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Title: Sir George Tressady — Volume I
Author: Ward, Humphry, Mrs., 1851-1920
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 I" ***

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SIR GEORGE TRESSADY, VOLUME I

IN TWO VOLUMES

BY

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

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



To my Brother and friend

WILLIAM THOMAS ARNOLD

I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK



VOLUME I.



PART I



CHAPTER I


"Well, that's over, thank Heaven!"

The young man speaking drew in his head from the carriage-window. But
instead of sitting down he turned with a joyous, excited gesture and
lifted the flap over the little window in the back of the landau,
supporting himself, as he stooped to look, by a hand on his companion's
shoulder. Through this peephole he saw, as the horses trotted away, the
crowd in the main street of Market Malford, still huzzaing and waving,
the wild glare of half a dozen torches on the faces and the moving forms,
the closed shops on either hand, the irregular roofs and chimneys
sharp-cut against a wintry sky, and in the far distance the little
lantern belfry and taller mass of the new town-hall.

"I'm much astonished the horses didn't bolt!" said the man addressed.
"That bay mare would have lost all the temper she's got in another
moment. It's a good thing we made them shut the carriage--it has turned
abominably cold. Hadn't you better sit down?"

And Lord Fontenoy made a movement as though to withdraw from the hand on
his shoulder.

The owner of the hand flung himself down on the seat, with a word of
apology, took off his hat, and drew a long breath of fatigue. At the same
moment a sudden look of disgust effaced the smile with which he had taken
his last glimpse at the crowd.

"All very well!--but what one wants after this business is _a moral tub_!
The lies I've told during the last three weeks--the bunkum I've
talked!--it's a feeling of positive dirt! And the worst of it is, however
you may scrub your mind afterwards, some of it must stick."

He took out a cigarette, and lit it at his companion's with a rather
unsteady hand. He had a thin, long face and fair hair; and one would have
guessed him some ten years younger than the man beside him.

"Certainly--it will stick," said the other. "Election promises nowadays
are sharply looked after. I heard no bunkum. As far as I know, our party
doesn't talk any. We leave that to the Government!"

Sir George Tressady, the young man addressed, shrugged his shoulders. His
mouth was still twitching under the influence of nervous excitement. But
as they rolled along between the dark hedges, the carriage-lamps shining
on their wet branches, green yet, in spite of November, he began to
recover a half-cynical self-control. The poll for the Market Malford
Division of West Mercia had been declared that afternoon, between two and
three o'clock, after a hotly contested election; he, as the successful
candidate by a very narrow majority, had since addressed a shouting mob
from the balcony of the Greyhound Hotel, had suffered the usual taking
out of horses and triumphal dragging through the town, and was now
returning with his supporter and party-leader, Lord Fontenoy, to the
great Tory mansion which had sent them forth in the morning, and had been
Tressady's headquarters during the greater part of the fight.

"Did you ever see anyone so down as Burrows?" he said presently, with a
little leap of laughter. "By George! it _is_ hard lines. I suppose he
thought himself safe, what with the work he'd done in the division and
the hold he had on the miners. Then a confounded stranger turns up, and
the chance of seventeen ignorant voters kicks you out! He could hardly
bring himself to shake hands with me. I had come rather to admire him,
hadn't you?"

Lord Fontenoy nodded.

"I thought his speeches showed ability," he said indifferently, "only of
a kind that must be kept out of Parliament--that's all. Sorry you have
qualms--quite unnecessary, I assure you! At the present moment, either
Burrows and his like knock under, or you and your like. This time--by
seventeen votes--Burrows knocks under. Thank the Lord! say I"--and the
speaker opened the window an instant to knock off the end of his cigar.

Tressady made no reply. But again a look, half-chagrined,
half-reflective, puckered his brow, which was smooth, white, and boyish
under his straight, fair hair; whereas the rest of the face was subtly
lined, and browned as though by travel and varied living. The nose and
mouth, though not handsome, were small and delicately cut, while the
long, pointed chin, slightly protruding, made those who disliked him say
that he was like those innumerable portraits of Philip IV., by and after
Velasquez, which bestrew the collections of Europe. But if the Hapsburg
chin had to be admitted, nothing could be more modern, intelligent,
alert, than the rest of him.

The two rolled along a while in silence. They were passing through an
undulating midland country, dimly seen under the stars. At frequent
intervals rose high mounds, with tall chimneys and huddled buildings
beside them or upon them which marked the sites of collieries; while the
lights also, which had begun to twinkle over the face of the land, showed
that it was thickly inhabited.

Suddenly the carriage rattled into a village, and Tressady looked out.

"I say, Fontenoy, here's a crowd! Do you suppose they know? Why,
Gregson's taken us another way round!"

Lord Fontenoy let down his window, and identified the small mining
village of Battage.

"Why did you bring us this way, Gregson?" he said to the coachman.

The man, a Londoner, turned, and spoke in a low voice. "I thought we
might find some rioting going on in Marraby, my lord. And now I see
there's lots o' them out here!"

Indeed, with the words he had to check his horses. The village street was
full from end to end with miners just come up from work. Fontenoy at once
perceived that the news of the election had arrived. The men were massed
in large groups, talking and discussing, with evident and angry
excitement, and as soon as the well-known liveries on the box of the new
member's carriage were identified there was an instant rush towards it.
Some of the men had already gone into their houses on either hand, but at
the sound of the wheels and the uproar they came rushing out again. A
howling hubbub arose, a confused sound of booing and groaning, and the
carriage was soon surrounded by grimed men, gesticulating and shouting.

"Yer bloated parasites, yer!" cried a young fellow, catching at the
door-handle on Lord Fontenoy's side; "we'll make a d----d end o' yer
afore we've done wi' yer. Who asked yer to come meddlin in
Malford--d----n yer!"

"Whativer do we want wi' the loikes o' yo representin us!" shouted
another man, pointing at Tressady. "Look at 'im; ee can't walk, ee can't;
mus be druv, poor hinnercent! When did yo iver do a day's work, eh? Look
at my 'ands! Them's the 'ands for honest men--ain't they, you fellers?"

There was a roar of laughter and approval from the crowd, and up went a
forest of begrimed hands, flourishing and waving.

George calmly put down the carriage-window, and, leaning his arms upon
it, put his head out. He flung some good-humoured banter at some of
the nearest men, and two or three responded. But the majority of the
faces were lowering and fierce, and the horses were becoming
inconveniently crowded.

"Get on, Gregson," said Fontenoy, opening the front window of the
brougham.

"If they'll let me, your lordship," said Gregson, rather pale,
raising his whip.

The horses made a sudden start forward. There was a yell from the crowd,
and three or four men had just dashed for the horses' heads, when a shout
of a different kind ascended.

"Burrows! 'Ere's Burrows! Three cheers for Burrows!"

And some distance behind them, at the corner of the village street,
Tressady suddenly perceived a tall dogcart drawing up with two men in it.
It was already surrounded by a cheering and tumultuous assembly, and one
of the men in the cart was shaking hands right and left.

George drew in his head, with a laugh. "This is dramatic. They've stopped
the horses, and here's Burrows!"

Fontenoy shrugged his shoulders. "They'll blackguard us a bit, I suppose,
and let us go. Burrows 'll keep them in order."

"What d'yer mean by it, heh, dash yer!" shouted a huge man, as he sprang
on the step of the carriage and shook a black fist in Tressady's
face--"thrustin yer d----d carkiss where yer ain't wanted? We wanted
'_im_, and we've worked for 'im. This is a workin-class district, an
we've a _right_ to 'im. Do yer 'ear?"

"Then you should have given him seventeen more votes," said George,
composedly, as he thrust his hands into his pockets. "It's the fortunes
of war--your turn next time. I say, suppose you tell your fellows to let
our man get on. We've had a long day, and we're hungry. Ah"--to
Fontenoy--"here's Burrows coming!"

Fontenoy turned, and saw that the dogcart had drawn up alongside them,
and that one of the men was standing on the step of it, holding on to the
rail of the cart.

He was a tall, finely built man, and as he looked down on the carriage,
and on Tressady leaning over the window, the light from a street-lamp
near showed a handsome face blanched with excitement and fatigue.

"Now, my friends," he said, raising his arm, and addressing the crowd,
"you let Sir George go home to his dinner. He's beaten us, and so far as
I know _he's_ fought fair, whatever some of his friends may have done for
him. I'm going home to have a bite of something and a wash. I'm done. But
if any of you like to come round to the club--eight o'clock--I'll tell
you a thing or two about this election. Now goodnight to you, Sir George.
We'll beat you yet, trust us. Fall back there!"

He pointed peremptorily to the men holding the horses. They and the crowd
instantly obeyed him.

The carriage swept on, followed by the hooting and groans of the whole
community, men, women, and children, who were now massed along the street
on either hand.

"It's easy to see this man Gregson's a new hand," said Fontenoy, with an
accent of annoyance, as they got clear of the village. "I believe the
Wattons have only just imported him, otherwise he'd never have avoided
Marraby, and come round by Battage."

"Battage has some special connection with Burrows, hasn't it? I had
forgotten."

"Of course. He was check-weigher at the Acme pit here for years, before
they made him district secretary of the union."

"That's why they gave me such a hot meeting here a fortnight ago!--I
remember now; but one thing drives another out of one's head. Well,
I daresay you and I'll have plenty more to do with Burrows before
we've done."

Tressady threw himself back in his corner with a yawn.

Fontenoy laughed.

"There'll be another big strike some time next year," he said
drily--"bound to be, as far as I can see. We shall all have plenty to do
with Burrows then."

"All right," said Tressady, indistinctly, pulling his hat over his eyes.
"Burrows or anybody else may blow me up next year, so long as they let me
go to sleep now."

However, he did not find it so easy to go to sleep. His pulses were still
tingling under the emotions of the day and the stimulus of the hubbub
they had just passed through. His mind raced backwards and forwards over
the incidents and excitements of the last six months, over the scenes of
his canvass--and over some other scenes of a different kind which had
taken place in the country-house whither he and Fontenoy were returning.

But he did his best to feign sleep. His one desire was that Fontenoy
should not talk to him. Fontenoy, however, was not easily taken in, and
no sooner did George make his first restless movement under the rug he
had drawn over him, than his companion broke silence.

"By the way, what did you think of that memorandum of mine on Maxwell's
bill?"

George fidgeted and mumbled. Fontenoy, undaunted, began to harangue on
certain minutiae of factory law with a monotonous zest of voice and
gesture which seemed to Tressady nothing short of amazing.

He watched the speaker a minute or two through his half-shut eyes. So
this was his leader to be--the man who had made him member for Market
Malford.

Eight years before, when George Tressady had first entered Christchurch,
he had found that place of tempered learning alive with traditions on the
subject of "Dicky Fontenoy." And such traditions--good Heavens!
Subsequently, at most race-meetings, large and small, and at various
clubs, theatres, and places of public resort, the younger man had had his
opportunities of observing the elder, and had used them always with
relish, and sometimes with admiration. He himself had no desire to follow
in Fontenoy's footsteps. Other elements ruled in him, which drew him
other ways. But there was a magnificence about the impetuosity, or rather
the doggedness with which Fontenoy had plunged into the business of
ruining himself, which stirred the imagination. On the last occasion,
some three and a half years before this Market Malford election, when
Tressady had seen Fontenoy before starting himself on a long Eastern
tour, he had been conscious of a lively curiosity as to what might have
happened to "Dicky" by the time he came back again. The eldest sons of
peers do not generally come to the workhouse; but there are aristocratic
substitutes which, relatively, are not much less disagreeable; and George
hardly saw how they were to be escaped.

And now--not four years!--and here sat Dicky Fontenoy, haranguing on the
dull clauses of a technical act, throat hoarse with the speaking of the
last three weeks, eyes cavernous with anxiety and overwork, the creator
and leader of a political party which did not exist when Tressady left
England, and now bade fair to hold the balance of power in English
government! The surprises of fate and character! Tressady pondered them a
little in a sleepy way; but the fatigue of many days asserted itself.
Even his companion was soon obliged to give him up as a listener. Lord
Fontenoy ceased to talk; yet every now and then, as some jolt of the
carriage made George open his eyes, he saw the broad-shouldered figure
beside him, sitting in the same attitude, erect and tireless, the same
half-peevish pugnacity giving expression to mouth and eye.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Come, wake up, Tressady! Here we are!"

There was a vindictive eagerness in Fontenoy's voice. Ease was no longer
welcome to him, whether in himself or as a spectacle in other men.
George, startled from a momentary profundity of sleep, staggered to his
feet, and clutched at various bags and rugs.

The carriage was standing under the pillared porch of Malford House, and
the great house-doors, thrown back upon an inner flight of marble steps,
gave passage to a blaze of light. George, descending, had just shaken
himself awake, and handed the things he held to a footman, when there was
a sudden uproar from within. A crowd of figures--men and women, the men
cheering, the women clapping and laughing--ran down the inner steps
towards him. He was surrounded, embraced, slapped on the back, and
finally carried triumphantly into the hall.

"Bring him in!" said an exultant voice; "and stand back, please, and let
his mother get at him."

The laughing group fell back, and George, blinking, radiant, and abashed,
found himself in the arms of an exceedingly sprightly and youthful dame,
with pale, frizzled hair, and the figure of seventeen.

"Oh, you dear, great, foolish thing!" said the lady, with the voice and
the fervour, moreover, of seventeen. "So you've got in--you've done it!
Well, I should never have spoken to you again if you hadn't! And I
suppose you'd have minded that a little--from your own mother. Goodness!
how cold he is!"

And she flew at him with little pecking kisses, retreating every now and
again to look at him, and then closing upon him again in ecstasy, till
George, at the end of his patience, held her off with a strong arm.

"Now, mother, that's enough. Have the others been home long?" he
asked, addressing a smiling young man in knickerbockers who, with his
hands in his pockets, was standing beside the hero of the occasion
surveying the scene.

"Oh! about half an hour. They reported you'd have some difficulty
in getting out of the clutches of the crowd. We hardly expected
you so soon."

"How's Miss Sewell's headache? Does she know?"

The expression of the young man's eye, which was bent on Tressady,
changed ever so slightly as he replied:

"Oh yes, she knows. As soon as the others got back Mrs. Watton went up to
tell her. She didn't show at lunch."

"Mrs. Watton came to tell _me_--naughty man!" said the lady whom George
had addressed as his mother, tapping the speaker on the arm with her fan.
"Mothers first, if you please, especially when they're cripples like me,
and can't go and see their dear darlings' triumphs with their own eyes.
And _I_ told Miss Sewell."

She put her head on one side, and looked archly at her son. Her high
gown, a work of the most approved Parisian art, was so cut as to show
much more throat than usual, and, in addition, a row of very fine pearls.
Her very elegant waist and bust were defined by a sort of Empire sash;
her complexion did her maid and, indeed, her years, infinite credit.

George flushed slightly at his mother's words, and was turning away from
her when he was gripped by the owner of the house, Squire Watton, an
eloquent and soft-hearted old gentleman who, having in George's opinion
already overdone it greatly at the town-hall in the way of hand-shaking
and congratulations, was now most unreasonably prepared to overdo it
again. Lady Tressady joined in with little shrieks and sallies, the other
guests of the house gathered round, and the hero of the day was once
more lost to sight and hearing amid the general hubbub of talk and
laughter--for the young man in knickerbockers, at any rate, who stood a
little way off from the rest.

"I wonder when she'll condescend to come down," he said to himself,
examining his boots with a speculative smile. "Of course it was mere
caprice that she didn't go to Malford; she meant it to annoy."

"I say, do let me get warm," said Tressady at last, breaking from his
tormentors, and coming up to the open log fire, in front of which the
young man stood. "Where's Fontenoy vanished to?"

"Went up to write letters directly he had swallowed a cup of tea," said
the young man, whose name was Bayle; "and called Marks to go with him."
(Marks was Lord Fontenoy's private secretary.)

George Tressady threw up his hands in disgust.

"It's absurd. He never allows himself an hour's peace. If he expects me
to grind as he does, he'll soon regret that he lent a hand to put me into
Parliament. Well, I'm stiff all over, and as tired as a rat. I'll go and
have a warm bath before dinner."

But still he lingered, warming his hands over the blaze, and every now
and then scanning the gallery which ran round the big hall. Bayle chatted
to Mm about some of the incidents of the day. George answered at random.
He did, indeed, look tired out, and his expression was restless and
discontented.

Suddenly there was a cry from the group of young men and maidens who were
amusing themselves in the centre of the hall.

"Why, there's Letty! and as fresh as paint."

George turned abruptly. Bayle saw his manner stiffen and his eye kindle.

A young girl was slowly coming down the great staircase which led to the
hall. She was in a soft black dress with a blue sash, and a knot of blue
at her throat--a childish slip of a dress, which answered to her small
rounded form, her curly head, and the hand slipping along the marble
rail. She came down silently smiling, taking each step with great
deliberation, in spite of the outbreak of half-derisive sympathy with
which she was greeted from her friends below. Her bright eyes glanced
from face to face--from the mocking inquirers immediately beneath her to
George Tressady standing by the fire.

At the moment when she reached the last step Tressady found it necessary
to put another log on a fire already piled to repletion.

Meanwhile Miss Sewell went straight towards the new member and held
out her hand.

"I am so glad, Sir George; let me congratulate you."

George put down his log, and then looked at his fingers critically.

"I am very sorry, Miss Sewell, but I am not fit to touch. I hope your
headache is better."

Miss Sewell dropped her hand meekly, shot him a glance which was not
meek, and said demurely:

"Oh! my headaches do what they're told. You see, I was determined to come
down and congratulate you."

"I see," he repeated, making her a little bow. "I hope my ailments, when
I get them, will be as docile. So my mother told you?"

"I didn't want telling," she said placidly. "I knew it was all safe."

"Then you knew what only the gods knew--for I only got in by
seventeen votes."

"Yes, so I heard. I was very sorry for Burrows."

She put one foot on the stone fender, raised her pretty dress with one
hand, and leant the other lightly against the mantelpiece. The attitude
was full of grace, and the little sighing voice fitted the curves of a
mouth which seemed always ready to laugh, yet seldom laughed frankly.

As she made her remark about Burrows Tressady smiled.

"My prophetic soul was right," he said deliberately; "I knew you would be
sorry for Burrows."

"Well, it _is_ hard on him, isn't it? You can't deny you're a
carpet-bagger, can you?"

"Why should I? I'm proud of it."

Then he looked round him. The rest of the party--not without whispers and
smothered laughter--had withdrawn from them. Some of the ladies had
already gone up to dress. The men had wandered away into a little library
and smoking-room which opened on the hall. Only the squire, safe in a
capacious armchair a little way off, was absorbed in a local paper and
the last humours of the election.

Satisfied with his glance, Tressady put his hands into his pockets, and
leant back against the fireplace, in a way to give himself fuller command
of Miss Sewell's countenance.

"Do you never give your friends any better sympathy than you have given
me in this affair, Miss Sewell?" he said suddenly, as their eyes met.

She made a little face.

"Why, I've been an angel!" she said, poking at a prominent log
with her foot.

George laughed.

"Then our ideas of angels agree no better than the rest. Why didn't you
come and hear the poll declared, after promising me you would be there?"

"Because I had a headache, Sir George."

He responded with a little inclination, as though ceremoniously accepting
her statement.

"May I ask at what time your headache began?"

"Let me see," she said, laughing; "I think it was directly after
breakfast."

"Yes. It declared itself, if I remember right, immediately after certain
remarks of mine about a Captain Addison?"

He looked straight before him, with a detached air.

"Yes," said Letty, thoughtfully; "it was a curious coincidence,
wasn't it?"

There was a moment's silence. Then she broke into infectious laughter.

"Don't you know," she said, laying her hand on his shoulder--"don't you
know that you're a most foolish and wasteful person? We get along
capitally, you and I--we've had a rattling time all this week--and then
you will go and make uncivil remarks about my friends--in public, too!
You actually think I'm going to let you tell Aunt Watton how to manage
me! You get me into no end of a fuss--it'll take me weeks to undo the
mischief you've been making--and then you expect me to take it like a
lamb! Now, do I look like a lamb?"

All this time she was holding him tight by the arm, and her dimpled face,
alive with mirth and malice, was so close to his that a moment's wild
impulse flashed through him to kiss her there and then. But the impulse
passed. He and Letty Sewell had known each other for about three weeks.
They were not engaged--far from it. And these--the hand on the arm, and
the rest--were Letty Sewell's ways.

Instead of kissing her, then, he scanned her deliberately.

"_I_ never saw anyone more plainly given over to obstinacy and pride,"
he said quietly; "I told you some plain facts about the character of a
man whom I know, and you don't, whereupon you sulk all day, you break
all your promises about coming to Malford, and when I come back you call
me names."

She raised her eyebrows and withdrew her hand.

"Well, it's plain, isn't it? that I must have been in a great rage. It
was very dull upstairs, though I did write reams to my best friend all
about you--a very candid account--I shall have to soften it down. By the
way, are you ever going to dress for dinner?"

George started, and looked at his watch.

"Are we alone? Is anyone coming from outside?"

"Only a few 'locals,' just to celebrate the occasion. I know the
clergyman's wife's coming, for she told me she had been copying one of my
frocks, and wanted me to tell her what I thought."

George laughed.

"Poor lady!"

"I don't _think_ I shall be nice to her," said Letty, playing with a
flower on the mantelpiece. "Dowdy people make me feel wicked. Well, _I_
must dress."

It was now his turn to lay a detaining hand.

"Are you sorry?" he said, bending over to her. His bright grey eyes had
shaken off fatigue.

"For what? Because you got in?"

Her face overflowed with laughter. He let her go. She linked her arm in
that of the daughter of the house--Miss Florence Watton--who was crossing
the hall at the moment, and the two went upstairs together, she throwing
back one triumphant glance at him from the landing.

George stood watching them till they disappeared. His expression was
neither soft nor angry. There was in it a mocking self-possession which
showed that he too had been playing a part--mingled, perhaps, with a
certain perplexity.



CHAPTER II


George Tressady came down very late for dinner, and found his hostess on
the verge of annoyance. Mrs. Watton was a large, commanding woman, who
seldom thought it worth while to disguise any disapproval she might
feel--and she had a great deal of that commodity to expend, both on
persons and institutions.

George hastened to propitiate her with the usual futilities: he had
supposed that he was in excellent time, his watch had been playing
tricks, and so on.

Mrs. Watton, who, after all, on this great day beheld in the new member
the visible triumph of her dearest principles, received these excuses at
first with stiffness, but soon thawed.

"Oh, you _naughty_ boy, you naughty, mendacious boy!" said a
sprightly voice in Tressady's ear. "'Excellent time,' indeed! I saw
you--for shame!"

And Lady Tressady flounced away from her son, laughing over her
shoulder in one of her accustomed poses. She wore white muslin over
cherry-coloured silk. The display of neck and shoulders could hardly
have been more lavish; and the rouge on her cheeks had been overdone,
which rarely happened. George turned from her hurriedly to speak to
Lord Fontenoy.

"What a fool that woman is!" thought Mrs. Watton to herself, as her
sharp eye followed her guest. "She will make George positively dislike
her soon--and all the time she is bound to get him to pay her debts, or
there will be a smash. What! dinner? John, will you please take Lady
Tressady; Harding, will you take Mrs. Hawkins"--pointing her second son
towards a lady in black sitting stiffly on the edge of an ottoman; "Mr.
Hawkins takes Florence; Sir George"--she waved her hand towards Miss
Sewell. "Now, Lord Fontenoy, you must take me; and the rest of you sort
yourselves."

As the young people, mostly cousins, laughingly did what they were told,
Sir George held out his arm to Miss Sewell.

"I am very sorry for you," he said, as they passed into the dining-room.

"Oh! I knew it would be my turn," said Letty, with resignation. "You see,
you took Florrie last night, and Aunt Watton the night before."

George settled himself deliberately in his chair, and turned to study his
companion.

"Do you mind warning me, to begin with, how I can avoid giving you a
headache? Since this morning my nerve has gone--I want directions."

"Well--" said Letty, pondering, "let us lay down the subjects we _may_
talk about first. For instance, you may talk of Mrs. Hawkins."

She gave an imperceptible nod which directed his eyes to the thin woman
sitting opposite, to whom Harding Watton, a fashionable and fastidious
youth, was paying but scant attention.

George examined her.

"I don't want to," he said shortly; "besides, she would last us no
time at all."

"Oh!--on the contrary," said Letty, with malice sparkling in her brown
eye, "she would last me a good twenty minutes. She has got on my gown."

"I didn't recognise it," said George, studying the thin lady again.

"I wouldn't mind," said Letty, in the same tone of reflection, "if Mrs.
Hawkins didn't think it her duty to lecture me in the intervals of
copying my frocks. If I disapproved of anybody, I don't think I should
send my nurse to ask their maid for patterns."

"I notice you take disapproval very calmly."

"Callously, you mean. Well, it is my misfortune. I always feel myself so
much more reasonable than the people who disapprove."

"This morning, then, you thought me a fool?"

"Oh no! Only--well--I _knew_, you see, that I knew better. _I_ was
reasonable, and--"

"Oh! don't finish," said George, hastily; "and don't suppose that I shall
ever give you any more good advice."

"Won't you?"

Her mocking look sent a challenge, which he met with outward firmness.
Meanwhile he was inwardly haunted by a phrase he had once heard a woman
apply to the mental capacities of her best friend. "Her _mind_?--her
mind, my dear, is a shallow chaos!" The words made a neat label, he
scoffingly thought, for his own present sensations. For he could not
persuade himself that there was much profundity in his feelings towards
Miss Sewell, whatever reckless possibilities life might seem to hold at
times; when, for instance, she wore that particular pink gown in which
she was attired to-night, or when her little impertinent airs suited her
as well as they were suiting her just now. Something cool and critical in
him was judging her all the time. Ten years hence, he made himself
reflect, she would probably have no prettiness left. Whereas now, what
with bloom and grace, what with small proportions and movements light as
air, what with an inventive refinement in dress and personal adornment
that never failed, all Letty Sewell's defects of feature or expression
were easily lost in a general aspect which most men found dazzling and
perturbing enough. Letty, at any rate within her own circle, had never
yet been without partners, or lovers, or any other form of girlish
excitement that she desired, and had been generally supposed--though she
herself was aware of some strong evidence to the contrary--to be capable
of getting anything she had set her mind upon. She had set her mind, as
the spectators in this particular case had speedily divined, upon
enslaving young George Tressady. And she had not failed. For even during
these last stirring days it had been tolerably clear that she and his
election had divided Tressady's mind between them, with a balance,
perhaps, to her side. As to the _measure_ of her success, however, that
was still doubtful--to herself and him most of all.

To-night, at any rate, he could not detach himself from her. He tried
repeatedly to talk to the girl on his left, a noble-faced child fresh out
of the schoolroom, who in three years' time would be as much Letty
Sewell's superior in beauty as in other things. But the effort was too
great. The strenuous business of the day had but left him--in fatigue and
reaction--the more athirst for amusement and the gratification of another
set of powers. He turned back to Letty, and through course after course
they chattered and sparred, discussing people, plays and books, or
rather, under cover of these, a number of those topics on the borderland
of passion whereby men and women make their first snatches at
intimacy--till Mrs. Watton's sharp grey eyes smiled behind her fan, and
the attention of her neighbour, Lord Fontenoy--an uneasy attention--was
again and again drawn to the pair.

Meanwhile, during the first half of dinner, a chair immediately opposite
to Tressady's place remained vacant. It was being kept for the eldest son
of the house, his mother explaining carelessly to Lord Fontenoy that she
believed he was "Out parishing somewhere, as usual."

However, with the appearance of the pheasants the door from the
drawing-room opened, and a slim dark-haired man slipped in. He took his
place noiselessly, with a smile of greeting to George and his
neighbour, and bade the butler in a whisper aside bring him any course
that might be going.

"Nonsense, Edward!" said his mother's loud voice from the head of the
table; "don't be ridiculous. Morris, bring back that hare _entrée_ and
the mutton for Mr. Edward."

The newcomer raised his eyebrows mildly, smiled, and submitted.

"Where have you been, Edward?" said Tressady; "I haven't seen you since
the town-hall."

"I have been at a rehearsal. There is a parish concert next week, and I
conduct these functions."

"The concerts are always bad," said Mrs. Watton, curtly.

Edward Watton shrugged his shoulder. He had a charming timid air,
contradicted now and then by a look of enthusiastic resolution in the
eyes.

"All the more reason for rehearsal," he said. "However, really, they
won't do badly this time."

"Edward is one of the persons," said Mrs. Watton in a low aside to Lord
Fontenoy, "who think you can make friends with people--the lower
orders--by shaking hands with them, showing them Burne-Jones's pictures,
and singing 'The Messiah' with them. I had the same idea once. Everybody
had. It was like the measles. But the sensible persons have got over it."

"Thank you, mamma," said Watton, making her a smiling bow.

Lady Tressady interrupted her talk with the squire at the other end of
the table to observe what was going on. She had been chattering very
fast in a shrill, affected voice, with a gesticulation so free and
French, and a face so close to his, that the nervous and finicking
squire had been every moment afraid lest the next should find her white
fingers in his very eyes. He felt an inward spasm of relief when he saw
her attention diverted.

"Is that Mr. Edward talking his Radicalism?" she asked, putting up a
gold eyeglass--"his dear, wicked Radicalism? Ah! we all know where Mr.
Edward got it."

The table laughed. Harding Watton looked particularly amused.

"Egeria was in this neighbourhood last week," he said, addressing Lady
Tressady. "Edward rode over to see her. Since then he has joined two new
societies, and ordered six new books on the Labour Question."

Edward flushed a little, but went on eating his dinner without any other
sign of disturbance.

"If you mean Lady Maxwell," he said good-humouredly, "I can only be sorry
for the rest of you that you don't know her."

He raised his handsome head with a bright air of challenge that became
him, but at the same time exasperated his mother.

"That _woman!_" said Mrs. Watton with ponderous force, throwing up her
hands as she spoke. Then she turned to Lord Fontenoy. "Don't _you_ regard
her as the source of half the mischievous work done by this precious
Government in the last two years?" she asked him imperiously.

A half-contemptuous smile crossed Lord Fontenoy's worn face.

"Well, really, I'm not inclined to make Lady Maxwell the scapegoat. Let
them bear their own misdeeds."

"Besides, what worse can you say of English Ministers than that they
should be led by a woman?" said Mr. Watton, from the bottom of the table,
in a piping voice. "In my young days such a state of things would have
been unheard of. No offence, my dear, no offence," he added hastily,
glancing at his wife.

Letty glanced at George, and put up a handkerchief to hide her own
merriment.

Mrs. Watton looked impatient.

"Plenty of English Cabinet Ministers have been led by women before now,"
she said drily; "and no blame to them or anybody else. Only in the old
days you knew where you were. Women were corrupt--as they were meant to
be--for their husbands and brothers and sons. They wanted something for
somebody--and got it. Now they are corrupt--like Lady Maxwell--for what
they are pleased to call 'causes,' and it is that which will take the
nation to ruin."

At this there was an incautious protest from Edward Watton against the
word "corrupt," followed by a confirmatory clamour from his mother and
brother which seemed to fill the dining-room. Lady Tressady threw in
affected comments from time to time, trying hard to hold her own in the
conversation by a liberal use of fan and Christian names, and little
personal audacities applied to each speaker in turn. Only Edward Watton,
however, occasionally took civil or smiling notice of her; the others
ignored her. They were engaged in a congenial task, the hunting of the
one disaffected and insubordinate member of their pack, and had for the
moment no attention to spare for other people.

"I shall see the great lady, I suppose, in a week or two," said George to
Miss Sewell, under cover of the noise. "It is curious that I should never
have seen her."

"Who? Lady Maxwell?"

"Yes. You remember I have been four years out of England. She was in
town, I suppose, the year before I left, but I never came across her."

"I prophesy you will like her enormously," said Letty, with decision. "At
least, I know that's what happens to me when Aunt Watton abuses anybody.
I couldn't dislike them afterwards if I tried."

"That, allow me to impress upon you, is _not_ my disposition! I am a
human being--I am influenced by my friends."

He turned round towards her so as to appropriate her again.

"Oh! you are not at all the poor creature you paint yourself!" said
Letty, shaking her head. "In reality, you are the most obstinate
person I know--you can never let a subject alone--you never know when
you're beaten."

"Beaten?" said George, reflectively; "by a headache? Well, there is no
disgrace in that. One will probably 'live to fight another day.' Do you
mean to say that you will take no notice--no notice--of all that array of
facts I laid before you this morning on the subject of Captain Addison?"

"I shall be kind to you, and forget them. Now, do listen to Aunt Watton!
It is your duty. Aunt Watton is accustomed to be listened to, and you
haven't heard it all a hundred times before, as I have."

Mrs. Watton, indeed, was haranguing her end of the table on a subject
that clearly excited her. Contempt and antagonism gave a fine energy to a
head and face already sufficiently expressive. Both were on a large
scale, but without commonness. The old-lace coif she wore suited her
waved and grizzled hair, and was carried with conscious dignity; the
hand, which lay beside her on the table, though long and bony, was full
of nervous distinction. Mrs. Watton was, and looked, a tyrant--but a
tyrant of ability.

"A neighbour of theirs in Brookshire," she was saying, "was giving me
last week the most extraordinary account of the doings at Mellor. She was
the heiress of that house at Mellor"--here she addressed young Bayle,
who, as a comparative stranger in the house, might be supposed to be
ignorant of facts which everybody else knew--"a tumbledown place with an
income of about two thousand a year. Directly she married she put a
Socialist of the most unscrupulous type--so they tell me--into
possession. The man has established what they call a 'standard rate' of
wages for the estate--practically double the normal rate--coerced all the
farmers, and made the neighbours furious. They say the whole district is
in a ferment. It used to be the quietest part of the world imaginable,
and now she has set it all by the ears. _She_, having married thirty
thousand a year, can afford her little amusements; other people, who must
live by their land, have their lives worried out of them."

"She tells me that the system works on the whole extremely well," said
Edward Watton, whose heightened colour alone betrayed the irritation of
his mother's chronic aggression, "and that Maxwell is not at all unlikely
to adopt it on his own estate."

Mrs. Watton threw up her hands again.

"The _idiocy_ of that man! Till he married her he was a man of sense. And
now she leads him by the nose, and whatever tune he calls, the Government
must dance to, because of his power in the House of Lords."

"And the worst of it is," said Harding Watton, with an unpleasant laugh,
"that if she were not a handsome woman, her influence would not be half
what it is. She uses her beauty in the most unscrupulous way."

"I believe that to be _entirely_ untrue," said Edward Watton, with
emphasis, looking at his brother with hostility.

George Tressady interrupted. He had an affection for Edward Watton, and
cordially disliked Harding. "Is she really so handsome?" he asked,
bending forward and addressing his hostess.

Mrs. Watton scornfully took no notice.

"Well, an old diplomat told me the other day," said Lord Fontenoy--but
with a cold unwillingness, as though he disliked the subject--"that she
was the most beautiful woman, he thought, that had been seen in London
since Lady Blessington's time."

"Lady Blessington! dear, dear!--Lady Blessington!" said Lady Tressady
with malicious emphasis--an unfortunate comparison, don't you think? Not
many people would like to be regarded as Lady Blessington's successor."

"In any other respect than beauty," said Edward Watton, haughtily, with
the same tension as before, "the comparison, of course, would be
ridiculous."

Harding shrugged his shoulders, and, tilting his chair back, said in the
ear of a shy young man who sat next him:

"In my opinion, the Count d'Orsay is only a question of time! However,
one mustn't say that to Edward."

Harding read memoirs, and considered himself a man of general
cultivation. The young man addressed, who read no printed matter outside
the sporting papers that he could help, and had no idea as to who Lady
Blessington and Count d'Orsay might be, smiled vaguely, and said nothing.

"My dear," said the squire, plaintively, "isn't this room extremely hot?"

There was a ripple of meaning laughter from all the young people, to many
of whom this particular quarrel was already tiresomely familiar. Mr.
Watton, who never understood anything, looked round with an inquiring
air. Mrs. Watton condescended to take the hint and retire.

In the drawing-room afterwards Mrs. Watton first allotted a
duty-conversation of some ten minutes in length, and dealing strictly
with the affairs of the parish, to Mrs. Hawkins, who, as clergyman's
wife, had a definite official place in the Malford House circle, quite
irrespective of any individuality she might happen to possess. Mrs.
Hawkins was plain, self-conscious, and in no way interesting to Mrs.
Watton, who never took the smallest trouble to approach her in any other
capacity than that upon which she had entered by marrying the incumbent
of the squire's home living. But the civilities and respects that were
recognised as belonging to her station she received.

This however, alas! was not enough for Mrs. Hawkins, who was full of
ambitions, which had a bad manner, a plague of shyness, and a narrow
income, were perpetually thwarting. As soon as the ten minutes were over,
and Mrs. Watton, who was nothing if not political, and saw no occasion to
make a stranger of the vicar's wife, had plunged into the evening papers
brought her by the footman, Mrs. Hawkins threw herself on Letty Sewell.
She was effusively grateful--too grateful--for the patterns lent her by
Miss Sewell's maid.

"Did she lend you some patterns?" said Letty, raising her brows. "Dear
me; I didn't know."

And her eyes ran cooly over Mrs. Hawkins's attire, which did, indeed,
present a village imitation of the delicate gown in which Miss Sewell had
robed herself for the evening.

Mrs. Hawkins coloured.

"I specially told my nurse," she said hastily, "that of course your leave
must be asked. But my nurse and your maid seem to have made friends. Of
course my nurse has plenty of time for dressmaking with only one child of
four to look after, and--and--one really gets no new ideas in a poky
place like this. But I would not have taken a liberty for the world."

Her pride and _mauvaise honte_ together made both voice and manner
particularly unattractive. Letty was seized with the same temper that
little boys show towards flies.

"Of course I am delighted!" she said indifferently. "It's so nice and
good to have one's things made at home. Your nurse must be a treasure."

All the time her gaze was diligently inspecting every ill-cut seam and
tortured trimming of the homemade triumph before her. The ear of the
vicar's wife, always morbidly sensitive in that particular drawing-room,
caught a tone of insult in every light word. A passionate resentment
flamed up in her, and she determined to hold her own.

"Are you going in for more visits when you leave here?" she inquired.

"Yes, two or three," said Letty, turning her delicate head unwittingly.
She had been throwing blandishments to Mrs. Watton's dog, a grey Aberdeen
terrier, who stood on the rug quietly regarding her.

"You spend most of the year in visits, don't you?"

"Well, a good deal of it," said Letty.

"Don't you find it dreadfully time-wasting? Does it leave you leisure
for _any_ serious occupations at all? I am afraid it would make _me_
terribly idle!"

Mrs. Hawkins laughed, attempting a tone of banter.

Letty put up a small hand to hide a sudden yawn, which, however, was
visible enough.

"Would it?" she said, with an impertinence which hardly tried to
conceal itself. "Evelyn, do look at that dog. Doesn't he remind you of
Mr. Bayley?"

She beckoned to the handsome child of sixteen who had sat on George
Tressady's left hand at dinner, and, taking up a pinch of rose-leaves
that had dropped from a vase beside her, she flung them at the dog,
calling him to her. Instead of going to her, however, the dog slowly
curled himself up on the rug, and, laying his nose along his front paws,
stared at her steadily with the expression of one mounting guard.

"He never will make friends with you, Letty. Isn't it odd?" said Evelyn,
laughing, and stooping to stroke the creature.

"Never mind; other dogs will. Did you see that adorable black Spitz of
Lady Arthur's? She has promised to give me one."

The two cousins fell into a chatter about their county neighbours, mostly
rich and aristocratic people, of whom Mrs. Hawkins knew little or
nothing. Evelyn Watton, whose instincts were quick and generous, tried
again and again to draw the vicar's wife into the conversation. Letty was
determined to exclude her. She lay back against the sofa, chatting her
liveliest, the whiteness of her neck and cheek shining against the red of
the damask behind, one foot lightly crossed over the other, showing her
costly little slippers with their paste buckles. She sparkled with jewels
as much as a girl may--more, indeed, in Mrs. Hawkins's opinion, than a
girl should. From head to foot she breathed affluence, seduction,
success--only the seduction was not for Mrs. Hawkins and her like.

The vicar's wife sat flushed and erect on her chair, disdaining after a
time to make any further effort, but inwardly intolerably sore. She could
not despise Letty Sewell, unfortunately, since Letty's advantages were
just those that she herself most desired. But there was something else in
her mind than small jealousy. When Letty had been a brilliant child in
short frocks, the vicar's wife, who was scarcely six years older, had
opened her heart, had tried to make herself loved by Mrs. Watton's niece.
There had been a moment when they had been "Madge" and "Letty" to each
other, even since Letty had "come out." Now, whenever Mrs. Hawkins
attempted the Christian name, it stuck in her throat; it seemed, even to
herself, a familiarity that had nothing to go upon; while with every
succeeding visit to Malford, Letty had dropped her former friend more
decidedly, and "Madge" was heard no more.

The gentlemen, deep in election incident and gossip, were, in the view
chiefly of the successful candidate, unreasonably long in leaving the
dining-room. When they appeared at last, George Tressady once more
made an attempt to talk to someone else than Letty Sewell, and once
more failed.

"I want you to tell me something about Miss Sewell," said Lord Fontenoy
presently in Mrs. Watton's ear. He had been sitting silent beside her on
the sofa for some little time, apparently toying with the evening papers,
which Mrs. Watton had relinquished to him.

Mrs. Watton looked up, followed the direction of his eyes towards a
settee in a distant corner of the room, and showed a half-impatient
amusement.

"Letty? Oh! Letty's my niece--the daughter of my brother, Walter Sewell,
of Helbeck. They live in Yorkshire. My brother has my father's place--a
small estate, and rents very irregular. I often wonder how they manage to
dress that child as they do. However, she has always had her own way
since she was a foot high. As for my poor brother, he has been an
invalid for the last ten years, and neither he nor his wife--oh! such a
stupid woman!"--Mrs. Watton's energetic hands and eyes once more, called
Heaven to witness--"have ever counted for much, I should say, in Letty's
career. There is another sister, a little delicate, silent thing, that
looks after them. Oh! Letty isn't stupid; I should think not. I suppose
you're alarmed about Sir George. You needn't be. She does it with
everybody."

The candid aunt pursued the conversation a little further, in the same
tone of a half-caustic indulgence. At the end of it, however, Lord
Fontenoy was still uneasy. He had only migrated to Malford House for the
declaration of the poll, having spent the canvassing weeks mainly in
another part of the division. And now, on this triumphant evening, he was
conscious of a sudden sense of defective information, which was
disagreeable and damping.

       *       *       *       *       *

When bedtime came, Letty lingered in the drawing-room a little behind the
other ladies, on the plea of gathering up some trifles that belonged to
her. So that when George Tressady went out with her to light her candle
for her in the gallery, they found themselves alone.

He had fallen into a sudden silence, which made her sweep him a look of
scrutiny as she took her candlestick. The slim yet virile figure drawn to
its full height, the significant, long-chinned face, pleased her senses.
He might be plain--she supposed he was--but he was, nevertheless,
distinguished, and extraordinarily alive.

"I believe you are tired to death," she said to him. "Why don't you
go to bed?"

She spoke with the freedom of one accustomed to advise all her male
acquaintance for their good. George laughed.

"Tired? Not I. I was before dinner. Look here, Miss Sewell, I've got a
question to ask."

"Ask it."

"You don't want to spoil my great day, do you? You do repent that
headache?"

They looked at each other, dancing laughter in each pair of eyes,
combined in his with an excited insistence.

"Good-night, Sir George," she said, holding out her hand.

He retained it.

"You do?" he said, bending over her.

She liked the situation, and made no immediate effort to change it.

"Ask me a month hence, when I have proved your statements."

"Then you admit it was all pretence?"

"I admit nothing," she said joyously. "I protected my friend."

"Yes, by injuring and offending another friend. Would it please you if I
said I missed you _very_ much at Malford to-day?"

"I will tell you to-morrow--it is so late! Please let me have my hand."

He took no notice, and they went hand-in-hand, she drawing him, to the
foot of the stairs.

"George!" said a shrill, hesitating voice from overhead.

George looked up, and saw his mother. He and Letty started apart, and in
another second Letty had glided upstairs and disappeared.

"Yes, mother," said George, impatiently.

"Will you come here?"

He mounted, and found Lady Tressady a little discomposed, but as
affected as usual.

"Oh, George! it was so dark--I didn't see--I didn't know. George, will
you have half an hour's talk with me after breakfast to-morrow? Oh,
George, my dear boy, my _dear_ boy! Your poor mammy understands!"

She laid one hand on his shoulder and, lifting her feather fan in the
other, shook it with playful meaning in the direction whither Letty
had departed.

George hastily withdrew himself. "Of course I will have a talk with you,
mother. As for anything else, I don't know what you mean. But you really
must let me go to bed; I am much too tired to talk now. Good-night."

Lady Tressady went back to her room, smiling but anxious.

"She has caught him!" she said to herself; "barefaced little flirt! It is
not altogether the best thing for me. But it may dispose him to be
generous, if--if I can play my cards."

Letty Sewell meanwhile had reached the quiet of a luxurious bedroom, and
summoned her maid to her assistance. When the maid departed, the mistress
held long counsel with herself over the fire: the general position of her
affairs; what she desired; what other people intended; her will, and the
chances, of getting it. Her thoughts dealt with these various problems in
a skilled and business-like way. To a particular form of self-examination
Letty was well accustomed, and it had become by now a strong agent in the
development of individuality, as self-examination of another sort is said
to be by other kinds of people.

She herself was pleasantly conscious of real agitation. George Tressady
had touched her feelings, thrilled her nerves, more than--Yes! she said
to herself decidedly, more than anybody else, more than "the rest." She
thought of "the rest," one after the other--thought of them
contemptuously. Yet, certainly few girls in her own set and part of the
country had enjoyed a better time--few, perhaps, had dared so many
adventures. Her mother had never interfered with her; and she herself had
not been afraid to be "talked about." Dances, picnics, moonlight walks;
the joys of outrageous "sitting-out," and hot rivalries with prettier
girls; of impertinences towards the men who didn't matter, and pretty
flatteries towards the men who did--it was all pleasant enough to think
of. She could not reproach herself with having missed any chances, any
opportunities her own will might have given her.

And yet--well, she was tired of it!--out of love altogether with her
maiden state and its opportunities. She had come to Malford House in a
state of soreness, which partly accounted, perhaps, for such airs as she
had been showing to poor Mrs. Hawkins. During the past year a particular
marriage--the marriage of her neighbourhood--had seemed intermittently
within her reach. She had played every card she knew--and she had failed!
Failed, too, in the most humiliating way. For the bride, indeed, was
chosen; but it was not Letty Sewell, but one of Letty's girl-neighbours.

To-night, almost for the first time, she could bear to think of it; she
could even smile at it. Vanity and ambition alone had been concerned, and
to-night these wild beasts of the heart were soothed and placable.

Well, it was no great match, of course--if it came off. All that Aunt
Watton knew about the Tressadys had been long since extracted from her by
her niece. And with Tressady himself Letty's artless questions had been
very effective. She knew almost all that she wished to know. No doubt
Ferth was a very second-rate "place"; and, since those horrid miners had
become so troublesome, his income as a coal-owner could not be what his
father's had been--three or four thousand a year, she supposed--more,
perhaps, in good years. It was not much.

Still--she pressed her hands on her eyes--he was _distinguished_; she saw
that plainly already. He would be welcome anywhere.

"And we are _not_ distinguished--that is just it. We are small people, in
a rather dull set. And I have had hard work to make anything of it. Aunt
Watton was very lucky to marry as she did. Of course, she _made_ Uncle
Watton marry her; but that was a chance--and papa always says nobody else
could have done it!"

She fell happily thinking of Tressady's skirmishes with her, her face
dimpling with amusement. Captain Addison! How amazed he would be could he
know the use to which she had put his name and his very hesitating
attentions. But he would never know; and meanwhile Sir George had been
really pricked--really jealous! She laughed to herself--a low laugh of
pure pleasure.

Yes--she had made up her mind. With a sigh, she put away from her all
other and loftier ambitions. She supposed that she had not money or
family enough. One must face the facts. George Tressady would take her
socially into another _milieu_ than her own, and a higher one. She told
herself that she had always pined for Parliament, politics, and eminent
people. Why should she not succeed in that world as well as in the
Helbeck world? Of course she would succeed!

There was his mother--silly, painted old lady! She was naturally the
_great_ drawback; and Aunt Watton said she was absurdly extravagant, and
would ruin Tressady if it went on. All the more reason why he should be
protected. Letty drew herself sharply together in her pretty white
dressing-gown, with the feeling that mothers of that kind must and could
be kept in their place.

A house in town, of course--and _not_ in Warwick Square, where,
apparently, the Tressadys owned a house, which had been let, and was now
once more in Sir George's hands. That might do for Lady Tressady--if,
indeed, she could afford it when her son had married and taken other
claims upon him.

Letty allowed her thoughts to wander dreamily on, envisaging the London
life that was to be: the young member, Lord Fontenoy's special friend and
_protégé_--the young member's wife making her way among great people,
giving charming little parties at Ferth--

All very well! But what, please, were the facts on his side? She buried
her small chin deep in her hands as she tried, frowning, to think it out.
Certainly he was very much drawn, very much taken. She had watched him,
sometimes, trying to keep away from her--and her lips parted in a broad
smile as she recalled the triumph of his sudden returns and submissions.
She believed he had a curious temper--easily depressed, for all his
coolness. But he had never been depressed in her company.

Still, _nothing_ was certain. All that had happened might melt away into
nothingness with the greatest ease if--well! if the right steps were not
taken. He was no novice, any more than she; he must have had scores of
"affairs" by now, with that manner of his. Such men were always capable
of second thoughts, of tardy retreats--and especially if there were the
smallest thought of persecution, of pursuit.

She believed--she was nearly certain--he would have a reaction to-morrow,
perhaps because his mother had caught them together. Next morning he
would be just a little bored by the thought of it--a little bored by
having to begin again where he had left off. Without great tact and skill
the whole edifice might tumble together like a house of cards. Had she
the courage to make difficulties--to put a water-ditch across his path?

It was close on midnight when Letty at last raised her little chin from
the hands that held it and rang the bell that communicated with her
maid's room, but cautiously, so as not to disturb the rest of the
sleeping house.

"If Grier _is_ asleep, she must wake up, that's all!"

Two or three minutes afterwards a dishevelled maid startled out of her
first slumber appeared, to ask whether her mistress was ill.

"No, Grier, but I wanted to tell you that I have changed my mind about
staying here till Saturday. I am going to-morrow morning by the 9.30
train. You can order a fly first thing, and bring me my breakfast early."

The maid, groaning at the thought of the boxes that would have to be
packed in this inconceivable hurry, ventured to protest.

"Never mind, you can get the housemaid to help you," said Miss Sewell,
decidedly. "I don't mind what you give her. Now go to bed, Grier. I'm
sorry I woke you up; you look as tired as an owl."

Then she stood still, looking at herself--hands clasped lightly before
her--in the long glass.

"'Letty went by the nine o'clock train,'" she said aloud, smiling, and
mocking her own white reflection. "'Dear me! How sudden! how
extraordinary! Yes, but that's like her. H'm--' Then he must write to me,
for I shall write _him_ a civil little note asking for that book I lent
him. Oh! I _hope_ Aunt Watton and his mother will bore him to death!"

She broke out into a merry laugh; then, sweeping her mass of pretty hair
to one side, she began rapidly to coil it up for the night, her fingers
working as fast as her thoughts, which were busy with one ingenious plan
after another for her next meeting with George Tressady.



CHAPTER III


During this same space of time, which for Miss Sewell's maid ended so
disagreeably, George Tressady was engaged in a curious conversation.

He had excused himself from smoking, on the ground of fatigue,
immediately after his parting from Letty. But he had only nominally gone
to bed. He too found it difficult to tear himself from thinking and the
fire, and had not begun to undress when he heard a knock at his door. On
his reply, Lord Fontenoy entered.

"May I come in, Tressady?"

"By all means."

George, however, stared at his invader in some astonishment. His
relations with Fontenoy were not personally intimate.

"Well, I'm glad to find you still up, for I had a few words on my mind to
say to you before I go off to-morrow. Can you spare me ten minutes?"

"Certainly; do sit down. Only--well, I'm afraid I'm pretty well done. If
it's anything important, I can't promise to take it in."

Lord Fontenoy for a moment made no reply. He stood by the fire, looking
at the cigarette he still held, in silence. George watched him with
repressed annoyance.

"It's been a very hot fight, this," said Fontenoy at last, slowly, "and
you've won it well. All our band have prospered in the matter of
elections. But this contest of yours has been, I think, the most
conspicuous that any of us have fought. Your speeches have made a
mark--one can see that from the way in which the Press has begun to take
them, political beginner though you are. In the House you will be, I
think, our best speaker--of course with time and experience. As for me,
if you give me a fortnight to prepare in, I can make out something.
Otherwise I am no use. _You_ will take a good debating place from the
beginning. Well, it is only what I expected."

The speaker stopped. George, fidgeting in his chair, said nothing; and
presently Fontenoy resumed:

"I trust you will not think what I am going to say an intrusion, but--you
remember my letters to you in India?"

George nodded.

"They put the case strongly, I think," Fontenoy went on, "but, in my
opinion, not strongly enough. This wretched Government is in power by the
help of a tyranny--a tyranny of Labour. They call themselves
Conservatives--they are really State Socialists, and the mere catspaws of
the revolutionary Socialists. You and I are in Parliament to break down
that tyranny, if we can. This year and next will be all-important. If we
can hold Maxwell and his friends in check for a time--if we can put some
backbone into the party of freedom--if we can rally and call up the
forces we have in the country, the thing will be done. We shall have
established the counterpoise--we shall very likely turn the next
election, and liberty--or what still remains of it!--will be saved for a
generation. But to succeed, the effort, the sacrifice, from each one of
us, will have to be _enormous_."

Fontenoy paused, and looked at his companion. George was lying back in
an armchair with his eyes shut. Why on earth--so he was
thinking--should Fontenoy have chosen this particular hour and this
particular night to _débiter_ these very stale things, that he had
already served up in innumerable speeches and almost every letter that
George had received from him?

"I don't suppose it will be child's-play," he said, stifling a
yawn--"hope I shall feel keener after a night's rest!" He looked up
with a smile.

Fontenoy dropped his cigarette into the fender and stood silent a moment,
his hands clasped behind his back.

"Look here, Tressady!" he said at last, turning to his companion; "you
remember how affairs stood with me when you left England? I didn't know
much of you, but I believe, like many of my juniors, you knew a great
deal about me?"

George made the sign of assent expected of him.

"I knew something about you, certainly," he said, smiling; "it was not
difficult."

Fontenoy smiled too, though without geniality. Geniality had become
impossible to a man always overworked and on edge.

"I was a fool," he said quickly--"an open and notorious fool. But I
enjoyed my life. I don't suppose anyone ever enjoyed life more. Every day
of my former existence gave the lie to the good people who tell you that
to be happy you must be virtuous. I was idle, extravagant, and vicious,
and I was one of the happiest of men. As to my racing and my horses, they
were a constant delight to me. I can't think now of those mornings on the
Heath--the gallops of my colts--the change and excitement of it all,
without longing for it to come back again. Yet I have never owned a
horse, or seen a race, or made a bet, for the last three years. I never
go into society, except for political purposes; and I scarcely ever touch
wine. In fact, I have thrown overboard everything that once gave _me_
pleasure and amusement so completely that I have, perhaps, some right to
press upon the party that follows me my conviction that unless each and
all of us give up private ease and comfort as I have done--unless we are
contented, as the Parnellites were, to be bores in the House and
nuisances to ourselves--to peg away in season and out of season--to give
up everything for the cause, we may just as well not go into the fight at
all--for we shall do nothing with it."

George clasped his hands round his knee, and stared stubbornly into the
fire. Sermonising was all very well, but Fontenoy did too much of it;
nobody need suppose that he would have done what he had done, unless, on
the whole, it had given him more pleasure to do it than not to do it.

"Well," he said, looking up at last with a laugh, "I wonder what you
_mean_--really. Do you mean, for instance, that I oughtn't to get
myself married?"

His offhand manner covered a good deal of irritation. He made a shrewd
guess at the idea in Fontenoy's mind, and meant to show that he would not
be dictated to.

Fontenoy also laughed, with as little geniality as before. Then he
applied himself to a deliberate answer.

"_This_ is what I mean. If you, just elected--at the beginning of this
critical session--were to give your best mind to anything else in the
world than the fight before us, I should regard you as, for the time, at
any rate, lost to us--as, so far, betraying us."

The colour rushed into George's cheeks.

"Upon my word!" he said, springing up--"upon my word, you are a
taskmaster!"

Fontenoy hastened to reply, in a different tone, "I only want to keep the
machine in order."

George paced up and down for a few moments without speaking. Presently
he paused.

"Look here, Fontenoy! I cannot look at the matter as you do, and we may
as well understand each other. To me, this election of mine is, after
all, an ordinary affair. I take it, and what is to come after it, just as
other men do. I have accepted your party and your programme, and I mean
to stick to them. I see that the political situation is difficult and
exciting, and I don't intend to shirk. But I am no more going to slay my
private life and interests at the altar of politics than my father did
when he was in Parliament. If the revolution is coming, it will come in
spite of you and me. And, moreover--if you will let me say so--I am
convinced that your modes of procedure are not even profitable to the
cause in the long run. No man can work as you do, without rest and
without distraction. You will break down, and then, where will the
'cause' be?"

Lord Fontenoy surveyed the speaker with a curious, calculating look. It
was as though, with as much rapidity as his mind was capable of, he
balanced a number of pros and cons against each other, and finally
decided to let the matter drop, perhaps not without some regret for
having raised it.

"Ah! well," he said, "I have no doubt that what I have said appears to
you mere meddlesomeness. If so, you will change your view, and you will
forgive me. I must trust the compulsion of the situation. You will
realise it, as I have done, when you get well into the fight. There is
something in this Labour tyranny which rouses all a man's passions, bad
and good. If it does not rouse yours, I have been much mistaken in my
estimate of you. As for me, don't waste your concern. There are few
stronger men than I. You forget, too--"

There was a pause. Of late years, since his transformation in fact, Lord
Fontenoy's stiff reserve about himself had been rarely broken through. At
this moment, however, George, looking up, saw that his companion was in
some way moved by a kind of sombre and personal emotion.

"You forget," the speaker resumed, "that I learnt nothing either at
school or college, and that a man who wants to lead a party must, some
time or other, pay for that precious privilege. When you left England,
the only financial statement I could understand was a betting-book. I
knew no history except what one gets from living among people who have
been making it, and even that I was too lazy to profit by. I couldn't
understand the simplest economical argument, and I _hated_ trouble of all
kinds. Nothing but the toil of a galley-slave could have enabled me to do
what I have done. You would be astonished sometimes if you could look in
upon me at night and see what I am doing--what I am obliged to do to keep
up the most elementary appearances."

George was touched. The tone of the speaker had passed suddenly into one
of plain dignity, in spite of, perhaps because of, the half-bitter
humility that mingled with it.

"I know you make one ashamed," he said sincerely, though awkwardly.
"Well, don't distrust me; I'll do my best."

"Good-night," said Lord Fontenoy, and held out his hand. He had gained no
promises, and George had shown and felt annoyance. Yet the friendship
between the two men had sensibly advanced.

       *       *       *       *       *

George shut the door upon him, and came back to the fire to ponder this
odd quarter of an hour.

His experience certainly contained no more extraordinary fact than this
conversion of a gambler and a spendthrift into the passionate leader of
an arduous cause. Only one quality linked the man he remembered with the
politician he had now pledged himself to follow--the quality of
intensity. Dicky Fontenoy in his follies had been neither gay nor
lovable, but his fierce will, his extravagant and reckless force, had
given him the command of men softer than himself. That will and that
force were still there, steeled and concentrated. But George Tressady was
sometimes restlessly doubtful as to how far he himself was prepared to
submit to them.

His personal acquaintance with Fontenoy was of comparatively recent date.
He himself had been for some four years away from England, to which he
had only returned about three months before the Market Malford election.
A letter from Fontenoy had been the immediate cause of his return; but
before it arrived the two men had been in no direct communication.

The circumstances of Tressady's long absence concern his later story, and
were on this wise. His father, Sir William, the owner of Ferth Place, in
West Mercia, died in the year that George, his only surviving child and
the son of his old age, left college. The son, finding his father's debts
considerable and his own distaste for the law, to which he had been
destined, amazingly increased by his newly acquired freedom to do what he
liked with himself, turned his mind at once towards travelling. Travel he
must if he was ever to take up public and parliamentary life, and for no
other profession--so he announced--did he feel the smallest vocation.
Moreover, economy was absolutely necessary. During his absence the London
house could be let, and Lady Tressady could live quietly at Ferth upon an
allowance, while his uncles looked after the colliery property.

Lady Tressady made no difficulty, except as to the figure first named for
the proposed allowance, which she declared was absurd. The uncles,
elderly business men, could not understand why the younger generation
should not go into harness at once without indulgences, as they
themselves had done; but George got his way, and had much reason to show
for it. He had not been idle at college, though perhaps at no time
industrious enough. Influenced by natural ambition and an able tutor, he
had won some distinction, and he was now a man full of odds and ends of
ideas, of nascent interests, curiosities, and opinions, strongly
influenced moreover already, though he said less about it than about
other things, by the desire for political distinction. While still at
college he had been especially attracted--owing mainly to the chances of
an undergraduate friendship--by a group of Eastern problems bearing upon
England's future in Asia; and he was no sooner free to govern himself and
his moderate income than there flamed up in him the Englishman's passion
to see, to touch, to handle, coupled with the young man's natural desire
to go where it was dangerous to go, and where other men were not going.
His friend--the son of an eminent geographer, possessed by inheritance of
the explorer's instincts--was just leaving England for Asia Minor,
Armenia, and Persia. George made up his mind, hastily but firmly, to go
with him, and his family had to put up with it.

The year, however, for which the young fellow had stipulated went by; two
others were added to it; and a fourth began to run its course--still
George showed but faint signs of returning. According to his letters
home, he had wandered through Persia, India, and Ceylon; had found
friends and amusement everywhere; and in the latter colony had even
served eight months as private secretary to the Governor, who had taken
a fancy to him, and had been suddenly bereft by a boating accident of the
indispensable young man who was accustomed to direct the hospitalities of
Government House before Tressady's advent. Thence he went to China and
Japan, made a trip from Pekin into Mongolia, landed on Formosa, fell in
with some French naval officers at Saigon, spending with them some of the
gayest and maddest weeks of his life; explored Siam, and finally returned
by way of Burmah to Calcutta, with the dim intention this time of some
day, before long, taking ship for home.

Meanwhile during the last months of his stay in Ceylon he had written
some signed articles for an important English newspaper, which, together
with the natural liking felt by the many important persons he had come to
know in the East for an intelligent and promising young fellow, endowed
with brains, family, and good manners, served to bring him considerably
into notice. The tone of the articles was strongly English and
Imperialist. The first of them came out immediately before his visit to
Saigon, and Tressady thanked his lucky stars that the foreign reading of
his French friends was, perhaps, not so extensive as their practical
acquaintance with life. He was, however, proud of his first literary
achievement, and it served to crystallise in him a number of ideas and
sentiments which had previously represented rather the prejudices of a
traveller accustomed to find his race in the ascendant, and to be well
received by its official class than any reasoned political theory. As he
went on writing, conviction, grew with statement, became a faith,
ultimately a passion--till, as he turned homewards, he seemed to himself
to have attained a philosophy sufficient to steer the rest of life by. It
was the common philosophy of the educated and fastidious observer; and it
rested on ideas of the greatness of England and the infinity of England's
mission, on the rights of ability to govern as contrasted with the
squalid possibilities of democracy, on the natural kingship of the higher
races, and on a profound personal admiration for the virtues of the
administrator and the soldier.

Now, no man in whom these perceptions take strong root early, need expect
to love popular government. Tressady read his English newspapers with
increasing disgust. On that little England in those far seas all
depended, and England meant the English working-man with his flatteries
of either party. He blundered and blustered at home, while the Empire,
its services and its defences, by which alone all this pullulating
"street folk" existed for a day, were in danger of starvation and
hindrance abroad, to meet the unreasonable fancies of a degenerate race.
A deep hatred of mob-rule rooted itself in Tressady, passing gradually,
during his last three months in India, into a growing inclination to
return and take his place in the fight--to have his say. "Government to
the competent--_not_ to the many," might have been the summary of his
three years' experience.

Nor were private influences wanting. He was a West Mercian landowner in a
coal-mining district, and owned a group of pits on the borders of his
estate. His uncles, who had shares in the property, reported to him
periodically during his absence. With every quarter it seemed to Tressady
that the reports grew worse and the dividends less. His uncles' letters,
indeed, were full of anxieties and complaints. After a long period of
peace in the coal-trade, it looked as though a time of hot war between
masters and men was approaching. "We have to thrash them every fifteen
years," wrote one of the uncles, "and the time is nearly up."

The unreason, brutality, and extravagance of the men; the tyranny of the
Union; the growing insolence of the Union officials--Tressady's letters
from home after a time spoke of little else. And Tressady's bankbook
meanwhile formed a disagreeable comment on the correspondence. The pits
were almost running at a loss; yet neither party had made up their minds
to the trial of strength.

Tressady was still lingering in Bombay--though supposed to be on his way
home--when Lord Fontenoy's letter reached him.

The writer referred slightly to their previous acquaintance, and to a
remote family connection between himself and Tressady; dwelt in
flattering terms on the reports which had reached him from many quarters
of Tressady's opinions and abilities; described the genesis and aims of
the new Parliamentary party, of which the writer was the founder and
head; and finally urged him to come home at once, and to stand for
Parliament as a candidate for the Market Malford division, where the
influence of Fontenoy's family was considerable. Since the general
election, which had taken place in June, and had returned a moderate
Conservative Government to power, the member for Market Malford had
become incurably ill. The seat might be vacant at any moment. Fontenoy
asked for a telegram, and urged the next steamer.

Tressady had already--partly from private talk, partly from the
newspapers--learnt the main outlines of Lord Fontenoy's later story. The
first political speech of Fontenoy's he had ever read made a
half-farcical impression on him--let Dicky stick to his two-year-olds!
The second he read twice over, and alike in it, in certain party
manifestoes from the same hand printed in the newspapers, and in the
letter he had now received, there spoke something for which it seemed to
him he had been waiting. The style was rough and halting, but Tressady
felt in it the note and power of a leader.

He took an hour's walk through the streets of Bombay to think it
over, then sent his telegram, and booked his passage on his way home
to luncheon.

Such, in brief outline, had been the origin of the two men's
acquaintance. Since George's return they had been constantly together.
Fontenoy had thrown his whole colossal power of work into the struggle
for the Market Malford seat, and George owed him much.

       *       *       *       *       *

After he was left to himself on this particular night, Tressady was for
long restless and wakeful. In spite of resistance, Fontenoy's talk and
Fontenoy's personality had nevertheless restored for the moment an
earlier balance of mind. The interests of ambition and the intellect
returned in force. Letty Sewell had, no doubt, made life very agreeable
to him during the past three weeks; but, after all--was it worth while?

Her little figure danced before the inward eye as his fire sank into
darkness; fragments of her chatter ran through his mind. He began to be
rather ashamed of himself. Fontenoy was right. It was not the moment. No
doubt he must marry some day; he had come home, indeed, with the vague
intention of marrying; but the world was wide, and women many. That he
had very little romance in his temperament was probably due to his
mother. His childish experiences of her character, and of her relations
to his father, had left him no room, alas! for the natural childish
opinion that all grown-ups, and especially all mothers, are saints. In
India he had amused himself a good deal; but his adventures had, on the
whole, confirmed his boyish bias. If he had been forced to put his inmost
opinions about women into words, the result would have been
crude--perhaps brutal; which did not prevent him from holding a very
strong and vivid conviction of the pleasure to be got from their society.

Accordingly, he woke up next morning precisely in the mood that Letty,
for her own reasons, had foreseen. It worried him to think that for two
or three days more he and Letty Sewell must still be thrown together in
close relations. He and his mother were waiting on at Malford for a day
or two till some workmen should be out of his own house, which lay
twenty miles away, at the farther edge of the Market Malford division.
Meanwhile a couple of shooting-parties had been arranged, mainly for
his entertainment. Still, was there no urgent business that required
him in town?

He sauntered in to breakfast a little before ten. Only Evelyn Watton and
her mother were visible, most of the men having already gone off to a
distant meet.

"Now sit down and entertain us, Sir George," said Mrs. Watton, holding
out her hand to him with an odd expression. "We're as dull as ditch
water--the men have all gone--Florrie's in bed with a chill--and Letty
departed by the 9.30 train."

George's start, as he took his coffee from her, did not escape her.

"Miss Sewell gone? But why this suddenness?" he inquired. "I thought Miss
Letty was to be here to the end of the week."

Mrs. Watton raised her shoulders. "She sent a note in to me at half-past
eight to say her mother wasn't well, and she was wanted at home. She just
rushed in to say good-bye to me, chattered a great deal, kissed everybody
a great deal--and I know no more. I hear she had breakfast and a fly,
which is all I troubled myself about. I never interfere with the modern
young woman."

Then she raised her eyeglass, and looked hard and curiously at Tressady.
His face told her nothing, however, and as she was the least sympathetic
of women, she soon forgot her own curiosity.

Evelyn Watton, a vision of fresh girlhood in her morning frock, glanced
shyly at him once or twice as she gave him scones and mustard. She was
passing through a moment of poetry and happy dreams. All human beings
walked glorified in her eyes, especially if they were young. Letty was
not wholly to her taste, and had never been a particular friend. But she
thought ill of no one, and her little heart must needs flutter tenderly
in the presence of anything that suggested love and marriage. It had
delighted her to watch George and Letty together. Now, why had Letty
rushed away like this? _She_ thought with concern, thrilling all the
time, that Sir George looked grave and depressed.

George, however, was not depressed--or thought he was not. He walked into
the library after breakfast, whistling, and quoting to himself:

And there be they
Who kissed his wings which brought him yesterday,
And thank his wings to-day that he is flown.

He prided himself on his memory of some modern poets, and the lines
pleased him particularly.

He had no sooner done quoting, however, than his mother peered into the
room, claiming the business talk that had been promised. From that talk
George emerged irritable and silent. His mother's extravagance was really
preposterous!--not to be borne. For four years now he had been free from
the constant daily friction of money troubles which had spoilt his youth
and robbed him of all power of respecting his mother. And he had hugged
his freedom. But all the time it seemed he had been hugging illusion, and
the troubles had been merely piling up for his return! Her present
claims--and he knew very well that they were not the whole--would exhaust
all his available balance at his bankers'.

Lady Tressady, for her part, thought, with indignant despair, that he had
not behaved at all as an only son should--especially an only son just
returned to a widowed mother after four years' absence. How could anyone
suppose that in four years there would be no debts--on such a pittance of
an income? Some money, indeed, he had promised her; but not nearly
enough, and not immediately. He "must look into things at home." Lady
Tressady was enraged with herself and him that she had not succeeded
better in making him understand how pressing, how _urgent_, matters were.

She _must_, indeed, bring it home to him that there might be a scandal at
any moment. That odious livery-stable man, two or three dressmakers--in
these directions every phase and shift of the debtor's long _finesse_ had
been exhausted long ago. Even _she_ was at her wits' end.

As for other matters--But from these her thoughts turned hurriedly away.
Luck would change, of course, sometime; it must change! No need to say
anything about _that_ just yet, especially while George's temper was in
such a queer state.

It was very odd--most annoying! As a baby even he had never been
caressing or sweet like other people's babies. And now, really!--why
_her_ son should have such unattractive ways!

But, manoeuvre as she would, George would not be drawn into further
discussion. She could only show him offended airs, and rack her brains
morning and night as to how best to help herself.

Meanwhile George had never been so little pleased with living as
during these few days. He was overwhelmed with congratulations; and,
to judge from the newspapers, "all England," as Lady Tressady said,
"was talking of him." It seemed to him ridiculous that a man should
derive so little entertainment from such a fact. Nevertheless, his
dulness remained, and refused to be got rid of. He discussed with
himself, of course, for a new set of reasons, the possibility of
evading the shooting-parties, and departing. But he was deeply pledged
to stay; and he was under considerable obligations to the Wattons. So
he stayed; but he shot so as to increase his own dissatisfaction with
the universe, and to make the other men in the house wonder what might
be the general value of an Indian sporting reputation when it came to
dealing with the British pheasant.

Then he turned to business. He tried to read some Parliamentary reports
bearing on a coming measure, and full of notes by Fontenoy, which
Fontenoy had left with him. But it only ended in his putting them hastily
aside, lest in the mood of obscure contradiction that possessed him he
should destroy his opinions before he had taken his seat.

On the day before the last "shoot," among the letters his servant brought
him in the early morning, was one that he tore open in a hurry, tossing
the rest aside.

It was from Miss Sewell, requesting, prettily, in as few words as
possible, that he would return her a book she had lent him.

"My mother," she wrote, "has almost recovered from her sudden attack of
chill. I trust the shooting-parties have amused you, and that you have
read _all_ Lord Fontenoy's Blue Books."

George wrote a reply before he went down to breakfast--a piece of
ordinary small-talk, that seemed to him the most wretched stuff
conceivable. But he pulled two pens to pieces before he achieved it.

Then he went out for a long walk alone, pondering what was the matter
with him. Had that little witch dropped the old familiar poison into his
veins after all? Certainly some women made life vivacity and pleasure,
while others--his mother or Mrs. Watton, for instance--made it fatigue
or tedium.

Ever since his boyhood Tressady had been conscious of intermittent
assaults of melancholy, fits of some inner disgust, which hung the world
in black, crippled his will, made him hate himself and despise his
neighbours. It was, possibly, some half-conscious dread lest this morbid
speck in his nature should gain upon the rest that made him so hungry for
travel and change of scene after he left college. It explained many
surprises, many apparent ficklenesses in his life. During the three weeks
that he had spent in the same house with Letty Sewell he had never once
been conscious of this lurking element of his life. And now, after four
days, he found himself positively pining for her voice, the rustle of her
delicate dress, her defiant, provocative ways that kept a man on the
alert--still more, her smiling silences that seemed to challenge all his
powers, the touch of her small cool hand that crushed so easily in his.

What had she left the house for in that wilful way? He did not believe
her excuses. Yet he was mystified. Did she realise that things were
becoming serious, and did she not mean them to be serious? If so, who or
what hindered?

As for Fontenoy--

Tressady quickened his step impatiently as he recalled that harassed and
toiling figure. Politics or no politics, _he_ would live his life!
Besides, it was obviously to his profit to marry. How could he ever make
a common household with his mother? He meant to do his duty by her, but
she annoyed and abashed him twenty times a day. He would be far happier
married, far better able to do his work. He was not passionately in
love--not at all. But--for it was no good fencing with himself any
longer--he desired Letty Sewell's companionship more than he had desired
anything for a long time. He wanted the right to carry off the little
musical box, with all its tunes, and set it playing in his own house, to
keep him gay. Why not? He could house it prettily, and reward it well.

As for the rest, he decided, without thinking about it, that Letty Sewell
was well born and bred. She had, of course, all the little refinements a
fastidious taste might desire in a woman. She would never discredit a man
in society. On the contrary, she would be a great strength to him there.
And she must be sweet-tempered, or that pretty child Evelyn Watton would
not be so fond of her.

That pretty child, meanwhile, was absorbed in the excitement of her own
small _rôle_. Tressady, who had only made duty-conversation with her
before, had found out somehow that she was sympathetic--that she would
talk to him charmingly about Letty. After a very little pretending, he
let himself go; and Evelyn dreamt at night of his confidences, her heart,
without knowing it, leaping forward to the time when a man would look at
her so, for her own sake--not another's. She forgot that she had ever
criticised Letty, thought her vain or selfish. Nay, she made a heroine of
her forthwith; she remembered all sorts of delightful things to say of
her, simply that she might keep the young member talking in a corner,
that she might still enjoy the delicious pride of feeling that she
knew--she was helping it on.

After the big "shoot," for instance, when all the other gentlemen were
stiff and sleepy, George spent the whole evening in chattering to Evelyn,
or, rather, in making her chatter. Lady Tressady loitered near them once
or twice. She heard the names "Letty," "Miss Sewell," passing and
repassing--one talker catching up the other. Over any topic that included
Miss Sewell they lingered; when anything was begun that did not concern
her, it dropped at once, like a ball ill thrown. The mother went away
smiling rather sourly.

She watched her son, indeed, cat-like all these days, trying to discover
what had happened--what his real mind was. She did not wish for a
daughter-in-law at all, and she had even a secret fear of Letty Sewell
in that capacity. But somehow George must be managed, her own needs must
be met. She felt that she might be undoing the future; but the present
drove her on.

On the following morning, from one of Mrs. Watton's numerous letters
there dropped out the fact that Letty Sewell was expected immediately at
a country house in North Mercia whereof a certain Mrs. Corfield was
mistress--a house only distant some twenty miles from the Tressadys'
estate of Ferth Place.

"My sister-in-law has recovered with remarkable rapidity," said Mrs.
Watton, raising a sarcastic eye. "Do you know anything of the Corfields,
Sir George?"

"Nothing at all," said George. "One hears of them sometimes from
neighbours. They are said to be very lively folk. Miss Sewell will have a
gay time."

"Corfield?" said Lady Tressady, her head on one side and her cup balanced
in two jewelled hands. "What! _Aspasia Corfield_! Why, my dear
George--one of my oldest friends!"

George laughed--the short, grating laugh his mother so often evoked.

"Beg pardon, mother; I can only answer for myself. To the best of my
belief I never saw her, either at Ferth or anywhere else."

"Why, Aspasia Corfield and I," said Lady Tressady with languid
reflectiveness--"Aspasia Corfield and I copied each other's dresses,
and bought our hats at the same place, when we were eighteen. I haven't
seen her for an eternity. But Aspasia used to be a _dear_ girl--and so
fond of me!"

She put down her cup with a sigh, intended as a reproach to George.
George only buried himself the deeper in his morning's letters.

Mrs. Watton, behind her newspaper, glanced grimly from the mother
to the son.

"I wonder if that woman has a single real old friend in the world. How
is George Tressady going to put up with her?"

The Wattons themselves had been on friendly terms with Tressady's father
for many years. Since Sir William's death and George's absence, however,
Mrs. Watton had not troubled herself much about Lady Tressady, in which
she believed she was only following suit with the rest of West Mercia.
But now that George had reappeared as a promising politician, his
mother--till he married--had to be to some extent accepted along with
him. Mrs. Watton accordingly had thought it her duty to invite her for
the election, not without an active sense of martyrdom. "She always has
bored me to tears since I first saw Sir William trailing her about," she
would remark to Letty. "Where did he pick her up? The marvel is that she
has kept respectable. She has never looked it. I always feel inclined to
ask her at breakfast why she dresses for dinner twelve hours too soon!"

Very soon after the little conversation about the Corfields Lady Tressady
withdrew to her room, sat thoughtful for a while, with her writing-block
on her knee, then wrote a letter. She was perfectly aware of the fact
that since George had come back to her she was likely to be welcome once
more in many houses that for years had shown no particular desire to
receive her. She took the situation very easily. It was seldom her way to
be bitter. She was only determined to amuse herself, to enjoy her life in
her own way. If people disapproved of her, she thought them fools, but it
did not prevent her from trying to make it up with them next day, if she
saw an opening and it seemed worth while.

"There!" she said to herself as she sealed the letter, and looked at it
with admiration, "I really have a knack for doing those things. I should
think Aspasia Corfield would ask him by return--me, too, if she has any
decency, though she _has_ dropped me for fifteen years. She has a tribe
of daughters.--_Why_ I should play Miss Sewell's game like this I don't
know! Well, one must try something."

That same afternoon mother and son took their departure for Ferth Place.

George, who had only spent a few weeks at Ferth since his return from
India, should have found plenty to do both indoors and out. The house
struck him as singularly dingy and out of order. Changes were
imperatively demanded in the garden and in the estate. His business as a
colliery-owner was in a tangled and critical condition. And meanwhile
Fontenoy plied him incessantly with a political correspondence which of
itself made large demands upon intelligence and energy.

Nevertheless he shuffled out of everything, unless it were the
correspondence with Fontenoy. As to the notion that all the languor could
be due merely to an unsatisfied craving for Letty Sewell's society, when
it presented itself he still fought with it. The Indian climate might
have somehow affected him. An English winter is soon forgotten, and has
to be re-learnt like a distasteful lesson.

About a week after their arrival at Ferth George was sitting at his
solitary breakfast when his mother came floating into the room, preceded
by a rattle of bangles, a flutter of streamers, and the barking of
little dogs.

She held various newly opened letters, and, running up to him, she laid
her hands on his shoulders.

"Now"--thought George to himself with annoyance, "she is going to be
arch!"

"Oh! you silly boy!" she said, holding him, with her head on one side.
"Who's been cross and nasty to his poor old mammy? Who wants cheering up
a bit before he settles down to his horrid work? Who would take his
mammy to a nice party at a nice house, if he were prettily asked--eh?
who would?"

She pinched his cheek before he could escape.

"Well, mother, of course you will do what you like," said George, walking
off to supply himself with ham. "I shall not leave home again, just yet."

Lady Tressady smiled.

"Well, anyhow, you can read Aspasia Corfield's letter," she said, holding
it out to him. "You know, really, that house isn't bad. They took over
the Dryburghs' _chef_, and Aspasia knows how to pick her people."

"Aspasia!" The tone of patronising intimacy! George blushed, if his
mother did not.

Yet he took the letter. He read it, then put it down, and walked to the
window to look at a crowd of birds that had been collecting round a plate
of food he had just put out upon the snow.

"Well, will you go?" said his mother.

"If you particularly wish it," he said, after a pause, in an
embarrassed voice.

Lady Tressady's dimples were in full play as she settled herself into her
seat and began to gather a supply of provisions. But as he returned to
his place, and she glanced at him, she saw that he was not in a mood to
be bantered, and understood that he was not going to let her force his
confidence, however shrewdly she might guess at his affairs. So she
controlled herself, and began to chatter about the Corfields and their
party. He responded, and by the end of breakfast they were on much better
terms than they had been for some weeks.

That morning also he wrote a cheque for her immediate necessities, which
made her--for the time--a happy woman; and she overwhelmed him with
grateful tears and embraces, which he did his best to bear.

Early in December he and she became the Corfields' guests. They found a
large party collected, and Letty Sewell happily established as the spoilt
child of the house. At the first touch of her hand, the first glance of
her eyes, George's cloud dispersed.

"Why did you run away?" George asked her on the first possible occasion.

Letty laughed, fenced with the question for four days, during which
George was never dull for a single instant, and then capitulated. She
allowed him to propose to her, and was graciously pleased to accept him.

The following week Tressady went down with Letty to her home at Helbeck.
He found an invalid father, a remarkably foolish, inconsequent mother,
and a younger sister, Elsie, on whom, as it seemed to him, the burdens of
the house mainly rested.

The father, who was suffering from a slow but incurable disease, had the
remains of much natural ability and acuteness. He was well content with
Tressady as a son-in-law; though in the few interviews that Tressady was
able to have with him on the question of settlements the young man took
pains to state his money affairs as carefully and modestly as possible.
Letty was not often in her father's room, and Mr. Sewell treated her,
when she did come, rather like an agreeable guest than a daughter. But he
was evidently extremely proud of her--as also was the mother--and he
would talk much to George, when his health allowed it, of her good looks
and her social success.

With the younger sister Tressady did not find it easy to make friends.

She was plain, sickly, and rather silent. She seemed to have scientific
tastes and to be a great reader. And, so far as he could judge, the two
sisters were not intimate.

"Don't hate me for taking her away!" he said, as he was bidding good-bye
to Elsie, and glancing over her shoulder at Letty on the stairs.

The girl's quiet eyes were crossed by a momentary look of amusement. Then
she controlled herself, and said gently:

"We didn't expect to keep her! Good-bye."



CHAPTER IV


"Oh, Tully, look at my cloak! You've let it fall! Hold my fan, please,
and give me the opera-glasses."

The speaker was Miss Sewell. She and an elderly lady were sitting side by
side in the stalls, about halfway down St. James's Hall. The occasion was
a popular concert, and, as Joachim was to play, every seat in the hall
was rapidly filling up.

Letty rose as she asked for the opera-glasses, and scanned the crowds
streaming in through the side-doors.

"No--no signs of him! He must have been kept at the House, after all,"
she said, with annoyance. "Really, Tully, I do think you might have got a
programme all this time! Why do you leave everything to me?"

"My dear!" said her companion, protesting, "you didn't tell me to."

"Well, I don't see why I should _tell_ you everything. Of course I want a
programme. Is that he? No! What a nuisance!"

"Sir George must have been detained," murmured her companion, timidly.

"What a very original thing to say, wasn't it, Tully?" remarked Miss
Sewell, with sarcasm, as she sat down again.

The lady addressed was silent, instinctively waiting till Letty's nerves
should have quieted down. She was a Miss Tulloch, a former governess of
the Sewells, and now often employed by Letty, when she was in town, as a
convenient chaperon. Letty was accustomed to stay with an aunt in
Cavendish Square, an old lady who did not go out in the evenings. A
chaperon therefore was indispensable, and Maria Tulloch could always be
had. She existed somewhere in West Kensington, on an income of seventy
pounds a year. Letty took her freely to the opera and the theatre, to
concerts and galleries, and occasionally gave her a dress she did not
want. Miss Tulloch clung to the connection as her only chance of relief
from the boarding-house routine she detested, and was always abjectly
ready to do as she was told. She saw nothing she was not meant to see,
and she could be shaken off at a moment's notice. For the rest, she came
of a stock of gentlefolk; and her invariable black dress, her bits of
carefully treasured lace, the weak refinement of her face, and her timid
manner did no discredit to the brilliant creature beside her.

When the first number of the programme was over, Letty got up once more,
opera-glass in hand, to search among the late-comers for her missing
lover. She nodded to many acquaintances, but George Tressady was not to
be seen; and she sat down finally in no mood either to listen or to
enjoy, though the magician of the evening was already at work.

"There's something very special, isn't there, you want to see Sir George
about to-night?" Tully inquired humbly when the next pause occurred.

"Of course there is!" said Letty, crossly. "You do ask such
foolish questions, Tully. If I don't see him to-night, he may let
that house in Brook Street slip. There are several people after
it--the agents told me."

"And he thinks it too expensive?"

"Only because of _her_. If she makes him pay her that preposterous
allowance, of course it will be too expensive. But I don't mean him
to pay it."

"Lady Tressady is terribly extravagant," murmured Miss Tulloch.

"Well, so long as she isn't extravagant with his money--_our_ money--I
don't care a rap," said Letty; "only she sha'n't spend all her own and
all ours too, which is what she has been doing. When George was away he
let her live at Ferth, and spend almost all the income, except five
hundred a year that he kept for himself. And _then_ she got so shamefully
into debt that he doesn't know when he shall ever clear her. He gave her
money at Christmas, and again, I am _sure_, just lately. Well! all I know
is that it must be _stopped_. I don't know that I shall be able to do
much till I'm married, but I mean to make him take this house."

"Is Lady Tressady nice to you? She is in town, isn't she?"

"Oh yes! she's in town. Nice?" said Letty, with a little laugh. "She
can't bear me, of course; but we're quite civil."

"I thought she tried to bring it on?" said the confidante, anxious, above
all things, to be sympathetic.

"Well, she brought him to the Corfields, and let me know she had. I don't
know why she did it. I suppose she wanted to get something out of him.
Ah! _there_ he is!"

And Letty stood up, smiling and beckoning, while Tressady's tall thin
figure made its way along the central passage.

"Horrid House! What made you so late?" she said, as he sat down between
her and Miss Tulloch.

George Tressady looked at her with delight. The shrewish contractions in
the face, which had been very evident to Tully a few minutes before, had
all disappeared, and the sharp slight lines of it seemed to George the
height of delicacy. At sight of him colour and eyes had brightened. Yet
at the same time there was not a trace of the raw girl about her. She
knew very well that he had no taste for _ingénues_, and she was neither
nervous nor sentimental in his company.

"Do you suppose I should have stayed a second longer than I was obliged?"
he asked her, smiling, pressing her little hand under pretence of taking
her programme.

The first notes of a new Brahms quartette mounted, thin and sweet, into
the air. The musical portion of the audience, having come for this
particular morsel, prepared themselves eagerly for the tasting and trying
of it. George and Letty tried to say a few things more to each other
before yielding to the general silence, but an old gentleman in front
turned upon them a face of such disdain and fury they must needs laugh
and desist.

Not that George was unwilling. He was tired; and silence with Letty
beside him was not only repose, but pleasure. Moreover, he derived a
certain honest pleasure of a mixed sort from music. It suggested literary
or pictorial ideas to him which stirred him, and gave him a sense of
enjoyment. Now, as the playing flowed on, it called up delightful images
in his brain: of woody places, of whirling forms, of quiet rivers, of
thin trees Corot-like against the sky--scenes of pleading, of frolic,
reproachful pain, dissolving joy. With it all mingled his own story, his
own feeling; his pride of possession in this white creature touching him;
his sense of youth, of opening life, of a crowded stage whereon his "cue"
had just been given, his "call" sounded. He listened with eagerness,
welcoming each fancy as it floated past, conscious of a grain of
self-abandonment even--a rare mood with him. He was not absorbed in love
by any means; the music spoke to him of a hundred other kindling or
enchanting things. Nevertheless it made it doubly pleasant to be there,
with Letty beside him. He was quite satisfied with himself and her; quite
certain that he had done everything for the best. All this the music in
some way emphasised--made clear.

When it was over, and the applause was subsiding, Letty said in his ear:
"Have you settled about the house?"

He smiled down upon her, not hearing what she said, but admiring her
dress, its little complication and subtleties, the violets that perfumed
every movement, the slim fingers holding the fan. Her mere ways of
personal adornment were to him like pleasant talk. They surprised and
amused him--stood between him and ennui.

She repeated her question.

A frown crossed his brow, and the face changed wholly.

"Ah!--it is so difficult to see one's way," he said, with a little sigh
of annoyance.

Letty played with her fan, and was silent.

"Do you so much prefer it to the others?" he asked her.

Letty looked up with astonishment.

"Why, it is a house!" she said, lifting her eyebrows; "and the others--"

"Hovels? Well, you are about right. The small London house is an
abomination. Perhaps I can make them take less premium."

Letty shook her head.

"It is not at all a dear house," she said decidedly.

He still frowned, with the look of one recalled to an annoyance he had
shaken off.

"Well, darling, if you wish it so much, that settles it. Promise to be
still nice to me when we go through the Bankruptcy Court!"

"We will let lodgings, and I will do the waiting," said Letty, just
laying her hand lightly against his for an instant. "Just think! That
house would draw like anything. Of course, we will only take the eldest
sons of peers. By the way, do you see Lord Fontenoy?"

They were in the middle of the "interval," and almost everyone about
them, including Miss Tulloch, was standing up, talking or examining their
neighbours.

George craned his neck round Miss Tulloch, and saw Fontenoy sitting
beside a lady, on the other side of the middle gangway.

"Who is the lady?" Letty inquired. "I saw her with him the other night at
the Foreign Office."

George smiled.

"_That_--if you want to know--is Fontenoy's story!"

"Oh, but tell me at once!" said Letty, imperiously. "But he hasn't got a
story, or a heart. He's only stuffed with blue-book."

"So I thought till a few weeks ago. But I know a good deal more now about
Master Fontenoy than I did."

"But who is she?"

"She is a Mrs. Allison. Isn't that white hair beautiful? And her
face--half saint, I always think--you might take her for a
mother-abbess--and half princess. Did you ever see such diamonds?"

George pulled his moustaches, and grinned as he looked across at
Fontenoy.

"Tell me quick!" said Letty, tapping him on the arm--"Is she a
widow?--and is he going to marry her? Why didn't you tell me before?--why
didn't you tell me at Malford?"

"Because I didn't know," said George, laughing. "Oh! it's a strange
story--too long to tell now. She is a widow, but he is not going to marry
her, apparently. She has a grown-up son, who hasn't yet found himself a
wife, and thinks it isn't fair to him. If Fontenoy wants to introduce
her, don't refuse. She is the mistress of Castle Luton, and has
delightful parties. Yes!--if I'd known at Malford what I know now!"

And he laughed again, remembering Fontenoy's nocturnal incursion upon
him, and its apparent object. Who would have imagined that the preacher
of that occasion had ever given one serious thought to woman and woman's
arts--least of all that he was the creation and slave of a woman!

Letty's curiosity was piqued, and she would have plied George with
questions, but that she suddenly perceived that Fontenoy had risen, and
was coming across to them.

"Gracious!" she said; "here he comes. I can't think why; he
doesn't like me."

Fontenoy, however, when he had made his way to them, greeted Miss Sewell
with as much apparent cordiality as he showed to anyone else. He had
received George's news of the marriage with all decorum, and had since
sent a handsome wedding-present to the bride-elect. Letty, however, was
never at ease with him, which, indeed, was the case with most women.

He stood beside the _fiances_ for a minute or two, exchanging a few
commonplaces with Letty on the performers and the audience; then he
turned to George with a change of look.

"No need for us to go back to-night, I think?"

"What, to the House? Dear, no! Grooby and Havershon may be trusted to
drone the evening out, I should hope, with no trouble to anybody but
themselves. The Government are just keeping a house, that's all. Have you
been grinding at your speech all day?"

Fontenoy shrugged his shoulders.

"I sha'n't get anything out that I want to say. Are you coming to the
House on Friday, Miss Sewell?"

"Friday?" said Letty, looking puzzled.

George laughed.

"I told you. You must plead trousseau if you want to save yourself!"

Amusement shone in his blue eyes as they passed from Letty to Fontenoy.
He had long ago discovered that Letty was incapable of any serious
interest in his public life. It did not disturb him at all. But it
tickled his sense of humour that Letty would have to talk politics all
the same, and to talk them with people like Fontenoy.

"Oh! you mean your Resolution!" cried Letty. "Isn't it a Resolution? Yes,
of course I'm coming. It's very absurd, for I don't know anything about
it. But George says I must, and till I promise to obey, you see, I don't
mind being obedient!"

Archness, however, was thrown away on Fontenoy. He stood beside her,
awkward and irresponsive. Not being allowed to be womanish, she could
only try once more to be political.

"It's to be a great attack on Mr. Dowson, isn't it?" she asked him. "You
and George are mad about some things he has been doing? He's Home
Secretary, isn't he? Yes, of _course_! And he's been driving trade away,
and tyrannising over the manufacturers? I _wish_ you'd explain it to me!
I ask George, and he tells me not to talk shop."

"Oh, for goodness' sake," groaned George, "let it alone! I came to meet
you and hear Joachim. However, I may as well warn you, Letty, that I
sha'n't have time to be married once Fontenoy's anti-Maxwell campaign
begins; and it will go on till the Day of Judgment."

"Why anti-Maxwell," said Letty, puzzled. "I thought it was Mr. Dowson you
are going to attack?"

George, a little vexed that she should require it, began to explain that
as Maxwell was "only a miserable peer," he could have nothing to do with
the House of Commons, and that Dowson was the official mouthpiece of the
Maxwell group and policy in the Lower House. "The hands were the hands of
Esau," etc. Letty meanwhile, conscious that she was not showing to
advantage, flushed, began to play nervously with her fan, and wished that
George would leave off.

Fontenoy did nothing to assist George's political lesson. He stood
impassive, till suddenly he tried to look across his immediate
neighbours, and then said, turning to Letty:

"The Maxwells, I see, are here to-night." He nodded towards a group on
the left, some two or three benches behind them. "Are you an admirer of
Lady Maxwell's, Miss Sewell?--you've seen her, of course?"

"Oh yes, _often_!" said Letty, annoyed by the question, standing,
however, eagerly on tiptoe. "I know her, too, a little; but she never
remembers me. She was at the Foreign Office on Saturday, with such a
_hideous_ dress on--it spoilt her completely."

"Hideous!" said Fontenoy, with a puzzled look. "Some artist--I forget
who--came and raved to me about it; said it was like some Florentine
picture--I forget what--don't think I ever heard of it."

Letty looked contemptuous. Her expression said that in this matter, at
any rate, she knew what she was talking about. Nevertheless her eyes
followed the dark head Fontenoy had pointed out to her.

Lady Maxwell was at the moment the centre of a large group of people,
mostly men, all of whom seemed to be eager to get a word with her, and
she was talking with great animation, appealing from time to time to a
tall, broad-shouldered gentleman, with greyish hair, who stood, smiling
and silent, at the edge of the group. Letty noticed that many glasses
from the balcony were directed to this particular knot of persons; that
everybody near them, or rather every woman, was watching Lady Maxwell, or
trying to get a better view of her. The girl felt a secret pang of envy
and dislike.

The figure of a well-known accompanist appeared suddenly at the head of
the staircase leading from the artists' room. The interval was over, and
the audience began to subside into attention.

Fontenoy bowed and took his leave.

"You see, he _didn't_ introduce me," said Letty, not without chagrin,
as she settled down. "And how plain he is! I think him uglier every
time I see him."

George made a vague sound of assent, but did not really agree with her in
the least. Fontenoy's air of overwork was more decided than ever; his
eyes had almost sunk out of sight; the complexion of his broad strong
face had reddened and coarsened from lack of exercise and sleep; his
brown hair was thinning and grizzling fast. Nevertheless a man saw much
to admire in the ungainly head and long-limbed frame, and did not think
any the better of a woman's intelligence for failing to perceive it.

After the concert, as George and Letty stood together in the crowded
vestibule, he said to her, with a smile:

"So I take that house?"

"If you want to do anything disagreeable," she retorted, quickly, "don't
_ask_ me. Do it, and then wait till I am good-tempered again!"

"What a tempting prospect! Do you know that when you put on that
particular hood that I would take Buckingham Palace to please you? Do you
know also that my mother will think us very extravagant?"

"Ah, we can't all be economical!" said Letty.

He saw the little toss of the head and sharpening of the lips. They only
amused him. Though he had never, so far, discussed his mother and her
affairs with Letty in any detail, he understood perfectly well that her
feeling about this particular house in some way concerned his mother, and
that Letty and Lady Tressady were rapidly coming to dislike each other.
Well, why should Letty pretend? He liked her the better for not
pretending.

There was a movement in the crowd about them, and Letty, looking up,
suddenly found herself close to a tall lady, whose dark eyes were
bent upon her.

"How do you do, Miss Sewell?"

Letty, a little fluttered, gave her hand and replied. Lady Maxwell
glanced across her at the tall young man, with the fair, irregular face.
George bowed involuntarily, and she slightly responded. Then she was
swept on by her own party.

"Have you sent for your carriage?" George heard someone say to her.

"No; I am going home in a hansom. I've tired out both the horses
to-day. Aldous is going down to the club to see if he can hear anything
about Devizes."

"Oh! the election?"

She nodded, then caught sight of her husband at the door beckoning, and
hurried on.

"What a head!" said George, looking after her with admiration.

"Yes," said Letty, unwillingly. "It's the hair that's so splendid, the
long black waves of it. How ridiculous to talk of tiring out her
horses--that's just like her! As though she mightn't have fifty horses if
she liked! Oh, George, there's our man! Quick, Tully!"

They made their way out. In the press George put his arm half round
Letty, shielding her. The touch of her light form, the nearness of her
delicate face, enchanted him. When their carriage had rolled away, and he
turned homewards along Piccadilly, he walked absently for a time,
conscious only of pulsing pleasure.

It was a mild February night. After a long frost, and a grudging thaw,
westerly winds were setting in, and Spring could be foreseen. It had been
pouring with rain during the concert, but was now fair, the rushing
clouds leaving behind them, as they passed, great torn spaces of blue,
where the stars shone.

Gusts of warm moist air swept through the street. As George's moment of
intoxication gradually subsided, he felt the physical charm of the soft
buffeting wind. How good seemed all living!--youth and capacity--this
roaring multitudinous London--the future with its chances! This common
pleasant chance of marriage amongst them--he was glad he had put out his
hand to it. His wife that was to be was no saint and no philosopher. He
thanked the fates! He at least asked for neither--on the hearth. "Praise,
blame, love, kisses"--for all of those, life with Letty would give scope;
yet for none of them in excess. There would be plenty of room left for
other things, other passions--the passion of political power, for
instance, the art of dealing with and commanding other men. He, the
novice, the beginner, to talk of "commanding!" Yet already he felt his
foot upon the ladder. Fontenoy consulted him, and confided in him more
and more. In spite of his engagement, he was informing himself rapidly on
a hundred questions, and the mental wrestle of every day was
exhilarating. Their small group in the House, compact, tireless,
audacious, was growing in importance and in the attention it extorted
from the public. Never had the whole tribe of factory inspectors shown a
more hawk-like, a more inquisitorial, a more intolerable vigilance than
during the past twelve months. All the persons concerned with matches and
white-lead, with certain chemical or metal-working industries, with
"season" dressmaking or tailoring, were up in arms, rallying to
Fontenoy's support with loud wrath and lamentations, claiming to speak
not only for themselves, but for their "hands," in the angry protest
that things had gone and were going a great deal too far, that trade was
simply being harassed out of the country. A Whiggish group of
manufacturers on the Liberal side were all with Fontenoy; while the
Socialists, on whom the Government should have been able in such a matter
to count to the death, had a special grievance against the Cabinet at the
moment, and were sulking in their tents. The attack and defence would
probably take two nights; for the Government, admitting the gravity of
the assault, had agreed, in case the debate should not be concluded on
Friday, to give up Monday to it. Altogether the affair would make a
noise. George would probably get in his maiden speech on the second
night, and was, in truth, devoting a great deal of his mind to the
prospect; though to Letty he had persistently laughed at it and belittled
it, refusing altogether to let her come and hear him.

Then, after Easter would come Maxwell's Bill, and the fat in the fire!
Poor little Letty!--she would get but few of the bridal observances due
to her when _that_ struggle began. But first would come Easter and their
wedding; that one short fortnight, when he would carry her off--soft,
willing prey!--to the country, draw a "wind-warm space" about himself and
her, and minister to all her whims.

He turned down St. James's Street, passed Marlborough House, and
entered the Mall, on the way to Warwick Square, where he was living
with his mother.

Suddenly he became aware of a crowd, immediately in front of him, in the
direction of Buckingham Palace. A hansom and horse were standing in the
roadway; the driver, crimson and hatless, was bandying words with one of
the policemen, who had his notebook open, and from the middle of the
crowd came a sound of wailing.

He walked up to the edge of the circle.

"Anybody hurt?" he said to the policeman, as the man shut his notebook.

"Little girl run over, sir."

"Can I be of any assistance? Is there an ambulance coming?"

"No, sir. There was a lady in the hansom. She's just now bandaging the
child's leg, and says she'll take it to the hospital."

George mounted on one of the seats under the trees that stood handy, and
looked over the heads of the crowd to the space in the centre which the
other policeman was keeping clear. A little girl lay on the ground, or
rather on a heap of coats; another girl, apparently about sixteen, stood
near her, crying bitterly, and a lady--

"Goodness!" said Tressady; and, jumping down, he touched the policeman on
the shoulder.

"Can you get me through? I think I could be some help. That lady"--he
spoke a word in the policeman's ear.

The man touched his hat.

"Stand back, please!" he said, addressing the crowd, "and let this
gentleman through."

The crowd divided unwillingly. But at the same moment it parted from the
inside, and a little procession came through, both policemen joining
their energies to make a free passage for it. In front walked the
policeman carrying the little girl, a child apparently of about twelve
years old. Her right foot lay stiffly across his arm, held straight and
still in an impromptu splint of umbrellas and handkerchiefs. Immediately
behind came the lady whom George had caught sight of, holding the other
girl's hand in hers. She was bareheaded and in evening dress. Her
opera-cloak, with its heavy sable collar, showed beneath it a dress of
some light-coloured satin, which had already suffered deplorably from the
puddles of the road, and, as she neared the lamp beneath which the cab
had stopped, the diamonds on her wrists sparkled in the light. During her
passage through the crowd, George perceived that one or two people
recognised her, and that a murmur ran from mouth to mouth.

Of anything of the sort she herself was totally unconscious. George saw
at once that she, not the policeman, was in command. She gave him
directions, as they approached the cab, in a quick, imperative voice
which left no room for hesitation.

"The driver is drunk," he heard her say; "who will drive?"

"One of us will drive, ma'am."

"What--the other man? Ask him to take the reins at once, please, before I
get in. The horse is fresh, and might start. That's right. Now, when I
say the word, give me the child."

She settled herself in the cab. George saw the policeman somewhat
embarrassed, for a moment, with his burden. He came forward to his help,
and between them they handed in the child, placing her carefully on her
protector's knee.

Then, standing at the open door of the cab, George raised his hat. "Can I
be of any further assistance to you, Lady Maxwell? I saw you just now at
the concert."

She turned in some astonishment as she heard her name, and looked at the
speaker. Then, very quickly, she seemed to understand.

"I don't know," she said, pondering. "Yes! you could help me. I am going
to take the child to hospital. But there is this other girl. Could you
take her home--she is very much upset? No!--first, could you bring her
after me to St. George's? She wants to see where we put her sister."

"I will call another cab, and be there as soon as you."

"Thank you. Just let me speak to the sister a moment, please."

He put the weeping girl forward, and Lady Maxwell bent across the burden
on her knee to say a few words to her--soft, quick words in another
voice. The girl understood, her face cleared a little, and she let
Tressady take charge of her.

One of the policemen mounted the box of the hansom, amid the "chaff" of
the crowd, and the cab started. A few hats were raised in George's
neighbourhood, and there was something of a cheer.

"I tell yer," said a voice, "I knowed her fust sight--seed her picture
lots o' times in the papers, and in the winders too. My word, ain't she
good-lookin! And did yer see all them diamonds?"

"Come along!" said George, impatiently, hurrying his charge into the
four-wheeler the other policeman had just stopped for them.

In a few more seconds he, the girl, and the policeman were pursuing Lady
Maxwell's hansom at the best speed of an indifferent horse. George tried
to say a few consoling things to his neighbour; and the girl, reassured
by his kind manner, found her tongue, and began to chatter in a tearful
voice about the how and when of the accident: about the elder sister in a
lodging in Crawford Street, Tottenham Court Road, whom she and the little
one had been visiting; the grandmother in Westminster with whom they
lived; poor Lizzie's place in a laundry, which now she must lose; how the
lady had begged handkerchiefs and umbrellas from the crowd to tie up
Lizzie's leg with--and so on through a number of other details incoherent
or plaintive.

George heard her absently. His mind all the time was absorbed in the
dramatic or ironic aspects of what he had just seen. For dramatic they
were--though perhaps a little cheap. Could he, could anyone, have made
acquaintance with this particular woman in more characteristic fashion?
He laughed to think how he would tell the story to Fontenoy. The
beautiful creature in her diamonds, kneeling on her satin dress in the
mud, to bind up a little laundrymaid's leg--it was so extravagantly in
keeping with Marcella Maxwell that it amused one like an overdone
coincidence in a clumsy play.

What made her so beautiful? The face had marked defects; but in colour,
expression, subtlety of line incomparable! On the other hand, the
manner--no!--he shrugged his shoulders. The remembrance of its
mannish--or should it be, rather, boyish?--energy and assurance somehow
set him on edge.

In the end, they were not much behind the hansom; for the hospital porter
was only just in the act of taking the injured child from Lady Maxwell as
Tressady dismounted and went forward again to see what he could do.

But, somewhat to his chagrin, he was not wanted. Lady Maxwell and the
porter did everything. As they went into the hospital, George caught a
few of the things she was saying to the porter as she supported the
child's leg. She spoke in a rapid, professional way, and the man
answered, as the policeman had done, with a deference and understanding
which were clearly not due only to her "grand air" and her evening dress.
George was puzzled.

He and the elder sister followed her into the waiting-room. The
house-surgeon and a nurse were summoned, and the injured leg was put into
a splint there and then. The patient moaned and cried most of the time,
and Tressady had hard work to keep the sister quiet. Then nurse and
doctor lifted the child.

"They are going to put her to bed," said Lady Maxwell, turning to George.
"I am going up with them. Would you kindly wait? The sister"--she dropped
her business tone, and, smiling, touched the elder girl on the arm--"can
come up when the little one is undressed."

The little procession swept away, and George was left with his charge. As
soon as the small sister was out of sight, the elder one began to
chatter again out of sheer excitement, crying at intervals. George did
not heed her much. He walked up and down, with his hands in his pockets,
conscious of a curious irritability. He did not think a woman should take
a strange man's service quite so coolly.

At the end of another quarter of an hour a nurse appeared to summon the
sister. Tressady was told he might come too if he would, and his charge
threw him a quick, timid look, as though asking him not to desert her in
this unknown and formidable place. So they followed the nurse up white
stone stairs, and through half-lit corridors, where all was silent, save
that once a sound of delirious shrieking and talking reached them
through a closed door, and made the sister's consumptive little face
turn whiter still.

At last the nurse, putting her finger on her lip, turned a handle, and
George was conscious of a sudden feeling of pleasure.

They were standing on the threshold of a children's ward. On either hand
was a range of beds, bluish-white between the yellow picture-covered
walls and the middle-way of spotless floor. Far away, at the other end, a
great fire glowed. On a bare table in the centre, laden with bottles and
various surgical necessaries, stood a shaded lamp, and beside it the
chair where the night-nurse had been sitting. In the beds were sleeping
children of various ages, some burrowing, face downward, animal-like,
into their pillows; others lying on their backs, painfully straight and
still. The air was warm, yet light, and there was the inevitable smell of
antiseptics. Something in the fire-lit space and comfort of the great
room, its ordered lines and colours, the gentleness of the shaded light
as contrasted with the dim figures in the beds, seemed to make a poem of
it--a poem of human tenderness.

Two or three beds away to the right, Lady Maxwell was standing with the
night-nurse of the ward. The little girl had been undressed, and was
lying quiet, with a drawn, piteous face that turned eagerly as her sister
came in. The whole scene was new and touching to Tressady. Yet, after the
first impression, his attention was perforce held by Lady Maxwell, and he
saw the rest only in relation to her. She had slipped off her heavy
cloak, in order, perhaps, that she might help in the undressing of the
child. Beneath, she wore a little shawl or cape of some delicate lace
over her low dress. The dress itself was of a pale shade of green; the
mire and mud with which it was bedabbled no longer showed in the half
light; and the satin folds glistened dimly as she moved. The poetic
dignity of the head, so finely wreathed with its black hair, of the full
throat and falling shoulders, received a sort of special emphasis from
the wide spaces, the pale colours and level lines of the ward. Tressady
was conscious again of the dramatic significant note as he watched her,
yet without any softening of his nascent feeling of antagonism.

She turned and beckoned to the sister as they entered:

"Come and see how comfortable she is! And then you must give this lady
your name and address."

The girl timidly approached. Whilst she was occupied with her sister and
with the nurse, Lady Maxwell suddenly looked round, and saw Tressady
standing by the table a yard or two from her.

A momentary expression of astonishment crossed her face. He saw that, in
her absorption with the case and the two sisters, she had clean forgotten
all about him. But in a flash she remembered, and smiled.

"So you are really going to take her home? That is very kind of you. It
will make all the difference to the grandmother that somebody should go
and explain. You see, they leave her in the splint for the night, and
to-morrow they will put the leg in plaster. Probably they won't keep her
in hospital more than about three weeks, for they are very full."

"You seem to know all about it!"

"I was a nurse myself once, for a time," she said, but with a certain
stiffness which seemed to mark the transition from the professional to
the great lady.

"Ah! I should have remembered that. I had heard it from Edward Watton."

She looked up quickly. He felt that for the first time she took notice of
him as an individual.

"You know Mr. Watton? I think you are Sir George Tressady, are you not?
You got in for Market Malford in November? I recollect. I didn't like
your speeches."

She laughed. So did he.

"Yes, I got in just in time for a fighting session."

Her laugh disappeared.

"An odious fight!" she said gravely.

"I am not so sure. That depends on whether you like fighting, and how
certain you are of your cause!"

She hesitated a moment; then she said:

"How can Lord Fontenoy be certain of his cause!"

The slight note of scorn roused him.

"Isn't that what all parties say of their opponents?"

She glanced at him again, curiously. He was evidently quite
young--younger than herself, she guessed. But his careless ease and
experience of bearing, contrasted with his thin boy's figure, attracted
her. Her lip softened reluctantly into a smile.

"Perhaps," she said. "Only sometimes, you know, it must be true! Well,
evidently we can't discuss it here at one o'clock in the morning--and
there is the nurse making signs to me. It is really very good of you. If
you are in our neighbourhood on Sunday, will you report?"

"Certainly--with the greatest pleasure. I will come and give you a full
account of my mission."

She held out a slim hand. The sister, red-eyed with crying, was handed
over to him, and he and she were soon in a cab, speeding towards the
Westminster mews whither she directed him.

Well, was Maxwell to be so greatly envied? Tressady was not sure. Such a
woman, he thought, for all her beauty, would not have greatly stirred his
own pulses.



CHAPTER V


The week which had opened thus for Tressady promised to be one of lively
interest for such persons as were either concerned in or took notice of
the House of Commons and its doings. Fontenoy's onslaught upon the
administration of the Home Office, and, through the Home Secretary, on
the Maxwell group and influence, had been long expected, and was known to
have been ably prepared. Its possible results were already keenly
discussed. Even if it were a damaging attack, it was not supposed that it
could have any immediate effect on the state of parties or the strength
of the Government. But after Easter Maxwell's factory Bill--a special
Factory Act for East London, touching the grown man for the first time,
and absolutely prohibiting home-work in certain specified industries--was
to be brought forward, and could not fail to provide Maxwell's
adversaries with many chances of red and glorious battle. It was
disputable from end to end; it had already broken up one Government; it
was strongly pressed and fiercely opposed; and on the fate of each clause
in Committee might hang the life or death of the Ministry--not so much
because of the intrinsic importance of the matter, as because Maxwell was
indispensable to the Cabinet, and it was known that neither Maxwell nor
his close friend and henchman, Dowson, the Home Secretary, would accept
defeat on any of the really vital points of the Bill.

The general situation was a curious one. Some two years before this time
a strong and long-lived Tory Government had come to an end. Since then
all had been confusion in English politics. A weak Liberal Government,
undermined by Socialist rebellion, had lasted but a short time, to be
followed by an equally precarious Tory Ministry, in which Lord
Maxwell--after an absence from politics of some four years or
so--returned to his party, only to break it up. For he succeeded in
imposing upon them a measure in which his own deepest convictions and
feelings were concerned, and which had behind it the support of all the
more important trade unions. Upon that measure the Ministry fell; but
during their short administration Maxwell had made so great an impression
upon his own side that when they returned, as they did return, with an
enlarged majority, the Maxwell Bill retained one of the foremost places
in their programme, and might be said, indeed, at the present moment to
hold the centre of the political field.

That field, in the eyes of any middle-aged observer, was in strange
disarray. The old Liberal party had been almost swept away; only a few
waifs and strays remained, the exponents of a programme that nobody
wanted, and of cries that stirred nobody's blood. A large Independent
Labour and Socialist party filled the empty benches of the Liberals--a
revolutionary, enthusiastic crew, of whom the country was a little
frightened, and who were, if the truth were known, a little frightened
at themselves. They had a coherent programme, and represented a
formidable "domination" in English life. And that English life itself, in
all that concerned the advance and transformation of labour, was in a
singularly tossed and troubled state. After a long period of stagnation
and comparative industrial peace, storms at home, answering to storms on
the Continent, had been let loose, and forces both of reaction and of
revolution were making themselves felt in new forms and under the command
of new masters.

At the head of the party of reaction stood Fontenoy. Some four years
before the present session the circumstances of a great strike in the
Midlands--together, no doubt, with some other influence--had first drawn
him into public life, had cut him off from racing and all his natural
pleasures. The strike affected his father's vast domain in North Mercia;
it was marked by an unusual violence on the part of the men and their
leaders; and Fontenoy, driven, sorely against his will, to take a part by
the fact that his father, the hard and competent administrator of an
enormous fortune, happened at the moment to be struck down by illness,
found himself before many weeks were over taking it with passion, and
emerged from the struggle a changed man. Property must be upheld;
low-born disorder and greed must be put down. He sold his race-horses,
and proceeded forthwith to throw into the formation of a new party all
the doggedness, the astuteness, and the audacity he had been accustomed
to lavish upon the intrigues and the triumphs of the Turf.

And now in this new Parliament his immense labour was beginning to tell.
The men who followed him had grown in number and improved in quality.
They abhorred equally a temporising conservatism and a plundering
democracy. They stood frankly for birth and wealth, the Church and the
expert. They were the apostles of resistance and negation; they were
sworn to oppose any further meddling with trade and the personal liberty
of master and workman, and to undo, if they could, some of the meddling
that had been already carried through. A certain academic quality
prevailed among them, which made them peculiarly sensitive to the
absurdities of men who had not been to Oxford or Cambridge; while some,
like Tressady, had been travellers, and wore an Imperialist heart upon
their sleeve. The group possessed an unusual share of debating and
oratorical ability, and they had never attracted so much attention as now
that they were about to make the Maxwell Bill their prey.

Meanwhile, for the initiated, the situation possessed one or two points
of special interest. Lady Maxwell, indeed, was by this time scarcely less
of a political force than her husband. Was her position an illustration
of some new power in women's hands, or was it merely an example of
something as well known to the Pharaohs as to the nineteenth century--the
ability of any woman with a certain physique to get her way? That this
particular woman's way happened to be also her husband's way made the
case less interesting for some observers. On the other hand, her obvious
wifely devotion attracted simple souls to whom the meddling of women in
politics would have been nothing but repellent had it not been
recommended to them by the facts that Marcella Maxwell was held to be
good as well as beautiful; that she loved her husband; and was the
excellent mother of a fine son.

Of her devotion, in the case of this particular Bill, there was neither
concealment nor doubt. She was known to have given her husband every
assistance in the final drafting of the measure: she had seen for herself
the working of every trade that it affected; she had innumerable friends
among wage-earners of all sorts, to whom she gave half her social life;
and both among them and in the drawing-rooms of the rich she fought her
husband's cause unceasingly, by the help of beauty, wits, and something
else--a broad impulsiveness and charm--which might be vilified or
scorned, but could hardly be matched, by the enemy.

Meanwhile Lord Maxwell was a comparatively ineffective speaker, and
passed in social life for a reserved and difficult personality. His
friends put no one else beside him; and his colleagues in the Cabinet
were well aware that he represented the keystone in their arch. But
the man in the street, whether of the aristocratic or plebeian sort,
knew comparatively little about him. All of which, combined with the
special knowledge of an inner circle, helped still more to concentrate
public attention on the convictions, the temperament, and the beauty
of his wife.

Amid a situation charged with these personal or dramatic elements the
Friday so keenly awaited by Fontenoy and his party arrived.

Immediately after question-time Fontenoy made his speech. In reply, the
Home Secretary, suave, statistical, and conciliatory, poured a stream of
facts and reports upon the House. The more repulsive they were, the
softer and more mincing grew his voice in dealing with them. Fontenoy had
excited his audience, Dowson succeeded in making it shudder.
Nevertheless, the effect of the evening lay with Fontenoy.

George stayed to hear the official defence to its end. Then he hurried
upstairs in search of Letty, who, with Miss Tulloch, was in the Speaker's
private gallery. As he went he thought of Fontenoy's speech, its halting
opening, the savage force of its peroration. His pulses tingled:
"Magnificent!" he said to himself; "_magnificent!_ We have found a man!"

Letty was eagerly waiting for him, and they walked down the corridor
together. "Well?" he said, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, and
looking down upon her with a smile. "Well?"

Letty saw that she was expected to praise, and she did her best, his
smile still bent upon her. He was perfectly aware all the time of the
fatuity of what she was saying. She had caught up since her engagement a
certain number of political phrases, and it amused him to note the cheap
and tinkling use she made of them. Nevertheless she was chatting,
smiling, gesticulating, for his pleasure. She was posing for him, using
her grey eyes in these expressive ways, all for him. He thought her the
most entertaining plaything; though it did occur to him sometimes that
when they were married he would give her instruction.

"Ah, well, you liked it--that's good!" he said at last, interrupting her.
"We've begun well, any way. It'll be rather hard, though, to have to
speak after that on Monday!"

"As if you need be afraid! You're not, you know--it's only mock modesty.
Do you know that Lady Maxwell was sitting two from me?"

"No! Well, how did she like Fontenoy?"

"She never moved after he got up. She pressed her face against that
horrid grating, and stared at him all the time. I thought she was very
flushed--but that may have been the heat--and in a very bad temper,"
added Letty, maliciously. "I talked to her a little about your
adventure."

"Did she remember my existence?"

"Oh dear, yes! She said she expected you on Sunday. She never asked _me_
to come." Letty looked arch. "But then one doesn't expect her to have
pretty manners. People say she is shy. But, of course, that is only your
friends' way of saying that you're rude."

"She wasn't rude to you?" said George, outwardly eager, inwardly
sceptical. "Shall I not go on Sunday?"

"But of course you must go. We shall have to know them. She's not a
woman's woman--that's all. Now, are we going to get some dinner, for
Tully and I are famishing?"

"Come along, then, and I'll collect the party."

George had asked a few of his acquaintance in the House to meet his
betrothed, together with an old General Tressady and his wife who were
his distant cousins. The party were to assemble in the room of an
under-secretary much given to such hospitable functions; and thither
accordingly George led the way.

The room, when they reached it, was already fairly full of people, and
alive with talk.

"Another party!" said George, looking round him. "Benson is great at this
sort of thing."

"Do you see Lady Maxwell?" said Letty, in his ear.

George looked to his right, and perceived the lady in question. She also
recognised him at once, and bowed, but without rising. She was the centre
of a group of people, who were gathered round her and the small table on
which she was leaning, and they were so deeply absorbed in the
conversation that had been going on that they hardly noticed the entrance
of Tressady and his companion.

"Leven has a party, you see," said the under-secretary. "Blaythwaite was
to have taken them in--couldn't at the last moment; so they had to come
in here. This is _your_ side of the room! But none of your guests have
come yet. Dinner at the House in the winter is a poor sort of business,
Miss Sewell. We want the Terrace for these occasions."

He led the young girl to a sofa at the further end of the room, and made
himself agreeable, to him the easiest process in the world. He was a
fashionable and charming person, in the most irreproachable of
frock-coats, and Letty was soon at her ease with him, and mistress of
all her usual arts and graces.

"You know Lady Maxwell?" he said to her, with a slight motion of the head
towards the distant group.

Letty replied; and while she and her companion chattered, George, who was
standing behind them, watched the other party.

They were apparently in the thick of an argument, and Lady Maxwell, whose
hands were lightly clasped on the table in front of her, was leaning
forward with the look of one who had just shot her bolt, and was waiting
to see how it would strike.

It struck apparently in the direction of her _vis-à-vis,_ Sir Frank
Leven, for he bent over to her, making a quick reply in a half-petulant
boy's voice. He had been three years in the House, but had still the air
of an Eton "swell" in his last half.

Lady Maxwell listened to what he had to say, a sort of silent passion in
her face all the time--a noble passion nobly restrained.

When he stopped, George caught her reply.

"He has neither _seen_ nor _felt_--every sentence showed it--that is all
one can say. How can one take his judgment?"

George's mouth twitched. He slipped, smiling, into a place beside Letty.
"Did you hear that?" he inquired.

"Fontenoy's speech, of course," said the under-secretary, looking round.
"She's pitching into Leven, I suppose. He's as cranky and unsound as he
can be. Shouldn't wonder if you got him before long."

He nodded good-temperedly to Tressady, then got up to speak to a man on
the edge of the further group.

"How amusing!" said George, his satirical eyes still watching Lady
Maxwell. "How much that set has 'seen and felt' of sweaters, and
white-lead workers, and that ilk! Don't they look like it?"

"Who are they?"

Letty was now using all her eyes to find out, and especially for the
purpose of carrying away a mental photograph of Lady Maxwell's black hat
and dress.

"Oh! the Maxwells' particular friends in the House--most of them as well
provided with family and goods as they make 'em: a philanthropic,
idealist lot, that yearns for the people, and will be the first to be
kicked downstairs when the people gets its own. However, they aren't all
quite happy in their minds. Frank Leven there, as Benson says, is
decidedly shaky. He is the member for the Maxwells' division--Maxwell, of
course, put him in. He has a house there, I believe, and he married Lady
Maxwell's great friend, Miss Macdonald--an ambitious little party, they
say, who simply insisted on his going into Parliament. Oh, then, Bennett
is there--do you see?--the little dark man with a frock-coat and
spectacles? He's Lady Maxwell's link with the Independents--oldest
workman member--been in the House a long time, so that by now he isn't
quite as one-eyed and one-eared as the rest of them. I suppose she hopes
to make use of him at critical moments--she takes care to have tools of
all sorts. Gracious--listen!"

There was, indeed, a very storm of discussion sweeping through the rival
party. Lady Maxwell's penetrating but not loud voice seemed to pervade
it, and her eyes and face, as she glanced from one speaker to another,
drew alternately the shafts and the sympathy of the rest.

Tressady made a face.

"I say, Letty, promise me one thing!" His hand stole towards hers. Tully
discreetly looked the other way. "Promise me not to be a political woman,
there's a dear!"

Letty hastily withdrew her fingers, having no mind at all for caresses
in public.

"But I _must_ be a political woman--I shall have to be! I know heaps of
girls and married women who get up everything in the papers--all the
stupidest things--not because they know anything about it, or because
they care a rap, but because some of their men friends happen to be
members; and when they come to see you, you must know what to talk to
them about."

"Must you?" said George, "How odd! As though one went to tea with a woman
for the sake of talking about the very same things you have been doing
all day, and are probably sick to death of already."

"Never mind," said Letty, with her little air of sharp wisdom. "I _know_
they do it, and I shall have to do it too. I shall pick it up."

"Will you? Of course you will! Only, when I've got a big Bill on, let me
do a little of it for myself--give me some of the credit!"

Letty laughed maliciously.

"I don't know why you've taken such a dislike to her," she said, but in
rather a contented tone, as her eye once more travelled across to Lady
Maxwell. "Does she trample on her husband, after all?"

Tressady gave an impatient shrug.

"Trample on him? Goodness, no! That's all part of the play, too--wifely
affection and the rest of it. Why can't she keep out of sight a little?
We don't want the women meddling."

"Thank you, my domestic tyrant!" said Letty, making him a little bow.

"How much tyranny will you want before you accept those sentiments?" he
asked her, smiling tenderly into her eyes. Both had a moment's pleasant
thrill; then George sprang up.

"Ah, here they are at last!--the General, and all the lot. Now, I hope,
we shall get some dinner."

Tressady had, of course, to introduce his elderly cousins and his three
or four political friends to his future wife; and, amid the small flutter
of the performance, the break-up and disappearance of the rival party
passed unnoticed. When Tressady's guests entered the dining-room which
looks on the terrace, and made their way to the top table reserved for
them, the Leven dinner, near the door, was already half through.

George's little banquet passed merrily enough. The grey-haired General
and his wife turned out to be agreeable and well-bred people, quite able
to repay George's hospitality by the dropping of little compliments on
the subject of Letty into his half-yielded ear. For his way of taking
such things was always a trifle cynical. He believed that people say
habitually twice what they mean, whether in praise or blame; and he did
not feel that his own view of Letty was much affected by what other
people thought of her.

So, at least, he would have said. In reality, he got a good deal of
pleasure out of his _fiancée's_ success. Letty, indeed, was enjoying
herself greatly. This political world, as she had expected, satisfied her
instinct for social importance better than any world she had yet known.
She was determined to get on in it; nor, apparently, was there likely to
be any difficulty in the matter. George's friends thought her a pretty,
lively creature, and showed the usual inclination of the male sex to
linger in her society. She mostly wanted to be informed as to the House
and its ways. It was all so new to her!--she said. But her ignorance was
not insipid; her questions had flavour. There was much talk and laughter;
Letty felt herself the mistress of the table, and her social ambitions
swelled within her.

Suddenly George's attention was recalled to the Maxwell table by the
break-up of the group around it. He saw Lady Maxwell rise and look
round her as though in search of someone. Her eyes fell upon him, and
he involuntarily rose at the same instant to meet the step she made
towards him.

"I must say another word of thanks to you"--she held out her hand. "That
girl and her grandmother were most grateful to you."

"Ah, well!--I must come and make my report. Sunday, I think you said?"

She assented. Then her expression altered:

"When do you speak?"

The question fell out abruptly, and took George by surprise.

"I? On Monday, I believe, if I get my turn. But I fear the British Empire
will go on if I don't!"

She threw a glance of scrutiny at his thin, whimsical face, with its fair
moustache and sunburnt skin.

"I hear you are a good speaker," she said simply. "And you are entirely
with Lord Fontenoy?"

He bowed lightly, his hands on his sides.

"You'll agree our case was well put? The worst of it--"

Then he stopped. He saw that Lady Maxwell had ceased to listen to him.
She turned her head towards the door, and, without even saying good-bye
to him, she hurried away from him towards the further end of the room.

"Maxwell, I see!" said Tressady to himself, with a shrug, as he returned
to his seat. "Not flattering--but rather pretty, all the same!"

He was thinking of the quick change that had remade the face while he was
talking to her--a change as lovely as it was unconscious.

Lord Maxwell, indeed, had just entered the dining-room in search of his
wife, and he and she now left it together, while the rest of the Leven
party gradually dispersed. Letty also announced that she must go home.

"Let me just go back into the House and see what is going on," said
George. "Ten to one I sha'n't be wanted, and I could see you home."

He hurried off, only to return in a minute with the news that the debate
was given up to a succession of superfluous people, and he was free, at
any rate for an hour. Letty, Miss Tulloch, and he accordingly made their
way to Palace Yard. A bright moon shone in their faces as they emerged
into the open air, which was still mild and spring-like, as it had been
all the week.

"I say--send Miss Tulloch home in a cab!" George pleaded in Letty's ear,
"and walk with me a bit. Come and look at the moon over the river. I will
bring you back to the bridge and put you in a cab."

Letty looked astonished and demure. "Aunt Charlotte would be
shocked," she said.

George grew impatient, and Letty, pleased with his impatience, at last
yielded. Tully, the most complaisant of chaperons, was put into a hansom
and despatched.

As the pair reached the entrance of Palace Yard they were overtaken by a
brougham, which drew up an instant in the gateway itself, till it should
find an opening in the traffic outside.

"Look!" said George, pressing Letty's arm.

She looked round hurriedly, and, as the lamps of the gateway shone into
the carriage, she caught a vivid glimpse of the people inside it. Their
faces were turned towards each other as though in intimate
conversation--that was all. The lady's hands were crossed on her knee;
the man held a despatch-box. In a minute they were gone; but both Letty
and George were left with the same impression--the sense of something
exquisite surprised. It had already visited George that evening, only a
few minutes earlier, in connection with the same woman's face.

Letty laughed, rather consciously.

George looked down upon her as he guided her through the gate.

"Some people seem to find it pleasant to be together!" he said, with a
vibration in his voice. "But why did we look?" he added, discontentedly.

"How could we help it, you silly boy?"

They walked to wards the bridge and down the steps, happy in each other,
and freshened by the night breeze. Over the river the moon, hung full and
white, and beneath it everything--the silver tracks on the water, the
blaze of light at Charing Cross Station, the lamps on Westminster Bridge
and in the passing steamers, a train of barges, even the darkness of the
Surrey shore--had a gentle and poetic air. The vast city had, as it were,
veiled her greatness and her tragedy; she offered herself kindly and
protectingly to these two--to their happiness and their youth.

George made his companion wait beside the parapet and look, while he
himself drew in the air with a sort of hunger.

"To think of the hours we spend in this climate," he said, "caged up in
abominable places like the House of Commons!"

The traveller's distaste for the monotony of town and indoor life spoke
in his vehemence. Letty raised her eyebrows.

"I am very glad of my furs, thank you! You seem to forget that it is
February."

"Never mind!--since Monday it has had the feel of April. Did you see my
mother to-day?"

"Yes. She caught me just after luncheon, and we talked for an hour."

"Poor darling! I ought to have been there to protect you. But she vowed
she would have her say about that house."

He looked down upon her, trying to see her expression in the shifting
light. He had gone through a disagreeable little scene with his mother at
breakfast. She had actually lectured him on the rashness of taking the
Brook Street house!--he understanding the whole time that what the odd
performance really meant was, that if he took it he would have a smaller
margin of income wherefrom to supplement her allowance.

"Oh, it was all right!" said Letty, composedly. "She declared we should
get into difficulties at once, that I could have no idea of the value
of money, that you always _had_ been extravagant, that everybody would
be astonished at our doing such a thing, etcetera, etcetera. I
_think_--you don't mind?--I think she cried a little. But she wasn't
really very unhappy."

"What did you say?"

"Well, I suggested that when we were married, we and she should both set
up account-books; and I promised faithfully that if she would let us see
hers, we would let her see ours."

George threw back his head with a gurgle of laughter.

"Well?"

"She was afraid," said Letty, demurely, "that I didn't take things
seriously enough. Then I asked her to come and see my gowns."

"And that, I suppose, appeased her?"

"Not at all. She turned up her nose at everything, by way of punishing
me. You see, she had on a new-Worth--the third since Christmas. My poor
little trousseau rags had no chance."

"H'm!" said George, meditatively. "I wonder how my mamma is going to
manage when we are married," he added, after a pause.

Letty made no reply. She was walking firmly and briskly; her eyes, full
of a sparkling decision, looked straight before her; her little mouth was
close set. Meanwhile through George's mind there passed a number of
fragmentary answers to his own question. His feeling towards his mother
was wholly abnormal; he had no sense of any unseemliness in the
conversation about her which was gradually growing common between himself
and Letty; and he meant to draw strict lines in the future. At the same
time, there was the tie of old habit, and of that uneasy and unwelcome
responsibility with regard to her which had descended upon him at the
time of his father's death. He could not honestly regard himself as an
affectionate son; but the filial relationship, even in its most imperfect
aspect, has a way of imposing itself.

"Ah, well! I daresay we shall pull through," he said, dismissing the
familiar worry with a long breath. "Why, how far we have come!" he added,
looking back at Charing Cross and the Westminster towers. "And how
extraordinarily mild it is! We can't turn back yet, and you'll be tired
if I race you on in this way. Look, Letty, there's a seat! Would you be
afraid--just five minutes?"

Letty looked doubtful.

"It's so absurdly late. George, you _are_ funny! Suppose somebody came by
who knew us?"

He opened his eyes.

"And why not? But see! there isn't a carriage, and hardly a person, in
sight. Just a minute!"

Most unwillingly Letty let herself be persuaded. It seemed to her a
foolish and extravagant thing to do; and there was now no need for either
folly or extravagance. Since her engagement she had dropped a good many
of the small audacities of the social sort she had so freely allowed
herself before it. It was as though, indeed, now that these audacities
had served their purpose, some stronger and perhaps inherited instincts
emerged in her, obscuring the earlier self. George was sometimes
astonished by an ultra-conventional note, of which certainly he had heard
nothing in their first days of intimacy at Malford.

However, she sat down beside him, protesting. But he had no sooner stolen
her hand, than the moonlight showed her a dark, absent look creeping over
his face. And to her amazement he began to talk about the House of
Commons, about the Home Secretary's speech, of all things in the world!
He seemed to be harking back to Mr. Dowson's arguments, to some of the
stories the Home Secretary had told of those wretched people who
apparently enjoy dying of overwork and phosphorus, and white-lead, who
positively will die of them, unless the inspectors are always harrying
them. He still held her hand, but she saw he was not thinking of her;
and a sudden pique rose in her small mind. Generally, she accepted his
love-making very coolly--just as it came, or did not come. But to-night
she asked herself with irritation--for what had he led her into his silly
escapade, but to make love to her? And now here were her fingers slipping
out of his, while he harangued her on things she knew and cared nothing
about, in a voice and manner he might have addressed to anybody!

"Well, I don't understand--I really _don't!_" she interrupted sharply. "I
thought you were all against the Government--I thought you didn't believe
a word they say!"

He laughed.

"The difference between them and us, darling, is only that _they_ think
the world can be mended by Act of Parliament, and _we_ think it can't. Do
what you will, _we_ say the world is, and must be, a wretched hole for
the majority of those that live in it; _they_ suppose they can cure it by
quack meddlings and tyrannies."

He looked straight before him, absorbed, and she was struck with the
harsh melancholy of his face.

What on earth had he kept her here for to talk this kind of talk!

"George, I really _must_ go!" she began, flushing, and drawing her
hand away.

Instantly he turned to her, his look brightening and melting.

"Must you? Well, the world sha'n't be a wretched hole for us, shall it,
darling? We'll make a little nest in it--we'll forget what we can't
help--we'll be happy as long as the fates let us--won't we, Letty?"

His arm slipped round behind her. He caught her hands.

He had recollected himself. Nevertheless Letty was keenly conscious that
it was all most absurd, this sitting on a seat in a public thoroughfare
late at night, and behaving like any 'Arry and 'Arriet.

"Why, of course we shall be happy," she said, rising with decision as she
spoke; "only somehow I don't always understand you, George. I wish I knew
what you were really thinking about."

"_You!_" he said, laughing, and drawing her hand within his arm, as they
turned backwards towards the bridge.

She shook her head doubtfully. Whereupon he awoke fully to the situation,
and during the short remainder of their walk he wooed and flattered her
as usual. But when he had put her safely into a hansom at the corner of
the bridge, and smiled good-bye to her, he turned to walk back to the
House in much sudden flatness of mood. Her little restless egotisms of
mind and manner had chilled him unawares. Had Fontenoy's speech been so
fine, after all? Were politics--was anything--quite worth while? It
seemed to him that all emotions were small, all crises disappointing.



CHAPTER VI


The following Sunday, somewhere towards five o'clock, George rang the
bell of the Maxwells' house in St. James's Square. It was a very fine
house, and George's eye, as he stood waiting, ran over the facade with an
amused, investigating look.

He allowed himself the same expression once or twice in the hall, as one
mute and splendid person relieved him of his coat, and another, equally
mute and equally unsurpassable, waited for him on the stairs, while
across a passage beyond the hall he saw two red-liveried footmen
carrying tea.

"When one is a friend of the people," he pondered as he went upstairs,
"is one limited in horses but not in flunkeys? These things are obscure."

He was ushered first into a stately outer drawing-room, filled with
old French furniture and fine pictures; then the butler lifted a
velvet curtain, pronounced the visitor's name with a voice and
emphasis as perfectly trained as the rest of him, and stood aside for
George to enter.

He found himself on the threshold of a charming room looking west, and
lit by some last beams of February sun. The pale-green walls were covered
with a medley of prints and sketches. A large writing-table, untidily
heaped with papers, stood conspicuous on the blue self-coloured carpet,
which over a great part of the floor was pleasantly void and bare. Flat
earthenware pans, planted with hyacinths and narcissus, stood here and
there, and filled the air with spring scents. Books ran round the lower
walls, or lay piled where-ever there was a space for them; while about
the fire at the further end was gathered a circle of chintz-covered
chairs--chairs of all shapes and sizes, meant for talking. The whole
impression of the pretty, disorderly place, compared with the stately
drawing-room behind it, was one of intimity and freedom; the room made a
friend of you as you entered.

Half a dozen people were sitting with Lady Maxwell when Tressady was
announced. She rose to meet him with great cordiality, introduced him to
little Lady Leven, an elfish creature in a cloud of fair hair, and with a
pleasant "You know all the rest," offered him a chair beside herself and
the tea-table.

"The rest" were Frank Leven, Edward Watton, Bayle, the Foreign Office
private secretary who had been staying at Malford House at the time of
Tressady's election, and Bennett, the "small, dark man" whom George had
pointed out to Letty in the House as a Labour member, and one of the
Maxwells' particular friends.

"Well?" said Lady Maxwell, turning to her new visitor as she handed him
some tea, "were you as much taken with the grandmother as the grandmother
was taken with you? She told me she had never seen a 'more haffable
gentleman, nor one as she'd a been more willin to ha done for'!"

George laughed. "I see," he said, "that my report has been anticipated."

"Yes--I have been there. I have found a 'case' in them indeed--alack! The
granny--I am afraid she is an unseemly old woman--and the elder girl both
work for the Jew son-in-law on the first floor--homework of the most
abominable kind--that girl will be dead in a year if it goes on."

George was rapidly conscious of two contradictory impressions--one of
pleasure, one of annoyance--pleasure in her tall, slim presence, her
white hand, and all the other flashing points of a beauty not to be
denied--and irritation that she should have talked "shop" to him with her
first breath. Could one never escape this altruistic chatter?

But he was not left to grapple with it alone, for Lady Leven looked
up quickly.

"Mr. Watton, will you please take Lady Maxwell's tea away if she mentions
the word 'case' again? We gave her fair warning."

Lady Maxwell hastily clasped both her hands round her tea-cup.

"Betty, we have discussed the opera for at least twenty minutes."

"Yes--at peril of our lives!" said Lady Leven. "I never talked so fast
before. One felt as though one _must_ say everything one had to say about
Melba and the de Reszkes, all in one breath--before one's poor little
subject was torn from one--one would never have such a chance again."

Lady Maxwell laughed, but coloured too.

"Am I such a nuisance?" she said, dropping her hands on her knee with a
little sigh. Then she turned to Tressady.

"But Lady Leven really makes it out worse than it is. We haven't even
_approached_ a Factory Act all the afternoon."

Lady Leven sprang forward in her chair. "Because! _because_, my dear, we
simply declined to let you. We made a league--didn't we, Mr.
Bennett?--even you joined it."

Bennett smiled.

"Lady Maxwell overworks herself--we all know that," he said, his look, at
once kind, honest, and perennially embarrassed, passing from Lady Leven
to his hostess.

"Oh, don't sympathise, for Heaven's sake!" cried Betty. "Wage war upon
her--it's our only hope."

"Don't you think Sunday at least ought to be frivolous?" said Tressady,
smiling, to Lady Maxwell.

"Well, personally, I like to talk about what interests me on Sunday as
well as on other days," she said with a frank simplicity; "but I know I
ought to be kept in order--I become a terrible bore."

Frank Leven roused himself from the sofa on which he had languidly
subsided.

"Bores?" he said indignantly, "we're all bores. We all have been bores
since people began to think about what they're pleased to call 'social
work.' Why should I love my neighbour?--I'd much rather hate him. I
generally do."

"Doesn't it all depend," said Tressady, "on whether he happens to be able
to make it disagreeable for you in return?"

"That's just it," said Betty Leven, eagerly. "I agree with Frank--it's
all so stupid, this 'loving' everybody. It makes one positively hot. We
sit under a clergyman, Frank and I, who talks of nothing every Sunday but
love--_love_--like that, long-drawn-out--how our politics should be
'love,' and our shopping should be 'love'--till we long simply to
bastinado somebody. I want to have a little real nice cruelty--something
sharp and interesting. I should like to stick pins into my maid, only
unfortunately, as she has more than once pointed out to me, it would be
so much easier for her to stick them into me!"

"You want the time of Miss Austen's novels back again," said young Bayle,
stooping to her, with his measured and agreeable smile--"before even the
clergy had a mission."

"Ah! but it would be no good," said Lady Leven, sighing, "if _she_
were there!"

She threw out her small hand towards her hostess, and everybody laughed.

Up to the moment of the laugh, Lady Maxwell had been lying back in her
chair listening, the beautiful mouth absently merry, and the eyes
speaking--Tressady thought--of quite other things, of some hidden
converse of her own, going on in the brain behind the eyes. A certain
prophetess-air seemed natural to her. Nevertheless, that first impression
of her he had carried away from the hospital scene was being somehow
blurred and broken up.

She joined in the laugh against herself; then, with a little nod towards
her assailant, she said to Edward Watton, who was sitting on her right
hand. "_You're_ not taken in, I know."

"Oh, if you mean that I go in for 'cases' and 'causes' too," cried Lady
Leven, interrupting, "of course I do--I can't be left alone. I must dance
as my generation pipes."

"Which means," said her husband, drily, "that she went for two days
filling soda-water bottles the week before last, and a day's shirt-making
last week. From the first, I was told that she would probably return to
me with an eye knocked out, she being totally inexperienced and absurdly
rash. As to the second, to judge from the description she gave me of the
den she had been sitting in when she came home, and the headache she had
next day, I still expect typhoid. The fortnight isn't up till Wednesday."

There was a shout of mingled laughter and inquiry.

"How did you do it?--and whom did you bribe?" said Bayle to Lady Leven.

"I didn't bribe anybody," she said indignantly. "You don't understand. My
friends introduced me."

Then, drawn out by him, she plunged into a lively account of her workshop
experiences, interrupted every now and then by the sarcastic comments of
her husband and the amusement of the two younger men who had brought
their chairs close to her. Betty Leven ranked high among the lively
chatterboxes of her day and set.

Lady Maxwell, however, had not laughed at Frank Leven's speech. Rather,
as he spoke of his wife's experiences, her face had clouded, as though
the blight of some too familiar image, some sad ever-present vision, had
descended upon her.

Beimett also did not laugh. He watched the Levens indulgently for a few
minutes, then insensibly he, Lady Maxwell, Edward Watton, and Tressady
drew together into a circle of their own.

"Do you gather that Lord Fontenoy's speech on Friday has been much
taken up in the country?" said Bennett, bending forward and addressing
Lady Maxwell. Tressady, who was observing him, noticed that his dress
was precisely the "Sunday best" of the respectable workman, and was,
moreover, reminded by the expression of the eyes and brow that Bennett
was said to have been a well-known "local preacher" in his
north-country youth.

Lady Maxwell smiled, and pointed to Tressady.

"Here," she said, "is Lord Fontenoy's first-lieutenant."

Bennett looked at George.

"I should be glad," he said, "to know what Sir George thinks?"

"Why, certainly--we think it has been very warmly taken up," said George,
promptly--"to judge from the newspapers, the letters that have been
pouring in, and the petitions that seem to be preparing."

Lady Maxwell's eyes gleamed. She looked at Bennett silently a moment,
then she said:

"Isn't it amazing to you how strong an impossible case can be made to
look?"

"It is inevitable," said Bennett, with a little shrug, "quite
inevitable. These social experiments of ours are so young--there is
always a strong case to be made out against any of them, and there will
be for years to come."

"Well and good," said George; "then we cavillers are inevitable too.
Don't attack us--praise us rather; by your own confession, we are as much
a part of the game as you are."

Bennett smiled slightly, but did not in reality quite follow. Lady
Maxwell bent forward.

"Do you know whether Lord Fontenoy has any _personal_ knowledge of the
trades he was speaking about?" she said, in her rich eager voice; "that
is what I want so much to find out."

George was nettled by both the question and the manner.

"I regard Fontenoy as a very competent person," he said drily. "I imagine
he did his best to inform himself. But there was not much need; the
persons concerned--whom you think you are protecting--were so very eager
to inform us!"

Lady Maxwell flushed.

"And you think that settles it--the eagerness of the cheap life to be
allowed to maim and waste itself? But again and again English law has
stepped in to prevent it--and again and again everybody has been
thankful."

"It is all a question of balance, of course," said George. "Must a
few unwise people be allowed to kill themselves--or thousands lose
their liberty?"

His blue eyes scanned her beautiful impetuous face with a certain cool
hardness. Internally he was more and more in revolt against a "monstrous
regiment of women" and the influence upon the most complex economic
problems of such a personality as that before him.

But his word "liberty" pricked her. The look of feeling passed away. Her
eyes kindled as sharply and drily as his own.

"Freedom?--let me quote you Cromwell! 'Every sectary saith, "O give me
liberty!" But give it him, and to the best of his power he will yield it
to no one else.' So with your careless or brutal employer--give him
liberty, and no one else shall get it."

"Only by metaphor--not legally," said George, stubbornly. "So long as men
are not slaves by law there is always a chance for freedom. Any way _we_
stand for freedom--as an end, not a means. It is not the business of the
State to make people happy--not at all!--at least that is our view--but
it _is_ the business of the State to keep them free."

"Ah!" said Bennett, with a long breath, "there you've hit the nail--the
whole difference between you and us."

George nodded. Lady Maxwell did not speak immediately. But George was
conscious that he was being observed, closely considered. Their glances
crossed an instant, in antagonism, certainly, if not in dislike.

"How long is it since you came home from India?" she asked him suddenly.

"About six months."

"And you were, I think, a long time abroad?"

"Nearly four years. Does that make you think I have not had much time to
get up the things I am going to vote about?" said the young man,
laughing. "I don't know! On the broadest issues of politics, one makes up
one's mind as well in Asia as in Europe--better perhaps."

"On the Empire, I suppose--and England's place in the world? That's a
side which--I know--I remember much too little. You think our life
depends on a governing class--and that _we_ and democracy are weakening
that class too much?"

"That's about it. And for democracy it is all right. But _you_--you are
the traitors!"

His thrust, however, did not rouse her to any corresponding rhetoric. She
smiled merely, and began to question him about his travels. She did it
with great deftness, so that after an answer or two both his temper and
manner insensibly softened, and he found himself talking with ease and
success. His mixed personality revealed itself--his capacity for certain
veiled enthusiasms, his respect for power, for knowledge, his pessimist
beliefs as to the average lot of men.

Bennett, who listened easily, was glad to help her make her guest talk.
Frank Leven left the group near the sofa and came to listen, too.
Tressady was more and more spurred, carried out of himself. Lady
Maxwell's fine eyes and stately ways were humanised after all by a quick
responsiveness, which for most people, however critical, made
conversation with her draw like a magnet. Her intelligence, too, was
competent, left the mere feminine behind in these connections that
Tressady offered her, no less than in others. She had not lived in the
world of high politics for nearly five years for nothing; so that
unconsciously, and indeed quite against his will, Tressady found himself
talking to her, after a while, as though she had been a man and an equal,
while at the same time taking more pains than he would ever have taken
for a man.

"Well, you _have_ seen a lot!" said Frank Leven at last, with a rather
envious sigh.

Bennett's modest face suddenly reddened.

"If only Sir George will use his eyes to as good purpose at home--" he
said involuntarily, then stopped. Few men were more unready and awkward
in conversation; yet when roused he was one of the best platform speakers
of his day.

George laughed.

"One sees best what appeals to one, I am afraid," he said, only to be
instantly conscious that he had made a rather stupid admission in face of
the enemy.

Lady Maxwell's lip twitched; he saw the flash of some quick thought cross
her face. But she said nothing.

Only when he got up to go, she bade him notice that she was always at
home on Sundays, and would be glad that he should remember it. He made a
rather cold and perfunctory reply. Inwardly he said to himself, "Why does
she say nothing of Letty, whom she knows--and of our marriage--if she
wants to make friends?"

Nevertheless, he left the house with the feeling of one who has passed
an hour not of the common sort. He had done himself justice, made his
mark. And as for her--in spite of his flashes of dislike he carried
away a strong impression of something passionate and vivid that clung
to the memory. Or was it merely eyes and pose, that astonishingly
beautiful colour, and touch of classic dignity which she got--so the
world said--from some remote strain of Italian blood? Most probably!
All the same, she had fewer of the ordinary womanly arts than he had
imagined. How easy it would have been to send that message to Letty she
had not sent! He thought simply that for a clever woman she might have
been more adroit.

       *       *       *       *       *

The door had no sooner closed behind Tressady than Betty Leven, with
a quick look after him, bent across to her hostess, and said in a
stage whisper:

"Who? Post me up, please."

"One of Fontenoy's gang," said her husband, before Lady Maxwell could
answer. "A new member, and as sharp as needles. He's been exactly to all
the places where I want to go, Betty, and you won't let me."

He glanced at his wife with a certain sharpness. For Tressady had spoken
in passing of nilghai-shooting in the Himalayas, and the remark had
brought the flush of an habitual discontent to the young man's cheek.

Betty merely held out a white child's wrist.

"Button my glove, please, and don't talk. I have got ever so many
questions to ask Marcella."

Leven applied himself rather sulkily to his task while Betty pursued her
inquiries.

"Isn't he going to marry Letty Sewell?"

"Yes," said Lady Maxwell, opening her eyes rather wide. "Do you
know her?"

"Why, my dear, she's Mr. Watton's cousin--isn't she?" said Betty, turning
towards that young man. "I saw her once at your mother's."

"Certainly she is my cousin," said that young man, smiling, "and she is
going to marry Tressady at Easter. So much I can vouch for, though I
don't know her so well, perhaps, as the rest of my family do."

"Oh!" said Betty, drily, releasing her husband and crossing her small
hands across her knee. "That means--Miss Sewell isn't one of Mr. Watton's
_favourite_ cousins. You don't mind talking about your cousins, do you?
You may blacken the character of all mine. Is she nice?"

"Who--Letty? Why, of course she is nice," said Edward Watton, laughing.
"All young ladies are."

"Oh goodness!" said Betty, shaking her halo of gold hair. "Commend me to
cousins for letting one down easy."

"Too bad, Lady Leven!" said Watton, getting up to escape. "Why not ask
Bayle? He knows all things. Let me hand you over to him. He will sing you
all my cousin's charms."

"Delighted!" said Bayle as he, too, rose--"only unfortunately I ought at
this moment to be at Wimbledon."

He had the air of a typical official, well dressed, suave, and infinitely
self-possessed, as he held out his hand--deprecatingly--to Lady Leven.

"Oh! you private secretaries!" said Betty, pouting and turning
away from him.

"Don't abolish us," he said, pleading. "We must live."

"_Je n'en vois pas la nécessité!_" said Betty, over her shoulder.

"Betty, what a babe you are!" cried her husband, as Bayle, Watton, and
Bennett all disappeared together.

"Not at all!" cried Betty. "I wanted to get some truth out of somebody.
For, of course, the real truth is that this Miss Sewell is--"

"Is what?" said Leven, lost in admiration all the time, as Lady Maxwell
saw, of his wife's dainty grace and rose-leaf colour.

"Well--a--_minx!_" said Betty, with innocent slowness,
opening her blue eyes very wide; "a mischievous--rather
pretty--hard-hearted--flirting--little minx!"

"Really, Betty!" cried Lady Maxwell. "Where have you seen her?"

"Oh, I saw her last year several times at the Wattons' and other places,"
said Betty, composedly. "And so did you too, please, madam. I remember
very well one day Mrs. Watton brought her into the Winterbournes' when
you and I were there, and she chattered a great deal."

"Oh yes!--I had forgotten."

"Well, my dear, you'll soon have to remember her! so you needn't talk
in that lofty tone. For they're going to be married at Easter, and if
you want to make friends with the young man, you'll have to realise
the wife!"

"Married at Easter? How do you know?"

"In the first place Mr. Watton said so, in the next there are such
things as newspapers. But of course you didn't notice such trifles, you
never do."

"Betty, you're very cross with me to-day!" Lady Maxwell looked up at her
friend with a little pleading air.

"Oh no! only for your good. I know you're thinking of nothing in the
world but how to make that man take a reasonable view of Maxwell's Bill.
And I want to impress upon you that _he's_ probably thinking a great deal
more about getting married than about Factory Bills. You see, _your_
getting married was a kind of accident. But other people are different.
And oh, dear, you do know so little about them when they don't live hi
four pair backs! There, don't defend yourself--you sha'n't!"

And, stooping, Betty stifled her friend's possible protest by
kissing her.

"Now then, come along, Frank--you've got your speech to write--and I've
got to copy it out. Don't swear! you know you're going to have two whole
days' golfing next week. Good-bye, Marcella! My love to Aldous--and tell
him not to be so late next time I come to tea. Good-bye!"

And off she swept, pausing, however, on the landing to open the door
again and put in an eager face.

"Oh! and, by the way, the young man has a mother--Frank reminded me. His
womenkind don't seem to be his strong point--but as she doesn't earn
_even_ four-and-sixpence a week--very sadly the contrary--I won't tell
you any more now, or you'll forget. Next time!"

When Marcella Maxwell was at last left alone, she began to pace slowly up
and down the large bare room, as it was very much her wont to do.

She was thinking of George Tressady, and of the personality his talk had
seemed to reveal.

"His heart is all in _power_--in what he takes for magnificence." she
said to herself. "He talks as if he had no humanity, and did not care a
rap for anybody. But it is a pose--I _think_ it is a pose. He is
interesting--he will develop. One would like--to show him things."

After another pensive turn or two she stopped beside a photograph that
stood upon her writing-table. It was a photograph of her husband--a tall,
smoothfaced man, with pleasant eyes, features of no particular emphasis,
and the free carriage of the country-bred Englishman. As she looked at it
her face relaxed unconsciously, inevitably; under the stimulus of some
habitual and secret joy. It was for his sake, for his sake only that she
was still thinking of George Tressady, still pondering the young man's
character and remarks.

So much at least was true--no other member of Fontenoy's party had as
yet given her even the chance of arguing with him. Once or twice in
society she had tried to approach Fontenoy himself, to get somehow into
touch with him. But she had made no way. Lord Fontenoy had simply turned
his square-jawed face and red-rimmed eyes upon her with a stupid
irresponsive air, which Marcella knew perfectly well to be a mask, while
it protected him none the less effectively for that against both her
eloquence and her charm. The other members of the party were young
aristocrats, either of the ultra-exclusive or of the sporting type. She
had made her attempts here and there among them, but with no more
success. And once or twice, when she had pushed her attack to close
quarters, she had been suddenly conscious of an underlying insolence in
her opponent--a quick glance of bold or sensual eyes which seemed to
relegate the mere woman to her place.

But this young Tressady, for all his narrowness and bitterness, was of a
different stamp--or she thought so.

She began to pace up and down again, lost in reverie, till after a few
minutes she came slowly to a stop before a long Louis Quinze
mirror--her hands clasped in front of her, her eyes half consciously
studying what she saw.

Her own beauty invariably gave her pleasure--though very seldom for the
reasons that would have affected other women. She felt instinctively that
it made life easier for her than it could otherwise have been; that it
provided her with a natural and profitable "opening" in any game she
might wish to play; and that even among the workmen, unionist leaders,
and officials of the East End it had helped her again and again to score
the points that she wanted to make. She was accustomed to be looked at,
to be the centre, to feel things yielding before her; and without
thinking it out, she knew perfectly well what it was she gained by this
"fair seeming show" of eye and lip and form. Somehow it made nothing seem
impossible to her; it gave her a dazzling self-confidence.

The handle of the door turned. She looked round with a smiling start,
and waited.

A tall man in a grey suit came in, crossed the room quickly, and put his
arms round her. She leant back against his shoulder, putting up one hand
to touch his cheek caressingly.

"Why, how late you are! Betty left reproaches for you."

"I had a walk with Dowson. Then two or three people caught me on the
way back--Rashdell among others." (Lord Rashdell was Foreign
Secretary.) "There are some interesting telegrams from Paris--I copied
them out for you."

The country happened to be at the moment in the midst of one of its
periodical difficulties with France. There had been a good deal of
diplomatic friction, and a certain amount of anxiety at the Foreign
Office. Marcella lit the silver kettle again and made her man some fresh
tea, while he told her the news, and they discussed the various points of
the telegrams he had copied for her, with a comrade's freedom and
vivacity. Then she said:

"Well, I have had an interesting time too! That young Tressady has
been to tea."

"Oh! has he? They say there is a lot of stuff in him, and he may do us a
great deal of mischief. How did you find him?"

"Oh, very clever, very limited--and a mass of prejudices," she said,
laughing. "I never saw an odder mixture of knowledge and ignorance."

"What? Knowledge of India and the East?--that kind of thing?"

She nodded.

"Knowledge of everything except the subject he has come home to fight
about! Do you know, Aldous--"

She paused. She was sitting on a stool beside him, her arm upon his knee.

"What do I know?" he said, his hand seeking hers.

"Well, I can't help feeling that that man might live and learn. He isn't
a mere obstructive block--like the rest."

Maxwell laughed.

"Then Fontenoy is not as shrewd as usual. They say he regards him as
their best recruit."

"Never mind. I rather wish you'd try to make friends with him."

Maxwell, however, helped himself to cake and made no response. On the two
or three occasions on which he had met George Tressady, he had been
conscious, if the truth were told, of a certain vague antipathy to the
young man.

Marcella pondered.

"No," she said, "no--I don't think after all he's your sort. Suppose _I_
see what can be done!"

And she got up with her flashing smile--half love, half fun--and
crossed the room to summon her little boy, Hallin, for his evening
play. Maxwell looked after her, not heeding at all what she was saying,
heeding only herself, her voice, the atmosphere of charm and life she
carried with her.



CHAPTER VII


Marcella Maxwell, however, had not been easily wooed by the man who now
filled all the horizon of her life. At the time when Aldous Raeburn, as
he then was--the grandson and heir of old Lord Maxwell--came across her
first she was a handsome, undeveloped girl, of a type not uncommon in our
modern world, belonging by birth to the country-squire class, and by the
chances of a few years of student life in London to the youth that takes
nothing on authority, and puts to fierce question whatever it finds
already on its path--Governments, Churches, the powers of family and
wealth--that takes, moreover, its social pity for the only standard, and
spends that pity only on one sort and type of existence. She accepted
Raeburn, then the best _parti_ in the county, without understanding or
loving him, simply that she might use his power and wealth for certain
social ends to which the crude philanthropy of her youth had pledged
itself. Naturally, they were no sooner engaged than Raeburn found himself
launched upon a long wrestle with the girl who had thus--in the
selfishness of her passionate idealist youth--opened her relation to him
with a deliberate affront to the heart offered her. The engagement had
stormy passages, and was for a time wholly broken off. Aldous was made
bitterly jealous, or miserably unhappy. Marcella left the old house in
the neighbourhood of the Maxwell property, where her lover had first seen
and courted her. She plunged into London life, and into nursing, that
common outlet for the woman at war with herself or society. She suffered
and struggled, and once or twice she came very near to throwing away all
her chances of happiness. But in the end, Maxwell tamed her; Maxwell
recovered her. The rise of love in the unruly, impetuous creature, when
the rise came, was like the sudden growth of some great forest flower. It
spread with transforming beauty over the whole nature, till at last the
girl who had once looked upon him as the mere tool of her own moral
ambitions threw herself upon Maxwell's heart with a self-abandoning
passion and penitence, which her developed powers and her adorable beauty
made a veritable intoxication.

And Maxwell was worthy that she should do this thing. When he and
Marcella first met, he was a man of thirty, very able, very reserved, and
often painfully diffident as to his own powers and future. He was the
only young representative of a famous stock, and had grown up from his
childhood under the shadow of great sorrows and heavy responsibilities.
The stuff of the poet and the thinker lay hidden behind his shy manners;
and he loved Marcella Boyce with all the delicacy, all the idealising
respect, that passion generates in natures so strong and so highly
tempered. At the same time, he had little buoyancy or gaiety; he had a
belief in his class, and a constitutional dislike of change, which were
always fighting in his mind with the energies of moral debate; and he
acquiesced very easily--perhaps indifferently--in many outward
conventions and prejudices.

The crisis through which Marcella put him developed and matured the man.
To the influences of love, moreover, were added the influences of
friendship--of such a friendship as our modern time but seldom rears to
perfection. In Raeburn's college days, a man of rare and delicate powers
had possessed himself of Raeburn's tenacious affection, and had
thenceforward played the leader to Raeburn's strength, physical and
moral, availing himself freely, wherever his own failed him, of the
powers and capacities of his friend. For he himself bore in him from his
youth up the seeds of physical failure and early death. It was partly the
marvellous struggle in him of soul with body that subdued to him the
homage of the stronger man. And it was clearly his influence that broke
up and fired Raeburn's slower and more distrustful temper, informing an
inbred Toryism, a natural passion for tradition, and the England of
tradition with that "repining restlessness" which is the best spur of
noble living.

Hallin was a lecturer and an economist; a man who lived in the perception
of the great paradox that in our modern world political power has gone to
the workman, while yet socially and intellectually he remains little less
weak, or starved, or subject than before. When he died he left to Raeburn
a legacy of feelings and ideas, all largely concerned with this contrast
between the huge and growing "tyranny" of the working class and the
individual helplessness or bareness of the working man. And it was these
feelings and ideas which from the beginning made a link between Raeburn
and the young revolts and compassions of Marcella Boyce. They were at one
in their love of Edward Hallin; and after Hallin's death, in their sore
and tender wish to make his thoughts tell upon the English world.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Maxwells had now been married some five years, years of almost
incredible happiness. The equal comradeship of marriage at its best and
finest, all the daily disciplines, the profound and painless lessons of
love, the covetous bliss of parentage, the constant anxieties of power
nobly understood, had harmonised the stormy nature of the woman, and had
transformed the somewhat pessimist and scrupulous character of the man.
Not that life with Marcella Maxwell was always easy. Now as ever she
remained on the moral side a creature of strain and effort, tormented by
ideals not to be realised, and eager to drive herself and others in a
breathless pursuit of them.

But if in some sort she seemed to be always dragging those that loved her
through the heart of a tempest, the tempest had such golden moments! No
wife had ever more capacity for all the delicacies and depths of passion
towards the man of her choice. All the anxieties she brought with her,
all the perplexities and difficulties she imposed, had never yet seemed
to Maxwell anything but divinely worth while. So far, indeed, he had
never even remotely allowed himself to put the question. Her faults were
her; and she was his light of life.

For some time after their marriage, which took place about a year after
his accession to the title and estates, they had lived at the stately
house in Brookshire belonging to the Maxwells, and Marcella had thrown
herself into the management of a large household and property with
characteristic energy and originality. She had tried new ways of choosing
and governing her servants; new ways of entertaining the poor, and of
making Maxwell Court the centre, not of one class, but of all. She ran up
a fair score of blunders, but not one of them was the blunder of meanness
or vulgarity. Her nature was inventive and poetic, and the rich
fulfilment that had overtaken her own personal desires did but sting her
eager passion to give and to serve.

Meanwhile the family house in town was sold, and what with the birth of
her son, and the multiplicity of the rural interests to which she had set
her hand, Marcella felt no need of London. But towards the end of the
second year she perceived--though he said little about it--that there was
in her husband's mind a strong and persistent drawing towards his former
political interests and associations. The late Lord Maxwell had sat in
several Conservative cabinets, and his grandson, after a distinguished
career in the House as a private member, had accepted a subordinate place
in the Government only a few months before his grandfather's death
transferred him to the Lords. After that event, a scrupulous conscience
had forced him to take landowning as a profession and an arduous one. The
Premier made him flattering advances, and his friends remonstrated, but
he had none the less relinquished office, and buried himself on his land.

Now, however, after some three years' hard and unremitting work, the
estate was in excellent condition; the "new ways" of the new owners had
been well started; and both Maxwell and Marcella had fitting lieutenants
who could be left in charge. Moreover, matters were being agitated at
the moment in politics which had special significance for the man's
idealist and reflective mind. His country friends and neighbours hardly
understood why.

For it was merely a question of certain further measures of factory
reform. A group of labour leaders were pressing upon the public and the
Government a proposal to pass a special Factory Act for certain
districts and trades of East London. In spite of Commissions, in spite
of recent laws, "sweating," so it was urged, was as bad as ever--nay, in
certain localities and industries was more frightful and more oppressive
than ever. The waste of life and health involved in the great clothing
industries of East London, for instance, which had provoked law after
law, inquiry after inquiry, still went--so it was maintained--its
hideous way.

"Have courage!" cried the reformers. "Take, at last, the only effectual
step. Make it penal to practise certain trades in the houses of the
people--drive them all into factories of a certain size, where alone
these degraded industries can be humanised and controlled. Above all,
make up your mind to a legal working day for East London men as well as
East London women. Try the great experiment first of all in this
omnivorous, inarticulate London, this dustbin for the rubbish of all
nations. Here the problem is worst--here the victims are weakest and
most manageable. London will bear what would stir a riot in Birmingham or
Leeds. Make the experiment as partial and as tentative as you
please--give the Home Office power to extend or revoke it at will--but
_try it_!"

The change proposed was itself of vast importance, and was, moreover, but
a prelude to things still more far-reaching. But, critical as it was,
Maxwell was prepared for it. During the later years of his friend
Hallin's life the two men had constantly discussed the industrial
consequences of democracy with unflagging eagerness and intelligence. To
both it seemed not only inevitable, but the object of the citizen's
dearest hopes, that the rule of the people should bring with it, in
ever-ascending degree, the ordering and moralising of the worker's toil.
Yet neither had the smallest belief that any of the great civilised
communities would ever see the State the sole landlord and the sole
capitalist; or that Collectivism as a system has, or deserves to have,
any serious prospects in the world. To both, possession--private and
personal possession--from the child's first toy, or the tiny garden where
it sows its passionately watched seeds, to the great business or the
great estate, is one of the first and chiefest elements of human
training, not to be escaped by human effort, or only at such a cost of
impoverishment and disaster that mankind would but take the
step--supposing it conceivable that it should take it--to retrace it
instantly.

Maxwell's _heart_, however, was much less concerned with this belief,
tenaciously as he held it, than with its relative--the limitation of
private possession by the authority of the common conscience. That "we
are not our own" has not, indeed, been left to Lassalle or Marx to
discover. But if you could have moved this quiet Englishman to speak, he
would have said--his strong, brooding face all kindled and alive--that
the enormous industrial development of the past century has shown us the
forces at work in the evolution of human societies on a gigantic scale,
and by thus magnifying them has given us a new understanding of them. The
vast extension of the individual will and power which science has brought
to humanity during the last hundred years was always present to him as
food for a natural exultation--a kind of pledge of the boundless
prospects of the race. On the other hand the struggle of society brought
face to face with this huge increment of the individual power, forced to
deal with it for its own higher and mysterious ends, to moralise and
socialise it lest it should destroy itself and the State together; the
slow steps by which the modern community has succeeded in asserting
itself against the individual, in protecting the weak from his weakness,
the poor from his poverty, in defending the woman and child from the
fierce claims of capital, in forcing upon trade after trade the axiom
that no man may lawfully build his wealth upon the exhaustion and
degradation of his fellow--these things stirred in him the far deeper
enthusiasms of the moral nature. Nay more! Together with all the other
main facts which mark the long travail of man's ethical and social life,
they were among the only "evidences" of religion a critical mind allowed
itself--the most striking signs of something "greater than we know"
working among the dust and ugliness of our common day. Attack wealth as
wealth, possession as possession, and civilisation is undone. But bring
the force of the social conscience to bear as keenly and ardently as you
may, upon the separate activities of factory and household, farm and
office; and from the results you will only get a richer individual
freedom, one more illustration of the divinest law man serves--that he
must "die to live," must surrender to obtain.

Such at least was Maxwell's persuasion; though as a practical man he
admitted, of course, many limitations of time, occasion, and degree. And
long companionship with him had impressed the same faith also on
Marcella. With the natural conceit of the shrewd woman, she would
probably have maintained that her social creed came entirely of
mother-wit and her own exertions--her experiences in London, reading,
and the rest. In reality it was in her the pure birth of a pure passion.
She had learnt it while she was learning to love Aldous Raeburn; and it
need astonish no one that the more dependent all her various
philosophies of life had become on the mere personal influence and joy
of marriage, the more agile had she grown in all that concerned the mere
intellectual defence of them. She could argue better and think better;
but at bottom, if the truth were told, they were Maxwell's arguments and
Maxwell's thoughts.

So that when this particular agitation began, and he grew restless in his
silent way, she grew restless too. They took down the old worn
portfolios of Hallin's papers and letters, and looked through them, night
after night, as they sat alone together in the great library of the
Court. Both Marcella and Aldous could remember the writing of many of
these innumerable drafts of Acts, these endless memoranda on special
points, and must needs try, for love's sake, to forget the terrible
strain and effort with which a dying man had put them together. She was
led by them to think of the many workmen friends she had made during the
year of her nursing life; while he had remembrances of much personal work
and investigation of his own, undertaken during the time of his
under-secretaryship, to add to hers. Another Liberal government was
slipping to its fall--if a Conservative government came in, with a
possible opening in it for Aldous Maxwell, what then? Was the chance to
be seized?

One May twilight, just before dinner, as the two were strolling up and
down the great terrace just in front of the Court, Aldous paused and
looked at the majestic house beside them.

"What's the good of talking about these things while we live _there_?" he
said, with a gesture towards the house, half impatient, half humorous.

Marcella laughed. Then she sprang away from him, considering, a sudden
brightness in her eye. She had an idea.

The idea after all was a very simple one. But the probability is that,
had she not been there to carry him through, Maxwell would have neither
found it nor followed it. However that may be, in a very few days she had
clothed it with fact, and made so real a thing of it that she was amazed
at her own success. She and Maxwell had settled themselves in a small
furnished house in the Mile End Road, and Maxwell was once more studying
the problems of his measure that was to be in the midst of the
populations to whom it applied. The house had been recently let in
"apartments" by a young tradesman and his wife, well known to Marcella.
In his artisan days the man had been her friend, and for a time her
patient. She knew how to put her hand on him at once.

They spent five months in the little house, while the London that knew
them in St. James's Square looked on, and made the comments--half amused,
half inquisitive--that the act seemed to invite. There was of course no
surprise. Nothing surprises the London of to-day. Or if there were any,
it was all Marcella's. In spite of her passionate sympathy with the
multitude who live in disagreeable homes on about a pound a week, she
herself was very sensitive to the neighbourhood of beautiful things, to
the charm of old homes, cool woods, green lawns, and the rise and fall of
Brookshire hills. Against her wish, she had thought of sacrifice in
thinking of the Mile End Road in August.

But there was no sacrifice. Frankly, these five months were among the
happiest of her life. She and Maxwell were constantly together, from
morning till night, doing the things that were congenial to them, and
seeing the things that interested them. They went in and out of every
factory and workshop in which certain trades were practised, within a
three-mile radius; they became the intimate friends of every factory
inspector and every trade-union official in the place. Luckily, Maxwell's
shyness--at least in Mile End--was not of the sort that can be readily
mistaken for a haughty mind. He was always ready to be informed; his
diffident kindness asked to be set at ease; while in any real ardour of
debate his trained capacity and his stores of knowledge would put even
the expert on his mettle.

As for Marcella, it was her idiosyncrasy that these tailors, furriers,
machinists, shirtmakers, by whom she was surrounded in East London,
stirred her imagination far more readily than the dwellers in great
houses and the wearers of fine raiment had ever stirred it. And
Marcella, in the kindled sympathetic state, was always delightful to
herself and others. She revelled in the little house and its ugly,
druggetted rooms; in the absence of all the usual paraphernalia of their
life; in her undisturbed possession of the husband who was at once her
lover and the best company she knew or could desire. On the few days
when he left her for the day on some errand in which she could not
share, to meet him at the train in the evening like any small clerk's
wife, to help him carry the books and papers with which he was generally
laden along the hot and dingy street, to make him tea from her little
spirit kettle, and then to hear the news of the day in the shade of the
little smutty back-garden, while the German charwoman who cooked for
them had her way with the dinner--there was not an incident in the whole
trivial procession that did not amuse and delight her. She renewed her
youth; she escaped from the burdensome "glories of our birth, and
state"; from that teasing "duty to our equals" on which only the wisest
preachers have ever laid sufficient stress; and her one trouble was that
the little masquerade must end.

One other drawback indeed, one more blight upon a golden time, there was.
Not even Marcella could make up her mind to transplant little Hallin, her
only child, from Maxwell Court to East London. It was springtime, and the
woods about the Court were breaking into sheets of white and blue.
Marcella must needs leave the boy to his flowers and his "grandame
earth," sadly warned thereto by the cheeks of other little boys in and
about the Mile End Road. But every Friday night she and Maxwell said
good-bye to the two little workhouse girls, and the German charwoman, and
the village boy from Mellor, who supplied them with all the service they
wanted in Mile End, took with them the ancient maid who had been
Marcella's mother's maid, and fled home to Brookshire. So on Saturday
mornings it generally happened that little Hallin went out to inform his
particular friend among the garden boys, that "Mummy had tum ome," and
that he was not therefore so much his own master as usual. He explained
that he had to show mummy "_eaps_ of things"--the two new kittens, the
"edge-sparrer's nest," and the "ump they'd made in the churchyard over
old Tom Collins from the parish ouses," the sore place on the pony's
shoulder, the "ole that mummy's orse had kicked in the stable door," and
a host of other curiosities. By way of linking the child with the soil
and its people, Marcella had taken care to give him nursemaids from the
village. And the village being only some thirty miles from London, talked
in the main the language of London, a language which it soon communicated
to the tongue of Maxwell's heir. Marcella tried to school her boy in
vain. Hallin chattered, laughed, broadened his a's and dropped all his
h's into a bottomless limbo none the less.

What days of joy those Saturdays were for mother and child! All the
morning and till about four o'clock, he and she would be inseparable,
trailing about together over field and wood, she one of the handsomest
of women, he one of the plainest of children--a little square-faced
chubby fellow, with eyes monstrously black and big, fat cheeks that
hung a little over the firm chin, a sallow complexion, and a large
humorous mouth.

But in the late afternoon, alas! Hallin was apt to find the world grow
tiresome. For against all his advice "mummy" would allow herself to be
clad by Annette, the maid, in a frock of state; carriages would drive up
from the 5.10 train; and presently in the lengthening evening the great
lawns of the Court would be dotted with strolling groups, or the red
drawing-room, with its Romneys and Gainsboroughs, would be filled with
talk and laughter circling round mummy at the tea-table; so that all that
was left to Hallin was that seat on mummy's knee--his big, dark head
pressed disconsolately against her breast, his thumb in his mouth for
comfort--which no boy of any spirit would ever consent to occupy, so long
as there was any chance of goading a slack companion into things better
worth while.

Marcella herself was no less rebellious at heart, and would have asked
nothing better than to be left free to spend her weekly holiday in
roaming an April world with Hallin. But our country being what it is, the
plans that are made in Mile End or Shoreditch have to be adopted by
Mayfair or Mayfair's equivalent; otherwise they are apt to find an
inglorious tomb in the portfolios that bred them. We have still, it
seems, a "ruling class"; and in spite of democracy it is still this
"ruling class" that matters. Maxwell was perfectly aware of it; and these
Sundays to him were the mere complements of the Mile End weekdays.
Marcella ruefully admitted that English life was so, and she did her
best. But on Monday mornings she was generally left protesting in her
inmost soul against half the women whom these peers and politicians,
these administrators and journalists, brought with them, or wondering
anxiously whether her particular share in the social effort just over
might not have done Aldous more harm than good. She understood vaguely,
without vanity, that she was a power in this English society, that she
had many warm friends, especially among men of the finer and abler sort.
But when a woman loved her, and insisted, as it were, on making her know
it--and, after all, the experience was not a rare one--Marcella received
the overture with a kind of grateful surprise. She was accustomed,
without knowing why, to feel herself ill at ease with certain types of
women; even in her own house she was often aware of being furtively
watched by hostile eyes; or she found herself suddenly the goal of some
sharp little pleasantry that pricked like a stiletto. She supposed that
she was often forgetful and indiscreet. Perhaps the large court she held
so easily on these occasions beneath the trees or in the great
drawing-rooms of the old house had more to do with the matter. If so, she
never guessed the riddle. In society she was conscious of one aim, and
one aim only. Its very simplicity made other women incredulous, while it
kept herself in the dark.

However, by dint of great pains, she had not yet done Aldous any harm
that counted. During all the time of their East End sojourn, a Liberal
government, embarrassed by large schemes it had not force enough to
carry, was sinking towards inevitable collapse. When the crash came, a
weak Conservative government, in which Aldous Maxwell occupied a
prominent post, accepted office for a time without a dissolution. They
came in on a cry of "industrial reform," and, by way of testing their own
party and the country, adopted the Factory Bill for East London, which
had now, by the common consent of all the workers upon it, passed into
Maxwell's hands. The Bill rent the party in twain; but the Ministry had
the courage to go to the country with a programme in which the Maxwell
Bill held a prominent place. Trade-unionism rallied to their support; the
forces both of reaction and of progress fought for them, in strangely
mingled ways; and they were returned with a sufficient, though not large,
majority. Lord Ardagh, the veteran leader of the party, became Premier.
Maxwell was made President of the Council, while his old friend and
associate, Henry Dowson, became Home Secretary, and thereby responsible
for the conduct of the long-expected Bill through the Commons.

When Maxwell came back to her on the afternoon of his decisive interview
with Lord Ardagh, she was waiting for him in that same inner room where
Tressady paid his first visit. At the sound of her husband's step
outside, she sprang up, and they met half-way, her hands clasped in his,
against his breast, her face looking up at him.

"Dear wife! at last we have our chance--our real chance," he said to her.

She clung to him, and there was a moment of high emotion, in which
thoughts of the past and of the dead mingled with the natural ambition of
two people in the prime of life and power. Then Maxwell laughed and drew
a long breath.

"The eggs have been all put into my basket in the most generous manner.
We stand or fall by the Bill. But it will be a hard fight."

And, in his acute, deliberate way, he began to sum up the forces against
him--to speculate on the action of this group and that--Fontenoy's group
first and foremost.

Marcella listened, her beautiful hand pensive against her cheek, her
eyes on his. Half trembling, she realised what failure, if after all
failure should come, would mean to him. Something infinitely tender and
maternal spoke in her, pledging her to the utmost help that love and a
woman could give.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such for Maxwell and his wife had been the antecedents of a
memorable session.

And now the session was here--was in full stream, indeed, rushing
towards the main battle still to come. On the second night of Fontenoy's
debate, George Tressady duly caught the Speaker's eye, and made a very
fair maiden speech, which earned him a good deal more praise, both from
his party and the press, than he--in a disgusted mood--thought at all
reasonable. He had misplaced half his notes, and, in his own opinion,
made a mess of his main argument. He remarked to Fontenoy afterwards that
he had better hang himself, and stalked home after the division pleased
with one thing only--that he had not allowed Letty to come.

In reality he had done nothing to mar the reputation that was beginning
to attach to him. Fontenoy was content; and the scantiness of the
majority by which the Resolution was defeated served at once to make the
prospects of the Maxwell Bill, which was to be brought in after Easter,
more doubtful, and to sharpen the temper of its foes.



CHAPTER VIII


"Goodness!--what an ugly place it is! It wants five thousand spent on it
at once to make it tolerable!"

The remark was Letty Tressady's. She was standing disconsolate on the
lawn at Ferth, scanning the old-fashioned house to which George had
brought her just five days before. They had been married a fortnight, and
were still to spend another week in the country before going back to
London and to Parliament. But already Letty had made up her mind that
Ferth _must_ be rebuilt and refurnished, or she could never endure it.

She threw herself down on a garden seat with a sigh, still studying the
house. It was a straight barrack-like building, very high for its
breadth, erected early in the last century by an architect who, finding
that he was to be allowed but a very scanty sum for his performance,
determined with considerable strength of mind to spend all that he had
for decoration upon the inside rather than the outside of his mansion.
Accordingly the inside had charm--though even so much Letty could not now
be got to confess; panellings, mantelpieces, and doorways showed the work
of a man of taste. But outside all that had been aimed at was the
provision of a central block of building carried up to a considerable
height so as to give the rooms demanded, while it economised in
foundations and general space; an outer wall pierced with the plainest
openings possible at regular intervals; a high-pitched roof to keep out
the rain, whereof the original warm tiles had been long since replaced by
the chilliest Welsh slates; and two low and disfiguring wings which held
the servants and the kitchens. The stucco with which the house had been
originally covered had blackened under the influence of time, weather,
and the smoke from the Tressady coalpits. Altogether, what with its
pitchy colour, its mean windows, its factory-like plainness and height,
Ferth Place had no doubt a cheerless and repellent air, which was
increased by its immediate surroundings. For it stood on the very summit
of a high hill, whereon the trees were few and windbeaten; while the
carriage drives and the paths that climbed the hill were all of them a
coaly black. The flower garden behind the house was small and neglected;
neither shrubberies nor kitchen garden, nor the small park, had any
character or stateliness; everything bore the stamp of bygone possessors
who had been rich neither in money nor in fancy; who had been quite
content to live small lives in a small way.

Ferth's new mistress thought bitterly of them, as she sat looking at
their handiwork. What could be done with such a place? How could she have
London people to stay there? Why, their very maids would strike! And,
pray, what was a country house worth, without the usual country-house
amenities and accessories?

Yet she already began to feel fretted and hampered about money. The
inside of the house had been to some extent renovated. She had helped
George to choose papers and curtains for the rooms that were to be her
special domain, while they were in London together before Easter. But she
knew that George had at one time meant to do much more than had actually
been done; and he had been in a mood of lover-like apology on the first
day of their arrival. "Darling, I had hoped to buy you a hundred pretty
things!--but times is bad--dreadful bad!" he had said to her with a
laugh. "We will do it by degrees--you won't mind?"

Then she had tried to make him tell her why it was that he had abandoned
some of the schemes of improvement that had certainly been in his mind
during the first weeks of their engagement. But he had not been very
communicative, and had put the blame mostly, as she understood him, on
the "beastly pits" and the very low dividends they had been earning
during the past six months.

Letty, however, did not in the least believe that the comparatively
pinched state of their finances, which, bride as she was, she was already
brooding over, was wholly or even mainly due to the pits. She set her
little white teeth in sudden anger as she said to herself that it was
_not_ the pits--it was Lady Tressady! George was crippled now because of
the large sums his mother had not been ashamed to wring from him during
the last six months. Letty--George's wife--was to go without comforts and
conveniences, without the means of seeing her friends and taking her
proper position in the world, because George's mother--a ridiculous,
painted old woman, who went in for flirtations and French gowns, when she
ought to be subsiding quietly into caps and Bath chairs--would sponge
upon his very moderate income, and take what did not belong to her.

"I am _certain_ there is something in the background!" said Letty to
herself, as she sat looking at the ugly house--"something that she is
ashamed of, and that she doesn't tell George. She _couldn't_ spend all
that money on dress! I believe she is a wicked old woman--she has the
most extraordinary creatures at her parties."

The girl's delicate face stiffened vindictively as she fell brooding for
the hundredth time over Lady Tressady's enormities.

Then suddenly the garden door opened, and Letty, looking up, saw that
George was on the threshold, waving his hand to her. He had left her that
morning--almost for the first time since their marriage--to go and see
his principal agent and discuss the position of affairs.

As he approached her, she noticed instantly that he was looking tired and
ruffled. But the sight of her smoothed his brow. He threw himself down on
the grass at her feet, and pressed his lips to the delicately tended hand
that lay upon her lap.

"Have you missed me, madame?" he said, peremptorily.

Preoccupied as she was, Letty must needs flush and smile, so well she
knew from his eager eye that she pleased him, that he noticed the pretty
gown she had put on for luncheon, and that all the petting his absence
had withdrawn from her for an hour or two had come back to her. Other
women--more or less of her type--had found his ways beguiling before
now. He took courtship as an art, and had his own rooted ideas as to how
women should be treated. Neither too gingerly nor too sentimentally--but,
above all, with variety!

He repeated his question insistently; whereupon Letty said, with her pert
brightness, thinking all the time of the house, "I'm _not_ going to make
you vain. Besides, I have been frightfully busy."

"You're not going to make me vain? But I choose to be vain. I'll go away
for the whole afternoon if I'm not made vain this instant. Ah! that's
better. Do you know that you have the softest little curl on your soft
little neck, and that your hair has caught the sun on it this morning?"

Letty instinctively put up a hand to tuck away the curl. But he seized
the hand. "Little vandal!--What have you been busy with?"

"Oh! I have been over the house with Mrs. Matthews," said Letty, in
another tone. "George, it's _dreadful_--the number of things that want
doing. Do you know, _positively_, we could not put up more than two
couples, if we tried ever so. And as for the state of the attics! Now do
listen, George!"

And, holding his hand tight in her eagerness, she went through a vehement
catalogue of all that was wanted--new furniture, new decoration, new
grates, a new hot-water system, the raising of the wings, and so on to
the alteration of the stables and the replanning of the garden. She had
no sooner begun upon her list than George's look of worry returned. He
got up from the grass, and sat on the bench beside her.

"Well, I'm sorry you dislike the place so much," he said, when her breath
failed her, staring rather gloomily at his despised mansion. "Of course,
it's quite true--it is an ugly hole. But the worst of it is, darling, I
don't quite see how we're to do all this you talk about. I don't bring
any good news from the pits, alas!"

He turned quickly towards her. The thought flashed through his
mind--could he be justly charged with having married her on false
pretences as to his affairs? No! There had been no misrepresentation of
his income or his risks. Everything had been plainly and honestly stated
to her father, and therefore to her. For Letty knew all that she wanted
to know, and had managed her family since she was a baby.

Letty flushed at his last words.

"Do you mean to say," she said with emphasis, "that those men are really
going to strike?"

"I am afraid so. We _must_ enforce a reduction, to avoid working at sheer
loss, and the men vow they'll come out."

"They want you to make them a present of the mines, I suppose!" said
Letty, bitterly. "Why, the tales I hear of their extravagance and
laziness! Mrs. Matthews says they'll have none but the best cuts of meat,
that they all of them have an harmonium or a piano in the house, that
their houses are _stuffed_ with furniture--and the amount of money they
spend in betting on their dogs and their football matches is perfectly
sickening. And now, I suppose they'll ruin themselves and us, rather than
allow you to make a decent profit!"

"That's about it," said George, flinging himself back on the bench.
"That's about it."

There was a pause of silence. The eyes of both were turned to the
colliery village far below, at the foot of the hill. From this high
stretch of garden one looked across the valley and its straggling line of
houses, to the pits on the further hillside, the straight black line of
the "bank," the pulley wheels, and tall chimneys against the sky. To the
left, along the ascending valley, similar chimneys and "banks" were
scattered at long intervals, while to the right the valley dipped in
sharp wooded undulations to a blue plain bounded by far Welsh hills. The
immediate neighbourhood of Ferth, for a coal country, had a woodland
charm and wildness which often surprised a stranger. There were untouched
copses, and little rivers and fern-covered hills, which still held their
own against the ever-encroaching mounds of "spoil" thrown out by the
mines. Only the villages were invariably ugly. They were the modern
creations of the coal, and had therefore no history and no originality.
Their monotonous rows of red cottages were like fragments from some dingy
town suburb, and the brick meeting-houses in which they abounded did
nothing to abate the general unloveliness.

This view from the Ferth hill was one which had great familiarity for
Tressady, and yet no charm. As a boy he had had no love for his home and
very few acquaintances in the village. His mother hated the place and the
people. She had married very young--for the sake of money and
position--to his dull old father, who nevertheless managed to keep his
flighty wife in order by dint of a dumb, continuous stubbornness and
tyranny, which would have overborne a stronger nature than Lady
Tressady's. She was always struggling to get away from Ferth; he to keep
her tied there. He was never at ease away from his estate and his pits;
she felt herself ten years younger as soon as she had lost sight of the
grim black house on its hilltop.

And this one opinion of hers she was able to impress upon her
son--George, too, was always glad to turn his back on Ferth and its
people. The colliers seemed to him a brutal crew, given over to coarse
sports, coarse pleasures, and an odious religion. As to their supposed
grievances and hardships, his intimate conviction as a boy had always
been that the miner got the utmost both out of his employers and out of
society that he was worth.

"Upon my word, I often think," he said at last, his inward reverie
finding speech, "I often think it was a great pity my grandfather
discovered the coal at all! In the long run I believe we should have done
better without it. We should not at any rate have been bound up with
these hordes, with whom you can no more reason than with so many blocks
of their own coal!"

Letty made no answer. She had turned back towards the house. Suddenly
she said, with an energy that startled him,

"George, what _are_ we to do with that place? It gives me a nightmare.
The extraordinary thing is the way that everything in it has gone to
ruin. Did your mother really live here while you were away?"

George's expression darkened.

"I always used to suppose she was here," he said. "That was our bargain.
But I begin to believe now that she was mostly in London. One can't
wonder at it--she always hated the place."

"Of course she was in London!" thought Letty to herself, "spending piles
of money, running shamefully into debt, and letting the house go to
pieces. Why, the linen hasn't been darned for years!"

Aloud she said:

"Mrs. Matthews says a charwoman and a little girl from the village used
to be left alone in the house for months, to play any sort of games, with
nobody to look after them--_nobody_--while you were away!"

George looked at his wife--and then would only slip his arm round her
for answer.

"Darling! you don't know how I've been worried all the morning--don't
let's make worry at home. After all it _is_ rather nice to be here
together, isn't it?--and we shall do--we sha'n't starve! Perhaps we shall
pull through with the pits after all--it is difficult to believe the men
will make such fools of themselves--and--well! you know my angel mother
can't always be swooping upon us as she has done lately. Let's just be
patient a little--very likely I can sell a few bits of land before long
that will give us some money in hand--and then this small person shall
bedizen herself and the house as much as she pleases. And meanwhile,
_madame ma femme_, let me point out to you that your George never
professed to be anything but a very bad match for you!"

Letty remembered all his facts and figures perfectly. Only somehow she
had regarded them with the optimism natural to a girl who is determined
to be married. She had promptly forgotten the adverse chances he had
insisted upon, and she had converted all his averages into minima. No,
she could not say she had not been warned; but nevertheless the result
promised to be quite different from what she had expected.

However, with her husband's arm round her, it was not easy to maintain
her ill-humour, and she yielded. They wandered on into the wood which
fringed the hill on its further side, she coquetting, he courting and
flattering her in a hundred ways. Her soft new dress, her dainty
lightness and freshness, made harmony in his senses with the April day,
the building rooks, the breaths of sudden perfume from field and wood,
the delicate green that was creeping over the copses, softening all the
edges of the black scars left by the pits. The bridal illusion returned.
George eagerly--hungrily--gave himself up to it. And Letty, though
conscious all the while of a restless feeling at the back of her mind
that they were losing time, must needs submit.

However, when the luncheon gong had sounded and they were strolling
back to the house, he bethought himself, knit his brows again, and
said to her:

"Do you know, darling, Dalling told me this morning"--Dalling was the
Tressadys' principal agent--"that he thought it would be a good thing if
we could make friends with some of the people here? The Union are not--or
_were_ not--quite so strong in this valley as they are in some other
parts. That's why that fellow Burrows--confound him!--has come to live
here of late. It might be possible to make some of the more intelligent
fellows hear reason. My uncles have always managed the thing with a very
high hand--very natural!--the men _are_ a set of rough, ungrateful
brutes, who talk impossible stuff, and never remember anything that's
done for them--but after all, if one has to make a living out of them,
one may as well learn how to drive them, and what they want to be at.
Suppose you come and show yourself in the village this afternoon?"

Letty looked extremely doubtful.

"I really don't get on very well with poor people, George. It's very
dreadful, I know, but there!--I'm not Lady Maxwell--and I can't help it.
Of course, with the poor people at home in our own cottages it's
different--they always curtsy and are very respectful--but Mrs. Matthews
says the people here are so independent, and think nothing of being rude
to you if they don't like you."

George laughed.

"Go and call upon them in that dress and see! I'll eat my hat if
anybody's rude. Beside, I shall be there to protect you. We won't go, of
course, to any of the strong Union people. But there are two or
three--an old nurse of mine I really used to be rather fond of--and a
fireman that's a good sort--and one or two others. I believe it would
amuse you."

Letty was quite certain that it would not amuse her at all. However, she
assented unwillingly, and they went in to lunch.

       *       *       *       *       *

So in the afternoon the husband and wife sallied forth. Letty felt that
she was being taken through an ordeal, and that George was rather foolish
to wish it. However, she did her best to be cheerful, and to please
George she still wore the pretty Paris frock of the morning, though it
seemed to her absurd to be trailing it through a village street with only
colliers and their wives to look at it.

"What ill luck," said George, suddenly, as they descended their own hill,
"that that fellow Burrows should have settled down here, in one's very
pocket, like this!"

"Yes, you had enough of him at Malford, didn't you?" said Letty. "I don't
yet understand how he comes to be here."

George explained that about the preceding Christmas there had been,
temporarily, strong signs of decline in the Union strength of the Perth
district. A great many miners had quietly seceded; one of the periodical
waves of suspicion as to funds and management to which all trade unions
are liable had swept over the neighbourhood; and wholesale desertion from
the Union standard seemed likely. In hot haste the Central Committee
sent down Burrows as organising agent. The good fight he had made against
Tressady at the Market Malford election had given him prestige; and he
had both presence and speaking power. He had been four months at Perth,
speaking all over the district, and now, instead of leaving the Union,
the men had been crowding into it, and were just as hot--so it was
said--for a trial of strength with the masters as their comrades in other
parts of the county.

"And before Burrows has done with us, I should say he'll have cost the
masters in this district hundreds of thousands. I call him dear at the
money!" said George, finally, with a dismal cheerfulness.

He was really full of Burrows, and of the general news of the district
which his agent had been that morning pouring into his ear. But he had
done his best not to talk about either at luncheon. Letty had a curious
way of making the bearer of unpleasant tidings feel that it was somehow
all his own fault that things should be so; and George, even in this dawn
of marriage, was beginning, half consciously, to recognise two or three
such peculiarities of hers.

"What I cannot understand," said Letty, vigorously, "is why such people
as Mr. Burrows are _allowed_ to go about making the mischief he does."

George laughed, but nevertheless repressed a sudden feeling of
irritation. The inept remark of a pretty woman generally only amused him.
But this Burrows matter was beginning to touch him home.

"You see we happen to be a free country," he said drily, "and Burrows and
his like happen to be running us just now. Maxwell & Co. are in the
shafts. Burrows sits up aloft and whips on the team. The extraordinary
thing is that nothing personal makes any difference. The people here know
perfectly well that Burrows drinks--that the woman he lives with is not
his wife--"

"George!" cried Letty, "how _can_ you say such dreadful things!"

"Sorry, my darling! but the world is not a nice place. He picked her up
somehow--they say she was a commercial traveller's wife--left on his
hands at a country inn. Anyway she's not divorced, and the husband's
alive. She looks like a walking skeleton, and is probably going to die.
Nevertheless they say Burrows adores her. And as for my
resentments--don't be shocked--I'm inclined to like Burrows all the
better for _that_ little affair. But then I'm not pious, like the people
here. However, they don't mind--and they don't mind the drink--and they
believe he spends their money on magnificent dinners at hotels--and they
don't mind that. They don't mind anything--they shout themselves hoarse
whenever Burrows speaks--they're as proud as Punch if he shakes hands
with them--and then they tell the most gruesome tales of him behind his
back, and like him all the better, apparently, for being a scoundrel.
Queer but true. Well, here we are--now, darling, you may expect to be
stared at!"

For they had entered on the village street, and Ferth Magna, by some
quick freemasonry, had become suddenly conscious of the bride and
bridegroom. Here and there a begrimed man in his shirt-sleeves would
open his front door cautiously and look at them; the children and
womenkind stood boldly on the doorsteps and stared; while the people in
the little shops ran back into the street, parcels and baskets in hand.
The men working the morning shift had just come back from the pits, and
their wives were preparing to wash their blackened lords, before the
whole family sat down to tea. But both tea and ablutions were forgotten,
so long as the owner of Ferth Place and the new Lady Tressady were in
sight. The village eyes took note of everything; of the young man's
immaculate serge suit and tan waistcoat, his thin, bronzed face and fair
moustache; of the bride's grey gown, the knot of airy pink at her
throat, the coils of bright brown hair on which her hat was set, and the
buckles on her pretty shoes. Then the village retreated within doors
again; and each house buzzed and gossiped its fill. There had been a
certain amount of not very cordial response to George's salutations; but
to Letty's thinking the women had eyed her with an unpleasant and rather
hostile boldness.

"Mary Batchelor's house is down here," said George, turning into a
side lane, not without a feeling of relief. "I hope we sha'n't find
her out--no, there she is. You can't call these people affectionate,
can you?"

They were close on a group of three brick cottages all close together.
Their doors were all open. In one cottage a stout collier's wife was
toiling through her wash. At the door of another the sewing-machine agent
was waiting for his weekly payment; while on the threshold of the third
stood an elderly tottering woman shading her eyes from the light as she
tried to make out the features of the approaching couple.

"Why, Mary!" said George, "you haven't forgotten me? I have brought my
wife to see you."

And he held out his hand with a boyish kindness.

The old woman looked at them both in a bewildered way. Her face, with its
long chin and powerful nose, was blanched and drawn, her grey hair
straggling from under her worn black-ribboned cap; and her black dress
had a neglected air, which drew George's attention. Mary Batchelor, so
long as he remembered her, whether as his old nurse, or in later days as
the Bible-woman of the village, had always been remarkable for a peculiar
dignity and neatness.

"Mary, is there anything wrong?" he asked her, holding her hand.

"Coom yer ways in," said the old woman, grasping his arm, and taking no
notice of Letty. "He's gone--he'll not freeten nobody--he wor here three
days afore they buried him. I could no let him go--but it's three weeks
now sen they put him away."

"Why, Mary, what is it? Not _James_!--not your son!" said George, letting
her guide him into the cottage.

"Aye, it's James--it's my son," she repeated drearily. "Will
yer be takkin a cheer--an perhaps"--she looked round uncertainly,
first at Letty, then at the wet floor where she had been feebly
scrubbing--"perhaps the leddy ull be sittin down. I'm nobbut in a
muddle. But I don't seem to get forard wi my work a mornins--not sen
they put im away."

And she dropped into a chair herself, with a long sigh--forgetting her
visitors apparently--her large and bony hands, scarred with their life's
work, lying along her knees.

George stood beside her silent a moment.

"I hardly like to say I hadn't heard," he said at last, gently. "You'll
think I _ought_ to have heard. But I didn't know. I have been in town and
very busy."

"Aye," said Mary, without looking up, "aye, an yer've been gettin
married. I knew as yer didn't mean nothin onkind."

Then she stopped again--till suddenly, with a furtive gesture, she
raised her apron, and drew it across her eyes, which had the look of
perennial tears.

On the other side of the cottage meanwhile a boy of about fourteen was
sitting. He had just done his afternoon's wash, and was resting himself
by the fire, enjoying a thumbed football almanac. He had not risen when
the visitors entered, and while his grandmother was speaking his lips
still moved dumbly, as he went on adding up the football scores. He was a
sickly, rather repulsive lad with a callous expression.

"Let me wait outside, George," said Letty, hurriedly.

Some instinct in her shrank from the poor mother and her story. But
George begged her to stay, and she sat down nervously by the door, trying
to protect her pretty skirt from the wet boards.

"Will you tell me how it was?" said George, sitting down himself in front
of the bowed mother, and bending towards her. "Was it in the pit? Jamie
wasn't one of our men, I know. Wasn't it for Mr. Morrison he worked?"

Mrs. Batchelor made a sign of assent. Then she raised her head quickly,
and a flash of some passionate convulsion passed through her face.

"It wor John Burgess as done it," she said, staring at George. "It wor
him as took the boy's life. But he's gone himsel--so theer--I'll not say
no more. It wor Jamie's first week o hewin--he'd been a loader this three
year, an taken a turn at the hewin now an again--an five weeks sen John
Burgess--he wor butty for Mr. Morrison, yer know, in the Owd Pit--took
him on, an the lad wor arnin six an sixpence a day. An he wor that
pleased yo cud see it shinin out ov im. And it wor on the Tuesday as he
went on the afternoon shift. I saw im go, an he wor down'earted. An I
fell a cryin as he went up the street, for I knew why he wor down'earted,
an I asked the Lord to elp him. And about six o'clock they come
runnin--an they towd me there'd bin an accident, an they wor bringin
im--an he wor alive--an I must bear up. They'd found him kneelin in his
place with his arm up, an the pick in it--just as the blast had took
him--An his poor back--oh! my God--scorched off him--_scorched off him_."

A shudder ran through her. But she recovered herself and went on, still
gazing intently at Tressady, her gaunt hand raised as though for
attention.

"An they braat him in, an they laid him on that settle"--she pointed to
the bench by the fire--"an the doctors didn't interfere--there wor nowt
to do--they left me alone wi un. But he come to, a minute after they laid
im down--an I ses, 'Jamie, ow did it appen' an he ses, 'Mother, it wor
John Burgess--ee opened my lamp for to light hissen as had gone out--an
I don't know no more.' An then after a bit he ses, 'Mother, don't you
fret--I'm glad I'm goin--I'd got the drink in me,' he ses. An then he
give two three little breaths, as though he wor pantin--an I kiss him."

She stopped, her face working, her trembling hands pressed hard against
each other on her knee. Letty felt the tears leap to her eyes in a rush
that startled herself.

"An he would a bin twenty-one year old, come next August--an allus a lad
as yer couldn't help gettin fond on--not sen he were a little un. An when
he wor layin there, I ses to myself, 'He's the third as the coal-gettin
ha took from me.' An I minded my feyther an uncle--how they was braat
home both togither, when I wor nobbut thirteen years old--not a scar on
em, nobbut a little blood on my feyther's forehead--but stone dead, both
on em--from the afterdamp. Theer was thirty-six men killed in that
explosion--an I recolleck how old Mr. Morrison--Mr. Walter's father--sent
the coffins round--an how the men went on because they warn't good ones.
Not a man would go down the pit till they was changed--if a man got the
life choked out of im, they thowt the least the masters could do was to
give un a dacent coffin to lie in. But theer--nobody helped me wi
Jamie--I buried him mysel--an it wor all o the best."

She dried her eyes again, sighing plaintively. George said what kind and
consoling things he could think of. Mary Batchelor put up her hand and
touched him on the arm as he leant over her.

"Aye, I knew yo'd be sorry--an yor wife--"

She turned feebly towards Letty, trying with her blurred and tear-dimmed
sight to make out what Sir George's bride might be like. She looked for a
moment at the small, elegant person in the corner,--at the sheaf of
nodding rosebuds on the hat--the bracelets--the pink cheeks under the
dainty veil,--looked with a curious aloofness, as though from a great
distance. Then, evidently, another thought struck her like a lash. She
ceased to see or think of Letty. Her grip tightened on George's arm.

"An I'm allus thinkin," she said, with a passionate sob, "of that what he
said about the drink. He'd allus bin a sober lad, till this lasst winter
it did seem as though he cudna keep hiself from it--it kep creepin on
im--an several times lately he'd broke out very bad, pay-days--an he knew
I'd been frettin. And who was ter blame--I ast yo, or onybody--who was it
ter blame?"

Her voice rose to a kind of cry.

"His feyther died ov it, and his grandfeyther afore that. His
grandfeyther wor found dead i the roadside, after they'd made him
blind-drunk at owd Morse's public-house, where the butty wor reckonin
with im an his mates. But he'd never ha gone near the drink if they'd
hadn't druv him to't, for he wasn't inclined that way. But the butty as
gave him work kep the public, an if yer didn't drink, yer didn't get no
work. You must drink yoursel sick o Saturdays, or theer'd be no work for
you o Mondays. 'Noa, yer can sit at ome,' they'd say to un, 'ef yer so
damned pertickler.' I ast yor pardon, sir, for the bad word, but that's
ow they'd say it. I've often heerd owd John say as he'd a been glad to ha
given the butty back a shillin ov is pay to be let off the drink. An
Willum, that's my usband, he wor allus at it too--an the doctor towd me
one day, as Willum lay a-dyin, as it ran in the blood--an Jamie heard
im--I know he did--for I fouu im on the stairs--listenin."

She paused again, lost in a mist of incoherent memories, the tears
falling slowly.

After a minute's silence, George said--not indeed knowing what to
say--"We're _very_ sorry for you, Mary--my wife and I--we wish we
could do anything to help you. I am afraid it can't make any difference
to you--I expect it makes it all the worse--to think that accidents are
so much fewer--that so much has been done. And yet times are mended,
aren't they?"

Mary made no answer.

George sat looking at her, conscious, as he seldom was, of raw youth and
unreadiness--conscious, too, of Letty's presence in a strange, hindering
way--as of something that both blunted emotion and made one rather
ashamed to show it.

He could only pursue the lame topic of improvement, of changed times. The
disappearance of old abuses, of "butties" and "tommy-shops"; the greater
care for life; the accident laws; the inspectors. He found himself
growing eloquent at last, yet all the time regarding himself, as it were,
from a distance--ironically.

Mary Batchelor listened to him for a while, her head bent with something
of the submission of the old servant, till something he said roused
again the quick shudder, the look of anguished protest.

"Aye, I dessay it's aw reet, Mr. George--I dessay it is--what yer say.
The inspectors is very cliver--an the wages is paid proper. But
theer--say what yer will! I've a son on the railway out Lichfield
way--an he's allus taakin about is long hours--they're killing im, he
says--an I allus ses to im, 'Yer may jest thank the Lord, Harry, as yer
not in the pits.' He never gets no pity out o me. An soomtimes I wakes
in the morning, an I thinks o the men, cropin away in the dark--down
theer--under me and my bed--for they do say the pits now runs right
under Ferth village--an I think to mysel--how long will it be before yo
poor fellers is laying like my Jim? Yer may be reet about the
accidents, Mr. George--but I _know_, ef yer wor to go fro house to
house i this village--it would be like tis in the Bible--I've often
thowt o them words--'_Theer was not a house_--no, nary one!--_where
there was not one dead_.'"

She hung her head again, muttering to herself. George made out with
difficulty that she was going through one phantom scene after another--of
burning, wounds, and sudden death. One or two of the phrases--of the
fragmentary details that dropped out without name or place--made his
flesh creep. He was afraid lest Letty should hear them, and was just
putting out his hand for his hat, when Mrs. Batchelor gripped his arm
again. Her face--so white and large-featured--had the gleam of something
like a miserable smile upon it.

"Aye, an the men theirsels ud say jest as you do. 'Lor. Mrs. Batchelor,'
they'd say, 'why, the pits is as safe as a church'--an they'd
_laff_--Jamie ud laff at me times. But it's the _women_, Mr. George, as
knows--it's the women that ave to wash the bodies."

A great trembling ran through her again. George instinctively rose, and
motioned to Letty to go. She too rose, but she did not go. She stood by
the door, her wide grey eyes fixed with a kind of fascination on the
speaker; while behind her a ring of children could be seen in the street,
staring at the pretty lady.

Mary Batchelor saw nothing but Tressady, whom she was still holding by
the arm--looking up to him.

"Aye, but I didna disturb my Jamie, yer know. Noa!--I left im i the owd
coat they'd thrown over im i the pit--I dursn't ha touched is back. Noa,
I _dursn't_. But I made his shroud mysen, an I put it ower his poor
workin clothes, an I washed his face, an is hands an feet--an then I
kissed him, an I said, 'Jamie, yo mun go an tell the Lord as yo ha done
your best, an He ha dealt hardly by you!--an that's the treuth--He ha
dealt hardly by yer!'"

She gave a loud sob, and bowed her head on her hands a moment. Then,
pushing back her grey locks from her face, she rose, struggling for
composure.

"Aye, aye, Mr. George--aye, aye, I'll not keep yer no longer."

But as she took his hand, she added passionately:

"An I towd the vicar I couldn't be Bible-woman no more. Theer's somethin
broken in me sen Jamie died. I must keep things to mysen--I ain't got
nuthin good to say to others--I'm allus _grievin_ at the Lord. Good-bye
to yer--good-bye to yer."

Her voice had grown absent, indifferent. But when George asked her, just
as they were leaving the cottage, who was the boy sitting by the fire,
her face darkened. She came hurriedly to the door with them, and said in
George's ear:

"He's my darter's child--my darter by my first usband. His feyther an
mother are gone, an he come up from West Bromwich to live wi me. But he
isn't no comfort to me. He don't take no notice of anybody. He set like
that, with his football, when Jamie lay a-dyin. I'd as lief be shut on
him. But theer--I've got to put up wi im."

Letty meanwhile had approached the boy and looked at him curiously.

"Do you work in the pits too?" she asked him.

The boy stared at her.

"Yes," he said.

"Do you like it?"

He gave a rough laugh.

"I reckon yo've got to like it," he said. And turning his back on his
questioner, he went back to his almanac.

"Don't let us do any more visiting," said George, impatiently, as they
emerged into the main street. "I'm out of love with the village. We'll do
our blandishments another day. Let's go a little further up the valley
and get away from the houses."

Letty assented, and they walked along the village, she looking curiously
into the open doors of the houses, by way of return for the inquisitive
attention once more lavished upon herself and George.

"The houses are _quite_ comfortable," she said presently. "And I looked
into Mrs. Batchelor's back room while you were talking. It was just as
Mrs. Matthews said--such good carpets and curtains, two chests of
drawers, and an harmonium--and pictures--and flowers in the windows.
George! what are 'butties'?"

"'Butties' are sub-contractors," he said absently--"men who contract with
the pit-owners to get the coal, either on a large or a small scale--now
mostly on a small scale. They engage and pay the colliers in some pits,
in others the owners deal direct."

"And what is a 'tommy-shop'?"

"'Tommy' is the local word for 'truck'--paying in kind instead of in
money. You see, the butties and the owners between them used to own the
public-houses and the provision-shops, and the amount of coin of the
realm the men got in wages in the bad old times was infinitesimal. They
were expected to drink the butty's beer, and consume the butty's
provisions--at the butty's prices, of course--and the butty kept the
accounts. Oh! it was an abomination! but of course it was done away with
long ago."

"Of course it was!" said Letty, indignantly. "They never remember what's
done for them. Did you see what _excellent_ teas there were laid out in
some of the houses--and those girls with their hats smothered in
feathers? Why, I should never dream of wearing so many!"

She was once more her quick, shrewd self. All trace of the tears that had
surprised her while Mary Batchelor was describing her son's death had
passed away. Her half-malicious eyes glanced to right and left, peering
into the secrets of the village.

"And these are the people that talk of starving!" she said to George,
scornfully, as they emerged into the open road. "Why, anyone can see--"

George, suddenly returned from a reverie, understood what she was saying,
and remarked, with an odd look:

"You think their houses aren't so bad? One is always a little
surprised--don't you think?--when the poor are comfortable? One takes it
as something to one's own credit--I detect it in myself scores of times.
Well!--one seems to say--they _could_ have done without it--one might
have kept it for oneself--what a fine generous fellow I am!"

He laughed.

"I didn't mean that at all," said Letty, protesting.

"Didn't you? Well, after all, darling--you see, you don't have to live in
those houses, nice as they are--and you don't have to do your own
scrubbing. Ferth may be a vile hole, but I suppose you could put a score
of these houses inside it--and I'm a pauper, but I can provide you with
two housemaids. I say, why do you walk so far away from me?"

And in spite of her resistance, he took her hand, put it through his arm,
and held it there.

"Look at me, darling," he said imperiously. "How _can_ anyone spy upon us
with these trees and high walls? I want to see how pretty and fresh you
look--I want to forget that poor thing and her tale. Do you know that
somewhere--far down in me--there's a sort of black pool--and when
anything stirs it up--for the moment I want to hang myself--the world
seems such an awful place! It got stirred up just now--not while she was
talking--but just as I looked back at that miserable old soul, standing
at her door. She used to be such a jolly old thing--always happy in her
Bible--and in Jamie, I suppose--quite sure that she was going to a nice
heaven, and would only have to wait a little bit, till Jamie got there
too. She seemed to know all about the Almighty's plans for herself and
everybody else. Her drunken husband was dead; my father left her a bit of
money, so did an old uncle, I believe. She'd gossip and pray and preach
with anybody. And now she'll weep and pine like that till she dies--and
she isn't sure even about heaven any more--and instead of Jamie, she's
got that oafish lad, that changeling, hung round her neck--to kick her
and ill-treat her in another year or two. Well! and do you ever think
that something like that has got to happen to all of us--something
hideous--some torture--something that'll make us wish we'd never been
born? Darling, am I a mad sort of a fool? Stop here--in the shade--give
me a kiss!"

And he made her pause at a shady corner in the road, between two oak
copses on either hand--a river babbling at the foot of one of them. He
put his arm round her, and stooping kissed her red lips with a kind of
covetous passion. Then, still holding her, he looked out from the trees
to the upper valley with its scattered villages, its chimneys and
engine-houses.

"It struck me--what she said of the men under our feet. They're at it
now, Letty, hewing and sweating. Why are they there, and you and I here?
I'm _precious_ glad, aren't you? But I'm not going to make believe that
there's no difference. Don't let's he hypocrites, whatever we are."

Letty was perplexed and a little troubled. He had only shown her this
excitability once before--on that odd uncomfortable night when he made
her sit with him on the Embankment. Whenever it came it seemed to upset
her dominant impression of him. But yet it excited her too--it appealed
to something undeveloped--some yearning, protecting instinct which was
new to her.

She suddenly put up her hand and touched his hair.

"You talk so oddly, George. I think sometimes"--she laughed with a pretty
gaiety--"you'll go bodily over to Lady Maxwell and her 'set' some day!"

George made a contemptuous sound.

"May the Lord preserve us from quacks," he said lightly. "One had better
be a hypocrite. Look, little woman, there is a shower coming. Shall we
turn home?"

They walked home, chatting and laughing. At their own front door the
butler handed George a telegram. He opened it and read:

"Must come down to consult you on important business--shall arrive at
Perth about 9.30.--Amelia Tressady."

Letty, who was looking over George's shoulder, gave a little cry
of dismay.

Then, to avoid the butler's eyes and ears, they turned hurriedly into
George's smoking-room which opened off the hall, and shut the door.

"George! she has come to get more money out of you!" cried Letty, anger
and annoyance written in every line of her little frowning face.

"Well, darling, she can't get blood out of a stone!" said George,
crushing the telegram in his hand and throwing it away. "It is a little
too bad of my mother, I think, to spoil our honeymoon time like this.
However, it can't be helped. Will you tell them to get her room ready?"



CHAPTER IX


"Now, my dear George! I do think I may claim at least that you should
remember I am your _mother_!"--the speaker raised a fan from her knee,
and used it with some vehemence. "Of course I can't help seeing that you
don't treat me as you ought to do. I don't want to complain of Letty--I
daresay she was taken by surprise--but all I can say as to her reception
of me last night is, that it wasn't pretty--that's all; it wasn't
_pretty_. My room felt like an ice-house--Justine tells me nobody has
slept there for months--and no fire until just the moment I arrived;
and--and no flowers on the dressing-table--no little _attentions_, in
fact. I can only say it was not what I am accustomed to. My feelings
overcame me; that poor dear Justine will tell you what a state she found
me in. She cried herself, to see me so upset."

Lady Tressady was sitting upright on the straight-backed sofa of
George's smoking-room. George, who was walking up and down the room,
thought, with discomfort, as he glanced at her from time to time, that
she looked curiously old and dishevelled. She had thrown a piece of
white lace round her head, in place of the more elaborate preparation
for the world's gaze that she was wont to make. Her dress--a study in
purples--had been a marvel, but was now old, and even tattered; the
ruffles at her wrist were tumbled; and the pencilling under her still
fine eyes had been neglected. George, between his wife's dumb anger and
his mother's folly, had passed through disagreeable times already since
Lady Tressady's arrival, and was now once more endeavouring to get to
the bottom of her affairs.

"You forget, mother," he said, in answer to Lady Tressady's complaint,
"that the house is not mounted for visitors, and that you gave us very
short notice."

Nevertheless he winced inwardly as he spoke at the thought of Letty's
behaviour the night before.

Lady Tressady bridled.

"We will not discuss it, if you please," she said, with an attempt at
dignity. "I should have thought that you and Letty might have known I
should not have broken in on your honeymoon without most _pressing_
reasons. George!"--her voice trembled, she put her lace handkerchief to
her eyes--"I am an unfortunate and miserable woman, and if you--my own
darling son--don't come to my rescue, I--I don't know what I may be
driven to do!"

George took the remark calmly, having probably heard it before. He went
on walking up and down.

"It's no good, mother, dealing in generalities, I am afraid. You promised
me this morning to come to business. If you will kindly tell me at once
what is the matter, and what is the _figure_, I shall be obliged to you."

Lady Tressady hesitated, the lace on her breast fluttering. Then, in
desperation, she confessed herself first reluctantly, then in a torrent.

During the last two years, then, she said, she had been trying her luck
for the first time in--well, in speculation!

"Speculation!" said George, looking at her in amazement. "In what?"

Lady Tressady tried again to preserve her dignity. She had been
investing, she said--trying to increase her income on the Stock Exchange.
She had done it quite as much for George's sake as her own, that she
might improve her position a little, and be less of a burden upon him.
Everybody did it! Several of her best women-friends were as clever at it
as any man, and often doubled their allowances for the year. She, of
course, had done it under the _best_ advice. George knew that she had
friends in the City who would do anything--positively _anything_--for
her. But somehow--

Then her tone dropped. Her foot in its French shoe began to fidget on the
stool before her.

Somehow, she had got into the hands of a reptile--there! No other word
described the creature in the least--a sort of financial agent, who had
treated her unspeakably, disgracefully. She had trusted him implicitly,
and the result was that she now owed the reptile who, on the strength of
her name, her son, and her aristocratic connections, had advanced her
money for these adventures, a sum--

"Well, the truth is I am afraid to say what it is," said Lady Tressady,
allowing herself for once a cry of nature, and again raising a shaky hand
to her eyes.

"How much?" said George, standing over her, cigarette in hand.

"Well--four thousand pounds!" said Lady Tressady, her eyes blinking
involuntarily as she looked up at him.

"_Four thousand pounds!_" exclaimed George. "Preposterous!"

And, raising his hand, he flung his cigarette violently into the fire and
resumed his walk, hands thrust into his pockets.

Lady Tressady looked tearfully at his long, slim figure as he walked
away, conscious, however, even at this agitated moment, of the quick
thought that he had inherited some of her elegance.

"George!"

"Yes--wait a moment--mother"--he faced round upon her decidedly. "Let me
tell you at once, that at the present moment it is quite impossible for
me to find that sum of money."

Lady Tressady flushed passionately like a thwarted child.

"Very well, then," she said--"very well. Then it will be bankruptcy--and
I hope you and Letty will like the scandal!"

"So he threatens bankruptcy?"

"Do you think I should have come down here except for something like
that?" she cried. "Look at his letters!"

And she took a tumbled roll out of the bag on her arm and gave it to him.
George threw himself into a chair, and tried to get some idea of the
correspondence; while Lady Tressady kept up a stream of plaintive chatter
he could only endeavour not to hear.

As far as he could judge on a first inspection, the papers concerned a
long series of risky transactions,--financial gambling of the most
pronounced sort,--whereof the few gains had been long since buried deep
in scandalous losses. The outrageous folly of some of the ventures and
the magnitude of the sums involved made him curse inwardly. It was the
first escapade of the kind he could remember in his mother's history,
and, given her character, he could only regard it as adding a new and
real danger to his life and Letty's.

Then another consideration struck him.

"How on earth did you come to know so much about the ins and outs of
Stock Exchange business," he asked her suddenly, with surprise, in the
midst of his reading. "You never confided in me. I never supposed you
took an interest in such things."

In truth, he would have supposed her mentally incapable of the kind of
gambling finance these papers bore witness of. She had never been known
to do a sum or present an account correctly in her life; and he had
often, in his own mind, accepted her density in these directions as a
certain excuse for her debts. Yet this correspondence showed here and
there a degree of financial legerdemain of which any City swindler
might have been proud--so far, at least, as he could judge from his
hasty survey.

Lady Tressady drew herself up sharply in answer to his remark, though not
without a flutter of the eyelids which caught his attention.

"Of course, my dear George, I always knew you thought your mother a
fool. As a matter of fact, all my friends tell me that I have a _very_
clear head."

George could not restrain, himself from laughing aloud.

"In face of this?" he said, holding up the final batch of letters, which
contained Mr. Shapetsky's last formidable account; various imperious
missives from a "sharp-practice" solicitor, whose name happened to be
disreputably known to George Tressady; together with repeated and most
explicit assurances on the part both of agent and lawyer, that if
arrangements were not made at once by Lady Tressady for meeting at least
half Mr. Shapetsky's bill--which had now been running some eighteen
months--and securing the other half, legal steps would be taken
immediately.

Lady Tressady at first met her son's sarcasm in angry silence, then broke
into shrill denunciation of Shapetsky's "villanies." How could decent
people, people in society, protect themselves against such creatures!

George walked to the window, and stood looking out into the April garden.
Presently he turned, and interrupted his mother.

"I notice, mother, that these transactions have been going on for nearly
two years. Do you remember, when I gave you that large sum at Christmas,
you said it would 'all but' clear you; and when I gave you another large
sum last month, you professed to be entirely cleared? Yet all the time
you were receiving these letters, and you owed this fellow almost as
much as you do now. Do you think it was worth while to mislead me in
that way?"

He stood leaning against the window, his fingers drumming on the sill.
The contrast between the youth of the figure and the absence of youth in
face and voice was curious. Perhaps Lady Tressady felt vaguely that he
looked like a boy and spoke like a master, for her pride rose.

"You have no right to speak to me like that, George! I did everything for
the best. I always do everything for the best. It is my misfortune to be
so--so confiding, so hopeful. I must always believe in someone--that's
what makes my friends so _extremely_ fond of me. You and your poor
darling father were never the least like me--" And she went off into a
tearful comparison between her own character and the characters of her
husband and son--in which of course it was not she that suffered.

George did not heed her. He was once more staring out of window, thinking
hard. So far as he could see, the money, or the greater part of it, would
have to be found. The man, of course, was a scoundrel, but of the sort
that keeps within the law; and Lady Tressady's monstrous folly had given
him an easy prey. When he thought of the many sacrifices he had made for
his mother, of her ample allowance, her incorrigible vanity and
greed--and then of the natural desires of his young wife--his heart
burned within him.

"Well, I can only tell you," he said at last, turning round upon her,
"that I see no way out. How is that man's claim to be met? I don't know.
Even if I _could_ meet it--which I see no chance of doing--by crippling
myself for some time, how should I be at liberty to do it? My wife and
her needs have now the first claim upon me."

"Very well," said Lady Tressady, proudly, raising her handkerchief,
however, to hide her trembling lips.

"Let me remind you," he continued, ceremoniously, "that the whole of this
place is in bad condition, except the few rooms we have just done up, and
that money _must_ be spent upon it--it is only fair to Letty that it
should be spent. Let me remind you also, that you are a good deal
responsible for this state of things."

Lady Tressady moved uneasily. George was now speaking in his usual
half-nonchalant tone, and he had provided himself with another cigarette.
But his eye held her.

"You will remember that you promised me while I was abroad to live here
and look after the house. I arranged money affairs with you, and other
affairs, upon that basis. But it appears that during the four years I was
away you were here altogether, at different times, about three months.
Yet you made me believe you were here; if I remember right, you dated
your letters from here. And of course, in four years, an old house that
is totally neglected goes to the bad."

"Who has been telling you such falsehoods?" cried Lady Tressady. "I was
here a great deal more than that--a great deal more!"

But the scarlet colour, do what she would, was dyeing her still delicate
skin, and her eyes alternately obstinate and shuffling, tried to take
themselves out of the range of George's.

As for George, as he stood there coolly smoking, he was struck--or,
rather, the critical mind in him was struck--by a sudden perception of
the meanness of aspect which sordid cares of the kind his mother was now
plunged in can give to the human face. He felt the rise of a familiar
disgust. How many scenes of ugly battle over money matters could he not
remember in his boyhood between his father and mother! And later--in
India--what things he had known women do for money or dress! He thought
scornfully of a certain intriguing lady of his acquaintance at
Madras--who had borrowed money of him--to whom he had given ball-dresses;
and of another, whose selfish extravagance had ruined one of the best of
men. Did all women tend to be of this make, however poetic might be their
outward seeming?

Aloud, he said quietly, in answer to his mother's protest:

"I think you will find that is about accurate. I mention it merely to
show you how it is that I find myself now plunged in so many expenses.
And, now, doesn't it strike you as a _little_ hard that I should be
called upon to strip and cripple myself still further--_not_ to give my
wife the comforts and conveniences I long to give her, but to pay such
debts as those?"

Involuntarily he struck his hand on the papers lying in the chair where
he had been sitting.

Lady Tressady, too, rose from her seat.

"George, if you are going to be _violent_ towards your mother, I had
better go," she said, with an attempt at dignity. "I suppose Letty has
been gossiping with her servants about me. Oh! I knew what to expect!"
cried Lady Tressady, gathering up fan and handkerchief from the sofa
behind her with a hand that shook. "I always said from the beginning that
she would set you against me! She has never treated me as--as a
daughter--never! And that is my weakness--I must be cared for--I must be
treated with--with tenderness."

"I wouldn't give way, mother, if I were you," said George, quite
unmoved by the show of tears. "I think, if you will reflect upon it,
that it is Letty and I who have the most cause to give way. If you will
allow me, I will go and have a talk with her. I believe she is sitting
in the garden."

His mother turned sullenly away from him, and he left the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

As he passed through the long oak-panelled hall that led to the garden,
he was seized with an odd sense of pity for himself. This odious scene
behind him, and now this wrestle with Letty that must be gone
through--were these the joys of the honeymoon?

Letty was not in the garden. But as he passed into the wood on the
farther side of the hill he saw her sitting under a tree halfway down the
slope, with some embroidery in her hand. The April sun was shining into
the wood. A larch beyond Letty was already green, and the twigs of the
oak beneath which she sat made a reddish glow in the bright air. Patches
of primroses and anemones starred the ground about her, and trails of
periwinkle touched her dress. She was stooping, and her little hand went
rapidly--impatiently--to and fro.

The contrast between this fresh youth amid the spring and that unlovely,
reluctant age he had just left behind him in the smoking-room struck him
sharply. His brow cleared.

As she heard his step she looked round eagerly. "Well?" she said,
pushing aside her work.

He threw himself down beside her.

"Darling, I have had my talk. It is pretty bad--worse than we had even
imagined!"

Then he told her his mother's story. She could hardly contain herself, as
she listened, as he mentioned the total figure of the debts. It was
evidently with difficulty that she prevented herself from interrupting
him at every word. And when he had barely finished she broke out:

"And what did you say?"

George hesitated.

"I told her, of course, that it was monstrous and absurd to expect that
we could pay such a sum."

Letty's breath came fast. His voice and manner did not satisfy her at
all.

"Monstrous? I should think it was! Do you know how she has run up
this debt?"

George looked at her in surprise. Her little face was quivering under the
suppressed energy of what she was going to say.

"No!--do you?"

"Yes!--I know all about it. I said to my maid last night--I hope, George,
you won't mind, but you know Grier has been an age with me, and knows all
my secrets--I told her she must make friends with your mother's maid, and
see what she could find out. I felt we _must_, in self-defence. And of
course Grier got it all out of Justine. I knew she would! Justine is a
little fool; and she doesn't mean to stay much longer with Lady Tressady,
so she didn't mind speaking. It is exactly as I supposed! Lady Tressady
didn't begin speculating for herself at all--but for--somebody--else! Do
you remember that absurd-looking singer who gave a 'musical sketch' one
day that your mother gave a party in Eccleston Square--in February?"

She looked at him with eagerness, an ugly, half-shrinking innuendo in her
expression.

George had suddenly moved away, and was sitting now some little distance
from his wife, his eyes bent on the ground. However, at her question he
made a sign of assent.

"You do remember? Well," said Letty, triumphantly, "it is he who is at
the bottom of it all. I _knew_ there must be somebody. It appears that he
has been getting money out of her for years--that he used to come and
spend hours, when she had that little house in Bruton Street, when you
were away--I don't believe you ever heard of it--flattering her, and
toadying her, paying her compliments on her dress and her appearance,
fetching and carrying for her--and of course living upon her! He used to
arrange all her parties. Justine says that he used even to make her order
all his favourite wines--_such_ bills as there used to be for wine! He
has a wife and children somewhere, and of course the whole family lived
upon your mother. It was he made her begin speculating. Justine says he
has lost all he ever had himself that way, and your mother couldn't, in
fact, '_lend'_ him"--Letty laughed scornfully--"money fast enough. It was
he brought her across that odious creature Shapetsky--isn't that his
name? And that's the whole story. If there have been any gains, he has
made off with them--leaving her, of course, to get out of the rest.
Justine says that for months there was nothing but business, as she calls
it, talked in the house--and she knew, for she used to help wait at
dinner. And such a crew of people as used to be about the place!"

She looked at him, struck at last by his silence and his attitude, or
pausing for some comment, some appreciation of her cleverness in
ferreting it all out.

But he did not speak, and she was puzzled. The angry triumph in her eyes
faltered. She put out her hand and touched him on the arm.

"What is it, George? I thought--it would be more satisfactory to us both
to know the truth."

He looked up quickly.

"And all this your maid got out of Justine? You asked her?"

She was struck, offended, by his expression. It was so cool and
strange--even, she could have imagined, contemptuous.

"Yes, I did," she said passionately. "I thought I was quite justified. We
must protect ourselves."

He was silent again.

"I think," he said at last, drily, she watching him--"I think we will
keep Justine and Grier out of it, if you please."

She took her work, and laid it down again, her mouth trembling.

"So you had rather be deceived?"

"I had rather be deceived than listen behind doors," he said, beginning
in a light tone, which, however, passed immediately into one of
bitterness. "Besides, there is nothing new. For people like my mother
there is always some adventurer or adventuress in the background--there
always used to be in old days. She never meant any serious harm; she was
first plundered, then we. My father used to be for ever turning some
impostor or other out of doors. Now I suppose it is my turn."

This time it was Letty who kept silence. Her needle passed rapidly to and
fro. George glanced at her queerly. Then he rose and came to stand near
her, leaning against the tree.

"You know, Letty, we shall have to pay that money," he said suddenly,
pulling at his moustache.

Letty made an exclamation under her breath, but went on working faster
than before.

He slipped down to the moss beside her, and caught her hand.

"Are you angry with me?"

"If you insult me by accusing me of listening behind doors you can't
wonder," said Letty, snatching her hand away, her breast heaving.

He felt a bitter inclination to laugh, but he restrained it, and did
his best to make peace. In the midst of his propitiations Letty
turned upon him.

"Of course, I know you think I did it all for selfishness," she said,
half crying, "because I want new furniture and new dresses. I don't; I
want to protect you from being--being--plundered like this. How can you
do what you ought as a member of Parliament? how can we ever keep
ourselves out of debt if--if--? How _can_ you pay this money?" she wound
up, her eyes flaming.

"Well, you know," he said, hesitating--"you know I suggested yesterday
we should sell some land to do up the house. I am afraid we must sell the
laud, and pay this scoundrel--a proportion, at all events. Of course,
what I should _like_ to do would be to put him--and the other--to instant
death, with appropriate tortures! Short of that, I can only take the
matter out of my mother's hands, get a sharp solicitor on my side to
match _his_ rascal, and make the best bargain I can."

Letty rolled up her work with energy, two tears of anger on her cheeks.
"She _ought_ to suffer!" she cried, her voice trembling--"she _ought_
to suffer!"

"You mean that we ought to let her be made a bankrupt?" he said coolly.
"Well, no doubt it would be salutary. Only, I am afraid it would be
rather more disagreeable to us than to her. Suppose we consider the
situation. Two young married people--charming house--charming
wife--husband just beginning in politics--people inclined to be friends.
Then you go to dine with them in Brook Street--excellent little French
dinner--bride bewitching. Next morning you see the bankruptcy of the
host's mamma in the 'Times.' 'And he's the only son, isn't he?--he must
be well off. They say she's been dreadfully extravagant. But, hang it!
you know, a man's mother!--and a widow--no, I can't stand that. Sha'n't
dine with them again!' There! do you see, darling? Do you really want to
rub all the bloom off the peach?"

He had hardly finished his little speech before the odiousness of it
struck himself.

"Am I come to talking to her like _this_?" he asked himself in a kind of
astonishment.

But Letty, apparently, was not astonished.

"Everybody would understand if you refused to ruin yourself by going on
paying these frightful debts. I am sure _something_ could be done," she
said, half choked.

George shook his head.

"But everybody wouldn't want to understand. The dear world loves a
scandal--doesn't really _like_ being amiable to newcomers at all. You
would make a bad start, dear--and all the world would pity mamma."

"Oh! if you are only thinking what people would say," cried Letty.

"No," said George, reflectively, but with a mild change of tone. "Damn
people! I can pull myself to pieces so much better than they can. You
see, darling, you're such an optimist. Now, if you'd only just believe,
as I do, that the world is a radically bad place, you wouldn't be so
surprised when things of this sort happen. Eh, little person, has it been
a radically bad place this last fortnight?"

He laid his cheek against her shoulder, rubbing it gently up and down.
But something hard and scornful lay behind his caress--something he did
not mean to inquire into.

"Then you told your mother," said Letty, after a pause, still looking
straight before her, "that you would clear her?"

"Not at all. I said we could do nothing. I laid it on about the house.
And all the time I knew perfectly well in my protesting soul, that if
this man's claim is sustainable we should _have_ to pay up. And I imagine
that mamma knew it too. You can get out of anybody's debts but your
mother's--that's apparently what it comes to. Queer thing, civilisation!
Well now"--he sprang to his feet--"let's go and get it over."

Letty also rose.

"I can't see her again," she said quickly. "I sha'n't come down to lunch.
Will she go by the three-o'clock train?"

"I will arrange it," said George.

They walked through the wood together silently. As they came in sight of
the house Letty's face quivered again with restrained passion--or tears.
George, whose _sangfroid_ was never disturbed outwardly for long, had by
now resigned himself, and had, moreover, recovered that tolerance of
woman's various weaknesses which was in him the fruit of a wide, and at
bottom hostile, induction. He set himself to cheer her up. Perhaps, after
all, if he could sell a particular piece of land which he owned near a
neighbouring large town, and sell it well,--he had had offers for it
before,--he might be able to clear his mother, and still let Letty work
her will on the house. She mustn't take a gloomy view of things--he would
do his best. So that by the time they got into the drawing-room she had
let her hand slip doubtfully into his again for a moment.

But nothing would induce her to appear at lunch. Lady Tressady, having
handed over all Shapetsky's papers and all her responsibilities to
George, graciously told him that she could understand Letty's annoyance,
and didn't wish for a moment to intrude upon her. She then called on
Justine to curl her hair, put on a blue shot silk with marvellous pink
fronts just arrived from Paris, and came down to lunch with her son in
her most smiling mood. She took no notice of his monosyllables, and in
the hall, while the butler discreetly retired, she kissed him with tears,
saying that she had always known his generosity would come to the rescue
of his poor darling mamma.

"You will oblige me, mother, by not trying it again too soon," was
George's ironical reply as he put her into the carriage.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the afternoon Letty was languid and depressed. She would not talk on
general topics, and George shrank in nervous disgust from reopening the
subjects of the morning. Finally, she chose to be tucked up on the sofa
with a novel, and gave George free leave to go out.

It surprised him to find as he walked quickly down the hill, delighting
in the April sun, that he was glad to be alone. But he did not in the
least try to fling the thought away from him, as many a lover would have
done. The events, the feelings of the day, had been alike jarring and
hateful; he meant to escape from them.

But he could not escape from them all at once. A fresh and unexpected
debt of somewhere about four thousand pounds does not sit lightly on a
comparatively poor man. In spite of his philosophy for Letty's benefit,
he must needs harass himself anew about his money affairs, planning and
reckoning. How many more such surprises would his mother spring upon
him--and how was he to control her? He realised now something of the
life-long burden his dull old father had borne--a burden which the
absences of school, college, and travel had hitherto spared himself. What
was he to appeal to in her? There seemed to be nothing--neither will nor
conscience. She was like the women without backs in the fairy-tale.

Then, with one breath he said to himself that he must kick out that
singer-fellow, and with the next, that he would not touch any of his
mother's crew with a barge-pole. Though he never pleaded ideals in
public, he had been all his life something of a moral epicure, taking
"moral" as relating rather to manners than to deeper things. He had done
his best not to soil himself by contact with certain types--among men
especially. Of women he was less critical and less observant.

As to this ugly feud opening between his mother and his wife, it had
quite ceased to amuse him. Now that his marriage was a reality, the daily
corrosion of such a thing was becoming plain. And who was there in the
world to bear the brunt of it but he? He saw himself between the
two--eternally trying to make peace--and his face lengthened.

And if Letty would only leave the thing to him!--would only keep her
little white self out of it! He wished he could get her to send away that
woman Grier--a forward second-rate creature, much too ready to meddle in
what did not concern her.

Then, with a shake of his thin shoulders, he passionately drove it all
out of his thoughts.

Let him go to the village, sound the feeling there if he could, and do
his employer's business. His troubles as a pit-owner seemed likely to be
bad enough, but they did not canker one like domestic miseries. They were
a man's natural affairs; to think of them came as a relief to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had but a disappointing round, however.

In the first place he went to look up some of the older "hewers," men who
had been for years in the employ of the Tressadys. Two or three of them
had just come back from the early shift, and their wives, at any rate,
were pleased and flattered by George's call. But the men sat like stocks
and stones while he talked. Scarcely a word could be got out of them, and
George felt himself in an atmosphere of storm, guessing at dangers,
everywhere present, though not yet let loose--like the foul gases in the
pits under his feet.

He behaved with a good deal of dignity, stifling his pride here and there
sufficiently to talk simply and well of the general state of trade, the
conditions of the coal industry in the West Mercian district, the
position of the masters, the published accounts of one or two large
companies in the district, and so on. But in the end he only felt his own
auger rising in answer to the sullenness of the men. Their sallow faces
and eyes weakened by long years of the pit expressed little--but what
there was spelt war.

Nor did his visits to what might be called his own side give him much
more satisfaction.

One man, a brawny "fireman," whom George had been long taught to regard
as one of the props of law and order in the district, was effusively and
honestly glad to see his employer. His wife hurried the tea, and George
drank and ate as heartily as his own luncheon would let him in company
with Macgregor and his very neat and smiling family. Nothing could be
more satisfactory than Macgregor's general denunciations of the Union and
its agent. Burrows, in his opinion, was a "drunken, low-livin scoundrel,"
who got his bread by making mischief; the Union was entering upon a great
mistake in resisting the masters' proposals; and if it weren't for the
public-house and idleness there wasn't a man in Perth that couldn't live
_well_, ten per cent. reduction and all considered. Nevertheless, he did
not conceal his belief that battle was approaching, and would break out,
if not now, at any rate in the late summer or autumn. Times, too, were
going to be specially bad for the non-society men. The membership of the
Union had been running up fast; there had been a row that very morning at
the pit where he worked, the Union men refusing to go down in the same
cage with the blacklegs. He and his mates would have to put their backs
into it. Never fear but they would! Bullying might be trusted only to
make them the more "orkard."

Nothing could have been more soothing than such talk to the average
employer in search of congenial opinions. But George was not the average
employer, and the fastidious element in him began soon to make him
uncomfortable. Sobriety is, no doubt, admirable, but he had no sooner
detected a teetotal cant in his companion than that particular axiom
ceased to matter to him. And to think poorly of Burrows might be a
salutary feature in a man's character, but it should be for some
respectable reason. George fidgeted on his chair while Macgregor told
the usual cock-and-bull stories of monstrous hotel-bills seen sticking
out of Burrows's tail-pockets, and there deciphered by a gaping
populace; and his mental discomfort reached its climax when Macgregor
wound up with the remark:

"And _that_, Sir George, is where the money goes to!--not to the poor
starving women and children, I can tell yer, whose husbands are keepin
him in luxury. I've always said it. _Where's the accounts?_ I've never
seen no balance-sheet--_never!_" he repeated solemnly. They do say as
there's one to be seen at the 'lodge'--"

"Why, of course there is, Macgregor," said George, with a nervous laugh,
as he got up to depart; "all the big Unions publish their accounts."

The fireman's obstinate mouth and stubbly hair only expressed a more
pronounced scepticism.

"Well, I shouldn't believe in em," he said, "if they did. I've niver seen
a balance-sheet, and I don't suppose I ever shall. Well, good-bye to you,
Sir George, and thank you kindly. Yo take my word, sir, if it weren't for
the public-house the men could afford to lose a trifle now and again to
let the masters make their fair profit!"

And he looked behind him complacently at his neat cottage and
well-clothed children.

But George walked away, impatient.

"_His_ wages won't go down, anyway," he said to himself--for the wages of
the "firemen," whose work is of the nature of superintendence, hardly
vary with the state of trade. "And what suspicious idiocy about the
accounts!"

His last visit was the least fortunate of any. The fireman in question,
Mark Dowse, Macgregor's chief rival in the village, was a keen Radical,
and George found him chuckling over his newspaper, and the defeat of the
Tory candidate in a recently decided County Council election. He received
his visitor with a surprise which George thought not untinged with
insolence. Some political talk followed, in which Dowse's Yorkshire wit
scored more than once at his employer's expense. Dowse, indeed, let
himself go. He was on the point of taking the examination for an
under-manager's certificate and leaving the valley. Hence there were no
strong reasons for servility, and he might talk as he pleased to a young
"swell" who had sold himself to reaction. George lost his temper
somewhat, was furiously ashamed of himself, and could only think of
getting out of the man's company with dignity.

He was by no means clear, however, as he walked away from the cottage,
that he had succeeded in doing so. What was the good of trying to make
friends with these fellows? Neither in agreement nor in opposition had
he any common ground with them. Other people might have the gifts for
managing them; it seemed to him that it would be better for him to
take up the line at once that he had none. Fontenoy was right. Nothing
but a state of enmity was possible--veiled enmity at some times, open
at others.

What were those voices on the slope above him?

He was walking along a road which skirted his own group of pits. To his
left rose a long slope of refuse, partly grown over, ending in the "bank"
whereon stood the engine-house and winding-apparatus. A pathway climbed
the slope and made the natural ascent to the pit for people dwelling in
the scattered cottages on the farther side of it.

Two men, he saw, were standing high up on the pathway, violently
disputing. One was Madan, his own manager, an excellent man of business
and a bitter Tory. The other was Valentine Burrows.

As Tressady neared the road-entrance to the pathway the two men parted.
Madan climbed on towards the pit. Burrows ran down the path.

As he approached the gate, and saw Tressady passing on the road, the
agent called:

"Sir George Tressady!"

George stopped.

Burrows came quickly up to him, his face crimson.

"Is it by your orders, Sir George, that Mr. Madan insults and browbeats
me when he meets me on a perfectly harmless errand to one of the men in
your engine-house?"

"Perhaps Mr. Madan was not so sure as you were, Mr. Burrows, that the
errand _was_ a harmless one," said George, with a cool smile.

By this time, however, Burrows was biting his lip, and very conscious
that he had made an impulsive mistake.

"Don't imagine for a moment," he said hotly, "that Madan's opinion of
anything I may be doing matters one brass farthing to me! Only I give you
and him fair warning that if he blackguards me again in the way he has
done several times lately, I shall have him bound over."

"He might survive it," said George. "But how will you manage it? You have
had ill-luck, rather, with the magistrates--haven't you?"

He stood drawn up to his full height, thin, venomous, alert, rather
enjoying the encounter, which "let off the steam" of his previous
irritations.

Burrows threw him a furious look.

"You think that a damaging thing to say, do you, Sir George? Perhaps the
day will come--not so far off, neither--when the magistrates will be no
longer your creatures, but ours. Then we shall see!"

"Well, prophecy is cheap," said George. "Console yourself with it, by
all means."

The two men measured each other eye to eye.

Then, unexpectedly, after the relief of his outburst, the philosopher's
instincts which were so oddly interwoven with the rest of Tressady's
nature reasserted themselves.

"Look here," he said, in another manner, advancing a step. "I think this
is all great nonsense. If Madan has exceeded his duty, I will see to it.
And, meanwhile, don't you think it would be more worthy of us, as a
couple of rational beings, if, now we have met, we had a few serious
words on the state of things in this valley? You and I fought a square
fight at Malford--you at least said as much. Why can't we fight a square
fight here?"

Burrows eyed him doubtfully. He was leaning on his stick, recovering
breath and composure. George noticed that since the Malford election,
even he had lost youth and looks. He had the drunkard's skin and the
drunkard's eyes. Yet there were still the make and proportions of the
handsome athlete. He was now a man of about thirty-two; but in his first
youth he had carried the miner's pick for some four or five years, and
during the same period had been one of the most famous football-players
of the county. As George knew, he was still the idol of the local clubs,
and capable in his sober spells of amazing feats both of strength and
endurance.

"Well, I have no objection to some conversation with you," said Burrows,
at last, slowly.

"Let's walk on, then," said George.

And they walked past the gate of Ferth, towards the railway-station,
which was some two miles off.

About an hour later the two men returned along the same road. Both had an
air of tension; both were rather pale.

"Well, it comes to this," said George, as he stopped beside his own gate,
"you believe our case--the badness of trade, the disappearance of
profits, pressure of contracts, and all the rest of it--and you still
refuse on your part to bear the smallest fraction of the burden? You will
claim all you can get in good times--you will give back nothing in bad?"

"That is so," said Burrows, deliberately; "that is so, _precisely_. We
will take no risks; we give our labour and in return the workman must
live. Make the consumer pay, or pay yourselves out of your good
years"--he turned imperceptibly towards the barrack-like house on the
hill. "We don't care a ha'porth which it is!--only don't you come on
the man who risks his life, and works like a galley-slave five days a
week for a pittance of five-and-twenty shillings, or thereabouts, to
pay--for he _won't_. He's tired of it. Not till you starve him into it,
at any rate!"

George laughed.

"One of the best men in the village has been giving me his opinion this
afternoon that there isn't a man in that place"--he pointed to it--"that
couldn't live, and live well--aye, and take the masters' terms
to-morrow--but for the drink!"

His keen look ran over Burrows from head to foot.

"And I know who _that_ is," said Burrows, with a sneer. "Well, I can tell
you what the rest of the men in that place think, and it's this: that the
man in that village who _doesn't_ drink is a mean skunk, who's betraying
his own flesh and blood to the capitalists! Oh! you may preach at us till
you're black in the face, but drink we _shall_ till we get the control of
our own labour. For, look here! Directly we cease to drink--directly we
become good boys on your precious terms--the standard of life falls, down
come wages, and _you_ sweep off our beer-money to spend on your
champagne. Thank you, Sir George! but we're not such fools as we
look--and that don't suit us! Good-day to you."

And he haughtily touched his hat in response to George's movement, and
walked quickly away.

       *       *       *       *       *

George slowly mounted his own hill. The chequered April day was
declining, and the dipping sun was flooding the western plain with quiet
light. Rooks were circling round the hill, filling the air with
long-drawn sound. A cuckoo was calling on a tree near at hand, and the
evening was charged with spring scents--scents of leaf and grass, of
earth and rain. Below, in an oak copse across the road, a stream rushed;
and from a distance came the familiar rattle and thud of the pits.

George stood still a moment under a ragged group of Scotch firs--one of
the few things at Ferth that he loved--and gazed across the Cheshire
border to the distant lines of Welsh hills. The excitement of his talk
with Burrows was subsiding, leaving behind it the obstinate resolve of
the natural man. He should tell his uncles there was nothing for it but
to fight it out. Some blood must be let; somebody must be master.

What poor limited fools, after all, were the best of the working men--how
incapable of working out any serious problem, of looking beyond their own
noses and the next meal! Was he to spend his life in chronic battle with
them--a set of semi-civilised barbarians--his countrymen in nothing but
the name? And for what cause--to what cry? That he might defend against
the toilers of this wide valley a certain elegant house in Brook Street,
and find the means to go on paying his mother's debts?--such debts as he
carried the evidence of, at that moment, in his pocket.

Suddenly there swept over his mind with pricking force the thought of
Mary Batchelor at her door, blind with weeping and pain--of the poor boy,
dead in his prime. Did those two figures stand for the _realities_ at
the base of things--the common labours, affections, agonies, which
uphold the world?

His own life looked somehow poor and mean to him as he turned back to it.
The Socialist of course--Burrows--would say that he and Letty and his
mother were merely living, and dressing, and enjoying themselves, paying
butlers, and starting carriages out of the labour and pain of
others--that Jamie Batchelor and his like risked and brutalised their
strong young lives that Lady Tressady and her like might "jig and amble"
through theirs.

Pure ignorant fanaticism, no doubt! But he was not so ready as usual to
shelter himself under the big words of controversy. Fontenoy's favourite
arguments had momentarily no savour for a kind of moral nausea.

"I begin to see it was a 'cursed spite' that drove me into the business
at all," he said to himself, as he stood under the trees.

What he was really suffering from was an impatience of new
conditions--perhaps surprise that he was not more equal to them. Till his
return home--till now, almost--he had been an employer and a coal-owner
by proxy. Other people had worked for him, had solved his problems for
him. Then a transient impulse had driven him home--made him accept
Fontenoy's offer--worse luck!--at least, Letty apart! The hopefulness and
elation about himself, his new activities, and his Parliamentary
prospects, that had been his predominant mood in London seemed to him at
this moment of depression mere folly. What he really felt, he declared to
himself, was a sort of cowardly shrinking from life and its tests--the
recognition that at bottom he was a weakling, without faiths, without
true identity.

Then the quick thought-process, as it flowed on, told him that there are
two things that protect men of his stamp from their own lack of moral
stamina: perpetual change of scene, that turns the world into a
spectacle--and love. He thought with hunger of his travel-years; holding
away from him, as it were, for a moment the thought of his marriage.

But only for a moment. It was but a few weeks since a woman's life had
given itself wholly into his hands. He was still thrilling under the
emotion and astonishment of it. Tender, melting thoughts flowed upon him.
His little Letty! Had he ever thought her perfect, free from natural
covetousness and weaknesses? What folly! _He_ to ask for the grand style
in character!

He looked at his watch. How long he had left her! Let him hurry, and make
his peace.

However, just as he was turning, his attention was caught by something
that was passing on the opposite hillside. The light from the west was
shining full on a white cottage with a sloping garden. The cottage
belonged to the Wesleyan minister of the place, and had been rented by
Burrows for the last six months. And just as George was turning away he
saw Burrows come out of the door with a burden--a child, or a woman
little larger than a child--in his arms. He carried her to an armchair
which had been placed on the little grass-plat. The figure was almost
lost in the chair, and sat motionless while Burrows brought cushions and
a stool. Then a baby came to play on the grass, and Burrows hung over the
back of the chair, bending so as to talk to the person in it.

"Dying?" said George to himself. "Poor devil! he must hate something."

       *       *       *       *       *

He sped up the hill, and found Letty still on the sofa and in the last
pages of her novel. She did not resent his absence apparently,--a
freedom, so far, from small exaction for which he inwardly thanked her.
Still, from the moment that she raised her eyes as he came in, he saw
that if she was not angry with him for leaving her alone, her mind was
still as sore as ever against him and fortune on other accounts--and his
revived ardour drooped. He gave her an account of his adventures, but she
was neither inquiring nor sympathetic; and her manner all the evening had
a nervous dryness that took away the pleasure of their _tête-à-tête._ Any
old friend of Letty's, indeed, could hardly have failed to ask what had
become of that small tinkling charm of manner, that girlish flippancy and
repartee, that had counted for so much in George's first impressions of
her? They were no sooner engaged than it had begun to wane. Was it like
the bird or the flower, that adorns itself only for the wooing time, and
sinks into relative dinginess when the mating effort is over?

On this particular evening, indeed, she was really absorbed half the time
in gloomy thoughts of Lady Tressady's behaviour and the poorness of her
own prospects. She lay on the sofa again after dinner--her white slimness
and bright hair showing delicately against the cushions--playing still
with her novel, while George read the newspapers. Sometimes she glanced
at him unsteadily, with a pinching of the lips. But it was not her way to
invite a scene.

Late at night he went up to his dressing-room.

As he entered it Letty was talking to her maid. He stopped involuntarily
in the darkness of his own room, and listened. What a contrast between
this Letty and the Letty of the drawing-room! They were chattering fast,
discussing Lady Tressady, and Lady Tressady's gowns, and Lady Tressady's
affairs. What eagerness, what malice, what feminine subtlety and
acuteuess! After listening for a few seconds, it seemed to him as though
a score of new and ugly lights had been thrown alike upon his mother and
on human nature. He stole away again without revealing himself.

When he returned the room was nearly dark, and Letty was lying high
against her pillows, waiting for him. Suddenly, after she had sent her
maid away, she had felt depressed and miserable, and had begun to cry.
And for some reason hardly clear to herself she had lain pining for
George's footstep. When he came in she looked at him with eyes still
wet, reproaching him gently for being late.

In the dim light, surrounded with lace and whiteness, she was a pretty
vision; and George stood beside her, responding and caressing.

But that black depth in his nature, of which he had spoken to her--which
he had married to forget--was, none the less, all ruffled and vocal. For
the first time since Letty had consented to marry him he did not think or
say to himself, as he looked at her, that he was a lucky man, and had
done everything for the best.



CHAPTER X


Thus, with the end of the honeymoon, whatever hopes or illusions George
Tressady had allowed himself in marrying, were already much bedimmed. His
love-dream had been meagre and ordinary enough. But even so, it had not
maintained itself.

Nevertheless, such impressions and emotions pass. The iron fact of
marriage outstays them, tends always to modify, and, at first, to
conquer them.

Upon the Tressadys' return to London, Letty, at any rate, endeavoured
to forget her great defeat of the honeymoon in the excitement of
furnishing the house in Brook Street. Certainly there could be no
question, in spite of all her high speech to Miss Tulloch and others,
that in her first encounter with Lady Tressady, Lady Tressady had won
easily. Letty had forgotten to reckon on the hard realities of the
filial relation, and could only think of them now, partly with
exasperation, partly with despair.

Lady Tressady, however, was for the moment somewhat subdued, and on the
return of the young people to town she did her best to propitiate Letty.
In Letty's eyes, indeed, her offence was beyond reparation. But, for the
moment, there was outward amity at least between them; which for Letty
meant chiefly that she was conscious of making all her purchases for the
house and planning all her housekeeping arrangements under a constant
critical inspection; and, moreover, that she was liable to find all her
afternoon-teas with particular friends, or those persons of whom she
wished to make particular friends, broken up by the advent of the
overdressed and be-rouged lady, who first put the guests to flight, and
was then out of temper because they fled.

Meanwhile George found the Shapetsky matter extremely harassing. He put
on a clever lawyer; but the Shapetsky would have scorned to be
overmatched by anybody else's abilities, and very little abatement could
be obtained. Moreover, the creditor's temper had been roughened by a
somewhat unfortunate letter George had written in a hurry from Perth, and
he showed every sign of carrying matters with as high a hand as possible.

Meanwhile, George was discovering, like any other landowner, how easy it
is to talk of selling land, how difficult to sell it. The buyer who would
once have bought was not now forthcoming; the few people who nibbled
were, naturally, thinking more of their own purses than Tressady's; and
George grew red with indignation over some of the offers submitted to him
by his country solicitor. With the payment of a first large instalment to
Shapetsky out of his ordinary account, he began to be really pressed for
money, just as the expenses of the Brook Street settling-in were at their
height. This pecuniary strain had a marked effect upon him. It brought
out certain features of character which he no doubt inherited from his
father. Old Sir William had always shown a scrupulous and petty temper
in money matters. He could not increase his possessions: for that he had
apparently neither brains nor judgment; nor could he even protect himself
from the more serious losses of business, for George found heavy debts in
existence--mortgages on the pits and so forth--when he succeeded. But as
the head of a household Sir William showed extraordinary tenacity and
spirit in the defence of his petty cash; and the exasperating
extravagance of the wife whom, in a moment of infatuation, he had been
cajoled into marrying, intensified and embittered a natural
characteristic.

George so far resembled him that both at school and college he had been a
rather careful and abstemious boy. Probably the spectacle of his mother's
adventures had revealed to him very early the humiliations of the debtor.
At any rate, during his four years abroad he had never exceeded the
modest yearly sum he had reserved for himself on leaving England; and the
frugality of his personal expenditure had counted for something in the
estimates formed of him during his travels by competent persons.

Nevertheless, at this beginning of household life he was still young and
callow in all that concerned the management of money; and it had never
occurred to him that his somewhat uncertain income of about four thousand
a year would not be amply sufficient for anything that he and Letty might
need; for housekeeping, for children--if children came--for political
expenses, and even for those supplementary presents to his mother which
he had all along recognised as inevitable. Now, however, what with the
difficulty he found in settling the Shapetsky affair, what with Letty's
demands for the house, and his revived dread of what his mother might be
doing, together with his overdrawn account and the position of his
colliery property, a secret fear of embarrassment and disaster began to
torment him, the offspring of a temperament which had never perhaps
possessed any real buoyancy.

Occasionally, under the stimulus of this fear, he would leave the House
of Commons on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon, walk to Warwick Square,
and appear precipitately in his mother's drawing-room, for the purpose of
examining the guests--or possible harpies--who might be gathered there.
He did his best once or twice to dislodge the "singer-fellow"--an elderly
gentleman with a flabby face and long hair, who seemed to George to be
equally boneless, physically and morally. Nevertheless, he was not to be
dislodged. The singer, indeed, treated the young legislator with a
mixture of deference and artistic; condescension, which was amusing or
enraging as you chose to take it. And once, when George attempted very
plain language with his mother, Lady Tressady went into hysterics, and
vowed that she would not be parted from her friends, not even by the
brutality of young married people who had everything they wanted, while
she was a poor lone widow, whose life was not worth living. The whole
affair was, so to speak, sordidly innocent. Mr. Fullerton--such was the
gentleman's name--wanted creature-comforts and occasional loans; Lady
Tressady wanted company, compliments, and "musical sketches'" for her
little tea-parties. Mrs. Fullerton was as ready as her husband to supply
the two former; and even the children, a fair-haired, lethargic crew,
painfully like their boneless father in Tressady's opinion, took their
share in the general exploitation of Tressady's mamma. Lady Tressady
meanwhile posed as the benefactor of genius in distress; and vowed,
moreover, that "poor dear Fullertori" was in no way responsible for her
recent misfortunes. The "reptile," and the "reptile" only, was to blame.

After one of these skirmishes with his mother, George, ruffled and
disgusted, took his way home, to find Letty eagerly engaged in choosing
silk curtains for the drawing-room.

"Oh! how lucky!" she cried, when she saw him. "Now you can help me
decide--_such_ a business!"

And she led him into the drawing-room, where lengths of pink and green
brocade were pinned against the wall in conspicuous places.

George admired, and gave his verdict in favour of a particular green.
Then he stooped to read the ticket on the corner of the pattern, and his
face fell.

"How much will you want of this stuff, Letty?" he asked her.

"Oh! for the two rooms, nearly fifty yards," said Letty, carelessly,
opening another bundle of patterns as she spoke.

"It is twenty-six shillings a yard!" said George, rather gloomily, as he
fell, tired, into an armchair.

"Well, yes, it _is_ dear. But then, it is so good that it will last an
age. I think I must have some of it for the sofa, too," said Letty,
pondering.

George made no reply.

Presently Letty looked up.

"Why, George?--George, what _is_ the matter? Don't you want anything
pretty for this room? You never take any interest in it at all."

"I'm only thinking, darling, what fortunes the upholsterers must make,"
said George, his hands penthouse over his eyes.

Letty pouted and flushed. The next minute she came to sit on the edge
of his chair. She was dressed--rather overdressed, perhaps--in a pale
blue dress whereof the inventive ruffles and laces pleased her own
critical mind extremely. George, well accustomed by now to the items in
his mother's bills, felt uncomfortably, as he looked at the elegance
beside him, that it was a question of guineas--many guineas. Then he
hated himself for not simply admiring her--his pretty little bride--in
her new finery. What was wrong with him? This beastly money had put
everything awry!

Letty guessed shrewdly at what was the matter. She bit her lip, and
looked ready to cry.

"Well, it is hard," she said, in a low, emphatic voice, "that we can't
please ourselves in a few trifles of this sort--when one thinks _why_!"

George took her hand, and kissed it affectionately.

"Darling, only just for a little--till I get out of this brute's
clutches. There are such pretty, cheap things nowadays--aren't there?"

"Oh! if you want to have a South Kensington drawing-room," said Letty,
indignantly, "with four-penny muslin curtains and art pots, you can do
_that_ for nothing. But I'd rather go back to horsehair and a mahogany
table in the middle at once!"

"You needn't wear 'greenery-yallery' gowns, you know." said George,
laughing; "that's the one unpardonable thing. Though, if you did wear
them, you'd become them."

And he held her at arm's length that he might properly admire her
new dress.

Letty, however, was not to be flattered out of her lawful dues in the
matter of curtains--that Lady Tressady's debts might be paid the sooner.
She threw herself into a long wrestle with George, half angry, half
plaintive, and in the end she wrung out of him much more considerable
matters than the brocades originally in dispute. Then George went down to
his study, pricked in his conscience, and vaguely sore with Letty. Why?
Women in his eyes were made for silken gauds and trinkets: it was the
price that men were bound to pay them for their society. He had watched
the same sort of process that had now been applied to himself many times
already in one or more of the Anglo-Indian households with which he had
grown familiar, and had been philosophically amused by it. But the little
comedy, transferred to his own hearth, seemed somehow to have lost humour
and point.

       *       *       *       *       *

Still, with two young people, under thirty, just entering upon that
fateful second act of the play of life which makes or mars us all,
moments of dissatisfaction and depression--even with Shapetskys and Lady
Tressadys in the background--were but rare specks in the general sum of
pleasure. George had fallen once more under the Parliamentary illusion,
as soon as he was again within reach of the House of Commons and in
frequent contact with Fontenoy. The link between him and his strange
leader grew daily stronger as they sat side by side, through some
hard-fought weeks of Supply, throwing the force of their little group now
on the side of the Government, now on that of the Opposition, always
vigilant, and often successful. George became necessary to Fontenoy in a
hundred ways; for the younger man had a mass of _connaissances_,--to use
the irreplaceable French word,--the result of his more normal training
and his four years of intelligent travel, which Fontenoy was almost
wholly without. Many a blunder did George save his chief; and no one
could have offered his brains for the picking with a heartier goodwill.
On the other hand, the instinctive strength and acuteness of Fontenoy's
judgment were unmatched, according to Tressady's belief, in the House of
Commons. He was hardly ever deceived in a man, or in the significant
points of a situation. His followers never dreamt of questioning his
verdict on a point of tactics. They followed him blindly; and if the gods
sent defeat, no one blamed Fontenoy. But in success his grunt of approval
or congratulation rewarded the curled young aristocrats who made the
nucleus of his party as nothing else did; while none of his band ever
affronted or overrode him with impunity. He wielded a natural kingship,
and, the more battered and gnarled became his physical presence, the more
remarkable was his moral ascendency.

One discouragement, however, he and his group suffered during the weeks
between Easter and Whitsuntide. They were hungry for battle, and the
best of the battle was for the moment denied them; for, owing to a number
of controverted votes in Supply and the slipping-in of two or three
inevitable debates on pressing matters of current interest, the Second
Reading of the Maxwell Bill was postponed till after Whitsuntide, when it
was certainly to take precedence. There was a good deal of grumbling in
the House, led by Fontenoy; but the Government could only vow that they
had no choice, and that their adversaries could not possibly be more
eager to fight than they were to be fought.

Life, then, on this public side, though not so keen as it would be
presently, was still rich and stirring. And meanwhile society showed
itself gracious to the bride and bridegroom. Letty's marriage had made
her unusually popular for the time with her own acquaintance. For it
might be called success; yet it was not of too dazzling a degree. What,
therefore, with George's public and Parliamentary relations, the calls of
officials, the attentions of personal friends, and the good offices of
Mrs. Watton, who was loftily determined to "launch" her niece, Letty was
always well pleased with the look of her hall-table and the cards upon it
when she returned home in her new brougham from her afternoon round. She
left them there for George to see, and it delighted her particularly if
Lady Tressady came in during the interval.

Meanwhile they dined with many folk, and made preliminary acquaintance
with the great ones of the land. Letty's vanity Dwelled within her as she
read over the list of her engagements. Nevertheless, she often came home
from her dinner-parties flat and disappointed. She did not feel that she
made way; and she found herself constantly watching the triumphs of other
women with annoyance or perplexity. What was wrong with her? Her dress
was irreproachable, and, stirred by this great roaring world, she
recalled for it the little airs and graces she had almost ceased to spend
on George. But she constantly found herself, as she thought, neglected;
while the slightest word or look of some happy person in a simple gown,
near by, had power to bring about her that flattering crowd of talkers
and of courtiers for which Letty pined.

The Maxwells called very early on the newly wedded pair, and left an
invitation to dinner with their cards. But, to Letty's chagrin, she and
George were already engaged for the evening named, and when they duly
presented themselves at St. James's Square on a Sunday afternoon, it was
to find that the Maxwells were in the country. Once or twice in some
crowded room Letty or George had a few hurried words with Lady Maxwell,
and Marcella would try to plan a meeting. But what with her engagements
and theirs, nothing that she suggested could be done.

"Ah! well, after Whitsuntide," she said, smiling, to Letty one evening
that they had interchanged a few words of polite regret on the stairs at
some official party. "I will write to you in the country, if I may. Ferth
Place, is it not?"

"No," said Letty, with easy dignity; "we shall not be at home,--not at
first, at any rate. We are going for two or three days to Mrs. Allison,
at Castle Luton."

"Are you? You will have a pleasant time. Such a glorious old house!"

And Lady Maxwell swept on; not so fast, however, but that she found time
to have a few words of Parliamentary chat with Tressady on the landing.

Letty made her little speech about Castle Luton with a delightful sense
of playing the rare and favoured part. Nothing in her London career, so
far, had pleased her so much as Mrs. Allison's call and Mrs. Allison's
invitation. For, although on the few occasions when she had seen this
gentle, white-haired lady, Letty had never felt for one moment at ease
with her, still, there could be no question that Mrs. Allison was,
socially, distinction itself. She had a following among all parties.
For although she was Fontenoy's friend and inspirer, a strong
Church-woman, and a great aristocrat, she had that delicate,
long-descended charm which shuts the lions' mouths, and makes it
possible for certain women to rule in any company. Even those who were
most convinced that the Mrs. Allisons of this world are the chief
obstacles in the path of progress, deliberated when they were asked to
Castle Luton, and fell--protesting. And for a certain world, high-born,
cultivated, and virtuous, she was almost a figure of legend, so
widespread was the feeling she inspired, and so many were the
associations and recollections that clustered about her.

So that when her cards, those of her son Lord Ancoats, and a little
accompanying note in thin French handwriting--Mrs. Allison had been
brought up in Paris--arrived, Letty had a start of pleasure. "To meet a
few friends of mine"--that meant, of course, one of _the_ parties. She
supposed it was Lord Fontenoy's doing. He was said to ask whom he would
to Castle Luton. Under the influence of this idea, at any rate, she bore
herself towards her husband's chief at their next meeting with an
effusion which made Fontenoy supremely uncomfortable.

The week before Whitsuntide happened to be one of special annoyance for
Tressady. His reports from Ferth were steadily more discouraging; his
attempts to sell his land made no way; and he saw plainly that, if he was
to keep their London life going, to provide for Shapetsky's claims, and
to give Letty what she wanted for renovations at Ferth, he would have to
sell some of the very small list of good securities left him by his
father. Most young men in his place, perhaps, would have taken such a
thing with indifference; he brooded over it. "I am beginning to spend my
capital as income," he said to himself. "The strike will be on in July;
next half-year I shall get almost nothing from the pits; rents won't come
to much; Letty wants all kinds of things. How long will it be before I,
too, am in debt, like my mother, borrowing from this person and that?"

Then he would make stern resolutions of economy, only to be baffled by
Letty's determination to have everything that other people had; above
all, not to allow her own life to be stinted because he had so foolishly
adopted his mother's debts. She said little; or said it with smiles and a
bridal standing on her rights not to be answered. But her persistence in
a particular kind of claim, and her new refusal to be taken into his
confidence and made the partner of his anxieties, raised a miserable
feeling in his mind as the weeks went on.

"No!" she said to herself, all the time resenting bitterly what had
happened at Ferth; "if I let him talk to me about it, I shall be giving
in, and letting _her_ trample on me! If George will be so weak, he must
find the money somehow. Of course he can! I am not in the _least_
extravagant. I am only doing what everybody expects me to do."

Meanwhile this state of things did not make Lady Tressady any more
welcome in Brook Street, and there were symptoms of grievances and
quarrels of another sort. Lady Tressady heard that the young couple had
already given one or two tiny dinner-parties, and to none of them had she
been invited. One day that George had been obliged to go to Warwick
Square to consult her on business, he was suddenly overwhelmed with
reproaches on this point.

"I suppose Letty thinks I should spoil her parties! She is ashamed of me,
perhaps"--Lady Tressady gave an angry laugh. "Oh! very well; but I should
like you and her to understand, George, that I have been a good deal more
admired in my time than ever Letty need expect to be!"

And George's mother, in a surprising yellow tea-gown, threw herself back
on her chair, bridling with wrath and emotion. George declared, with good
temper, that he and Letty were well aware of his mother's triumphs;
whereupon Lady Tressady, becoming tearful, said she knew it wasn't a
pretty thing to say--of course it wasn't--but if one was treated unkindly
by one's only son and his wife, what could one do but assert oneself?

George soothed her as best he could, and on his return home said
tentatively to Letty, that he believed it would please his mother if they
were to ask her to a small impromptu dinner of Parliamentary friends
which they were planning for the following Friday.

"George!" exclaimed Letty, her eyes gleaming, "we can't ask her! I don't
want to say anything disagreeable, but you must see that people don't
like her--her dress is so _extraordinary_, and her manners--it sets
people against the house. I do think it's too bad that--"

She turned aside with a sudden sob. George kissed her, and sympathised
with her; for he himself was never at ease now for an instant while his
mother was in the room. But the widening of the breach which Letty's
refusal brought about only made his own position between the two women
the more disagreeable to a man whose ideal of a home was that it should
be a place of perpetual soothing and amusement.

On the very morning of their departure for Castle Luton matters reached a
small crisis. Letty, tired with some festivity of the night before, took
her breakfast in bed; and George, going upstairs toward the middle of the
morning to make some arrangement with her for the journey, found her just
come down, and walking up and down the drawing-room, her pale pink dress
sweeping the floor, her hands clasped behind her. She was very pale, and
her small lips were tightly drawn.

He looked at her with astonishment.

"What is the matter, darling?"

"Oh! nothing," said Letty, trying to speak with sarcasm. "Nothing at all.
I have only just been listening to an account of the way in which your
mother speaks of me to her friends. I ought to be flattered, of course,
that she notices me at all! But I think I shall have to ask you to
_request_ her to put off her visit to Ferth a little. It could hardly
give either of us much enjoyment."

George first pulled his moustaches, then tried, as usual, to banter or
kiss her into composure. Above all, he desired not to know what Lady
Tressady had said. But Letty was determined he should know. "She was
heard "--she began passionately, holding him at arm's length--"she was
heard saying to a _whole roomful_ of people yesterday, that I was
'pretty, of course--rather pretty--but _so_ second rate--and so
provincial! It was such a pity dear George had not waited till he had
been a few months in London. Still, of course, one could only make the
best of it!'"

Letty mimicked her mother-in-law's drawling voice, two red spots burning
on either cheek the while, and her little fingers gripping George's arm.

"I don't believe she ever said such things. Who told you so?" said
George, stiffening, his arm dropping from her waist.

Letty tossed her head.

"Never mind! I _ought_ to know, and it doesn't really matter how I know.
She _did_ say them."

"Yes, it does matter," said George, quickly, walking away to the other
side of the room. "Letty! if you would only send away that woman Grier,
you can't think how much happier we should both be."

Letty stood still, opening her blue eyes wide.

"You want me--to get rid--of Grier," she said, "my own particular pet
maid? And why--please?"

George had the courage to stick to his point, and the result was a heated
and angry scene--their first real quarrel--which ended in Letty's rushing
upstairs in tears, and declaring she would go _no_where. _He_ might go to
Castle Luton, if he pleased; she was far too agitated and exhausted to
face a houseful of strangers.

The inevitable reconciliation, with its usual accompaniments of headache
and eau de cologne, took time, and they only just completed their
preparations and caught their appointed train.

Meanwhile the storm of the day had taken all savour from Letty's
expectations, and made George feel the whole business an effort and a
weariness. Letty sat pale and silent in her corner, devoured with regrets
that she had not put on a thicker veil to hide the ravages of the
morning; while George turned over the pages of a political biography, and
could not prevent his mind from falling back again and again into dark
places of dread and depression.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You are my earliest guests," said Mrs. Allison, as she placed a chair
for Letty beside herself, on the lawn at Castle Luton. "Except, indeed,
that Lady Maxwell and her little boy are here somewhere, roaming about.
But none of our other friends could get down till later. I am glad we
shall have a little quiet time before they come."

"Lady Maxwell!" said Letty. "I had no idea they were coming. Oh, what a
lovely day! and how beautiful it all is!" she cried, as she sat down and
looked round her. The colour came back into her cheeks. She forgot her
determination to keep her veil down, and raised it eagerly.

Mrs. Allison smiled.

"We never look so well as in May--the river is so full, and the swans are
so white. Ah! I see Edgar has already taken Sir George to make friends
with them."

And Letty, looking across the broad green lawn, saw the flash of a
brimming river and a cluster of white swans, beside which stood her
husband and a young man in a serge suit, who was feeding the swans with
bread--Lord Ancoats, no doubt, the happy owner of all this splendour. To
the left of their figures rose a stone bridge with a high, carved
parapet, and beyond the river she saw green hills and woods against a
radiant sky. Then, to her right was this wonderful yellowish pile of the
old house. She began to admire and exclaim about it with a great energy
and effusion, trying hard to say the correct and cultivated thing, and,
in fact, repeating with a good deal of exactness what she had heard said
of it by others.

Her hostess listened to her praises with a gentle smile. Gentleness,
indeed, a rather sad gentleness, was the characteristic of Mrs. Allison.
It seemed to make an atmosphere about her--her delicate blanched head and
soft face, her small figure, her plain black dress, her hands in their
white ruffles. Her friends called it saintliness. At any rate, it set her
apart, giving her a peculiar ethereal dignity which made her formidable
in society to many persons who were not liable to shyness. Letty from the
beginning had felt her formidable.

Yet nothing could be kinder or simpler than her manner. In response to
Letty's enthusiasms she let herself be drawn at once into speaking of her
own love for the house, and on to pointing out its features.

"I am always telling these things to newcomers," she said, smiling. "And
I am not clever enough to make variations. But I don't mind, somehow, how
often I go through it. You see, this front is Tudor, and the south front
is a hundred years later, and both of them, they say, are the finest of
their kind. Isn't it wonderful that two men, a hundred years apart,
should each have left such a noble thing behind him. One inspired the
other. And then we--we poor moderns come after, and must cherish what
they left us as we best can. It's a great responsibility, don't you
think? to live in a beautiful house."

"I'm afraid I don't know much about it," said Letty, laughing; "we live
in such a very ugly one."

Mrs. Allison looked sympathetic.

"Oh! but then, ugly ones have character; or they are pretty inside, or
the people one loves have lived in them. That would make any place a
House Beautiful. Aren't you near Perth?"

"Yes; and I am afraid you'll think me _dreadfully_ discontented,"
said Letty, with one of her little laughing airs; "but there really
isn't anything to make up in our barrack of a place. It's like a
blackened brick set up on end at the top of a hill. And then the
villages are so hideous."

"Ah! I know that coal-country," said Mrs. Allison, gravely--"and I know
the people. Have you made friends with them yet?"

"We were only there for our honeymoon. George says that next month the
whole place will be out on strike. So just now they hate us--they will
hardly look at us in the street. But, of course, we shall give away
things at Christmas."

Mrs. Allison's lip twitched, and she shot a glance at the bride which
betrayed, for all her gentleness, the woman of a large world and much
converse with mankind. What a curious, hard little face was Lady
Tressady's under the outer softness of line and hue, and what an amazing
costume! Mrs. Allison had no quarrel with beautiful gowns, but the
elaboration, or, as one might say, the research of Letty's dress struck
her unpleasantly. The time that it must have taken to think out!

Aloud she said:

"Ah! the strike. Yes, I fear it is inevitable. Ancoats has some property
not very far from you, and we get reports. Poor fellows! if it weren't
for the wretched agitators who mislead them--but there, we mustn't talk
of these things. I see Lady Maxwell coming."

And Mrs. Allison waved her hand to a tall figure in white with a child
beside it that had just emerged on the far distance of the lawn.

"Is Lord Maxwell here, too?" asked Letty.

"He is coming later. It seems strange, perhaps, that you should find them
here this Sunday, for Lord Fontenoy comes to-morrow, and the great fight
will be on so soon. But when I found that they were free, and that
Maxwell would like to come, I was only too glad. After all, rival
politicians in England can still meet each other, even at a crisis.
Besides, Maxwell is a relation of ours, and he was my boy's guardian--the
kindest possible guardian. Politics apart, I have the greatest respect
for him. And her too. Why is it always the best people in the world that
do the most mischief?"

At the mention of Lord Fontenoy it had been Letty's turn to throw a
quick side look at Mrs. Allison. But the name was spoken in the quietest
and most natural way; and yet, if one analysed the tone, in a way that
did imply something exceptional, which, however, all the world knew, or
might know.

"Is Lady Maxwell an old friend of yours, too?" asked Letty, longing to
pursue the subject, and vexed to see how fast the mother and child were
approaching.

"Only since her marriage. To see her and Maxwell together is really a
poem. If only she wouldn't identify herself so hotly, dear woman! with
everything he does and wishes in politics. There is no getting her to
hear a word of reason. She is another Maxwell in petticoats. And it
always seems to me so unfair. Maxwell without beauty and without
petticoats is quite enough to fight! Look at that little fellow with his
flowers!--such an oddity of a child!"

Then she raised her voice.

"My dear, what a ramble you must have made. Come and have a shady chair
and some tea."

For answer Marcella, laughing, held up a glorious bunch of cuckoo-pint
and marsh marigold, while little Hallin at her skirts waved another
trophy of almost equal size. The mother's dark face was flushed with
exercise and pleasure. As she moved over the grass, the long folds of a
white dress falling about her, the flowers in her hand, the child beside
her, she made a vision of beauty lovely in itself and lovely in all that
it suggested. Frank joy and strength, happiness, purity of heart--these
entered with her. One could almost see their dim heavenly shapes in the
air about her.

Neither Letty nor Mrs. Allison could take their eyes from her. Perhaps
she knew it. But if she did, it made no difference to her perfect ease of
bearing. She greeted Letty kindly.

"You didn't expect to see me here, did you, Lady Tressady? But it is the
unexpected that happens."

Then she put her hand on Mrs. Allison's shoulder, bending her height to
her small hostess.

"What a day, and what a place! Hallin and I have been over hill and dale.
But he is getting such a botanist, the little monkey! He will hardly
forgive me because I forgot one of the flowers we found out yesterday in
his botany book."

"She said it was 'Robin-run-in-the-'edge,' and it isn't--it's 'edge
mustard," said Hallin, severely, holding up a little feathery stalk.

Mrs. Allison shook her head, endeavouring to suit her look to the gravity
of the offence.

"Mother must learn her lessons better, mustn't she? Go and shake hands,
little man, with Lady Tressady."

Hallin went gravely to do as he was told. Then he stood on one foot, and
looked Letty over with a considering eye.

"Are you going to a party?" he said suddenly, putting out a small and
grimy finger, and pointing to her dress.

"Hallin! come here and have your tea," said his mother, hastily. Then she
turned to Letty with the smile that had so often won Maxwell a friend.

"I am sorry to say that he has a rooted objection to anything that isn't
rags in the way of clothes. He entirely declined to take me across the
river till I had rolled up my lace cloak and put it in a bush. And he
won't really be friends with me again till we have both got back to the
scarecrow garments we wear at home."

"Oh! children are so much happier when they are dirty," said Letty,
graciously, pleased to feel herself on these easy terms with her two
companions. "What beautiful flowers he has! and what an astonishing
little botanist he seems to be!"

And she seated herself beside Hallin, using all her blandishments to make
friends with him, which, however, did not prove to be an easy matter. For
when she praised his flowers, Hallin only said, with his mouth full: "Oh!
but mammy's bunch is _hever_ so much bigger;" and when she offered him
cake, the child would sturdily put the cake away, and hold it and her at
arm's length till his mute look across the table had won his mother's nod
of permission.

Letty at last thought him an odd, ill-mannered child, and gave up
courting him, greatly to Hallin's satisfaction. He edged closer and
closer to his mother, established himself finally in her pocket, and
browsed on all the good things with which Mrs. Allison provided him,
undisturbed.

"How late they are!" said Marcella, looking at her watch. "Tell me
the names again, dear lady"--she bent forward, and laid her hand
affectionately on Mrs. Allison's knee. "Your parties are always a
work of art."

Mrs. Allison flushed a little, as though she liked the compliment, and
ran laughingly through the names.

"Lord and Lady Maxwell."

"Ah!" said Marcella, "the least said about them the soonest
mended. Go on."

"Lord and Lady Cathedine."

Marcella made a face.

"Poor little thing! I always think of the remark about the Queen in
'Alice in Wonderland.' 'A little kindness, and putting her hair in
curl-papers, would do wonders for her.' She is so limp and thin and
melancholy. As for him--isn't there a race or a prize-fight we can
send him to?"

Mrs. Allison tapped her lightly on the lips.

"I won't go on unless my guests are taken prettily."

Marcella kissed the delicate wrinkled hand.

"I'll be good. What do you keep such an air here for? It gets into
one's head."

Letty Tressady, indeed, was looking on with a feeling of astonishment.
These merry, childlike airs had absolutely no place in her conception of
Lady Maxwell. Nor could she know that Mrs. Allison was one of the very
few people in the world to whom Marcella was ever drawn to show them.

"Sir Philip Wentworth," pursued Mrs. Allison, smiling. "Say anything
malicious about him, if you can!"

"Don't provoke me. What a mercy I brought a volume of 'Indian Studies' in
my bag! I will go up early, before dinner, and finish them."

"Then there is Madeleine Penley, and Elizabeth Kent."

A quick involuntary expression crossed Marcella's face. Then she drew
herself up with dignity, and crossed her hands primly on her lap.

"Let me understand. Are you going to protect me from Lady Kent this time?
Because, last time you threw me to the wolves in the most dastardly way."

Mrs. Allison laughed out.

"On the contrary, we all enjoyed your skirmish with her in November so
much, we shall do our best to provoke another in May."

Marcella shook her head.

"I haven't the energy to quarrel with a fly. And as for Aldous--please
warn his lady at dinner that he may go to sleep upon her shoulder!"

"You poor thing!"--Mrs. Allison put out a sympathetic hand. "Are you so
tired? Why will you turn the world upside down?"

Marcella took the hand lightly in both hers.

"Why will you fight reform?"

And the eyes of the two women met, not without a sudden grave passion.
Then Marcella dropped the hand, and said, smiling:

"Castle Luton isn't full yet. Who else?"

"Oh! some young folk--Charlie Naseby."

"A nice boy--a very nice boy--not half such a coxcomb as he looks. Then
the Levens--I know the Levens are coming, for Betty told me that she got
out of two other engagements as soon as you asked her."

"Oh! and, by the way, Mr. Watton--Harding Watton," said Mrs. Allison,
turning slightly towards Lady Tressady.

The exclamation on Lady Maxwell's lips was checked by something she saw
on her hostess's face, and Letty eagerly struck in:

"Harding coming?--my cousin? I am so glad. I suppose I oughtn't to say
it, but he is such a _clever_, such an _agreeable_, creature. But you
know the Wattons, don't you, Lady Maxwell?"

Marcella was busying herself with Hallin's tea.

"I know Edward Watton," she said, turning her beautiful clear look on
Letty. "He is a real friend of mine."

"Oh! but Harding is _much_ the cleverer," said Letty. And pleased both
to find the ball of talk in her hands, and to have the chance of
glorifying a relation in this world of people so much bigger than
herself, she plunged into an extravagant account--all adjectives and
superlatives--of Harding Watton's charms and abilities, to which Lady
Maxwell listened in silence.

"Tactless!" thought Mrs. Allison, with vexation, but she did not know
how to stop the stream. In truth, since she had given Lord Fontenoy
leave to invite Harding Watton she had had time to forget the
invitation, and she was sorry now to think of his housing with the
Maxwells. For Watton had been recently Lord Fontenoy's henchman and
agent in a newspaper attack upon the Bill, and upon Maxwell personally,
that even Mrs. Allison had thought violent and unfair. Well, it was not
her fault. But Lady Tressady ought to have better information and better
sense than to be chattering like this. She was just about to interpose,
when Marcella held up her hand.

"I hear the carriages!"

The hostess hastened towards the house, and Marcella followed her, with
Hallin at her skirts. Letty looked after Lady Maxwell with the same
mixture of admiration and jealous envy she had felt several times
before. "I don't feel that I shall get on with her," she said to
herself, impatiently. "But I don't think I want to. George took her
measure at once."

Part of this reflection, however, was not true. Letty's ambition would
have been very glad to "get on" with Marcella Maxwell.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just as his wife was ready for dinner, and Grier had disappeared, George
entered Letty's room. She was standing before a tall glass, putting the
last touches to her dress--smoothing here, pinning there, turning to this
side and to that. George, unseen himself, stood and watched her--her
alternate looks of anxiety and satisfaction, her grace, the shimmering
folds of the magnificent wedding-dress in which she had adorned herself.

He, however, was neither happy nor gay. But he had come in feeling that
he must make an effort--many efforts, if their young married life was to
be brought back to that level of ease and pleasure which he had once
taken for granted, and which now seemed so hard to maintain. If that ease
and pleasure were ultimately to fail him, what should he do? He shrank
impatiently from the idea. Then he would scoff at himself. How often had
he read and heard that the first year of marriage is the most difficult.
Of course it must be so. Two individualities cannot fuse without turmoil,
without heat. Let him only make his effort.

So he walked up to her and caught her in his arms.

"Oh, George!--my hair!--and my flowers!"

"Never mind," he said, almost with roughness. "Put your head there. Say
you hate the thought of our day, as I do! Say there shall never be one
like it again! Promise me!"

She felt the beating of his heart beneath her cheek. But she stood
silent. His appeal, his unwonted agitation, revived in her all the anger
and irritation that had begun to prey upon her thoughts. It was all very
well, but why were they so pinched and uncomfortable? Why must
everybody--Mrs. Allison, Lady Maxwell, a hundred others--have more
wealth, more scope, more consideration than she? It was partly his fault.

So she gradually drew herself away, pushing him softly with her small
gloved hand.

"I am sure I hate quarrelling," she said. "But there! Oh, George! don't
let's talk of it any more! And look what you have done to my poor hair.
You dear, naughty boy!"

But though she called him "Dear," she frowned as she took off her gloves
that she might mend what he had done.

George thrust his hands into his pockets, walked to the window, and
waited. As he descended the great stairs in her wake he wished Castle
Luton and its guests at the deuce. What pleasure was to be got out of
grimacing and posing at these country-house parties? And now, according
to Letty, the Maxwells were here. A great _gêne_ for everybody!



CHAPTER XI


"That lady sitting by Sir George? What! Lady Maxwell? No--the other side?
Oh! that's Lady Leven. Don't you know her? She's tremendous fun!"

And the dark-eyed, rosy-cheeked young man who was sitting beside Letty
nodded and smiled across the table to Betty Leven, merely by way of
reminding her of his existence. They had greeted before dinner--a
greeting of comrades.

Then he turned back, with sudden decorum, to this Lady Tressady, whom he
had been commissioned to take in to dinner. "Quite pretty, but
rather--well, ordinary!" he said to himself, with a critical coolness
bred of much familiarity with the best things of Vanity Fair. He had been
Ancoats's friend at Cambridge, and was now disporting himself in the
Guards, but still more--as Letty of course assumed--in the heart of the
English well-born world. She knew that he was Lord Naseby, and that some
day he would be a marquis. A halo, therefore, shone about him. At the
same time, she had a long experience of young men, and, if she flattered
him, it was only indirectly, by a sort of teasing aggression that did not
allow him to take his attention from her.

"I declare you are better than any peerage!" she said to him presently,
when he had given her a short biography, first of Lord Cathedine, who was
sitting opposite, then of various other members of the company. "I should
like to tie you to my fan when I go out to dinner."

"Would you?" said the young man, drily. "Oh! you will soon know all you
want to know."

"How are poor little people from Yorkshire to find their way about in
this big world? You are all so dreadfully absorbed in each other. In the
first place, you all marry each other."

"Do we?--though I don't quite understand who 'we' means. Well, one
must marry somebody, I suppose, and cousins are less trouble than
other people."

Involuntarily, the young man's eyes travelled along the table to a fair
girl on the opposite side, dazzlingly dressed in black. She was wielding
a large fan of black feathers, which threw both hair and complexion into
amazing relief; and she seemed to be amusing herself in a nervous,
spasmodic way with Sir Frank Leven. Letty noticed his glance.

"Oh! you have not earned your testimonial yet, not by any manner of
means," she said. "That is Lady Madeleine Penley, isn't it? Is she a
relation of Mrs. Allison's?"

"She is a cousin. That is her mother, Lady Kent, sitting beside poor
Ancoats. Such an old character! By the end of dinner she will have got to
the bottom of Ancoats, or know the reason why."

"Is Lord Ancoats such a mystery?" said Letty, running an inquisitive
eye over the black front, sharp nose, and gorgeously bejewelled neck
of a somewhat noisy and forbidding old lady sitting on the right hand
of the host.

Young Naseby's expression in answer rather piqued her. There was a quick
flash of something that was instantly suppressed, and the youth said
composedly,

"Oh! we are all mysteries for Lady Kent."

But Letty noticed that his eyes strayed back to Lord Ancoats, and then
again to Lady Madeleine. He seemed to be observing them, and Letty's
sharpness at once took the hint. No doubt the handsome, large-featured
girl was here to be "looked at." Probably a good many maidens would be
passed in review before this young Sultan made his choice! By the way he
must be a good deal older than George had imagined. Clearly he left
college some time ago. What a curious face he had--a small, crumpled
face, with very prominent blue eyes; curly hair of a reddish colour,
piled high, as though for effect, above his white brow; together with a
sharp chin and pointed moustache, which gave him the air of an old French
portrait. He was short in stature, but at the same time agile and
strongly built. He wore one or two fine old rings, which drew attention
to the delicacy of his hands; and his manner struck her as at once morose
and excitable. Letty regarded him with involuntary respect as the son of
Mrs. Allison--much more as the master of Castle Luton and fifty thousand
a year. But if he had not been the master of Castle Luton she would have
probably thought, and said, that he had a disagreeable Bohemian air.

"Haven't you really made acquaintance with Lady Kent?" said Lord Naseby,
returning to the charge his laziness was somewhat at a loss for
conversation. "I should have thought she was the person one could least
escape knowing in the three kingdoms."

"I have seen her, of course," said Letty, lightly, though, alas! untruly.
"But I am afraid you can hardly realise that I have only been three short
seasons in London--two with an old aunt, who never goes out, in Cavendish
Square, poor dull old dear! and another with Mrs. Watton, of Malford."

"Oh! with Mrs. Watton, of Malford," said Lord Naseby, vaguely. Then he
became suddenly aware that Lady Leven, on the other side of the table,
was beckoning to him. He leant across, and they exchanged a merry war of
words about something of which Letty knew nothing.

Letty, rather incensed, thought him a puppy, drew herself up, and looked
round at the ex-Governor beside her. She saw a fine head, the worn yellow
face and whitened hair of a man who has suffered under a hot climate, and
an agreeable, though somewhat courtly, smile. Sir Philip Wentworth was
not troubled with the boyish fastidiousness of Lord Naseby. He perceived
merely that a pretty young woman wished to make friends with him, and met
her wish at once. Moreover, he identified her as the wife of that
"promising and well-informed fellow, Tressady," with whom he had first
made friends in India, and had now--just before dinner--renewed
acquaintance in the most cordial fashion.

He talked graciously to the wife, then, of Tressady's abilities and
Tressady's career. Letty at first liked it. Then she was seized with a
curious sense of discomfort.

Her eyes wandered towards the head of the table, where George was
talking--why! actually talking earnestly, and as though he were enjoying
himself, to Lady Maxwell, whose noble head and neck, rising from a silver
white dress, challenged a great Genoese Vandyck of a Marehesa Balbi which
was hanging just behind her, and challenged it victoriously.

So other people thought and said these things of George? Letty
was for a moment sharply conscious that they had not occupied much
place in her mind since her marriage, or, for the matter of that,
since her engagement. She had taken it for granted that he was
"distinguished"--that was part of the bargain. Only, she never seemed as
yet to have had either time or thought to give to those parts and
elements in his life which led people to talk of him as this old Indian
was doing.

Curtains, carpets, gowns, cabinets; additions to Ferth; her own effect in
society; how to keep Lady Tressady in her place--of all these things she
had thought, and thought much. But George's honourable ambitions, the
esteem in which he was held, the place he was to make for himself in the
world of men--in thinking of _these_ her mind was all stiff and
unpractised. She was conscious first of a moral prick, then of a certain
irritation with other people.

Yet she could not help watching George wistfully. He looked tired and
pale, in spite of the animation of his talk. Well! no doubt she looked
pale too. Some of the words and phrases of their quarrel flashed across
her. In this beautiful room, with its famous pictures and its historical
associations, amid this accumulated art and wealth, the whole thing was
peculiarly odious to remember. Under the eyes of Vandyck's Marchesa one
would have liked to think of oneself as always dignified and refined,
always elegant and calm.

Then Letty had a revulsion, and laughed at herself.

"As if these people didn't have tempers, and quarrel about money! Of
course they do! And if they don't--well, we all know how easy it is to be
amiable on fifty thousand a year."

       *       *       *       *       *

After dinner Mrs. Allison led the way to the "Green Drawing-room." This
room, hung with Gainsborough portraits, was one of the sights of the
house, and tonight Marcella Maxwell especially looked round her on
entering it, with enchantment.

"You happy people!" she said to Mrs. Allison. "I never come into this
room without anxiously asking myself whether I am fit to make one of the
company. I look at my dress, or I am doubtful about my manners, or I wish
someone had taught me to dance the minuet!"

"Yes," said Betty Leven, running up to a vast picture, a life-size family
group, which covered the greater part of the farther wall of the room.
"What a vulgar, insignificant chit one feels oneself without cap or
powder!--without those ruffles, or those tippets, or those quilted
petticoats! Mrs. Allison, _may_ my maid come down to-morrow while we are
at dinner and take the pattern of those ruffles? No--no! she sha'n't!
Sacrilege! You pretty thing!" she said, addressing a figure--the figure
of a girl in white with thin virginal arms and bust, who seemed to be
coming out of the picture, almost to be already out of it and in the
room. "Come and talk to me. Don't think any more of your father and
mother there. You have been curtsying to them for a hundred years; and
they are rather dull, stupid people, after all. Come and tell us secrets.
Tell us what you have seen in this room--all the foolish people making
love, and the sad people saying good-bye."

Betty was kneeling on a carved chair, her pretty arms leaning on the back
of it, her eyes fixed half-in laughter, half in sentiment, on the figure
in the picture.

Lady Maxwell suddenly moved closer to her, and Letty heard her say in a
low voice, as she put her hand on Lady Leven's arm:

"Don't, Betty! _don't!_ It was in this room he proposed to her, and
it was in this room he said goodbye. Maxwell has often told me. I
believe she never comes in here alone--only for ceremony and when
there is a crowd."

A look of consternation crossed Lady Leven's lively little face. She
glanced shyly towards Mrs. Allison. That lady had moved hastily away from
the group in front of the picture. She was sitting by herself, looking
straight before her, with a certain stiffness, her thin hands crossed on
her knee. Betty impetuously went towards her, and was soon sitting on a
stool beside her, chattering to her and amusing her.

Meanwhile Marcella invited Lady Tressady to come and sit with her on a
sofa beneath the great picture.

Letty followed her, settled her satin skirts in their most graceful
folds, put one little foot on a Louis Quinze footstool which seemed
to invite it, and then began to inform herself about the house and
the family.

At the beginning of their talk it was clear that Lady Maxwell wished to
ingratiate herself. A friendly observer would have thought that she was
trying to make a stranger feel more at ease in this house and circle,
where she herself was a familiar guest. Betty Leven, catching sight of
the pair from the other side of the room, said to herself, with inward
amusement, that Marcella was "realising the wife."

At any rate, for some time Lady Maxwell talked with sympathy, with
effusion even, to her companion. In the first place she told her the
story of their hostess.

Thirty years before, Mrs. Allison, the daughter and heiress of a
Leicestershire squire, had married Henry Allison, old Lord Ancoats's
second son, a young captain in the Guards. They enjoyed three years of
life together; then the chances of a soldier's career, as interpreted by
two high-minded people, took Henry Allison out to an obscure African
coast, to fight one of the innumerable "little wars" of his country. He
fell, struck by a spear, in a single-file march through some nameless
swamp; and a few days afterwards the words of a Foreign Office telegram
broke a pining woman's heart.

Old Lord Ancoats's death, which followed within a month or two, was
hastened by the shock of his son's loss; and before the year was out the
eldest son, who was sickly and unmarried, also died, and Mrs. Allison's
boy, a child of two, became the owner of Castle Luton. The mother saw
herself called upon to fight down her grief, to relinquish the
quasi-religious life she had entered upon, and instead to take her boy to
the kingdom he was to rule, and bring him up there.

"And for twenty-two years she has lived a wonderful life here," said
Marcella; "she has been practically the queen of a whole countryside,
doing whatever she pleased, the mother and friend and saint of everybody.
It has been all very paternal and beautiful, and--abominably Tory and
tyrannous! Many people, I suppose, think it perfect. Perhaps I don't. But
then, I know very well I can't possibly disagree with her a tenth part as
strongly as she disagrees with me."

"Oh! but she admires you so much," cried Letty, with effusion; "she
thinks you mean so nobly!"

Marcella opened her eyes, involuntarily wondering a little what Lady
Tressady might know about it.

"Oh! we don't hate each other," she said, rather drily, "in spite of
politics. And my husband was Ancoats's guardian."

"Dear me!" said Letty. "I should think it wasn't easy to be guardian to
fifty thousand a year."

Marcella did not answer--did not, indeed, hear. Her look had stolen
across to Mrs. Allison--a sad, affectionate look, in no way meant for
Lady Tressady. But Letty noticed it.

"I suppose she adores him," she said.

Marcella sighed.

"There was never anything like it. It frightens one to see."

"And that, of course, is why she won't marry Lord Fontenoy?"

Marcella started, and drew away from her companion.

"I don't know," she said stiffly; "and I am sure that no one ever dared
to ask her."

"Oh! but of course it's what everyone says," said Letty, gay and
unabashed. "That's what makes it so exciting to come here, when one knows
Lord Fontenoy so very well."

Marcella met this remark with a discouraging silence.

Letty, however, was determined this time to make her impression. She
plunged into a lively and often audacious gossip about every person in
the room in turn, asking a number of intimate or impertinent questions,
and yet very seldom waiting for Marcella's reply, so anxious was she to
show off her own information and make her own comments. She let Marcella
understand that she suspected a great deal, in the matter of that
handsome Lady Madeleine. It was _immensely_ interesting, of course; but
wasn't Lord Ancoats a trifle wild?--she bent over and whispered in
Marcella's ears; was it likely that he would settle himself so
soon?--didn't one hear sad tales of his theatrical friends and the rest?
And what could one expect! As if a young man in such a position was not
certain to have his fling! And his mother would have to put up with it.
After all, men quieted down at last. Look at Lord Cathedine!

And with an air of boundless knowledge she touched upon the incidents of
Lord Cathedine's career, hashing up, with skilful deductions of her own,
all that Lord Naseby had said or hinted to her at dinner. Poor Lady
Cathedine! didn't she look a walking skeleton, with her strange,
melancholy face, and every bone showing? Well, who could wonder! And when
one thought of their money difficulties, too!

Lady Tressady lifted her white shoulders in compassion.

By this time Marcella's black eyes were wandering insistently round the
room, searching for means of escape. Betty, far away, noticed her air,
and concluded that the "realisation" was making rapid, too rapid,
progress. Presently, with a smiling shake of her little head, she left
her own seat and went to her friend's assistance.

At the same moment Mrs. Allison, driven by her conscience as a hostess,
got up for the purpose of introducing Lady Tressady to a lady in grey who
had been sitting quiet, and, as Mrs. Allison feared, lonely, in a corner,
looking over some photographs. Marcella, who had also risen, put out a
hand to Betty, and the two moved away together.

       *       *       *       *       *

They stopped on the threshold of a large window at the side of the room,
which stood wide open to the night. Outside, beyond a broad flight of
steps, stretched a formal Dutch garden. Its numberless small beds,
forming stiff scrolls and circles on a ground of white gravel, lay in
bright moonlight. Even the colours of the hyacinths and tulips with which
they were planted could be seen, and the strong scent from them filled
the still air. At the far end of this flat-patterned place a group of
tall cypress and ilex, black against the sky, struck a note of Italy and
the South; while, through the yew hedges which closed in the little
garden, broad archways pierced at intervals revealed far breadths of
silvery English lawn and the distant gleam of the river.

"Well, my dear," said Betty, laughing, and slipping her arm through
Marcella's as they stood in the opening of the window, "I see you have
been doing your duty for once. Let me pat you on the back. All the more
that I gather you are not exactly enchanted with Lady Tressady. You
really should keep your face in order. From the other end of the room I
know exactly what you think of the person you are talking to."

"Do you?" said Marcella, penitently. "I wish you didn't."

"Well you may wish it, for it doesn't help the political lady to get what
she wants. However, I don't think that Lady Tressady has found out yet
that you don't like her. She isn't thin-skinned. If you had looked like
that when you were talking to me, I would have paid you out somehow. What
is the matter with her?"

"Oh! I don't know," said Marcella, impatiently, raising her shoulders.
"But she jarred. I pined to get away--I don't think I ever want to talk
to her again."

"No," said Betty, ruminating; "I'll tell you what it is--she isn't a
gentleman! Don't interrupt me! I mean exactly what I say--_she isn't a
gentleman_. She would do and say all the things that a nice man squirms
at. I always have the oddest fancy about that kind of person. I see them
as they must be at night--all the fine clothes gone--just a little black
soul scrawled between the bedclothes!"

"_You_ to call me censorious!" said Marcella, laughing, and pinching her
friend's arm.

"My dear, as I have often before remarked to you, _I_ am not a great
lady, with a political campaign to tight. If you knew your business, you
would make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness in the shape of
Lady Tressadys. _I_ may do what I please--I have only a husband to
manage!" and Betty's light voice dropped into a sigh.

"Poor Betty!" said Marcella, patting her hand. "Is Frank as
discontented as ever?"

"He told me yesterday he hated his existence, and thought he would try
whether the Serpentine would drown him. I said I was agreeable, only he
would never achieve it without me. I should have to 'tice away the police
while he looked for the right spot. So he has promised to take me into
partnership, and it's all right so far."

Then Betty fell to sighing in earnest.

"It's all very well 'chaffing,' but I am a miserable woman. Frank says
I have ruined his life; that it's all my ambition; that he might have
made a decent country gentleman if I hadn't sown the seed of every vice
in him by driving him into politics. Pleasant, isn't it, for a model
wife like me?"

"You'll have to let him give it up," said Marcella, smiling; "I don't
believe he'll ever reconcile himself to the grind and the town life."

Betty clenched her small hands.

"My dear! I never promised to marry a sporting boor, and I can't yet
make up my mind to sink to it. Don't let's talk of it! I only hope he'll
vote straight in the next few months. But the thought of being kept
through August drives him desperate already. Ah! here they are--plagues
of the human race!--" and she waved an accusing hand towards the incoming
stream of gentlemen. "Now, I'll prophesy, and you watch. Lady Tressady
will make two friends here--Harding Watton--oh! I forgot, he's her
cousin!--and Lord Cathedine. Mark my words. By the way--" Betty caught
Marcella's arm and spoke eagerly into her friend's ear. Her eyes
meanwhile glanced over her shoulder towards Lady Madeleine and her
mother, who were seated on the further side of the room.

Marcella's look followed Betty's, but she showed no readiness to answer
Betty's questions. When Letty had made her astonishing remarks on the
subject of Madeleine Penley, Lady Maxwell had tried to stop her with a
hauteur which would have abashed most women, though it had but small
effect on the bride. And now, even to Betty, who was Madeleine Penley's
friend, Marcella was not communicative; although when Betty was carried
off by Lord Naseby who came in search of her as soon as he entered the
drawing-room, the elder woman stood for a moment by the window, watching
the girl they had been talking of with a soft serious look.

But the softness passed. A slight incident disturbed it. For the
spectator saw Lady Kent, who was sitting beside her daughter, raise a
gigantic fan and beckon to Lord Ancoats. He came unwillingly, and she
made some bantering remark. Lady Madeleine meanwhile was bending over a
book of photographs, with a flushed cheek and a look of constraint.
Ancoats stood near her for a moment uneasily, frowning and pulling at his
moustache. Then with an abrupt word to Lady Kent, he turned away and
threw himself on a sofa beside Lord Cathedine. Lady Madeleine bent lower
over her book, her beautiful hair making a spot of fire in the room.
Marcella caught the expression of her profile, and her own face took a
look of pain. She would have liked to go instantly to the girl's side,
with some tenderness, some caress. But that gorgon Lady Kent, now looking
extremely fierce, was in the way, and moreover other young men had
arrived to take the place Ancoats had apparently refused.

Meanwhile Letty saw the arrival of the gentlemen with delight. She had
found but small entertainment in the lady to whom Mrs. Allison had
introduced her. Miss Paston, the sister of Lord Ancoats's agent, was a
pleasant-looking spinster of thirty-five in a Quakerish dress of grey
silk. Her face bore witness that she was capable and refined. But Letty
felt no desire whatever to explore capability and refinement. She had not
come to Castle Luton to make herself agreeable to Miss Paston.

So the conversation languished. Letty yawned a little, and flourished her
fan a great deal, till the appearance of the men brought back the flush
to her cheek and animation to her eye. She drew herself up at once,
hungry for notice and success. Mrs. Hawkins, the vicar's wife at
Malford, would have been avenged could she have watched her old tyrant
under these chastening circumstances.

Harding Watton crossed the room when he saw his cousin, and took the
corner of the sofa beside her. Letty received him graciously, though she
was perhaps disappointed that it was not Lord Ancoats or Lord Cathedine.
Looking round before she gave herself to conversation with him, she saw
that George was standing near the open window with Lord Maxwell and Sir
Philip Wentworth, the ex-Governor. They were talking of India, and Sir
Philip had his hand on George's arm.

"Yes, I saw Dalliousie go," he said eagerly. "I was only a lad of twenty,
but I can't think of it now without a lump in my throat. When he limped
on to the Hooghly landing-stage on his crutches we couldn't cheer him--I
shall never forget that sudden silence! In eight years he had made a new
India, and there we saw him,--our little hero,--dying of his work at
forty-six before our eyes! ... Well, I couldn't have imagined that a
young man like you would have known or cared so much about that time.
What a talk we have had! Thank you!"

And the veteran tightened his grip cordially for a moment on Tressady's
arm, then dropped it and walked away.

Tressady threw his wife a bright glance, as though to ask her how she
fared. Letty smiled graciously in reply, feeling a sudden softening
pleasure in being so thought of. As her eyes met her husband's she saw
Marcella Maxwell, who was still standing by the window, turn towards
George and call to him. George moved forward with alacrity. Then he and
Lady Maxwell slowly walked down the steps to the garden, and disappeared
through one of the archways to the left.

"That great lady and George seem at last to have made friends," said
Harding Watton to Letty, in a laughing undertone. "I have no doubt she is
trying to win him over. Well she may! Before the next few weeks are over
the Government will be in a fix with this Bill; and not even their
'beautiful lady' will help them out. Maxwell looks as glum as an owl
to-night."

Letty laughed. The situation pleased her vanity a good deal. The
thought of Lady Maxwell humiliated and defeated--partly by George's
means--was decidedly agreeable to her. Which would seem to show that
she was, after all, more sensitive or more quick-eyed than Betty Leven
had been ready to allow.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Marcella and George Tressady were strolling slowly towards the
river, along a path that crossed the great lawns. In front of them the
stretches of grass, bathed in silvery light and air, ran into far
distances of shade under majestic trees just thickening to a June wealth
of foliage. Below, these distant tree-masses made sharp capes and
promontories on the white grass; above, their rounded tops rose dark
against a blue, light-breathing sky. At one point the river pierced the
blackness of the wood, and in the space thus made the spire of a noble
church shot heavenward. Swans floated dimly along the stream and under
the bridge. The air was fresh, but the rawness of spring was gone. It was
the last week of May; the "high midsummer pomps" were near--a heavenly
prophecy in wood and field.

And not even Tressady's prejudice--which, indeed, was already
vanishing--could fail to see in the beautiful woman beside him the
fitting voice and spirit of such a scene.

To-night he said to himself that one must needs believe her simple, in
spite of report. During their companionship this evening she had shown
him more and more plainly that she liked his society; her manner towards
him, indeed, had by now a soft surrender and friendliness that no man
could possibly have met with roughness, least of all a man young and
ambitious. But at the same time he noticed again, as he had once noticed
with anger, that she was curiously free from the usual feminine arts and
wiles. After their long talk at dinner, indeed, he began, in spite of
himself, to feel her not merely an intellectual comrade,--that he had
been conscious of from the first,--but rather a most winning and
attaching companion. It was a sentiment of friendly ease, that seemed to
bring with it a great relief from tension. The sordid cares and frictions
of the last few weeks, and the degrading memories of the day itself,
alike ceased to wear him.

Yet all the time he said to himself, with inward amusement, that he must
take care! They had not talked directly of the Bill at dinner, but they
had talked round and about it incessantly. It was clear that the Maxwells
were personally very anxious; and George knew well that the public
position of the Ministry was daily becoming more difficult. There had
been a marked cooling on the subject of the Bill among their own
supporters; one or two London members originally pledged to it were even
believed to be wavering; and this campaign lately started by Fontenoy and
Watton against two of the leading clauses of the measure, in a London
"daily," bought for the purpose, had been so far extremely damaging. The
situation was threatening indeed, and Maxwell might well look harassed.

Yet Tressady had detected no bitterness in Lady Maxwell's mood. Her
temper rather seemed to him very strenuous, very eager, and a little sad.
Altogether, he had been touched, he knew not exactly why, by his
conversation with her. "We are going to win," he said to himself, "and
she knows it." Yet to think thus gave him, for the first time, no
particular pleasure.

As they strolled along they talked a little of some of the topics that
had been started at dinner, topics semi-political and semi-social, till
suddenly Lady Maxwell said, with a change of voice:

"I heard some of your conversation with Sir Philip just now. How
differently you talk when you talk of India!"

"I wonder what that means," said George, smiling. "It means, at any rate,
that when I am not talking of India, but of English labour, or the poor,
you think I talk like a brute."

"I shouldn't put it like that," she said quietly. "But when you talk of
India, and people like the Lawrences or Lord Dalhousie, then it is that
one sees what you really admire--what stirs you--what makes you feel."

"Well, ought I not to feel? Is there to be no gratitude towards the
people that have made one's country?"

He looked down, upon her gaily, perfectly conscious of his own
tickled vanity. To be observed and analysed by such a critic was in
itself flattery.

"That have made one's country?" she repeated, not without a touch of
irony. Then suddenly she became silent.

George thrust his hands into his pockets and waited a little.

"Well?" he said presently. "Well? I am waiting to hear you prove that
the Dalhousies and the Lawrences have done nothing for the country,
compared to--what shall we say?--some trade-union secretary whom you
particularly admire."

She laughed, but he did not immediately draw his answer. They had reached
the river-bank and the steps of the little bridge. Marcella mounted the
bridge and paused midway across it, hanging over the parapet. He followed
her, and both stood gazing at the house. It rose from the grass like some
fabric of yellowish ivory cut and scrolled and fretted by its Tudor
architect, who had been also a goldsmith. There were lights like jewels
in its latticed windows; the dark fulness of the trees, disposed by an
artist-hand, enwrapped or fell away from it as the eye required; and on
the dazzling lawns, crossed by soft bands of shadow, scattered forms
moved up and down--women in trailing dresses, and black-coated men.
There were occasional sallies of talk and laughter, and from the open
window of the drawing-room came the notes of a violin.

"Brahms!" said Marcella, with delight. "Nothing but music and he could
express this night--or the river--or the rising glow and bloom of
everything."

As she spoke George felt a quick gust of pleasure and romance sweep
across him. It was as though senses that had been for long on the
defensive, tired, or teased merely by the world, gave way in a moment to
joy and poetry. He looked from the face beside him to the pictured scene
in which they stood--the soft air filled his lungs--what ailed him?--he
only knew that after many weeks he was, somehow, happy and buoyant again!

Lady Maxwell, however, soon forgot the music and the moonlight.

"That have made one's country?" she repeated, pausing on the words.
"And of course that house appeals to you in the same way? Famous people
have lived in it--people who belong to history. But for _me_, the real
making of one's country is done out of sight, in garrets and workshops
and coalpits, by people who die every minute--forgotten--swept into
heaps like autumn leaves, their lives mere soil and foothold for the
generation that comes after them. All yesterday morning, for instance,
I spent trying to feed a woman I know. She is a shirtmaker; she has
four children, and her husband is a docker out of work. She had sewed
herself sick and blind. She couldn't eat, and she couldn't sleep. But
she had kept the children alive--and the man. Her life will flicker
out in a month or two; but the children's lives will have taken root,
and the man will be eating and earning again. What use would your
Dalhousies and Lawrences be to England without her and the hundreds of
thousands like her?"

"And yet it is you," cried George, unable to forbear the chance she gave
him, "who would take away from this very woman the power of feeding her
children and saving her husband--who would spoil all the lives in the
clumsy attempt to mend one of them. How can you quote me such an
instance! It amazes me."

"Not at all. I have only to use my instance for another purpose, in
another way. You are thinking of the Bill, of course? But all we do is to
say to some of these victims, 'Your sacrifice, as it stands, is _too_
costly; the State in its own interest cannot go on exacting or allowing
it. We will help you to serve the community in ways that shall exhaust
and wound it less.'"

"And as a first step, drive you all comfortably into the workhouse!" said
George. "Don't omit that."

"Many individuals must suffer," she said steadily. "But there will be
friends to help--friends that will strain every nerve to help."

All her heart showed itself in voice and emphasis. Almost for the first
time in their evening's talk her natural passionateness came to
sight--the Southern, impulsive temper, that so often made people laugh at
or dislike her. Under the lace shawl she had thrown round her on coming
out he saw the quick rise and fall of the breast, the nervous clasp of
the hands lying on the stonework of the bridge. These were her prophetess
airs again. To-night they still amused him, but in a gentler and more
friendly way.

"And so, according to your own account, you will protect your tailoress
and unmake your country. I am sorry for your dilemma," he said, laughing.

"Ah! well,"--she shrugged her shoulders with a sigh,--"don't let's talk
of it. It's all too pressing--and sore--and hot. And to think of the
weeks that are just coming on!"

George, hanging over the parapet beside her, felt reply a little
awkward, and said nothing. For a minute or two the night made itself
heard, the gentle slipping of the river, the fitful breathings from the
trees. A swan passed and repassed below them, and an owl called from the
distant woods.

Presently Marcella lifted a white finger and pointed to the house.

"One wouldn't want a better parable," she said. "It's like the State as
you see it--magnificent, inspiring, a thing of pomp and dignity. But we
women, who have to drive and keep going a house like that--_we_ know what
it all rests upon. It rests upon a few tired kitchen-maids and boot-boys
and scullery-girls, hurrying, panting creatures, whom a guest never sees,
who really run it all. I know, for I have tried to unearth them, to
organise them, to make sure that no one was fainting while we were
feasting. But it is incredibly hard; half the human race believes itself
born to make things easy for the other half. It comes natural to them to
ache and toil while we sit in easy chairs. What they resent is that we
should try to change it."

"Goodness!" said George, pulling at his moustaches. "I don't recognise my
own experience of the ordinary domestic polity in that summary."

"I daresay. You have to do with the upper servant, who is always a
greater tyrant than his master," she retorted, her voice expressing a
curious medley of laughter and feeling. "I am speaking of the people
that are not seen, like the tailoress and shirtmaker, in your
drum-and-trumpet State."

"Well, you may be right," said George, drily. "But I confess--if I may
be quite frank--that I don't altogether trust you to judge. I want at
least, before I strike the balance between my Dalhousie and your
tailoress, to hear what those people have to say who have not crippled
their minds--by pity!"

"Pity!" she said, her lip trembling in spite of herself. "Pity!--you
count pity a disease?"

"As you--and others--practise it," he replied coolly, turning round upon
her. "It is no good; the world can't be run by pity. At least, living
always seems to me a great brutal, rushing, rough-and-tumble business,
which has to be carried on whether we like it or no. To be too careful,
too gingerly over the separate life, brings it all to a standstill.
Meddle too much, and the Demiurge who set the machine going turns sulky
and stops working. Then the nation goes to pieces--till some strong
ruffian without a scruple puts it together again."

"What do you mean by the Demiurge?"

He laughed.

"Why do you make me explain my flights? Well, I suppose, the natural
daimonic power in things, which keeps them going and set them off; which
is not us, or like us, and cares nothing for us."

His light voice developed a sudden energy during his little speech.

"Ah!" said Marcella, wistfully. "Yes, if one thought that, I could
understand. But, even so, if the power behind things cares nothing for
us, I should only regard it as challenging us to care more for each
other. Do you mind my asking you a few plain questions? Do you know
anything personally of the London poor? I mean, have you any real friends
among them, whose lives you know?"

"Well, I sit with Fontenoy while he receives deputations from all those
tailoresses and shirtmakers and fur-sewers that _you_ want to put in
order. The harassed widow streams through his room perpetually--wailing
to be let alone!"

Marcella made a sound of amused scorn.

"Oh! you think that nothing," said George, indignant. "I vow I could draw
every type of widow that London contains--I know them intimately."

She shook her head.

"I give up London. Then, in the North, aren't you a coal-owner? Do you
know your miners?"

"Yes, and I detest them!" said George, shortly; "pig-headed brutes! They
will be on strike next month, and I shall be defrauded of my lawful
income till their lordships choose to go back. Pity _me_, if you
please--not them!"

"So I do," she said with spirit--"if you hate the men by whom you live!"

There was silence. Then suddenly George said, in another tone:

"But sometimes, I don't deny, the beggars wring it out of one--your pity.
I saw a mother last week--Suppose we stroll on a little. I want to see
how the river gets out of the wood."

They descended the bridge, and turned again into the river-path. George
told the story of Mary Batchelor in his half-ironic way, yet so that here
and there Marcella shivered. Then gradually, as though it were a relief
to him to talk, he slipped into a half-humorous, half-serious discussion
of his mine-owner's position and its difficulties. Incidentally and
unconsciously a good deal of his history betrayed itself in his talk: his
bringing-up, his mother; the various problems started in his mind since
his return from India; even his relations to his wife. Once or twice it
flashed across him that he was confessing himself with an extraordinary
frankness to a woman he had made up his mind to dislike. But the
reflection did not stop him. The balmy night, the solitude, this
loveliness that walked beside him so willingly and kindly--with every
step they struck his defences from him; they drew; they penetrated.

With her, too, everything was simple and natural. She had felt his
attraction at their first meeting; she had determined to make a friend of
him; and she was succeeding. As he disclosed himself she felt a strange
compassion for him. It was plain to her woman's instinct that he was at
heart lonely and uncompanioned. Well, what wonder with that hard, mean
little being for a wife! Had she captured him, or had he thrown himself
away upon her in mere wantonness, out of that defiance of sentiment which
appeared to be his favourite _parti-pris?_ In any case, it seemed to this
happy wife that he had done the one fatal and irreparable thing; and she
was genuinely sorry for him. She felt him very young, too. As far as she
could gather, he was about two years her junior; but her feeling made the
gap much greater.

Yet, of course, the situation,--Maxwell, Fontenoy,--all that those names
implied to him and her, made a thrilling under-note in both their minds.
She never forgot her husband and his straits; and in George's mind
Fontenoy's rugged figure stood sentinel. Given the circumstances, both
her temperament and her affections drove her inevitably into trying,
first to attract, then to move and influence her companion. And given the
circumstances, he could but yield himself bit by bit to her woman's
charm; while full all the time of a confident scorn for her politics.

Insensibly, the stress upon them drew them back to London and to current
affairs, and at last she said to him, with vehemence:

"You _must_ see these people in the flesh--and not in your house, but in
theirs. Or, first come and meet them in mine?"

"Why, please, should you think St. James's Square a palace of truth
compared to Carlton House Terrace?" he asked her, with amusement.
Fontenoy lived in Carlton House Terrace.

"I am not inviting you to St. James's Square," she said quietly. "That
house is only my home for one set of purposes. Just now my true home is
not there at all. It is in the Mile End Road."

George asked to be informed, and opened his eyes at her account of the
way in which she still divided her time between the West End and the
East, spending always one or two nights a week among the trades and the
work-people she had come to know so intimately, whose cause she was
fighting with such persistence.

"Maxwell doesn't come now," she said. "He is too busy, and his work there
is done. But I go because I love the people, and to talk with them and
live with them part of every week keeps one's mind clear as to what one
wants, and why. Well,"--her voice showed that she smiled,--"will you
come? My old maid shall give you coffee, and you shall meet a roomful of
tailors and shirtmakers. You shall see what people look like in the
flesh--not on paper--after working fourteen hours at a stretch, in a room
where you and I could not breathe!"

"Charming!"--he bowed ironically. "Of course I will come."

They had paused under the shadow of a grove of beech-trees, and were
looking back towards the moonlit garden and the house. Suddenly George
said, in an odd voice:

"Do you mind my saying it? You know, nobody is ever
converted--politically--nowadays."

In the darkness her flush could not be seen. But he felt the mingled
pride and soreness in her voice, under its forced brightness.

"I know. How long is it since a speech turned a vote in the House of
Commons! One wonders why people take the trouble to speak. Shall we go
back? Ah! there is someone pursuing us--my husband and Ancoats!"

And two figures, dark for an instant against the brightness of the lawns,
plunged into the shadow of the wood.

"You wanderers!" said Maxwell, as he distinguished his wife's white
dress. "Is this path quite safe in this darkness? Suppose we get
out of it."

The river, indeed, beneath a steep bank, ran close beside them, and
the trees meeting overhead all but shut out the moon. Maxwell, in some
anxiety, caught his wife's arm, and made her pause till his eye should
be once more certain of the path. Meanwhile Ancoats and Tressady
walked quickly back to the lawn, Ancoats talking and laughing with
unusual vigour.

       *       *       *       *        *

The Maxwells did not hurry themselves. As they emerged from the wood
Marcella slipped her hand into her husband's. It was her characteristic
caress. The slim, strong hand loved to feel itself in the shelter of
his; while to him that seeking touch was the symbol of all that she
brought him--the inventive, inexhaustible arts of a passion which was a
kind of genius.

"Don't go in!" she pleaded. "Why should we?"

"No!--why should we?" he repeated, sighing. "Why are we here at
all?--that is what I have been asking myself all the evening. And now
more than ever since my walk with that boy Ancoats."

"Tell me about it," she said eagerly. "Could you get nothing out of
him?"

Maxwell shrugged his shoulders.

"Nothing. He vows that everything is all right; that he knows a pack of
slanderers have been 'yelping at him,' and he wishes both they and his
mother would let him alone."

"His mother!" cried Marcella, outraged.

"Well, I suppose I said to him the kind of thing you would evidently like
to say. But with no result. He merely laughed, and chattered about
everything under the sun--his race-horses, new plays, politics--Heaven
knows what! He is in an excited state--feverish, restless, and, I should
think, unhappy. But he would tell nothing--to me."

"How much do you think she knows?"

"His mother? Nothing, I should say. Every now and then I detect a note of
extra anxiety when she talks to him; and there is evidently something in
her mind, some impression from his manner, perhaps, which is driving her
more keenly than ever towards this marriage. But I don't believe a single
one of the stories that have reached us has reached her. And now--here is
this poor girl--and even my dull eyes have noticed that to-night he has
purposely, markedly, avoided her."

Marcella felt her cheek flame.

"And when one thinks of his behaviour in the winter!" she cried.

They wandered on along a path that skirted the wood, talking anxiously
about the matter which had in truth brought them to Castle Luton. In
spite of the comparative gentleness of English political relations,
neither Maxwell nor Marcella, perhaps, would willingly have become
Charlotte Allison's guests at a moment when her house was actually the
headquarters of a violent and effective opposition to Maxwell's policy,
when moreover the leader of that opposition was likely to be of the
party. But about a fortnight before Whitsuntide some tales of young
Ancoats had suddenly reached Maxwell's ears, with such effect that on his
next meeting with Ancoats's mother he practically invited himself and
Marcella--greatly to Mrs. Allison's surprise--to Castle Luton for
Whitsuntide.

For the boy had been Maxwell's ward, and Henry Allison had been the
intimate friend and comrade of Maxwell's father. And Maxwell's feeling
for his father, and for his father's friends, was of such a kind that his
guardian's duties had gone deep with him. He had done his best for the
boy, and since Ancoats had reached his majority his ex-guardian had still
kept him anxiously in mind.

Of late indeed Ancoats had troubled himself very little about his
guardian, or his guardian's anxieties. He seemed to have been devoting a
large share of his mind to the avoidance of his mother's old friends; and
the Maxwells, for months, in spite of many efforts on their part, had
seen little or nothing of him. Maxwell for various reasons had begun to
suspect a number of uncomfortable things with regard to the young
fellow's friends and pleasures. Yet nothing could be taken hold of till
this sudden emergence of a particular group of stories, coupling
Ancoats's name with that of a notorious little actress whose adventures
had already provided a certain class of newspaper with abundant copy.

Then Maxwell, who cared personally very little for the red-haired youth
himself, took alarm for the mother's sake. For in the case of Mrs.
Allison a scandal of the kind suggested meant a tragedy. Her passion for
her son was almost a tragedy already, so closely mingled in it were the
feelings of the mother and those of the Christian, to whom "vice" is not
an amusement, but an agony.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yet, as Marcella said and felt, it was a hard fate that had forced
Maxwell to concern himself with Ancoats's love-affairs at this
particular moment.

"Don't think of it," she said at last, urgently, as they walked along.
"It is too bad; as if there were not enough!"

Maxwell stood still, with a little smile, and put his arm round her
shoulders.

"Dear, I shall soon have time enough, probably, to think about Ancoats's
affairs or anything else. Do you know that I was planning this morning
what we would do when we go out? Shall we slip over to the Australian
colonies in the autumn? I would give a good deal to see them for myself."

She gave a low cry of pain.

"Why are you so depressed to-night? Is there any fresh news?"

"Yes. And, altogether, things look increasingly bad for us, and
increasingly well for them. It will be extraordinarily close
anyway--probably a matter of a vote or two." And he gave her a summary
of his after-dinner conversation with Lord Cathedine, a keen ally of
Fontenoy's in the Lords, and none the less a shrewd fellow because he
happened to be also a detestable person.

Marcella heard the news of one or two fresh defections from the
Government with amazement and indignation. She stood there in the
darkness, leaning against the man she loved, her heart beating fast and
stormily. How could the world thus misconceive and thwart him? And what
could she do? Her mind ran passionately through a hundred schemes,
refusing to submit--to see him baffled and defeated.



CHAPTER XII


To Lord Ancoats himself this party of his mother's was an oppression
and a nuisance. He had only been induced to preside over it with
difficulty; and his mother had been both hurt and puzzled by his
reluctance to play the host.

If you had asked Maxwell's opinion on the point, he would have told you
that Ancoats's bringing up had a good deal to do with the present
anxieties of Ancoats's mother. He--Maxwell--had done his best, but he had
been overmatched.

First and foremost, Ancoats had been to no public school. It was not the
custom of the family; and Mrs. Allison could not be induced to break the
tradition. There was accordingly a succession of tutors, whose
Church-principles at least were sound. And Ancoats showed himself for a
time an impressionable, mystical boy, entirely in sympathy with his
mother. His confirmation was a great family emotion, and when he was
seventeen Mrs. Allison had difficulty in making him take food enough in
Lent to keep him in health. Maxwell was beginning to wonder where it
would end, when the lad was sent to Cambridge, and the transformation
scene that might always perhaps have been expected, began.

He had been two years at Trinity when he went to pay the Maxwells a
visit at the Court. Maxwell could hardly believe his eyes or ears. The
boy who at nineteen was an authority on church music and ancient "uses,"
by twenty-one talked and thought of nothing in heaven or earth but the
stage and French _bric-à-brac._ His conversation swarmed with the names
of actors, singers, and dancers; but they were names that meant nothing
except to the initiated. They were the small people of the small
theatres; and Ancoats was a Triton among them, not at all, so he
carefully informed his kindred, because of his wealth and title, but
because he too was an artist, and could sing, revel, write, and dance
with the best of them.

For some time Maxwell was able to console Mrs. Allison with the
historical reflection that more than one son of the Oxford Movement had
found in a passion for the stage a ready means of annoying the English
Puritan. When it came, however, to the young man's producing risky plays
of his own composing at extremely costly _matinées_, there was nothing
for it but to interfere. Maxwell at last persuaded him to give up the
farce of Cambridge and go abroad. But Ancoats would only go with a man of
his own sort; and their time was mostly spent in Paris, where Ancoats
divided his hard-spent existence between the furious pursuit of Louis
Quinze _bibelots_ and the patronage of two or three minor theatres. To be
the king of a first night, raining applause and bouquets from his
stage-box, seemed to give him infinite content; but his vanity was hardly
less flattered by the compliments say of M. Tournonville, the well-known
dealer on the Quai Voltaire, who would bow himself before the young
Englishman with the admiring cry, "Mon Dieu! milord, que vous êtes fin
connoisseur!" while the dealer's assistant grinned among the shadows of
the back-shop.

At last, at twenty-four, he must needs return to England for his coming
of age under his grandfather's will and the taking over of his estate.
Under the sobering influence of these events, his class and his mother
seemed for a time to recover him. He refurnished a certain number of
rooms at Castle Luton, and made a special marvel of his own room, which
was hung thick with Boucher, Greuze, and Watteau engravings, littered
with miniatures and trinkets, and encumbered here and there with
portfolios of drawings which he was not anxious to unlock in his
mother's presence.

Moreover, he was again affectionate to his mother, and occasionally even
went to church with her. The instincts of the English aristocrat
reappeared amid the accomplishments of the _petit-maître,_ and poor Mrs.
Allison's spirits revived. Then the golden-haired Lady Madeleine was
asked to stay at Castle Luton. When she came Ancoats devoted himself with
extraordinary docility. He drew her, made songs for her, and devised
French charades to act with her; he even went so far as to compare her
with enthusiasm to the latest and most wonderful "Salome" just exhibited
in the Salon by the latest and most wonderful of the impressionists. But
Lady Madeleine fortunately had not seen the picture.

Then suddenly, one morning, Ancoats went up to town without notice and
remained there. After a while his mother pursued him thither; but Ancoats
was restless at sight of her, and she was not long in London, though
long enough to show the Maxwells and others that her heart was anxiously
set upon Lady Madeleine as a daughter-in-law.

This then--taken together with the stories now besprinkling the
newspapers--was the situation. Naturally, Ancoats's affairs, as he
himself was irritably aware, were now, in one way or another, occupying
the secret thoughts or the private conversations of most of his
mother's guests.

For instance--

       *       *       *       *       *

"Are you nice?" said Betty Leven, suddenly, to young Lord Naseby, in the
middle of Sunday morning. "Are you in a charitable, charming, humble, and
trusting frame of mind? Because, if not, I shall go away--I have had too
much of Lady Kent!"

Charlie Naseby laughed. He was sitting reading in the shade at the edge
of one of the Castle Luton lawns. For some time past he had been watching
Betty Leven and Lady Kent, as they talked under a cedar-tree some little
distance from him. Lady Kent conversed with her whole bellicose
person--her cap, her chin, her nose, her spreading and impressive
shoulders. And from her gestures young Naseby guessed that she had been
talking to Betty Leven rather more in character than usual.

He felt a certain curiosity about the _tête-à-tête._ So that when Betty
left her companion and came tripping over the lawn to the house, the
young man lifted his face and gave her a smiling nod, as though to invite
her to come and visit him on the way. Betty came, and then as she stood
in front of him delivered the home question already reported.

"Am I nice?" repeated young Naseby. "Far from it. I have not been to
church, and I have been reading a French novel of which I do not even
propose to tell you the name."

And he promptly slipped his volume into his pocket.

"Which is worst?" said Betty, pensively: "to break the fourth
Commandment or the ninth? Lady Kent, of course, has been trampling on
them both. But the ninth is her particular victim. She calls it 'getting
to the roots of things.'"

"Whose roots has she been delving at this morning?" said Naseby.

Betty looked behind her, saw that Lady Kent had gone into the house,
and let herself drop into the corner of Naseby's bench with a sigh
of fatigue.

"One feels as though one were a sort of house-dog tussling with a
burglar. I have been keeping her off all my friends' secrets by main
force; so she had to fall back on George Tressady, and tell me ugly tales
of his mamma."

"George Tressady! Why on earth should she do him an ill turn? I don't
believe she ever saw him before."

Betty pressed her lips. She and Charlie Naseby had been friends since
they wore round pinafores and sat on high nursery chairs side by side.

"One needn't go to the roots of things," she said, severely, "but one
should have eyes in one's head. Has it ever occurred to you that Ancoats
has taken a special fancy to Sir George--that he sat talking to him last
night till all hours, and that he has been walking about with him the
whole of this morning, instead of walking about--well! with somebody
else--as he was meant to do? Why do men behave in this ridiculous manner?
Women, of course. But _men!_ It's like a trout that won't let itself be
landed. And what's the good? It's only prolonging the agony."

"Not at all," said Naseby, laughing. "There's always the chance of
slipping the hook." Then his lively face became suddenly serious. "But
it's time, I think," he added, almost with vehemence, "that Lady Kent
stopped trying to land Ancoats. In the first place, it's no good. He
won't be landed against his will. In the next--well, I only know," he
broke off, "that if I had a sister in love with Ancoats at the present
moment, I'd carry her off to the North Pole rather than let her be talked
about with him!"

Betty opened her eyes.

"Then there _is_ something in the stories!" she cried. "Of course,
Frank told me there was nothing. And the Maxwells have not said a
word. And _now_ I understand why Lady Kent has been dinning it into
my ears--I could only be thankful Mrs. Allison was safe at church--that
Ancoats should marry early. 'Oh! my dear, it's always been the only
hope for them!'" Betty mimicked Lady Kent's deep voice and important
manner: "'Why, there was the grandfather--_his_ wife had a time!--I
could tell you things about _him_!--oh! and her too.--And even Henry
Allison!--' There, of course, I stopped her."

"Old ghoul!" said Naseby, in disgust. "So she knows. And yet--good
Heavens! where does that charming girl come from?"

He knocked the end off his cigarette, and returned it to his mouth with a
rather unsteady hand.

"Knows?--knows what?" said Betty. There was a pink flush, perhaps of
alarm, on her pretty cheek, but her eyes said plainly that if there were
risks she must run them.

Naseby hesitated. The natural reticence of one young man about another
held him back--and he was Ancoats's friend. But he liked Lady Madeleine,
and her mother's ugly manoeuvres in the sight of gods and men filled him
with a restless ill-temper.

"You say the Maxwells have told you nothing?" he said at last. "But all
the same I am pretty certain that Maxwell is here for nothing else. What
on earth should he be doing in this _galère_ just now! Look at him and
Fontenoy! They've been pacing that lime-walk for a good hour. No one ever
saw such a spectacle before. Of course something's up!"

Betty followed his eyes, and caught the figures of the two men between
the trunks as they moved through the light and shadow of the
lime-walk--Fontenoy's massive head sunk in his shoulders, his hands
clasped behind his back; Maxwell's taller and alerter form beside him.
Fontenoy had, in fact, arrived that morning from town, just too late to
accompany Mrs. Allison and her flock to church; and Maxwell and he had
been together since the moment when Ancoats, having brought his guest
into the garden, had gone off himself on a walk with Tressady.

"Ancoats and Tressady came back past here," Naseby went on. "Ancoats
stood still, with his hands on his sides, and looked at those two. His
expression was not amiable. 'Something hatching,' he said to Tressady.
I suppose Ancoats got his sneer from his actor-friends--none of us
could do it without practice. 'Shall we go and pull the chief out of
that?' But they didn't go. Ancoats turned sulky, and went into the
house by himself."

"I'm glad I don't have to keep that youth straight," said Betty,
devoutly. "Perhaps I don't care enough about him to try. But his mother's
a darling saint!--and if he breaks her heart he ought to be hung."

"She knows nothing--I believe--" said Naseby, quickly.

"Strange!" cried Betty. "I wonder if it pays to be a saint. I shall know
everything about _my_ boy when he's that age."

"Oh! will you?" said Naseby, looking at her with a mocking eye.

"Yes, sir, I shall. Your secrets are not so difficult to know, if one
_wants_ to know them. Heaven forbid, however, that I should want to know
anything about any of you till Bertie is grown up! Now, please tell me
everything. Who is the lady?"

"Heaven forbid I should tell you!" said Naseby, drily.

"Don't trifle any more," said Betty, laying a remonstrating hand on his
arm; "they will be home from church directly."

"Well, I won't tell you any names," said Naseby, reluctantly. "Of
course, it's an actress--a very small one. And, of course, she's a bad
lot--and pretty."

"Why, there's no of course about it--about either of them!" said Betty,
with more indignation than grammar. She also had dramatic friends, and
was sensitive on the point.

Naseby protested that if he must argue the ethics of the stage before he
told his tale, the tale would remain untold. Then Betty, subdued, fell
into an attitude of meek listening, hands on lap. The tale when told
indeed proved to be a very ordinary affair, marked out perhaps a trifle
from the ruck by the facts that there was another pretender in the field
with whom Ancoats had already had one scene in public, and would probably
have more; that Ancoats being Ancoats, something mad and conspicuous was
to be expected, which would bring the matter inevitably to his mother's
ears; and that Mrs. Allison was Mrs. Allison.

"Can he marry her?" said Betty, quickly.

"Thank Heaven! no. There is a husband somewhere in Chili. So that it
doesn't seem to be a question of driving Mrs. Allison out of Castle
Luton. But--well, between ourselves, it would be a pity to give Ancoats
so fine a chance of going to the bad, as he'll get, if this young woman
lays hold of him. He mightn't recover it."

Betty sat silent a moment. All her gaiety had passed away. There was a
fierceness in her blue eyes.

"And that's what we bring them up for!" she exclaimed at last--"that they
may do all these ugly, stale, stupid things over again. Oh! I'm not
thinking so much, of the morals!"--she turned to Naseby with a defiant
look. "I am thinking of the hateful cruelty and unkindness!"

"To his mother?" said Naseby. He shrugged his shoulders.

Betty allowed herself an outburst. Her little hand trembled on her knee.
Naseby did not reply. Not that he disagreed; far from it. Under his young
and careless manner he was already a person of settled character,
cherishing a number of strong convictions. But since it had become the
fashion to talk as frankly of a matter of this kind to your married-women
friends as to anybody else, he thought that the women should take it with
more equanimity.

Betty, indeed, regained her composure very quickly, like a stream when
the gust has passed. They fell into a keen, practical discussion of the
affair. Who had influence with Ancoats? What man? Naseby shook his
head. The difference in age between Ancoats and Maxwell was too great,
and the men too unlike in temperament. He himself had done what he
could, in vain, and Ancoats now told him nothing; for the rest, he
thought Ancoats had very few friends amid his innumerable acquaintance,
and such as he had, of a third-rate dramatic sort, not likely to be of
much use at this moment.

"I haven't seen him take to any fellow of his own kind as much as he has
taken to George Tressady these two days, since he left Cambridge. But
that's no good, of course--it's too new."

The two sat side by side, pondering. Suddenly Naseby said, smiling, with
a change of expression:

"This party is really quite interesting. Look there!"

Betty looked, and saw George Tressady, with his hands in his pockets,
lounging along a distant path beside Marcella Maxwell.

"Well!" said Betty, "what then?"

Naseby gave his mouth a twist.

"Nothing; only it's odd. I ran across them just now--I was playing ball
with that jolly little imp, Hallin. You never saw two people more
absorbed. Of course he's _sous le charme_--we all are. Our English
politics are rather rum, aren't they? They don't indulge in this amiable
country-house business in a South American republic, you know. They
prefer shooting."

"And you evidently think it a healthier state of things. Wait till we
come to something nearer to _our_ hearths and bosoms than Factory Acts,"
said Betty, with the wisdom of her kind. "All the same, Lord Fontenoy is
in earnest."

"Oh yes, Fontenoy is in earnest. So, I suppose, is Tressady. So--good
Heavens!--is Maxwell. I say, here comes the church party."

And from a side-door in a venerable wall, beyond which could be seen the
tower of a little church, there emerged a small group of people--Mrs.
Allison, Lady Cathedine, and Madeleine Penley in front, escorted by the
white-haired Sir Philip; and behind, Lady Tressady, between Harding
Watton and Lord Cathedine.

"Cathedine!" cried Naseby, staring at the group. "Cathedine been
to church?"

"For the purpose, I suppose, of disappointing poor Laura, who might have
hoped to get rid of him," said Betty, sharply. "No!--if I were Mrs.
Allison I should draw the line at Lord Cathedine."

"Nobody need see any more of Cathedine than they want," said Naseby,
calmly; "and, of course, he behaves himself here. Moreover, there is no
doubt at all about his brains. They say Fontenoy expects to make great
use of him in the Lords."

"By the way," said Betty, turning round upon him, "where are you?"

"Well, thank God! I'm not in Parliament," was Naseby's smiling reply. "So
don't trouble me for opinions. I have none. Except that, speaking
generally, I should like Lady Maxwell to get what she wants."

Betty threw him a sly glance, wondering if she might tease him about the
news she heard of him from Marcella.

She had no time, however, to attack him, for Mrs. Allison approached.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What is the matter with her?--with Madeleine?--with all of them?"
thought Betty, suddenly.

For Mrs. Allison, pale and discomposed, did not return, did not
apparently notice Lady Leven's greeting. She walked hastily past them,
and would have gone at once into the house but that, turning her head,
she perceived Lord Fontenoy hurrying towards her from the lime-walk. With
an obvious effort she controlled herself, and went to meet him, leaning
heavily on her silver-topped stick.

The others paused, no one having, as it seemed, anything to say. Letty
poked the gravel with her parasol; Sir Philip made a telescope of his
hands, and fixed it upon Maxwell, who was coming slowly across the lawn;
while Lady Madeleine turned a handsome, bewildered face on Betty.

Betty took her aside to look at a flower on the house.

"What's the matter?" said Lady Leven, under her breath.

"I don't know," said the other. "Something dreadful happened on the way
home. There was a girl--"

But she broke off suddenly. Ancoats had just opened and shut the
garden-door, and was coming to join his guests.

"Poor dear!" thought Betty to herself, with a leap of pity. It was so
evident the girl's whole nature thrilled to the approaching step. She
turned her head towards Ancoats, as though against her will, her tall
form drawn erect, in unconscious tension.

Ancoats's quick eyes ran over the group.

"He thinks we have been talking about him," was Betty's quick reflection,
which was probably not far from the truth. For the young man's face at
once assumed a lowering expression, and, walking up to Lady Tressady,
whom as yet he had noticed no more than civility required, he asked
whether she would like to see the "houses" and the rose-garden.

Letty, delighted by the attention, said Yes in her gayest way, and
Ancoats at once led her off. He walked quickly, and their figures soon
disappeared among the trees.

Madeleine Penley gazed after them. Betty, who had a miserable feeling
that the girl was betraying herself to men like Harding Watton or Lord
Cathedine,--a feeling which was, however, the creation of her own nervous
excitement,--tried to draw her away. But Lady Madeleine did not seem to
understand. She stood mechanically buttoning and unbuttoning her long
gloves. "Yes, I'm coming," she said, but she did not move.

Then Betty saw that Lord Naseby had approached her; and it seemed to the
observer that all the young man's vivid face was suffused with something
at once soft and fierce.

"The thorn-blossom on the hill is a perfect show just now, Lady
Madeleine," he said. "Come and look at it. There will be just time
before lunch."

The girl looked at him. The colour rushed to her cheeks, and she walked
submissively away beside him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Letty and Ancoats pursued their way towards the greenhouses and
walled gardens. Letty tripped along, hardly able to keep up with her
companion's stride, but chattering fast all the time. At every turn of
the view she overflowed with praise and wonder; nor could anything have
been at once more enthusiastic or more impertinent than the questions
with which she plied him as to his gardeners, his estate, and his
affairs, in the intervals of panegyric.

Ancoats at first hardly listened to her. A perfunctory "Yes" or "No"
seemed to be all that the situation demanded. Then, when he did
sufficiently emerge from the tempest of his own thoughts to catch some of
the things she was saying, his irritable temper rebelled at once. What
had Tressady been about?--ill-bred, tiresome woman!

His manner stiffened; he stalked along in front of her, doing his bare
host's duty, and warding off her conversation as much as possible; while
Letty, on her side, soon felt the familiar chill and mortification
creeping over her. Why, she wondered angrily, should he have asked her to
walk with him if he could not be a more agreeable companion?

Towards the end of the lime-walk they came across Mrs. Allison and Lord
Fontenoy. As they passed the older pair the pale mother lifted her eyes
to her son with a tremulous smile.

But Ancoats made no response, nor had he any greeting for Fontenoy. He
carried his companion quickly on, till they found themselves in a
wilderness of walled gardens opening one into another, each, as it
seemed, more miraculously ordered and more abundantly stocked than its
neighbour.

"I wonder you know your way," laughed Letty. "And who can possibly
consume all this?"

"I haven't an idea," said Ancoats, abruptly, as he opened the door of the
tenth vinery. "I wish you'd tell me."

Letty raised her eyebrows with a little cry of protest.

"Oh! but it makes the whole place so magnificent, so complete."

"What is there magnificent in having too much?" said Ancoats, shortly.
"I believe the day of these huge country places, with all their dull
greenhouses and things, is done."

Much he cared, indeed, about his gardeners and his grapes! He was in the
mood to feel his whole inheritance a burden round his neck. But at the
same time to revile his own wealth gave him a pungent sense of playing
the artist.

"Have you argued that with Lord Fontenoy?" she inquired archly.

"I should not take the trouble," he said, with careless hauteur.
"Ah!"--Letty's vanity winced under his involuntary accent of relief--"I
see your husband and Lady Maxwell."

Marcella and George came towards them. They were strolling along a broad
flowery border, which was at the moment a blaze of paeonies of all
shades, interspersed with tall pyramidal growths of honeysuckle. Marcella
was loitering here and there, burying her face in the fragrance of the
honeysuckle, or drawing her companion's attention in delight to the
glowing clumps of paeonies Hallin hovered round them, now putting his
hand confidingly into Tressady's, now tugging at his mother's dress, and
now gravely wooing the friendship of a fine St. Bernard that made one of
the party. George, with his hands in his pockets, walked or paused as the
others chose; and it struck Letty at once that he was talking with
unusual freedom and zest.

Yes, it was true, indeed, as Harding said--they had made friends. As she
looked at them the first movement of a jealous temper stirred in Letty.
She was angry with Lady Maxwell's beauty, and angry with George's
enjoyment. It was like the great lady all over to slight the wife and
annex the husband. George certainly might have taken the trouble to come
and look for her on their return from church!

So, while Ancoats talked stiffly with Marcella, the bride, a few paces
off, let George understand through her bantering manner that she was out
of humour.

"But, dear, I had no notion you would be let out so soon," pleaded
George. "That good man really can't earn his pay."

"Oh! but of course you knew it was High Church--all split up into little
bits," said Letty, unappeased. "But naturally--"

She was about to add some jealous sarcasm when it was arrested by the
arrival of Sir Philip Wentworth and Watton, whose figures appeared in a
side-archway close to her.

"Ah! well guessed," said Sir Philip. "I thought we should find you among
the paeonies. Lady Tressady, did you ever see such a show? Ancoats, is
your head gardener visible on a Sunday? I ask with trembling, for there
is no more magnificent member of creation. But if I _could_ get at him,
to ask him about an orchid I saw in one of your houses yesterday, I
should be grateful."

"Come into the next garden, then," said Ancoats, "where the orchid-houses
are. If he isn't there, we'll send for him."

"Then, Lady Tressady, you must come and see me through," said Sir Philip,
gallantly. "I want to quarrel with him about a label--and you remember
Dizzy's saying--'a head gardener is always opinionated'? Are you coming,
Lady Maxwell?"

Marcella shook her head, smiling.

"I am afraid I hate hothouses," she said.

"My dear lady, don't pine for the life according to nature at Castle
Luton!" said Sir Philip, raising a finger. "The best of hothouses, like
the best of anything, demands a thrill."

Marcella shrugged her shoulders.

"I get more thrill out of the paeonies."

Sir Philip laughed, and he and Watton carried off Letty, whose vanity was
once more happy in their society; while Ancoats, glad of the pretext,
hurried along in front to find the great Mr. Newmarch.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I believe there are some wonderful irises out in the Friar's Garden,"
said Marcella. "Mrs. Allison told me there was a show of them somewhere.
Let me see if I can find the way. And Hallin would like the goldfish in
the fountain."

Her two companions followed her gladly, and she led them through devious
paths till there was a shout from Hallin, and the most poetic corner of a
famous garden revealed itself. Amid the ruins of a cloister that had once
formed part of the dissolved Cistercian priory on whose confiscated lands
Castle Luton had arisen, a rich medley of flowers was in full and perfect
bloom. Irises in every ravishing shade of purple, lilac, and gold,
carpets of daffodils and narcissus, covered the ground, and ran into each
corner and cranny of the old wall. Yellow banksia and white clematis
climbed the crumbling shafts, or made new tracery for the empty windows,
and where the ruin ended, yew hedges, adorned at top with a whole
procession of birds and beasts, began. The flowery space thus enclosed
was broken in the centre by an old fountain; and as one sat on a stone
seat beside it, one looked through an archway, cut through the darkness
of the yews, to the blue river and the hills.

The little place breathed perfume and delight. But Marcella did not,
somehow, give it the attention it deserved. She sat down absently on the
bench by the fountain, and presently, as George and Hallin were poking
among the goldfish, she turned to her companion with the abrupt question:

"You didn't know Ancoats, I think, before this visit, did you?"

"Only as one knows the merest acquaintance. Fontenoy introduced me to him
at the club."

Marcella sighed. She seemed to be arguing something with herself. At
last, with a quick look towards the approaches of the garden, she said in
a low voice:

"I think you must know that his friends are not happy about him?"

It so happened that Watton had found opportunity to show Tressady that
morning a paragraph from one of the numerous papers that batten on the
British peer, his dress, his morals, and his sport. The paragraph,
without names, without even initials, contained an outline of Lord
Ancoats's affairs which Harding, who knew everything of a scandalous
nature, declared to be well informed. It had made George whistle; and
afterwards he had watched Mrs. Allison go to church with a new interest
in her proceedings.

So that when Marcella threw out her hesitating question, he said at
once:

"I know what the papers are beginning to say--that is, I have seen a
paragraph--"

"Oh! those newspapers!" she said in distress. "We are all afraid of some
madness, and any increase of talk may hasten it. There is no one who can
control him, and of late he has not even tried to conceal things."

"It is a determined face," said George. "I am afraid he will take his
way. How is it that he comes to be so unlike his mother?"

"How is it that adoration and sacrifice count for so little?" said
Marcella, sadly. "She has given him all the best of her life."

And she drew a rapid sketch of the youth's career and the mother's
devotion.

George listened in silence. What she said showed him that in his
conversations with Ancoats that young man had been talking round and
about his own case a good deal! and when she paused he said drily:

"Poor Mrs. Allison! But, you know, there must be some crumples in the
rose-leaves of the great."

She looked at him with a momentary astonishment.

"Why should one think of her as 'great'? Would not any mother suffer?
First of all he is so changed; it is so difficult to get at him--his
friends are so unlike hers--he is so wrapped up in London, so apathetic
about his estate. All the religious sympathy that meant so much to her is
gone. And now he threatens her with this--what shall I call it?"--her lip
curled--"this entanglement. If it goes on, how shall we keep her from
breaking her heart over it? Poor thing! poor mothers!"

She raised her white hand, and let it fall upon her knee with one of the
free, instinctive gestures that made her beauty so expressive.

But George would not yield himself to her feeling.

"Ancoats will get through it--somehow--as other men do," he said
stubbornly, "and she must get through it too--and _not_ break her heart."

Marcella was silent. He turned towards her after a moment.

"You think that a brutal doctrine? But if you'll let me say it, life and
ease and good temper are really not the brittle things women make them!
Why do they put all their treasure into that one bag they call their
affections? There is plenty else in life--there is indeed! It shows
poverty of mind!"

He laughed, and taking up a pebble dropped it sharply among the goldfish.

"Alack!" said Marcella, caressing her child's head as he stood playing
beside her. "Hallin, I can't have you kiss my hand like that. Sir George
says it's poverty of mind."

"It ain't," said Hallin, promptly. But his remark had a deplorable lack
of unction, for the goldfish, startled by George's pebble, were at that
moment performing evolutions of the greatest interest, and his black eyes
were greedily bent upon them.

Both laughed, and George let her remark alone. But his few words left
on Marcella a painful impression, which renewed her compassion of the
night before. This young fellow, just married, protesting against an
over-exaltation of the affections!--it struck her as half tragic, half
grotesque. And, of course, it was explained by the idiosyncrasies of
that little person in a Paris gown now walking about somewhere with
Sir Philip!

Yet, just as she had again allowed herself to think of him as someone far
younger and less mature than herself, he quietly renewed the
conversation, so far as it concerned Ancoats, talking with a caustic good
sense, a shrewd perception, and at bottom with a good feeling, that first
astonished her, and then mastered her friendship more and more. She found
herself yielding him a fuller and fuller confidence, appealing to him,
taking pleasure in anything that woke the humour of the sharp, long face,
or that rare blink of the blue eyes that meant a leap of some responsive
sympathy he could not quite conceal.

And for him it was all pleasure, though he never stopped to think of it.
The lines of her slender form, as she sat with such careless dignity
beside him, her lovely eyes, the turns of her head, the softening tones
of her voice, the sense of an emerging bond that had in it nothing
ignoble, nothing to be ashamed of, together with the child's simple
liking for him, and the mere physical delight of this morning of late
May--the rush and splendour of its white, thunderous clouds, its
penetrating, scented air: each and all played their part in the rise of a
new emotion he would not have analysed if he could.

He was particularly glad that in this fresh day of growing intimacy she
had as yet talked politics or "questions" of any sort so little! It made
it all the more possible to escape from, to wholly overthrow in his
mind, that first hostile image of her, impressed--strange unreason on his
part!--by that first meeting with her in the crowd round the injured
child, and in the hospital ward. Had she started any subject of mere
controversy he would have held his own as stoutly as ever. But so long as
she let them lie, _herself_, the woman, insensibly argued for her, and
wore down his earlier mood.

So long, indeed, as he forgot Maxwell's part in it all! But it was not
possible to forget it long. For the wife's passion, in spite of a noble
reticence, shone through her whole personality in a way that alternately
touched and challenged her new friend. No; let him remember that
Maxwell's ways of looking at things were none the less pestilent because
_she_ put them into words.

       *       *       *       *       *

After luncheon Betty Leven found herself in a corner of the Green
Drawing-room. On the other side of it Mrs. Allison and Lord Fontenoy were
seated together, with Sir Philip Wentworth not far off. Lord Fontenoy was
describing his week in Parliament. Betty, who knew and generally shunned
him, raised her eyebrows occasionally, as she caught the animated voice,
the queer laughs, and fluent expositions, which the presence of his muse
was drawing from this most ungainly of worshippers. His talk, indeed, was
one long invocation; and the little white-haired lady in the armchair was
doing her best to play Melpomene. Her speech was very soft. But it made
for battle; and Fontenoy was never so formidable as when he was fresh
from Castle Luton.

Betty's thoughts, however, had once more slipped away from her immediate
neighbours, and were pursuing more exciting matters,--the state of
Madeleine Penley's heart and the wiles of that witch-woman in London, who
must be somehow plucked like a burr from Ancoats's skirts,--when Marcella
entered the room, hat in hand.

"Whither away, fair lady?" cried Betty; "come and talk to me."

"Hallin will be in the river," said Marcella, irresolute.

"If he is, Sir George will fish him out. Besides, I believe Sir George
and Ancoats have gone for a walk, and Hallin with them. I heard Maxwell
tell Hallin he might go."

Marcella turned an uncertain look upon Lord Fontenoy and Mrs. Allison.
But directly Maxwell's wife entered the room, Maxwell's enemy had dropped
his talk of political affairs, and he was now showing Sir Philip a
portfolio of Mrs. Allison's sketches, with a subdued ardour that brought
a kindly smile to Marcella's lip. In general, Fontenoy had neither eye
nor ear for anything artistic; moreover, he spoke barbarous French, and
no other European tongue; while of letters he had scarcely a tincture.
But when it became a question of Mrs. Allison's accomplishments, her
drawing, her embroidery, still more her admirable French and excellent
Italian, the books she had read, and the poetry she knew by heart, he was
all appreciation--one might almost say, all feeling. It was Cymon and
Iphigenia in a modern and middle-aged key.

His mien he fashioned and his tongue he filed.

And did a blunder come, Iphigenia gently and deftly put it to rights.

"Where is Madeleine?" asked Betty, as Marcella approached her sofa.

"Walking with Lord Naseby, I think."

"What was the matter on the way from church?" asked Betty, in a low
voice, raising her face to her friend.

Marcella, looked gravely down upon her.

"If you come into the garden I will tell you. Madeleine told me."

Betty, all curiosity, followed her friend through the open window to a
seat in the Dutch garden outside.

"It was a terrible thing that happened," said Marcella, sitting erect,
and speaking with a manner of suppressed energy that Betty knew well;
"one of the things that make my blood boil when I come here. You know how
she rules the village?"--She turned imperceptibly towards the distant
drawing-room, where Mrs. Allison's white head was still visible. "Not
only must all the cottages be beautiful, but all the people must reach a
certain standard of virtue. If a man drinks, he must go; if a girl loses
her character, she and her child must go. It was such a girl that threw
herself in the way of the party this morning. Her mother would not part
with her; so the decree went forth--the whole family must go. They say
the girl has never been right in her head since the baby's birth; she
raved and wept this morning, said her parents could find no work
elsewhere--they must die, she and her child must die. Mrs. Allison tried
to stop her, but couldn't; then she hurriedly sent the others on, and
stayed behind herself--only for a minute or two; she overtook Madeleine
almost immediately. Madeleine is sure she was inexorable; so am I; she
always is. I once argued with her about a case of the kind--a _cruel_
case! 'Those are the sins that make me _shudder!_' she said, and one
could make no impression on her whatever. You see how exhausted she looks
this afternoon. She will wear herself out, probably, praying and weeping
over the girl."

Betty threw up her hands.

"My dear!--when she knows--"

"It may perfectly well kill her," said Marcella, steadily. Then, after a
pause, Betty saw her face flush from brow to chin, and she added, in a
low and passionate voice: "Nevertheless, from all tyrannies and cruelties
in the name of Christ, good Lord, deliver us!"

The two lingered together for some time without speaking. Both were
thinking of much the same things, but both were tired with the endless
talking of a country-house Sunday, and the rest was welcome.

And presently Marcella rambled away from her friend, and spent an hour
pacing by herself in a glade beside the river.

And there her mind instantly shook itself from every care but one--the
yearning over her husband and his work.

Two years of labour--she caught her breath with a little sob--labour
which had aged and marked the labourer; and now, was it really to be
believed, that after all the toil, after so much hope and promise of
success, everything was to be wrecked at last?

She gave herself once more to eager forecasts and combinations. As to
individuals--she recalled Tressady's blunt warning with a smile and a
wince. But it did not prevent her from falling into a reverie of which
he, or someone like him, was the centre. Types, incidents, scenes, rose
before her--if they could only be pressed upon, _burnt into_ such a mind,
as they had been burnt into her mind and Maxwell's! That was the whole
difficulty--lack of vision, lack of realisation. Men were to have the
deciding voice in this thing, who had no clear conception of how poverty
and misery live, no true knowledge of this vast tragedy of labour
perpetually acted, in our midst, no rebellion of heart against conditions
of life for other men they themselves would die a thousand times rather
than accept. She saw herself, in a kind of despair, driving such persons
through streets, and into houses she knew, forcing them to look, and
_feel_. Even now, at the last moment--

How much better she had come to know this interesting, limited being,
George Tressady, during these twenty-four hours! She liked his youth, his
sincerity--even the stubbornness with which he disclaimed inconvenient
enthusiasms; and she was inevitably flattered by the way in which his
evident prejudice against herself had broken down.

His marriage was a misfortune, a calamity! She thought of it with the
instinctive repulsion of one who has never known any temptation to the
small vulgarities of life. One could have nothing to say to a little
being like that. But all the more reason for befriending the man!

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour or two later Tressady found himself strolling home along the
flowery bank of the river. It was not long since he had parted from Lady
Maxwell and Hallin, and on leaving them he had turned back for a while
towards the woods on the hill, on the pretext that he wanted more of a
walk. Now, however, he was hurrying towards the house, that there might
be time for a chat with Letty before dressing. She would think he had
been away too long. But he had proposed to take her on the river after
tea, and she had preferred a walk with Lord Cathedine.

Since then--He looked round him at the river and the hills. There was a
flush of sunset through the air, and the blue of the river was interlaced
with rosy or golden reflections from a sky piled with stormy cloud and
aglow with every "visionary majesty" of light and colour. The great
cloud-masses were driving in a tragic splendour through the west; and hue
and form alike, throughout the wide heaven, seemed to him to breathe a
marvellous harmony and poetry, to make one vibrating "word" of beauty.
Had some god suddenly gifted him with new senses and new eyes? Never had
he felt so much joy in Nature, such a lifting up to things awful and
divine. Why? Because a beautiful woman had been walking beside
him?--because he had been talking with her of things that he, at least,
rarely talked of--realities of feeling, or thought, or memory, that no
woman had ever shared with him before?

How had she drawn him to such openness, such indiscretions? He was half
ashamed, and then forgot his discomfort in the sudden, eager glancing of
the mind to the future, to the opportunities of the day just coming--for
Mrs. Allison's party was to last till Whit Tuesday--to the hours and
places in London where he was to meet her on those social errands of
hers. What a warm, true heart! What a woman, through all her dreams and
mistakes, and therefore how adorable!

       *       *       *       *       *

He quickened his pace as the light failed. Presently he saw a figure
coming towards him, emerging from the trees that skirted the main lawn.
It was Fontenoy, and Fontenoy's supporter must needs recollect himself as
quickly as possible. He had not seen much of his leader during the day.
But he knew well that Fontenoy never forgot his _rôle_, and there were
several points, newly arisen within the last forty-eight hours, on which
he might have expected before this to be called to counsel.

But Fontenoy, when he came up with the wanderer, seemed to have no great
mind for talk. He had evidently been pacing and thinking by himself, and
when he was fullest of thought he was as a rule most silent and
inarticulate.

"You are late; so am I," he said, as he turned back with Tressady.

George assented.

"I have been thinking out one or two points of tactics."

But instead of discussing them he sank into silence again. George let him
alone, knowing his ways.

Presently he said, raising his powerful head with a jerk, "But tactics
are not of such importance as they were. I think the thing is
done--_done!_" he repeated with emphasis.

George shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know. We may be too sanguine. It is not possible that Maxwell
should be easily beaten."

Fontenoy laughed--a strange, high laugh, like a jay's, that seemed to
have no relation to his massive frame, and died suddenly away.

"But we shall beat him," he said quietly; "and her, too. A well-meaning
woman--but what a foolish one!"

George made no reply.

"Though I am bound to say," Fontenoy went on quickly, "that in private
matters no man could be kinder and show a sounder judgment than Maxwell.
And I believe Mrs. Allison feels the same with regard to her."

His look first softened, then frowned; and as he turned his eyes towards
the house, George guessed what subject it was that he and Maxwell had
discussed under the limes in the morning.

       *       *       *       *       *

He found Letty in very good spirits, owing, as far as he could judge, to
the civilities and attentions of Lord Cathedine. Moreover, she was more
at ease in her surroundings, and less daunted by Mrs. Allison.

"And of course, to-morrow," she said, as she put on her diamonds, "it
will be nicer still. We shall all know each other so much better."

In her good-humour she had forgotten her twinge of jealousy, and did not
even inquire with whom he had been wandering so long.

But Letty was disappointed of her last day at Castle Luton. For the
party broke up suddenly, and by ten o'clock on Monday morning all
Mrs. Allison's guests but Lord Fontenoy and the Maxwells had left
Castle Luton.

It was on this wise.

After dinner on Sunday night Ancoats, who had been particularly silent
and irritable at table, suddenly proposed to show his guests the house.
Accordingly, he led them through its famous rooms and corridors, turned
on the electric light to show the pictures, and acted cicerone to the
china and the books.

Then, suddenly it was noticed that he had somehow slipped away, and that
Madeleine Penley, too, was missing. The party straggled back to the
drawing-room without their host.

Ancoats, however, reappeared alone in about half an hour. He was
extremely pale, and those who knew him well, and were perforce observing
him at the moment, like Maxwell and Marcella, drew the conclusion that he
was in a state of violent though suppressed excitement. His mother,
however, strange to say, noticed nothing. But she was clearly exhausted
and depressed, and she gave an early signal for the ladies' withdrawal.

The great house sank into quietness. But about an hour after Marcella and
Betty had parted at Betty's door, Betty heard a quick knock, and opened
it in haste.

"Mrs. Allison is ill!" said Marcella in a low, rapid voice. "I think
everyone ought to go quite early to-morrow. Will you tell Frank? I am
going to Lady Tressady. The gentlemen haven't come up."

Betty caught her arm. "Tell me--"

"Oh! my dear," cried Marcella, under her breath, "Ancoats and Madeleine
had an explanation in his room. He told her everything--that child! She
went to Mrs. Allison--he asked her to! Then the maid came for me in
terror. It has been a heart-attack--she has often had them. She is rather
better. But _do_ let everybody go!" and she wrung her hands. "Maxwell and
I must stay and see what can be done."

Betty flew to ring for her maid and look up trains. Lady Maxwell went on
to Letty Tressady's room.

But on the way, in the half-dark passage, she came across George Tressady
coming up from the smoking-room. So she gave her news of Mrs. Allison's
sudden illness to him, begging him to tell his wife, and to convey their
hostess's regrets and apologies for this untoward break-up of the party.
It was the reappearance of an old ailment, she said, and with quiet would
disappear.

George heard her with concern, and though his mind was active with
conjectures, asked not a single question. Only, when she said good-night
to him, he held her hand a friendly instant.

"We shall be off as early as possible, so it is goodbye. But we shall
meet in town--as you suggested?"

"Please!" she said, and hurried off.

But just as he reached his own door, he turned with a long breath towards
the passage where he had just seen her. It seemed that he saw her
still--her white face and dress, the trouble and pity under her quiet
manner, her pure sweetness and dignity. He said to himself, with a sort
of pride, that he had made a friend, a friend whose sympathy, whose heart
and mind, he was now to explore.

Who was to make difficulties? Letty? But already as he stood there, with
his hand upon the handle of her door, his mind, in a kind of flashing
dream, was already making division of his life between the woman he had
married with such careless haste and this other, who at highest thought
of him with a passing kindness, and at lowest regarded him as a mere pawn
in the political game.

What could he win by this friendship, that would injure Letty? Nothing!
absolutely nothing.


END OF VOLUME I





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