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Title: Mrs. Craddock
Author: Maugham, W. Somerset (William Somerset)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             MRS. CRADDOCK

                          W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

                        BY W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

                           OF HUMAN BONDAGE
                         THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
                             MRS. CRADDOCK
                             THE EXPLORER

                               NEW YORK
                        GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



                             MRS. CRADDOCK

                                  BY

                          W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

                  AUTHOR OF “THE MOON AND SIXPENCE,”
                       “OF HUMAN BONDAGE,” ETC.

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                               NEW YORK

                        GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

               _Printed in the United States of America_



EPISTLE DEDICATORY


DEAR MISS LEY,--You will not consider it unflattering if I ask myself
when exactly it was that I had the good fortune to make your
acquaintance; for, though I am well aware the date is not far distant, I
seem to have known you all my life. Was it really during the summer
before last, at Naples? (I forget why you go habitually to winter
resorts in the middle of August; the reasons you gave were ingenious but
inconclusive--surely it is not to avoid your fellow-countrymen?) I was
in the Gallery of Masterpieces, looking at the wonderful portrait-statue
of Agrippina, when you, sitting beside me, asked some question. We began
to talk--by the way, we never inquired if our respective families were
desirable; you took my reputability for granted--and since then we have
passed a good deal of time together; indeed, you have been seldom absent
from my thoughts.

Now that we stand at a parting of ways (the phrase is hackneyed and you
would loathe it), you must permit me to tell you what pleasure your
regard has given me and how thoroughly I have enjoyed our intercourse,
regretting always that inevitable circumstances made it so rare. I
confess I stand in awe of you--this you will not believe, for you have
often accused me of flippancy (I am not half so flippant as you); but
your thin and mocking smile, after some remark of mine, continually
makes me feel that I have said a foolish thing, than which in your eyes
I know there is no greater crime.... You have told me that when an
acquaintance has left a pleasant recollection, one should resist the
temptation to renew it; altered time and surroundings create new
impressions which cannot rival with the old, doubly idealised by novelty
and absence. The maxim is hard, but therefore, perhaps, more likely to
be true. Still, I cannot wish that the future may bring us nothing
better than forgetfulness. It is certain that our paths are different, I
shall be occupied with other work and you will be lost to me in the
labyrinth of Italian hotels, wherein it pleases you, perversely, to hide
your lights. I see no prospect of reunion (this sounds quite sentimental
and you hate effusiveness. My letter is certainly over-full of
parentheses); but I wish, notwithstanding and with all my heart, that
some day you may consent to risk the experiment. What say you? I am,
dear Miss Ley, very truly (don’t laugh at me, I should like to
say--affectionately),--Yours,

W. M.



MRS. CRADDOCK



Chapter I


This book might be called also _The Triumph of Love_. Bertha was looking
out of window, at the bleakness of the day. The sky was sombre and the
clouds heavy and low; the neglected carriage-drive was swept by the
bitter wind, and the elm-trees that bordered it were bare of leaf, their
naked branches shivering with horror of the cold. It was the end of
November, and the day was utterly cheerless. The dying year seemed to
have cast over all Nature the terror of death; the imagination would not
bring to the wearied mind thoughts of the merciful sunshine, thoughts of
the Spring coming as a maiden to scatter from her baskets the flowers
and the green leaves.

Bertha turned round and looked at her aunt, cutting the leaves of a new
_Spectator_. Wondering what books to get down from Mudie’s, Miss Ley
read the autumn lists and the laudatory expressions which the adroitness
of publishers extracts from unfavourable reviews.

“You’re very restless this afternoon, Bertha,” she remarked, in answer
to the girl’s steady gaze.

“I think I shall walk down to the gate.”

“You’ve already visited the gate twice in the last hour. Do you find in
it something alarmingly novel?”

Bertha did not reply, but turned again to the window: the scene in the
last two hours had fixed itself upon her mind with monotonous accuracy.

“What are you thinking about, Aunt Polly?” she asked suddenly, turning
back to her aunt and catching the eyes fixed upon her.

“I was thinking that one must be very penetrative to discover a woman’s
emotions from the view of her back hair.”

Bertha laughed: “I don’t think I have any emotions to discover. I feel
...” she sought for some way of expressing the sensation--“I feel as if
I should like to take my hair down.”

Miss Ley made no rejoinder, but looked again at her paper. She hardly
wondered what her niece meant, having long ceased to be astonished at
Bertha’s ways and doings; indeed, her only surprise was that they never
sufficiently corroborated the common opinion that Bertha was an
independent young woman from whom anything might be expected. In the
three years they had spent together since the death of Bertha’s father
the two women had learned to tolerate one another extremely well. Their
mutual affection was mild and perfectly respectable, in every way
becoming to fastidious persons bound together by ties of convenience and
decorum.... Miss Ley, called to the deathbed of her brother in Italy,
made Bertha’s acquaintance over the dead man’s grave, and the girl was
then too old and of too independent character to accept a stranger’s
authority; nor had Miss Ley the smallest desire to exert authority over
any one. She was a very indolent woman, who wished nothing more than to
leave people alone and be left alone by them. But if it was obviously
her duty to take charge of an orphan niece, it was also an advantage
that Bertha was eighteen, and, but for the conventions of decent
society, could very well take charge of herself. Miss Ley was not
unthankful to a merciful Providence on the discovery that her ward had
every intention of going her own way, and none whatever of hanging about
the skirts of a maiden aunt who was passionately devoted to her liberty.

They travelled on the Continent, seeing many churches, pictures, and
cities, in the examination of which their chief aim appeared to be to
conceal from one another the emotions they felt. Like the Red Indian who
will suffer the most horrid tortures without wincing, Miss Ley would
have thought it highly disgraceful to display feeling at some touching
scene. She used polite cynicism as a cloak for sentimentality, laughing
that she might not cry--and her want of originality herein, the old
repetition of Grimaldi’s doubleness, made her snigger at herself. She
felt that tears were unbecoming and foolish.

“Weeping makes a fright even of a good-looking woman,” she said, “but if
she is ugly they make her simply repulsive.”

Finally, letting her own flat in London, Miss Ley settled down with
Bertha to cultivate rural delights at Court Leys, near Blackstable, in
the county of Kent. The two ladies lived together with much harmony,
although the demonstrations of their affection did not exceed a single
kiss morning and night, given and received with almost equal
indifference. Each had considerable respect for the other’s abilities,
and particularly for the wit which occasionally exhibited itself in
little friendly sarcasms. But they were too clever to get on badly, and
since they neither hated nor loved one another excessively, there was
really no reason why they should not continue on the best of terms. The
general result of their relations was that Bertha’s restlessness on this
particular day aroused in Miss Ley no more question than was easily
answered by the warmth of her young blood; and her eccentric curiosity
in respect of the gate on a very cold and unpleasant winter afternoon
did not even cause a shrug of disapproval or an upraising of the eyelids
in wonder.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha put on a hat and walked out. The avenue of elm-trees, reaching
from the façade of Court Leys in a straight line to the gates, had been
once rather an imposing sight, but now announced clearly the ruin of an
ancient house. Here and there a tree had died and fallen, leaving an
unsightly gap, and one huge trunk still lay upon the ground after a
terrific storm of the preceding year, left there to rot in the
indifference of bailiffs and of tenants. On either side of the elms was
a broad strip of meadow which once had been a well-kept lawn, but now
was foul with docks and rank weeds; a few sheep nibbled the grass where
a century ago fine ladies in hoops and gentlemen with periwigs had
sauntered, discussing the wars and the last volumes of Mr. Richardson.
Beyond was an ill-trimmed hedge, and then the broad fields of the Ley
estate.... Bertha walked down, looking at the highway beyond the gate.
It was a relief to feel no longer Miss Ley’s cold eyes fixed upon her;
she had emotions enough in her breast, they beat against one another
like birds in a net struggling to get free; but not for worlds would
Bertha have bidden any one look in her heart full of expectation, of
longings, of a hundred strange desires. She went out on the highroad
that led from Blackstable to Tercanbury, she looked up and down with a
tremor, and a quick beating of the heart. But the road was empty, swept
by the winter wind, and she almost sobbed with disappointment.

She could not return to the house; a roof just then would stifle her,
and the walls seemed like a prison: there was a certain pleasure in the
biting wind that blew through her clothes and chilled her to the bone.
The waiting was terrible. She entered the grounds and looked up the
carriage-drive to the big white house which was hers. The very roadway
was in need of repair, and the dead leaves that none troubled about
rustled hither and thither in the gusts of wind. The house stood in its
squareness without relation to any environment: built in the reign of
George II., it seemed to have acquired no hold upon the land which bore
it. With its plain front and many windows, the Doric portico exactly in
the middle, it looked as if it were merely placed upon the ground as a
house of cards is built upon the floor, with no foundations. The passing
years had given it no beauty, and it stood now as for more than a
century it had stood, a blot upon the landscape, vulgar and new.
Surrounded by the fields, it had no garden but for a few beds planted
about its feet, and in these the flowers, uncared for, had grown wild or
withered away.

The day was declining and the lowering clouds seemed to shut out the
light. Bertha gave up hope. But she looked once more down the hill and
her heart gave a great thud against her chest; she felt herself blushing
furiously. Her blood seemed to rush through the vessels with sudden
rapidity, and in dismay at her want of composure she had an impulse to
turn quickly and fly. She forgot the sickening expectation, the hours
she had spent in looking for the figure that tramped up the hill.

Of course it was a man! He came nearer, a tall fellow of twenty-seven,
massively set together, big boned, with long arms and legs, and a
magnificent breadth of chest. Bertha recognised the costume that always
pleased her, the knickerbockers and gaiters, the Norfolk-jacket of rough
tweed, the white stock and the cap--all redolent of the country which
for his sake she was beginning to love, and all vigorously masculine.
Even the huge boots which covered his feet gave her by their very size a
thrill of pleasure; their dimensions suggested a certain firmness of
character, a masterfulness, which were intensely reassuring. The style
of dress fitted perfectly the background of brown road and of ploughed
field. Bertha wondered if he knew that he was exceedingly picturesque as
he climbed the hill.

“Afternoon, Miss Bertha.”

He showed no sign of pausing, and the girl’s heart sank at the thought
that he might go on with only a commonplace word of greeting.

“I thought it was you I saw coming up the hill,” she said, stretching
out her hand.

He stopped and shook it; the touch of his big, firm fingers made her
tremble. His hand was massive and hard as if it were hewn of stone. She
looked up at him and smiled.

“Isn’t it cold?” she said. It is terrible to be desirous of saying all
sorts of passionate things, while convention debars you from any but the
most commonplace.

“You haven’t been walking at the rate of five miles an hour,” he said,
cheerily. “I’ve been into Blackstable to see about buying a nag.”

He was the very picture of health; the winds of November were like
summer breezes to him, and his face glowed with the pleasant cold. His
cheeks were flushed and his eyes glistened. His vitality was intense,
shining out upon others with almost a material warmth.

“Were you going out?” he asked.

“Oh no,” Bertha replied, without strict regard to truth. “I just walked
down to the gate and I happened to catch sight of you.”

“I am very glad--I see you so seldom now, Miss Bertha.”

“I wish you wouldn’t call me _Miss Bertha_” she cried, “it sounds
horrid.” It was worse than that, it sounded almost menial. “When we were
boy and girl we used to call each other by our Christian names.”

He blushed a little and his modesty filled Bertha with delight.

“Yes, but when you came back six months ago, you had changed so much--I
didn’t dare; and besides, you called me Mr. Craddock.”

“Well, I won’t any more,” she said, laughing; “I’d much sooner call you
Edward.”

She did not add that the word seemed to her the most beautiful in the
whole list of Christian names, nor that in the past few weeks she had
already repeated it to herself a thousand times.

“It’ll be like old days,” he said. “D’you remember what fun we used to
have when you were a little girl, before you went abroad with Mr. Ley?”

“I remember that you used to look upon me with great contempt because I
_was_ a little girl,” she replied, laughing.

“Well, I was awfully frightened the first time I saw you again--with
your hair up and long dresses.”

“I’m not really very terrible.”

For five minutes they had been looking into one another’s eyes, and
suddenly, without obvious reason, Craddock blushed. Bertha noticed it,
and a strange little thrill went through her; she reddened too, and her
dark eyes flashed even more brightly than before.

“I wish I didn’t see you so seldom, Miss Bertha,” he said.

“You have only yourself to blame, fair sir. You perceive the road that
leads to my palace, and at the end you will certainly find a door.”

“I’m rather afraid of your aunt.”

It was on the tip of Bertha’s tongue to say that faint heart never won
fair lady, but for modesty’s sake she refrained. Her spirits had
suddenly gone up and she felt extraordinarily happy.

“Do you want to see me very badly?” she asked, her heart beating at
quite an absurd rate.

Craddock blushed again and seemed to have some difficulty in finding a
reply; his confusion and his ingenuous air were new enchantments to
Bertha.

“If he only knew how I adored him!” she thought; but naturally she could
not tell him in so many words.

“You’ve changed so much in these years,” he said, “I don’t understand
you.”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“Of course I want to see you, Bertha,” he said quickly, seeming to take
his courage in both hands; “I want to see you always.”

“Well,” she said, with a charming smile, “I sometimes take a walk after
dinner to the gate and observe the shadows of night.”

“By Jove, I wish I’d known that before.”

“Foolish creature!” said Bertha to herself with amusement, “he doesn’t
gather that this is the first night upon which I shall have done
anything of the kind.”



Chapter II


With swinging step Bertha returned to the house, and like a swarm of
birds a hundred amorets flew about her head; Cupid leapt from tree to
tree and shot his arrows into her willing heart; her imagination clothed
the naked branches with tender green, and in her happiness the gray sky
turned to azure.... It was the first time that Edward Craddock had shown
his love in a manner which was unmistakable; if before, much had
suggested that he was not indifferent, nothing had been absolutely
convincing, and the doubt had caused her every imaginable woe. As for
her, she made no effort to conceal it from herself; she was not ashamed,
she loved him passionately, she worshipped the ground he trod on; she
confessed boldly that he of all men was the one to make her happy; her
life she would give into his strong and manly hands. She had made up her
mind firmly that Craddock should lead her to the altar.

Times without number already had she fancied herself resting in his
arms--in his strong arms--the very thought of which was a protection
against all the ills of the world. Oh yes, she wanted him to take her in
his arms and kiss her; in imagination she felt his lips upon hers, and
the warmth of his breath made her faint with the anguish of love.

She asked herself how she could wait till the evening; how on earth was
she to endure the slow passing of the hours? And she must sit opposite
her aunt and pretend to read, or talk on this subject and on that. It
was insufferable. Then, inconsequently, she asked herself if Edward knew
that she loved him; he could not dream how intense was her desire.

“I’m sorry I’m late for tea,” she said, on entering the drawing-room.

“My dear,” said Miss Ley, “the buttered toast is probably horrid, but I
don’t see why you should not eat cake.”

“I don’t want anything to eat,” cried Bertha, flinging herself on a
chair.

“But you’re dying with thirst,” added Miss Ley, looking at her niece
with sharp eyes. “Wouldn’t you like your tea out of a breakfast cup?”

Miss Ley had come to the conclusion that the restlessness and the long
absence could only be due to some masculine cause. Mentally she shrugged
her shoulders, hardly wondering who the creature was.

“Of course,” she thought, “it’s certain to be some one quite ineligible.
I hope they won’t have a long engagement.”

Miss Ley could not have supported for several months the presence of a
bashful and love-sick swain. She found lovers invariably ridiculous. She
watched Bertha drink six cups of tea: of course those shining eyes, the
flushed cheeks and the breathlessness, indicated some amorous
excitement; it amused her, but she thought it charitable and wise to
pretend that she noticed nothing.

“After all it’s no business of mine,” she thought; “and if Bertha is
going to get married at all, it would be much more convenient for her to
do it before next quarter-day, when the Browns give up my flat.”

Miss Ley sat on the sofa by the fireside, a woman of middle-size, very
slight, with a thin and much wrinkled face. Of her features the mouth
was the most noticeable, not large, with lips that were a little too
thin; it was always so tightly compressed as to give her an air of great
determination, but there was about the corners an expressive mobility,
contradicting in rather an unusual manner the inferences which might be
drawn from the rest of her person. She had a habit of fixing her cold
eyes on people with a steadiness that was not a little embarrassing.
They said Miss Ley looked as if she thought them great fools, and as a
matter of fact that usually was her precise opinion. Her thin gray hair
was very plainly done; and the extreme simplicity of her costume gave a
certain primness, so that her favourite method of saying rather absurd
things in the gravest and most decorous manner often disconcerted the
casual stranger. She was a woman who, one felt, had never been handsome,
but now, in middle-age, was distinctly prepossessing.

Young men thought her somewhat terrifying till they discovered that they
were to her a constant source of amusement; while elderly ladies
asserted that she was a little queer.

“You know, Aunt Polly,” said Bertha, finishing her tea and getting up,
“I think you should have been christened Martha or Matilda. I don’t
think Polly suits you.”

“My dear, you need not remind me so pointedly that I’m forty-five and
you need not smile in that fashion because you know that I’m really
forty-seven. I say forty-five merely as a round number; in another year
I shall call myself fifty. A woman never acknowledges such a nondescript
age as forty-eight unless she is going to marry a widower with seventeen
children.”

“I wonder why you never married, Aunt Polly?” said Bertha, looking away.

Miss Ley smiled almost imperceptibly, finding Bertha’s remark highly
significant. “My dear,” she said, “why should I? I had five hundred a
year of my own.... Ah yes, I know it’s not what might have been
expected; I’m sorry for your sake that I had no hopeless amour. The only
excuse for an old maid is, that she has pined thirty years for a lover
who is buried under the snow-drops, or has married another.”

Bertha made no answer; she was feeling that the world had turned good,
and wanted to hear nothing that could suggest imperfections in human
nature: suddenly there had come over the universe a Sunday-school air
which appealed to her better self. Going upstairs she sat at the window,
gazing towards the farm where lived her heart’s desire. She wondered
what Edward was doing! was he awaiting the night as anxiously as she? It
gave her quite a pang that a sizeable hill should intervene between
herself and him. During dinner she hardly spoke, and Miss Ley was
mercifully silent. Bertha could not eat; she crumbled her bread and
toyed with the various meats put before her. She looked at the clock a
dozen times, and started absurdly when it struck the hour.

She did not trouble to make any excuse to Miss Ley, whom she left to
think as she chose. The night was dark and cold; Bertha slipped out of
the side-door with a delightful feeling of doing something venturesome.
But her legs would scarcely carry her, she had a sensation that was
entirely novel; never before had she experienced that utter weakness of
the knees so that she feared to fall; her breathing was strangely
oppressive, and her heart beat almost painfully. She walked down the
carriage-drive scarcely knowing what she did. She had forced herself to
wait indoors till the desire to go out became uncontrollable, and she
dared not imagine her dismay if there was no one to meet her when she
reached the gate. It would mean he did not love her; she stopped with a
sob. Ought she not to wait longer? It was still early. But her
impatience forced her on.

She gave a little cry. Craddock had suddenly stepped out of the
darkness.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I frightened you. I thought you wouldn’t mind
my coming this evening. You’re not angry?”

She could not answer; it was an immense load off her heart. She was
extremely happy, for then he did love her; and he feared she was angry
with him.

“I expected you,” she whispered. What was the good of pretending to be
modest and bashful? She loved him and he loved her. Why should she not
tell him all she felt?

“It’s so dark,” he said, “I can’t see you.”

She was too deliriously happy to speak, and the only words she could
have said were, _I love you_, _I love you_. She moved a step nearer so
as to touch him. Why did he not open his arms and take her in them, and
kiss her as she had dreamt that he would kiss her?

But he took her hand and the contact thrilled her; her knees were giving
way, and she almost tottered.

“What’s the matter?” he said. “Are you trembling?”

“I’m only a little cold.” She was trying with all her might to speak
naturally. Nothing came into her head to say.

“You’ve got nothing on,” he said. “You must wear my coat.” He began to
take it off.

“No,” she said, “then you’ll be cold.”

“Oh no, I shan’t.”

What he was doing seemed to her a marvel of unselfish kindness; she was
beside herself with gratitude.

“It’s awfully good of you, Edward,” she whispered, almost tearfully.

When he put it round her shoulders, the touch of his hands made her lose
the little self-control she had left. A curious spasm passed through
her, and she pressed herself closer to him; at the same time his hands
sank down, dropping the cloak, and encircled her waist. Then she
surrendered herself entirely to his embrace and lifted her face to his.
He bent down and kissed her. The kiss was such utter madness that she
almost groaned. She could not tell if it was pain or pleasure. She flung
her arms round his neck and drew him to her.

“What a fool I am,” she said at last, with something between a sob and a
laugh. She drew herself a little away, though not so violently as to
make him withdraw the arm which so comfortably encircled her.

But why did he say nothing? Why did he not swear he loved her? Why did
he not ask what she was so willing to grant? She rested her head on his
shoulder.

“Do you like me at all, Bertha?” he asked. “I’ve been wanting to ask you
almost ever since you came home.”

“Can’t you see?” She was reassured; she understood that it was only
timidity that clogged his tongue. “You’re so absurdly bashful.”

“You know who I am, Bertha; and----“ he hesitated.

“And what, foolish boy?” she nestled still more closely to him.

“And you’re Miss Ley of Court Leys, while I’m just one of your tenants,
with nothing whatever to my back.”

“I’ve got very little,” she said. “And if I had ten thousand a year, my
only wish would be to lay it at your feet.”

“Bertha, what d’you mean? Don’t be cruel to me. You know what I want,
but----“

“As far as I can make out,” she said, laughing, “you want me to propose
to you.”

“Oh, Bertha, don’t laugh at me. I love you; I want to ask you to marry
me. But I haven’t got anything to offer you, and I know I
oughtn’t--don’t be angry with me, Bertha.”

“But I love you with all my heart,” she cried. “I want no better
husband; you can give me happiness, and I want nothing else in the
world.”

Then he caught her again in his arms, quite passionately, and kissed
her.

“Didn’t you see that I loved you?” she whispered.

“I thought perhaps you did; but I wasn’t sure, and I was afraid that you
wouldn’t think me good enough.”

“Oh yes, I love you with all my heart. I never imagined it possible to
love a person as I love you. Oh, Eddie, you don’t know how happy you
have made me.”

He kissed her again, and again she flung her arms around his neck.

“Oughtn’t you to be going in,” he said at last; “what will Miss Ley
think?”

“Oh no--not yet,” she cried.

“How will you tell her? D’you think she’ll like me? She’ll try and make
you give me up.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’ll love you; besides, what does it matter if she
doesn’t?--she isn’t going to marry you.”

“She can take you abroad again and then you may see some one you like
better.”

“But I’m twenty-one to-morrow, Edward--didn’t you know? And I shall be
my own mistress. I shan’t leave Blackstable till I’m your wife.”

They were walking slowly towards the house, whither he, in his anxiety
lest she should stay out too long, had guided her steps. They went arm
in arm, and Bertha enjoyed her happiness.

“Dr. Ramsay is coming to luncheon to-morrow,” she said, “and I shall
tell them both that I’m going to be married to you.”

“He won’t like it,” said Craddock, rather nervously.

“I’m sure I don’t care. If you like it and I like it, the rest can think
as they choose.”

“I leave everything in your hands,” he said.

They had arrived at the portico, and Bertha looked at it doubtfully.

“I suppose I ought to go in,” she said, wishing Edward to persuade her
to take one more turn round the garden.

“Yes, do,” he said. “I’m so afraid you’ll catch cold.”

It was charming of him to be so solicitous about her health, and of
course he was right. Everything he did and said was right; for the
moment Bertha forgot her wayward nature, and wished suddenly to subject
herself to his strong guidance. His very strength made her feel
curiously weak.

“Good-night, my beloved,” she whispered, passionately.

She could not tear herself away from him; it was utter madness. Their
kisses never ended.

“Good-night!”

She watched him at last disappear into the darkness, and finally shut
the door behind her.



Chapter III


With old and young great sorrow is followed by a sleepless night, and
with the old great joy is as disturbing; but youth, I suppose, finds
happiness more natural and its rest is not thereby disturbed. Bertha
slept without dreams, and awaking, for the moment did not remember the
occurrence of the previous day; but quickly it came back to her and she
stretched herself with a sigh of great content. She lay in bed to
contemplate her well-being. She could hardly realise that she had
attained her dearest wish. God was very good, and gave His creatures
what they asked; without words, from the fulness of her heart, she
offered up thanks. It was quite extraordinary, after the maddening
expectation, after the hopes and fears, the lover’s pains which are
nearly pleasure, at last to be satisfied. She had now nothing more to
desire, for her happiness was complete. Ah yes, indeed, God was very
good!

Bertha thought of the two months she had spent at Blackstable.... After
the first excitement of getting into the house of her fathers she had
settled down to the humdrum of country life; she spent the day wandering
about the lanes or on the seashore watching the desolate sea; she read a
great deal, and looked forward to the ample time at her disposal to
satisfy an immoderate desire for knowledge. She spent long hours in the
library which her father had made, for it was only with falling fortunes
that the family of Ley had taken to reading books; it had only applied
itself to literature when it was too poor for any other pursuit. Bertha
looked at the titles of the many volumes, receiving a certain thrill as
she read over the great names of the past, and imagined the future
delights that they would give her.

One day she was calling at the Vicarage and Edward Craddock happened to
be there, lately returned from a short holiday. She had known him in
days gone by--his father had been her father’s tenant, and he still
farmed the same land--but for eight years they had not seen one another,
and now Bertha hardly recognised him. She thought him, however, a
good-looking fellow in his knickerbockers and thick stockings, and was
not displeased when he came up to speak, asking if she remembered him.
He sat down and a certain pleasant odour of the farmyard was wafted over
to Bertha, a mingled perfume of strong tobacco, of cattle and horses;
she did not understand why it made her heart beat, but she inhaled it
voluptuously and her eyes glittered. He began to talk, and his voice
sounded like music in her ears; he looked at her and his eyes were large
and gray, she found them highly sympathetic; he was clean shaven, and
his mouth was very attractive. She blushed and felt herself a fool.
Bertha took pains to be as charming as possible; she knew her own dark
eyes were beautiful, and fixed them upon his. When at last he bade her
good-bye and shook hands, she blushed again; she was extraordinarily
troubled, and as, with his rising, the strong masculine odour of the
countryside reached her nostrils, her head whirled. She was very glad
Miss Ley was not there to see her.

She walked home in the darkness trying to compose herself, for she could
think of nothing but Edward Craddock. She recalled the past, trying to
bring back to her memory incidents of their old acquaintance. At night
she dreamt of him, and she dreamt he kissed her.

She awoke in the morning, thinking of Craddock, and felt it impossible
to go through the day without seeing him. She thought of sending an
invitation to luncheon or to tea, but hardly dared; and she did not want
Miss Ley to see him yet. Then she remembered the farm; she would walk
there, was it not hers? He would surely be working upon it. The god of
love was propitious, and in a field she saw him, directing some
operation. She trembled at the sight, her heart beat very quickly; and
when, seeing her, he came forward with a greeting, she turned red and
then white in the most compromising fashion. But he was very handsome
as, with easy gait, he sauntered to the hedge; above all he was manly,
and the pleasing thought passed through Bertha that his strength must be
quite herculean. She barely concealed her admiration.

“Oh, I didn’t know this was your farm,” she said, shaking hands. “I was
just walking at random.”

“I should like to show you round, Miss Bertha.”

Craddock opened the gate and took her to the sheds where he kept his
carts, pointing out a couple of sturdy horses ploughing an adjacent
field; he showed her his cattle, and poked the pigs to let her admire
their excellent condition; he gave her sugar for his hunter, and took
her to the sheep--explaining everything while she listened spell-bound.
When, with great pride, Craddock showed her his machines and explained
the use of the horse-tosser and the expense of the reaper, she thought
that never in her life had she heard anything so enthralling. But above
all Bertha wished to see the house in which he lived.

“D’you mind giving me a glass of water?” she said, “I’m so thirsty.”

“Do come in,” he answered, opening the door.

He led her to a little parlour with an oil-cloth on the floor. On the
table, which took up most of the room, was a stamped, red cloth; the
chairs and the sofa, covered with worn old leather, were arranged with
the greatest possible stiffness. On the chimney-piece, along with pipes
and tobacco-jars, were bright china vases with rushes in them, and in
the middle a marble clock.

“Oh how pretty!” cried Bertha, with enthusiasm. “You must feel very
lonely here by yourself.”

“Oh no--I’m always out. Shall I get you some milk? It’ll be better for
you than water.”

But Bertha saw a napkin laid on the table, a jug of beer, and some bread
and cheese.

“Have I been keeping you from your lunch?” she asked. “I’m so sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter at all. I just have a little snack at eleven.”

“Oh, may I have some too? I love bread and cheese, and I’m perfectly
ravenous.”

They sat opposite one another, seeing a great joke in the impromptu
meal. The bread, which he cut in a great chunk, was delicious, and the
beer, of course, was nectar. But afterwards, Bertha feared that Craddock
must be thinking her somewhat odd.

“D’you think it’s very eccentric of me to come and lunch with you in
this way?”

“I think it’s awfully good of you. Mr. Ley often used to come and have a
snack with my father.”

“Oh, did he?” said Bertha. Of course that made her proceeding quite
natural. “But I really must go now. I shall get into awful trouble with
Aunt Polly.”

He begged her to take some flowers, and hastily cut a bunch of dahlias.
She accepted them with the most embarrassing gratitude; and when they
shook hands at parting, her heart went pit-a-pat again ridiculously.

Miss Ley inquired from whom she got her flowers.

“Oh,” said Bertha coolly, “I happened to meet one of the tenants and he
gave them to me.”

“Hm,” murmured Miss Ley, “it would be more to the purpose if they paid
their rent.”

Miss Ley presently left the room, and Bertha looked at the prim dahlias
with a heart full of emotion. She gave a laugh.

“It’s no good trying to hide it from myself,” she murmured, “I’m head
over ears in love.”

She kissed the flowers and felt very glad.... She evidently was in that
condition, since by the night Bertha had made up her mind to marry
Edward Craddock or die. She lost no time, for less than a month had
passed and their wedding-day was certainly in sight.

Miss Ley loathed all manifestations of feeling. Christmas, when
everybody is supposed to take his neighbour to his bosom and harbour
towards him a number of sentimental emotions, caused her such discomfort
that she habitually buried herself for the time in some continental city
where she knew no one, and could escape the over-brimming of other
people’s hearts. Even in summer Miss Ley could not see a holly-tree
without a little shiver of disgust; her mind went immediately to the
decorations of middle-class houses, the mistletoe hanging from a
gas-chandelier, and the foolish old gentlemen who found amusement in
kissing stray females. She was glad that Bertha had thought fit to
refuse the display of enthusiasm from servants and impoverished tenants,
which, on the attainment of her majority, her guardian had wished to
arrange. Miss Ley could imagine that the festivities possible on such an
occasion, the handshaking, the making of good cheer, and the obtrusive
joviality of the country Englishman, might surpass even the tawdry
rejoicings of Yule-tide. But Bertha fortunately detested such things as
sincerely as did Miss Ley herself, and suggested to the persons
concerned that they could not oblige her more than by taking no notice
of an event which really did not to her seem very significant.

But Dr. Ramsay’s heartiness could not be entirely restrained; and he had
also a fine old English sense of the fitness of things, that passion to
act in a certain manner merely because in times past people have always
so acted. He insisted on solemnly meeting Bertha to offer
congratulations, a blessing, and some statement of his stewardship.

Bertha came downstairs when Miss Ley was already eating breakfast--a
very feminine meal, consisting of nothing more substantial than a square
inch of bacon and a morsel of dry toast. Miss Ley was really somewhat
nervous, she was bothered by the necessity of referring to Bertha’s
natal day.

“That is one advantage of women,” she told herself, “after twenty-five
they gloss over their birthdays like improprieties. A man is so
impressed with his cleverness in having entered the world at all that
the anniversary always interests him; and the foolish creature thinks
it interests other people as well.”

But Bertha came into the room and kissed her.

“Good morning, dear,” said Miss Ley, and then, pouring out her niece’s
coffee, “our estimable cook has burnt the milk in honour of your
majority; I trust she will not celebrate the occasion by getting
drunk--at all events, till after dinner.”

“I hope Dr. Ramsay won’t enthuse too vigorously,” replied Bertha,
understanding Miss Ley’s feeling.

“Oh, my dear, I tremble at the prospect of his jollity. He’s a good man.
I should think his principles were excellent, and I don’t suppose he’s
more ignorant than most general practitioners; but his friendliness is
sometimes painfully aggressive.”

But Bertha’s calm was merely external, her brain was in a whirl, and her
heart beat with excitement. She was full of impatience to declare her
news. Bertha had some sense of dramatic effect and looked forward a
little to the scene when, the keys of her kingdom being handed to her,
she made the announcement that she had already chosen a king to rule by
her side. She felt also that between herself and Miss Ley alone the
necessary explanations would be awkward. Dr. Ramsay’s outspoken
bluffness made him easier to deal with; there is always a difficulty in
conducting oneself with a person who ostentatiously believes that every
one should mind his own business and who, whatever her thoughts, takes
more pleasure in the concealment than in the expression thereof. Bertha
sent a note to Craddock, telling him to come at three o’clock to be
introduced as the future lord and master of Court Leys.

Dr. Ramsay arrived and burst at once into a prodigious stream of
congratulation, partly jocose, partly grave and sentimental, but
entirely distasteful to the fastidiousness of Miss Ley. Bertha’s
guardian was a big, broad-shouldered man, with a mane of fair hair, now
turning white; Miss Ley vowed he was the last person upon this earth to
wear mutton-chop whiskers. He was very red cheeked, and by his size,
joviality, and florid complexion, gave an idea of unalterable health.
With his shaven chin and his loud-voiced burliness he looked like a
yeoman of the old school, before bad times and the spread of education
had made the farmer a sort of cross between the city clerk and the
Newmarket trainer. Dr. Ramsay’s frock coat and top hat, notwithstanding
the habit of many years, sat uneasily upon him with the air of Sunday
clothes upon an agricultural labourer. Miss Ley, who liked to find
absurd descriptions of people, or to hit upon an apt comparison, had
never been able exactly to suit him; and that somewhat irritated her. In
her eyes the only link that connected the doctor with humanity was a
certain love of antiquities, which had filled his house with old
snuff-boxes, china, and other precious things: humanity, Miss Ley took
to be a small circle of persons, mostly feminine, middle-aged,
unattached, and of independent means, who travelled on the continent,
read good literature and abhorred the vast majority of their
fellow-creatures, especially when these shrieked philanthropically,
thrust their religion in your face, or cultivated their muscle with
aggressive ardour!

Dr. Ramsay ate his luncheon with an appetite that Miss Ley thought must
be a great source of satisfaction to his butcher. She asked politely
after his wife, to whom she secretly objected for her meek submission to
the doctor. Miss Ley made a practice of avoiding those women who had
turned themselves into mere shadows of their lords, more especially when
their conversation was of household affairs; and Mrs. Ramsay, except on
Sundays, when her mind was turned to the clothes of the congregation,
thought of nothing beyond her husband’s enormous appetite and the
methods of subduing it.

They returned to the drawing-room and Dr. Ramsay began to tell Bertha
about the property, who this tenant was and the condition of that farm,
winding up with the pitiful state of the times and the impossibility of
getting rents.

“And now, Bertha, what are you thinking of doing?” he asked.

This was the opportunity for which Bertha had been looking.

“I?” she said quietly--“Oh, I intend to get married.”

Dr. Ramsay, opening his mouth, threw back his head and laughed
immoderately.

“Very good indeed,” he cried. “Ha, ha!”

Miss Ley looked at him with uplifted eyebrows.

“Girls are coming on nowadays,” he said, with much amusement. “Why, in
my time, a young woman would have been all blushes and downcast glances.
If any one had talked of marriage she would have prayed Heaven to send
an earthquake to swallow her up.”

“Fiddlesticks!” said Miss Ley.

Bertha was looking at Dr. Ramsay with a smile that she with difficulty
repressed, and Miss Ley caught the expression.

“So you intend to be married, Bertha?” said the doctor, again laughing.

“Yes.”

“When?” asked Miss Ley, who did not take Bertha’s remark as merely
playful.

Bertha was looking out the window, wondering when Edward would arrive.

“When?” she repeated, turning round. “This day four weeks!”

“What!” cried Dr. Ramsay, jumping up. “You don’t mean to say you’ve
found some one! Are you engaged? Oh, I see, I see. You’ve been having a
little joke with me. Why didn’t you tell me that Bertha was engaged all
the time, Miss Ley?”

“My good doctor,” answered Miss Ley, with great composure, “until this
moment I knew nothing whatever about it.... I suppose we ought to offer
our congratulations; it’s a blessing to get them all over on one day.”

Dr. Ramsay looked from one to the other with perplexity.

“Well, upon my word,” he said, “I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I,” replied Miss Ley, “but I keep calm.”

“It’s very simple,” said Bertha. “I got engaged last night, and as I
say, I mean to be married exactly four weeks from to-day--to Mr.
Craddock.”

“What!” cried Dr. Ramsay, jumping up in astonishment and causing the
floor to quake in the most dangerous way. “Craddock! What d’you mean?
Which Craddock?”

“Edward Craddock,” replied Bertha coolly, “of Bewlie’s Farm.”

“Brrh!!” Dr. Ramsay’s exclamation cannot be transcribed, but it sounded
horrid! “The scoundrel! It’s absurd. You’ll do nothing of the sort.”

Bertha looked at him with a gentle smile, but did not trouble to answer.

“You’re very emphatic, dear doctor,” said Miss Ley. “Who is this
gentleman?”

“He isn’t a gentleman,” said Dr. Ramsay, purple with vexation.

“He’s going to be my husband, Dr. Ramsay,” said Bertha, compressing her
lips in the manner which with Miss Ley had become habitual; and turned
to that lady: “I’ve known him all my life, and father was a great friend
of his father’s. He’s a gentleman-farmer.”

“The definition of which,” said Dr. Ramsay, “is a man who’s neither a
farmer nor a gentleman.”

“I forget what your father was?” said Bertha, who remembered perfectly
well.

“My father was a farmer,” replied Dr. Ramsay, with some heat, “and,
thank God! he made no pretence of being a gentleman. He worked with his
own hands; I’ve seen him often enough with a pitchfork, turning over a
heap of manure, when no one else was handy.”

“I see,” said Bertha.

“But my father can have nothing to do with it; you can’t marry him
because he’s been dead these thirty years, and you can’t marry me
because I’ve got a wife already.”

Miss Ley, amused at the doctor’s bluntness, concealed a smile; but
Bertha, getting rather angry, thought him singularly rude.

“And what have you against him?” she asked.

“If you want to make a fool of yourself, he’s got no right to encourage
you. He knows he isn’t a fit match for you.”

“Why not, if I love him?”

“Why not!” shouted Dr. Ramsay. “Because he’s the son of a farmer--like I
am--and you’re Miss Ley of Court Leys. Because a man in that position
without fifty pounds to his back doesn’t make love on the sly to a girl
with a fortune.”

“Five thousand acres which pay no rent,” murmured Miss Ley, who was
always in opposition.

“You have nothing whatever against him,” retorted Bertha; “you told me
yourself that he had the very best reputation.”

“I didn’t know you were asking me with a view to matrimony.”

“I wasn’t. I care nothing for his reputation. If he were drunken and
idle and dissolute I’d marry him, because I love him.”

“My dear Bertha,” said Miss Ley, “the doctor will have an apoplectic fit
if you say such things.”

“You told me he was one of the best fellows you knew, Dr. Ramsay,” said
Bertha.

“I don’t deny it,” cried the doctor, and his red cheeks really had in
them a purple tinge that was quite alarming. “He knows his business and
he works hard, and he’s straight and steady.”

“Good heavens, Doctor,” cried Miss Ley, “he must be a miracle of rural
excellence. Bertha would surely never have fallen in love with him if he
were faultless.”

“If Bertha wanted an agent,” Dr. Ramsay proceeded, “I could recommend no
one better, but as for marrying him----“

“Does he pay his rent?” asked Miss Ley.

“He’s one of the best tenants we’ve got,” growled the doctor, somewhat
annoyed by Miss Ley’s frivolous interruptions.

“Of course in these bad times,” added Miss Ley, who was determined not
to allow Dr. Ramsay to play the heavy father with too much seriousness,
“I suppose about the only resource of the respectable farmer is to marry
his landlady.”

“Here he is!” interrupted Bertha.

“Good God, is he coming here?” cried her guardian.

“I sent for him. Remember he is going to be my husband.”

“I’m damned if he is!” said Dr. Ramsay.



Chapter IV


Bertha threw off her troubled looks and the vexation which the argument
had caused her. She blushed charmingly as the door opened, and with the
entrance of the fairy prince her face was wreathed in smiles. She went
towards him and took his hands.

“Aunt Polly,” she said, “this is Mr. Edward Craddock.... Dr. Ramsay you
know.”

He shook hands with Miss Ley and looked at the doctor, who promptly
turned his back on him. Craddock flushed, and sat down by Miss Ley.

“We were talking about you, dearest,” said Bertha. The pause at his
arrival had been disconcerting, and while Craddock was rather nervously
thinking of something to say, Miss Ley made no effort to help him. “I
have told Aunt Polly and Dr. Ramsay that we intend to be married four
weeks from to-day.”

This was the first that Craddock had heard of the date, but he showed no
particular astonishment. He was, in fact, trying to recall the speech
which he had composed for the occasion.

“I will try to be a good husband to your niece, Miss Ley,” he began.

But that lady interrupted him: she had already come to the conclusion
that he was a man likely to say on a given occasion the sort of thing
which might be expected; and that, in her eyes, was a hideous crime.

“Oh yes, I have no doubt,” she replied. “Bertha, as you know, is her own
mistress, and responsible for her acts to no one.”

Craddock was a little embarrassed; he had meant to express his sense of
unworthiness and his desire to do his duty, also to make clear his own
position, but Miss Ley’s remark seemed to prohibit further explanation.

“Which is really very convenient,” said Bertha, coming to his rescue,
“because I have a mind to manage my life in my own way, without
interference from anybody.”

Miss Ley wondered whether the young man looked upon Bertha’s statement
as auguring complete tranquillity in the future, but Craddock seemed to
see in it nothing ominous; he looked at Bertha with a grateful smile,
and the glance which she returned was full of the most passionate
devotion.

Since his arrival Miss Ley had been observing Craddock with great
minuteness, and, being a woman, could not help finding some pleasure in
the knowledge that Bertha was trying with anxiety to discover her
judgment. Craddock’s appearance was prepossessing. Miss Ley liked young
men generally, and this was a very good-looking member of the species.
His eyes were good, but otherwise there was nothing remarkable in the
physiognomy--he looked healthy and good-tempered. Miss Ley noticed even
that he did not bite his nails, and that his hands were strong and firm.
There was really nothing to distinguish him from the common run of
healthy young Englishmen, with good morals and fine physique; but the
class is pleasant. Miss Ley’s only wonder was that Bertha had chosen him
rather than ten thousand others of the same variety, for that Bertha had
chosen him somewhat actively there was in Miss Ley’s mind not the shadow
of a doubt.

Miss Ley turned to him.

“Has Bertha shown you our chickens?” she asked, calmly.

“No,” he said, surprised at the question; “I hope she will.”

“Oh, no doubt. You know I am quite ignorant of agriculture. Have you
ever been abroad?”

“No, I stick to my own country,” he replied; “it’s good enough for me.”

“I dare say it is,” said Miss Ley, looking to the ground. “Bertha must
certainly show you our chickens. They interest me because they’re very
like human beings--they’re so stupid.”

“I can’t get mine to lay at all at this time of year,” said Craddock.

“Of course I’m not an agriculturist,” repeated Miss Ley, “but chickens
amuse me.”

Dr. Ramsay began to smile, and Bertha flushed angrily.

“You have never shown any interest in the chickens before, Aunt Polly.”

“Haven’t I, my dear? Don’t you remember last night I remarked how tough
was that one we had for dinner?... How long have you known Bertha, Mr.
Craddock?”

“It seems all my life,” he replied. “And I want to know her more.”

This time Bertha smiled, and Miss Ley, though she felt certain the
repartee was unintentional, was not displeased with it.

All this time Dr. Ramsay was not saying a word, and his behaviour
aroused Bertha’s anger.

“I have never seen you sit for five minutes in silence before, Dr.
Ramsay,” she said.

“I think what I have to say would scarcely please you, Miss Bertha.”

Miss Ley was anxious that no altercation should disturb the polite
discomfort of the meeting.

“You’re thinking about those rents again, doctor,” she said, and turning
to Craddock: “The poor doctor is unhappy because half of our tenants say
they cannot pay.”

The poor doctor grunted and sniffed, and Miss Ley thought it was high
time for the young man to take his leave. She looked at Bertha, who
quickly understood, and getting up, said--

“Let us leave them alone, Eddie; I want to show you the house.”

He rose with alacrity, evidently much relieved at the end of the ordeal.
He shook Miss Ley’s hand, and this time could not be restrained from
making a little speech.

“I hope you’re not angry with me for taking Bertha away from you. I
hope I shall soon get to know you better, and that we shall become great
friends.”

Miss Ley was taken aback, but really thought his effort not bad. It
might have been worse, and at all events he had kept out of it
references to the Almighty and to his duty! Then Craddock turned to Dr.
Ramsay, and went up to him with an outstretched hand that could not be
refused.

“I should like to see you sometime, Dr. Ramsay,” he said, looking at him
steadily. “I fancy you want to have a talk with me, and I should like it
too. When can you give me an appointment?”

Bertha flushed with pleasure at his frank words, and Miss Ley was
pleased at the courage with which he had attacked the old curmudgeon.

“I think it would be a very good idea,” said the doctor. “I can see you
to-night at eight.”

“Good! Good-bye, Miss Ley.”

He went out with Bertha.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Ley was not one of those persons who consider it indiscreet to form
an opinion upon small evidence. Before knowing a man for five minutes
she made up her mind about him, and liked nothing better than to impart
her impression to any that asked her.

“Upon my word, doctor,” she said, as soon as the door was shut, “he’s
not so terrible as I expected.”

“I never said he was not good-looking,” pointedly answered Dr. Ramsay,
who was convinced that any and every woman was willing to make herself a
fool with a handsome man.

Miss Ley smiled. “Good looks, my dear doctor, are three parts of the
necessary equipment in the battle of life. You can’t imagine the
miserable existence of a really plain girl.”

“Do you approve of Bertha’s ridiculous idea?”

“To tell you the truth, I think it makes very little difference if you
and I approve or not; therefore we’d much better take the matter
quietly.”

“You can do what you like, Miss Ley,” replied the doctor very bluntly,
“but I mean to stop the business.”

“You won’t, my dear doctor,” said Miss Ley, smiling again. “I know
Bertha so much better than you. I’ve lived with her for three years, and
I’ve found constant entertainment in the study of her character.... Let
me tell you how I first knew her. Of course you know that her father and
I hadn’t been on speaking terms for years. Having played ducks and
drakes with his own money, he wanted to play the same silly game with
mine; and as I strongly objected he flew into a violent passion, called
me an ungrateful wretch, and nourished the grievance to the end of his
days. Well, his health broke down after his wife’s death, and he spent
several years with Bertha wandering about the continent. She was
educated as best could be, in half-a-dozen countries, and it’s a marvel
to me that she is not entirely ignorant or entirely vicious. She’s a
brilliant example in favour of the opinion that the human race is
inclined to good rather than to evil.”

Miss Ley smiled, for she was herself convinced of precisely the
opposite.

“Well, one day,” she proceeded, “I got a telegram, sent through my
solicitors: ‘Father dead, please come if convenient.--BERTHA LEY.’ It
was addressed from Naples and I was in Florence. Of course I rushed
down, taking nothing but a bag, a few yards of crape, and some
smelling-salts. I was met at the station by Bertha, whom I hadn’t seen
for ten years; I saw a tall and handsome young woman, very
self-possessed, and admirably gowned in the very latest fashion. I
kissed her in a subdued way, proper to the occasion; and as we drove
back, inquired when the funeral was to be, holding the smelling-salts in
readiness for an outburst of weeping. ‘Oh, it’s all over,’ she said. ‘I
didn’t send my wire till everything was settled; I thought it would only
upset you. I’ve given notice to the landlord of the villa and to the
servants. There was really no need for you to come at all, only the
doctor and the English parson seemed to think it rather queer of me to
be here alone.’ I used the smelling-salts myself! Imagine my emotion; I
expected to find a hobbledehoy of a girl in hysterics, everything
topsy-turvy and all sorts of horrid things to do; instead of which I
found everything arranged perfectly well and the hobbledehoy rather
disposed to manage me if I let her. At luncheon she looked at my
travelling dress. ‘I suppose you left Florence in a hurry,’ she
remarked. ‘If you want to get anything black, you’d better go to my
dressmaker; she’s not bad. I must go there this afternoon myself to try
some things on.’”

Miss Ley stopped and looked at the doctor to see the effect of her
words. He said nothing.

“And the impression I gained then,” she added, “has only been
strengthened since. You’ll be a very clever man if you prevent Bertha
from doing a thing upon which she has set her mind.”

“D’you mean to tell me that you’re going to sanction the marriage?”

Miss Ley shrugged her shoulders. “My dear Dr. Ramsay, I tell you it
won’t make the least difference whether we bless or curse. And he seems
an average sort of young man--let us be thankful that she’s done no
worse. He’s not uneducated.”

“No, he’s not that. He spent ten years at Regis School, Tercanbury; so
he ought to know something.”

“What was exactly his father?”

“His father was the same as himself--a gentleman-farmer. He’d been
educated at Regis School, as his son was. He knew most of the gentry,
but he wasn’t quite one of them; he knew all the farmers and he wasn’t
quite one of them either. And that’s what they’ve been for generations,
neither flesh, fowl, nor good red herring.”

“It’s those people that the newspapers tell us are the backbone of the
country, Dr. Ramsay.”

“Let ’em remain in their proper place then, in the back,” said the
doctor. “You can do as you please, Miss Ley; I’m going to put a stop to
the business. After all, old Mr. Ley made me the girl’s guardian, and
though she is twenty-one I think it’s my duty to see that she doesn’t
fall into the hands of the first penniless scamp who asks her to marry
him.”

“You can do as _you_ please,” retorted Miss Ley, who was a little bored.
“You’ll do no good with Bertha.”

“I’m not going to Bertha; I’m going to Craddock direct, and I mean to
give him a piece of my mind.”

Miss Ley shrugged her shoulders. Dr. Ramsay evidently did not see who
was the active party in the matter, and she did not feel it her duty to
inform him.

“The question is,” she said quietly, “can she marry any one worse? I
must say I’m quite relieved that Bertha doesn’t want to marry a creature
from Bayswater.”

The doctor took his leave, and in a few minutes Bertha joined Miss Ley.
The latter obviously intended to make no efforts to disturb the course
of true love.

“You’ll have to be thinking of ordering your trousseau, my dear,” she
said, with a dry smile.

“We’re going to be married quite privately,” answered Bertha. “We
neither of us want to make a fuss.”

“I think you’re very wise. Of course most people, when they get married,
fancy they’re doing a very original thing. It never occurs to them that
quite a number of persons have committed matrimony since Adam and Eve.”

“I’ve asked Edward to luncheon to-morrow,” said Bertha.



Chapter V


Next day, after luncheon, Miss Ley retired to the drawing-room and
unpacked the books which had just arrived from Mudie. She looked through
them, and read a page here and there to see what they were like,
thinking meanwhile of the meal they had just finished. Edward Craddock
had been somewhat nervous, sitting uncomfortably on his chair, too
officious, perhaps, in handing things to Miss Ley, salt and pepper and
the like, as he saw she wanted them. He evidently wished to make himself
amiable. At the same time he was subdued, and not gaily enthusiastic as
might be expected from a happy lover. Miss Ley could not help asking
herself if he really loved her niece. Bertha was obviously without a
doubt on the subject. She had been radiant, keeping her eyes all the
while fixed upon the young man as if he were the most delightful and
wonderful object she had ever seen. Miss Ley was surprised at the girl’s
expansiveness, contrasting with her old reserve. She seemed now not to
care a straw if all the world saw her emotions. She was not only happy
to be in love, she was proud also. Miss Ley laughed aloud at the
doctor’s idea that he could disturb the course of such passion.... But
if Miss Ley, well aware that the watering-pots of reason could not put
out those raging fires, had no intention of hindering the match, neither
had she a desire to witness the preliminaries thereof; and after
luncheon, remarking that she felt tired and meant to lie down, went into
the drawing-room alone. It pleased her to think she could at the same
time suit the lovers’ pleasure and her own convenience.

She chose that book from the bundle which seemed most promising, and
began to read. Presently the door was opened by a servant, and Miss
Glover was announced. An expression of annoyance passed over Miss Ley’s
face, but was immediately succeeded by one of mellifluous amiability.

“Oh, don’t get up, dear Miss Ley,” said the visitor, as her hostess
slowly rose from the sofa.

Miss Ley shook hands and began to talk. She said she was delighted to
see Miss Glover, thinking meanwhile that this estimable person’s sense
of etiquette was very tedious. The Glovers had dined at Court Leys
during the previous week, and punctually seven days afterwards Miss
Glover was paying a ceremonious call.

Miss Glover was a worthy person, but dull; and that Miss Ley could not
forgive. Better ten thousand times, in her opinion, was it to be Becky
Sharp and a monster of wickedness than Amelia and a monster of
stupidity.

_“Pardon me, Madam, it is well known that Thackeray, in Amelia, gave us
a type of the pure-hearted, sweet-minded English maiden, whose qualities
are the foundation of the greatness of Great Britain, and the
superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.”_

_“I have no doubt that such was his intention. But why do you think
novelists, when they draw the average English girl, should invariably
produce an utter fool?”_

_“Madam, Madam, this is heresy.”_

_“No, sir, it is merely a question--prompted by a desire for
information.”_

_“It must be their want of skill.”_

_“I hope so.”_

Miss Glover was one of the best natured and most charitable creatures
upon the face of the earth, a miracle of abnegation and unselfishness;
but a person to be amused by her could have been only an absolute
lunatic.

“She’s really a dear kind thing,” said Miss Ley of her, “and she does
endless good in the parish--but she’s really too dull: she’s only fit
for heaven!”

And the image passed through Miss Ley’s mind, unsobered by advancing
years, of Miss Glover, with her colourless hair hanging down her back,
wings, and a golden harp, singing hymns in a squeaky voice, morning,
noon, and night. Indeed, the general conception of paradisaical costume
suited Miss Glover very ill. She was a woman of about eight and twenty,
but might have been any age between one score and two; you felt that she
had always been the same and that years would have no power over her
strength of mind. She had no figure, and her clothes were so stiff and
unyielding as to give an impression of armour. She was nearly always
dressed in a tight black jacket of ribbed cloth that was evidently most
durable, the plainest of skirts, and strong, really strong boots! Her
hat was suited for all weathers and she had made it herself! She never
wore a veil, and her skin was dry and hard, drawn so tightly over the
bones as to give her face extraordinary angularity; over her prominent
cheek-bones was a red flush, the colour of which was not uniformly
suffused, but with the capillaries standing out distinctly, forming a
network. Her nose and mouth were what is politely termed of a determined
character, her pale blue eyes slightly protruded. Ten years of East
Anglian winds had blown all the softness from her face, and their bitter
fury seemed to have bleached even her hair. One could not tell if this
was brown and had lost its richness, or gold from which the shimmer had
vanished; and the roots sprang from the cranium with a curious
apartness, so that Miss Ley always thought how easy in her case it would
be for the Recording Angel to number the hairs. But notwithstanding the
hard, uncompromising exterior which suggested extreme determination,
Miss Glover was so bashful, so absurdly self-conscious, as to blush at
every opportunity; and in the presence of a stranger to go through utter
misery from inability to think of a single word to say. At the same time
she had the tenderest of hearts, sympathetic, compassionate; she
overflowed with love and pity for her fellow-creatures. She was also
excessively sentimental!

“And how is your brother?” asked Miss Ley.

Mr. Glover was the Vicar of Leanham, which was about a mile from Court
Leys on the Tercanbury Road, and for him Miss Glover had kept house
since his appointment to the living.

“Oh, he’s very well. Of course he’s rather worried about the dissenters.
You know they’re putting up a new chapel in Leanham; it’s perfectly
dreadful.”

“Mr. Craddock mentioned the fact at luncheon.”

“Oh, was he lunching with you? I didn’t know you knew him well enough
for that.”

“I suppose he’s here now,” said Miss Ley; “he’s not been in to say
good-bye.”

Miss Glover looked at her with some want of intelligence. But it was not
to be expected that Miss Ley could explain before making the affair a
good deal more complicated.

“And how is Bertha?” asked Miss Glover, whose conversation was chiefly
concerned with inquiries about mutual acquaintance.

“Oh, of course, she’s in the seventh heaven of delight.”

“Oh!” said Miss Glover, not understanding at all what Miss Ley meant.

She was somewhat afraid of the elder lady. Even though her brother
Charles said he feared she was worldly, Miss Glover could not fail to
respect a woman who had lived in London and on the continent, who had
met Dean Farrar and seen Miss Marie Corelli.

“Of course,” she said, “Bertha is young, and naturally high spirited.”

“Well, I’m sure, I hope she’ll be happy.”

“You must be very anxious about her future, Miss Ley.” Miss Glover found
her hostess’s observations simply cryptic, and, feeling foolish, blushed
a fiery red.

“Not at all; she’s her own mistress, and as able-bodied and as
reasonably-minded as most young women. But, of course, it’s a great
risk.”

“I’m very sorry, Miss Ley,” said the vicar’s sister, in such distress as
to give her friend certain qualms of conscience, “but I really don’t
understand. What is a great risk?”

“Matrimony, my dear.”

“Is Bertha going to be married? Oh, dear Miss Ley, let me congratulate
you. How happy and proud you must be!”

“My dear Miss Glover, please keep calm. And if you want to congratulate
anybody, congratulate Bertha--not me.”

“But I’m so glad, Miss Ley. To think of dear Bertha getting married;
Charles will be so pleased.”

“It’s to Mr. Edward Craddock,” drily said Miss Ley, interrupting these
transports.

“Oh!” Miss Glover’s jaw dropped and she changed colour; then, recovering
herself: “You don’t say so!”

“You seem surprised, dear Miss Glover,” said the elder lady, with a thin
smile.

“I am surprised. I thought they scarcely knew one another; and
besides--“ Miss Glover stopped, with embarrassment.

“And besides what?” inquired Miss Ley, sharply.

“Well, Miss Ley, of course Mr. Craddock is a very good young man and I
like him, but I shouldn’t have thought him a suitable match for Bertha.”

“It depends upon what you mean by a suitable match.”

“I was always hoping Bertha would marry young Mr. Branderton of the
Towers.”

“Hm!” said Miss Ley, who did not like the neighboring squire’s mother,
“I don’t know what Mr. Branderton has to recommend him beyond the
possession of four or five generations of particularly stupid ancestors
and two or three thousand acres which he can neither let nor sell.”

“Of course Mr. Craddock is a very worthy young man,” added Miss Glover,
who was afraid she had said too much. “If you approve of the match no
one else can complain.”

“I don’t approve of the match, Miss Glover, but I’m not such a fool as
to oppose it. Marriage is always a hopeless idiocy for a woman who has
enough money of her own to live upon.”

“It’s an institution of the Church, Miss Ley,” replied Miss Glover,
rather severely.

“Is it?” retorted Miss Ley. “I always thought it was an arrangement to
provide work for the judges in the Divorce Court.”

To this Miss Glover very properly made no answer.

“Do you think they’ll be happy together?”

“I think it very improbable,” said Miss Ley.

“Well, don’t you think it’s your duty--excuse my mentioning it, Miss
Ley--to do something?”

“My dear Miss Glover, I don’t think they’ll be more unhappy than most
married couples; and one’s greatest duty in this world is to leave
people alone.”

“There I cannot agree with you,” said Miss Glover, bridling. “If duty
was not more difficult than that there would be no credit in doing it.”

“Ah, my dear, your idea of a happy life is always to do the disagreeable
thing: mine is to gather the roses--with gloves on, so that the thorns
should not prick me.”

“That’s not the way to win the battle, Miss Ley. We must all fight.”

“My dear Miss Glover!” said Bertha’s aunt.

She fancied it a little impertinent for a woman twenty years younger
than herself to exhort her to lead a better life. But the picture of
that poor, ill-dressed creature fighting with a devil, cloven-footed,
betailed and behorned, was as pitiful as it was comic; and with
difficulty Miss Ley repressed an impulse to argue and to startle a
little her estimable friend.

But at that moment Dr. Ramsay came in. He shook hands with both ladies.

“I thought I’d look in to see how Bertha was,” he said.

“Poor Mr. Craddock has another adversary,” remarked Miss Ley. “Miss
Glover thinks I ought to take the affair seriously.”

“I do, indeed,” said Miss Glover.

“Ever since I was a young girl,” said Miss Ley, “I’ve been trying not to
take things seriously, and I’m afraid now I’m hopelessly frivolous.”

The contrast between this assertion and Miss Ley’s prim manner was
really funny, but Miss Glover saw only something quite incomprehensible.

“After all,” added Miss Ley, “nine marriages out of ten are more or less
unsatisfactory. You say young Branderton would have been more suitable;
but really a string of ancestors is no particular assistance to
matrimonial felicity, and otherwise I see no marked difference between
him and Edward Craddock. Mr. Branderton has been to Eton and Oxford, but
he conceals the fact with very great success. Practically he’s just as
much a gentleman-farmer as Mr. Craddock; but one family is working
itself up and the other is working itself down. The Brandertons
represent the past and the Craddocks the future; and though I detest
reform and progress, so far as matrimony is concerned I prefer myself
the man who founds a family to the man who ends it. But, good Heavens!
you’re making me sententious.”

It was curious how opposition was making Miss Ley almost a champion of
Edward Craddock.

“Well,” said the doctor, in his heavy way, “I’m in favour of every one
sticking to his own class. Nowadays, whoever a man is he wants to be the
next thing better; the labourer apes the tradesman, the tradesman apes
the professional man.”

“And the professional man is worst of all, dear doctor,” said Miss Ley,
“for he apes the noble lord, who seldom affords a very admirable
example. And the amusing thing is that each set thinks itself quite as
good as those above, while harbouring profound contempt for all below.
In fact the only members of society who hold themselves in proper
estimation are the servants. I always think that the domestics of
gentlemen’s houses in South Kensington are several degrees less odious
than their masters.”

This was not a subject which Miss Glover or Dr. Ramsay could discuss,
and there was a momentary pause.

“What single point can you bring in favour of this marriage?” asked the
doctor, suddenly.

Miss Ley looked at him as if she were thinking, then, with a dry smile:
“My dear doctor, Mr. Craddock is so matter of fact--the moon will never
rouse him to poetic ecstasies.”

“Miss Ley!” said the parson’s sister, in a tone of entreaty.

Miss Ley glanced from one to the other. “Do you want my serious
opinion?” she asked, rather more gravely than usual. “The girl loves
him, my dear doctor. Marriage, after all, is such a risk that only
passion makes it worth while.”

Miss Glover looked up uneasily at the word _passion_.

“Yes, I know what you all think in England,” said Miss Ley, catching the
glance and its meaning. “You expect people to marry from every reason
except the proper, one--and that is the instinct of reproduction.”

“Miss Ley!” exclaimed Miss Glover, blushing.

“Oh, you’re old enough to take a sensible view of the, matter,” answered
Miss Ley, somewhat brutally. “Bertha is merely the female attracted to
the male, and that is the only decent foundation of marriage--the other
way seems to me merely horrid. And what does it matter if the man is not
of the same station, the instinct has nothing to do with the walk in
life; if I’d ever been in love I shouldn’t have cared if it was a
pot-boy, I’d have married him--if he asked me.”

“Well, upon my word!” said the doctor.

But Miss Ley was roused now, and interrupted him: “The particular
function of a woman is to propagate her species; and if she’s wise
she’ll choose a strong and healthy man to be the father of her children.
I have no patience with those women who marry a man because he’s got
brains. What is the good of a husband who can make abstruse mathematical
calculations? A woman wants a man with strong arms and the digestion of
an ox.”

“Miss Ley,” broke in Miss Glover, “I’m not clever enough to argue with
you, but I know you’re wrong. I don’t think I am right to listen to you;
I’m sure Charles wouldn’t like it.”

“My dear, you’ve been brought up like the majority of English
girls--that is, like a fool.”

Poor Miss Glover blushed. “At all events I’ve been brought up to regard
marriage as a holy institution. We’re here upon earth to mortify the
flesh, not to indulge it. I hope I shall never be tempted to think of
such matters in the way you’ve suggested. If ever I marry I know that
nothing will be further from me than carnal thoughts. I look upon
marriage as a spiritual union in which it is my duty to love, honour,
and obey my husband, to assist and sustain him, to live with him such a
life that when the end comes we may be prepared for it.”

“Fiddlesticks!” said Miss Ley.

“I should have thought you of all people,” said Dr. Ramsay, “would
object to Bertha marrying beneath her.”

“They can’t be happy,” said Miss Glover.

“Why not? I used to know in Italy Lady Justitia Shawe, who married her
footman. She made him take her name, and they drank like fishes. They
lived for forty years in complete felicity, and when he drank himself to
death poor Lady Justitia was so grieved that her next attack of
_delirium tremens_ carried her off. It was most pathetic.”

“I can’t think you look forward with pleasure to such a fate for your
only niece, Miss Ley,” said Miss Glover, who took everything seriously.

“I have another niece, you know,” answered Miss Ley, “My sister, Mrs.
Vaudrey, has three children.”

But the doctor broke in: “Well, I don’t think you need trouble
yourselves about the matter, for I have authority to announce to you
that the marriage of Bertha and young Craddock is broken off.”

“What!” cried Miss Ley. “I don’t believe it.”

“You don’t say so,” ejaculated Miss Glover at the same moment. “Oh, I
_am_ relieved.”

Dr. Ramsay rubbed his hands, beaming with delight. “I knew I should stop
it,” he said. “What do you think now, Miss Ley?”

He was evidently rejoicing over her discomfiture, and that lady became
rather cross.

“How can I think anything till you explain yourself?” she asked.

“He came to see me last night--you remember he asked for an interview of
his own accord--and I put the case before him. I talked to him, I told
him that the marriage was impossible; and I said the Leanham and
Blackstable people would call him a fortune-hunter. I appealed to him
for Bertha’s sake. He’s an honest, straightforward fellow--I always said
he was. I made him see he wasn’t doing the straight thing, and at last
he promised he’d break it off.”

“He won’t keep a promise of that sort,” said Miss Ley.

“Oh, won’t he!” cried the doctor. “I’ve known him all his life, and he’d
rather die than break his word.”

“Poor fellow!” said Miss Glover, “it must have pained him terribly.”

“He bore it like a man.”

Miss Ley pursed her lips till they practically disappeared. “And when is
he supposed to carry out your ridiculous suggestion, Dr. Ramsay?” she
asked.

“He told me he was lunching here to-day, and would take the opportunity
to ask Bertha for his release.”

“The man’s a fool!” muttered Miss Ley to herself, but quite audibly.

“I think it’s very noble of him,” said Miss Glover, “and I shall make a
point of telling him so.”

“I wasn’t thinking of Mr. Craddock,” snapped Miss Ley.

Miss Glover looked at Dr. Ramsay to see how he took the rudeness; but at
that moment the door was opened and Bertha walked in. Miss Ley caught
her mood at a glance. Bertha was evidently not at all distressed; there
were no signs of tears, but her cheeks showed more colour than usual,
and her lips were firmly compressed; Miss Ley concluded that her niece
was in a very pretty passion. However, she drove away the appearance of
anger, and her face was full of smiles as she greeted her visitors.

“Miss Glover, how kind of you to come. How d’you do, Dr. Ramsay?... Oh,
by the way, I think I must ask you--er--not to interfere in future with
my private concerns.”

“Dearest,” broke in Miss Glover, “it’s all for the best.”

Bertha turned to her and the flush on her face deepened: “Ah, I see
you’ve been discussing the matter. How good of you! Edward has been
asking me to release him.”

Dr. Ramsay nodded with satisfaction.

“But I refused!”

Dr. Ramsay sprang up, and Miss Glover, lifting her hands, cried: “Oh,
dear! Oh, dear!” This was one of the rare occasions in her life upon
which Miss Ley was known to laugh outright.

Bertha now was simply beaming with happiness. “He pretended that he
wanted to break the engagement--but I utterly declined.”

“D’you mean to say you wouldn’t let him go when he asked you?” said the
doctor.

“Did you think I was going to let my happiness be destroyed by you?” she
asked, contemptuously. “I found out that you had been meddling, Dr.
Ramsay. Poor boy, he thought his honour required him not to take
advantage of my inexperience; I told him, what I’ve told him a thousand
times, that I love him, and that I can’t live without him.... Oh, I
think you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Dr. Ramsay. What d’you mean
by coming between me and Edward?”

Bertha said the last words passionately, breathing hard. Dr. Ramsay was
taken aback, and Miss Glover, thinking such a manner of speech almost
unladylike, looked down. Miss Ley’s sharp eyes played from one to the
other.

“Do you think he really loves you?” said Miss Glover, at last. “It seems
to me that if he had, he would not have been so ready to give you up.”

Miss Ley smiled; it was certainly curious that a creature of quite
angelic goodness should make so Machiavellian a suggestion.

“He offered to give me up because he loved me,” said Bertha, proudly.
“I adore him ten thousand times more for the suggestion.”

“I have no patience with you,” cried the doctor, unable to contain
himself. “He’s marrying you for your money.”

Bertha gave a little laugh. She was standing by the fire and turned to
the glass.... She looked at her hands, resting on the edge of the
chimney-piece, small and exquisitely modelled, the fingers tapering, the
nails of the softest pink. They were the gentlest hands in the world,
made for caresses; and, conscious of their beauty, she wore no rings.
With them Bertha was well satisfied. Then, raising her glance, she saw
herself in the mirror: for a while she gazed into her dark eyes,
flashing sometimes and at others conveying the burning messages of love.
She looked at her ears--small, and pink like a shell; they made one feel
that no materials were so grateful to the artist’s hands as the
materials which make up the body of man. Her hair was dark too, so
abundant that she scarcely knew how to wear it, curling; one wanted to
pass one’s hands through it, imagining that its touch must be
delightful. She put her fingers to one side, to arrange a stray lock:
they might say what they liked, she thought, but her hair was good.
Bertha wondered why she was so dark; her olive skin suggested, indeed,
the south with its burning passion: she had the complexion of the fair
women in Umbria, clear and soft beyond description. A painter once had
said that her skin had in it all the colour of the setting sun, of the
setting sun at its borders where the splendour mingles with the sky; it
had an hundred mellow tints, cream and ivory, the palest yellow of the
heart of roses and the faintest, the very faintest green, all flushed
with radiant light. She looked at her full, red lips, almost
passionately sensual. Bertha smiled at herself, and saw the even,
glistening teeth; the scrutiny had made her blush, and the colour
rendered still more exquisite the pallid, marvellous complexion. She
turned slowly and faced the three persons looking at her.

“Do you think it impossible for a man to love me for myself? You are not
flattering, dear doctor.”

Miss Ley thought Bertha certainly very bold thus to challenge the
criticism of two women, both unmarried; but she silenced it. Miss Ley’s
eyes went from the statuesque neck to the arms as finely formed, and to
the figure.

“You’re looking your best, my dear,” she said, with a smile.

The doctor uttered an expression of annoyance: “Can you do nothing to
hinder this madness, Miss Ley?”

“My dear Dr. Ramsay, I have trouble enough in arranging my own life; do
not ask me to interfere with other people’s.”



Chapter VI


Bertha surrendered herself completely to the enjoyment of her love. Her
sanguine temperament never allowed her to do anything half-heartedly,
and she took no care now to conceal her feelings; love was a great sea
into which she boldly plunged, uncaring whether she would swim or sink.

“I am such a fool,” she told Craddock, “I can’t realise that any one has
loved before. I feel that the world is only now beginning.”

She hated any separation from him. In the morning she existed for
nothing but her lover’s visit at luncheon time, and the walk back with
him to his farm; then the afternoon seemed endless, and she counted the
hours that must pass before she saw him again. But what bliss it was
when, after his work was over, he arrived, and they sat side by side
near the fire, talking; Bertha would have no other light than the fitful
flaming of the coals, so that, but for the little space where they sat,
the room was dark, and the redness of the fire threw on Edward’s face a
glow and weird shadows. She loved to look at him, at his clean-cut
features, and into his grey eyes. Then her passion knew no restraint.

“Shut your eyes,” she whispered, and she kissed the closed lids; she
passed her lips slowly over his lips, and the soft contact made her
shudder and laugh. She buried her face in his clothes, inhaling those
masterful scents of the countryside which had always fascinated her.

“What have you been doing to-day, my dearest?”

“Oh, there’s nothing much going on the farm just now. We’ve just been
ploughing and root-carting.”

It enchanted her to receive information on agricultural subjects, and
she could have listened to him for hours. Every word that Edward spoke
was charming and original Bertha never took her eyes off him; she loved
to see him speak, and often scarcely listened to what he said, merely
watching the play of his expression. It puzzled him sometimes to catch
her smile of intense happiness, when he was discussing the
bush-drainage, for instance, of some field. However, she really took a
deep interest in all his stock, and never failed to inquire after a
bullock that was indisposed; it pleased her to think of the strong man
among his beasts, and the thought gave a tautness to her own muscles.
She determined to learn riding and tennis and golf, so that she might
accompany him in his amusements; her own attainments seemed unnecessary
and even humiliating. Looking at Edward Craddock she realised that man
was indeed the lord of creation. She saw him striding over his fields
with long steps, ordering his labourers here and there, able to direct
their operations, fearless, brave, and free. It was astonishing how many
excellent traits she derived from examination of his profile.

Then, talking of the men he employed, she could imagine no felicity
greater than to have such a master.

“I should like to be a milkmaid on your farm,” she said.

“I don’t keep milkmaids,” he replied. “I have a milkman; it’s more
useful.”

“You dear old thing,” she cried. “How matter of fact you are!”

She caught hold of his hands and looked at them.

“I’m rather frightened of you, sometimes,” she said, laughing. “You’re
so strong. I feel so utterly weak and helpless beside you.”

“Are you afraid I shall beat you?”

She looked up at him and then down at the strong hands.

“I don’t think I should mind if you did. I think I should only love you
more.”

He burst out laughing and kissed her.

“I’m not joking,” she said. “I understand now those women who love
beasts of men. They say that some wives will stand anything from their
husbands; they love them all the more because they’re brutal. I think
I’m like that; but I’ve never seen you in a passion, Eddie. What are you
like when you’re angry?”

“I never am angry.”

“Miss Glover told me that you had the best temper in the world. I’m
terrified at all these perfections.”

“Don’t expect too much from me, Bertha. I’m not a model man, you know.”

Of course she kissed him when he made remarks of such absurd modesty.

“I’m very pleased,” she answered; “I don’t want perfection. Of course
you’ve got faults, though I can’t see them yet. But when I do, I know I
shall only love you better. When a woman loves an ugly man, they say the
ugliness only makes him more attractive and I shall love your faults as
I love everything that is yours.”

They sat for a while without speaking, and the silence was even more
entrancing than the speech. Bertha wished she could remain thus for
ever, resting in his arms. She forgot that soon Craddock would develop a
healthy appetite and demolish a substantial dinner.

“Let me look at your hands,” she said.

She loved them too. They were large and roughly made, hard with work and
exposure, ten times pleasanter, she thought, than the soft hands of the
townsman. She felt them firm and intensely masculine. They reminded her
of a hand in an Italian Museum, sculptured in porphyry, but for some
reason left unfinished; and the lack of detail gave the same impression
of massive strength. His hands, too, might have been those of a demi-god
or of an hero. She stretched out the long, strong fingers. Craddock,
knowing her very little, looked with wonder and amusement. She caught
his glance, and with a smile bent down to kiss the upturned palms. She
wanted to abase herself before the strong man, to be low and humble
before him. She would have been his handmaiden, and nothing could have
satisfied her so much as to perform for him the most menial services.
She knew not how to show the immensity of her passion.

It pleased Bertha to walk into Blackstable with her lover and to catch
the people’s stares, knowing how much the marriage interested them. What
did she care if they were surprised at her choosing Edward Craddock,
whom they had known all his life? She was proud of him, proud to be his
wife.

One day, when it was very warm for the time of year, she was resting on
a stile, while Craddock stood by her side. They did not speak, but
looked at one another in ecstatic happiness.

“Look,” said Craddock, suddenly. “There’s Arthur Branderton.”

He glanced at Bertha, then from side to side uneasily, as if he wished
to avoid a meeting.

“He’s been away, hasn’t he?” asked Bertha. “I wanted to meet him.” She
was quite willing that all the world should see them. “Good afternoon,
Arthur!” she called out, as the youth approached.

“Oh! is it you, Bertha? Hulloa, Craddock!” He looked at Edward,
wondering what he did there with Miss Ley.

“We’ve just been walking into Leanham, and I was tired.”

“Oh!” Young Branderton thought it queer that Bertha should take walks
with Craddock.

Bertha burst out laughing. “Oh, he doesn’t know, Edward! He’s the only
person in the county who hasn’t heard the news.”

“What news?” asked Branderton. “I’ve been in Yorkshire for the last week
at my brother-in-law’s.”

“Mr. Craddock and I are going to be married.”

“Are you, by Jove!” cried Branderton; he looked at Craddock and then,
awkwardly, offered his congratulations. They could not help seeing his
astonishment, and Craddock flushed, knowing it due to the fact that
Bertha had consented to marry a penniless beggar like himself, a man of
no family. “I hope you’ll invite me to the wedding,” said the young man
to cover his confusion.

“Oh, it’s going to be very quiet--there will only be ourselves, Dr.
Ramsay, my aunt, and Edward’s best man.”

“Then mayn’t I come?” asked Branderton.

Bertha looked quickly at Edward; it had caused her some uneasiness to
think that he might be supported by a person of no great consequence in
the place. After all she was Miss Ley; and she had already discovered
that some of her lover’s friends were not too desirable. Chance offered
her means of surmounting the difficulty.

“I’m afraid it’s impossible,” she said, in answer to Branderton’s
appeal, “unless you can get Edward to offer you the important post of
best man.”

She succeeded in making the pair thoroughly uncomfortable. Branderton
had no great wish to perform that office for Edward--“of course,
Craddock is a very good fellow, and a fine sportsman, but not the sort
of chap you’d expect a girl like Bertha Ley to marry.” And Edward,
understanding the younger man’s feelings, was silent.

But Branderton had some knowledge of polite society, and broke the
momentary pause.

“Who is going to be your best man, Craddock?” he asked; he could do
nothing else.

“I don’t know--I haven’t thought of it.”

But Branderton, catching Bertha’s eye, suddenly understood her desire
and the reason of it.

“Won’t you have me?” he said quickly. “I dare say you’ll find me
intelligent enough to learn the duties.”

“I should like it very much,” answered Craddock. “It’s very good of
you.”

Branderton looked at Bertha, and she smiled her thanks; he saw she was
pleased.

“Where are you going for your honeymoon?” he asked now, to make
conversation.

“I don’t know,” answered Craddock. “We’ve hardly had time to think of it
yet.”

“You certainly are very vague in all your plans.”

He shook hands with them, receiving from Bertha a grateful pressure, and
went off.

“Have you really not thought of our honeymoon, foolish boy?” asked
Bertha.

“No!”

“Well, I have. I’ve made up my mind and settled it all. We’re going to
Italy, and I mean to show you Florence and Pisa and Siena. It’ll be
simply heavenly. We won’t go to Venice, because it’s too sentimental;
self-respecting people can’t make love in gondolas at the end of the
nineteenth century.... Oh, I long to be with you in the South, beneath
the blue sky and the countless stars of night.”

“I’ve never been abroad before,” he said, without much enthusiasm.

But her fire was quite enough for two. “I know, I shall have the
pleasure of unfolding it all to you. I shall enjoy it more than I ever
have before; it’ll be so new to you. And we can stay six months if we
like.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly,” he cried. “Think of the farm.”

“Oh, bother the farm. It’s our honeymoon, _Sposo mio_.”

“I don’t think I could possibly stay away more than a fortnight.”

“What nonsense! We can’t go to Italy for a fortnight. The farm can get
on without you.”

“And in January and February too, when all the lambing is coming on.”

He did not want to distress Bertha, but really half his lambs would die
if he were not there to superintend their entrance into this wicked
world.

“But you must go,” said Bertha. “I’ve set my heart upon it.”

He looked down for a while, rather unhappily.

“Wouldn’t a month do?” he asked. “I’ll do anything you really want,
Bertha.”

But his obvious dislike to the suggestion cut Bertha’s heart. She was
only inclined to be stubborn when she saw he might resist her; and his
first word of surrender made her veer round penitently.

“What a selfish beast I am!” she said. “I don’t want to make you
miserable, Eddie. I thought it would please you to go abroad, and I’d
planned it all so well.... But we won’t go; I hate Italy. Let’s just go
up to town for a fortnight, like two country bumpkins.”

“Oh, but you won’t like that.”

“Of course I shall. I like everything you like. D’you think I care where
we go so long as I’m with you?... You’re not angry with me, darling, are
you?”

Mr. Craddock was good enough to intimate that he was not.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Ley, much against her will, had been driven by Miss Glover into
working for some charitable institution, and was knitting babies’ socks
(as the smallest garments she could make) when Bertha told her of the
altered plan: she dropped a stitch! Miss Ley was too wise to say
anything, but she wondered if the world were coming to an end; Bertha’s
schemes were shattered like brittle glass, and she really seemed
delighted. A month ago opposition would have made Bertha traverse seas
and scale precipices rather than abandon an idea that she had got into
her head. Verily, love is a prestidigitator who can change the lion into
the lamb as easily as a handkerchief into a flower-pot! Miss Ley began
to admire Edward Craddock.

       *       *       *       *       *

He, on his way home after leaving Bertha, was met by the Vicar of
Leanham. Mr. Glover was a tall man, angular, fair, thin and
red-cheeked--a somewhat feminine edition of his sister, but smelling in
the most remarkable fashion of antiseptics; Miss Ley vowed he peppered
his clothes with iodoform, and bathed daily in carbolic acid. He was
strenuous and charitable, hated a Dissenter, and was over forty.

“Ah, Craddock, I wanted to see you.”

“Not about the banns, Vicar, is it? We’re going to be married by special
license.”

Like many countrymen, Edward saw something funny in the clergy--one
should not grudge it them, for it is the only jest in their lives--and
he was given to treating the parson with more humour than he used in the
other affairs of this world. The Vicar laughed; it is one of the best
traits of the country clergy that they are willing to be amused with
their parishioners’ jocosity.

“The marriage is all settled then? You’re a very lucky young man.”

Craddock put his arm through Mr. Glover’s with the unconscious
friendliness that had gained him an hundred friends. “Yes, I am lucky,”
he said. “I know you people think it rather queer that Bertha and I
should get married, but we’re very much attached to one another, and I
mean to do my best by her. You know I’ve never racketed about, Vicar,
don’t you?”

“Yes, my boy,” said the Vicar, touched at Edward’s confidence. “Every
one knows you’re steady enough.”

“Of course, she could have found men of much better social position than
mine--but I’ll try to make her happy. And I’ve got nothing to hide from
her as some men have; I go to her almost as straight as she comes to
me.”

“That is a very fortunate thing to be able to say.”

“I have never loved another woman in my life, and as for the rest--well,
of course, I’m young and I’ve been up to town sometimes; but I always
hated and loathed it. And the country and the hard work keep one pretty
clear of anything nasty.”

“I’m very glad to hear you say that,” answered Mr. Glover. “I hope
you’ll be happy, and I think you will.”

The Vicar felt a slight pricking of conscience, for at first his sister
and himself had called the match a _mésalliance_ (they pronounced the
word vilely), and not till they learned it was inevitable did they begin
to see that their attitude was a little wanting in charity. The two men
shook hands.

“I hope you don’t mind me spitting out these things to you, Vicar. I
suppose it’s your business in a sort of way. I’ve wanted to tell Miss
Ley something of the kind; but somehow or other I can never get an
opportunity.”



Chapter VII


Exactly one month after her twenty-first birthday, as Bertha had
announced, the marriage took place; and the young couple started off to
spend their honeymoon in London. Bertha, knowing she would not read,
took with her notwithstanding a book, to wit the _Meditations of Marcus
Aurelius_; and Edward, thinking that railway journeys were always
tedious, bought for the occasion _The Mystery of the Six-fingered
Woman_, the title of which attracted him. He was determined not to be
bored, for, not content with his novel, he purchased at the station a
_Sporting Times_.

“Oh,” said Bertha, when the train had started, heaving a great sigh of
relief, “I’m so glad to be alone with you at last. Now we shan’t have
anybody to worry us, and no one can separate us, and we shall be
together for the rest of our lives.”

Craddock put down the newspaper, which, from force of habit, he had
opened after settling himself in his seat.

“I’m glad to have the ceremony over too.”

“D’you know,” she said, “I was terrified on the way to church; it
occurred to me that you might not be there--that you might have changed
your mind and fled.”

He laughed. “Why on earth should I change my mind? That’s a thing I
never do.”

“Oh, I can’t sit solemnly opposite you as if we’d been married a
century. Make room for me, boy.”

She came over to his side and nestled close to him.

“Tell me you love me,” she whispered.

“I love you very much.”

He bent down and kissed his wife, then putting his arm around her waist
drew her nearer to him. He was a little nervous, he would not really
have been very sorry if some officious person had disregarded the
_engaged_ on the carriage and entered. He felt scarcely at home with
Bertha, and was still bewildered by his change of fortune; there was,
indeed, a vast difference between Court Leys and Bewlie’s Farm.

“I’m so happy,” said Bertha. “Sometimes I’m afraid.... D’you think it
can last, d’you think we shall always be as happy? I’ve got everything I
want in the world, and I’m absolutely and completely content.” She was
silent for a minute, caressing his hands. “You will always love me,
Eddie, won’t you--even when I’m old and horrible?”

“I’m not the sort of chap to alter.”

“Oh, you don’t know how I adore you,” she cried passionately. “_My_ love
will never alter, it is too strong. To the end of my days I shall always
love you with all my heart. I wish I could tell you what I feel.”

Of late the English language had seemed quite incompetent for the
expression of her manifold emotions.

       *       *       *       *       *

They went to a far more expensive hotel than they could afford. Craddock
had prudently suggested something less extravagant, but Bertha would not
hear of it; as Miss Ley she had been unused to the second-rate, and she
was too proud of her new name to take it to any but the best hotel in
London.

The more Bertha saw of her husband’s mind, the more it delighted her.
She loved the simplicity and the naturalness of the man; she cast off
like a tattered silken cloak the sentiments with which for years she had
lived, and robed herself in the sturdy homespun which so well suited her
lord and master. It was charming to see his naïve enjoyment of
everything. To him all was fresh and novel; he would explode with
laughter at the comic papers, and in the dailies continually find
observations which struck him for their profound originality. He was the
unspoiled child of nature; his mind free from the million perversities
of civilisation. To know him was in Bertha’s opinion an education in
all the goodness and purity, the strength and virtue of the Englishman!

They went often to the theatre, and it pleased Bertha to watch her
husband’s simple enjoyment. The pathetic passages of a melodrama, which
made Bertha’s lips curl with semi-amused contempt, moved him to facile
tears; and in the darkness he held her hand to comfort her, imagining
that his wife enjoyed the same emotions as himself. Ah, she wished she
could; she hated the education of foreign countries, which, in the study
of pictures and palaces and strange peoples, had released her mind from
its prison of darkness, yet had destroyed half her illusions; now she
would far rather have retained the plain and unadorned illiteracy, the
ingenuous ignorance of the typical and creamy English girl. What is the
use of knowledge? Blessed are the poor in spirit: all that a woman
really wants is purity and goodness, and perhaps a certain acquaintance
with plain cooking.

But the lovers, the injured heroine and the wrongly suspected hero, had
bidden one another a heartrending good-bye, and the curtain descended to
rapturous applause. Edward cleared his throat and blew his nose.

“Isn’t it splendid?” he said, turning to his wife.

“You dear thing!” she whispered.

It touched her to see how deeply he felt it all. How clean and big and
simple and good must be his heart! She loved him ten times more because
his emotions were easily aroused. Ah yes, she abhorred the cold cynicism
of the worldly-wise who sneer at the burning tears of the simple minded.

The curtain rose on the next act, and in his eagerness to see what was
about to happen, Edward immediately ceased to listen to what Bertha was
in the middle of saying, and gave himself over to the play. The feelings
of the audience having been sufficiently harrowed, the comic relief was
turned on. The funny man made jokes about various articles of clothing,
tumbling over tables and chairs; and it charmed Bertha again to see her
husband’s open-hearted hilarity. It tickled her immensely to hear his
peals of unrestrained laughter; he put his head back, and, with his
hands to his sides, simply roared.

“He has a charming character,” she thought.

Craddock had the strictest notions of morality, and absolutely refused
to take his wife to a music-hall; Bertha had seen abroad many sights,
the like of which Edward did not dream, but she respected his innocence.
It pleased her to see the firmness with which he upheld his principles,
and it somewhat amused her to be treated like a little schoolgirl. They
went to all the theatres; Edward, on his rare visits to London, had done
his sightseeing economically, and the purchase of stalls, the getting
into dress-clothes, were new sensations which caused him great pleasure.
Bertha liked to see her husband in evening dress; the black suited his
florid style, and the white shirt with a high collar threw up his
sunburnt, weather-beaten face. He looked strong above all things, and
manly; and he was her husband, never to be parted from her except by
death: she adored him.

Craddock’s interest in the stage was unflagging; he always wanted to
know what was going to happen, and he was able to follow with the
closest attention even the incomprehensible plot of a musical comedy.
Nothing bored him. Even the most ingenuous find a little cloying the
humours and the harmonies of a Gaiety burlesque; they are like toffee
and butterscotch, delicacies for which we cannot understand our youthful
craving. Bertha had learnt something of music in lands where it is
cultivated as a pleasure rather than as a duty, and the popular melodies
with obvious refrains sent cold shivers down her back; but they stirred
Craddock to the depths of his soul. He beat time to the swinging, vulgar
tunes, and his face was transfigured when the band played a patriotic
march with a great braying of brass and beating of drums. He whistled
and hummed it for days afterwards. “I love music,” he told Bertha in the
_entracte_. “Don’t you?”

With a tender smile she confessed she did, and for fear of hurting
Edward’s feelings did not suggest that the music in question made her
almost vomit. What mattered it if his taste in that respect were not
beyond reproach; after all there was something to be said for the
honest, homely melodies that touched the people’s heart. It is only by a
convention that the _Pastoral Symphony_ is thought better art than
_Tarara-boom-deay_. Perhaps, in two or three hundred years, when
everything is done by electricity and every one is equal, when we are
all happy socialists, with good educations and better morals,
Beethoven’s complexity will be like a mass of wickedness, and only the
plain, honest homeliness of the comic song will appeal to our simple
feelings.

“When we get home,” said Craddock, “I want you to play to me; I’m so
fond of it.”

“I shall love to,” she murmured. She thought of the long winter evenings
which they would spend at the piano, her husband by her side to turn the
leaves, while to his astonished ears she unfolded the manifold riches of
the great composers. She was convinced that his taste was really
excellent.

“I have lots of music that my mother used to play,” he said. “By Jove, I
shall like to hear it again--some of those old tunes I can never hear
often enough--_The Last Rose of Summer_, and _Home, Sweet Home_, and a
lot more like that.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“By Jove, that show was ripping,” said Craddock, when they were having
supper; “I should like to see it again before we go back.”

“We’ll do whatever you like, my dearest.”

“I think an evening like that does you good. It bucks me up; doesn’t it
you?”

“It does me good to see you amused,” replied Bertha, diplomatically.

The performance had appeared to her vulgar, but in the face of her
husband’s enthusiasm she could only accuse herself of a ridiculous
squeamishness. Why should she set herself up as a judge of these
things? Was it not somewhat vulgar to find vulgarity in what gave such
pleasure to the unsophisticated? She was like the _nouveau riche_ who is
distressed at the universal lack of gentility; but she was tired of
analysis and subtlety, and all the concomitants of decadent
civilisation.

“For goodness’s sake,” she thought, “let us be simple and easily
amused.”

She remembered the four young ladies who had appeared in flesh-coloured
tights and nothing else worth mentioning, and danced a singularly
ungraceful jig, which the audience, in its delight, had insisted on
having twice repeated.

       *       *       *       *       *

With no business to do and no friends to visit, there is some difficulty
in knowing how to spend one’s time in London. Bertha would have been
content to sit all day with Edward in the private sitting-room,
contemplating him and her extreme felicity. But Craddock had the fine
energy of the Anglo-Saxon race, that desire to be always doing something
which has made the English athletes, and missionaries, and members of
Parliament.

After his first mouthful of breakfast he invariably asked, “What shall
we do to-day?” And Bertha ransacked her brain and a _Baedeker_ to find
sights to visit, for to treat London as a foreign town and
systematically to explore it was their only resource. They went to the
Tower of London and gaped at the crowns and sceptres, at the insignia of
the various orders; to Westminster Abbey and joined the party of
Americans and country folk who were being driven hither and thither by a
black-robed verger; they visited the tombs of the kings and saw
everything which it was their duty to see. Bertha developed a fine
enthusiasm for the antiquities of London; she quite enjoyed the
sensations of bovine ignorance with which the Cook’s tourist surrenders
himself into the hands of a custodian, looking as he is told and
swallowing with open mouth the most unreliable information. Feeling
herself more stupid, Bertha was conscious of a closer connection with
her fellow-men. Edward did not like all things in an equal degree;
pictures bored him (they were the only things that really did), and
their visit to the National Gallery was not a success. Neither did the
British Museum meet with his approval; for one thing, he had great
difficulty in directing Bertha’s attention so that her eyes should not
wander to various naked statues which are exhibited there with no regard
at all for the susceptibilities of modest persons. Once she stopped in
front of a group that some shields and swords quite inadequately
clothed, and remarked on their beauty. Edward looked about uneasily to
see whether any one noticed them, and agreeing briefly that they were
fine figures, moved rapidly away to some less questionable object.

“I can’t stand all this rot,” he said, when they stood opposite the
three goddesses of the Parthenon; “I wouldn’t give twopence to come to
this place again.”

Bertha felt somewhat ashamed that she had a sneaking admiration for the
statues in question.

“Now tell me,” he said, “where is the beauty of those creatures without
any heads?”

Bertha could not tell him, and he was triumphant. He was a dear, good
boy and she loved him with all her heart!

The Natural History Museum, on the other hand, aroused Craddock to great
enthusiasm. Here he was quite at home; no improprieties were there from
which he must keep his wife, and animals were the sort of things that
any man could understand. But they brought back to him strongly the
country of East Kent and the life which it pleased him most to lead.
London was all very well, but he did not feel at home, and it was
beginning to pall upon him. Bertha also began talking of home and of
Court Leys; she had always lived more in the future than in the present,
and even in this, the time of her greatest happiness, looked forward to
the days to come at Leanham, when complete felicity would indeed be
hers.

She was contented enough now--it was only the eighth day of her married
life, but she ardently wished to settle down and satisfy all her
anticipations. They talked of the alterations they must make in the
house, Craddock had already plans for putting the park in order, for
taking over the Home Farm and working it himself.

“I wish we were home,” said Bertha. “I’m sick of London.”

“I don’t think I should mind much if we’d got to the end of our
fortnight,” he replied.

Craddock had arranged with himself to stay in town fourteen days, and he
could not alter his mind. It made him uncomfortable to change his plans
and think out something new; he prided himself, moreover, on always
doing the thing he had determined.

But a letter came from Miss Ley announcing that she had packed her
trunks and was starting for the continent.

“Oughtn’t we to ask her to stay on?” said Craddock. “It seems a bit
rough to turn her out so quickly.”

“You don’t want to have her live with us, do you?” asked Bertha, in some
dismay.

“No, rather not; but I don’t see why you should pack her off like a
servant with a month’s notice.”

“Oh, I’ll ask her to stay,” said Bertha, anxious to obey her husband’s
smallest wish; and obedience was easy, for she knew that Miss Ley would
never dream of accepting the offer.

Bertha wished to see no one just then, least of all her aunt, feeling
confusedly that her bliss would be diminished by the intrusion of an
actor in her old life. Her emotions also were too intense for
concealment, and she would have been ashamed to display them to Miss
Ley’s critical instinct. Bertha saw only discomfort in meeting the elder
lady, with her calm irony and polite contempt for the things which on
her husband’s account Bertha most sincerely cherished.

But Miss Ley’s reply showed perhaps that she guessed her niece’s
thoughts better than Bertha had given her credit for.

     _My dearest Bertha,--I am much obliged to your husband for his
     politeness in asking me to stay at Court Leys; but I flatter
     myself you have too high an opinion of me to think me capable of
     accepting. Newly married people offer much matter for ridicule
     (which, they say, is the noblest characteristic of man, being the
     only one that distinguishes him from the brutes); but since I am a
     peculiarly self-denying creature, I do not avail-myself of the
     opportunity. Perhaps in a year you will have begun to see one
     another’s imperfections and then, though less amusing, you will be
     more interesting. No, I am going to Italy--to hurl myself once more
     into that sea of pensions and second-rate hotels, wherein it is the
     fate of single women, with moderate incomes, to spend their lives;
     and I am taking with me a Baedeker, so that if ever I am inclined
     to think myself less foolish than the average man I may look upon
     its red cover and remember that I am but human. By the way, I hope
     do not show your correspondence to your husband, least of all mine.
     A man can never understand a woman’s epistolary communications, for
     he reads them with his own simple alphabet of twenty-six letters,
     whereas he requires one of at least fifty-two; and even that is
     little. It is madness for a happy pair to pretend to have no
     secrets from one another: it leads them into so much deception. If,
     however, as I suspect, you think it your duty to show Edward this
     note of mine, he will perhaps find it not unuseful for the
     elucidation of my character, in the study of which I myself have
     spent many entertaining years._

     _I give you no address so that you may not be in want of an excuse
     to leave this letter unanswered.--Your affectionate Aunt_,

_Mary Ley_.



Bertha impatiently tossed the letter to Edward.

“What does she mean?” he asked, when he had read it.

Bertha shrugged her shoulders. “She believes in nothing but the
stupidity of other people.... Poor woman, she has never been in love!
But we won’t have any secrets from one another, Eddie. I know that you
will never hide anything from me, and I--What can I do that is not at
your telling?”

“It’s a funny letter,” he replied, looking at it again.

“But we’re free now, darling,” she said. “The house is ready for us;
shall we go at once?”

“But we haven’t been here a fortnight yet,” he objected.

“What does it matter? We’re both sick of London; let us go home and
start our life. We’re going to lead it for the rest of our days, so we’d
better begin it quickly. Honeymoons are stupid things.”

“Well, I don’t mind. By Jove, fancy if we’d gone to Italy for six
weeks.”

“Oh, I didn’t know what a honeymoon was like. I think I imagined
something quite different.”

“You see I was right, wasn’t I?”

“Of course you were right,” she answered, flinging her arms round his
neck; “you’re always right, my darling.... Ah! you can’t think how I
love you.”



Chapter VIII


The Kentish coast is bleak and grey between Leanham and Blackstable;
through the long winter months the winds of the North Sea sweep down
upon it, bowing the trees before them; and from the murky waters
perpetually arise the clouds, and roll up in heavy banks. It is a
country that offers those who live there, what they give: sometimes the
sombre colours and the silent sea express only restfulness and peace;
sometimes the chill breezes send the blood racing through the veins; but
also the solitude can answer the deepest melancholy, or the cheerless
sky a misery which is more terrible than death. The moment’s mood seems
always reproduced in the surrounding scenes, and in them may be found,
as it were, a synthesis of the emotions. Bertha stood upon the high road
which ran past Court Leys, and from the height looked down upon the
lands which were hers. Close at hand the only habitations were a pair of
humble cottages, from which time and rough weather had almost effaced
the obtrusiveness of human handiwork. They stood away from the road,
among fruit trees--a part of nature and not a blot upon it, as Court
Leys had never ceased to be. All around were fields, great stretches of
ploughed earth and meadows of coarse herbage. The trees were few, and
stood out here and there in the distance, bent before the wind. Beyond
was Blackstable, straggling grey houses with a border of new villas
built for the Londoners who came in summer; and the sea was dotted with
the smacks of the fishing town.

Bertha looked at the scene with sensations that she had never known; the
heavy clouds hung above her, shutting out the whole world, and she felt
an invisible barrier between herself and all other things. This was the
land of her birth out of which she, and her fathers before her, had
arisen; they had their day, and one by one returned whence they came and
became again united with the earth. She had withdrawn from the pomps and
vanities of life to live as her ancestors had lived, ploughing the land,
sowing and reaping; but her children, the sons of the future, would
belong to a new stock, stronger and fairer than the old. The Leys had
gone down into the darkness of death, and her children would bear
another name. All these things she gathered out of the brown fields and
the grey sea mist. She was a little tired and the physical sensation
caused a mental fatigue so that she felt in her suddenly the weariness
of a family that had lived too long; she knew she was right to choose
new blood to mix with the old blood of the Leys. It needed freshness and
youth, the massive strength of her husband, to bring life to the decayed
race. Her thoughts wandered to her father, the dilettante who wandered
through Italy in search of beautiful things and emotions which his
native country could not give him; of Miss Ley, whose attitude towards
life was a shrug of the shoulders and a well-bred smile of contempt. Was
not she, the last of them, wise? Feeling herself too weak to stand
alone, she had taken a mate whose will and vitality would be a pillar of
strength to her defaillance: her husband had still in his sinews the
might of his mother, the Earth, a barbaric power which knew not the
subtleties of weakness; he was the conqueror, and she was his
handmaiden. But an umbrella was being waved at Mrs. Craddock from the
bottom of the hill, and she smiled, recognising the masculine walk of
Miss Glover.

Even from a distance the maiden’s determination and strength of mind
were apparent; she approached, her face redder even than usual after the
climb, encased in the braided jacket that fitted her as severely as
sardines are fitted in their tin.

“I was coming to see you, Bertha,” she cried. “I heard you were back.”

“We’ve been home several days, getting to rights.”

Miss Clover shook Bertha’s hand with much vigour, and together they
walked back to the house, along the avenue bordered with leafless trees.

“Now, do tell me all about your honeymoon, I’m so anxious to hear
everything.”

But Bertha was not very communicative, she had an instinctive dislike to
telling her private affairs, and never had any overpowering desire for
sympathy.

“Oh, I don’t think there’s much to tell,” she answered, when they were
in the drawing-room and she was pouring out tea for her guest. “I
suppose all honeymoons are more or less alike.”

“You funny girl,” said Miss Glover. “Didn’t you enjoy it?”

“Yes,” said Bertha, with a smile that was almost ecstatic; then after a
little pause: “We had a very good time--we went to all the theatres.”

Miss Glover felt that marriage had caused a difference in Bertha, and it
made her nervous to realise the change. She looked uneasily at the
married woman and occasionally blushed.

“And are you really happy?” she blurted out suddenly. Bertha smiled, and
reddening, looked more charming than ever.

“Yes--I think I’m perfectly happy.”

“Aren’t you sure?” asked Miss Glover, who cultivated precision in every
part of life and strongly disapproved of persons who did not know their
own minds.

Bertha looked at her for a moment, as if considering the question.

“You know,” she answered, at last, “happiness is never quite what one
expected it to be. I hardly hoped for so much; but I didn’t imagine it
quite like it is.”

“Ah, well, I think it’s better not to go into these things,” replied
Miss Glover, a little severely, thinking the suggestion of analysis
scarcely suitable in a young married woman. “We ought to take things as
they are, and be thankful.”

“Ought we?” said Bertha lightly, “I never do.... I’m never satisfied
with what I have.”

They heard the opening of the front door and Bertha jumped up.

“There’s Edward! I must go and see him. You don’t mind, do you?”

She almost skipped out of the room; marriage, curiously enough, had
dissipated the gravity of manner which had made people find so little
girlishness about her. She seemed younger, lighter of heart.

“What a funny creature she is!” thought Miss Glover. “When she was a
girl she had all the ways of a married woman, and now that she’s really
married she might be a schoolgirl.”

The parson’s sister was not certain whether the irresponsibility of
Bertha was fit to her responsible position, whether her unusual bursts
of laughter were proper to a mystic state demanding gravity.

“I hope she’ll turn out all right,” she sighed.

But Bertha impulsively rushed to her husband and kissed him. She helped
him off with his coat.

“I’m so glad to see you again,” she cried, laughing a little at her own
eagerness; for it was only after luncheon that he had left her.

“Is any one here?” he asked, noticing Miss Glover’s umbrella. He
returned his wife’s embrace somewhat mechanically.

“Come and see,” said Bertha, taking his arm and dragging him along. “You
must be dying for tea, you poor thing.”

“Miss Glover!” he said, shaking the lady’s hand as energetically as she
shook his. “How good of you to come and see us. I _am_ glad to see you.
You see we came home sooner than we expected--there’s no place like the
country, is there?”

“You’re right there, Mr. Craddock; I can’t bear London.”

“Oh, you don’t know it,” said Bertha; “for you it’s Aerated Bread shops,
Exeter Hall, and Church Congresses.”

“Bertha!” cried Edward, in a tone of surprise; he could not understand
frivolity with Miss Glover.

That good creature was far to kind-hearted to take offence at any remark
of Bertha’s, and smiled grimly: she could smile in no other way.

“Tell me what you did in London. I can’t get anything out of Bertha.”

Craddock’s mind was communicative, nothing pleased him more than to give
people information, and he was always ready to share his knowledge with
the world at large. He never picked up a fact without rushing to tell it
to somebody else. Some persons when they know a thing immediately lose
interest and it bores them to discuss it, but Craddock was not of these.
Nor could repetition exhaust his eagerness to enlighten his fellows, he
would tell an hundred people the news of the day and be as fresh as ever
when it came to the hundred and first. Such a characteristic is
undoubtedly a gift, useful in the highest degree to schoolmasters and
politicians, but slightly tedious to their hearers. Craddock favoured
his guest with a detailed account of all their adventures in London, the
plays they had seen, the plots thereof and the actors who played them.
He gave the complete list of the museums and churches and public
buildings they had visited, while Bertha looked at him, smiling happily
at his enthusiasm. She cared little what he spoke of, the mere sound of
his voice was music in her ears, and she would have listened delightedly
while he read aloud from end to end _Whitaker’s Almanack_: that was a
thing, by the way, which he was quite capable of doing. Edward
corresponded far more with Miss Glover’s conception of the newly married
man than did Bertha with that of the newly married woman.

“He is a nice fellow,” she said to her brother afterwards, when they
were eating their supper of cold mutton, solemnly seated at either end
of a long table.

“Yes,” answered the Vicar, in his tired, patient voice, “I think he’ll
turn out a good husband.”

Mr. Glover was patience itself, which a little irritated Miss Ley, who
liked a man of spirit; and of that Mr. Glover had never a grain. He was
resigned to everything; he was resigned to his food being badly cooked,
to the perversity of human nature, to the existence of dissenters
(almost), to his infinitesimal salary; he was resignation driven to
death. Miss Ley said he was like those Spanish donkeys that one sees
plodding along in a string, listlessly bearing over-heavy
loads--patient, patient, patient. But not so patient as Mr. Glover; the
donkey sometimes kicked, the Vicar of Leanham never.

“I do hope it will turn out well, Charles,” said Miss Glover.

“I hope it will,” he answered; then after a pause: “Did you ask them if
they were coming to church to-morrow?” He helped himself to mashed
potatoes, noticing long-sufferingly that they were burnt again; the
potatoes were always burnt, but he made no comment.

“Oh, I quite forgot,” said his sister, answering the question. “But I
think they’re sure to. Edward Craddock was always a regular attendant.”

Mr. Glover made no reply, and they kept silence for the rest of the
meal. Immediately afterwards the parson went into his study to finish
the morrow’s sermon, and Miss Glover took out of her basket her
brother’s woollen socks and began to darn them. She worked for more than
an hour, thinking meanwhile of the Craddocks; she liked Edward better
and better each time she saw him, and she felt he was a man who could be
trusted. She upbraided herself a little for her disapproval of the
marriage; her action was unchristian, and she asked herself whether it
was not her duty to apologise to Bertha or to Craddock; the thought of
doing something humiliating to her own self-respect attracted her
wonderfully. But Bertha was different from other girls; Miss Glover,
thinking of her, grew confused.

But a tick of the clock to announce an hour about to strike made her
look up, and she saw it wanted but five minutes to ten.

“I had no idea it was so late.”

She got up and tidily put away her work, then taking from the top of the
harmonium the Bible and the big prayer-book which were upon it, placed
them at the end of the table. She drew forward a chair for her brother,
and sat patiently to await his coming. As the clock struck she heard the
study door open, and the Vicar walked in. Without a word he went to the
books, and sitting down, found his place in the Bible.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

He looked up one moment over his spectacles. “Yes.”

Miss Glover leant forward and rang the bell--the servant appeared with a
basket of eggs, which she placed on the table. Mr. Glover looked at her
till she was settled on her chair, and began the lesson. Afterwards the
servant lit two candles and bade them good-night. Miss Glover counted
the eggs.

“How many are there to-day?” asked the parson.

“Seven,” she answered, dating them one by one, and entering the number
in a book kept for the purpose.

“Are you ready?” now asked Mr. Glover.

“Yes, Charles,” she said, taking one of the candles.

He put out the lamp, and with the other candle followed her upstairs.
She stopped outside her door and bade him good-night; he kissed her
coldly on the forehead and they went into their respective rooms.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is always a certain flurry in a country-house on Sunday morning.
There is in the air a feeling peculiar to the day, a state of alertness
and expectation; for even when they are repeated for years, week by
week, the preparations for church cannot be taken coolly. The odour of
clean linen is unmistakable, every one is highly starched and somewhat
ill-at-ease; the members of the household ask one another if they’re
ready, they hunt for prayer-books; the ladies are never dressed in time
and sally out at last, buttoning their gloves; the men stamp and fume
and take out their watches. Edward, of course, wore a tail-coat and a
top-hat, which is quite the proper costume for the squire to go to
church in, and no one gave more thought to the proprieties than Edward.
He held himself very upright, cultivating the slightly self-conscious
gravity considered fit to the occasion.

“We shall be late, Bertha,” he said. “It will look so bad--the first
time we come to church since our marriage, too.”

“My dear,” said Bertha, “you may be quite certain that even if Mr.
Glover is so indiscreet as to start, for the congregation the ceremony
will not really begin till we appear.”

They drove up in an old-fashioned brougham used only for going to church
and to dinner-parties, and the word was immediately passed by the
loungers at the porch to the devout within; there was a rustle of
attention as Mr. and Mrs. Craddock walked up the aisle to the front pew
which was theirs by right.

“He looks at home, don’t he?” murmured the natives, for the behaviour of
Edward interested them more than that of his wife, who was sufficiently
above them to be almost a stranger.

Bertha sailed up with a royal unconsciousness of the eyes upon her; she
was pleased with her personal appearance, and intensely proud of her
good-looking husband. Mrs. Branderton, the mother of Craddock’s best
man, fixed her eye-glass upon her and stared as is the custom of great
ladies in the suburbs. Mrs. Branderton was a woman who cultivated the
mode in the depths of the country, a little, giggling, grey-haired
creature who talked stupidly in a high, cracked voice and had her too
juvenile bonnets straight from Paris. She was a gentlewoman, and this,
of course, is a very fine thing to be. She was proud of it (in quite a
nice way), and in the habit of saying that gentlefolk were gentlefolk;
which, if you come to think of it, is a most profound remark.

“I mean to go and speak to the Craddocks afterwards,” she whispered to
her son. “It will have a good effect on the Leanham people; I wonder if
poor Bertha feels it yet.”

Mrs. Branderton had a self-importance which was almost sublime; it never
occurred to her that there might be persons sufficiently ill-conditioned
as to resent her patronage. She did it all in kindness--she showered
advice upon all and sundry, besides soups and jellies upon the poor, to
whom when they were ill she even sent her cook to read the Bible. She
would have gone herself, only she strongly disapproved of familiarity
with the lower classes, which made them independent and often rude. Mrs.
Branderton knew without possibility of question that she and her equals
were made of different clay from common folk; but, being a gentlewoman,
did not throw this fact in the latters’ faces, unless, of course, they
gave themselves airs, when she thought a straight talking-to did them
good. Without any striking advantages of birth, money, or intelligence,
Mrs. Branderton never doubted her right to direct the affairs and
fashions, even the modes of thought of her neighbours; and by sheer
force of self-esteem had caused them to submit for thirty years to her
tyranny, hating her and yet looking upon her invitations to a bad
dinner, as something quite desirable.

Mrs. Branderton had debated with herself how she should treat the
Craddocks.

“I wonder if it’s my duty to cut them,” she said. “Edward Craddock is
_not_ the sort of man a Miss Ley ought to marry. But there are so few
gentlefolk in the neighbourhood, and of course people do make marriages
which they wouldn’t have dreamed of twenty years ago. Even the best
society is very mixed nowadays. Perhaps I’d better err on the side of
mercy!”

Mrs. Branderton was a little pleased to think that the Leys required her
support--as was proved by the request of her son’s services at the
wedding.

“The fact is gentlefolk are gentlefolk, and they must stand by one
another in these days of pork-butchers and furniture people.”

After the service, when the parishioners were standing about the
churchyard, Mrs. Branderton sailed up to the Craddocks followed by
Arthur, and in her high, cracked voice began to talk with Edward. She
kept an eye on the Leanham people to see that her action was being duly
noticed, speaking to Craddock in the manner a gentlewoman should adopt
with a man whose gentility was a little doubtful. Of course he was very
much pleased and flattered.



Chapter IX


Some days later, after the due preliminaries which Mrs. Branderton would
on no account have neglected, the Craddocks received an invitation to
dinner. Bertha silently passed it to her husband.

“I wonder who she’ll ask to meet us,” he said.

“D’you want to go?” asked Bertha.

“Why, don’t you? We’ve go no engagement, have we?”

“Have you ever dined there before?” said Bertha.

“No. I’ve been to tennis-parties and that sort of thing, but I’ve hardly
set foot inside their house.”

“Well, I think it’s an impertinence of her to ask you now.”

Edward opened his mouth wide: “What on earth d’you mean?”

“Oh, don’t you see?” cried his wife, “they’re merely asking you because
you’re my husband. It’s humiliating.”

“Nonsense!” replied Edward, laughing. “And if they are, what do I
care?--I’m not so thin-skinned as that. Mrs. Branderton was very nice to
me the other Sunday; it would be funny if we didn’t accept.”

“Did you think she was nice? Didn’t you see that she was patronising you
as if you were a groom. It made me boil with rage. I could hardly hold
my tongue.”

Edward laughed again. “I never noticed anything. It’s just your fancy,
Bertha.”

“I’m not going to her horrid dinner-party.”

“Then I shall go by myself,” he replied, laughing.

Bertha turned white; it was as if she had received a sudden blow; but he
was laughing, of course he did not mean what he said. She hurriedly
agreed to all he asked.

“Of course if you want to go, Eddie, I’ll come too.... It was only for
your sake that I did not wish to.”

“We must be neighbourly. I want to be friends with everybody.”

She sat on the side of his chair, putting her arm round his neck. Edward
patted her hand and she looked at him with eyes full of eager love, she
bent down and kissed his hair. How foolish had been her sudden thought
that he did not love her!

But Bertha had another reason for not wishing to go to Mrs. Branderton.
She knew Edward would be bitterly criticised, and the thought made her
wretched; they would talk of his appearance and manner, and wonder how
they got on together. Bertha understood well enough the position Edward
occupied in Leanham; the Brandertons and their like, knowing him all his
life, had treated him as a mere acquaintance: for them he had been a
person to whom you are civil, and that is all. This was the first
occasion upon which he had been dealt with entirely as an equal; it was
his introduction into what Mrs. Branderton was pleased to call the upper
ten of Leanham. It did indeed make Bertha’s blood boil; and it cut her
to the heart to think that for years he had been used in so infamous a
fashion: he did not seem to mind.

“If I were he,” she said, “I’d rather die than go. They’ve ignored him
always, and now they take him up as a favour to me.”

But Edward appeared to have no pride; of course his character was
charming, and he could bear ill will to no one. He neither resented the
former neglect of the Brandertons nor their present impertinence.

“I wish I could make him understand.”

Bertha passed the intervening week in a tremor of anxiety. She divined
who the other guests would be. Would they laugh at him? Of course not
openly; Mrs. Branderton, the least charitable of them all, prided
herself upon her breeding; but Edward was shy, and among strangers
awkward. To Bertha this was a charm rather than a defect; his
half-bashful candour touched her, and she compared it favourably with
the foolish worldliness of the imaginary man-about-town, whose
dissipations she always opposed to her husband’s virtues. But she knew
that a spiteful tongue would find another name for what she called a
delightful _naïveté_.

       *       *       *       *       *

When at last the great day arrived, and they trundled off in the
old-fashioned brougham, Bertha was thoroughly prepared to take mortal
offence at the merest shadow of a slight offered to her husband. The
Lord Chief Justice himself could not have been more careful of a company
promoter’s fair name than was Mrs. Craddock of her husband’s
susceptibilities; Edward, like the financier, treated the affair with
indifference.

Mrs. Branderton had routed out the whole countryside for her show of
gentlefolk. They had come from Blackstable and Tercanbury and Faversley,
and from the seats and mansions which surrounded those places. Mrs.
Mayston Ryle was there in a wonderful jete-black wig, and a voluminous
dress of violet silk. Lady Wagget was there.

“Merely the widow of a city knight, my dear,” said the hostess to
Bertha, “but if she isn’t distinguished, she’s good; so one mustn’t be
too hard upon her.”

General Hancock arrived with two fuzzy-haired daughters, who were
dreadfully plain, but pretended not to know it. They had walked; and
while the soldier toddled in, blowing like a grampus, the girls (whose
united ages made the respectable total of sixty-five years) stayed
behind to remove their boots and put on the shoes which they had brought
in a bag. Then, in a little while, came the Dean, meek and somewhat
talkative; Mr. Glover had been invited for his sake, and of course
Charles’ sister could not be omitted. She was looking almost festive in
very shiny black satin.

“Poor dear,” said Mrs. Branderton to another guest, “it’s her only
dinner dress; I’ve seen it for years. I’d willingly give her one of my
old ones, only I’m afraid I should offend her by offering it. People in
that class are so ridiculously sensitive.”

Mr. Atthill Bacot was announced; he had once contested the seat, and
ever after been regarded as an authority upon the nation’s affairs. Mr.
James Lycett and Mr. Molson came next, both red-faced squires with
dogmatic opinions; they were alike as two peas, and it had been the
local joke for thirty years that no one but their wives could tell them
apart. Mrs. Lycett was thin and quiet and staid, wearing two little
strips of lace on her hair to represent a cap; Mrs. Molson was so
insignificant that no one had ever noticed what she was like. It was one
of Mrs. Branderton’s representative gatherings; moral excellence was
joined to perfect gentility and the result could not fail to edify. She
was herself in high spirits and her cracked voice rang high and shrill.
She was conscious of a successful costume; she really had much taste,
and her frock would have looked charming on a woman half her age.
Thinking also that it was part of woman’s duty to be amiable, Mrs.
Branderton smiled and ogled at the old gentlemen in a way that quite
alarmed them, and Mr. Atthill Bacot really thought she had designs upon
his virtue.

The dinner just missed being eatable. Mrs. Branderton was a woman of
fashion and disdained the solid fare of a country dinner-party--thick
soup, fried soles, mutton cutlets, roast mutton, pheasant, Charlotte
russe, and jellies. (The earlier dishes are variable according to
season, but the Charlotte russe and the jelly are inevitable.) No, Mrs.
Branderton said she must be a little more “distangay” than that, and
provided her guests with clear soup, _entrees_ from the Stores, a fluffy
sweet which looked pretty and tasted horrid. The feast was extremely
elegant, but it was not filling, which is unpleasant to elderly squires
with large appetites.

“I never get enough to eat at the Brandertons,” said Mr. Atthill Bacot,
indignantly.

“Well, I know the old woman,” replied Mr. Molson. Mrs. Branderton was
the same age as himself, but he was rather a dog, and thought himself
quite young enough to flirt with the least plain of the two Miss
Hancocks. “I know her well, and I make a point of drinking a glass of
sherry with a couple of eggs beaten up in it before I come.”

“The wines are positively immoral,” said Mrs. Mayston Ryle, who prided
herself on her palate. “I’m always inclined to bring with me a flask
with a little good whisky in it.”

But if the food was not heavy the conversation was. It is an axiom of
narration that truth should coincide with probability, and the realist
is perpetually hampered by the wild exaggeration of actual facts; a
verbatim report of the conversation at Mrs. Branderton’s dinner-party
would read like a shrieking caricature. The anecdote reigned supreme.
Mrs. Mayston Ryle was a specialist in the clerical anecdote; she
successively related the story of Bishop Thorold and his white hands,
the story of Bishop Wilberforce and the bloody shovel. (This somewhat
shocked the ladies, but Mrs. Mayston Ryle could not spoil her point by
the omission of a swear word.) The Dean gave an anecdote about himself,
to which Mrs. Mayston Ryle retorted with one about the Archbishop of
Canterbury and the tedious curate. Mr. Arthill Bacot gave political
anecdotes, Mr. Gladstone and the table of the House of Commons, Dizzy
and the agricultural labourer. The climax came when General Hancock gave
his celebrated stories about the Duke of Wellington. Edward laughed
heartily at them all.

Bertha’s eyes were constantly upon her husband. She detested the
thoughts that ran through her head, for that they should come to her at
all was disparaging to him; but still she was horribly anxious. Was he
not perfect, and handsome, and adorable? Why should she tremble before
the opinion of a dozen stupid people? But she could not help it. However
much she despised her neighbours, she could not prevent herself from
being miserably affected by their judgment. And what did Edward feel?
Was he as nervous as she? She could not bear the thought that he should
suffer pain. It was an immense relief when Mrs. Branderton rose from the
table. Bertha looked at Arthur holding open the door; she would have
given anything to ask him to look after Edward, but dared not. She was
terrified lest, to his humiliation, those old squires should pointedly
ignore him.

On reaching the drawing-room Miss Glover found herself by Bertha’s side,
a little separated from the others, and the accident seemed designed by
higher powers to give her an opportunity for the amends which she felt
it her duty to make Mrs. Craddock for her former disparagement of
Edward. She had been thinking the matter over, and considered an apology
distinctly needful. But Miss Glover suffered terribly from nervousness,
and the idea of broaching so delicate a subject caused her indescribable
torture; yet the very unpleasantness of it reassured her, if speech was
so disagreeable, it must obviously be her duty. But the words stuck in
her throat, and she began talking of the weather. She reproached herself
for cowardice; she set her teeth and grew scarlet.

“Bertha, I want to beg your pardon,” she blurted out suddenly.

“What on earth for?” Bertha opened her eyes wide and looked at the poor
woman with astonishment.

“I feel I’ve been unjust to your husband. I thought he wasn’t a proper
match for you, and I said things about him which I shouldn’t even have
thought. I’m very sorry. He’s one of the best and kindest men I’ve ever
seen, and I’m very glad you married him, and I’m sure you’ll be very
happy.”

Tears came to Bertha’s eyes as she laughed; she felt inclined to throw
her arms round the grim Miss Glover’s neck, for such a speech at that
moment was very comforting.

“Of course I know you didn’t mean what you said.”

“Oh yes, I did, I’m sorry to say,” replied Miss Glover, who could allow
no extenuation to her own crime.

“I’d quite forgotten all about it; and I believe you’ll soon be as madly
in love with Edward as I am.”

“My dear Bertha,” replied Miss Glover, who never jested, “with your
husband? You must be joking.”

But Mrs. Branderton interrupted them with her high voice.

“Bertha, dear, I want to talk to you.” Bertha, smiling, sat down beside
her, and Mrs. Branderton proceeded in undertones.

“I must tell you, every one has been saying you’re the handsomest couple
in the county, and we all think your husband is so nice.”

“He laughed at all your jokes,” replied Bertha.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Branderton, looking upwards and sideways like a canary,
“he has such a merry disposition. But I’ve always liked him, dear. I was
telling Mrs. Mayston Ryle that I’ve known him intimately ever since he
was born. I thought it would please you to know that we all think your
husband is nice.”

“I’m very much pleased. I hope Edward will be equally satisfied with all
of you.”

The Craddock’s carriage came early, and Bertha offered to drive the
Glovers home.

“I wonder if that lady has swallowed a poker,” said Mr. Molson, as soon
as the drawing-room door was closed.

The two Miss Hancocks went into shrieks of laughter at this sally, and
even the Dean smiled gently.

“Where did she get her diamonds from?” said the elder Miss Hancock. “I
thought they were as poor as church mice.”

“The diamonds and the pictures are the only things they have left,” said
Mrs. Branderton; “her family always refused to sell them; though, of
course, it’s absurd for people in that position to have such jewels.”

“_He’s_ a remarkably nice fellow,” said Mrs. Mayston Ryle in her deep,
authoritative voice; “but I agree with Mr. Molson, she’s distinctly
inclined to give herself airs.”

“The Leys for generations have been as proud as turkey-cocks,” added
Mrs. Branderton.

“I shouldn’t have thought Mrs. Craddock had much to be proud of now, at
all events,” said the elder Miss Hancock; she had no ancestors herself,
and thought people who had were snobs.

“Perhaps she was a little nervous,” said Lady Waggett, who, though not
distinguished, was good. “I know when I was a bride I used to be all of
a tremble when I went to dinner-parties.”

“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Mayston Ryle. “She was extremely self-possessed; I
don’t think it looks well for a young woman to have so much assurance.
And I think she ought to be told that it’s hardly well bred for a young
married woman to leave a house before anybody else as if she were
royalty, when there are present women of a certain age and of a position
undoubtedly not inferior to her own.”

“Oh, they’re so newly married they like to be alone, poor things,” said
Lady Waggett. “I know I used to when I was first married to Sir Samuel.”

“My dear Lady Waggett,” answered Mrs. Mayston Ryle in tones of thunder,
“the cases are not similar; Mrs. Craddock was a Miss Ley, and really
should know something of the usages of good society.”

“Well, what do you think she said to me?” said Mrs. Branderton, waving
her thin arms. “I was telling her that we were all so pleased with her
husband--I thought it would comfort her a little, poor thing--and she
said she hoped he would be equally satisfied with us.”

Mrs. Mayston Ryle for a moment was stupefied, but soon recovered.

“How very amusing,” she cried, rising from her chair. “Ha! ha! She hopes
Mr. Edward Craddock will be satisfied with Mrs. Mayston Ryle.”

The two Miss Hancocks said “Ha! ha!” in chorus. Then, the great lady’s
carriage being announced, she bade the assembly good-night, and swept
out with a great rustling of her violet silk. The party might now really
be looked upon as concluded, and the others obediently flocked off.

       *       *       *       *       *

When they had put the Glovers down, Bertha nestled close to her husband.

“I’m so glad it’s all over,” she whispered; “I’m only happy when I’m
alone with you.”

“It was a jolly evening, wasn’t it,” he said. “I thought they were all
ripping.”

“I’m so glad you enjoyed it, dear; I was afraid you’d be bored.”

“Good heavens, that’s the last thing I should be. It does one good to
hear conversation like that now and then--it brightens one up.”

Bertha started a little.

“Old Bacot is a very well informed man, isn’t he? I shouldn’t wonder if
he was right in thinking that the government would go out at the end of
their six years.”

“He always leads one to believe that he’s in the Prime Minister’s
confidence,” said Bertha.

“And the General is a funny old chap,” added Edward. “That was a good
story he told about the Duke of Wellington.”

Somehow this remark had a curious effect upon Bertha; she could not
restrain herself, but burst suddenly into shrieks of hysterical
laughter. Her husband, thinking she was laughing at the anecdote, burst
also into peal upon peal.

“And the story about the Bishop’s gaiters!” cried Edward, shouting with
merriment.

The more he laughed, the more hysterical became Bertha; and as they
drove through the silent night they screamed and yelled and shook with
uncontrollable mirth.



Chapter X


And so the Craddocks began their journey along the great road nowhither
which is called the Road of Holy Matrimony. The spring came, and with it
a hundred new delights; Bertha watched the lengthening days, the
coloured crocus spring from the ground, the snowbells; the warm damp
days of February brought the primroses and then the violets. February is
a month of languors; the world’s heart is heavy, listless of the unrest
of April and the vigorous life of May. Throughout nature the seed is
germinating and the pulse of all things throbs. The sea mists arose from
the North Sea, and covered the Kentish land with a veil of moisture,
white and almost transparent, so that through it the leafless trees were
seen strangely distorted, their branches like long arms writhing to free
themselves from the shackles of winter; the grass was very green in the
marshes, and the young lambs frisked and gambolled, bleating to their
mothers. Already the thrushes and the blackbirds were singing in the
hedge-rows. March roared in boisterously, and the clouds, high above,
swept across the sky before the tearing winds, sometimes heaped up in
heavy masses and then blown asunder, flying westwards, tripping over one
another’s heels in their hurry. Nature was resting; holding her breath,
as it were, before the great effort of birth.

Gradually Bertha came to know her husband better. At her marriage she
had really known nothing but that she loved him; the senses only had
spoken, she and he were merely puppets whom nature had thrown together
and made attractive in one another’s eyes, that the race might be
continued. Bertha, desire burning within her like a fire, had flung
herself into her husband’s arms, loving as the beasts love--and as the
gods. He was the man and she was the woman, and the world was a Garden
of Eden, conjured up by the power of passion. But greater knowledge
brought only greater love. Little by little, reading in Edward’s mind,
Bertha discovered to her delight an unexpected purity; it was with a
feeling of curious happiness that she recognised his innocence. She saw
that he had never loved before, that woman to him was a strange thing, a
thing he had scarcely known. She was proud that her husband had come to
her unsoiled by foreign embraces, the lips that kissed hers were clean;
no speech on the subject had passed between them, and yet she felt
certain of his extreme chastity. His soul was truly virginal.

And this being so, how could she fail to adore him! Bertha was only
happy in her husband’s company, and it was an exquisite pleasure for her
to think that their bonds could not be sundered, that so long as they
lived they would be always together, always inseparable. She followed
him like a dog, with a subjection that was really touching; her pride
had utterly vanished, and she desired to exist only in Edward, to fuse
her character with his and be entirely one with him. She wanted him to
be her only individuality, likening herself to ivy climbing to the oak
tree; for he was an oak tree, a pillar of strength, and she was very
weak. In the morning after breakfast she accompanied him on his walk
around the farms, and only when her presence was impossible did she stay
at home to look after her house. The attempt to read was hopeless, and
she had thrown aside her books. Why should she read? Not for
entertainment, since her husband was a perpetual occupation; and if she
knew how to love, what other knowledge was useful? Often, left alone for
a while, she would take up some volume, but her mind quickly wandered
and she thought of Edward again, wishing to be with him.

Bertha’s life was an exquisite dream, a dream which need never end; for
her happiness was not of that boisterous sort which needs excursions and
alarums, but equable and smooth; she dwelt in a paradise of rosy tints,
in which were neither violent shadows nor glaring lights. She was in
heaven, and the only link attaching her to earth was the weekly service
at Leanham. There was a delightful humanity about the bare church with
its pitch-pine, highly varnished pews, and the odours of hair-pomade and
Reckitt’s Blue. Edward was in his Sabbath garments, the organist made
horrid sounds, and the village choir sang out of tune; Mr. Glover’s
mechanical delivery of the prayers cleverly extracted all beauty from
them, and his sermon was intensely prosaic. Those two hours of church
gave Bertha just the touch of earthliness which was necessary to make
her realize that life was not entirely spiritual.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now came April. The elms before Court Leys were beginning to burst into
leaf; the green buds covered the branches like a delicate rain, a
verdant haze that was visible from a little distance and vanished when
one came near. The brown fields also clothed themselves with a summer
garment; the clover sprang up green and luxurious, and the crops showed
good promise for the future. There were days when the air was almost
balmy, when the sun was warm and the heart leapt, certain at last that
the spring was at hand. The warm and comfortable rain soaked into the
ground; and from the branches continually hung the countless drops,
glistening in the succeeding sun. The self-conscious tulip unfolded her
petals and carpeted the ground with gaudy colour. The clouds above
Leanham were lifted up and the world was stretched out in a greater
circle. The birds now sang with no uncertain notes as in March, but from
a full throat, filling the air; and in the hawthorn behind Court Leys
the first nightingale poured out his richness. And the full scents of
the earth rose up, the fragrance of the mould and of the rain, the
perfumes of the sun and of the soft breezes.

But sometimes, without ceasing, it rained from morning till night, and
then Edward rubbed his hands.

“I wish this would keep on for a week; it’s just what the country
wants.”

One such day Bertha was lying on a sofa while Edward stood at the
window, looking at the pattering rain. She thought of the November
afternoon when she had stood at the same window considering the
dreariness of the winter, but her heart full of hope and love.

“Come and sit down beside me, Eddie dear,” she said. “I’ve hardly seen
you all day.”

“I’ve got to go out,” he said, without turning round.

“Oh no, you haven’t. Come here and sit down.”

“I’ll come for two minutes, while they’re putting the trap in.”

“Kiss me.”

He kissed her and she laughed. “You funny boy, I don’t believe you care
about kissing me a bit.”

He could not answer this, for at that moment the trap came to the door
and he sprang up.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m driving over to see old Potts at Herne about some sheep.”

“Is that all? Don’t you think you might stay in for an afternoon when I
ask you?”

“Why?” he replied. “There’s nothing to do in here. Nobody is coming, I
suppose.”

“I want to be with you, Eddie,” she said, plaintively.

He laughed. “I’m afraid I can’t break an appointment just for that.”

“Shall I come with you then?”

“What on earth for?” he asked, with surprise.

“I want to be with you; I hate being always separated from you.”

“But we’re not always separated. Hang it all, it seems to me that we’re
always together.”

“You don’t notice my absence as I notice yours,” said Bertha in a low
voice, looking down.

“But it’s raining cats and dogs, and you’ll get wet through, if you
come.”

“What do I care about that if I’m with you!”

“Then come by all means if you like.”

“You don’t care if I come or not; it’s nothing to you.”

“Well, I think it would be very silly of you to come in the rain. You
bet, I shouldn’t go if I could help it.”

“Then go,” she said. She kept back with difficulty the bitter words
which were on the tip of her tongue.

“You’re much better at home,” said her husband, cheerfully. “I shall be
in to tea at five. Ta-ta!”

He might have said a thousand things. He might have said that nothing
would please him more than that she should accompany him, that the
appointment could go to the devil and he would stay with her. But he
went off, cheerfully whistling. He didn’t care. Bertha’s cheeks grew red
with the humiliation of his refusal.

“He doesn’t love me,” she said, and suddenly burst into tears--the first
tears of her married life, the first she had wept since her father’s
death; and they made her ashamed. She tried to control them, but could
not and wept ungovernably. Edward’s words seemed terribly cruel; she
wondered how he could have said them.

“I might have expected it,” she said; “he doesn’t love me.”

She grew angry with him, remembering the little coldnesses which had
often pained her. Often he almost pushed her away when she came to
caress him--because he had at the moment something else to occupy him;
often he had left unanswered her protestations of undying affection. Did
he not know that he cut her to the quick? When she said she loved him
with all her heart, he wondered if the clock was wound up! Bertha
brooded for two hours over her unhappiness, and, ignorant of the time,
was surprised to hear the trap again at the door; her first impulse was
to run and let Edward in, but she restrained herself. She was very
angry. He entered, and shouting to her that he was wet and must change,
pounded upstairs. Of course he had not noticed that for the first time
since their marriage his wife had not met him in the hall when he came
in--he never noticed anything.

Edward entered the room, his face glowing with the fresh air.

“By Jove, I’m glad you didn’t come. The rain simply poured down. How
about tea? I’m starving.”

He thought of his tea when Bertha wanted apologies, humble excuses, a
plea for pardon. He was as cheerful as usual and quite unconscious that
his wife had been crying herself into a towering passion.

“Did you buy your sheep?” she said, in an indignant tone. She was
anxious for Edward to notice her discomposure, so that she might
reproach him for his sins; but he noticed nothing.

“Not much,” he cried. “I wouldn’t have given a fiver for the lot.”

“You might as well have stayed with me, as I asked you.”

“As far as business goes, I really might. But I dare say the drive
across country did me good.” He was a man who always made the best of
things.

Bertha took up a book and began reading.

“Where’s the paper?” asked Edward. “I haven’t read the leading articles
yet.”

“I’m sure I don’t know.”

They sat till dinner, Edward methodically going through the _Standard_,
column after column; Bertha turning over the pages of her book, trying
to understand, but occupied the whole time only with her injuries. They
ate the meal almost in silence, for Edward was not talkative. He merely
remarked that soon they would be having new potatoes and that he had met
Dr. Ramsay. Bertha answered in mono-syllables.

“You’re very quiet, Bertha,” he remarked, later in the evening. “What’s
the matter?”

“Nothing!”

“Got a headache?”

“No!”

He made no more inquiries, satisfied that her silence was due to natural
causes. He did not seem to notice that she was in any way different from
usual. She held herself in as long as she could, but finally burst out,
referring to his remark of an hour before.

“Do you care if I have a headache or not?” It was hardly a question so
much as a taunt.

He looked up with surprise. “What’s the matter?”

She looked at him and then, with a gesture of impatience, turned away.
But coming to her, he put his arm round her waist.

“Aren’t you well, dear?” he asked, with concern.

She looked at him again, but now her eyes were full of tears and she
could not repress a sob.

“Oh, Eddie, be nice to me,” she said, suddenly weakening.

“Do tell me what’s wrong.”

He put his arms round her and kissed her lips. The contact revived the
passion which for an hour had lain a-dying, and she burst into tears.

“Don’t be angry with me, Eddie,” she sobbed; it was she who apologised
and made excuses. “I’ve been horrid to you; I couldn’t help it. You’re
not angry, are you?”

“What on earth for?” he asked, completely mystified.

“I was so hurt this afternoon because you didn’t seem to care about me
two straws. You must love me, Eddie; I can’t live without it.”

“You _are_ silly,” he said, laughing.

She dried her tears, smiling. His forgiveness comforted her and she felt
now trebly happy.



Chapter XI


But Edward was certainly not an ardent lover. Bertha could not tell when
first she had noticed his irresponsiveness; at the beginning she had
known only that she loved her husband with all her heart, and her ardour
had lit up his somewhat pallid attachment till it seemed to glow as
fiercely as her own. Yet gradually she began to think that he made very
little return for the wealth of affection which she lavished upon him.
The causes of her dissatisfaction were scarcely explicable: a slight
motion of withdrawal, an indifference to her feelings--little nothings
which had seemed almost comic. Bertha at first likened Edward to the
Hippolitus of _Phædra_, he was untamed and wild; the kisses of woman
frightened him; his phlegm pleased her disguised as rustic savagery, and
she said her passion should thaw the icicles in his heart. But soon she
ceased to consider his passiveness amusing, sometimes she upbraided him,
and often, when alone, she wept.

“I wonder if you realise what pain you cause me at times,” said Bertha.

“Oh, I don’t think I do anything of the kind.”

“You don’t see it.... When I kiss you, it is the most natural thing in
the world for you to push me away, as if--almost as if you couldn’t bear
me.”

“Nonsense!”

To himself Edward was the same now as when they were first married.

“Of course after four months of married life you can’t expect a man to
be the same as on his honeymoon. One can’t always be making love and
canoodling. Everything in its proper time and season,” he added, with
the unoriginal man’s fondness for proverbial philosophy.

After the day’s work he liked to read his _Standard_ in peace, so when
Bertha came up to him he put her gently aside.

“Leave me alone for a bit, there’s a good girl.”

“Oh, you don’t love me,” she cried then, feeling as if her heart would
break.

He did not look up from his paper nor make reply; he was in the middle
of a leading article.

“Why don’t you answer?” she cried.

“Because you’re talking nonsense.”

He was the best-humoured of men, and Bertha’s temper never disturbed his
equilibrium. He knew that women felt a little irritable at times, but if
a man gave ’em plenty of rope, they’d calm down after a bit.

“Women are like chickens,” he told a friend. “Give ’em a good run,
properly closed in with stout wire netting, so that they can’t get into
mischief, and when they cluck and cackle just sit tight and take no
notice.”

Marriage had made no great difference in Edward’s life. He had always
been a man of regular habits, and these he continued to cultivate. Of
course he was more comfortable.

“There’s no denying it: a fellow wants a woman to look after him,” he
told Dr. Ramsay, whom he sometimes met on the latter’s rounds. “Before I
was married I used to find my shirts wore out in no time, but now when I
see a cuff getting a bit groggy I just give it to the Missis and she
makes it as good as new.”

“There’s a good deal of extra work, isn’t there, now you’ve taken on the
Home Farm?”

“Oh, bless you, I enjoy it. Fact is, I can’t get enough work to do. And
it seems to me that if you want to make farming pay nowadays you must do
it on a big scale.”

All day Edward was occupied, if not on the farms, then with business at
Blackstable, Tercanbury, and Faversley.

“I don’t approve of idleness,” he said. “They always say the devil finds
work for idle hands to do, and upon my word I think there’s a lot of
truth in it.”

Miss Glover, to whom this sentiment was addressed, naturally approved,
and when Edward immediately afterwards went out, leaving her with
Bertha, she said--

“What a good fellow your husband is! You don’t mind my saying so, do
you?”

“Not if it pleases you,” said Bertha, drily.

“I hear praise of him from every side. Of course Charles has the highest
opinion of him.”

Bertha did not answer, and Miss Glover added, “You can’t think how glad
I am that you’re so happy.”

Bertha smiled. “You’ve got such a kind heart, Fanny.”

The conversation dragged, and after five minutes of heavy silence Miss
Glover rose to go. When the door was closed upon her, Bertha sank back
in her chair, thinking. This was one of her unhappy days--Eddie had
walked into Blackstable, and she had wished to accompany him.

“I don’t think you’d better come with me,” he said. “I’m in rather a
hurry and I shall walk fast.”

“I can walk fast too,” she said, her face clouding over.

“No, you can’t--I know what you call walking fast. If you like you can
come and meet me on the way back.”

“Oh, you do everything you can to hurt me. It looks as if you welcomed
an opportunity of being cruel.”

“How unreasonable you are, Bertha. Can’t you see that I’m in a hurry,
and I haven’t got time to saunter along and chatter about the
buttercups.”

“Well, let’s drive in.”

“That’s impossible. The mare isn’t well, and the pony had a hard day
yesterday; he must rest to-day.”

“It’s simply because you don’t want me to come. It’s always the same,
day after day. You invent anything to get rid of me.”

She burst into tears, knowing that what she said was unjust, but feeling
notwithstanding extremely ill-used. Edward smiled with irritating good
temper.

“You’ll be sorry for what you’ve said when you’ve calmed down, and then
you’ll want me to forgive you.”

She looked up, flushing. “You think I’m a child and a fool.”

“No, I just think you’re out of sorts to-day.”

Then he went out, whistling, and she heard him give an order to the
gardener in his usual manner, as cheerful as if nothing had happened.
Bertha knew that he had already forgotten the little scene. Nothing
affected his good humour. She might weep, she might tear her heart out
(metaphorically), and bang it on the floor, Edward would not be
perturbed; he would still be placid, good-tempered, forbearing. Hard
words, he said, broke nobody’s bones--“Women are like chickens, when
they cluck and cackle sit tight and take no notice!”

On his return Edward appeared not to see that his wife was out of
temper. His spirits were always equable, and he was an unobservant
person. She answered him in mono-syllables, but he chattered away,
delighted at having driven a good bargain with a man in Blackstable.
Bertha longed for him to remark upon her condition so that she might
burst out with reproaches, but Edward was hopelessly dense--or else he
saw and was unwilling to give her an opportunity to speak. Bertha,
almost for the first time, was seriously angry with her husband and it
frightened her--suddenly Edward seemed an enemy, and she wished to
inflict some hurt upon him. She did not understand herself--what was
going to happen next? Why wouldn’t he say something so that she might
pour forth her woes and then be reconciled! The day wore on and she
preserved a sullen silence; her heart was beginning to ache
terribly--the night came, and still Edward made no sign; she looked
about for a chance of beginning the quarrel, but nothing offered. Bertha
pretended to go to sleep and she did not give him the kiss, the
never-ending kiss of lovers which they always exchanged. Surely he would
notice it, surely he would ask what troubled her, and then she could at
last bring him to his knees. But he said nothing; he was dog-tired after
a hard day’s work, and without a word went to sleep--in five minutes
Bertha heard his heavy, regular breathing.

Then she broke down; she could never sleep without saying good-night to
him, without the kiss of his lips.

“He’s stronger than I,” she said, “because he doesn’t love me.”

Bertha wept silently; she could not bear to be angry with her husband.
She would submit to anything rather than pass the night in wrath, and
the next day as unhappily as this. She was entirely humbled. At last,
unable any longer to bear the agony, she woke him.

“Eddie, you’ve not said good-night to me.”

“By Jove, I forgot all about it,” he answered, sleepily. Bertha stifled
a sob.

“Hulloa, what’s the matter?” he said. “You’re not crying just because I
forgot to kiss you--I was awfully fagged, you know.”

He really had noticed nothing whatever; while she was passing through
utter distress he had been as happily self-satisfied as usual. But the
momentary recurrence of Bertha’s anger was quickly stilled. She could
not afford now to be proud.

“You’re not angry with me?” she said. “I can’t sleep unless you kiss
me.”

“Silly girl!” he whispered.

“You do love me, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

He kissed her as she loved to be kissed, and in the delight of it her
anger was quite forgotten.

“I can’t live unless you love me. Oh, I wish I could make you understand
how I love you.... We’re friends again now, aren’t we?”

“We haven’t ever been otherwise.”

Bertha gave a sigh of relief, and lay in his arms completely happy. A
minute more and Edward’s breathing told her that he had already fallen
asleep; she dared not move for fear of waking him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The summer brought Bertha new pleasures, and she set herself to enjoy
the pastoral life which she had imagined. The elms of Court Leys now
were dark with leaves; and the heavy, close-fitting verdure gave quite
a stately look to the house. The elm is the most respectable of trees,
over-pompous if anything, but perfectly well-bred; and the shade it
casts is no ordinary shade, but solid and self-assured as befits the
estate of a county family. The fallen trunk had been removed, and in the
autumn young trees were to be planted in the vacant spaces. Edward had
set himself with a will to put the place properly to rights. The spring
had seen a new coat of paint on Court Leys, so that it looked spick and
span as the suburban villa of a stockbroker. The beds which for years
had been neglected, now were trim with the abominations of carpet
bedding; squares of red geraniums contrasted with circles of yellow
calcellarias; the overgrown boxwood was cut down to a just height; the
hawthorn hedge was doomed, and Edward had arranged to enclose the
grounds with a wooden pallisade and laurel bushes. The drive was
decorated with several loads of gravel, so that it became a thing of
pride to the successor of an ancient and lackadaisical race. Craddock
had not reigned in their stead a fortnight before the grimy sheep were
expelled from the lawns on either side of the avenue, and since then the
grass had been industriously mown and rolled. Now a tennis-court had
been marked out, which, as Edward said, made things look homely. Finally
the iron gates were gorgeous in black and gold as suited the entrance to
a gentleman’s mansion, and the renovated lodge proved to all and sundry
that Court Leys was in the hands of a man who knew what was what, and
delighted in the proprieties.

Though Bertha abhorred all innovations, she had meekly accepted Edward’s
improvements: they formed an inexhaustible topic of conversation, and
his enthusiasm always pleased her.

“By Jove,” he said, rubbing his hands, “the changes will make your aunt
simply jump, won’t they?”

“They will indeed,” said Bertha, smiling.

She shuddered a little at the prospect of Miss Ley’s sarcastic praise.

“She’ll hardly recognise the place; the house looks as good as new, and
the grounds might have been laid out only half-a-dozen years ago....
Give me five years more and even you won’t know your old home.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Ley had at last accepted one of the invitations which Edward
insisted should be showered upon her, and wrote to say she was coming
down for a week. Edward was of course much pleased; as he said, he
wanted to be friends with everybody, and it didn’t seem natural that
Bertha’s only relative should make a point of avoiding them.

“It looks as if she didn’t approve of our marriage, and it makes the
people talk.”

He met the good lady at the station, and somewhat to her disgust greeted
her with effusion.

“Ah, here you are at last!” he bellowed, in his jovial way. “We thought
you were never coming. Here, porter!” He raised his voice so that the
platform shook and rumbled.

He seized both Miss Ley’s hands, and the terrifying thought flashed
through her head that he would kiss her before the assembled multitude.

“He’s cultivating the airs of the country squire,” she thought. “I wish
he wouldn’t.”

He took the innumerable bags with which she travelled and scattered them
among the attendants. He even tried to induce her to take his arm to the
dog-cart, but this honour she stoutly refused.

“Now, will you come round to this side and I’ll help you up. Your
luggage will come on afterwards with the pony.”

He was managing everything in a self-confident and masterful fashion;
Miss Ley noticed that marriage had dispelled the shyness which had been
in him rather an attractive feature. He was becoming bluff and hearty.
Also he was filling out. Prosperity and a knowledge of greater
importance had broadened his back and straightened his shoulders; he
was quite three inches more round the chest than when she had first
known him, and his waist had proportionately increased.

“If he goes on developing in this way,” she thought, “the good man will
be colossal by the time he’s forty.”

“Of course, Aunt Polly,” he said, boldly dropping the respectful _Miss
Ley_, which hitherto he had invariably used, though his new relative was
not a woman whom most men would have ventured to treat familiarly. “Of
course it’s all rot about your leaving us in a week; you must stay a
couple of months at least.”

“It’s very good of you, dear Edward,” replied Miss Ley drily, “but I
have other engagements.”

“Then you must break them; I can’t have people leave my house
immediately they come.”

Miss Ley raised her eyebrows and smiled; was it _his_ house already?
Dear me!

“My dear Edward,” she answered, “I never stay anywhere longer than two
days--the first day I talk to people, the second I let them talk to me,
and the third I go.... I stay a week at hotels so as to go _en pension_,
and get my washing properly aired.”

“You’re treating us like a hotel,” said Edward, laughing.

“It’s a great compliment: in private houses one gets so abominably
waited on.”

“Ah well, we’ll say no more about it. But I shall have your trunk taken
to the box-room and I keep the key of it.”

Miss Ley gave the short, dry laugh which denoted that her interlocutor’s
remark had not amused her, but something in her own mind. Presently they
arrived at Court Leys.

“D’you see all the differences since you were last here?” asked Edward,
jovially.

Miss Ley looked round and pursed her lips.

“It’s charming,” she said.

“I knew it would make you sit up,” he cried, laughing.

Bertha received her aunt in the hall and embraced her with the grave
decorum which had always characterised their relations.

“How clever you are, Bertha,” said Miss Ley; “you manage to preserve
your beautiful figure.”

Then she set herself solemnly to investigate the connubial bliss of the
young couple.



Chapter XII


The passion to analyse the casual fellow-creature was the most absorbing
vice that Miss Ley possessed; and no ties of relationship or affection
(the two go not invariably together) prevented her from exercising her
talents in that direction. She observed Bertha and Edward during
luncheon: Bertha was talkative, chattering with a vivacity that seemed
suspicious, about the neighbours--Mrs. Branderton’s new bonnets and new
hair, Miss Glover’s good works and Mr. Glover’s visits to London; Edward
was silent, except when he pressed Miss Ley to take a second helping. He
ate largely, and the maiden lady noticed the enormous mouthfuls he took
and the heartiness with which he drank his beer. Of course she drew
conclusions; and she drew further conclusions, when, having devoured
half a pound of cheese and taken a last drink of ale, he pushed back his
chair and with a sort of low roar, reminding one of a beast of prey
gorged with food, said--

“Ah, well, I suppose I must set about my work. There’s no rest for the
weary.”

He pulled a new briar-wood pipe from his pocket, filled and lit it.

“I feel better now.... Well, so-long; I shall be in to tea.”

Conclusions buzzed about Miss Ley, like midges on a summer’s day. She
drew them all the afternoon; she drew them all through dinner. Bertha
was effusive too, unusually so; and Miss Ley asked herself a dozen times
if this stream of chatter, these peals of laughter, proceeded from a
light heart or from a base desire to deceive a middle-aged and inquiring
aunt. After dinner, Edward, telling her that of course she was one of
the family so he hoped she did not wish him to stand on ceremony, began
to read the paper. When Bertha, at Miss Ley’s request, played the piano,
good manners made him put it aside, and he yawned a dozen times in a
quarter of an hour.

“I mustn’t play any more,” said Bertha, “or Eddie will go to
sleep--won’t you, darling?”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” he replied, laughing. “The fact is that the things
Bertha plays when we’ve got company give me the fair hump!”

“Edward only consents to listen when I play _The Blue Bells of Scotland_
or _Yankee Doodle_.”

Bertha made the remark, smiling good-naturedly at her husband, but Miss
Ley drew conclusions.

“I don’t mind confessing that I can’t stand all this foreign music. What
I say to Bertha is--why can’t you play English stuff?”

“If you must play at all,” interposed his wife.

“After all’s said and done _The Blue Bells of Scotland_ has got a tune
about it that a fellow can get his teeth into.”

“You see, there’s the difference,” said Bertha, strumming a few bars of
_Rule Britannia_, “it sets mine on edge.”

“Well, I’m patriotic,” retorted Edward. “I like the good, honest, homely
English airs. I like ’em because they’re English. I’m not ashamed to say
that for me the best piece of music that’s ever been written is _God
Save the Queen_.”

“Which was written by a German, dear Edward,” said Miss Ley, smiling.

“That’s as it may be,” said Edward, unabashed, “but the sentiment’s
English and that’s all I care about.”

“Hear! hear!” cried Bertha. “I believe Edward has aspirations towards a
political career. I know I shall finish up as the wife of the local
M.P.”

“I’m patriotic,” said Edward, “and I’m not ashamed to confess it.”

“Rule Britannia,” sang Bertha, “Britannia rules the waves, Britons
never, never shall be slaves. Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay! Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay!”

“It’s the same everywhere now,” proceeded the orator. “We’re choke full
of foreigners and their goods. I think it’s scandalous. English music
isn’t good enough for you--you get it from France and Germany. Where do
you get your butter from? Brittany! Where d’you get your meat from? New
Zealand!” This he said with great scorn, and Bertha punctuated the
observation with a resounding chord. “And as far as the butter goes, it
isn’t butter--it’s margarine. Where does your bread come from? America.
Your vegetables from Jersey.”

“Your fish from the sea,” interposed Bertha.

“And so it is all along the line--the British farmer hasn’t got a
chance!”

To this speech Bertha played a burlesque accompaniment, which would have
irritated a more sensitive man than Craddock; but he merely laughed
good-naturedly.

“Bertha won’t take these things seriously,” he said, passing his hand
affectionately over her hair.

She suddenly stopped playing, and his good-humour, joined with the
loving gesture, filled her with remorse. Her eyes filled with tears.

“You are a dear, good thing,” she faltered, “and I’m utterly horrid.”

“Now don’t talk stuff before Aunt Polly. You know she’ll laugh at us.”

“Oh, I don’t care,” said Bertha, smiling happily. She stood up and
linked her arm with his. “Eddie’s the best tempered person in the
world--he’s perfectly wonderful.”

“He must be, indeed,” said Miss Ley, “if you have preserved your faith
in him after six months of marriage.”

But the maiden lady had stored so many observations that she felt an
urgent need to retire to the privacy of her bed-chamber, and sort them.
She kissed Bertha and held out her hand to Edward.

“Oh, if you kiss Bertha, you must kiss me too,” said he, bending forward
with a laugh.

“Upon my word!” said Miss Ley, somewhat taken aback; then as he was
evidently insisting she embraced him on the cheek. She positively
blushed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The upshot of Miss Ley’s investigations was that once again the hymeneal
path had been found strewn with roses; and the idea crossed her head as
she laid it on the pillow, that Dr. Ramsay would certainly come and crow
over her: it was not in masculine human nature, she thought, to miss an
opportunity of exulting over a vanquished foe.

“He’ll vow that I was the direct cause of the marriage. The dear man,
he’ll be so pleased with my discomfiture that I shall never hear the
last of it. He’s sure to call to-morrow.”

Indeed the news of Miss Ley’s arrival had been by Edward industriously
spread abroad, and promptly Mrs. Ramsay put on her blue velvet
calling-dress, and in the doctor’s brougham drove with him to Court
Leys. The Ramsays found Miss Glover and the Vicar of Leanham already in
possession of the field. Mr. Glover looked thinner and older than when
Miss Ley had last seen him; he was more weary, meek and brow-beaten;
Miss Glover never altered.

“The parish?” said the parson, in answer to Miss Ley’s polite inquiry,
“I’m afraid it’s in a bad way. The dissenters have got a new chapel, you
know--and they say the Salvation Army is going to set up ‘barracks’ as
they call them. It’s a great pity the government doesn’t step in: after
all we are established by law and the law ought to protect us from
encroachment.”

“You don’t believe in liberty of conscience?” asked Miss Ley.

“My dear Miss Ley,” said the Vicar, in his tired voice, “everything has
its limits. I should have thought there was in the Established Church
enough liberty of conscience for any one.”

“Things are becoming dreadful in Leanham,” said Miss Glover.
“Practically all the tradesmen go to chapel now, and it makes it so
difficult for us.”

“Yes,” replied the Vicar, with a weary sigh; “and as if we hadn’t enough
to put up with, I hear that Walker has ceased coming to church.”

“Oh dear, oh dear!” said Miss Glover.

“Walker, the baker?” asked Edward.

“Yes; and now the only baker in Leanham who goes to church is Andrews.”

“Well, we can’t possibly deal with him, Charles,” said Miss Glover, “his
bread is too bad.”

“My dear, we must,” groaned her brother. “It would be against all my
principles to deal with a tradesman who goes to chapel. You must tell
Walker to send his book in, unless he will give an assurance that he’ll
come to church regularly.”

“But Andrews’s bread always gives you indigestion, Charles,” cried Miss
Glover.

“I must put up with it. If none of our martyrdoms were more serious than
that, we should have no cause to complain.”

“Well, it’s quite easy to get your bread from Tercanbury,” said Mrs.
Ramsay, who was severely practical.

Mr. Glover and his sister threw up their hands in dismay.

“Then Andrews would go to chapel too. The only thing that keeps them at
church, I’m sorry to say, is the Vicarage custom, or the hope of getting
it.”

Presently Miss Ley found herself alone with the parson’s sister.

“You must be very glad to see Bertha again, Miss Ley.”

“Now she’s going to crow,” thought the good lady. “Of course I am.”

“And it must be such a relief to you to see how well it’s all turned
out.”

Miss Ley looked sharply at Miss Glover, but saw no trace of irony.

“Oh, I think it’s beautiful to see a married couple so thoroughly happy.
It really makes me feel a better woman when I come here and see how
those two worship one another.”

“Of course the poor thing’s a perfect idiot,” thought Miss Ley. “Yes,
it’s very satisfactory,” she said, drily.

She glanced round for Dr. Ramsay, looking forward, notwithstanding that
she was on the losing side, to the tussle she foresaw. She had the
instincts of a good fighter, and, even though defeat was inevitable,
never avoided an encounter. The doctor approached.

“Well, Miss Ley. So you have come back to us. We’re all delighted to see
you.”

“How cordial these people are,” thought Miss Ley, somewhat crossly,
thinking Dr. Ramsay’s remark preliminary to coarse banter or to
reproach. “Shall we take a turn in the garden; I’m sure you wish to
quarrel with me.”

“There’s nothing I should like better--to walk in the garden, I mean: of
course, no one could quarrel with so charming a person as yourself.”

“He would never be so polite if he did not mean afterwards to be very
rude,” thought Miss Ley. “I’m glad you like the garden.”

“Craddock has improved it so wonderfully. It’s a perfect pleasure to
look at all he’s done.”

This Miss Ley considered a gibe, and searched for a repartee, but
finding none was silent: Miss Ley was a wise woman! They walked a few
steps without a word, and then Dr. Ramsay suddenly burst out--

“Well, Miss Ley, you were right after all.”

She stopped and looked at the speaker--he seemed quite serious.

“Yes,” he said, “I don’t mind acknowledging it. I was wrong. It’s a
great triumph for you, isn’t it?”

He looked at her, and shook with good-tempered laughter.

“Is he making fun of me?” Miss Ley asked herself, with something not
very distantly removed from agony. This was the first occasion upon
which she had failed to understand not only the good doctor, but his
inmost thoughts as well. “So you think the estate has been improved?”
she said hurriedly.

“I can’t make out how the man’s done so much in so short a time. Why,
just look at it!”

Miss Ley pursed her lips. “Even in its most dilapidated days Court Leys
looked gentlemanly: now all this,” she glanced round with upturned nose,
“might be the country mansion of a pork-butcher.”

“My dear Miss Ley, you must pardon my saying so, but the place wasn’t
even respectable.”

“But it is now; that is my complaint. My dear doctor, in the old days,
the passer-by could see that the owners of Court Leys were decent
people; that they could not make both ends meet was a detail--it was
possibly because they burnt one end too rapidly, which is the sign of a
rather delicate mind.” Miss Ley was mixing her metaphors. “And the
passer-by moralised accordingly. For a gentleman there are only two
decorous states, absolute poverty or overpowering wealth; the middle
condition is vulgar. Now the passer-by sees thrift and careful
management, the ends meet, but they do it aggressively, as if it were
something to be proud about. Pennies are looked at before they are
spent; and, good heavens! the Leys serve to point a moral and adorn a
tale. The Leys, who gambled and squandered their substance, who bought
diamonds when they hadn’t bread, and pawned the diamonds to give the
King a garden-party, now form the heading of a copybook and the ideal of
a market-gardener.”

Miss Ley had the characteristics of the true phrase-maker, for so long
as her period was well rounded, she did not mind how much nonsense it
contained. Coming to the end of her tirade, she looked at the doctor for
the signs of disapproval which she thought her right, but he merely
laughed.

“I see you want to rub it in,” he said.

“What on earth does the creature mean?” Miss Ley asked herself.

“I confess I did believe things would turn out badly,” the doctor
proceeded. “And I couldn’t help thinking he’d be tempted to play ducks
and drakes with the whole property. Well, I don’t mind frankly
acknowledging that Bertha couldn’t have chosen a better husband; he’s a
thoroughly good fellow; no one realised what he had in him, and there’s
no knowing how far he’ll go.”

A man would have expressed Miss Ley’s feeling with a little whistle, but
that lady merely raised her thin eyebrows. Then Dr. Ramsay shared the
opinion of Miss Glover?

“And what precisely is the opinion of the county?” she asked. “Of that
odious Mrs. Branderton, of Mrs. Ryle (she has no right to the _Mayston_
at all), of the Hancocks, and the rest?”

“Edward Craddock has won golden opinions all round. Every one likes him,
and thinks well of him. No, I assure you, although I’m not so fond as
all that of confessing I was wrong, he’s the right man in the right
place. It’s extraordinary how people took up to him and respect him
already.... I give you my word for it, Bertha has reason to congratulate
herself--a girl doesn’t pick up a husband like that every day of the
week.”

Miss Ley smiled; it was a great relief to find that she really was no
more foolish than most people (so she modestly put it), for a doubt on
the subject had given her some uneasiness.

“So every one thinks they’re as happy as turtle-doves?”

“Why, so they are,” cried the doctor; “surely _you_ don’t think
otherwise?”

Miss Ley never considered it a duty to dispel the error of her
fellow-creatures, and whenever she had a little piece of knowledge,
vastly preferred keeping it to herself.

“I?” she answered to the doctor’s question. “I make a point of thinking
with the majority--it’s the only way to get a reputation for wisdom!”
But Miss Ley, after all, was only human. “Which do you think is the
predominant partner?” she asked, smiling drily.

“The man, as he should be,” gruffly replied the doctor.

“Do you think he has more brains?”

“Ah, you’re a feminist,” said Dr. Ramsay, with great scorn.

“My dear doctor, my gloves are sixes, and perceive my shoes.” She put
out for the old gentleman’s inspection a very pointed, high-heeled shoe,
displaying at the same time the elaborate open-work of a silk stocking.

“Do you intend me to take that as an acknowledgment of the superiority
of man?”

“Heavens, how argumentative you are!” Miss Ley laughed, for she was
getting into her own particular element. “I knew you wished to quarrel
with me. Do you really want my opinion?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it seems to me that if you take the very clever woman and set her
beside an ordinary man, you prove nothing. That is how women mostly
argue. We place George Eliot (who, by the way, had nothing of the woman
but petticoats--and those not always) beside plain John Smith, and ask
tragically if such a woman can be considered inferior to such a man. But
that’s silly! The question I’ve been asking myself for the last
five-and-twenty years is, whether the average fool of a woman is a
greater fool than the average fool of a man.”

“And the answer?”

“Well, upon my word, I don’t think there’s much to choose between them.”

“Then you haven’t really an opinion on the subject at all?” cried the
doctor.

“That is why I give it you.”

“Hm!” grunted Dr. Ramsay. “And how does that apply to the Craddocks?”

“It doesn’t apply to them.... I don’t think Bertha is a fool.”

“She couldn’t be, having had the discretion to be born your niece, eh?”

“Why, doctor, you’re growing quite pert.”

They had finished the tour of the garden and Mrs. Ramsay was seen in the
drawing-room, bidding Bertha good-by.

“Now, seriously, Miss Ley,” said the doctor, “they’re quite happy,
aren’t they? Every one thinks so.”

“Every one is always right,” said Miss Ley.

“And what is your opinion?”

“Good heavens, what an insistent man it is! Well, Dr. Ramsay, all I
would suggest is that--for Bertha, you know, the book of life is written
throughout in italics; for Edward it is all in the big round hand of the
copybook headings.... Don’t you think it will make the reading of the
book somewhat difficult?”



Chapter XIII


With the summer Edward began to teach Bertha lawn-tennis; and in the
long evenings, when he had finished his work and changed into the
flannels which suited him so well, they played innumerable sets. He
prided himself upon his skill in this pursuit and naturally found it
dull to play with a beginner; but he was very patient, hoping that
eventually Bertha would acquire sufficient skill to give him a good
game. To be doing something with her husband sufficiently amused Bertha.
She liked him to correct her mistakes, to show her this stroke and that;
she admired his good nature and his inexhaustible spirits. But her
greatest delight was to lie on the long chair by the lawn when they had
finished, and enjoy the feeling of exhaustion, gossiping of the little
nothings which love made absorbingly interesting.

Miss Ley had been persuaded to prolong her stay. She had vowed to go at
the end of her week; but Edward, in his high-handed fashion, had ordered
the key of the box-room to be given him, and refused to surrender it.

“Oh no,” he said, “I can’t make people come here, but I can prevent them
from going away. In this house every one has to do as I tell them; isn’t
that so, Bertha?”

“If you say it, Edward,” replied his wife.

Miss Ley gracefully acceded to her nephew’s desire, which was the more
easy, since the house was comfortable, she had really no pressing
engagements, and her mind was set upon making further examination into
the married life of her relations. It would have been a weakness,
unworthy of her, to maintain her intention for consistence’ sake.

Why for days together were Edward and Bertha the happiest lovers, and
then suddenly why did Bertha behave almost brutally towards her
husband, while he remained invariably good-tempered and amiable? The
obvious reason was that some little quarrel had arisen, such as, since
Adam and Eve, has troubled every married couple in the world; but the
obvious reason was that which Miss Ley was least likely to credit. She
never saw anything in the way of a disagreement, Bertha assented to all
her husband’s proposals; and with such docility on the one hand, such
good-humour on the other, what on earth could form a bone of contention?

Miss Ley had discovered that when the green leaves of life are turning
red and golden with approaching autumn, most pleasure can be obtained by
a judicious mingling in simplicity of the gifts of nature and the
resources of civilisation. She was satisfied to come in the evenings to
the tennis-lawn and sit on a comfortable chair shaded by trees, and
protected by a red parasol from the rays of the setting sun. She was not
a woman to find distraction in needlework, and brought with her,
therefore, a volume of Montaigne, her favourite writer. She read a page
and then lifted her sharp eyes to the players. Edward was certainly very
handsome--he looked so clean, and it was obvious to the most casual
observer that he bathed himself daily: he was one of those men who carry
the morning tub stamped on every line of their faces. You felt that
Pear’s Soap was as essential to him as his belief in the Conservative
Party, Derby Day, and the Depression of Agriculture. As Bertha often
said, his energy was superabundant. Notwithstanding his increasing size
he was most agile, and perpetually did unnecessary feats of strength,
such as jumping and hopping over the net, holding chairs with
outstretched arm.

“If health and a good digestion are all that is necessary in a husband,
Bertha certainly ought to be the most contented woman alive.”

Miss Ley never believed so implicitly in her own theories that she was
prevented from laughing at them. She had an impartial mind and saw the
two sides of a question clearly enough to find little to choose between
them; consequently she was able and willing to argue with equal force
from either point of view.

The set was finished, and Bertha threw herself on a chair, panting.

“Find the balls, there’s a dear,” she cried.

Edward went off on the search, and Bertha looked at him with a
delightful smile.

“He is such a good-tempered person,” she said to Miss Ley. “Sometimes he
makes me feel positively ashamed.”

“He has all the virtues. Dr. Ramsay, the Glovers, even Mrs. Branderton,
have been dinning his praise into my ears.”

“Yes, they all like him. Arthur Branderton is always here, asking his
advice about something or other. He’s a dear, good thing.”

“Who? Arthur Branderton?”

“No, of course not--Eddie.”

Bertha took off her hat and stretched herself more comfortably on the
long chair. Her hair was somewhat disarranged, and the rich locks
wandered about her forehead and on the nape of her neck in a way that
would have distracted any minor poet under seventy. Miss Ley looked at
her niece’s fine profile, and wondered again at the complexion, made up
of the softest colours in the setting sun. Her eyes now were liquid with
love, languorous with the shade of long lashes; and her full, sensual
mouth was half open with a smile.

“Is my hair very untidy?” asked Bertha, catching Miss Ley’s look and its
meaning.

“No, I think it suits you when it is not done too severely.”

“Edward hates it; he likes me to be prim.... And of course I don’t care
how I look so long as he’s pleased. Don’t you think he’s very
good-looking?” Then without waiting for an answer, she asked a second
question.

“Do you think me a great fool for being so much in love, Aunt Polly?”

“My dear, it’s surely the proper behaviour with one’s lawful spouse.”

Bertha’s smile became a little sad as she replied--

“Edward seems to think it unusual.” She followed him with her eyes,
picking up the balls one by one, hunting among bushes: she was in the
mood for confidences that afternoon. “You don’t know how different
everything has been since I fell in love. The world is fuller.... It’s
the only state worth living in.” Edward advanced with the eight balls on
his racket. “Come here and be kissed, Eddie,” she cried.

“Not if I know it,” he replied, laughing. “Bertha’s a perfect terror.
She wants me to spend my whole life in kissing her.... Don’t you think
it’s unreasonable, Aunt Polly? My motto is: everything in its place and
season.”

“One kiss in the morning,” said Bertha, “one kiss at night, will do to
keep your wife quiet; and the rest of the time you can attend to your
work and read your paper.”

Again Bertha smiled charmingly, but Miss Ley saw no amusement in her
eyes.

“Well, one can have too much of a good thing,” said Edward, balancing
his racket on the tip of his nose.

“Even of proverbial philosophy,” remarked Bertha.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days later, his guest having definitely announced that she must
go, Edward proposed a tennis-party as a parting honour. Miss Ley would
gladly have escaped an afternoon of small-talk with the notabilities of
Leanham, but Edward was determined to pay his aunt every attention, and
his inner consciousness assured him that at least a small party was
necessary to the occasion. They came, Mr. and Miss Glover, the
Brandertons, the Hancocks, Mr. Atthill Bacot, the great politician (of
the district). But Mr. Atthill Bacot was more than political, he was
gallant, and he devoted himself to the entertainment of Miss Ley. He
discussed with her the sins of the government and the incapacity of the
army.

“More men, more guns!” he said. “An elementary education in common
sense for the officers, and the rudiments of grammar if there’s time!”

“Good heavens, Mr. Bacot, you mustn’t say such things. I thought you
were a Conservative.”

“Madam, I stood for the constituency in ’85. I may say that if a
Conservative member could have got in, I should have been elected. But
there are limits. Even the staunch Conservative will turn. Now look at
General Hancock.”

“Please don’t talk so loud,” said Miss Ley, with alarm, for Mr. Bacot
had instinctively adopted his platform manner, and his voice could be
heard through the whole garden.

“Look at General Hancock, I say,” he repeated, taking no notice of the
interruption. “Is that the sort of man whom you would wish to have the
handling of ten thousand of your sons?”

“Oh, but be fair,” cried Miss Ley, laughing. “They’re not all such fools
as poor General Hancock.”

“I give you my word, madam, I think they are.... As far as I can make
out, when a man has shown himself incapable of doing anything else they
make him a general, just to encourage the others. I understand the
reason. It’s a great thing, of course, for parents sending their sons
into the army to be able to say, ‘Well, he may be a fool, but there’s no
reason why he shouldn’t become a general.’”

“You wouldn’t rob us of our generals,” said Miss Ley; “they’re so useful
at tea-parties. In my young days the fool of the family was sent into
the Church, but now, I suppose, he’s sent into the army.”

Mr. Bacot was about to make a very heated retort when Edward called to
him--

“We want you to make up a set at tennis. Will you play with Miss Hancock
against my wife and the General? Come on, Bertha.”

“Oh no, I mean to sit out, Eddie,” said Bertha, quickly. She saw that
Edward was putting all the bad players into one set, so that they might
be got rid of. “I’m not going to play.”

“You must, or you’ll disarrange the next lot. It’s all settled; Miss
Glover and I are going to take on Miss Jane Hancock and Arthur
Branderton.”

Bertha looked at him with eyes flashing angrily. Of course he did not
notice her vexation. He preferred to play with Miss Glover, she told
herself; the parson’s sister played well, and for a good game he would
never hesitate to sacrifice his wife’s feelings. Besides Bertha, only
Miss Glover and young Branderton were within earshot, and in his jovial,
pleasant manner, Edward laughingly said--

“Bertha’s such a duffer. Of course she’s only just beginning. You don’t
mind playing with the General, do you, dear?”

Arthur Branderton laughed and Bertha smiled at the sally, but she
reddened.

“I’m not going to play at all. I must see to the tea; and I dare say
more people will be coming in presently.”

“Oh, I forgot that,” said Edward. “No; perhaps you oughtn’t to play.”
And then putting his wife out of his thoughts, and linking his arm with
young Branderton’s, he sauntered off. “Come along, old chap; we must
find some crock to make up the pat-ball set.” Edward had such a
charming, frank manner, one could not help liking him.

Bertha watched the two men go and turned very white.

“I must just go into the house a moment,” she said to Miss Glover. “Go
and entertain Mrs. Branderton, there’s a dear.” And precipitately she
fled.

She ran to her room, and flinging herself on the bed, burst into a flood
of tears. The humiliation seemed dreadful. She wondered how Eddie, whom
she loved above all else in the world, could treat her so cruelly. What
had she done? He knew--ah, yes, he knew well enough the happiness he
could cause her--and he went out of his way to be brutal. She wept
bitterly, and jealousy of Miss Glover (Miss Glover, of all people!)
stabbed her to the heart.

“He doesn’t love me,” she moaned, her tears redoubling.

Presently there was a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” she cried.

The handle was turned and Miss Glover came in, red with nervousness.

“Forgive me for coming in, Bertha. But I thought you seemed unwell.
Can’t I do something for you?”

“Oh, I’m all right,” said Bertha, drying her tears, “Only the heat upset
me and I’ve got a headache.”

“Shall I send Edward to you?”

“What do I want with Edward?” replied Bertha, petulantly. “I shall be
all right in five minutes. I often have attacks like this.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to say anything unkind. He’s kindness itself, I
know.”

Bertha flushed. “What on earth do you mean, Fanny? Who didn’t say
anything unkind?”

“I thought you were hurt by Edward’s saying you were a duffer and a
beginner.”

“Oh, my dear, you must think me a fool.” Bertha laughed hysterically.
“It’s quite true that I’m a duffer. I tell you it’s only the weather.
Why, if my feelings were hurt each time Eddie said a thing like that I
should lead a miserable life.”

“I wish you’d let me send him up to you,” said Miss Glover, unconvinced.

“Good heavens! Why? See, I’m all right now.” She washed her eyes and
passed the powder-puff over her face. “My dear, it was only the sun.”

With an effort she braced herself, and burst into a laugh joyful enough
almost to deceive the Vicar’s sister.

“Now, we must go down, or Mrs. Branderton will complain more than ever
of my bad manners.”

She put her arm round Miss Glover’s waist and ran her down the stairs to
the mingled terror and amazement of that good creature. For the rest of
the afternoon, though her eyes never rested on Edward, she was perfectly
charming--in the highest spirits, chattering incessantly, laughing;
every one noticed her good humour and commented upon her obvious
felicity.

“It does one good to see a couple like that,” said General Hancock,
“just as happy as the day is long.”

But the little scene had not escaped Miss Ley’s sharp eyes, and she
noticed with agony that Miss Glover had gone to Bertha. She could not
stop her, being at the moment in the toils of Mrs. Branderton.

“Oh, these good people are too officious! Why can’t she leave the girl
alone to have it out with herself!”

But the explanation of everything now flashed across Miss Ley.

“What a fool I am!” she thought, and she was able to cogitate quite
clearly while exchanging honeyed impertinences with Mrs. Branderton. “I
noticed it the first day I saw them together. How could I ever forget
it!” She shrugged her shoulders and murmured the maxim of La
Rochefoucauld--

“_Entre deux amants il-y-a toujours un qui aime, et un qui se laisse
aimer._”

And to this she added another, in the same language, which, knowing no
original, she ventured to claim as her own; it seemed to summarise the
situation.

“_Celui qui aime a toujours tort._”



Chapter XIV


Bertha and Miss Ley passed a troubled night, while Edward, of course,
after much exercise and a hearty dinner, slept the sleep of the just and
of the pure at heart. Bertha was nursing her wrath; she had with
difficulty brought herself to kiss her husband before, according to his
habit, he turned his back upon her and began to snore. Miss Ley, with
her knowledge of the difficulties in store for the couple, asked herself
if she could do anything. But what could she do? They were reading the
book of life in their separate ways, one in italics, the other in the
big round letters of the copy-book; and how could she help them to find
a common character? Of course the first year of married life is
difficult, and the weariness of the flesh adds to the inevitable
disillusionment. Every marriage has its moments of utter despair. The
great danger is in the onlooker, who may pay to them too much attention
and, by stepping in, render the difficulty permanent--cutting the knot
instead of letting time undo it. Miss Ley’s cogitations brought her not
unnaturally to the course which most suited her temperament; she
concluded that far and away the best plan was to attempt nothing, and
let things right themselves as best they could. She did not postpone her
departure, but, according to arrangement, went on the following day.

“Well, you see,” said Edward, bidding her good-bye, “I told you that I
should make you stay longer than a week.”

“You’re a wonderful person, Edward,” said Miss Ley, drily. “I have never
doubted it for an instant.”

He was pleased seeing no irony in the compliment. Miss Ley took leave of
Bertha with a suspicion of awkward tenderness that was quite unusual;
she hated to show her feelings, and found it difficult, yet wanted to
tell Bertha that if she was ever in difficulties she would always find
in her an old friend and a true one. All she said was--

“If you want to do any shopping in London, I can always put you up, you
know. And for the matter of that, I don’t see why you shouldn’t come and
stay a month or so with me--if Edward can spare you. It will be a
change.”

When Miss Ley drove with Edward to the station, Bertha felt suddenly an
extreme loneliness. Her aunt had been a barrier between herself and her
husband, coming opportunely when, after the first months of mad passion,
she was beginning to see herself linked to a man she did not know. A
third person in the house had been a restraint. She looked forward
already to the future with something like terror; her love for Edward
was a bitter heartache. Oh yes, she loved him well, she loved him
passionately; but he--he was fond of her, in his placid, calm way; it
made her furious to think of it.

The weather was rainy, and for two days there was no question of tennis.
On the third, however, the sun came out again, and the lawn was soon
dry. Edward had driven over to Tercanbury, but returned towards evening.

“Hulloa!” he said, “you haven’t got your tennis things on. You’d better
hurry up.”

This was the opportunity for which Bertha had been looking. She was
tired of always giving way, of humbling herself; she wanted an
explanation.

“You’re very good,” she said, “but I don’t want to play tennis with you
any more.”

“Why on earth not?”

She burst out furiously--“Because I’m sick and tired of being made a
convenience by you. I’m too proud to be treated like that. Oh, don’t
look as if you didn’t understand. You play with me because you’ve got no
one else to play with. Isn’t that so? That is how you are always with
me. You prefer the company of the veriest fool in the world to mine. You
seem to do everything you can to show your contempt for me.”

“Why, what have I done now?”

“Oh, of course, you forget. You never dream that you are making me
frightfully unhappy. Do you think I like to be treated before people as
a sort of poor idiot that you can laugh and sneer at?”

Edward had never seen his wife so angry, and this time he was forced to
pay her attention. She stood before him, at the end of her speech, with
teeth clenched, her cheeks flaming.

“It’s about the other day, I suppose. I saw at the time you were in a
passion.”

“And didn’t care two straws.”

“You’re too silly,” he said, with a laugh. “We couldn’t play together
when we had people here. They laugh at us as it is for being so devoted
to one another.”

“If they only knew how little you cared for me!”

“I might have managed a set with you later on, if you hadn’t sulked and
refused to play at all.”

“It would never have occurred to you, I know you better than that.
You’re absolutely selfish.”

“Come, come, Bertha,” he cried good-humouredly, “that’s a thing I’ve not
been accused of before. No one has ever called me selfish.”

“Oh no, they think you charming. They think because you’re cheerful and
even-tempered, because you’re hail-fellow-well-met with every one you
know, that you’ve got such a nice character. If they knew you as well as
I do, they’d understand it was merely because you’re perfectly
indifferent to them. You treat people as if they were your bosom
friends, and then, five minutes after they’ve gone, you’ve forgotten all
about them.... And the worst of it is, that I’m no more to you than
anybody else.”

“Oh, come, I don’t think you can really find such awful things wrong
with me.”

“I’ve never known you sacrifice your slightest whim to gratify my most
earnest desire.”

“You can’t expect me to do things which I think unreasonable.”

“If you loved me, you’d not always be asking if the things I want are
reasonable. I didn’t think of reason when I married you.”

Edward made no answer, which naturally added to Bertha’s irritation. She
was arranging flowers for the table, and broke off the stalks savagely.
Edward, after a pause, went to the door.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Since you won’t play, I’m just going to do a few serves for practice.”

“Why don’t you send for Miss Glover to come and play with you?”

A new idea suddenly came to him (they came at sufficiently rare
intervals not to spoil his equanimity), but the absurdity of it made him
laugh.

“Surely you’re not jealous of her, Bertha?”

“I?” began Bertha, with tremendous scorn, and then changing her mind:
“You prefer to play with her than to play with me.”

He wisely ignored part of the charge. “Look at her and look at yourself.
Do you think I could prefer her to you?”

“I think you’re fool enough.”

The words slipped out of Bertha’s mouth almost before she knew she had
said them, and the bitter, scornful tone added to their violence. They
frightened her, and turning very white, she glanced at her husband.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to say that, Eddie.”

Fearing now that she had really wounded him, Bertha was entirely sorry;
she would have given anything for the words to be unsaid. Edward was
turning over the pages of a book, looking at it listlessly. She went up
to him.

“I haven’t offended you, have I, Eddie? I didn’t mean to say that.”

She put her arm in his; he did not answer.

“Don’t be angry with me,” she faltered again, and then breaking down,
buried her face in his bosom. “I didn’t mean what I said--I lost command
over myself. You don’t know how you humiliated me the other day. I
haven’t been able to sleep at night, thinking of it.... Kiss me.”

He turned his face away, but she would not let him go; at last she found
his lips.

“Say you’re not angry with me.”

“I’m not angry with you.”

“Oh, I want your love so much, Eddie,” she murmured. “Now more than
ever.... I’m going to have a child.”

Then in reply to his astonished exclamation--

“I wasn’t certain till to-day.... Oh, Eddie, I’m so glad. I think it’s
what I wanted to make me happy.”

“I’m glad too,” he said.

“But you will be kind to me, Eddie--and not mind if I’m fretful and bad
tempered. You know I can’t help it, and I’m always sorry afterwards.”

He kissed her as passionately as his cold nature allowed, and peace
returned to Bertha’s tormented heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha had intended as long as possible to make a secret of her news; it
was a comfort in her distress, and a bulwark against her increasing
disillusionment. She was unable to reconcile herself to the discovery,
seen as yet dimly, that Edward’s cold temperament could not satisfy her
ardent passions: love to her was a burning fire, a flame that absorbed
the rest of life; love to him was a convenient and necessary institution
of Providence, a matter about which there was as little need for
excitement as about the ordering of a suit of clothes. Bertha’s intense
devotion for a while had obscured her husband’s coolness, and she would
not see that his temperament was to blame. She accused him of not loving
her, and asked herself distractedly how to gain his affection; her pride
was humiliated because her love was so much greater than his. For six
months she had loved him blindly; and now, opening her eyes, she refused
to look upon the naked fact, but insisted on seeing only what she
wished.

Yet, the truth, elbowing itself through the crowd of her illusions,
tormented her. She was afraid that Edward neither loved her nor had
ever loved her; and she wavered uncertainly between the old passionate
devotion and a new, equally passionate hatred. She told herself that she
could not do things by halves; she must love or detest, but in either
case, fiercely. And now the child made up for everything. Now it did not
matter if Edward loved or not, it no longer pained her to realise how
foolish had been her hopes, how quickly her ideal had been shattered.
She felt that the infantine hands of her son were already breaking, one
by one, the links that bound her to her husband. When she divined her
pregnancy, she gave a cry not only of joy and pride, but also of
exultation in her approaching freedom.

But when the suspicion was changed into a certainty, her feelings veered
round; for her emotions were always unstable as the light winds of
April. An extreme weakness made her long for the support and sympathy of
her husband; she could not help telling him. In the hateful dispute of
that very day, she had forced herself to say bitter things, but all the
time she wished him to take her in his arms, saying he loved her. It
needed so little to rekindle her dying affection; she wanted his help
and she could not live without his love.

The weeks went on and Bertha was touched to see a change in Edward’s
behaviour, more noticeable after his past indifference. He looked upon
her now as an invalid, and as such entitled to some consideration; he
was really very kind-hearted, and during this time did everything for
his wife that did not involve a sacrifice of his own convenience. When
the doctor suggested some dainty to tempt her appetite, Edward was
delighted to ride over to Tercanbury to fetch it; and in her presence he
trod more softly and spoke in a gentler voice. After a while he used to
insist on carrying Bertha up and down stairs, and though Dr. Ramsay
assured them it was a quite unnecessary proceeding, Bertha would not
allow Edward to give it up. It amused her to feel a little child in his
strong arms, and she loved to nestle against his breast. Then, with
winter, when it was too cold to drive out, Bertha would lie for long
hours on a sofa by the window, looking at the line of elm-trees, now
leafless again and melancholy, watching the heavy clouds that drove over
from the sea: her heart was full of peace.

       *       *       *       *       *

One day of the new year she was sitting as usual at her window when
Edward came prancing up the drive on horseback. He stopped in front of
her and waved his whip.

“What d’you think of my new horse?” he cried.

At that moment the animal began to cavort, and backed into a flower-bed.
“Quiet, old fellow,” cried Edward. “Now then, don’t make a fuss; quiet!”
The horse stood on its hind legs and laid its ears back viciously.
Presently Edward dismounted and led him towards Bertha. “Isn’t he a
stunner? Just look at him.”

He passed his hand down the beast’s forelegs and stroked its sleek coat.

“I only gave thirty-five quid for it,” he remarked. “I must just take
him round to the stable and then I’ll come in.”

In a few minutes Edward joined his wife. The riding costume suited him
well, and in his top-boots he had more than ever the appearance of the
fox-hunting country squire, which had always been his ideal. He was in
high spirits over the new purchase.

“It’s the beast that threw Arthur Branderton when we were out last
week.... Arthur’s limping about now with a sprained ankle and a broken
finger. He says the horse is the greatest devil he’s ever ridden; he’s
frightened to use him again.” Edward laughed scornfully.

“But you haven’t bought him?” asked Bertha, with alarm.

“Of course I have,” said Edward. “I couldn’t miss a chance like that.
Why, he’s a perfect beauty--only he’s got a temper, like we all have.”

“But is he dangerous?”

“A bit--that’s why I got him cheap. Arthur gave a hundred guineas for
him, and he told me I could have him for seventy. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ll
give you thirty-five--and take the risk of breaking my neck.’ Well, he
just had to accept my offer! the horse has got a bad name in the county,
and he wouldn’t get any one to buy it in a hurry. A man has got to get
up early if he wants to do me over a gee!”

By this time Bertha was frightened out of her wits.

“But, Eddie, you’re not going to ride it--supposing something should
happen. Oh, I wish you hadn’t bought him.”

“He’s all right,” said Craddock. “If any one can ride him, I can--and,
by Jove, I’m going to risk it. Why, if I bought him and then didn’t use
him, I’d never hear the last of it.”

“To please me, Eddie, don’t! What does it matter what people say? I’m so
frightened. And now of all times you might do something to please me.
It’s not often I ask you to do me a favour.”

“Well, when you ask for something reasonable, I always try my best to do
it--but really, after I’ve paid thirty-five pounds for a horse, I can’t
cut him up for cat’s meat.”

“That means you’ll always do anything for me so long as it doesn’t
interfere with your own likes and dislikes.”

“Ah, well, we’re all like that, aren’t we?... Come, come, don’t be nasty
about it, Bertha.”

He pinched her cheek good-naturedly--women, we all know, would like the
moon if they could get it; and the fact that they can’t doesn’t prevent
them from persistently asking for it. Edward sat down beside his wife,
holding her hand.

“Now, tell us what you’ve been up to to-day. Has any one been?”

Bertha sighed deeply. She had absolutely no influence over her husband.
No prayers, no tears would stop him from doing a thing he had set his
mind on--however much she argued he always managed to make her seem in
the wrong, and then went his way rejoicing. But she had her child now.

“Thank God for that!” she murmured.



Chapter XV


Craddock went out on his new horse and returned triumphantly.

“He was as quiet as a lamb,” he said. “I could ride him with my arms
tied behind my back; and as to jumping--he takes a five-barred gate in
his stride.”

Bertha was a little angry with him for having caused her such terror,
angry with herself also for troubling.

“And it was rather lucky I had him to-day. Old Lord Philip Dirk was
there, and he asked Branderton who I was. ‘You tell him,’ says he, ‘that
it isn’t often I’ve seen a man ride as well as he does.’ You should see
Branderton, he isn’t half glad at having let me take the beast for
thirty-five quid. And Mr. Molson came up to me and said, ‘I knew that
horse would get into your hands before long, you’re the only man in this
part who can ride it--but if it don’t break your neck, you’ll be
lucky.’”

He recounted with great satisfaction the compliments paid to him.

“We had a jolly good run to-day.... And how are you, dear, feeling
comfy? Oh, I forgot to tell you--you know Rodgers, the huntsman, well,
he said to me, ‘That’s a mighty fine hack you’ve got there, sir, but he
takes some riding.’--‘I know he does,’ I said; ‘but I flatter myself I
know a thing or two more than most horses.’ They all thought I should
get rolled over before the day was out, but I just went slick at
everything to show I wasn’t frightened.”

Then he gave details of the affair; and he had as great a passion for
the meticulous as a German historian. He was one of those men who take
infinite pains over trifles, flattering themselves that they never do
things by halves. Bertha had a headache, and her husband bored her; she
thought herself a great fool to be so concerned about his safety.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the months wore on Miss Glover became very solicitous. The parson’s
sister looked upon birth as a mysteriously heart-fluttering business,
which, however, modesty required decent people to ignore. She treated
her friend in an absurdly self-conscious manner, and blushed like a
peony when Bertha frankly referred to the coming event. The greatest
torment of Miss Glover’s life was that, as lady of the Vicarage, she had
to manage the Maternity Bag, an institution to provide the infants of
the needy with articles of raiment and their mothers with flannel
petticoats. She could never, without much confusion, ask the necessary
information of the beneficiaries in her charity; feeling that the whole
thing ought not to be discussed at all, she kept her eyes averted, and
acted generally so as to cause great indignation.

“Well,” said one good lady, “I’d rather not ’ave her bag at all than be
treated like that. Why, she treats you as if--well, as if you wasn’t
married.”

“Yes,” said another, “that’s just what I complain of--I promise you I
’ad ’alf a mind to take my marriage lines out of my pocket an’ show ’er.
It ain’t nothin’ to be ashamed about--nice thing it would be after
’avin’ sixteen, if I was bashful.”

But of course the more unpleasant a duty was, the more zealously did
Miss Glover perform it; she felt it right to visit Bertha with
frequency, and manfully bore the young wife’s persistence in referring
to an unpleasant subject. She carried her heroism to the pitch of
knitting socks for the forthcoming baby, although to do so made her
heart palpitate uncomfortably; and when she was surprised at the work by
her brother, her cheeks burned like two fires.

“Now, Bertha dear,” she said one day, pulling herself together and
straightening her back as she always did when she was mortifying the
flesh. “Now, Bertha dear, I want to talk to you seriously.”

Bertha smiled. “Oh don’t, Fanny; you know how uncomfortable it makes
you.”

“I must,” answered the good creature, gravely. “I know you’ll think me
ridiculous, but it’s my duty.”

“I shan’t think anything of the kind,” said Bertha, touched with her
friend’s humility.

“Well, you talk a great deal of--of what’s going to happen”--Miss Glover
blushed--“but I’m not sure if you are really prepared for it.”

“Oh, is that all?” cried Bertha. “The nurse will be here in a fortnight,
and Dr. Ramsay says she’s a most reliable woman.”

“I wasn’t thinking of earthly preparations,” said Miss Glover. “I was
thinking of the other. Are you quite sure you’re approaching the--the
_thing_, in the right spirit?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“It isn’t what I want you to do. It’s what you ought to do. I’m nobody.
But have you thought at all of the spiritual side of it?”

Bertha gave a sigh that was chiefly voluptuous. “I’ve thought that I’m
going to have a son, that’s mine and Eddie’s; and I’m awfully thankful.”

“Wouldn’t you like me to read the Bible to you sometimes?”

“Good heavens, you talk as if I were going to die.”

“One can never tell, dear Bertha,” replied Miss Glover, sombrely; “I
think you ought to be prepared.... ‘In the midst of life we are in
death’--one can never tell what may happen.”

Bertha looked at her somewhat anxiously. She had been forcing herself of
late to be cheerful, and had found it necessary to stifle a recurring
presentiment of evil fortune. The Vicar’s sister never realised that she
was doing everything possible to make Bertha thoroughly unhappy.

“I brought my own Bible with me,” she said. “Do you mind if I read you a
chapter?”

“I should like it,” said Bertha, and a cold shiver went through her.

“Have you got any preference for some particular part?” asked Miss
Glover, extracting the book from a little black bag which she always
carried.

On Bertha’s answer that she had no preference, Miss Glover suggested
opening the Bible at random, and reading on from the first line that
crossed her eyes.

“Charles doesn’t quite approve of it,” she said; “he thinks it smacks of
superstition. But I can’t help doing it, and the early Protestants
constantly did the same.”

Miss Glover, having opened the book with closed eyes, began to read:
“_The sons of Pharez! Hezron, and Hamul. And the sons of Zerah; Zimri,
and Ethan, and Heman, and Calcol, and Dara; five of them in all_.” Miss
Glover cleared her throat. “_And the sons of Ethan; Azariah. The sons
also of Hezron, that were born unto him; Jerahmeel, and Ram, and
Chelubai. And Ram begat Amminadab; and Amminadab begat Nahshon, prince
of the children of Judah._” She had fallen upon the genealogical table
at the beginning of the Book of Chronicles. The chapter was very long,
and consisted entirely of names, uncouth and difficult to pronounce; but
Miss Glover shirked not one of them. With grave and somewhat
high-pitched delivery, modelled on her brother’s, she read out the
bewildering list. Bertha looked at her in amazement.

“That’s the end of the chapter,” she said at last; “would you like me to
read you another one?”

“Yes, I should like it very much; but I don’t think the part you’ve hit
on is quite to the point.”

“My dear, I don’t want to reprove you--that’s not my duty--but all the
Bible is to the point.”

       *       *       *       *       *

And as the time passed, Bertha quite lost her courage and was often
seized by a panic fear. Suddenly, without obvious cause, her heart sank
and she asked herself frantically how she could possibly get through it.
She thought she was going to die, and wondered what would happen if she
did. What would Edward do without her? Thinking of his bitter grief the
tears came to her eyes, but her lips trembled with self-pity when the
suspicion came that he would not be heartbroken: he was not a man to
feel either grief or joy very poignantly. He would not weep; at the most
his gaiety for a couple of days would be obscured, and then he would go
about as before. She imagined him relishing the sympathy of his friends.
In six months he would almost have forgotten her, and such memory as
remained would not be extraordinarily pleasing. He would marry again;
Edward loathed solitude, and next time doubtless he would choose a
different sort of woman--one less remote from his ideal. Edward cared
nothing for appearance, and Bertha imagined her successor plain as Miss
Hancock or dowdy as Miss Glover; and the irony of it lay in the
knowledge that either of those two would make a wife more suitable than
she to his character, answering better to his conception of a helpmate.

Bertha fancied that Edward would willingly have given her beauty for
some solid advantage, such as a knowledge of dressmaking; her taste, her
arts and accomplishments, were nothing to him, and her impulsive passion
was a positive defect. “Handsome is as handsome does,” said he; he was a
plain, simple man and he wanted a simple, plain wife.

She wondered if her death would really cause him much sorrow; Bertha’s
will gave him everything of which she was possessed, and he would spend
it with a second wife. She was seized with insane jealousy.

“No, I won’t die,” she cried between her teeth, “I won’t!”

But one day, while Edward was hunting, her morbid fancies took another
turn. Supposing he should die? The thought was unendurable, but the very
horror of it fascinated her; she could not drive away the scenes which,
with strange distinctness, her imagination set before her. She was
seated at the piano and heard suddenly a horse stop at the front
door--Edward was back early: but the bell rang; why should Edward ring?
There was a murmur of voices without and Arthur Branderton came in. In
her mind’s eye she saw every detail most clearly. He was in his hunting
clothes! Something had happened, and knowing what it was, Bertha was yet
able to realise her terrified wonder, as one possibility and another
rushed through her brain. He was uneasy, he had something to tell, but
dared not say it; she looked at him, horror-stricken, and a faintness
came over her so that she could hardly stand.

Bertha’s heart beat quickly. She told herself it was absurd to let her
imagination run away with her; but, notwithstanding, the pictures
vividly proceeded: she seemed to assist at a ghastly play in which she
was chief actor.

And what would she do when the fact was finally told her--that Edward
was dead? She would faint or cry out.

“There’s been an accident,” said Branderton--“your husband is rather
hurt.”

Bertha put her hands to her eyes, the agony was dreadful.

“You mustn’t upset yourself,” he went on, trying to break it to her.

Then, rapidly passing over the intermediate details she found herself
with her husband. He was dead, lying on the floor--and she pictured him
to herself, she knew exactly how he would look; sometimes he slept so
soundly, so quietly, that she was nervous and put her ear to his heart
to know if it was beating. Now he was dead. Despair suddenly swept down
upon her overpoweringly. Bertha tried again to shake off her fancies,
she even went to the piano and played a few notes; but the morbid
attraction was too strong for her and the scene went on. Now that he was
dead, he could not check her passion, now he was helpless and she kissed
him with all her love; she passed her hands through his hair, and
stroked his face (he had hated this in life), she kissed his lips and
his closed eyes.

The imagined grief was so poignant that Bertha burst into tears. She
remained with the body, refusing to be separated from it--Bertha buried
her face in the cushions so that nothing might disturb her illusion, she
had ceased trying to drive it away. Ah, she loved him passionately, she
had always loved him and could not live without him. She knew that she
would shortly die--and she had been afraid of death. Ah, now it was
welcome! She kissed his hands--he could not prevent her now--and with a
little shudder opened his eyes; they were glassy, expressionless,
immobile. Clinging to him, she sobbed in love and anguish. She would let
none touch him but herself; it was a relief to perform the last offices
for him who had been her whole life. She did not know that her love was
so great.

She undressed the body and washed it; she washed the limbs one by one
and sponged them, then very gently dried them with a towel. The touch of
the cold flesh made her shudder voluptuously--she thought of him taking
her in his strong arms, kissing her on the mouth. She wrapped him in the
white shroud and surrounded him with flowers. They placed him in the
coffin, and her heart stood still: she could not leave him. She passed
with him all day and all night, looking ever at the quiet, restful face.
Dr. Ramsay came and Miss Glover came, urging her to go away, but she
refused. What was the care of her own health now, she had only wanted to
live for him?

The coffin was closed, and she saw the gestures of the undertakers--she
had seen her husband’s face for the last time, her beloved: her heart
was like a stone, and she beat her breast in pain.

Hurriedly now the pictures thronged upon her--the drive to the
churchyard, the service, the coffin strewn with flowers, and finally the
grave-side. They tried to keep her at home. What cared she for the
silly, the abominable convention, which sought to prevent her from going
to the funeral? Was it not her husband, the only light of her life, whom
they were burying? They could not realise the horror of it, the utter
despair. And distinctly, by the dimness of the winter day in her
drawing-room at Court Leys, Bertha saw the lowering of the coffin, heard
the rattle of earth thrown upon it.

What would her life be afterwards? She would try to live, she would
surround herself with Edward’s things, so that his memory might be
always with her; the loneliness was appalling. Court Leys was empty and
bare. She saw the endless succession of grey days; the seasons brought
no change, and continually the clouds hung heavily above her; the trees
were always leafless, and it was desolate. She could not imagine that
travel would bring solace--the whole of life was blank, and what to her
now were the pictures and churches, the blue skies of Italy? Her only
happiness was to weep.

Then distractedly Bertha thought that she would kill herself, for life
was impossible to endure. No life at all, the blankness of the grave,
was preferable to the pangs gnawing continually at her heart. It would
be easy to finish, with a little morphia to close the book of trouble;
despair would give her courage, and the prick of the needle was the only
pain. But her vision became dim, and she had to make an effort to retain
it: her thoughts grew less coherent, travelling back to previous
incidents, to the scene at the grave, to the voluptuous pleasure of
washing the body.

It was all so vivid that the entrance of Edward came upon her as a
surprise. But the relief was too great for words, it was the awakening
from a horrible nightmare. When he came forward to kiss her, she flung
her arms round his neck, her eyes moist with past tears, and pressed him
passionately to her heart.

“Oh, thank God!” she cried.

“Hulloa, what’s up now?”

“I don’t know what’s been the matter with me.... I’ve been so miserable,
Eddie--I thought you were dead!”

“You’ve been crying!”

“It was so awful, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.... Oh, I
should die also.”

Bertha could scarcely realise that her husband was by her side in the
flesh, alive and well.

“Would you be sorry if I died?” she asked him.

“But you’re not going to do anything of the sort,” he said, cheerily.

“Sometimes I’m so frightened, I don’t believe I’ll get over it.”

He laughed at her, and his joyous tones were peculiarly comforting. She
made him sit by her side and held his strong hands, the hands which to
her were the visible signs of his powerful manhood. She stroked them and
kissed the palms. She was quite broken with the past emotions; her limbs
trembled and her eyes glistened with tears.



Chapter XVI


The nurse arrived, bringing new apprehension. She was an old woman who,
for twenty years, had helped the neighbouring gentry into the world; and
she had a copious store of ghastly anecdote. In her mouth the terrors of
birth were innumerable, and she told her stories with a cumulative art
that was appalling. Of course, in her mind, she acted for the best;
Bertha was nervous, and the nurse could imagine no better way of
reassuring her than to give detailed accounts of patients who for days
had been at death’s door, given up by all the doctors, and yet had
finally recovered.

Bertha’s quick invention magnified the coming anguish till, for thinking
of it, she could hardly sleep. The impossibility even to conceive it
rendered it more formidable; she saw before her a long, long agony, and
then death. She could not bear Edward to be out of her sight.

“Why, of course you’ll get over it,” he said. “I promise you it’s
nothing to make a fuss about.”

He had bred animals for years and was quite used to the process which
supplied him with veal, mutton, and beef, for the local butchers. It was
a ridiculous fuss that human beings made over a natural and ordinary
phenomenon.

“Oh, I’m so afraid of the pain. I feel certain that I shan’t get over
it--it’s awful. I wish I hadn’t got to go through it.”

“Good heavens,” cried the doctor, “one would think no one had ever had a
baby before you.”

“Oh, don’t laugh at me. Can’t you see how frightened I am! I have a
presentiment that I shall die.”

“I never knew a woman yet,” said Dr. Ramsay, “who hadn’t a presentiment
that she would die, even if she had nothing worse than a finger-ache the
matter with her.”

“Oh, you can laugh,” said Bertha. “I’ve got to go through it.”

Another day passed, and the nurse said the doctor must be immediately
sent for. Bertha had made Edward promise to remain with her all the
time.

“I think I shall have courage if I can hold your hand,” she said.

“Nonsense,” said Dr. Ramsay, when Edward told him this, “I’m not going
to have a man meddling about.”

“I thought not,” said Edward, “but I just promised, to keep her quiet.”

“If you’ll keep yourself quiet,” answered the doctor, “that’s all I
shall expect.”

“Oh, you needn’t fear about me. I know all about these things--why, my
dear doctor, I’ve brought a good sight more living things into the world
than you have, I bet.”

Edward, calm, self-possessed, unimaginative, was the ideal person for an
emergency.

“There’s no good my knocking about the house all the afternoon,” he
said. “I should only mope, and if I’m wanted I can always be sent for.”

He left word that he was going to Bewlie’s Farm to see a sick cow, about
which he was very anxious.

“She’s the best milker I’ve ever had. I don’t know what I should do if
anything went wrong with her. She gives her so-many pints a day, as
regular as possible. She’s brought in over and over again the money I
gave for her.”

He walked along with the free and easy step which Bertha so much
admired, glancing now and then at the fields which bordered the highway.
He stopped to examine the beans of a rival farmer.

“That soil’s no good,” he said, shaking his head. “It don’t pay to grow
beans on a patch like that.”

When he arrived at Bewlie’s Farm, Edward called for the labourer in
charge of the invalid.

“Well, how’s she going?”

“She ain’t no better, squire.”

“Bad job.... Has Thompson been to see her to-day?” Thompson was the vet.

“‘E can’t make nothin’ of it--’e thinks it’s a habscess she’s got, but I
don’t put much faith in Mister Thompson: ’is father was a labourer same
as me, only ’e didn’t ’ave to do with farming, bein’ a bricklayer; and
wot ’is son can know about cattle is beyond me altogether.”

“Well, let’s go and look at her,” said Edward.

He strode over to the barn, followed by the labourer. The beast was
standing in one corner, even more meditative than is usual with cows,
hanging her head and humping her back. She seemed profoundly
pessimistic.

“I should have thought Thompson could do something,” said Edward.

“‘E says the butcher’s the only thing for ’er,” said the other, with
great contempt.

Edward snorted indignantly. “Butcher indeed! I’d like to butcher him if
I got the chance.”

He went into the farmhouse, which for years had been his home; but he
was a practical, sensible fellow and it brought him no memories, no
particular emotion.

“Well, Mrs. Jones,” he said to the tenant’s wife. “How’s yourself?”

“Middlin’, sir. And ’ow are you and Mrs. Craddock?”

“I’m all right--the Missus is having a baby, you know.”

He spoke in the jovial, careless way which necessarily endeared him to
the whole world.

“Bless my soul, is she indeed, sir--and I knew you when you was a boy!
When d’you expect it?”

“I expect it every minute. Why, for all I know, I may be a happy father
when I get back to tea.”

“You take it pretty cool, governor,” said Farmer Jones, who had known
Edward in the days of his poverty.

“Me?” cried Edward, laughing. “I know all about this sort of thing, you
see. Why, look at all the calves I’ve had--and mind you, I’ve not had an
accident with a cow above twice, all the time I’ve gone in for
breeding.... But I’d better be going to see how the Missus is getting
on. Good afternoon to you, Mrs. Jones.”

“Now what I like about the squire,” said Mrs. Jones, “is that there’s no
‘aughtiness in ’im. ’E ain’t too proud to take a cup of tea with you,
although ’e is the squire now.”

“‘E’s the best squire we’ve ’ad for thirty years,” said Farmer Jones,
“and, as you say, my dear, there’s not a drop of ’aughtiness in
‘im--which is more than you can say for his missus.”

“Oh well, she’s young-like,” replied his wife. “They do say as ’ow ’e’s
the master, and I dare say ’e’ll teach ’er better.”

“Trust ’im for makin’ ’is wife buckle under; ’e’s not a man to stand
nonsense from anybody.”

Edward swung along the road, whirling his stick round, whistling, and
talking to the dogs that accompanied him. He was of a hopeful
disposition, and did not think it would be necessary to slaughter his
best cow. He did not believe in the vet. half so much as in himself, and
his firm opinion was that she would recover. He walked up the avenue of
Court Leys, looking at the young elms he had planted to fill the gaps;
they were pretty healthy on the whole, and he was pleased with his work.

He went to Bertha’s room and knocked at the door. Dr. Ramsay opened it,
but with his burly frame barred the passage.

“Oh, don’t be afraid,” said Edward, “I don’t want to come in. I know
when I’m best out of the way.... How is she getting on?”

“Well, I’m afraid it won’t be such an easy job as I thought,” whispered
the doctor; “but there’s no reason to get alarmed.”

“I shall be downstairs if you want me for anything.”

“She was asking for you a good deal just now, but nurse told her it
would upset you if you were there; so then she said, ‘Don’t let him
come; I’ll bear it alone.’”

“Oh, that’s all right. In a time like this the husband is much better
out of the way, I think.”

Dr. Ramsay shut the door upon him.

“Sensible chap that,” he said. “I like him better and better. Why, most
men would be fussing about and getting hysterical, and Lord knows what.”

“Was that Eddie?” asked Bertha, her voice trembling with recent agony.

“Yes; he came to see how you were.”

“He isn’t very much upset, is he? Don’t tell him I’m very bad--it’ll
make him wretched. I’ll bear it alone.”

Edward, downstairs, told himself it was no use getting into a state,
which was quite true, and taking the most comfortable chair in the room,
settled down to read his paper. Before dinner he went to make more
inquiries. Dr. Ramsay came out saying he had given Bertha opium, and for
a while she was quiet.

“It’s lucky you did it just at dinner time,” said Edward, with a laugh.
“We’ll be able to have a snack together.”

They sat down and began to eat. They rivalled one another in their
appetites; and the doctor, liking Edward more and more, said it did him
good to see a man who could eat well. But before they had reached the
pudding, a message came from the nurse to say that Bertha was awake, and
Dr. Ramsay regretfully left the table. Edward went on eating
steadfastly. At last, with the happy sigh of the man conscious of virtue
and a satisfied stomach, he lit his pipe and again settling himself in
the armchair, shortly began to doze. The evening, however, was long, and
he felt bored.

“It ought to be all over by now,” he said. “I wonder if I need stay up?”

Dr. Ramsay seemed a little worried when Edward went to him a third time.

“I’m afraid it’s a difficult case,” he said. “It’s most unfortunate.
She’s been suffering a good deal, poor thing.”

“Well, is there anything I can do?” asked Edward.

“No, except to keep calm and not make a fuss.”

“Oh, I shan’t do that; you needn’t fear. I will say that for myself, I
have got nerve.”

“You’re splendid,” said Dr. Ramsay. “I tell you I like to see a man keep
his head so well through a job like this.”

“Well, what I came to ask you was--is there any good in my sitting up?
Of course I’ll do it if anything can be done; but if not I may as well
go to bed.”

“Yes, I think you’d much better; I’ll call you if you’re wanted. I think
you might come in and say a word or two to Bertha; it will encourage
her.”

Edward entered. Bertha was lying with staring, terrified eyes--eyes that
seemed to have lately seen entirely new things, they shone glassily. Her
face was whiter than ever, the blood had fled from her lips, and her
cheeks were sunken: she looked as if she were dying. She greeted Edward
with the faintest smile.

“How are you, little woman?” he asked.

His presence seemed to call her back to life, and a faint colour lit up
her cheeks.

“I’m all right,” she said, making an effort. “You mustn’t worry
yourself, dear.”

“Been having a bad time?”

“No,” she said, bravely. “I’ve not really suffered much--there’s nothing
for you to upset yourself about.”

He went out, and she called Dr. Ramsay. “You haven’t told him what I’ve
gone through, have you? I don’t want him to know.”

“No, that’s all right. I’ve told him to go to bed.”

“Oh, I’m glad. He can’t bear not to get his proper night’s rest.... How
long d’you think it will last--already I feel as if I’d been tortured
for ever, and it seems endless.”

“Oh, it’ll soon be over now, I hope.”

“I’m sure I’m going to die,” she whispered; “I feel that life is being
gradually drawn out of me--I shouldn’t mind if it weren’t for Eddie.
He’ll be so cut up.”

“What nonsense!” said the nurse, “you all say you’re going to die.”

Edward--dear, manly, calm, and pure-minded fellow as he was--went to bed
quietly and soon was fast asleep. But his slumbers were somewhat
troubled: generally he enjoyed the heavy dreamless sleep of the man who
has no nerves and plenty of exercise. To-night, however, he dreamt. He
dreamt not only that one cow was sick, but that all his cattle had
fallen ill--the cows stood about with gloomy eyes and humpbacks, surly
and dangerous, evidently with their livers totally deranged; the oxen
were “blown,” and lay on their backs with legs kicking feebly in the
air.

“You must send them all to the butcher’s,” said the vet.; “there’s
nothing to be done with them.”

“Good Lord deliver us,” said Edward; “I shan’t get four bob a stone for
them.”

But his dream was disturbed by a knock at the door, and Edward awoke to
find Dr. Ramsay shaking him.

“Wake up, man--get up and dress quickly.”

“What’s the matter?” cried Edward, jumping out of bed and seizing his
clothes. “What’s the time?”

“It’s half-past four.... I want you to go into Tercanbury for Dr.
Spocref; Bertha is very bad.”

“All right, I’ll bring him back with me.” Edward rapidly dressed
himself.

“I’ll go round and wake up the man to put the horse in.”

“No, I’ll do that myself; it’ll take me half the time.” He methodically
laced his boots.

“Bertha is in no immediate danger. But I must have a consultation. I
still hope we shall bring her through it.”

“By Jove,” said Edward, “I didn’t know it was so bad as that.”

“You need not get alarmed yet--the great thing is for you to keep calm
and bring Spocref along as quickly as possible. It’s not hopeless yet.”

Edward, with all his wits about him, was soon ready and with equal
rapidity set to harnessing the horse; he carefully lit the lamps, as the
proverb, _more haste, less speed_, passed through his mind. In two
minutes he was on the main road, and whipped up the horse. He went with
a quick, steady trot through the silent night.

Dr. Ramsay, returning to the sick-room, thought what a splendid object
was a man who could be relied upon to do anything, who never lost his
head nor got excited. His admiration for Edward was growing by leaps and
bounds.



Chapter XVII


Edward Craddock was a strong man, also unimaginative. Driving through
the night to Tercanbury he did not give way to distressing thoughts, but
easily kept his anxiety within proper bounds, and gave his whole
attention to conducting the horse; he kept his eyes on the road in front
of him, and the beast stepped out with swift, regular stride, rapidly
passing the milestones. Edward rang Dr. Spocref up and gave him the note
he carried. The doctor presently came down, an undersized man with a
squeaky voice and a gesticulative manner. He looked upon Edward with
suspicion.

“I suppose you’re the husband?” he said, as they clattered down the
street. “Would you like me to drive? I dare say you’re rather upset.”

“No--and don’t want to be,” answered Edward, with a laugh. He looked
down a little upon people who lived in towns, and never trusted a man
who was less than six feet high and burly in proportion!

“I’m rather nervous of anxious husbands who drive me at a breakneck pace
in the middle of the night,” said the doctor. “The ditches have an
almost irresistible attraction for them.”

“Well, I’m not nervous, doctor, so it doesn’t matter twopence if you
are.”

When they reached the open country, Edward set the horse going at its
fastest; he was somewhat amused at the doctor’s desire to drive--absurd
little man!

“Are you holding on tight?” he asked, with good-natured scorn.

“I see you can drive,” said the doctor.

“It is not the first time I’ve had reins in my hands,” replied Edward,
modestly. “Here we are!”

He showed the specialist to the bedroom, and asked whether Dr. Ramsay
required him further.

“No, I don’t want you just now; but you’d better stay up to be ready, if
anything happens.... I’m afraid Bertha is very bad indeed--you must be
prepared for everything.”

Edward retired to the next room and sat down. He was genuinely
disturbed, but even now could not realise that Bertha was dying--his
mind was sluggish, and he was unable to imagine the future. A more
emotional man would have been white with fear, his heart beating
painfully and his nerves quivering with a hundred anticipated terrors.
He would have been quite useless; while Edward was fit for any
emergency--he could have been trusted to drive another ten miles in
search of some appliance, and, with perfect steadiness, to help in any
necessary operation.

“You know,” he said to Dr. Ramsay, “I don’t want to get in your way; but
if I should be any use in the room, you can trust me not to get
flurried.”

“I don’t think there’s anything you can do; the nurse is very
trustworthy and capable.”

“Women,” said Edward, “get so excited; they always make fools of
themselves if they possibly can.”

But the night air had made Craddock sleepy, and after half-an-hour in
the chair, trying to read a book, he dozed off. Presently, however, he
awoke, and the first light of day filled the room with a gray coldness.
He looked at his watch.

“By Jove, it’s a long job,” he said.

There was a knock at the door, and the nurse came in.

“Will you please come.”

Dr. Ramsay met him in the passage. “Thank God, it’s over. She’s had a
terrible time.”

“Is she all right?”

“I think she’s in no danger now--but I’m sorry to say we couldn’t save
the child.”

A pang went through Edward’s heart. “Is it dead?”

“It was still-born. I was afraid it was hopeless. You’d better go to
Bertha now--she wants you. She doesn’t know about the child.”

Bertha was lying in an attitude of complete exhaustion: she lay on her
back, with arms stretched in utter weakness by her sides. Her face was
gray with past anguish, her eyes dull and lifeless, half closed; and her
jaw hung almost as hangs the jaw of a corpse. She tried to form a smile
as she saw Edward, but in her feebleness the lips scarcely moved.

“Don’t try to speak, dear,” said the nurse, seeing that Bertha was
attempting words.

Edward bent down and kissed her, the faintest blush coloured her cheeks,
and she began to cry; the tears stealthily glided down her cheeks.

“Come nearer to me, Eddie,” she whispered.

He knelt beside her, suddenly touched. He took her hand, and the contact
had a vivifying effect; she drew a long breath, and her lips formed a
weary, weary smile.

“Thank God, it’s over,” she groaned, half whispering. “Oh, Eddie,
darling, you can’t think what I’ve gone through.”

“Well, it’s all over now.”

“And you’ve been worrying too, Eddie. It encouraged me to think that you
shared my trouble. You must go to sleep now. It was good of you to drive
to Tercanbury for me.”

“You mustn’t talk,” said Dr. Ramsay, coming back into the room, after
seeing the specialist sent off.

“I’m better now,” said Bertha, “since I’ve seen Eddie.”

“Well, you must go to sleep.”

“You’ve not told me yet if it’s a boy or a girl; tell me, Eddie, you
know.”

Edward looked uneasily at the doctor.

“It’s a boy,” said Dr. Ramsay.

“I knew it would be,” she murmured. An expression of ecstatic pleasure
came into her face, chasing away the grayness of death. “I’m so glad.
Have you seen it, Eddie?”

“Not yet.”

“It’s our child, isn’t it? It’s worth going through the pain to have a
baby. I’m so happy.”

“You must go to sleep now.”

“I’m not a bit sleepy--and I want to see my boy.”

“No, you can’t see him now,” said Dr. Ramsay, “he’s asleep, and you
mustn’t disturb him.”

“Oh, I should like to see him, just for one minute. You needn’t wake
him.”

“You shall see him after you’ve been asleep,” said the doctor,
soothingly. “It’ll excite you too much.”

“Well, you go in and see him, Eddie, and kiss him, and then I’ll go to
sleep.”

She seemed so anxious that at least its father should see his child,
that the nurse led Edward into the next room. On a chest of drawers was
lying something covered with a towel. This the nurse lifted, and Edward
saw his child; it was naked and very small, hardly human, repulsive, yet
very pitiful. The eyes were closed, the eyes that had never been opened.
Edward looked at it for a minute.

“I promised I’d kiss it,” he whispered.

He bent down and touched with his lips the white forehead; the nurse
drew the towel over the body, and they went back to Bertha.

“Is he sleeping?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Did you kiss him?”

“Yes.”

Bertha smiled. “Fancy your kissing baby before me.”

But Dr. Ramsay’s draught was taking its effect, and almost immediately
Bertha fell into a pleasant sleep.

“Let’s take a turn in the garden,” said Dr. Ramsay. “I think I ought to
be here when she wakes.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The air was fresh, scented with the spring flowers and the odour of the
earth. Both men inspired it with relief after the close atmosphere of
the sick-room. Dr. Ramsay put his arm in Edward’s.

“Cheer up, my boy,” he said. “You’ve borne it all magnificently. I’ve
never seen a man go through a night like this better than you; and upon
my word, you’re as fresh as paint this morning.”

“Oh, I’m all right,” said Edward. “What’s to be done about--about the
baby?”

“I think she’ll be able to bear it better after she’s had a sleep. I
really didn’t dare say it was still-born. The shock would have been too
much for her.”

They went in and washed and ate, then waited for Bertha to wake. At last
the nurse called them.

“You poor things,” cried Bertha, as they entered the room. “Have you had
no sleep at all?... I feel quite well now, and I want my baby. Nurse
says it’s sleeping and I can’t have it--but I will. I want it to sleep
with me, I want to look at my son.”

Edward and the nurse looked at Dr. Ramsay, who for once was
disconcerted.

“I don’t think you’d better have him to-day, Bertha,” he said. “It would
upset you.”

“Oh, but I must have my baby. Nurse, bring him to me at once.”

Edward knelt down again by the bedside and took her hands. “Now, Bertha,
you musn’t be alarmed, but the baby’s not well, and----“

“What d’you mean?” Bertha suddenly sprang up in the bed.

“Lie down. Lie down,” cried Dr. Ramsay and the nurse, forcing her back
on the pillow.

“What’s the matter with him, doctor,” she cried, in sudden terror.

“It’s as Edward says, he’s not well.”

“Oh, he isn’t going to die--after all I’ve gone through.”

She looked from one to the other. “Oh, tell me; don’t keep me in
suspense. I can bear it, whatever it is.”

Dr. Ramsay touched Edward, encouraging him.

“You must prepare yourself for bad news, darling. You know----“

“He isn’t dead?” she shrieked.

“I’m awfully sorry, dear.... He was still-born.”

“Oh, God!” groaned Bertha, it was a cry of despair. And then she burst
into passionate weeping.

Her sobs were terrible, uncontrollable; it was her life that she was
weeping away, her hope of happiness, all her desires and dreams. Her
heart seemed breaking. She put her hands to her eyes, with a gesture of
utter agony.

“Then I went through it all for nothing.... Oh, Eddie, you don’t know
the frightful pain of it--all night I thought I should die.... I would
have given anything to be put out of my suffering. And it was all
useless.”

She sobbed still more irresistibly, quite crushed by the recollection of
what she had gone through, and its futility.

“Oh, I wish I could die.”

The tears were in Edward’s eyes, and he kissed her hands.

“Don’t give way, darling,” he said, searching in vain for words to
console her. His voice faltered and broke.

“Oh, Eddie,” she said, “you’re suffering just as much as I am. I
forgot.... Let me see him now.”

Dr. Ramsay made a sign to the nurse, and she fetched the dead child. She
carried it to the bedside and showed it to Bertha.

Bertha said nothing, and at last turned away; the nurse withdrew.
Bertha’s tears now had ceased, but her mouth was set into a hopeless
woe.

“Oh, I loved him already so much.”

Edward bent over. “Don’t grieve, darling.”

She put her arms round his neck as she had delighted to do. “Oh, Eddie,
love me with all your heart. I want your love so badly.”



Chapter XVIII


For days Bertha was overwhelmed with grief. She thought always of the
dead child that had never lived, and her heart ached. But above all she
was tormented by the idea that all her pain had been futile; she had
gone through so much, her sleep still was full of the past agony, and it
had been utterly, utterly useless. Her body was mutilated so that she
wondered it was possible for her to recover; she had lost her old
buoyancy, that vitality which had been so enjoyable, and she felt like
an old woman. Her sense of weariness was unendurable--she was so tired
that it seemed to her impossible to get rest. She lay in bed, day after
day, in a posture of hopeless fatigue, on her back, with arms stretched
out alongside of her, the pillows supporting her head: all her limbs
were singularly powerless.

Recovery was very slow, and Edward suggested sending for Miss Ley, but
Bertha refused.

“I don’t want to see anybody,” she said; “I merely want to lie still and
be quiet.”

It bored her to speak with people, and even her affections, for the
time, were dormant: she looked upon Edward as some one apart from her,
his presence and absence gave no particular emotion. She was tired, and
desired only to be left alone. All sympathy was unnecessary and useless,
she knew that no one could enter into the bitterness of her sorrow, and
she preferred to bear it alone.

Little by little, however, Bertha regained strength and consented to see
the friends who called, some genuinely sorry, others impelled merely by
a sense of duty or by a ghoul-like curiosity. Miss Glover, at this
period, was a great trial; the good creature felt for Bertha the
sincerest sympathy, but her feelings were one thing, her sense of right
and wrong another. She did not think the young wife took her affliction
with proper humility. Gradually a rebellious feeling had replaced the
extreme prostration of the beginning, and Bertha raged at the injustice
of her lot. Miss Glover came every day, bringing flowers and good
advice; but Bertha was not docile, and refused to be satisfied with Miss
Glover’s pious consolations. When the good creature read the Bible,
Bertha listened with a firmer closing of her lips, sullenly.

“Do you like me to read the Bible to you, dear?” asked the parson’s
sister once.

And Bertha, driven beyond her patience, could not as usual command her
tongue.

“If it amuses you, dear,” she answered, bitterly.

“Oh, Bertha, you’re not taking it in the proper spirit--you’re so
rebellious, and it’s wrong, it’s utterly wrong.”

“I can only think of my baby,” said Bertha, hoarsely.

“Why don’t you pray to God, dear--shall I offer a short prayer now,
Bertha?”

“No, I don’t want to pray to God--He’s either impotent or cruel.”

“Bertha,” cried Miss Glover. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Oh,
pray to God to melt your stubbornness; pray to God to forgive you.”

“I don’t want to be forgiven. I’ve done nothing that needs it. It’s God
who needs my forgiveness--not I His.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying, Bertha,” replied Miss Glover, very
gravely and sorrowfully.

Bertha was still so ill that Miss Glover dared not press the subject,
but she was grievously troubled. She asked herself whether she should
consult her brother, to whom an absurd shyness prevented her from
mentioning spiritual matters, unless necessity compelled. But she had
immense faith in him, and to her he was a type of all that a Christian
clergyman should be. Although her character was so much stronger than
his, Mr. Glover always seemed to his sister a pillar of strength; and
often in past times, when the flesh was more stubborn, had she found
help and consolation in his very mediocre sermons. Finally, however,
Miss Glover decided to speak to him, with the result that, for a week
she avoided spiritual topics in her daily conversation with the invalid;
then, Bertha having grown a little stronger, without previously
mentioning the fact, she brought her brother to Court Leys.

Miss Glover went alone to Bertha’s room, in her ardent sense of
propriety fearing that Bertha, in bed, might not be costumed decorously
enough for the visit of a clerical gentleman.

“Oh,” she said, “Charles is downstairs and would like to see you so
much. I thought I’d better come up first to see if you
were--er--presentable.”

Bertha was sitting up in bed, with a mass of cushions and pillows behind
her--a bright red jacket contrasted with her dark hair and the pallor of
her skin. She drew her lips together when she heard that the Vicar was
below, and a slight frown darkened her forehead. Miss Glover caught
sight of it.

“I don’t think she likes your coming,” said Miss Glover--to encourage
him--when she fetched her brother, “but I think it’s your duty.”

“Yes, I think it’s my duty,” replied Mr. Glover, who liked the
approaching interview as little as Bertha.

He was an honest man, oppressed by the inroads of dissent; but his
ministrations were confined to the services in church, the collecting of
subscriptions, and the visiting of the church-going poor. It was
something new to be brought before a rebellious gentlewoman, and he did
not quite know how to treat her.

Miss Glover opened the bedroom door for her brother and he entered, a
cold wind laden with carbolic acid. She solemnly put a chair for him by
the bedside and another for herself at a little distance.

“Ring for the tea before you sit down, Fanny,” said Bertha.

“I think, if you don’t mind, Charles would like to speak to you first,”
said Miss Glover. “Am I not right, Charles?”

“Yes, dear.”

“I took the liberty of telling him what you said to me the other day,
Bertha.”

Mrs. Craddock pursed her lips, but made no reply.

“I hope you’re not angry with me for doing so, but I thought it my
duty.... Now, Charles.”

The Vicar of Leanham coughed.

“I can quite understand,” he said, “that you must be most distressed at
your affliction. It’s a most unfortunate occurrence. I need not say that
Fanny and I sympathise with you from the bottom of our hearts.”

“We do indeed,” said his sister.

Still Bertha did not answer and Miss Glover looked at her uneasily. The
Vicar coughed again.

“But I always think that we should be thankful for the cross we have to
bear. It is, as it were, a measure of the confidence that God places in
us.”

Bertha remained quite silent and Miss Glover saw that no good would come
by beating about the bush.

“The fact is, Bertha,” she said, breaking the awkward silence, “that
Charles and I are very anxious that you should be churched. You don’t
mind our saying so, but we’re both a great deal older than you are, and
we think it will do you good. We do hope you’ll consent to it; but, more
than that, Charles is here as the clergyman of your parish, to tell you
that it is your duty.”

“I hope it won’t be necessary for me to put it in that way, Mrs.
Craddock.”

Bertha paused a moment longer, and then asked for a prayer-book. Miss
Glover gave a smile which for her was quite radiant.

“I’ve been wanting for a long time to make you a little present,
Bertha,” she said, “and it occurred to me that you might like a
prayer-book with good large print. I’ve noticed in church that the book
you generally use is so small that it must try your eyes, and be a
temptation to you not to follow the service. So I’ve brought you one
to-day, which it will give me very much pleasure if you will accept.”

She produced a large volume, bound in gloomy black cloth, and redolent
of the antiseptic odours which pervaded the Vicarage. The print was
indeed large, but, since the society which arranged the publication
insisted on the combination of cheapness with utility, the paper was
abominable.

“Thank you very much,” said Bertha, holding out her hand for the gift.
“It’s awfully kind of you.”

“Shall I find you the _Churching of Women_?”

Bertha nodded, and presently the Vicar’s sister handed her the book,
open. She read a few lines and dropped it.

“I have no wish to ‘give hearty thanks unto God,’” she said, looking
almost fiercely at the worthy pair. “I’m very sorry to offend your
prejudices, but it seems to me absurd that I should prostrate myself in
gratitude to God.”

“Oh, Mrs. Craddock, I trust you don’t mean what you say,” said the
Vicar.

“This is what I told you, Charles,” said Miss Glover. “I don’t think
Bertha is well, but still this seems to me dreadfully wicked.”

Bertha frowned, finding it difficult to repress the sarcasm which rose
to her lips; her forbearance was sorely tried. But Mr. Glover was a
little undecided.

“We must be as thankful to God for the afflictions He sends as for the
benefits,” he said at last.

“I am not a worm to crawl upon the ground and give thanks to the foot
that crushes me.”

“I think that is blasphemous, Bertha,” said Miss Glover.

“Oh, I have no patience with you, Fanny,” said Bertha, raising herself,
a flush lighting up her face. “Can you realise what I’ve gone through,
the terrible pain of it? Oh, it was too awful. Even now when I think of
it I almost scream.”

“It is by suffering that we rise to our higher self,” said Miss Glover.
“Suffering is a fire that burns away the grossness of our material
natures.”

“What rubbish you talk,” cried Bertha, passionately. “You can say that
when you’ve never suffered. People say that suffering ennobles one; it’s
a lie, it only makes one brutal.... But I would have borne it--for the
sake of my child. It was all useless--utterly useless. Dr. Ramsay told
me the child had been dead the whole time. Oh, if God made me suffer
like that, it’s infamous. I wonder you’re not ashamed to put it down to
God. How can you imagine Him to be so stupid, so cruel! Why, even the
vilest beast in the slums wouldn’t cause a woman such frightful and
useless agony for the mere pleasure of it.”

Miss Glover sprang to her feet. “Bertha, your illness is no excuse for
this. You must either be mad, or utterly depraved and wicked.”

“No, I’m more charitable than you,” cried Bertha. “I know there is no
God.”

“Then I, for one, can have nothing more to do with you.” Miss Glover’s
cheeks were flaming, and a sudden indignation dispelled her habitual
shyness.

“Fanny, Fanny!” cried her brother, “restrain yourself.”

“Oh, this isn’t a time to restrain one’s self, Charles. It’s one’s duty
to speak out sometimes. No, Bertha, if you’re an atheist, I can have
nothing more to do with you.”

“She spoke in anger,” said the Vicar. “It is not our duty to judge her.”

“It’s our duty to protest when the name of God is taken in vain,
Charles. If you think Bertha’s position excuses her blasphemies,
Charles, then I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself.... But I’m
not afraid to speak out. Yes, Bertha, I’ve known for a long time that
you were proud and headstrong, but I thought time would change you. I
have always had confidence in you, because I thought at the bottom you
were good. But if you deny your Maker, Bertha, there can be no hope for
you.”

“Fanny, Fanny,” murmured the Vicar.

“Let me speak, Charles; I think you’re a bad and wicked woman--and I can
no longer feel sorry for you, because everything that you have suffered
I think you have thoroughly deserved. Your heart is absolutely hard,
and I know nothing so thoroughly wicked as a hard-hearted woman.”

“My dear Fanny,” said Bertha, smiling, “we’ve both been absurdly
melodramatic.”

“I refuse to laugh at the subject. I see nothing ridiculous in it. Come,
Charles, let us go, and leave her to her own thoughts.”

But as Miss Glover bounded to the door the handle was turned from the
outside and Mrs. Branderton came in. The position was awkward, and her
appearance seemed almost providential to the Vicar, who could not fling
out of the room like his sister, but also could not make up his mind to
shake hands with Bertha, as if nothing had happened. Mrs. Branderton
entered, all airs and graces, smirking and ogling, and the gew-gaws on
her brand-new bonnet quivered with every movement.

“I told the servant I could find my way up alone, Bertha,” she said. “I
wanted so much to see you.”

“Mr. and Miss Glover were just going. How kind of you to come!”

Miss Glover bounced out of the room with a smile at Mrs. Branderton that
was almost ghastly; and Mr. Glover, meek, polite, and as antiseptic as
ever, shaking hands with Mrs. Branderton, followed his sister.

“What queer people they are!” said Mrs. Branderton, standing at the
window to see them come out of the front door. “I really don’t think
they’re quite human.... Why, she’s walking on in front--she might wait
for him--taking such long steps; and he’s trying to catch her up. I
believe they’re having a race. Ha! ha! What ridiculous people! Isn’t it
a pity she will wear short skirts--my dear, her feet and ankles are
positively awful. I believe they wear one another’s boots
indiscriminately.... And how are you, dear? I think you’re looking much
better.”

Mrs. Branderton sat in such a position as to have full view of herself
in a mirror.

“What nice looking-glasses you have in your room, my love. No woman can
dress properly without them. Now, you’ve only got to look at poor Fanny
Glover to know that she’s so modest as never even to look at herself in
the glass to put her hat on.”

Mrs. Branderton chattered on, thinking that she was doing Bertha good.
“A woman doesn’t want one to be solemn when she’s ill. I know when I
have anything the matter, I like some one to talk to me about the
fashions. I remember in my young days, when I was ill, I used to get old
Mr. Crowhurst, the former vicar, to come and read the ladies’ papers to
me. He was such a nice old man, not a bit like a clergyman; and he used
to say I was his only parishioner whom he really liked visiting.... I’m
not tiring you, am I, dear?”

“Oh, dear, no!” said Bertha.

“Now I suppose the Glovers have been talking all sorts of stuff to you.
Of course one has to put up with it, I suppose, because it sets a good
example to the lower orders; but I must say I do think the clergy
nowadays sometimes forget their place. I consider it most objectionable
when they insist on talking religion with you, as if you were a common
person.... But they’re not nearly so nice as they used to be. In my
young days the clergy were always gentlemen’s sons--but then they
weren’t expected to trouble about the poor. I can quite understand that
now a gentleman shouldn’t like to become a clergyman; he has to mix with
the lower classes, and they’re growing more familiar every day.”

But suddenly Bertha, without warning, burst into tears. Mrs. Branderton
was flabbergasted!

“My dear, what is the matter? Where are your salts? Shall I ring the
bell?”

Bertha, sobbing violently, begged Mrs. Branderton to take no notice of
her. That fashionable creature had a sentimental heart, and would have
been delighted to weep with Bertha; but she had several calls to make,
and could not risk a disarrangement of her person. She was also curious,
and would have given much to find out the cause of Bertha’s outburst.
She comforted herself, however, by giving the Hancocks, whose _At Home_
day it was, a detailed account of the affair; and they, shortly
afterwards, recounted it with sundry embellishments to Mrs. Mayston
Ryle.

Mrs. Mayston Ryle, magnificently imposing as ever, snorted like a
charger eager for battle.

“Mrs. Branderton sends _me_ to sleep frequently,” she said; “But I can
quite understand that if the poor thing isn’t well, Mrs. Branderton
would make her cry. I never see her myself unless I’m in the most robust
health, otherwise I know she’d simply make me howl.”

“But I wonder what was the matter with poor Mrs. Craddock,” said Miss
Hancock.

“I don’t know,” answered Mrs. Mayston Ryle in her majestic manner. “But
I’ll find out. I dare say she only wants a little good society. _I_
shall go and see her.”

And she did!



Chapter XIX


But the apathy with which for weeks Bertha had looked upon all
terrestrial concerns was passing away before her increasing strength. It
had been due only to an utter physical weakness, of the same order as
that merciful indifference to all earthly sympathies which gives ease to
the final passage into the Unknown. The prospect of death would be
unendurable if one did not know that the enfeebled body brought a like
enfeeblement of spirit, dissolving the ties of this world: when the
traveller must leave the hostel with the double gate, the wine he loved
has lost its savour and the bread turned bitter in his mouth. Like
useless gauds, Bertha had let fall the interests of life; her soul lay
a-dying. Her soul was a lighted candle in a lantern, flickering in the
wind so that its flame was hardly seen and the lantern was useless; but
presently the wind of death was stilled, and the light shone out and
filled the darkness.

With increasing strength the old passion returned; love came back like a
conqueror, and Bertha knew that she had not done with life. In her
loneliness she yearned for Edward’s affection; for now he was all she
had, and she stretched out her arms to him with a great desire. She
blamed herself bitterly for her coldness, she wept at the idea of what
he must have suffered. And she was ashamed that the love which she had
thought eternal, should have been for a while destroyed. But a change
had come over her. She did not now love her husband with the old blind
passion, but with a new feeling added to it; for to him was transferred
the tenderness which she had lavished on her dead child, and all the
mother’s spirit which must now, to her life’s end, go unsatisfied. Her
heart was like a house with empty chambers, and the fires of love raged
through them triumphantly.

Bertha thought a little painfully of Miss Glover, but dismissed her with
a shrug of the shoulders. The good creature had kept her resolve never
again to come near Court Leys, and for days nothing had been heard of
her.

“What does it matter?” cried Bertha. “So long as Eddie loves me, the
rest of the world is nothing.”

But her room gained now the aspect of a prison, so that she felt it
impossible much longer to endure its dreadful monotony. Her bed was a
bed of torture, and she fancied that so long as she remained stretched
upon it, health would not return. She begged Dr. Ramsay to allow her to
get up, but was always met with the same refusal, backed up by her
husband’s common sense. All she obtained was the dismissal of the nurse
to whom she had taken a sudden and violent dislike. From no reasonable
cause, Bertha found the mere presence of the poor woman unendurable, and
her officious loquacity irritated her beyond measure. If she must remain
in bed, Bertha preferred absolute solitude; the turn of her mind was
becoming almost misanthropic.

The hours passed endlessly. From her pillow Bertha could see only the
sky, now a metallic blue with dazzling clouds swaying heavily across,
now gray, darkening the room. The furniture and the wall-paper forced
themselves distastefully on her mind. Every detail was impressed on her
consciousness as indelibly as the potter’s mark on the clay.

Finally she made up her mind to get up, come what might. It was the
Sunday after the quarrel with Miss Glover; Edward would be indoors and
doubtless intended to spend most of the afternoon in her room, but she
knew he disliked sitting there; the closeness, the odours of medicine,
made his head ache. Her appearance in the drawing-room would be a
delightful surprise. She would not tell him that she was getting up, but
go downstairs and take him unawares. She got out of bed, but as she put
her feet to the ground, had to cling to a chair; her legs were so weak
that they hardly supported her, and her head reeled. But in a little
while she gathered strength and slowly dressed herself, slowly and very
difficultly; her weakness was almost pain. She had to sit down, and her
hair was so wearisome to do that she was afraid she must give up the
attempt and return to bed. But the thought of Edward’s surprise upheld
her--he had said how pleased he would be to have her downstairs with
him. At last she was ready and went to the door, supporting herself on
every object at hand. But what joy it was to be up again, to feel
herself once more among the living--away from the grave of her bed!

She came to the top of the stairs and went down, leaning heavily on the
banisters; she went one step at a time, as little children do, and
laughed at herself. But the laugh changed almost into a groan, as in
exhaustion she sank down and felt it impossible to go farther. Then the
thought of Edward urged her on. She struggled to her feet, and
persevered till she reached the bottom. Now she was outside the
drawing-room, she heard Edward whistling within. She crept along, eager
to make no sound; noiselessly she turned the handle and flung the door
open.

“Eddie!”

He turned round with a cry. “Hulloa, what are you doing here?”

He came towards her, but showed not the great joy which she had
expected.

“I wanted to surprise you. Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“Yes, of course I am. But you oughtn’t to have come without Dr. Ramsay’s
leave. And I didn’t expect you to-day.”

He led her to the sofa, and she lay down.

“I thought you’d be so pleased.”

“Of course I am!”

He placed pillows under her, and covered her with a rug--little
attentions which were exquisitely touching.

“You don’t know how I struggled,” she said. “I thought I should never
get my things on, and then I almost tumbled down the stairs, I was so
weak.... But I knew you must be lonely here, and you hate sitting in the
bedroom.”

“You oughtn’t to have risked it. It may throw you back,” he replied,
gently. He looked at his watch. “You must only stay half-an-hour, and
then I shall carry you up to bed.”

Bertha gave a laugh, intending to permit nothing of the sort. It was so
comfortable to lie on the sofa, with Edward by her side. She held his
hands.

“I simply couldn’t stay in the room any longer. It was so gloomy, with
the rain pattering all day on the windows.”

It was one of those days of late summer when the rain seems never
ceasing, and the air is filled with the melancholy of nature, already
conscious of the near decay.

“I was meaning to come up to you as soon as I’d finished my pipe.”

Bertha was exhausted, and, keeping silence, pressed Edward’s hand in
acknowledgment of his kind intention. Presently he looked at his watch
again.

“Your half-hour’s nearly up. In five minutes I’m going to carry you to
your room.”

“Oh no, you’re not,” she replied playfully, taking his remark as
humorous. “I’m going to stay till dinner.”

“No, you can’t possibly. It will be very bad for you.... To please me go
back to bed now.”

“Well, we’ll split the difference and I’ll go after tea.”

“No, you must go now.”

“Why, one would think you wanted to get rid of me!”

“I have to go out,” said Edward.

“Oh no, you haven’t--you’re merely saying that to induce me to go
upstairs. You fibber!”

“Let me carry you up now, there’s a good girl.”

“I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.”

“I shall have to leave you alone, Bertha. I didn’t know you meant to get
up to-day, and I have an engagement.”

“Oh, but you can’t leave me the first time I get up. What is it? You can
write a note and break it.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” he replied. “But I’m afraid I can’t do that. The
fact is, I saw the Miss Hancocks after church, and they said they had to
walk into Tercanbury this afternoon, and as it was so wet I offered to
drive them in. I’ve promised to fetch them at three.”

“You’re joking,” said Bertha; her eyes had suddenly become hard, and she
was breathing fast.

Edward looked at her uneasily. “I didn’t know you were going to get up,
or I shouldn’t have arranged to go out.”

“Oh well, it doesn’t matter,” said Bertha, throwing off the momentary
anger. “You can just write and say you can’t come.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he answered, gravely. “I’ve given my word
and I can’t break it.”

“Oh, but it’s infamous.” Her wrath blazed out again. “Even you can’t be
so cruel as to leave me at such a time. I deserve some consideration--after
all I’ve suffered. For weeks I lay at death’s door, and at last when I’m
a little better and come down--thinking to give you pleasure, you’re
engaged to drive the Misses Hancock into Tercanbury.”

“Come, Bertha, be reasonable.” Edward condescended to expostulate with
his wife, though it was not his habit to humour her extravagances. “You
see it’s not my fault. Isn’t it enough for you that I’m very sorry? I
shall be back in an hour. Stay here, and then we’ll spend the evening
together.”

“Why did you lie to me?”

“I haven’t lied: I’m not given to that,” said Edward, with natural
satisfaction.

“You pretended it was for my health’s sake that I must go upstairs.
Isn’t that a lie?”

“It was for your health’s sake.”

“You lie again. You wanted to get me out of the way, so that you might
go to the Miss Hancocks without telling me.”

“You ought to know me better than that by now.”

“Why did you say nothing about them till you found it impossible to
avoid.”

Edward shrugged his shoulders good-humouredly. “Because I know how
touchy you are.”

“And yet you made them the offer.”

“It came out almost unawares. They were grumbling about the weather, and
without thinking, I said, ‘I’ll drive you over if you like.’ And they
jumped at it.”

“You’re so good-natured if any one but your wife is concerned.”

“Well, dear, I can’t stay arguing. I shall be late already.”

“You’re not really going?” It had been impossible for Bertha to realise
that Edward would carry out his intention.

“I must, my dear; it’s my duty.”

“You have more duty to me than to any one else.... Oh, Eddie, don’t go.
You can’t realise all it means to me.”

“I must. I’m not going because I want to. I shall be back in an hour.”

He bent down to kiss her, and she flung her arms round his neck,
bursting into tears.

“Oh, please don’t go--if you love me at all, if you’ve ever loved me....
Don’t you see that you’re destroying my love for you?”

“Now, don’t be silly, there’s a good girl.”

He loosened her arms and walked away; but rising from the sofa she
followed him and took his arm, beseeching him to stay.

“You see how unhappy I am; and you are all I have in the world now. For
God’s sake, stay, Eddie. It means more to me than you know.”

She sank to the floor; she was kneeling before him.

“Come, get on to the sofa. All this is very bad for you.”

He carried her to the couch, and then, to finish the scene, hurriedly
left the room.

Bertha sprang up to follow him, but sank back as the door slammed, and
burying her face in her hands, surrendered herself to a passion of
tears. But humiliation and rage almost drove away her grief. She had
knelt before her husband for a favour, and he had not granted it.
Suddenly she abhorred him. The love, which had been a tower of brass,
fell like a house of cards. She would not try now to conceal from
herself the faults that stared her in the face. He cared only for
himself: with him it was only self, self, self. Bertha found a bitter
fascination in stripping her idol of the finery with which her madness
had bedizened him; she saw him more accurately now, and he was utterly
selfish. But most unbearable of all was her own extreme humiliation.

The rain poured down, unceasing, and the despair of nature ate into her
soul. At last she was exhausted; and losing thought of time, lay
half-unconscious, feeling at least no pain, her brain vacant and weary.
When a servant came to ask if Miss Glover might see her, she hardly
understood.

“Miss Glover doesn’t usually stand on such ceremony,” she said
ill-temperedly, forgetting the incident of the previous week. “Ask her
to come in.”

The parson’s sister came to the door and hesitated, growing red; the
expression in her eyes was pained, and even frightened.

“May I come in, Bertha?”

“Yes.”

She walked straight to the sofa, and fell on her knees.

“Oh, Bertha, please forgive me. I was wrong, and I’ve behaved wickedly
to you.”

“My dear Fanny,” murmured Bertha, a smile breaking through her misery.

“I withdraw every word I said to you, Bertha; I can’t understand how I
said it. I humbly beg your forgiveness.”

“There is nothing to forgive.”

“Oh, yes, there is. Good heavens, I know! My conscience has been
reproaching me ever since I was here, but I hardened my heart, and would
not listen.”

Poor Miss Glover could not really have hardened her heart, however much
she tried.

“I knew I ought to come to you and beg your forgiveness, but I wouldn’t.
I’ve not slept a wink at night. I was afraid of dying, and if I’d been
cut off in the midst of my wickedness, I should have been lost.”

She spoke very quickly, finding it evidently a relief to express her
trouble.

“I thought Charles would upbraid me, but he’s never said a word. Oh, I
wish he had, it would have been easier to bear than his sorrowful look.
I know he’s been worrying dreadfully, and I’m so sorry for him. I kept
on saying I’d only done my duty, but in my heart I knew I had done
wrong. Oh Bertha, and this morning I dared not take communion, I thought
God would strike me for blasphemy. And I was afraid Charles would refuse
me in front of the whole congregation.... It’s the first Sunday since I
was confirmed, that I’ve missed taking Holy Communion.”

She buried her face in her hands, crying. Bertha heard her, almost
listlessly; for her own trouble was overwhelming and she could not think
of any other. Miss Glover raised her face, tear-stained and red; it was
positively hideous, but notwithstanding, very pathetic.

“Then I couldn’t bear it any longer,” she said. “I thought if I begged
your pardon I might be able to forgive myself. Oh, Bertha, please forget
what I said, and forgive me. And I fancied that Edward would be here
to-day, and the thought of exposing myself before him too was almost
more than I could bear. But I knew the humiliation would be good for me.
Oh, I was so thankful when Jane said he was out.... What can I do to
earn your forgiveness?”

In her heart of hearts, Miss Glover desired some horrible penance which
would thoroughly mortify her flesh.

“I have already forgotten all about it,” said Bertha, smiling wearily.
“If my forgiveness is worth anything, I forgive you entirely.”

Miss Glover was a little pained at Bertha’s manifest indifference, yet
took it as a just punishment.

“And Bertha, let me say that I love you and admire you more than any one
after Charles. If you really think what you said the other day, I still
love you and hope God will turn your heart. Charles and I will pray for
you night and day, and soon I hope the Almighty will send you another
child to take the place of the one you lost. Believe me, God is very
good and merciful, and He will grant you what you wish.”

Bertha gave a low cry of pain. “I can never have another child.... Dr.
Ramsay told me it was impossible.”

“Oh, Bertha, I didn’t know.”

Miss Glover took Bertha protectingly in her arms, crying, and kissed her
like a little child.

But Bertha dried her eyes.

“Leave me now, Fanny, please. I’d rather be alone. But come and see me
soon, and forgive me if I’m horrid. I’m very unhappy and I shall never
be happy again.”

       *       *       *       *       *

A few minutes later, Edward returned--cheery, jovial, red-faced, and in
the best of humours.

“Here we are again!” he shouted, like a clown in a harlequinade. “You
see I’ve not been gone long and you haven’t missed me a rap. Now, we’ll
have tea.”

He kissed her and put her cushions right.

“By Jove, it does me good to see you down again. You must pour out the
tea for me.... Now, confess; weren’t you unreasonable to make such a
fuss about my going away? And I couldn’t help it, could I?”



Chapter XX


But the love which had taken such despotic possession of Bertha’s nature
could not be overthrown by any sudden means. When she recovered her
health and was able to resume her habits, it blazed out again like a
fire, momentarily subdued, which has gained new strength in its
coercion. It dismayed her to think of her extreme loneliness; Edward was
now her only mainstay and her only hope. She no longer sought to deny
that his love was unlike hers; but his coldness was not always apparent;
vehemently wishing to find a response to her ardour, she closed her eyes
to all that did not too readily obtrude itself. She had such a consuming
desire to find in Edward the lover of her dreams, that for certain
periods she was indeed able to live in a fool’s paradise, which was none
the less grateful because at the bottom of her heart she had an aching
suspicion of its true character.

But it seemed that the more passionately Bertha yearned for her
husband’s love, the more frequent became their differences. As time went
on the calm between the storms was shorter, and every quarrel left its
mark, and made Bertha more susceptible to affront. Realizing, finally,
that Edward could not answer her demonstrations of affection, she became
ten times more exacting; even the little tendernesses which at the
beginning of her married life would have overjoyed her, now too much
resembled alms thrown to an importunate beggar, to be received with
anything but irritation. Their altercations proved conclusively that it
does not require two persons to make a quarrel. Edward was a model of
good-temper, and his equanimity was imperturbable. However cross Bertha
was, Edward never lost his serenity. He imagined that she was troubling
over the loss of her child, and that her health was not entirely
restored: it had been his experience, especially with cows, that a
difficult confinement frequently gave rise to some temporary change in
disposition, so that the most docile animal in the world would suddenly
develop an unexpected viciousness. He never tried to understand Bertha’s
varied moods; her passionate desire for love was to him as unreasonable
as her outbursts of temper and the succeeding contrition. Now, Edward
was always the same--contented equally with the universe at large and
with himself; there was no shadow of a doubt about the fact that the
world he lived in, the particular spot and period, were the very best
possible; and that no existence could be more satisfactory than happily
to cultivate one’s garden. Not being analytic, he forbore to think about
the matter; and if he had, would not have borrowed the phrases of M. de
Voltaire, whom he had never heard of, and would have utterly abhorred as
a Frenchman, a philosopher, and a wit. But the fact that Edward ate,
drank, slept, and ate again, as regularly as the oxen on his farm,
sufficiently proved that he enjoyed a happiness equal to theirs--and
what more can a decent man want?

Edward had moreover that magnificent faculty of always doing right and
of knowing it, which is said to be the most inestimable gift of the true
Christian; but if his infallibility pleased himself and edified his
neighbours, it did not fail to cause his wife the utmost annoyance. She
would clench her hands and from her eyes shoot arrows of fire, when he
stood in front of her, smilingly conscious of the justice of his own
standpoint and the unreason of hers. And the worst of it was that in her
saner moments Bertha had to confess that Edward’s view was invariably
right and she completely in the wrong. Her injustice appalled her, and
she took upon her own shoulders the blame of all their unhappiness.
Always, after a quarrel from which Edward had come with his usual
triumph, Bertha’s rage would be succeeded by a passion of remorse; and
she could not find sufficient reproaches with which to castigate
herself. She asked frantically how her husband could be expected to love
her; and in a transport of agony and fear would take the first
opportunity of throwing her arms around his neck and making the most
abject apology. Then, having eaten the dust before him, having wept and
humiliated herself, she would be for a week absurdly happy, under the
impression that henceforward nothing short of an earthquake could
disturb their blissful equilibrium. Edward was again the golden idol,
clothed in the diaphanous garments of true love, his word was law and
his deeds were perfect; Bertha was an humble worshipper, offering
incense and devoutly grateful to the deity that forbore to crush her. It
required very little for her to forget the slights and the coldness of
her husband’s affection: her love was like the tide covering a barren
rock; the sea breaks into waves and is dispersed in foam, while the rock
remains ever unchanged. This simile, by the way, would not have
displeased Edward; when he thought at all, he liked to think how firm
and steadfast he was.

At night, before going to sleep, it was Bertha’s greatest pleasure to
kiss her husband on the lips, and it mortified her to see how
mechanically he replied to this embrace. It was always she who had to
make the advance, and when, to try him, she omitted to do so, he
promptly went off to sleep without even bidding her good-night. Then she
told herself that he must utterly despise her.

“Oh, it drives me mad to think of the devotion I waste on you,” she
cried. “I’m a fool! You are all in the world to me, and I, to you, am a
sort of accident: you might have married any one but me. If I hadn’t
come across your path you would infallibly have married somebody else.”

“Well, so would you,” he answered, laughing.

“I? Never! If I had not met you I should have married no one. My love
isn’t a bauble that I am willing to give to whomever chance throws in my
way. My heart is one and indivisible; it would be impossible for me to
love any one but you.... When I think that to you I’m nothing more than
any other woman might be, I’m ashamed.”

“You do talk the most awful rot sometimes.”

“Ah, that summarises your whole opinion. To you I’m merely a fool of a
woman. I’m a domestic animal, a little more companionable than a dog,
but on the whole, not so useful as a cow.”

“I don’t know what you want me to do more than I actually do. You can’t
expect me to be kissing and cuddling all the time. The honeymoon is
meant for that, and a man who goes on honeymooning all his life, is an
ass.”

“Ah yes, with you love is kept out of sight all day, while you are
occupied with the serious affairs of life, such as shearing sheep or
hunting foxes; and after dinner it arises in your bosom, especially if
you’ve had good things to eat, and is indistinguishable from the process
of digestion. But for me love is everything, the cause and reason of
life. Without love I should be non-existent.”

“Well, you may love me,” said Edward, “but, by Jove, you’ve got a jolly
funny way of showing it.... But as far as I’m concerned, if you’ll tell
me what you want me to do, I’ll try and do it.”

“Oh, how can I tell you?” she cried, impatiently. “I do everything I can
to make you love me and I can’t. If you’re a stock and a stone, how can
I teach you to be the passionate lover? I want you to love me as I love
you.”

“Well, if you ask me for my opinion I should say it was rather a good
job I don’t. Why, the furniture would be smashed up in a week, if I were
as violent as you.”

“I shouldn’t mind if you were violent if you loved me,” replied Bertha,
taking his remark with vehement seriousness. “I shouldn’t care if you
beat me; I should not mind how much you hurt me, if you did it because
you loved me.”

“I think a week of it would about sicken you of that sort of love, my
dear.”

“Anything would be preferable to your indifference.”

“But God bless my soul, I’m not indifferent. Any one would think I
didn’t care for you--or was gone on some other woman.”

“I almost wish you were,” answered Bertha. “If you loved any one at
all, I might have some hope of gaining your affection--but you’re
incapable of love.”

“I don’t know about that. I can say truly that after God and my honour,
I treasure nothing in the world so much as you.”

“You’ve forgotten your hunter,” cried Bertha, scornfully.

“No, I haven’t,” answered Edward, with a certain gravity.

“What do you think I care for a position like that? You acknowledge that
I am third--I would as soon be nowhere.”

“I could not love you half so much, loved I not honour more,” misquoted
Edward.

“The man was a prig who wrote that. I want to be placed above your God
and above your honour. The love I want is the love of the man who will
lose everything, even his own soul, for the sake of a woman.”

Edward shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know where you’ll get that. My
idea of love is that it’s a very good thing in its place--but there’s a
limit to everything. There are other things in life.”

“Oh yes, I know--there’s duty and honour, and the farm, and fox-hunting,
and the opinion of one’s neighbours, and the dogs and the cat, and the
new brougham, and a million other things.... What do you suppose you’d
do if I had committed some crime and were likely to be imprisoned?”

“I don’t want to suppose anything of the sort. You may be sure I’d do my
duty.”

“Oh, I’m sick of your duty. You din it into my ears morning, noon, and
night. I wish to God you weren’t so virtuous--you might be more human.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Edward found his wife’s behaviour so extraordinary that he consulted Dr.
Ramsay. The medical man had been for thirty years the recipient of
marital confidences, and was sceptical as to the value of medicine in
the cure of jealousy, talkativeness, incompatibility of temper, and the
like diseases. He assured Edward that time was the only remedy by which
all differences were reconciled; but after further pressing consented to
send Bertha a bottle of harmless tonic, which it was his habit to give
to all and sundry for most of the ills to which the flesh is heir. It
would doubtless do Bertha no harm, and that is an important
consideration to a general practitioner. Dr. Ramsay likewise advised
Edward to keep calm and be confident that Bertha would eventually become
the dutiful and submissive spouse whom it is every man’s ideal to see by
his fireside, when he wakes up from his after-dinner snooze.

Bertha’s moods were certainly trying. No one could tell one day, how she
would be the next; and this was peculiarly uncomfortable to a man who
was willing to make the best of everything, but on the condition that he
had time to get used to it. Sometimes she would be seized with
melancholy, in the twilight of winter afternoons, for instance, when the
mind is naturally led to a contemplation of the vanity of existence and
the futility of all human endeavour. Edward, noticing she was pensive, a
state which he detested, asked what were her thoughts; and half dreamily
she tried to express them.

“Good Lord deliver us!” he cried cheerily, “what rum things you do get
into your little noddle. You must be out of sorts.”

“It isn’t that,” she answered, smiling sadly.

“It’s not natural for a woman to brood in that way. I think you ought to
start taking that tonic again--but I dare say you’re only tired and
you’ll think quite different in the morning.”

Bertha made no answer. She suffered from the nameless pain of existence
and he offered her--Iron and Quinine: when she required sympathy because
her heart ached for the woes of her fellow-men, he poured Tincture of
Nux Vomica down her throat. He could not understand, it was no use
explaining that she found a savour in the tender contemplation of the
evils of mankind. But the worst of it was that Edward was quite
right--the brute, he always was! When the morning came, the melancholy
had vanished, Bertha was left without a care, and the world did not even
need rose-coloured spectacles to seem attractive. It was humiliating to
find that her most beautiful thoughts, the ennobling emotions which
brought home to her the charming fiction that all men are brothers, were
due to mere physical exhaustion.

Some people have extraordinarily literal minds, they never allow for the
play of imagination: life for them has no beer and skittles, and, far
from being an empty dream, is a matter of extreme seriousness. Of such
is the man who, when a woman tells him she feels dreadfully old, instead
of answering that she looks absurdly young, replies that youth has its
drawbacks and age its compensations! And of such was Edward. He could
never realise that people did not mean exactly what they said. At first
he had always consulted Bertha on the conduct of the estate; but she,
pleased to be a nonentity in her own house, had consented to everything
he suggested, and even begged him not to ask her. When she informed him
that he was absolute lord not only of herself, but of all her worldly
goods, it was not surprising that he should at last take her at her
word.

“Women know nothing about farming,” he said, “and it’s best that I
should have a free hand.”

The result of his stewardship was all that could be desired; the estate
was put into apple-pie order, and the farms paid rent for the first time
since twenty years. The wandering winds, even the sun and the rain,
seemed to conspire in favour of so clever and hard working a man; and
fortune for once went hand in hand with virtue. Bertha constantly
received congratulations from the surrounding squires on the admirable
way in which Edward managed the place, and he, on his side, never failed
to recount his triumphs and the compliments they occasioned.

But not only was Edward looked upon as master by his farm-hands and
labourers; even the servants of Court Leys treated Bertha as a minor
personage whose orders were only to be conditionally obeyed. Long
generations of servitude have made the countryman peculiarly subtle in
hierarchical distinctions; and there was a marked difference between his
manner with Edward, on whom his livelihood depended, and his manner with
Bertha, who shone only with a reflected light as the squire’s missus.

At first this had only amused Bertha, but the most brilliant jest,
constantly repeated, may lose its savour. More than once she had to
speak sharply to a gardener who hesitated to do as he was bid, because
his orders were not from the master. Her pride reviving with the decline
of love, Bertha began to find the position intolerable; her mind was now
very susceptible to affront, and she was desirous of an opportunity to
show that after all she was still the mistress of Court Leys.

It soon came. For it chanced that some ancient lover of trees,
unpractical as the Leys had ever been, had planted six beeches in a
hedgerow, and these in course of time had grown into stately trees, the
admiration of all beholders. But one day as Bertha walked along, a
hideous gap caught her eye--one of the six beeches had disappeared.
There had been no storm, it could not have fallen of itself. She went
up, and found it cut down, and the men who had done the deed were
already starting on another: a ladder was leaning against it, upon which
stood a labourer attaching a line. No sight is more pathetic than an old
tree levelled with the ground; and the space which it filled suddenly
stands out with an unsightly emptiness. But Bertha was more angry than
pained.

“What are you doing, Hodgkins? Who gave you orders to cut down this
tree?”

“The squire, mum.”

“Oh, it must be a mistake. Mr. Craddock never meant anything of the
sort.”

“‘E told us positive to take down this one and them others yonder. You
can see his mark, mum.”

“Nonsense. I’ll talk to Mr. Craddock about it. Take that rope off and
come down from the ladder. I forbid you to touch another tree.”

The man on the ladder looked at her, but made no attempt to do as he was
bid.

“The squire said most particular that we was to cut that tree down
to-day.”

“Will you have the goodness to do as I tell you?” said Bertha, reddening
with anger. “Tell that man to unfasten the rope and come down. I forbid
you to touch the tree.”

The man Hodgkins repeated Bertha’s order in a surly voice, and they all
looked at her suspiciously, wishing to disobey but not daring--in case
the squire should be angry.

“Well, I’ll take no responsibility for it.”

“Please hold your tongue and do what I tell you as quickly as possible.”

She waited till the men had gathered up their various belongings and
trooped off.



Chapter XXI


Bertha went home, fuming, knowing perfectly well that Edward had really
given the orders which she had countermanded, but glad of the chance to
have a final settlement of rights. She did not see him for several
hours.

“I say, Bertha,” he said, when he came in, “why on earth did you stop
those men cutting down the beeches on Carter’s field? You’ve lost a
whole half-day’s work. I wanted to set them on something else to-morrow,
now I shall have to leave it over till Thursday.”

“I stopped them because I refuse to have the beeches cut down. They’re
the only ones in the place. I’m very much annoyed that even one should
have gone without my knowing about it. You should have asked me before
you did such a thing.”

“My good girl, I can’t come and ask you each time I want a thing done.”

“Is the land mine or yours?”

“It’s yours,” answered Edward, laughing, “but I know better than you
what ought to be done, and it’s silly of you to interfere.”

Bertha flushed. “In future, I wish to be consulted.”

“You’ve told me fifty thousand times to do always as I think fit.”

“Well, I’ve changed my mind.”

“It’s too late now,” he laughed. “You made me take the reins in my own
hands and I’m going to keep them.”

Bertha in her anger hardly restrained herself from telling him she could
send him away like a hired servant.

“I want you to understand, Edward, that I’m not going to have those
trees cut down. You must tell the men you made a mistake.”

“I shall tell them nothing of the sort. I’m not going to cut them all
down--only three. We don’t want them there--for one thing the shade
damages the crops, and otherwise Carter’s is one of our best fields. And
then I want the wood.”

“I care nothing about the crops, and if you want wood you can buy it.
Those trees were planted nearly a hundred years ago, and I would sooner
die than cut them down.”

“The man who planted beeches in a hedgerow was about the silliest
jackass I’ve ever heard of. Any tree’s bad enough, but a beech of all
things--why, it’s drip, drip, drip, all the time, and not a thing will
grow under them. That’s the sort of thing that has been done all over
the estate for years. It’ll take me a lifetime to repair the blunders of
your--of the former owners.”

It is one of the curiosities of sentiment that its most abject slave
rarely permits it to interfere with his temporal concerns; it appears as
unusual for a man to sentimentalise in his own walk of life as for him
to pick his own pocket. Edward, having passed all his days in contact
with the earth, might have been expected to cherish a certain love of
nature. The pathos of transpontine melodrama made him cough, and blow
his nose; and in literature he affected the titled and consumptive
heroine, and the soft-hearted, burly hero. But when it came to business,
it was another matter--the sort of sentiment which asks a farmer to
spare a sylvan glade for æsthetic reasons is absurd. Edward would have
willingly allowed advertisement-mongers to put up boards on the most
beautiful part of the estate, if thereby he could surreptitiously
increase the profits of his farm.

“Whatever you may think of my people,” said Bertha, “you will kindly pay
attention to me. The land is mine, and I refuse to let you spoil it.”

“It isn’t spoiling it. It’s the proper thing to do. You’ll soon get used
to not seeing the wretched trees--and I tell you I’m only going to take
three down. I’ve given orders to cut the others to-morrow.”

“D’you mean to say you’re going to ignore me absolutely?”

“I’m going to do what’s right; and if you don’t approve of it, I’m very
sorry, but I shall do it all the same.”

“I shall give the men orders to do nothing of the kind.”

Edward laughed. “Then you’ll make an ass of yourself. You try giving
them orders contrary to mine, and see what they do.”

Bertha gave a cry. In her fury she looked round for something to throw;
she would have liked to hit him; but he stood there, calm and
self-possessed, quite amused.

“I think you must be mad,” she said. “You do all you can to destroy my
love for you.”

She was in too great a passion for words. This was the measure of his
affection; he must, indeed, utterly despise her; and this was the only
result of the love she had humbly laid at his feet. She asked herself
what she could do; she could do nothing--but submit. She knew as well as
he that her orders would be disobeyed if they did not agree with his;
and that he would keep his word she did not for a moment doubt. To do so
was his pride. She did not speak for the rest of the day, but next
morning when he was going out, asked what was his intention with regard
to the trees.

“Oh, I thought you’d forgotten all about them,” he replied. “I mean to
do as I said.”

“If you have the trees cut down, I shall leave you; I shall go to Aunt
Polly’s.”

“And tell her that you wanted the moon, and I was so unkind as not to
give it you?” he replied, smiling. “She’ll laugh at you.”

“You will find me as careful to keep my word as you.”

Before luncheon she went out and walked to Carter’s field. The men were
still at work, but a second tree had gone, the third would doubtless
fall in the afternoon. The men glanced at Bertha, and she thought they
laughed; she stood looking at them for some while so that she might
thoroughly digest the humiliation. Then she went home, and wrote to her
aunt the following veracious letter:--

     _My dear Aunt Polly,--I have been so seedy these last few weeks
     that Edward, poor dear, has been quite alarmed; and has been
     bothering me to come up to town to see a specialist. He’s as urgent
     as if he wanted to get me out of the way, and I’m already
     half-jealous of my new parlour-maid, who has pink cheeks and golden
     hair--which is just the type that Edward really admires. I also
     think that Dr. Ramsay hasn’t the ghost of an idea what is the
     matter with me, and not being particularly desirous to depart this
     life just yet, I think it will be discreet to see somebody who will
     at least change my medicine. I have taken gallons of iron and
     quinine, and I’m frightfully afraid that my teeth will go black. My
     own opinion, coinciding so exactly with Edward’s (that horrid Mrs.
     Ryle calls us the humming-birds, meaning the turtledoves, her
     knowledge of natural history arouses dear Edward’s contempt); I
     have gracefully acceded to his desire, and if you can put me up,
     will come at your earliest convenience.--Yours affectionately, B.
     C._

     P.S.--_I shall take the opportunity of getting clothes (I am
     positively in rags), so you will have to keep me some little time._

Edward came in shortly afterwards, looking very much pleased. He glanced
slily at Bertha, thinking himself so clever that he could scarcely help
laughing: it was his habit to be most particular in his behaviour, or he
would undoubtedly have put his tongue in his cheek.

“With women, my dear sir, you must be firm. When you’re putting them to
a fence, close your legs and don’t check them; but mind you keep ’em
under control or they’ll lose their little heads. A man should always
let a woman see that he’s got her well in hand.”

Bertha was silent, able to eat nothing for luncheon; she sat opposite
her husband, wondering how he could gorge so disgracefully when she was
angry and miserable. But in the afternoon her appetite returned, and,
going to the kitchen, she ate so many sandwiches that at dinner she
could again touch nothing. She hoped Edward would notice that she
refused all food, and be properly alarmed and sorry. But he demolished
enough for two, and never saw that his wife fasted.

At night Bertha went to bed and bolted herself in the room. Presently
Edward came up and tried the door. Finding it closed, he knocked and
cried to her to open. She did not answer. He knocked again more loudly
and shook the handle.

“I want to have my room to myself,” she cried out; “I’m ill. Please
don’t try to come in.”

“What? Where am I to sleep?”

“Oh, you can sleep in one of the spare rooms.”

“Nonsense!” he cried; and without further ado put his shoulder to the
door: he was a strong man; one heave and the old hinges cracked. He
entered, laughing.

“If you wanted to keep me out, you ought to have barricaded yourself up
with the furniture.”

Bertha was disinclined to treat the matter lightly. “If you come in,”
she said, “I shall go out.”

“Oh no, you won’t!” he said, dragging a big chest of drawers in front of
the door.

Bertha got up and put on a yellow silk dressing-gown, which was really
most becoming.

“I’ll spend the night on the sofa then,” she said. “I don’t want to
quarrel with you any more or to make a scene. I have written to Aunt
Polly, and the day after to-morrow I shall go to London.”

“I was going to suggest that a change of air would do you good. I think
your nerves are a bit groggy.”

“It’s very good of you to take an interest in my nerves,” she replied,
with a scornful glance, settling herself on the sofa.

“Are you really going to sleep there?” he said, getting into bed.

“It looks like it.”

“You’ll find it awfully cold. But I dare say you’ll think better of it
in an hour. I’m going to turn the light out. Good-night!”

Bertha did not answer, and in a few minutes she was angrily listening to
his snores. Could he really be asleep? It was infamous that he slept so
calmly.

“Edward,” she called.

There was no answer, but she could not bring herself to believe that he
was sleeping. She could never even close her eyes. He must be
pretending--to annoy her. She wanted to touch him, but feared that he
would burst out laughing. She felt indeed horribly cold, and piled rugs
and dresses over her. It required great fortitude not to sneak back to
bed. She was unhappy and thirsty. Nothing is so disagreeable as the
water in toilet-bottles, with the glass tasting of tooth-wash; but she
gulped some down, though it almost made her sick, and then walked about
the room, turning over her manifold wrongs. Edward slept on
insufferably. She made a noise to wake him, but he did not stir; she
knocked down a table with a clatter sufficient to disturb the dead, but
her husband was insensible. Then she looked at the bed, wondering
whether she dared lie down for an hour, and trust to waking before him.
She was so cold that she determined to risk it, feeling certain that she
would not sleep long; she walked to the bed.

“Coming to bed after all?” said Edward, in a sleepy voice.

She stopped, and her heart rose to her mouth. “I was coming for my
pillow,” she replied indignantly, thanking her stars that he had not
spoken a minute later.

She returned to the sofa, and eventually making herself very
comfortable, fell asleep. In this blissful condition she continued till
the morning, and when she awoke Edward was drawing up the blinds.

“Slept well?” he asked.

“I haven’t slept a wink.”

“Oh, what a crammer. I’ve been looking at you for the last hour!”

“I’ve had my eyes closed for about ten minutes, if that’s what you
mean.”

Bertha was quite justly annoyed that her husband should have caught her
napping soundly--it robbed her proceeding of half its effect. Moreover,
Edward was as fresh as a bird, while she felt old and haggard, and
hardly dared look at herself in the glass.

In the middle of the morning came a telegram from Miss Ley, telling
Bertha to come whenever she liked--hoping Edward would come too! Bertha
left it in a conspicuous place so that he could not fail to see it.

“So you’re really going?” he said.

“I told you I was as able to keep my word as you.”

“Well, I think it’ll do you no end of good. How long will you stay?”

“How do I know! Perhaps for ever.”

“That’s a big word--though it has only two syllables.”

It cut Bertha to the heart that Edward should be so indifferent--he
could not care for her at all. He seemed to think it natural that she
should leave him, pretending it was good for her health. Oh, what did
she care about her health! As she made the needful preparations her
courage failed her, and she felt it impossible to go. Tears came as she
thought of the difference between their present state and the ardent
love of a year before. She would have welcomed the poorest excuse that
forced her to stay, and yet saved her self-respect. If Edward would only
express grief at the parting, it might not be too late. But her boxes
were packed and her train fixed; he told Miss Glover that his wife was
going away for a change of air, and regretted that his farm prevented
him from accompanying her. The trap was brought to the door, and Edward
jumped up, taking his seat. Now there was no hope, and go she must. She
wished for courage to tell Edward that she could not leave him, but was
afraid. They drove along in silence; Bertha waited for her husband to
speak, daring to say nothing herself, lest he should hear the tears in
her voice. At last she made an effort.

“Are you sorry I’m going?”

“I think it’s for your good--and I don’t want to stand in the way of
that.”

Bertha asked herself what love a man had for his wife, who could bear
her out of his sight, no matter what the necessity. She stifled a sigh.

They reached the station and he took her ticket. They waited in silence
for the train, and Edward bought _Punch_ and _The Sketch_ from a
newspaper boy. The horrible train steamed up; Edward helped her into a
carriage, and the tears in her eyes now could not be concealed. She put
out her lips.

“Perhaps for the last time,” she whispered.



Chapter XXII


_72 Eliot Mansions, Chelsea, S.W._
_April 18._

_Dear Edward,--I think we were wise to part. We were too unsuited to one
another, and our difficulties could only have increased. The knot of
marriage between two persons of differing temperaments is so intricate
that it can only be cut: you may try to unravel it, and think you are
succeeding, but another turn shows you that the tangle is only worse
than ever. Even time is powerless. Some things are impossible; you
cannot heap water up like stones, you cannot measure one man by another
man’s rule. I am certain we were wise to separate. I see that if we had
continued to live together our quarrels would have perpetually
increased. It is horrible to look back upon those vulgar brawls--we
wrangled like fishwives. I cannot understand how my mouth could have
uttered such things._

_It is very bitter to look back and compare my anticipations with what
has really happened. Did I expect too much from life? Ah me, I only
expected that my husband would love me. It is because I asked so little
that I have received nothing. In this world you must ask much, you must
spread your praises abroad, you must trample under-foot those who stand
in your path, you must take up all the room you can or you will be
elbowed away; you must be irredeemably selfish, or you will be a thing
of no account, a frippery that man plays with and flings aside._

_Of course I expected the impossible, I was not satisfied with the
conventional unity of marriage; I wanted to be really one with you.
Oneself is the whole world, and all other people are merely strangers.
At first in my vehement desire, I used to despair because I knew you so
little; I was heartbroken at the impossibility of really understanding
you, of getting right down into your heart of hearts. Never, to the
best of my knowledge, have I seen your veritable self; you are nearly as
much a stranger to me as if I had known you but an hour. I bared my soul
to you, concealing nothing--there is in you a man I do not know and have
never seen. We are so absolutely different, I don’t know a single thing
that we have in common; often when we have been talking and fallen into
silence, our thoughts, starting from the same standpoint, have travelled
in contrary directions, and on speaking again, we found how widely they
had diverged. I hoped to know you to the bottom of your soul. Oh, I
hoped that we should be united, so as to have but one soul between us;
and yet on the most commonplace occasion, I can never know your
thoughts. Perhaps it might have been different if we had had children;
they might have formed between us a truer link, and perhaps in the
delight of them I should have forgotten my impracticable dreams. But
fate was against us, I come from a rotten stock. It is written in the
book that the Leys should depart from the sight of men, and return to
their mother the earth, to be incorporated with her; and who knows in
the future what may be our lot! I like to think that in the course of
ages I may be the wheat on a fertile plain, or the smoke from a fire of
brambles on the common. I wish I could be buried in the open fields,
rather than in the grim coldness of a churchyard, so that I might
anticipate the change, and return more quickly to the life of nature._

_Believe me, separation was the only possible outcome. I loved you too
passionately to be content with the cold regard which you gave me. Oh,
of course I was exacting, and tyrannical, and unkind; I can confess all
my faults now; my only excuse is that I was very unhappy. For all the
pain I have caused you, I beg you to forgive me. We may as well part
friends, and I freely forgive you for all you have made me suffer. Now I
can afford also to tell you how near I was to not carrying out my
intention. Yesterday and this morning I scarcely held back my tears; the
parting seemed too hard, I felt I could not leave you. If you had asked
me not to go, if you had even shown the smallest sign of regretting my
departure, I think I should have broken down. Yes, I can tell you now,
that I would have given anything to stay. Alas! I am so weak. In the
train I cried bitterly. It is the first time we have been apart since
our marriage, the first time that we have slept under different roofs.
But now the worst is over. I have taken the step, and I shall adhere to
what I have done. I am sure I have acted for the best. I see no harm in
our writing to one another occasionally if it pleases you to receive
letters from me. I think I had better not see you, at all events for
some time. Perhaps when we are both a good deal older we may, without
danger, see one another now and then; but not yet. I should be afraid to
see your face._

_Aunt Polly has no suspicion. I can assure you it has been an effort to
laugh and talk during the evening, and I was glad to get to my room. Now
it is past midnight and I am still writing to you. I felt I ought to let
you know my thoughts, and I can tell them more easily by letter than by
word of mouth. Does it not show how separated in heart we have become,
that I should hesitate to say to you what I think--and I had hoped to
have my heart always open to you. I fancied that I need never conceal a
thing, nor hesitate to show you every emotion and every
thought.--Good-bye._

_BERTHA_.


_72 Eliot Mansions, Chelsea, S.W.
April 23._

_My poor Edward,--You say you hope I shall soon get better and come back
to Court Leys. You misunderstand my meaning so completely that I almost
laughed. It is true I was out of spirits and tired when I wrote--but
that was not the reason of my letter. Cannot you conceive emotions not
entirely due to one’s physical condition? You cannot understand me, you
never have; and yet I would not take up the vulgar and hackneyed
position of a femme incomprise. There is nothing to understand about me.
I am very simple and unmysterious. I only wanted love, and you could not
give it me. No, our parting is final and irrevocable. What can you want
me back for? You have Court Leys and your farms. Every one likes you in
the neighbourhood; I was the only bar to your complete happiness. Court
Leys I freely give you for my life; until you came it brought in
nothing, and the income now arising from it is entirely due to your
efforts; you earn it and I beg you to keep it. For me the small income I
have from my mother is sufficient._

_Aunt Polly still thinks I am on a visit, and constantly speaks of you.
I throw dust in her eyes, but I cannot hope to keep her in ignorance for
long. At present I am engaged in periodically seeing the doctor for an
imaginary ill, and getting one or two new things._

_Shall we write to one another once a week? I know writing is a trouble
to you; but I do not wish you to forget me altogether. If you like, I
will write to you every Sunday, and you may answer or not as you
please._

_BERTHA._

P.S.--_Please do not think of any_ rapprochement. _I am
sure you will eventually see that we are both much happier
apart._


_72 Eliot Mansions, Chelsea, S.W.
May 15._

_My dear Eddie,--I was pleased to get your letter. I am a little touched
at your wanting to see me. You suggest coming to town--perhaps it is
fortunate that I shall be no longer here. If you had expressed such a
wish before, much might have gone differently._

_Aunt Polly having let her flat to friends, goes to Paris for the rest
of the season. She starts to-night, and I have offered to accompany her.
I am sick of London. I do not know whether she suspects anything, but I
notice that now she never mentions your name. She looked a little
sceptical the other day when I explained that I had long wished to go to
Paris, and that you were having the inside of Court Leys painted.
Fortunately, however, she makes it a practice not to inquire into other
people’s business, and I can rest assured that she will never ask me a
single question._

_Forgive the shortness of this letter, but I am very busy,
packing.--Your affectionate wife,_

_BERTHA._


_41 Rue des Ecoliers, Paris,
May 16._

_My dearest Eddie,--I have been unkind to you. It is nice of you to want
to see me, and my repugnance to it was perhaps unnatural. On thinking it
over, I cannot think it will do any harm if we should see one another.
Of course, I can never come back to Court Leys--there are some chains
that having broken you can never weld together; and no fetters are so
intolerable as the fetters of love. But if you want to see me I will put
no obstacle in your way; I will not deny that I also should like to see
you. I am farther away now, but if you care for me at all you will not
hesitate to make the short journey._

_We have here a very nice apartment, in the Latin Quarter, away from the
rich people and the tourists. I do not know which is more vulgar, the
average tripper or the part of Paris which he infests: I must say they
become one another to a nicety. I loathe the shoddiness of the
boulevards, with their gaudy cafés over-gilt and over-sumptuous, and
their crowds of ill-dressed foreigners. But if you come I can show you a
different Paris--a restful and old-fashioned Paris, theatres to which
tourists do not go; gardens full of pretty children and nursemaids with
long ribbons to their caps. I can take you down innumerable gray streets
with funny shops, in old churches where you see people actually praying;
and it is all very quiet and calming to the nerves. And I can take you
to the Louvre at hours when there are few visitors, and show you
beautiful pictures and statues that have come from Italy and Greece,
where the gods have their home to this day. Come, Eddie.--Your ever
loving wife,_

_BERTHA._


_41 Rue des Ecoliers, Paris,
May 25._

_My dearest Eddie,--I am disappointed that you will not come. I should
have thought, if you wanted to see me, you could have found time to
leave the farms for a few days. But perhaps it is really better that we
should not meet. I cannot conceal from you that sometimes I long for you
dreadfully. I forget all that has happened, and desire with all my heart
to be with you once more. What a fool I am! I know that we can never
meet again, and you are never absent from my thoughts. I look forward to
your letters almost madly, and your handwriting makes my heart beat as
if I were a schoolgirl. Oh, you don’t know how your letters disappoint
me, they are so cold; you never say what I want you to say. It would be
madness if we came together--I can only preserve my love to you by not
seeing you. Does that sound horrible? And yet I would give anything to
see you once more. I cannot help asking you to come here. It is not so
very often I have asked you anything. Do come. I will meet you at the
station, and you will have no trouble or bother--everything is perfectly
simple, and Cook’s Interpreters are everywhere. I’m sure you would enjoy
yourself so much.--If you love me, come._

_BERTHA._


_Court Leys, Blackstable, Kent,
May 30._

_My dearest Bertha,--Sorry I haven’t answered yours of 25th inst.
before, but I’ve been up to my eyes in work. You wouldn’t think there
could be so much to do on a farm at this time of year, unless you saw it
with your own eyes. I can’t possibly get away to Paris, and besides I
can’t stomach the French. I don’t want to see their capital, and when I
want a holiday, London’s good enough for me. You’d better come back
here, people are asking after you, and the place seems all topsy-turvy
without you. Love to Aunt P.--In haste, your affectionate husband,_

_E. CRADDOCK._

_41 Rue des Ecoliers, Paris,
June 1._

_My dearest, dearest Eddie,--You don’t know how disappointed I was to
get your letter and how I longed for it. Whatever you do, don’t keep me
waiting so long for an answer. I imagined all sorts of things--that you
were ill or dying. I was on the point of wiring. I want you to promise
me that if you are ever ill, you will let me know. If you want me
urgently I shall be pleased to come. But do not think that I can ever
come back to Court Leys for good. Sometimes I feel ill and weak and I
long for you, but I know I must not give way. I’m sure, for your good as
well as for mine, I must never risk the unhappiness of our old life
again. It was too degrading. With firm mind and the utmost resolution I
swear that I will never, never return to Court Leys.--Your affectionate
and loving wife,_


_BERTHA._

TELEGRAM

_Gare du Nord, 9.50 a.m., June 2.

Craddock, Court Leys, Blackstable.

Arriving 7.25 to-night.--BERTHA._

_41 Rue des Ecoliers, Paris._

_My dear young Friend,--I am perturbed. Bertha, as you know, has for the
last six weeks lived with me, for reasons the naturalness of which
aroused my strongest suspicions. No one, I thought, would need so many
absolutely conclusive motives to do so very simple a thing. I resisted
the temptation to write to Edward (her husband--a nice man, but stupid!)
to ask for an explanation, fearing that the reasons given me were the
right ones (although I could not believe it); in which case I should
have made myself ridiculous. Bertha in London pretended to go to a
physician, but never was seen to take medicine, and I am certain no
well-established specialist would venture to take two guineas from a_
malade imaginaire _and not administer copious drugs. She accompanied me
to Paris, ostensibly to get dresses, but has behaved as if their fit
were of no more consequence than a change of ministry. She has taken
great pains to conceal her emotions and thereby made them the more
conspicuous. I cannot tell you how often she has gone through the
various stages from an almost hysterical elation to an equal
despondency. She has mused as profoundly as was fashionable for the
young ladies of fifty years ago (we were all young ladies then--not
girls!); she has played Tristan and Isolde to the distraction of myself;
she has snubbed an amorous French artist to the distraction of his wife;
finally she has wept, and after weeping over-powdered her eyes, which in
a pretty woman is an infallible sign of extreme mental prostration._

_This morning when I got up I found at my door the following message:_
“Don’t think me an utter fool, but I couldn’t stand another day away
from Edward. Leaving by the 10 o’clock train.--B.” _Now at 10.30 she had
an appointment at Paquin’s to try on the most ravishing dinner-dress you
could imagine._

_I will not insult you by drawing inferences from all these facts: I know
you would much sooner draw them yourself, and I have a sufficiently good
opinion of you to be certain that they will coincide with mine.--Yours
very sincerely,_

_MARY LEY._

P.S.--_I am sending this to await you at Seville. Remember
me to Mrs. J._



Chapter XXIII


Bertha’s relief was unmistakable when she landed on English soil; at
last she was near Edward, and she had been extremely sea-sick. Though it
was less than thirty miles from Dover to Blackstable the communications
were so bad that it was necessary to wait for hours at the port, or take
the boat-train to London and then come sixty miles down again. Bertha
was exasperated at the delay, forgetting that she was now (thank
Heaven!) in a free country, where the railways were not run for the
convenience of passengers, but the passengers necessary evils to create
dividends for an ill-managed company. Bertha’s impatience was so great
that she felt it impossible to wait at Dover; she preferred to go the
extra hundred miles and save herself ten minutes rather than spend the
afternoon in the dreary waiting-room, or wandering about the town. The
train seemed to crawl; and her restlessness became quite painful as she
recognized the Kentish country, the fat meadows with trim hedges, the
portly trees, and the general air of prosperity.

Bertha’s thoughts were full of Edward, and he was the whole cause of her
impatience. She had hoped, against her knowledge of him, that he would
meet her at Dover, and it had been a disappointment not to see him. Then
she thought he might have come to London, though not explaining to
herself how he could possibly have divined that she would be there. Her
heart beat absurdly when she saw a back which might have been Edward’s.
Still later, she comforted herself with the idea that he would certainly
be at Faversley, which was the next station to Blackstable. When they
reached that place she put her head out of window, looking along the
platform--but he was nowhere.

“He might have come as far this,” she thought.

Now, the train steaming on, she recognised the country more precisely,
the desolate marsh and the sea--the line ran almost at the water’s edge;
the tide was out, leaving a broad expanse of shining mud, over which the
seagulls flew, screeching. Then the houses were familiar, cottages
beaten by wind and weather, the _Jolly Sailor_, where in the old days
many a smuggled keg of brandy had been hidden on its way to the
cathedral city of Tercanbury. The coastguard station was passed, a long
building, trim and low. Finally they rattled across the bridge over the
High Street; and the porters with their Kentish drawl, called out,
“Blackstable, Blackstable.”

Bertha’s emotions were always uncontrolled, and so powerful as sometimes
to unfit her for action: now she had hardly strength to open the
carriage door.

“At last!” she cried, with a gasp of relief.

She had never adored her husband so passionately as then, and her love
was a physical sensation that turned her faint. The arrival of the
moment so anxiously awaited left her half-frightened; she was of those
who eagerly look for an opportunity and then can scarcely seize it.

Bertha’s heart was so full that she was afraid of bursting into tears
when she at last she should see Edward walking towards her; she had
pictured the scene so often, her husband advancing with his swinging
stride, waving his stick, the dogs in front, rushing towards her and
barking furiously. The two porters waddled with their seaman’s walk to
the van to get out the luggage; people were stepping from the carriages.
Next to her a pasty-faced clerk descended, in a dingy black, with a baby
in his arms; and he was followed by a haggard wife with another baby and
innumerable parcels. A labourer sauntered down the platform, three or
four sailors, and a couple of infantry-men. They all surged for the
wicket, at which stood the ticket-collector. The porters got out the
boxes, and the train steamed off; an irascible city man was swearing
volubly because his luggage had gone to Margate. (It’s a free country,
thank Heaven!) The station-master, in a decorated hat and a
self-satisfied air, strolled up to see what was the matter. Bertha
looked along the platform wildly. Edward was not there.

The station-master passed, and nodded patronisingly.

“Have you seen Mr. Craddock?” she asked.

“No, I can’t say I have. But I think there’s a carriage below for you.”

Bertha began to tremble. A porter asked whether he should take her
boxes; she nodded, unable to speak. She went down and found the brougham
at the station door; the coachman touched his hat and gave her a note.

     _Dear Bertha,--Awfully sorry I can’t come to meet you. I never
     expected you, so accepted an invitation of Lord Philip Dirk to a
     tennis tournament, and a ball afterwards. He’s going to sleep me,
     so I shan’t be back till to-morrow. Don’t get in a wax. See you in
     the morning._

_E. C._



Bertha got into the carriage and huddled herself into one corner so that
none should see her. At first she scarcely understood; she had spent the
last hours at such a height of excitement that the disappointment
deprived her of the power of thinking. She never took things reasonably,
and was now stunned; what had happened seemed impossible. It was so
callous that Edward should go to a tennis-tournament when she was coming
home--looking forward eagerly to seeing him. And it was no ordinary
home-coming; it was the first time she had ever left him; and then she
had gone, hating him, as she thought, for good. But her absence having
revived her love, she had returned, yearning for reconciliation. And he
was not there; he acted as though she had been to town for a day’s
shopping.

“Oh, God, what a fool I was to come!”

Suddenly she thought of going away there and then--would it not be
easier? She felt she could not see him. But there were no trains: the
London, Chatham, and Dover Railway has perhaps saved many an elopement.
But he must have known how bitterly disappointed she would be, and the
idea flashed through her that he would leave the tournament and come
home. Perhaps he was already at Court Leys, waiting; she took fresh
courage, and looked at the well-remembered scene. He might be at the
gate. Oh, what joy it would be, what a relief! But they came to the
gate, and he was not there; they drove to the portico, and he was not
there. Bertha went into the house expecting to find him in the hall or
in the drawing-room, not having heard the carriage, but he was nowhere
to be found. And the servants corroborated his letter.

The house was empty, chill, and inhospitable; the rooms had an
uninhabited air, the furniture was primly rearranged, and Edward had
caused antimacassars to be placed on the chairs. These Bertha, to the
housemaids’ surprise, took off one by one, and, without a word, threw
into the empty fireplace. And still she thought it incredible that
Edward should stay away. She sat down to dinner, expecting him every
moment; she sat up very late, feeling sure that eventually he would
come. But still he came not.

“I wish to God I’d stayed away.”

Her thoughts went back to the struggle of the last few weeks. Pride,
anger, reason, everything had been on one side, and only love on the
other; and love had conquered. The recollection of Edward had been
seldom absent from her, and her dreams had been filled with his image.
His letters had caused her an indescribable thrill, the mere sight of
his handwriting had made her tremble, and she wanted to see him; she
woke up at night with his kisses on her lips. She begged him to come,
and he would not or could not. At last the yearning grew beyond control;
and that very morning, not having received the letter she awaited, she
had resolved to throw off all pretence of resentment, and come. What did
she care if Miss Ley laughed, or if Edward scored a victory in the
struggle--she could not live without him. He still was her life and her
love.

“Oh, God, I wish I hadn’t come.”

She remembered how she had prayed that Edward might love her as she
wished to be loved, beseeching God to grant her happiness. The
passionate rebellion after her child’s death had ceased insensibly, and
in her misery, in her loneliness, she had found a new faith. Belief with
some comes and goes without reason: with them it is a matter not of
conviction, but rather of sensibility; and Bertha found prayer easier in
Catholic churches than in the cheerless meeting-houses she had been used
to. She could not utter stated words at stated hours in a meaningless
chorus; the crowd caused her to shut away her emotions, and her heart
could expand only in solitude. In Paris she had found quiet chapels,
open at all hours, to which she could go for rest when the sun without
was over-dazzling; and in the evening, the dimness, the fragrance of old
incense, and the silence, were very restful. Then the only light came
from the tapers, burning in gratitude or in hope, throwing a fitful,
mysterious glimmer; and Bertha prayed earnestly for Edward and for
herself.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Edward would not let himself be loved, and her efforts all were
useless. Her love was a jewel that he valued not at all, that he flung
aside and cared not if he lost. But she was too unhappy, too broken in
spirit, to be angry. What was the use of anger? She knew that Edward
would see nothing extraordinary in what he had done. He would return,
confident, well-pleased with himself after a good night’s rest, and
entirely unaware that she had been grievously hurt.

“I suppose the injustice is on my side. I am too exacting. I can’t help
it.”

She only knew one way to love, and that, it appeared was a foolish way.
“Oh, I wish I could go away again now--for ever.”

She got up and ate a solitary breakfast, busying herself afterwards in
the house. Edward had left word that he would be in to luncheon, and was
it not his pride to keep his word? But all her impatience had gone;
Bertha felt now no particular anxiety to see him. She was on the point
of going out--the air was warm and balmy--but did not, in case Edward
should return and be disappointed at her absence.

“What a fool I am to think of his feelings! If I’m not in, he’ll just go
about his work and think nothing more of me till I appear.”

But, notwithstanding, she stayed. He arrived at last, and she did not
hurry to meet him; she was putting things away in her bedroom, and
continued though she heard his voice below. The difference was curious
between her intense and almost painful expectation of the previous day
and this present unconcern. She turned as he came in, but did not move
towards him.

“So you’ve come back? Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Yes, rather. But I say, it’s ripping to have you home. You weren’t in a
wax at my not being here?”

“Oh no,” she said, smiling. “I didn’t mind at all.”

“That’s all right. Of course I’d never been to Lord Philip’s before, and
I couldn’t wire the last minute to say that my wife was coming home and
I had to meet her.”

“Of course not; it would have made you appear too absurd.”

“But I was jolly sick, I can tell you. If you’d only let me know a week
ago that you were coming, I should have refused the invitation.”

“My dear Edward, I’m so unpractical, I never know my own mind, and I’m
always doing things on the spur of the moment, to my own inconvenience
and other people’s. And I should never have expected you to deny
yourself anything for my sake.”

Bertha, perplexed, almost dismayed, looked at her husband with
astonishment. She scarcely recognised him. In the three years of their
common life Bertha had noticed no change in him, and with her great
faculty for idealisation, had carried in her mind always his image, as
he appeared when first she saw him, the slender, manly youth of
eight-and-twenty. Miss Ley had discerned alterations, and spiteful
feminine tongues had said that he was going off dreadfully. But his
wife had seen nothing. And the separation had given further
opportunities to her fantasy. In absence she had thought of him as the
handsomest of men, delighting over his clear features, his fair hair,
his inexhaustible youth and strength. The plain facts would have
disappointed her even if Edward had retained the looks of his youth, but
seeing now as well the other changes, the shock was extreme. It was a
different man she saw, almost a stranger. Craddock did not wear well;
though but thirty-one, he looked much older. He had broadened and put on
flesh, his features had lost their delicacy, and the red of his cheeks
was growing coarse. He wore his clothes in a slovenly fashion, and had
fallen into a lumbering walk as if his boots were always heavy with
clay; and there was in him, besides, the heartiness and intolerant
joviality of the prosperous farmer. Edward’s good looks had given Bertha
the keenest pleasure, and now, rushing, as was her habit, to the other
extreme, she found him almost ugly. This was an exaggeration, for though
he was no longer the slim youth of her first acquaintance, he was still,
in a heavy, massive way, better looking than the majority of men.

Edward kissed her with marital calm, and the propinquity wafted to
Bertha’s nostrils the strong scents of the farmyard, which, no matter
what his clothes, hung perpetually about him. She turned away, hardly
concealing a little shiver of disgust. Yet they were the same masculine
odours as once had made her nearly faint with desire.



Chapter XXIV


Bertha’s imagination seldom permitted her to see things in anything but
a false light; sometimes they were pranked out in the glamour of the
ideal, while at others the process was quite reversed. It was
astonishing that so short a break should have destroyed the habit of
three years; but the fact was plain that Edward had become a stranger,
so that she felt it irksome to share the same room with him. She saw him
now with jaundiced eyes, and told herself that at last she had
discovered his true colours. Poor Edward was paying heavily because the
furtive years had robbed him of his locks and given him in exchange a
superabundance of fat; because responsibility, the east wind, and good
living, had taken the edge off his features and turned his cheeks
plethoric.

Bertha’s love, indeed, had finally disappeared as suddenly as it had
arisen, and she began seriously to loathe her husband. She had acquired
a certain part of Miss Ley’s analytic faculty, which now she employed
with destructive effect upon Edward’s character. Her absence had
increased the danger to Edward in another way, for the air of Paris had
exhilarated her and sharpened her wits so that her alertness to find
fault was doubled and her impatience with the commonplace and the
stupid, extreme. And Bertha soon found that her husband’s mind was not
only commonplace, but common. His ignorance no longer seemed touching,
but merely shameful; his prejudices no longer amusing but contemptible.
She was indignant at having humbled herself so abjectly before a man of
such narrowness of mind, of such insignificant character. She could not
conceive how she had ever passionately loved him. He was bound in by the
stupidest routine. It irritated her beyond measure to see the regularity
with which he went through the varying processes of his toilet. She was
indignant with his presumption, and self-satisfaction, and conscious
rectitude. Edward’s taste was contemptible in books, in pictures, and in
music; and his pretentions to judge upon such matters filled Bertha with
scorn. At first his deficiencies had not affected her, and later she
consoled herself with the obvious truism that a man may be ignorant of
all the arts, and yet have every virtue under the sun. But now she was
less charitable. Bertha wondered that because her husband could read and
write as well as most board-scholars, he should feel himself competent
to judge books--even without reading them. Of course it was most
unreasonable to blame the poor man for a foible common to the vast
majority of mankind. Every one who can hold a pen is confident of his
ability to criticise, and to criticise superciliously. It never occurs
to the average citizen that, to speak modestly, almost as much art is
needed to write a book as to adulterate a pound of tea; nor that the
author has busied himself with style and contrast, characterisation,
light and shade, and many other things to which the practice of
haberdashery, greengrocery, company-promotion, or pork-butchery, is no
great key.

One day, Edward, coming in, caught sight of the yellow paper-cover of a
French book that Bertha was reading.

“What, at it again?” said he. “You read too much; it’s not good for
people to be always reading.”

“Is that your opinion?”

“My idea is that a woman oughtn’t to stuff her head with books. You’d be
much better out in the open air or doing something useful.”

“Is that your opinion?”

“Well, I should like to know why you’re always reading?”

“Sometimes to instruct myself; always to amuse myself.”

“Much instruction you’ll get out of an indecent French novel.”

Bertha without answering handed him the book and showed the title; they
were the letters of _Madame de Sévigné_.

“Well?” he said.

“You’re no wiser, dear Edward?” she asked, with a smile: such a question
in such a tone, revenged her for much. “You’re none the wiser? I’m
afraid you’re very ignorant. You see I’m not reading a novel, and it is
not indecent. They are the letters of a mother to her daughter, models
of epistolary style and feminine wisdom.”

Bertha purposely spoke in rather formal and elaborate a manner.

“Oh,” said Edward, somewhat mystified; feeling that he had been
confounded, but certain, none the less, that he was in the right. Bertha
smiled provokingly.

“Of course,” he said, “I’ve got no objection to your reading if it
amuses you.”

“It’s very good of you to say so.”

“I don’t pretend to have any book-learning; I’m a practical man, and
it’s not required. In my business you find that the man who reads books,
comes a mucker!”

“You seem to think that ignorance is creditable.”

“It’s better to have a good and pure heart, Bertha, and a clean mind,
than any amount of learning.”

“It’s better to have a grain of wit than a collection of moral saws.”

“I don’t know what you mean by that, but I’m quite content to be as I
am, and I don’t want to know a single foreign language. English is quite
good enough for me.”

“So long as you’re a good sportsman and wash yourself regularly, you
think you’ve performed the whole duty of man.”

“If there’s one chap I can’t stick, it’s a measly bookworm.”

“I prefer him to the hybrid of a professional cricketer and a
Turkish-bath man.”

“Does that mean me?”

“You can take it to yourself if you like,” said Bertha, smiling, “or
apply it to a whole class.... Do you mind if I go on reading?”

Bertha took up her book; but Edward was the more argumentatively
inclined since he saw he had not so far got the better of the contest.

“Well, what I must say is, if you want to read, why can’t you read
English books? Surely there are enough. I think English people ought to
stick to their own country. I don’t pretend to have read any French
books, but I’ve never heard anybody deny, that at all events the great
majority are indecent, and not the sort of thing a woman should read.”

“It’s always incautious to judge from common report,” answered Bertha,
without looking up.

“And now that the French are always behaving so badly to us, I should
like to see every French book in the kingdom put into a huge bonfire.
I’m sure it would be all the better for we English people. What we want
now is purity and reconstitution of the national life. I’m in favour of
English morals, and English homes, English mothers, and English habits.”

“What always astounds me, dear, is that though you invariably read the
_Standard_ you always talk like the _Family Herald_!”

Bertha paid no further attention to Edward, who thereupon began to talk
with his dogs. Like most frivolous persons he found silence onerous, and
Bertha thought it disconcerted him by rendering evident even to himself,
the vacuity of his mind. He talked with every animate thing, with the
servants, with his pets, with the cat and the birds; he could not read
even a newspaper without making a running commentary upon it.

It was only a substantial meal that could induce even a passing
taciturnity. Sometimes his unceasing chatter irritated Bertha so
intensely that she was obliged to beg him, for heaven’s sake, to hold
his tongue. Then he would look up, with a good-natured laugh.

“Was I making a row? Sorry; I didn’t know it.”

He remained quiet for ten minutes and then began to hum some obvious
melody, than which there is no more detestable habit.

Indeed the points of divergence between the pair were innumerable.
Edward was a person who had the courage of his opinions, and these he
held with a firmness equal to his lack of knowledge. He disliked also
whatever was not clear to his somewhat narrow intelligence, and was
inclined to think it immoral. Music, for instance, in his opinion was an
English art, carried to the highest pitch in certain very simple
melodies of his childhood. Bertha played the piano well and sang with a
cultivated voice, but Edward objected to her performances because,
whether she sang or whether she played, there was never a rollicking
tune that a fellow could get his teeth into. It must be confessed that
Bertha exaggerated, and that when a dull musical afternoon was given in
the neighbourhood, she took a malicious pleasure in playing some long
recitative form of a Wagner opera, which no one could make head or tail
of.

On such an occasion at the Glovers, the eldest Miss Hancock turned to
Edward and remarked upon his wife’s admirable playing. Edward was a
little annoyed, because every one had vigorously applauded, and to him
the sounds had been quite meaningless.

“Well, I’m a plain man,” he said, “and I don’t mind confessing that I
never can understand the stuff Bertha plays.”

“Oh, Mr. Craddock, not even Wagner?” said Miss Hancock, who had been as
bored as Edward, but would not for worlds have confessed it; holding the
contrary modest opinion, that the only really admirable things are those
you can’t understand.

Bertha looked at him, remembering her dream that they should sit at the
piano together in the evening and play for hour after hour: as a matter
of fact, he had always refused to budge from his chair and had gone to
sleep regularly.

“My idea of music is like Dr. Johnson’s,” said Edward, looking round for
approval.

“Is Saul also among the prophets?” murmured Bertha.

“When I hear a difficult piece I wish it was impossible.”

“You forget, dear,” said Bertha, smiling sweetly, “that Dr. Johnson was
a very ill-mannered old man whom dear Fanny would not have allowed in
her drawing-room for one minute.”

“You sing now, Edward,” said Miss Glover; “we’ve not heard you for ever
so long.”

“Oh, bless you,” he retorted, “my singing’s too old fashioned. My songs
have all got a tune in them and some feeling--they’re only fit for the
kitchen.”

“Oh, please give us _Ben Bolt_,” said Miss Hancock, “we’re all so fond
of it.”

Edward’s repertory was limited, and every one knew his songs by heart.

“Anything to oblige,” he said.

He was, as a matter of fact, fond of singing, and applause was always
grateful to his ears.

“Shall I accompany you, dear?” said Bertha.

    “_Oh! don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt,_
       _Sweet Alice with hai-air so brow-own;_
     _She wept with delight when you gave her a smile,_
       _And trembled with fe-ar at your frown._”

Once upon a time Bertha had found a subtle charm in these pleasing
sentiments and in the honest melody which adorned them; but it was not
to be wondered if constant repetition had left her a little callous.
Edward sang the ditty with a simple, homely style--which is the same as
saying, with no style at all--and he employed therein much pathos. But
Bertha’s spirit was not forgiving, she owed him some return for the
gratuitous attack on her playing; and the idea came to her to improve
upon the accompaniment with little trills and flourishes which amused
her immensely, but quite disconcerted her husband. Finally, just when
his voice was growing flat with emotion over the gray-haired
schoolmaster who had died, she wove in the strains of the _Blue Bells of
Scotland_ and _God Save the Queen_, so that Edward broke down. For once
his even temper was disturbed.

“I say, I can’t sing if you go playing the fool. You spoil the whole
thing.”

“I’m very sorry,” laughed Bertha. “I forgot what I was doing. Let’s
begin all over again.”

“No, I’m not going to sing any more. You spoil the whole thing.”

“Mrs. Craddock has no heart,” said Miss Hancock.

“I don’t think it’s fair to laugh at an old song like this,” said
Edward. “After all any one can sneer.... My idea of music is something
that stirs one’s heart--I’m not a sentimental chap, but _Ben Bolt_
almost brings the tears to my eyes every time I sing it.”

Bertha with difficulty abstained from retorting that sometimes she also
felt inclined to weep--especially when he sang out of tune. Every one
looked at her, as if she had behaved very badly, while she calmly smiled
at Edward. But she was not amused. On the way home she asked him if he
knew why she had spoilt his song.

“I’m sure I don’t know--unless you were in one of your beastly tempers.
I suppose you’re sorry now.”

“Not at all,” she answered, laughing. “I thought you were rude to me
just before, and I wanted to punish you a little. Sometimes you’re
really too supercilious.... And besides that, I object to being found
fault with in public. You will have the goodness in future to keep your
strictures till we are alone.”

“I should have thought you could stand a bit of good-natured chaff by
now.”

“Oh, I can, dear Edward. Only, perhaps, you may have noticed that I am
fairly quick at defending myself.”

“What d’you mean by that?”

“Merely that I can be horrid when I like, and you will be wise not to
expose yourself to a public snub.”

Edward had never heard from his wife a threat so calmly administered,
and it somewhat impressed him.

But as a general rule, Bertha checked the sarcasm which constantly rose
to her tongue. She treasured in her heart the wrath and hatred which her
husband occasioned, feeling that it was a satisfaction at last to be
free from love of him. Looking back, the fetters which had bound her
were intolerably heavy. And it was a sweet revenge, although he knew
nothing of it, to strip the idol of his ermine cloak, and of his crown,
and the gew-gaws of his sovereignty. In his nakedness he was a pitiable
figure.

Edward of all this was totally unconscious. He was like a lunatic
reigning in a madhouse over an imaginary kingdom; he did not see the
curl of Bertha’s lips upon some foolish remark of his, nor the contempt
with which she treated him. And since she was a great deal less
exacting, he found himself far happier than before. The ironic
philosopher might find some cause for moralising in the fact that it was
not till Bertha began to hate Edward that he found marriage entirely
satisfactory. He told himself that his wife’s stay abroad had done her
no end of good, and made her far more amenable to reason. Mr. Craddock’s
principles, of course, were quite right; he had given her plenty of run
and ignored her cackle, and now she had come home to roost. There is
nothing like a knowledge of farming, and an acquaintance with the habits
of domestic animals, to teach a man how to manage his wife.



Chapter XXV


If the gods, who scatter wit in sundry unexpected places, so that it is
sometimes found beneath the bishop’s mitre and, once in a thousand
years, beneath a king’s crown, had given Edward two-pennyworth of that
commodity, he would undoubtedly have been a great as well as a good man.
Fortune smiled upon him uninterruptedly; he enjoyed the envy of his
neighbours; he farmed with profit, and, having tamed the rebellious
spirit of his wife, he rejoiced in domestic felicity. And it must be
noticed that he was rewarded only according to his deserts. He walked
with upright spirit and contented mind along the path which it had
pleased a merciful Providence to set before him. He was lighted on the
way by a strong Sense of Duty, by the Principles which he had acquired
at his Mother’s Knee, and by a Conviction of his own Merit. Finally, a
deputation waited on him to propose that he should stand for the County
Council election which was shortly to be held. He had been unofficially
informed of the project, and received Mr. Atthill Bacot with seven
committee men, in his frock-coat and a manner full of responsibility. He
told them he could do nothing rashly, must consider the matter, and
would inform them of his decision. But Edward had already made up his
mind to accept, and having shown the deputation to the door, went to
Bertha.

“Things are looking up,” he said, having given her the details. The
Blackstable district for which Edward was invited to stand, being
composed chiefly of fishermen, was intensely Radical. “Old Bacot said I
was the only Moderate candidate who’d have a chance.”

Bertha was too much astonished to reply. She had so poor an opinion of
her husband that she could not understand why on earth they should make
him such an offer. She turned over in her mind possible reasons.

“It’s a ripping thing for me, isn’t it?”

“But you’re not thinking of accepting?”

“Not? Of course I am. What do _you_ think!” This was not an inquiry, but
an exclamation.

“You’ve never gone in for politics; you’ve never made a speech in your
life.”

She thought he would make an abject fool of himself, and for her sake,
as well as for his, decided to prevent him from standing. “He’s too
ignorant!” she thought.

“What! I’ve made speeches at cricket dinners; you set me on my legs and
I’ll say something.”

“But this is different--you know nothing about the County Council.”

“All you have to do is to look after steam-rollers and get glandered
horses killed. I know all about it.”

There is nothing so difficult as to persuade men that they are not
omniscient. Bertha, exaggerating the seriousness of the affair, thought
it charlantry to undertake a post without knowledge and without
capacity. Fortunately that is not the opinion of the majority, or the
government of this enlightened country could not proceed.

“I should have thought you’d be glad to see me get a lift in the world,”
said Edward, somewhat offended that his wife did not fall down and
worship.

“I don’t want you to make a fool of yourself, Edward. You’ve told me
often that you don’t go in for book-learning; and it can’t hurt your
feelings when I say that you’re utterly ignorant. I don’t think its
honest to take a position you’re not competent to fill.”

“Me--not competent?” cried Edward, with surprise. “That’s a good one!
Upon my word, I’m not given to boasting, but I must say I think myself
competent to do most things.... You just ask old Bacot what he thinks of
me, and that’ll open your eyes. The fact is, every one appreciates me
but you: but they say a man’s never a hero to his valet.”

“Your proverb is most apt, dear Edward.... But I have no intention of
thwarting you in any of your plans. I only thought you did not know
what you were going in for, and that I might save you from some
humiliation.”

“Humiliation, where? Pooh, you think I shan’t get elected. Well, look
here, I bet you any money you like that I shall come out top of the
poll.”

Next day Edward wrote to Mr. Bacot expressing pleasure that he was able
to fall in with the views of the Conservative Association; and Bertha,
who knew that no argument could turn him from his purpose, determined to
coach him, so that he should not make too arrant a fool of himself. Her
fears were proportionate to her estimate of Edward’s ability! She sent
to London for pamphlets and blue-books on the rights and duties of the
County Council, and begged Edward to read them. But in his
self-confident manner he pooh-poohed her, and laughed when she read them
herself so as to be able to teach him.

“I don’t want to know all that rot,” he cried. “All a man wants is
gumption. Why, d’you suppose a man who goes in for parliament knows
anything about politics? Of course he doesn’t.”

Bertha was indignant that her husband should be so well satisfied in his
illiteracy, and that he stoutly refused to learn. It is only when a man
knows a good deal that he discovers how unfathomable is his ignorance.
Edward, knowing so little, was convinced that there was little to know,
and consequently felt quite assured that he knew all which was
necessary. He might more easily have been persuaded that the moon was
made of green cheese than that he lacked the very rudiments of
knowledge.

The County Council elections in London were also being held at that
time, and Bertha, hoping to give Edward useful hints, diligently read
the oratory which they occasioned. But he refused to listen.

“I don’t want to crib other men’s stuff. I’m going to talk on my own.”

“Why don’t you write out a speech and get it by heart?”

Bertha fancied that so she might influence him a little and spare
herself and him the humiliation of utter ridicule.

“Old Bacot says when he makes a speech, he always trusts to the spur of
the moment. He says that Fox made his best speeches when he was blind
drunk.”

“D’you know who Fox was?” asked Bertha.

“Some old buffer or other who made speeches.”

The day arrived when Edward for the first time was to address his
constituents, in the Blackstable town-hall; and for a week past placards
had been pasted on every wall and displayed in every shop, announcing
the glad news. Mr. Bacot came to Court Leys, rubbing his hands.

“We shall have a full house. It’ll be a big success. The hall will hold
four hundred people and I think there won’t be standing room. I dare say
you’ll have to address an overflow meeting at the Forresters Hall
afterwards.”

“I’ll address any number of meetings you like,” replied Edward.

Bertha grew more and more nervous. She anticipated a horrible collapse;
they did not know--as she did--how limited was Edward’s intelligence!
She wanted to stay at home so as to avoid the ordeal, but Mr. Bacot had
reserved for her a prominent seat on the platform.

“Are you nervous, Eddie?” she said, feeling more kindly disposed to him
from his approaching trial.

“Me, nervous? What have I got to be nervous about?”

The hall was indeed crammed with the most eager, smelly, enthusiastic
crowd Bertha had ever seen. The gas-jets flared noisily, throwing crude
lights on the people, sailors, tradesmen, labourers, and boys. On the
platform, in a semi-circle like the immortal gods, sat the notabilities
of the neighborhood, Conservatives to the backbone. Bertha looked round
with apprehension, but tried to calm herself with the thought that they
were stupid people and she had no cause to tremble before them.

Presently the Vicar took the chair and in a few well-chosen words
introduced Mr. Craddock.

“Mr. Craddock, like good wine, needs no bush. You all know him, and an
introduction is superfluous. Still it is customary on such an occasion
to say a few words on behalf of the candidate, and I have great
pleasure, &c., &c....”

Now Edward rose to his feet, and Bertha’s blood ran cold. She dared not
look at the audience. He advanced with his hands in his pockets--he had
insisted on dressing himself up in a frock-coat and the most dismal
pepper-and-salt trousers.

“Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen--Unaccustomed to public speaking as
I am....”

Bertha looked up with a start. Could a man at the end of the nineteenth
century, seriously begin an oration with those words! But he was not
joking; he went on gravely, and, looking around, Bertha caught not the
shadow of a smile. Edward was not in the least nervous, he quickly got
into the swing of his speech--and it was terrible! He introduced every
hackneyed phrase he knew, he mingled slang incongruously with pompous
language; and his silly jokes, chestnuts of great antiquity, made Bertha
writhe and shudder. She wondered that he could go on with such
self-possession. Did he not see that he was making himself perfectly
absurd! She dared not look up for fear of catching the sniggers of Mrs.
Branderton and of the Hancocks: “One sees what he was before he married
Miss Ley. Of course he’s a quite uneducated man.... I wonder his wife
did not prevent him from making such an exhibition of himself. The
grammar of it, my dear; and the jokes, and the stories!!!”

Bertha clenched her hands, furious because the flush of shame would not
leave her cheeks. The speech was even worse than she had expected. He
used the longest words, and, getting entangled in his own verbosity, was
obliged to leave his sentence unfinished. He began a period with an
elaborate flourish and waddled in confusion to the tamest commonplace:
he was like a man who set out to explore the Andes and then, changing
his mind, took a stroll in the Burlington Arcade. How long would it be,
asked Bertha, before the audience broke into jeers and hisses? She
blessed them for their patience. And what would happen afterwards?
Would Mr. Bacot ask Edward to withdraw from the candidature? And
supposing Edward refused, would it be necessary to tell him that he was
really too great a fool? Bertha saw already the covert sneers of her
neighbours.

“Oh, I wish he’d finish!” she muttered between her teeth. The agony, the
humiliation of it, were unendurable.

But Edward was still talking, and gave no signs of an approaching
termination. Bertha thought miserably that he had always been
long-winded: if he would only sit down quickly the failure might not be
irreparable. He made a vile pun and every one cried, Oh! Oh! Bertha
shivered and set her teeth; she must bear it to the end now--why
wouldn’t he sit down? Then Edward told an agricultural story, and the
audience shouted with laughter. A ray of hope came to Bertha: perhaps
his absolute vulgarity might save him with the vulgar people who formed
the great body of the audience. But what must the Brandertons, and the
Molsons, and the Hancocks, and all the rest of them, be saying? They
must utterly despise him.

But worse was to follow. Edward came to his peroration, and a few
remarks on current politics (of which he was entirely ignorant) brought
him to his Country, England, Home and Beauty. He turned the tap of
patriotism full on; it gurgled in a stream. He blew the penny trumpets
of English purity, and the tin whistles of the British Empire, and he
beat the big drum of the Great Anglo-Saxon Race. He thanked God he was
an Englishman, and not as others are. Tommy Atkins, and Jack Tar, and
Mr. Rudyard Kipling, danced a jig to the strains of the _British
Grenadiers_; and Mr. Joseph Chamberlain executed a _pas seul_ to the air
of _Yankee Doodle_. Lastly, he waved the Union Jack.

The hideous sentimentality, and the bad taste and the commonness made
Bertha ashamed: it was horrible to think how ignoble must be the mind of
a man who could foul his mouth with the expression of such sentiments.

Finally Edward sat down. For one moment the audience were silent--for
the shortest instant; and then with one throat, broke into thunderous
applause. It was no perfunctory clapping of hands; they rose as one man,
and shouted and yelled with enthusiasm.

“Good old Teddy,” cried a voice. And then the air was filled with: _For
he’s a jolly good fellow_. Mrs. Branderton stood on a chair and waved
her handkerchief; Miss Glover clapped her hands as if she were no longer
an automaton.

“Wasn’t it perfectly splendid?” she whispered to Bertha.

Every one on the platform was in a frenzy of delight. Mr. Bacot warmly
shook Edward’s hand. Mrs. Mayston Ryle fanned herself desperately. The
scene may well be described, in the language of journalists, as one of
unparalleled enthusiasm. Bertha was dumbfounded.

Mr. Bacot jumped to his feet.

“I must congratulate Mr. Craddock on his excellent speech. I am sure it
comes as a surprise to all of us that he should prove such a fluent
speaker, with such a fund of humour and--er--and common sense. And what
is more valuable than these, his last words have proved to us that his
heart--his heart, gentlemen--is in the right place, and that is saying a
great deal. In fact I know nothing better to be said of a man than that
his heart is in the right place. You know me, ladies and gentlemen, I
have made many speeches to you since I had the honour of standing for
the constituency in ’85, but I must confess I couldn’t make a better
speech myself than the one you have just heard.”

“You could--you could!” cried Edward, modestly.

“No, Mr. Craddock, no; I assert deliberately, and I mean it, that I
could not do better myself. From my shoulders I let fall the mantle, and
give it----“

Here Mr. Bacot was interrupted by the stentorian voice of the landlord
of the _Pig and Whistle_ (a rabid Conservative).

“Three cheers for good old Teddie!”

“That’s right, my boys,” repeated Mr. Bacot, for once taking an
interruption in good part, “Three cheers for good old Teddy!”

The audience opened its mighty mouth and roared, then burst again into,
_For he’s a jolly good fellow_! Arthur Branderton, when the tumult was
subsiding, rose from his chair and called for more cheers. The object of
all this enthusiasm sat calmly, with a well-satisfied look on his face,
taking it all with his usual modest complacency. At last the meeting
broke up, with cheers, and _God save the Queen_, and _He’s a jolly good
fellow_. The committee and the personal friends of the Craddocks retired
to the side-room for light refreshment.

The ladies clustered round Edward, congratulating him. Arthur Branderton
came to Bertha.

“Ripping speech, wasn’t it?” he said. “I had no idea he could jaw like
that. By Jove, it simply stirred me right through.”

Before Bertha could answer, Mrs. Mayston Ryle sailed in.

“Where’s the man?” she cried, in her loud tones. “Where is he? Show him
to me.... My dear Mr. Craddock, your speech was perfect. I say it.”

“And in such good taste,” said Miss Hancock, her eyes glowing. “How
proud you must be of your husband, Mrs. Craddock!”

“There’s no chance for the Radicals now,” said the Vicar, rubbing his
hands.

“Oh, Mr. Craddock, let me come near you,” cried Mrs. Branderton. “I’ve
been trying to get at you for twenty minutes.... You’ve simply
extinguished the horrid Radicals; I couldn’t help crying, you were so
pathetic.”

“One may say what one likes,” whispered Miss Glover to her brother, “but
there’s nothing in the world so beautiful as sentiment. I felt my heart
simply bursting.”

“Mr. Craddock,” added Mrs. Mayston Ryle, “you’ve pleased me! Where’s
your wife, that I may tell her so?”

“It’s the best speech we’ve ever had down here,” cried Mrs. Branderton.

“That’s the only true thing I’ve heard you say for twenty years, Mrs.
Branderton,” replied Mrs. Mayston Ryle, looking very hard at Mr. Atthill
Bacot.



Chapter XXVI


When Lord Roseberry makes a speech, even the journals of his own party
report him in the first person and at full length; and this is said to
be the politician’s supreme ambition. Having reached such distinction,
there is nothing left him but an honourable death and a public funeral
in Westminster Abbey. Now, the _Blackstable Times_ accorded this honour
to Edward’s first effort; it was printed with numberless _I’s_ peppered
boldly over it; the grammar was corrected, and the stops inserted, just
as for the most important orators. Edward bought a dozen copies and read
the speech right through in each, to see that his sentiments were
correctly expressed, and that there were no misprints. He gave it to
Bertha, and stood over her while she read.

“Looks well, don’t it?” he said.

“Splendid!”

“By the way, is Aunt Polly’s address 72 Eliot Mansions?”

“Yes. Why?”

Her jaw fell as she saw him roll up half-a-dozen copies of the
_Blackstable Times_ and address the wrapper.

“I’m sure she’d like to read my speech. And it might hurt her feelings
if she heard about it and I’d not sent her the report.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’d like to see it very much. But if you send six copies
you’ll have none left--for other people.”

“Oh, I can easily get more. The editor chap told me I could have a
thousand if I liked. I’m sending her six, because I dare say she’d like
to forward some to her friends.”

By return of post came Miss Ley’s reply.

     _My dear Edward,--I perused all six copies of your speech with the
     greatest interest; and I think you will agree with me that it is
     high proof of its merit that I was able to read it the sixth time
     with as unflagging attention as the first. The peroration, indeed,
     I am convinced that no acquaintance could stale. It is so true that
     “every Englishman has a mother” (supposing, of course, that an
     untimely death has not robbed him of her). It is curious how one
     does not realise the truth of some things till they are pointed
     out; when one’s only surprise is at not having seen them before. I
     hope it will not offend you if I suggest that Bertha’s handiwork
     seems to me not invisible in some of the sentiments (especially in
     that passage about the Union Jack). Did you really write the whole
     speech yourself? Come, now, confess that Bertha helped you.--Yours
     very sincerely,_

_MARY LEY_.



Edward read the letter and tossed it, laughing, to Bertha. “What cheek
her suggesting that you helped me! I like that.”

“I’ll write at once and tell her that it was all your own.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha still could hardly believe genuine the admiration which her
husband excited. Knowing his extreme incapacity, she was astounded that
the rest of the world should think him an uncommonly clever fellow. To
her his pretensions were merely ridiculous; she marvelled that he should
venture to discuss, with dogmatic glibness, subjects of which he knew
nothing; but she marvelled still more that people should be impressed
thereby: he had an astonishing faculty of concealing his ignorance.

At last the polling-day arrived, and Bertha waited anxiously at Court
Leys for the result. Edward eventually appeared, radiant.

“What did I tell you?” said he.

“I see you’ve got in.”

“Got in isn’t the word for it! What did I tell you, eh? My dear girl,
I’ve simply knocked ’em all into a cocked hat. I got double the number
of votes that the other chap did, and it’s the biggest poll they’ve
ever had.... Aren’t you proud that your hubby should be a County
Councillor? I tell you I shall be an M.P. before I die.”

“I congratulate you--with all my heart,” said Bertha drily; but trying
to be enthusiastic.

Edward in his excitement did not observe her coolness. He was walking up
and down the room concocting schemes--asking himself how long it would
be before Miles Campbell, the member, was confronted by the inevitable
dilemma of the unopposed M.P., one horn of which is the Kingdom of
Heaven, and the other--the House of Lords.

Presently he stopped. “I’m not a vain man,” he remarked, “but I must say
I don’t think I’ve done badly.”

Edward, for a while, was somewhat overwhelmed by his own greatness, but
the opinion came to his rescue that the rewards were only according to
his deserts; and presently he entered energetically into the not very
arduous duties of the County Councillor.

Bertha continually expected to hear something to his disadvantage; but,
on the contrary, everything seemed to proceed very satisfactorily; and
Edward’s aptitude for business, his keenness in making a bargain, his
common sense, were heralded abroad in a manner that should have been
most gratifying to his wife.

But as a matter of fact these constant praises exceedingly disquieted
Bertha. She asked herself uneasily whether she was doing him an
injustice. Was he really so clever; had he indeed the virtues which
common report ascribed to him? Perhaps she was prejudiced; or
perhaps--he was cleverer than she. This thought came like a blow, for
she had never doubted that her intellect was superior to Edward’s. Their
respective knowledge was not comparable: she occupied herself with ideas
that Edward did not conceive; his mind was ever engaged in the utterest
trivialities. He never interested himself in abstract things, and his
conversation was tedious, as only the absence of speculation could make
it. It was extraordinary that every one but herself should so highly
estimate his intelligence. Bertha knew that his mind was paltry and his
ignorance phenomenal: his pretentiousness made him a charlatan. One day
he came to her, his head full of a new idea.

“I say, Bertha, I’ve been thinking it over and it seems a pity that your
name should be dropped entirely. And it sounds funny that people called
Craddock should live at Court Leys.”

“D’you think so? I don’t know how you can remedy it--unless you think of
advertising for tenants with a more suitable name.”

“Well, I was thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea, and it would have a
good effect on the county, if we took your name again.”

He looked at Bertha, who stared at him icily, but answered nothing.

“I’ve talked to old Bacot about it and he thinks it would be just the
thing; so I think we’d better do it.”

“I suppose you’re going to consult me on the subject.”

“That’s what I’m doing now.”

“Do you think of calling yourself Ley-Craddock or Craddock-Ley, or
dropping the Craddock altogether?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I hadn’t gone so far as that yet.”

Bertha gave a little scornful laugh. “I think the idea is perfectly
ridiculous.”

“I don’t see that; I think it would be rather an improvement.”

“Really, Edward, if I was not ashamed to take your name, I don’t think
that _you_ need be ashamed to keep it.”

“I say, I think you might be reasonable--you’re always standing in my
way.”

“I have no wish to do that. If you think my name will add to your
importance, use it by all means.... You may call yourself Tompkins for
all I care.”

“What about you?”

“Oh I--I shall continue to call myself Craddock.”

“I do think it’s rough. You never do anything to help me.”

“I am sorry you’re dissatisfied. But you forget that you have impressed
one ideal on me for years: you have always given me to understand that
your pattern female animal was the common or domestic cow.”

Edward did not understand what Bertha meant, and it occurred to him
dimly that it was perhaps not altogether proper.

“You know, Edward, I always regret that you didn’t marry Fanny Glover.
You would have suited one another admirably. And I think she would have
worshipped you as you desire to be worshipped. I’m sure she would not
have objected to your calling yourself Glover.”

“I shouldn’t have wanted to take her name. That’s no better than
Craddock. The only thing in Ley is that it’s an old county name, and has
belonged to your people.”

“That is why I don’t choose that you should use it.”



Chapter XXVII


Time passed slowly, slowly. Bertha wrapped her pride about her like a
cloak, but sometimes it seemed too heavy to bear and she nearly fainted.
The restraint which she imposed upon herself was often intolerable;
anger and hatred seethed within her, but she forced herself to preserve
the smiling face which people had always seen. She suffered intensely
from her loneliness of spirit, she had not a soul to whom she could tell
her unhappiness. It is terrible to have no means of expressing oneself,
to keep imprisoned always the anguish that gnaws at one’s heart-strings.
It is well enough for the writer, he can find solace in his words, he
can tell his secret and yet not betray it: but the woman has only
silence.

Bertha loathed Edward now with such angry, physical repulsion that she
could not bear his touch; and every one she knew, was his admiring
friend. How could she tell Fanny Glover that Edward was a fool who bored
her to death, when Fanny Glover thought him the best and most virtuous
of mankind? She was annoyed that in the universal estimation Edward
should have eclipsed her so entirely: once his only importance lay in
the fact that he was her husband, but now the positions were reversed.
She found it very irksome thus to shine with reflected light, and at the
same time despised herself for the petty jealousy. She could not help
remembering that Court Leys was hers, and that if she chose she could
send Edward away like a hired servant.

At last she felt it impossible longer to endure his company; he made her
stupid and vulgar; she was ill and weak, and she utterly despaired. She
made up her mind to go away again, this time for ever.

“If I stay, I shall kill myself.”

For two days Edward had been utterly miserable; a favourite dog had
died, and he was brought to the verge of tears. Bertha watched him
contemptuously.

“You are more affected over the death of a wretched poodle than you have
ever been over a pain of mine.”

“Oh, don’t rag me now, there’s a good girl. I can’t bear it.”

“Fool!” muttered Bertha, under her breath.

He went about with hanging head and melancholy face, telling every one
the particulars of the beast’s demise, in a voice quivering with
emotion.

“Poor fellow!” said Miss Glover. “He has such a good heart.”

Bertha could hardly repress the bitter invective that rose to her lips.
If people knew the coldness with which he had met her love, the
indifference he had shown to her tears and to her despair! She despised
herself when she remembered the utter self-abasement of the past.

“He made me drink the cup of humiliation to the very dregs.”

From the height of her disdain she summed him up for the thousandth
time. It was inexplicable that she had been subject to a man so paltry
in mind, so despicable in character. It made her blush with shame to
think how servile had been her love.

Dr. Ramsay, who was visiting Bertha for some trivial ill, happened to
come in when she was engaged with such thoughts.

“Well,” he said, as soon as he had taken breath. “And how is Edward
to-day?”

“Good heavens, how should I know?” she cried, beside herself, the words
slipping out unawares after the long constraint.

“Hulloa, what’s this? Have the turtle-doves had a tiff at last?”

“Oh, I’m sick of continually hearing Edward’s praises. I’m sick of being
treated as an appendage to him.”

“What’s the matter with you, Bertha?” said the doctor, bursting into a
shout of laughter. “I always thought nothing pleased you more than to
hear how much we all liked your husband.”

“Oh, my good doctor, you must be blind or an utter fool. I thought every
one knew by now that I loathe my husband.”

“What?” shouted Dr. Ramsay; then thinking Bertha was unwell: “Come,
come, I see you want a little medicine, my dear. You’re out of sorts,
and like all women you think the world is consequently coming to an
end.”

Bertha sprang from the sofa. “D’you think I should speak like this if I
hadn’t good cause? Don’t you think I’d conceal my humiliation if I
could? Oh, I’ve hidden it long enough; now I must speak. Oh God, I can
hardly help screaming with pain when I think of all I’ve suffered and
hidden. I’ve never said a word to any one but you, and now I can’t help
it. I tell you I loathe and abhor my husband and I utterly despise him.
I can’t live with him any more, and I want to go away.”

Dr. Ramsay opened his mouth and fell back in his chair; he looked at
Bertha as if he expected her to have a fit. “You’re not serious?”

Bertha stamped her foot impatiently. “Of course I’m serious. Do you
think I’m a fool too? We’ve been miserable for years, and it can’t go
on. If you knew what I’ve had to suffer when every one has congratulated
me, and said how pleased they were to see me so happy. Sometimes I’ve
had to dig my nails in my hands to prevent myself from crying out the
truth.”

Bertha walked up and down the room, letting herself go at last. The
tears were streaming down her cheeks, but she took no notice of them.
She was giving full vent to her passionate hatred.

“Oh, I’ve tried to love him. You know how I loved him once--how I adored
him. I would have laid down my life for him with pleasure. I would have
done anything he asked me; I used to search for the smallest indication
of his wishes so that I might carry them out. It overjoyed me to think
that I was his abject slave. But he’s destroyed every vestige of my
love, and now I only despise him, I utterly despise him. Oh, I’ve tried
to love him, but he’s too great a fool.”

The last words Bertha said with such force that Dr. Ramsay was startled.

“My dear Bertha!”

“Oh, I know you all think him wonderful. I’ve had his praises thrown at
me for years. But you don’t know what a man really is till you’ve lived
with him, till you’ve seen him in every mood and in every circumstance.
I know him through and through, and he’s a fool. You can’t conceive how
stupid, how utterly brainless he is.... He bores me to death!”

“Come now, you don’t mean what you say. You’re exaggerating as usual.
You must expect to have little quarrels now and then; upon my word, I
think it took me twenty years to get used to my wife.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, don’t be sententious,” Bertha interrupted,
fiercely. “I’ve had enough moralising in these five years. I might have
loved Edward better if he hadn’t been so moral. He’s thrown his virtues
in my face till I’m sick of them. He’s made every goodness ugly to me,
till I sigh for vice just for a change. Oh, you can’t imagine how
frightfully dull is a really good man. Now I want to be free, I tell you
I can’t stand it any more.”

Bertha again walked up and down the room excitedly.

“Upon my word,” cried Dr. Ramsay, “I can’t make head or tail of it.”

“I didn’t expect you would. I knew you’d only moralise.”

“What d’you want me to do? Shall I speak to him?”

“No! No! I’ve spoken to him endlessly. It’s no good. D’you suppose your
speaking to him will make him love me? He’s incapable of it; all he can
give me is esteem and affection--good God, what do I want with esteem!
It requires a certain intelligence to love, and he hasn’t got it. I tell
you he’s a fool. Oh, when I think that I’m shackled to him for the rest
of my life, I feel I could kill myself.”

“Come now, he’s not such a fool as all that. Every one agrees that he’s
a very smart man of business. And I can’t help saying that I’ve always
thought you did uncommonly well when you insisted on marrying him.”

“It was all your fault,” cried Bertha. “If you hadn’t opposed me, I
might not have married so quickly. Oh, you don’t know how I’ve regretted
it.... I wish I could see him dead at my feet.”

Dr. Ramsay whistled. His mind worked somewhat slowly, and he was
becoming confused with the overthrow of his cherished opinions, and the
vehemence with which the unpleasant operation was conducted.

“I didn’t know things were like this.”

“Of course you didn’t!” said Bertha, scornfully. “Because I smiled and
hid my sorrow, you thought I was happy. When I look back on the
wretchedness I’ve gone through, I wonder that I can ever have borne it.”

“I can’t believe that this is very serious. You’ll be of a different
mind to-morrow, and wonder that such things ever entered your head. You
mustn’t mind an old chap like me telling you that you’re very headstrong
and impulsive. After all, Edward is a fine fellow, and I can’t believe
that he would willingly hurt your feelings.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake don’t give me more of Edward’s praises.”

“I wonder if you’re a little jealous of the way he’s got on?” asked the
doctor, looking at her sharply.

Bertha blushed, for she had asked herself the same question, and much
scorn was needed to refute it.

“I? My dear doctor, you forget! Oh, don’t you understand that it isn’t a
passing whim? It’s dreadfully serious to me--I’ve borne the misery till
I can bear it no longer. You must help me to get away. If you have any
of your old affection for me, do what you can. I want to go away; but I
don’t want to have any more rows with Edward; I just want to leave him
quietly. It’s no good trying to make him understand that we’re
incompatible. He thinks that it’s enough for my happiness just to be his
wife. He’s of iron, and I am pitifully weak.... I used to think myself
so strong!”

“Am I to take it that you’re absolutely serious? Do you want to take the
extreme step of separating from your husband?”

“It’s an extreme step that I’ve taken before. Last time I went with a
flourish of trumpets, but now I want to go without any fuss at all. I
still loved Edward then, but I have even ceased to hate him. Oh, I knew
I was a fool to come back, but I couldn’t help it. He asked me to
return, and I did.”

“Well, I don’t know what I can do for you. I can’t help thinking that if
you wait a little things will get better.”

“I can’t wait any longer. I’ve waited too long. I’m losing my whole
life.”

“Why don’t you go away for a few months, and then you can see? Miss Ley
is going to Italy for the winter as usual, isn’t she? Upon my word, I
think it would do you good to go too.”

“I don’t mind what I do so long as I can get away. I’m suffering too
much.”

“Have you thought that Edward will miss you?” asked Dr. Ramsay, gravely.

“No, he won’t. Good heavens, don’t you think I know him by now? I know
him through and through. And he’s callous, and selfish, and stupid. And
he’s making me like himself.... Oh, Dr. Ramsay, please help me.”

“Does Miss Ley know?” asked the doctor, remembering what she had told
him on her visit to Court Leys.

“No, I’m sure she doesn’t. She thinks we adore one another. And I don’t
want her to know. I’m such a coward now. Years ago I never cared a straw
for what any one in the world thought of me; but my spirit is utterly
broken. Oh, get me away from here, Dr. Ramsay, get me away.”

She burst into tears, weeping as she had been long unaccustomed to do;
she was utterly exhausted after the outburst of all that for years she
had kept hid.

“I’m still so young, and I almost feel an old woman. Sometimes I should
like to lie down and die, and have done with it all.”

       *       *       *       *       *

A month later Bertha was in Rome. But at first she was hardly able to
realise the change in her condition. Her life at Court Leys had
impressed itself upon her with such ghastly distinctness that she could
not imagine its cessation. She was like a prisoner so long immured that
freedom dazes him, and he looks for his chains, and cannot understand
that he is free.

The relief was so great that Bertha could not believe it true, and she
lived in fear that her vision would be disturbed, and that she would
find herself again within the prison walls of Court Leys. It was a dream
that she wandered in sunlit places, where the air was scented with
violets and with roses. The people were unreal, the models lounging on
the steps of the Piazza di Spagna, the ragged urchins, quaintly costumed
and importunate, the silver speech that caressed the air. How could she
believe that life was true when it gave blue sky and sunshine, so that
the heart thrilled with joy; when it gave rest, and peace, and the most
delightful idleness? Real life was gloomy and strenuous; its setting a
Georgian mansion, surrounded by desolate, wind-swept fields. In real
life every one was very virtuous and very dull; the ten commandments
hedged one round with the menace of hell-fire and eternal damnation, a
dungeon more terrible because it had not walls, nor bars and bolts.

But beyond these gloomy stones with their harsh _Thou shalt not_ is a
land of fragrance and of light, where the sunbeams send the blood
running gaily through the veins; where the flowers give their perfume
freely to the air, in token that riches must be spent and virtue must be
squandered; where the amorets flutter here and there on the spring
breezes, unknowing whither they go, uncaring. It is a land of olive
trees and of pleasant shade, and the sea kisses the shore gently to show
the youths how they must kiss the maidens. There dark eyes flash
lambently, telling the traveller he need not fear, since love may be
had for the asking. Blood is warm, and hands linger with grateful
pressure in hands, and red lips ask for the kisses that are so sweet to
give. There the flesh and the spirit walk side by side, and each is well
satisfied with the other. Ah, give me the sunshine of this blissful
country, and a garden of roses, and the murmur of a pleasant brook; give
me a shady bank, and wine, and books, and the coral lips of Amaryllis,
and I will live in complete felicity--for at least ten days.

To Bertha the life in Rome seemed like a play. Miss Leys left her much
freedom, and she wandered alone in strange places. She went often to the
market and spent the morning among the booths, looking at a thousand
things she did not want to buy; she fingered rich silks and antique bits
of silver, smiling at the compliments of a friendly dealer. The people
bustled around her, talking volubly, intensely alive, and yet, in her
inability to understand that what she saw was true, they seemed but
puppets. She went to the galleries, to the Sistine Chapel or to the
Stanze of Raphael; and, lacking the hurry of the tourist and his sense
of duty, she would spend a whole morning in front of one picture, or in
a corner of some old church, weaving with the sight before her the
fantasies of her imagination.

And when she felt the need of her fellow-men, Bertha went to the Pincio
and mingled with the throng that listened to the band. But the
Franciscan monk in his brown cowl, standing apart, was a figure of some
romantic play; and the soldiers in gay uniforms, the Bersaglieri with
the bold cock’s feathers in their hats, were the chorus of a comic
opera. And there were black-robed priests, some old and fat, taking the
sun and smoking cigarettes, at peace with themselves and with the world;
others young and restless, the flesh unsubdued shining out of their dark
eyes. And every one seemed as happy as the children who romped and
scampered with merry cries.

But gradually the shadows of the past fell away and Bertha was able more
consciously to appreciate the beauty and the life that surrounded her.
And knowing it transitory she set herself to enjoy it as best she
could. Care and youth are with difficulty yoked together, and merciful
time wraps in oblivion the most gruesome misery. Bertha stretched out
her arms to embrace the wonders of the living world, and she put away
the dreadful thought that it must end so quickly. In the spring she
spent long hours in the gardens that surround the city, where the
remains of ancient Rome mingled exotically with the half tropical
luxuriance, and called forth new and subtle emotions. The flowers grew
in the sarcophagi with a wild exuberance, wantoning, it seemed, in
mockery of the tomb from which they sprang. Death is hideous, but life
is always triumphant; the rose and the hyacinth arise from man’s decay;
and the dissolution of man is but the signal of other birth: and the
world goes on, beautiful and ever new, revelling in its vigour.

Bertha went to the Villa Medici and sat where she could watch the light
glowing on the mellow façade of the old palace, and Syrinx peeping
between the reeds: the students saw her and asked who was the beautiful
woman who sat so long and so unconscious of the eyes that looked at her.
She went to the Villa Doria-Pamphili, majestic and pompous, the fitting
summer-house of princes in gorgeous clothes, of bishops and of
cardinals. And the ruins of the Palatine with its cypress trees sent her
thought back and back, and she pictured to herself the glory of bygone
power.

But the wildest garden of all, the garden of the Mattei, pleased her
best. Here were a greater fertility and a greater abandonment; the
distance and the difficulty of access kept strangers away, and Bertha
could wander through it as if it were her own. She thought she had never
enjoyed such exquisite moments as were given her by its solitude and its
silence. Sometimes a troop of scarlet seminarists sauntered along the
grass-grown avenues, vivid colour against the verdure.

Then she went home, tired and happy, and sat at her open window and
watched the dying sun. The sun set over St. Peter’s, and the mighty
cathedral was transfigured into a temple of fire and gold; the dome was
radiant, formed no longer of solid stones, but of light and
sunshine--it was the crown of a palace of Hyperion. Then, as the sun
fell to the horizon, St. Peter’s stood out in darkness, stood out in
majestic profile against the splendour of heaven.



Chapter XXVIII


But after Easter Miss Ley proposed that they should travel slowly back
to England. Bertha had dreaded the suggestion, not only because she
regretted to leave Rome, but still more because it rendered necessary
some explanation. The winter had passed comfortably enough with the
excuse of indifferent health, but now some other reason must be found to
account for the continued absence from her husband’s side; and Bertha’s
racked imagination gave her nothing. She was determined, however, under
no circumstances, to return to Court Leys: after such happy freedom the
confinement of body and soul would be doubly intolerable.

Edward had been satisfied with the pretext and had let Bertha go without
a word. As he said, he was not the man to stand in his wife’s way when
her health required her to leave him; and he could peg along all right
by himself. Their letters had been fairly frequent, but on Bertha’s side
a constant effort. She was always telling herself that the only rational
course was to make Edward a final statement of her intentions, and then
break off all communication. But the dread of fuss and bother, and of
endless explanation, restrained her; and she compromised by writing as
seldom as possible and adhering to the merest trivialities. She was
surprised once or twice, when she had delayed her answer, to receive
from him a second letter, asking with some show of anxiety why she did
not write.

Miss Ley had never mentioned Edward’s name and Bertha surmised that she
knew much of the truth. But she kept her own counsel: blessed are they
who mind their own business and hold their tongues! Miss Ley, indeed,
was convinced that some catastrophe had occurred, but true to her habit
of allowing people to work out their lives in their own way, without
interference, took care to seem unobservant; which was really very
noble, for she prided herself on nothing more than on her talent for
observation.

“The most difficult thing for a wise woman to do,” she said, “is to
pretend to be a foolish one!”

Finally, she guessed Bertha’s present difficulty; and it seemed easily
surmountable.

“I wish you’d come back to London with me instead of going to Court
Leys,” she said. “You’ve never had a London season, have you? On the
whole I think it’s amusing: the opera is very good and sometimes you see
people who are quite well dressed.”

Bertha did not answer, and Miss Ley, seeing her wish to accept and at
the same time her hesitation, suggested that she should come for a few
weeks, well knowing that a woman’s visit is apt to spin itself out for
an indeterminate time.

“I’m sorry I shan’t have room for Edward too,” said Miss Ley, smiling
drily, “but my flat is very small, you know.”

       *       *       *       *       *

They had been settled a few days in the flat at Eliot Mansions, when
Bertha, coming in to breakfast one morning, found Miss Ley in a great
state of suppressed amusement. She was quivering like an uncoiled
spring; and she pecked at her toast and at her egg in a birdlike manner,
which Bertha knew could only mean that some one had made a fool of
himself, to the great entertainment of her aunt. Bertha began to laugh.

“Good Heavens,” she cried, “what has happened?”

“My dear--a terrible catastrophe.” Miss Ley repressed a smile, but her
eyes gleamed and danced as though she were a young woman. “You don’t
know Gerald Vaudrey, do you? But you know who he is.”

“I believe he’s a cousin of mine.”

Bertha’s father, who made a practice of quarrelling with all his
relations, had found in General Vaudrey a brother-in-law as irascible as
himself; so that the two families had never been on speaking term.

“I’ve just had a letter from his mother to say that he’s been--er,
philandering rather violently with her maid, and they’re all in despair.
The maid has been sent away in hysterics, his mother and his sister are
in tears, and the General’s in a passion and says he won’t have the boy
in his house another day. And the little wretch is only nineteen.
Disgraceful, isn’t it?”

“Disgraceful!” said Bertha, smiling. “I wonder what there is in a French
maid that small boys should invariably make love to her.”

“Oh, my dear, if you only saw my sister’s maid. She’s forty if she’s a
day, and her complexion is like parchment very much the worse for
wear.... But the awful part of it is that your Aunt Betty beseeches me
to look after the boy. He’s going to Florida in a month, and meanwhile
he’s to stay in London. Now, what I want to know, is how am I to keep a
dissolute infant out of mischief. Is it the sort of thing that one would
expect of me?”

Miss Ley waved her arms with comic desperation.

“Oh, but it’ll be great fun. We’ll reform him together. We’ll lead him
on a path where French maids are not to be met at every turn and
corner.”

“My dear, you don’t know what he is. He’s an utter young scamp. He was
expelled from Rugby. He’s been to half-a-dozen crammers, because they
wanted him to go to Sandhurst, but he utterly refused to work; and he’s
been ploughed in every exam he’s gone in for--even for the militia. So
now his father has given him five hundred pounds and told him to go to
the devil.”

“How rude! But why should the poor boy go to Florida?”

“I suggested that. I know some people who’ve got an orange plantation
there. And I dare say that the view of several miles of orange blossom
will suggest to him that promiscuous flirtation may have unpleasant
results.”

“I think I shall like him,” said Bertha.

“I have no doubt you will; he’s an utter scamp and rather pretty.”

Next day, when Bertha was in the drawing-room, reading, Gerald Vaudrey
was shown in. She smiled to reassure him and put out her hand in the
friendliest manner; she thought he must be a little confused at meeting
a stranger instead of Miss Ley, and unhappy in his disgrace.

“You don’t know who I am?” she said.

“Oh yes, I do,” he replied, with a very pleasant smile. “The slavey told
me Aunt Polly was out, but that you were here.”

“I’m glad you didn’t go away.”

“I thought I shouldn’t frighten you, you know.”

Bertha opened her eyes. He was certainly not at all shy, though he
looked even younger than nineteen. He was a nice boy, very slight and
not so tall as Bertha, with a small, quite girlish face. He had a tiny,
pretty nose, and a pink and white freckled complexion. His hair was dark
and curly, he wore it somewhat long, evidently aware that it was
beautiful; and his handsome green eyes had a charming expression. His
sensual mouth was always smiling.

“What a nice boy!” thought Bertha. “I’m sure I shall like him.”

He began to talk as if he had known her all his life, and she was
entertained by the contrast between his innocent appearance and his
disreputable past. He looked about the room with boyish ease and
stretched himself comfortably in a big arm-chair.

“Hulloa, that’s new since I was here last!” he said, pointing to an
Italian bronze.

“Have you been here often?”

“Rather! I used to come here whenever it got too hot for me at home.
It’s no good scrapping with your governor, because he’s got the
ooftish--it’s a jolly unfair advantage that fathers have, but they
always take it. So when the old chap flew into a passion, I used to say,
‘I won’t argue with you. If you can’t treat me like a gentleman, I shall
go away for a week.’ And I used to come here. Aunt Polly always gave me
five quid, and said, ‘Don’t tell me how you spend it, because I
shouldn’t approve; but come again when you want some more.’ She’s is a
ripper, ain’t she!”

“I’m sorry she’s not in.”

“I’m rather glad, because I can have a long talk with you till she
comes. I’ve never seen you before, so I have such a lot to say.”

“Have you?” said Bertha, laughing. “That’s rather unusual in young men.”

He looked so absurdly young that Bertha could not help treating him as a
schoolboy; and she was amused at his communicativeness. She wanted him
to tell her his escapades, but was afraid to ask.

“Are you very hungry?” She thought that boys always had appetites.
“Would you like some tea?”

“I’m starving.”

She poured him out a cup, and taking it and three jam sandwiches, he sat
on a footstool at her feet. He made himself quite at home.

“You’ve never seen my Vaudrey cousins, have you?” he asked, with his
mouth full. “I can’t stick ’em at any price, they’re such frumps. I’ll
tell ’em all about you; it’ll make them beastly sick.”

Bertha raised her eyebrows. “And do you object to frumps?”

“I simply loathe them. At the last tutor’s I was at, the old chap’s wife
was the most awful old geezer you ever saw. So I wrote and told my mater
that I was afraid my morals were being corrupted.”

“And did she take you away?”

“Well, by a curious coincidence, the old chap wrote the very same day,
and told the pater if he didn’t remove me he’d give me the shoot. So I
sent in my resignation, and told him his cigars were poisonous, and
cleared out.”

“Don’t you think you’d better sit on a chair?” said Bertha. “You must be
very uncomfortable on that footstool.”

“Oh no, not at all. After a Turkey carpet and a dining-room table,
there’s nothing so comfy as a footstool. A chair always makes me feel
respectable--and dull.”

Bertha thought Gerald rather a nice name.

“How long are you staying in London?”

“Oh, only a month, worse luck. Then I’ve got to go to the States to make
my fortune and reform.”

“I hope you will.”

“Which? One can’t do both at once, you know. You make your money first,
and you reform afterwards, if you’ve got time. But whatever happens,
it’ll be a good sight better than sweating away at an everlasting
crammer’s. If there is one man I can’t stick at any price it’s the army
crammer.”

“You have a large experience of them, I understand.”

“I wish you didn’t know all my past history. Now I shan’t have the sport
of telling you.”

“I don’t think it would be edifying.”

“Oh yes, it would. It would show you how virtue is downtrodden (that’s
me), and how vice is triumphant. I’m awfully unlucky; people sort of
conspire together to look at my actions from the wrong point of view.
I’ve had jolly rough luck all through. First I was bunked from Rugby.
Well, that wasn’t my fault. I was quite willing to stay, and I’m blowed
if I was worse than anybody else. The pater blackguarded me for six
weeks, and said I was bringing his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.
Well, you know, he’s simply awfully bald; so at last I couldn’t help
saying that I didn’t know where his grey hairs were going to, but it
didn’t much look as if he meant to accompany them. So, after that, he
sent me to a crammer who played poker. Well, he skinned me of every
shilling I’d got, and then wrote and told the pater I was an immoral
young dog, and corrupting his house.”

“I think we’d better change the subject, Gerald,” said Bertha.

“Oh, but you must have the sequel. The next place I went to, I found
none of the other fellows knew poker; so of course I thought it a sort
of merciful interposition of Providence to help me to recoup myself. I
told ’em not to lay up treasures in this world, and walloped in thirty
quid in four days; then the old thingamygig (I forget his name, but he
was a parson) told me I was making his place into a gambling-hell, and
that he wouldn’t have me another day in his house. So off I toddled, and
I stayed at home for six months. That gave me the fair hump, I can tell
you.”

The conversation was disturbed by the entrance of Miss Ley.

“You see we’ve made friends,” said Bertha.

“Gerald always does that with everybody. He’s the most gregarious
person. How are you, Lothario?”

“Flourishing, my Belinda,” he replied, flinging his arms round Miss
Ley’s neck to her great delight and pretended indignation.

“You’re irrepressible,” she said. “I expected to find you in sackcloth
and ashes, penitent and silent.”

“My dear Aunt Polly, ask me to do anything you like, except to repent
and to hold my tongue.”

“You know your mother has asked me to look after you.”

“I like being looked after--and is Bertha going to help?”

“I’ve been thinking it over,” added Miss Ley. “And the only way I can
think to keep you out of mischief is to make you spend your evenings
with me. So you’d better go home now and dress. I know there’s nothing
you like better than changing your clothes.”

Meanwhile Bertha observed with astonishment that Gerald was simply
devouring her with his eyes. It was impossible not to see his evident
admiration.

“The boy must be mad,” she thought, but could not help feeling a little
flattered.

“He’s been telling me some dreadful stories,” she said to Miss Ley, when
he had gone. “I hope they’re not true.”

“Oh, I think you must take all Gerald says with a grain of salt. He
exaggerates dreadfully, and all boys like to seem Byronic. So do most
men, for the matter of that!”

“He looks so young. I can’t believe that he’s really very naughty.”

“Well, my dear, there’s no doubt about his mother’s maid. The evidence
is of the--most conclusive order. I know I should be dreadfully angry
with him, but every one is so virtuous now-a-days that a change is quite
refreshing. And he’s so young, he may reform. Englishmen start galloping
to the devil, but as they grow older they nearly always change horses
and amble along gently to respectability, a wife, and seventeen
children.”

“I like the contrast of his green eyes and his dark hair.”

“My dear, it can’t be denied that he’s made to capture the feminine
heart. I never try to resist him myself. He’s so extremely convincing
when he tells you some outrageous fib.”

Bertha went to her room and looked at herself in the glass, then put on
her most becoming dinner-dress.

“Good gracious,” said Miss Ley. “You’ve not put that on for Gerald?
You’ll turn the boy’s head, he’s dreadfully susceptible.”

“It’s the first one I came across,” replied Bertha, innocently.



Chapter XXIX


“You’ve quite captured Gerald’s heart,” said Miss Ley to Bertha a day or
two later. “He’s confided to me that he thinks you ‘perfectly
stunning.’”

“He’s a very nice boy,” said Bertha, laughing.

The youth’s outspoken admiration could not fail to increase her liking;
and she was amused by the stare of his green eyes, which, with a woman’s
peculiar sense, she felt even when her back was turned. They followed
her; they rested on her hair and on her beautiful hands; when she wore a
low dress they burnt themselves on her neck and breast; she felt them
travel along her arms, and embrace her figure. They were the most
caressing, smiling eyes, but with a certain mystery in their emerald
depths. Bertha did not neglect to put herself in positions wherein
Gerald could see her to advantage; and when he looked at her hands she
could not be expected to withdraw them as though she were ashamed. Few
Englishmen see anything in a woman, but her face; and it seldom occurs
to them that her hand has the most delicate outlines, all grace and
gentleness, with tapering fingers and rosy nails; they never look for
the thousand things it has to say.

“Don’t you know it’s very rude to stare like that,” said Bertha, with a
smile, turning round suddenly.

“I beg your pardon, I didn’t know you were looking.”

“I wasn’t, but I saw you all the same.”

She smiled at him most engagingly and she saw a sudden flame leap into
his eyes. A married woman is always gratified by the capture of a
youth’s fickle heart: it is an unsolicited testimonial to her charms,
and has the great advantage of being completely free from danger. She
tells herself that there is no better training for a boy than to fall in
love with a really nice woman a good deal older than himself. It
teaches him how to behave and keeps him from getting into mischief: how
often have callow youths been know to ruin their lives by falling into
the clutches of some horrid adventuress with yellow hair and painted
cheeks! Since she is old enough to be his mother, the really nice woman
thinks there can be no harm in flirting with the poor boy, and it seems
to please him: so she makes him fetch and carry, and dazzles him, and
drives him quite distracted, till his youthful fickleness comes to the
rescue and he falls passionately enamoured of a barmaid--when, of
course, she calls him an ungrateful and low-minded wretch, regrets she
was so mistaken in his character, and tells him never to come near her
again.

This of course only refers to the women that men fall in love with; it
is well known that the others have the strictest views on the subject,
and would sooner die than trifle with any one’s affections.

Gerald had the charming gift of becoming intimate with people at the
shortest notice, and a cousin is an agreeable relation (especially when
she’s pretty), with whom it is easy to get on. The relationship is not
so close as to warrant chronic disagreeableness, and close enough to
permit personalities, which are the most amusing part of conversation.

Within a week Gerald took to spending his whole day with Bertha, and she
found the London season much more amusing than she had expected. She
looked back with distaste to her only two visits to town. One had been
her honeymoon, and the other the first separation from her husband: it
was odd that in retrospect both seem equally dreary. Edward had almost
disappeared from her thoughts, and she exulted like a captive free from
chains. Her only annoyance was his often-expressed desire to see her.
Why could he not leave her alone, as she left him? He was perpetually
asking when she would return to Court Leys; and she had to invent
excuses to prevent his coming to London. She loathed the idea of seeing
him again.

But she put aside these thoughts when Gerald came to fetch her,
sometimes for a bicycle ride in Battersea Park, sometimes to spend an
hour in one of the museums. It is no wonder that the English are a
populous race when one observes how many are the resorts supplied by the
munificence of governing bodies for the express purpose of philandering.
On a hot day what spot can be more enchanting than the British Museum,
cool, silent, and roomy, with harmless statues which tell no tales, and
afford matter for conversation to break an awkward pause?

The parks also are eminently suited for those whose fancy turns to
thoughts of Platonic love. Hyde Park is the fitting scene for an idyll
in which Corydon wears patent-leather boots and a top-hat, while Phyllis
has an exquisite frock which suits her perfectly. The well-kept lawns,
the artificial water and the trim paths, give a mock rurality which is
infinitely amusing to persons who do not wish to take things too
seriously. Here, in the summer mornings, Gerald and Bertha spent much
time. It pleased her to listen to his chatter, and to look into his
green eyes; he was such a very nice boy, and seemed so much attached to
her! Besides, he was only in London for a month, and, quite secure in
his departure, she could afford to let him fall a little in love.

“Are you sorry you’re going away so soon?” she asked.

“I shall be miserable at leaving you.”

“It’s nice of you to say so.”

Bit by bit she extracted from him his discreditable history. Bertha was
possessed by a curiosity to know details, which she elicited artfully,
making him confess his iniquities that she might pretend to be angry. It
gave her a curious thrill, partly of admiration, to think that he was
such a depraved young person, and she looked at him with a sort of
amused wonder. He was very different from the virtuous Edward. A
childlike innocence shone out of his handsome eyes, and yet he had
already tasted the wine of many emotions. Bertha felt somewhat envious
of the sex which gave opportunity, and the spirit which gave power, to
seize life boldly, and wring from it all it had to offer.

“I ought to refuse to speak to you any more,” she said. “I ought to be
ashamed of you.”

“But you’re not. That’s why you’re such a ripper.”

How could she be angry with a boy who adored her? His very perversity
fascinated her. Here was a man who would never hesitate to go to the
devil for a woman, and Bertha was pleased at the compliment to her sex.

One evening Miss Ley was dining out, and Gerald asked Bertha to come to
dinner with him, and then to the opera. She refused, thinking of the
expense; but he was so eager, and she really so anxious to go, that
finally she consented.

“Poor boy, he’s going away so soon, I may as well be nice to him.”

Gerald arrived in high spirits, looking even more boyish than usual.

“I’m really afraid to go out with you,” said Bertha. “People will think
you’re my son. ‘Dear me, who’d have thought she was forty!’”

“What rot!” He looked at her beautiful gown. Like all really nice women,
Bertha was extremely careful to be always well dressed. “By Jove, you
are a stunner!”

“My dear child, I’m old enough to be your mother.”

They drove off--to a restaurant which Gerald, boylike, had chosen,
because common report pronounced it the dearest in London. Bertha was
much amused by the bustle, the glitter of women in diamonds, the busy
waiters gliding to and fro, the glare of the electric light: and her
eyes rested with approval on the handsome boy in front of her. She could
not keep in check the recklessness with which he insisted on ordering
the most expensive things; and when they arrived at the opera, she found
he had a box.

“Oh, you wretch,” she cried. “You must be utterly ruined.”

“Oh, I’ve got five hundred quid,” he replied, laughing. “I must blue
some of it.”

“But why on earth did you get a box?”

“I remembered that you hated any other part of the theatre.”

“But you promised to get cheap seats.”

“And I wanted to be alone with you.”

He was by nature a flatterer; and few women could withstand the cajolery
of his green eyes, and of his charming smile.

“He must be very fond of me,” thought Bertha, as they drove home, and
she put her arm in his to express her thanks and her appreciation.

“It’s very nice of you to have been so good to me. I always thought you
were a nice boy.”

“I’d do more than that for you.”

He would have given the rest of his five hundred pounds for one kiss.
She knew it, and was pleased, but gave him no encouragement, and for
once he was bashful. They separated at her doorstep with the quietest
handshake.

“It’s awfully kind of you to have come.”

He appeared immensely grateful to her. Her conscience pricked her now
that he had spent so much money; but she liked him all the more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gerald’s month was nearly over, and Bertha was astonished that he
occupied her thoughts so much. She did not know that she was so fond of
him.

“I wish he weren’t going,” she said, and then quickly: “but of course
it’s much better that he should!”

At that moment the boy appeared.

“This day week you’ll be on the sea, Gerald,” she said. “Then you’ll be
sorry for all your iniquities.”

“No!” he answered, sitting in the position he most affected, at Bertha’s
feet.

“No--which?”

“I shan’t be sorry,” he replied, with a smile, “and I’m not going away.”

“What d’you mean?”

“I’ve altered my plans. The man I’m going to said I could start at the
beginning of the month or a fortnight later.”

“But why?” It was a foolish question, because she knew.

“I had nothing to stay for. Now I have, that’s all.”

Bertha looked at him, and caught his shining eyes fixed intently upon
her. She became grave.

“You’re not angry?” he asked, changing his tone. “I thought you wouldn’t
mind. I don’t want to leave you.”

He looked at her so earnestly and tears came to his eyes, Bertha could
not help being touched.

“I’m very glad that you should stay, dear. I didn’t want you to go so
soon. We’ve been such good friends.”

She passed her fingers through his curly hair and over his ears; but he
started, and shivered.

“Don’t do that,” he said, pushing her hand away.

“Why not?” she cried, laughing. “Are you frightened of me?”

And caressingly she passed her hand over his ears again.

“Oh, you don’t know what pain that gives me.”

He sprang up, and to her astonishment Bertha saw that he was pale and
trembling.

“I feel I shall go mad when you touch me.”

Suddenly she saw the burning passion in his eyes; it was love that made
him tremble. Bertha gave a little cry, and a curious sensation pressed
her heart. Then without warning, the boy seized her hands and falling on
his knees before her, kissed them repeatedly. His hot breath made Bertha
tremble too, and the kisses burnt themselves into her flesh. She
snatched her hands away.

“I’ve wanted to do that so long,” he whispered.

She was too deeply moved to answer, but stood looking at him.

“You must be mad, Gerald.” She pretended to laugh.

“Bertha!”

They stood very close together; he was about to put his arms round her.
And for an instant she had an insane desire to let him do what he would,
to let him kiss her lips as he had kissed her hands; and she wanted to
kiss his mouth, and the curly hair, and his cheeks soft as a girl’s. But
she recovered herself.

“Oh, it’s absurd! Don’t be silly, Gerald.”

He could not speak; he looked at her, his green eyes sparkling with
desire.

“I love you.”

“My dear boy, do you want me to succeed your mother’s maid?”

“Oh!” he gave a groan and turned red.

“I’m glad you’re staying on. You’ll be able to see Edward, who’s coming
to town. You’ve never met my husband, have you?”

His lips twitched, and he seemed to struggle to compose himself. Then he
threw himself on a chair and buried his face in his hands. He seemed so
little, so young--and he loved her. Bertha looked at him for a moment,
and tears came to her eyes. She called herself brutal, and put her hand
on his shoulder.

“Gerald!” He did not look up. “Gerald, I didn’t mean to hurt your
feelings. I’m sorry for what I said.”

She bent down and drew his hands away from his face.

“Are you cross with me?” he asked, almost tearfully.

“No,” she answered, caressingly. “But you mustn’t be silly, dearest. You
know I’m old enough to be your mother.”

He did not seem consoled, and she felt still that she had been horrid.
She took his face between her hands and kissed his lips. And, as if he
were a little child, she kissed away the tear-drops that shone in his
eyes.



Chapter XXX


Bertha still felt on her hands Gerald’s passionate kisses, like little
patches of fire; and on her lips was still the touch of his boyish
mouth. What magic current had passed from him to her that she should
feel this sudden happiness? It was enchanting to think that Gerald loved
her; she remembered how his eyes had sparkled, how his voice had grown
hoarse so that he could hardly speak: ah, those were the signs of real
love, of the love that is mighty and triumphant. Bertha put her hands to
her heart with a rippling laugh of pure joy--for she was beloved. The
kisses tingled on her fingers so that she looked at them with surprise,
she seemed almost to see a mark of burning. She was very grateful to
him, she wanted to take his head in her hands and kiss his hair and his
boyish eyes and again the soft lips. She told herself that she would be
a mother to him.

The day following he had come to her almost shyly, afraid that she would
be angry, and the bashfulness contrasting with his usual happy audacity,
had charmed her. It flattered her extremely to think that he was her
humble slave, to see the pleasure he took in doing as she bade; but she
could hardly believe it true that he loved her, and she wished to
reassure herself. It gave her a queer thrill to see him turn white when
she held his hand, to see him tremble when she leaned on his arm. She
stroked his hair and was delighted with the anguish in his eyes.

“Don’t do that,” he cried. “Please. You don’t know how it hurts.”

“I was hardly touching you,” she replied, laughing.

She saw in his eyes glistening tears--they were tears of passion, and
she could scarcely restrain a cry of triumph. At last she was loved as
she wished, she gloried in her power: here at last was one who would not
hesitate to lose his soul for her sake. She was intensely grateful. But
her heart grew cold when she thought it was too late, that it was no
good: he was only a boy, and she was married and--nearly thirty.

But even then, why should she attempt to stop him? If it was the love
she dreamt of, nothing could destroy it. And there was no harm; Gerald
said nothing to which she might not listen, and he was so much younger
than she, he was going in less than a month and it would all be over.
Why should she not enjoy the modest crumbs that the gods let fall from
their table--it was little enough, in all conscience! How foolish is he
who will not bask in the sun of St. Martin’s summer, because it heralds
the winter as surely as the east wind!

They spent the whole day together to Miss Ley’s amusement, who for once
did not use her sharp eyes to much effect.

“I’m so thankful to you, Bertha, for looking after the lad. His mother
ought to be eternally grateful to you for keeping him out of mischief.”

“I’m very glad if I have,” said Bertha, “he’s such a nice boy, and I’m
so fond of him. I should be very sorry if he got into trouble.... I’m
rather anxious about him afterwards.”

“My dear, don’t be; because he’s certain to get into scrapes--it’s his
nature--but it’s likewise his nature to get out of them. He’ll swear
eternal devotion to half-a-dozen fair damsels, and ride away rejoicing,
while they are left to weep upon one another’s bosoms. It’s some men’s
nature to break women’s hearts.”

“I think he’s only a little wild: he means no harm.”

“These sort of people never do; that’s what makes their wrong-doing so
much more fatal.”

“And he’s so affectionate.”

“My dear, I shall really believe that you’re in love with him.”

“I am,” said Bertha. “Madly!”

The plain truth is often the surest way to hoodwink people, more
especially when it is told unconsciously. Women of fifty have an
irritating habit of treating as contemporaries all persons of their own
sex who are over twenty-five, and it never struck Miss Ley that Bertha
might look upon Gerald as anything but a little boy.

But Edward could no longer be kept in the country. Bertha was astonished
that he should wish to see her, and a little annoyed, for now of all
times his presence would be importunate. She did not wish to have her
dream disturbed, she knew it was nothing else; it was a mere spring day
of happiness in the long winter of life. She looked at Gerald now with a
heavy heart and could not bear to think of the future. How empty would
existence be without that joyous smile; above all, without that ardent
passion! This love was wonderful; it surrounded her like a mystic fire
and lifted her up so that she seemed to walk on air. But things always
come too late or come by halves. Why should all her passion have been
squandered and flung to the winds, so that now when a beautiful youth
offered her his virgin heart, she had nothing to give in exchange?
Bertha told herself that though she was extremely fond of Gerald, of
course she did not love him; he was a mere boy!

She was a little nervous at the meeting between him and Edward; she
wondered what they would think of one another, and she watched--Gerald!
Edward came in like a country breeze, obstreperously healthy, jovial,
large, and somewhat bald. Miss Ley trembled lest he should knock her
china over as he went round the room. He kissed her on one cheek, and
Bertha on the other.

“Well, how are you all?--And this is my young cousin, eh? How are you?
Pleased to meet you.”

He wrung Gerald’s hand, towering over him, beaming good-naturedly; then
sat in a chair much too small for him, which creaked and grumbled at his
weight. There are few sensations more amusing for a woman than to look
at the husband she has once adored and think how very unnecessary he
is; but it is apt to make conversation a little difficult. Miss Ley soon
carried Gerald off, thinking that husband and wife should enjoy a little
of that isolation to which marriage had indissolubly doomed them. Bertha
had been awaiting, with great discomfort, the necessary ordeal. She had
nothing to tell Edward, and was much afraid that he would be
sentimental.

“Where are you staying?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m putting up at the _Inns of Court_--I always go there.”

“I thought you might care to go to the theatre to-night. I’ve got a box,
so that Aunt Polly and Gerald can come too.”

“I’m game for anything you like.”

“You always were the best-tempered man,” said Bertha, smiling gently.

“You don’t seem to care very much for my society, all the same.”

Bertha looked up quickly. “What makes you think that?”

“Well, you’re a precious long time coming back to Court Leys,” he
replied, laughing.

Bertha was relieved, for evidently he was not taking the matter
seriously. She had not the courage to say that she meant never to
return: the endless explanation, his wonder, the impossibility of making
him understand, were more than she could bear.

“When are you coming back? We all miss you, like anything.”

“Do you?” she said. “I really don’t know. We’ll see after the season.”

“What? Aren’t you coming for another couple of months?”

“I don’t think Blackstable suits me very well. I’m always ill there.”

“Oh, nonsense. It’s the finest air in England. Deathrate practically
_nil_.”

“D’you think our life was very happy, Edward?”

She looked at him anxiously to see how he would take the tentative
remark: but he was only astonished.

“Happy? Yes, rather. Of course we had our little tiffs. All people do.
But they were chiefly at first, the road was a bit rough and we hadn’t
got our tyres properly blown out. I’m sure I’ve got nothing to complain
about.”

“That of course is the chief thing,” said Bertha.

“You look as well as anything now. I don’t see why you shouldn’t come
back.”

“Well, we’ll see later. We shall have plenty of time to talk it over.”

She was afraid to speak the words on the tip of her tongue; it would be
easier by correspondence.

“I wish you’d give some fixed date--so that I could have things ready,
and tell people.”

“It depends upon Aunt Polly; I really can’t say for certain. I’ll write
to you.”

They kept silence for a moment and then an idea seized Bertha.

“What d’you say to going to the Natural History Museum? Don’t you
remember, we went there on our honeymoon? I’m sure it would amuse you to
see it again.”

“Would you like to go?” asked Edward.

“I’m sure it would amuse you,” she replied.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day while Bertha was shopping with her husband, Gerald and Miss Ley
sat alone.

“Are you very disconsolate without Bertha?” she asked.

“Utterly miserable!”

“That’s very rude to me, dear boy.”

“I’m awfully sorry, but I can never be polite to more than one person at
a time: and I’ve been using up all my good manners on--Mr. Craddock.”

“I’m glad you like him,” replied Miss Ley, smiling.

“I don’t!”

“He’s a very worthy man.”

“If I hadn’t seen Bertha for six months, I shouldn’t take her off at
once to see bugs.”

“Perhaps it was Bertha’s suggestion.”

“She must find Mr. Craddock precious dull if she prefers blackbeetles
and stuffed kangaroos.”

“You shouldn’t draw such rapid conclusions, my friend.”

“D’you think she’s fond of him?”

“My dear Gerald, what a question! Is it not her duty to love, honour,
and obey him?”

“If I were a woman I could never honour a man who was bald.”

“His locks are somewhat scanty; but he has a strong sense of duty.”

“I know that,” shouted Gerald. “It oozes out of him whenever he gets
hot, just like gum.”

“He’s a County Councillor, and he makes speeches about the Union Jack,
and he’s virtuous.”

“I know that too. He simply reeks of the ten commandments: they stick
out all over him, like almonds in a tipsy cake.”

“My dear Gerald, Edward is a model; he is the typical Englishman as he
flourishes in the country, upright and honest, healthy, dogmatic,
moral--rather stupid. I esteem him enormously, and I ought to like him
much better than you, who are a disgraceful scamp.”

“I wonder why you don’t.”

“Because I’m a wicked old woman; and I’ve learnt by long experience that
people generally keep their vices to themselves, but insist on throwing
their virtues in your face. And if you don’t happen to have any of your
own, you get the worst of the encounter.”

“I think that’s what is so comfortable in you, Aunt Polly, that you’re
not obstreperously good. You’re charity itself.”

“My dear Gerald,” said Miss Ley, putting up an admonishing forefinger,
“women are by nature spiteful and intolerant; when you find one who
exercises charity, it proves that she wants it very badly herself.”

Miss Ley was glad that Edward could not stay more than two days, for she
was always afraid of surprising him. Nothing is more tedious than to
talk with persons who treat your most obvious remarks as startling
paradoxes; and Edward suffered likewise from that passion for argument,
which is the bad talker’s substitute for conversation. People who cannot
talk are always proud of their dialectic: they want to modify your
tritest observations, and even if you suggest that the day is fine
insist on arguing it out.

Bertha, in her husband’s presence, had suffered singular discomfort; it
had been such a constraint that she found it an effort to talk with him,
and she had to rack her brain for subjects of conversation. Her heart
was perceptibly lightened when she returned from Victoria after seeing
him off, and it gave her a thrill of pleasure to hear Gerald jump up
when she came in. He ran towards her with glowing eyes.

“Oh, I’m so glad. I’ve hardly had a chance of speaking to you these last
two days.”

“We have the whole afternoon before us.”

“Let’s go for a walk, shall we?”

Bertha agreed, and like two schoolfellows they sallied out. The day was
sunny and warm, and they wandered by the river. The banks of the Thames
about Chelsea have a pleasing trimness, a levity which is infinitely
grateful after the sedateness of the rest of London. The embankments, in
spite of their novelty, recall the days when the huge city was a great,
straggling village, when the sedan-chair was a means of locomotion, and
ladies wore patches and hoops; when epigram was the fashion and
propriety was not.

Presently, as they watched the gleaming water, a penny steamboat
approached the adjoining stage, and gave Bertha an idea.

“Would you like to take me to Greenwich?” she cried. “Aunt Polly’s
dining out; we can have dinner at the _Ship_ and come back by train.”

“By Jove, it will be ripping.”

They bolted down the gangway and took their tickets; the boat started,
and Bertha, panting, sank on a seat. She felt a little reckless,
pleased with herself, and amused to see Gerald’s unmeasured delight.

“I feel as if we were eloping,” she said, with a laugh; “I’m sure Aunt
Polly will be dreadfully shocked.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The boat went on, stopping every now and then to take in passengers.
They came to the tottering wharves of Millbank, and then to the
footstool turrets of St. John’s, the eight red blocks of St. Thomas’s
Hospital, and the Houses of Parliament. They passed Westminster Bridge,
and the massive strength of New Scotland Yard, the hotels and public
buildings which line the Victoria Embankment, the Temple Gardens; and
opposite this grandeur, on the Surrey side, were the dingy warehouses
and factories of Lambeth. At London Bridge Bertha found new interest in
the varying scene; she stood in the bows with Gerald by her side, not
speaking; they were happy in being near one another. The traffic became
denser and the boat more crowded--with artisans, clerks, noisy girls,
going eastwards to Rotherhithe and Deptford. Great merchantmen lay by
the river-side, or slowly made their way downstream under the Tower
Bridge; and then the broad waters were crowded with every imaginable
craft, with lazy barges as picturesque with their red sails as the
fishing-boats of Venice, with little tugs, puffing and blowing, with
ocean tramps, and with huge packets. And as they passed in the penny
steamer they had swift pictures of groups of naked boys wallowing in the
Thames mud or diving from the side of an anchored coal-barge. A new
atmosphere enveloped them now. Gray warehouses which lined the river,
and the factories, announced the commerce of a mighty nation; and the
spirit of Charles Dickens gave to the passing scenes a fresh delight.
How could they be prosaic when the great master had described them? An
amiable stranger put names to the various places.

“Look, there’s Wapping Old Stairs.”

And the words thrilled Bertha like poetry. They passed innumerable
wharves and docks, London Dock, John Cooper’s wharves, and William
Gibbs’s wharves (who are John Cooper and William Gibbs?), Limehouse
Basin, and West India Dock. Then with a great turn of the river they
entered Limehouse Reach; and soon the noble lines of the hospital, the
immortal monument of Inigo Jones, came into view, and they landed at
Greenwich Pier.



Chapter XXXI


They stood for a while on a terrace overlooking the river by the side of
the hospital. Immediately below, a crowd of boys were bathing, animated
and noisy, chasing and ducking one another, running to and fro with many
cries, and splashing in the mud.

The river was stretched more widely before them. The sun played on its
yellow wavelets so that they shone with a glitter of gold. A tug grunted
past with a long tail of barges, and a huge East Indiaman glided
noiselessly by. In the late afternoon there was over the scene an
old-time air of ease and spaciousness. The stately flood carried the
mind away, so that the onlooker followed it in thought, and went down,
as it broadened, with its crowd of traffic, till presently a sea-smell
reached the nostrils, and the river, ever majestic, flowed into the sea.
And the ships went east and west and south, bearing their merchandise to
the uttermost parts of the earth, to southern, summer lands of
palm-trees and dark-skinned peoples, bearing the name and wealth of
England. The Thames became an emblem of the power of the mighty empire,
and those who watched felt stronger in its strength, and proud of their
name and of the undiminished glory of their race.

But Gerald looked sadly.

“In a very little while it must take me away from you, Bertha.”

“But think of the freedom and the vastness. Sometimes in England one
seems oppressed by the lack of room; one can hardly breathe.”

“It’s the thought of leaving you.”

She put her hand on his arm caressingly; and then, to take him from his
sadness, suggested that they should walk.

Greenwich is half London, half country town; and the unexpected union
gives it a peculiar fascination. If the wharves and docks of London
still preserve the spirit of Charles Dickens, here it is the happy
breeziness of Captain Marryat which fills the imagination. Those tales
of a freer life and of the sea-breezes come back amid the gray streets,
still peopled with the vivid characters of _Poor Jack_. In the park, by
the side of the labourers, navvies from the neighboring docks, asleep on
the grass, or watching the boys play a primitive cricket, may be seen
fantastic old persons who would have delighted the grotesque pen of the
seaman-novelist.

Bertha and Gerald sat beneath the trees, looking at the people, till it
grew late, and then wandered back to the _Ship_ for dinner. It amused
them immensely to sit in the old coffee-room and be waited on by a black
waiter, who extolled absurdly the various dishes.

“We won’t be economical to-day,” cried Bertha. “I feel utterly
reckless.”

“It takes all the fun away if one counts the cost.”

“Well, for once let us be foolish and forget the morrow.”

And they drank champagne, which to women and boys is the acme of
dissipation and magnificence. Presently Gerald’s green eyes flashed more
brightly, and Bertha reddened before their ardent gaze.

“I shall never forget to-day, Bertha,” said Gerald. “As long as I live I
shall look back upon it with regret.”

“Oh, don’t think that it must come to an end, or we shall both be
miserable.”

“You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Bertha laughed, showing her exquisite teeth, and was glad that her own
knowledge told her she looked her best.

“But come on the terrace again and smoke there. We’ll watch the sunset.”

They sat alone, and the sun was already sinking. The heavy western
clouds were a rich and vivid red, and over the river the bricks and
mortar stood out in ink-black masses. It was a sunset that singularly
fitted the scene, combining in audacious colour with the river’s
strength. The murky wavelets danced like little flames of fire.

Bertha and the youth sat silently, very happy, but with the regret
gnawing at their hearts that their hour of joy would have no morrow. The
night fell, and one by one the stars shone out. The river flowed
noiselessly, restfully; and around them twinkled the lights of the
riverside towns. They did not speak, but Bertha knew the boy thought of
her, and desired to hear him say so.

“What are you thinking of, Gerald?”

“What should I be thinking of, but you--and that I must leave you.”

Bertha could not help the exquisite pleasure that his words gave: it was
so delicious to be really loved, and she knew his love was real. She
turned her face, so that he saw her dark eyes, darker in the night.

“I wish I hadn’t made a fool of myself before,” he whispered. “I feel it
was all horrible; you’ve made me so ashamed.”

“Oh, Gerald, you’re not remembering what I said the other day? I didn’t
mean to hurt you. I’ve been so sorry ever since.”

“I wish you loved me. Oh, Bertha, don’t stop me now. I’ve kept it in so
long, and I can’t any more. I don’t want to go away without telling
you.”

“Oh, my dear Gerald, don’t,” said Bertha, her voice almost breaking.
“It’s no good, and we shall both be dreadfully unhappy. My dear, you
don’t know how much older I am than you. Even if I wasn’t married, it
would be impossible for us to love one another.”

“But I love you with all my heart.”

He seized her hands and pressed them, and she made no effort to resist.

“Don’t you love me at all?” he asked.

Bertha did not answer, and he bent nearer to look into her eyes. Then
leaving her hands, he flung his arms about her and pressed her to his
heart.

“Bertha, Bertha!” He kissed her passionately. “Oh, Bertha, say you love
me. It would make me so happy.”

“My dearest,” she whispered, and taking his head in her hand, she kissed
him.

But the kiss that she had received fired her blood and she could not
resist now from doing as she had wished. She kissed him on the lips, and
on the eyes, and she kissed his curly hair. But at last she tore herself
away, and sprang to her feet.

“What fools we are! Let’s go to the station, Gerald; it’s growing late.”

“Oh, Bertha, don’t go yet.”

“We must. I daren’t stay.”

He tried to take her in his arms, begging her eagerly to remain.

“Please don’t, Gerald,” she said. “Don’t ask me, you make me too
unhappy. Don’t you see how hopeless it is? What is the use of our loving
one another? You’re going away in a week and we shall never meet again.
And even if you were staying, I’m married and I’m twenty-six and you’re
only nineteen. My dearest, we should only make ourselves ridiculous.”

“But I can’t go away. What do I care if you’re older than I? And it’s
nothing if you’re married: you don’t care for your husband and he
doesn’t care two straws for you.”

“How do you know?”

“Oh, I saw it. I felt so sorry for you.”

“You dear boy!” murmured Bertha, almost crying. “I’ve been dreadfully
unhappy. It’s true, Edward never loved me--and he didn’t treat me very
well. Oh, I can’t understand how I ever cared for him.”

“I’m glad.”

“I would never allow myself to fall in love again. I suffered too much.”

“But I love you with all my heart, Bertha; don’t you see it? Oh, this
isn’t like what I’ve felt before; it’s something quite new and
different. I can’t live without you, Bertha. Oh, let me stay.”

“It’s impossible. Come away now, dearest; we’ve been here too long.”

“Kiss me again.”

Bertha, half smiling, half in tears, put her arms round his neck and
kissed the soft, boyish lips.

“You are good to me,” he whispered.

Then they walked to the station in silence; and eventually reached
Chelsea. At the flat-door Bertha held out her hand and Gerald looked at
her with a sadness that almost broke her heart, then he just touched her
fingers and turned away.

But when Bertha was alone in her room, she threw herself down and burst
into tears. For she knew at last that she loved him; Gerald’s kisses
still burned on her lips and the touch of his hands was tremulous on her
arms. Suddenly she knew that she had deceived herself; it was more than
friendship that held her heart as in a vice; it was more than affection;
it was eager, vehement love.

For a moment she was overjoyed, but quickly remembered that she was
married, that she was years older than he--to a boy nineteen a women of
twenty-six must appear almost middle-aged. She seized a glass and looked
at herself; she took it to the light so that the test might be more
searching, and scrutinised her face for wrinkles and for crow’s feet,
the signs of departing youth.

“It’s absurd,” she said. “I’m making an utter fool of myself.”

Gerald only thought he loved her, in a week he would be enamoured of
some girl he met on the steamer. But thinking of his love, Bertha could
not doubt that now at all events it was real; she knew better than any
one what love was. She exulted to think that his was the real love, and
compared it with her husband’s pallid flame. Gerald loved her with all
his heart, with all his soul; he trembled with desire at her touch and
his passion was an agony that blanched his cheek. She could not mistake
the eager longing of his eyes. Ah, that was the love she wanted--the
love that kills and the love that engenders. How could she regret that
he loved her? She stood up, stretching out her arms in triumph, and in
the empty room, her lips formed the words--

“Come, my beloved, come--for I love you!”

       *       *       *       *       *

But the morning brought an intolerable depression. Bertha saw then the
utter futility of her love: her marriage, his departure, made it
impossible; the disparity of age made it even grotesque. But she could
not dull the aching of her heart, she could not stop her tears.

Gerald arrived at midday and found her alone. He approached almost
timidly.

“You’ve been crying, Bertha.”

“I’ve been very unhappy,” she said. “Oh, please, Gerald, forget our
idiocy of yesterday. Don’t say anything to me that I mustn’t hear.”

“I can’t help loving you.”

“Don’t you see that it’s all utter madness!”

She was angry with herself for loving him, angry with Gerald because he
had aroused in her a passion that made her despise herself. It seemed
horrible and unnatural that she should be willing to throw herself into
the arms of a dissolute boy, and it lowered her in her own estimation.
He caught the expression of her eyes, and something of its meaning.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that, Bertha. You look as if you almost hated
me.”

She answered gravely, “I love you with all my heart, Gerald; and I’m
ashamed.”

“How can you!” he cried, with such pain in his voice that Bertha could
not bear it.

“The whole thing is awful,” she groaned. “For God’s sake let us try to
forget it. I’ve only succeeded in making you entirely wretched. The only
remedy is to part quickly.”

“I can’t leave you, Bertha. Let me stay.”

“It’s impossible. You must go, now more than ever.”

They were interrupted by the appearance of Miss Ley, who began to talk;
but to her surprise neither Bertha nor Gerald showed their usual
vivacity.

“What is the matter with you both to-day?” she asked. “You’re unusually
attentive to my observations.”

“I’m rather tired,” said Bertha, “and I have a headache.”

Miss Ley looked at Bertha more closely, and fancied that she had been
crying; Gerald also seemed profoundly miserable. Surely.... Then the
truth dawned upon her, and she could hardly repress her astonishment.

“Good Heavens!” she thought, “I must have been blind. How lucky he’s
going in a week!”

Miss Ley now remembered a dozen occurrences which had escaped her
notice, and was absolutely confounded.

“Upon my word,” she thought, “I don’t believe you can put a woman of
seventy for five minutes in company of a boy of fourteen without their
getting into mischief.”

The week to Gerald and to Bertha passed with terrible quickness. They
scarcely had a moment alone, for Miss Ley, under pretence of making much
of her nephew, arranged little pleasure parties, so that all three might
be continually together.

“We must spoil you a little before you go; and the harm it does you will
be put right by the rocking of the boat.”

And though Bertha was in a torment, she had strength to avoid any
further encounter with Gerald. She dared not see him alone, and was
grateful to Miss Ley for putting obstacles in the way. She knew that her
love was impossible, but also that it was beyond control. It made her
completely despise herself. Bertha had been a little proud of her
uprightness, of her liberty from any degrading emotion. And that other
love to her husband had been such an intolerable slavery, that when it
died away the sense of freedom seemed the most delicious thing in life.
She had vowed that never under any circumstance would she expose herself
to the suffering that she had once endured. But this new passion had
taken her unawares, and before she knew the danger Bertha found herself
bound and imprisoned. She tried to reason away the infatuation, but
without advantage; Gerald was never absent from her thoughts. Love had
come upon her like the sudden madness with which the gods of old
afflicted those that had incensed them. It was an insane fire in the
blood, irresistible for all the horror it aroused, as that passion which
distracted Phædra for Theseus’ son.

The temptation came to bid Gerald stay. If he remained in England they
might give rein to their passion and let it die of itself; and that
might be the only way to kill it. Yet Bertha dared not. And it was
terrible to think that he loved her, and she must continually distress
him. She looked into his eyes, fancying she saw there the grief of a
breaking heart; and his sorrow was more than she could bear. Then a
greater temptation beset her. There is one way in which a woman can bind
a man to her for ever, there is one tie that is indissoluble; her very
flesh cried out, and she trembled at the thought that she could give
Gerald the inestimable gift of her person. Then he might go, but that
would have passed between them which could not be undone; they might be
separated by ten thousand miles, but they would always be joined
together. How else could she prove to him her wonderful love, how else
could she show her immeasurable gratitude? The temptation was mighty,
incessantly recurring; and she was very weak. It assailed her with all
the violence of her fervid imagination. She drove it away with anger,
she loathed it with all her heart--but she could not stifle the
appalling hope that it might prove too strong.



Chapter XXXII


At last Gerald had but one day more. A long-standing engagement of
Bertha and Miss Ley forced him to take leave of them early, for he
started from London at seven in the morning.

“I’m dreadfully sorry that you can’t spend your last evening with us,”
said Miss Ley. “But the Trevor-Jones will never forgive us if we don’t
go to their dinner-party.”

“Of course it was my fault for not finding out before, when I sailed.”

“What are you going to do with yourself this evening, you wretch?”

“Oh, I’m going to have one last unholy bust.”

“I’m afraid you’re very glad that for one night we can’t look after
you.”

In a little while Miss Ley, looking at her watch, told Bertha that it
was time to dress. Gerald got up, and kissing Miss Ley, thanked her for
her kindness.

“My dear boy, please don’t sentimentalise. And you’re not going for
ever. You’re sure to make a mess of things and come back--the Leys
always do.”

Then Gerald turned to Bertha and held out his hand.

“You’ve been awfully good to me,” he said, smiling; but there was in his
eyes a steadfast look, which seemed trying to make her understand
something. “We’ve had some ripping times together.”

“I hope you won’t forget me entirely. We’ve certainly kept you out of
mischief.”

Miss Ley watched them, admiring their composure. She thought they took
the parting very well.

“I dare say it was nothing but a little flirtation and not very serious.
Bertha’s so much older than he and so sensible that she’s most unlikely
to have made a fool of herself.”

But she had to fetch the gift which she had prepared for Gerald.

“Wait just one moment, Gerald,” she said. “I want to get something.”

She left the room and immediately the boy bent forward.

“Don’t go out to-night, Bertha. I must see you again.”

Before Bertha could reply, Miss Ley called from the hall.

“Good-bye,” said Gerald, aloud.

“Good-bye, I hope you’ll have a nice journey.”

“Here’s a little present for you, Gerald,” said Miss Ley, when he was
outside. “You’re dreadfully extravagant, and as that’s the only virtue
you have, I feel I ought to encourage it. And if you want money at any
time, I can always scrape together a few guineas, you know.”

She put into his hand two fifty-pound notes and then, as if she were
ashamed of herself, bundled him out of doors. She went to her room; and
having rather seriously inconvenienced herself for the next six months,
for an entirely unworthy object, she began to feel remarkably pleased.
In an hour Miss Ley returned to the drawing-room to wait for Bertha, who
presently came in, dressed--but ghastly pale.

“Oh, Aunt Polly, I simply can’t come to-night. I’ve got a racking
headache; I can scarcely see. You must tell them that I’m sorry, but I’m
too ill.”

She sank on a chair and put her hand to her forehead, groaning with
pain. Miss Ley lifted her eyebrows; the affair was evidently more
serious that she thought. However, the danger now was over; it would
ease Bertha to stay at home and cry it out. She thought it brave of her
even to have dressed.

“You’ll get no dinner,” she said. “There’s nothing in the place.”

“Oh, I want nothing to eat.”

Miss Ley expressed her concern, and promising to make the excuses, went
away. Bertha started up when she heard the door close and went to the
window. She looked round for Gerald, fearing he might be already there;
he was incautious and eager: but if Miss Ley saw him, it would be
fatal. The hansom drove away and Bertha breathed more freely. She could
not help it; she too felt that she must see him. If they had to part, it
could not be under Miss Ley’s cold eyes.

She waited at the window, but he did not come. Why did he delay? He was
wasting their few precious minutes; it was already past eight. She
walked up and down the room and looked again, but still he was not in
sight. She fancied that while she watched he would not come, and forced
herself to read. But how could she! Again she looked out of window; and
this time Gerald was there. He stood in the porch of the opposite house,
looking up; and immediately he saw her, crossed the street. She went to
the door and opened it gently, as he came upstairs.

He slipped in as if he were a thief, and on tiptoe they entered the
drawing-room.

“Oh, it’s so good of you,” he said. “I couldn’t leave you like that. I
knew you’d stay.”

“Why have you been so long? I thought you were never coming.”

“I dared not risk it before. I was afraid something might happen to stop
Aunt Polly.”

“I said I had a headache. I dressed so that she might suspect nothing.”

The night was falling and they sat together in the dimness. Gerald took
her hands and kissed them.

“This week has been awful. I’ve never had the chance of saying a word to
you. My heart has been breaking.”

“My dearest.”

“I wondered if you were sorry I was going.”

She looked at him and tried to smile; already she could not trust
herself to speak.

“Every day I thought you would tell me to stop and you never did--and
now it’s too late. Oh, Bertha, if you loved me you wouldn’t send me
away.”

“I think I love you too much. Don’t you see it’s better that we should
part?”

“I daren’t think of to-morrow.”

“You are so young; in a little while you’ll fall in love with some one
else. Don’t you see that I’m old?”

“But I love you. Oh, I wish I could make you believe me. Bertha, Bertha,
I can’t leave you. I love you too much.”

“For God’s sake don’t talk like that. It’s hard enough to bear
already--don’t make it harder.”

The night had fallen, and through the open window the summer breeze came
in, and the softness of the air was like a kiss. They sat side by side
in silence, the boy holding Bertha’s hand; they could not speak, for
words were powerless to express what was in their hearts. But presently
a strange intoxication seized them, and the mystery of passion wrapped
them about invisibly. Bertha felt the trembling of Gerald’s hand, and it
passed to hers. She shuddered and tried to withdraw, but he would not
let it go. The silence now became suddenly intolerable: Bertha tried to
speak, but her throat was dry, and she could utter no word.

A weakness came to her limbs and her heart beat painfully. Her eye
crossed with Gerald’s, and they both looked instantly aside, as if
caught in some crime. Bertha began to breathe more quickly. Gerald’s
intense desire burned itself into her soul; she dared not move. She
tried to implore God’s help, but she could not. The temptation which all
the week had terrified her returned with double force--the temptation
which she abhorred, but to which she had a horrible longing not to
resist.

And now she asked what it mattered. Her strength was dwindling, and
Gerald had but to say a word. And now she wished him to say the word; he
loved her, and she loved him passionately. She gave way; she no longer
wished to resist. She turned her face to Gerald; she leant towards him
with parted lips.

“Bertha,” he whispered, and they were nearly in one another’s arms.

But a fine sound pierced the silence; they started back and listened.
They heard a key put into the front-door, and the door was opened.

“Take care,” whispered Bertha, and pushed Gerald away.

“It’s Aunt Polly.”

Bertha pointed to the electric switch, and understanding, Gerald turned
on the light. He looked round instinctively for some way of escape, but
Bertha, with a woman’s quick invention, sprang to the door and flung it
open.

“Is that you, Aunt Polly?” she cried. “How fortunate you came back;
Gerald is here to bid us definitely good-bye.”

“He makes as many farewells as a _prima donna_,” said Miss Ley.

She came in, somewhat breathless, with two spots of red upon her cheeks.

“I thought you wouldn’t mind if I came here to wait till you returned,”
said Gerald. “And I found Bertha.”

“How funny that our thoughts should have been identical,” said Miss Ley.
“It occurred to me that you might come, and so I hurried home as quickly
as I could.”

“You’re quite out of breath,” said Bertha.

Miss Ley sank on a chair, exhausted. As she was eating her fish and
talking to a neighbour, it suddenly dawned upon her that Bertha’s
indisposition was assumed.

“Oh, what a fool I am! They’ve hoodwinked me as if I were a child....
Good heavens, what are they doing now?”

The dinner seemed interminable, but immediately afterwards she took
leave of her astonished hostess and gave the cabman orders to drive
furiously. She arrived, inveighing against the deceitfulness of the
human race. She had never run up the stairs so quickly.

“How is your headache, Bertha?”

“Thanks, it’s much better. Gerald has driven it away.”

This time Miss Ley’s good-bye to the precocious youth was rather chilly;
she was devoutly thankful that his boat sailed next morning.

“I’ll show you out, Gerald,” said Bertha. “Don’t trouble, Aunt
Polly--you must be dreadfully tired.”

They went into the hall and Gerald put on his coat. He stretched out his
hand to Bertha without speaking, but she, with a glance at the
drawing-room, beckoned to him to follow her, and slid out of the
front-door. There was no one on the stairs. She flung her arms round his
neck and pressed her lips to his. She did not try to hide her passion
now; she clasped him to her heart, and their very souls flew to their
lips and mingled. Their kiss was rapture, madness; it was an ecstasy
beyond description, their senses were powerless to contain their
pleasure. Bertha felt herself about to die. In the bliss, in the agony,
her spirit failed and she tottered; Gerald pressed her more closely to
him.

But there was a sound of some one climbing the stairs. She tore herself
away.

“Good-bye, for ever,” she whispered, and slipping in, closed the door
between them.

She sank down half fainting, but, in fear, struggled to her feet and
dragged herself to her room. Her cheeks were glowing and her limbs
trembled, the kiss still thrilled her whole being. Oh, now it was too
late for prudence! What did she care for her marriage; what did she care
that Gerald was younger that she! She loved him, she loved him insanely;
the present was there with its infinite joy, and if the future brought
misery, it was worth suffering. She could not let him go; he was
hers--she stretched out her arms to take him in her embrace. She would
surrender everything. She would bid him stay; she would follow him to
the end of the earth. It was too late now for reason.

She walked up and down her room excitedly. She looked at the door; she
had a mad desire to go to him now--to abandon everything for his sake.
Her honour, her happiness, her station, were only precious because she
could sacrifice them for him. He was her life and her love, he was her
body and her soul. She listened at the door; Miss Ley would be watching,
and she dared not go.

“I’ll wait,” said Bertha.

She tried to sleep, but could not. The thought of Gerald distracted her.
She dozed, and his presence became more distinct. He seemed to be in the
room and she cried: “At last, my dearest, at last!” She awoke and
stretched out her hands to him; she could not realise that she had
dreamed, that nothing was there.

Then the day came, dim and gray at first, but brightening with the
brilliant summer morning; the sun shone in her window, and the sunbeams
danced in the room. Now the moments were very few, she must make up her
mind quickly--and the sunbeams spoke of life, and happiness, and the
glory of the unknown. Oh, what a fool she was to waste her life, to
throw away her chance of happiness--how weak not to grasp the love
thrown in her way! She thought of Gerald packing his things, getting
off, of the train speeding through the summer country. Her love was
irresistible. She sprang up, and bathed, and dressed. It was past six
when she slipped out of the room and made her way downstairs. The street
was empty as in the night; but the sky was blue and the air fresh and
sweet, she took a long breath and felt curiously elated. She walked till
she found a cab, and told the driver to go quickly to Euston. The cab
crawled along, and she was in an agony of impatience. Supposing she
arrived too late? She told the man to hurry.

The Liverpool train was fairly full; but Bertha walking up the crowded
platform quickly saw Gerald. He sprang towards her.

“Bertha you’ve come. I felt certain you wouldn’t let me go without
seeing you.”

He took her hands and looked at her with eyes full of love.

“I’m so glad you’ve come,” he said at last. “I want--I want to beg your
pardon.”

“What do you mean?” whispered Bertha, and suddenly she felt a dreadful
fear which gripped her heart with unendurable pain.

“I’ve been thinking of you all night, and I’m dreadfully ashamed of
myself. I must tell you how sorry I am that I’ve caused you unhappiness.
I was selfish and brutal; I only thought of myself. I forgot how much
you had to lose. Please forgive me, Bertha.”

“Oh, Gerald, Gerald.”

“I shall always be grateful to you, Bertha. I know I’ve been a beast,
but now I’m going to turn over a new leaf. You see, you have reformed me
after all.”

He tried to smile in his old, light-hearted manner; but it was a very
poor attempt. Bertha looked at him. She wished to say that she loved him
with all her heart, and was ready to accompany him to the world’s end;
but the words stuck in her throat.

“I don’t know what has happened to me,” he said, “but I seem to see
everything now so differently. Of course it is much better that I’m
going away; but it’s dreadfully hard.”

An inspector came to look at the tickets. “Is the lady going?”

“No,” said Gerald; and then, when the man had passed: “You won’t forget
me, Bertha, will you? You won’t think badly of me; I lost my head. I
didn’t realise till last night that I wanted to do you the most
frightful wrong. I didn’t understand that I should have ruined you and
your whole life.”

At last Bertha forced herself to speak. The time was flying, and she
could not understand what was passing in Gerald’s mind.

“If you only knew how much I love you!” she cried.

He had but to ask her to go and she would go. But he did not ask. Was he
repenting already? Was his love already on the wane? Bertha tried to
make herself speak again, but could not. Why did he not repeat that he
could not live without her!

“Take your seats, please! Take your seats, please!”

A guard ran along the platform. “Jump in, sir. Right behind!”

“Good-bye,” said Gerald. “May I write to you?”

She shook her head. It was too late now.

“Jump in, sir. Jump in.”

Gerald kissed her quickly and got into the carriage.

“Right away!”

The guard blew his whistle and waved a flag, and the train puffed slowly
out of the station.



Chapter XXXIII


Miss Ley was much alarmed when she got up and found that Bertha had
flown.

“Upon my word, I think that Providence is behaving scandalously. Am I
not a harmless middle-aged woman who mind my own business; what have I
done to deserve these shocks?”

She suspected that her niece had gone to the station; but the train
started at seven, and it was ten o’clock. She positively jumped when it
occurred to her that Bertha might have--eloped: and like a swarm of
abominable little demons came thoughts of the scenes she must undergo if
such were the case, the writing of the news to Edward, his
consternation, the comfort which she must administer, the fury of
Gerald’s father, the hysterics of his mother.

“She can’t have done anything so stupid,” she cried in distraction. “But
if women can make fools of themselves, they always do!”

Miss Ley was extraordinarily relieved when at last she heard Bertha come
in and go to her room.

Bertha for a long time had stood motionless on the platform, staring
haggardly before her, stupefied. The excitement of the previous hours
was followed by utter blankness; Gerald was speeding to Liverpool, and
she was still in London. She walked out of the station, and turned
towards Chelsea. The streets were endless, and she was already tired;
almost fainting, she dragged herself along. She did not know the way,
and wandered hopelessly, barely conscious. In Hyde Park she sat down to
rest, feeling utterly exhausted; but the weariness of her body relieved
the terrible aching of her heart. She walked on after a while; it never
occurred to her to take a cab, and eventually she came to Eliot
Mansions. The sun had grown hot, and burned the crown of her head with
ghastly torture. Bertha crawled upstairs to her room, and throwing
herself on the bed, burst into tears of bitter anguish. She wept
desperately, and clenched her hands.

“Oh,” she cried at last, “I dare say he was as worthless as the other.”

Miss Ley sent to inquire if she would eat, but Bertha now really had a
bad headache, and could touch nothing. All day she spent in agony,
hardly able to think--despairing. Sometimes she reproached herself for
denying Gerald when he asked her to let him stay, she had wilfully lost
the happiness that was within her reach: and then, with a revulsion of
feeling, she repeated that he was worthless. The dreary hours passed,
and when night came Bertha scarcely had strength to undress; and not
till the morning did she get rest. But the early post brought a letter
from Edward, repeating his wish that she should return to Court Leys.
She read it listlessly.

“Perhaps it’s the best thing to do,” she groaned.

She hated London now and the flat; the rooms must be horribly bare
without the joyous presence of Gerald. To return to Court Leys seemed
the only course left to her, and there at least she would have quiet and
solitude. She thought almost with longing of the desolate shore, the
marshes and the dreary sea; she wanted rest and silence. But if she
went, she had better go at once; to stay in London was only to prolong
her woe.

Bertha rose, and dressed, and went to Miss Ley; her face was deathly
pale, and her eyes heavy and red with weeping. In exhaustion she made no
attempt to hide her condition.

“I’m going down to Court Leys to-day, Aunt Polly. I think it’s the best
thing I can do.”

“Edward will be very pleased to see you.”

“I think he will.”

Miss Ley hesitated, looking at Bertha.

“You know, Bertha,” she said, after a pause, “in this world it’s very
difficult to know what to do. One struggles to know good from evil--but
really they’re often so very much alike.... I always think those people
fortunate who are content to stand, without question, by the ten
commandments, knowing exactly how to conduct themselves, and propped up
by the hope of Paradise on the one hand, and by the fear of a
cloven-footed devil with pincers, on the other.... But we who answer
_Why_ to the crude _Thou Shalt Not_, are like sailors on a wintry sea
without a compass. Reason and instinct say one thing, and convention
says another. But the worst of it is that one’s conscience has been
reared on the Decalogue, and fostered on hell-fire--and one’s conscience
has the last word. I dare say it’s cowardly, but it’s certainly
discreet, to take it into consideration. It’s like lobster salad; it’s
not actually immoral to eat it, but it will very likely give you
indigestion.... One has to be very sure of oneself to go against the
ordinary view of things; and if one isn’t, perhaps it’s better not to
run any risks, but just to walk along the same secure old road as the
common herd. It’s not exhilarating, it’s not brave, and it’s rather
dull; but it’s eminently safe.”

Bertha sighed, but did not answer.

“You’d better tell Jane to pack your boxes,” said Miss Ley. “Shall I
wire to Edward?”

When Bertha had at last started, Miss Ley began to think.

“I wonder if I’ve done right,” she murmured, uncertain as ever.

She was sitting on the piano-stool, and as she meditated, her fingers
passed idly over the keys. Presently her ear detected the beginning of a
well-known melody, and almost unconsciously she began to play the air of
_Rigoletto_.

    _La Donna è mobile_
    _Qual piuma al vento._

Miss Ley smiled. “The fact is that few women can be happy with only one
husband. I believe that the only solution of the marriage question is
legalised polyandry.”

In the train at Victoria, Bertha remembered with relief that the
cattle-market was held at Tercanbury that day, and Edward would not come
home till the evening. She would have opportunity to settle herself in
Court Leys without fuss or bother. Full of her painful thoughts, the
journey passed quickly, and Bertha was surprised to find herself at
Blackstable. She got out, wondering whether Edward would have sent a
trap to meet her--but to her extreme surprise Edward himself was on the
platform, and running up, helped her out of the carriage.

“Here you are at last!” he cried.

“I didn’t expect you,” said Bertha. “I thought you’d be at Tercanbury.”

“I got your wire fortunately just as I was starting, so of course I
didn’t go.”

“I’m sorry I prevented you.”

“Why? I’m jolly glad. You didn’t think I was going to the cattle-market
when my missus was coming home?”

She looked at him with astonishment; his honest, red face glowed with
the satisfaction he felt at seeing her.

“By Jove, this is ripping,” he said, as they drove away. “I’m tired of
being a grass-widower, I can tell you.”

They came to Corstal Hill and he walked the horse.

“Just look behind you,” he said, in an undertone. “Notice any thing?”

“What?”

“Look at Parke’s hat.” Parke was the footman.

Bertha, looking again, observed a cockade.

“What d’you think of that, eh?” Edward was almost exploding with
laughter. “I was elected chairman of the Urban District Council
yesterday; that means I’m _ex-officio_ J.P. So, as soon as I heard you
were coming, I bolted off and got a cockade.”

When they reached Court Leys, he helped Bertha out of the trap quite
tenderly. She was taken aback to find the tea ready, flowers in the
drawing-room, and everything possible done to make her comfortable.

“Are you tired?” asked Edward. “Lie down on the sofa and I’ll give you
your tea.”

He waited on her and pressed her to eat, and was, in fact, unceasing in
his attentions.

“By Jove, I am glad to see you here again.”

His pleasure was obvious, and Bertha was somewhat touched.

“Are you too tired to come for a little walk in the garden? I want to
show what I’ve done for you, and just now the place is looking its
best.”

He put a shawl round her shoulders, so that the evening air might not
hurt her, and insisted on giving her his arm.

“Now, look here; I’ve planted rose-trees outside the drawing-room
window; I thought you’d like to see them when you sat in your favourite
place, reading.”

He took her farther, to a place which offered a fine prospect of the
sea.

“I’ve put a bench here, between those two trees, so that you might sit
down sometimes, and look at the view.”

“It’s very kind of you to be so thoughtful. Shall we sit there now?”

“Oh, I think you’d better not. There’s a good deal of dew, and I don’t
want you to catch cold.”

For dinner Edward had ordered the dishes which he knew Bertha preferred,
and he laughed joyously, as she expressed her pleasure. Afterwards when
she lay on the sofa, he arranged the cushions so as to make her quite
easy.

“Ah, my dear,” she thought, “if you’d been half as kind three years ago
you might have kept my love.”

She wondered whether absence had increased his affection, or whether it
was she who had altered. Was he not unchanging as the rocks, and she
knew herself unstable as water, mutable as the summer winds. Had he
always been kind and considerate; and had she, demanding a passion which
it was not in him to feel, been blind to his deep tenderness? Expecting
nothing from him now, she was astonished to find he had so much to
offer. But she felt sorry if he loved her, for she could give nothing in
return but complete indifference; she was even surprised to find
herself so utterly callous.

At bedtime she bade him good-night, and kissed his cheek.

“I’ve had the red room arranged for me,” she said.

There was no change in Blackstable. Bertha’s friends still lived, for
the death-rate of that fortunate place was their pride, and they could
do nothing to increase it. Arthur Branderton had married a pretty,
fair-haired girl, nicely bred, and properly insignificant; but the only
result of that was to give his mother a new topic of conversation.
Bertha, resuming her old habits, had difficulty in realising that she
had been long away. She set herself to forget Gerald, and was pleased to
find the recollection of him not too importunate. A sentimentalist
turned cynic has observed that a woman is only passionately devoted to
her first lover, for afterwards it is love itself of which she is
enamoured; and certainly the wounds of later attachments heal easily.
Bertha was devoutly grateful to Miss Ley for her opportune return on
Gerald’s last night, and shuddered to think of what might otherwise have
happened.

“It would have been too awful,” she cried.

She could not understand what sudden madness had seized her, and the
thought of the danger she had run, made Bertha’s cheeks tingle. Her
heart turned sick at the mere remembrance. She was thoroughly ashamed of
that insane excursion to Euston, intent upon the most dreadful courses.
She felt like a person who from the top of a tower has been so horribly
tempted to throw himself down, that only the restraining hand of a
bystander has saved him; and then afterwards from below shivers and
sweats at the idea of his peril. But worse than the shame was the dread
of ridicule; for the whole affair had been excessively undignified: she
had run after a hobbledehoy years younger than herself, and had even
fallen seriously in love with him. It was too grotesque. Bertha imagined
the joy it must cause Miss Ley. She could not forgive Gerald that, on
his account, she had made herself absurd. She saw that he was a fickle
boy, prepared to philander with every woman he met; and at last told
herself scornfully that she had never really cared for him.

But in a little while Bertha received a letter from America, forwarded
by Miss Ley. She turned white as she recognised the handwriting: the old
emotions came surging back, and she thought of Gerald’s green eyes, and
of his boyish lips; and she felt sick with love. She looked at the
superscription, at the post mark; and then put the letter down.

“I told him not to write,” she murmured.

A feeling of anger seized her that the sight of a letter from Gerald
should bring her such pain. She almost hated him now; and yet with all
her heart she wished to kiss the paper and every word that was written
upon it. But the sheer violence of her emotions made her set her teeth,
as it were, against giving way.

“I won’t read it,” she said.

She wanted to prove to herself that she had strength; and this
temptation at least she was determined to resist. Bertha lit a candle
and took the letter in her hand to burn it, but then put it down again.
That would settle the matter too quickly, and she wanted rather to
prolong the trial so as to receive full assurance of her fortitude. With
a strange pleasure at the pain she was preparing for herself, Bertha
placed the letter on the chimneypiece of her room, prominently, so that
whenever she went in or out, she could not fail to see it. Wishing to
punish herself, her desire was to make the temptation as distressing as
possible.

She watched the unopened envelope for a month and sometimes the craving
to open it was almost irresistible; sometimes she awoke in the middle of
the night, thinking of Gerald, and told herself she must know what he
said. Ah, how well she could imagine it! He vowed he loved her and he
spoke of the kiss she had given him on that last day, and he said it was
dreadfully hard to be without her. Bertha looked at the letter,
clenching her hands so as not to seize it and tear it open; she had to
hold herself forcibly back from covering it with kisses. But at last
she conquered all desire, she was able to look at the handwriting
indifferently; she scrutinised her heart and found no trace of emotion.
The trial was complete.

“Now it can go,” she said.

Again she lit a candle, and held the letter to the flame till it was all
consumed; and she gathered up the ashes, putting them in her hand, and
blew them out of the window. She felt that by that act she had finished
with the whole thing, and Gerald was definitely gone out of her life.

       *       *       *       *       *

But rest did not yet come to Bertha’s troubled soul. At first she found
her life fairly tolerable; but she had now no emotions to distract her
and the routine of her day was unvarying. The weeks passed and the
months; the winter came upon her, more dreary than she had ever known
it; the country became insufferably dull. The days were gray and cold,
and the clouds so low that she could almost touch them. The broad fields
which once had afforded such inspiring thoughts were now merely tedious,
and all the rural sights sank into her mind with a pitiless monotony;
day after day, month after month, she saw the same things. She was bored
to death.

Sometimes Bertha wandered to the seashore and looked across the desolate
waste of water; she longed to travel as her eyes and her mind travelled,
south, south to the azure skies, to the lands of beauty and of sunshine
beyond the grayness. Fortunately she did not know that she was looking
almost directly north, and that if she really went on and on as she
desired, would reach no southern lands of pleasure, but merely the North
Pole!

She walked along the beach, among the countless shells; and not content
with present disquietude, tortured herself with anticipation of the
future. She could only imagine that it would bring an increase of this
frightful ennui, and her head ached as she looked forward to the dull
monotony of her life. She went home, and groaned as she entered the
house, thinking of the tiresome evening. Invariably after dinner they
played piquet. Edward liked to conduct his life on the most mechanical
lines, and regularly, as the clock struck nine, he said: “Shall we have
a little game?” Bertha fetched the cards while he arranged the chairs.
They played six hands. Edward added up the score and chuckled when he
won. Bertha put the cards away, her husband replaced the chairs; and so
it went on night after night, automatically.

Bertha was seized with the intense restlessness of utter boredom. She
would walk up and down her room in a fever of almost physical agony. She
would sit at the piano, and cease playing after half-a-dozen bars--music
seemed as futile as everything else; she had done everything so often.
She tried to read, but could hardly bring herself to begin a new volume,
and the very sight of the printed pages was distasteful: the works of
information told her things she did not want to know, the novels related
deeds of persons in whom she took no interest. She read a few pages and
threw down the book in disgust. Then she went out again--anything seemed
preferable to what she actually was doing--she walked rapidly, but the
motion, the country, the very atmosphere about her, were wearisome; and
almost immediately she returned. Bertha was forced to take the same
walks day after day; and the deserted roads, the trees, the hedges, the
fields, impressed themselves on her mind with a dismal insistency. Then
she was driven to go out merely for exercise, and walked a certain
number of miles, trying to get them done quickly. The winds of the early
year blew that season more persistently than ever, and they impeded her
steps, and chilled her to the bone.

Sometimes Bertha paid visits, and the restraint she had to put upon
herself relieved her for the moment, but no sooner was the door closed
behind her than she felt more desperately bored than ever.

Yearning suddenly for society, she would send out invitations for some
function; then felt it inexpressibly irksome to make preparations, and
she loathed and abhorred her guests. For a long time she refused to see
any one, protesting her feeble health; and sometimes in the solitude
she thought she would go mad. She turned to prayer as the only refuge of
those who cannot act, but she only half believed, and therefore found no
comfort. She accompanied Miss Glover on her district visiting, but she
disliked the poor, and their chatter seemed hopelessly inane. The ennui
made her head ache, and she put her hand to her temples, pressing them
painfully; she felt she could take great wisps of her hair and tear it
out.

She threw herself on her bed and wept in the agony of boredom. Edward
once found her thus, and asked what was the matter.

“Oh, my head aches, so that I feel I could kill myself.”

He sent for Ramsay, but Bertha knew the doctor’s remedies were absurd
and useless. She imagined that there was no remedy for her ill--not even
time--no remedy but death.

She knew the terrible distress of waking in the morning with the thought
that still another day must be gone through; she knew the relief of
bed-time with the thought that she would enjoy a few hours of
unconsciousness. She was racked with the imagination of the future’s
frightful monotony: night would follow day, and day would follow night,
the months passing one by one and the years slowly, slowly.

They say that life is short. To those who look back perhaps it is; but
to those who look forward it is long, horribly long--endless. Sometimes
Bertha felt it impossible to endure. She prayed that she might fall
asleep at night and never awake. How happy must be the lives of those
who can look forward to eternity! To Bertha the idea was merely ghastly;
she desired nothing but the long rest, the rest of an endless sleep, the
dissolution into nothing.

Once in desperation she wished to kill herself, but was afraid. People
say that suicide requires no courage. Fools! They cannot realise the
horror of the needful preparation, the anticipation of the pain, the
terrible fear that one may regret when it is too late, when life is
ebbing away. And there is the dread of the unknown. And there is the
dread of hell-fire--absurd and revolting, yet so engrained that no
effort is able entirely to destroy it. Notwithstanding reason and
argument there is still the numbing fear that the ghastly fables of our
childhood may after all be true, the fear of a jealous God who will doom
His wretched creatures to unending torture.



Chapter XXXIV


But if the human soul, or the heart, or the mind--call it what you
will--is an instrument upon which countless melodies may be played, it
is capable of responding for very long to no single one. Time dulls the
most exquisite emotions, softens the most heartrending grief. The story
is old of the philosopher who sought to console a woman in distress by
the account of tribulations akin to hers, and upon losing his only son
was sent by her a list of all kings similarly bereaved. He read it,
acknowledged its correctness, but wept none the less. Three months later
the philosopher and the lady were surprised to find one another quite
gay, and erected a fine monument to Time with the inscription: _A celui
qui console_.

When Bertha vowed that life had lost all savour, that her ennui was
unending, she exaggerated as usual, and almost grew angry on discovering
that existence could be more supportable than she supposed.

One gets used to all things. It is only very misanthropic persons who
pretend that they cannot accustom themselves to the stupidity of their
fellows; for, after a while, one gets hardened to the most desperate
bores, and monotony even ceases to be quite monotonous. Accommodating
herself to circumstances, Bertha found life less tedious; it was a calm
river, and presently she came to the conclusion that it ran more easily
without the cascades and waterfalls, the eddies, whirlpools and rocks,
which had disturbed its course. The man who can still dupe himself with
illusions has a future not lacking in brightness.

The summer brought a certain variety, and Bertha found amusement in
things which before had never interested her. She went to sheltered
parts to see if favourite wild flowers had begun to blow: her love of
liberty made her prefer the hedge-roses to the pompous blooms of the
garden, the buttercups and daisies of the field to the prim geranium,
and the calcellaria. Time fled and she was surprised to find the year
pass imperceptibly. She began to read with greater zest, and in her
favourite seat, on the sofa by the window, spent long hours of pleasure.
She read as fancy prompted her, without a plan, because she wished and
not because she ought (how can they say that England is decadent when
its young ladies are so strenuous!). She obtained pleasure by
contrasting different writers, gaining emotions from the gravity of one
and the frivolity of the next. She went from the latest novel to the
_Orlando Furioso_, from the _Euphues_ of John Lyly (most entertaining
and whimsical of books!) to the passionate corruption of Verlaine. With
a lifetime before her, the length of books was no hindrance, and she
started boldly upon the eight volumes of the _Decline and Fall_, upon
the many tomes of St. Simon: and she never hesitated to put them aside
after a hundred pages.

Bertha found reality tolerable when it was merely a background, a foil
to the fantastic happenings of old books. She looked at the green trees,
and the song of birds mingled agreeably with her thoughts still
occupied, perhaps, with the Dolorous Knight of La Mancha, with Manon
Lescaut, or with the joyous band that wanders through the _Decameron_.
With greater knowledge came greater curiosity, and she forsook the broad
highroads of literature for the mountain pathways of some obscure poet,
for the bridle-tracks of the Spanish picaroon. She found unexpected
satisfaction in the half-forgotten masterpieces of the past, in poets
not quite divine whom fashion had left on one side, in the playwrights,
and novelists, and essayists, whose remembrance lives only with the
bookworm. It is a relief sometimes to look away from the bright sun of
perfect achievement; and the writers who appealed to their age and not
to posterity, have by contrast a subtle charm. Undazzled by their
splendour, one may discern more easily their individualities and the
spirit of their time; they have pleasant qualities not always found
among their betters, and there is even a certain pathos in their
incomplete success.

In music also Bertha developed a taste for the half known, the half
archaic. It suited the Georgian drawing-room with its old pictures, with
its Chippendale and chintz, to play the simple melodies of Couperin and
Rameau; the rondos, the gavottes, the sonatinas in powder and patch,
which delighted the rococo lords and ladies of a past century.

Living away from the present, in an artificial paradise, Bertha was
almost completely happy. She found indifference to the whole world a
trusty armour: life was easy without love or hate, hope or despair,
without ambition, desire of change, or tumultuous passion. So bloom the
flowers; unconscious, uncaring, the bud bursts from the enclosing leaf,
and opens to the sunshine, squanders its perfume to the breeze and there
is none to see its beauty--and then it dies.

Bertha found it possible to look back upon the past years with something
like amusement. It seemed now melodramatic to have loved the simple
Edward with such violence, and she was able even to smile at the
contrast between her vivid expectations and the flat reality. Gerald was
a pleasantly sentimental memory; she did not wish to see him again, but
thought of him often, idealising him till he became unsubstantial as a
character in a favourite book. Her winter in Italy also formed the
motive of some of her most delightful thoughts, and she determined never
to spoil the impression by another visit. She had advanced a good deal
in the art of life when she realised that pleasure came by surprise,
that happiness was a spirit which descended unawares, and seldom when it
was sought.

Edward had fallen into a life of such activity that his time was
entirely taken up. He had added largely to the Ley estate, and, with the
second-rate man’s belief that you must do a thing yourself to have it
well done, kept the farms under his immediate supervision. He was an
important member of all the rural bodies: he was on the School Board,
on the Board of Guardians, on the County Council; he was chairman of the
Urban District Council, president of the Leanham cricket club, president
of the Faversley football club; patron of the Blackstable regatta; he
was on the committee of the Tercanbury dog-show, and an enthusiastic
supporter of the Mid-Kent Agricultural Exhibition. He was a pillar of
the Blackstable Conservative Association, a magistrate, and a
churchwarden. Finally he was an ardent Freemason, and flew over Kent to
attend the meetings of the half-dozen lodges of which he was a member.
But the amount of work did not disturb him.

“Lord bless you,” he said, “I love work. You can’t give me too much. If
there’s anything to be done, come to me and I’ll do it, and say thank
you for giving me the chance.”

Edward had always been even-tempered, but now his good-nature was quite
angelic. It became a byword. His success was according to his deserts,
and to have him concerned in a matter was an excellent insurance. He was
always jovial and gay, contented with himself and with the world at
large; he was a model squire, landlord, farmer, conservative, man,
Englishman. He did everything thoroughly, and his energy was such that
he made a point of putting into every concern twice as much work as it
really needed. He was busy from morning till night (as a rule quite
unnecessarily), and he gloried in it.

“It shows I’m an excellent woman,” said Bertha to Miss Glover, “to
support his virtues with equanimity.”

“My dear, I think you ought to be very proud and happy. He’s an example
to the whole county. If he were my husband, I should be grateful to
God.”

“I have much to be thankful for,” murmured Bertha.

Since he let her go her own way and she was only too pleased that he
should go his, there was really no possibility of difference, and
Edward, wise man, came to the conclusion that he had effectually tamed
his wife. He thought, with good-humoured scorn, that he had been quite
right when he likened women to chickens, animals which, to be happy,
required no more than a good run, well fenced in, where they could
scratch about to their heart’s content.

“Feed ’em regularly, and let ’em cackle; and there you are!”

It is always satisfactory when experience verifies the hypothesis of
your youth.

One year, remembering by accident their wedding-day, Edward gave his
wife a bracelet; and feeling benevolent in consequence, and having dined
well, he patted her hand and remarked:--

“Time does fly, doesn’t it?”

“I have heard people say so,” she replied, smiling.

“Well, who’d have thought we’d been married eight years! it doesn’t seem
above eighteen months to me. And we’ve got on very well, haven’t we?”

“My dear Edward, you are such a model husband. It quite embarrasses me
sometimes.”

“Ha, ha! that’s a good one. But I can say this for myself, I do try to
do my duty. Of course at first we had our little tiffs--people have to
get used to one another, and one can’t expect to have all plain sailing
just at once. But for years now--well, ever since you went to Italy, I
think, we’ve been as happy as the day is long, haven’t we?”

“Yes, dear.”

“When I look back at the little rumpuses we used to have, upon my word,
I wonder what they were all about.”

“So do I.” And this Bertha said quite truthfully.

“I suppose it was just the weather.”

“I dare say.”

“Ah, well--all’s well that ends well.”

“My dear Edward, you’re a philosopher.”

“I don’t know about that--but I think I’m a politician; which reminds me
that I’ve not read about the new men-of-war in to-day’s paper. What I’ve
been agitating about for years is more ships and more guns--I’m glad to
see the Government have taken my advice at last.”

“It’s very satisfactory, isn’t it? It will encourage you to persevere.
And, of course, it’s nice to know that the Cabinet read your speeches in
the _Blackstable Times_.”

“I think it would be a good sight better for the country if those in
power paid more attention to provincial opinion. It’s men like me who
really know the feeling of the nation. You might get me the paper, will
you--it’s in the dining-room.”

It seemed quite natural to Edward that Bertha should wait upon him: it
was the duty of a wife. She handed him the _Standard_, and he began to
read; he yawned once or twice.

“Lord, I am sleepy.”

Presently he could not keep his eyes open, the paper dropped from his
hand, and he sank back in his chair with legs outstretched, his hands
resting comfortably on his stomach. His head lolled to one side and his
jaw dropped, and he began to snore. Bertha read. After a while he woke
with a start.

“Bless me, I do believe I’ve been asleep,” he cried. “Well, I’m dead
tired, I think I shall go to bed. I suppose you won’t come up yet?”

“Not just yet.”

“Well, don’t stay up too late, there’s a good girl, it’s not good for
you; and put the lights out properly when you come.”

She turned to him her cheek, which he kissed, stifling a yawn; then he
rolled upstairs.

“There’s one advantage in Edward,” murmured Bertha. “No one could accuse
him of being uxorious.”

_Mariage à la mode._

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha’s solitary walk was to the sea. The shore between Blackstable and
the Medway was extraordinarily wild. At distant intervals were the long,
low buildings of the coastguard stations; and the clean, pink walls, the
neat railings, the well-kept gravel, contrasted rather surprisingly with
the surrounding desolation. One could walk for miles without meeting a
soul, and the country spread out from the sea, low and flat and marshy.
The beach was of countless shells of every possible variety, which
crumbled under foot; while here and there were great banks of seaweed
and bits of wood or rope, the jetsam of a thousand tides. In one spot, a
few yards out but high and dry at low water, were the remains of an old
hulk, whose wooden ribs stood out weirdly like the skeleton of some huge
sea-beast. And then all round was the lonely sea, with never a ship nor
a fishing-smack in sight. In winter it was as if a spirit of solitude,
like a mystic shroud, had descended upon the shore and upon the desert
waters.

Then, in the melancholy, in the dreariness, Bertha found a subtle
fascination. The sky was a threatening heavy cloud, low down; and the
wind tore along shouting, screaming, and whistling: there was panic in
the turbulent sea, murky and yellow, and the waves leaped up, one at the
other’s heels, and beat down on the beach with an angry roar. It was
desolate, desolate; the sea was so merciless that the very sight
appalled one: it was a wrathful power, beating forwards, ever wrathfully
beating forwards, roaring with pain when the chains that bound it
wrenched it back; and after each desperate effort it shrank with a yell
of anguish. And the seagulls swayed above the waves in their melancholy
flight, rising and falling with the wind.

Bertha loved also the calm of winter, when the sea-mist and the mist of
heaven were one; when the sea was silent and heavy, and the solitary
gull flew screeching over the gray waters, screeching mournfully. She
loved the calm of summer when the sky was cloudless and infinite. Then
she spent long hours, lying at the water’s edge, delighted with the
solitude and with her absolute peace. The sea, placid as a lake, unmoved
by the lightest ripple, was a looking-glass reflecting the glory of
heaven; and it turned to fire when the sun sank in the west; it was a
sea of molten copper, red, brilliant, so that the eyes were dazzled. A
troop of seagulls slept on the water; and there were hundreds of them,
motionless and silent; one arose now and then, and flew for a moment
with heavy wing, and sank down, and all was still.

Once the coolness was so tempting that Bertha could not resist it.
Timidly, rapidly, she slipped off her clothes and looking round to see
that there was really no one in sight, stepped in. The wavelets about
her feet made her shiver a little, and then with a splash, stretching
out her arms, she ran forward, and half fell, half dived into the water.
Now it was delightful; she rejoiced in the freedom of her limbs, for it
was an unknown pleasure to swim unhampered by costume. It gave a fine
sense of power, and the salt water, lapping round her, was wonderfully
exhilarating. She wanted to sing aloud in the joy of her heart. Diving
below the surface, she came up with a shake of the head and a little cry
of delight; then her hair was loosened and with a motion it all came
tumbling about her shoulders and trailed out in its ringlets over the
water.

She swam out, a fearless swimmer; and it gave her a feeling of strength
and independence to have the deep waters all about her, the deep calm
sea of summer; she turned on her back and floated, trying to look the
sun in the face. The sea glimmered with the sunbeams and the sky was
dazzling. Then, returning, Bertha floated again, quite near the shore;
it amused her to lie on her back, rocked by the tiny waves, and to sink
her ears so that she could hear the shingle rub together curiously with
the ebb and flow of the tide. She shook out her long hair and it
stretched about her like an aureole.

She exulted in her youth--in her youth? Bertha felt no older than when
she was eighteen, and yet--she was thirty. The thought made her wince;
for she had never realised the passage of the years, she had never
imagined that her youth was waning. Did people think her already old?
The sickening fear came to her that she resembled Miss Hancock,
attempting by archness and by an assumption of frivolity, to persuade
her neighbours that she was juvenile. Bertha asked herself whether she
was ridiculous when she rolled in the water like a young girl: you
cannot act the mermaid with crow’s feet about your eyes, with wrinkles
round your mouth. In a panic she dressed herself, and going home, flew
to a looking-glass. She scrutinised her features as she had never done
before, searching anxiously for the signs she feared to see; she looked
at her neck and at her eyes: her skin was as smooth as ever, her teeth
as perfect. She gave a sigh of relief.

“I see no difference.”

Then, doubly to reassure herself, a fantastic idea seized Bertha to
dress as though she were going to a great ball; she wished to see
herself to all advantage. She chose the most splendid gown she had, and
took out her jewels. The Leys had sold every vestige of their old
magnificence, but their diamonds, with characteristic obstinacy, they
had invariably declined to part with; and they lay aside, year after
year unused, the stones in their old settings, dulled with dust and
neglect. The moisture still in Bertha’s hair was an excuse to do it
capriciously, and she placed in it the beautiful tiara which her
grandmother had worn in the Regency. On her shoulders she wore two
ornaments exquisitely set in gold-work, purloined by a great-uncle in
the Peninsular War from the saint of a Spanish church. She slipped a
string of pearls round her neck, bracelets on her arms, and fastened a
glistening row of stars to her bosom. Knowing she had beautiful hands,
Bertha disdained to wear rings, but now she covered her fingers with
diamonds and emeralds and sapphires.

Finally she stood before the looking-glass, and gave a laugh of
pleasure. She was not old yet.

But when she sailed into the drawing-room, Edward jumped up in surprise.

“Good Lord!” he cried. “What on earth’s up! Have we got people coming to
dinner?”

“My dear, if we had, I should not have dressed like this.”

“You’re got up as if the Prince of Wales were coming. And I’m only in
knickerbockers. It’s not our wedding-day?”

“No.”

“Then I should like to know why you’ve dressed yourself up like that.”

“I thought it would please you,” she said, smiling.

“I wish you’d told me--I’d have dressed too. Are you sure no one’s
coming?”

“Quite sure.”

“Well, I think I ought to dress. It would look so queer if some one
turned up.”

“If any one does, I promise you I’ll fly.”

They went in to dinner, Edward feeling very uncomfortable, and keeping
his ear alert for the front-door bell. They ate their soup, and then
were set on the table--the remains of a cold leg of mutton and mashed
potatoes. Bertha looked for a moment blankly, and then, leaning back,
burst into peal upon peal of laughter.

“Good Lord, what is the matter now?” asked Edward.

Nothing is more annoying than to have people violently hilarious over a
joke that you cannot see.

Bertha held her sides and tried to speak.

“I’ve just remembered that I told the servants they might go out
to-night, there’s a circus at Blackstable; and I said we’d just eat up
the odds and ends.”

“I don’t see any joke in that.”

And really there was none, but Bertha laughed again immoderately.

“I suppose there are some pickles,” said Edward.

Bertha repressed her gaiety and began to eat.

“That is my whole life,” she murmured under her breath, “to eat cold
mutton and mashed potatoes in a ball-dress and all my diamonds.”



Chapter XXXV


But in the winter of that very year Edward, while hunting, had an
accident. For years he had made a practice of riding unmanageable
horses, and he never heard of a vicious beast without wishing to try it.
He knew that he was a fine rider, and since he was never shy of parading
his powers, nor loath to taunt others on the score of inferior skill or
courage, he preferred difficult animals. It gratified him to see people
point to him and say, “There’s a good rider:” and his best joke with
some person on a horse that pulled or refused, was to cry: “You don’t
seem friends with your gee; would you like to try mine?” And then,
touching its sides with his spurs, he set it prancing. He was merciless
with the cautious hunters who looked for low parts of a hedge or tried
to get through a gate instead of over it; and when any one said a jump
was dangerous, Edward with a laugh promptly went for it, shouting as he
did so--

“I wouldn’t try it if I were you. You might fall off.”

He had just bought a roan for a mere song, because it jumped
uncertainly, and had a trick of swinging a fore-leg as it rose. He took
it out on the earliest opportunity, and the first two hedges and a ditch
the horse cleared easily. Edward thought that once again he had got for
almost nothing a hunter that merely wanted riding properly to behave
like a lamb. They rode on, and came to a post and rail fence.

“Now, my beauty, this’ll show what you’re made of.”

He took the horse up in a canter, and pressed his legs; the horse did
not rise, but swerved round suddenly.

“No, you don’t,” said Edward, taking him back.

He dug his spurs in, and the horse cantered up, and refused again. This
time Edward grew angry. Arthur Branderton came flying by, and having
many old scores to pay, laughed loudly.

“Why don’t you get down and walk over?” he shouted, as he passed Edward
and took the jump.

“I’ll either get over or break my neck,” said Edward, setting his teeth.

But he did neither. He set the roan at the jump for the fourth time,
hitting him with his crop; the beast rose, and then letting the fore-leg
swing, came down with a crash.

Edward fell heavily, and for a minute was stunned. When he recovered
consciousness, he found some one pouring brandy down his neck.

“Is the horse hurt?” he asked, not thinking of himself.

“No; he’s all right. How d’you feel?”

A young surgeon was in the field, and rode up. “What’s the matter? Any
one injured?”

“No,” said Edward, struggling to his feet, somewhat annoyed at the
exhibition he thought he was making of himself. “One would think none of
you fellows had ever seen a man come down before. I’ve seen most of you
come off often enough.”

He walked up to the horse, and put his foot in the stirrup.

“You’d better go home, Craddock,” said the surgeon. “I expect you’re a
bit shaken up.”

“Go home be damned. Confound!” As he tried to mount, Edward felt a pain
at the top of his chest. “I believe I’ve broken something.”

The surgeon went up and helped him off with his coat. He twisted
Edward’s arm.

“Does that hurt?”

“A bit.”

“You’ve broken your collar-bone,” said the surgeon, after a moment’s
examination.

“I thought I’d smashed something. How long will it take to mend?”

“Only three weeks. You needn’t be alarmed.”

“I’m not alarmed, but I suppose I shall have to give up hunting for at
least a month.”

Edward was driven to Dr. Ramsay, who bandaged him and sent him back to
Court Leys. Bertha was surprised to see him in a dogcart. Edward by now
had recovered his good temper, and explained the occurrence, laughing.

“It’s nothing to make a fuss about. Only I’m bandaged up so that I feel
like a mummy, and I don’t know how I’m going to get a bath. That’s what
worries me.”

Next day Arthur Branderton came to see him. “You’ve found your match at
last, Craddock.”

“Me? Not much! I shall be all right in a month, and then out I go
again.”

“I wouldn’t ride him again, if I were you. It’s not worth it. With that
trick of his of swinging his leg, you’ll break your neck.”

“Bah,” said Edward, scornfully. “The horse hasn’t been built that I
can’t ride.”

“You’re a good weight now, and your bones aren’t as supple as when you
were twenty. The next fall you have will be a bad one.”

“Rot, man! One would think I was eighty; I’ve never funked a horse yet,
and I’m not going to begin now.”

Branderton shrugged his shoulders, and said nothing more at the time,
but afterwards spoke to Bertha privately.

“You know, I think, if I were you, I’d persuade Edward to get rid of
that horse. I don’t think he ought to ride it again. It’s not safe.
However well he rides, it won’t save him if the beast has got a bad
trick.”

Bertha had in this particular great faith in her husband’s skill.
Whatever he could not do, he was certainly one of the finest riders in
the county; but she spoke to him notwithstanding.

“Pooh, that’s all rot!” he said. “I tell you what, on the 11th of next
month we go over pretty well the same ground; and I’m going out, and I
swear he’s going over that post and rail in Coulter’s field.”

“You’re very incautious.”

“No, I’m not. I know exactly what a horse can do. And I know that horse
can jump if he wants to, and by George, I’ll make him. Why, if I funked
it now I could never ride again. When a chap gets to be near forty and
has a bad fall, the only thing is to go for it again at once, or he’ll
lose his nerve and never get it back. I’ve seen that over and over
again.”

Miss Glover later on, when Edward’s bandages were removed and he was
fairly well, begged Bertha to use her influence with him.

“I’ve heard he’s a most dangerous horse, Bertha. I think it would be
madness for Edward to ride him.”

“I’ve begged him to sell it, but he merely laughs at me,” said Bertha.
“He’s extremely obstinate and I have very little power over him.”

“Aren’t you dreadfully frightened?”

Bertha laughed. “No, I’m really not. You know he always has ridden
dangerous horses and he’s never come to any harm. When we were first
married I used to go through agonies. Every time he hunted I used to
think he’d be brought home dead on a stretcher. But he never was, and I
calmed down by degrees.”

“I wonder you could.”

“My dear, no one can keep on being frightfully agitated for ten years.
People who live on volcanoes forget all about it; and you’d soon get
used to sitting on barrels of gunpowder if you had no armchair.”

“Never!” said Miss Glover, with conviction, seeing a vivid picture of
herself in such a position.

Miss Glover was unaltered. Time passed over her head powerlessly; she
still looked anything between five-and-twenty and forty, her hair was no
more washed-out, her figure in its armour of black cloth was as juvenile
as ever; and not a new idea nor a thought had entered her mind. She was
like Alice’s queen, who ran at the top of her speed and remained in the
same place; but with Miss Glover the process was reversed: the world
moved on, apparently faster and faster as the century drew near its end,
but she remained fixed--an incarnation of the eighteen-eighties.

The day before the 11th arrived. The hounds were to meet at the _Share
and Coulter_, as when Edward had been thrown. He sent for Dr. Ramsay to
assure Bertha that he was quite fit; and after the examination, brought
him into the drawing-room.

“Dr. Ramsay says my collar-bone is stronger than ever.”

“But I don’t think he ought to ride the roan notwithstanding. Can’t you
persuade Edward not to, Bertha?”

Bertha looked from the doctor to Edward, smiling. “I’ve done my best.”

“Bertha knows better than to bother,” said Edward. “She don’t think much
of me as a churchwarden, but when a horse is concerned, she does trust
me; don’t you, dear?”

“I really do.”

“There,” said Edward, much pleased, “that’s what I call a good wife.”

Next day the horse was brought round and Bertha filled Edward’s flask.

“You’ll bury me nicely if I break my neck, won’t you?” he said,
laughing. “You’ll order a handsome tombstone.”

“My dear, you’ll never come to a violent end. I feel certain you will
die in your bed when you’re a hundred and two, with a crowd of
descendants weeping round you. You’re just that sort of man.”

“Ha, ha!” he laughed. “I don’t know where the descendants are coming
in.”

“I have a presentiment that I am doomed to make way for Fanny Glover.
I’m sure there’s a fatality about it. I’ve felt for years that you will
eventually marry her, and it’s horrid of me to have kept you waiting so
long--especially as she pines for you, poor thing.”

Edward laughed again. “Well, good-bye!”

“Good-bye. Remember me to Mrs. Arthur.”

She stood at the window to see him mount, and as he flourished his crop
at her, she waved her hand.

The winter day closed in and Bertha, interested in the novel she was
reading, was surprised to hear the clock strike five. She wondered that
Edward had not yet come in, and ringing for tea and the lamps, had the
curtains drawn. He could not now be long.

“I wonder if he’s had another fall,” she said, with a smile. “He really
ought to give up hunting, he’s getting too fat.”

She decided to wait no longer, but poured out her tea and arranged
herself so that she could get at the scones and see comfortably to read.
Then she heard a carriage drive up. Who could it be?

“What bores these people are to call at this time!”

As the bell was rung, Bertha put down her book to receive the visitor.
But no one was shown in; there was a confused sound of voices without.
Could something have happened to Edward after all? She sprang to her
feet and walked half across the room. She heard an unknown voice in the
hall.

“Where shall we take it?”

_It._ What was _it_--a corpse? Bertha felt a coldness travel through all
her body, she put her hand on a chair, so that she might steady herself
if she felt faint. The door was opened slowly by Arthur Branderton, and
he closed it quickly behind him.

“I’m awfully sorry, but there’s been an accident. Edward is rather
hurt.”

She looked at him, growing pale, but found nothing to answer.

“You must nerve yourself, Bertha. I’m afraid he’s very bad. You’d better
sit down.”

He hesitated, and she turned to him with sudden anger.

“If he’s dead, why don’t you tell me?”

“I’m awfully sorry. We did all we could. He fell at the same post and
rail fence as the other day. I think he must have lost his nerve. I was
close by him, I saw him rush at it blindly, and then pull just as the
horse was rising. They came down with a crash.”

“Is he dead?”

“Yes.”

Bertha did not feel faint. She was a little horrified at the clearness
with which she was able to understand Arthur Branderton. She seemed to
feel nothing at all. The young man looked at her as if he expected that
she would weep or swoon.

“Would you like me to send my wife to you?”

“No, thanks.”

Bertha understood quite well that her husband was dead, but the news
seemed to make no impression upon her. She heard it unmoved, as though
it referred to a stranger. She found herself wondering what young
Branderton thought of her unconcern.

“Won’t you sit down,” he said, taking her arm and leading her to a
chair. “Shall I get you some brandy?”

“I’m all right, thanks. You need not trouble about me--Where is he?”

“I told them to take him upstairs. Shall I send Ramsay’s assistant to
you? He’s here.”

“No,” she said, in a low voice. “I want nothing. Have they taken him up
already?”

“Yes, but I don’t think you ought to go to him. It will upset you
dreadfully.”

“I’ll go to my room. Do you mind if I leave you? I should prefer to be
alone.”

Branderton held the door open and Bertha walked out, her face very pale,
but showing not the least trace of emotion. Branderton walked to Leanham
Vicarage to send Miss Glover to Court Leys, and then home, where he told
his wife that the wretched widow was stunned by the shock.

Bertha locked herself in her room. She heard the hum of voices in the
house, Dr. Ramsay came to her door, but she refused to open; then all
was quite still.

She was aghast at the blankness of her heart, the tranquility was so
inhuman that she wondered if she was going mad; she felt no emotion
whatever. Bertha repeated to herself that Edward was killed; he was
lying quite near at hand, dead--and she felt no grief. She remembered
her anguish years before when she thought of his death; and now that it
had taken place she did not faint, she did not weep, she was untroubled.
Bertha had hidden herself to conceal her tears from strange eyes, and
the tears came not. After her sudden suspicion was confirmed, she had
experienced no emotion whatever; she was horrified that the tragic death
affected her so little. She walked to the window and looked out, trying
to gather her thoughts, trying to make herself care; but she was almost
indifferent.

“I must be frightfully cruel,” she muttered.

Then the idea came of what her friends would say when they saw her calm
self-possession. She tried to weep, but her eyes remained dry.

There was a knock at the door, and Miss Glover’s voice, broken with
tears, “Bertha, Bertha, wont you let me in? It’s me--Fanny.”

Bertha sprang to her feet, but did not answer.

Miss Glover called again, and her voice was choked with sobs. Why could
Fanny Glover weep for Edward’s death, who was a stranger, when she,
Bertha, remained insensible?

“Bertha!”

“Yes.”

“Open the door for me. Oh, I’m so sorry for you. Please let me in.”

Bertha looked wildly at the door, she dared not let Miss Glover come.

“I can see no one now,” she cried, hoarsely. “Don’t ask me.”

“I think I could comfort you.”

“I want to be alone.”

Miss Glover was silent for a minute, crying audibly.

“Shall I wait downstairs? You can ring if you want me. Perhaps you’ll
see me later.”

Bertha wished to tell her to go away, but dared not.

“Do as you like,” she said.

There was silence again, an unearthly silence more trying than hideous
din. It was a silence that tightened the nerves and made them horribly
sensitive: one dared not breathe for fear of breaking it.

And one thought came to Bertha, assailing her like a devil tormenting.
She cried out in horror, for this was more odious than anything; it was
simply intolerable. She threw herself on her bed and buried her face in
her pillow to drive it away. For shame, she put her hands to her ears so
as not to hear the invisible fiends that whispered it silently.

_She was free._

She quailed before the thought, but could not crush it. “Has it come to
this!” she murmured.

And then came back the recollection of the beginnings of her love. She
recalled the passion that had thrown her blindly into Edward’s arms, her
bitter humiliation when she realised that he could not respond to her
ardour; her love was a fire playing ineffectually upon a rock of basalt.
She recalled the hatred which followed the disillusion, and finally the
indifference. It was the same indifference that chilled her heart now.

Her life seemed all wasted when she compared her mad desire for
happiness with the misery she had actually endured. Bertha’s many hopes
stood out like phantoms, and she looked at them despairingly. She had
expected so much and secured so little. She felt a terrible pain at her
heart as she considered all she had gone through. Her strength fell
away, and overcome by her own self-pity, she sank to her knees and burst
into tears.

“Oh, God!” she cried, “what have I done that I should have been so
unhappy?”

She sobbed aloud, not caring to restrain her grief. Miss Glover, good
soul, was waiting outside the room in case Bertha wanted her, crying
silently. She knocked again when she heard the impetuous sobs within.

“Oh, Bertha, do let me in. You’re tormenting yourself so much more
because you won’t see anybody.”

Bertha dragged herself to her feet and undid the door. Miss Glover
entered, and throwing off all reserve in her overwhelming sympathy,
clasped Bertha to her heart.

“Oh, my dear, my dear, it’s utterly dreadful; I’m so sorry for you. I
don’t know what to say. I can only pray.”

Bertha sobbed unrestrainedly--not because Edward was dead.

“All you have now is God,” said Miss Glover.

At last Bertha tore herself away and dried her eyes.

“Don’t try and be too brave, Bertha,” compassionately said the Vicar’s
sister. “It will do you good to cry. He was such a good, kind man, and
he loved you so devotedly.”

Bertha looked at her in silence.

“I must be horribly cruel,” she thought.

“Do you mind if I stay here to-night, dear,” added Miss Glover. “I’ve
sent word to Charles.”

“Oh, no, please don’t. If you care for me, Fanny, let me be alone. I
don’t want to be unkind, but I can’t bear to see any one.”

Miss Glover was deeply pained. “I don’t want to be in the way. If you
really wish me to go, I’ll go.”

“I feel if I can’t be alone, I shall go mad.”

“Would you like to see Charles?”

“No, dear. Don’t be angry. Don’t think me unkind or ungrateful, but I
want nothing but to be left entirely by myself.”



Chapter XXXVI


Alone in her room once more, memories of the past crowded upon her. The
last years fled from her mind and Bertha saw vividly again the first
days of her love, the visit to Edward at his farm, the night at the gate
of Court Leys when he asked her to marry him. She recalled the rapture
with which she had flung herself into his arms. Forgetting the real
Edward who had just died, she remembered the tall strong youth who had
made her faint with love; and her passion returned, overwhelming. On the
chimney-piece stood a photograph of Edward as he was then; it had been
before her for years, but she had never noticed it. She took it and
pressed it to her heart, and kissed it. A thousand things came back and
she saw him again standing before her as he was, manly, strong, so that
she felt his love a protection against all the world.

But what was the use now?

“I should be mad if I began to love him again when it is too late.”

Bertha was appalled by the regret which she felt rising within her, a
devil that wrung her heart in an iron grip. Oh, she could not risk the
possibility of grief, she had suffered too much and she must kill in
herself the springs of pain. She dared not leave things which in future
years might be the foundations of a new idolatry. Her only chance of
peace was to destroy everything that might recall him.

She seized the photograph and without daring to look again, withdrew it
from the frame and rapidly tore it in pieces. She looked round the room.

“I musn’t leave anything,” she muttered.

She saw on a table an album containing pictures of Edward at all ages,
the child with long curls, the urchin in knickerbockers, the schoolboy,
the lover of her heart. She had persuaded him to be photographed in
London during their honeymoon, and he was there in half-a-dozen
different positions. Bertha thought her heart would break as she
destroyed them one by one, and it needed all the strength she had to
prevent her from covering them with passionate kisses. Her fingers ached
with the tearing, but in a little while they were all in fragments in
the fireplace. Then, desperately, she added the letters Edward had
written to her; and applied a match. She watched them curl and frizzle
and burn; and presently they were ashes.

She sank on a chair, exhausted by the effort, but quickly roused
herself. She drank some water, nerving herself for a more terrible
ordeal; for she knew that on the next few hours depended her future
peace.

By now the night was late, a stormy night with the wind howling through
the leafless trees. Bertha started when it beat against the windows with
a scream that was nearly human. A fear seized her of what she was about
to do, but she was driven by a greater fear. She took a candle, and
opening the door, listened. There was no one; the wind roared with its
long monotonous voice, and the branches of a tree beating against a
window in the passage gave a ghastly tap-tap, as if unseen spirits were
near.

The living, in the presence of death, feel that the whole air is full of
something new and terrible. A greater sensitiveness perceives an
inexplicable feeling of something present, or of some horrible thing
happening invisibly. Bertha walked to her husband’s room and for a while
dared not enter. At last she opened the door, she lit the candles on the
chimney-piece and on the dressing-table, then went to the bed. Edward
was lying on his back, with a handkerchief bound round his jaw to hold
it up, his hands crossed in front.

Bertha stood in front of the corpse and looked. The impression of the
young man passed away, and she saw him as in truth he was, stout,
red-faced, with the venules of his cheeks standing out distinctly in a
purple network; the sides of his face were prominent as of late years
they had become; and he had little side whiskers. His skin was lined
already and rough, the hair over the front of his head was scanty, and
the scalp was visible, shiny and white. The hands which once had
delighted her by their strength, so that she compared them with the
porphyry hands of an unfinished statue, now were repellent in their
coarseness. For a long time their touch had a little disgusted her. This
was the image Bertha wished to impress upon her mind. It was a stranger
lying dead before her, a man to whom she was indifferent.

At last turning away, she went out and returned to her own room.

Three days later was the funeral. All the morning wreaths and crosses of
beautiful flowers had poured in, and now there was a crowd in the drive
in front of Court Leys. The Blackstable Freemasons (Lodge No. 31,899),
of which Edward at his death was Worshipful Master, had signified their
intention of attending, and lined the road, two and two, in white gloves
and aprons. There were likewise representatives of the Tercanbury Lodge
(4169), of the Provincial Grand Lodge, the Mark Masons, and the Knights
Templars. The Blackstable Unionist Association sent one hundred
Conservatives, who walked two and two after the Freemasons. There were a
few words as to precedence between Brother G. W. Hancock (P.W.M.), who
led the Blackstable Lodge (31,899), and Mr. Atthill Bacot, who marched
at the head of the politicians; but it was finally settled in favour of
the Lodge, as the older established body. Then came the members of the
Local District Council, of which Edward had been chairman, and after
these the carriages of the gentry. Mrs. Mayston Ryle sent a landau and
pair, but Mrs. Branderton, the Molsons, and the rest, only sent
broughams. It needed a prodigious amount of generalship to marshal these
forces, and Arthur Branderton lost his temper because the Conservatives
would start before they were wanted to.

“Ah,” said Brother A. W. Rogers (the landlord of the _Pig and
Whistle_), “they want Craddock here now. He was the best organiser I’ve
ever seen; he’d have got the procession into working order and the
funeral over by this time.”

The last carriage disappeared, and Bertha, alone at length, lay down by
the window on the sofa. She was devoutly grateful to the old convention
which prevented the widow’s attendance at the funeral.

She looked with tired and listless eyes at the long avenue of elm-trees,
bare of leaf. The sky was gray and the clouds heavy and low. Bertha now
was a pale woman of thirty, still beautiful, with curling, abundant
hair; but her dark eyes had under them still darker lines, and their
fire was half gone. Between her brows was a little vertical line, and
her lips had lost the joyousness of youth, the corners of her mouth
turned down with a melancholy expression. The face was thin and
extremely pale; but what chiefly struck one was that she seemed so
utterly weary. Her features remained singularly immobile, and there was
in her eyes an apathy that was very painful. Her eyes said that she had
loved and found love wanting, that she had been a mother and that her
child had died, and that now she desired nothing very strongly but to be
left in peace.

Bertha was indeed tired out, in body and mind, tired of love and hate,
tired with friendship and knowledge, tired with the passing years. Her
thought wandered to the future and she decided to leave Blackstable, and
let Court Leys, so that in no moment of weakness might she be tempted to
return. And first she intended to travel, wishing to live in places
where she was unknown, so as more easily to forget the past. Bertha’s
memory brought back Italy, the land of those who suffer in unfulfilled
desire, the lotus land. She would go there and she would go farther,
ever towards the sun; for now she had no ties on earth, and at last, at
last she was free.

The melancholy day closed in the great clouds hanging overhead darkened
with approaching night. Bertha remembered how ready in her girlhood she
had been to pour herself out to the world. Feeling intense fellowship
with all human beings, she wished to throw herself into their arms,
thinking that they would be outstretched to receive her. Her life seemed
to overflow into the lives of others, becoming one with theirs as the
water of rivers becomes one with the sea. But very soon the power she
had felt of doing all this departed; she recognised a barrier between
herself and human kind, and felt that they were strangers. Hardly
understanding the impossibility of what she desired, she placed all her
love, all her faculty of expansion, on one person, on Edward, making a
final effort, as it were, to break the barrier of consciousness and
unite her soul with his. She drew him towards her with all her might,
Edward the man, seeking to know him in the depths of his heart, yearning
to lose herself in him. But at last she saw that what she had striven
for was unattainable. _I myself stand on one side and the rest of the
world on the other._ There is an abyss between, that no power can cross,
a strange barrier more insuperable than a mountain of fire. Not even the
most devoted lovers know the essentials of one another’s selves. However
ardent their passion, however intimate their union, they are always
strangers; scarcely more to one another than chance acquaintance.

And when she discovered this, with many tears and after bitter
heartache, Bertha retired into herself. But soon she found solace. In
her silence she built a world of her own, and kept it from the eyes of
every living soul, knowing that none could understand it. And then all
ties were irksome, all earthly attachments unnecessary.

Confusedly thinking these things, Bertha’s thoughts reverted to Edward.

“If I had been keeping a diary of my emotions, I should close it to-day,
with the words, ‘My husband has broken his neck.’”

But she was pained at her own callousness.

“Poor fellow,” she murmured. “He was honest and kind and forbearing. He
did all he could, and tried always to act like a gentleman. He was very
useful in the world, and, in his own way, he was fond of me. His only
fault was that I loved him--and ceased to love him.”

By her side lay the book she had read while waiting for Edward when he
was hunting. Bertha had put it on the table open, face-downwards, when
she rose from the sofa to receive the expected visitor; and it had
remained as she left it. She was tired of thinking; and taking it now,
began to read quietly.

THE END

       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

ampel time=> ample time {pg 23}

a bunch a dahlias=> a bunch of dahlias {pg 26}

scroundrel=> scoundrel {pg 31}

Itatly for six weeks=> Italy for six weeks {pg 71}

his infinitesmal salary=> his infinitesimal salary {pg 77}

speak to the Craddocks aftewards=> speak to the Craddocks afterwards {pg
79}

you want to go, Eddie, I’ll come to=> you want to go, Eddie, I’ll come
too {pg 81}

so that is became a thing of pride=> so that it became a thing of pride
{pg 102}

failed to understatnd= failed to understand> {pg 111}

squandered their substatnce=> squandered their substance {pg 112}

how uncomfortably it makes you=> how uncomfortable it makes you {pg 134}

and his closed eys.=> and his closed eyes. {pg 137}

worse that a finger-ache=> worse than a finger-ache {pg 141}

But she as too unhappy=> But she was too unhappy {pg 202}

you mustn’s be alarmed=> you musn’t be alarmed {pg 153}

an athiest=> an atheist {pg 160}

on her bran-new bonnet=> on her brand-new bonnet {pg 161}

The plains facts=> The plain facts {pg 204}

passing tactiturity=> passing taciturnity {pg 208}

Bertha was dumbfoundered=> Bertha was dumbfounded {pg 219}

your Aunt Betty beseeches me too look=> your Aunt Betty beseeches me to
look {pg 238}

Gray warehauses=> Gray warehouses {pg 258}

to tihnk=> to think {pg 264}

aproached almost timidly=> approached almost timidly {pg 265}

Yearning suddenly for soceity=> Yearning suddenly for society {pg 285}

it nice to know=> it’s nice to know {pg 293}

heard the impeteuous sobs=> heard the impetuous sobs {pg 306}





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