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A Mummer's Wife by George Moore

Part 3 out of 8

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would not be left out of the events of the coming week. But there was still
another reason. She was a little ashamed of her own treachery. Otherwise
her conscience did not trouble her; it was crushed beneath a weight of
desire and expectancy, and for three or four days she moved about the house
in a dream. When she met her husband on the stairs and he joked her about
the roses in her cheeks, she smiled curiously, and begged him to let her
pass. In the workroom she was happy, for the mechanical action of sewing
allowed her to follow the train of her dreams, and drew the attention of
those present away from her. She had tried her novels, but now the most
exciting failed to fix her thoughts. The page swam before her eyes, a
confusion of white and black dots, the book would fall upon her lap in a
few minutes, and she would relapse again into thinking of what Dick would
say to her, and of the hours that still separated them. On Sunday, without
knowing why, she insisted on attending all the services. Ralph in no way
cared for this excessive devotion, and he proposed to take her for a walk
in the afternoon, but she preferred to accompany Mrs. Ede to church. It
loosened the tension of her thoughts to raise her voice in the hymns, and
the old woman's gabble was pleasant to listen to on their way home--a sort
of meaningless murmur in her ears while she was thinking of Dick, whom she
might meet on the doorstep. It was, however, his portmanteau that they
caught sight of in the passage when they opened the door. Ralph had taken
it in; Lennox said that he had a lot of business to do with the acting
manager, and would not return before they went up to prayers. Still Kate
did not lose hope, and on the off chance that he might feel tired after his
journey, and come home earlier than he expected, she endeavoured to prolong
the conversation after supper. By turns she spoke to Mrs. Ede of the
sermons of the day, and to Ralph of the possibilities of enlarging the
shop-front. But when she was forced to hear how the actor was to send them
the new fashions from London, the old lady grew restive, as did Ralph when
the conversation turned on the relative merits of the morning and afternoon
sermon. It was the old story of the goat and the cabbage--each is uneasy in
the other's company; and even before the usual time mother and son agreed
that it would be better to say prayers and get to bed.

Kate would have given anything to see Dick that night, and she lay awake
for hours listening for the sound of the well-known heavy footstep. At last
it came, tramp, tramp, a dull, heavy, noisy flapping through the silence of
the house. She trembled, fearing that he would mistake the door and come
into their room; if he did, she felt she would die of shame. The footsteps
approached nearer, nearer; her husband was snoring loudly, and, casting a
glance at him, she wondered if she should have time to push the bolt to.
But immediately after, Dick stumbled up the stairs into his room, and,
hugging the thought that he was again under her roof, she fell to dreaming
of their meeting in the morning, wondering if it would befall her to meet
him on the stairs or in the shop face to face, or if she would catch sight
of him darting out of the door hurrying to keep an appointment which he had
already missed. Mrs. Ede usually took in the lodger's hot water, it not
being considered quite right for Kate to go into a gentleman's room when he
was in bed. But the next morning Mrs. Ede was out and Ralph was asleep, so
there was nothing for it but to fill the jug.

Dick heard the door open, but didn't trouble to look round, thinking it was
Mrs. Ede, and Kate glided to the washhandstand and put down the jug in the
basin. But the clink of the delf caused him to look round.

'Oh, is that you, Kate?' he said, brushing aside with a wave of his bare
arm his frizzly hair. 'I didn't expect to see so pretty a sight first thing
in the morning. And how have you been?'

'I'm very well, thank you, sir,' Kate replied, retreating.

'Well, I don't see why you should run away like that. What have I done to
offend you? You know,' he said, lowering his voice to a confidential
whisper, 'I didn't write to you about the poetry you sent me (at least, I
suppose it was from you, it had the Hanley post-mark; if it wasn't, I'll
burn it), because I was afraid that your old mother or your husband might
get hold of my letter.'

'I must go away now, sir; your hot water is there,' she said, looking
towards the door, which was ajar.

'But tell me, wasn't it you who sent me the verses? I have them here, and I
brought you a little something--I won't tell you what--in return.'

'I can't talk to you now,' said Kate, casting on him one swift glance of
mingled admiration and love. Although somewhat inclined to corpulence, he
was a fine man, and looked a tower of strength as he lay tossed back on the
pillows, his big arms and thick brown throat bare. A flush rose to her
cheeks when he said that he had brought her a little something; all the
same, it was impossible to stop talking to him now, and hoping to make him
understand her position, raising her voice, she said:

'And what can I get you for breakfast, sir? Would you like an omelette?'

'Oh, I shan't be able to wait for breakfast; I have to be up at our acting
manager's by nine o'clock. What time is it now?'

'I think it's just going the half-hour, sir.'

'Oh, then, I've lots of time yet,' replied Dick, settling himself in a way
that relieved Kate of all apprehension that he was going to spring out
before her on the floor.

'Then shall I get you breakfast, sir?'

'No, thanks, I shan't have time for that; I shall have something to eat up
at Hayes'. But tell me, is there anyone listening?' he said, lowering his
voice again. 'I want to speak to you now particularly, for I'm afraid I
shall be out all day.'

Afraid that her husband might overhear her, Kate made a sign in the
negative, and whispered, 'Tomorrow at breakfast.'

Although the thought that he had a present for her delighted her all day,
Kate was not satisfied; for there had been something pretty, something
coquettish associated in her mind with carrying in his breakfast tray
(doubtless a remembrance of the ribbon-bedecked chambermaids she had read
of in novels), which was absent in the more menial office of taking in his
hot water. Besides, had he not told her that he was going to be out all
day? Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday she had dotted over with little plans;
Thursday and Friday she knew nothing of. Saturday? Well, there was just a
possibility that he might kiss her before going away. She felt irritated
with herself for this thought, but could not rid herself of it; a bitter
sense of voluptuousness burnt at the bottom of her heart, and she railed
against life sullenly. She had missed him on Sunday; Monday had ended as
abruptly as an empty nut, and Hender's questions vexed and wearied her; she
despaired of being able to go to the theatre. Nothing seemed to be going
right. Even the little gold earrings which Dick took out of a velvet case
and wanted to put into her ears only added a bitterer drop to her cup. All
she could do was to hide them away where no one could find them. It
tortured her to have to tell him that she could not wear them, and the kiss
that he would ask for, and she could not refuse, seemed only a mockery. He
was going away on Sunday, and this time she did not know when he would
return. In addition to all these disappointments, she found herself obliged
to go for a long walk on Tuesday afternoon to see a lady who had written to
her about a dress. She did not get home until after six, and then it was
only to learn that Mr. Lennox had been about the house all day, idling and
talking to Ralph in the shop, and that they had gone off to the theatre
together. Mrs. Ede was more than indignant, and when the little man was
brought home at night, speaking painfully in little short gasps, she
declared that it was a judgment upon him.

Next day he was unable to leave his room. When Dick was told what had
happened he manifested much concern, and insisted on seeing the patient.
Indeed, the sympathy he showed was so marked that Kate at first was tempted
to doubt its sincerity. But she was wrong. Dick was truly sorry for poor
Ralph, and he sat a long time with him, thinking what could be done to
relieve him. He laid all the blame at his own door. He ought never to have
kept a person liable to such a disease out so late at night. There was a
particular chair in which Ralph always sat when he was affected with his
asthma. It had a rail on which he could place his feet, and thus lift one
knee almost on to a level with his chest; and in this position, his head on
his hand, he would remain for hours groaning and wheezing. Dick watched him
with an expression of genuine sorrow on his big face; and it was so clear
that he regretted what he had done that for a moment even Mrs. Ede's heart
softened towards him. But the thaw was only momentary; she froze again into
stone when he remarked that it was a pity that Mr. Ede was ill, for they
were going to play _Madame Angot_ on Thursday night, and he would like
them all to come. The invitation flattered Ralph's vanity, and, resolved
not to be behindhand in civility, he declared between his gasps that no one
should be disappointed on his account; he would feel highly complimented by
Mr. Lennox's taking Mrs. Ede to the play; and on the spot it was arranged
that Kate and Miss Hender should go together on Thursday night to see
_Madame Angot_.

Kate murmured that she would be very pleased, and alluding to some work
which had to be finished, she returned to the workroom to tell Hender the
news.

'That's the best bit of news I've heard in this house for some time,'
Hender said.

Kate felt she could not endure another disappointment. All that was
required of her now was to assume an air of indifference, and take care not
to betray herself to Mrs. Ede, whom she suspected of watching her. But her
excitement rendered her nervous, and she found the calm exterior she was so
desirous of imposing on herself difficult to maintain. The uncertainty of
her husband's temper terrified her. It was liable at any moment to change,
and on the night in question he might order her not to leave the house. If
so, she asked herself if she would have the courage to disobey him. The
answer slipped from her: it was impossible for her to fix her attention on
anything; and although she had a press of work on her hands, she availed
herself of every occasion to escape to the kitchen, where she might talk to
Lizzie and Annie about the play, and explain to them the meaning of the
poster, that she now understood thoroughly. Their childish looks and
questions soothed the emotions that were burning within her.

Thursday morning especially seemed interminable, but at last the
long-watched clock on their staircase struck the wished-for hour, and still
settling their bonnet-strings, Kate and Hender strolled in the direction of
the theatre. The evening was dry and clear, and over an embrasure of the
hills beyond Stoke the sun was setting in a red and yellow mist. The
streets were full of people; and where Piccadilly opens into the
market-place, groups and couples of factory girls were eagerly talking,
some stretching forward in a pose that showed the nape of the neck and an
ear; others, graver of face, walking straight as reeds with their hands on
their hips, the palms flat, and the fingers half encircling the narrow
waists.

'You must be glad to get out.' Hender said. 'To be cooped up in the way you
are! I couldn't stand it.'

'Well, you see, I can enjoy myself all the more when I do get out.'

Kate would have liked to answer more tartly, but on second thoughts she
decided it was not worth while. It bored her to be reminded of the humdrum
life she led, and she had come to feel ashamed that she had been to the
theatre only twice in her life, especially when it was mentioned in Dick's
presence.

'We're too soon,' said Hender, breaking in jauntily on Kate's reflections;
'the doors aren't open yet.'

'I can see that.'

'But what are you so cross about?' asked Hender, who was not aware of what
was passing in her employer's mind.

'I'm not cross. But how long shall we have to wait? Mr. Lennox said he'd
meet us here, didn't he?'

'Oh, he can't be long now, for here comes Wentworth with the keys to open
the doors.'

The street they were in branched to the right and left rectangularly;
opposite were large flat walls, red in colour, and roofed like a barn, and
before one black doorway some fifty or sixty people had collected. The
manager pushed his way through the crowd, and soon after, like a snake into
a hole, the line began to disappear. Hender explained that this was the way
to the pit, and what Kate took for a cellar was the stage entrance. A young
man with a big nose, whom she recognized as Mr. Montgomery, stared at them
as he passed; then came two ladies--Miss Leslie and Miss Beaumont. Dick
did not appear for some time after, but at last the big hat was seen coming
along. Although, as usual, in a great hurry, he was apparently much pleased
to see them, and he offered Kate his arm and conducted her across the
street into the theatre.

'You're a bit early, you know. The curtain doesn't go up for half an hour
yet,' he said, as they ascended a high flight of steps, at the top of which
sat a woman with tickets in her hand.

'We were afraid of being too late.'

'It was very good of you to come. I hope you'll have a pleasant evening; it
would be quite a treat to act when you were in the house.'

'But aren't you going to act, sir?'

'You mustn't call me sir; everybody calls me Dick, and I don't know anyone
who has a better right to do so than you.'

'But aren't you going to act, Di--? I can't say it.'

'I don't call it acting. I come on in the first act. I just do that to save
the salary, for you know I have an interest in the tour.'

Kate had no idea as to what was meant by having 'an interest in the tour,'
and she did not ask, fearing to waste her present happiness in questions.
Her attention was so concentrated on the big man by her side that she
scarcely knew she was in a theatre, and had as yet perceived neither the
star-light nor the drop-curtain. Dick spoke to her of herself and of
himself, but he said nothing that recalled any of the realities of her
life, and when he suddenly lifted his hand from hers and whispered, 'Here
comes Miss Hender: we mustn't appear too intimate before her,' she
experienced the sensation of one awaking out of a most delicious dream.

Hender cast a last retort at the two men with whom she was chaffing, and,
descending through the chairs, said:

'Mr. Lennox, you're wanted behind.'

Dick promised to see them again when the act was over, and hastened away,
and Hender, settling herself in her chair, looked at Kate in a way which
said as distinctly as words, 'Well, my young woman, you do go it when
you're out on the loose.' But she refrained from putting her thoughts into
words, possibly because she feared to turn her mistress from what she
considered, too obviously, indeed, to be the right path.

They were sitting in the middle division of a gallery divided into three
parts, where the twilight was broken by the yellow-painted backs of the
chairs, and where a series of mirrors, framed in black wood, decorated the
walls, reflecting monotonously different small corners of the house.

Only a dozen or fifteen people had as yet come in, and they moved about
like melancholy shades; or, when sitting still, seemed like ink-spots on a
dark background.

The two women looked down into the great pit, through which the crowd was
rolling in one direction, a sort of human tide, a vague tumult in which
little was distinguishable; a bald head or a bunch of yellow flowers in a
woman's bonnet flashed through the darkness for an instant like the crest
of a wave. A dozen pale jets of a miserable iron gas-fitting hanging out of
the shadows of the roof struggled in the gloom, leaving the outlines of the
Muses above the proscenium as undefinable as the silhouettes of the
shopkeepers in the pit. Over against the shopkeepers was the drop-curtain,
the centre of which contained a romantic picture intended to prepare the
spectators for the play soon to begin. Kate admired the lake, and during
the long interval it seemed to her bluer and more beautiful than any she
had ever seen. Along the shores there were boats with sailors hoisting
sails, and she began to wonder what was the destination of these boats, if
the sailors were leaving their sweethearts or setting forth to regain them.

It seemed to Kate that the play was never going to begin, so long had she
been kept waiting. She did not consult Hender, but possessed her soul in
patience till a thin young man came up from under the stage, pushing his
glasses higher on his beak-like nose. He took his place on the high stool;
he squared his shoulders; looked around; waved his stick. The sparkling
marriage chorus, with the fanciful peasants and the still more fanciful
bridegroom in silk, the bright appearance of Clairette at the window, and
the sympathy awakened by her love for the devil-may-care revolutionary poet
seduced Kate like a sensual dream; and in all she saw and felt there was a
mingled sense of nearness and remoteness, an extraordinary concentration,
and an absence of her own proper individuality. Never had she heard such
music. How suave it was compared with the austere and regular rhythm of the
hymns she sang in church! The gay tripping measure of the market-woman's
song filled her with visions and laughter. There was an accent of
insincerity in the serenade that troubled her as a sudden cloud might the
dreams of the most indolent of _lazzaroni_, but the beseeching passion
of the duet revealed to her sympathies for parting lovers that even her
favourite poetry had been unable to do. All her musical sensibilities
rushed to her head like wine; it was only by a violent effort, full of
acute pain, that she saved herself from raising her voice with those of the
singers, and dreading a giddiness that might precipitate her into the pit,
she remained staring blindly at the stage.

Her happiness would have been complete, if such violent emotions can be
called happiness, had it not been for Hender. This young person, actuated
probably by a desire of displaying her knowledge, could not be prevented
from talking. As each actor or actress entered she explained their position
in the company, and all she knew of their habits in private life. Mr.
Mortimer's dispute the other night with Bill, the scene-shifter,
necessitated quite a little tirade against drunkenness, and as it was
necessary to tell of what had been said in the ladies' dressing-room, a
description of Miss Beaumont's underclothing was introduced; it was very
elegant--silk stockings and lace-trimmed chemises; whereas Miss Leslie's
was declared to be much plainer. Once or twice Hender was asked to keep
quiet, but Kate did not much mind. The thunder of applause which rose from
a pit filled with noisy factory boys and girls was accepted in good faith,
and it floated through her mind, elevating and exciting her emotions as the
roar of the breakers on the shore does the dreams of a dreamer. But the
star she was expecting had not yet appeared. She had seen Miss Leslie, Miss
Beaumont, Joe Mortimer, and Frank Bret, and numberless other people, who
had appeared in all sorts of dresses and had sung all kinds of enchanting
songs, but Dick was nowhere to be found. She had searched vainly for him in
the maze of colour that was being flashed before her eyes. Would he appear
as a king, a monk, a shepherd, or would he wear a cocked hat? She did not
know, and was too bewildered to think. She had a dim notion that he would
do something wonderful, set everything to rights, that they would all bow
down before him when he entered, and she watched every motion of the crowd,
expecting it every moment to make way for him. But he did not appear, and
at last they all went away singing. Her heart sank within her, but just
when she had begun to lose hope, two men rushed across the stage and
commenced to spy about and make plans. At first Kate did not recognize her
lover, so completely was he disguised, but soon the dreadful truth
commenced to dawn upon her. Oh, misery! Oh, horror! How could this be? And
she closed her eyes to shut out her dreadful disappointment. Why had he
done this thing? She had expected a king, and had found a policeman.

'There he is, there he is!' whispered Hender. 'Don't you see, 'tis he who
does the policeman? A French policeman! He drags the bride away at the end
of the act, you know.'

Poor Kate felt very unhappy indeed. Her fanciful house of cards had fallen
down and crushed her under the ruins. She felt she could no longer take an
interest in anything. The rest of the act was torture to her. What pleasure
could it be to her to see her lover, looking hideous, drag a bride away
from her intended?

Kate wished that her lover had not chosen to act such a part, and she felt,
dimly, perhaps, but intensely, that it was incongruous of him to exhibit
himself to her as a policeman who at the end of the act dragged the bride
away from her intended. And she could not understand why he should have
chosen, if he loved her, to dress himself in such very unbecoming clothes.
She thought she would like to run out of the theatre, but that was
impossible. But when Dick came to her at the fall of the curtain and sat
down by her side she forgot all about the foreign policeman; he was Dick
again.

'How did you like the piece, dear?'

'Very much.' It was on her tongue to ask him why he had chosen to play the
policeman, but all that was over; why should she trouble him with
questions? Yet the question in her mind betrayed itself, for, laying his
hand affectionately on hers, he said that he felt that something had
happened. Hender, who had seen Dick take Kate's hand, thought that this was
a moment for her to escape, but Kate begged of her to stay. Hender,
however, feeling that her absence would be preferable to her company,
mentioned that she must go; she had to speak to the manager on some
business which she had forgotten till now.

'Why did you want her to stay?' said Dick, 'don't you like being alone with
me?' Kate answered him with a look, wondering all the while what could have
induced him to play the part of that ugly policeman. 'I'm sure you didn't
like the piece,' he continued, 'and yet I must say from behind it seemed to
go very well; but then, there are so many things you miss from the wings.'

Kate understood nothing of what he said, but seeing that he was terribly
sincere, and fearing to pain him, she hastened to give the piece her
unqualified approbation.

'I assure you I couldn't have liked anything more--the music was so
pretty.'

'And how did you think I looked? It's only a small part, you know, but at
the same time it requires to be played. If there isn't some go put into it
the finale all goes to pot.'

Now Kate felt sure he was quizzing her, and at length she said, the desire
to speak her mind triumphing over her shyness, 'But why did you make
yourself look like that? It wasn't a nice part, was it?'

'It's only a trumpery bit of a thing, but it is better for me to take it
than have another salary on the list. In the next act, you know, I come on
as the Captain of the Guard.'

'And will that be nice?' Kate asked, her face flushing at the idea of
seeing her lover in a red coat.

'Oh yes, it looks well enough, but it isn't an acting part. I'm only on for
a few minutes. I'm only supposed to come on in search of the conspirators.
I take a turn or two of the waltz with Miss Beaumont, who plays Lange, and
it's all over. Have you ever heard the waltz?' Kate never had; so, drawing
her close to him, he sang the soft flowing melody in her ear. In her
nervousness she squeezed his hand passionately, and this encouraged him to
say, 'How I wish it were you that I had to dance with! How nice it would be
to hold you in my arms! Would you like to be in my arms?'

Kate looked at him appealingly; but nothing more was said, and soon after
Dick remembered he had to get the stage ready for the second act. As he
hurried away, Hender appeared. She had been round to the 'pub.' to have a
drink with Bill, and had been behind talking to her ladies, who, as she
said, 'were all full of Dick's new mash.'

'They've seen you, and are as jealous as a lot of cats.'

'It's very wicked of them to say there's anything between Mr. Lennox and
me,' replied Kate angrily. 'I suppose they think everybody is like
themselves--a lot of actresses!'

Hender made no answer, but she turned up her nose at what she considered to
be damned insulting to the profession.

However, in a few minutes her indignation evaporated, and she called Kate's
attention to what a splendid house it was.

'I can tell you what; with a shilling pit, a sixpenny gallery, and the
centre and side circles pretty well full, it soon runs up. There must be
nigh on seventy pounds in--and that for Thursday night!'

They were now well on in the second act. The brilliancy of the 'Choeur des
Merveilleuses,' the pleading pity of 'She is such a simple little thing,'
the quaint drollery of the conspirators, made Kate forget the aspersions
cast on Clairette's character. The light music foamed in her head like
champagne, and in a whirling sense of intoxication a vision of Dick in a
red coat passed and repassed before her. For this she had to wait a long
time, but at last the sounds of trumpets were heard, and those on the stage
cried that the soldiers were coming. Kate's heart throbbed, a mist swam
before her eyes, and immediately after came a sense of bright calm; for, in
all the splendour of uniform, Dick entered, big and stately, at the head of
a regiment of girls in red tights. The close-fitting jacket had reduced his
size, the top-boots gave a dignity to his legs. He was doubtless a fine
man; to Kate he was more than divine. Then the sweet undulating tune he had
sung in her ears began, and casting a glance of explanation in the
direction of the gallery, he put his arm round Miss Beaumont's waist. The
action caused Kate a heart-pang, but the strangeness of the scene she was
witnessing distracted her thoughts. For immediately the other actors and
actresses in their startling dresses selected partners, and the stage
seemed transformed into a wonderful garden of colour swinging to the music
of a fountain that, under the inspiration of the moonlight, broke from its
monotonous chant into rhythmical variations. Dick, like a great tulip in
his red uniform, turned in the middle, and Miss Beaumont, in her long
yellow dress, sprawled upon him. Her dress was open at both sides, and each
time she passed in front, Kate, filled with disgust, strove not to see the
thick pink legs, which were visible to the knees. Miss Leslie in her
bride's dress bloomed a lily white, as she danced with a man whose red
calves and thighs seemed prolonged into his very chest. La Rivodiere cast
despairing glances at Lange, poor Pomponet strove to get to his bride, and
all the blonde wigs and black collars of the conspirators were mixed amid
the strange poke bonnets of the ladies, and the long swallow-tailed coats,
reaching almost to the ground, flapped in and out of the legs of the female
soldiers. Kate smiled feebly and drank in the music of the waltz. It was
played over again; like a caged canary's song it haunted Clairette's
orange-blossoms; like the voluptuous thrill of a nightingale singing in a
rose-garden it flowed about Lange's heavy draperies and glistening bosom;
like the varied chant of the mocking bird it came from under Ange Pitou's
cocked hat. It was sung separately and in unison, and winding and unwinding
itself, it penetrated into the deepest recesses of Kate's mind. It seduced
like a deep slow perfume; it caressed with the long undulations of a
beautiful snake and the mystery of a graceful cat; it whispered of fair
pleasure places, where scent, music, and love are one, where lovers never
grow weary, and where kisses endure for ever. She was conscious of deep
self-contentment, of dreamy idleness, of sad languor, and the charm to
which she abandoned herself resembled the enervations of a beautiful
climate, the softness of a church; she yearned for her lover and the
fanciful life of which he was the centre, as one might for some ideal
fatherland. The current of the music carried her far away, far beyond the
great hills into a land of sleep, dream, and haze, and a wonderful
tenderness swam within her as loose and as dim as the green sea depths,
that a wave never stirs. She struggled, but it was only as one in a dream
strives to lift himself out of the power that holds; and when the conductor
waved his stick for the last time, and the curtain came down amid deafening
applause, irritated and enervated, she shrank from Hender, as if anxious
not to be wholly awakened.

The third act passed she scarcely knew how. She was overborne and
over-tempted; all her blood seemed to be in her head and heart, and from
time to time she was shaken with quick shudderings.

When Dick came to see her she scarcely understood what he said to her, and
it annoyed her not to be able to answer him. When the word 'love' was
pronounced she smiled, but her smile was one of pain, and she could not
rouse herself from a sort of sad ecstasy. Gay as the tunes were, there was
in every one a sort of inherent sadness which she felt but could not
explain to Dick, who began to think that she was disappointed in the piece.

'Disappointed! Oh no,' she said, and they stood for a long while staring at
a large golden moon, lighting up the street like a bull's-eye.

'How nice it is to be here out of that hot stuffy theatre!' said Dick,
putting his arm round her.

'Oh, do you think so? I could listen to that music for ever.'

'It is pretty, isn't it? I'm so glad you liked it. I told you the waltz was
lovely.'

'Lovely! I should think so. I shall never forget it.'

She lost her habitual shyness in her enthusiasm, and sang the first bars
with her face raised towards her lover's; then, gaining courage from his
look of astonishment and pleasure, she gave all the modulations with her
full voice.

'By Jove! you've a deuced nice soprano, and a devilish good ear too. 'Pon
my soul, you sing that waltz as well as Beaumont.'

'Oh, Dick, you mustn't laugh at me.'

'I swear I'm not laughing. Sing it again; nobody's listening.'

They were standing in the shade of a large warehouse; the line of slates
making a crescent of the full moon, and amid the reverberating yards and
brickways Kate's voice sounded as penetrating and direct as a flute. The
exquisite accuracy of her ear enabled her to give each note its just value.
Dick was astonished, and he said when she had finished:

'I really don't want to flatter you, but with a little teaching you would
sing far better than Beaumont. Your ear is perfect; it's the production of
the voice that wants looking to; and he talked to her of the different
tunes, listening to what she had to say, and encouraging her to recall the
music she had heard. He would beg her to repeat a phrase after him; he
taught her how to emphasize the rhythm, and was anxious that she should
learn the legend of Madame Angot.

'Now,' said Dick, 'I'll sing the symphony, and we'll go through it with all
the effects--one, two, three, four, ta ra ta ta ta ta ta.'

But as Kate attacked the first bar it was taken up by three or four male
voices, the owners of which, judging by the sound, could not be more than
forty or fifty yards away.

'Here's Montgomery, Joe Mortimer, and all that lot. I wouldn't be caught
here with you for anything.'

'By going up this passage we can get home in two minutes.'

'Can we? Well, let's cut; but no, they're too close on us. Do you go, dear;
I'll remain and tell them it was a lady singing out of that window. Here,
take my latchkey. Off you go.'

Without another word Kate fled down the alley, and Dick was left to explain
whatever he pleased concerning the mythical lady whom he declared he had
been serenading.

When Kate arrived home that night she lay awake for hours, tossing
restlessly, her brain whirling with tunes and parts of tunes. The
conspirators' chorus, the waltz song, the legend, and a dozen disconnected
fragments of the opera all sang together in her ears, and in her insomnia
she continued to take singing lessons from Dick. She was certain that he
loved her, and the enchantment of her belief murmured in her ears all night
long; and when she met Hender next morning, the desire to speak of Dick
burnt her like a great thirst, and it was not until Hender left her to go
to the theatre that she began to realize in all its direct brutality the
fact that on the morrow she would have to bid him goodbye, perhaps for
ever.

Her husband wheezed on the sofa, her mother-in-law read the Bible, sitting
bolt upright in the armchair, and the shaded lamp covered the table with
light, and fearing she might be provoked into shrieks or some violent
manifestation of temper, she went to bed as early as she could. But there
her torments became still more intolerable. All sorts of ideas and
hallucinations, magnified and distorted, filled her brain, rendered
astonishingly clear by the effects of insomnia. She saw over again the
murders she had read of in her novels, and her imagination supplied details
the author had not dreamed of. The elopements, with all their paraphernalia
of moonlight and roses, came back to her.... But if she were never to see
him again--if it were her fate to lie beside her husband always, to the end
of her life! She buried her head in the pillows in the hopes of shutting
out the sound of his snores.

At last she felt him moving, and a moment afterwards she heard him say,
'There's Mr. Lennox at the door; he can't get in. Do go down and open it
for him.'

'Why don't you go yourself?' she answered, starting up into a sitting
position.

'How am I to go? You don't want me to catch my death at the front door?'
Ralph replied angrily.

Kate did not answer, but quickly tying a petticoat about her, and wrapping
herself in her dressing-gown, she went downstairs. It was quite dark, and
she had to feel her way along the passage. But at last she found and pulled
back the latch, and when the white gleam of moonlight entered she retreated
timidly behind the door.

'I'm so sorry,' said Dick, trying to see who the concealed figure was, 'but
I forgot my latchkey.'

'It doesn't matter,' said Kate.

'Oh, it's you, dear. I've been trying to get home all day to see you, but
couldn't. Why didn't you come down to the theatre?'

'You know that I can't do as I like.'

'Well, never mind; don't be cross; give me a kiss.'

Kate shrunk back, but Dick took her in his arms. 'You were in bed, then?'
he said, chuckling.

'Yes, but you must let me go.'

'I should like never to let you go again.'

'But you're leaving to-morrow.'

'Not unless you wish me to, dear.'

Kate did not stop to consider the impossibility of his fulfilling his
promise, and, her heart beating, she went upstairs. On the first landing he
stopped her, and laying his hand on her arm, said, 'And would you really be
very glad if I were to stay with you?'

'You know I would, Dick.'

They could not see each other, and after a long silence she said, 'We
mustn't stop here talking. Mrs. Ede sleeps, you know, in the room at the
back of the workroom, and she might hear us.'

'Then come into the sitting-room,' said Dick, taking her hands and drawing
her towards him.

'I cannot.'

'I love you better than anyone in the world.'

'No, no; why should you love me?'

'Let us prove our love one to the other,' he murmured, and frightened, but
at the same time delighted by the words, she allowed him to draw her into
his room.

'My husband will miss me,' she said as the door closed, but she could think
no more of him; he was forgotten in a sudden delirium of the senses; and
for what seemed to him like half an hour Ralph waited, asking himself what
his wife could be doing all that time, thinking that perhaps it was not
Lennox after all, but some rambling vagrant who had knocked at the door,
and that he had better go down and rescue his wife. He would have done so
had he not been afraid of a sudden draught, and while wondering what was
happening he dozed away, to be awakened a few minutes afterwards by voices
on the landing.

'Let me go, Dick, let me go; my husband will miss me.' She passed away from
him and entered her husband's room, and Ralph said: 'Well, who was it?'

'Mr. Lennox,' she answered.

'Our lodger,' Ralph murmured, and fell asleep again.

X

'Is this the stage entrance?'

'Yes, ma'am; you see, during the performance the real stage-door is used as
a pit entrance, and we pass under the stage.'

This explanation was given after a swaggering attitude had been assumed,
and a knowing wink, the countersign for 'Now I'm going to do something for
your amusement,' had been bestowed on his pals. The speaker, a rough man
with a beard and a fez cap, became the prominent figure of a group
loitering before a square hole with an earthward descent, cut in the wall
of the Hanley Theatre.

Kate was too occupied with her own thoughts to notice that she was being
laughed at, and she said instantly, 'I want to see Mr. Lennox; will you
tell him I'm here?'

'Mr. Lennox is on the stage; unless yer on in the piece I don't see 'ow
it's to be done.'

At this rebuff Kate looked round the grinning faces, but at that moment a
rough-looking fellow of the same class as the speaker ascended from the
cellar-like opening, and after nudging his 'pal,' touched his cap, and said
with the politeness of one who had been tipped, 'This way, marm. Mr. Lennox
is on the stage, but if you'll wait a minute I'll tell 'im yer 'ere. Take
care, marm, or yer'll slip; very arkerd place to get down, with all 'em
baskets in the way. This company do travel with a deal of luggage. That's
Mr. Lennox's--the one as yer 'and is on.'

'Oh, indeed!' Kate said, stopping on her way to read Mr. Lennox's name on
the basket.

'We piles 'em 'gainst that 'ere door so as to 'ave 'em 'andy for sending
down to the station ter-morrow morning. But if you will remain here a
moment, marm, I'll run up on the stage and see if I can see 'im.'

The mention made by the scene-shifter of the approaching removal of Dick's
basket frightened her, and she remembered that she had scarcely spoken to
him since last night. He had been obliged to go out in the morning before
breakfast; and though he had tried hard to meet her during the course of
the day, fate seemed to be against them.

She was in a large, low-roofed storeroom with an earthen floor. The wooden
ceiling was supported by an endless number of upright posts that gave the
place the appearance of a ship. At the farther end there were two stone
staircases leading to opposite sides of the stage. In front of her were a
drum and barrel, and the semi-darkness at the back was speckled over with
the sparkling of the gilt tinsel stuff used in pantomimes; a pair of
lattice-windows, a bundle of rapiers, a cradle and a breastplate, formed a
group in the centre; a broken trombone lay at her feet. The odour of size
that the scenery exhaled reminded her of Ralph's room; and she wondered if
the swords were real, what different uses the tinsel paper might be put to;
until she would awake from her dream, asking herself bitterly why he did
not come down to see her. In the pause that followed the question, she was
startled by a prolonged shout from the chorus. The orchestra seemed to be
going mad; the drum was thumped, the cymbals were clashed, and back and
forward rushed the noisy feet, first one way, then the other; a soprano
voice was heard for a moment clear and distinct, and was drowned
immediately after in a general scream. What could it mean? Had the place
taken fire? Kate asked herself wildly.

'The finale of the act 'as begun, marm; Mr. Lennox will be hoff the stage
directly.'

'Has nothing happened? Is the--?'

The scene-shifter's look of astonishment showed Kate that she was mistaken,
but before they had time to exchange many words, the trampling and singing
overhead suddenly ceased, and the muffled sound of clapping and applause
was heard in the distance.

'There's the act.' said Bill; 'he'll be down now immediately; he'll take no
call for the perliceman,' and a moment after a man attired in
knee-breeches, with a huge cravat wound several times round his throat,
came running down the stone staircase. 'Oh, 'ere he is,' said Bill. 'I'll
leave yer now, marm.'

'And so you found your way, dear?' said Dick, putting out his arm to draw
Kate towards him.

But he looked so very strange with the great patches of coarse red on his
cheeks, and the deep black lines drawn about his eyes, that she could not
conceal her repulsion, and guessing the cause of her embarrassment, he
said, laughing:

'Ah! I see you don't know me! A good makeup, isn't it? I took a lot of
trouble with it.'

Kate made no answer; but the sound of his voice soothed her, and she leaned
upon his arm.

'Give me a kiss, dear, before we go up,' he said coaxingly.

Kate looked at him curiously, and then, laughing at her own foolishness,
said, 'Wait until you have the soldier's dress on.'

At the top of the staircase the piled-up side-scenes made so many ways and
angles that Kate had to keep close to Dick for fear of getting lost.
However, at last they arrived in the wings, where gaslights were burning
blankly on the whitewashed walls. A crowd of loud-voiced, perspiring girls
in short fancy petticoats and with bare necks and arms, pushed their way
towards the mysterious and ladder-like staircases and scrambled up them.
Ange Pitou had taken off his cocked hat and was sharing a pint of beer with
Clairette. It being her turn to drink, she said:

'Noe, hold my skirts in, there's a dear; this beer plays the devil with
white satin.'

'It isn't on your skirts it will go if you spill it,' Ange replied, 'but
into your bosom. Stop a second, and I'll give the bottom of the pot a wipe,
then you'll be all right.'

In the meanwhile Pomponet and La Rivodiere were engaged in a violent
quarrel.

'Just you understand,' shouted Mortimer: 'if you want to do any clowning
you'd better fill your wig with sawdust. It had better be stuffed with
something.'

This sally was received with smacks of approbation from a circle of supers,
who were waiting in the hopes of hearing some spirited dialogue.

'Clowning! And what can you do? I suppose your line is the legitimate. Go
and play Don John again, and you'll read us the notices in the morning.'

'Notices ... talking of notices, you never had one, except one to quit from
your landlady, poor woman!' replied Mortimer in his most nasal intonation
of voice.

Enchanted at this witticism, the supers laughed, and poor Dubois would have
been utterly done for if Dick had not interposed.

'What do you think, dear?' he said, drawing her aside; 'shall I go and make
my change now? I don't come on till the end of the act, and we'll be able
to talk without interruption till then.'

She had expected him to explain the rights and wrongs of that terrible
quarrel that so providentially had passed off without bloodshed, and he
seemed to have forgotten all about it.

'But those two gentlemen--the actors--what will happen? Are they going to
go away?'

'Lord, no! of course it is riling to have a fellow mugging behind you with
his wig when you're speaking, but one must go in for a bit of extra
clowning on Saturday night.'

All this was Greek to her, and before she could ask Dick to explain he had
darted down a passage. When he was with her it was well enough, but the
moment his protection was withdrawn all her old fears returned to her. She
did not know where to stand. The scene-shifters had come to carry away the
scenes that were piled up in her corner, and one of the huge slips had
nearly fallen on her. A troop of girls in single coloured gowns and poke
bonnets had stopped to stare at her. She remembered their appearance from
Thursday, but she had not seen their vulgar, everyday eyes, nor heard until
now their coarse, everyday laughs and jokes. Amid this group Lange, fat and
lumpy, perorated.

'The most beastly place I ever was in, my dear. I always dread the week
here. Just look round the house. I don't believe there's a man in front who
has a quid in his pocket. Now at Liverpool there are lots of nice men. You
should have seen the things I had sent me when I was there with
Harrington's company--and the bouquets! There were flowers left for me
every day.'

What all this meant Kate did not know, and she did not care to guess. For a
moment the strange world she found herself in had distracted her thoughts,
but it could do so no longer; no, not if it were ten times as strange. What
did she care for these actresses? What was it to her what they said or what
they thought of her? She had come to look after her lover; that was her
business, and that only. He was going away to morrow, and they had arranged
nothing! She did not know whether he was going to remain, or if he expected
her to follow him. She hated the people around her; she hated them for
their laughter, for their fine clothes; she hated them above all because
they were all calling for him. It was Mr. Lennox here and Dick there. What
did they want with him? Could they do nothing without him? It seemed to her
that they were all mocking her, and she hated them for it.

The stage was now full of women. The men stood in the wings or ran to the
ends of distant passages and called, 'Dick, Dick, Dick!'

The orchestra had ceased playing, and the noise in front of the curtain was
growing every moment angrier and louder.

At last Dick appeared, looking splendid in red tights and Hessian boots. He
caught hold of two or three girls, changed their places, peeped to see if
Montgomery was all right, and gave the signal to ring up.

But once the curtain was raised, he was surrounded by half a dozen persons
all wanting to speak to him. Ridding himself of them he contrived to get to
Kate's side, but they had not exchanged half a dozen words before the
proprietor asked if he could 'have a moment.' Then Hender turned up, and
begged of Kate to come and see the dressing-rooms, but fearing to miss him,
she declared she preferred to stay where she was. Nevertheless, it was
difficult not to listen to her friend's explanations as to what was passing
on the stage, and in one of these unguarded moments Dick disappeared. It
was heart-breaking, but she could do nothing but wait until he came back.
Like an iron, the idea that she was about to lose her lover forced itself
deeper into her heart. The fate of her life was hanging in the balance, and
the few words that were to decide it were being delayed time after time, by
things of no importance. Dick had now returned, and was talking with the
gas-man, who wanted to know if the extra 'hand' he had engaged was to be
paid by the company or the management. Every now and again an actress or an
actor would rush through the wings and stare at her; sometimes it was the
whole chorus, headed by Miss Beaumont, whose rude remarks reached her ears
frequently.

She tried to retreat, but the rude eyes and words followed her.
Occasionally the voice of the prompter was heard: 'Now then, ladies,
silence if you please; I can't hear what's being said on the stage.' No one
listened to him, and, like animals in a fair, they continued to crush and
to crowd in the passage between the wings and the whitewashed wall. A tall,
fat girl stood close by; her hand was on her sword, which she slapped
slowly against her thighs. The odour of hair, cheap scent, necks, bosoms
and arms was overpowering, and to Kate's sense of modesty there was
something revolting in this loud display of body. A bugle call was soon
sounded in the orchestra, and this was the signal for much noise and
bustle. The conspirators rushed off the stage, threw aside their cloaks,
and immediately after the soft curling strains of the waltz were heard;
then the bugle was sounded again, and the girls began to tramp.

'Cue for soldiers' entrance,' shouted the prompter.

'Now then, ladies, are you ready?' cried Dick, as he put himself at the
head of the army.

'Yes,' was murmured all along the line, and seeing her hero marching away
at the head of so many women, any one of whom he could have had for the
asking, it crossed her mind that it was unnatural for him to stoop to her,
a poor little dressmaker of Hanley, who did not know anything except,
perhaps, how to stitch the seams of a skirt. But after what had befallen
her last night, it did not seem possible that her fate was to be left
behind, stitching beside Hender and the two little girls, Annie and Lizzie;
stitching bodice after bodice, skirt after skirt, till the end of her days,
remembering always something that had come into her life suddenly and had
gone out of it suddenly. 'It cannot be,' she cried out to herself--'it
cannot be!' And she remembered that he had said that her ear was true, and
her voice as pure as Leslie's. 'A little throaty,' he had said, 'but that
can be improved.' What he meant by throaty she did not know, but no matter;
and to convince herself that he had spoken truly she sang the refrain of
the waltz till the gas-man pulled a rope and brought the curtain down. She
was about to rush on the stage to speak to Dick, but the gas-man stopped
her.

'You must wait a moment, there's a call,' he said. Up went the curtain; the
house burst into loud applause. Down went the curtain; up it went again.
This time only the principals came on, and while they were bowing and
smiling to the audience a great herd of females poured through the wings,
and Kate found herself again among courtesans, conspirators, seducers, and
wandering minstrels.

'Who is she?' they asked as they went by. And Kate heard somebody answer,
'A spoon of Dick's,' and unable to endure the coarse jeering faces, which
the strange costumes seemed to accentuate, she took advantage of a sudden
break in the ranks and ran through the wings towards the back of the stage.

'What's the matter, dear?' he said, drawing her to him.

'Oh, Dick, you shouldn't neglect me as you do! I've been waiting here among
those horrid girls nearly an hour for you, and you're talking to everybody
but me.'

'It wasn't my fault, dear; I was on in the last act. They couldn't have
finished it without me.'

'I don't know, I don't know; but you're going away to-morrow, and I shall
never see you again. It's very hard on me that this last night--night--
that----'

'Now, don't cry like that, dear. I tell you what. It's impossible to talk
here; everybody's after me. I'll take off these things and we'll go for a
walk through the town--will that do? I know we've a lot of things to speak
about.'

The serious way in which he spoke this last phrase brought courage to Kate,
and she strove to calm herself, but she was sobbing so heavily that she
could not answer.

'Well, you'll wait here, dear; no one will disturb you, and I shan't be
above two minutes.'

Kate nodded her head in reply, and five minutes after they were walking up
the street together.

'How did you get out, dear? Did they see you?'

'No; Ralph is bad with his asthma, and mother is sitting upstairs with him.
I said I had some sewing to do.... Oh, Dick, I cannot bear to think that
you're going away, and that I shall never see you again.'

'Yes, you will, dear,' he answered cheerfully. 'Now I wonder if your
husband would consent to your going on the stage?'

'Who would do the dressmaking for him?' she asked. 'He talks about the
business, but we would be starving if we relied upon what we sell.' And
stopping from time to time as their talk grew more earnest, they strolled
through the crowded streets, Kate hanging on Dick's arm, her face inspiring
the jeers of the factory girls.

'I wouldn't kiss her if I were you,' said the most impudent.

'Wouldn't you really?' cried two youths, stealing up from behind and
seizing two of the girls by the waist, and kissing them despite blows and
laughter.

The combats that followed forced Kate and Dick into the roadway. 'We cannot
talk here,' Dick said; 'isn't there a quiet street near by?'

'There's Market Street; don't you remember, Dick, where you met me the day
you took me to the potteries?'

'Yes,' he said, 'I do remember that day. What a crash! and all because you
wouldn't let me kiss you; just like those boys and girls. You were more
determined than those girls were, for methinks, as we say in Shakespeare,
they wished to be kissed; but you didn't then.'

'That was the day,' she answered, 'that I took round Mrs. Barnes's dress
after having stayed up all night to finish it. Here's Market Street,' and
they walked towards the square of sky enframed in the end of the street,
talking of the luck that had brought them together just at the moment when
they thought that chance had divided them for ever.

'It was a crash!' Dick repeated, and they walked about the grass-grown
mounds of cinders.

'But, Dick, you won't desert me,' she said. 'Tell me that you'll take me
away from Hanley. I couldn't bear it when you were gone--I would sooner
die.'

'Of course I'll take you away, my dear,' said Dick, with a distinct vision
of the Divorce Court in his mind; 'but you know that will mean giving up
everything and travelling about the country with me; I don't know that
you'll like it.'

'You mean that you don't love me enough to take me away.'

'I'll take you away, dear, if you'll come. I never liked a woman as I do
you. The train call is for ten o'clock. We must contrive something. How are
you to meet me at the station?'

It was Kate's turn then to hesitate. She had never been out of the
Potteries in her life; she had been born, reared and married here. And now
she was going away without hope of ever being able to return, she was going
into an unknown region to roam she did not know whither--adrift, and as
helpless as a tame bird freed and delivered to the enmities of an unknown
land. Half the truth dawned upon her in that moment, and lifting her eyes,
she said:

'Dick! You're asking a great deal of me. What shall I do? Never, never,
never to see Hanley again!'

'I didn't know that you cared so much about Hanley. And you accused me just
now of not loving you enough to take you away. I think it's you who don't
love me.'

'Dick, you know that I love you better than anything in the world! But to
give up everything, never to see what you have seen all your life.'

'I don't think you'll regret it, dear; we'll be very happy. We're going
from here to Derby, and from there to Blackpool, a very jolly place by the
sea.' And he talked to her about boating and picnicking, becoming all the
while more convinced of her pretty face, and his memory of her pretty voice
was active in him when he took her in his arms and said: 'You mustn't think
any more about it, dear; I couldn't leave this place without you. You'll
like Blackpool if you're fond of boating.'

'I don't know,' she said; 'I've never seen the sea.'

'Well, you can see it now,' he answered. 'Look out there; the valley
between us and the hills filled with mist is more like the ocean than
anything I've ever seen.'

'The ocean,' Kate repeated. 'Have you been to America?'

'Yes,' he answered, 'I have lived there for several years. I may take the
company out there--probably next year, if all goes well.'

'And will you take me with you?'

'Yes,' he said, 'but you must come away to-morrow morning. Why do you
hesitate?'

'I'm not hesitating,' she answered, 'but those hills beyond the valley have
always seemed to me very wonderful; ever since I was a little child I've
asked myself what lies beyond those hills.'

For answer Dick kissed her, and they relapsed into contemplation.

The tall stems of the factory chimneys, the bottle-shaped pottery ovens,
the intricate shafts of the collieries were hidden in the mist, and the
furnace fires flashing through the mist enhanced the likeness of the Hanley
Valley to a sea of stars; like stars these furnaces flamed, now here, now
there, over the lower slopes of the hills, till at last one blazed into
existence high amid the hills, so high that it must have been on the very
lowest verge. It seemed to Kate like a hearth of pleasure and comfort
awaiting her in some distant country, and all her fancies were centred in
this distant light, till another light breaking suddenly higher up in the
hills attracted her, and she deemed that it would be in or about this light
that she would find happiness. She must ascend from one light to the next,
but the light on which her eyes were fixed was not a furnace light, but a
star. Would she never find happiness, then, in this world? she asked. Was
Dick going to desert her? And without telling him that she had mistaken an
earthly for a heavenly light, she threw her arms about him.

'Of course, Dick, I'll go with you; I will follow you wherever you may
choose to go and do the work that you bid me to do. You've spoken well of
my voice. Oh yes, Dick, I'll go with you. Why shouldn't I? You're
everything to me! I never knew what happiness was till I saw you; I've
never had any amusement, I've never had any love; it was nothing but
drudgery from morning to night. Better be dead than continue such an
existence. Tell me, Dick, you'll take me away.'

Dick listened calmly and quietly to these passionate beseechings, and
taking her in his arms, he kissed her fervidly, though somewhat with the
air of one who deems further explanation unnecessary. But when he withdrew
his face Kate continued, at first plaintively, but afterwards with more
passion:

'It's very wicked--I know it is--but I can't help myself. I was brought up
religiously, nobody more so, but I never could think of God and forget this
world like my mother and Mrs. Ede. I always used to like to read tales
about lovers, and I used to feel miserable when they didn't marry in the
end and live happily. But then those people were good and pure, and were
commanded to love each other, whereas I'm sinful, and shall be punished for
my sin. I don't know how that will be; perhaps you'll cease to love me, and
will leave me. When you cease to love me I hope I shall die. But you'll
never do that, Dick; tell me that you will not. You'll remember that I gave
up a great deal for you; that I left my home for you; that I left
everything.'

Her feebleness attracted him as much as her pretty face, and he knew she
loved him; and they were going away together; so much had been decided, and
as far as he could see, there the matter ended. Besides, it was getting
very late; the third act must be nearly over now, and he had a lot of
business to get through. But it was difficult to suggest that they should
go home, for Kate had burst into tears, unable to control herself any
longer. He must console her.

'You mustn't cry, dear,' he said softly; 'we shall be far away from here
to-morrow, and you'll find out then how well I love you.'

'But do you really love me? If I were only sure that it was so!'

'If I didn't love you, why should I ask you to go away with me? If I didn't
love you, could I kiss you as I do?'

'Of course we've been very wicked,' she continued as if she had not heard
him, 'and you can't respect me very much; but then you made love to me so,
and the music made me forget everything. It wasn't all my fault, I think,
and you were so different from all the other men I've seen--so much more
like what I imagined a man should be, so much more like the heroes in the
novels. You know in the books there's always a tenor who comes and sings
under the window in the moonlight, and sends the lady he loves roses. You
never sent me any roses, but then there are no roses in Hanley. But you
were so kind and nice, and spoke so differently, and when I looked at your
blue eyes I couldn't help feeling I loved you. I really think I knew--at
least, I couldn't talk to you quite in the same way as I did to other men.
You remember when I was showing you over the rooms, how you stopped to talk
to me about the pious cards Mrs. Ede had hung on the wall--well, since then
I felt that you liked me. And it was so different since you came to live in
the house. I didn't see much of you, you were always so busy, but I used to
lie awake at night to hear you come in.'

'Look here, dear, I know you're very fond of me--so am I of you--but I
must get back to the theatre. You've no idea of the business I've to get
through to-night, and as we're going away together we'll have to look out
for some place to put up.'

This necessity for immediate action at once startled and frightened her,
and bursting again into a passionate fit of sobbing, she exclaimed:

'Oh, Dick, this is a terrible thing you're asking me to do! Oh, what will
become of me? But do you love me? Tell me again that you love me, and will
not leave me.'

Dick drew her closer to him for answer. 'We must not stay here any longer,'
he said.

'But I cannot go home, Dick--to that house.'

'You'll sleep with me, dear, at the inn.'

'Sleep with you?' she repeated and allowed herself to be led.

The furnace fires had increased by tens; each dazzling line was now crossed
and interwoven with other lines; and through the tears that blinded her
eyes Kate saw an immense sea of fire, and beyond nothing but unfathomable
grey.

XI

Next morning the sky was low and grey, and the house-tops appeared dimly
through the mist. A little later the clouds began to gather, and it seemed
like rain, but now and then a shaft of sunlight fell on a corner of the
table within a few inches of Kate's impatiently moving fingers. She had not
been able to eat any breakfast--had just crumbled a piece of bread and
sipped a cup of tea, and begged Dick to hasten. It seemed that he hadn't a
thought for her, of what her fate would be if they missed the train. She
couldn't spend another night in Hanley.

'Dick, dear, do make haste. We shall miss the train.'

'We've plenty of time,' he answered, and she read in his face the desire
for another plate of crumpets, and she prayed that he might not ask for
another egg.

'Dick, it's ten minutes to ten.'

'I don't think it can be as much as that, dear.' He turned to look at the
clock, which was behind him.

'Oh, Dick, Dick! Make haste, I beg of you; you don't know what I'm
suffering. Supposing my husband was to come in now and find us here?'

'He can't know that we're here; the station is the first place he'd go to;
there's no use hanging about there longer than we can help.'

'Oh dear, I'd give ten years of my life if we were once in the train.'

'There's no use exciting yourself like that, dear; I'll see that you don't
meet anyone.'

'How will you manage that?'

'I'll tell you in the cab. I think on the whole we'd better start now.
Luckily, we haven't much luggage to delay us. Waiter, bring the bill and
call me a cab.'

'And how will you save me from meeting him if he's there before us?' she
said to Dick as they drove away.

'I'll leave you in the cab, and cut down and see if he's there.'

'He might come and find me when you were gone, and that would be worse than
anything. He might kill me, and I should have no one to save me.'

He was, in truth, a little puzzled, for there was no getting away from the
fact that it was only too possible, not to say probable, that they would
find Mr. Ede waiting for them. He thought of disguises and secret doors,
and masks and wigs, of the wardrobe-baskets, but a moment's reflection
convinced him of the impracticability of stowing Kate away in one of these.
He then thought of wrapping a railway rug around his newly-acquired wife,
and carrying her thus concealed in his arms; but that would not do either.
Mr. Ede would be sure to ask him what he had there.

'Oh, Dick, dear, what shall we do if we find him waiting on the platform?
You'll protect me, won't you? You won't desert me! I couldn't go back to
him.'

'Of course not. Let him take you away from me? Not me! If you don't want to
live with him any more you've a right to leave him. I'll knock him down if
he gives me any of his cheek.'

'You won't do that, will you, dear? Remember how small and weak he is;
you'd kill him.'

'That's true, so I would. Well, I'm damned if I know what to do; you'll
have to come with me even if he does kick up a row. It'll be deuced
unpleasant, and before the whole company too. Don't you think that you
could wait a moment in the cab while I have a look round--I won't go far.'

'Oh, I'd be too afraid! Couldn't you ask someone to go for you?'

'I'll see who's there,' said Dick, twisting his neck to look round the
corner 'By Jove! they're all there--Beaumont, Dolly Goddard. I think I'll
ask Montgomery; he's a devilish good chap. We had better stop the cab here
and I'll call to him.'

Kate consented, and a moment after the musician's immense nose and
scarecrow face was poked in the window.

'Hey, old pal, what is it? Waiting--but--I beg----'

'Never mind that,' said Dick, laying his hand on the young fellow's arm; 'I
want you to do me a favour. Run down on the platform and see if there's a
little scraggy man about the height of Dubois hanging about anywhere. You
can't mistake him; he has a dirty dark beard that grows on his face like a
bunch of grass, and he's no chest, little thin shoulders, and he'd have
on----'

'A pair of grey trousers, and a red woollen comforter round his neck,'
whispered Kate, feeling bitterly ashamed.

'All right,' said Montgomery, 'I'll spot him if he's there. But you know
the train goes in ten minutes or less, and Hayes says that he can't take
the tickets; you've all the coin.'

'So I have; I forgot to send it round to him last night. Ask him to step up
here, there's a good fellow.'

'Now, I bet you Hayes won't be able to get the tickets right. He's
perfectly useless, always boozed--nipping, you know.'

Kate did not answer, and an uneasy silence ensued, which was broken at
length by the appearance of a hiccuping, long-whiskered man.

'How are you, o-o-old man? Eh! who is--? I don't think I have the pleasure
of this lady's acquaintance.'

'Mrs. Ede--Mr. Hayes, our acting manager. Now, look here, Hayes, you go and
get the tickets. I can't leave this lady. Thirty-five will do.'

'How thirty-five? We travel forty-one'

'You know well enough that thirty-five is what we always get. Damn it, man,
make haste!'

'Don't damn me. New member of the com-company, eh?'

'I'll tell you all about that after, old man,' said Dick, leaning forward
and pretending to whisper confidentially.

This satisfied the tippler, who, after pulling his silky whiskers and
serving Kate to another drunken stare, hurried off, black bag in hand.

'Confounded nuisance to have to deal with a fellow like that; he thinks
he's a dab at business, and goes about with the black bag for show.'

Two minutes passed, maybe three; it seemed to her an eternity, and then she
heard Montgomery's voice crying:

'It's all right, I'm sure.'

'Then get out, dear,' said Dick, 'we haven't a moment to lose.'

She jumped out, but hadn't walked a dozen yards before she stopped
panic-stricken.

'Mrs. Ede--my mother-in-law--perhaps she's there! Oh, Dick, what shall I
do?'

'She isn't there,' Montgomery answered; 'I know her by sight,' and that
Montgomery should know her mother-in-law by sight meant to Kate as much as
a footprint does to a lost one in a desert. For the sight of the company on
the asphalt, and all the luggage, portmanteaux, and huge white baskets
labelled 'Morton and Cox's Operatic Company,' and the train waiting to
carry them away to an unknown destination, made her feel more intensely
than ever that she was adrift in a current that would carry her she knew
not whither. All these strange people collected together were henceforth
her world. She was not unnaturally frightened, but the baggage man
especially filled her with alarm, so all-powerful did he seem, rushing up
and down the platform, shouting at the porters, and throwing out bits of
information to the ladies of the company as he passed them by.

'We shall be off in a minute, dear,' whispered Dick softly in her ear, 'and
then----'

'Whose carriage are you going in, Dick?' said a little stout man who walked
with a strut and wore a hat like a bishop's.

'I really don't know; I don't mind; anywhere except with the pipe-smokers.
I can't stand that lot.'

'Perhaps he's going to take a first-class compartment with hot-water pans,'
remarked Mortimer, and the little group of admirers all laughed consumedly.
Dick, overhearing the remark, said to Kate: 'One mustn't take notice of
what he says; I very nearly kicked him into the orchestra at Halifax about
six months ago. But what compartment shall we take? Let's go with Leslie
and Dubois and Montgomery; they're the quietest. Let me introduce you to
Miss Leslie. Miss Leslie--Mrs. Ede, a lady I'm escorting to Blackpool; you
two have a chat together. I'll be back in a minute. I must go after Hayes;
if I don't he may forget all about the tickets.'

'I'm afraid you'll find us a very noisy lot, Mrs. Ede,' said Miss Leslie,
and in a way that made Kate feel intimate with her at once.

Miss Leslie had a bright smiling face, with clear blue eyes, and a mop of
dyed hair peeped from under a prettily ribboned bonnet, and Kate noticed
how beautifully cut were her clothes. Miss Beaumont sported large diamonds
in her ears, and she wore a somewhat frayed yellow French cloak, which, she
explained to the girls near her, particularly to her pal, Dolly Goddard,
was quite good enough for travelling. No one in the company could
understand the friendship between these two; the knowing ones declared that
Dolly was Beaumont's daughter; others, who professed to be more knowing,
entertained other views. Dolly was a tiny girl with crumpled features, who
wore dresses that were remade from the big woman's cast-off garments. She
sang in the chorus, was in receipt of a salary of five-and-twenty shillings
a week, and was a favourite with everyone. Around her stood a group of
girls; they formed a black mass of cotton, alpaca, and dirty cloth. Near
them half a dozen chorus-men were talking of the possibility of getting
another drink before the train came up, Their frayed boots and threadbare
frock-coats would have caused them to be mistaken for street idlers, but
one or two of their number exhibited patent leathers and a smart made-up
cravat of the latest fashion. Dubois's hat gave him the appearance of a
bishop, his tight trousers confounded him with a groom; and Joe Mortimer
made up very well for the actor whose friends once believed he was a
genius.

The news had gone about that Dick was running away with a married woman,
and that the husband was expected to appear every minute to stop her; it
had reached even the ears of the chorus-men in the refreshment-room, and
they gulped down their beer and hurried back to see the sport. Mortimer
declared that they were going to see Dick for the first time in legitimate
drama, and that he wouldn't miss it for the world. The joke was repeated
through the groups, and before the laughter ceased the green-painted engine
puffed into sight, and at the same moment Dick was seen making his way
towards them from the refreshment room, dragging drunken Mr. Hayes along
with them.

Then Kate felt glad, and almost triumphantly she dashed the tears from her
eyes. No one could stop her now. She was going away with Dick, to be loved
and live happy for ever. Beaumont was forgotten, and the fierce longing for
change she had been so long nourishing completely mastered her, and, with a
childlike impetuosity, she rushed up to her lover, and leaning on his arm,
strove to speak.

'What is it, dear?' he said, bending towards her. 'What are you crying
about?'

'Oh, nothing, Dick. I'm so happy. Oh, if only we were outside this station!
Where shall I get in?'

Even if her husband did come, and she were taken back, she thought that she
would like to have been at least inside a railway carriage.

'Get in here. Where's Montgomery? Let's have him.'

'And, oh, do ask Miss Leslie! She's been so kind to me.'

'Yes, she always travels with us,' said Dick, standing at the carriage
door.' Come, get in, Montgomery; make haste, Dubois.'

'But where's Bret?' shouted someone.

'I haven't seen him,' replied several voices.

'Is there any lady missing?' asked Montgomery.

'No,' replied Mortimer in the deepest nasal intonation he could assume,
'but I noticed a relation of the chief banker in the town in the theatre
last night. Perhaps our friend has had his cheque stopped.'

Roars of laughter greeted this sally, the relevance of which no one could
even faintly guess; and the guard smiled as he said to the porter:

'That's Mr. Mortimer. Amusing, is them theatre gentlemen.' Then, turning to
Dick, 'I must start the train. Your friend will be late if he doesn't come
up jolly quick.'

'Isn't it extraordinary that Bret can never be up to time? Every night
there's a stage wait for him to come on for the serenade,' said Dick,
withdrawing his head from the window. 'Here 'e is, sir,' said the guard.

'Come on, Bret; you'll be late,' shouted Dick.

A tall, thin man in a velvet coat, urged on by two porters, was seen making
his way down the platform with a speed that was evidently painful.

'In here,' said Dick, opening the door.

Out of the dim station they passed into the bright air alongside of long
lines of waggons laden with chimney-pots and tiles, the produce of Hanley.
The collieries steamed above their cinder-hills, the factory chimneys
vomited, and as Kate looked out on this world of work that she was leaving
for ever, she listened to the uncertain trouble that mounted up through her
mind, and to the voices of the actors talking of comic songs and dances.

She put out her hand instinctively to find Dick's; he was sitting beside
her, and she felt happy again.

At these intimacies none but Frank Bret was surprised, and the laugh that
made Kate blush was occasioned by the tenor's stupid questioning look: it
was the first time he had seen her; he had not yet heard the story of the
elopement, and his glance went from one to the other, vainly demanding an
explanation, and to increase the hilarity Dick said:

'But, by the way, Bret, what made you so late this morning? Were you down
at the bank cashing a cheque?'

'What are you thinking about? There are no banks open on Sunday morning,'
said Bret, who of course had not the least idea what was meant.

The reply provoked peals of laughter from all save Miss Leslie, and all
possible changes were rung on the joke, until it became as nauseous to the
rest of the company as to the bewildered tenor, who bore the chaff with the
dignified stupidity of good looks.

The mummers travelled third class. Kate sat next the window, with her back
to the engine; Dick was beside her, and Miss Leslie facing her; then came
Dubois and Bret, with Montgomery at the far end.

The conversation had fallen, and Dick, passing his arm around Kate's waist,
whispered to her and to Leslie:

'I want you two to be pals. Lucy is one of my oldest friends. I knew her
when she was so high, and it was I who gave her her first part, wasn't it,
Lucy?'

'Yes. Don't you remember, Dick, the first night I played Florette in _The
Brigands_? Wasn't I in a fright? I never should have ventured on the
stage if you hadn't pushed me on from the wings.'

Kate thought she had never seen anyone look so nice or heard anyone speak
so sweetly. In fact, she liked her better off the stage than on. Leslie had
a way of raising her voice as she spoke till it ended in a laugh and a
display of white teeth. The others of the company she did not yet
recognize. They were still to her figures moving through an agitated dream.
Leslie was the first to awaken to life.

The tendency of Dick's conversation was to wander, but after having
indulged for some time in the pleasures of retrospection he returned to the
subject in point:

'Well, it's a bit difficult to explain,' Dick said, 'but, you see, this
lady, Mrs. Ede, wasn't very happy at home, and having a nice voice--you
must hear her sing some _Angot_--and such an ear! She only heard the
waltz once, and she can give it note for note. Well, to make a long story
short, she thought she'd cut it, and try what she could do with us.'

'You're all very kind to me, but I'm afraid I've been very wicked.'

'Oh my!' said Miss Leslie, laughing, 'you mustn't talk like that; you'll
put us all to the blush.'

'I wonder how such theories would suit Beaumont's book,' said Dick.

'You see,' Dick continued, 'she's left Hanley without any clothes except
those she's wearing, and we'll have to buy everything in Derby,' and he
begged Bret to move down a bit and allow him to take the seat next to
Leslie.

The tenor, conductor, and second low comedian had spread a rug over their
knees, and were playing nap. They shouted, laughed, and sang portions of
their evening music when they made or anticipated making points, and Kate
was therefore left to herself, and she looked out of the window.

They were passing through the most beautiful parts of Staffordshire, and
for the first time she saw the places that seemed to her just like the spot
where the lady with the oval face used to read Shelley to the handsome
baronet when her husband was away doctoring the country-folk.

The day was full of mist and sun. Along the edges of the woods the white
vapours loitered, half concealing the forms of the grazing kine; and the
light shadows floated on the grass, long and prolonged, even as the
memories that were now filling the mind of this sentimental workwoman. It
seemed to her that she was now on the threshold of a new life--the life of
which she had so long dreamed. Her lover was near her, but in a railway
carriage filled with smoke and with various men and women; and it seemed to
her that they should be walking in sunny meadows by hedgerows. The birds
were singing in the shaws; but in her imagination the clicking of needles
and the rustling of silk mingled with the songs of the birds, and
forgetting the landscape, with a sigh she fell to thinking of what they
would be saying of her at home.

She knew Mrs. Ede would have the whole town searched, and when it was no
longer possible to entertain a doubt, she would say that Kate's name must
never again be mentioned in her presence. A letter! there was much to say:
but none would understand. The old woman who had once loved her so dearly
would for ever hate and detest her. And Ralph? Kate did not care quite so
much what he thought of her; she fancied him swearing and cursing, and
sending the police after her; and then he appeared to her as a sullen,
morose figure moving about the shop, growling occasionally at his mother,
and muttering from time to time that he was devilish glad that his wife had
gone away. She would have wished him to regret her; and when she remembered
the little girls, she felt the tears rise to her eyes. What explanation
would be given to them? Would they learn to hate her? She thought not; but
still, they would have to give up coming to the shop--there was no one now
to teach them sewing. Her absence would change everything. Mrs. Ede would
never be able to get on with Hender, and even if she did, neither of them
knew enough of dressmaking to keep the business going, and she asked
herself sorrowfully: 'What will become of them?' They would not be able to
live upon what they sold in the shop--that was a mere nothing. Poor Ralph's
dreams of plate-glass and lamps! Where were they now? Mrs. Ede's thirty
pounds a year would barely pay the rent. A vision of destruction and
brokers passed before her mind, and she realized for the first time the
immense importance of the step she had taken. Not only was her own future
hidden, but the future of those she had left behind. The tedium of her life
in Hanley was forgotten, and she remembered only the quiet, certain life
she might have led, in and out from the shop to the front kitchen, and up
to her workroom--the life that she had been born into. Now she had nothing
but this man's love. If she were to lose it!

Leslie smiled at the lovers, and moving towards the card-players, she
placed her arm round Bret's shoulders and examined his hand. Then the three
men raised their heads. Dubois, with the cynicism of the ugly little man
who has ever had to play the part of the disdained lover both in real or
fictitious life, giggled, leered, and pointed over his shoulder. Montgomery
smiled too, but a close observer would detect in him the yearnings of a
young man from whose plain face the falling fruit is ever invisibly lifted.
Bret looked round also, but his look was the indifferent stare of one to
whom love has come often, and he glanced as idly at the picture as a
worn-out gourmet would over the bill of fare of a table d'hote dinner.

A moment after all eyes were again fixed on the game, and Dick began to
speak to Kate of the clothes she would have to buy in Derby.

'I can give you twenty pounds to fit yourself out. Do you think you could
manage with that?'

'I'm afraid I'm putting you to a lot of expense, dear.'

'Not more than you're worth. You don't know what a pleasant time we shall
have travellin' about; it's so tiresome bein' always alone. There's no
society in these country towns, but I shan't want society now.'

'And do you think that you won't get tired of me? Will you never care again
for any of these fine ladies?' and her brilliant eyes drew down Dick's
lips, and when they entered a tunnel the temptation to repeat the kiss was
great, but owing to Dubois's attempt to light matches it ended in failure.
Dick bumped his head against the woodwork of the carriage; Kate felt she
hated the little comedian, and before she recovered her temper the train
began to slacken speed, and there were frequent calls for Dick from the
windows of the different compartments.

'Is the railway company going to stand us treat this journey?' shouted
Mortimer.

'Yes,' replied Dick, putting his head out, 'seven the last time and seven
this; we should have more than a couple of quid.'

When the train stopped and a voice was heard crying, 'All tickets here!' he
said to Dubois, Bret, and Montgomery, 'Now then, you fellows, cut off; get
Mortimer and a few of the chorus-men to join you; we're seven short.'

As they ran away he continued to Leslie: 'I hope Hayes won't bungle it;
he's got the tickets to-day.'

'You shouldn't have let him take them; you know he's always more or less
drunk, and may answer forty-two.'

'I can't help it if he does; I'd something else to look after at Hanley.'

'Tickets!' said the guard.

'Our acting manager has them; he's in the end carriage.'

'You know I don't want anything said about it; Hayes and I are old pals;
but it's a damned nuisance to have an acting manager who's always boozed. I
have to look after everythin', even to making up the returns. But I must
have a look and see how he's gettin' on with the guard,' said Dick, jumping
up and putting his head out of the window.

After a moment or two he withdrew it and said hastily, 'By Jove! there's a
row on. I must go and see what's up. I bet that fool has gone and done
something.'

In a minute he had opened the carriage door and was hurrying down the
platform.

'Oh, what's the matter?--do tell me,' said Kate to Miss Leslie. 'I hope he
won't get into any trouble.'

'It's nothing at all. We never, you know, take the full number of tickets,
for it is impossible for the guard to count us all; and besides, there are
some members who always run down the platform; and in that way we save a
good deal of coin, which is spent in drinks all round.' But guessing what
was passing in Kate's mind Leslie said: 'It isn't cheating. The company
provides us with a carriage, and it is all the same to them if we travel
five-and-thirty or forty-two.'

XII

The rest of the journey was accomplished monotonously, the conversation
drifting into a discussion, in the course of which mention was made of
actors, singers, theatre, prices of admission, 'make-ups,' stage
management, and music. It was in Birmingham that Ashton, Leslie's
understudy, sang the tenor's music instead of her own in the first act of
the _Cloches_: and poor So-and-so, who was playing the Grenicheux--how
he did look when he heard his B flat go off!

'Flat,' murmured Montgomery sorrowfully, 'isn't the word. I assure you it
loosened every tooth in my head. I broke my stick trying to stop her, but
it was no bloody good.'

Then explanations of how the different pieces had been produced in Paris
were volunteered, and the talents of the different composers were
discussed; and all held their sides and roared when Dubois, who, Kate began
to perceive, was the company's laughingstock, declared that he thought
Offenbach too polkaic.

At last the train rolled into Derby, and Dick asked a red pimply-faced man
in a round hat if he had secured good places for his posters.

'Spiffing,' the man answered, and he saluted Leslie. 'But I couldn't get
you the rooms. They're let; and, between ourselves, you'll 'ave a
difficulty in finding what you want. This is cattle-show week. You'd better
come on at once with me. I know an hotel that isn't bad, and you can have
first choice--Beaumont's old rooms; but you must come at once.'

Kate was glad to see that Mr. Bill Williams, the agent in advance, did not
remember her. She, however, recognized him at once as the man who had sent
Dick to her house,

'Cattle-show week! All the rooms in the town let!' cried Leslie, who had
overheard part of Mr. Williams's whisperings. 'Oh dear! I do hope that my
rooms aren't let. I hate going to an hotel. Let me out; I must see about
them at once. Here, Frank, take hold of this bag.'

'There's no use being in such a hurry; if the rooms are let they are let.
What's the name of the hotel you were speaking of, Williams?'

'I forget the name, but if you don't find lodgings, I'll leave you the
address at the theatre,' said the agent in advance, winking at Dick.

'You're too damned clever, Williams; you'll be making somebody's fortune
one of these days.'

Kate had some difficulty in keeping close to Dick, for he was surrounded
the moment he stepped out on the platform. The baggage-man had a quantity
of questions to ask him, and Hayes was desirous of re-explaining how the
ticket-collector had happened to misunderstand him. Pulling his long
whiskers, the acting manager walked about murmuring, 'Stupid fool! stupid
darned fool!' And there were some twenty young women who pleaded in turn,
their little hands laid on the arm of the popular fat man.

'Yes, dear; that's it,' he answered. 'I'll see to it to-morrow. I'll try
not to put you in Miss Crawford's dressing-room, since you don't agree.'

'And, Mr. Lennox, you will see that I'm not shoved into the back row by
Miss Dacre, won't you?'

'Yes, dear--yes, dear; I'll see to that too; but I must be off now; and
you'd better see after lodgings; I hear that they are very scarce. If you
aren't able to get any, come up to the Hen and Chickens; I hear they have
rooms to let there. Poor little girls!' he murmured to Williams as they got
into a cab. 'They only have twenty-five bob a week; one can't see them
robbed by landladies who can let their rooms three times over.'

'Just as you like,' said Williams, 'but you'll have the hotel full of
them.'

As they drove through the town Dick called attention to the animated
appearance of the crowds, and Williams explained the advantages of the
corners he had chosen; and at last the cab stopped at the inn, or rather
before the archway of a stone passage some four or five yards wide.

'There's no inn here!'

'Oh yes, there is, and a very nice inn too; the entrance is a little way up
the passage.'

It was an old-fashioned place--probably it had been a fashionable resort
for sporting squires at the beginning of the century. The hall was
wainscotted in yellow painted wood; on the right-hand side there was a
large brown press, with glass doors, surmounted by a pair of buffalo horns;
on the opposite wall hung a barometer; and the wide, slowly sloping
staircase, with its low thick banisters, ascended in front of the street
door. The apartments were not, however, furnished with archaeological
correctness.

A wall-paper of an antique design contrasted with a modern tablecloth, and
the sombre red curtains were ill suited to the plate-glass which had
replaced the narrow windows of old time. Dick did not like the dust nor the
tarnish, but no other bed and sitting-room being available, a bargain was
soon struck, and the proprietor, after hoping that his guests would be
comfortable, informed them that the rule of his house was that the street
door was barred and locked at eleven o'clock, and would be reopened for no
one.

He was a quiet man who kept an orderly house, and if people could not
manage to be in before midnight he did not care for their custom. After
grumbling a bit, Dick remembered that the pubs closed at eleven, and as he
did not know anyone in the town there would be no temptation to stay out.

Williams, who had been attentively examining Kate, said that he was going
down to the theatre, and asked if he should have the luggage sent up.

This was an inconvenient question, and as an explanation was impossible
before the hotel-keeper, Dick was obliged to wish Kate good-bye for the
present, and accompany Williams down to the theatre.

She took off her bonnet mechanically, threw it on the table, and, sitting
down in an armchair by the window, let her thoughts drift to those at home.

Whatever doubt there might have been at first, they now knew that she had
left them--and for ever.

The last three words cost her a sigh, but she was forced to admit them.
There could be no uncertainty now in Ralph's and his mother's mind that she
had gone off with Mr. Lennox. Yes, she had eloped; there could be no
question about the fact. She had done what she had so often read of in
novels, but somehow it did not seem at all the same thing.

This was a startling discovery to make, but of the secret of her
disappointment she was nearly unconscious; and rousing herself from the
torpor into which she had fallen, she hoped Dick would not stop long away.
It was so tiresome waiting. But soon Miss Leslie came running upstairs.

'Dinner has been ordered for five o'clock, and we've made up a party of
four--you, Dick, myself, and Frank.'

'And what time is it now?'

'About four. Don't you think you'll be able to hold out till then?'

'Oh, dear me, yes; I'm not very hungry.'

'And I'll lend you anything you want for to-night.'

'Thanks, it's very kind of you.' Kate fell to wondering if her kindness had
anything to do with Dick, and with the view to discovering their secret, if
they had one, she watched them during dinner, and was glad to see that Mr.
Frank Bret occupied the prima donna's entire attention.

Soon after dinner the party dispersed.

'You'll not be able to buy anything to-night,' Dick said, and Kate
answered:

'Leslie said she'd lend me a nightgown.'

'And to-morrow you'll buy yourself a complete rig-out,' and he gave her
five-and-twenty pounds and told her to pal with Leslie, that she was the
best of the lot. It seemed to her quite a little fortune, and as Dick had
to go to London next morning, she sent up word to Leslie to ask if she
would come shopping with her. The idea of losing her lover so soon
frightened her, and had it not been for the distraction that the buying of
clothes afforded her the week she spent in Derby would have been
intolerable. Leslie, it is true, often came to sit with Kate, and on more
than one occasion went out to walk with her. But there were long hours
which she was forced to pass alone in the gloom of the hotel sitting-room,
and as she sat making herself a travelling dress, oppressed and trembling
with thoughts, she was often forced to lay down her work. She had to admit
that nothing had turned out as she had expected; even her own power of
loving appeared feeble in comparison to the wealth of affection she had
imagined herself lavishing upon Dick. Something seemed to separate them;
even when she lay back and he held her in his arms, she was not as near to
him as she had dreamed of being; and try as she would, she found it
impossible to wipe out of her mind the house in Hanley. It rose before her,
a dark background with touches of clear colour: the little girls working by
the luminous window with the muslin curtains and the hanging pot of
greenstuff; the stiff-backed woman moving about with plates and dishes in
her hands; the invalid wheezing on the little red calico sofa. The past was
still reality, and the present a fable. It didn't seem true: lying with a
man who was still strange to her; rising when she pleased; getting even her
meals when she pleased. She could not realize the fact that she had left
for ever her quiet home in the Potteries, and was travelling about the
country with a company of strolling actors. The spider that had spun itself
from the ceiling did not seem suspended in life by a less visible thread
than herself. Supposing Dick were never to return! The thought was
appalling, and on more than one occasion she fell down on her knees to pray
to be preserved from such a terrible misfortune.

But her hours of solitude were not the worst she had to bear. Impelled by
curiosity to hear all the details of the elopement, and urged by an
ever-present desire to say unpleasant things, Miss Beaumont paid Kate many
visits, and sitting with her thick legs crossed, she insinuated all she
dared. She did not venture upon a direct statement, but by the aid of a
smile and an indirect allusion it was easy to suggest that love in an
actor's heart is brief. As long as Miss Beaumont was present Kate repressed
her feelings, but when she found herself alone tears flowed down her
cheeks, and sobs echoed through the dusty sitting-room.

It was in one of these trances of emotion that Dick found her when he
returned, and that night she accompanied him to the theatre. The piece
played was _Les Cloches de Corneville_. Miss Beaumont as Germaine
disappointed her, and she could not understand how it was that the Marquis
was not in love with Serpolette. But the reality that most grossly
contradicted her idea was that Dick should be playing the part of the
Bailie; and when she saw her hero fall down in the middle of the stage and
heard everybody laugh at him, she felt both ashamed and insulted. The
romantic character of her mind asserted itself, and, against her will,
forced her to admire the purple-cloaked Marquis. Then her thoughts turned
to considering if she would be able to act as well as any one of the ladies
on the stage. It did not seem to her very difficult, and Dick had told her
that, with a little teaching, she would be able to sing as well as
Beaumont. The sad expression that her face wore disappeared, and she grew
impatient for the piece to finish so that she might speak to Dick about
taking lessons. They were now in the third act, and the moment the curtain
was rung down she hurried away, asking as she went the way to the
stage-door. It was by no means easy to find. She lost herself once or twice
in the back streets, and when she at last found the right place, the
hall-keeper refused her admittance.

'Do you belong to the company?'

After a moment's hesitation Kate replied that she did not; but that
moment's hesitation was sufficient for the porter, and he at once said,
'Pass on; you'll find Mr. Lennox on the stage.'

Timidly she walked up a narrow passage filled with men talking at the top
of their voices, and from thence made her way into the wings. There she was
told that Mr. Lennox was up in his room, but would be down shortly.

For a moment Kate could not realize where she was, so different was the
stage now from what it had been whenever she had seen it before. The
present aspect was an entirely new one.

It was dark like a cellar, and in the flaring light that spurted from an
iron gas-pipe, the stage carpenter carried rocking pieces of scenery to and
fro. The auditorium was a round blank overclouded in a deep twilight,
through which Kate saw the long form of a grey cat moving slowly round the
edge of the upper boxes.

Getting into a corner so as to be out of the way of the people who were
walking up and down the stage, she matured her plans for the cultivation of
her voice, and waited patiently for her lover to finish dressing. This he
took some time to do, and when he did at length come downstairs, he was of
course surrounded; everybody as usual wanted to speak to him, but,
gallantly offering her his arm, and bending his head, he asked in a whisper
how she liked the piece, and insisted on hearing what she thought of this
and that part before he replied to any one of the crowd of friends who in
turn strove to attract his attention. This was very flattering, but she was
nevertheless obliged to relinquish her plan of explaining to him there and
then her desire to learn singing. He could not keep his mind fixed on what
she was saying. Mortimer was telling a story at which everybody was
screaming, and just at her elbow Dubois and Montgomery were engaged in a
violent argument regarding the use of consecutive fifths. But besides these
distractions there was a tall thin man who kept nudging away at Dick's
elbow, begging of him to come over to his place, and saying that he would
give him as good a glass of whisky as he had ever tasted. Nobody knew who
the man was, but Dick thought he had met him somewhere up in the North.

'I've been about, gentlemen, in America, and in France, and I lead a
bachelor life. My house is across the way, and if you'll do me the honour
to come in and have a glass with me, I shall feel highly honoured. If
there's one thing I do enjoy more than another, it's the conversation of
intellectual men, and after the performance of to-night I don't see how I
can do better than to come to you for it. But,' he continued gallantly, 'if
I said just now that I was a bachelor, it is, I assure you, not because I
dislike the sex. My solitary state is my misfortune, not my fault, and if
these ladies will accompany you, gentlemen, need I say that I shall be
charmed and honoured?'

'We'll do the honouring and the ladies will do the charming,' Mortimer
said, and on these words the whole party followed the tall thin man to his
house, a small affair with a porch and green blinds such as might be rented
by a well-to-do commercial traveller.

The furniture was mahogany and leather, and when the sideboard was opened,
the acrid odour of tea and the sickly smells of stale bread and rank butter
were diffused through the room; but these were quickly dominated by the
fumes of the malt. A bottle of port was decanted for the ladies. To the
host nothing was too much trouble; his guests must eat as well as drink,
and he went down to the kitchen and helped the maid-servant to bring up all
the eatables that were in the house--some cold beef and cheese--and after
having partaken of these the company stretched themselves in their chairs.
Hayes drank his whisky in silence, while Montgomery, his legs thrown over
the arm of his chair, tried to get in a word concerning the refrain of a
comic song he had just finished scoring; but as the song was not going to
be sung in any of the pieces they were touring with, no one was interested,
and Mortimer's talk about the regeneration of the theatre was becoming so
boring that Leslie and Beaumont had begun to think of bedtime, and might
have taken their departure if Dubois had not said that all the great French
actresses had lovers and that the English would do well to follow their
examples. A variety of opinions broke forth, and everyone seemed to wake
up; anecdotes were told that brought the colour to Kate's cheeks and made
her feel uncomfortable. Dubois had lived a great deal in France; it was not
certain that he had not acted in French, and sitting with his bishop's hat
tilted on the back of his head, he related that Agar had described George
Sand as a sort of pouncing disease that had affected her health more than
all her other lovers put together. Dubois was declared to have insulted the
profession; Dick agreed that Dubois did not know what he was talking
about--George Sand was a woman, not a man--and Montgomery, who had a
sister-in-law starring in Scotland, refused to be appeased until he was
asked to accompany Leslie and Bret in a duet. The thin man, as everybody
now called him, said he had never been so much touched in his life, a
statement which Beaumont did her best to justify by going to the piano and
singing three songs one after another. The third was a signal for
departure, and while Montgomery vowed under his breath that it was quite
enough to have to listen to Beaumont during business hours, Dick tried to
awaken Hayes. He had fallen fast asleep. Their kind host said that he would
put him up for the night, but the mummers thought they would be able to get
him home. So, bidding the kindest of farewells to their host, whom they
hoped they would see the following evening at the theatre, they stumbled
into the street, pushing and carrying the drunken man between them. It was
very hard to get Hayes along; every ten or a dozen yards he would insist on
stopping in the middle of the roadway to argue the value and the sincerity
of the friendship his comrades bore for him. Mortimer strove to pacify him,
saying that he would stand in a puddle all night if by doing so he might
prove that he loved him, and Dubois entreated him to believe him when he
said that to sit with him under a cold September moon talking of the dear
dead days would be a bliss that he could not forego. But the comedian's
jokes soon began to seem idle and flat, and the ladies proposed to walk on
in front, leaving the gentlemen to get their friend home as best they
could.

'You're thinking of your beds,' Dick cried, and that reminded him that the
hotel-keeper had told him that he shut his doors at eleven and would open
them for no one before morning.

'What are we to do?' asked Leslie; 'it's very cold.'

'We'll ring him up,' said Dubois.

'But if he doesn't answer?' suggested Bret.

'I'll jolly soon make him answer,' said Dick. 'Now then, Hayes, wake up,
old man, and push along.'

'Pou-sh-al-long! How can--you--talk to me like that? Yer--yer--shunting
me--me--for one of those other fellows.'

'We'll talk about that in the morning, old man. Now, Mortimer, you get hold
of his other arm and we'll run him along.'

Mr. Hayes struggled, declaring the while he would no longer believe in the
world's friendship; but with Montgomery pushing from behind, the last
hundred yards were soon accomplished, and the drunken burden deposited
against the wall of the passage.

Dick pulled the bell; the whole party listened to the distant tinkling, and
after a minute or two of suspense, Mortimer said:

'That won't do, Dick; ring again. We shall be here all night.'

Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, went the bell, and a husky voice, issuing from the
dark shadow of the wall, said:

'I rang for another whisky, waiter, that's all.'

'The still-room maid has gone to sleep, sir,' Mortimer answered; and the
bell was rung again and again, and whilst one of the company was pulling at
the wire, another was hammering away with the knocker. All the same, no
answer could be obtained, and the mummers consulted Leslie and Bret, who
proposed that they should seek admittance at another hotel; Dubois, that
they should beg hospitality of the other members of the company;
Montgomery, that they should go back to the theatre. But the hotel-keeper
had no right to lock them out, and they had a perfect right to break into
his house, and the chances they ran of 'doing a week' were anxiously
debated as they searched for a piece of wood to serve as a ram. None of
sufficient size could be found, much to the relief of the ladies and
Dubois, who strongly advised Dick to renounce this door-smashing
experiment.

'Oh, Dick, pray don't,' whispered Kate. 'What does it matter; it will be
daylight in a few hours.'

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