Part 2 out of 8
Barnes's dress, meditating on the letter she had received. A very serious
matter this angry letter was to Kate, and she thought of what she could say
to satisfy her customer. Her anxiety of mind caused her to walk faster than
she was aware of, up the hill towards the square of sky where the
passers-by seemed like figures on the top of a monument. At the top of the
hill she would turn to the left and descend towards the little quasi-villa
residences which form the suburbs of Northwood. Ten minutes later Kate
approached Mrs. Barnes's door hot and out of breath, her plans matured,
determined, if the worst came to the worst, to let the dress go at a
reduction. Her present difficulty was so great that she forgot other
troubles, and it was not until she had received her money that she
remembered Mr. Lennox. He was going. Her rooms would be empty again. She
was sorry he was going, and at the top of Market Street she stood at gaze,
surprised by the view, though she had never seen any other. A long black
valley lay between her and the dim hills far away, miles and miles in
length, with tanks of water glittering like blades of steel, and gigantic
smoke clouds rolling over the stems of a thousand factory chimneys. She had
not come up this hillside at the top of Market Street for a long while; for
many years she had not stood there and gazed at the view, not since she was
a little girl, and the memories that she cherished in her workroom between
Hanley and the Wever Hills were quite different from the scene she was now
looking upon. She saw the valley with different eyes: she saw it now with a
woman's eyes; before she had seen it with a child's eyes. She remembered
the ruined collieries and the black cinder-heaps protruding through the
hillside on which she was now standing. In childhood, these ruins were
convenient places to play hide-and-seek in. But now they seemed to convey a
meaning to her mind, a meaning that was not very clear, that perplexed her,
that she tried to put aside and yet could not. At her left, some fifty feet
below, running in the shape of a fan, round a belt of green, were the roofs
of Northwood--black brick unrelieved except by the yellow chimney-pots,
specks of colour upon a line of soft cotton-like clouds melting into grey,
the grey passing into blue, and the blue spaces widening. 'It will be a hot
day,' she said to herself, and fell to thinking that a hot day was hotter
on this hillside than elsewhere. At every moment the light grew more and
more intense, till a distant church spire faded almost out of sight, and
she was glad she had come up here to admire the view from the top of Market
Street. Southwark, on the right, as black as Northwood, toppled into the
valley in irregular lines, the jaded houses seeming in Kate's fancy like
cart-loads of gigantic pill-boxes cast in a hurry from the counter along
the floor. It amused her to stand gazing, contrasting the reality with her
memories. It seemed to her that Southwark had never before been so plain to
the eye. She could follow the lines of the pavement and almost distinguish
the men from the women passing. A hansom appeared and disappeared, the
white horse seen now against the green blinds of a semi-detached villa and
shown a moment after against the yellow rotundities of a group of pottery
The sun was now rapidly approaching the meridian, and in the vibrating
light the wheels of the most distant collieries could almost be counted,
and the stems of the far-off factory chimneys appeared like tiny fingers.
Kate saw with the eyes and heard with the ears of her youth, and the past
became as clear as the landscape before her. She remembered the days when
she came to read on this hillside. The titles of the books rose up in her
mind, and she could recall the sorrow she felt for the heroes and heroines.
It seemed to her strange that that time was so long past and she wondered
why she had forgotten it. Now it all seemed so near to her that she felt
like one only just awakened from a dream. And these memories made her
happy. She took pleasure in recalling every little event--an excursion she
made when she was quite a little girl to the ruined colliery, and later on,
a conversation with a chance acquaintance, a young man who had stopped to
speak to her.
At the bottom of the valley, right before her eyes, the white gables of
Bucknell Rectory, hidden amid masses of trees, glittered now and then in an
entangled beam that flickered between chimneys, across brick-banked squares
of water darkened by brick walls.
Behind Bucknell were more desolate plains full of pits, brick, and smoke;
and beyond Bucknell an endless tide of hills rolled upwards and onwards.
The American tariff had not yet come into operation, and every wheel was
turning, every oven baking; and through a drifting veil of smoke the
sloping sides of the hills with all their fields could be seen sleeping
under great shadows, or basking in the light. A deluge of rays fell upon
them, defining every angle of Watley Rocks and floating over the grasslands
of Standon, all shape becoming lost in a huge embrasure filled with the
almost imperceptible outlines of the Wever Hills.
And these vast slopes which formed the background of every street were the
theatre of all Kate's travels before life's struggles began. It amused her
to remember that when she played about the black cinders of the hillsides
she used to stop to watch the sunlight flash along the far-away green
spaces, and in her thoughts connected them with the marvels she read of in
her books of fairy-tales. Beyond these wonderful hills were the palaces of
the kings and queens who would wave their wands and vanish! A few years
later it was among or beyond those slopes that the lovers with whom she
sympathized in the pages of her novels lived. But it was a long time since
she had read a story, and she asked herself how this was. Dreams had gone
out of her life, everything was a hard reality; her life was like a
colliery, every wheel was turning, no respite day or night; her life would
be always the same, a burden and a misery. There never could be any change
now. She remembered her marriage, and how Mrs. Ede had persuaded her into
it, and for the first time she blamed the old woman for her interference.
But this was not all. Kate was willing to admit that there was no one she
loved like Mr. Ede, but still it was hard to live with a mother-in-law who
had a finger in everything and used the house like her own. It would be all
very well if she were not so obstinate, so certain that she was always
right. Religion was very well, but that perpetual 'I'm a Christian woman,'
was wearisome. No wonder Mr. Lennox was leaving. Poor man, why shouldn't he
have a few friends up in the evening? The lodgings were his own while he
paid for them. No wonder he cut up rough; no wonder he was leaving them. If
so, she would never see him again. The thought caught her like a pain in
the throat, and with a sudden instinct she turned to hurry home. As she did
so her eyes fell on Mr. Lennox walking towards her. At such an unexpected
realization of her thoughts she uttered a little cry of surprise; but,
smiling affably, and in no way disconcerted, he raised his big hat from his
head. On account of the softness of the felt this could only be
accomplished by passing the arm over the head and seizing the crown as a
conjurer would a pocket-handkerchief. The movement was large and unctuous,
and it impressed Kate considerably.
'I took the liberty to stop, for you seemed so interested that I felt
curious to know what could be worth looking at in those chimneys and
'I wasn't looking at the factories, but at the hills. The view from here is
considered very fine. Don't you think so, sir?' she asked, feeling afraid
that she had made some mistake.
'Ah, well, now you mention it, perhaps it is. How far away, and yet how
distinct! They look like the gallery of a theatre. We're on the stage, the
footlights run round here, and the valley is the pit; and there are plenty
of pits in it,' he added, laughing. 'But I mustn't speak to you of the
'Oh, I'm sure I don't mind! I'm very fond of the theatre,' said Kate
This indirect allusion to last night brought the conversation to a close,
and for some moments they stood looking vacantly at the landscape. Overhead
the sky was a blue dome, and so still was the air that the smoke-clouds
trailed like the wings of gigantic birds slowly balancing themselves. And
waves of white light rolled up the valley as if jealous of the red,
flashing furnaces. An odour of iron and cinders poisoned the air, and after
some moments of contemplation which seemed to draw them closer together,
Mr. Lennox said:
'There is no doubt that the view is very grand, but it is tantalizing to
have those hills before your eyes when you are shut up in a red brick oven.
How fresh and cool they look! What wouldn't you give to be straying about
in those fresh woods far away?'
Kate looked at Mr. Lennox with ravished eyes; his words had flooded her
mind with a thousand forgotten dreams. She felt she liked him better for
what he had said, and she murmured as if half ashamed:
'I've never been out of Hanley. I've never seen the sea, and when I was a
child I used to fancy that the fairies lived beyond those hills; even now I
can't help imagining that the world is quite different over there. Here it
is all brick, but in novels they never speak of anything but gardens and
'Never seen the sea! Well, there isn't much to _see_ in it,' Mr.
Lennox said, laughing at the pun. 'When you were a little girl you used to
come here to play, I suppose?'
'Yes, sir; I was born over in one of those cottages.'
Mr. Lennox, without knowing whether to look sorry or sentimental, listened
patiently to Kate, who, proud of being able to show him anything, drew his
attention to the different points of view. The white gables that could just
be distinguished in the large dark masses of trees was Bucknell Rectory.
The fragment of the cliff on the top of the highest ridge half-way up the
sky was Watley Rocks; then came Western Coyney, the plains of Standon, and
far away in a blue mist the outlines of the Wever Hills. But Mr. Lennox did
not seem very much interested; the sun was too hot for him, and in the
first pause of the conversation he asked Kate which way she was going. He
had to get on to the theatre, and he asked her if she would show him the
'You can't do better than to go down Market Street; but if you like I will
'I shall be so glad if you will; but Market Street--I think you said Market
Street? That is just the way I've come.'
Market Street was where people connected with the theatre generally lived,
and Kate knew at once he had been looking for lodgings; but she was ashamed
to ask him, and they walked on for some time without speaking. But every
moment the silence became more irritating, and at last, determined to know
the worst, she said, 'I suppose you were looking for lodgings; all the
theatre people put up in that street.'
Mr. Lennox flinched before this direct question.
'Why, no, not exactly; I was calling on some friends; but as you say, some
of the profession live in the street, and now you mention it, I suppose I
shall have to find some new diggings.'
'I'm sorry, sir, very sorry,' said Kate, looking up into the big blue eyes.
'I ought not to have come down; you are, of course, master in your own
'Oh, it wasn't your fault; I could live with you for ever. You mustn't
think I want to change. If you could only guarantee that your mother-in-law
will keep out of my way.'
Kate felt at that moment that she would guarantee anything that would
prevent Mr. Lennox from leaving her house.
'Oh, I don't think there will be any difficulty about that,' she said
eagerly. 'I'll bring your breakfast and dinner up, and you are out nearly
'Very well, then, and I'll promise not to bring home any friends,' he added
'But I'm afraid you'll be very lonely, sir.'
'I'll have you to talk to sometimes.'
Kate made no answer, but they both felt that the words implied more than
they actually meant, and they remained silent, like people who had come to
some important conclusion. Then after a long pause, and without any
transition, Mr. Lennox spoke of the heat of the weather and of the harm it
was likely to do their business at the theatre. She asked him what he
thought of Hanley. Mr. Lennox smiled through his faint moustache and said
the red brick hurt his eyes.
Kate did not feel quite satisfied with this last observation, and spoke of
the pretty places there were about the town. Pointing down a red
perspective backed by the usual hills, she told him that Trentham, the Duke
of Sutherland's place, was over there.
'What, over those hills? That must be miles away.'
'Oh, not so far as that. Hanley doesn't reach to there. The country is
beautiful, once you get past Stoke. I went once to see the Duke's place,
and we had tea in the inn. That was the only time I was ever really in the
country, and even then we were never quite out of sight of the factories.
Still, it was very nice.'
'And who were you with?'
'Oh, with my husband.'
'He's an invalid, isn't he?'
'Well, I'm afraid he suffers very much at times, but he's often well
The conversation again came to a pause, and both thought of how happy they
would be were they taking tea together at the inn at Trentham.
But they were now in the centre of the town, close to the Town Hall, a
stupid, square building with two black cannon on either side of the door.
Opposite was a great shop with 'Commercial House' written across the second
story in gold letters. Bright carpets and coarse goods were piled about the
doorway; and from these two houses Piccadilly and Broad Street, its
continuation, ran down an incline, and Church Street branched off, giving
the town the appearance of a two-pronged fork.
All was red brick blazing under a blue sky without a cloud in it; the red
brick that turns to purple; and all the roofs were scarlet--red brick and
scarlet tiles, and not a tree anywhere.
'You don't seem to have a tree in Hanley,' Mr. Lennox said.
'I don't think there are many,' she answered, and they gazed at the bald
rotundities of the pottery ovens.
He had never seen a town before composed entirely of brick and iron. A town
of work; a town in which the shrill scream of the steam train as it rolled
solemnly up the incline seemed to be man's cry of triumph over vanquished
After looking about him, Mr. Lennox said, 'What I object to in the town is
that there's nothing to do. And it's so blazing hot; for goodness' sake let
us get under the shadow of a wall.'
Kate smiled, and as they crossed over they both wiped their faces.
'There are the potteries,' she said, referring to Mr. Lennox's complaint
that there was nothing to do in the town. 'Everybody that comes to Hanley
goes to see them; but the best are in Stoke.'
'I'm sure I'm not going to Stoke to see potteries,' he answered decisively,
'but if there are any at Hanley I dare say I shall turn in some afternoon.
I've heard some of our people say they are worth seeing. But,' he added, as
if a sudden thought had struck him, 'I might go now; I've nothing to do for
the next couple of hours. How far are the nearest?'
Kate told him that Powell and Jones's works were close by in the High
Street. She pointed out the way, but, failing to make Mr. Lennox understand
her, she consented to go with him. He had a kind, soft manner of speaking
which drew Kate towards him almost as if he had taken her in his arms, and
it was astonishing how intimate they had grown in the last few minutes.
'It doesn't look very interesting,' he said, as they stopped before an
archway and looked into a yard filled with straw and packing-cases.
'Yes it is, but you must see the different rooms. You must go up to the
office and ask for permission to see the works.'
'I don't think I'd care to go by myself. Won't you come with me?'
Kate hesitated; she had very little to do at home, and could say that Mrs.
Barnes had kept her waiting.
'Do come,' he said after a pause, during which he looked at her eagerly.
'Well, I should like to see the room where my mother used to work, but we
mustn't stop too long. I shall be missed at home.' The matter being so
arranged, they entered the yard, and Kate pointed out a rough staircase
placed against the wall. 'You must go up there; the office is at the top.
Ask for permission to see the works and I'll wait here for you.'
Half a dozen men were packing crockery into crates with spades, and as she
watched them she remembered that she used to come to this yard with her
mother's dinner, and stand wondering how they could pack the delf without
breaking it. She remembered one afternoon particularly well; she had
promised to be very good, and had been allowed to sit by her mother and
watch her painting flowers that wound in and out and all about a big blue
vase. She remembered how she was reproved for peeping over her neighbour's
shoulder, and how proud she felt sitting among all the workwomen. She could
recall the smell of the paint and turpentine, and her grief when she was
told that she was too delicate to learn painting, and was going to be put
out to dressmaking. But that time was long ago; her mother was dead and she
was married. Everything was changed or broken, as was that beautiful vase,
probably. It astonished Kate to find herself thinking of these things. She
had passed the High Street twenty times during the last six months without
it even occurring to her to visit the old places, and when Mr. Lennox came
back he noticed that there were tears in her eyes. He made no remark, but
hastily explained that he had been told that there was a party just that
minute gone on in front of them, and they were to catch them up.
'This way, then,' she said, pointing to a big archway.
'Oh, I can't run; don't be in such a hurry,' said Mr. Lennox, panting.
Kate laughed, and admitted that the heat was great. Out of a sky burnt
almost to white the glare descended into the narrow brick-yards. The
packing straw seemed ready to catch fire; the heaps of wet clay, which two
boys were shovelling, smoked, emitting as it did so an unpleasant wet
odour. On passing the archway they caught sight of three black coats and
three soft hats like the one Mr. Lennox wore.
'Oh!' said Kate, stopping, disappointed, 'we'll have to go round with those
'What does that matter? It will be amusing to listen to them.'
'But mother knows all of them.'
'They must be strangers in the town or they wouldn't be visiting the
'I hadn't thought of that; I suppose you're right,' and hastening a little,
they overtook the party that was being shown round. The Dissenting
clergymen looked askance at Mr. Lennox, and as he showed them into a small
white cell the guide said, 'You're in plenty of time, sir; these are the
Two men were beating a heap of wet clay in order to insure a something in
the bakery which nobody understood, but which the guide took some trouble
to explain. The clergymen pressed forward to listen. Mr. Lennox wiped his
face, and they were then hurried into a second cell, where unbaked dishes
were piled all around upon shelves. It was said to be the dishmakers'
place, and was followed by another and another room, all of which Mr.
Lennox thought equally hot and uninteresting. He strove to escape from the
guide, who drew him through the line of clergymen and made plain to him the
mysteries of earthenware.
At last these preliminary departments were disposed of, and they were led
to another part of the works. On their way thither they passed the ovens.
These were scattered over the ground like beehives in a garden. Lennox
patted their round sides, approvingly saying that they reminded him of
oyster boys in a pantomime, and might be introduced into the next Christmas
show. Kate looked at him, her eyes full of wonder. She could not understand
how he could think of such things.
In the printing-room they listened to the guide, who apparently considered
it important that clergymen, actor, and dressmaker should understand the
different processes the earthenware had to pass through before it was
placed on toilet or breakfast table. Smoking flannels hung on lines all
around, and like laundresses at their tubs, four or five women washed the
printed paper from the plates. A man in a paper cap bent over a stove, and
as if dissatisfied with the guide's explanation of his work, broke out into
a wearisome flow of technical details. At the other end of this vast
workroom there was a line of young girls who cut the printed matter out of
sheets of paper, the scissors running in and out of flowers, tendrils, and
little birds without ever injuring one. The clergymen watched the process,
delighted, while Lennox stepped behind Kate and whispered that he had just
caught the tall Dissenter winking at the dark girl on the right, which was
not true, and was invented for the sake of the opportunity it gave him of
breathing on Kate's neck--a lead up to the love-scene which he had now
decided was to come off as soon as he should find himself alone with her.
They passed through a brick alley with a staircase leading to a platform
built like a ship's deck, and went on through a series of rooms till they
came to a place almost as hot as a Turkish bath, filled with unbaked plates
and dishes. The smell of wet clay drying in steam diffused from underneath
was very unpleasant, and caused one of the ministers to cough violently,
whereupon the guide explained that the platemakers' departments were
considered the most unhealthy of any in the works; the people who worked
there, he said, usually suffered from what is known as the potter's asthma.
This interested Kate, and she delayed the guide with questions as to how
the potter's asthma differed from the ordinary form of the disease, and
when their little procession was again put in motion she told Mr. Lennox
how her husband was affected, and the nights she had spent watching at his
side. But although Lennox listened attentively, she could not help thinking
that he seemed rather glad than otherwise that her husband was an invalid.
The unkind way in which he spoke of sick people shocked her, and she
opposed the opinion that a person in bad health was a disgusting object,
while Lennox took advantage of the occasion to whisper into her ears that
she was far too pretty a woman for an asthmatic husband; and, encouraged by
her blushes, he even hazarded a few coarse jokes anent the poor husband's
deficiencies. How could a man kiss if he couldn't breathe, for if there was
a time when breath was essential, according to him, it was when four lips
No one had ever spoken to her in this way before, and had she known how to
do so she would have resented his familiarities. Once their hands met. The
contact caused her a thrill; she put aside the unbaked plate they were
examining and said: 'We'd better make haste or we shall lose them.'
The next two rooms were considered the most interesting they had been
through; even the three clergymen lost something of their stolid manner and
asked Lennox his opinion regarding the religious character of Hanley, and
if he were of their persuasion.
'What is that?' asked Lennox, affecting a comic innocence which he hoped
would tickle Kate's fancy.
'We're Wesleyans,' said the minister.
'And I'm an actor; but, I beg your pardon, stage-managing's more my
business,' news that seemed to cast a gloom over the faces of the
ministers; and leaving them to make what they could of his reply, he drew
Kate forward confidentially and pointed to an old man sitting
straddle-legged on a high narrow table just on a line with the window. He
was covered with clay; his forehead and beard were plastered with it, and
before him was an iron plate, kept continually whirling by steam, which he
could stop by a pressure of his foot. He squeezed a lump of clay into a
long shape not unlike a tall ice, then, forcing it down into the shape of a
batter-pudding, he hollowed it. Round and round went the clay, the hands
forming it all the while, cleaning and smoothing until it came out a true
and perfect jampot, even to the little furrow round the top, which was
given by a movement of the thumbs. He had been at work since seven in the
morning, and the shelves round him were encumbered with the result of his
labours. Everyone marvelled at his dexterity, until he was forgotten in the
superior attractions of the succeeding room. This was the turning-house,
and Lennox could not help laughing outright, so amusing did the scene
appear to him. Women went dancing up and down on one leg, and at such
regular intervals that they seemed absolutely like machines. They were at
once the motive power and the feeders of the different lathes. It was they
who handed the men lumps of dry clay, which they turned into shapes. The
strangeness of the spectacle gave rise to much comment. The clergymen were
anxious to know if the constant jigging was injurious to health. Lennox
inquired how much coin they made by their one-leg dancing. He spoke of
their good looks, and this led him easily into the question of morals, a
subject in which he was much interested. He wanted to know if this crowding
together of the sexes could be effected without danger. Surely cases of
seduction must occur occasionally. In answering him the guide betrayed a
certain reticence of manner which encouraged Lennox to ask him if he really
meant to say that nothing ever befell these young women who were working
all day side by side with people of the other sex. Did their thoughts never
wander from their work? The guide assured Mr. Lennox that there was no time
to think of such nonsense in the factory, and, anxious to vindicate the
honour of the establishment, he declared that any who took the smallest
liberty with any female would be instantly dismissed from the works. The
ministers listened approvingly, although they seemed to think the subject
might have been avoided. Kate felt a little embarrassed, and Mr. Lennox
watched a big, blonde-haired woman who smiled prettily and seemed quite
conscious of her sex, notwithstanding the ludicrous bobbing up and down
position she was in. With a courage that surprised herself Kate proposed
that they should go on. She was beginning to feel uneasy at the time she
had been away from home and certain that Mrs. Ede would be on the doorstep
looking up and down the street; and she could well imagine how cross Ralph
would be if he heard she had been to the potteries with Mr. Lennox. She
felt very sorry for the one and a little resentful towards the other, but
the sentimental desire to see the painting-room where her mother used to
work prevailed, and with her heart full of recollections she followed the
party to the ovens.
Their way thither led them around the building, and they passed through
many workrooms. These were generally clean, airy spaces, with big rafters
and whitewashed walls. Sometimes a bunch of violets, a book, or a newspaper
lying on the table, suggested an absent owner, and a refined countenance
was sought for in the different groups of women. There was also a
difference in the hats and shawls, and it was easy to tell which belonged
to the young girls, which to the mothers of families. Everyone looked
healthy and contented. All were nice-looking, as Lennox continued to
assert, and all worked industriously at their numberless employments, one
of the most curious of which consisted in knocking the roughness off the
A dozen women sat in a circle; above them and around them were piles of
dinner-services of all kinds. Each held with one hand a piece of crockery
on her knees, whilst with a chisel she chopped away at it as if it could
not by any possibility be broken. As may easily be imagined, the noise in
this warehouse was bewildering.
Through this room and others, up and down many narrow staircases, the
visiting party went, the guide leading, the three black clergymen
following, Kate lingering behind with Mr. Lennox until they came to the
ovens. The entrance was from an immense corridor, prolonged by shadow and
divided down the middle by presses full of drying earthenwate, the smell of
which was not, however, as strong as in the platemakers' place, and the
difference was noticed by the clergyman with the cough. He said he was not
affected to nearly the same extent.
From time to time the visitors had to give way to men who marched in single
file carrying what seemed to be huge cheeses, but the guide explained that
within these were cups, saucers, bowls, and basins, and men mounted on
ladders piled these yellow tubs up the walls of the ovens. When the
visitors had peeped into the huge interior, they were conducted to the
furnaces; and these were set in the oven's inner shell, which made a narrow
circular passage slanting inwards as it ascended like the neck of a
champagne bottle. The fires glared so furiously that they suggested many
impious thoughts to Lennox, and he proposed to ask the ministers if there
were any warmer corners in hell, and was with difficulty dissuaded by Kate,
about whose waist he had passed his arm. His constant whispering in her
ear, which had at first amused her, now irritated and annoyed her; other
emotions filled her mind with a vague tumult, and she longed to be left to
think in peace. She begged of him to keep quiet, and as they crossed one of
the yards she asked the guide if he could not go straight to the
painting-room. He replied that there was a regular order to be observed,
and insisted on marching them through two more rooms, and explaining fully
three or four more processes. Then, after begging them to be careful and to
hold the rail, he led them up a high staircase. The warning caused Kate a
thrill, for she remembered that every step of this staircase had been a
terror to her mother.
The room itself proved a little disappointing. The tables were not arranged
in quite the same way, and these alterations deprived her of the emotions
she had expected. Still it gave her a great deal of pleasure to point out
to Mr. Lennox where her mother used to work.
But to find the exact spot was not by any means easy. There were upwards of
a hundred young women sitting on benches, leaning over huge tables covered
with unfinished pottery. Each held in her hand a plate, bowl, or vase, on
which she executed some design. The clergy showed more interest than they
had hitherto done, and as they leaned to and fro examining the work, one of
them discovered the something _Guardian_, a Wesleyan organ, on one of
the tables, and hailing his fellows, they began to interview the
proprietor. But the guide said they had to visit the store-rooms, and
forced them away from their 'lamb.'
Ridges of vases, mounds of basins and jugs, terraces of plates, formed
masses of sickly white, through which rays of light were caught and sent
dancing. Along the wall on the left-hand side presses were overcharged with
dusty tea-services. On the right were square grey windows, under which the
convex sides of salad-bowls sparkled in the sun; and from rafter to rafter,
in garlands and clusters like grapes, hung gilded mugs bearing devices
suitable for children, and down the middle of the floor a terrace was built
Two rooms away, a large mound of chamber-pots formed an astonishing
background, and against all this white and grey effacement the men who
stood on high ladders dusting the crockery came out like strange black
The clergyman said it was very interesting, and just as he did everything
else the guide explained the system of storing employed by the firm; how
the crockery was packed, and how the men would soon be working only three
days a week on account of the American tariff. But he was not much listened
to. Everyone was now tired, and the clergymen, who, since the discovery of
the newspaper, had been showing signs that they regarded their visit to the
potteries as ended, pulled out their watches and whispered that their time
was up. The guide told them that there were only a few more rooms to visit,
but they said that they must be off, and demanded to be conducted to the
door. This request was an embarrassing one; it was against the rules ever
to leave visitors when going the rounds. The guide had, therefore, either
to conduct the whole party to the door or transgress his orders. After a
slight hesitation, influenced no doubt by a conversation he had had with
Lennox, in which mention was made of tickets for the theatre, he decided to
take the responsibility on himself, and asked that gentleman if he would
mind waiting a few minutes with his lady while the religious gentlemen were
being shown the way out. Lennox assented with readiness, and the three
black figures and the guide disappeared a moment after behind the bedroom
utensils. After an anxious glance round Lennox looked at Kate, who, at that
moment, was gathering to herself all the recollections that the place
evoked. She knew the room she was in well, for she used to pass through it
daily with her mother's dinner, and she remembered how in her childhood she
wondered how big the world must be to hold enough people to use such
thousands of cups and saucers. There used to be a blue tea-service in the
far corner, and she had often lingered to imagine a suitable parlour for it
and for her dream husband. One day she had torn her frock coming up the
stairs, and was terribly scolded; another time Mr. Powell, attracted by her
black curls, had stopped to speak to her, and he had given her as a present
one of the children's mugs--one exactly like those hanging over her head.
She had treasured it a long time, but at last it was broken. It seemed that
all things belonging to her had to be broken; her dreams were made in
But as Kate looked into the past she became gradually conscious of a voice
whispering to her,
'How odd it is that you should never have thought of revisiting this place
until you met me.'
She raised her eyes, and, her look seeming to tell him that this was his
moment, he turned to see if they were watched. At their feet a pile of
plates and teacups slept in a broad flood of sunlight, and three rooms away
the boys on high ladders dusted the mugs.
'What a pretty child you must have been! I can fancy you with your black
hair falling about your shoulders. Had I known you then, I should have
taken you in my arms and kissed you. Do you think you would have liked me
to have kissed you?'
She raised her eyes again, and a vague feeling of how nice, how kind he
was, rushed through her, and perceiving still more clearly that this moment
was his moment, Lennox affected to examine a ring on her finger. The warm
pressure of his hand caused her to start, and she would have put him from
her, but his voice calmed her.
'Ah!' he said, 'had I known you then, I should have been in love with you.'
Kate closed her eyes, and abandoned herself to an ineffable sentiment of
weakness, of ravishment; and then, imagining that she was his, Lennox took
her in his arms and kissed her rudely. But quick, angry thoughts rushed to
her head at the first movement of his arms, and obeying an impulse in
contradiction to her desire, she shook herself free, and looked at him
vexed and humiliated.
'Oh, how very cross we are; and about a kiss, just a tiny, wee kiss!'
She stood staring at him, only half hearing what he said, irritated against
him and herself.
'I'm sure I didn't mean to offend you,' he continued after a pause, for
Kate's manner puzzled him; 'I love you too well.'
'Love me?' she cried, astonished, but with nevertheless a tone of
interrogation in her voice. 'Why, you never saw me till the other day.'
'I loved you the first moment; I assure you I did.'
Kate looked at him imploringly, as if beseeching him not to deceive her.
There was an honest frankness in his big blue eyes, and his face said as
clearly as words, 'I think you a deuced pretty woman, and I'm sure I could
love you very much,' and recognizing this, Kate remained silent.
And thus encouraged, Mr. Lennox attempted to renew his intentions. But
actions have to be prefaced by words, and he commenced by declaring that
when a man would give the whole world for a kiss, it was not to be expected
that he would resist trying for one, and he strove to think of the famous
love scene in _The Lady of Lyons_. But it was years since he had
played the part, and he could only murmur something about reading no books
but lovers' books, singing no songs but lovers' songs. The guide would be
back in a few minutes, and, inspired by Kate's pale face, he came to the
conclusion that it would be absurd to let her go without kissing her
He was a strong man, but Kate had now really lost her temper, and struggled
vigorously, determined he should not gain his end. Three times his lips had
rested on her cheek, once he managed to kiss her on the chin, but he could
not reach her mouth: she always succeeded in twisting her face away, and
not liking to be beaten he put forth all his strength. She staggered
backwards and placed one hand on his throat, and with the other strove to
catch at his moustache; she had given it a wrench that had brought tears
into his eyes, but now he was pinioning her; she could see his big face
approaching, and summoning up all her strength she strove to get away, but
that moment, happening to tread on her skirt, her feet slipped. He made a
desperate effort to sustain her, but her legs had gone between his.
The crash was tremendous. A pile of plates three feet high was sent
spinning, a row of salad-bowls was over, and then with a heavy stagger Mr.
Lennox went down into a dinner-service, sending the soup-tureen rolling
gravely into the next room.
A feeling at first prevailed that some serious accident had happened, but
when Kate rose, pale and trembling, from the litter of a bedroom set, and
Lennox was lifted out of the dinner-service with nothing apparently worse
than a cut hand, a murmur of voices asking the cause of the disaster was
heard. But before a word could be said the guide came running towards them.
He declared that he would lose his place, and spoke vaguely to those around
him of the necessity of suppressing the fact that he had left visitors
alone in the storerooms.
Lennox, on the other hand, was very silent. He had evidently received some
bad cuts, of which he did not speak. He put his hand to his legs and felt
them doubtfully. There was a large gash in his right hand, from which he
picked a piece of delf, and as he tied the wound up with a
pocket-handkerchief he partly quieted the expostulating guide by assuring
him that everything would be paid for. And taking Kate's arm, he hobbled
out of the place.
The suddenness and excitement of the accident had for the moment quenched
her angry feelings, and, overwhelmed with pity for the poor wounded hand,
she thought of nothing but getting him to a doctor. Indeed, it was not
until she heard him telling Mr. Powell in the office that he was subject to
fits, and that in striving to hold him up the lady had fallen too, that she
remembered how he had behaved, how he had disgraced her. But her mouth was
closed, and she listened in amazement to him as he invented detail after
detail with surprising dexterity. He did not even hesitate to call in the
evidence of the guide, who, in his own interests, was obliged to assent;
and when Mr. Powell inquired after the three clergymen, Lennox said that
they had left them in the yard after visiting the ovens.
Mr. Powell listened with a look of pity on his face, and began to tell of a
poor brother of his who was likewise subject to fits, and, possibly
influenced by the remembrance, refused to receive any remuneration for the
broken crockery, saying that to a firm like theirs a few plates more or
less was of no importance.
And this matter being settled, Lennox hobbled away, leaving a little pool
of blood on the floor of the office. She had to lend him her handkerchief,
his was now saturated--to tie round his hand: he confessed to a bad cut in
the leg, saying he could feel the blood trickling down into his boot, but
did not think he needed a doctor. 'A bit of sticking-plaster, dear; I'll
get some at the apothecary's. Which is the way?'
'Take the first turn to the right, and you're in Church Street; but there
may be bits of the delf in the wound?'
'I shall see to that. But how strong you are; you're like a lion. You
mustn't struggle like that next time.'
At the suggestion that there was going to be a next time Kate's face
clouded, but she was so alarmed for his safety that it was only for a
moment. She had hardly noticed that he called her 'dear'; he used the word
so naturally and simply that it touched her with swift pleasure, and was as
soon lost in a crowd of conflicting emotions.
The man was coarse and largely sensual, but each movement of his fat hands
was protective, every word he uttered was kind, the very intonation of his
voice was comforting. He was, in a word, human, and this attracted all that
was human in her.
On leaving Mr. Lennox Kate walked slowly along the streets, recalling every
word he had said, feeling his breath upon her cheek and his blue eyes
looking into hers more distinctly in recollection than when he had held her
in his arms. She walked immersed in recollections, every one clear and
precise, experiencing a sort of supersensual gratification, one she had
never known before. Being a child of the people, his violence had not
impressed her, and she murmured to herself every now and then:
'Poor fellow, what a fall he had! I hope he didn't hurt himself.'
By turns she thought of things totally different--of Hender, of the little
girls, who would regret her absence from the workroom, and it was not
without surprise that she caught herself wishing suddenly they were her own
children. The wish was only momentary, but it was the first time a desire
for motherhood had ever troubled her.
It amused her to think of their smiling faces, and to make sure of their
smiles she entered a shop and bought a small packet of sweetstuff, and with
the paper in her hand continued her walk home. The cheap prints in a
newspaper shop delayed her, and the workmen who were tearing up the road
forced her to consider how a suspension of traffic would interfere with her
business. She was now in Broad Street, and when she raised her eyes she saw
her own house. A new building high and narrow, it stood in the main street
at the corner of a lane, the ground-floor windows filled with light goods,
and underneath them black hats trimmed with wings and tails of birds. There
were also children's dresses, and a few neckties trimmed with white lace.
As she entered the shop Mrs. Ede, who was in the front kitchen, cried,
'Well, is that you, Kate? Where have you been? I waited dinner an hour for
you; and how tired you look!'
In her present state of mind Mrs. Ede was the last person Kate cared to
'What's the matter, my dear? Aren't you well? Shall I get you a glass of
'Oh no, mother; I'm all right. Can't you see that I'm only very hot?'
'But where have you been? I waited dinner an hour for you. It's past two
Kate did not know how to account for her absence from home, but after a
pause she answered, thinking of Mr. Lennox as she spoke, 'Mrs. Barnes kept
me waiting above an hour trying her dress on, and then I was so done up
with night-watching and sewing that I thought I'd go for a walk,' and after
wiping her weary hot face she asked her mother-in-law if many people had
been in the shop that morning.
'Well, yes, half a dozen or more,' Mrs. Ede answered, and began to recount
the different events of the morning. Mrs. White had bought one of the
aprons; she said she hadn't seen the pattern before; a stranger had taken
another; and Miss Sargent had called and wanted to know how much it would
cost to remake her blue dress.
'Oh, I know; she wants me to reline the skirt and put new trimming on the
bodice for seven and sixpence; we can do without her custom. What then?'
'And then--ah! I was forgetting--Mrs. West came in to tell us that her
friend Mrs. Wood, the bookseller's wife, you know, up the street, was going
to be confined, and would want some baby-linen, and she recommended her
'Did you see nobody else?'
'Well, yes, a young man who bought half a dozen pocket-handkerchiefs; I let
him have the half-dozen for four shillings; and I sold a pink necktie to
one of the factory hands over the way.'
'Why, mother, you've done a deal of business, and I'm glad about the
baby-linen. We've a lot in stock, and it hasn't gone off well. I don't know
Mrs. Wood, but it's very kind of Mrs. West to recommend us; and how has
Hender been getting on with the skirt?'
'Well, I must say she has been working very well; she was here at half-past
eight, and she did not stop away above three-quarters of an hour for
'I'm glad of that, for I was never so backward in my life with my work,
what with Ralph being ill and Mr. ----'
Kate tried here to stop herself. The conversation had so far been an
agreeable one, and she did not wish to spoil it by alluding to a subject on
which there was no likelihood of their agreeing. But her mother-in-law,
guessing that Kate was thinking of the mummer, said, 'Yes, I wanted to talk
to you about that. He hasn't sent anyone to take away his things, and he
didn't even speak when I took him up his breakfast this morning.'
'I don't think Mr. Lennox is leaving us,' she answered, after a pause. 'I
thought it was settled last night that he was to be told that he mustn't
bring friends home after eleven o'clock at night. When I see him I'll speak
to him about it.'
'The house is yours, deary. If you're satisfied, I am.' And Kate walked
into the kitchen, and when she had finished her dinner she went upstairs to
see Ralph, whom Mrs. Ede declared to be much better. On passing the
workroom the door opened suddenly and the bright faces of the little girls
'Oh, is that you, Mrs. Ede? How we've missed you all the morning!' Annie
'And Miss Hender has been so busy that she had to get me to help her with
the skirt, and I did a great long piece myself without a mistake. Didn't I,
'I'm going to see my husband,' said Kate, smiling; 'but I shall be down
presently, and I've bought something for you.'
'Oh, what is it?' cried Annie excitedly.
'You shall see presently.'
Ralph was lying still in bed, propped up in his usual attitude, with his
legs tucked under him.
'Don't you think we might open something?' she said, as she sat down by the
bedside; 'and your sheets want changing.'
'Oh, if you've only come in to turn everything upside-down, you might as
well have stayed away.' He spoke with difficulty, in a thin wheeze.
'I think the pills did me good last night,' he said, after a pause; and
then added, laughing as much as his breath would allow him, 'and what a
rage mother was in! But tell me, what were they doing downstairs? Were
there any ladies there? I was too bad to think of anything.'
'Yes, some of the ladies from the theatre,' Kate answered. 'But I don't
think mother had a right to kick up all the row she did.'
'And it just came in upon her prayers,' Ralph replied, smiling.
Although cross-grained, Mr. Ede was not always an unpleasant man, and often
in sudden flashes of affection the kind heart of his mother was
recognizable in him.
'You mustn't laugh, Ralph,' said Kate, looking aside, for the comic side of
the question had suddenly dawned upon her.
But their hilarity was not of long endurance. Ralph was seized with a fit
of coughing, and when this was over he lay back exhausted. At last he said:
'But where have you been all the day? We've been wondering what had become
The question, although not put unkindly, annoyed Kate. 'One would think I'd
come back from a long journey', she said to herself. 'It's just as Hender
says; if I'm out half an hour more than my time everyone is, as they say,
"wondering what has become of me."' Assuming an air of indifference, she
told him that Mrs. Barnes kept her a long time, and that she went for a
'I'm glad of that,' he said. 'You wanted a walk after being shut up with me
three nights running. And what a time you must have had of it! But tell me
what you've been doing in the shop.'
She told him that 'mother' had sold all the aprons, and he said: 'I knew
they'd sell. I told you so, didn't I?'
'You did, dear,' said Kate, seeking to satisfy him; 'but you mustn't talk
so much; you'll make yourself bad again.'
'But are you going?'
'I've been out so long that I've a lot to do; but I'll come back and see
you in the evening.'
'Well, then, kiss me before you go.'
As she kissed him, she remembered the struggle in the potteries, and it
appeared strange to her that she should now be giving as a matter of course
what she had refused an hour ago. She had always complied with the
ordinances of the marriage state without passion or revolt, but now it
disgusted her to kiss her husband, and as she stepped into the passage she
almost walked into Mr. Lennox's room unconsciously, without knowing what
she was doing, beguiled by the natural sentiment that a woman feels in the
room of a man she is interested in. Hoping that Mrs. Ede had not yet set
everything straight, she went on to make sure. Slippers and boots lay
about; the portmanteau yawned wide open, with some soiled shirts on the
top; a pair of trousers trailed from a chair on the floor. Annoyed at the
mother's negligence, Kate hung the trousers on the door, placed the
slippers tidily by his bedside, and put away the soiled linen. But in doing
so she could not refrain from glancing at the contents of the portmanteau.
She saw many of the traces which follow those who frequent women's society.
The duchess works a pair of slippers for her lover, and the chorus-girl
does the same. The merchant's wife, as she holds the loved hand under the
ledge of her box at the theatre, clasps the ring she had given; the rich
widow opposite has a jewel-case in her pocket which will presently be sent
round to the stage-door for the tenor, who is now thinking of his high B
Under the shirts Kate found a pair of slippers, a pin-cushion, and the
inevitable ring. But there were other presents more characteristic of the
man: there was a bracelet, a scent-bottle, and two pots of _pate de foie
gras_ wrapped up in a lace-trimmed chemise. Kate examined everything,
but without being able to adduce any conclusion beyond a vague surmise that
Lennox lived in a different world from hers. The _foie gras_ suggested
delicacy of living, the chemise immorality, the bottle of scent refinement
of taste; the bracelet she could make nothing of. Prosaic and vulgar as
were all these articles, in the dressmaker's imagination they became both
poetized and purified. An infinite sadness, that she could not explain,
rose up through her mind, and, staring vaguely at the pious exhortations
hung on the wall--'Thou art my will,' 'Thou art my hope'--she thought of
Mr. Lennox's wounded legs, and asked herself if his bed were soft, and if
she could do anything to make him more comfortable. It vexed her to see
that he had chosen to use the basin-stand made out of a triangular board
set in a corner instead of the proper one, where she had hung two clean
towels; and it was not until she remembered the little girls that she was
able to tear herself away.
'What have you got for us?' said four red lips as Kate entered.
'Oh, you must guess,' she replied, taking a chair, and bidding Miss Hender
'An apple?' cried Annie.
'An orange?' cried Lizzie.
Kate shook her head, and at the sight of their bright looks she felt her
spirits return to her.
'No, it is sweetstuff.'
'Yes; Annie has guessed right,' said Kate, as she divided the toffee
equally between the two.
'And do I get nothing for guessing right?' said Annie doubtfully.
'Oh, for shame, Annie! I didn't think you were greedy!'
'I think I ought to have the most,' replied Lizzie in self-defence. 'Had it
not been for me Miss Hender would never have got through her skirt. I
helped you famously, didn't I, Miss Hender?'
The assistant nodded an impatient assent and gazed at her mistress
curiously. But while the children were present, she could only watch her
employer's face, and strive to read it.
And unconscious of the scrutiny, Kate sat idly talking of the skirt that
was finished. The clicking of the needles sounded as music in her ears, and
she abandoned herself to all sorts of soft and floating reveries. Not for
years had she known what it was to take her fill of rest; and her thoughts
swayed, now on one side and then on the other, as voluptuously as flowers,
and hid themselves in the luxurious current of idleness which lapped
loosely around her.
The afternoon passed delightfully, full of ease and pleasant quiet, Hender
telling them how _Les Cloches_ had gone the night before: of Miss
Leslie's spirited singing, of the cider song, of Joe Mortimer's splendid
miser scene, of Bret's success in the barcarole. So eagerly did she speak
of them that one would have thought she herself had received the applause
she described. Kate listened dreamily, and the little girls sucked toffee,
staring the while with interested eyes.
But Kate could not manage to see Mr. Lennox that evening or the next. He
came in very late, and was away before she was down. She tormented herself
trying to find reasons for his absence, and it pained her to think that it
might be because the breakfasts were not to his taste. It seemed strange to
her, too, that when a man cared to walk about the potteries with a woman,
and talked as nicely as he had done to her, that he should not take the
trouble to come and see her, if only to say good-morning; and in a thousand
different ways did these thoughts turn and twist in Kate's brain, as she
sat sewing opposite Hender in the workroom. This young woman had made up
her mind that there was something between the stage-manager and her
employer, and it irritated her when Kate said she had not seen him for the
last two days. Kate was not very successful either in extracting theatrical
news from Hender. 'If she's going to be close with me, I'll show her that
two can play at that game,' and she answered that she had not noticed any
limp. But Mrs. Ede told Kate he limped so badly that she felt sure he must
have met with an accident. Which was she to believe? Mother, of course; but
feeling that only direct news of him would satisfy her, she waited next
morning in the kitchen. But the trick was not successful; she was serving
in the shop, and heard him leave by the side door. Whether he had done this
on purpose to avoid her, or whether it was the result of chance, Kate
passed the morning in considering. She had hitherto succeeded in completely
ignoring their ridiculous fall amid the teacups, but the memory of it now
surged up in her mind; and certain coarse details that she had forgotten
continued to recur to her with a singular persistency; deaf to Hender's
conversation, she sat sullenly sewing, hating even to go down to the shop
to attend when Mrs. Ede called from below that there was a customer
About three o'clock Mrs. Ede's voice was heard.
'Kate, come down; there is someone in the shop.'
Passing round the counter, she found herself face to face with a
'I was recommended here by Mrs. West,' the lady said, after a slight
hesitation, 'to buy a set of baby clothes.'
'Is it for a new-born infant?' Kate asked, putting on her shop airs.
'Well, the baby is not born yet, but I hope soon will be.'
'Oh, I beg pardon,' said Kate, casting a rapid glance in the direction of
the lady's waist.
The baby clothes were kept in a box under the counter, and in a few moments
Kate reappeared with a bundle of flannels.
'You will find these of the very best quality; will you feel the warmth of
this, ma'am?' she said, spreading out something that looked like two large
The lady seemed satisfied with the quality, but from her manner of
examining the strings Kate judged she was at her first confinement, and
with short phrases and quick movements proceeded to explain how the infant
was to be laid in the middle, and how the tapes were to be tied across.
'And you will want a hood and cloak? We have some very nice ones at two
pounds ten; but perhaps you would not like to give so much?'
Without replying to this question, the lady asked to see the articles
referred to, and then, beneath the men's shirts that hung just above their
heads, the two women talked with many genuine airs of mystery and covert
subtlety. The lady spoke of her fears, of how much she wished the next
fortnight was over, of her husband, of how long she had been married. She
was Mrs. Wood, the stationer's wife in Piccadilly. Kate said she knew her
customer's shop perfectly, and assumed a sad expression when in her turn
she was asked if she had any children. On her replying in the negative,
Mrs. Wood said, with a sigh of foreboding, that people were possibly just
as well without them.
It was at this moment that Mr. Lennox entered, and Kate tried to sweep away
and to hide up the things that were on the counter. Mrs. Wood was mildly
embarrassed, and with a movement of retiring she attempted to resume the
'Very well, Mrs. Ede,' she said; 'I quite agree with you--and I'll call
again about those pocket-handkerchiefs.'
But Kate, in her anxiety not to lose a chance of doing a bit of business,
'Yes, but about those baby clothes--shall I send them, Mrs. Wood?'
Mrs. Wood murmured something inaudible in reply, and as she sidled and
backed out of the shop she bumped against Mr. Lennox.
He lifted his big hat and strove to make way for her, but he had to get
into a corner to allow her to pass out, and then, still apologizing, he
took a step forwards, and leaning on the counter, said in a hurried voice:
'I've been waiting to see you for the last two days. Where have you been
The unexpected question disconcerted Kate, and instead of answering him
coldly and briefly, as she had intended, said:
'Why, here; where did you expect me to be? But you've been out ever since,'
she added simply.
'It wasn't my fault--the business I've had to do! I was in London
yesterday, and only got back last night in time for the show. There was
talk of our boss drying up, but I think it's all right. I'll tell you about
that another time. I want you to come to the theatre to-morrow night. Here
are some tickets for the centre circle I'll come and sit with you when I
get the curtain up, and we'll be able to talk.'
The worm does not easily realize the life of the fly, and Kate did not
understand. The rapidly stated facts bewildered her, and she could only
say, in answer to his again repeated question:
'Oh, I should like it so much, but it is impossible; if my mother-in-law
heard of it I don't know what she would say.'
'Well, then, come to-night; but no, confound it! I shall be busy all to
night. Hayes, our acting manager, has been drunk for the last three days;
he can't even make up the returns. No, no; you must come to-morrow night.
Come with Hender; she's one of the dressers. I'll make that all right; you
can tell her so from me. Will you promise to come?'
'I should like it so much; but what excuse can I give for being out till
half-past ten at night?'
'You needn't stay till then; you can leave before the piece is half over.
Say you went out for a walk.'
The most ingenious and complete fiction that Mr. Lennox's inventive brain
might have worked out would not have appeased Kate's fears so completely as
the simple suggestion of a walk, and her face lit up with a glow of
intelligence as she remembered how successfully she had herself made use of
the same excuse.
'Then you'll come?' he said, taking her look for an answer.
'I'll try,' she replied, still hesitating.
'Then that's all right,' he murmured, pressing two or three pieces of paper
into her hands. 'I've been thinking of you a great deal.'
Kate smiled slowly, and a slight flush for a moment illuminated the pale
'I dreamt that we were going up to London together, and that your head was
lying on my shoulder, and it was so nice and pleasant, and when I woke up I
Kate shivered a little, and drew back as if afraid; and in the pause which
ensued Mr. Lennox remembered an appointment.
'I must be off now,' he said, 'there's no help for it; but you won't
disappoint me, will you? The doors open at half-past six. If you're there
early I may be able to see you before the piece begins.'
And with a grand lift of the hat the actor hurried away, leaving Kate to
examine the three pieces of paper he had given her.
It was clearly impossible for her to go to the theatre without her
assistant finding it out; she must confide in Hender, who would be
astonished, no doubt. And she was not wrong in her surmise; the news
produced first an astonished stare, and then a look of satisfaction to be
read: 'Well, you are coming to your senses at last.' Kate would have liked
no more to be said on the subject, but the fact that her employer was going
to meet Mr. Lennox at the theatre was not sufficient for Hender; she must
needs question Kate how this change had come about in her. 'Was she really
spoons on the actor?' At these words Kate, who wished to leave everything
vague, the facts as well as her conception of them, declared that she would
rather not go to the theatre at all, if such remarks were to be made.
Whereupon Miss Hender took a view less carnal, and the two women discussed
how old Mrs. Ede might be given the slip. The idea of the walk was not
approved of; it was too simple; but on this point Kate would take no
advice, although she accepted the suggestion that she was to go upstairs,
and under the pretext of changing her petticoat, should fold her hat into
her mantle and tie the two behind her just as she would a bustle; an
ingenious device, but difficult to put into practice.
Ralph was out of bed, and, having been deprived of speech for more than a
week, he followed Kate into the back room, worrying her with questions
about the shop, his health, his mother, and Mr. Lennox.
At five o'clock Mrs. Ede came up to say she was going up the town to do a
little marketing for Sunday, and to ask Kate to come down to the front
kitchen, where she could be in sight of the shop. Miss Hender said nothing
could have happened more fortunately, and, with many instructions as to
where they should meet, she hurried away. But she was no sooner gone than
Kate remembered she had no one to leave in charge of the shop. She should
have asked one of the apprentices, but she hadn't, and would have to turn
the key in the door and leave her mother-in-law to come in by the side way.
Ralph would open to her; it couldn't be helped. Mr Lennox was going away
to-morrow; she must see him.
At that moment her mantle caused her some uneasiness; it didn't seem to
hang well, and it was impossible to go to the theatre in the gloves that
had been lying in her pocket for the last month. She took a pair of grey
thread from the window, but while pulling them on her face changed
expression. Was it Ralph coming down the staircase? There was nobody else
in the house. Trembling, she waited for him to appear. Wheezing loudly, her
husband dragged himself through the doorway.
'What--do you look so fri-frightened at? You did-didn't expect to see me,
'No, I didn't,' Kate answered as if in a dream.
'Feeling a good deal better, I thou-ght I would come down, but--but the
stairs--have tried me.'
It was some time before he could speak again. At last he said:
'Where are you going?'
'I was just going for a walk.'
'I don't know how it is, but it seems to me that you're always out now;
always coming in or going out; never in the shop. If it wasn't for my
asthma I don't think I'd ever be out of the shop, but women think of
nothing but pleasure and--,' a very rude word which she had never heard
Ralph use before. But it might be that she was mistaken. Poor man! it was
distressing to watch him gasping for breath. He leaned against the counter,
and Kate begged him to let her help him upstairs, but he shook her off
testily, saying that he understood himself better than anybody else did,
and that he would look after the shop.
'You're going out? Well, go,' and she hurried away, hoping that a customer
would come in, for his great delight was the shop. 'Attending on half a
dozen customers will amuse him more than the play will amuse me,' she said
to herself, and a smile rose to her lips, for she imagined him taking
advantage of her absence to rearrange the window. 'But what can have
brought him down?' Kate asked herself. 'Ah! that's it,' she said, for it
had suddenly come into her mind that ever since she had told him of a
certain sale of aprons and some unexpected orders for baby clothes he had
often mentioned that the worst part of these asthmatic attacks was that
they prevented his attendance in the shop. 'The shop is his pleasure just
as the theatre is Hender's,' Kate said as she hurried up Piccadilly to the
theatre, her heart in her mouth, for her time was up. Fearing to miss
Hender, she raced along, dodging the passengers with quick turns and
twists. 'It's my only chance of seeing him; he's going away tomorrow,' and
she was living so intensely in her own imagination that she neither saw nor
heeded anybody until she suddenly heard somebody calling after her, 'Kate!
Kate! Kate!' She turned round and faced her mother-in-law.
'Where on earth are you going at that rate?' said Mrs. Ede, who carried a
small basket on her arm.
'Only for a walk' Kate replied in a voice dry with enforced calmness.
'Oh, for a walk; I'm glad of that, it will do you good. But which way are
'Any where round about the town. Up on the hill, St. John's Road.'
'How curious! I was just thinking of going back that way. There's a
fruiterer's shop where you can get potatoes a penny a stone cheaper than
you can here.'
If a thunderbolt had ruined Hanley before her eyes at that moment, it would
not have appeared to her of such importance as this theft of her evening's
pleasure. It was with difficulty that she saved herself from saying
straight out that she was going to the theatre to see Mr. Lennox, and had a
right to do so if she pleased.
'But I like walking fast,' she said; 'perhaps I walk too fast for you?'
'Oh no, not at all. My old legs are as good as your young ones. Kate, dear,
what is the matter? Are you all right?' she said, seeing how cross her
daughter-in-law was looking.
'Oh yes, I'm all right, but you do bother one so.'
This very injudicious phrase led to a demonstration of affection on the
part of Mrs. Ede, and whatever were the chances of getting rid of her
before, they were now reduced to nothing. The strain on her nerves was at
height during the first half of the walk, for during that time she knew
that Mr. Lennox was expecting her; afterwards, while bargaining with the
fruiterer in St. John's Road, she fell into despondency. Nothing seemed to
matter now; she did not care what might befall her, and in silence she
accompanied her mother-in-law home.
'Now, mother, you must leave me; I've some work to finish.'
'I'm sorry, Kate, if----'
'Mother, I've some work to finish; good-night.'
And she sat in the workroom waiting for Mr. Lennox. At last his heavy step
was heard on the stairs; then, laying aside the shirt she was making, she
stole out to meet him. He saw her as he scraped a match on the wall;
dropping it, he put out his hands towards her.
'Is that you, dear?' he said. 'Why didn't you come to the theatre? We had a
'I couldn't; I met my mother-in-law.'
The red embers of the match that had fallen on the floor now went out, and
the indication of their faces was swept away in the darkness.
'Let me get a light, dear.' The intonation of his voice as he said 'dear'
caused her an involuntary feeling of voluptuousness. She trembled as the
vague outline of his big cheeks became clear in the red flame of the match
which he held in his hollowed hands.
'Won't you come in?' she heard him say a moment after.
'No, I couldn't; I must go upstairs in a minute. I only came to tell you,
for I didn't want you to go away angry; it wasn't my fault. I should so
much have liked to have gone to the theatre.'
'It was a pity you didn't come; I was waiting at the door for you. I could
have sat by you the whole time.'
Kate's heart died within her at thought of what she had lost, and after a
long silence she said very mournfully:
'Perhaps when you come back another time I shall be able to go to the
'We've done so well here that we're going to get another date. I'll write
and let you know.'
'Will you? And will you come back and lodge here?'
'Of course, and I hope that I shan't be so unlucky the next time as to fall
down amid the crockery.'
At this they both laughed, and the conversation came to a pause.
'I must bid you good-night now.'
'But won't you kiss me--just a kiss, so that I may have something to think
'Why do you want to kiss me? You have Miss Leslie to kiss.'
'I never kissed Leslie; that's all nonsense, and I want to kiss you because
I love you.'
Kate made no answer, and, following her into the heavy darkness that hung
around the foot of the staircase, he took her in his arms. She at first
made no resistance, but the passion of his kiss caused her a sudden revolt,
and she struggled with him.
'Oh, Mr. Lennox, let me go, I beg of you,' she said, speaking with her lips
close to his. 'Let me go, let me go; they will miss me.'
Possibly fearing another fall, Mr. Lennox loosed his embrace, and she left
Next morning about eleven the mummer took off his hat in his very largest
manner to the ladies, and the bow was so deferential, and seemed to betoken
so much respect for the sex, that even Mrs. Ede could not help thinking
that Mr. Lennox was very polite. Ralph too was impressed, as well he might
be, so attentively did Dick listen to him, just as if nothing in the world
concerned him as much as this last attack of asthma, and it was not until
Mrs. Ede mentioned that they would be late for church that it occurred to
Dick that his chance of catching the eleven o'clock train was growing more
and more remote. With a hasty comment on his dilatoriness, he caught up a
parcel and rug and shook hands with them all.
The cab rattled away, and Ralph proceeded up the red, silent streets
towards the Wesleyan church, walking very slowly between his womankind.
'There's no doubt but that Mr. Lennox is a very nice man,' he said, after
they had gone some twenty or thirty paces--'a very nice man indeed; you
must admit, mother, that you were wrong.'
'He's polite, if you will,' replied Mrs. Ede, who for the last few minutes
had been considering the ungodliness of travelling on a Sunday.
'Don't walk so fast,' Ralph cried.
'Well, then, we shall be late for church!'
'Which, then, is the most important in your eyes--Mr. Peppencott's sermon
or my breath?'
'I'm not thinking of Mr. Peppencott's sermon.'
'Then of his voice in the prayer. Lennox may be no better than an actor,'
he continued, 'but he's more fellow-feeling than you have. You saw yourself
how interested he was in my complaint, and I shall try the cigarettes that
used to give his mother relief.' He appealed to Kate, who answered him that
it would be as well to try the cigarettes, and her thoughts floated away
into a regret that Mr. Lennox had not been able to come to church with
them, for she was reckoned to have a good voice. It may have been a memory
of Dick that enabled her to pour her voice into the hymn, singing it more
lustily than Mrs. Ede ever heard her sing it before. It seemed to Mrs. Ede
that only God's grace could enable anyone to sing as Kate was singing, and
when the minister began to preach and Kate sat down, her eyes fixed, Mrs.
Ede rejoiced. 'The word of God has reached her at last,' she said. 'Never
have I seen her listen so intently before to Mr. Peppencott.' Kate sat
quite still, almost unconscious of the life around her, remembering that it
was on her way from the potteries that she had learnt that there is a life
within us deeper and more intense than the life without us. Dick's kisses
had angered her at the moment, but in recollection they were inexpressibly
dear to her. Her fear had been that time would dim her recollection of
them, and her great joy was to discover that this was not so, and that she
could recall the intonations of his voice and the colour of his eyes and
the words he spoke to her, reliving them in imagination more intensely than
while she was actually in his arms just before that terrible fall or in the
shop and frightened lest Mrs. Ede or Ralph should come in and surprise
them. But in imagination she was secure from interruption and hindrance,
and could taste over and over again the words that he had spoken: 'I shall
be back in three months, dear one.'
A great part of her happiness was in the fact that it was all within
herself, that none knew of it; had she wished to communicate it, she could
not have done so. It was a life within her life, a voice in her heart which
she could hear at any moment, and it was a voice so sweet and intense that
it could close her ears to her husband and her mother-in-law, who during
dinner fell into one of their habitual quarrels.
Ralph, who had not forgotten his mother's lack of sympathy on their way to
church, maintained the favourable opinion he had formed of Mr. Lennox.
'It's unchristian,' he said, 'to condemn a man because of the trade or
profession he follows,' and somewhat abashed, his mother answered: 'I've
always been taught to believe that people who don't go to church lead
Sunday was kept strictly in this family. Three services were attended
regularly. Kate hoped to recover the sensations of the morning, and
attended church in the afternoon. But the whole place seemed changed. The
cold white walls chilled her; the people about her appeared to her in a
very small and miserable light, and she was glad to get home. Her thoughts
went back to the book she had fallen asleep over last Sunday night when she
sat by her husband's bedside, and when the house was quiet she went
upstairs and fetched it. But after reading a few pages the heat of the
house seemed to her intolerable. There was no place to go to for a walk
except St. John's Road, and there, turning listlessly over the pages of the
old novel, the time passed imperceptibly. It was like sitting on the
sea-shore; the hills extended like an horizon, and as the sea dreamer
strives to pierce the long illimitable line of the wave and follows the
path of the sailing ship, so did Kate gaze out of the sweeping green line
that enclosed all she knew of the world, and strove to look beyond into the
country to where her friend was going.
Northwood, with its hundreds of sharp roofs and windows, seemed to be
dropping into a Sunday doze, under pale salmon-coloured tints, and the
bells of its church sounded clearer and clearer at each peal. Warm airs
passed over the red roofs of Southwark, and below in the vast hollow of the
valley all was still, all seemed abandoned as a desert; no whiff of white
steam was blown from the collieries; no black cloud of smoke rolled from
the factory chimneys, and they raised their tall stems like a suddenly
dismantled forest to a wan, an almost colourless sky. The hills alone
maintained their unchangeable aspect.
By well-known ways the dog comes back to his kennel, the sheep to the fold
the horse to the stable, and even so did Kate return to her sentimental
self. One day she was turning over the local paper, and suddenly, as if
obeying a long forgotten instinct, her eyes wandered to the poetry column,
and again, just as in old time, she was caught by the same simple
sentiments of sadness and longing. She found there the usual song, in which
_regret_ rhymes to _forget_. The same dear questions which used
to enchant seven years ago were again asked in the same simple fashion; and
they touched her now as they had before. She refound all her old dreams. It
seemed as if not a day had passed over her. When she was a girl she used to
collect every scrap of love poetry that appeared in the local paper, and
paste them into a book, and now, the events of the week having roused her
from the lethargy into which she had fallen, she turned for a poem to the
_Hanley Courier_ as instinctively as an awakened child turns to the
The verses she happened to hit on were after her own heart, and just what
were required to complete the transformation of her character:
'I love thee, I love thee, how fondly, how well
Let the years that are coming my constancy tell;
I think of thee daily, my night-thoughts are thine;
In fairy-like vision thy hand presses mine;
And even though absent you dwell in my heart;
Of all that is dear to me, dearest, thou art.'
In reading these lines Kate's heart began to beat quickly, her eyes filled
with tears, and wrapped in brightness, like a far distant coast-line, a
vision of her girlhood arose. She recalled the emotions she once
experienced, the books she had read, and the poetry that was lying upstairs
in an old trunk pushed under the bed. It seemed to her wonderful that it
had been forgotten so long; her memory skipped from one fragment to the
other, picking up a word here, a phrase there, until a remembrance of her
favourite novel seized her; she became the heroine of the absurd fiction,
substituting herself for the lady who used to read Byron and Shelley to the
gentleman who went to India in despair.
As the fitness of the comparison dawned upon her, she yielded to an
ineffable sentiment of weakness: George was the husband's name in the book,
she was Helene, and Dick was the lover to whom she could not, would not,
give herself, and who on that account had gone away in despair. The
coincidence appeared to her as something marvellous, something above
nature, and she turned it over, examined it in her mind, as a child would a
toy, till, forgetful of her desire to overlook these relics of old times,
she went upstairs to the workroom.
The missed visit to the theatre was a favourite theme of conversation
between the two women. Kate listened to what went on behind the scenes with
greater indulgence, and she seemed to become more accustomed to the idea
that Bill and Hender were something more than friends. She was conscious of
disloyalty to her own upbringing and to her mother-in-law who loved her,
and she often blamed herself and resolved never to allow Hender to speak
ill again of Mrs. Ede. But the temptation to complain was insidious. It was
not every woman who would consent, as she did, to live under the same roof
as her mother-in-law, and Hender, who hated Mrs. Ede, who spoke of her as
the 'hag,' never lost an opportunity of pointing out the fact that the
house was Kate's house and not Mrs. Ede's. The first time Hender said,
'After all, the house is yours,' Kate was pleased, but the girl insisted
too much, and Kate was often irritated against her assistant, and she often
raged inwardly. It was abominable to have her thoughts interpreted by
Hender. She loved her mother-in-law dearly, she didn't know what she'd do
without her, but--So it went on; struggle as she would with herself, there
still lay at the bottom of her mind the thought that Mrs. Ede had prevented
her from going that evening to the theatre, and turn, twist, and wander
away as she would, it invariably came back to her.
Frequently Miss Hender had to repeat her questions before she obtained an
intelligible answer, and often, without even vouchsafing a reply, Kate
would pitch her work aside nervously. Her thoughts were not in her work;
she waited impatiently for an opportunity of turning out the old trunk,
full of the trinkets, books, verses, remembrances of her youth, which lay
under her bed, pushed up against the wall. But a free hour was only
possible when Ralph was out. Then her mother-in-law had to mind the shop,
and Kate would be sure of privacy at the top of the house.
There was no valid reason why she should dread being found out in so
innocent an amusement as turning over a few old papers. Her fear was merely
an unreasoned and nervous apprehension of ridicule. Ever since she could
remember, her sentimentality was always a subject either of mourning or
pity; in allowing it to die out of her heart she had learned to feel
ashamed of it; the idea of being discovered going back to it revolted her,
and she did not know which would annoy her the most, her husband's sneers
or Mrs. Ede's blank alarm. Kate remembered how she used to be told that
novels must be wicked and sinful because there was nothing in them that led
the soul to God, and she resolved to avoid further lectures on this
subject. She devoted herself to the task of persuading Ralph to leave his
counter and to go out for a walk. This was not easy, but she arrived at
last at the point of helping him on with his coat and handing him his hat;
then, conducting him to the door, she bade him not to walk fast and to be
sure to keep in the sun. She then went upstairs, her mind relaxed,
determined to enjoy herself to the extent of allowing her thoughts for an
hour or so to wander at their own sweet will.
The trunk was an oblong box covered with brown hair; to pull it out she had
to get under the bed, and it was with trembling and eager fingers that she
untied the old twisted cords. Remembrance with Kate was a cult, but her
husband's indifference and her mother-in-law's hard, determined opposition
had forced the past out of sight; but now on the first encouragement it
gushed forth like a suppressed fountain that an incautious hand had
suddenly liberated. And with what joy she turned over the old books! She
examined the colour of the covers, she read a phrase here and there: they
were all so dear to her that she did not know which she loved the best.
Scenes, heroes, and heroines long forgotten came back to her, and in what
minuteness, and how vividly! It appeared to her that she could not go on
fast enough; her emotion gained upon her until she became quite hysterical;
in turning feverishly over some papers a withered pansy floated into her
lap. Tears started to her eyes, and she pressed the poor little flower,
forgotten so long, to her lips. She could not remember when she gathered
it, but it had come to her. Her lips quivered, the light seemed to be
growing dark, and a sudden sense of misery eclipsed her happiness, and
unable to restrain herself any longer, she burst into a tumultuous storm of
But after having cried for a few minutes her passion subsided, and she
wiped the tears from her hands and face, and, smiling at herself, she
continued her search. Everything belonging to that time interested her,
verses and faded flowers; but her thoughts were especially centred on an
old copybook in which she kept the fragments of poetry that used to strike
her fancy at the moment. When she came upon it her heart beat quicker, and
with mild sentiments of regret she read through the slips of newspaper;
they were all the same, but as long as anyone was spoken of as being the
nearest and the dearest Kate was satisfied. Even the bonbon mottoes, of
which there were large numbers, drew from her the deepest sighs. The little
Cupid firing at a target in the shape of a heart, with 'Tom Smith & Co.,
London,' printed in small letters underneath, did not prevent her from
sharing the sentiment expressed in the lines:
'Let this cracker, torn asunder,
Be an emblem of my heart;
And as we have shared the plunder,
Pray you of my love take part.'
Sitting on the floor, with one hand leaning on the open trunk, she read,
letting her thoughts drift through past scenes and sensations. All was far
away; and she turned over the relics that the past had thrown up on the
shore of the present without seeing any connection between them and the
needs of the moment until she lit on the following verses
'Wearily I'm waiting for you,
For your absence watched in vain
Ask myself the hopeless question,
Will he ever come again?
'All these years, am I forgotten?
Or in absence are you true?
Oh, my darling,'tis so lonely,
Watching, waiting here for you!
'Has your heart from its allegiance
Turned to greet a fairer face?
Have you welcomed in another
Charms you missed in me, and grace?
'Long, long years I have been waiting,
Bearing up against my pain;
All my thoughts and vows have vanished,
Will they ever come again?
'Yes, for woman's faith ne'er leaves her,
And my trust outweighs my fears;
And I still will wait his coming,
Though it may not be for years.'
As the deer, when he believes he has eluded the hounds, leaves the burning
plains and plunges into the cool woodland water, Kate bathed her tired
soul, letting it drink its fill of this very simple poem. The sentiment
came to her tenderly, through the weak words; and melting with joy, she
repeated them over and over again.
At last her sad face lit up with a smile. It had occurred to her to send
the poem that gave her so much pleasure to Dick. It would make him think of
her when he was far away; it would tell him that she had not forgotten him.
The idea pleased her so much that it did not occur to her to think if she
would be doing wrong in sending these verses to her lodger, and with
renewed ardour and happiness she continued her search among her books.
There was no question in her mind as to which she would read, and she
anticipated hours of delight in tracing resemblances between herself and
the lady who used to read Byron and Shelley to her aristocratic lover. She
feared at first she had lost this novel, but when it was discovered it was
put aside for immediate use. The next that came under her hand was the
story of a country doctor. In this instance the medical hero had poisoned
one sister to whom he was secretly married in order that he might wed a
second. Kate at first hesitated, but remembering that there was an
elopement, with a carriage overturned in a muddy lane, she decided upon
looking it through again. Another book related the love of a young lady who
found herself in the awkward predicament of not being able to care for
anyone but her groom, who was lucky enough to be the possessor of the most
wonderful violet eyes. The fourth described the distressing position of a
young clergyman who, when he told the lady of his choice that his means for
the moment did not admit of his taking a wife, was answered that it did not
matter, for in the meantime she was quite willing to be his mistress. This
devotion and self-sacrifice touched Kate so deeply that she was forced to
pause in her search to consider how those who have loved much are forgiven.
But at this moment Mrs. Ede entered.
'Oh, Kate, what are you doing?'
Although the question was asked in an intonation of voice affecting to be
one of astonishment only, there was nevertheless in it an accent of reproof
that was especially irritating to Kate in her present mood. A deaf anger
against her mother-in-law's interference oppressed her, but getting the
better of it, she said quietly, though somewhat sullenly:
'You always want to know what I'm doing! I declare, one can't turn round
but you're after me, just like a shadow.'
'What you say is unjust, Kate,' replied the old woman warmly. 'I'm sure I
never pry after you.'
'Well, anyhow, there it is: I'm looking out for a book to read in the
evenings, if you want to know.'
'I thought you'd given up reading those vain and sinful books; they can't
do you any good.'
'What harm can they do me?'
'They turn your thoughts from Christ. I've looked into them to see that I
may not be speaking wrongly, and I've found them nothing but vain accounts
of the world and its worldliness. I didn't read far, but what I saw was a
lot of excusing of women who couldn't love their husbands, and much sighing
after riches and pleasure. I thanked God you'd given over such things. I
believed your heart was turned towards Him. Now it grieves me bitterly to
see I was mistaken.'
'I don't know what you mean. Ralph never said that there was any harm in my
'Ah! Ralph, I'm afraid, has never set a good example. I wouldn't blame him,
for he's my own son, but I'd wish to see him not prizing so highly the
things of the world.'
'We must live, though,' Kate answered, without quite understanding what she
'Live--of course we have to live; but it depends how we live and what we
live for--whether it be to indulge the desires of the flesh, the desire of
the eye, or to regain the image of God, to have the design of God again
planted in our souls. This is what we should live for, and it is only thus
that we shall find true happiness.'
Though these were memories of phrases heard in the pulpit, they were
uttered by Mrs. Ede with a fervour, with a candour of belief, that took
from them any appearance of artificiality; and Kate did not notice that her
mother-in-law was using words that were not habitual to her.
'But what do you want me to do?' said Kate, who began to feel frightened.
'To go to Christ, to love Him. He is all we have to help us, and they who
love Him truly are guided as to how to live righteously. Whether we eat or
drink, or whatever we do, it springs from or leads to the love of God and
These words stirred Kate to her very entrails; a sudden gush of feeling
brought the tears to her eyes, and she was on the point of throwing herself
into Mrs. Ede's arms.
The temptation to have a good cry was almost irresistible, and the burden
of her pent-up emotions was more than she could bear. But communing the
while rapidly within herself, she hesitated, until an unexpected turn of
thought harshly put it before her that she was being made a fool of--that
she had a perfect right to look through her books and poetry, and that
Hender's sneers were no more than she deserved for allowing a mother-in-law
to bully her. Then the tears of sorrow became those of anger, and striving
to speak as rudely as she could, she said:
'I don't talk about Christ as much as you, but He judges us by our hearts
and not by our words. You would do well to humble yourself before you come
to preach to others.'
'Dear Kate, it's because I see you interested in things that have no
concern with God's love that I speak to you so. A man who never knows a
thought of God has been staying here, and I fear he has led you----'
At these words Kate threw the last papers into the trunk, pushed it away,
and turned round fiercely.
'Led me into what? What do you mean? Mr. Lennox was here because Ralph
wished him to be here. I think that you should know better than to say such
things. I don't deserve it.'
On this Kate left the room, her face clouded and trembling with a passion
that she did not quite feel. To just an appreciable extent she was
conscious that it suited her convenience to quarrel with her mother-in-law.
She was tired of the life she was leading; her whole heart was in her
novels and poetry; and, determined to take in the _London Reader_ or
_Journal_, she called back to Mrs. Ede that she was going to consult
Ralph on the matter.
He was in capital spirits. The affairs in the shop were going on more
satisfactorily than usual, a fact which he did not fail to attribute to his
superior commercial talents. 'A business like theirs went to the bad,' he
declared, 'when there wasn't a man to look after it. Women liked being
attended to by one of the other sex,' and beaming with artificial smiles,
the little man measured out yards of ribbon, and suggested 'that they had a
very superior thing in the way of petticoats just come from Manchester.'
His health was also much improved, so much so that his asthmatic attack
seemed to have done him good. A little colour flushed his cheeks around the
edges of the thick beard. In the evenings after supper, when the shop was
closed, an hour before they went up to prayers, he would talk of the sales
he had made during the day, and speak authoritatively of the possibilities
of enlarging the business. His ambition was to find someone in London who
would forward them the latest fashions; somebody who would be clever enough
to pick out and send them some stylish but simple dress that Kate could
copy. He would work the advertisements, and if the articles were well set
in the window he would answer for the rest. The great difficulty was, of
course, the question of frontage, and Mr. Ede's face grew grave as he
thought of his little windows. 'Nothing,' he said, 'can be done without
plate-glass; five hundred pounds would buy out the fruit-seller, and throw
the whole place into one'; and Kate, interested in all that was
imaginative, would raise her eyes from the pages of her book and ask if
there was no possibility of realizing this grand future.
She was reading a novel full of the most singular and exciting scenes. In
it she discovered a character who reminded her of her husband, a courtier
at the Court of Louis XIV., who said sharp things, and often made himself
disagreeable, but there was something behind that pleased, and under the
influence of this fancy she began to find new qualities in Ralph, the
existence of which she had not before suspected. Sometimes the thought
struck her that if he had been always like what he was now she would have
loved him better, and listening to a dispute which had arisen between him
and his mother regarding the purchase of the fruiterer's premises, her
smile deepened, and then, the humour of the likeness continuing to tickle
her, she burst out laughing.
'What are you laughing at, Kate?' said her husband, looking admiringly at
her pretty face. Mrs. Ede sternly continued her knitting, but Ralph seemed
so pleased, and begged so good-naturedly to be told what the matter was,
that the temptation to do so grew irresistible.
'You won't be angry if I tell you?'
'Angry, no. Why should I be angry?'
'Yes, I promise,' replied Ralph, extremely curious.
'Well then, there is a cha-cha-rac-ter so--so like----'
'Oh, if you want to tell me, don't laugh like that. I can't hear a word
'Oh it is so--so--so like----'
'Yes, but do stop laughing and tell me.'
At last Kate had to stop laughing for want of breath, and she said, her
voice still trembling:
'Well, there's a fellow in this book--you promise not to be angry?'
'Oh yes, I promise.'
'Well, then, there's someone in this book that does remind me so much--of
you--that is to say, when you're cross, not as you are now.'
At this announcement Mrs. Ede looked up in astonishment, and she seemed as
hurt as if Kate had slapped her in the face, whereas Ralph's face lighted
up, his smile revealing through the heavy moustache the gap between his
front teeth which had been filled with some white substance. Kate always
noticed it with aversion, but Ralph, who was not susceptible to feminine
revulsions of feelings, begged her to read the passage, and with an
eagerness that surprised his mother. Without giving it a second thought she
began, but she had not read half a dozen words before Mrs. Ede had gathered
up her knitting and was preparing to leave the room.
'Oh, mother, don't go! I assure you there's no harm.'
'Leave her alone. I'm sick of all this nonsense about religion. I should
like to know what harm we're doing,' said Ralph.
Kate made a movement to rise, but he laid his hand upon her arm, and a
moment after Mrs. Ede was gone.
'Oh, do let me go and fetch her,' exclaimed Kate. 'I shouldn't--I know I
shouldn't read these books. It pains her so much to see me wasting my time.
She must be right.'
'There's no right about it; she'd bully us all if she had her way. Do be
quiet, Kate! Do as I tell you, and let's hear the story.'
Relinquishing another half-hearted expostulation which rose to her lips,
Kate commenced to read. Ralph was enchanted, and, deliciously tickled at
the idea that he was like someone in print, he chuckled under his breath.
Soon they came to the part that had struck Kate as being so particularly
appropriate to her husband. It concerned a scene between this ascetic
courtier and a handsome, middle-aged widow who frequently gave him to
understand that her feelings regarding him were of the tenderest kind; but
on every occasion he pretended to misunderstand her. The humour of the
whole thing consisted in the innocence of the lady, who fancied she had not
explained herself sufficiently; and harassed with this idea, she pursued
the courtier from the Court hall into the illuminated gardens, and there
told him, and in language that admitted of no doubt, that she wished to
marry him. The courtier was indignant, and answered her so tartly that
Kate, even in reading it over a second time, could not refrain from fits of
`It is--is so--s-o like what you w-wo-uld say if a wo-wo-man were to
fol-low you,' she said, with the tears rolling down her cheeks.
`Is it really?' asked Ralph, joining in the laugh, although in a way that
did not seem to be very genuine. The fact was that he felt just a little
piqued at being thought so indifferent to the charms of the other sex, and
looked at his wife for a moment or two in a curious sort of way, trying to
think how he should express himself. At last he said:
`I'm sure that if it was my own Kate who was there I shouldn't answer so
Kate ceased laughing, and looked up at him so suddenly that she increased
his embarrassment; but the remembrance that he was after all only speaking
to his wife soon came to his aid, and confidentially he sat down beside her
on the sofa. Her first impulse was to draw away from him--it was so long
since he had spoken to her thus.
'Could you never love me again if I were very kind to you?'
'Of course I love you, Ralph.'
'It wasn't my fault if I was ill--one doesn't feel inclined to love anyone
in illness. Give me a kiss, dear.'
A recollection of how she had kissed Dick flashed across her mind, but in
an instant it was gone; and bending her head, she laid her lips to her
husband's. It in no way disgusted her to do so; she was glad of the
occasion, and was only surprised at the dull and obtuse anxiety she
experienced. They then spoke of indifferent things, but the flow of
conversation was often interrupted by complimentary phrases. While Ralph
discoursed on his mother's nonsense in always dragging religion into
everything, Kate congratulated him on looking so much better; and, as she
told him of the work she would have to get through at all costs before
Friday, he either squeezed her hand or said that her hair was getting
thicker, longer, and more beautiful than ever.
* * * * *
Next morning Kate received a letter from Dick, saying he was coming to
Hanley on his return visit, and hoped that he would be able to have his old
She would have liked to talk to Hender first, but Hender would not arrive
for another hour, and nothing had ever seemed to her so important as that
Dick should lodge with them. It was therefore with bated breath that she
waited for Ralph to speak. They could not hope, he said, to find a nicer
lodger; the little he had seen of him made him desirous of renewing the
acquaintance, and he continued all through breakfast to eulogize Mr.
Lennox. His mother, whose opinions were attacked, sat munching her bread
and butter with indifference. But it was not permitted to anyone to be
indifferent to Ralph's wishes, and, determined to resent the impertinence,
he derisively asked his mother if she had any objections.
'You've a right to do what you like with your rooms; but I should like to
know why you so particularly want this actor here. One would think he was a
dear friend of yours to hear you talk. Is it the ten shillings a week he
pays for his room and the few pence you make out of his breakfast you're
'Of course I want to keep my rooms let. Perhaps you might like to have them
yourself; you could have all the clergymen in the town to see you once a
week, and a very nice tea-party you'd make in the sitting-room.' Nor was
this all; he continued to badger his mother with the bitterest taunts he
could select. Quite calmly Kate watched him work himself into a passion,
until he declared that he had other reasons more important than the ten
shillings a week for wishing to have Mr. Lennox staying in the house. This
statement caused Kate just a pang of uneasiness, and she begged for an
explanation. Partly to reward her for having backed him up in the
discussion, and through a wish to parade his own far-seeing views, he
declared that Mr. Lennox might be of great use to them in their little
business if he were so inclined. Kate could not repress a look of triumph;
she knew now that nothing would keep him from having Dick in the house.
'Shall I write to him to-day, then, and say that we can let him have the
rooms from next Monday?'
'Of course,' Ralph replied, and Kate went upstairs with Hender, who had
just come in. The little girls were told to move aside; there was a lot of
cutting to be done; this was said preparatory to telling them a little
later on that they were too much in the way, and would have to go down and
work in the front kitchen under the superintendence of Mrs. Ede. Hender was
at the machine, but Kate, who had a dressing-gown on order, unrolled the
blue silk and fidgeted round the table as if she had not enough room for
laying out her pattern-sheets. Hender noticed these manoeuvres with some
surprise, and when Kate said, 'Now, my dear children, I'm afraid you're
very much in my way; you'd better go downstairs,' she looked up with the
expression of one who expects to be told a secret. This manifest certitude
that something was coming troubled Kate, and she thought it would be better
after all to say nothing about Mr. Lennox, but again changing her mind, she
said, assuming an air of indifference:
'Mr. Lennox will be here on Monday. I've just got a letter from him.'
'Oh, I'm so glad; for perhaps this time it will be possible to have one
spree on the strict q.t.'
Kate was thinking of exactly the same thing, but Miss Hender's crude
expression took the desire out of her heart, and she remained silent.
'I'm sure it's for you he's coming,' said the assistant. 'I know he likes
you; I could see it in his eyes. You can always see if a man likes you by
Although it afforded Kate a great deal of pleasure to think that Dick liked
her, it was irritating to hear his feelings for her discussed; she could
not forget she was a married woman, and she began to regret that she ever
mentioned the subject at all, when Miss Hender said:
'But what's the use of his coming if you can't get out? A man always
expects a girl to be able to go out with him. The "hag" is sure to be
about, and even if you did manage to give her the slip, there's your
husband. Lord! I hadn't thought of that before. What damned luck! Don't you
wish he'd get ill again? Another fit of asthma would suit us down to the
The blood rushed to Kate's face, and snapping nervously with the scissors
in the air, she said:
'I don't know how you can bring yourself to speak in that way. How can you
think that I would have my husband ill so that I might go to the theatre
with Mr. Lennox? What do you fancy there is between us that makes you say
such a thing as that?'
'Oh, I really don't know,' Miss Hender answered with a toss of her head;
'if you're going to be hoighty-toighty I've done.'
Kate thought it very provoking that Hender could never speak except
coarsely, and it would have given her satisfaction to have said something
sharp, but she had let Hender into a good many of her secrets, and it would
be most inconvenient to have her turn round on her. Not, indeed, that she
supposed she'd be wicked enough to do anything of the kind, but still----
And influenced by these considerations, Kate determined not to quarrel with
Hender, but to avoid speaking to her of Dick. Even with her own people she
maintained an attitude of shy reserve until Dick arrived, declining on all
occasions to discuss the subject, whether with her husband or
mother-in-law. 'I don't care whether he comes or not; decide your quarrels
as you like, I've had enough of them,' was her invariable answer. This air
of indifference ended by annoying Ralph, but she was willing to do that if
it saved her from being forced into expressing an opinion--that was the
great point; for with a woman's instinct she had already divined that she