Part 1 out of 8
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A MUMMER'S WIFE
BY GEORGE MOORE
A DEDICATION TO ROBERT ROSS
In the sunset of his life a man often finds himself unable to put dates
even upon events in which his sympathies were, and perhaps are still,
engaged; all things seem to have befallen yesterday, and yet it cannot be
less than three years since we were anxious to testify to our belief in the
kindness and justice with which you had fulfilled your double duties in the
_Morning Post_ towards us and the proprietors of the paper.
A committee sprang up quickly, and a letter was addressed by it to all the
notable workers in the arts and to all those who were known to be
interested in the arts, and very soon a considerable sum of money was
collected; but when the committee met to decide what form the commemorative
gift should take, a perplexity arose, many being inclined towards a piece
of plate. It was pointed out that a piece of plate worth eight hundred
pounds would prove a cumbersome piece of furniture--a white elephant, in
fact--in the small house or apartment or flat in which a critic usually
lives. The truth of this could not be gainsaid. Other suggestions were
forthcoming for your benefit, every one obtaining a certain amount of
support, but none commanding a majority of votes; and the perplexity
continued till it was mooted that the disposal of the money should be left
to your option, and in view of the fact that you had filled the post of art
critic for many years, you decided to found a Slade scholarship. It seemed
to you well that a young man on leaving the Slade School should be provided
with a sum of money sufficient to furnish a studio, and some seven or eight
hundred pounds were invested, the remainder being spent on a trinket for
your personal wear--a watch. I have not forgotten that I was one of the
dissidents, scholarships not appealing to me, but lately I have begun to
see that you were wise in the disposal of the money. A watch was enough for
remembrance, and since I caught sight of it just now, the pleasant thoughts
it has evoked console me for your departure: after bidding you good-bye on
the doorstep, I return to my fireside to chew the cud once again of the
temperate and tolerant articles that I used to read years ago in the
You see, Ross, I was critic myself for some years on the _Speaker_,
but my articles were often bitter and explosive; I was prone to polemics
and lacked the finer sense that enabled you to pass over works with which
you were not in sympathy, and without wounding the painter. My intention
was often to wound him in the absurd hope that I might compel him to do
better. My motto seems to have been 'Compel them to come in'--words used by
Jesus in one of his parables, and relied on by ecclesiastics as a
justification of persecution, and by many amongst us whose names I will not
pillory here, for I have chosen that these pages shall be about you and
nothing but you. If I speak of myself in a forgotten crusade, it is to
place you in your true light. We recognized your critical insight and your
literary skill, but it was not for these qualities that we, the criticized,
decided to present you, the critic, with a token of our gratitude; nor was
it because you had praised our works (a great number of the subscribers had
not received praise from you): we were moved altogether, I think, by the
consciousness that you had in a difficult task proved yourself to be a
kindly critic, and yet a just one, and it was for these qualities that you
received an honour, that is unique, I think, in the chronicles of
Memory pulls me up, and out of some moments of doubt, the suspicion emerges
that all I am writing here was read by me somewhere: but it was not in our
original declaration of faith, for I never saw it, not having attended the
presentation of the testimonial. Where, then? In the newspapers that quoted
from the original document? Written out by whom? By Witt or by MacColl,
excellent writers both? But being a writer myself, I am called upon to do
my own writing.... Newspapers are transitory things--a good reason for
writing out the story afresh; and there is still another reason for writing
it out--my reasons for dedicating this book to you. We must have reasons
always, else we pass for unreasonable beings, and a better reason for
dedicating a book to you than mine, I am fain to believe, will never be
found by anybody in search of a reason for his actions. My name is among
the signatories to the document that I have called 'our declaration of
faith'; and having committed myself thus fully to your critical judgment,
it seems to me that for the completion of the harmony a dedication is
necessary. A fair share of reasons I am setting forth for this act of mine,
every one of them valid, and the most valid of all my reason for choosing
this book, _A Mummer's Wife_, to dedicate to you, is your own
commendation of it the other night when you said to me that no book of mine
in your opinion was more likely to 'live'! To live for five-and-twenty
years is as long an immortality as anyone should set his heart on; for who
would wish to be chattered about by the people that will live in these
islands three hundred years hence? We should not understand them nor they
us. Avaunt, therefore, all legendary immortalities, and let us be content,
Ross, to be remembered by our friends, and, perhaps, to have our names
passed on by disciples to another generation! A fair and natural
immortality this is; let us share it together. Our bark lies in the
harbour: you tell me the spars are sound, and the seams have been caulked;
the bark, you say, is seaworthy and will outlive any of the little storms
that she may meet on the voyage--a better craft is not to be found in my
little fleet. You said yesterevening across the hearthrug, '_Esther
Waters_ speaks out of a deeper appreciation of life;' but you added: 'In
_A Mummer's Wife_ there is a youthful imagination and a young man's
exuberance on coming into his own for the first time, and this is a
quality--'No doubt it is a quality, Ross; but what kind of quality? You did
not finish your sentence, or I have forgotten it. Let me finish it for
you--'that outweighs all other qualities' But does it? I am interpreting
you badly. You would not commit yourself to so crude an opinion, and I am
prepared to believe that I did not catch the words as they fell from your
lips. All I can recall for certain of the pleasant moment when, you were
considering which of my works you liked the best are stray words that may
be arranged here into a sentence which, though it does not represent your
critical judgments accurately, may be accepted by you. You said your
thoughts went more frequently to _A Mummer's Wife_ than to _Esther
Waters_; and I am almost sure something was said about the earlier book
being a more spontaneous issue of the imagination, and that the wandering
life of the mummers gives an old-world, adventurous air to the book,
reminding you of _The Golden Ass_--a book I read last year, and found
in it so many remembrances of myself that I fell to thinking it was a book
I might have written had I lived two thousand years ago. Who can say he has
not lived before, and is it not as important to believe we lived herebefore
as it is to believe we are going to live hereafter? If I had lived
herebefore, Jupiter knows what I should have written, but it would not have
been _Esther Waters_: more likely a book like _A Mummer's
Wife_--a band of jugglers and acrobats travelling from town to town. As
I write these lines an antique story rises up in my mind, a recollection of
one of my lost works or an instantaneous reading of Apuleius into _A
A MUMMMER'S WIFE
In default of a screen, a gown and a red petticoat had been thrown over a
clothes-horse, and these shaded the glare of the lamp from the eyes of the
sick man. In the pale obscurity of the room, his bearded cheeks could be
seen buried in a heap of tossed pillows. By his bedside sat a young woman.
As she dozed, her face drooped until her features were hidden, and the
lamp-light made the curious curves of a beautiful ear look like a piece of
illuminated porcelain. Her hands lay upon her lap, her needlework slipped
from them; and as it fell to the ground she awoke.
She pressed her hands against her forehead and made an effort to rouse
herself. As she did so, her face contracted with an expression of disgust,
and she remembered the ether. The soft, vaporous odour drifted towards her
from a small table strewn with medicine bottles, and taking care to hold
the cork tightly in her fingers she squeezed it into the bottle.
At that moment the clock struck eleven and the clear tones of its bell
broke the silence sharply; the patient moaned as if in reply, and his thin
hairy arms stirred feverishly on the wide patchwork counterpane. She took
them in her hands and covered them over; she tried to arrange the pillows
more comfortably, but as she did so he turned and tossed impatiently, and,
fearing to disturb him, she put back the handkerchief she had taken from
the pillow to wipe the sweat from his brow, and regaining her chair, with a
weary movement she picked up the cloth that had fallen from her knees and
slowly continued her work.
It was a piece of patchwork like the counterpane on the bed; the squares of
a chessboard had been taken as a design, and, selecting a fragment of
stuff, she trimmed it into the required shape and sewed it into its
Nothing was now heard but the methodical click of her needle as it struck
the head of her thimble, and then the long swish of the thread as she drew
it through the cloth. The lamp at her elbow burned steadily, and the glare
glanced along her arm as she raised it with the large movement of sewing.
Her hair was blue wherever the light touched it, and it encircled the white
prominent temple like a piece of rich black velvet; a dark shadow defined
the delicate nose, and hinted at thin indecision of lips, whilst a broad
touch of white marked the weak but not unbeautiful chin.
On the corner of the table lay a book, a well-worn volume in a faded red
paper cover. It was a novel she used to read with delight when she was a
girl, but it had somehow failed to interest her, and after a few pages she
had laid it aside, preferring for distraction her accustomed sewing. She
was now well awake, and, as she worked, her thoughts turned on things
concerning the daily routine of her life. She thought of the time when her
husband would be well: of the pillow she was making; of how nice it would
look in the green armchair; of the much greater likelihood of letting their
rooms if they were better furnished; of their new lodger; and of the
probability of a quarrel between him and her mother-in-law, Mrs. Ede.
For more than a week past the new lodger had formed the staple subject of
conversation in this household. Mrs. Ede, Kate's mother-in-law, was loud in
her protestations that the harbouring of an actor could not but be attended
by bad luck. Kate felt a little uneasy; her puritanism was of a less marked
kind; perhaps at first she had felt inclined to agree with her
mother-in-law, but her husband had shown himself so stubborn, and had so
persistently declared that he was not going to keep his rooms empty any
longer, that for peace' sake she was fain to side with him. The question
arose in a very unexpected way. During the whole winter they were
unfortunate with their rooms, though they made many attempts to get
lodgers; they even advertised. Some few people asked to see the rooms; but
they merely made an offer. One day a man who came into the shop to buy some
paper collars asked Kate if she had any apartments to let. She answered
yes, and they went upstairs. After a cursory inspection he told her that he
was the agent in advance to a travelling opera company, and that if she
liked he would recommend her rooms to the stage manager, a particular
friend of his. The proposition was somewhat startling, but, not liking to
say no, she proposed to refer the matter to her husband.
At that particular moment Ede happened to be engaged in a violent dispute
with his mother, and so angry was he that when Mrs. Ede raised her hands to
protest against the introduction of an actor into the household, he
straightway told her that 'if she didn't like it she might do the other
thing.' Nothing more was said at the time; the old lady retired in
indignation, and Mr. Lennox was written to. Kate sympathized alternately
with both sides. Mrs. Ede was sturdy in defence of her principles; Ede was
petulant and abusive; and between the two Kate was blown about like a
feather in a storm. Daily the argument waxed warmer, until one night, in
the middle of a scene characterized by much Biblical quotation, Ede
declared he could stand it no longer, and rushed out of the house. In vain
the women tried to stop him, knowing well what the consequences would be. A
draught, a slight exposure, sufficed to give him a cold, and with him a
cold always ended in an asthmatic attack. And these were often so violent
as to lay him up for weeks at a time. When he returned, his temper grown
cooler under the influence of the night air, he was coughing, and the next
night found him breathless. His anger had at first vented itself against
his mother, whom he refused to see, and thus the whole labour of nursing
him was thrown on Kate, She didn't grumble at this, but it was terrible to
have to listen to him.
It was Mr. Lennox, and nothing but Mr. Lennox. All the pauses in the
suffocation were utilized to speak on this important question, and even now
Kate, who had not yet perceived that the short respite which getting rid of
the phlegm had given him was coming to an end, expected him to say
something concerning the still unknown person. But Ede did not speak, and,
to put herself as it were out of suspense, she referred to some previous
'I'm sure you're right; the only people in the town who let their rooms are
those who have a theatrical connection.'
'Oh, I don't care; I'm going to have a bad night,' said Mr. Ede, who now
thought only of how he should get his next breath.
'But you seemed to be getting better,' she replied hurriedly.
'No! I feel it coming on--I'm suffocating. Have you got the ether?'
Kate did not answer, but made a rapid movement towards the table, and
snatching the bottle she uncorked it. The sickly odour quietly spread like
oil over the close atmosphere of the room, but, mastering her repugnance,
she held it to him, and in the hope of obtaining relief he inhaled it
greedily. But the remedy proved of no avail, and he pushed the bottle away.
'Oh, these headaches! My head is splitting,' he said, after a deep
inspiration which seemed as if it would cost him his life. 'Nothing seems
to do me any good. Have you got any cigarettes?'
'I'm sorry, they haven't arrived yet. I wrote for them,' she replied,
hesitating; 'but don't you think--?'
He shook his head; and, resenting Kate's assiduities, with trembling
fingers he unfastened the shawl she had placed on his shoulders, and then,
planting his elbows on his knees, with a fixed head and elevated shoulders,
he gave himself up to the struggle of taking breath.... At that moment she
would have laid down her life to save him from the least of his pains, but
she could only sit by him watching the struggle, knowing that nothing could
be done to relieve him. She had seen the same scene repeated a hundred
times before, but it never seemed to lose any of its terror. In the first
month of their marriage she had been frightened by one of these asthmatic
attacks. It had come on in the middle of the night, and she remembered well
how she had prayed to God that it should not be her fate to see her husband
die before her eyes. She knew now that death was not to be apprehended--the
paroxysm would wear itself out--but she knew also of the horrors that would
have to be endured before the time of relief came. She could count them
upon her fingers--she could see it all as in a vision--a nightmare that
would drag out its long changes until the dawn began to break; she
anticipated the hours of the night.
'Air! Air! I'm suff-o-cating!' he sobbed out with a desperate effort.
Kate ran to the window and threw it open. The paroxysm had reached its
height, and, resting his elbows well on his knees, he gasped many times,
but before the inspiration was complete his strength failed him. No want
but that of breath could have forced him to try again; and the second
effort was even more terrible than the first. A great upheaval, a great
wrenching and rocking seemed to be going on within him; the veins on his
forehead were distended, the muscles of his chest laboured, and it seemed
as if every minute were going to be his last. But with a supreme effort he
managed to catch breath, and then there was a moment of respite, and Kate
could see that he was thinking of the next struggle, for he breathed
avariciously, letting the air that had cost him so much agony pass slowly
through his lips. To breathe again he would have to get on to his feet,
which he did, and so engrossed was he in the labour of breathing that he
pushed the paraffin lamp roughly; it would have fallen had Kate not been
there to catch it. She besought of him to say what he wanted, but he made
no reply, and continued to drag himself from one piece of furniture to
another, till at last, grasping the back of a chair, he breathed by jerks,
each inspiration being accompanied by a violent spasmodic wrench, violent
enough to break open his chest. She watched, expecting every moment to see
him roll over, a corpse, but knowing from past experiences that he would
recover somehow. His recoveries always seemed to her like miracles, and she
watched the long pallid face crushed under a shock of dark matted hair, a
dirty nightshirt, a pair of thin legs; but for the moment the grandeur of
human suffering covered him, lifting him beyond the pale of loving or
loathing, investing and clothing him in the pity of tragic things. The
room, too, seemed transfigured. The bare wide floor, the gaunt bed, the
poor walls plastered with religious prints cut from journals, even the
ordinary furniture of everyday use--the little washhandstand with the
common delf ewer, the chest of drawers that might have been bought for
thirty shillings--lost their coarseness; their triviality disappeared,
until nothing was seen or felt but this one suffering man.
The minutes slipped like the iron teeth of a saw over Kate's sensibilities.
A hundred times she had run over in her mind the list of remedies she had
seen him use. They were few in number, and none of any real service except
the cigarettes which she had not. She asked him to allow her to try iodine,
but he could not or would not make her any answer. It was cruel to see him
struggling, but he resisted assistance, and watching like one in a dream,
frightened at her own powerlessness to save or avert, Kate remained
crouching by the fireplace without strength to think or act, until she was
suddenly awakened by seeing him relax his hold and slip heavily on the
floor; and it was only by putting forth her whole strength she could get
him into a sitting position; when she attempted to place him in a chair he
slipped through her arms. There was, therefore, nothing to do but to shriek
for help, and hope to awaken her mother-in-law. The echoes rang through the
house, and as they died away, appalled, she listened to the silence.
At length it grew clear that Mrs. Ede could not be awakened, and Kate saw
that she would have to trust to herself alone, and after two or three
failures she applied herself to winning him back to consciousness. It was
necessary to do so before attempting to move him again, and, sprinkling his
face with water, she persuaded him to open his eyes, and after one little
stare he slipped back into the nothingness he had come out of; and this was
repeated several times, Kate redoubling her efforts until at last she
succeeded in placing him in a chair. He sat there, still striving and
struggling with his breath, unable to move, and soaked with sweat, but
getting better every minute. The worst of the attack was now over; she
buttoned his nightshirt across his panting chest and covered his shoulders
with his red shawl once more, and with a sentiment of real tenderness she
took his hand in hers. She looked at him, feeling her heart grow larger.
He was her husband; he had suffered terribly, and was now getting better;
and she was his wife, whose duty it was to attend him. She only wished he
would allow her to love him a little better; but against her will facts
pierced through this luminous mist of sentiment, and she could not help
remembering how petulant he was with her, how utterly all her wishes were
disregarded. 'What a pity he's not a little different!' she thought; but
when she looked at him and saw how he suffered, all other thoughts were
once more drowned and swept away. She forgot how he often rendered her life
miserable, wellnigh unbearable, by small vices, faults that defy
definition, unending selfishness and unceasing irritability. But now all
dissatisfaction and bitternesses were again merged into a sentiment that
was akin to love; and in this time of physical degradation he possessed her
perhaps more truly, more perfectly, than even in his best moments of
But her life was one of work, not of musing, and there was plenty for her
to attend to. Ralph would certainly not be able to leave his chair for some
time yet; she had wrapped him up comfortably in a blanket, she could do no
more, and whilst he was recovering it would be as well to tidy up the room
a bit. He would never be able to sleep in a bed that he had been lying in
all day; she had better make the bed at once, for he generally got a little
ease towards morning, particularly after a bad attack. So, hoping that the
present occasion would not prove an exception, Kate set to work to make the
bed. She resolved to do this thoroughly, and turning the mattress over, she
shook it with all her force. She did the same with the pillows, and fearing
that there might be a few crumbs sticking to the sheets, she shook them out
several times; and when the last crease had been carefully smoothed away
she went back to her husband and insisted on being allowed to paint his
back with iodine, although he did not believe in the remedy. On his saying
he was thirsty, she went creeping down the narrow stairs to the kitchen,
hunted for matches in the dark, lighted a spirit lamp and made him a hot
drink, which he drank without thanking her. She fell to thinking of his
ingratitude, and then of the discomfort of the asthma. How could she expect
him to think of her when he was thinking of his breath? All the same, on
these words her waking thoughts must have passed into dream thoughts. She
was still watching by his bedside, waiting to succour him whenever he
should ask for help, yet she must have been asleep. She did not know how
long she slept, but it could not have been for long; and there was no
reason for his peevishness, for she had not left him.
'I'm sorry, Ralph, but I could not help it, I was so very tired. What can I
do for you, dear?'
'Do for me?' he said--'why, shut the window. I might have died for all you
would have known or cared.'
She walked across the room and shut the window, but as she came back to her
place she said, 'I don't know why you speak to me like that, Ralph.'
'Prop me up: if I lie so low I shall get bad again. If you had a touch of
this asthma you'd know what it is to lie alone for hours.'
'For hours, Ralph?' Kate repeated, and she looked at the clock and saw that
she had not been asleep for more than half an hour. Without contradicting
him--for of what use would that be, only to make matters worse?--she
arranged the pillows and settled the blankets about him, and thinking it
would be advisable to say something, she congratulated him on seeming so
'Better! If I'm better, it's no thanks to you,' he said. 'You must have
been mad to leave the window open so long.'
'You wanted it open; you know very well that when you're very bad like that
you must have change of air. The room was so close.'
'Yes, but that is no reason for leaving it open half an hour.'
'I offered to shut it, and you wouldn't let me.'
'I dare say you're sick of nursing me, and would like to get rid of me. The
window wasn't a bad dodge.'
Kate remained silent, being too indignant for the moment to think of
replying; but it was evident from her manner that she would not be able to
contain herself much longer. He had hurt her to the quick, and her brown
eyes swam with tears. His head lay back upon the built-up pillows, he fumed
slowly, trying to find new matter for reproach, and breath wherewith to
explain it. At last he thought of the cigarettes.
'Even supposing that you did not remember how long you left the window
open, I cannot understand how you forgot to send for the cigarettes. You
know well enough that smoking is the only thing that relieves me when I'm
in this state. I think it was most unfeeling--yes, most unfeeling!' Having
said so much, he leaned forward to get breath, and coughed.
'You'd better lie still, Ralph; you'll only make yourself bad again. Now
that you feel a little easier you should try to go to sleep.'
So far she got without betraying any emotion, but as she continued to
advise him her voice began to tremble, her presence of mind to forsake her,
and she burst into a flood of tears.
'I don't know how you can treat me as you do,' she said, sobbing
hysterically. 'I do everything--I give up my night's rest to you, I work
hard all day for you, and in return I only receive hard words. Oh, it's no
use,' she said; 'I can bear it no longer; you'll have to get someone else
to mind you.'
This outburst of passion came suddenly upon Mr. Ede, and for some time he
was at a loss how to proceed. At last, feeling a little sorry, he resolved
to make it up, and putting out his hand to her, he said:
'Now, don't cry, Kate; perhaps I was wrong in speaking so crossly. I didn't
mean all I said--it's this horrid asthma.'
'Oh, I can bear anything but to be told I neglect you--and when I stop up
watching you three nights running----'
These little quarrels were of constant occurrence. Irritable by nature, and
rendered doubly so by the character of his complaint, the invalid at times
found it impossible to restrain his ill-humour; but he was not entirely
bad; he inherited a touch of kind-heartedness from his mother, and being
now moved by Kate's tears, he said:
That's quite true, and I'm sorry for what I said; you are a good little
nurse. I won't scold you again. Make it up.'
Kate found it hard to forget merely because Ralph desired it, and for some
time she refused to listen to his expostulations, and walked about the room
crying, but her anger could not long resist the dead weight of sleep that
was oppressing her, and eventually she came and sat down in her own place
by him. The next step to reconciliation was more easy. Kate was not
vindictive, although quicktempered, and at last, amid some hysterical
sobbing, peace was restored. Ralph began to speak of his asthma again,
telling how he had fancied he was going to die, and when she expressed her
fear and regret he hastened to assure her that no one ever died of asthma
that a man might live fifty, sixty, or seventy years, suffering all the
while from the complaint; and he rambled on until words and ideas together
failed him, and he fell asleep. With a sigh of relief Kate rose to her
feet, and seeing that he was settled for the night, she turned to leave
him, and passed into her room with a slow and dragging movement; but the
place had a look so cold and unrestful that it pierced through even her
sense of weariness, and she stood urging her tired brains to think of what
she should do. At last, remembering that she could get a pillow from the
room they reserved for letting, she turned to go.
Facing their room, and only divided by the very narrowest of passages, was
the stranger's apartment.
Both doors were approached by a couple of steps, which so reduced the space
that were two people to meet on the landing, one would have to give way to
the other. Mr. and Mrs. Ede found this proximity to their lodger, when they
had one, somewhat inconvenient, but, as he said, 'One doesn't get ten
shillings a week for nothing.'
Kate lingered a moment on the threshold, and then, with the hand in which
she held the novel she had been reading, she picked up her skirt and
stepped across the way.
At first she could not determine who was passing through the twilight of
the room, but as the blinds were suddenly drawn up and a flood of sunlight
poured across the bed, she fell back amid the pillows, having recognized
her mother-in-law in a painful moment of semi-blindness. The old woman
carried a slop-pail, which she nearly dropped, so surprised was she to find
Kate in the stranger's room.
'But how did you get here?' she said hastily.
'I had to give Ralph my pillow, and when he went to sleep I came to fetch
one out of the bedroom here; and then I thought I would be more comfortable
here--I was too tired to go back again--I don't know how it was--what does
Kate, who was stupefied with sleep, had answered so crossly that Mrs. Ede
did not speak for some time; at last, at the end of a long silence, she
'Then he had a very bad night?'
'Dreadful!' returned Kate. 'I never was so frightened in my life.'
'And how did the fit come on?' asked Mrs. Ede.
'Oh, I can't tell you now,' said Kate. 'I'm so tired. I'm aching all over.'
'Well, then, I'll bring you up your breakfast. You do look tired. It will
do you good to remain in bed.'
'Bring me up my breakfast! Then, what time is it?' said Kate, sitting up in
bed with a start.
'What does it matter what the time is? If you're tired, lie still; I'll see
that everything is right.'
'But I've promised Mrs. Barnes her dress by tomorrow night. Oh, my
goodness! I shall never get it done! Do tell me what time it is.'
'Well, it's just nine,' the old woman answered apologetically; 'but Mrs.
Barnes will have to wait; you can't kill yourself. It's a great shame of
Ralph to have you sitting up when I could look after him just as well, and
all because of the mummer.'
'Oh, don't, mother,' said Kate, who knew that Mrs. Ede could rate
play-actors for a good half-hour without feeling the time passing, and
taking her mother-in-law's hands in hers, she looked earnestly in her face,
'You know, mother, I have a hard time of it, and I try to bear up as well
as I can. You're the only one I've to help me; don't turn against me. Ralph
has set his mind on having the rooms let, and the mummer, as you call him,
is coming here to-day; it's all settled. Promise me you'll do nothing to
unsettle it, and that while Mr. Lennox is here you'll try to make him
comfortable. I've my dressmaking to attend to, and can't be always after
him. Will you do this thing for me?' and after a moment or so of indecision
Mrs. Ede said:
'I don't believe money made out of such people can bring luck, but since
you both wish it, I suppose I must give way. But you won't be able to say I
didn't warn you.'
'Yes, yes, but since we can't prevent his coming, will you promise that
whilst he's here you'll attend to him just as you did to the other
'I shall say nothing to him, and if he doesn't make the house a disgrace, I
shall be well satisfied.'
'How do you mean a disgrace?'
'Don't you know, dear, that actors have always a lot of women after them,
and I for one am not going to attend on wenches like them. If I had my way
I'd whip such people until I slashed all the wickedness out of them.'
'But he won't bring any women here; we won't allow it,' said Kate, a little
shocked, and she strove to think how they should put a stop to such
behaviour. 'If Mr. Lennox doesn't conduct himself properly--'
'Of course I shall try to do my duty, and if Mr. Lennox respects himself I
shall try to respect him.'
She spoke these words hesitatingly, but the admission that she possibly
might respect Mr. Lennox satisfied Kate, and not wishing to press the
matter further, she said, suddenly referring to their previous
'But didn't you say that it was nine o'clock?'
'It's more than nine now.'
'Oh, Lord! oh, Lord! how late I am! I suppose the two little girls are
'They just came in as I was going upstairs; I've set them to work.'
'I wish you'd get the tea ready, and you might make some buttered toast;
Ralph would like some, and so should I, for the matter of that.'
Then Ralph's voice was heard calling, and seeing what was wanted, she
hastened to his assistance.
'Where were you last night?' he asked her.
'I slept in the stranger's room; I thought you'd not require me, and I was
more comfortable there. The bed in the back room is all ups and downs.'
He was breathing heavily in a way that made her fear he was going to have
'Is mother in a great rage because I won't let her in?' he said presently.
'She's very much cut up about it, dear; you know she loves you better than
anyone in the world. You'd do well to make it up with her.'
'Well, perhaps I was wrong,' he said after a time, and with good humour,
'but she annoys me. She will interfere in everything; as if I hadn't a
right to let my rooms to whom I please. She pays for all she has here, but
I'd much sooner she left us than be lorded over in that way.'
'She doesn't want to lord it over you, dear. It's all arranged. She
promised me just now she'd say nothing more about it, and that she'd look
after Mr. Lennox like any other lodger.'
On hearing that his mother was willing to submit to his will, the invalid
smiled and expressed regret that the presence of an extra person in the
house, especially an actor, would give his wife and mother more work to do.
'But I shall soon be well,' he said, 'and I dare say downstairs looking
after the shop in a week.'
Kate protested against such imprudence, and then suggested she should go
and see after his breakfast. Ralph proffered no objection, and bidding him
goodbye for the present, she went downstairs. Annie was helping Mrs. Ede to
make the toast in the front kitchen; Lizzie stood at the table buttering
it, but as soon as Kate entered they returned to their sewing, for it was
against Kate's theories that the apprentices should assist in the household
'Dear mother,' she began, but desisted, and when all was ready Mrs. Ede,
remembering she had to make peace with her son, seized the tray and went
upstairs. And the moment she was gone Kate seated herself wearily on the
red, calico-covered sofa. Like an elongated armchair, it looked quaint,
neat, and dumpy, pushed up against the wall between the black fireplace on
the right and the little window shaded with the muslin blinds, under which
a pot of greenstuff bloomed freshly. She lay back thinking vaguely, her cup
of hot tea uppermost in her mind, hoping that Mrs. Ede would not keep her
waiting long; and then, as her thoughts detached themselves, she remembered
the actor whom they expected that afternoon. The annoyances which he had
unconsciously caused her had linked him to her in a curious way, and all
her prejudices vanished in the sensation of nearness that each succeeding
hour magnified, and she wondered who this being was who had brought so much
trouble into her life even before she had seen him. As the word 'trouble'
went through her mind she paused, arrested by a passing feeling of
sentimentality; but it explained nothing, defined nothing, only touched her
as a breeze does a flower, and floated away. The dreamy warmth of the fire
absorbed her more direct feelings, and for some moments she dozed in a haze
of dim sensuousness and emotive numbness. As in a dusky glass, she saw
herself a tender, loving, but unhappy woman; by her side were her querulous
husband and her kindly-minded mother-in-law, and then there was a phantom
she could not determine, and behind it something into which she could not
see. Was it a distant country? Was it a scene of revelry? Impossible to
say, for whenever she attempted to find definite shapes in the glowing
colours they vanished in a blurred confusion.
But amid these fleeting visions there was one shape that particularly
interested her, and she pursued it tenaciously, until in a desperate effort
to define its features she awoke with a start and spoke more crossly than
she intended to the little girls, who had pulled aside the curtain and were
intently examining the huge theatrical poster that adorned the corner of
the lane. But as she scolded she could not help smiling; for she saw how
her dream had been made out of the red and blue dresses of the picture.
The arrival of each new company in the town was announced pictorially on
this corner wall, and, in the course of the year, many of the vicissitudes
to which human life is liable received illustration upon it. Wrecks at sea,
robberies on the highways, prisoners perishing in dungeons, green lanes and
lovers, babies, glowing hearths, and heroic young husbands. The opera
companies exhibited the less serious sides of life--strangely dressed
people and gallants kissing their hands to ladies standing on balconies.
The little girls examined these pictures and commented on them; and on
Saturdays it was a matter of the keenest speculation what the following
week would bring them. Lizzie preferred exciting scenes of murder and
arson, while Annie was moved more by leavetakings and declarations of
unalterable affection. These differences of taste often gave rise to little
bickerings, and last week there had been much prophesying as to whether the
tragic or the sentimental element would prove next week's attraction.
Lizzie had voted for robbers and mountains, Annie for lovers and a nice
cottage. And, remembering their little dispute, Kate said:
"Well, dears, is it a robber or a sweetheart?"
"We're not sure," exclaimed both children in a disappointed tone of voice;
"we can't make the picture out." Then Lizzie, who cared little for
"It isn't a nice picture at all; it is all mixed up."
"Not a nice picture at all, and all mixed up?" said Kate, smiling, yet
interested in the conversation. "And all mixed up; how is that? I must see
if I can make it out myself."
The huge poster contained some figures nearly life-size. It showed a young
girl in a bridal dress and wreath struggling between two police agents, who
were arresting her in a marketplace of old time, in a strangely costumed
crowd, which was clamouring violently. The poor bridegroom was being held
back by his friends; a handsome young man in knee-breeches and a cocked hat
watched the proceedings cynically in the right-hand corner, whilst on the
left a big fat man frantically endeavoured to recover his wig, that had
been lost in the melee. The advertisement was headed, "Morton and Cox's
Operatic Company," and concluded with the announcement that _Madame
Angot_ would be played at the Queen's Theatre. After a few moments spent
in examining the picture Kate said it must have something to do with
"I know what it means," cried Lizzie; "you see that old chap on the right?
He's the rich man who has sent the two policemen to carry the bride to his
castle, and it's the young fellow in the corner who has betrayed them."
The ingenuity of this explanation took Kate and Annie so much by surprise
that for the moment they could not attempt to controvert it, and remained
silent, whilst Lizzie looked at them triumphantly. The more they examined
the picture the more clear did it appear that Lizzie was right. At the end
of a long pause Kate said:
'Anyhow, we shall soon know, for one of the actors of the company is coming
here to lodge, and we'll ask him.'
'A real actor coming here to lodge?' exclaimed Annie. 'Oh, how nice that
will be! And will he take us to see the play?'
'How silly of you, Annie!' said Lizzie, who, proud of her successful
explanation of the poster, was a little inclined to think she knew all
about actors. 'How can he take us to the play? Isn't he going to act it
himself? But do tell me, Mrs. Ede--is he the one in the cocked hat?'
'I hope he isn't the fat man who has lost his wig,' Annie murmured under
'I don't know which of those gentlemen is coming here. For all I know it
may be the policeman' Kate added maliciously.
'Don't say that, Mrs. Ede!' Annie exclaimed.
Kate smiled at the children's earnestness, and, wishing to keep up the
'You know, my dear, they are only sham policemen, and I dare say are very
nice gentlemen in reality.'
Annie and Lizzie hung down their heads; it was evident they had no
sympathies with policemen, not even with sham ones.
'But if it isn't a policeman, who would you like it to be, Lizzie?' said
'Oh, the man in the cocked hat.' replied Lizzie without hesitation.
'And you, Annie?'
Annie looked puzzled, and after a moment said with a slight whimper;
'Lizzie always takes what I want--I was just going--'
'Oh yes, miss, we know all about that,' returned Lizzie derisively. 'Annie
never can choose for herself; she always tries to imitate me. She'll have
the man who's lost his wig! Oh yes, yes! Isn't it so, Mrs. Ede? Isn't Annie
going to marry the man who's lost his wig?'
Tears trembled in Annie's eyes, but as she happened at that moment to catch
sight of the young man in white, she declared triumphantly that she would
'Well done, Annie!' said Kate, laughing as she patted the child's curls,
but her eyes fell on the neglected apron, and seeing how crookedly it was
being hemmed, she said:
'Oh, my dear, this is very bad; you must go back, undo all you have done
this morning, and get it quite straight.'
She undid some three or four inches of the sewing, and then showed the
child how the hem was to be turned in, and while she did so a smile hovered
round the corners of her thin lips, for she was thinking of the new lodger,
asking herself which man in the picture was coming to lodge in her house.
Mrs. Ede returned, talking angrily, but Kate could only catch the words
'waiting' and 'breakfast cold' and 'sorry.' At last, out of a confusion of
words a reproof broke from her mother-in-law for not having roused her.
'I called and called,' said Kate, 'but nothing would have awakened you.'
'You should have knocked at my door,' Mrs. Ede answered, and after speaking
about open house and late hours she asked Kate suddenly what was going to
be done about the latchkey.
'I suppose he will have to have his latchkey,' Kate answered.
'I shall not close my eyes,' Mrs. Ede returned, 'until I hear him come into
the house. He won't be bringing with him any of the women from the
Kate assured her that she would make this part of the bargain, and somewhat
softened, Mrs. Ede spoke of the danger of bad company, and trusted that
having an actor in the house would not be a reason for going to the theatre
and falling into idle habits.
'One would have thought that we heard enough of that theatre from Miss
Hender,' she interjected, and then lapsed into silence.
Miss Hender, Kate's assistant, was one of Mrs. Ede's particular dislikes.
Of her moral character Mrs. Ede had the gravest doubts; for what could be
expected, she often muttered, of a person who turned up her nose when she
was asked to stay and attend evening prayers, and who kept company with a
Mrs. Ede did not cease talking of Hender till the girl herself came in,
with many apologies for being an hour behind her time, and saying that she
really could not help it; her sister had been very ill, and she had been
obliged to sit up with her all night. Mrs. Ede smiled at this explanation,
and withdrew, leaving Kate in doubt as to the truth of the excuse put
forward by her assistant; but remembering that Mrs. Barnes's dress had been
promised for Tuesday morning, she said:
'Come, we're wasting all the morning; we must get on with Mrs. Barnes's
dress,' and a stout, buxom, carroty-haired girl of twenty followed Kate
upstairs, thinking of the money she might earn and of how she and the stage
carpenter might spend it together. She was always full of information
concerning the big red house in Queen Street. She was sure that the hours
in the workroom would not seem half so long if Kate would wake up a bit, go
to the play, and chat about what was going on in the town. How anyone could
live with that horrid old woman always hanging about, with her religion and
salvation, was beyond her. She hadn't time for such things, and as for
Bill, he said it was all 'tommy-rot.'
Hender was an excellent workwoman, although a lazy girl, and, seeing from
Kate's manner that the time had not come for conversation, applied herself
diligently to her business. Placing the two side-seams and the back under
the needle, she gave the wheel a turn, and rapidly the little steel needle
darted up and down into the glistening silk, as Miss Hender's thick hands
pushed it forward. The work was too delicate to admit of any distraction,
so for some time nothing was heard but the clinking rattle of the machine
and the 'swishing' of the silk as Kate drew it across the table and snipped
it with the scissors which hung from her waist.
But at the end of about half an hour the work came to a pause. Hender had
finished sewing up the bodice, had tacked on the facings, and Kate had cut
out the skirt and basted it together. The time had come for exchanging a
few words, and lifting her head from her work, she asked her assistant if
she could remain that evening and do a little overtime. Hender said she was
very sorry, but it was the first night of the new opera company; she had
passes for the pit, and had promised to take a friend with her. She would,
therefore, have to hurry away a little before six, so as to have her tea
and be dressed in time.
'Well, I don't know what I shall do,' said Kate sorrowfully. 'As for
myself, I simply couldn't pass another night out of bed. You know I was
uplooking after my husband all night. Attending a sick man, and one as
cross as Mr. Ede, is not very nice, I can assure you.'
Hender congratulated herself inwardly that Bill was never likely to want
'I think you'd better tell Mrs. Barnes that she can't expect the dress; it
will be impossible to get it done in the time. I'd be delighted to help
you, but I couldn't disappoint my little friend. Besides, you've Mr. Lennox
coming here to-day ... you can't get the dress done by to-morrow night!'
Hender had been waiting for a long time for an opportunity to lead up to
'Oh, dear me!' said Kate, 'I'd forgotten him, and he'll be coming this
afternoon, and may want some dinner, and I'll have to help mother.'
'They always have dinner in the afternoon,' said Miss Hender, with a
feeling of pride at being able to speak authoritatively on the ways and
habits of actors.
'Do they?' replied Kate reflectively; and then, suddenly remembering her
promise to the little girls, she said:
'But do you know what part he takes in the play?'
Hender always looked pleased when questioned about the theatre, but all the
stage carpenter had been able to tell her about the company was that it was
one of the best travelling; that Frank Bret, the tenor, was supposed to
have a wonderful voice; that the amount of presents he received in each
town from ladies in the upper ranks of society would furnish a small
shop--'It's said that they'd sell the chemises off their backs for him.'
The stage carpenter had also informed her that Joe Mortimer's performance
in the Cloches was extraordinary; he never failed to bring down the house
in his big scene; and Lucy Leslie was the best Clairette going.
And now that they were going to have an actor lodging in their house, Kate
felt a certain interest in hearing what such people were like; and while
Miss Hender gossiped about all she had heard, Kate remembered that her
question relating to Mr. Lennox remained unanswered.
'But you've not told me what part Mr. Lennox plays. Perhaps he's the man in
white who is being dragged away from his bride? I've been examining the big
picture; the little girls were so curious to know what it meant.'
'Yes, he may play that part; it is called Pom-Pom Pouet--I can't pronounce
it right; it's French. But in any case you'll find him fine. All theatre
people are. The other day I went behind to talk to Bill, and Mr. Rickett
stopped to speak to me as he was running to make a change.'
'What's that?' asked Kate.
'Making a change? Dressing in a hurry.'
'I hope you won't get into trouble; stopping out so late is very dangerous
for a young girl. And I suppose you walk up Piccadilly with him after the
'Sometimes he takes me out for a drink,' Hender replied, anxious to avoid a
discussion on the subject, but at the same time tempted to make a little
boast of her independence. 'But you must come to see _Madame Angot_; I
hear it is going to be beautifully put on, and Mr. Lennox is sure to give
you a ticket.'
'I dare say I should like it very much; I don't have much amusement.'
'Indeed you don't, and what do you get for it? I don't see that Mr. Ede is
so kind to you for all the minding and nursing you do; and old Mrs. Ede may
repeat all day long that she's a Christian woman, and what else she likes,
but it doesn't make her anything less disagreeable. I wouldn't live in a
house with a mother-in-law--and such a mother-in-law!'
'You and Mrs. Ede never hit it off, but I don't know what I should do
without her; she's the only friend I've got.'
'Half your time you're shut up in a sick-room, and even when he is well
he's always blowing and wheezing; not the man that would suit me.'
'Ralph can't help being cross sometimes,' said Kate, and she fell to
thinking of the fatigue of last night's watching. She felt it still in her
bones, and her eyes ached. As she considered the hardships of her life, her
manner grew more abandoned.
'If you'll let me have the skirt, ma'am, I'll stitch it up.'
Kate handed her the silk wearily, and was about to speak when Mrs. Ede
'Mr. Lennox is downstairs,' she said stiffly. 'I don't know what you'll
think of him. I'm a Christian woman and I don't want to misjudge anyone,
but he looks to me like a person of very loose ways.'
Kate flushed a little with surprise, and after a moment she said:
'I suppose I'd better go down and see him. But perhaps he won't like the
rooms after all. What shall I say to him?'
'Indeed, I can't tell you; I've the dinner to attend to.'
'But,' said Kate, getting frightened, 'you promised me not to say any more
on this matter.'
'Oh, I say nothing. I'm not mistress here. I told you that I would not
interfere with Mr. Lennox; no more will I. Why should I? What right have I?
But I may warn you, and I have warned you. I've said my say, and I'll abide
These hard words only tended to confuse Kate; all her old doubts returned
to her, and she remained irresolute. Hender, with an expression of contempt
on her coarse face, watched a moment and then returned to her sewing. As
she did so Kate moved towards the door. She waited on the threshold, but
seeing that her mother-in-law had turned her back, her courage returned to
her and she went downstairs. When she caught sight of Mr. Lennox she shrank
back frightened, for he was a man of about thirty years of age, with
bronzed face, and a shock of frizzly hair, and had it not been for his
clear blue eyes he might have passed for an Italian.
Leaning his large back against the counter, he examined a tray of ornaments
in black jet. Kate thought he was handsome. He wore a large soft hat, which
was politely lifted from his head when she entered. The attention
embarrassed her, and somewhat awkwardly she interrupted him to ask if he
would like to see the rooms. The suddenness of the question seemed to
surprise him, and he began talking of their common acquaintance, the agent
in advance, and of the difficulty in getting lodgings in the town. As he
spoke he stared at her, and he appeared interested in the shop.
It was a very tiny corner, and, like a Samson, Mr. Lennox looked as if he
would only have to extend his arms to pull the whole place down upon his
shoulders. From the front window round to the kitchen door ran a mahogany
counter; behind it, there were lines of cardboard boxes built up to the
ceiling; the lower rows were broken and dusty, and spread upon wires were
coarse shirts and a couple of pairs of stays in pink and blue. The windows
were filled with babies' frocks, hoods, and many pairs of little woollen
After a few remarks from Mr. Lennox the conversation came to a pause, and
Kate asked him again if he would like to see the rooms. He said he would be
delighted, and she lifted the flap and let him pass into the house. On the
right of the kitchen door there was a small passage, and at the end of it
the staircase began; the first few steps turned spirally, but after that it
ascended like a huge canister or burrow to the first landing.
They passed Mrs. Ede gazing scornfully from behind the door of the
workroom, but Mr. Lennox did not seem to notice her, and continued to talk
affably of the difficulty of finding lodgings in the town.
Even the shabby gentility of the room, which his presence made her realize
more vividly than ever, did not appear to strike him. He examined with
interest the patchwork cloth that covered the round table, looked
complacently at the little green sofa with the two chairs to match, and
said that he thought he would be comfortable. But when Kate noticed how
dusty was the pale yellow wall-paper, with its watery roses, she could not
help feeling ashamed, and she wondered how so fine a gentleman as he could
be so easily satisfied. Then, plucking up courage, she showed him the
little mahogany chiffonier which stood next the door, and told him that it
was there she would keep whatever he might order in the way of drinks. Mr.
Lennox walked nearer to the small looking-glass engarlanded with green
paper cut into fringes, twirled a slight moustache many shades lighter than
his hair, and admired his white teeth.
The inspection of the drawing-room being over, they went up the second
portion of the canister-like staircase, and after a turn and a stoop
arrived at the bedroom.
'I'm sorry you should see the room like this,' Kate said. 'I thought that
my mother-in-law had got the room ready for you. I was obliged to sleep
here last night; my husband--'
'I assure you I take no objection to the fact of your having slept here,'
he replied gallantly.
Kate blushed, and an awkward silence followed.
As Mr. Lennox looked round an expression of dissatisfaction passed over his
face. It was a much poorer place than the drawing-room. Religion and
poverty went there hand-in-hand. A rickety iron bedstead covered with
another patchwork quilt occupied the centre of the room, and there was a
small chest of drawers in white wood placed near the fireplace--the
smallest and narrowest in the world. Upon the black painted chimney-piece a
large red apple made a spot of colour. The carpet was in rags, and the lace
blinds were torn, and hung like fishnets. Mr. Lennox apparently was not
satisfied, but when his eyes fell upon Kate it was clear that he thought
that so pretty a woman might prove a compensation. But the pious
exhortations hanging on the walls seemed to cause him a certain uneasiness.
Above the washstand there were two cards bearing the inscriptions, 'Thou
art my hope,' 'Thou art my will'; and these declarations of faith were
written within painted garland of lilies and roses.
'I see that you're religious.'
'I'm afraid not so much as I should be, sir.'
'Well, I don't know so much about that; the place is covered with Bible
'Those were put there by my mother-in-law. She is very good.'
'Oh ah,' said Mr. Lennox, apparently much relieved by the explanation. 'Old
people are very pious, generally, aren't they? But this patchwork quilt is
yours, I suppose?'
'Yes, sir; I made it myself,' said Kate, blushing.
He made several attempts at conversation, but she did not respond, her
whole mind being held up by the thought: 'Is he going to take the rooms, I
wonder?' At last he said:
'I like these apartments very well; and you say that I can have breakfast
'Oh, you can have anything you order, sir. I, or my mother, will--'
'Very well, then; we may consider the matter settled. I'll tell them to
send down my things from the theatre.'
This seemed to conclude the affair, and they went downstairs. But Mr.
Lennox stopped on the next landing, and without any apparent object
re-examined the drawing-room. Speaking like a man who wanted to start a
conversation, he manifested interest in everything, and asked questions
concerning the rattle of the sewing-machine, which could be heard
distinctly; and before she could stop him he opened the door of the
workroom. He wondered at all the brown-paper patterns that were hung on the
walls, and Miss Hender, too eager to inform him, took advantage of the
occasion to glide in a word to the effect that she was going to see him
that evening at the theatre. Kate was amused, but felt it was her duty to
take the first opportunity of interrupting the conversation. For some
unexplained reason Mr. Lennox seemed loath to go, and it was with
difficulty he was got downstairs. Even then he could not pass the kitchen
door without stopping to speak to the apprentices. He asked them where they
had found their brown hair and eyes, and attempted to exchange a remark
with Mrs. Ede. Kate thought the encounter unfortunate, but it passed off
better than she expected. Mrs. Ede replied that the little girls were
getting on very well, and, apparently satisfied with this answer, Mr.
Lennox turned to go. His manner indicated his Bohemian habits, for after
all this waste of time he suddenly remembered that he had an appointment,
and would probably miss it by about a quarter of an hour.
'Will you require any dinner?' asked Kate, following him to the door.
At the mention of the word 'dinner' he again appeared to forget all about
his appointment. His face changed its expression, and his manner again grew
confidential. He asked all kind of questions as to what she could get him
to eat, but without ever quite deciding whether he would be able to find
time to eat it. Kate thought she had never seen such a man. At last in a
fit of desperation, he said:
'I'll have a bit of cold steak. I haven't the time to dine, but if you'll
put that out for me ... I like a bit of supper after the theatre--'
Kate wished to ask him what he would like to drink with it, but it was
impossible to get an answer. He couldn't stop another minute, and, dodging
the passers-by, he rushed rapidly down the street. She watched until the
big shoulders were lost in the crowd, and asked herself if she liked the
man who had just left her; but the answer slipped from her when she tried
to define it, and with a sigh she turned into the shop and mechanically set
straight those shirts that hung aslant on the traversing wires. At that
moment Mrs. Ede came from the kitchen carrying a basin of soup for her sick
son. She wanted to know why Kate had stayed so long talking to that man.
'Talking to him!' Kate repeated, surprised at the words and suspicious of
an implication of vanity. 'If we're going to take his money it's only right
that we should try to make him comfortable.'
'I doubt if his ten shillings a week will bring us much good,' Mrs. Ede
answered sourly; and she went upstairs, backbone and principles equally
rigid, leaving Kate to fume at what she termed her mother-in-law's
But Kate had no time to indulge in many angry thoughts, for the tall gaunt
woman returned with tears in her eyes to beg pardon.
'I'm so sorry, dear. Did I speak crossly? I'll say no more about the actor,
'I don't see why I should be bullied in my own house,' Kate answered,
feeling that she must assert herself. 'Why shouldn't I let my rooms to Mr.
Lennox if I like?'
'You're right,' Mrs. Ede replied--'I've said too much; but don't turn
against me, Kate.'
'No, no, mother; I don't turn against you. You're the only person I have to
At these words a look of pleasure passed over the hard, blunt features of
the peasant woman, and she said with tears in her voice:
'You know I'm a bit hard with my tongue, but that's all; I don't mean it.'
'Well, say no more, mother,' and Kate went upstairs to her workroom, Miss
Hender, already returned from dinner, was trembling with excitement, and
she waited impatiently for the door to be shut that she might talk. She had
been round to see her friend the stage carpenter, and he had told her all
about the actor. Mr. Lennox was the boss; Mr. Hayes, the acting manager,
was a nobody, generally pretty well boozed; and Mr. Cox, the London gent,
Kate listened, only half understanding what was said.
'And what part does he play in _Madame Angot_?' she asked as she bent
her head to examine the bead trimmings she was stitching on to the sleeves.
'The low comedy part,' said Miss Hender; but seeing that Kate did not
understand, she hastened to explain that the low comedy parts meant the
'He's the man who's lost his wig--La-La Ravodee, I think they call it--and
a very nice man he is. When I was talking to Bill I could see Mr. Lennox
between the wings; he had his arm round Miss Leslie's shoulder. I'm sure
he's sweet on her.'
Kate looked up from her work and stared at Miss Hender slowly. The
announcement that Mr. Lennox was the funny man was disappointing, but to
hear that he was a woman's lover turned her against him.
'All those actors are alike. I see now that my mother-in-law was right. I
shouldn't have let him my rooms.'
'One's always afraid of saying anything to you, ma'am; you twist one's
words so. I'm sure I didn't mean to say there was any harm between him and
Miss Leslie. There, perhaps you'll go and tell him that I spoke about him.'
'I'm sure I shall do nothing of the sort. Mr. Lennox has taken my rooms for
a week, and there's an end of it. I'm not going to interfere in his private
The conversation then came to a pause, and all that was heard for a long
time was the clicking of the needle and the rustling of silk. Kate wondered
how it was that Mr. Lennox was so different off the stage from what he was
when on; and it seemed to her strange that such a nice gentleman--for she
was obliged to admit that he was that--should choose to play the funny
parts. As for his connection with Miss Leslie, that of course was none of
her business. What did it matter to her? He was in love with whom he
pleased. She'd have thought he was a man who would not easily fall in love;
but perhaps Miss Leslie was very pretty, and, for the matter of that, they
might be going to be married. Meanwhile Miss Hender regretted having told
Kate anything about Mr. Lennox. The best and surest way was to let people
find out things for themselves, and having an instinctive repugnance to
virtue--at least, to questions of conscience--she could not abide whining
about spilt milk. Beyond an occasional reference to their work, the women
did not speak again, until at three o'clock Mrs. Ede announced that dinner
was ready. There was not much to eat, however, and Kate had little
appetite, and she was glad when the meal was finished. She had then to help
Mrs. Ede in getting the rooms ready, and when this was done it was time for
tea. But not even this meal did they get in comfort, for Mr. Lennox had
ordered a beefsteak for supper; somebody would have to go to fetch it. Mrs.
Ede said she would, and Kate went into the shop to attend to the few
customers who might call in the course of the evening. The last remarkable
event in this day of events was the departure of Miss Hender, who came
downstairs saying she had only just allowed herself time to hurry to the
theatre; she feared she wouldn't be there before the curtain went up, and
she was sorry Kate wasn't coming, but she would tell her to-morrow all
about Mr. Lennox, and how the piece went. As Kate bade her assistant
good-night a few customers dropped in, all of whom gave a great deal of
trouble. She had to pull down a number of packages to find what was wanted.
Then her next-door neighbour, the stationer's wife, called to ask after Mr.
Ede and to buy a reel of cotton; and so, in evening chat, the time passed,
until the fruiterer's boy came to ask if he should put up the shutters.
Kate nodded, and remarked to her friend, who had risen to go, what a nice,
kind man Mr. Jones was.
'Yes, indeed, they are very kind people, but their prices are very high. Do
you deal with them?'
Kate replied that she did; and, as the fruiterer's boy put up the shutters
with a series of bangs, she tried to persuade her neighbour to buy a
certain gown she had been long talking of.
'Trimming and everything, it won't cost you more than thirty shillings;
you'll want something fresh now that summer's coming on.'
'So I shall. I'll speak to my man about it to-night. I think he'll let me
'He won't refuse you if you press him.'
'Well, we shall see,' and bidding Kate good-night she passed into the
The evening was fine, and Kate stood for a long while watching the people
surging out of the potteries towards Piccadilly. 'Coming out,' she said,
'for their evening walk,' and she was glad that the evening was fine.
'After a long day in the potteries they want some fresh air,' and then,
raising her eyes from the streets, she watched the sunset die out of the
west; purple and yellow streaks still outlined the grey expanse of the
hills, making the brick town look like a little toy. An ugly little brick
town--brick of all colours: the pale reddish-brown of decaying brick-yards,
the fierce red brick of the newly built warehouses that turns to purple,
and above the walls scarlet tiled roofs pointing sharp angles to a few
Kate stood watching the fading of the hills into night clouds, interested
in her thoughts vaguely--her thoughts adrift and faded somewhat as the
spectacle before her. She wondered if her lodger would be satisfied with
her mother's cooking; she hoped so. He was a well-spoken man, but she could
not hope to change mother. As the image of the lodger floated out of her
mind Hender's came into it, and she hoped the girl would not get into
trouble. So many poor girls are in trouble; how many in the crowd passing
before her door? The difficulty she was in with Mrs. Barnes's dress
suggested itself, and with a shiver and a sigh she shut the street-door and
went upstairs. The day had passed; it was gone like a hundred days before
it--wearily, perhaps, yet leaving in the mind an impression of something
done, of duties honestly accomplished.
'Oh, ma'am!' Hender broke in, 'you can't think how amusing it was last
night! I never enjoyed myself so much in my life. The place was crammed!
Such a house! And Miss Leslie got three encores and a call after each act.'
'And what was Mr. Lennox like?'
'Oh, he only played a small part--one of the policemen. He don't play
Pom-poucet; I was wrong. It's too heavy a part, and he's too busy looking
after the piece. But Joe Mortimer was splendid; I nearly died of laughing
when he fell down and lost his wig in the middle of the stage. And Frank
Bret looked such a swell, and he got an encore for the song, "Oh, Certainly
I Love Clairette." And he and Miss Leslie got another for the duet.
To-morrow they play the _Cloches_.'
'But now you've seen so much of the theatre I hope you'll be able to do a
little overtime with me. I've promised to let Mrs. Barnes have her dress by
'I'm afraid I shan't be able to stay after six o'clock.'
'But surely if they're doing the same play you don't want to see it again?'
'Well 'tisn't exactly that, but--well, I prefer to tell you the truth;
'tisn't the piece I go to the theatre for; I'm one of the dressers, and I
get twelve shillings a week, and I can't afford to lose it. But there's no
use in telling Mrs. Ede, she'd only make a bother.'
'How do you mean, dressing?'
'The ladies of the theatre must have someone to dress them, and I look
after the principals, Miss Leslie and Miss Beaumont, that's all.'
'And how long have you been doing that?'
'Why, about a month now. Bill got me the place.'
This conversation had broken in upon a silence of nearly half an hour; with
bent heads and clicking needles, Kate and Hender had been working
assiduously at Mrs. Barnes's skirt.
Having a great deal of _passementerie_ ornamentation to sew on to the
heading of the flounces, and much fringe to arrange round the edge of the
drapery, Kate looked forward to a heavy day. She had expected Miss Hender
an hour earlier, and she had not turned up until after nine. An assistant
whose time was so occupied that she couldn't give an extra hour when you
were in a difficulty was of very little use; and it might be as well to
look out for somebody more suitable. Besides, all this talk about theatres
and actors was very wrong; there could be little doubt that the girl was
losing her character, and to have her coming about the house would give it
a bad name. Such were Kate's reflections as she handled the rustling silk
and folded it into large plaitings. Now and again she tried to come to a
decision, but she was not sincere with herself. She knew she liked the
girl, and Hender's conversation amused her: to send her away meant to
surrender herself completely to her mother-in-law's stern kindness and her
Hender was the window through which Kate viewed the bustle and animation of
life, and even now, annoyed as she was that she would not be able to get
the dress done in time, she could not refrain from listening to the girl's
chatter. There was about Miss Hender that strange charm which material
natures possess even when they offend. Being of the flesh, we must
sympathize with it, and the amiability of Hender's spirits made a great
deal pass that would have otherwise appeared wicked. She could tell without
appearing too rude, how Mr. Wentworth, the lessee, was gone on a certain
lady in the new company, and would give her anything if she would chuck up
her engagement and come and live with him. When Hender told these stories,
Kate, fearing that Mrs. Ede might have overheard, looked anxiously at the
door, and under the influence of the emotion, it interested her to warn her
assistant of the perils of frequenting bad company. But as Kate lectured
she could not help wondering how it was that her life passed by so wearily.
Was she never going to do anything else but work? she often asked herself,
and then reproached herself for the regret that had risen unwittingly up in
her mind that life was not all pleasure. It certainly was not, "but perhaps
it is better," she said to herself, "that we have to get our living, for me
at least"--her thoughts broke off sharply, and she passed out of the
present into a long past time.
Kate had never known her father; her mother, an earnest believer in Wesley,
was a hard-working woman who made a pound a week by painting on china. This
was sufficient for their wants, and Mrs. Howell's only fears were that she
might lose her health and die before her time, leaving her daughter in
want. To avoid this fate she worked early and late at the factory, and Kate
was left in the charge of the landlady, a childless old woman who, sitting
by the fire, used to tell stories of her deceptions and misfortunes in
life, thereby intoxicating the little girl's brain with sentiment. The
mother's influence was a sort of make-weight; Mrs. Howell was a deeply
religious woman, and Kate was often moved to trace back a large part of
herself to Bible-readings and extemporary prayers offered up by the bedside
in the evening.
Her school-days were unimportant. She learnt to read and write and to do
sums; that was all. Kate grew, softly and mystically as a dark damask rose,
into a pretty woman without conversions or passions: for notwithstanding
her early training, religion had never taken a very firm hold upon her, and
despite the fact that she married into a family very similar to her own,
although her mother-in-law was almost a counterpart of her real mother--a
little harder and more resolute, but as God-fearing and as kind--Kate had
caught no blast of religious fervour; religion taught her nothing, inspired
her with nothing, could influence her in little. She was not strong nor
great, nor was she conscious of any deep feeling that if she acted
otherwise than she did she would be living an unworthy life. She was merely
good because she was a kind-hearted woman, without bad impulses, and
admirably suited to the life she was leading.
But in this commonplace inactivity of mind there was one strong
characteristic, one bit of colour in all these grey tints: Kate was dreamy,
not to say imaginative. When she was a mere child she loved fairies, and
took a vivid interest in goblins; and when afterwards she discarded these
stories for others, it was not because it shocked her logical sense to read
of a beanstalk a hundred feet high, but for a tenderer reason: Jack did not
find a beautiful lady to love him. She could not help feeling disappointed,
and when the _London Journal_ came for the first time across her way,
with the story of a broken heart, her own heart melted with sympathy; the
more sentimental and unnatural the romance, the more it fevered and
enraptured her. She loved to read of singular subterranean combats, of high
castles, prisoners, hair-breadth escapes; and her sympathies were always
with the fugitives. It was also very delightful to hear of lovers who were
true to each other in spite of a dozen wicked uncles, of women who were
tempted until their hearts died within them, and who years after threw up
their hands and said, "Thank God that I had the courage to resist!"
The second period of her sentimental education was when she passed from the
authors who deal exclusively with knights, princesses, and kings to those
who interest themselves in the love fortunes of doctors and curates.
Amid these there was one story that interested her in particular, and
caused her deeper emotions than the others. It concerned a beautiful young
woman with a lovely oval face, who was married to a very tiresome country
doctor. This lady was in the habit of reading Byron and Shelley in a rich,
sweet-scented meadow, down by the river, which flowed dreamily through
smiling pasture-lands adorned by spreading trees. But this meadow belonged
to a squire, a young man with grand, broad shoulders, who day after day
used to watch these readings by the river without venturing to address a
word to the fair trespasser. One day, however, he was startled by a shriek:
in her poetical dreamings the lady had slipped into the water. A moment
sufficed to tear off his coat, and as he swam like a water-dog he had no
difficulty in rescuing her. Of course after this adventure he had to call
and inquire, and from henceforth his visits grew more and more frequent,
and by a strange coincidence, he used to come riding up to the hall-door
when the husband was away curing the ills of the country-folk. Hours were
passed under the trees by the river, he pleading his cause, and she
refusing to leave poor Arthur, till at last the squire gave up the pursuit
and went to foreign parts, where he waited thirty years, until he heard
Arthur was dead. And then he came back with a light heart to his first and
only love, who had never ceased to think of him, and lived with her happily
for ever afterwards. The grotesque mixture of prose and poetry, both
equally false, used to enchant Kate, and she always fancied that had she
been the heroine of the book she would have acted in the same way.
Kate's taste for novel-reading distressed Mrs. Howell; she thought it 'a
sinful waste of time, not to speak of the way it turned people's heads from
God'; and when one day she found Kate's scrap-book, made up of poems cut
from the _Family Herald_, she began to despair of her daughter's
salvation. The answer Kate made to her mother's reproaches was: 'Mother,
I've been sewing all day; I can't see what harm it can be to read a little
before I go to bed. Nobody is required to be always saying their prayers.'
The next two years passed away unperceived by either mother or daughter,
and then an event occurred of some importance. Their neighbours at the
corner of the street got into difficulties, and were eventually sold out
and their places taken by strangers, who changed the oil-shop into a
drapery business. The new arrivals aroused the keenest interest, and Mrs.
Howell and her daughter called to see what they were like, as did everybody
else. The acquaintance thus formed was renewed at church, and much to their
surprise and pleasure, they discovered that they were of the same religious
Henceforth the Howells and Edes saw a great deal of each other, and every
Sunday after church the mothers walked home together and the young people
followed behind. Ralph spoke of his ill-health, and Kate pitied him, and
when he complimented her on her beautiful hair she blushed with pleasure.
For much as she had revelled in fictitious sentiment, she had somehow never
thought of seeking it in nature, and how that she had found a lover, the
critical sense was not strong enough in her to lead her to compare reality
with imagination. She accepted Ralph as unsuspectingly as she hitherto
accepted the tawdry poetry of her favourite fiction. And her nature not
being a passionate one, she was able to do this without any apparent
transition of sentiment. She pitied him, hoped she could be of use in
nursing him, and felt flattered at the idea of being mistress of a shop.
The mothers were delighted, and spoke of the coincidence of their religions
and the admirable addition dressmaking would be to the drapery business. Of
love, small mention was made. The bridegroom spoke of his prospects of
improving the business, the bride listened, interested for the while in his
enthusiasm; orders came in, and Kate was soon transformed into a
This change of character passed unperceived by all but Mrs. Howell, who
died wondering how it came about. Kate herself did not know; she fancied
that it was fully accounted for by the fact that she had no time--' no time
for reading now'--which was no more than the truth; but she did not
complain; she accepted her husband's kisses as she did the toil he imposed
on her--meekly, unaffectedly, as a matter of course, as if she always knew
that the romances which used to fascinate her were merely idle dreams,
having no bearing upon the daily life of human beings--things fit to amuse
a young girl's fancies, and to be thrown aside when the realities of life
were entered upon. The only analogy between the past and present was an
ample submission to authority and an indifference to the world and its
interest. Even the fact of being without children did not seem to concern
her, and when her mother-in-law regretted it she merely smiled languidly,
or said, 'We are very well as we are.' Of the world and the flesh she lived
almost in ignorance, suspecting their existence only through Miss Hender.
Hender was attracted by her employer's kindness and softness of manner, and
Kate by her assistant's strength of will. For some months past a friendship
had been growing up between the two women, but if Kate had known for
certain that Hender was living a life of sin with the stage carpenter she
might not have allowed her into the house. But the possibility of sin
attached her to the girl in the sense that it forced her to think of her
continually. And then there was a certain air of bravado in Miss Hender's
freckled face that Kate admired. She instituted comparisons between herself
and the assistant, and she came to the conclusion that she preferred that
fair, blonde complexion to her own clear olive skin; and the sparkle of the
red frizzy hair put her out of humour with the thick, wavy blue tresses
which encircled her small temples like a piece of black velvet.
As she continued her sewing she reconsidered the question of Hender's
dismissal, but only to perceive more and more clearly the blank it would
occasion in her life. And besides her personal feeling there was the fact
to consider that to satisfy her customers she must have an assistant who
could be depended upon. And she did not know where she would find another
who would turn out work equal to Hender's. At last Kate said:
'I don't know what I shall do; I promised the dress by to-morrow morning.'
'I think we'll be able to finish it to-day,' Hender answered. 'I'll work
hard at it all the afternoon; a lot can be done between this and seven
'Oh, I don't know,' replied Kate dolefully; 'these leaves take such a time
to sew on; and then there's all the festooning.'
'I think it can be managed, but we must stick at it.'
On this expression of good-will the conversation ceased for the time being,
and the clicking of needles and the buzzing of flies about the brown-paper
patterns were all that was heard until twelve o'clock, when Mrs. Ede burst
into the room.
'I knew what it would be,' she said, shutting the door after her.
'What is it?' said Kate, looking up frightened.
'Well, I offered to do him a chop or some fried eggs, but he says he must
have an omelette. Did you ever hear of such a thing? I told him I didn't
know how to make one, but he said that I was to ask you if you could spare
'I'll make him an omelette,' said Kate, rising. 'Have you got the eggs?'
'Yes. The trouble that man gives us! What with his bath in the morning, and
two pairs of boots to be cleaned, and the clothes that have to be brushed,
I've done nothing but attend to him since ten o'clock; and what hours to
keep!--it is now past eleven.'
'What's the use of grumbling? You know the work must be done, and I can't
be in two places at once. You promised me you wouldn't say anything more
about it, but would attend to him just the same as any other lodger.'
'I can't do more than I'm doing; I haven't done anything all the morning
but run upstairs,' said Mrs. Ede very crossly; 'and I wish you'd take the
little girls out of the kitchen; I can't look after them, and they do
nothing but look out of the window.'
'Very well, I'll have them up here; they can sit on the sofa. We can manage
with them now that we've finished the cutting out.
Hender made no reply to this speech, which was addressed to her. She hated
having the little girls up in the workroom, and Kate knew it.
Kate did not take long to make Mr. Lennox's omelette. There was a bright
fire in the kitchen, the muffins were toasted, and the tea was made.
'This is a very small breakfast,' she said as she put the plates and dishes
on the tray. 'Didn't he order anything else?'
'He spoke about some fried bacon, but I'll attend to that; you take the
other things up to him.'
As Kate passed with the tray in her hand she reproved the little girls for
their idleness and told them to come upstairs, but it was not until she
motioned them into the workroom that she realized that she was going into
Mr. Lennox's room.
After a slight pause she turned the handle of the door and entered. Mr.
Lennox was lying very negligently in the armchair, wrapped in his
dressing-gown. 'Oh, I beg your pardon, sir; I didn't know--' she said,
starting back. Then, blushing for shame at her own silliness in taking
notice of such things, she laid the breakfast things on the table.
Mr. Lennox thanked her, and without seeming to notice her discomfiture he
wrapped himself up more closely, drew his chair forward, and, smacking his
lips, took the cover off the dish. 'Oh, very nice indeed,' he said, 'but
I'm afraid I've given you a great deal of trouble; the old lady said you
were very, very busy.'
'I've to finish a dress to-day, sir, and my assistant--'
Here Kate stopped, remembering that if Mr. Lennox had renewed his
acquaintance with Hender at the theatre, any allusion to her would give
rise to further conversation. 'Oh yes, I know Miss Hender; she's one of our
dressers; she looks after our two leading ladies, Miss Leslie and Miss
Beaumont. But I don't see the bacon here.'
'Mrs. Ede is cooking it; she'll bring it up in a minute or two,' Kate
answered, edging towards the door.
'We've nothing to do with the dressers,' said Mr. Lennox, speaking rapidly,
so as to detain his landlady; 'but if you're as pressed with your work as
you tell me, I dare say, by speaking to the lessee, I might manage to get
Miss Hender off for this one evening.'
'Thank you, sir; I'm sure it's very kind of you, but I shall be able to
manage without that.'
The lodger spoke with such an obvious desire to oblige that Kate could not
choose but like him, and it made her wish all the more that he would cover
up his big, bare neck.
''Pon my word, this is a capital omelette,' he said, licking his lips,
'There is nothing I like so much as a good omelette, I was very lucky to
come here,' he added, glancing at Kate's waist, which was slim even in her
old blue striped dress.
'It's very kind of you to say so, sir,' she said, and a glow of rose-colour
flushed the dark complexion. There was something very human in this big
man, and Kate did not know whether his animalism irritated or pleased her.
'You weren't at the theatre last night?' he said, forcing a huge piece of
deeply buttered, spongy French roll into his mouth.
'No, sir, I wasn't there; I rarely go to the theatre.'
'Ah! I'm sorry. How's that? We had a tremendous house. I never saw the
piece go better. If this business keeps up to the end of the week I think
we shall try to get another date.'
Kate did not know what 'another date' meant, but Hender would be able to
'You've only to tell me when you want to see the piece, and I'll give you
places. Would you like to come to-night?'
'Not to-night, thank you, sir. I shall be busy all the evening, and my
husband is not very well.'
The conversation then came to an irritating pause. Mr. Lennox had scraped
up the last fragments of the omelette, and poured himself out another cup
of tea, when Mrs. Ede appeared with the broiled bacon. On seeing Kate
talking to Mr. Lennox, she at once assumed an air of mingled surprise and
Kate noticed this, but Mr. Lennox had no eyes for anything but the bacon,
which he heaped on his plate and devoured voraciously. It pleased Kate to
see him enjoy his breakfast, but while she was admiring him Mrs. Ede said
as she moved towards the door, 'Can I do anything for you, sir?'
'Well, no,' replied Mr. Lennox indifferently; but seeing that Kate was
going too he swallowed a mouthful of tea hastily and said, 'I was just
telling the lady here that we had a tremendous success last night, and that
she ought to come and see the piece. I think she said she had no one to go
with. You should take her. I'm sure you will like the _Cloches_.'
Mrs. Ede looked indignant, but after a moment she recovered herself, and
said severely and emphatically: 'Thank you, sir, but I'm a Christian woman.
No offence, sir, but I don't think such things are right.'
'Ah! don't you, indeed?' replied the mummer, looking at her in blank
astonishment. But the expression of his face soon changed, and as if struck
suddenly by some painful remembrance, he said, 'You're a Dissenter or
something of that kind, I suppose. We lost a lot of money at Bradford
through people of your persuasion; they jolly well preached against us.'
Mrs. Ede did not answer, and after a few brief apologetic phrases to the
effect that it would not do for us all to think alike, Kate withdrew to her
work-room, asking herself if Mr. Lennox would take offence and leave them.
Hender suspected that something had occurred, and was curious to hear what
it was; but there sat those idiotic little girls, and of course it wouldn't
do to speak before them. Once she hinted that she had heard that Mr.
Lennox, though a very nice man, was a bit quick-tempered, a query that Kate
answered evasively, saying that it was difficult to know what Mr. Lennox
was like. Words were an effort to her, and she could not detach a single
precise thought from the leaden-coloured dreams which hung about her.
Click, click, went the needles all day long, and Kate wondered what a woman
who lived in a thirty-pound house could want with a ten-pound dress. But
that was no affair of hers, and as it was most important she should not
disappoint her, Kate kept Hender to dinner; and as compensation for the
press of work, she sent round to the public for three extra half-pints.
They needed a drink, for the warmth of the day was intense. Along the red
tiles of the houses, amid the brick courtyards, the sun's rays created an
oven-like atmosphere. From the high wall opposite the dead glare poured
into the little front kitchen through the muslin blinds, burning the pot of
green-stuff, and falling in large spots upon the tiled floor; and overcome
by the heat, the two women lay back on the little red calico-covered sofa,
languidly sipping their beer, and thinking vaguely of when they would have
to begin work again. Hender lolled with her legs stretched out; Kate rested
her head upon her hand wearily; Mrs. Ede sat straight, apparently unheeding
the sunlight which fell across the plaid shawl that she wore winter and
summer. She drank her beer in quick gulps, as if even the time for
swallowing was rigidly portioned out. The others watched her, knowing that
when her pewter was empty she would turn them out of the kitchen. In a few
moments she said, 'I think, Kate, that if you're in a hurry you'd better
get on with your dress. I have to see to Mr. Lennox's dinner, and I can't
have you a-hanging about. As it is, I don't know how I'm to get the work
done. There's a leg of mutton to be roasted, and a pudding to be made, and
all by four o'clock.'
Kate calmed the old woman with a few words, and taking Ralph's dinner from
her, carried it upstairs. She found her husband better, and, setting the
tray on the edge of the bed, she answered the questions he put to her
concerning the actor briefly; then begged of him to excuse her, as she
heard voices in the shop. Mr. Lennox had come in bringing two men with him,
Joe Mortimer, the low comedian, and young Montgomery, the conductor; and it
became difficult to prevent Hender from listening at the doors, and almost
useless to remind her of the fact that there were children present, so
excited did she become when she spoke of Bret's love affairs.
But at six o'clock she put on her hat, and there was no dissuading her;
Mrs. Barnes must wait for her dress. There was still much to be done, and
when Mrs. Ede called from the kitchen that tea was ready, Kate did not at
first answer, and when at last she descended she remained only long enough
to eat a piece of bread and butter. Her head was filled with grave
forebodings, that gradually drifted and concentrated into one fixed
idea--not to disappoint Mrs. Barnes. Once quite suddenly, she was startled
by an idea which flashed across her mind, and stopping in the middle of a
'leaf,' she considered the question that had propounded itself. Lodgers
often make love to their landladies; what would she do if Mr. Lennox made
love to her? Such a thing might occur. An expression of annoyance
contracted her face, and she resumed her sewing. The hours passed slowly
and oppressively. It was now ten o'clock, and the tail had still to be
bound with braid, and the side strings to be sewn in. She had no tape by
her, and thought of putting off these finishing touches till the morning,
but plucking up her courage, she determined to go down and fetch from the
shop what was required. The walk did her good, but it was hard to sit down
to work again; and the next few minutes seemed to her interminable: but at
last the final stitch was given, the thread bitten off, and the dress held
up in triumph. She looked at it for a moment with a feeling of pride, which
soon faded into a sensation of indifference.
All the same her day's labour was over; she was now free. But the thought
carried a bitterness: she remembered that there was no place for her to go
to but her sick husband's room. Yet she had been looking forward to having
at least one night's rest, and it exasperated her to think that there was
nothing for her but a hard pallet in the back room, and the certainty of
being awakened several times to attend to Ralph. She asked herself
passionately if she was always going to remain a slave and a drudge?
Hender's words came back to her with a strange distinctness, and she saw
that she knew nothing of pleasure, or even of happiness; and in a very
simple way she wondered what were really the ends of life. If she were good
and religious like her mother or her mother-in-law--But somehow she could
never feel as they did. Heaven seemed so far away. Of course it was a
consolation to think there was a happier and better world;
still--still--Not being able to pursue the thread any further, she stopped,
puzzled, and a few moments after she was thinking of the lady who used to
read Byron and Shelley, and who resisted her lover's entreaties so bravely.
Every part of the forgotten story came back to her. She realized the place
they used to dream in. She could see them watching with ardent eyes the
paling of the distant sky as they listened to the humming of insects,
breathing the honied odour of the flowers; she saw her leaning on his arm
caressingly, whilst pensively she tore with the other hand the leaves as
they passed up the long terrace.
Then as the vision became more personal and she identified herself with the
heroine of the book, she thought of the wealth of love she had to give, and
it seemed to her unutterably sad that it should bloom like a rose in a
desert unknown and unappreciated.
This was the last flight of her dream. The frail wings of her imagination
could sustain her no longer, and too weary to care for or even to think of
anything, she went upstairs, to find Mrs. Ede painting her son's chest and
back with iodine. He had a bad attack, which was beginning to subside. His
face was haggard, his eyes turgid, and the two women talked together. Mrs.
Ede was indignant, and told of all her trouble with the dinner. She had to
fetch cigars and drinks. Kate listened, watching her husband all the while.
He began to get a little better, and Mrs. Ede took advantage of the
occasion to suggest that it was time for evening prayers.
In days when speech was possible, it was Ralph who read the customary
chapter of the Bible and led the way with the Lord's Prayer; but when words
were forbidden to him his mother supplied his place. The tall figure knelt
upright. It was not a movement of cringing humility, but of stalwart
belief, and as she handed her the Bible, Kate could not help thinking that
there was pride in her mother-in-law's very knees.
The old woman turned over the leaves for a few seconds in silence; then,
having determined on a chapter, she began to read. But she had not got
beyond a few sentences before she was interrupted by the sound of laughing
voices and stamping feet.
She stopped reading, and looked from Kate to her husband. He was at the
moment searching for his pocket-handkerchief. Kate rose to assist him, and
Mrs. Ede said:
'It's shameful! it's disgraceful!'
'It's only Mr. Lennox coming in.'
'Only Mr. Lennox!' At that moment she was interrupted by the lighter
laughter of female voices; she paused to listen, and then, shutting the
book fiercely, she said, 'From the first I was against letting our rooms to
a mummer; but I didn't think I should live to see my son's house turned
into a night house. I shall not stop here.'
'Not stop here-eh, eh? We must tell--tell him that it can't be allowed,'
'And I should like to know who these women are he has dared to bring into--
People he has met in Piccadilly, I suppose!'
'Oh no!' interrupted Kate, 'I'm sure that they are the ladies of the
'And where's the difference?' Mrs. Ede asked fiercely. Sectarian hatred of
worldly amusement flamed in her eyes, and made common cause with the
ordinary prejudice of the British landlady. Mr. Ede shared his mother's
opinions, but as he was then suffering from a splitting headache, his chief
desire was that she should lower the tone of her voice.
'For goodness' sake don't speak so loud!' he said plaintively. 'Of course
he mustn't bring women into the house; but he had better be told so. Kate,
go down and tell him that these ladies must leave.'
Kate stood aghast at hearing her fate thus determined, and she asked
herself how she was to tell Mr. Lennox that he must put his friends out of
doors. She hesitated, and during a long silence all three listened. A great
guffaw, a woman's shriek, a peal of laughter, and then a clinking of
glasses was heard. Even Kate's face told that she thought it very improper,
and Mrs. Ede said with a theatrical air of suppressed passion:
'Very well; I suppose that is all that can be done at present.'
Feeling very helpless, Kate murmured, 'I don't see how I'm to tell them to
go. Hadn't we better put it off until morning.'
'Till morning!' said Mr. Ede, trying to button his dirty nightshirt across
his hairy chest. 'I'm not going to listen to that noise all night. Kate,
you g-go and tur-r-rn them out.'
'I'm sorry, dearie,' said Mrs. Ede, seeing her daughter-in-law's distress.
'I'll soon send them away.'
'Oh no! I'd rather go myself,' said Kate.
'Very well, dear. I only thought you might not like to go down among a lot
of rough people.'
The noise downstairs was in the meanwhile increasing, and Ralph grew as
angry as his asthma would allow him. 'They're just killing me with their
noise. Go down at once and tell them they must leave the house instantly.
If you don't I'll go myself.'
Mrs. Ede made a movement towards the door, but Kate stopped her, saying:
'I'll go; it's my place.' As she descended the stairs she heard a man's
voice screaming above the general hubbub:
'I'll tell you what; if Miss Beaumont doesn't wait for my beat another
night, I'll insist on a rehearsal being called. She took the concerted
music in the finale of the first act two whole bars before her time. It was
damned awful. I nearly broke my stick trying to stop her.'
'Quite true; I never saw the piece go so badly. Bret was "fluffing" all
over the shop.'
Kate listened to these fragments of conversation, asked herself how she was
to walk in upon those people and tell them that they must keep quiet.
'And the way Beaumont tries to spoon with Dick. She nearly missed her cue
once with sneaking after him in the wings.'
A peal of laughter followed. This sally determined Kate to act; and without
having made up her mind what to say, she turned the handle of the door and
walked into the room.
The three gas-burners were blazing, wine-glasses were on the table, and Mr.
Lennox stood twisting a corkscrew into a bottle which he held between his
fat thighs. On the little green sofa Miss Lucy Leslie lay back playing with
her bonnet-strings. Her legs were crossed, and a lifted skirt showed a bit
of striped stocking. Next her, with his spare legs sprawled over the arm of
the easy-chair, was Mr. Montgomery, the thinnest being possible to imagine,
in grey clothes. His nose was enormous, and he pushed up his glasses when
Kate came into the room with a movement of the left hand that was clearly
habitual. On the other side of the round table sat Mr. Joe Mortimer, the
heavy lead, the celebrated miser in the _Cloches_. A tall girl
standing behind him playfully twisted his back hair. He addressed paternal
admonitions to her from time to time in an artificially cracked voice.
'Please, sir,' said Kate pleadingly, 'I'm very sorry, but we cannot keep
open house after eleven o'clock.'
A deep silence followed this announcement. Miss Leslie looked up at Kate
curiously. Mr. Lennox stopped twisting the corkscrew into the bottle, and
the low comedian, seizing the opportunity, murmured in his mechanical voice
to the girl behind him, 'Open house! Of course, she's quite right. I knew
there was a draught somewhere; I felt my hair blowing about.'
Everybody laughed, and the merriment still contributed to discountenance
'Will he never speak and let me go?' she asked herself. At last he did
speak, and his words fell upon her like blows.
'I don't know what you mean, Mrs. Ede,' he said in a loud, commanding
voice. 'I made no agreement with you that I wasn't to bring friends home
with me in the evening. Had I known that I was taking lodgings in a church
I wouldn't have come.'
She felt dreadfully humiliated, and nothing was really present in her mind
but a desire to conciliate Mr. Lennox.
'It isn't my fault, sir. I really don't mind; but my mother-in-law and my
husband won't have people coming into the house after ten o'clock.'
Mr. Lennox's face showed that his heart had softened towards her, and when
she mentioned that her husband was lying ill in bed, turning round to his
company, he said:
'I think we are making too much noise; we shouldn't like it ourselves if--'
But just at that moment, when all was about to end pleasantly, Mrs. Ede was
heard at the top of the stairs.
'I'm a Christian woman, and will not remain in a house where drinking and
This speech changed everything. Mr. Lennox's eyes flashed passion, and he
made a movement as if he were going to shout an answer back to Mrs. Ede,
but checking himself, he said, addressing Kate, 'I beg that you leave my
rooms, ma'am. You can give me warning in the morning if you like, or
rather, I'll give it to you; but for this evening, at least, the place is
mine, and I shall do what I like.' On that he advanced towards the door and
threw it open.
Tears stood in her eyes. She looked sorrowfully at Mr. Lennox. He noticed
the pitiful, appealing glance, but was too angry to understand. The look
was her whole soul. She did not see Miss Leslie sneering, nor Mr.
Montgomery's grinning face. She saw nothing but Mr. Lennox, and, stunned by
the thought of his leaving them, she followed her mother-in-law upstairs.
The old woman scolded and rowed. To have that lot of men and women smoking
and drinking after eleven o'clock in the house was not to be thought of,
and she tried to force her son to say that the police must be sent for. But
it was impossible to get an answer from him: the excitement and effort of
speaking had rendered him speechless, and holding his moppy black hair with
both hands, he wheezed in deep organ tones. Kate looked at him blankly, and
longed for some place out of hearing of his breath and out of the smell of
the medicine-bottles. His mother was now insisting on his taking a couple
of pills, and called upon Kate to find the box. The sharp, sickly odour of
the aloes was abominable, and with her stomach turning, she watched her
husband trying vainly to swallow the dose with the aid of a glass of water.
Stop in this room! No, that she couldn't do! It would poison her. She
wanted sleep and fresh air. Where could she get them? The mummer was in the
spare room; but he would be gone to-morrow, and she would be left alone.
The thought startled her, though she soon forgot it in her longing to get
out of her husband's sight. Every moment this desire grew stronger, and at
last she said:
'I cannot stay here; another night would kill me. Will you let me have your
'Certainly I will, my dear,' replied the old woman, astonished not so much
at the request, but at the vehemence of the emphasis laid upon the words.
'You're looking dreadfully worn out, my dear; I'll see to my boy.'
As soon as her request had been granted, Kate hesitated as if she feared
she was doing wrong, and she looked at her husband, wondering if he would
call her back.
But he took no heed; his attention was too entirely occupied by his breath
to think either of her or of the necessity of sending for the police, and
he waved his mother away when she attempted to speak to him.
'Are those men going to stop there all night?' Mrs. Ede asked.
'Oh, I really don't know; I'm too tired to bother about it any more,'
replied Kate petulantly. 'It's all your fault--you're to blame for
everything; you've no right to interfere with the lodgers in my house.'
Mrs. Ede raised her arms as she sought for words, but Kate walked out of
the room without giving her time to answer. Suddenly a voice cried in a
'Who do you take me for, Dick? I wasn't born yesterday. A devilish pretty
woman, if you ask me. What hair!--like velvet!'
Kate stopped. 'Black hair,' she said to herself--'they must be talking of
me,' and she listened intently.
The remark, however, did not appear to have been particularly well-timed,
for after a long silence, a woman's voice said:
'Well, I don't know whether he liked her, and I don't care, but what I'm
not going to do is to wait here listening to you all cracking up a
landlady's good looks. I'm off.'
A scuffle then seemed to be taking place; half a dozen voices spoke
together, and in terror of her life Kate flew across the workroom to Mrs.
The door of the sitting-room was flung open and cajoling and protesting
words echoed along the passage up and down the staircase. It was
disgraceful, and Kate expected every minute to hear her mother-in-law's
voice mingling in the fray; but peace was restored, and for at least an
hour she listened to sounds of laughing voices mingling with the clinking
of glasses. At last Dick wished his friends good-night, and Kate lay under
the sheets and listened. Something was going to happen. 'He thinks me a
pretty woman; she is jealous,' were phrases that rang without ceasing in
her ears. Then, hearing his door open, she fancied he was coming to seek
her, and in consternation buried herself under the bedclothes, leaving only
her black hair over the pillows to show where she had disappeared. But the
duplicate drop of a pair of boots was conclusive, and assuring herself that
he would not venture on such a liberty, she strove to compose herself to
Next day, about eleven o'clock, Kate walked up Market Street with Mrs.