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A Mummer's Wife by George Moore

Part 6 out of 8

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screamed over her mistress's shoulder:

'The lady said she would come round here in a couple o' hours' time to ask
for you, and I advised her to try for rooms at No. 28 in this street.
You'll find her there.'

This was enough for Dick, and loosing his hold on the door he made off;
streets, carriages, passers-by, whirled before his eyes.

'Is Mrs. Lennox here?' he asked so roughly when the door was opened, that
the maid regretted having said yes as soon as the word had passed her lips.

'On what floor?'

'The first, sir; but you'd better let me go up first. Mrs. Lennox is not
very well; she's expecting her husband.'

'I'm her husband.'

And on that Dick rushed at the staircase. A few strides brought him on to
the first landing; but a sudden disappointment seized him--the sitting-room
was empty. Thinking instantly of the bedroom, he flung open the door, and
there he saw Kate sitting on the edge of the bed rocking herself to and
fro. She rose to her feet and the expression of weary pain was changed to
one of joy as she fell into Dick's arms.

'I thought you'd never come, and they would take me in nowhere.'

'Yes, my darling, I know all about it; I know all.'

He laid kisses on the rich black-blue hair and the pale tired face; he felt
light hands resting on him; she felt strong arms clasped about her, and
each soul seemed to be but the reflection of the other, just as the sky and
the sea are when the sun is at its meridian.

Then, as this brief but ineffable moment of spiritual unison faded words
returned to them, and Kate spoke of all she had suffered. She whispered the
story she had told the landlady, and how she had ordered a big dinner, and
everything of the best, so that they might not be suspected of being hard
up. Dick approved of these arrangements; but just as he smacked his lips, a
foretaste of the leg of mutton in his mouth, Kate uttered a sort of low
cry, and turning pale, pressed her hands to her side. A sharp pain had
suddenly run through her, and as quickly died away; but a few minutes after
this was succeeded by another, which lasted longer and gripped her more
acutely. Supporting her tenderly he helped her across the room and laid her
on the bed. There she seemed to experience some relief; but very soon she
was again seized by the most acute pangs. It seemed to her that she was
bound about with a buckler of iron, and frightened Dick rang for the
landlady. The worthy woman saw at a glance what was happening, and sent him
off, weary as he was, to fetch a doctor and the needful assistance.

XXII

The doctor and nurse arrived almost simultaneously and passed into the
sick-room, bidding Dick, who came running upstairs a moment after, be of
good cheer. The mummer took his hat from his head and stood for a moment
staring vacantly at the bedroom door, as if striving to read there the
secrets of life, birth, and death. Then he remembered how tired he was, and
with a large movement of fatigue he sat down on the sofa. A gloomy yellow
sky filled the room with an oppressive and mournful twilight, and to
relieve his aching feet Dick had kicked off his shoes, and with his folded
arms pressed against his stomach he sat hour after hour, too hungry to
sleep, listening to the low moaning that came through the chinks of the
door. He appeared to be totally forgotten; voices whispered on the
staircase, people passed hurriedly through the sitting-room, but none asked
him if he wanted anything: no one even noticed him, and when the landlady
lighted the gas she uttered a cry of astonishment, as if she had discovered
an intruder in the room.

'Oh, lawks! Mr. Lennox, we'd forgotten all about you, and you sittin' there
so quiet. But your wife is getting on nice; she has just had a cup of
beef-tea: in about another couple of hours it will be all over.'

'Is she suffering much?'

'Well, sir, yes, I wouldn't consider it an easy confinement; but I think it
will be all right: you'll see your wife and child alive and well to-morrow
morning.'

Dick could not help doubting the truth of the woman's statement unless she
came to his assistance with food. Although almost starving, he was afraid
to call for dinner lest she should ask him for some money in advance, but
at that moment a cramp seized him, and turning pale he had to lean over the
table to suppress the moan which rose to his lips.

'What's the matter, sir? You look quite ill,' the woman asked.

'Oh, 'twas only a sudden pain,' Dick said, making an effort to recover
himself. 'I've eaten nothing all day--have had no time, you know.'

'Then we shall have you laid up as well as your wife, and there's the leg
of mutton she ordered stewing away all these hours. I'm afraid you won't be
able to eat it?'

Absurd as the question appeared to him, Dick answered adroitly:

'It will do very well, if you'll bring it up as soon as you can; I may have
to go out.'

This was intended as a ruse to deceive the landlady, for so tired was he
that had it been to save Kate's life he did not think he would have walked
downstairs. He could think of nothing but putting something into his
stomach, and hard and dry as the mutton was it seemed to him the most
delicious thing he had ever tasted. His pain melted away with the first
mouthful, and the glass of beer ran through and warmed his entire system.
Down the great throat the victuals disappeared as if by magic, and the
unceasing cry that seemed now to fill the entire house passed almost
unheeded.

For a moment he would listen pityingly, and then like an animal return to
his food. He cut slice after slice from the joint, and as his hunger seemed
to grow upon him he thought he could finish it, and even longed to take the
bone in his hand and pick it with his teeth; but he reasoned with himself;
it would not do to let the landlady suspect they had no money, and as he
gazed at the last potato, which he was afraid to eat, he considered what he
should say in apology for his appetite; but as he sought for a nice phrase,
something pleasantly facetious, he remembered that he would have to find
money and at once; he must have some no later than to-morrow. There were a
thousand things that would have to be paid for--the baby's clothes, the
cradle, the--he tried to think of what was generally wanted under such
circumstances, but the cries in the next room, which had gradually swelled
into shrieks, appalled him, and involuntarily the thought struck him that
there might be a funeral to pay for as well as a birth.

At that moment the bell tinkled, and the maid came running up. She carried
a jug of hot water and flannels in her hand, and pushing past him she
declared that she hadn't a moment. The door of the bedroom was ajar; a fire
burned, candles flared on the mantelpiece, a basin stood on the floor, and
at times nothing was heard but a long moan, mingling with the murmuring
voices of the doctor and nurse.

The room seemed like a sanctuary in which some mysterious rite was being
performed. But suddenly the silence was broken by shrieks so passionate and
acute that all the earlier ones were only remembered as feeble
lamentations.

Dick raised his big face from his hands, the movement threw back the mass
of frizzly hair, and in the intensity of this emotion he looked like a
lion.

'Was this life,' he asked himself, 'or death? And by whose order was a
human creature tortured thus cruelly?' But the idea of God did not arrest
his attention, and his thoughts fixing themselves on the child, he asked
himself, what was this new life to him?

'Oh, I never will again! Oh, how I hate him--I could kill him! I'll never
love him, never no more.'

The cry touched the fat mummer through all the years of gross sensuality,
through the indigestion of his big dinner, and, struck by the sense of her
words, he shuddered, remembering that it was he who was the cause of this
outrageous suffering and not the innocent child. Was it possible, he asked
himself, that she would never love him again? He didn't know. Was it
possible that he was culpable? Strange notions respecting the origin, the
scheme, the design of the universe, flashed in dim chiaro-oscuro through
his thoughts, and for a full hour Dick pondered, philosopher-like, on the
remote causes and the distant finalities of men and things.

An hour full of moans and cries of suffering, then a great silence came,
and the whole house seemed to sigh with a sense of relief.

'The baby must be born,' he said; and immediately after a little thin cry
was heard, and in his heart it was prolonged like a note of gladness, and
his thoughts became paternal.

He wondered if it were a girl or a boy; he fancied he'd like a girl best.
If she were pretty, and had a bit of a voice, he'd be able to push her to
the front, whereas with a boy it would be more difficult. Relinquishing his
dreams at this point, Dick listened to the silence. He did not dare to
knock at the door, but the murmur of satisfied voices assured him that all
was right. Still it was very odd that they did not come out and announce
the result to him. Did he count for nobody? Did they fancy that it was
nothing to him if his wife and child were dead or alive? The idea of being
thus completely unconsidered in an affair of such deep concern irritated
him, and he walked towards the sofa to brood over his wrongs. Should he, or
should he not, knock at the door? At last he decided that he should, and,
after a timid rap, tried the handle. He was immediately confronted by the
nurse.

'It's all right, sir; you shall come in in a moment when the baby is
washed.'

'Yes, but I want to know how my wife is.'

'She's doing very well, sir; you shall see her presently.'

The door was then gently but firmly closed, and Dick was kept waiting, and
almost collapsing he staggered into the room when the nurse called for him
to come in.

Kate lay amid the sheets pale and inert, her beautiful black hair making an
ink stain on the pillows. She stretched an exhausted hand to him, and
looked at him earnestly and affectionately. To both of them their lives
seemed completed.

'Oh, my darling, my darling!' he murmured; and his heart melted with
happiness at the faint pressure of fingers which he held within his. The
nurse standing by him held something red wrapped up in flannels. He
scarcely noticed it until he heard Kate say:

'It's a little girl. Kiss it, dear.'

He awkwardly touched with his lips the tiny whining mass of flesh the nurse
held forward, feeling, without knowing why, ashamed of himself.

'Hearing that madam was taken all unexpected, I brought these flannels with
me,' said the large woman with the long-tailed cap; 'but to-morrow I can
recommend you, if you like, sir, to a shop where you can get everything
required.'

This speech brought Dick with a cruel jerk to the brink of the atrocious
situation in which he had so unexpectedly found himself. To-morrow he would
have to find money, and a great deal too. How he was going to do it he did
not know, but money would have to be found.

'Yes, yes, I'll see to all that to-morrow,' he said, awakening from his
lethargy, like a jaded horse touched in some new place by the spur, 'but
now I'm so tired I can scarcely speak.'

'That's so,' said the landlady. 'These walking tours is dreadful. He's been
over from Rochdale to-day, not counting the runnin' about he did after his
wife. You know they refused to take her in at number fifteen. But, sir, I
don't well know how we shall manage. I don't see how I'm to offer you a
bed. The best I can do for you is to make you up something on the sofa in
the parlour.'

'Oh, the sofa will do very well. I think I could sleep on the tiles; so
good-night, dear,' he said as he leaned over and kissed his wife; 'I'm
sorry to leave you so soon.'

'It isn't a bit too soon,' said the doctor. 'She must lie still and not
talk.'

On this Dick was led away. The nurse and doctor consulted by the bed where
the woman would lie for days, too weak even to dream, while the man went
off into the Manchester crowd to search for food. Beyond the bare idea of
'going down to see what they were doing at the theatre,' he had no plans.
The scavenger dog that prowls about the gutter in search of offal could not
have less. But he felt sure that something would turn up; he was certain to
meet someone to whom he could sell a piano or for whom he could build a
theatre. He never made plans. There was no use in making plans; they were
always upset by an accident. Far better, he thought, to trust to the
inspiration of the moment; and when he awoke in the morning, heavy with
sleep, he felt no trepidation, no fear beyond that of how he should get his
sore feet into his shoes. It was only with a series of groans and curses
that he succeeded in doing this, and the limps by which he proceeded down
the street were painful to watch. At the stage-door of the Theatre Royal a
conciliatory tone of voice was mechanically assumed as he asked the porter
if Mr. Jackson was in. But before the official could answer, Dick caught
sight of Mr. Jackson coming along the passage.

'How do you do, old man? Haven't seen you for a long time.'

'What, you, Dick, in Manchester? Come and have a drink, old man. Very glad
to see you. Stopping long here?'

'Well, I'm not quite decided. My wife was confined, you know, last night.'

'What! you a father, Dick?'

Mr. Jackson leered, poked him in the ribs, and commenced a list of
anecdotes. To these Dick had to listen, and in the hopes of catching his
friend in an unwary moment of good-humour, he laughed heartily at all the
best points. But digressive as conversation is in which women are
concerned, sooner or later a reference is made to the cost and the worth,
and at last Mr. Jackson was incautious enough to say:

'Very expensive those affairs are, to be sure.'

This was the chance that Dick was waiting for, and immediately buttonholing
his friend, he said:

'You're quite right, they are: and to tell you the truth, old man, I'm in
the most devilish awkward position I ever was in my life. You heard about
the breaking up of Morton and Cox's company? Well, that left me stranded.'

At the first words gaiety disappeared from Mr. Jackson's face, and during
Dick's narrative of the tour in Lancashire he made many ineffectual
wriggles to get away. Dick judged from these well-known indications that to
borrow money might be attended with failure, and after a pathetic
description of his poverty he concluded with:

'So now, my dear fellow, you must find something for me to do. It does not
matter what--something temporary until I can find something better, you
know.'

It was difficult to resist this appeal, and after a moment's reflection Mr.
Jackson said:

'Well, you know we're all made up here. There's a small part in the new
drama to be produced next week; I wouldn't like to offer it as it is, but I
might get the author to write it up.'

'It will do first rate. I'm sure to be able to make something of it. What's
the screw?'

'That's just the point. We can't afford to pay much for it; our salary list
is too big as it is.'

'What did you intend giving for it?'

'Well, we meant to give it to a super, but for you I can have it written
up. What do you say to two-ten?'

Dick thought it would be judicious to pause, and after a short silence he
said:

'I've had, as you know, bigger things to do; but I'm awfully obliged to
you, old pal. You're doing me a good turn that I shan't forget; we can
consider the matter as settled.'

This was a stroke of luck, and Dick congratulated himself warmly, until he
remembered that AL2 10s. at the end of next week did not put a farthing
into his present pocket. Money he would have to find that day, how he did
not know. He called upon everybody he had ever heard of; he visited all the
theatres and ball-rooms, drank interminable drinks, listened to endless
stories, and when questioned as to what he was doing himself, grew
delightfully mendacious, and, upon the slight basis of his engagement for
the new drama at the Royal, constructed a fabulous scheme for the
production of new pieces. In this way the afternoon went by, and he was
beginning to give up hopes of turning over any money that day, when he met
a dramatic author. After the usual salutations--' ow do you do, old boy?
How's business?' etc.--had been exchanged, the young man said:

'Had a bit of luck; just sold my piece--you know the drama I read you, the
one in which the mother saves her child from the burning house?'

'How much did you get?'

'Seventy-five pound down, and two pounds a night.'

At the idea of so much money Dick's eyes glistened, and he immediately
proceeded to unfold a scheme he had been meditating for some time back for
the building of a new theatre. The author listened attentively, and after
having dangled about the lamp-post for half an hour, they mutually agreed
to eat a bit of dinner together and afterwards go home and read another new
piece that was, so said the fortunate author, a clinker. No better excuse
than his wife's confinement could be found for fixing the meeting hour at
the young man's lodging, and in the enthusiasm which the reading of the
acts engendered, it was easy for Dick to ask for, and difficult for his
friend to refuse, a cheque for L15.

XXIII

In about a week Kate was sufficiently restored to sit up in bed. Her very
weakness and lassitude were a source of happiness; for, after long months
of turmoil and racket, it was pleasant to lie in the covertures, and suffer
her thoughts to rise out of unconsciousness or sink back into it without an
effort. And these twilight trances flowed imperceptibly into another
period, when with coming strength a feverish love awoke in her for the
little baby girl who lay sleeping by her side. And for hours in the
reposing obscurity of the drawn curtains mother and child would remain
hushed in one long warm embrace. To see, to feel, this little life moving
against her side was enough. She didn't look into the future, nor did she
think of what fate the years held in store for her daughter, but content,
lost in emotive contemplation, she watched the blind movements of hands and
the vague staring of blue eyes. This puling pulp that was more intimately
and intensely herself than herself developed strange yearnings in her, and
she often trembled with pride in being the instrument through which so much
mystery was worked; to talk to herself of the dark dawn of creation, and of
the day sweet with maternal love that lay beyond, was a great source of
joy; to hear the large, hobbling woman tell of the different babies she had
successfully started that year on their worldly pilgrimage never seemed to
weary her. She interested herself in each special case, and when the nurse
told her she must talk no more she lay back to dream of the great boy with
the black eyes who had so nearly been the death of his little flaxen haired
mother.

She felt great interest in this infant, who, if he went on growing at the
present rate, it was prophesied would be in twenty years' time the biggest
man in Manchester. But the nurse admitted that all the children were not so
strong and healthy. Indeed, it was only last week that a little baby she
had brought into the world perfectly safely had died within a few days of
its birth, for no cause that anyone could discover; it had wilted and
passed away like a flower. The tears rolled down Kate's cheeks as she
listened, and she pressed her own against her breast and insisted on
suckling her infant although expressly forbidden to do so by the doctor.

These days were the best of her life. She felt more at peace with the
world, she placed more confidence in her husband than she had ever done
before; and when he came in of an afternoon and sat by her side and talked
of herself and of their little baby, softened in all the intimate fibres of
her sex, she laid her hand in his, and sighed for sheer joy. The purpose of
her life seemed now to show a definite sign of accomplishment.

The only drawback to their happiness was their poverty. The fifteen pounds
of borrowed money had gone through their hands like water, and God knows
what would have become of them if Dick had not been fortunate to make
another tenner by looking after a piece given at a morning performance.
What with the doctor's bills, the nurse's wages, the baby's clothes, they
were for ever breaking into their last sovereign. Dick spoke of their
difficulties with reluctance, not wishing to distress her, but he felt he
must rouse her out of the apathy into which she had fallen, and he begged
of her to take the next engagement he could find for her. It seemed to him
that she was now quite well, but when he pressed for a promise the first
time she answered: 'Yes, Dick, I should like to get to work again,' but
when he came to her with a proposal of work, she was quick to find excuses.
The baby was foremost among them; she did not like to put the child out to
nurse. 'If the child were to die, I should never forgive myself,' she would
say. 'Don't ask me, Dick, don't ask me.'

'But, Kate, we cannot go on living here on nothing. We owe the landlady for
three weeks.'

At these words Kate would burst into tears, and when he succeeded in
consoling her she would remind him that if she went back to work before she
was quite well she might be laid up for a long time, which would be much
worse than the loss of a miserable three or four pounds a week. To convince
Dick completely she would remind him that as she had been playing leading
parts it would not be wise to accept the first thing she could get. 'If one
lets oneself down, Dick, in the profession, it's difficult to get up
again.'

'Well, dear,' Dick would answer, 'I must try and find something to do
myself. You shall not be asked again to go back to work until you feel like
it. When you come to tell me that you're tired of staying at home.

'Don't speak like that, Dick, for it seems as if you were laying blame upon
me, and I'm not to blame. You will be able to judge for yourself when I'm
fit to go back to work, and one of these days you will come with the news
of a leading part.'

Accompanying him to the door she said she would like to return to the stage
in a leading part, but not in any of the parts she had already played in,
but in something new. These objections and excuses brought a cloud into
Dick's face which she did not notice, but when he had gone she would begin
to think of his kindness towards her and of what she could do to reward
him. His shirts wanted mending, and as soon as they were mended she made
hoods and shoes for the baby.

In many little ways the old life that she thought she had left behind in
Hanley began to reappear, and when Dick came into the room and found her
reading a novel by the fire she reminded him of Ralph's wife rather than of
his own.

While she was touring in the country she had given up reading without being
aware that she had done so. She had once bought a copy of the _Family
Herald_, hoping that it would help away the time on the long railway
journey, but having herself come into a life of passion, energy and
infinite variety, she could not follow with any interest the story of three
young ladies in reduced circumstances who had started a dressmaking
business and who were destined clearly to marry the men they loved and who
loved them and who would continue to love them long after the silver
threads had appeared among the gold. But now in the long lonely days spent
with her baby in the lodging (Dick went away early in the morning and
sometimes did not return till twelve o'clock at night), a story in a copy
of The Family Herald lent to her by the landlady, on the whole a very kind
and patient soul, took hold of Kate's imagination, and when she raised her
eyes a tear of joy fell upon the page, and in the effusion of these
sensations she would take her little girl and press it almost wildly to her
breast.

Before leaving, the nurse had given Kate many directions. The baby was to
have its bath in the morning; to be kept thoroughly clean, and to be given
the bottle at certain times during the day and night. Kate was devoted to
her child, but the attention she gave it was unsustained, a desultory
attention. Sometimes she put too much water in the milk, sometimes too
little.

The christening had awakened in her many forgotten emotions, and now that
she was an honest married woman, she did not see why she should not resume
her old church-going ways. The story she was reading was full of allusions
to the vanity of this world and the durability of the next; and her feet on
the fender, penetrated with the dreamy warmth of the fire, she abandoned
herself to the seduction of her reveries. Everything conspired against her.
Being still very weak the doctor had ordered her to keep up her strength
with stimulants; a table-spoonful of brandy and water taken now and then
was what was required. This was the ordinance, but the drinks in the
dressing-rooms had taught her the comforts of such medicines, and during
the day several glasses were consumed. Without getting absolutely drunk,
she rapidly sank into sensations of numbness, in which all distinctions
were blurred, and thoughts trickled and slipped away like the soothing
singing of a brook. It was like an amorous tickling, and as her dreams
balanced between a tender declaration of love and the austere language of
the Testament, the crying of the sick child was unheeded.

Once Kate did not hear it for hours; she did not know she had forgotten to
warm its milk, and that the poor little thing was shivering with cold pain.
And when at last she awoke, and went over to the cot trying to collect her
drink-laden thoughts, the little legs were drawn up, the face was like
ivory, and a long thin wail issued from the colourless lips. Alarmed, Kate
called for the landlady, who, after feeling the bottle, advised that the
milk should be warmed. When this was done the child took a little and
appeared relieved.

Shortly after a bell was heard ringing, and the landlady said:

'I think it's your husband, ma'am.'

It was usual for Dick, when he came in at night, to tell what Kate termed
'the news.' It amused her to hear what had been done at the theatre, what
fresh companies had come to town. On this occasion it surprised him that
she took so little interest in the conversation, and after hazarding a few
remarks, he said:

'But what's the matter, dear? Aren't you well?'

'Oh yes, I'm quite well,' Kate answered stolidly.

'Well, what's the matter? You don't speak.'

'I'm tired, that's all.'

'And how's the baby?'

'I think she's asleep; don't wake her.'

But Dick went over, and holding a candle in one hand he looked long and
anxiously at his child.

'I'm afraid the little thing is not well; she's fidgeting, and is as
restless as possible.'

'I wish you'd leave her alone; if she awakes, it's I who will have the
trouble of her, not you. It's very unkind of you.'

Dick looked at his wife and said nothing; but as she continued to speak,
the evidences of drink became so unmistakable that he said, trying not to
offend her:

'I'm afraid you've been drinking a little too much of the brandy the doctor
ordered you.'

At this accusation, Kate drew herself up and angrily denied having touched
a drop of anything that day.

'How dare you accuse me of being drunk? You ought to respect me more.'

'Drunk, Kate? I never said you were drunk, but I thought you might have
taken an overdose.'

'I suppose you'll believe me when I tell you that I've not had a
teaspoonful of anything'

'Of course I believe you, dear,' said Dick, who did not like to think that
Kate was telling him a deliberate lie, and to avoid further discussion he
suggested bed. Kate did not answer him, and he heard her trying to get
undressed, and wondering at her clumsiness he asked himself if he should
propose to unlace her stays for her. But he was afraid of irritating her,
and thought it would be better to leave her alone to undo the knot as best
she could. She tugged at the laces furiously, and thinking she might break
them and accuse him of unwillingness to come to her assistance, he said,
'Shall I----'

But she cut him short. 'Let me alone, let me alone!' she cried, and Dick
kicked off his shoes.

'How can you be so unkind, or is it that you've no thought for that poor
sick child?' she said; and Dick answered:

'I assure you, my dear, it couldn't be helped; the shoe slipped off
unexpectedly,' and as if the world had set its face against her, Kate burst
into tears. At first Dick tried to console her, but seeing that this was
hopeless, he turned his face to the wall and went to sleep.

She had not drawn the curtains of the window, and the outlines of the room
showing through the blue dusk frightened her, so ghostlike did they appear.
The cradle stood under the window, the child's face just visible on the
pallor of the pillow. 'Baby is asleep,' she said; 'that's a good sign,' and
watched the cradle, trying to remember how long it was since baby had had
her bottle; and while wondering if she could trust herself to wake when
baby cried she began to notice that the room was becoming lighter. 'It
cannot be the dawn,' she thought; 'the dawn is hours away; we're in
December. Besides, the dawn is grey, and the light is green, a sort of
pantomime light,' she said. It seemed to her very like a fairy tale. The
giant snoring, and her baby stirring in her cradle with the limelight upon
her, or was she dreaming? It might be a dream out of which she could not
rouse herself. But the noise she heard was Dick's breathing, and she wished
that Ralph would breathe more easily. Ralph, Ralph! No, she was with Dick.
Dick, not Ralph, was her husband. It was with a great effort that she
roused herself. 'It was only a dream' she murmured. 'But baby is crying.
Her cry is so faint,' she said; and, slinging her legs over the side of the
bed, she tried to find her dressing-gown, but could not remember where she
had laid it 'Baby wants her bottle,' she said, and sought for the matches
vainly at first, but at last she found them, and lighted a spirit lamp.
'One must get the water warmed, cold milk would kill her;' and while the
water was heating she walked up and down the room rocking her baby, talking
to her, striving to quiet her; and when she thought the water was warm she
tried to prepare baby's milk as the doctor had ordered it. Her hope was
that she had succeeded in mixing the milk and water in right proportions,
for the last time she had given the baby her bottle she was afraid the
water was not warm enough. Perhaps that was why baby was crying, or it
might be merely a little wind that was troubling her. She held the baby
upright, hoping that the pain would pass away with a change of position,
and she walked up and down the room rocking the child in her arms and
crooning to her for fully half an hour. At last the child ceased to wail,
and she laid her in her cradle and sat watching, thinking that if she were
to lose her baby she must go mad.... She had lost Dick's love, and if the
baby were taken away there would be nothing left for her to live for.
'Nothing left for me to live for,' she repeated again and again, till the
cold winter's night striking through her nightgown reminded her that she
was risking her life, which she had no right to do, for baby needed her.
'Who would look after poor baby if I were taken away?' she asked, and
shaking with cold, was about to crawl into bed; but on laying her knee on
the bedside she remembered that a little spirit often saved a human life;
and going to the chest of drawers took out the bottle she had hidden from
Dick and filled a glass.

The spirit diffused a grateful warmth through her, and she drank a second
glass slowly, thinking of her child and husband, and how good she intended
to be to both of them, until ideas became broken, and she tumbled into bed,
awaking Dick, who was soon asleep again, with Kate by his side watching a
rim of light rising above a dark chimney stack and wondering what new shows
must be preparing. Already the rim of light had become a crescent, and
before her eyes closed in sleep the full moon looked down through the
window into the cradle, waking the sleeping child. But her cries were too
weak; her mother lay in sleep beyond reach of her wails, heart-breaking
though they were. The little blankets were cast aside, and the struggle
between life and death began: soft roundnesses fell into distortions;
chubby knees were wrenched to and fro, muscles seemed to be torn, and a few
minutes later little Kate, who had known of this world but a ray of
moonlight, died--a glimpse of the moon was all that had been granted to
her. After watching for an hour or more, the moon moved up the skies; and
in Kate's dream the moon was the great yellow witch in the pantomime, who,
before striding her broomstick, cries back: 'Thou art mine only, for ever
and for ever!'

XXIV

The passing of a funeral in our English streets is so common a sight that
hearses and plumes and mutes and carriages filled with relatives garbed in
crape have almost ceased to remind us that our dust too is on the way to
the graveyard; and it is not until we catch sight of a man walking in the
carriage way carrying a brown box under his arm that we start like someone
suddenly stung and remember the mystery of life and death. Even Dick
remembered it, and wondered as he plodded after little Kate's coffin why it
was that she should have been called out of the void and called back into
the void so quickly. 'Whether our term be but a month or ninety years, life
and death beckon us but once,' he said, and he fell to envying Kate her
tears, tears seeming to him more comforting than thoughts, and he would
gladly have shed a few to help the journey away: not a long one, however,
for the Lennoxes lived in an unfrequented part of the town by the cemetery.

'We shall soon be there,' he whispered, and Kate, raising her weeping face,
looked round.

All the shops were filled with funeral emblems, wreaths of everlasting
flowers, headstones with dates in indelible ink, crosses of consolation,
and kneeling angels.

'If we only had money,' Kate cried, 'to buy a monument to put on her
grave,' and she called upon Dick to admire a kneeling angel.

'It's very beautiful,' Dick said, 'I wish we had the money to buy it. Poor
little Kate! it's a pity she didn't live; she was very like you, dear.'

He had been offered an engagement for Kate to play the part of the Countess
in _Olivette_, and had accepted it, hoping in the meanwhile to be able
to persuade her to take it. It was rather hard to ask her to play the day
after the funeral, but there was no help for it. The company would arrive
in town to-morrow, and Dick thought it would be a pity to let the chance
slip. But her grief was so great that he had not dared to speak to her
about it.

'Did you ever see so many graves?' she asked. 'We shall never be able to
find her when we come to seek the grave out. An angel--a headstone, at
least, would be a help. Oh, Dick, she continued, 'to think they'll put her
down into the ground, and that we shall perhaps never even see her grave
again. We may be a hundred miles from here tomorrow, or after.'

Dick, who had had credit of the undertaker, looked around uneasily; but
seeing that Kate had not been overheard, he said:

'Poor little thing! It's sad to lose her, isn't it? I should have liked to
have seen her grow up.'

The coffin was first deposited in the middle of the church, and Dick
twisted the brim of his big hat nervously, troubled by the service the
parson in a white flowing surplice read from the reading-desk. Kate, on the
contrary, appeared much consoled, and prayed silently, and the parson
mumbled so many prayers that Dick began to consider the time it would take
to learn a part of equal length. And all this while the little brown box
remained like a piece of lost luggage, lonely in the greyness of this
station-house-looking church; and when the mutes came to claim it Kate
again burst into tears. Her tears reminded the parson that he was here to
console, and in soft and unctuous words he assured the weeping mother that
her child had only been removed to a better and brighter world, and that we
must all submit to the will of God. But in the porch his attention was
drawn from the weeping mother to the weather. 'A little more of this' he
thought, 'and others will be doing for me what I'm now doing for others.'

But there being no help for it, he followed the procession through the
tombstones, his white surplice blowing, Dick wondering how the little grave
had been found amongst so many, but the sexton knew. The parson sprinkled
earth upon the coffin, and the sound of the withdrawn ropes cut the
mother's heart even more than the rattle of the earth and stones on the
coffin lid. Kate threw some flowers into the grave, and it seemed to Dick
certain that if she didn't pull herself together she would not be able to
play the Countess in _Olivette_ on the morrow. She was so fearfully
haggard and worn that he doubted if any amount of rouge would make her look
the part.

He would have done anything in the world for his little girl while she was
alive, but now that she was dead--Besides, after all, she was only a baby.
For some time past this idea had occurred to him as an excellent argument
to convince Kate that there was really no reason why she should not go to
rehearsal on the following morning. If he had not yet spoken in this way it
was only because he was afraid that she would round on him, and call him a
heartless beast, and he would do anything to evade a sulky look; and now,
when the funeral was over and they were walking home wet, sorrowful, and
tired, it was curious to watch how he gave his arm to Kate, and the
timidity with which he introduced the subject. At first he only spoke of
himself, and his hopes of being able to obtain a better part and a higher
salary in the new drama. But mention to a mummer who is lying on his
death-bed that a new piece is going to be produced, and he will not be able
to resist asking a question or two about it; and Kate, weary as she was, at
once pricked up her ears, and said:

'Oh, they're going to do a new piece! You didn't tell me that before.'

'It was only decided last night,' replied Dick.

The spell was now broken, and when they reached home and had dinner the
conversation was resumed in a strain that might be considered as being
almost jovial after the mournful tones of the last few days. Dick felt as
if a big weight had been lifted from his mind, and the thought again
occurred to him that there was no use in making such a fuss over a baby
that was only three weeks old. Kate, too, seemed to be awakening to the
conviction that there was no use in grieving for ever. The state of torpor
she had been living in--for to stifle remorse she had been drinking heavily
on the quiet--now began to wear off, and her brain to uncloud itself; and
Dick, surprised at the transformation, could not help exclaiming:

'That's right, Kate; cheer up, old girl. A baby three weeks old isn't the
same as a grown person.'

'I know it isn't, but if you only knew--I'm afraid I neglected the poor
little thing.'

'Nonsense!' replied Dick, for having an eye constantly on the main chance,
he wished to avoid any fresh outburst of grief. 'You looked, after it very
well indeed; besides, you'll have another,' he added with a smile.

'I want no other,' replied Kate, vexed at being misunderstood, and yet
afraid to explain herself more thoroughly.

At last Dick said:

'I wish there was a part for you in the new piece.'

'Yes, so do I. I haven't been doing anything for a long while now.'

And thus encouraged he told her that in the so-and-so company the part of
the Countess might be had for the asking.

'Only they play to-morrow night.'

'Oh, to-morrow night! It would be dreadful to act so soon after my poor
baby's death, wouldn't it?'

'I can't see why. We shall be as sorry for it in a week's time as now, and
yet one must get to work some time or other.'

Dick considered this a very telling argument, and, not wishing to spoil its
effect, he remained silent, so as to give Kate time to digest the truth of
what he had said. He waited for her to ask him when he would take her to
see the manager, but she said nothing, and he was at last obliged to admit
that he had made an appointment for to-morrow. She whined a bit but
accompanied him to the theatre. The manager was delighted with her
appearance. He told her that the photo that Dick had forwarded did not do
her justice; and, handing her the script, he said:

'Now you must make your entrance from this side.'

'What's the cue?'

'Here it is. I think I shall now beat a retreat in the direction of home.'

'Ah! I see.'

And, striving to decipher the manuscript, Kate walked towards the middle of
the stage. 'I haven't seen the Duke for twenty-four hours, and that means
misery.'

'You'll get a laugh for that if you'll turn up your eyes a bit,' said Dick.
Then, turning to the manager, he murmured, 'I wish you'd seen her as
Clairette. The notices were immense. But I must be off now to my own show.'

This engagement relieved the Lennoxes for the time being of their
embarrassments. At four they dined, at six bade each other good-bye, and
repaired to their respective theatres. Dick was playing in drama, Kate in
_opera bouffe_; and something before a quarter to eleven she expected
him to meet her at the stage-door of the Prince's. On this point she was
very particular; if he were a few moments late she questioned him minutely
as to where he had been, what he had been doing, and little by little the
jealousies and suspicions which her marriage had appeased returned, and
tortured her night and day. At first the approach of pain was manifested by
a nervous anxiety for her husband's presence. She seemed dissatisfied and
restless when he was not with her, and after breakfast in the mornings,
when he took up his hat to go out, she would beg of him to stay, and find
fault with him for leaving her. He reasoned with her very softly, assuring
her that he had the most important engagements. On one occasion it was a
man who had given him an appointment in order to speak with him concerning
a new theatre, of which he was to have the entire management; another time
it was a man who was writing a drama, and wanted a collaborator to put the
stage construction right; and as these seances of collaboration occupied
both morning and afternoon, Kate was thrown entirely on her own resources
until four o'clock. The first two or three novels she had read during her
convalescence had amused her, but now one seemed so much like the other
that they ended by boring her; and, too excited to be able to fix her
attention, she often read without understanding what she was reading: on
one side the memory of her baby's death preyed upon her--she still could
not help thinking that it was owing to her neglect that it had died--on the
other, the thought that her husband was playing her false goaded her to
madness. Sometimes she attempted to follow him, but this only resulted in
failure, and she returned home after a fruitless chase more dejected than
ever.

'Ah! if the baby had not died, there would have been something to live
for,' she murmured to herself a thousand times during the day, until at
last her burden of remorse grew quite unbearable, and she thought of the
brandy the doctor had ordered her. Since her engagement to play the
Countess she had forgotten it, but now a strange desire seized her suddenly
as if she had been stung by a snake. There was only a little left in the
bottle, but that little cheered and restored her even more than she had
expected. Her thoughts came to her more fluently, she ate a better dinner,
and acted joyously that night at the theatre. 'There's no doubt,' she said
to her self, 'the doctor was right. What I want is a little stimulant.' Of
the truth of this she was more than ever convinced when next morning she
found herself again suffering from the usual melancholy and dulness of
spirits. The very sight of breakfast disgusted her, and when Dick left she
wandered about the room, unable to interest herself in anything, with a
yearning in her throat for the tingling sensation that brandy would bring;
and she longed for yesterday's lightness of conscience. But there was
neither brandy nor whisky in the house, not even a glass of sherry. What
was to be done? She did not like to ask the landlady to go round to the
public-house. Such people were always ready to put a wrong interpretation
upon everything. But Mrs. Clarke knew that the doctor had ordered her to
take a little brandy when she felt weak. All the same, she determined to
wait until dinner-time.

Half an hour of misery passed, and then, excited till she could bear with
the craving for drink no longer, she remembered that it would be very
foolish to risk her health for the sake of a prejudice. To obey the
doctor's orders was her first duty--a consoling reflection that relieved
her mind of much uncertainty; and ringing the bell, she prepared her little
speech.

'Oh! Mrs. Clarke, I'm sorry to trouble you, but--I'm feeling so weak this
morning--and, if you remember, the doctor ordered me to take a little
brandy when I felt I wanted it. Do you happen to have any in the house?'

'No, ma'am, I haven't, but I can send out for it in a minute. And you do
look as if you wanted something to pick you up.'

'Yes,' said Kate, throwing as much weakness as she could into her voice,
'somehow I've never felt the same since my confinement.'

'Ah! I know well how it pulls one down. If you only knew how I suffered
with my third baby!'

'I can well imagine it.'

The conversation then came to a pause, and Mrs. Clarke, not seeing her way
to any further family confidences, said:

'What shall I send for, ma'am--half a pint? The grocer round the corner
keeps some very nice brandy.'

'Yes, that will do,' said Kate, seeing an unending perspective of drinks in
half a pint.

'Shall I put that down in the bill, or will you give me the money now,
ma'am?'

This was very awkward, for Kate suddenly remembered that she had given over
her salary to Dick this week without keeping anything out of it. There was
no help for it now, and putting as bold a face on it as she could, she told
Mrs. Clarke to book it. What did it matter whether Dick saw it or not? Had
not the doctor told her she required a little stimulant?

Henceforth brandy-drinking became an established part of Kate's morning
hours. Even before Dick was out of bed she would invent a pretext for
stealing into the next room so that she might have a nip on the sly before
breakfast. The bottle, and a packet of sweetstuff to take the smell off her
mouth, were kept behind a large oleograph representing Swiss scenery. The
fear that Dick might pop out upon her at any moment often nearly caused her
to spill the liquor over the place; but existence was impossible without
brandy, and she felt she was bound to get rid of the miserable moods of
mind to which she woke. Before eleven o'clock Dick was out of the house,
and this left Kate four hours of lonely idleness staring her blankly in the
face. Sometimes she practised a little music, but it wearied her. She had
courage for nothing now, and brandy and water was the only thing that
killed the dreariness that ached in heart and head. Many half-pint bottles
had succeeded the first, and, ashamed to admit her secret drinking, she now
paid the landlady regularly out of her own money. When funds were low, a
little bill was run up, and this was produced and talked over when the two
women were having a glass together of a morning. To pay these debts Kate
had to resort to lying. All kinds of lies had to be concocted. Her first
idea was to tell Dick she intended to continue her music lessons. He would
never, she was sure, ask her a question on the subject; but Dick, who was
still hard pressed for money, begged of her to wait until they were better
off before incurring new expenses, and, annoyed, she fell back on the
subject of clothes, and when he asked her if she could not manage to go on
with what she had for a bit, it astonished him to see the mad rage into
which she fell instantly. Was it not her own money? Had she not earned it,
and was he going to rob her of it? Did he only keep her to work for him? If
so, she'd very soon put that to rights by chucking up her engagement; then
he would be forced to keep her; she wasn't going to be bullied. In his
usual kind way Dick tried to calm her, explaining to her their position,
telling her of his projects; but the fear of discovery was a fixed thought
in her mind, and she refused to listen to reason until he put his hand in
his pocket and gave her two pounds ten. This was just the sum required to
pay what she owed at the Ayre Arms. And seeing her difficulties removed,
her better nature asserted itself. She begged of Dick to forgive her,
pleading that she had lost her temper, and didn't know what she was saying.
For an instant she thought of confessing the truth, then the idea died in a
resolution to amend. It was not worth speaking of; she was getting
stronger, and would soon need no more stimulants.

For two days Kate kept to her promise; instead of sitting at home, she
called on one of the ladies of the theatre, and passed a pleasant morning
with her. She paid visits to other members of the company, and went out
shopping with them. But when three or four met at the corner of a street,
after a few introductory remarks, a drink was generally proposed--not as
men would propose it, but slyly, and with much affectation; and skirting
furtively along the streets, a quiet bar would be selected, and then, 'What
will you have, dear?' would be whispered softly. 'A drop of gin, dear.' On
one of these occasions Kate only just escaped getting drunk. As luck would
have it, Dick did not return home to dinner, and a good sleep and a bottle
of soda-water pulled her together, so that she was able to go down to the
theatre and play her part without exciting observation. And this decided
her not to trust herself again to the temptation of her girl friends. She
asked Dick to allow her to accompany him sometimes. He made a wry face at
this proposal, hesitated, and explained that his collaborator suffered no
one to interrupt their seances; he was a timid man, and couldn't work in
the presence of a third person. Kate only sighed, but although she did not
attempt to dispute the veracity of this statement, she felt that it was
cruel that she should be left alone hour after hour. But she deceived
herself with resolutions and hopes that she would require no more brandy.
In her heart of hearts she knew that she would not be able to resist, and,
docile as the sheep under the butcher's hand, she recognized her fate, and
accepted it. A fresh bill was run up at the grocer's, and the mornings were
passed in a state of torpor. Without getting absolutely drunk, she drank
sufficiently to confuse her thoughts, to reduce them to a sort of nebulae,
enough to blend and soften the lines of a too hard reality to a long
sensation of tickling, in which no idea was precise, no desire remained
long enough to grow to a pain, but caressed and passed away. Sometimes, of
course, she overdosed herself, but on these occasions, when she found
consciousness slipping a little too rapidly from her, she was cunning
enough to go and lie down. And living, as she did, in constant fear of
detection, she endowed the simplest words and looks with a double meaning,
and she could not help hating Dick if he asked her questions or dared to
accuse her of being sleepy and heavy about the eyes. Did he intend to
insult her--was that it? If so, she wasn't going to stand it. One day he
stood before the oleograph, apparently examining with deep interest the
different aspects of the Swiss scenery. In reality, his thoughts were far
away, but Kate, who did not know this, grew so nervous and angry, that it
was with difficulty she kept calm.

On half a dozen different pretexts she had tried to get him away from the
picture, and fearing every moment that he would look behind it or touch it,
she caught up a plate from the table and dashed it to the ground. The crash
caused Dick to jump round, and she began her tirade, beginning with the
question, was she so utterly beneath his notice that he couldn't answer a
question? Almost every day a dispute of this sort arose: she was always
being poked up by some new fear of discovery, and engendered, if not
hatred, a fierce resentment; and to deceive herself as to the true reason
she criticized his conduct and manner of life bitterly and passionately
from every point of view. Jealousy was natural to her, and she was more
subject than ever to attacks of it. Once or twice it had blazed into flame,
but circumstances had quenched it for the time being. Now there was nothing
to oppose it, and all things served as fuel.

She was conscious of no wrongdoing, she believed, and believed sincerely,
that she was acting legitimately in defence of her own interests. She was
certain that Dick was deceiving her, and the want of moral courage in the
man, which forced him to tell lies--lies in which he was sometimes found
out--tended to confirm her in this belief. For a few days past she had been
preparing for a quarrel, but the time for fight had not yet come, and she
chafed under the delay. At last her chance came. He kept her waiting half
an hour at the stage-door. Where had he been? What had he been doing all
this while? were the questions she put to him in many different forms as
they walked home. He sought to pacify his wife, assuring her he had been
detained by his manager, who wanted to speak with him concerning a new
production; he told a long story regarding the arrangement of some of the
processions. But Kate would not accept any of these excuses, and, convinced
he had been after a woman, she stuck to her opinion, and the bickering
continued for an hour or more, to end as it had begun. These sudden
silences were very welcome, for Dick had many things to think out; and
nothing more was said until they got up to their room, and then Dick, as
usual, forgetful of even the immediate past, began to speak of his
manager's intentions regarding a new piece. But he did not get far before
he was brought to a sudden standstill by a fresh explosion of wrath.

'What have I done now?' he asked.

'Done! Do you suppose I want to hear about that woman?'

'What woman!'

'Oh! you needn't do the innocent with me!'

'Really! I give you my word----'

'Your word! a nice thing, indeed!'

'Well, what do you want me to do?'

'To leave me in peace,' said Kate, breaking the string of her stays.

Dick was very tired, and, without attempting to argue the point further,
undressed and got into bed. In bed the quarrel was resumed; it was
continued, and for an hour or more, he lying with his head turned close to
the wall, hers dancing over the extreme edge of the pillow.

'Why don't you go away and leave me? I cannot think how you can be so
cruel, and to me, who gave up everything for you!'

It was the wail of petulant anger; but as yet she showed no violence, and
her temper did not overcome her until her husband, worn out by two hours of
unceasing lamentations, begged of her to allow him to go to sleep. Her mood
was different in the morning, and it was not until she had paid a couple of
visits to the blue Swiss mountains that she became again taciturn. Dick did
not as yet suspect his wife of confirmed drunkenness; he merely thought
that she had grown lately very ill-tempered, and that a jealous woman was
about the most distressing thing in existence; and, anxious to avoid
another scene, he hurried through his breakfast. She watched him eating in
silence, knowing well he was counting the minutes till he could get away.
At last she said:

'Will you take me to church to-day?'

'My dear, I'm afraid I've an appointment, but I'll try to come back if I
can,' and a few minutes later he slipped away, leaving her to invite the
landlady to come up and have a glass with her if she felt so inclined. But
feeling somewhat out of humour for the conversation of that respectable
woman, she put on her hat and ran after her husband, determined to watch
him. But he was already out of sight, and after roaming aimlessly about for
some time she turned into a church, and sat through the whole of the
service without once attempting to fix her attention on what was going on;
her thoughts were on Dick, but to stand and to kneel was in itself a
relief, and when church was over she returned home, after visiting several
public houses, slightly boozed.

'Mrs. Clarke, has my husband come in?'

'I haven't heard him, Mrs. Lennox,' was the answer that came up the kitchen
stairs.

This was unfortunate, for her heart that had been softening towards him
tightened into bitterness, and madness was near the thought that at the
moment she was patiently waiting dinner for him he might be in the arms of
another woman. She told the landlady, who came upstairs a second time in
hope of a sociable glass, that she might bring the soup up (they always had
soup on Sundays); if Mr. Lennox didn't choose to come in for his meals he
might go without them. At that moment a ring at the door was heard, and,
throwing himself in an armchair, Dick said he was tired.

'I dare say you are; I can easily understand that,' was the curt reply.

An expression of pain passed over his face.

'Goodness me, Kate!' he said in a perplexed voice. 'You don't mean to say
you're angry still!'

No attention was paid to the landlady, who was placing the soup on the
table, and she, being pretty well accustomed to their quarrels, said with
an air of indifference as she left the room:

'Dinner is served. I shall bring the leg of mutton up when you ring.'

No answer was made to her, and the couple sat moodily looking at each
other. After a pause Dick tried to be conciliatory, and in the most
affectionate phrases he could select he besought Kate to make it up.

'I assure you, you're wrong,' he said. 'I've been after no woman. Do, for
goodness' sake, make it up.'

Then approaching her chair, he tried to draw her toward him, but pulling
herself away passionately, she exclaimed:

'No, no; leave me alone--leave me alone--don't touch me--I hate you.'

This was not encouraging, but at the end of another silence he attempted to
reason with her again. But it was useless; and worn and impatient he begged
of her at least to come to dinner.

'If you aren't hungry, I am.'

There was no answer; lying back in her chair she sulked, deaf to all
entreaty.

'Well, if you won't, I will,' he said, seating himself in her place.

Her eyes flashed with a dull lurid light, and walking close to the table,
she looked at him steadily, fidgeting as she did so with the knives and
glasses.

'I can't think how you treat me as you do; what have I done to you to
deserve it? Nothing. But I shall be revenged, that I will; I can bear it no
longer.'

'Bear what?' he asked despairingly.

'You know well enough. Don't aggravate me. I hate you! Oh yes,' she said,
raising her voice, 'I do hate you!'

'Sit down and have some dinner, and don't be so foolish,' he said, trying
to be jocular, as he lifted the cover from the soup.

'Eat with you? Never!' she answered theatrically. But the interest he
showed in the steaming liquid annoyed her so much that, overcome by a
sudden gust of passion, she upset the tureen into his lap. Dick uttered a
scream, and in starting back he overturned his chair. Although not
scalding, the soup was still hot enough to burn him, and he held his thighs
dolorously. The tablecloth was deluged, the hearthrug steamed; and,
regardless of everything, Kate rushed past, accusing her husband of
cruelty, of unfaithfulness, stopping only to reproach him with a desire to
desert her. While Dick in dripping trousers asked what he had done to
deserve having the soup flung over him, Kate's hair became unloosened and
hung down her shoulders like a sheaf of black plumes. Dick thought of
changing his trousers, but the intensity of her passion detained him.
Stopping suddenly before the table, she poured out a tumbler of sherry, and
drank it almost at a gulp. It was as nauseous to her taste as lukewarm
water, and she yearned for brandy. It would sting her, would awaken the
dull ache of her palate, and she knew well where the bottle was; she could
see it in her mind's eye, the black neck leaning against the frame of the
picture. Why should she not go and fetch it, and insult him with the
confession of her sin? Was it not he who drove her to it? So Kate thought
in her madness, and the lack of courage to execute her wishes angered her
still further against the fat creature who lay staring at her, lying back
in the armchair. She applied herself again to the sherry and swallowed
greedily.

'For goodness' sake,' said Dick, who began to get alarmed, 'don't drink
that! You'll get drunk.'

'Well, what does it matter if I do? It's you who drive me to it. If you
don't like it, go to Miss Vane.'

'What! You've not finished with that yet? Haven't I told you twenty times
that there's nothing between me and Miss Vane? I haven't spoken to her for
the last three days.'

'That's a lie!' shrieked Kate. 'You went to meet her this morning. I saw
you. Do you take me for a fool? But oh! I don't know how you can be such a
beast! If you wanted to desert me, why did you ever take me away from
Hanley? But you can go now, I don't want the leavings of that creature.'

Taken aback by what was nothing more than a random guess, Dick hesitated,
and then, deciding that he might as well be caught out in two lies as in
one, he said, as a sort of forlorn hope:

'If you saw us you must have seen that she was with Jackson, and that I
didn't do any more than raise my hat.'

Kate made no answer; she was too excited to follow out the train of the
simplest idea, and continued to rave incoherent statements of all kinds.
The landlady came up to ask when she should bring up the leg of mutton, but
she went away frightened. There was no dinner that day. Amid screams and
violent words the evening died slowly, and the room darkened until nothing
was seen but the fitful firelight playing on Dick's hands; but still the
vague form of the woman passed through the shadows like a figure of
avenging fate. Would she never grow tired and sit down? Dick asked himself
a thousand times. It seemed as if it would never cease, and the incessant
repetition of the same words and gestures turned in the brain with the
mechanical movement of a wheel, dimming the sense of reality and producing
the obtuse terror of a nightmare. But from this state of semi-consciousness
he was suddenly awakened by the violent ringing of the bell.

'What do you want? Can I get you anything?'

Kate did not deign to answer him. When the landlady appeared, she said:

'I want some more sherry; I'm dying of thirst.'

'You shall not have any more,' said Dick, interposing energetically. 'Mrs.
Clarke, I forbid you to bring it up.'

'I say she shall,' replied Kate, her face twitching with passion.

'I say she shall not.'

'Then I'll go out and get it.'

'No, I'll see you don't do that,' said Dick, getting between her and the
door. As he did so he turned his back to speak to the landlady, and Kate,
taking the opportunity, seized a handful of the frizzly hair and almost
pulled him to the ground. Twisting round he took her by the wrist and freed
himself, but this angered and still further excited her.

'You'd better let her have her way,' the landlady said. 'I won't bring up
much, and it may put her to sleep.'

Dick, who at the moment would have given half his life for a little peace,
nodded his head affirmatively, and went back to his chair. He did not know
what to do. Never had he witnessed so terrible a scene before. Since three
or four days back this quarrel had been working up crescendo; and when the
landlady brought up the sherry, Kate seized the decanter, and, complaining
that it was not full, resumed her drinking.

'So you see I did get it, and I'll get another bottle if I choose. You
think that I like it. Well, you're mistaken; I don't, I hate it. I only
drink it because you told me not, because I know that you begrudge it to
me; you begrudge me every bit that I put into my mouth, the very clothes I
wear. But it was not you who paid for them. I earned the money myself, and
if you think to rob me of what I earn you're mistaken. You shan't. If you
try to do so I shall apply to the magistrate for protection. Yes, and if
you dare to lay a hand on me I shall have you locked up. Yes, yes--do you
hear me?' she screamed, advancing towards him, spilling as she did the
glass of wine she held in her hand over her dress. 'I shall have you locked
up, and I should love to do so, because it was you who ruined me, who
seduced me, and I hate you for it.'

She spoke with a fearful volubility, and her haranguing echoed in Dick's
ears with the meaningless sound of a water-tap heard splashing on the
flagstones of an echoing courtyard.

Sometimes he would get up, determined to make one more effort, and in his
gentlest and most soothing tones would say:

'Now look here, dear; will you listen to me? I know you well, and I know
you're a bit excited; if you will believe me----'

But it was no use. She did not seem to hear him; indeed, it almost seemed
as it her ears had become stones. Her hands were clenched, and dragging
herself away from him, she would resume her tigerish walk. Sometimes Dick
wondered at the strength that sustained her, and the thrill of joy that he
experienced was intense when, about two o'clock, after eight or ten hours
of the terrible punishment, he noticed that she seemed to be growing weary,
that her cries were becoming less articulate. Several times she had stopped
to rest, her head sank on her bosom, and every effort she made to rouse
herself was feebler than the preceding one. At length her legs gave way
under her, and she slipped insensible on the floor.

Dick watched for a time, afraid to touch her, lest by some horrible
mischance she should wake up and recommence the terrible scene that had
just been concluded, and at least half an hour elapsed before he could
muster up courage to undress her and put her to bed.

XXV

Next morning Kate was duly repentant and begged Dick to forgive her for all
she had said and done. She told him that she loved him better than anything
in the world, and she persuaded him that if she had taken a drop too much,
it was owing to jealousy, and not to any liking for the drink itself.

Dick adopted the theory willingly (every man is reluctant to believe that
his wife is a drunkard), and deceived by the credulity with which he had
accepted the excuse, Kate resolved to conquer her jealousy, and if she
could not conquer it, she would endure it. Never would she seek escape from
it through spirit again. And had she remained in Manchester, or had she
even been placed in surroundings that would have rendered the existence of
a fixed set of principles possible, she might have cured herself of her
vice. But before two months her engagement at the Prince's came to an end,
and Dick's at the Royal very soon followed. They then passed into other
companies, the first of which dealt with Shakespearean revivals. Dick
played Don John successfully in _Much Ado About Nothing_, the Ghost in
_Hamlet_, the Friar in _Romeo and Juliet_. Kate on her side
represented with a fair amount of success a series of second parts, such as
Rosalind in _Romeo_, Bianca in _Othello_, Sweet Ann Page in the
_Merry Wives_. It is true there were times when her behaviour was not
all that could be desired, sometimes from jealousy, sometimes from drink;
generally from a mixture of the two; but on the whole she managed very
cleverly, and it was not more than whispered, and always with a
good-natured giggle, that Mrs. Lennox was not averse to a glass.

From the Shakespearean they went to join a dramatic company, where houses
were blown up, and ships sank amid thunder and lightning. Dick played a
desperate villain, and Kate a virtuous parlourmaid, until one night, having
surprised him in the act of kissing the manager's wife, she ran off to the
nearest pub, and did not return until she was horribly intoxicated, and
staggered on to the stage calling him the vilest names, accusing him at the
same time of adultery, and pointing out the manager's wife as his paramour.
There were shrieks and hysterics, and Dick had great difficulty in proving
his innocence to the angry impresario. He spoke of his honour and a duel,
but as the lady in question was starring, the benefit of the doubt had to
be granted her, and on these grounds the matter was hushed up. But after so
disgraceful a scandal it was impossible for the Lennoxes to remain in the
company. Dick was very much cut up about it, and without even claiming his
week's salary, he and his wife packed up their baskets and boxes and
returned to Manchester. And there he entered into a quantity of
speculations, of the character of which she had not the least idea; all she
knew was, that she never saw him from one end of the day to the other. He
was out of the place at ten o'clock in the morning, and never returned
before twelve at night. These hours of idleness and solitude were hard to
bear, and Kate begged of Dick to get her an engagement. But he was afraid
of another shameful scene, and always gave her the same answer--that he had
as yet heard of nothing, but as soon as he did he would let her know. She
didn't believe him, but she had to submit, for she could never muster up
courage to go and look for anything herself, and the long summer days
passed wearily in reading the accounts of the new companies, and the new
pieces produced. This sedentary life, and the effects of the brandy, which
she could now no longer do without, soon began to tell upon her health, and
the rich olive complexion began to fade to sickly yellow. Even Dick noticed
that she was not looking well; he said she required change of air, and a
few days after, he burst into the room and told her gaily that he had just
arranged a tour to go round the coast of England and play little comic
sketches and operettas at the pier theatres. This was good news, and the
next few days were fully occupied in trying over music, making up their
wardrobes, and telegraphing to London for the different books from which
they would make their selections. A young man whom Dick had heard singing
in a public-house proved a great hit. He wrote his own words, some of which
were considered so funny that at Scarborough and Brighton he frequently
received a couple of guineas for singing a few songs at private houses
after the public entertainment. Afterwards he appeared at the Pavilion, and
for many years supplied the axioms and aphorisms that young Toothpick and
Crutch was in the habit of using to garnish the baldness of his native
speech.

For a time the sea proved very beneficial to Kate's health, but the
never-ending surprises and expectations she was exposed to finished by so
straining and sharpening her nerves that the stupors, the assuagements of
drink, became, as it were, a necessary make-weight. Her love for Dick
pressed upon and agonized her; it was like a dagger whose steel was being
slowly reddened in the flames of brandy, and in this subtilization of the
brain the remotest particles of pain detached themselves, until life seemed
to her nothing but a burning and unbearable frenzy. She did not know what
she wanted of him, but with a longing that was nearly madness she desired
to possess him wholly; she yearned to bury her poor aching body, throbbing
with the anguish of nerves, in that peaceful hulk of fat, so calm, so
invulnerable to pain, marching amid, and contented in, its sensualities, as
a gainly bull grazing amid the pastures of a succulent meadow.

He was never unkind to her; the soft sleek manner that had won her remained
ever the same, but she would have preferred a blow. It would have been
something to have felt the strength of his hand upon her. She wanted an
emotion; she longed to be brutalized. She knew when she tortured him with
reproaches she was alienating from herself any affection he might still
bear for her; but she found it impossible to restrain herself. There seemed
to be a devil within her that goaded her until all power of will ceased,
and against her will she had to obey its behests. A blow might exorcise
this spirit. Were he to strike her to the ground she thought she might
still be saved; but, alas! he remained as kind and good-natured as ever;
and to disguise her drunkenness she had to exaggerate her jealousy. The two
were now mingled so thoroughly in her head that she could scarcely
distinguish one from the other. She knew there were women all around him;
she could see them ogling him out of the little boxes at the side of the
stage. How they could be such beasts, she couldn't conceive. They stood for
hours behind the scenes waiting for him, and she was told they had come for
engagements. Baskets of food, pork pies and tongue, came for him, but these
she pitched out of the window; and she soundly boxed the ears of one little
wretch, whom she had found loitering about the stage-door. Kate was right
sometimes in her suspicions, sometimes wrong, but in every case they
accentuated the neurosis, occasioned by alcohol, from which she was
suffering. Still, by some extraordinary cunning, she contrived for some
time to regulate her drinking so that it should not interfere with
business, and on the rare occasions when Dick had to apologize to the
public for her non-appearance she insisted that it was not her fault; and
from a mixture of vanity and a wish to conceal his wife's shame from
himself, Dick continued to persuade himself that his wife had no real taste
for drink, and never touched it except when these infernal fits of jealousy
were upon her. But the words that had come into his mind--'except when
these infernal fits of jealousy are upon her'--called up many vivid
memories; one especially confounded him. He had seen her frightened to
cross the dressing-room lest she might fall, glancing from the table to the
chair, calculating the distance. It was on his lips to ask her if she did
not feel too ill to appear that day: that perhaps it would be better for
him to go before the curtain and apologize to the public. But he had not
dared to say anything, and to his astonishment she was able to overcome the
influence of the drink (if she had taken any), and he had never heard her
sing and dance better. How she had managed it he did not know. 'All the
same, he said, 'drink will get the upper hand of her and conquer her if she
doesn't make up her mind to conquer it. The day will come when she will not
be able to go on the stage, or will go on and fall down.' Dick shut his
eyes to exclude from them the horrible spectacle. She would then be an
unmitigated burden on his hands. 'Not a pleasant prospect', he said to
himself.

He had now been in the provinces for some years and had lived down the
memory of many disastrous managements. He had managed the tour of the
Morton and Cox's Opera Company very successfully till the crash came. 'But
it will be the success that will be remembered and not the crash when I
return to London. Many changes must have happened in town. Many new faces
and many old faces that absence will make new again. If only Kate were not
so jealous If I could cure her of jealousy I could cure her of drink.' And
he thought of all the notices she had had for Clairette, for Serpolette,
for Olivette. He would like to see her play the Duchess. At that moment his
thoughts returned to the last time he had seen her, about half an hour ago;
the memory was not a pleasant one, and he was glad that he had run out of
the house and come down to the pier. And in the silence and solitude of the
pier at midday he asked himself again why he should not return to town and
take his chance of getting into a new company or being sent out to manage
another provincial tour. In London he might be able to persuade his wife to
go into a home, and he fell to thinking of the men and women who he had
heard had been cured of drunkenness. His thoughts melted into dreams and
then, passing suddenly out of dreams into words, he said: 'She will never
consent to go into a home, and if she did she would only be thinking all
the time that I'd put her there so that I might be after another woman.'
His thoughts were interrupted by a lancinating pain in his feet, and he
withdrew into the shade, and resting the heel of the right boot on the toe
of the left, a position that freed him from pain for the time being, he
looked round and seeing everywhere a misted sky filled with an inner
radiance, he said: 'To-day will be the hottest day we've had yet, and there
won't be a dozen people in the theatre; everybody will be too hot to leave
their houses.' There was languor in the incoming wave. 'We shan't have five
pounds in the theatre,' he muttered to himself, and catching sight of one
of the directors he continued, 'And those fellows won't think of the heat,
but will put down the falling off in the audience to our performance.
Never,' he added after a pause, 'have I seen the pier so empty,' and he
wondered who the woman was coming towards him.

A tall, gaunt woman of about forty-five whose striding gait caused a hooped
and pleated skirt of green silk, surmounted by a bustle, to sway like a
lime-tree in a breeze, wore a bodice open in front, with short sleeves, the
fag end of some other fashion, but the long draggled-tailed feather boa
belonged to the eighties, as did the Marie Stuart bonnet. Her blackened
eyebrows and a thickly painted face attracted Dick's attention from afar,
and when she approached nearer he was struck by the dark, brilliant,
restless eyes. 'A strange and exalted being,' he said to himself. 'An
authoress perhaps,' for he noticed that she carried some papers in her
hand; 'or a poet,' he added; and prompted by his instinct he began to see
in her somebody that might be turned to account, and before long he was
thinking how he might introduce himself to her.

'She's forgotten her parasol; I might borrow one for her from the girl at
the bar,' and the project seeming good to him he rose, and with a specially
large movement of the arm lifted his hat from his head.

'You will excuse me, I hope, madam, addressing you, and if I do so it is
because I am in an official capacity here, but may I offer you a parasol?'

'It's very kind of you,' she replied with a smile that lighted up her large
mouth, dispersing its ugliness.

'She's got a fine set of teeth,' Dick said to himself, and he answered that
he would borrow a parasol for her in the theatre.

'It's very kind of you' she returned, smiling largely and becomingly upon
him. 'It's true I forgot to bring a parasol with me, and the sun is very
fierce at this time. It will be kind of you,' and much gratified that his
proposal had been so graciously received, he hobbled away in the direction
of the theatre, to return a few moments after with the bar girl's parasol,
which he had borrowed and which he opened and handed to the lady.

'Might I ask,' she said, 'if you're one of the directors of the theatre?'

'No,' he answered, 'I'm an actor.'

'An actor in this theatre,' she replied. 'But they only sing trivial songs
and dance in this theatre, and you look to me like one of Shakespeare's
imaginations. Henry the Eighth, almost any one of the Henries. King John.'

'Not Romeo,' Dick interposed.

'Perhaps not Romeo. Romeo was but sixteen or seventeen, eighteen at the
most. But when you were eighteen....'

'Yes,' Dick answered, 'I was thin enough then.'

'But you must not disparage yourself. Heroes are not always thin. Hamlet
was fat and scant of breath. I can see you as Hamlet, whereas to cast you
for Falstaff would be too obvious.'

'I've played Falstaff,' Dick replied, 'but I never could do much with the
part, and I never saw anyone who could. The lines are very often too
high-falutin for the character, and they don't seem to come out, no matter
who plays it; the critics look on it as the best acting part, but in truth
it is the worst.'

'Macduff would fit you, no; Lear,' the lady cried.

Dick thought he would like to have a shot at the king, and they were soon
talking about a Shakespearean theatre devoted to the performance of
Shakespearean plays. 'A theatre,' she said, 'that would devote itself to
the representation of all the heroes in the world; those who spoke noble
thoughts and performed noble deeds, thought and deed encompassing each
other, instead of which we have a thousand theatres devoted to the
representations of the fashions of the moment. So I'm forced to come here
at midday, for at midday there is solitude and sacred silence, or else the
clashing of waves. Here at midday I can fancy myself alone with my heroes.'

'And who are your heroes, may I ask?' said Dick.

'Many are in Shakespeare,' she answered, 'and many are here in this
manuscript. The heroes of the ancient world, when men were nearer to the
gods than they are now. For men,' she added, 'in my belief, are not moving
towards the Godhead, but away from it.'

'And who are the heroes that you've written about?' Dick asked, and fearing
she would enter into too long an explanation he asked if the manuscript she
held in her hand was a play.

'No, a poem,' she answered. 'I'm studying it for recitation, one I'm going
to recite after my lecture at the Working Men's Club; and the subject of my
lecture is the inherent nobility of man, and the necessity of man worship.
Women have turned from men and are occupied now with their own aspirations,
losing sight thereby of the ideal that God gave them. My poem is a sort of
abstract, an epitome, a compendium of the lecture itself.'

Dick did not understand, but the fact that a lady was going in for
recitation argued that she was interested in theatricals, and with his ears
pricked like a hound who has got wind of something, he said with a sweet
smile that showed a whole row of white teeth:

'Being an actor myself, I will take the liberty of asking you to allow me
to look at your poem, and perhaps if you're studying for recitation I may
be of use to you.'

'Of the very greatest use,' the lady answered, and handed him her
manuscript; 'one of a set of classical cartoons,' she added.

'Humanity in large lines,' he replied.

'How quickly you understand,' she rapped out; 'removed altogether from the
tea-table in subject and in metre. What have you got to say, my hero, to me
about my rendering of these lines?

'"The offspring of Neptune and Terra, daughters of earth
and ocean,
Dowered with fair faces of woman, capping the bodies
of vultures;
Armed with sharp, keen talons; crushing and rending
and slaying,
Blackening and blasting, defiling, spoiling the meats
of all banquets;
Plundering, perplexing, pursuing, cursing the lives of
our heroes,
Ever the Harpyiae flourish--just as a triumph of evil."'

'Hardly anything; and yet if I may venture a criticism--would you mind
passing your manuscript on to me for a moment? May I suggest an emendation
that will render the recitation more easy and more effective?'

'Certainly you may.'

'Then,' Dick continued, 'I would drop the words--"just as a triumph of
evil," and run on--"flourish from childhood, ensnaring the noble, the
brave, and the loyal, spreading their nets for destruction,"

'"Harpyiae flourish in ball-rooms, breathing fierce breath
that is poison
Over the promise of manhood, over the faith and the
lovelight
That glows in the hearts of our bravest for all of their
kind that is weaker----"

'All that follows,' Dick added, 'will be recited without emphasis until you
come to these two magnificent lines:

'"Harpyiae stand by our altars, Harpyiae sit by our
hearthstones,
Harpyiae suckle our children, Harpyiae ravish our
nation," etc.'

Dick finished with a grand gesture.

'I think you're right. Yes, I understand that a point can be given to these
verses that I had not thought of before. I hope my poem touched a chord in
your heart? Do you approve of my manner of writing the hexameters?'

'I think the idea very fine, but----'

'But?'

'If you will permit me?'

'Certainly.'

'Well, there are questions of elocution that I would like to speak to you
about. I've to run away now, but we're sure to meet again.'

'I'm on the pier every day at noon, or you will find me in my hotel at
five. I hope you'll come, for I should like to avail myself of your
instruction.'

'Thank you; I hope to have the pleasure of calling upon you to-morrow
afternoon. Good-bye.'

'You don't know my name,' she cried after him. 'Heroes are full of
forgetfulness and naturally, but in this tea-table world we can't get on
without names and addresses. Will you take my card?'

Dick took the card, thanked her and turned suddenly away.

'Like a man filled with disquiet,' the lady said, and she watched the burly
actor hurrying up the pier. 'Is this woman coming to meet him?' she asked
herself as Dick hurried away still faster, for in the distance the woman
coming down the pier seemed to him like his wife, and if Kate caught him
talking to a woman on the pier all chance of doing any business with his
new acquaintance would be at an end. But the woman who had just passed him
by was not Kate, and the thought crossed his mind that he might return to
his new acquaintance with safety. But on the whole it seemed to him better
to wait until to-morrow. To-morrow he would find out all about her. 'Her
name,' he said, and taking the card out of his pocket he read: 'Mrs.
Forest, Mother Superior of the Yarmouth Convent, Alexandra Hotel,
Hastings.' 'Mother Superior of a Convent! I should never have thought it.
But if she is a nun, why isn't she in a habit? Classical cartoons and
nunneries. I think this time I've hit upon a strange specimen, one of the
strangest I've ever met, which is saying a great deal, for I've met with a
good few in my time. It will be better to tear up her card, for if Kate
should find it----'

And then, dismissing Mrs. Forest from his mind, he wondered if he should
find Kate drunk or sober. 'Quite sober,' he said to himself as soon as he
crossed the threshold; and in the best of humours his wife greeted him, and
taking his arm they went down to the pier and gave an entertainment that
was appreciated by a fairly large audience.

'Why didn't she ask me to come to her at five to-day?' he asked himself as
he returned home with his wife. 'She may fall through my fingers,' and he
would have gone straight away to Mrs. Forest, if he had been able to rid
himself of Kate.

'You'll take me out to tea, Dick?' she baid, and to keep her sober he took
her to tea. For the nonce Kate drunk would have suited him better than Kate
sober, and he dared not go down to the pier next morning in search of Mrs.
Forest, it being more than likely that Kate might take it into her head to
sun herself on the pier, so he decided to wait; the pier was too dangerous.
If he weren't interrupted by Kate the directors might see them together,
and they might know Mrs. Forest and tell her that he was a married man. No,
he'd just keep his appointment with her at five. But to get rid of Kate
required a deep plan. It was laid and succeeded, and at five he arrived at
the Alexandra Hotel.

'Is Mrs. Forest in?'

The hall porter told the page boy to take Mr. Lennox up to Mrs. Forest's
rooms.

'All this smells money,' Dick said to himself in the lift.

The page boy threw open the door, and after walking through a long corridor
the boy knocked at a door, and Dick walked into a red twilight in which he
caught sight of a green dress in a distant corner.

'I hope you're not one of those people who require the glare of the sun
always. I like the sun in its proper place out of doors,' and while
thinking of an appropriate answer Dick strove to find his way through the
numerous pieces of furniture littered over the carpet.

'Come and sit on the sofa beside me.'

'If you'll allow me,' he answered, 'I will sit in this armchair. I shall be
able to devote myself more completely to the hearing of your poem.'

It was not polite to refuse to sit beside the lady, but Dick contrived to
convey that her presence would trouble his intellectual enjoyment, and the
slight displeasure which the refusal had caused vanished out of the painted
face. This first success almost succeeded in screwing up Dick's courage to
the point of asking her if he might remove the flower vase that stood on
the cabinet behind him, but he did not dare, and at every moment he seemed
to recognize a new scent. An odour of burning pastilles drifted from a
distant corner into a zone of patchouli in which the lady seemed to have
encircled herself and which her every movement seemed to spread in more and
more violent flavours, till Dick began to think he would not be able to
hold out till the end of the lady's narrative. Patchouli always gave him a
headache, but the word 'opera' restored him to himself, and with lips
quivering like a cat watching a sparrow he heard that the subject of her
opera was derived from her own life; and telling him that it could not be
understood without a relation of the events that had given it birth, she
drew her legs up on the sofa, and leaning her head against the back
commenced in a low, cooing, but not disagreeable voice to tell of her first
love adventure. 'I might almost call my departure for Bulgaria, some ten
years ago, a spiritual adventure,' she said.

The departure for Bulgaria seemed full of interest, but from Dick's point
of view the leading up to the departure was unduly prolonged, and he found
it difficult to listen with any show of interest to Mrs. Forest's
assurances that until she met the Bulgarian she had thought that babies
were found in parsley-beds or under gooseberry-bushes, and this innocence
of mind was so inherent in her that the Bulgarian had not succeeded
altogether in robbing her of it. 'Nor, indeed, did he ever attempt to do
so,' she continued. 'Our friendship was founded purely on the intellect.'

This admission was a disappointment to Dick, who had looked forward to the
story of a novel love adventure which might easily be worked into a comic
opera, Bulgaria offering a suitable background. With many pretty smiles he
tried to lead the lady into the real story of her past, but Mrs. Forest
insisted so well that he was fain to believe that there had been no past in
her life suitable to comic opera. Her Bulgarian adventure had been animated
by love of liberty and a noble desire to free an oppressed race from the
ignoble rule of the Turks; 'massacres,' she said, 'full of nameless
horrors.'

Dick would have liked her to name these horrors, but before he could ask
her to do so she was telling him of the instinct in every woman to mother
something. The Bulgarians had appealed to her sympathies, and she had
helped to bring about their liberation by her poetry. In three years she
had learnt the language and had composed two volumes of poems in it.

'I've looked out copies of my Bulgarian poems for you,' and she leaned over
the edge of the sofa towards a small table. The movement disarranged her
skirt, and Dick's eyes were regaled by the show of a thick shapeless leg,
'doubtless swarthy,' he said to himself.

'The title of the first volume,' she said, handing him the books, 'is,
_Songs of a Stranger_. My friend the Bulgarian' (and she mentioned an
unpronounceable name) 'contributed a preface. The second volume is
entitled, _New Songs by the Stranger_. You will find a translation
appended to each.'

Dick promised that he would read the poems as soon as he got home, and
begged Mrs. Forest to proceed with her interesting story of the war in
which she had lost her great friend, her spiritual adventure, as she called
him.

From Bulgaria she had set forth on a long journey, visiting many parts of
China, returning home full of love for Eastern civilization, and regret
that Western influence would soon make an end of it. 'But,' she said, 'when
I think of my own life, my narrative seems but a faint echo of it all; only
a fragment of it appears, whereas, if I could tell the whole of it----'

But Dick inclined to the belief that her genius was dramatic rather than
narrative, and to bring the autobiography to an end, he asked her how she
had come to be the Mother Superior of the Yarmouth Convent. 'If I can only
get her to cut the cackle and get to the 'osses,' he said to himself, but
this was not easy to do. Mrs. Forest had to relate her socialistic
adventures, her engagement to Edgar Horsley.

'For three years,' she said, 'I was engaged to him, and at the end of this
time it seemed to me that we must come to an understanding. He was talking
of going to Jamaica, and to go to Jamaica with him we would have to be
married. So I went down to where he was staying in the country, a cottage
in Somersetshire, at the end of a very pretty lane.'

'Good God! if she's going to describe the landscape to me,' said Dick to
himself. But Mrs. Forest had no eye for the appearance of trees showing
against the sky, and she was quickly at the cottage door, which was opened
to her, she said, by a suspicious-looking woman, who said, 'I think I've
heard of you. Mr. Horsley is out, but you can come in and wait,' 'and in
about half an hour he came in and introduced me to the woman who had opened
the door to me. "Isabel" is all that I can remember of her name. "Isabel,"
he said, "has been living with me for the last ten years, but if you like
to come with us to Jamaica you can join us." This seemed to me to be an
inacceptable proposition. "What you propose to me," I said, "is
unthinkable," and I left the house, and have not seen or heard of Mr. Edgar
Horsley since. I've looked at water, I've looked at poison, and I've looked
at daggers.'

Dick asked her why she had meditated suicide and she answered:

'Was not such an end to a three years' engagement sufficient to inspire in
any woman a thought of suicide? And I'm very exceptional.'

A great deal of Mrs. Forest's life had been unfolded; the only thing that
remained in obscurity was how she had come to be the Mother Superior of the
Yarmouth Convent, and to make that plain, she said it would be necessary to
tell the story of her conversion to the Catholic faith. 'But that was after
the convent; the convent was intended for the reformation of dipsomaniacs,
female drunkards,' she said; 'but it was afterwards that I became a Roman
Catholic.'

Dick had no wish to hear what dogma it was that had tempted her, but it
amused him as he returned home to think of all the strange things that Mrs.
Forest had told him; one thing especially amused him, that her real
interest in Catholicism was the confessional. 'How one does get back to
oneself in all these things,' he muttered as he panted up the hot steep
road. 'A convent for the reformation of female drunkards,' he repeated.
'It's very strange: she can't know anything about my wife. A strange
woman,' he continued, and fell to thinking if all that she had told him was
the truth, or if it was one of those stories that people imagine about
themselves, and imagine so vividly that after a few years they begin to
believe that everything they have told has befallen them. He pulled the
books from his pocket; they were evidently written in a strange language,
but there were people who could learn languages and could do nothing else.
Her Bulgarian poetry could not be better than her English, and he knew what
that was like. 'I suppose as soon as she hears I'm married, and she's sure
to find out sooner or later, she will be off on some other back. But is
this altogether sure?' He had not walked many steps before he remembered
that the lecture she was giving at the Working Men's Club was on the
chastity of the marriage state; moreover, she had admitted to him that the
Bulgarian adventure was a spiritual one. 'I should say she was a woman with
a big temperament which must have been worth gratifying when she went away
with that Bulgarian; I wouldn't have minded being in his skin. She hasn't
forgotten that she was once a beautiful girl, that's the worst of it, she
hasn't forgotten,' and Dick remembered that at parting she was a little
demonstrative, saying to him on the staircase: 'But we aren't parting for
long. You will be here tomorrow at my door at the same hour.'

XXVI

The appointment was for five o'clock, and Kate would have liked to remain
on the pier with Dick enjoying the summer evening, but he seemed so intent
on returning to their lodging that she did not like to oppose his wishes,
and she allowed herself to be led all the way up the dusty town to their
close, hot rooms that she might try over Fredegonde's music. That he should
wish to hear her voice again in this music flattered her, but she rose from
the piano, her face aflame, when he began to mention an appointment.

'It's too bad of you, Dick, to bring me home and then remember an
appointment.'

Dick overflowed with mellifluous excuses which did not seem to allay Kate's
anger, and as he hurried down the street it occurred to him that he might
have thought of a better reason than Fredegonde for bringing her home.
However this might be, his thoughts were now with Montgomery and Mrs.
Forest rather than with Kate, and it was not till he drew the latchkey from
his pocket that Kate's singing of the waltz returned to him: he ascended
the stairs singing it.

'I think it will work out all right.'

'What will work out all right? You're an hour later than you said you'd
be.'

'Never mind about the hour,' he answered and began to weave a story about
his meeting with a pal from London, as he was leaving the pier the other
day: he hadn't spoken to her about it before, not caring to do so until
something definite had happened.

'What has happened?' Kate asked, and Dick, his face aglow, related how the
pal had spoken of a great revival of interest in comic opera, especially in
French music, and that many city men with plenty of money were on the
lookout for somebody who knew how to produce this class of work and was in
sympathy with the Folies Dramatiques tradition.

Kate, who believed everything that Dick told her, listened with a
heightened temperature. At Margate the admirer of Herve's music became an
American who wished to see _Chilperic, Trone d'Ecosse, Le Petit Faust,
L'Oeil Creve, Marguerite de Navarre_, reproduced as they had been
produced under the composer's direction when Dick was stage-manager at that
theatre. The American was interested in Herve; for he not only wrote the
music but also the words of his operas. Herve was, therefore, the Wagner of
light comic opera. And if the new venture received sufficient support from
the public Dick would like to add other works by Herve--_La Belle
Poule_ and _Le Hussard Persecute_--and having puzzled Kate with
many titles and an imaginary biography of this musical American he fell to
telling her of Blanche D'Antigny, singing all the little tunes he could
remember and branching off into an account of _Le Canard a Trois
Becs_. This last opera was not by Herve, but the American liked it and
might be persuaded to produce it later on.

'It contained a part,' he said, 'in which Kate would succeed in
establishing herself one of London's favourites;' but his praise of her
singing and acting set her wondering if he were gulling her once more, or
if he still believed in her. It might be that her continued sobriety had
reawakened his old love for her, and she remembered suddenly that she had
never really cared for drink, and never would have touched drink if Dick
had not driven her mad with jealousy. And the fact that her voice had
returned to her helped her to believe that Dick was sincere when he told
her that she would be a better Fredegonde than Blanche D'Antigny, who
created the part originally. Montgomery endorsed this view one evening; he
refused to take 'no' for an answer: she must sing the score through with
him, and several times he stopped playing; and looking up in her face told
her he had never known a voice to improve so rapidly and so suddenly. Dick
nodded his acquiescence in Montgomery's opinion and hoped there would be no
more need to tell Kate lies once she was settled in a lodging behind the
Cattle Market. But in this he was mistaken, for in London the need to keep
up the fiction of Herve's American admirer was more necessary than at
Margate. Dick had to relate his different quests every evening. He had been
after the Lyceum, but was unable to get an answer from the lessee; he hoped
to get one next week; and when next week came he spoke about the Royalty
and the Adelphi and the Haymarket, neglecting, however, to mention the
theatre in which he hoped to produce Laura's opera. 'The large stage of the
Lyceum would be excellently well suited,' he said, 'for a fine production
of _Chilperic_,' and he besought Kate to apply herself to the study of
the part of Fredegonde. His imagination led him into dreams of an English
company going over to Paris with all Herve's works, and Kate obliterating
the Blanche D'Antigny tradition. Kate listened delighted, discovering in
Dick's praise of her singing a hope that his love of her had survived the
many tribulations it had been through; and while listening she vowed she
would never touch drink again. Nor did her happiness vanish till morning,
till she saw him struggling into his greatcoat, and foresaw the long
dividing hours. But he had said so many kind things overnight that she was
behoven to stifle complaint, and bore with her loneliness all day long
refusing food, for without Dick's presence food had no pleasure for her,
however hungry she might be. She would wait contented hour after hour if
she could have him to herself when he returned. But sometimes he would
bring back a friend with him, and the pair would sit up talking of women
and their aptitudes in different parts. As none of them were known
personally to Kate, the names they mentioned suggested only new causes for
jealousy, and the thought that Dick was living among all these women while
she was hidden away in this lodging from night till morning, from morning
till night, maddened her. It seemed to her that having been out all day
Dick might at least reserve his evenings for her; and one night she showed
the man he had brought back to supper plainly that his absence would, so
far as she was concerned, have been preferable to his company. 'I wouldn't
have come back,' he said, 'only Dick insisted; and interrupting his regrets
that she did not like him, she said: 'It isn't that I don't like you, but
you're used to women who aren't in love with their husbands, and I'm in
love with mine.' The friend repeated Kate's words to Dick, who said he
hadn't a moment till the cast of the new piece was settled, and a few
nights later he brought back some music which he said he would like her to
try over. 'But it's manuscript, Dick. Why don't you bring home the printed
score?' The lie that came to his lips was that the score of _Trone
d'Ecosse_ had never been printed, and this seeming to her very unlikely
she said she didn't care whether it had or hadn't, but was tired of living
in Islington, and would like to see something of the London of which she
had heard so much.

'I've been in London all my life,' Dick said, 'and I haven't been to the
Tower or to St. Paul's. However, dear, if you'd like to see them we'll
visit all these places together as soon as _Chilperic_ is produced.'

With this promise he consoled her in a measure, and she watched Dick depart
and then took up a novel and read it till she could read no longer. She
then went out for a little walk, but soon returned, finding it wearisome to
be always asking the way. So forlorn and lost did she seem that even the
fat landlady, the mother of the ten children who clattered about the head
of the kitchen staircase, took pity upon her and told her the number of the
bus that would bring her to the British Museum, assuring her that she would
find a great deal there to distract her attention.

It did not matter to her where she went if Dick wasn't with her; without
Dick all places were the same to her, and the British Museum would do as
well as any other place. She must go somewhere, and the British Museum
would do as well as the Tower or St. Paul's. There were things to be seen,
and she didn't mind what she saw as long as she saw something new. She
couldn't look any longer at the two pictures on the walls--"With The
Stream" and "Against The Stream," the wax fruit, the mahogany sideboard,
the dingy furniture, the torn curtains; and of all she must get out of
hearing of the children and the surly landlady, who a few minutes ago was
less surly, and had told her of the British Museum, and all the wonderful
things that were to be seen there. But she hadn't the bus fare, and didn't
like to ask the landlady for a few pence. As long as she hadn't any money
she was out of temptation, and it was by her own wish that Dick left her
without money. As she walked to and fro she caught sight of his clothes
thrown over the back of a chair in the bedroom; and he might have left a
few pence in one of his pockets.

She searched the trousers; how careless Dick was: several shillings: one,
two, three, four, five. Five and sixpence. She would take sixpence. As she
walked out of the bedroom clinking the coppers the desire to read his
letters fell upon her, and yielding to it she put her hand into the inside
pocket of his coat and drew from it a packet of letters and some papers,
manuscripts, poems.

'Now, who,' she asked, 'can have been sending him these _Classical
Cartoons_, number four?'

She read of heroes, the glory of manhood collected along the shores of the
terrible river that guards the dominions of Pluto. She knew nothing of
Pluto, but recognized the handwriting as a woman's, and the lines:

'Zeus, the monarch of heaven, clothed in the form of a
mortal,
Kneeling, caressed and caressing, drank from her lips
joy and love-draughts,'

caused Kate to dash the manuscript from her. A letter accompanied the poem
and read:

'My dear, nothing can be done without you, and if you don't come at once we
shall miss getting a theatre this season, and without a theatre we are
helpless.'

Kate did not need to read any more. The letter left no doubt that Dick was
engaged in an intrigue with a woman who had written some play or opera
which he was going to produce, and the envelope out of which she had taken
the letter bore the direction: 'Richard Lennox, Esq., Post Restante,
Margate.'

'So it was lies all the while at Margate,' she said to herself, walking
about the room, stopping now and again to stare at some object which she
did not see. 'There was no American, and no _Chilperic_, no _Trone
d'Ecosse_, no _L'Oeil Creve_, no _La Belle Poule_, no _Marguerite de
Navarre_. Lies, lies! Nothing but lies! He never intended to produce one of
them, or that I should play "Fredegonde." Lies! Lies! And the great part in
_Le Canard a Trois Becs_ which would establish my reputation in London.
Lies! He never intended to produce one of these operas,' she cried. 'He
shut me up here in this lodging so that I should be out of the way while he
carried on with that What's-her-name.'

Her brain at that instant seemed to catch fire, and snatching up some money
from the mantelpiece, she rushed out of the house tumbling over the
children as she made her way to the front door without hat or jacket. The
sunlight awoke her and she looked round puzzled, and only just escaped
being run over by a passing cart. In front of her was a public-house.
Drink! She went in and drank till she recovered her reason and began to
lose it again.

A 'bottle of gin, please,' she said, and put the money on the counter and
returned to her lodging almost mad with jealousy and rage and thirst for
revenge. 'No, she wouldn't drink any more, for if she were to drink any
more she'd not be able to have it out with Dick, and this time she would
have it out with him and no mistake. If he were to kill her it didn't
matter; but she would have it out with him.' As she sat by the table
waiting hour after hour for him to return, her whole mind was expressed by
the words--'I'll have it out with him'--and she didn't weary of repeating
them, for it seemed to her that they kept her resolution from dying: what
she feared most was that his presence might quell her resolution. To have
it out with him as she was minded, she mustn't be drunk, nor yet too sober.

He might bring home a friend with him, but that wouldn't stay her hand.
Montgomery too had deceived her. Dick was rehearsing his opera; he had
written music for that Mrs. Forest, and this was the end of their
friendship.

Many hours went by, but they didn't seem long, passion gave her patience.
At last a sound of footsteps caused her to start to her feet. It was Dick.

'This is going to be an all-night affair,' he said to himself as soon as he
crossed the threshold. 'I hope you didn't wait supper for me?' His manner
was most conciliatory, and perhaps it was that conciliatory manner that
inflamed her.

'Business, I suppose; I know damned well what your business was: I know all
about it, you and your woman, Mrs. Forest; the theatre she's taken for you;

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