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A Mummer's Wife by George Moore

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'success' returned in her thoughts like the refrain of a song. Yes, she had
succeeded. Wherever she went she would be admired. There was something to
live for at last.

The T-light flared, and she stopped and began to wonder at the invention,
so absurd did it seem; and then feeling that such thoughts were a waste of
time, she took up the thread of her memories and had just begun to enjoy
again a certain round of applause when Beaumont and Dolly Goddard awoke her
with the question, had she seen Dick? Kate tried to remember. A
scene-shifter going by said that he had seen Mr. Lennox leave the theatre
some twenty minutes ago.

'I suppose he will come back for me,' Kate said; 'or perhaps I'd better go
on? Are you coming my way?'

Beaumont and Dolly said they were and proposed that they should pop into a
pub before closing time. Kate hesitated to accept the invitation, but
Beaumont insisted, and as it was a question of drinking to the night's
success she consented to accompany them.

'No, not here,' said Beaumont, shoving the swing-doors an inch or so apart:
'it's too full. I'll show you the way round by the side entrance.'

And giggling, the girls slipped into the private apartment.

'What will you have, dear?' asked Beaumont in an apologetic whisper.

'I think I'll have a whisky.'

'You'll have the same, Dolly?'

'Scotch or Irish?' asked the barman.

The girls consulted a moment and decided in favour of Irish.

With nods and glances, the health of Serpolette was drunk, and then fearing
to look as if she were sponging, Kate insisted on likewise standing treat.
Fortunately, when the second round had been drunk, closing time was
announced by the man in the shirtsleeves, and bidding her friends good-bye,
Kate stood in the street trying to think if she ought to return to the
theatre to look after Dick or go home and find him there.

She decided on the latter alternative and walked slowly along the street. A
chill wind blew up from the sea, and the sudden transition from the hot
atmosphere of the bar brought the fumes of the whisky to her head and she
felt a little giddy. An idea of drunkenness suggested itself; it annoyed
her, and repulsing it vehemently, her thoughts somewhat savagely fastened
on to Dick as the culprit. 'Where had he gone?' she asked, at first
curiously, but at each repetition she put the question more sullenly to
herself. If he had come back to fetch her she would not have been led into
going into the public-house with Beaumont; and, irritated that any shadow
should have fallen on the happiness of the evening, she walked sturdily
along until a sudden turn brought her face to face with her lover.

'Oh!' he said, starting. 'Is that you, Kate? I was just cutting back to the
theatre to fetch you.'

'Yes, a nice time you've kept me waiting,' she answered; but as she spoke
she recognized the street they were in as the one in which Leslie lived.
The blood rushed to her face, and tearing the while the paper fringe of her
bouquet, she said,' I know very well where you've been to! I want no
telling. You've been round spending your time with Leslie.'

'Well,' said Dick, embarrassed by the directness with which she divined his
errand, 'I don't see what harm there was in that; I really thought that I
ought to run and see how she was.'

Struck by the reasonableness of this answer, Kate for the moment remained
silent, but a sudden remembrance forced the anger that was latent in her to
her head, and facing him again she said:

'How dare you tell me such a lie! You know very well you went to see her
because you like her, because you love her.'

Dick looked at her, surprised.

'I assure you, you're mistaken' he said. But at that moment Bret passed
them in the street, hurrying towards Leslie's. The meeting was an
unfortunate one, and it sent a deeper pang of jealousy to Kate's heart.

'There,' she said, 'haven't I proof of your baseness? What do you say to
that?'

'To what?'

'Don't pretend innocence. Didn't you see Bret passing? You choose your time
nicely to pay visits--just when he should be out.'

'Oh!' said Dick, surprised at the ingenuity of the deduction. 'I give you
my word that such an idea never occurred to me.'

But before he could get any further with his explanation Kate again cut him
short, and in passionate words told him he was a monster and a villain. So
taken aback was he by this sudden manifestation of temper on the part of
one in whom he did not suspect its existence, that he stopped, to assure
himself that she was not joking. A glance sufficed to convince him; and
making frequent little halts between the lamp-posts to argue the different
points more definitely, they proceeded home quarrelling. But on arriving at
the door, Kate experienced a moment of revolt that surprised herself. The
palms of her hands itched, and consumed with a childish desire to scratch
and beat this big man, she beat her little feet against the pavement. Dick
fumbled at the lock. The delay still further irritated her, and it seemed
impossible that she could enter the house that night.

'Aren't you coming in?' he said at last.

'No, not I. You go back to Miss Leslie; I'm sure she wants you to attend to
her ankle.'

This was too absurd, and Dick expostulated gently. But nothing he could say
was of the slightest avail, and she refused to move from the doorstep. Then
began a long argument; and in brief phrases, amid frequent interruptions,
all sorts of things were discussed. The wind blew very cold; Kate did not
seem to notice it, but Dick shivered in his fat; and noticing his trembling
she taunted him with it, and insultingly advised him to go to bed. Not
knowing what answer to give to this, he walked into the sitting-room and
sat down by the fire. How long would she remain on the doorstep? he asked
himself humbly, until his reflections were interrupted by the sound of
steps. It was Montgomery, and chuckling, Dick listened to him reasoning
with Kate. The cold was so intense that the discussion could not be
continued for long; and when the two friends entered Dick was prepared for
a reconciliation. But in this he was disappointed. She merely consented to
sit in the armchair, glaring at her lover. Montgomery tried to argue with
her, but he could scarcely succeed in getting her to answer him, and it was
not until he began to question Dick on the reason of the quarrel that she
consented to speak; and then her utterances were rather passionate denials
of her lover's statements than any distinct explanation. There were also
long silences, during which she sat savagely picking at the paper of the
bouquet, which she still retained. At last Montgomery, noticing the supper
that no one cared to touch, said:

'Well, all I know is, that it's very unfortunate that you should have
chosen this night of all others, the night of her success, to have a row. I
expected a pleasant evening.'

'Success, indeed!' said Kate, starting to her feet. 'Was it for such a
success as this that he took me away from my home? Oh, what a fool I was!
Success! A lot I care for the success, when he has been spending the
evening with Leslie.' And unable to contain herself any longer, she tore a
handful of flowers out of her bouquet and threw them in Dick's face.
Handful succeeded handful, each being accompanied by a shower of vehement
words. The two men waited in wonderment, and when passionate reproaches and
spring flowers were alike exhausted, a flood of tears and a rush into the
next room ended the scene.

XVII

As soon as it was announced that Miss Leslie suffered so much with her
ankle that she would be unable to travel, the whole company called to see
the poor invalid; the chorus left their names, the principals went up to
sit by the sofa-side, and all brought her something: Beaumont, a basket of
fruit; Dolly Goddard, a bouquet of flowers; Dubois, an interesting novel;
Mortimer, a fresh stock of anecdotes. Around her sofa sprains were
discussed. Dubois had known a _premiere danseuse_ at the Opera House,
in Paris, but the handing round of cigarettes prevented his story from
being heard, and Beaumont related instead how Lord Shoreham in youth had
broken his legs out hunting. The relation might not have come to an end
that evening if Leslie had not asked Bret to change her position on the
sofa, and when he and Dick went out of the room a look of inquiry was
passed round.

'You needn't be uneasy. I wouldn't let Bret stop for anything. I shall be
very comfortable here. My landlady is as kind as she can be and the rooms
are very nice.'

A murmur of approval followed these words, and continuing Miss Leslie said,
laying her hand on Kate's:

'And my friend here will play my parts until I come back. You must begin
to-night, my dear, and try to work up Clairette. If you're a quick study
you may be able to play it on Wednesday night.'

This was too much; the tears stood in Kate's eyes. She had in her pocket a
little gold _porte-bonheur_ which she had bought that morning to make
a present of to her once hated rival, but she waited until they were alone
to slip it on the good natured prima donna's wrist. The parting between the
two women was very touching, and being in a melting mood Kate made a full
confession of her quarrel with Dick, and, abandoning herself, she sought
for consolation. Leslie smiled curiously, and after a long pause said:

'I know what you mean, dear, I've been jealous myself; but you'll get over
it, and learn to take things easily as I do. Men aren't worth it.' The last
phrase seemed to have slipped from her inadvertently, and seeing how she
had shocked Kate she hastened to add, 'Dick is a very good fellow, and will
look after you; but take my advice, avoid a row; we women don't gain
anything by it.'

The words dwelt long in Kate's mind, but she found it hard to keep her
temper. Her temper surprised even herself. It seemed to be giving way, and
she trembled with rage at things that before would not have stirred an
unquiet thought in her mind. Remembrances of the passions that used to
convulse her when a child returned to her. As is generally the case, there
was right on both sides. Her life, it must be confessed, was woven about
with temptations. Dick's character easily engendered suspicion, and when
the study of the part of Clairette was over, the iron of distrust began
again to force its way into her heart. The slightest thing sufficed to
arouse her. On one occasion, when travelling from Bath to Wolverhampton,
she could not help thinking, judging from the expression of the girl's
face, that Dick was squeezing Dolly's foot under the rug; without a word
she moved to the other end of the carriage and remained looking out of the
window for the rest of the journey, Another time she was seized with a fit
of mad rage at seeing Dick dancing with Beaumont at the end of the second
act of _Madame Angot_. There were floods of tears and a distinct
refusal 'to dress with that woman.' Dick was in despair! What could he do?
There was no spare room, and unless she went to dress with the chorus he
didn't know what she'd do.

'My God!' he exclaimed to Mortimer, as he rushed across the stage after the
'damned property-man,' 'never have your woman playing in the same theatre
as yourself; it's awful!'

For the last couple of weeks everything he did seemed to be wrong. Success,
instead of satisfying Kate, seemed to render her more irritable, and
instead of contenting herself with the plaudits that were nightly showered
upon her, her constant occupation was to find out either where Dick was or
what he had been doing or saying. If he went up to make a change without
telling her she would invent some excuse for sending to inquire after him;
if he were giving some directions to the girls at one of the top entrances,
she would walk from the wing where she was waiting for her cue to ask him
what he was saying. This watchfulness caused a great deal of merriment in
the theatre, and in the dressing-rooms Mortimer's imitation of the
catechism the manager was put to at night was considered very amusing.

'My dear, I assure you you're mistaken. I only smoked two cigarettes after
lunch, and then I had a glass of beer. I swear I'm concealing nothing from
you.'

And this is scarcely a parody of the strict surveillance under which Dick
lived, but from a mixture of lassitude and good nature it did not seem to
annoy him too much, and he appeared to be most troubled when Kate murmured
that she was tired, that she hated the profession and would like to go and
live in the country. For now she complained of fatigue and weariness; the
society of those who formed her life no longer interested her, and she took
violent and unreasoning antipathies. It was not infrequent for Mortimer and
Montgomery to make an arrangement to grub with the Lennoxes whenever a
landlady could be discovered who would undertake so much cooking. But
without being able to explain why, Kate declared she could not abide
sitting face to face with the heavy lead. She saw and heard quite enough of
him at the theatre without being bothered by him in the day-time. Dick made
no objection. He confessed, and, willingly, that he was a bit tired of
disconnected remarks, and the wit of irrelevancies; and Mortimer, he said,
fell to sulking if you didn't laugh at his jokes. Montgomery continued to
board with them, the young man very uncertain always whether he would be as
unhappy away from her as he was with her. He often dreamed of sending in
his resignation, but he could not leave the company, having begun to look
upon himself as her guardian angel; and, without consulting Dick, they
arranged deftly that Dubois should be asked to take Mortimer's place. Dick
approved when the project was unfolded to him, the natty appearance of the
little foreigner was a welcome change after Mortimer's draggled show of
genius. He could do everything better than anybody else, but that did not
matter, for he was amusing in his relations. Whether you spoke of Balzac's
position in modern fiction or the rolling of cigarettes, you were certain
to be interrupted with, 'I assure you, my dear fellow, you're mistaken'
uttered in a stentorian voice. On the subject of his bass voice a child
could draw him out, and, under the pretext of instituting a comparison
between him and one of the bass choristers, Montgomery never failed to
induce him to give the company an idea of his register, At first to see the
little man settling the double chin into his chest in his efforts to get at
the low D used to convulse Kate with laughter, but after a time even this
grew monotonous, and wearily she begged Montgomery to leave him alone.
'Nothing seems to amuse you now' he would say with a mingled look of
affection and regret. A shrug of the shoulder she considered a sufficient
answer for him, and she would sink back as if pursuing to its furthest
consequences the train of some far-reaching ideas.

And in wonder these men watched the progress of Kate's malady without ever
suspecting what was really the matter with her. She was homesick. But not
for the house in Hanley and the dressmaking of yore. She had come to look
upon Hanley, Ralph, Mrs. Ede, the apprentices and Hender as a bygone dream,
to which she could not return and did not wish to return. Her homesickness
was not to go back to the point from which she had started, but to settle
down in a house for a while.

'Not for long, Dick,' she said, 'a month; even a fortnight would make all
the difference. We spent a fortnight at Blackpool, but we have never stayed
a fortnight at the same place since.'

'I know what's the matter with you, Kate,' he answered; 'you want a
holiday; so do I; we all want a holiday. One of these days we shall get one
when the tour comes to an end.'

It did not seem to Kate that the tour would ever come to an end: she would
always be going round like a wheel.

Dick begged her to have patience, and she resolved to have patience, but
one Saturday night in the middle of her packing the vision of the long
railway journey that awaited her on the morrow rose up suddenly in her
mind, and she could not do else than spring to her feet, and standing over
the half-filled trunk she said:

'Dick, I cannot, I cannot; don't ask me.'

'Ask you what?' he said.

'To go to Bath with you to-morrow morning,' she answered.

'You won't come to Bath!' he cried. 'But who will play Clairette?'

'I will, of course.'

'I don't understand, Kate,' Dick replied.

'I only want one day off. Why shouldn't I spend the Sunday in Leamington
and go to church? I want a little rest. I can't help it, Dick.'

'Well, I never! You seem to get more and more capricious every day.'

'Then you won't let me?' said Kate, with a flush flowing through her olive
cheeks.

'Won't let you! Why shouldn't you stay if it pleases you, dear? Montgomery
is staying too; he wants to see an aunt of his who lives in the town.'

Dick's unaffected kindness so touched Kate's sensibilities that the tears
welled up into her eyes, and she flung herself into his arms sobbing
hysterically. For the moment she was very happy, and she looked into the
dream of the long day she was going to spend with Montgomery, afraid lest
some untoward incident might rob her of her happiness. But nothing fell out
to blot her hopes, everything seemed to be happening just as she had
foreseen it, and trembling with pleasurable excitement the twain hurried
through the town inquiring out the way to the Wesleyan Church. At last it
was found in a distant suburb, and her emotion almost from the moment she
entered into the peace of the building became so uncontrollable that to
hide the tears upon her cheeks she was forced to bury her face in her
hands, and in the soft snoring of the organ, recollections of her life
frothed up; but as the psalm proceeded her excitement abated, until at last
it subsided into a state of languid ecstasy. Nor was it till the
congregation knelt down with one accord for the extemporary prayer that she
asked pardon for her sins. 'But how could God forgive her her sins if she
persevered in them?' she asked herself. 'How could she leave Dick and
return to Hanley? Her husband would not receive her; her life had got into
a tangle and might never get straight again. But all is in the hands of
God,' and thinking of the woman that had been and the woman that was, she
prayed God to consider her mercifully. 'God will understand,' she said,
'how it all came about; I cannot.'

Montgomery was kneeling in the pew beside her, and he wondered at seeing
her so absorbed in prayer; he did not know that she was so pious, and
thought that such piety as hers was not in accord with the life she had
taken up and the company with which they were touring. But perhaps it was a
mere passing emotion, a sudden recrudescence of her past life which would
fade away and never return again; he hoped that this was the case, for he
believed in her talent, and that a London success awaited her. He kept his
eyes averted from her, knowing that his observation would distress her, and
after church she said she would like to go for a walk and he suggested the
river.

In the shade of spreading trees they watched the boats passing, and in the
course of the afternoon talked of many things and of many people, and it
pleased and surprised them to find that their ideas coincided, and in the
pauses of the conversation they wondered why they had never spoken to each
other like this before. He was often tempted to hold out prospects of a
London success with a view to cheering her, but he felt that this was not
the moment to do so. But she, being a little less tactful, spoke to him of
his music with a view to pleasing him, but he could not detach his thoughts
from her, and could only tell her that he heard her voice in the music as
he composed it.

'The afternoon is passing,' he said; 'it's time to begin thinking of tea.'
Whereupon they rose to their feet and walked a long way into the country in
search of an inn, and finding one they had tea in a garden, and afterwards
they dined in a sanded parlour and enjoyed the cold beef, although they
could not disguise from themselves the fact that it was a little tough. But
what matter the food? It was the close intimacy and atmosphere of the day
that mattered to them, and they returned to Leamington thinking of the day
that had gone by, a day unique in their experience, one that might never
return to them.

The ways were filled with Sunday strollers--mothers leading a tired child
moved steadily forward; a drunken man staggered over a heap of stones;
sweethearts chased each other; occasionally a girl, kissed from behind as
she stretched to reach a honeysuckle, rent the airless evening with a
scream.

Kate had not spoken for a long while, and Montgomery's apprehensions were
awakened. Of what could she be thinking? 'Something was on her mind,' he
said to himself. 'Something has been on her mind all day,' he continued,
and he began to ask himself if he should put his arm around her and beg of
her to confide in him. He would have done so if the striking of a clock had
not reminded him that they had little time before them if they wished to
catch the train, so instead of asking her to confide in him he asked her to
try to walk a little faster. She was tired. He offered her his arm.

'We've just time to get to the station and no more; it's lucky we have our
tickets.'

The guard on the platform begged them to hasten and to get in anywhere they
could. A moment afterwards they jumped into the carriage, and the train
rolled with a slight oscillating motion out of the station into the open
country. Dim masses of trees, interrupted by spires and roofs, were painted
upon a huge orange sky that somehow reminded them of an _opera
bouffe_.

'What are you crying for?' Montgomery asked, bending forward.

'Oh, I don't know!--nothing,' exclaimed Kate, sobbing; 'but I'm very
unhappy. I know I've been very wicked, and am sure to be punished for it.'

'Nonsense! Nonsense!'

'God will punish me--know He will. I felt it all to-day in church. I'm done
for, I'm done for.'

'You've made a success on the stage. I never saw anyone get on so well in
so short a time; and you're loved,' he added with a certain bitterness, 'as
much as any woman could be.'

'That's what you think, but I know better. I see him flirting every day
with different girls.'

'You imagine those things. Dick couldn't speak roughly to anyone if he
tried; but he doesn't care for any woman but you.'

'Of course, you say so. You're his friend.'

'I assure you 'pon my word of honour; I wouldn't tell you so if it weren't
true. You're my friend as much as he, aren't you?' and then, as if afraid
that she should read his thoughts, he added:

'I'm sure he hasn't kissed anyone since he knew you. I can't put it plainer
than that, can I?'

'I'm glad to hear you say so. I don't think you'd tell me a lie; it would
be too cruel, wouldn't it? For you know what a position I am in: if Dick
were to desert me to-morrow what should I do?'

'You're in a mournful humour. Why should Dick desert you? And even if he
did, I don't see that it would be such an awful fate.'

Startled, Kate raised her eyes suddenly and looked him straight in the
face.

'What do you mean?' she said.

The abruptness of her question made him hesitate. In a swift instant he
regretted having risked himself so far, and reproached himself for being
false to his friend; but the temptation was irresistible, and overcome by
the tenderness of the day, and irritated by the memory of years of vain
longing, he said:

'Even if he did desert you, you might, you would, find somebody
better--somebody who'd marry you.'

Kate did not answer and they sat listening to the rattle of the train. At
last she said:

'I could never marry anyone but Dick.'

'Why? Do you love him so much?'

'Yes, I love him better than anything in the world; but even if I didn't,
there are reasons which would prevent my marrying anyone but him.'

'What reasons?'

A desire that someone should know of her trouble smothered all other
considerations, and after another attempt to speak she again dropped into
silence.

Montgomery tried to rouse her: 'Tell me,' he said, 'tell me why you
couldn't marry anyone but Dick.'

The sound of his voice startled her, and then, in a moment of sudden
naturalness, she answered:

'Because I'm in the family way.'

'Then there's nothing else for him to do but to marry you.'

She knew he was at that moment his own proper executioner, but the
intensity of her own feelings did not leave her time for pity.

Why after all shouldn't she marry Dick? Why hadn't she asked for this
reparation before? 'I dare say you're right,' she said. 'When I tell
him----'

'What! haven't you told him yet?' Montgomery cried.

'No,' Kate answered timidly, 'I was afraid he wouldn't care to hear it.'

'Then you must do so at once,' Montgomery said, and the poor vagrant
musician, whom nobody had ever loved, said: 'I will speak to him about it
the first time I get a chance. It would be wicked of him not to. He
couldn't refuse even if he didn't love you, which he does.'

The last streak of yellow had died out of the sky telling of the day that
had gone by, and in a deep tranquillity of mind Kate inhaled the sweetness
of her luck as a convalescent might a bunch of freshly culled violets.

XVIII

It never rains but it pours. She was called before the curtain after every
act in _Madame Angot_ and _Les Cloches de Corneville_, and Dick
told her that she would cut out all the London prima donnas, giving them
the go-by, and establish herself one of the great Metropolitan favourites
if he could get a new work over from France.

'Why a new work?' she asked, and he told her that to draw the attention of
the critics and the public upon her, she must appear in a new title role,
and sitting in his armchair when they came home from the theatre at night,
he brooded many projects, the principal one of which was to obtain a new
work from France. But which of the three illustrious composers, Herve,
Offenbach and Lecocq, should he choose to write the music? The book of
words would have to be written before the music was composed, and so far as
he knew the only French composer who could set English words was Herve.

It seemed to Kate that he never would cease to draw forth a cigarette case,
or to cross and uncross his legs. Did this man never wish to go to bed? She
hated stopping up after one o'clock in the morning. But, anxious to be a
serviceable companion to him on all occasions, she strove against her
sleepiness and listened to him whilst he considered whether her voice was
heard to most advantage in Offenbach or in Herve. She had not yet played
the _Grande Duchesse_, and there were parts in that opera that would
suit her very well. He would like to see her in _La Belle Helene_ and
the _Princess of Trebizond_, but the last-named opera was never a
success in England, and he was not certain about the power of _La
Perichole_ to draw audiences in the provinces.

It was pleasant to Kate to hear her talent discussed, analyzed, set forth
in the works of great men, but her thought had now turned from her artistic
career to her domestic. She wanted to be married.

It had always been vaguely understood that they were to be married, that is
to say, it had been taken for granted that when a fitting occasion
presented itself they would render their cohabitation legal. This
understanding had satisfied her till now. In the first months, in the first
year after the escape from Hanley, her happiness had been so great that she
had not had a thought of pressing matters further. She had feared to do
anything lest she might destroy her happiness by doing so, and Dick, who
let everything slide until necessity forced him to take steps, had not
troubled himself about his marriage, although quite convinced that he would
end by marrying Kate. He had treated his marriage exactly as he did his
theatrical speculations.

'There is no hurry,' he answered her, and proposed that they should be
married in London.

'But why in London?'

He spoke of his relations and his friends. He would like Kate to know his
old mother.

'But, Dick, dear, why not at once? We're living in a life of sin, and at
times the thought of the sin makes me miserable.'

Out of his animal repose Dick smiled at the religious argument, and being
on the watch always for a sneer, the blood rushed to her face instantly and
she exclaimed:

'If you did seduce me, if you did drag me away from my peaceful home, if
you did make a travelling actress of me, you might at least refrain from
insulting my religion.'

Dick looked up, surprised. Kate had put down her knife and fork and was
pouring herself out a large glass of sherry. She was evidently going to
work herself up into one of her rages.

'I assure you, my dear, I never intended to insult your religion; and I
wish you wouldn't drink all that wine, it only excites you.'

'Excites me! What does it matter to you if I excite myself or not?'

'My dear Kate, this is very foolish of you. I don't see why--if you'll only
listen to reason----'

'Listen to reason!' she said, spilling the sherry over the table, 'ah! it
would have been better if I'd never listened to you.'

'You really mustn't drink any more wine; I can't allow it,' said Dick,
passing his arm across her and trying to take away the decanter.

This was the climax, and her pretty face curiously twisted, she screamed as
she struggled away from him:

'Leave me go, will you! leave me go! Oh! I hate you!' Then clenching her
teeth, and more savagely, 'No, I'll not be touched! No! no! no! I will
not!'

Dick was so astonished at this burst of passion that he loosed for a moment
the arms he was holding, and profiting by the opportunity Kate seized him
by the frizzly hair with one hand and dragged the nails of the other down
his face.

At this moment Montgomery entered; he stood aghast, and Kate, whose anger
had now expended itself, burst into a violent fit of weeping.

'What does this mean?' Montgomery said, speaking very slowly.

Neither answered. The man sought for words; the woman walked about the room
swinging herself; and as she passed before him Montgomery stopped her and
begged for an explanation. She gave him a swift look of grief, and breaking
away from him, shut herself in the bedroom.

'What does this mean?'

Dick looked round vaguely, astonished at the authoritative way the question
was put, but without inquiring he answered:

'That's what I want to know. I never saw anything like it in my life. We
were speaking of being married, when suddenly Kate accused me of insulting
her religion, and then--well, I don't remember any more. She fell into such
a passion--you saw it yourself.'

'Did you say you wouldn't marry her?'

'No, on the contrary. I can't make it out. For the last month her caprices,
fancies, and jealousies have been something awful!'

Montgomery made a movement as if he were going to reply, but checking
himself, he remained silent. His face then assumed the settled appearance
of one who is inwardly examining the different sides of a complex question.
At last he said:

'Let's come out for a walk, Dick, and we'll talk the matter over.'

'Do you think I can leave her?'

'It's the best thing you can do. Leave her to have her cry out,' and
adopting the suggestion, Dick picked up his hat, and without further words
the men went out of the house, walking slowly arm in arm.

'I cannot understand what is the matter with Kate. When I knew her first
she hadn't a bad temper.'

To this Montgomery made no answer. He was thinking.

After a pause Dick continued, as if speaking to himself:

'And the way she does badger me with her confounded jealousies; I'm afraid
now to tell a girl to move up higher on the stage. There are explanations
about everything, and I can't think what it's all about. She has everything
she requires. She hasn't been a year on the stage, and she's playing
leading parts, and scoring successes too.'

'Perhaps she has reasons you don't know of.'

'Reasons I don't know of? What do you mean?' 'Well, you haven't told me yet
what the row was about.'

'Tell you! That's just what I want to know myself.'

'What were you speaking about when it began?' asked Montgomery, who was
still feeling his way.

'About our marriage.'

'Well, what did you say?'

'What did I say? I really don't remember; the row has put it all out of my
head. Let me think. I was saying--I mean she was asking me when we should
be married.'

'And what did you say to that? Did you fix a day?'

'Fix a day!' said Dick, looking in astonishment at his friend. 'How could I
fix a day?'

'I think if I loved a woman and she loved me I could manage somehow to fix
a day.'

These words were spoken with an earnestness that attracted Dick's
attention, and he looked inquiringly at the young man.

'So you think I ought to marry her?'

'Think you ought to marry her?' exclaimed Montgomery indignantly; 'really,
Dick, I didn't think you were--Just remember what she's given up for you.
You owe it to her. Good heavens!'

'Well, you needn't get into a passion; I've had enough of passions for one
day.'

The impetuousness of the youth had struck through the fat nonchalance of
the man, and he said after a pause:

'Yes, I suppose I do owe it to her.'

The apologetic, easy-going air with which this phrase was spoken maddened
Montgomery; he could have struck his friend full in the face, but for the
sake of the woman he was obliged to keep his temper.

'Putting aside the question of what you owe and what you don't owe, I'd
like to ask you where you could find a nicer wife? She's the prettiest
woman in the company, she's making now five pounds a week, and she loves
you as well as ever a woman loved a man. I should like to know what more
you want.'

This was very agreeable to hear, and after a moment's reflection Dick said:

'That's quite true, my boy, and I like her better than any other woman. I
don't think I could get anything better. If it weren't for that infernal
jealousy of hers. Really, her temper is no joke.'

'Her temper is all right; she was as quiet as a mouse when you knew her
first. Take my word for it, there are excellent reasons for her being a bit
put out.'

'What do you mean?'

'Can't you guess?'

The two men stopped and looked each other full in the face, and then
resuming his walk, Montgomery said:

'Yes, it's so; she told me in the train coming up from Leamington.'

Tears glittered in Dick's eyes, and he became in that moment all pity,
kindness, and good-nature.

'Oh, the poor dear! Why didn't she tell me that before? And I'd scolded her
for ill-temper.'

His humanity was as large as his fat, and although he had never thought of
the joys of paternity, now, in the warmth of his sentiments, he melted into
one feeling of rapture. After a pause, he said:

'I think I'd better go back and see her.'

'Yes, I think you'd better; fix a day for your marriage.'

'Of course.'

Nothing further was said; each absorbed in different thoughts the two men
retraced their steps, and when they arrived at the door, Montgomery said:

'I think I'd better wish you good-bye.'

'No, come in, old man; she'd like to see you.'

And as if anxious to torture himself to the last, Montgomery entered. Kate
was still locked in the bedroom, but there was such an unmistakable accent
of trepidation and anxiety in Dick's fingers and voice that she opened
immediately. Her beautiful black hair was undone, and fell in rich masses
about her. Dick took her in his arms, and held her sobbing on his shoulder.
All he could say was, 'Oh, my darling, I'm so sorry; you will forgive me,
won't you?'

XIX

'Well, what are you going to give her? Do you see anything you like here?'

'Do you think that paper-cutter would do?'

'You can't give anything more suitable, ma'am. Then there are these
card-cases; nobody could fail to like them.'

'What are you going to give, Annie?'

'Oh, I'm going to give her the pair of earrings we saw yesterday; but if I
were you I wouldn't spend more than half a sovereign: it's quite enough.'

'I should think so indeed--a third of a week's screw,' whispered Dolly,
'but she ain't a bad one, and Dick will like it, and may give me a line or
so in _Olivette_. How do you think she'll do in the part?'

'We'll talk about that another time. Are you going to buy the
paper-cutter?'

Casting her eyes in despair around the walls of the fancy-goods shop to see
if she could find anything she liked better, Dolly decided in favour of the
paper-cutter and paid the money after a feeble attempt at bargaining.

In the street they saw Mortimer, who had now allowed his hair to grow in
long, snake-like curls completely over his shoulders.

'For goodness' sake come away,' cried Beaumont, 'I do hate speaking to him
in the street, everybody stares so.'

The girls turned to fly, but the heavy lead was upon them, and in his most
nasal tones said:

'Well, my dear young ladies, engaged in the charming occupation of buying
nuptial gifts?'

'How very sharp you are, Mr Mortimer,' answered Dolly in her pertest
manner; 'and what are you going to give? We should so much like to know.'

After a moment's hesitation he said, throwing up his chin after the manner
of a model sitting for a head of Christ:

'My dear young lady, you must not exhibit your curiosity in that way; it's
not modest.'

'But do tell us, Mr. Mortimer; you're a person of such good taste.'

The comic tragedian considered for a moment what he could say most
ill-natured and so get himself out of his difficulty.

'I tell you, young lady, I'm not decided, but I think that a copy of
Wesley's hymns bound up with the book of the _Grand Duchess_ might not
be inappropriate.'

'But how do you think she'll play the Countess?' asked Beaumont.

'Oh, we mustn't speak of that now she's going to be married,' and, thinking
he could not better this last remark, Mortimer bade the ladies good-bye and
went off with curls and coat-tails alike swinging in the breeze. Farther up
the street Beaumont and Dolly were joined by Leslie, Bret, and Dubois, and
the same topics were again discussed. 'What are you going to give?' 'Have
you bought your present?' 'Have you seen mine?' 'Do you know who's going to
be at the wedding breakfast? They can't ask more than a dozen or so.' 'Have
you heard that the chorus have clubbed together to buy Dick a chain?' 'It's
very good of them, but they'll feel hurt at not being asked to the
breakfast.' 'What will the Lennoxes do?' These and a hundred other
questions of a similar sort had been asked in the dressing-rooms, in the
wings, in the streets at every available moment since Morton and Cox's
_opera bouffe_ company had arrived in Liverpool. Everybody professed
to consider the event the happiest and most fortunate that could have
happened, but Mortimer's words, 'There's many a slip between the ring and
the finger,' recurred to them whenever the conversation came to a pause,
and they hoped the marriage might yet be averted, even when they stood one
bright summer morning assembled on the stage, awaiting the arrival of the
bride and bridegroom. The name of the church had been kept a secret, and
all that was known was that Leslie--who had joined another company in
Liverpool--Bret, Montgomery, and Beaumont had gone to attend as witnesses,
and that they would be back at the theatre at twelve to run through the
third act of _Olivette_ before producing it that night.

Many false alarms were given, but when at last the bridal party walked from
the wings on to the stage, Dick's appearance provoked a little good-natured
laughter, so respectable did he look in a spick-and-span new frock-coat and
his tall hat. Kate never looked prettier; Mortimer said her own husband
wouldn't know her.

She wore a dark green silk pleated down the front, from underneath which a
patent-leather boot peeped as she walked; a short jacket showed the drawing
of her shoulders, the delicacy of her waist, and the graceful fall of the
hips. She carried in her hand a bouquet of yellow and pink roses, a present
from Montgomery.

'Now, ladies and gentlemen, I won't detain you long, but do let us run
through the third act, so as to have it right for the night. Montgomery,
will you oblige me by playing over that sailor-chorus?'

Dick took the girls in sections and placed them in the positions he desired
them to hold.

'Now, then; enter the Countess. Who's in love with the Countess?'

'Well, if you don't know, I don't know who does,' said Mortimer. 'I hear
you've been swearing all the morning "till death do us part."'

A good deal of laughter greeted this pleasantry and Dick himself could not
refrain from joining in. At last he said:

'Now, Kate, dear, do leave off laughing and run through your song.'

'I-I-ca-n't--can-'t; you--you--are--t-t-too funny.'

'We shall never get through this act,' said Dick, who had just caught Miss
Leslie walking off with Bret into the green-room. Now, Miss Leslie, can't
you wait until this rehearsal is over?'

'They'll be late for church to-day; they may as well wait.'

Another roar of laughter followed this remark, and Kate said:

'You'd better give it up, Dick, dear; it will be all right at night. I
assure you I shall be perfect in my music and words.'

'I must go through the act. The principals are responsible for themselves,
but I must look to the chorus. Where's that damned property-master?'

On the subject of rehearsals Dick was always firm, and seeing that it could
not be shirked, the chorus pulled themselves together, and the act was run
through somehow. Then a few more invitations were whispered in the corners
on the sly, and the party in couples and groups repaired to the Lennoxes'
lodgings. Mortimer, Beaumont, Dick, and Kate walked together, talking of
the night's show. Dubois crushed his bishop's hat over his eyes, straddled
his ostler-like legs, and discussed Wagner's position in music with
Montgomery and Dolly Goddard. A baronet's grandson, a chorus singer, told
how his ancestor had won the Goodwood Cup half a century ago, to three
ladies in the same position in the theatre as himself. Bret and Leslie
followed very slowly, apparently more than ever enchanted with each other.

For the wedding breakfast, the obliging landlady had given up her own rooms
on the ground-floor. The table extended from the fireplace to the cabinet,
the panels of which Mortimer was respectfully requested not to break when
he was invited to take the foot of the table and help the cold salmon. The
bride and bridegroom took the head, and the soup was placed before them;
for this was not, as Dick explained, a breakfast served by Gunter, but a
dinner suitable to people who had been engaged for some time back. At this
joke no one knew if they should laugh or not, and Mortimer slyly attracted
the attention of the company to Bret and Leslie, who were examining the
cake.

Then all spoke at once of the presents. They were of all sorts, and had
come from different parts of the country. Mr. Cox had given a large diamond
ring. Leslie had presented Kate with a handsome inkstand. Bret had bought
her a small gold bracelet. Dubois, whose fancies were light, offered a fan;
Beaumont, a pair of earrings; Hayes, a cigarette case; Dolly Goddard, a
paper-knife; Montgomery, a brooch which must have cost him at least a
month's salary. Mortimer exclaimed that his wife had been behaving rather
badly lately, and that in consequence he had been unable to obtain from
her--what he had not been able to obtain Dick did not stop to listen to. At
that moment the gold chain, the present from the chorus, caught his eye.
The kindness of the girls seemed to affect him deeply, and, interrupting
Kate, who was thanking her friends for all their tokens of good-will, he
said:

'I must really thank the ladies of the chorus for the very handsome present
they made me. How sorry I am that they are not all here to receive my
thanks I cannot say; but those who are here will, I hope, explain to their
comrades how we were pressed for space.'

'One would think you were refusing a free admission,' snarled Mortimer.

'What a bore that fellow is!' whispered Dick to Mr. Cox, the proprietor of
the company, who had come down from London to arrange some business with
his manager.

'I'm sure, Mr. Lennox, we were only too glad to be able to give you
something to show you how much we appreciate your kindness,' said a tall
girl, speaking in the name of the chorus.

'We must have some fizz after the show to-night on the stage. What do you
think. Cox?' said Dick. 'And then I shall be able to express my thanks to
everyone.'

'And we must have a dance,' cried Leslie. 'My foot is all right now.'

Chairs had to be fetched in from the bedroom and even from the kitchen to
seat the fifteen people who had been invited. The ladies did not like
sitting together and the supply of gentlemen was not sufficient--drawbacks
that were forgotten when the first few spoonfuls of soup had been eaten and
the sherry tasted. The women examined Mr. Cox with looks of deep inquiry,
but his face told them nothing; it was grave and commercial, and he spoke
little to anyone except Kate and her husband. The baronet's son sat in the
middle of the table with the three chorus-girls, whom he continued to
pester with calculations as to how much he would be worth, but for his
ancestor's ambition to win the Derby with Scotch Coast. Leslie and Bret
were on the other side of the wedding cake, and they leant towards each
other with a thousand little amorous movements. Beaumont spoke of the
evening's performance, putting questions to Montgomery with a view to
attracting Mr. Cox's attention.

'Do you think, Mr. Montgomery, that to take an encore for my song will
interfere with the piece?'

'I never heard of a lady putting the piece before herself,' said
Montgomery, with a loud laugh, for he, too, was anxious to attract Mr.
Cox's attention, and availing himself of Miss Beaumont's question as a
'lead up,' he said, 'I hope that when my opera is produced I shall find
artists who will look as carefully after my interests.'

'But when will you have your opera ready?' Kate asked.

'My opera?' he said, as soon as she averted the brown eyes that burnt into
his soul. 'It's all finished. It's ready to put on the stage when Dick
likes.'

The ruse proved successful, for Mr. Cox, bending forward, said in an
interested voice:

'May I ask what is the subject of your opera, Mr. Montgomery?'

This was charming, and the musician at once proceeded to enter into a
complicated explanation, in which frequent allusion was made to a king, a
band of conspirators, a neighbouring prince, a beautiful daughter
unfortunately in love with a shepherd, and a treacherous minister. Beaumont
listened wearily, and, seeing that no mention she could make of her singing
would avail her, she commenced to fidget abstractedly with one of her big
diamond earrings. In the meanwhile Montgomery's difficulties were
increasing. To follow successfully the somewhat intricate story of king,
conspirators, and amorous shepherd a sustained effort of attention was
necessary, and this Dick, Kate, and Mr. Cox found it difficult to grant;
for in the middle of a somewhat involved bit--in which it was not quite
clear whether the king or the minister had entered disguised--the landlady
would beg to be excused--if they would just make a little way, so that she
might remove the soup.

This lady, in her Sunday cap, assisted by the maid-of-all-work, from whose
canvas-grained hands soap and water had not been able to extract the dirt,
strove to lift large dishes of food over the heads of the company. There
was a sirloin of beef that had to be placed before Mortimer. Then came two
pairs of chickens, the carving of which Dick had taken upon himself. A
piece of bacon with cabbage, and a pigeon-pie, adorned the sides of the
table. The cutlets were handed round; and for some time conversation gave
way to the more necessary occupation of eating. Even Bret and Leslie left
off billing and cooing; the grandson of the baronet, forgetful of his
family's misfortunes on the turf, dug vigorously into the pigeon-pie and
liberally distributed it. The clattering of knives and forks swelled into a
sustained sound, which was only broken by observations such as 'Thanks, Mr.
Lennox, anything that's handy--a leg, if you please.' May I ask you,
Montgomery, for a slice of bacon? No cabbage, thank you.' 'Mr. Mortimer, a
little more and some gravy; that'll do nicely.'

It was not until the first helping had been put away, and eyes began to
wander in search of what would be best to go on with, that conversation was
resumed. To Mortimer, who had had a good deal of trouble with the beef,
Dick said, 'I hope you are satisfied with your part, Mortimer, and that we
shall have some good roars. The piece ought to go with a scream.'

'I think I shall knock 'em this time, old boy,' said the comic man,
drawling his words slowly through his nose. 'It pretty well killed me when
I read it over to myself, so I don't know what it will be when I spit it
out at them.'

This was deemed unnecessarily coarse, and for a moment it was feared that
Mortimer was as drunk as Mr. Hayes, whose eyes were now beginning to blink
pathetically. He awoke up, however, with a start and a smile when the first
champagne cork went off, and holding out his glass, said, 'Shall be very
glad to drink your health, a wedding only comes once in a lifetime.'

Mortimer tried to turn the embarrassing pause that followed this remark to
his profit. The beef having kept him silent during the early part of the
dinner, he resolved now to prove what a humorist he was, and by raising his
voice he strove to attract the attention of the company to himself. This,
however, was not easily done. Dubois had begun to pinch the backside of the
canvas-handed maid, who was lifting a plate of custards over his head; but
these frivolities did not prevent him from discussing Carlyle's place in
English literature with the baronet's son on his left, and arguing from
time to time with Montgomery on his right against certain effects employed
by Wagner in his orchestration. Kate laid down her spoon and stared vaguely
into space and again laid her hand on Dick's.

The past seemed now to be completely blotted out. What more could she
desire? She would go on acting, and Dick would continue to love her. By
some special interposition of Providence all the hazards of existence over
which she might have fallen had been swept aside. What broader road could a
woman hope to walk in than the one that lay before her in all its clear and
bland serenity? God had been good to her! and He was going to be good to
her. What a tie the child would be, what an influence, what a source of
future happiness! They would work for their child; a boy or girl, which?
Would it not give them courage to work? Would it not give them strength to
live? It would be something to hope for. Oh, how good God had been to her;
and how wicked she had been to Him! Her heart filled with a fervour of
faith she had never felt before; and facing the gracious future which a
child and husband promised her, she offered up thanksgivings for her
happiness, which she accepted as eternal, so inherent did it seem in
herself.

'Oh, just look at him!' said Kate, waking up with a start from her
reveries. 'How can he make such a beast of himself?'

'Don't take any notice of him, dear; that's the best way.'

But Mortimer, who had been vainly struggling for the last five minutes to
draw Beaumont from the memory of a lord, Dubois from his Wagnerian
argument, and Bret and Leslie from their flirtation, now seized on poor
Hayes's drunkenness as a net wherein he could capture everybody. Raising
his voice so as to ensure silence, he said, addressing himself to Mr. Cox
at the other end of the table, 'How very affecting he is now, how severely
natural; the innocence of a young girl in her teens is not, to my mind,
nearly so touching as that of a boozer in his cups. Have you ever heard how
he fancied the waiter was calling him in the morning when the policeman was
hauling him off to the station?'

Mr. Cox had not heard; and the whole story of how they bumped in the hotel
door at Derby had to be gone through. Having thus got the company by the
ear, Mortimer showed for a long time no signs of letting them go. He went
straight through his whole repertoire. He told of a man who wanted to post
a letter, but not being able to find the letterbox, he applied to a
policeman. The bobby showed him something red in the distance, and
explained that that was the post. 'Keep the red in your eye, my boy,' said
the drunkard; and this he did until he found himself in a public-house
trying to force his letter down a soldier's collar. He had mistaken the red
coat for the pillar. This was followed by a story of a man who apologized
to the trees in St. James's Park, and explained to them that he had come
from a little bachelor's party, until he at last sat down saying, 'This is
no good; I mus-mush wait till the bloody pro-prochession has passed.' A
heavy digestive indifference to everything was written on each countenance;
and in the slanting rays of the setting sun the curling smoke vapours
assumed the bluest tints. Odours of spirits trailed along the tablecloth.
Disconnected fragments of conversation, heard against the uninterrupted
murmur of Mortimer's story-telling, struck the ear. The baronet's son was
now explaining to his three ladies that no woman could expect to get on in
life unless she were very immoral or very rich; Dubois argued across the
table with Leslie and Bret concerning the production of the voice: Beaumont
cast luminous and provoking glances at Mr. Cox, and tried to engage him in
conversation regarding the inartistic methods of most stage-managers in
arranging the processions.

'Dick, dear, the cake hasn't yet been cut.'

'No more it hasn't,' Dick answered, and when the white-sugared emblem of
love and fidelity was distributed, the wedding party awoke to a burst of
enthusiasm. Everyone suggested something, and much whisky and water was
spilt on the tablecloth.

But matters, although they were advanced a stage, did not seem to be much
expedited. The bride's health had to be drunk, and Dick had to return
thanks. He did not say very much, but his remarks concerning
_Olivette_ suggested a good deal of comment. Mortimer took a different
view of the question, and Dubois explained at length how the piece had been
done in France. Leslie insisted that Bret should say something; and once on
his legs, to the surprise of everybody, the silent tenor became
surprisingly garrulous.

It was Kate, however, who first guessed the reason of Montgomery's
despondency, and in pity for him, she made a sign to the ladies, and the
room was left to the flat chests and tweed coats. Montgomery prayed that
this after-dinner interval would not prove a long one, for he dreaded the
smutty stories. The baronet's son sprang off with a clear lead, watched by
Mortimer and Dubois. In the way of anecdotes these two would have been
rivals had it not been for the latter's fancy for more serious discussions.
Still, in the invention and collection of the most atrocious, they both
employed the energy and patience of the entomologist. A chance word, out of
which a racy story might be extracted, was pursued like a rare moth or a
butterfly. Dubois's were more subtle, but Mortimer's, being more to the
point, were more generally effective.

They waited eagerly for the baronet's son to conclude, and he had hardly
pronounced the last phrase when Mortimer, coming with a rush, took the lead
with 'That reminds me of--' Dubois looked discomfited, and settled himself
down to waiting for another chance. This, however, did not come just at
once; Mortimer told six stories, each nastier than the last. Everybody was
in roars except Montgomery and Dubois; whilst one thought of his opera, the
other searched his memory for something that would out-Mortimer Mortimer.
This was difficult, but when his turn came he surprised the company. Mr.
Cox leaned over the table with a glass of whisky and water in his hand
declaring that he had never spent so pleasant a day in his life: and thus
encouraged Dubois was just beginning to launch out into the intricacies of
a fresh tale when Montgomery, beside himself with despair, said to Dick:

'It was arranged that I should play the music of my new opera over to Mr
Cox. If you don't put a stop to this it will go on for ever.'

'Yes, my boy, it's getting a bit long, isn't it: just let Dubois finish and
we'll go upstairs.'

The story proved a weary one; but like a long railway journey it at last
drew to an end, and they went upstairs. There they found the ladies yawning
and looking at the presents. Kate ran to Dick to ask him to arrange about
the music, but Beaumont had been a little before her and had taken Mr. Cox
out on the balcony. Bret was not in the room; Leslie did not know the
music, and in the face of so many difficulties, Dick's attention soon began
to wander, and Kate was left to console the disappointed musician. Once or
twice she attempted to renew the subject, but was told that they were all
going down to the theatre in half an hour, and that it had better be put
off to another time.

Montgomery made no answer, but he could not cast off the bitter and
malignant thought that haunted him, 'I'm as unfortunate in art as in love.'

XX

The ebb of the company's prosperity dated from Kate's marriage. Somehow
things did not seem to go well after. In the first place the production of
_Olivette_ was not a success. Mortimer was drunk, did not know his
words, and went 'fluffing all over the shop.' Kate, excited with champagne
and compliments, sang the wrong music on one occasion; and to complete
their misfortunes, the Liverpool public did not in the least tumble to Miss
Beaumont's rendering of the part of the heroine. The gallery thought she
was too fat, the papers said she was not sprightly enough, and on Wednesday
night the old _Cloches_ had to be put up. By this failure the
management sustained a heavy loss. They had laid out a lot of money on
dresses, property and scenery, all of which were now useless to them; and
the other two operas were beginning to droop and lose their drawing power,
having been on the road for the last three years. The country, too, was
suffering from a great commercial crisis, and no one cared to go to the
theatre. In many of the towns they visited strikes were on, and the people
were convulsed with discussions, projects for resistance, and hopes of
bettering their condition. Great social problems, the tyranny of capital,
and such-like, occupied the minds of men, and there was naturally little
taste for the laughing nonchalance of _La Fille de Madame Angot_ or
the fooling of the Baillie in the _Cloches_. As forty thousand men had
struck work, our band of travelling actors rolled out of Leeds, and they
left it bearing with them only a reminiscence of empty benches, and
street-corners crowded with idling, sullen-faced men. At Newcastle they
were not more fortunate, at Wigan they fared even worse, and at Hull it was
equally bad. Gaiety seemed to have fled out of the North; the public-house
and the platform drew away the pit and the gallery; the frequenters of the
boxes and dress-circle remained at home, to talk around their firesides of
their jeopardized fortunes. When the workers grow weary of work a hard time
sets in for the sellers of amusement, and the fate of Morton and Cox's
Operatic Company proved no exception to the rule. Money was made nowhere,
and every Friday night a cheque for five-and-twenty pounds had to be sent
down from London to make up the deficit in the salary list. Nevertheless
for two months matters went on very smoothly. The remembrance of large
profits made in preceding years was still fresh in the minds of Messrs.
Morton and Cox, and they had not yet begun to grumble; but an
unintermittent drain of twenty-five to forty pounds a week keeps a man from
his sleep at night, and after a big failure in the city, in which Mr. Cox
was muleted to the extent of a couple of thousand pounds, he wrote to Dick
suggesting that he had better look out for another opera. This was welcome
news to Montgomery; but no sooner had Dick raised him to the seventh heaven
of bliss, than he had to knock him down to earth again: a letter arrived
from Mr. Cox, saying that no opera was to be put up; that it would be
useless to try anything new in such bad times; they had better try to
reduce expenses instead.

'Reduce expenses? How are we to reduce expenses except by cutting down the
salaries?'

'I'm sure I don't know,' said Montgomery; 'and the expense of mounting my
piece would be very slight.'

Without attempting to discuss so vain a question, Dick said, 'I must speak
to Hayes.'

But Hayes only pulled his silky whiskers, blinked his Chinese eyes, drank
three glasses of whisky, and changed the position of his black bag several
times, and the matter was scarcely alluded to again until the following
fortnight, when Dick found himself forced to write to Mr. Cox demanding a
cheque for thirty-five pounds, to meet Saturday's treasury and the current
expenses of the following week. The cheque arrived, but the letter that
came with it read very ominously indeed. It read as follows:

'DEAR MR. LENNOX,--I enclose you the required amount; but of course you
will understand that this cannot go on. I intend running down to see you on
Tuesday evening. Will you have the company assembled to meet me at the
theatre, as I have an important explanation to make to them.'

Dick had too much experience in theatrical speculations not to know that
this must mean either a reduction of salaries or a break-up of the tour;
but as two whole days still stood between him and the evil hour, it did not
occur to him to give the matter another thought, and it was not until they
returned home after the theatre, to prepare for the Sunday journey, that he
spoke to Kate of the letter he had received.

Their portmanteaus were spread out before them, and Kate was counting her
petticoats when Dick said:

'I'll tell you what, Kate, I shouldn't be surprised if the company broke up
shortly, and we all found ourselves obliged to look out for new berths.'

'What do you mean?' she said, with a startled look on her face.

'Well, only that I think that Morton and Cox are beginning to get tired of
losing money. As you know, we've been doing very bad business lately, and I
think they'll give us all the sack.'

'Give us all the sack!' Kate repeated.

'Yes,' said Dick, pursuing his own reflections 'I'm afraid it's so. It's a
deuced bore, for we were very pleasant together. But I don't think I showed
you the letter I got this morning. What's the matter, dear?'

Pale as the petticoat at her feet, Kate stood with raised eyebrows and
hands that twitched at the folds of her dress.

'Oh, Dick! what shall we do? We shall starve; we shan't have any place to
go to!'

'Starve!' said Dick in astonishment. 'Not if I know it. We shall easily
find something else to do. Besides, I don't care if he does break up the
tour. I believe there's a good bit of coin to be made out of the pier
theatre at Blackpool. I've been thinking of it for some time--with a good
entertainment, you know; and then there's the drama Harding did for me--a
version of Wilkie Collins's story--_The Yellow Mask_--devilish good it
is, too. I was reading it the other day. We might take a company out with
it. Let me see, whom could we get to play in it?' And, sitting over his
portmanteau, the actor proceeded to cast the piece, commenting as he went
along on the qualifications of the artists, and giving verbal sketches of
the characters in the play. 'Beaumont would play Virginie first rate, you
know--a strong, determined, wicked woman, who stops at nothing. I'd like to
play the father; Mortimer would be very funny as the uncle. We'll have to
write in something for you. You couldn't take the sympathetic little girl
yet; you haven't had enough experience.'

The expenses of scenery, properties, and posting were gone into, and while
listening to the different estimates Kate looked at her husband vaguely,
and plunged in a sort of painful wonderment, asking herself how standing on
the brink of ruin he could calmly make plans for the future. But to the
actor, whose life had never run for a year without getting entangled in
some difficult knot or other, the present hitch did not give the slightest
uneasiness. A strange town to face and half a crown in his pocket might
cause him some temporary embarrassment, but a hundred pounds at the bank,
and the notoriety of having been for two years the manager of a travelling
company, was to Dick an exceptionally brilliant start in life, and it did
not occur to him to doubt that he would hop into another shop as good as
the one he had left. But as the woman had been engaged in none of these
anxious battles for existence, the news of a threatened break-up of her
world fell with a cruel shock upon her, and she experienced in an
aggravated form the same dull nervous terror from which she had suffered in
the early days when she had first joined the company, but then the full
tide of love and prosperity bore their bark along, and quieted her fears.
But now in the first puff of the first squall she saw herself like one
wrecked and floating on a spar in a wide and unknown sea of trouble.
Sitting on the bed where she would never sleep again, she watched Dick
counting on his fingers and looking dreamily into the spaces of some
impossible future, and asked herself what was to become of them. For the
twentieth time since she had donned them the robes of the Bohemian fell
from her, and she became again in instincts and tastes a middle-class woman
longing for a home, a fixed and tangible fireside where she might sit in
the evening by her husband's side, mending his shirts, after the work of
the day. A bitter detestation of her wandering life rose to her head, and
she longed to beg of her husband to give up theatricals, and try to find
some other employment; and the next day it appeared to her more than
usually sinful to drive to the station as the church bells were chiming,
spending the hours, that should have been passed in praying, in playing
'nap,' smoking cigarettes, and talking of wigs, make-ups, choruses, and
such-like. But apparently there was no help for it, and on Monday night, in
her excitement, increased by the arrival of Mr. Cox, she could not help
getting out of bed to beseech God to be merciful to them; her husband's
heavy breathing often interrupted her, but it told her that he was her
husband, and that was her only consolation.

It astonished her that he could sleep as he did, having in front of him the
terrible to-morrow, when perhaps Mr. Cox would cast them adrift; and she
trembled in every fibre when she stood on the stairs leading to the
manager's room. There was a great crowd: the chorus-girls wedged themselves
into a solid mass, and murmured good-mornings to each other; Mortimer told
a long story from the top step; Dubois tried to talk of Balzac to
Montgomery, who listened, puzzled and interested, fancying it was a
question of a libretto; whilst Bret, till now silent as the dead, suddenly
woke up to the conclusion that it would probably all end in a reduction of
salaries. At last Dick appeared and called them into the presence of Mr.
Cox. Whisky and water was on the table, and with the silky whiskers plunged
in the black bag, Mr. Hayes fumbled aimlessly with many papers. The 'boss'
looked very grave and twitched at a heavy moustache; and when they were all
grouped about him, in his deepest and most earnest tones, he explained his
misfortunes. For the last four months he had been forced to send down a
weekly cheque of not less than five-and-twenty pounds; sometimes, indeed,
the amount had run up to forty pounds. This, of course, could not go on for
ever, he had not the Bank of England behind him. But talking of banks,
although there was no reason why he should inflict on them an account of
his bad luck, he could not refrain from saying that had it not been for a
certain bank he should be forced to ask them to accept half salaries. The
words brought a flush of indignation to Beaumont's cheeks. She made a
slight movement, as if she were going to repudiate the suggestion
violently, but the silence of those around calmed her, and she contented
herself with murmuring to Dolly:

'This is an old dodge.'

'I will leave you now,' said Mr. Cox, 'to consult among yourselves as to
whether you will accept my proposal, or if you would prefer me to break up
the tour at the end of the week, and pay you your fares back to London.'

As Mr. Cox left the room there was a murmur of inquiry from the chorus
ladies, and one or two voices were heard above the rest saying that they
did not know how they could manage on less than five-and-twenty shillings a
week. These objections were soon silenced by Dick, who in a persuasive
little speech explained that the reduction of salaries applied to the
principals only.

'Then why derange these ladies and gentlemen by asking them to attend at
this meeting?' said Mortimer.

To this question Dick made answer by telling the ladies and gentlemen of
the chorus they might withdraw, and the discussion was resumed by those
whom it concerned. Beaumont objected to everything. Bret spoke of going
back to Liverpool. Dubois explained his opinions on the management of
theatres in general, until Dick summoned him back to the point. Were they
or were they not going to accept half salaries? At length the matter was
decided by Mortimer getting upon a chair and shouting through his nose as
through a pipe:

'I don't know if you're all fond of hot weather, but if you are you'll find
it to your taste in London; all the theatres are closed, and the cats are
baking on the tiles.'

This brought the argument to a pause, during which Beaumont remembered that
grouse were shot in August, and settling her diamonds in her ears, she
agreed that the tour was to be continued. A few more remarks were made, and
then the party adjourned to a neighbouring 'pub.' to talk of _opera
bouffes_ and bad business.

The next places they visited were Huddersfield and Bradford, but the houses
they played to were so poor that Mr. Cox summoned a general meeting on the
Sunday morning, and told them frankly that he could not go on losing money
any longer; he would, however, lend them the dresses, and they might start
a commonwealth if they liked. After much discussion it was decided to
accept his offer, and the afternoon was spent in striving to decide how the
business was to be carried on. A committee was at last formed consisting of
Dick, Mortimer, Dubois, Montgomery, Bret, and Mr. Hayes, and they settled,
as they went on to Halifax by an evening train, that the chorus was, hit or
miss, to be paid in full, and the takings then divided among the principals
proportionately to the salary previously received.

In the face of the bad times it was a risky experiment, and Williams, the
agent in advance, was anxiously looked out for at the station. What did he
think? Was there a chance of their doing a bit of business in the town?
Were there bills up in all the public-houses? Williams did not at first
understand this unusual display of eagerness, but when the commonwealth was
explained to him, his face assumed as grey an expression as the pimples
would allow it. He shoved his dust-eaten pot-hat on one side, scratched his
thin hair, and after some pressing, admitted that he didn't think that they
would do much good in the place; as far as he could see, everybody's ideas
were on striking and politics; the general election especially was playing
the devil with managers; at least that was what the company that had just
left said.

This was chilling news, and, alas! each subsequent evening proved only the
correctness of Mr. Williams's anticipations. Seven-pound houses were the
rule. On Friday and Saturday they had two very fair pits, but this could
not compensate for previous losses, and in the end, when all expenses were
paid, only five-and-thirty shillings remained to be divided among the
principals. Their next try was at Oldham, but matters grew worse instead of
better, and on Saturday night five-and-twenty shillings was sorrowfully
portioned out in equal shares. It did not amount to much more than half a
crown apiece. Rochdale, however, was not far distant, and, still hoping
that times would mend, Morton and Cox's band of travelling actors sped on
their way, dreaming of how they could infuse new life into their mumming,
and whip up the jaded pleasure-tastes of the miners. But for the moment
comic songs proved weak implements in the search for ore, and the committee
sitting in the green-room, used likewise as a dressing-room by the two
ladies, counted out a miserable four-and-ninepence as the result of a
week's hard labour.

Beaumont fumed before the small glass, arranging her earrings as if she
anticipated losing them; Kate trembled and clung to her husband's arm,
Montgomery cast sentimental glances of admiration at her, and Mortimer
tried to think of something funny, while Dubois came to the point by
asking:

'Well, what are you going to do with that four-and-ninepence? It isn't
worth dividing. I suppose we'd better drink it.'

At the mention of drinks Mr. Hayes blinked and shifted the black bag from
the chair to the ground.

'Yes, that's easily arranged,' said Dick, 'but what about the tour? I for
one am not going on at four-and-ninepence a week.'

'Sp-pend--it--in drinks,' stuttered Mr. Hayes, awakening to a partial sense
of the situation.

Everybody laughed, but in the pause that ensued, each returned to the idea
that there was no use going on at four-and-ninepence a week.

'For we can't live on drink, although Beaumont can upon love,' said
Mortimer, determined to say something.

But the joke amused no one, and for some time only short and irrelevant
sentences broke the long silences. At last Dick said:

'Well, then, I suppose we'd better break up the tour.'

To this proposal no one made much objection. Murmurs came from different
sides that it was a great pity they should have to part company in this way
after having been so long together. Montgomery and Dubois contributed
largely to this part of the conversation, and through an atmosphere of
whisky and soap-suds arose a soft penetrating poetry concerning the
delights of friendship. It was very charming to think and speak in this
way, but all hoped, with perhaps the exception of Montgomery, that no one
would insist too strongly on this point, for in the minds of all new
thoughts and schemes had already begun to germinate. Mortimer remembered a
letter he had received from a London manager; Dubois saw himself hobnobbing
again with the old 'pals' in the Strand; Bret silently dreamed of Miss
Leslie's dyed hair and blue eyes, and of his chances of getting into the
same company.

'Then, if it is decided to break up the tour, we must make a subscription
to send the chorus back to London,' said Dick after a long silence.

Nobody till now had thought of these unfortunate people and their
twenty-five shillings a week, but always ready to help a lame dog over a
stile, Dick planked down two 'quid' and called on the others to do what
they could in the same way. Mr. Hayes strewed the table instantly with the
money he had in his pocket. Mortimer spoke about his wife and mentioned
details of an intimate nature to show how hard up he was; he nevertheless
stumped up a 'thin 'un.' Beaumont, rampant at the idea of 'parting,'
contributed the same; indignant looks were levelled at her, and Dick
continued to exhort his friends to be generous. 'The poor girls,' he
declared, 'must be got home; it would never do to leave them starving in
Lancashire.' Kate gave a sovereign of her savings, and in this way
something over ten pounds was made up; with that Dick said he thought he
could manage.

The trouble he took to manage everything was touching. On Sunday, when Kate
was at church, he was down at the railway station trying to find out what
were the best arrangements he could make. And on Monday morning when they
were all assembled on the platform to bid good-bye to their fellow-workers,
it was curious to see this huge man, who at a first impression would be
taken for a mere mass of sensuality, rushing about putting buns and
sandwiches in paper bags for his poor chorus-girls, encouraging them with
kind words, and when the train began to move, waving them large and
unctuous farewells with his big hat.

Since the first shock of the threatened break-up of the tour Kate had
gradually grown accustomed to the idea and now wept in silence. Without
precisely suffering from any pangs of fear for the future, an immense
sadness seemed to ache within her very bones. All things were passing away.
The flock of girls in whose midst she had lived was gone; a later train
would take Mortimer to London; Bret was bidding them good-bye; Beaumont was
consulting a Bradshaw. How sad it seemed! The theatre and artists were
vanishing into darkness like a dream. Not a day, nor an hour, could she see
in front of her.

'What shall we do now?' she whispered to Dick, as she trotted along by his
side.

'Well, I haven't quite made up my mind. I was thinking last night that it
wouldn't be a bad idea to make up a little entertainment--four or five of
us--and see what we could do in the manufacturing towns. Lancashire is, you
know, honeycombed with them. Our travelling expenses would amount to a mere
nothing. We must have someone to operate on the piano. I wonder if
Montgomery would care about coming with us.'

Kate thought that he would, and as she happened at that moment to catch
sight of the long tails of the Newmarket coat at the other side of the
station, she begged Dick to call to the erratic musician. No sooner was the
proposition put forward than it was accepted, and in five minutes they were
at luncheon in a 'pub,' arranging the details of the entertainment.

'We shall want an agent-in-advance, a bill-poster, or something of that
kind,' said Montgomery.

'I've thought of that,' replied Dick; 'Williams is our man, he'll see to
all that; and I don't know if you know, but he can sing a good song on his
own account.'

'Can he? Well, then, we can't have anyone better--and what shall we take
out?'

'Well, we must have a little operetta, and I don't think we can do better
than Offenbach's _Breaking the Spell_.'

'Right you are,' said Montgomery, pulling out his pocket-book. '_Breaking
the Spell_, so far so good; now we must have a song or a character
sketch to follow, and I don't think it would be a bad idea if we rehearsed
a comedietta. What do you say to _The Happy Pair_?'

'Right you are, pencil it down, can't do better, it always goes well; and
then I can sing between "The Men of Harlech."'

Montgomery looked a little awry at the idea of having to listen to 'The Men
of Harlech,' sung by Dick, but in the discussion that followed as to what
Kate was to do, 'The Men of Harlech' was forgotten.

As Dick anticipated, Williams declared himself delighted to accompany them
in the double capacity of bill-poster and occasional singer; and after a
fortnight's rehearsal at Rochdale, the Constellation Company started on its
wanderings. Many drinks had been consumed in seeking for the name; many
strange combinations of sound and sense had been rejected, and it was not
until Dick began to draw lines on a piece of paper, affixing names to the
end of each, that the word suggested itself. What joy! What rapture! A rush
was made to the printers, and in a few hours the following bill was
produced:

THE CONSTELLATION COMPANY.

MISS KATE D'ARCY.
*
|
MR. R. LENNOX.*-------* MR. P. MONTGOMERY.
|
*
MR. B. WILLIAMS.

XXI

As the Constellation Company drove to the station, Kate noticed that
Rochdale and Hanley were not unlike, and the likeness between the two towns
set her thinking how strange it was. Here was the same red town, narrow
streets, built of a brick that, under a dull sky, glared to a rich geranium
hue. The purplish tints of Hanley alone were wanting, but the heavy
smoke-clouds, and the tall stems of the chimneys, were as numerous in
Rochdale as in her native place. And, coincidence still more marvellous,
Nature had apparently aided and abetted what man's hand had contrived, for
in either town a line of hills swept around the sky. The only difference
was, that the characteristics of Rochdale were not so marked as those of
Hanley. The hills were not so high, nor were they in such close array as
those of the Staffordshire town, and the Lancashire valley was not so deep
and trench-like as the one that engirdles the potteries. It may be that as
much smoke hung over it, but the smoke did not seem so black and poisonous,
at least not to Kate's eyes; and, as the train sped along a high embankment
a group of factory chimneys emerged from a fold in the hills, and comparing
the two landscapes it seemed to her there were more fields in the
Lancashire valley, water-courses, trees and hedges--stunted hedges, it is
true--but she did not remember any hedges about Hanley. At one moment she
was minded to turn to Dick and to call his attention to the likeness in the
country they were travelling through to the country she had come from; had
she been alone with him she might have asked him, but he was now busy
talking of the comic songs and sketches in which they were to act. 'The
Mulligan Guards' was one of the items on their programme, and she and Dick
were going to sing it together. This would be the first time they had ever
sung together. Dick had very little voice, but he was a good actor, and she
thought they would be able to make a success of it. He called her attention
and the attention of the other members of the Constellation Company to the
scattered towns and villages they were passing through.

'The very country for our kind of entertainment,' he said; and all the
mummers rose from their seats and gazed at the wolds and factories. Under
the green waste of a wold a chimney had been run up; sheds and labourers'
cottages had followed, and in five years, if the factory prospered, this
beginning would swell into a village, in twenty it would possess twenty
thousand inhabitants; for just as in old times the towns followed the
castles, so do they now follow in the wake of the factories. The mummers
gaped and wondered at the arsenic green sides of the wolds, striped with
rough stone walls or blackened with an occasional coalpit, the ridges
fringed with trees blown thin by sea-breezes. In the distance, within the
folds of the hills, tall chimneys clustered and great clouds of smoke hung
listless in the still autumn air. Cold rays of sunlight strayed for a
moment on the dead green of the fields, pale as invalids enjoying the air
for the last time before a winter seclusion. And later on, when the light
mists of evening descended and bore away the landscape, the phantom shapes
of the wolds took on a strange appearance, producing in Kate a sensation of
mobility, which to escape from, for it frightened her, she turned to Dick
and asked how far they were from Bacup. He told her they would be there in
about half an hour, and half an hour afterwards Williams, who had gone on
in front, met them at the station, and began at once the tale of his
industry, saying that he had been in every public-house, and had stood at
the corners of all the principal streets distributing bills.

'I think we shall do pretty well,' he said; 'my only bit of bad news is
that I haven't been able to find any lodgings for you; there's but one
hotel, and all the rooms are taken.'

Dick, who on such occasions always took time by the forelock, insisted on
starting at once on their search--and up and down the murky streets of the
manufacturing town they walked until it was time for them to repair to the
Mechanics' Hall, where they were going to play, and get ready for the
entertainment.

'The Mulligan Guards' proved a great success, as did also the operetta,
_Breaking the Spell_. Kate's pretty face and figure won the hearts of
the factory hands, and she was applauded whenever she appeared on the
stage; and so frequent were the encores that it was half-past ten before
they had finished their programme, and close on eleven o'clock before they
got out of the hall into the street. Then the search for lodgings had to
begin again. Montgomery and Williams, being single men, obtained beds, but
Kate and Dick were not so easily satisfied, and they found themselves
standing under a porch with the lights going out on all sides, and the
prospect of spending a wet night in the street before them. At last Dick
bethought himself of the police station, but on applying to a policeman he
was directed to the backdoor of a public-house. 'He was pretty sure,'
whispered the boy in blue, 'to get put up there.' The door was opened with
precaution, and they were allowed in. The place was full of people; it took
them a long time to get served, and they were at length told that in the
way of a room nothing could be done for them. Every bed in the house was
occupied. Kate raised her eyes to Dick, but her look of misery was
anticipated by a rough-faced carter who stood at the counter.

'You bear up, little woman,' he said abruptly; 'don't yo' look so
froightent. Yo' shall both come up to my place, if yo' will; it isna up to
much, but oi'll do th' best I can for yo'.'

There was no mistaking the kindness with which the offer was made, though
the idea of going to sleep at this rough man's house for the moment
staggered even the mummer. But as it was now clear that they would have
either to accept their new friend's hospitality, or spend the night on the
doorstep, it did not take them long to decide on the former alternative.
Their only reason for hesitating was their inability to understand what
were his motives for asking them to come to his place. Then, as if divining
the reason of their uncertainty, he said:

'I know yo' well, tho' yo' don't know me. I was up at the 'all to-night,
and yo' did make me so laugh that I wouldna' see yo' in the streets for
nothing. Neaw, let it be yea or nay, master.'

For answer, Dick put out his hand; and when he had thanked the hospitably
inclined carter, put some questions to him about the entertainment. Soon
the two began to 'pal,' and after another drink they all went off together.

After wading down a few sloppy streets, he stopped before a low doorway,
and ushered them into what looked like an immense kitchen. They saw rafters
overhead and an open staircase ascending to the upper rooms, as a ladder
might through a series of lofts; and when a candle had been obtained, the
first thing their host did was to pull his wife out of bed, and insist on
his guests getting into it, a request which the woman joined in as heartily
as her husband as soon as the reason for this unceremonious awakening had
been explained to her. And so wearied out were Kate and Dick, and so
tempting did any place of rest look to them, that they could offer no
opposition to the kind intentions of their host and hostess, and they slept
heavily until roused next morning by a loud trampling of feet passing
through their room. It was the family coming down from the lofts above, and
as they descended the staircase they wished their guests a broad Lancashire
good-morning.

And when Kate and Dick had recovered from their astonishment, they dressed
and went out to buy some provisions, which they hoped to be allowed to cook
in the rough kitchen; but when they returned with their purchases they
found the carter's daughter standing before an elaborately prepared
breakfast, consisting of a huge beefsteak and a high pile of cakes.

'Lor, marm, why did yo' buy those things?' said the girl, disappointed.

'Well,' said Kate, 'we couldn't think of trespassing on you in that
fashion. You must, you will, I hope, let us prepare our own breakfast.'

'Feyther will never 'ear of it, I know,' said the girl; and immediately
after, the carter, with his brawny arms, pushed Kate and Dick down into two
seats at the big table. Both cake and meat were delicious, and Dick's
appetite showed such signs of outdoing the carter's that Kate, in the hope
of diverting attention, commenced an interesting conversation with the
buxom maiden by her side, and so successful were her efforts that a
friendship was soon established between the women; and, when the morning's
work was done, Mary, of her own accord, sought out Kate, and as she knitted
the thick woollen stocking, was easily led into telling the inevitable love
story.

We change the surroundings, but a heart bleeds under all social variations;
and in this grim manufacturing town when the bridal dress was taken out of
its lavender and darkness it seemed to possess a gleam of poetic whiteness
that it could not have had even if set off by the pleasant verdure of a
Devonshire lane.

'But you'll keep it for another; another will be sure to come by very
soon,' said Kate, trying to console.

'Nay, nay, I'll have no other,' said the girl. 'I'll just keep the dress
by; but I'll have no other.'

Then the talk hesitated and fell at last into a long narrative concerning
tender hopes and illusions to which Kate listened, as all women do, to the
story of heart-aches and deceptions; and in after years, when all other
remembrances of the black country were swept away, the remembrance of this
white dress remained.

From Bacup they went to Whitworth, a town in such immediate neighbourhood
that it might be called a suburb of the former place, and there they played
in the Co-operative Hall to an audience consisting of a factory man, two
children, and a postman who came in on the free list. This was not
encouraging; but they, nevertheless, resolved to try the place again; and
next day at dinner-time, as the 'hands' were leaving the factories, they
distributed some hundreds of bills. Dick said he should never forget it; to
watch Pimply Face cutting about, shoving his bills into the women's aprons,
was the funniest thing he had ever seen in his life. But their efforts were
all in vain. It rained, and not a soul came to see them; and, in addition
to their other troubles, they found Whitworth was an awkward place to stop
at. Dick and his wife had a room in a pub, but Montgomery and Williams had
to walk over each evening to sleep at Bacup. One day their landlady spoke
of Clayton-le-Moors, where, she said, a fair was being held, and she
advised the Constellation Company to try their entertainment there. This
was considered as a sensible suggestion, and the four mummers started for
the fair on the top of an omnibus with their wigs and dresses and make-ups
stuck under their legs. The weather at least was in their favour. The
sunlight rolled over the great white sides of the booths, Aunt Sallies were
being shied at, the pubs were all open, and a huge, rollicking population,
fetid with the fermenting sweat of the factories, was disporting on whisky
and fresh air. Never were the spirits of dejected strolling players buoyed
up with a fairer prospect of a harvest.

The next thing to do was to distribute the handbills, and find a place
where they could set up their show, and, to conduct their search more
thoroughly, they separated, after having decided on a tryst. In this way
the town was thoroughly ransacked; but it was not until Kate, who had gone
off on her own accord, learnt from the landlord of a public-house, where
she had entered to get a drink, that he had a large concert-room overhead,
that there seemed to be the slightest chance of the Constellation Company
being able to turn the joviality of the factory hands at the fair to any
account. Matters now seemed to be looking up, and a very neat little
arrangement was entered into with the proprietor of the pub. Four
entertainments of ten minutes each were to be given every hour, for each of
which the sum of threepence a head was to be charged, twopence to go to the
artists, a penny to the landlord, who would, of course, make his 'bit' also
out of the drink supplied. And what a success they had that day! Not only
did the factory hands come in, but they paid their threepence over and over
again. They seemed never to grow tired of hearing Dick and Kate sing 'The
Mulligan Guards,' and when she called out 'Corps' and he touched his cap,
and they broke into a dance, the delight of the workpeople knew no bounds,
and they often stopped the entertainment to hand up their mugs of beer to
the mummers with a 'Ave a soop, mon.'

From twelve o'clock in the day until eleven at night the affair was kept
going; Kate, Dick, and Williams dancing and singing in turn, and Montgomery
all the while spanking away at the dominoes. It was heavy work, but the
coin they took was considerable, and it came in handy, for in the next
three towns they did very badly. But at Padiham a curious accident turned
out in the end very luckily for them. There were but five people in the
house, one of whom was drunk. This fellow very humorously in the middle of
the entertainment declared that he was going to sing a song; he even wanted
to appropriate Williams's wig, and when Dick, who was always chucker-out on
such occasions, attempted to eject him, he climbed out of reach and lodged
himself in one of the windows. From there he proceeded to call to the
people in the street, and with such excellent result that they made L18 in
the hall during the evening.

This, and similar slices of good fortune, kept the Constellation Company
rolling from one adventure to another. Sometimes a wet day came to their
assistance; sometimes a dispute between some factory hands and the masters
brought them a little money. Their wants were simple; a bed in a pub, and a
steak for dinner was all they asked for. But at last, as winter wore on,
ill-fortune commenced to follow them very closely and persistently. They
had been to four different towns and had not made a ten-pound note to
divide between the lot of them. In the face of such adversity it was not
worth while keeping on; besides, Kate's expected confinement rendered it
impossible to prolong their little tour much farther. For these reasons,
one November morning the Constellation Company, hoping they would soon meet
again, under more auspicious circumstances, bade each other good-bye at the
railway station. Williams and Montgomery went to Liverpool, Kate and Dick
to make a stay at Rochdale, where they had heard that many companies were
coming. The companies came, it is true, but they were, unfortunately,
filled up, and Lennox and his wife could not get an engagement in any of
them. The little money saved out of their tour enabled them to keep body
and soul together for about a month; but in the fifth week they were
telling the landlady lies, and going through all the classic
excuses--expecting a letter every day, by Monday at the very latest, etc.
In the face of Kate's approaching confinement this was a state of things
that made even Dick begin to look anxiously round and fear for the safety
of the future. Kate, on the contrary, although fretted and wearied, took
matters more easily than might have been expected; and the changing of
their last ten shillings frightened her less than had the first
announcement of the possible breaking up of Morton and Cox's Operatic
Company. Bohemianism had achieved in her its last victory; and having
lately seen so many of the difficulties of life solving themselves in ways
that were inexplicable to her, she had unconsciously come to think that
there was no knot that chance, luck, or fate would not untie. Besides, her
big Dick's resources were apparently unlimited; the present weakness of her
condition tended to induce her to rely more than ever upon his protection;
and in the lassitude of weak hopes, she contented herself with praying
occasionally that all would yet come right. But her lover, although he told
her nothing of his fears, was not so satisfied. Never before had he been
quite so hard pressed. They now owed a week's rent, besides other small
debts; all of which they were unable to pay unless they pawned the
remainder of their clothes. He said it would be far better for them to go
to Manchester, leaving their things, to be redeemed some day, as a security
with the landlady--that is to say, if they failed to get out of the house
without being perceived by her. They still had half a crown, which would
pay Kate's railway fare, and as regards himself, Dick proposed that he
should do the journey on foot; he would be able to walk the distance easily
in three hours, and at eleven o'clock would join his wife at an address
which he gave her, with many injunctions as to the story that was to be
told to the landlady. So, as the clock was striking seven one cold winter's
morning, they stole quietly downstairs, Dick carrying a small portmanteau.
On the table of their room a letter was left, explaining that a telegram
received overnight called them to Manchester, but that they hoped to be
back again in a few days--a week at latest.

This assurance Dick considered would amply satisfy the old dame, and
holding the portmanteau on his shoulder with one arm, and supporting Kate
with the other, he made his way to the station.

The day had not yet begun to break. A heavy, sluggish night hung over the
town. The streets were filled with puddles and flowing mud; and Kate was
frequently obliged to stop and rest against the lamp-posts. She complained
of feeling very ill, and she walked with difficulty. In the straggling
light of the gas, Dick looked at her pale, pretty features, accentuated by
suffering; he felt that he had never known before how dearly he loved her,
and the pity for her that filled his heart choked him when he attempted to
speak: and his eyes misted with tears and he could not bring his mind to
leave her. He thought of the old dodge of travelling on the luggage, but
fearing that the woman to whose house they were going would not let them in
unless they had at least one portmanteau to show, he determined to adhere
to the original plan of sending Kate on in front; and although tortured by
many fears, he hid them, assuring her that their troubles would be over
once they set foot in Manchester: all he had to do was to go down to the
Theatre Royal to get an engagement. And he spoke so kindly that his
kindness seemed to repay her for her sufferings.

For some days past she had been subject to violent nauseas and acute pains,
and as she bade him goodbye out of the railway-carriage window, she had to
bend and press herself against it. And feeling he must encourage her he ran
along the platform till the train began to leave him behind, and he stopped
out of breath with a cloud of melancholy upon his cheeks, generally so
restful in a happy animalism--yet the fat hand lifted the big-brimmed black
felt hat, the frizzly curls blew in the cold wind, the train oscillated and
then rolled and disappeared round a bend in the line.

That was all. What had been done was over, as completely as the splash made
by a stone dropped into a well, and the actor awoke to a feeling that
something new had again to be begun.

After descending the steps of the station, he asked to be directed, and for
a long time his way lay through a street, made by red brick houses with
stucco porches; but at length these commenced to divide into cottages, and
after many inquiries, he was shown into what he was told was an old Roman
road, called 'Going over Tindel.' The wind blew bitterly, and against a
murky sky the fretted trees on the higher ridges were like veils of grey
lace.

Walking was not Dick's forte, and leaning against a farm gate, his eyes
embraced the wild black scenery, and remembrances of the Hanley hills
drifted through his thoughts. There were the same rolling wastes, and like
the pieces on a chess-board the factory chimneys appeared at irregular
intervals. But these topographical similarities attracted Dick only so far
as they filled his mind with old memories and associations, and his
thoughts flowed from the time he had stood with his wife at the top of
Market Street to the present hour. He neither praised nor blamed himself.
He accepted things as they were without criticism, and they appeared to him
like a turgid dream swollen and bleak as the confused expanse of distance
before him.

The stupor into which he occasionally fell endured until a quick thought
would strike through the mental gloom that oppressed him, and relinquishing
the farm gate he would moodily resume his walk through the heavy slosh of
the wet roads. As he did so the vision of Kate's pain-stricken face haunted
him, and at every step his horror of the danger she ran of being taken ill
before arriving in Manchester grew darker, and he toiled up hill after
hill, yearning to be near her, desiring only the power to relieve and to
help. Often the intensity of his longing would force him into a run, and
then the farm labourers would turn from their work to gaze on this huge
creature, who stood on a hill-top wearily wiping his forehead.

And then he grew sick of the long, staring, rolling landscape, with its
thousand sinuosities, its single trees, its detailed foreground of scrub,
hedges, brooks, spanned by small brick bridges, the melting distance, the
murky sky, the belching chimneys: he asked himself if it would never end,
if it would never define itself into the streets of Manchester. And as he
descended each incline his eyes searched for the indication of a town,
until at last he saw lines of smoke, factories, and masses of brick on his
left, and he hastened.

All the markings of the way were looked forward to, the outlying streets
seemed endless, and so great was his hurry that before he discovered he was
in Oldham, he had walked into the middle of the town.

His disappointment was bitter indeed, almost unbearable, and for the moment
he felt that he could go no farther; his courage was exhausted, it was
impossible he could face that bleak mocking landscape again. Besides, he
was fainting for want of food. Had he possessed a few pence to treat
himself to a glass of beer and a bit of bread and cheese, he thought he
would be able to pull himself together and make another effort; but he was
destitute. Still, he was forced to try again. The thought of Kate burned in
his brain, and after having inquired the way, with weary and aching feet he
once more trudged manfully on. A fretful suspicion now haunted him that she
might not find the landlady as agreeable as would under the circumstances
be desirable, and he reasoned with himself as he crossed into the open
country, until anxiety became absorbed by fatigue. Of every passer-by did
he ask the way, and as he passed the stately villas Dick felt that had
there been much farther to walk he would have had to beg a lift from one of
the waggoners who passed him constantly driving their heavy teams. But he
was now in Manchester, and wondering if he had taken longer to walk than he
had expected, he looked into the shop windows in search of a clock, and
when he rang at the door of the lodging-house his heart beat as rapidly as
the jangling bell that pealed through the house The maid who answered the
door told him that she knew of no such person and was about to shut the
door in his face, but Dick's good-natured smile compelled her into parley,
and she admitted that, having been out on an errand, she had not seen the
missus since ten o'clock. A lady might have called, but she wasn't in the
house now; they were as full as they could hold.

'And are you certain that a lady might have called about ten or half-past
without your having seen her?'

'I was out on a herrant at that time, so I'm sure she might, for missus
wouldn't mind to tell me if I wasn't to get rooms ready for her.'

'And what would your mistress do in the case of not being able to supply a
lady with rooms?'

'I should think she would send round to Mrs. ---- well--I don't remember
right the name.'

'Do you know the address?'

'I know it's behind the station, one of those streets where--nay--but I
don't think I could direct you right.'

'Then what shall I do?'

'Missus will be in shortly. If you'll take a seat in the 'all--I can't ask
you into any other room, they're all occupied.

There was nothing to do but to accept, and after having asked when the
landlady might be expected in, and receiving the inevitable 'Really
couldn't say for certain, sir, but I don't think she'll be long,' he sat
down in a chair, weary and footsore; there were times when struck by a
sudden thought he would make a movement as if to start from his seat; but
instantly remembering his own powerlessness, he would slip back into his
attitude of heavy fatigue. In the dining-room the clock ticked, and he
listened to the passing of the minutes, tortured by the idea that his wife
was suffering, dying, and that he was not near to help, to assist, to
assuage. He forgot that they were penniless, homeless; all was lost in a
boundless pity, and he listened to the footsteps growing sharper as they
approached, and duller as they went. At last the sound of the latchkey was
heard in the lock, and Dick started to his feet. It was the landlady.

'Have you seen my wife?'

'Yes, sir,' exclaimed the astonished woman; 'she was here this morning; all
our rooms are let, so I couldn't----'

'Where has she gone to, do you know?'

'Well, sir, I was going to say, she asked me if I could recommend her to
some quiet place, and I sent her to Mrs. Hurley's.'

'And will you give me Mrs. Hurley's address?'

'Yes, sir, certainly; but if I may make so bold, you're looking very
tired--may I offer you a glass of beer? And Mrs. Lennox is looking very bad
too, she is--'

'I'm much obliged, but I've no time; if you'd give me the address....'

No sooner were the words spoken than, forgetful of his aching feet, Dick
rushed away, and dodging the passers-by he ran until he laid hands on the
knocker and bell in question.

'Is Mrs. Lennox staying here?' he asked of the lady who opened the door.

'There was a lady of that name who inquired for rooms here this morning.'

'And isn't she here? Why didn't she take the rooms?'

'Well, sir, she said she was expecting to be confined, and I didn't care to
have illness in my house.'

'You don't mean to tell me that you turned her out? Oh, you atrocious--! If
you were a man....'

Overpowered with rage he stopped for words, and the woman, fearing he would
strike her, strove to shut the door. But Dick, with his thick leg,
prevented her, and at this moment they were joined by the maid, who

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