came out, finger on lip. She was very glad to see Lady
Tressady, but the doctor had left word that nothing whatever was to be
allowed to disturb or excite his patient. Of course, if the attack
returned--But just now there was hope. Only it was so difficult to keep
her quiet. Instead of trying to sleep, she was now asking for Justine,
declaring that Justine must read French novels aloud to her, and bring
out two of her evening dresses, that she might decide on some
alteration in the trimmings. "I daren't fight with her," said the
nurse, evidently in much perplexity. "But if she only raises herself in
bed she may kill herself."

She hurried back to her patient, promising to inform the daughter-in-law
at once if there was a change for the worse, and Letty, infinitely
relieved, made her way to the spare room of the house, where Grier was
already unpacking for her.

After a hasty undressing she threw herself into bed, longing for sleep.
But from a short nightmare dream she woke up with a start. Where was she?
In her mother-in-law's house,--she could actually hear the shrill
affected voice laughing and talking in the room next door,--and brought
there by Marcella Maxwell! The strangeness of these two facts kept her
tossing restlessly from side to side. And where was George? Just arrived
at Paris, perhaps. She thought of the glare and noise of the Gare du
Nord--she heard his cab rattling over the long stone-paved street
outside. In the darkness she felt a miserable sinking of heart at the
thought of his going with every minute farther, farther away from her.
Would he ever forgive her that letter to Lord Maxwell, when he knew of
it? Did she want him to forgive her?

A mood that was at once soft and desolate stole upon her, and made her
cry a little. It sprang, perhaps, from a sense of the many barriers she
had heaped up between herself and happiness. The waves of feeling, half
self-assertive, half repentant, ebbed and flowed. One moment she yearned
for the hour when Marcella was to come to her; the next, she hated the
notion of it. So between dream and misery, amid a maze of thought without
a clue, Letty's night passed away. By the time the morning dawned, the
sharp conviction had shaped itself within her that she had grown older,
that life had passed into another stage, and could never again be as it
had been the day before. Two emotions, at least, or excitements, had
emerged from all the rest and filled her mind--the memory of the scene
with Marcella, and the thought of George's return.



PART III



CHAPTER XXI


"My dear, you don't mean to say you have had her here for ten days?"

The speaker was Betty Leven, who had just arrived at Maxwell Court, and
was sitting with her hostess under the cedars in front of the magnificent
Caroline mansion, which it was the never-ending task of Marcella's life
to bring somehow into a democratic scheme of things.

A still September afternoon, lightly charged with autumn mists, lay
gently on the hollows of the park. Betty was in her liveliest mood and
her gayest dress. Her hat, a marvel in poppies, was perched high upon no
less ingenious waves and frettings of hair. Her straw-coloured gown,
which was only simple for the untrained eye, gave added youth even to
her childish figure; and her very feet, clothed in the smallest and most
preposterous of shoes, had something merry and provocative about them,
as they lay crossed upon the wooden footstool Marcella had pushed
towards her.

The remark just quoted followed upon one made by her hostess, to the
effect that Lady Tressady would be down to tea shortly.

"Now, Betty," said Marcella, seriously, though she laughed, "I meant to
have a few words with you on this subject first thing--let's have them.
Do you want to be very kind to me, or do you ever want me to be very
nice to you?"

Betty considered.

"You can't do half as much for me now as you once could, now that Frank's
going to leave Parliament," she remarked, with as much worldly wisdom as
her face allowed. "Nevertheless, the quality of my nature is such that,
sometimes, I might even be nice to you for nothing. But information
before benevolence--why have you got her here?"

"Because she was fagged and unhappy in London, and her husband had gone
to take his mother abroad, after first doing Maxwell a great kindness,"
said Marcella,--not, however, without embarrassment, as Betty saw,--"and
I want you to be kind to her."

"Reasons one and two no reasons at all," said Betty, meditating; "and the
third wants examining. You mean that George Tressady went after Ancoats?"

Marcella raised her shoulders, and was silent.

"If you are going to be stuffy and mysterious," said Betty, with
vivacity, "you know what sort of a hedgehog I can be. How can you expect
me to be nice to Letty Tressady unless you make it worth my while?"

"Betty, you infant! Well, then, he did go after Ancoats--got him safely
away from Trouville, brought him to Paris to join Mrs. Allison, and, in
general, has laid us all under very great obligations. Meanwhile, she was
very much tired out with nursing her mother-in-law--"

"Oh, and such a mother-in-law--such a jewel!" ejaculated Betty.

"And I brought her down here to rest, till he should come back from
Wildheim and take her home. He will probably be here to-night."

The speaker reddened unconsciously during her story, a fact not
lost on Betty.

"Well, I knew most of that before," said Betty, quietly. "And what sort
of a time have you been having this ten days?"

"I have been very glad to have her here," came the quick reply. "I ought
to have known her long ago."

Betty looked at the speaker with a half-incredulous smile.

"You have been 'collecting' her, I suppose, as Hallin collects grasses.
Of course, what I pine to know is what sort of a time _she's_ had. You're
not the easiest person in the world to get on with, my lady."

"I know that," said Marcella, sighing; "but I don't think she has
been unhappy."

Betty's green eyes opened suddenly to the light.

"Are you ever going to tell me the truth? Have you got her under your
thumb? Does she adore you?"

"Betty, don't be an idiot!"

"I expect she does," said Betty, thoughtfully, a myriad thoughts and
conjectures passing through her quick brain as she studied her friend's
face and attitude. "I see exactly what fate is going to happen to you in
middle life. Women couldn't get on with you when you were a girl--you
didn't like them, nor they you; and now everywhere I hear the young women
beginning to talk about you, especially the young married women; and in a
few years you will have them all about you like a cluster of doves,
cooing and confessing, and making your life a burden to you."

"Well, suppose you begin?" said Marcella, with meaning. "I'm quite ready.
How are Frank's spirits since the great decision?"

"Frank's spirits?" said Betty. She leisurely took off her glove. "Frank's
spirits, my dear, if you wish to know, are simply an affront to his wife.
My ruined ambitions appear to affect him as Parrish's food does the baby.
I prophesy he will have gained a stone by Christmas."

For the great step had been taken. Betty had given way, and Frank was to
escape from politics. For three years Betty had held him to his task--had
written his speeches, formed his opinions, and done her very best to
train him for a statesman. But the young man had in truth no opinions,
save indeed whatever might be involved in the constant opinion that
Heaven had intended him for a country gentleman and a sportsman, and for
nothing else. And at last a mixture of revolt and melancholy had served
his purpose. Betty was subdued; the Chiltern Hundreds were in sight. The
young wife, with many sighs, had laid down all dreams of a husband on the
front bench. But--in compensation--she had regained her lover, and the
honeymoon shone once more.

"Frank came to see me yesterday," said Marcella, smiling.

Betty sprang forward.

"What did he say? Didn't he tell you I was an angel? Now there's a
bargain! Repeat to me every single word he said, and I will devote
myself, body and bones, to Letty Tressady."

"Hush!" said Marcella, laying two fingers on the pretty mouth. "Here
she comes."

Letty Tressady, in fact, had just emerged from a side-door of the house,
and was slowly approaching the two friends on the terrace. Lady Leven's
discerning eye ran over the advancing figure. Marcella heard her make
some exclamation under her breath. Then she rose with little, hurrying
steps, and went to greet the newcomer with a charming ease and kindness.

Letty responded rather nervously. Marcella looked up with a smile, and
pointed to a low chair, which Letty took with a certain stiffness. It was
evident to Marcella that she was afraid of Lady Leven, who had, indeed,
shown a marked indifference to her society at Castle Luton.

But Betty was disarmed. The "minx" had lost her colour, and, for the
moment, her prettiness. She looked depressed, and talked little. As to
her relation to Marcella Betty's inquisitive brain indulged itself in a
score of conjectures. "How like her!" she thought to herself, "to forget
the wife's existence to begin with, and then to make love to her by way
of warding off the husband!"

Meanwhile, aloud, Lady Leven professed herself exceedingly dissatisfied
with the entertainment provided for her. Where were the gentlemen? What
was the good of one putting on one's best frock to come down to a Maxwell
Court Saturday to find only a "hen tea-party" at the end? Marcella
protested that there were only too many men somewhere on the premises
already, and more--with their wives--were arriving by the next train.
But Maxwell had taken off such as had already appeared for a long
cross-country walk.

Betty demanded the names, and Marcella gave them obediently. Betty
perceived at once that the party was the party of a political chief
obliged to do his duty. She allowed herself a good many shrugs of her
small shoulders. "Oh, Mrs. Lexham,--very charming, of course,--but what's
the good of being friends with a person who has five hundred people in
London that call her Kelly? Lady _Wendover_? I ought to have had notice.
A good mother? I should think she is! That's the whole point against her.
She always gives you the idea of having reared fifteen out of a possible
twelve. To see her beaming on her offspring makes me positively ashamed
of being in the same business myself. Don't you agree, Lady Tressady?"

But Letty, whose chief joy a month before would have been to dart in on
such a list with little pecking proofs of acquaintance, was leaning back
listlessly in her chair, and could only summon a forced smile for answer.

"And Sir George, too, is coming to-night, isn't he?" said Lady Leven.

"Yes, I expect my husband to-night," said Letty, coldly, without looking
at her questioner. Betty glanced quickly at the expression of the eyes
which were bent upon the further reaches of the park; then, to Letty's
astonishment, she bent forward impulsively and laid her little hand on
Lady Tressady's arm.

"Do you mind telling me," she said in a loud whisper, with a glance over
her shoulder, "your candid opinion of _her_ as a country lady?"

Letty, taken aback, turned and laughed uneasily; but Betty went rattling
on. "Have you found out that she treats her servants like hospital
nurses; that they go off and on duty at stated hours; that she has
workshops and art schools for them in the back premises; and that the
first footman has just produced a cantata which has been sent in to the
committee of the Worcester Festival (Be quiet, Marcella; if it isn't
that, it's something near it); that she teaches the stable boys and the
laundry maids old English dances, and the _pas de quatre_ once a
fortnight, and acts showman to her own pictures for the benefit of the
neighbourhood once a week? I came once to see how she did it, but I found
her and the Gairsley ironmonger measuring the ears of the Holbeins--it
seems you can't know anything about pictures now unless you have measured
all the ears and the little fingers, which I hope you know; I didn't!--so
I fled, as she hadn't a word to throw to me, even as one of the public.
Then perhaps you don't know that she has invented a whole, new, and
original system of game-preserving--she and Frank fight over it by the
hour--that she has upset all the wage arrangements of the county--that,
perhaps, you do know, for it got into the papers--and a hundred other
trifles. Has she revealed these things?"

Letty looked in perplexity from Betty's face, full of sweetness and
mirth, to Marcella's.

"She hasn't talked about them," she said, hesitating. "Of course, I
haven't understood a good many things that are done here--"

"Don't try," said Marcella, first laughing and then sighing.

Nothing appeased, Lady Leven chattered away, while Letty watched her
hostess in silence. She had come down to the Court gloating somewhat, in
spite of her very real unhappiness, over the prospect of the riches and
magnificence she was to find there. And to discover that wealth might be
merely the source of one long moral wrestle to the people who possessed
it, burdening them with all sorts of problems and remorses that others
escaped, had been a strange and, on the whole, jarring experience to her.
Of course there must be rich and poor; of course there must be servants
and masters. Marcella's rebellion against the barriers of life had been a
sort of fatigue and offence to Letty ever since she had been made to feel
it. And daily contact with the simple, and even Spartan, ways of living
that prevailed--for the owners of it, at least--in the vast house, with
the overflowing energy and humanity that often made its mistress a
restless companion, and led her into a fair percentage of mistakes--had
roused a score of half-scornful protests in the small, shrewd mind of her
guest. Nevertheless, when Marcella was kind, when she put Letty on the
sofa, insisting that she was tired, and anxiously accusing herself of
some lack of consideration or other; when she took her to her room at
night, seeing to every comfort, and taking thought for luxuries that in
her heart she despised; or when, very rarely, and turning rather pale,
she said a few words--sweet, hopeful, encouraging--about George's return,
then Letty was conscious of a strange leap of something till then
unknown, something that made her want to sob, that seemed to open to her
a new room in the House of Life. Marcella had not kissed her since the
day of their great scene; they had been "Lady Maxwell" and "Lady
Tressady" to each other all the time, and Letty had but realised her own
insolences and audacities the more, as gradually the spiritual dignity of
the woman she had raved at came home to her. But sometimes when Marcella
stood beside her, unconscious, talking pleasantly of London folk or
Ancoats, or trying to inform herself as to Letty's life at Ferth, a
half-desolate intuition would flash across the younger woman of what it
might be to be admitted to the intimate friendship of such a nature, to
feel those long, slender arms pressed about her once more, not in pity or
remonstrance, as of one trying to exorcise an evil spirit, but in mere
love, as of one asking as well as giving. The tender and adoring
friendship of women for women, which has become so marked a feature of
our self-realising generation, had passed Letty by. She had never known
it. Now, in these unforeseen circumstances, she seemed to be trembling
within reach of its emotion; divining it, desiring it, yet forced onward
to the question, "What is there in me that may claim it?"

Marcella, indeed, after their first stormy interview, had once more
returned to the subject of it. She had told the story of her friendship
with George Tressady, very gently and plainly, in a further conversation,
held between them at the elder Lady Tressady's house during that odd
lady's very odd convalescence; till, indeed, she reached the last scene.
She could not bring herself to deliver the truth of that. Nor was it
necessary. Letty's jealousy had guessed it near enough long ago. But when
all else was told, Letty had been conscious at first of a half-sore
resentment that there was so little to tell. In her secret soul she knew
very well what had been the effect on George. Her husband's mind had been
gradually absorbed by another ideal in which she had no part; nor could
she deny that he had suffered miserably. The memory of his face as he
asked her to "forgive him" when she fled past him on that last wretched
night was enough. But suffered for what? A few talks about politics, a
few visits to poor people, an office of kindness after a street accident
that any stranger must have rendered, a few meetings in the House and
elsewhere!

Letty's vanity was stabbed anew by the fact that Lady Maxwell's
offence was so small. It gave her a kind of measure of her own hold
upon her husband.

Once, indeed, Marcella's voice and colour had wavered when she made
herself describe how, on the Mile End evening, she had been conscious of
pressing the personal influence to gain the political end. But good
heavens!--Letty hardly understood what the speaker's evident compunction
was about. Why, it was all for Maxwell! What had she thought of all
through but Maxwell? Letty's humiliation grew as she understood, and as
in the quiet of Maxwell Court she saw the husband and wife together.

Her anger and resentment might very well only have transferred themselves
the more hotly to George. But this new moral influence upon her had a
kind of paralysing effect. The incidents of the weeks before the crisis
excited in her now a sick, shamed feeling whenever she thought of them.
For contact with people on a wholly different plane of conduct, if such
persons as Letty can once be brought to submit to it, will often produce
effects, especially on women, like those one sees produced every day by
the clash of two standards of manners. It means simply the recognition
that one is unfit to be of certain company, and perhaps there are few
moral ferments more penetrating. Probably Letty would have gone to her
grave knowing nothing of it, but for the accident which had opened to her
the inmost heart of a woman with whom, once known, not even her vanity
dared measure itself.

George and she had already met since the day when he had gone off to
Paris in search of Ancoats. The telegram sent to him by Marcella on the
night of his mother's violent illness had, indeed, been recalled next
day. Lady Tressady, following the idiosyncrasies of her disease, sprang
from death to life--and life of the sprightliest kind--in the course of a
few hours. The battered, grey-haired woman--so old, do what she would,
under the betraying hand of physical decay!--no sooner heard that George
had been sent for than she at once and peremptorily telegraphed to him
herself to stay away. "I'm not dead yet," she wrote to him afterwards,
"in spite of all the fuss they've made with me. I was simply ashamed to
own such a cadaverous-looking wretch as you were when you came here last,
and if you take my advice you'll stay at Trouville with Lord Ancoats and
amuse yourself. As to that young man, of course it's no good, and his
mother's a great fool to suppose that you or anybody else can prevent
his enjoying himself. But these High Church women are so extraordinary."

Letty, indeed, remembering her mother-in-law's old ways, and finding
them little changed as far as she herself was concerned, was puzzled and
astonished by the new relations between mother and son. On the smallest
excuse or none, Lady Tressady, a year before, would have been ready to
fetch him back from furthest land without the least scruple. Now,
however, she thought of him, or for him, incessantly. And one day Letty
actually found her crying over an official intimation from the lawyer
concerned that another instalment of the Shapetsky debt would be due
within a month. But she angrily dried her tears at sight of Letty, and
Letty said nothing.

George, however, came back within about ten days of his departure, having
apparently done what he was commissioned to do, though Letty took so
little interest in the Ancoats affair that she barely read those portions
of his letters in which he described the course of it. His letters,
indeed, with the exception of a few ambiguous words here and there, dealt
entirely with Trouville, Ancoats, or the ups and downs of public opinion
on the subject of his action and speech in the House. Letty could only
gather from a stray phrase or two that he enjoyed nothing; but evidently
he could not yet bring himself to speak of what had happened.

When he did come back, the husband and wife saw very little of each
other. It was more convenient that he should stay in Upper Brook Street
while she remained at her mother-in-law's; and altogether he was hardly
three days in London. He rushed up to Market Malford to deliver his
promised speech to his constituents, and immediately afterwards, on the
urgent advice of the doctors, he went off to Wildheim with his mother and
the elderly cousin whose aid he had already invoked. Before he went, he
formally thanked his wife--who hardly spoke to him unless she was
obliged--for her attention to his mother, and then lingered a little,
looking no less "cadaverous," certainly, than when he had gone away, and
apparently desiring to say more.

"I suppose I shall be away about a fortnight," he said at last, "if one
is to settle her comfortably. You haven't told me yet what you would like
to do. Couldn't you get Miss Tulloch to go down with you to Ferth, or
would you go to your people for a fortnight?"

He was longing to ask her what had come of that promised visit of Lady
Maxwell's. But neither by letter nor by word of mouth had Letty as yet
said a word of it. And he did not know how to open the subject. During
the time that he was with his wife and mother, nothing was seen of
Marcella in Warwick Square, and an interview that he was to have had with
Maxwell, by way of supplement to his numerous letters, had to be
postponed because of overcrowded days on both sides. So that he was still
in the dark.

Letty at first made no answer to his rather lame proposals for her
benefit. But just as he was turning away with a look of added
worry, she said:

"I don't want to go home, thank you, and I still less want to go
to Ferth."

"But you can't stay in London. There isn't a soul in town; and it would
be too dull for you."

He gazed at her in perplexity, praying, however, that he might not
provoke a scene, for the carriage that was to take him and his mother to
the station was almost at the door.

Letty rose slowly, and folded up some embroidery she had been
playing with. Then she took a note from her work-basket, and laid it
on the table.

"You may read that if you like. That's where I'm going."

And she quickly went out of the room.

George read the note. His face flushed, and he hurriedly busied himself
with some of his preparations for departure. When his wife came into the
room again he went up to her.

"You could have done nothing so likely to save us both," he said huskily,
and then could think of nothing more to say. He drew her to him as though
to kiss her, but a blind movement of the old rage with him or
circumstance leapt in her, and she pulled herself away. The thought of
that particular moment had done more perhaps than anything else to thin
and whiten her since she had been at Maxwell Court.

And now he would be here to-night. She knew both from her host himself
and from George's letters that Lord Maxwell had specially written to him
begging him to come to the Court on his return, in order to join his wife
and also to give that oral report of his mission for which there had been
no time on his first reappearance. Maxwell had spoken to her of his wish
to see her husband, without a tone or a word that could suggest anything
but the natural friendliness and good-will of the man who has accepted a
signal service from his junior. But Letty avoided Maxwell when she could;
nor would he willingly have been left alone with this thin, sharp-faced
girl whose letter to him had been like the drawing of an ugly veil from
nameless and incredible things. He was sorry for her; but in his strong,
deep nature he felt a repulsion for her he could not explain; and to
watch Marcella with her amazed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Immediately after tea, Lady Leven's complaints of her entertainment
became absurd. Guests poured in from the afternoon train, and a variety
of men, her husband foremost among them, were soon at her disposal,
asking nothing better than to amuse her.

Letty Tressady meanwhile looked on for a time at the brilliant crowd
about her on the terrace, with a dull sense of being forgotten and of no
account. She said to herself sullenly that of course no one would want to
talk to her; it was not her circle, and she had even few acquaintances
among them.

Then, to her astonishment, she began to find herself the object of an
evident curiosity and interest to many people among the throng. She
divined that her name was being handed from one to the other, and she
soon perceived that Marcella had been asked to introduce to her this
person and that, several of them men and women whose kindness, a few
weeks before, would have flattered her social ambitions to the highest
point. Colour and nerve returned, and she found herself sitting up,
forgetting her headache, and talking fast.

"I am delighted to have this opportunity of telling you, Lady Tressady,
how much I admired your husband's great speech," said the deep and
unctuous voice of the grey-haired Solicitor-General as he sank into a
chair beside her. "It was not only that it gave us our Bill, it gave the
House of Commons a new speaker. Manner, voice, matter--all of it
excellent! I hope there'll be no nonsense about his giving up his seat.
Don't you let him! He will find his feet and his right place before long,
and you'll be uncommonly proud of him before you've done."

"Lady Tressady, I'm afraid you've forgotten me," said a plaintive voice;
and, on turning, Letty saw the red-haired Lady Madeleine asking with
smiles to be remembered. "Do you know, I was lucky enough to get into the
House on the great day? What a scene it was! You were there, of course?"

When Letty unwillingly said "No," there was a little chorus of
astonishment.

"Well, take my advice, my dear lady," said the Solicitor-General,
speaking with lazy patronage somewhere from the depths of comfort,--he
was accustomed to use these paternal modes of speech to young
women,--"don't you miss your husband's speeches. We can't do without our
domestic critics. But for the bad quarters of an hour that lady over
there has given me, I should be nowhere."

And he nodded complacently towards the wife as stout as himself, who was
sitting a few yards away. She, hearing her name, nodded back, with smiles
aside to the bystanders. Most of the spectators, however, were already
acquainted with a conjugal pose which was generally believed to be not
according to facts, and no one took the cue.

Then presently Mr. Bennett--the workmen's member from the North--was at
Letty's elbow saying the most cordial things of the absent George. Bayle,
too, the most immaculate and exclusive of private secretaries, who was at
the Court on a wedding visit with a new wife, chose to remember Lady
Tressady's existence for the first time for many months, and to bestow
some of his carefully adapted conversation upon her. While, last of all,
Edward Watton came up to her with a cousinly kindness she had scarcely
yet received from him, and, drawing a chair beside her, overflowed with
talk about George, and the Bill, and the state of things at Market
Malford. In fact, it was soon clear even to Letty's bewildered sense that
till her husband should arrive she was perhaps, for the moment, the
person of most interest to this brilliant and representative gathering of
a victorious party.

Meanwhile she was made constantly aware that her hostess remembered her.
Once, as Marcella passed her, after introducing someone to her, Letty
felt a hand gently laid on her shoulder and then withdrawn. Strange waves
of emotion ran through the girl's senses. When would George be here?
About seven, she thought, when they would all have gone up to dress. He
would have arrived from Wildheim in the morning, and was to spend the day
doing business in town.



CHAPTER XXII


Letty was lying on a sofa in her bedroom. Her maid was to come to her
shortly, and she was impatiently listening to every sound that approached
or passed her door. The great clock in the distant hall struck seven, and
it seemed to her intolerably long before she heard movements in the
passage, and then Maxwell's voice outside.

"Here is your room, Sir George. I hope you don't mind a few ghosts! It is
one of the oldest bits of the house."

Letty sprang up. She heard the shutting of the passage door, then
immediately afterwards the door from the dressing-room opened, and George
came through.

"Well!" she said, staring at him, her face flushing; "surely you are
very late?"

He came up to her, and put his arms round her, while she stood passive.
"Not so very," he said, and she could hear that his voice was unsteady.
"How are you? Give me a kiss, little woman--be a little glad to see me!"

He looked down upon her wistfully. On the journey he had been conscious
of great weariness of mind and body, a longing to escape from struggle,
to give and receive the balm of kind looks and soft words. He had come
back full of repentance towards her, if she had only known, full too of a
natural young longing for peace and good times.

She let him kiss her, but as he stooped to her it suddenly struck her
that she had never seen him look so white and worn. Still; after all this
holiday-making! Why? For love of a woman who never gave him a thought,
except of pity. Bitterness possessed her. She turned away indifferently.

"Well, you'll only just have time to dress. Is someone unpacking for
you?"

He looked at her.

"Is that all you have to say?"

She threw back her head and was silent.

"I was very glad to come back to you," he said, with a sigh, "though I--I
wish it were anywhere else than here. But, all things considered, I did
not see how to refuse. And you have been here the whole fortnight?"

"Yes."

"Have you"--he hesitated--"have you seen a great deal of Lady Maxwell?"

"Well, I suppose I have--in her own house." Then she broke out, her
heart leaping visibly under her light dressing-gown. "I don't blame
_her_ any more, if you want to know that; she doesn't think of anyone in
the world but him."

The gesture of her hand seemed to pursue the voice that had been just
speaking in the corridor.

He smiled.

"Well, at least I'm glad you've come to see that!" he said quietly. "And
is that all?"

He had walked away from her, but at his renewed question he turned
back quickly, his hands in his pockets. Something in the look of him
gave her a moment of pleasure, a throb of possession. But she showed
nothing of it.

"No, it's not all"--her pale blue eyes pierced him. "Why did you go and
see her that morning, and why have you never told me since?"

He started, and shrugged his shoulders.

"If you have been seeing much of her," he replied, after a pause, "you
probably know as much as I could tell you."

"No," she said steadily; "she has told me much about
everything--but that."

He walked restlessly about for a few seconds, then returned, holding out
his hands.

"Well, my dear, I said some mad and miserable things. They are as dead
now as if they had never been spoken. And they were not love-making--they
were crying for the moon. Take me, and forget them. I am an
unsatisfactory sort of fellow, but I will do the best I can."

"Wait a bit," she said, retreating, and speaking with a hard
incisiveness. "There are plenty of things you don't know. Perhaps you
don't know, for instance, that I wrote to Lord Maxwell? I sat up writing
it that night--he got it the same morning you saw her."

"You wrote to Maxwell!" he said in amazement--then, under his breath--"to
complain of her. My God!"

He walked away again, trying to control himself.

"You didn't suppose," she said huskily, "I was going to sit down calmly
under your neglect of me? I might have been silly in not--not seeing what
kind of a woman she was; that's different--besides, of course, she ought
to have thought more about me. But _that's_ not all!"

Her hand shook as she stood leaning on the sofa. George turned, and
looked at her attentively.

"The day you left I went to Hampton Court with the Lucys. Cathedine was
there. Of course I flirted with him all the time, and as we were going
through a wood near the river he said abominable things to me, and
kissed me."

Her brows were drawn defiantly. Her eyes seemed to be riveted to his. He
was silent a moment, the colour dyeing his pale face deep. Then she heard
his long breath.

"Well, we seem to be about quits," he said, in a bitter voice. "Have you
seen him since?"

"No. That's Grier knocking--you'd better go and dress."

He paused irresolutely. But Letty said, "Come in," and he retreated into
his dressing-room.

Husband and wife hurried down together, without another word to each
other. When George at last found himself at table between Lady Leven and
Mr. Bayle's new and lively wife, he had never been so grateful before to
the ease of women's tongues. In his mental and physical fatigue, he could
scarcely bear even to let himself feel the strangeness of his presence in
this room--at her table, in Maxwell's splendid house. _Not_ to
feel!--somehow to recover his old balance and coolness--that was the cry
of the inner man.

But the situation conquered him. _Why_ was he here? It was barely a month
since in her London drawing-room he had found words for an emotion, a
confession it now burnt him to remember. And here he was, breaking bread
with her and Maxwell, a few weeks afterwards, as though nothing lay
between them but a political incident. Oh! the smallness, the triviality
of our modern life!

Was it only four weeks, or nearly? What he had suffered in that time! An
instant's shudder ran through him, during an interval, while Betty's
unwilling occupation with her left-hand neighbour left memory its chance.
All the flitting scenes of the past month, Ancoats's half-vicious
absurdities, the humours of the Trouville beach, the waves of its grey
sea, his mother's whims and plaints, the crowd and heat of the little
German watering-place where he had left her--was it he, George Tressady,
that had been really wrestling with these things and persons, walking
among them, or beside them? It seemed hardly credible. What was real,
what remained, was merely the thought of some hours of solitude, beside
the Norman sea, or among the great beech-woods that swept down the hills
about Bad Wildheim. Those hours--they only--had stung, had penetrated,
had found the shrinking core of the soul.

What in truth was it that had happened to him? After weeks of a growing
madness he had finally lost his self-command, had spoken passionately,
as only love speaks, to a married woman, who had no thought for any man
in the world but her husband, a woman who had immediately--so he had
always read the riddle of Maxwell's behaviour--reported every incident
of his conversation with her to the husband, and had then tried her
best, with an exquisite kindness and compunction, to undo the mischief
her own charm had caused. For that effort, in the first instance,
George, under the shock of his act and her pain, had been, at intervals,
speechlessly grateful to her; all his energies had gone into pitiful,
eager response. Now, her attempt, and Maxwell's share in it, seemed to
have laid him under a weight he could no longer bear. His acceptance of
Maxwell's invitation had finally exhausted his power of playing the
superhuman part to which she had invited him. He wished with all his
heart he had not accepted it! From the moment of her greeting--with its
mixture of shrinking and sweetness--he had realised the folly, the
humiliation even, of his presence in her house. He could not rise--it
was monstrous, ludicrous almost, that she should wish it--to what she
seemed to ask of him.

What had he been in love with? He looked at her once or twice in
bewilderment. Had not she herself, her dazzling, unconscious purity,
debarred him always from the ordinary hopes and desires of the sensual
man? His very thought had moved in awe of her, had knelt before her.
Throughout there had been this half-bitter glorying in the strangeness of
his own case. The common judgment in its common vileness mattered nothing
to him. He had been in love with love, with grace, with tenderness, with
delight. He had seen, too late, a vision of the _best_; had realised
what things of enchantment life contains for the few, for the
chosen--what woman at her richest can be to man. And there had been a cry
of personal longing--personal anguish.

Well!--it was all done with. As for friendship, it was impossible,
grotesque. Let him go home, appease Letty, and mend his life. He
constantly realised now, with the same surprise, as on the night before
his confession, the emergence within himself, independent as it were of
his ordinary will, and parallel with the voice of passion or grief, of
some new moral imperative. Half scornfully he discerned in his own nature
the sort of paste that a man inherits from generations of decent dull
forefathers who have kept the law as they understood it. He was conscious
of the same "ought" vibrating through the moral sense as had governed
their narrower lives and minds. It is the presence or the absence indeed
of this dumb compelling power that in moments of crisis differentiates
one man from another. He felt it; wondered perhaps that he should feel
it; but knew, nevertheless, that he should obey it. Yes, let him go home,
make his wife forgive him, rear his children--he trusted to God there
would be children!--and tame his soul. How strange to feel this tempest
sweeping through him, this iron stiffening of the whole being, amid this
scene, in this room, within a few feet of that magic, that voice--

       *       *       *       *       *

"Thank goodness I have got rid of my man at last!" said Betty's laughing
whisper in his ear. "Three successive packs of hounds have I followed
from their cradles to their graves. Make it up to me, Sir George, at
once! Tell me everything I want to know!"

George turned to her smiling.

"About Ancoats?"

"Of course. Now don't be discreet!--I know too much already. How did he
receive you?"

George laughed--not noticing that instead of laughing with him, little
Betty was staring at him open-eyed over her fan.

"To begin with, he invited me to fight--coffee and pistols before
eight, on the following morning, in the garden of his chalet, which
would not have been at all a bad place, for he is magnificently
installed. I came from his enemies, he said. They had prevented the
woman he loved from joining him, and covered him with ridicule. As
their representative I ought to be prepared to face the consequences
like a man. All this time he was storming up and down, in a marvellous
blue embroidered smoking suit--"

"Of course, to go with the hair," put in Betty.

"I said I thought he'd better give me some dinner before we talked it
out. Then he looked embarrassed and said there were friends coming. I
replied, '_Tant mieux.'_ He inquired fiercely whether it was the part of
a gentleman to thrust himself where he wasn't wanted. I kept my temper,
and said I was too famished to consider. Then he haughtily left the room,
and presently a servant came and asked for my luggage, which I had left
at the station, and showed me a bedroom. Ancoats, however, appeared again
to invite me to withdraw, and to suggest the names of two seconds who
would, he assured me, be delighted to act for me. I pointed out to him
that I was unpacked, and that to turn me out dinnerless would be simply
barbarous. Then, after fidgeting about a little, he burst out laughing in
an odd way, and said, 'Very well--only, mind, I didn't ask you.' Sure
enough, of course I found a party."

George paused.

"You needn't tell me much about the party," said Betty, nervously,
"unless it's necessary."

"Well, it wasn't a very reputable affair, and two young women were
present."

"No need to talk about the young women," said Betty, hastily.

George bowed submission.

"I only mentioned them because they are rather necessary to the story.
Anyway, by the time the company was settled Ancoats suddenly threw off
his embarrassment, and, with some defiant looks at me, behaved himself, I
imagine, much as he would have done without me. When all the guests were
gone, I asked him whether he was going to keep up the farce of a _grande
passion_ any more. He got in a rage and vowed that if 'she' had come, of
course all those creatures, male and female, would be packed off. I
didn't suppose that he would allow the woman he loved to come within a
mile of them? I shrugged my shoulders and declined to suppose anything
about his love affairs, which seemed to me too complicated. Then, of
course, I had to come to plain speaking, and bring in his mother."

"That she should have produced such a being!" cried Betty; "that he
should have any right in her at all!"

"That she should keep such a heart for him!" said George, raising his
eyebrows. "He turned rather white, I was relieved to see, when I told him
from her that she would leave his house if the London affair went on.
Well, we walked up and down in his garden, smoking, the greater part of
the night, till I could have dropped with fatigue. Every now and then
Ancoats would make a dash for the brandy and soda on the verandah; and in
between I had to listen to tirades against marriage, English prudery, and
English women,--quotations from Gautier and Renan,--and Heaven knows
what. At last, when we were both worn out, he suddenly stood still and
delivered his ultimatum. 'Look here--if you think I've no grievances,
you're much mistaken. Go back and tell my mother that if she'll marry
Fontenoy straight away I'll give up Marguerite!' I said I would deliver
no such impertinence. 'Very well,' he said; 'then I will. Tell her I
shall be in Paris next week, and ask her to meet me there. When are you
going?' 'Well,' I said, rather taken aback, 'there is such an institution
as the post. Now I've come so far, suppose you show me Trouville for a
few days?' He muttered something or other, and we went to bed.
Afterwards, he behaved to me quite charmingly, would not let me go, and I
ended by leaving him at the door of an hotel in Paris where he was to
meet his mother. But on the subject of Fontenoy it is an _idée fixe_. He
chafes under the whole position, and will yield nothing to a man who, as
he conceives, has no _locus standi_. But if his pride were no longer
annoyed by its being said that his mother had sacrificed her own
happiness to him, and if the situation were defined, I _think_ he might
be more amenable. I think they might marry him."

"That's how the man puts it!" said Betty, tightening her lip. "Of course
_any_ marriage is desirable for _any_ woman!"

"I was thinking of Mrs. Allison," said George, defensively. "One can't
think of a Lady Ancoats till she exists."

"_Merci!_ Never mind. Don't apologise for the masculine view. It has to
be taken with the rest of you. Do you understand that matrimony is in the
air here to-night? Have you been talking to Lady Madeleine?"

"No, not yet. But how handsome she's grown! I see Naseby's not far off."

George turned smiling to his companion. But, as he did so, again
something cold and lifeless in his own face and in the expression
underlying the smile pricked little Betty painfully. Marcella had made
her no confidences, but there had been much gossip, and Letty Tressady's
mere presence at the Court set the intimate friend guessing very near
the truth.

She did her best to chatter on, so as to keep him at least
superficially amused. But both became more and more conscious of two
figures, and two figures only, at the crowded table--Letty Tressady,
who was listening absently to Edward Watton with oppressed and indrawn
eyes, and Lady Maxwell.

George, indeed, watched his wife constantly. He hungered to know more of
that first scene between her and Lady Maxwell, or he thought with bitter
repulsion of the letter she had confessed to him. Had he known of it,--in
spite of that strange, that compelling letter of Maxwell's, so reticent,
and yet in truth so plain,--he could hardly have come as a guest to
Maxwell's house. As for her revelations about Cathedine, he felt little
resentment or excitement. For the future a noxious brute had to be kept
in order--that was all. It was his own fault, he supposed, much more than
hers. The inward voice, as before, was clear enough. "I must just take
her home and be good to her. _She_ shirked nothing--now, no doubt, she
expects me to do my part."

"Do you notice those jewels that Lady Maxwell is wearing to-night?" said
Betty at last, unable to keep away from the name.

"I imagine they are a famous set?"

"They belonged to Marie Antoinette. At last Maxwell has made her have
them cleaned and reset. What a pity to have such desperate scruples as
she has about all your pretty things!"

"Must diamonds and rubies, then, perish out of the world?" he asked her,
absently, letting his eyes rest again upon the beautiful head and neck.

Betty made some flippant rejoinder, but as she watched him, she
was not gay.

       *       *       *       *       *

George had had but a few words with his hostess before dinner, and
afterwards a short conversation was all that either claimed. She had
hoped and planned so much! On the stage of imagination before he
came--she had seen his coming so often. All was to be forgotten and
forgiven, and this difficult visit was to lead naturally and without
recall to another and happier relation. And now that he was here she felt
herself tongue-tied, moving near him in a dumb distress. Both realised
the pressure of the same necessities, the same ineluctable facts; and
tacitly, they met and answered each other, in the common avoidance of a
companionship which could after all avail nothing. Once or twice, as they
stood together after dinner, he noticed amid her gracious kindness, her
inquiries after Mrs. Allison or his mother, the search her eyes made for
Letty, and presently she began to talk with nervous, almost appealing,
emphasis--with a marked significance and intensity indeed--of Letty's
fatigue after her nursing, and the need she had for complete change and
rest. George found himself half resenting the implications of her manner,
as the sentences flowed on. He felt her love of influence, and was not
without a hidden sarcasm. In spite of his passionate gratitude to her, he
must needs ask himself, did she suppose that a man or a marriage was to
be remade in a month, even by her plastic fingers? Women envisaged these
things so easily, so childishly, almost.

When he moved away, a number of men who had already been talking to him
after dinner, and some of the most agreeable women of the party besides,
closed about him, making him, as it were, the centre of a conversation
which was concerned almost entirely with the personalities and chances
of the political moment. He was scarcely less astonished than Letty had
been by his own position amongst the guests gathered under Maxwell's
roof. Never had he been treated with so much sympathy, so much deference
even. Clearly, if he willed it so, what had seemed the dislocation might
only be the better beginning of a career. Nonsense! He meant to throw it
all up as soon as Parliament met again in February. The state of his
money affairs alone determined that. The strike was going from bad to
worse. He must go home and look after his own business. It was a folly
ever to have attempted political life. Meanwhile he felt the stimulus of
his reception in a company which included some of the keenest brains in
England. It appealed to his intelligence and virility, and they
responded. Letty once, glancing at him, saw that he was talking briskly,
and said to herself, with contradictory bitterness, that he was looking
as well as ever, and was going, she supposed, to behave as if nothing
had happened.

"What is the matter with you to-night, my lady?" said Naseby, taking a
seat beside his hostess. "May I be impertinent and guess?--you don't like
your gems? Lady Leven has been telling me tales about them. They are the
most magnificent things I ever saw. I condole with you."

She turned rather listlessly to meet his bantering look.

"'Come you in friendship, or come you in war?'" she said, pointing to a
seat beside her. "I have no fight in me. But I have a great many things
to say to you."

He reddened for an instant, then recovered himself.

"So have I to you," he said briskly. "In the first place, I have some
fresh news from Mile End."

She half laughed, as who should say, "You put me off," then surrendered
herself with eagerness to the pleasure of his report. At the moment of
his approach, under pretence of talking to an elderly cousin of
Maxwell's, she had been lost in such an abstraction of powerless pity for
George Tressady--whose fair head, somehow, never escaped her, wherever it
moved--that she had hardly been able to bear with her guests or the
burden of the evening.

But Naseby roused her. And, indeed, his story so far was one to set the
blood throbbing in the veins of a creature who, on one side pure woman,
was on the other half poet, half reformer. Since the passage of the
Maxwell Bill, indeed, Naseby and a few friends of his, some "gilded
youths" like himself, together with some trade-union officials of a long
experience, had done wonders. They had been planning out the industrial
reorganisation of a whole district, through its two staple trades, with
the enthusiastic co-operation of the workpeople themselves; and the
result so far struck the imagination. Everywhere the old workshops were
to be bought up, improved, or closed; everywhere factories in which life
might be decent, and work more than tolerable, were to be set up;
everywhere the prospective shortening of hours, and the doing away with
the most melancholy of the home trades was working already like the
incoming of a great slowly surging tide, raising a whole population on
its breast to another level of well-being and of hope.

Most of what had been done or designed was of course already well known
to Maxwell's wife; she had indeed given substantial help to Naseby
throughout. But Naseby had some fresh advances to report since she was
last in East London, and she drank them in with an eagerness, which
somehow assuaged a hidden smart; while he wondered a little perhaps in
his philosopher's soul at the woman of our English day, with her
compunctions and altruisms, her entanglement with the old scheme of
things, her pining for a new. It had often seemed to him that to be a
Nihilist nurse among a Russian peasantry would be an infinitely easier
task than to reconcile the social remorses and compassions that tore his
companion's mind with the social pageant in which her life, do what she
would, must needs be lived. He knew that, intellectually, she no more
than Maxwell saw any way out of unequal place, unequal spending, unequal
recompense, if civilisation were to be held together; but he perceived
that morally she suffered. Why? Because she and not someone else had been
chosen to rule the palace and wear the gems that yet must be? In the end,
Naseby could but shrug his shoulders over it. Yet even his sceptical
temper made no question of sincerity.

When all his budget was out, and her comments made, she leant back a
little in her chair, studying him. A smile came to play about her lips.

"What do you want to say to me?" he asked her quickly.

She looked round her to see that they were not overheard.

"When did you see Madeleine last?"

"At her brother's house, a fortnight ago."

"Was she nice to you?"

He bit his lip, and drew his brows a little together, under her scrutiny.

"Do you imagine I am going to be cross-examined like this?"

"Yes--reply!"

"Well, I don't know what her conception of 'niceness' may be; it didn't
fit mine. She had got it into her head that I 'pitied' her, which seemed
to be a crime. I didn't see how to disprove it, so I came away."

He spoke with a dry lightness, but she perceived anxiety and unrest under
his tone. She bent forward.

"Do you know where Madeleine is now?"

"Not in the least."

"In the Long Gallery. I sent her there."

"Upon my word!" he said, after a pause. "Do you want to rule us all?"
His cheek had flushed again; his look was half rebellious.

A flash of pain struck through her brightness.

"No, no!" she said, protesting. "But I know--you don't!"

He rose deliberately, and bowed with the air of obeying her commands.
Then suddenly he bent down to her.

"I knew perfectly well that she was in the Long Gallery! But I also knew
that Mrs. Bayle had chosen to join her there. The coast, you may
perceive, is now clear."

He walked away. Marcella looked round, and saw an elegant little bride,
Mr. Bayle's new wife, rustling into the room again. She leant back in
her chair, half laughing, yet her eyes were wet. The new joy brought a
certain ease to old regrets. Only that word "rule" rankled a little.

Yet the old regrets were all sharp and active again. It seemed to be
impossible now to talk with George Tressady, to make any real breach in
the barrier between them; but how impossible also not to think of
him!--of the young fellow, who had given Maxwell his reward, and said to
herself such sad, such agitating things! She did think of him. Her heart
ached to serve him. The situation made a new and a very troubling appeal
to her womanhood.

       *       *       *       *       *

The night was warm, and still, and the windows were open to it as they
had been on that May night at Castle Luton. Maxwell came to look for
Tressady, and took him out upon a flagged terrace that ran the length of
the house.

They talked first of the Ancoats incident, George supplementing his
letters by some little verbal pictures of Ancoats's life and surroundings
that made Maxwell laugh grimly from time to time. As to Mrs. Allison,
Maxwell reported that Ancoats seemed to have gained his point. There was
talk of the marriage coming off some time in the winter.

"Well, Fontenoy has earned his prize," said George.

"There are more than twelve years between them. But she seems to be one
of the women who don't age. I have seen her go through griefs that
would kill most women; and it has been like the passage of a storm over
a flower."

"Religion, I suppose, carried to that point, protects one a good deal,"
said George, not, in truth, feeling much interest in the matter or in
Mrs. Allison now that his task was done.

"And especially religion of the type that allows you to give your soul
into someone else's keeping. There is no such anodyne," said Maxwell,
musing. "I have often noticed how Catholic women keep their youth and
softness. But now, do allow me a few words about yourself. Is what I hear
about your withdrawal from Parliament irrevocable?"

George's reply led to a discussion in which Maxwell, without any attempt
at party proselytism, endeavoured to combat all that he could understand
of the young man's twofold disgust, disgust with his own random
convictions no less than with the working of the party machine.

"Where do I belong?" he said. "I don't know myself. I ought never to have
gone in. Anyway, I had better stand aside for a time."

"But evidently the Malford people want to keep you."

"Well, and of course I shall consult their convenience as much as I can,"
said George, unwillingly, but would say no more.

Nothing, indeed, could be more flattering, more healing, than all that
was implied in Maxwell's earnestness, in the peculiar sympathy and
kindness with which the elder man strove to win the younger's confidence;
but George could not respond. His whole inner being was too sore; and his
mind ran incomparably more upon the damnable letter that must be lying
somewhere in the archives of the memory of the man talking to him, than
upon his own political prospects. The conversation ended for Maxwell in
mere awkwardness and disappointment,--deep disappointment if the truth
were known. Once roused his idealism was little less stubborn, less
wilful than Marcella's.

When the ladies withdrew, a brilliant group of them stood for a moment on
the first landing of the great oak staircase, lighting candles and
chattering. Madeleine Penley took her candle absently from Marcella's
hand, saying nothing. The girl's curious face under its crown of gold-red
hair was transformed somehow to an extraordinary beauty. The frightened
parting of the lips and lifting of the brows had become rather a look of
exquisite surprise, as of one who knows at last "the very heart of love."

"I am coming to you, presently," murmured Marcella, laying her cheek
against the girl's.

"Oh, _do_ come!" said Madeleine, with a great breath, and she walked
away, unsteadily, by herself, into the darkness of the tapestried
passage, her white dress floating behind her.

Marcella looked after her, then turned with shining eyes to Letty
Tressady. Her expression changed.

"I am afraid your headache has been very bad all the evening," she said
penitently. "Do let me come and look after you."

She went with Letty to her room, and put her into a chair beside the wood
fire, that even on this warm night was not unwelcome in the huge place.
Letty, indeed, shivered a little as she bent towards it.

"Must you go so early?" said Marcella, hanging over her. "I heard Sir
George speak of the ten o'clock train."

"Oh, yes," said Letty, "that will be best."

She stared into the fire without speaking. Marcella knelt down
beside her.

"You won't hate me any more?" she said, in a low, pleading voice, taking
two cold hands in her own.

Letty looked up.

"I should like," she said, speaking with difficulty, "if you cared--to
see you sometimes."

"Only tell me when," said Marcella, laying her lips lightly on the hands,
"and I will come." Then she hesitated. "Oh, do believe," she broke out at
last, but still in the same low voice, "that all can be healed! Only show
him love,--forget everything else,--and happiness must come. Marriage is
so difficult--such an art--even for the happiest people, one has to learn
it afresh day by day."

Letty's tired eyes wavered under the other's look.

"I can't understand it like that," she said. Then she moved restlessly in
her chair. "Ferth is a terrible place! I wonder how I shall bear it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later Marcella left Madeleine Penley and went back to her own
room. The smile and flush with which she had received the girl's last
happy kisses disappeared as she walked along the corridor. Her head
drooped, her arms hung listlessly beside her.

Maxwell found her in her own little sitting-room almost in the dark. He
sat down by her and took her hand.

"You couldn't make any impression on him as to Parliament?" she asked
him, almost whispering.

"No. He persists that he must go. I think his private circumstances at
Ferth have a great deal to do with it."

She shook her head. She turned away from him, took up a paper-knife, and
let it fall on the table beside her. He thought that she must have been
in tears, before he found her, and he saw that she could find no words in
which to express herself. Lifting her hand to his lips, he held it there,
silently, with a touch all tenderness.

"Oh, why am I so happy!" she broke out at last, with a sob, almost
drawing her hand away. "Such a life as mine seems to absorb and batten
upon other people's dues--to grow rich by robbing their joy, joy that
should feed hundreds and comes all to me! And that besides I should
actually bruise and hurt--"

Her voice failed her.

"Fate has a way of being tolerably even, at last," said Maxwell, slowly,
after a pause. "As to Tressady, no one can say what will come of it. He
has strange stuff in him--fine stuff I think. He will pull himself
together. And for the wife--probably, already he owes you much! I saw her
look at you to-night--once as you touched her shoulder. Dear!--what
spells have you been using?"

"Oh! I will do all I can--all I can!" Marcella repeated in a low,
passionate voice, as one who makes a vow to her own heart.

"But after to-morrow he will not willingly come across us again," said
Maxwell, quietly. "That I saw."

She gave a sad and wordless assent.



CHAPTER XXIII


Letty Tressady sat beside the doorway of one of the small red-brick
houses that make up the village of Ferth. It was a rainy October
afternoon, and through the door she could see the black main street
--houses and road alike bedabbled in wet and mire. At one point in the
street her eye caught a small standing crowd of women and children, most
of them with tattered shawls thrown over their heads to protect them from
the weather. She knew what it meant. They were waiting for the daily
opening of the soup kitchen, started in the third week of the great
strike by the Baptist minister, who, in the language of the Tory paper,
was "among the worst firebrands of the district." There was another soup
kitchen further down, to which George had begun to subscribe immediately
on his return to the place. She had thought it a foolish act on his part
thus to help his own men to fight him the better. But--now, as she
watched the miserable crowd outside the Baptist chapel, she felt the
teasing pressure of those new puzzles of her married life which had so
far done little else, it seemed, than take away her gaiety and her power
of amusing herself.

Near her sat an oldish woman with an almost toothless mouth, who was
chattering to her in a tone that Letty knew to be three parts
hypocritical.

"Well, the treuth is the men is that fool 'ardy when they gets a thing
into their yeds, there's no taakin wi un. There's plenty as done like the
strike, my lady, but they dursent say so--they'd be afeard o' losin the
skin off their backs, for soom o' them lads o' Burrows's is a routin
rough lot as done keer what they doos to a mon, an yo canna exspeck a
quiet body to stan up agen 'em. Now, my son, ee comes in at neet all
slamp and downcast, an I says to 'im, 'Is there noa news yet o' the Jint
Committee, John?' I ses to un. 'Noa, mither,' ee says, 'they're just
keepin ov it on.' An ee do seem so down'earted when ee sees the poor
soart ov a supper as is aw I can gie un to 'is stomach. Now, _I'm_ wun o'
thoase as _wants_ nuthin. The doctor ses, 'Yo've got no blude in yer,
Missus 'Ammersley, what 'ull yer 'ave?' An I says, '_Nuthin!_ it's sun
cut, an it's sun cooked, _nuthin!_' Noa, I've niver bin on t' parish--an
I _might_--times. An I don't 'old wi strikes. Lor, it is a poor pleace,
is ours--ain't it?--an nobbut a bit o' bread an drippin for supper."

The old woman threw her eyes round her kitchen, bringing them back slyly
to Letty's face. Letty ended by leaving some money with her, and walking
away as dissatisfied with her own charity as she was with its recipient.
Perhaps this old body was the only person in the village who would have
begged of "Tressady's wife" at this particular moment. Letty, moreover,
had some reason to believe that her son was one of the roughest of
Burrows's bodyguard; while the old woman was certainly no worse off than
any of her neighbours.

Outside, she was disturbed to find as she walked home, that the street
was full of people, in spite of the rain--of gaunt men and pinched
women, who threw her hostile and sidelong glances as she passed. She
hurried through them. How was it that she knew nothing of them--except,
perhaps, of the few toadies and parasites among them? How was one to
penetrate into this ugly, incomprehensible world of "the people"? The
mere idea of trying to do so filled her with distaste and ennui. She was
afraid of them. She wished she had not stayed so long with that old
gossip, Mrs. Hammersley, and that there were not so many yards of dark
road between her and her own gate. Where was George? She knew that he
had gone up to the pits that afternoon to consult his manager about some
defect in the pumping arrangements. She wished she had secured his
escort for the walk home.

But before she left the village she paused irresolutely, then turned down
a side street, and went to see Mary Batchelor, George's old nurse, the
mother who had lost her only son in his prime.

When, a few minutes later, she came up the lane, she was flatly conscious
of having done a virtuous thing--several virtuous things--that afternoon,
but certainly without any pleasure in them. She did not get on with Mary,
nor Mary with her. The tragic absorption of the mother--little abated
since the spring--in her dead boy seemed somehow to strike Letty dumb.
She felt pity, but yet the whole emotion was beyond her, and she shrank
from it. As for Mary, she had so far received Lady Tressady's visits with
a kind of dull surprise, always repeated and not flattering. Letty
believed that, in her inmost heart, the broken woman was offended each
time that it was not George who came. Moreover, though she never said a
word of it to Tressady's wife, she was known to be passionately on the
side of the strikers, and her manner gave the impression that she did not
want to be talking with their oppressors. Perhaps it was this feeling
that had reconciled her to the loutish lad who lived with her, and had
been twice "run in" by the police for stone-throwing at non-union men
since the beginning of the strike. At any rate, she took a great deal
more notice of him than she had done.

No--they were not very satisfactory, these attempts of Letty's in the
village. She thought of them with a kind of inner exasperation as she
walked home. She had been going to a few old and sick people, and trying
to ignore the strike. But at bottom she felt an angry resentment towards
these loafing, troublesome fellows, who filled the village street when
they ought to have been down in the pits--who were starving their own
children no less than disturbing and curtailing the incomes of their
betters. Did they suppose that people were going to run pits for them for
nothing? Their drink and their religion seemed to her equally hideous.
She hated the two Dissenting ministers of the place only less than
Valentine Burrows himself, and delighted to pass their wives with her
head high in air.

With these general feelings towards the population in her mind, why
these efforts at consolation and almsgiving? Well, the poor old people
were not responsible; but she did not see that any good had come of it.
She had said nothing about her visits to George, nor did-she suppose
that he had noticed them. He had been so incessantly busy since their
arrival with conferences and committees that she had seen very little of
him. It was generally believed that the strike was nearing its end, and
that the men were exhausted; but she did not think that George was very
hopeful yet.

Presently, as she neared a dark slope of road, bordered with trees on
one side and the high "bank" of the main pit on the other, her thoughts
turned back to their natural and abiding subject--herself. Oh, the
dulness of life at Ferth during the last three weeks! She thought of
her amusements in town, of the country houses where they might now be
staying but for George's pride, of Cathedine, even; and a rush of
revolt and self-pity filled her mind. George always away, nothing to do
in the ugly house, and Lady Tressady coming directly--she said to
herself, suffocating, her small hands stiffening, that she felt fit to
kill herself.

Half-way down the slope she heard steps behind her in the gathering
darkness, and at the same moment something struck her violently on the
shoulder. She cried out, and clutched at some wooden railings along the
road for support, as the lump of "dirt" from the bank which had been
flung at her dropped beside her.

"Letty, is that you?" shouted a voice from the direction of the
village--her husband's voice. She heard running. In a few seconds George
had reached her and was holding her.

"What is it struck you? I see! Cowards! _damned_ cowards! Has it broken
your arm? Try and move it."

Sick with pain she tried to obey him. "No," she said faintly; "it is not
broken--I think not."

"Good!" he cried, rejoicing; "probably only a bad bruise. The brute
mercifully picked up nothing very hard"--and he pushed the lump with
his foot. "Take my scarf, dear; let me sling it. Ah!--what was that?
Letty! can you be brave--can you let me go one minute? I sha'n't be out
of your sight."

And he pointed excitedly to a dark spot moving among the bushes along the
lower edge of the "bank."

Letty nodded. "I can stay here."

George leapt the palings and ran. The dark spot ran too, but in queer
leaps and bounds. There was the sound of a scuffle, then George returned,
dragging something or someone behind him.

"I knew it," he said, panting, as he came within earshot of his wife; "it
was that young ruffian, Mary Batchelor's grandson! Now you stand still,
will you? I could hold two of the likes of you with one hand. Madan!"

He had but just parted from his manager on the path which led sideways up
the "bank," and waited anxiously to see if his voice would reach the
Scotchman's ears. But no one replied. He shouted again; then he put two
fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly towards the pit, holding the
struggling lad all the time.

At the same moment a couple of heavily built men, evidently colliers,
came down the road from the village. George at once called to them from
across the palings.

"Here, you there! this young rascal has been throwing a lump of dirt at
Lady Tressady, and has hit her badly on the arm. Will you two just walk
him up to the police-station for me, while I take my wife home?"

The two men stopped and stared at the lady by the railings and at Sir
George holding the boy, whose white but grinning face was just visible in
the growing dusk.

"Noa," said one of them at last, "it's noa business ov ourn--is
it, Bill?"

"Noa," said the other, stolidly; and on they tramped.

"Oh, you heroes!" George flung after them. "Attacking a woman in the dark
is about what you understand!--Madan!"

He whistled again, and this time there was a hurrying from overhead.

"Sir George!"

"Come down here, will you, at once!"

In a few more minutes the boy was being marched up the road to the
police-station in charge of the strong-wristed Scotch manager, and George
was free to attend to Letty.

He adjusted a sling very fairly, then made her cling to him with her
sound arm; and they were soon inside their own gates.

"You can't climb this hill," he said to her anxiously. "Rest at the
lodge, and let me go for the brougham."

"I can walk perfectly well--and it will be much quicker."

Involuntarily, he was surprised to find her rather belittling than
exaggerating the ill. As they climbed on in the dark, he helping her as
much as he could, both could not but think of another accident and
another victim. Letty found herself imagining again and again what the
scene with Lady Maxwell, after the East End meeting, might have been
like; while, as for him, a face drew itself upon the rainy dusk, which
the will seemed powerless to blot out. It was a curious and unwelcome
coincidence. His secret sense of it made him the more restlessly kind.

"What were you in the village for?" he asked, bending to her; "I did not
know you had anything to do there!"

"I had been to see old Bessie Hammersley and Mrs. Batchelor," she
said, in a tone that tried to be stiff or indifferent. "Bessie begged,
as usual."

"That was very good of you. Have you been doing visiting, then, during
all these days I have been away?"

"Yes--a few people."

George groaned.

"What's the use of it--or of anything? They hate us and we them. This
strike begins to eat into my very being. And the men will be beaten soon,
and the feeling towards the employers will be worse than ever."

"You are sure they will be beaten?"

"Before Christmas, anyway. I daresay there will be some bad times first.
To think a woman even can't walk these roads without danger of
ill-treatment! How is one to have any dealings with the brutes, or any
peace with them?"

His rage and bitterness made her somehow feel her bruises less. She even
looked up in protest.

"Well, it was only a boy, and you used to think he wasn't all there."

"Oh! all there!" said George, scornfully. "There'd be half of them in
Bedlam if one had to make that excuse for them. There isn't a day passes
without some devilry against the non-union men somewhere. It was only
this morning I heard of two men being driven into a reservoir near
Rilston, and stoned in the water."

"Perhaps we should do the same," she said unwillingly.

"Lean on me more heavily--we shall soon be there. You think we should be
brutes too? Probably. We seem to be all brutes for each other--that's the
charming way this competitive world is managed. So you have been looking
after some of the old people, have you? You must have had a dull time of
it this last three weeks--don't think I don't know that!"

He spoke with emotion. He thought he felt her grasp waver a little on his
arm, but she did not speak.

"Suppose--when this business was over--I were to cut the whole
concern--let the pits and the house, and go right away? I daresay I
could."

"Could you?" she said eagerly.

"We shouldn't get so much money, you know, as in the best years. But
then it would be certain. What would you say to a thousand a year less?"
he asked her, trying to speak lightly.

"Well, it doesn't seem easy to get on with what we have--even if we had
it," she said sharply.

He understood the reference to his mother's debts, and was silent.

But evidently the recollection, once introduced, generated the usual heat
and irritation in her, for, as they neared the front door, she suddenly
said, with an acerbity he had not heard for some weeks:

"Of course, to have a country house, and not to be able to spend a
farthing upon it--to ask your friends, or have anything decent--is enough
to make anyone sick of it. And, above all, when we needn't have been here
at all this October--"

She stopped, shrinking from the rest of the sentence, but not before he
had time to think, "She say _that_!--monstrous!"

Aloud he coldly replied:

"It is difficult to see where I could have been but here, this October."

Then the door opened, and the light showed her to him pale, with lips
tight pressed from the pain of her injury. Instantly he forgot everything
but his natural pity and chivalry towards women. He led her in, and half
carried her upstairs. A little later she was resting on her bed, and he
had done everything he could for her till the doctor should come. She
seemed to have passed into an eclipse of temper or moodiness, and he got
little gratitude.

The evening post brought her a letter which he took up to her himself.
He knew the clear, rapid hand, and he knew, too, that Letty had received
many such during the preceding month. He stood beside her a moment,
almost on the point of asking her to let him see it. But the words died
on his lips. And, perceiving that she would not read it while he was
there, he went away again.

When he returned, carrying a new book and asking if he should read to
her, he found her lying with her cheek on her hand, staring into the
fire, and so white and miserable that his heart sank. Had he married her,
a girl of twenty-four, only to destroy her chance of happiness
altogether? A kind of terror seized him. He had been "good to her," so
far as she and his business had allowed him, since their return; there
had been very little outward jarring; but no one knew better than he that
there had not been one truly frank or reconciling moment.

His own inner life during these weeks had passed in one obscure
continuous struggle--a sort of dull fever of the soul. And she had simply
held herself aloof from him.

He knelt down beside her, and laid his face against hers.

"Don't look so unhappy!" he said in a whisper, caressing her free hand.
She did not answer or make any response till, as he got up again in a
kind of despair as to what to do or say next, she hastily asked:

"Has the constable been up here to see you?"

He looked at her in surprise.

"Yes. It is all arranged. The lad will be brought up before the
magistrates on Thursday."

She fidgeted, then said abruptly:

"I should like him to be let off."

He hesitated.

"That's very nice of you, but it wouldn't be very good for the district."

She did not press the matter, but as he moved away she said fretfully:

"I wish you'd read to me. The pain's horrid."

Thankful, in his remorse, to do anything for her, he tried to amuse and
distract her as he best could. But in the middle of a magazine story she
interrupted him:

"Isn't it the day after to-morrow your mother's coming?"

"According to her letter this morning." He put down the book. "But I
don't think you'll be at all fit to look after her. Shall I write
to-night and suggest that she stays in London a little?"

"No. I shall be all right, the doctor says. I want to tell
Esther"--Esther was the housemaid--"_not_ to get the Blue Room ready for
her. I looked in to-day, and it seemed damp. The back room over the
dining-room is smaller, but it's much warmer."

She turned to look at him with a rather flushed face.

"You know best," he said, smiling. "I am sure it will be all right. But I
sha'n't let her come unless you are better."

He went on reading till it grew late, and it seemed to him she was
dropping off to sleep. He was stealing off by way of the large
dressing-room near by, where he had been installed since their return,
when, she said faintly, "Good-night!"

He returned, and felt the drawing of her hot hand. He stooped and kissed
her. Then she turned away from him, and seemed to go instantly to sleep.

He went downstairs to his library, and gathered about him some documents
he had brought back from the last meeting of the masters' committee,
which had to be read. But in reality he spent an hour of random thought.
When would she herself tell him anything of her relations to Lady
Maxwell, of the nature and causes of that strange subjection which, as
he saw quite plainly, had been brought about? She must know that he
pined to know; yet she held her secret only the more jealously, no doubt
to punish him.

He thought of her visits to the village, half humorously, half sadly;
then of her speech about the Blue Room and his mother. They seemed to him
signs of some influence at work.

But at last he turned back to his papers with a long impatient sigh. The
clear pessimism with which he was wont to see facts that concerned
himself maintained that all the surrounding circumstance of the case was
as untoward as it could be--this dull house, a troubled district, his
money affairs, the perpetual burden of his mother, Letty's own thirst for
pleasure, and the dying down in himself of the feelings that might
once--possibly--have made up to her for a good deal. The feelings might
be simulated. Was the woman likely to be deceived? That she was capable
of the fiercest jealousy had been made abundantly plain; and such a
temper once roused would find a hundred new provocations, day by day, in
the acts and doings of a husband who had ceased to be a lover.

Two days later Lady Tressady arrived, with Justine, and her dogs, and
all her paraphernalia. She declared herself better, but she was a mere
shadow of the woman who had tormented George with her debts and
affectations at Malford House a twelvemonth before. She took Ferth
discontentedly, as usual, and was particularly cross with Letty's
assignment to her of the back room, instead of the larger spare room to
the front of the house.

"Damp?--nonsense!" she said to Justine, who was trying to soothe her on
the night she arrived. "I suppose Lady Tressady has some friend of her
own coming to stay--that's, of _course_, what it is. _C'est parfaitement
clair, je te dis--parfaitement!_"

The French maid reminded her that her daughter-in-law had said, on
showing her the room, she had only to express a wish to change, and the
arrangements should be altered at once.

"I daresay," cried Lady Tressady. "But I shall ask _no_ favours of
her--and that, of course, she knew."

"But, miladi, I need only speak to the housemaid."

"Thank you! Then afterwards, whenever I had a pain or a finger-ache, it
would be, 'I told you so!' No! she has managed it very cleverly--very
cleverly indeed!--and I shall let it alone."

Thenceforward, however, there were constant complaints of everything
provided for her--room, food, the dulness of the place, the manners of
her daughter-in-law. Whether it was that her illness had now reached a
stage when the will could no longer fight against it, and its only effect
was demoralising; or whether the strange flash of courage and natural
affection struck from the volatile nature by the first threat of death
could not in any case have maintained itself, it is hard to say. At any
rate, George also found it hard to keep up his new and better ways with
her. The fact was, he suffered through Letty. In a few days his
sympathies were all with her, and to his amazement he perceived before
long that, in spite of occasional sharp speeches and sulky moments that
only an angel could have forborne, she was really more patient under his
mother's idiosyncrasies than he was. Yet Lady Tressady, even now, was
rarely unmanageable in his presence, and could still restrain herself if
it was a question of his comfort and repose; whereas, it was clear that
she felt a cat-like impulse to torment Letty whenever she saw her.

One recent habit, however, bore with special heaviness on himself. Oddly
enough, it was a habit of religious discussion. Lady Tressady in health
had never troubled herself in the least as to what the doctors of the
soul might have to say, and had generally gaily professed herself a
sceptic in religious matters, mostly, as George had often thought, for
the sake of escaping all inconvenient restrictions--such as family
prayers, or keeping Sunday, or observing Lent--which might have got in
the way of her amusements.

But, now, poor lady, she was all curiosity and anxiety about this strange
other side of things, and inclined, too, to be rather proud of the
originality of her inquiries on the subject. So that night after night
she would keep George up, after an exhausting day, till the small hours,
while she declared her own views "on God, on Nature, and on Human Life,"
and endeavoured to extract his. This latter part of the exercise was
indeed particularly attractive to her; no doubt because of its
difficulty. George had been a singularly reserved person in these
respect's all his life, and had no mind now to play the part of a
coal-seam for his mother to "pike" at. But "pike" she would incessantly.

"Now, George, look here! what do you _really_ think about a future life?
Now don't try and get out of it! And don't just talk nonsense to me
because you think I'm ill. I'm not a baby--I really am not. Tell
me--seriously--what you think. Do you honestly expect there _is_ a
future life?"

"I've told you before, mother, that I have no particular thoughts on that
subject. It isn't in my line," George would say, smiling profanely, but
uneasily, and wondering how long this bout of it might be going to last.

"Don't be shocking, George! You _must_ have some ideas about it. Now,
don't hum and haw--just tell me what you think." And she would lean
forward, all urgency and expectation.

A pause, during which George could think only of the ghastly figure on
the sofa. She sat upright, generally, against a prop of cushions,
dressed in a white French tea-gown, slim enough to begin, with, but far
too large now for the shrunk form--a bright spot of rouge on either
pinched cheek, and the dyed "fringe" and "coils" covering all the once
shapely head. Meanwhile her hand would play impatiently on her knee.
The hand was skin and bone; and the rings with which it was laden would
often slip off from it to the floor--a diversion of which George was
always prompt to avail himself.

"Why don't you talk to Mr. Fearon, mother?" he would say gently at last.
"It's his business to discuss these things."

"Talk to a clergyman! thank you! I hope I have more respect for my own
intelligence. What can a priest do for you? What does he know more than
anybody else? But I do want to know what my own son thinks. Now, George,
just answer me. If there _is_ a future life"--she spread out her hand
slowly on her lap--"what do you suppose your father's doing at this
moment? That's a thing I often think of, George. I don't think I want a
future life if it's to be just like the past. You know--you remember how
he used to be--poking about the house, and going down to the pits,
and--and--swearing at the servants, and having rows with me about the
accounts--and all his dear dreadful little ways? Yet, what else in the
world can you imagine him doing? As to singing hymns!"

She raised her hands expressively.

George laughed, and puffed away at his cigarette. But as he still said
nothing Lady Tressady began to frown.

"That's the way you always get out of my questions," she said fretfully;
"it's so provoking of you."

"I've recommended you to the professional," he said, patting her hand.
"What else could I do?"

Her thin cheek flamed.

"As if we couldn't be certain, anyway," she cried, "that the Christians
don't know anything about it. As M. d'Estrelles used to say to me at
Monte Carlo, if there's one thing clear, it is that we needn't bother
ourselves with _their_ doctrines!"

"Needn't we?" said George. Then he looked at her, smiling. "And you think
M. d'Estrelles was an authority?"

Odd recollections began to run through his mind of this elderly
French admirer of his mother's, whom he had seen occasionally
flitting about their London lodgings when, as a boy, he came up from
Eton for his _exeat_.

"Oh! don't you scoff, George," said his mother, angrily. "M. d'Estrelles
was a very clever man, though he did gamble like a fool. Everybody said
his memory was marvellous. He used to quote me pages out of Voltaire and
the rest of them on the nights when we walked up and down the gardens at
Monte Carlo, after he'd cleared himself out. He always said he didn't see
why these things should be kept from women--why men shouldn't tell women
exactly what they think. And I know he'd been a Catholic in his youth, so
he'd had experience of both. However, I don't care about M. d'Estrelles.
I want your opinions. Now, George!"--her voice would begin to break--"how
can you be so unkind. You might really compose my mind a little, as the
doctors say!"

And through her incorrigible levity he would see for a moment the terror
which always possessed her raise its head. Then it would be time for him
to go and put his arm round her, and try and coax her to bed.

One night, after he had taken her upstairs, he came down so wearied and
irritable that he put all his letters aside, and tried to forget himself
in some miscellaneous reading.

His knowledge of literature was no more complete than his character.
Certain modern English poets--Rossetti, Morris, Keats, and Shelley--he
knew almost by heart. And in travels and biography--mostly of men of
action--he had, at one time or another, read voraciously. But "the
classics he had not read," as with most of us, would have made a list of
lamentable length.

Since his return to Ferth, however, he had browsed a good deal among the
books collected by his grandfather, mostly by way of distracting himself
at night from the troubles and worries of the day.

On this particular night there were two books lying on his table. One was
a volume of Madame de Sévigné, the other St. Augustine's "Confessions."
He turned over first one, then the other.

"Au reste, ma fille, une de mes grandes envies, ce serait d'être dévote;
je ne suis ni an Dieu, ni an Diable; cet état m'ennuie, quoiqu' entre
nous je le trouve le plus naturel du monde. On n'est point an Diable
parce qu'on craint Dieu, et qu' an fond on a un principe de religion; on
n'est point à Dieu aussi, parce que sa loi paroit dure, et qu' on n'aime
point à se détruire soi-même."

"Admirable!" he thought to himself, "_admirable!_ We are all there--my
mother and I--three parts of mankind."

But on a page of the other book he had marked these lines--for the
beauty of them:

"Beatus qui amat te, et amicum in te, et inimicum propter te. Solus enim
nullum eorum amittit, cui omnes in illo cari sunt qui non amittitur."

He hung over the fire, pondering the two utterances.

"A marvellous music," he thought of the last. "But I know no more what it
means than I know what a symphony of Brahms' means. Yet some say they
know. Perhaps of _her_ it might be true."

The weeks ran on. Outside, the strike was at its worst, though George
still believed the men would give in before Christmas. There was hideous
distress, and some bad rioting in different parts of the country. Various
attempts had been made by the employers to use and protect non-union
labour, but the crop of outrage they had produced had been too
threatening: in spite of the exasperation of the masters they had been
perforce let drop. The Press and the public were now intervening in good
earnest--"every fool thinks he can do our business for us," as George
would put it bitterly to Letty. Burrows was speaking up and down the
district with a superhuman energy, varied only by the drinking-bouts to
which he occasionally succumbed; and George carried a revolver with him
when he went abroad.

The struggle wore him to death; the melancholy of his temperament had
never been so marked. At the same time Letty saw a doggedness in him, a
toughness like Fontenoy's own, which astonished her. Two men seemed to be
fighting in him. He would talk with perfect philosophy of the miners'
point of view, and the physical-force sanction by which the lawless among
them were determined to support it; but at the same time he belonged to
the stiffest set among the masters.

Meanwhile, at home, friction and discomfort were constantly recurring.
In the course of three or four weeks Lady Tressady had several attacks
of illness, and it was evident that her weakness increased rapidly. And
with the weakness, alas! the ugly incessant irritability, that dried up
the tenderness of nurses, and made a battleground of the sick-room.
Though, indeed, she could never be kept in her room; she resented being
left a moment alone. She claimed, in spite of the anxieties of the
moment, to be constantly amused; and though George could sometimes
distract and quiet her, nothing that Letty did, or said, or wore was
ever tolerable to a woman who merely saw in this youth beside her a
bitter reminder of her own.

At last, one day early in November, came a worse turn than usual. The
doctor was in the house most of the day, but George had gone off before
the alarm to a place on the further side of the county, and could not be
got at till the evening.

He came in to find Letty waiting for him in the hall. There had been a
rally; the doctor had gone his way marvelling, and it was thought there
was no immediate danger.

"But oh, the pain!" said Letty, under her breath, pressing her hands
together, and shivering. Her eyes were red, her cheeks pale; he saw that
she was on the point of exhaustion; and he guessed that she had never
seen such a sight before.

He ran up to visit his mother, whom he found almost speechless from
weakness, yet waiting, with evident signs of impatience and temper, for
her evening food. And while he and Letty were at their melancholy dinner
together, Justine came flying downstairs in tears. Miladi would not eat
what had been taken to her. She was exciting herself; there would be
another attack.

Husband and wife hurried from the room. In the hall they found the butler
just receiving a parcel left by the railway delivery-cart.

George passed the box with an exclamation and a shudder. It bore a large
label, "From Worth et Cie," and was addressed to Lady Tressady. But Letty
stopped short, with a sudden look of pleasure.

"You go to her. I will have this unpacked."

He went up and coaxed his mother like a child to take her soup and
champagne. And presently, just as she was revived enough to talk to
him, Letty appeared. Her mother-in-law frowned, but Letty came gaily up
to the bed.

"There is a parcel from Paris for you," she said, smiling. "I have had it
opened. Would you like it brought in?"

Lady Tressady first whimpered, and said it should go back--what did a
dying woman want with such things?--then demanded greedily to see it.

Letty brought it in herself. It was a new evening gown of the softest
greens and shell-pinks, fit for a bride in her first season. To see the
invalid, ashen-grey, stretching out her hand to finger it was almost more
than George could stand. But Letty shook out the rustling thing, put on
the skirt herself that Lady Tressady might see, and paraded up and down
in it, praising every cut and turning with the most ingenious ardour.

"I sha'n't wear it, of course, till after Christmas," said Lady Tressady
at last, still looking at it with half-shut covetous eyes. "Isn't it
_darling_ the way the lace is put on! Put it away. George!--it's the
_first_ I've had from him this year."

She looked up at him appealingly. He stooped and kissed her.

"I am so glad you like it, mother dear. Can't you sleep now?"

"Yes, I think so. Good-night. And good-night, Letty."

Letty came, and Lady Tressady held her hand, while the blue eyes, still
bearing the awful impress of suffering, stared at her oddly.

"It was nice of you to put it on, Letty. I didn't think you'd have done
it. And I'm glad you think it's pretty. I wish you would have one made
like it. Kiss me."

Letty kissed her. Then George slipped his wife's arm in his, and they
left the room together. Outside Letty turned suddenly white, and nearly
fell. George put his arms round her, and carried her down to his study.
He put her on the sofa, and watched her tenderly, rubbing the cold hands.

"How you _could_," he said at last, in a low voice, when he saw that
she was able to talk; "how you _could!_ I shall never forget that
little scene."

"You'd have done anything, if you'd seen her this morning," she said,
with her eyes still closed.

He sat beside her, silent, thinking over the miseries of the last few
weeks. The net result of them--he recognised it with a leap of
surprise--seemed to have been the formation of a new and secret bond
between himself and Letty. During all the time he had been preparing
himself for the worst this strange thing had been going on. How had it
been possible for her to be, comparatively, so forbearing? He could see
nothing in his past knowledge of her to explain it.

He recalled the effort and gloom with which she had made her first
preparations for Lady Tressady. Yet she had made them. Is there really
some mystic power, as the Christians say, in every act of self-sacrifice,
however imperfect,--a power that represents at once the impelling and the
rewarding God,--that generates, moreover, from its own exercise, the
force to repeat itself? Personally such a point of view meant little to
him, nor did his mind dwell upon it long. All that he knew was that some
angel had stirred the pool--that old wounds smarted less--that hope
seemed more possible.

Letty knew quite well that he was watching her in a new way, that there
was a new clinging in his touch. She, little more than he, understood
what was happening to her. From time to time during these weeks of
painful tension there had been hours of wild rebellion, when she had
hated her surroundings, her mother-in-law, and her general ill-luck as
fiercely as ever. Then there had followed strange appeasements, and
inflowing calms--moments when she had been able somehow to express
herself to one who cared to listen who poured upon her in return a
sympathy which braced while it healed.

Suddenly she opened her eyes.

"Do you want to hear about that first time when she came to see me?" she
whispered, her look wavering under his.

He flushed and hesitated. Then he kissed her hand.

"No, not now. You are worn out. Another time. But I love you for thinking
of telling me."

A feeling of rest and well-being stole over her. Mercifully he made no
protestations, and she asked for none, but there was a gentle moving of
heart towards heart. And the memory of that hour, that night, made one of
the chief barriers between her and despair in the time that followed.

Two days later a painless death, death in her sleep, overtook Lady
Tressady. Her delicate face, restored to its true years, and framed in
its natural grey hair, seemed for the first time beautiful to George when
he saw her in her coffin. He could not remember admiring her, even when
he was a boy, and she was reckoned among the handsomest women of her day.
Parting with her was like the snapping of a strain that had pulled life
out of its true bearings and proportions. An immense, inevitable relief
followed. But after her death Letty never said a harsh word of her, and
George had a queer, humble feeling that after all he might be found to
owe her much.

For as November and December passed away the relation between the husband
and wife steadily settled and improved. "We shall rub along," George
said to himself in his frank, secret thoughts--"in the end it will be
much better perhaps than either of us could have hoped." That no doubt
was the utmost that could ever be said; but it was much.

The night after his mother's death, Letty abruptly, violently even, as
though worked up to it by an inner excitement, told him the story of her
wrestle with Marcella. Then, throwing some letters into his hand she
broke into sobbing and ran away from him. When he went to look for her
his own eyes were wet. "Who else could have done such a thing?" he said;
and Letty made no protest.

The letters gave him food for thought for many a day afterwards. They
were little less of a revelation to him than the motives and personality
lying behind them had been to Letty. In spite of all that he had felt for
the woman who had written them, they still roused in him a secret and
abiding astonishment. We use the words "spiritual," "poetic" in relation
to human conduct; we talk as though all that the words meant were
familiarly understood by us; and yet when the spiritual or the poetic
comes actually to walk among us, slips into the forms and functions of
our common life, we find it amazing, almost inhuman. It gives us some
trouble to take it simply, to believe in it simply.

Yet nothing in truth could be a more inevitable outcome of character and
circumstance than these letters of Marcella Maxwell to George Tressady's
wife. Marcella had suffered under a strong natural remorse, and to free
her heart from the load of it she had thrown herself into an effort of
reconciliation and atonement with all the passion, the subtlety, and the
resource of her temperament. She had now been wooing Letty Tressady for
weeks, nor had the eager contriving ability she had been giving to the
process missed its reward. Letty fresh from the new impressions made upon
her by Marcella at home, and Marcella as a wife, by a beauty she could no
longer hate, and a charm to which she had been forced to yield, had found
herself amid the loneliness and dulness of Perth gradually enveloped and
possessed anew by the same influence, acting in ways that grew week by
week more personal, and more subduing.

What to begin with could be more flattering either to heart or vanity
than the persistence with which one of the most famous women of her
time--watched, praised, copied, attacked, surrounded, as Letty knew her
to be, from morning till night--had devoted herself first to the
understanding, then to the capturing, of the smaller, narrower life. The
reaction towards a natural reserve, a certain proud, instinctive
self-defence, which had governed Marcella's manner during a great part of
Letty's visit to the Court, had been in these letters deliberately broken
down--at first with effort, then more and more frankly, more and more
sweetly. Day after day, as Letty knew, Marcella had taken time from
politics, from society, from her most cherished occupations, to write to
this far-off girl, from whom she had nothing either to gain or to fear,
who had no claims whatever on her friendship, had things gone normally,
while thick about the opening of their relation to each other hung the
memory of Letty's insults and Letty's violence.

And the letters were written with such abandonment! As a rule Marcella
was a hasty or impatient correspondent. She thought letters a waste of
time; life was full enough without them. But here, with Letty, she
lingered, she took pains. The mistress of Les Rochers writing to her
absent, her exacting Pauline, could hardly have been more eager to
please. She talked--at leisure--of all that concerned her--husband,
child, high politics, the persons she saw, the gaieties she bore with,
the books she read, the schemes in which she was busied; then, with
greater tenderness, greater minuteness, of the difficulties and tediums
of Letty's life at Ferth, as they had been dismally drawn out for her in
Letty's own letters. The animation, the eager kindness of it all went for
much; the amazing self-surrender, self-offering, implied in every page
for much more.

Strange!--as he read the letters George felt his own heart beating. Were
they in some hidden way meant for him too?--he seemed to hear in them a
secret message--a woman's yearning, a woman's response.

At any rate, the loving, reconciling effort had done its work. Letty
could not be insensible to such a flattery, a compliment so unexpected,
so bewildering--the heart of a Marcella Maxwell poured out to her for the
taking. She neither felt it so profoundly, nor so delicately as hundreds
of other women could have felt it. Nevertheless the excitement of it had
thrilled and broken up the hardnesses of her own nature. And with each
yielding on her part had come new capacity for yielding, new emotions
that amazed herself; till she found herself, as it were, groping in a
strange world, clinging to Marcella's hand, trying to express feelings
that had never visited her before, one moment proud of her new friend
with a pride half moral, half selfish, the next, ill at ease with her,
and through it all catching dimly the light of new ideals.

One day, as George walked into Letty's sitting-room, to discuss some
small business of the afternoon, he saw on her writing-table that same
photograph of Lady Maxwell and her boy, whereof an earlier copy had come
to such a tragic end in Letty's hands. He walked up to it with an
exclamation; Letty was not in the room. Suddenly, however, she came in.
He made no attempt whatever to disguise that he had been looking at the
photograph; he bent over it indeed a moment longer, deliberately. Then,
walking away to the window, he began speaking of the matter which had
brought him to look for his wife. Letty answered absently. The colour had
rushed to her face. Her hands fidgeted with the books and papers on her
table, and her mind was full of fevered remembrance.

Presently George, having settled the little point he came to speak of,
fell silent. But he still stood by the window, looking out through the
rain-splashed glass to the wintry valley below with its chimneys and
straggling village. Letty, who was pretending to write a note, raised her
head, looked at him--the quick breath beating through the parted lips,
the blue eyes half wild, half miserable. She was not nearly so pretty as
she had been a year before. George had often noticed it; it made part of
his remorse. But the face was more troubling, infinitely more human;
and, in truth, he knew it much better, was more sensitively alive to it,
so to speak, than he ever had been in the days of their courtship.

Before he left the room he came back to her, put his arm round her
shoulders and kissed her hair. She did not raise her head or say
anything. But when he had gone she looked up with a sudden fierce sob,
took the photograph from its place, and thrust it angrily into the drawer
in front of her. Afterwards she sat for some minutes, motionless, with
her handkerchief at her lips, trying to choke down the tears that had
seized her. And last of all, with trembling fingers, she took out the
picture again, wrapped it in some soft tissue paper that lay near, as
though propitiating it, and once more put it out of sight.

What had made her first ask Marcella for it, and then place it on her
table where George might, nay, must see it? Some vague wish, no doubt, to
"make up"; to punish herself, while touching him. But the recollection of
him, bending over the picture, tortured her, gripped her at the heart for
many a day afterwards. She let it be seen no more. Yet that week she
wrote more fully, more incoherently, more piteously to Marcella than ever
before. She talked, not without bitterness and injustice, of her bringing
up, asked what she should read, spread out her puzzles with the poor, or
with her household--half angrily, as though she were accusing someone.
For the first time, as it were, she was seeking a teacher in the art of
living. And though the tone was still querulous, she knew, and Marcella
presently dared to guess, that the ugly house on the hill had in truth
ceased to be in the least dull or burdensome to her. George went in and
out of it. And for the woman that has come to hunger for her husband's
step, there is no more ennui.

       *       *       *       *       *

Letty indeed hardly knew the strength of her own position. The reading
of Lady Maxwell's letters to his wife had cleared a number of relics
and fragments from George's mind. The day of passion was done.
Yes!--but to see her frequently, to be brought back into any of the old
social or political relations to her and Maxwell, from this his pride
shrank no less than his conscience. Yet there was a large party in his
constituency, and belonging to it some of the men whose probity and
intelligence he had come to rate most highly, who were pressing him
hard not to resign in February, and, indeed, not to resign at all. The
few public meetings he had so far addressed had been stormy indeed, but
on the whole decidedly friendly to him, and it was urged that he must
at least present himself for re-election, in which case his expenses
should be borne, and he should be left as unpledged as possible. Since
the passage of the Bill Fontenoy's reactionary movement had lost ground
largely in the constituency; and the position of independent member
with a general leaning to the Government was no doubt easily open to
George Tressady.

But his whole soul shrank from such a renewal of the effort of
politics--probably because of that something in him, that enfeebling,
paralysing something, which in all directions made him really prefer the
half to the whole, and see barriers in the way of all enthusiasms.
Nevertheless, the arguments he had to meet, and the kind persuasions he
had to rebut, made these weeks all the more trying to him.

The second week of December came, the beginning of the end so far as the
strike was concerned. The men's resources were exhausted; the masters
stood unbroken. They had met the men in a joint committee; but they had
steadily refused arbitration from outside. At the beginning of this week,
rioting broke out in a district where the Union had least strength,
caused, no doubt, by the rage of impending failure. By the middle of the
following week, men were going in here and there, and the stampede of
defeat had begun.

George, passing through the pinched and lowering faces that lined the
village, hated the triumph of his class. On the 21st, he rode over to a
neighbouring town, where local committees, both of masters and men,
were sitting, to see if there was any final news as to the pits of his
own valley.

About eight o'clock in the evening Letty heard his horse's hoofs
returning. She knew that he was accustomed to ride in the dark, but the
rumours of violence and excitement that filled the air had unnerved her,
and she had been listening to every sound for some time past.

When the door was open she ran out.

"Yes, I'm late," said George, in answer to her remonstrances; "but it is
all right--it was worth waiting for. The thing's over. Some of the men go
down to-morrow week, and the rest as we can find room for them."

"On the masters' terms?"

"Of course--or all but."

She clapped her hands.

"Oh, for goodness' sake, don't!" he said, as he hung up his hat, and she,
supposing that he was irritable from over-fatigue, managed to overlook
the sharpness of his tone.

Their Christmas passed in solitude. George, more and more painfully alive
to the disadvantages of Ferth as the home of a young woman with a natural
love of gaiety, had tried, in spite of their mourning, to persuade Letty
to ask some friends to spend Christmas week with them. She had refused,
however, and they were still alone when the end of the strike arrived.

The day before the men were to go back to work, George returned late from
a last meeting of the employers. Letty had begun dinner, and when he
walked into the dining-room she saw at once that some unusual excitement
or strain had befallen him.

"Let me have some food!" was all he would say in answer to her first
questions, and she let him alone. When the servants were gone he
looked up.

"I have had a shindy with Burrows, dear--rather a bad one. But that's
all. I walked down to the station with Ashton"--Ashton was a
neighbouring magistrate and coal-owner--"and there we found Valentine
Burrows. Two or three friends were in charge of him, and it has been
given out lately that he has been suffering from nervous breakdown,
owing to his exertions. All that I could see was that he was drunker
than usual--no doubt to drown defeat. Anyway, directly he saw me he
made a scene--foamed and shouted. According to him, I am at the bottom
of the men's defeat. It is all my wild-beast delight in the sight of
suffering,--my love of 'fattening on the misery of the collier,'--my
charming villanies of all sorts--that are responsible for everything.
Altogether he reached a fine flight! Then he got violent--tried to get
at me with his knobbed stick. Ashton and I, and the men with him,
succeeded in quelling him without bothering the police.--I don't think
anything more will come of it."

And he stretched out his hand to some salted almonds, helping himself
with particular deliberation.

After dinner, however, he lay down on a sofa in Letty's sitting-room,
obliged to confess himself worn out. She made him comfortable, and after
she had given him a cushion, she suddenly bent over him from behind and
kissed him.

"Come here!" he said, with a smile, throwing up his hand to catch her.
But with an odd blush and conscious look, she eluded him.

When, a little later, she came to sit by him with some needle-work she
found him restless and inclined to talk.

"I wonder if we are always to live in this state of war for one's
bread and butter!" he said, impatiently throwing down a newspaper he
had been reading. "It doesn't tend to make life agreeable--does it?
Yet what on earth--"

He threw back his head, with a stiff protesting air, staring
across the room.

Letty had the sudden impression that he was not talking to her at all,
but to some third person, unseen.

"_Either_ capital gets its fair remuneration"--he went on in an
argumentative voice--"and ability its fair wages--_or_ the Marxian state,
labour-notes, and the rest of it. There is no half-way house--absolutely
none. As for me, I am not going to lend my capital for nothing--nor to
give my superintendence for nothing. And I don't ask exorbitant pay for
either. It is quite simple. My conscience is quite clear."

"I should think so!" said Letty, resentfully. "I wonder whether
Marcella--is all for the men? She has never mentioned the strike in
her letters."

As the Christian name slipped out, she flushed, and he was conscious of a
curious start. But the breaking through of a long reticence was
deliberate on Letty's part.

"Very likely she is all for the men," he said drily, after a pause. "She
never could take a strike calmly. Her instinct always was to catch hold
of any stick that could beat the employers--Watton and I used often to
tease her about it."

He threw himself back against the sofa, with a little laugh that was
musical in Letty's ear. It was the first time that Lady Maxwell's name
had been mentioned between them in this trivial, ordinary way. The
young wife sat alert and straight at her work, her cheek still pink,
her eyes bright.

But after a silence, George suddenly sprang up to pace the little room,
and she heard him say, under his breath, "_But who am I, that I should
be coercing them and trampling on them!--men old enough to be my
father--driving them down to-morrow--while I sleep--for a dog's wage!_"

"George, what is the matter with you?" she cried, looking at him in
real anxiety.

"Nothing! _nothing!_--Darling, who's ill? I saw the old doctor on the
road home, and he threw me a word as he passed about having been
here--looked quite jolly over it. What's wrong--one of the servants?"

Letty put down her work upon her knee and her hands upon it. She grew red
and pale; then she turned away from him, pressing her face into the back
of her chair.

He flew to her, and she murmured in his ear.

       *       *       *       *       *

What she said was by no means all sweetness. There was mingled with it
much terror and some anger. Letty was not one of the women who take
maternity as a matter of course.

But emotion and natural feeling had their way. George was dissolved in
joy. He threw himself at her feet, resting his head against her knee.

"If he doesn't have your eyes and hair I'll disinherit him," he said,
with a gaiety which seemed to have effaced all his fatigue.

"I don't want him," was her pettish reply; "but if _she_ has your chin,
I'll put her out to nurse. Oh! how I hate the thought of it!" and she
shuddered.

He caught her hand, comforting her. Then, putting up both his own, he
drew her down to him.

"After all, little woman, it hasn't turned out so badly?" he said in her
ear, with sad appeal. Their lips met, trembling. Suddenly Letty broke
into passionate weeping. George sprang up, gathered her upon his knee,
and they sat for long, in silence, clinging to each other.

At last Letty drew back from him, pushing a hand against his shoulder.

"You know--you didn't care a bit for me--when you married me," she said,
half bitter, half crying.

"Didn't I? And you?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Oh! I don't remember!" she said hurriedly, and dropped her face on his
coat again.

"Well, we are going to care for each other," he said in a low voice,
after a pause. "That's what matters now, isn't it?"

She made no reply, but she put up a hand, and touched his face. He turned
his lips to the hand and kissed it tenderly. There was a sore, sad spot
in each heart; and neither dared to look forward. But tonight there was a
sense of belonging to each other in a new and sacred way, of being drawn
apart, separated from the world, husband and wife, together. Through
George's mind there wandered half-astonished thoughts about this strange
compelling power of marriage,--the deep grip it makes on life--the almost
mechanical way in which it bears down resistance, provided only that
certain compunctions, certain scruples still remain for it to work on.

George slept lightly, being over-tired. All through the night the vision
of the beaten men going down sullenly to their first shift seemed to
hold him as though in a nightmare.

Between seven and eight o'clock a sound startled him. He found himself
standing by his bed, struggling to wake and collect himself.

A sound that had shaken the house, passing like a dull thud through the
valley? A horror seized him. He looked at Letty, who was fast asleep;
then he walked noiselessly into his dressing-room, and began to hurry on
his clothes.

Five minutes later he was running down the hill at his full speed. It was
bitterly cold and still; the first snow lay on the grass, and a raw grey
veil hung over the hills. As he came in sight of the distant pit-bank he
saw a crowd of women swarming up it; a confused and hideous sound of
crying and shrieking came to his ears; and at the same moment a boy,
panting and dead-white, ran through the lodge-gates to meet him.

"Where is it, Sprowston?"

"Oh, sir, it's No. 2 pit. The damp's comin up the upcast, and the cage is
blown to pieces. But the down shaft's all right, and Mr. Madan and Mr.
Macgregor were starting down as I come away. There was eighty-six men and
boys went down first shift."

George groaned, and rushed on.



CHAPTER XXIV


England knows these scenes too well!

When Tressady, out of breath with running, reached the top of the bank,
and threw a hurried look in front of him, his feeling was that he had
seen everything before--the wintry dawn, the crowds of pale men and
weeping women ranged on either hand, the police keeping the ground round
the shafts clear for the mine officials--even the set white face of his
manager, who, with Macgregor the fireman and two hewers, had just emerged
from the cage that was waiting at the mouth of the downcast shaft.

As soon as Madan saw Tressady rounding the corner of the engine-house he
hurried towards his employer.

"Have you been down yet?" Tressady cried to him.

"Just come up, sir. We got about fifty yards--air fairly good--then we
found falls along the main intake. We got over three or four, till the
damp rose on us too bad--we had a rough bit getting back. I thought you'd
be here by now. Macgregor thinks from the direction in which things were
lying that the blast had come from Holford's Heading or thereabouts."

And the manager hastily opened a map of the colliery he was carrying in
his hand against the wall of the engine-house, and pointed to the spot.

"How many men there?"

"About thirty-two in the workings round about--as near as I can
reckon it."

"Any sign of the rest? How many went down?"

"Eighty-six. A cageful of men and lads--just them from the
shaft-bottom--got up immediately after the explosion. Since then, not a
sound from anyone! The uptake shaft is chock-full of damp. Mitchell, in
the fan-room, had to run for it at first, it was coming up so fast."

"Good God!" said George, under his breath; and the two men eyed each
other painfully.

"Have you sent for the inspector?" said Tressady, after a moment.

"He ought to be here in five minutes now, sir."

"Got some baulks together?"

"The men are piling them by the shaft at this moment."

"Fan uninjured?"

"Yes, sir--and speed increased."

Followed by Madan, Tressady walked up to the shaft, and himself
questioned Macgregor and the two hewers.

Then he beckoned to Madan, and the two walked in close converse towards
the lamphouse, discussing a plan of action. As they passed slowly along
the bank the eyes of the miserable terror-stricken throng to either side
followed every movement. But there was not a sound from anyone. Once
Tressady looked up and caught the faces of some men near him--dark
faces, charged with a meaning that seemed instantly to stiffen his own
nerve for what he had to do.

"I give Dixon three more minutes," he said, impatiently looking at his
watch; "then we go down without him."

Dixon was the inspector. He was well known throughout the district, a
plucky, wiry fellow, who was generally at the pit's mouth immediately
after an accident, ready and keen to go with any rescue party on any
errand, however dangerous--purely, as he himself declared, for
professional and scientific reasons. In this case, he lived only a mile
away, on the further side of the village, so that Madan's messenger had
not far to go.

As he spoke, George felt his arm clutched from behind. He turned, and saw
Mary Batchelor, who had come forward from a group of women.

"Sir George! Listen 'ere, Sir George." Her lined face and tear-blurred
eyes worked with a passion of entreaty. "The boy went down at five with
the rest. Don't yer bear 'im no malice. Ee's a poor sickly creetur, an
the Lord an't give 'im the full use of his wits."

George smiled at the poor thing's madness, and touched her kindly on
the shoulder.

"Don't you trouble yourself, Mary; all that can be done will be done--for
everybody. We are only giving Mr. Dixon another minute; then we go down.
Look here"--he drew her inside the door of the lamproom, which happened
to be close by, for an open-mouthed group, eager to hear whatever he
might be saying, had begun to press about them. "Can you take this
message from me up to the house? There'll be no news here, you know, for
a long time, and I left Lady Tressady asleep."

He tore a half-sheet from the letter in his pocket, scribbled a few words
upon it, and put it into Mary's hand.

The woman, with her shawl over her head, ran past the lamphouse towards
the entrance-gate as fast as her age would let her, while George
rejoined Madan.

"Ah, there he is!"

For the small, lean figure of the inspector was already passing the gate.

Tressady hurried to meet him.

By the time the first questions and answers were over, Tressady, looking
round for Madan, saw that the manager was speaking angrily to a tall man
in a rough coat and corduroy trousers who had entered the pit premises in
the wake of Mr. Dixon.

"You take yourself off, Mr. Burrows! You're not wanted here."

"Madan!" called Tressady, "attend to Mr. Dixon, please. I'll see to
that man."

And he walked up to Burrows, while the men standing near crowded over the
line they had been told to keep.

"What do you want?" he said, as he reached the newcomer.

"I have come to offer myself for the rescue party. I've been a working
miner for years. I've had special experience in accidents before. I can
beat anybody here in physical strength."

As he spoke the great heavily built fellow looked round him, and a
murmur of assenting applause came from the bystanders.

Tressady studied him.

"Are you fit?" he said shortly.

Burrows flushed. Tressady's penetrating look forced his own to meet it.

"As fit as you are," was his haughty reply.

"Well"--said Tressady, slowly, "we don't want to be refusing strong men.
If Madan'll have you, you shall come. Mind, we're all under his orders."

He went to the manager, and said a word in his ear. Madan, in response,
vouchsafed neither look nor remark to the man, whom he hated apparently
more bitterly than his employer did. But he made no further objection to
his joining the search party.

Presently all preparations were made. Picked bands of firemen and
timbermen descended first, with Madan at their head. Then George, Mr.
Dixon, a couple of local doctors who had hurried up to offer their
services, and Burrows.

As they shot down into the darkness George was conscious of a strange
exhilaration. Working on the indications given him by the first exploring
party, his mind was alive with conjectures as to the cause of the
accident, and with plans for dealing with the various obstacles that
might occur. Never during these weeks of struggle and noise and
objurgation had he felt so fit, so strenuous. At the bottom of the shaft
he had even to remind himself, with a shudder, of the dead men who must
be waiting for them in these blank depths.

For some little distance from the shaft nothing was to be seen that
spoke of an explosion. Some lamps in the porch of the shaft and along the
main roadway were burning as usual, and the "journey" of trucks, from
which the "hookers-on" and engine-men had escaped at the first sign of
danger, was standing laden in the entrance of the mine. The door of the
under-manager's cabin, near the base of the shaft, was open. Madan looked
into the little den, where the lamp was still burning on the wall, and
groaned. The young fellow who was generally to be found there was a great
friend of his, and they attended the same chapel together. A little
farther an open cupboard was noticed with a wisp of spun yarn hanging out
from it--inflammable stuff, quite untouched. But about thirty yards
farther they came upon the first signs of mischief. A heavy fall of roof
had to be scrambled over, and beyond it afterdamp was clearly
perceptible.

Here there was an exclamation from Burrows, who was to the front, and the
first victim showed out of the dark in the pale glow-worm light of the
lamps turned upon him. A man lay on his side, close against the wall,
with an unlocked lamp in his hands, which were badly burnt. But no other
part of him was burnt, and it was clear that he had died of afterdamp in
trying to escape. He had evidently come from one of the nearer
work-places, and fallen within a few yards of safety. The inspector
pounced upon the lamp at once, while the doctors knelt by the body. But
in itself the lamp told little. If it were the illegal unlocking of a
lamp that caused the disaster, neither this lamp nor this man could be at
fault; for he had died clearly on the verge of the explosion area, and
from the after-effects of the calamity. But the inspector, who had
barely looked at the dead man, turned the lamp round in his hands,
dissatisfied.

"Bad pattern! bad pattern! If I had my way I'd fine every manager whose
lamps _could_ be unlocked," he said to himself, but quite audibly.

"The fireman may have unlocked it, sir, to re-light his own or someone
else's," said Madan, stiffly, put at once on his defence.

"Oh! I know you're within your legal right, Mr. Madan," said the
inspector, briskly. "_I_ haven't the making of the laws."

And he sat down on the floor, taking the lamp to pieces, and bending his
shrewd, black-eyed face over it, all the time that the doctors were
examining its owner. He was, perhaps, one of the most humane men in his
profession, but a long experience had led him to the conclusion that in
these emergencies the fragments of a lamp, or a "tamping," or a "shot,"
matter more to the community than dead men.

Meanwhile George crouched beside the doctors, watching them. The owner of
the lamp was a strong, fair-haired young man, without a mark on him
except for the burning of the hands, the eyes quietly shut, the face at
peace. One of the colliers in the search party had burst out crying when
he saw him. The lad was his nephew, and had been a favourite in the pit,
partly because of his prowess as a football player. But the young life
had gone out irrevocably. The doctor shook his head as he lifted himself,
and they left him there, in order not to waste any chance of getting out
the living first.

Twenty yards farther on three more bodies were found, two oldish men and
a boy, very little burnt. They also had been killed in escaping, dragged
down by the inexorable afterdamp.

A little beyond this group a fall of mingled stone and coal from the roof
blocked the way so heavily that the hewers and timbermen had to be set to
work to open out and shore up before a passage could be made. Meanwhile
the air in the haulage road was clearing fast, and George could sit on a
lump of stone and watch the dim light playing on the figures of the men
at work. The blows struck echoed from floor to roof; the work of the bare
arms and backs, as they swayed and jerked, woke a clamour in the mine.
Were there any ears still to listen for them beyond that mass? He could
scarcely keep a limb quiet, as he sat looking on, for impatience and
excitement. Burrows meanwhile was wielding a pick with the rest, and
George envied him the bodily skill and strength that, in spite of his
irregular ways of life, were still left to him.

To restore the ventilation-current was their first object, and the
foremost pick had no sooner gained the roadway on the other side than a
strong movement of the air was perceptible. Madan's face cleared. The
ventilation circuit between the downcast and upcast shafts must be
already in some sort re-established. Let them only get a few more
"stoppings" and brattices put temporarily to rights, and the fan, working
at its increased speed, would soon drive the renewed air-currents forward
again, and make it possible to get all over the mine. The hole made was
quickly enlarged, and the rescuers scrambled through.

But still fall after fall on the further side delayed their progress,
and the work of repairing the blown-out stoppings by such wood brattice
as could be got at, was long and tedious. The rescuers toiled and
sweated, pausing every now and then to draw upon the food and drink sent
up from behind; and the hours flew unheeded. At last, upon the further
side of one of the worst of these falls--a loose mingled mass of rock and
coal--they came on indications that showed them they had reached the
centre and heart of the disaster. A door leading on the right to one of
the side-roads of the pit known as Holford's Heading was blown outwards,
and some trucks from the heading had been dashed across the main intake,
and piled up in a huddled and broken mass against the farther wall. Just
inside that door lay victim after victim, mostly on their faces, poor
fellows! as they had come running out from their stalls at the noise of
the explosion, only to meet the fiery blast that killed them. Two or
three had been flung violently against the sides of the heading, and were
left torn, with still bleeding wounds, as well as charred and blackened
by the flame. Of sixteen men and boys that lay in this place of death,
not one had survived to hear the stifled words--half groans, half sobs,
of the comrades who had found them.

"But, thank God! no torture, no _thought_," said George to himself as he
went from face to face; "an instant--a flash--then nothingness."

Many of the men were well known to him. He had seen them last hanging
about the village street, pale with famine--the hatred in their eyes
pursuing him.

He knelt down an instant beside an elderly man whom he could remember
since he was quite a boy--a weak-eyed, sallow fellow, much given to
preaching--much given, too, it was said, to beating his wife and
children, as the waves of excitement took him. Anyway, a fellow who could
feel, whose nerves stung and tormented him, even in the courses of
ordinary life. He lay with his eyes half open, the face terribly
scorched, the hands clenched, as though he still fought with the death
that had overcome him.

George covered the man's face with a handkerchief as the doctor left the
body. "_He_ suffered," he said, under his breath. The doctor heard him,
and nodded sadly.

Hark! What was that? A cry--a faint cry!

"They're some of them alive in the end workings," cried Madan, with a sob
of joy. "Come on, my lads! come on!"

And the party--all but Mr. Dixon--leaving the dead, pushed on through
the foul atmosphere, over heaps of fallen stone and coal, in quest of
the living.

"Leave me a man," said Mr. Dixon, detaining the manager a moment. "I stay
here. You have enough with you. If I judge right, it all began here."

A collier stayed with him, unwillingly, panting all the time under the
emotion of the rescue the man imagined but was not to see.

For while the inspector measured and sketched, far up the heading, in
some disused workings off a side-dip or roadway, Burrows was the first to
come upon twenty-five men, eighteen of whom were conscious and uninjured.
Two of them had strength enough, as they heard the footsteps and shouts
approaching, to stagger out into the heading to meet their rescuers. One,
a long, thin lad, came forward with leaps and gambols, in spite of his
weakness, and fell almost at Tressady's feet. As he recognised the tall
man standing above him, his bloodless mouth twitched into a broad grin.

"I say, give us a chance. Take me out--won't you?"

It was Mary Batchelor's grandson. In retribution for the assault on Letty
the lad had been sentenced to three weeks' imprisonment, and George had
not seen him since. He stooped now, and poured some brandy down the boy's
throat. "We'll get you out directly," he said, "as soon as we've looked
to the others."

"There's some on 'em not worth takin out," said the boy, clinging to
George's leg. "They're dead. Take me out first." Then, with another grin,
as George disengaged himself, "Some on em's prayin."

Indeed, the first sight of that little group was a strange and touching
one. About a dozen men sat huddled round one of their number, a Wesleyan
class-leader, who had been praying with them and reciting passages from
St. John. All of them, young or old, were dazed and bent from the effects
of afterdamp, and scarcely one of them had strength to rise till they
were helped to their feet. Nevertheless, the cry which had been heard by
their rescuers had not been a cry for help, but the voices of the little
prayer-meeting raised feebly through the darkness in the Old Hundredth.

A little distance from the prayer-meeting, the sceptics of the party
leant against the wall or lay along the floor, unheeding; while seven
men were unconscious, and possibly dying. Two or three young fellows
meanwhile, who had been least touched by the afterdamp, had "amused
themselves," as they said, by riding up and down the neighbouring level
on the "jummer" or coal-truck of one of them.

"Weren't you afraid?" Tressady asked one of these, turning a curious look
at him, while the doctors were examining the worst cases, and rough men
were sobbing and shaking each other's hands off.

"Noa," said the young hewer, his face, like something cut out in
yellowish wax, returning the light from Tressady's lamp. "Noa, theer was
cumpany. Old Moses, there--ee saved us."

Old Moses was the leader of the prayer-meeting. He was a fireman besides,
who had been for twenty-six years in the mine. At the time of the
explosion, it appeared, he had been in a working close to that door on
the heading where death had done so ghastly and complete a work. But the
flame in its caprice had passed him by, and he and another man had been
able to struggle through the afterdamp back along the heading, just in
time to stem the rush of men and boys from the workings at the farther
end. These men were at the moment in a madness of terror, and ready even
to plunge into the white death-mist advancing to meet them, obeying only
the instinct of the trapped animal to "get out." But Moses was able to
control them, to draw them back by degrees along the heading till, in the
distant workings where they were found, the air was more tolerable, and
they could wait for rescue.

George was the first to help the old fireman to his feet. But instead of
listening to any praises of his own conduct, he was no sooner clinging to
Tressady's arm than he called to Madan:

"Mr. Madan, sir!"

"Aye, Moses."

"Have ye heard aught of them in the West Heading yet?"

"No, Moses; we must get these fellows out first. We'll go there next."

"I left thirty men and boys there this morning at half-past six. It was
fair thronged up with them." The old man's voice shook.

Meanwhile Madan and the doctors were busy with the transport of the seven
unconscious men, some of whom were already dying. Each of them had to be
carried on his back by two men, and as soon as the sick procession was
organised it was seen that only three of the search party were left
free--Tressady, Burrows, and the Scotch fireman, Macgregor.

Up the level and along the heading, past the point where Dixon was still
at work, over the minor falls that everywhere attested the range of the
explosion, and through the pools of water that here and there gathered
the drippings of the mine, the seven men were tenderly dragged or
carried, till at last the party regained the main intake or roadway.

George turned to Madan.

"You will have your hands full with these poor fellows. Macgregor and
I--Mr. Burrows, if he likes--will push on to the West Heading."

Madan looked uneasy.

"You'd better go up, Sir George," he said, in a low voice, "and let me
go on. You don't know the signs of the roof as I do. Eight or nine hours
after an explosion is the worst time for falls. Send down another shift,
sir, as quick as you can."

"Why should you risk more than I?" said George, quietly. "Stop! What time
is it?" He looked at his watch. Five o'clock--nearly nine hours since
they descended! He might have guessed it at three, if he had been asked.
Time in the midst of such an experience contracts to a pin's point. But
the sight of the watch stirred a pang in him.

"Send word at once to Lady Tressady," he said, in Madan's ear, drawing
the manager to one side. "Tell her I have gone on a little farther, and
may be another hour or two in getting back. If she is down at the bank,
beg her from me to go home. Tell her the chances are that we may find the
other men as safe as these."

Madan acquiesced reluctantly. George then plundered him of some dry
biscuits--of some keys, moreover, that might be useful in opening one or
two locked doors farther up the workings.

"Macgregor, you'll come?"

"Aye, Sir George."

"You, Mr. Burrows?"

"Of course," said Burrows, carelessly, throwing back his handsome head.

Some of the rescued men turned and looked hard at their agent and leader
with their sunken eyes. Others took no notice. His prestige had been lost
in defeat; and George had noticed that they avoided speech with him. No
doubt this rescue party had presented itself to the agent as an opening
he dare not neglect.

"Come on, then," said George; and the three men turned back towards the
interior of the pit.

Old Moses, from whose clutch George had just freed himself, stopped short
and looked after them. Then he raised a hoarse voice:

"Be you going to the West Heading, Sir George?"

"Yes," George flung back over his shoulder, already far away.

"The Lord go with yer, Sir George!"

No answer. The old man, breathing hard, caught hold of one of his
stronger comrades and tottered on towards the shaft. Two or three of his
fellows gathered round him. "Aye," said one of them, out of Madan's
hearing, "ee's been a-squeezing of us through the ground, ee ave, but
ee's a plucky lot, is the boss."

"They do say as Burrers slanged 'im fine at the station yesterday," said
another, hoarsely. "Called 'im the devil untied, one man told me."

The first speaker, still haggard and bowed from the poison in his blood,
made no reply, and the movement of old Moses' lips, as he staggered
forward, helped on by the two others, his head hanging on his breast,
showed that he was praying.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile George and his two companions pushed cautiously on, Macgregor
trying the roof with his lamp from time to time for signs of fire-damp.
Two seams of coal were worked in the mine, one of which was "fiery." No
naked lights, therefore, were allowed, and all "shots" or charges for
loosening the coal were electrically fired.

As they walked, they spoke now and then of the possible cause of the
disaster: whereof Dixon, as they passed him, had bluntly declined to say
a word till his task was done. George, with the characteristic contempt
of intelligence for the blunderer, threw out a few caustic remarks as to
the obstinate disobedience or carelessness of a certain type of
miner--disobedience which, in his own experience even, had already led to
a score of fatal accidents. Burrows, irritated apparently by his tone,
took up a provoking line of reply. Suppose a miner, set to choose between
the risk of bringing the coal-roof down on his head for lack of a proper
light to work by, and the risk of "being blown to hell" by the opening of
his lamp, did a mad thing sometimes, who were other people that they
should blame him? His large, ox-like eyes, clear in the light of his
lamp, turned a scornful defiance on his companion. "Try it yourself, my
fine gentleman"--that was what the expression of them meant.

"He doesn't only risk his own life," said George, shortly. "That's the
answer.--I say, Macgregor, isn't this the door to the Meadows Pit? If
anything cut us off from the shaft, and supposing we couldn't get round
yet by the return, we might have to try it, mightn't we?"

Macgregor assented, and George as he passed stepped up to the heavy
wooden door, and tried one of the keys he held, that he might be sure of
opening it in case of need.

The door had been unopened for long, and he shook it backwards and
forwards to make the key bite.

Meanwhile Macgregor had lingered a little behind, while Burrows had
walked on. Suddenly, above the rattle of the door a cracking noise was
heard. A voice of agony rang through the roadway.

"Run, Sir George! run!"

A rattle like thunder roared through the mine. It was heard at the
pithead, and the people crowded there ran hither and thither in dismay,
thinking it was another explosion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hours passed. At last in George's numbed brain there was a faint stir of
consciousness. He opened his eyes slowly.

Oh, horror! oh, cruelty! to come back from merciful nothingness and peace
to this burning anguish, not to be borne, of body and mind. "I had died,"
he thought--"it was done with," and a wild, impotent rage, as against
some brutality done him, surged through him.

A little later he made a first slight movement, which was answered at
once by another movement on the part of a man sitting near him. The man
bent over him in the darkness and felt for his pulse.

"Burrows!" The whisper was just perceptible.

"Yes, Sir George."

"What has happened? Where is Macgregor? Give me some brandy--there, in my
inner pocket."

"No; I have it. Can you swallow it? I have tried several times before,
but your mouth was set--it ran down my fingers."

"Give it me."

Their fingers met, George feeling for the flask. As he moved his arm a
groan of anguish broke from him.

"Drink it--if you possibly can."

George put all the power of his being into the effort to swallow a few
drops. Still the anguish! "O God, my back! and the legs--paralysed!"

The words were only spoken in the brain, but it seemed to him that he
cried them aloud. For a moment or two the mind swam again; then the
brandy began to sting.

He slid down a hand slowly, defying the pain it caused him, to feel his
right leg. The trouser round the thigh hung in ribbons, but the fragments
lying on the flesh were caked and hard; and beneath him was a pool. His
reason worked with difficulty, but clearly. "Some bad injury to the
thigh," he thought. "Much bleeding--probably the bleeding has dulled the
worst pain. The back and shoulders burnt--"

Then, in the same hesitating, difficult way he managed to lift his hand
to his head, which ached intolerably. The right temple and the hair upon
it were also caked and wet.

He let his hand drop. "How long have I--?" he thought. For already his
revived consciousness could hardly maintain itself; something from the
black tunnels of the mine seemed to be perpetually pressing out upon it,
threatening to drown it like a flood.

"Burrows!"--he felt again with his hand--"where's Macgregor?"

A sob broke from the darkness beside him.

"Crushed in an instant. I heard one cry. Why not we, too?"

"It was such a bad fall?"

"The whole mine seemed to come down." George felt the shudder of the huge
frame. "I escaped; you must have been caught by some of it. Macgregor was
right underneath it. But there was an explosion besides."

"Macgregor's lamp? Broken?" whispered George, after a pause.

"Possibly. It couldn't have been much, or we should have been killed
instantly. I was only stunned--a bit scorched, too--not badly. You're the
lucky one. I shall die by inches."

"Cheer up!" said George, faintly. "I can't last--but they'll find you."

"What chance for either of us," said Burrows, groaning. "The return must
be blocked, too, or they'd have got round to us by now."

"How long--"

"God knows! To judge by the time I've been sitting--since I got you
here--it's night long ago."

"Since you got me here?" repeated George, with feeble interrogation.

"When I came to I was lying with my face in a dampish sort of hollow, and
I suppose the afterdamp had lifted a bit, for I could raise my head. I
felt you close by. Then I dragged myself on a bit, till I felt some
brattice. I got past that, found a dip where the air was better, came
back for you, and dragged you here. I thought you were dead at first;
then I felt your heart. And since we got here I've found an air-pipe up
here along the wall, and broken it."

George was silent. But the better atmosphere was affecting him somewhat,
and consciousness was becoming clearer. Only, what seemed to him a loud
noise disturbed him--tortured the wound in his head. Then, gradually, as
he bent his mind upon it, he made out what it was--a slow drip or trickle
of water from the face of the wall. The contrast between his imagination
and the reality supplied him with a kind of measure of the silence that
enwrapped them--silence that seemed in itself a living thing, charged
with the brooding vengeance of the earth upon the creatures that had been
delving at her heart.

"Burrows!--that water--maddens me." He moved his head miserably. "Could
you get some? The brandy-flask has a cup."

"There is a little pool by the brattice. I put my cap in as we got there,
and dashed it over you. I'll go again."

George heard the long limbs drag themselves painfully along. Then he lost
count again of time, and all impressions on the ear, till he was roused
by the water at his lips and a hand dashing some on his brow.

He drank greedily.

"Thanks! Put it by me--there; that's safe. Now, Burrows, I'm dying. Leave
me. You can't do anything--and you--you might still try for it. There are
one or two ways that might be worth trying. Take these keys. I could
explain--"

But the little thread of life wavered terribly as he spoke. Burrows had
to put his ear close to the scorched lips.

"No," he said gloomily, "I don't leave a man while there's any life in
him. Besides, there's no chance--I don't know the mine."

Suddenly, as though answering to the other's despair, a throb of such
agony rose in George it seemed to rive body and soul asunder. His poor
Letty!--his child that was to be!--his own energy of life, he had been so
conscious of at the very moment of descending to this hideous death--all
gone, all done!--his little moment of being torn from him by the
inexorable force that restores nothing and explains nothing.

A picture flashed into his mind, an etching that he had seen in Paris in
a shop window--had seen and pondered over. "Entombed" was written
underneath it, and it showed a solitary miner, on whom the awful trap
has fallen, lifting his arms to his face in a last cry against the
universe that has brought him into being, that has given him nerve and
brain--for this!

Wherever he turned his eyes in the blackness he saw it--the lifted arms,
the bare torso of the man, writhing under the agony of realisation--the
tools, symbols of a life's toil, lying as they had dropped for ever from
the hands that should work no more. It had sent a shudder through him,
even amid the gaiety of a Paris street.

Then this first image was swept away by a second. It seemed to him that
he was on the pit bank again. It was night, but the crowd was still
there, and big fires lighted for warmth threw a glow upon the faces.
There were stars, and a pale light of snow upon the hills. He looked
into the engine-house. There she was--his poor Letty! O God! He tried to
get through to her, to speak to her. Impossible!

A sound disturbed his dream.

His ear and brain struggled with it--trying to give it a name. A man's
long, painful breaths--half sobs. Burrows, no doubt--thinking of the
woman he loved--of the poor emaciated soul George had seen him tending
in the cottage garden on that April day.

He put out his hand and touched his companion.

"Don't despair," he whispered; "you will see her again. How strange--we
two--we enemies--but this is the end. Tell me about her."

"I took her from a ruffian who had nearly murdered her and the child,"
said the hoarse voice after a pause. "She was happy--in spite of the
drink, in spite of everything--she would have been happy, till she died.
To think of her alone is too cruel. If people turned their backs on her,
I made up."

"You will see her again," George repeated, but hardly knowing what the
words were he said.

When he next spoke it was with an added strength that astonished his
companion.

"Burrows, promise me something. Take a message from me to my wife.
Come nearer."

Then, as he felt his companion's breath on his cheek, he roused himself
to speak plainly:

"Tell her--I sent her my dear love--that I thanked her with all my heart
and soul for her love--that it was very hard to leave her--and our child.
Write the words for her, Burrows. Tell her it was impossible for me to
write, but I dictated this." He paused for a long time, then resumed:
"And tell her, too--my last wish was--that she should ask Lord and Lady
Maxwell--can you hear plainly?"--he repeated the names--"to be her
friends and guardians. And bid her ask them--from me--not to forsake her.
Have you understood? Will you repeat it?"

Burrows, in the mood of one humouring the whim of the dying, repeated
what had been said to him word by word, his own sensuous nature swept the
while by the terrors of a death which seemed but one little step further
from himself than from Tressady. Yet he did his best to understand, and
recollect; and to the message so printed on his shrinking brain a woman's
misery owed its only comfort in the days that followed.

"Thank you," said Tressady, painfully listening for the last word. "Give
me your hand. Good-bye. You and I--The world's a queer place--I wish I'd
turned you back at the pit's mouth. I wanted to show I bore no malice.
Well--at least I know--"

The words broke off incoherently. Burrows caught the word "suffering,"
and some phrase about "the men," then Tressady's head slipped back
against the wall, and he spoke no more.

But the mind was active long afterwards. Again and again he seemed to
himself standing in a bright light, alive and free. Innumerable illusions
played about him. In one of the most persistent he was climbing the slope
of a Swiss meadow in May. Oh! the scent of the narcissus, heavy still
with the morning dew--the brush of the wet grass against his
ankles--those yellow anemones shining there beneath the pines--the roar
of the river in the gorge below--and beyond, far above, the grey peak,
sharp and tall against that unmatched brilliance of the blue. In another
he was riding alone in a gorge aflame with rhododendrons, and far down in
the plain--the burnt-up Indian plain--some great fortified town, grave on
its hill-top, broke the level lines--"A rose-red city, half as old as
time." Or, again, it was the sea in some glow of sunset, the white
reflections of the sails slipping down and down through the translucent
pinks and blues, till the eye lost itself in the infinity of shades and
tints, which the breeze--oh, the freshness of it!--was painting each
moment anew at its caprice--painting and blotting, over and over again,
as the water swung under the ship.

But all through these freaks of memory some strange thing seemed to have
happened to him. He carried something in his arms--on his breast. The
anguish of his inner pity for Letty, piercing through all else, expressed
itself so.

But sometimes, as the brain grew momentarily clearer, he would wonder,
almost in his old cynical way, at his own pity. She seemed to have come
to love him. But was it not altogether for her good that his flawed,
contradictory life should be cut violently from hers? Could their
marriage, ill-planted, ill-grown, have come in the end to any tolerable
fruit? His mind passed back, with bitterness, over the nine months of it;
not bitterness towards her--he seemed to be talking to her all the time,
as she lay hidden on his shoulder--bitterness towards himself, towards
the futility of his own life and efforts and desires.

But why his more than any other? The futility, the insignificance of all
that man desires, all that waits on him--that old self-scorn, which began
with the race, tormented him none the less, in dying, for the myriads it
had haunted so before. An image of human fate, which had struck him in
some book, recurred to him now--an image of daisied grass, alive one
moment in the evening light--a quivering world of blades and dew, insects
and petals, a forest of innumerable lines, crossed by the innumerable
movements of living things--the next withdrawn into the night, all
silenced, all effaced.

So life. Except, perhaps, for pain! His own pain never ceased. The only
eternity that seemed conceivable, therefore, was an eternity of pain. It
had become to him the last reality. What a horrible quickening had come
to him of that sense for misery, that intolerable compassion, which in
life he had always held to be the death of a man's natural energy! Again
and again, as consciousness still fought against the last surrender, it
seemed to him that he heard voices and hammerings in the mine. And while
he painfully listened, from the eternal darkness about him, dim tragic
forms would break in a faltering procession--men or young boys, burnt and
marred and slain like himself--turning to him faces he remembered. It was
as though the scorn for pity he had once flung at Marcella Maxwell had
been but the fruit of some obscure and shrinking foresight that he
himself should die drowned and lost in pity; for as he waited for death
his soul seemed to sink into the suffering of the world, as a spent
swimmer sinks into the wave.

One perception, indeed, that was not a perception of pain, this piteous
submission to the human lot brought with it. The accusing looks of hungry
men, the puzzles of his own wavering heart, all social qualms and
compunctions--these things troubled him no more. In the wanderings of
death he was not without the solemn sense that, after all, he, George
Tressady, a man of no professions, and no enthusiasms, had yet paid his
share and done his part.

Was there something in this thought that softened the dolorous way?
Once--nearly at the last--he opened his eyes with a start.

"What is it? Something watches me. There is a sense of something that
supports--that reconciles. If--_if_--how little would it all matter! _Oh!
what is this that knows the road I came_--_the flame turned cloud, the
cloud returned to flame_--_the lifted, shifted steeps, and all the way!_"
His dying thought clung to words long familiar, as that of other men
might have clung to a prayer. There was a momentary sense of ecstasy, of
something ineffable.

And with that sense came a rending of all barriers, a breaking of long
tension, a flooding of the soul with joy. Was it a passing under new
laws, into a new spiritual polity? He knew not; but as he lifted his
sightless eyes he saw the dark roadway of the mine expand, and a woman,
stepping with an exquisite lightness and freedom, came towards him.
Neither shrank nor hesitated. She came to him, knelt by him, and took
his hands. He saw the pity in her dark eyes. "_Is it so bad, my friend?
Have courage--the end is near." "Care for her--and keep me, too, in your
heart_," he cried to her, piteously. She smiled. Then light--blinding,
featureless light--poured over the vision, and George Tressady had
ceased to live.





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