Part 8 out of 8
the--you know what--for, between you and me, that was the cause of all our
trouble; but, candidly speaking, I don't think it would be advisable for us
to live together, at least for the present, and I'll tell you why. I know
that you love me very much, but, as you said yourself just now, it's your
jealousy and the drink together that excites you, and leads up to those
terrible rows. Now, the best plan would be for us to live apart, let us say
for six months or so, until you've entirely got over your little weakness,
you know; and then--why, then we'll be as happy as we used to be at
Blackpool in the dear old times long ago.'
'Oh, Dick! don't say that I must wait six months; I might be dead before
then. But you're not speaking the truth to me. You were just going to say
that I might come back to you when the horrid girl came in. I know. Yes, I
believe there's something between you.'
'Now, Kate, remember your promise not to kick up a row. I consented to see
you because you said you wouldn't be violent. Here's your letter.'
'I'm not going to be violent, Dick; but six months seems such a long time.'
'It won't be as long passing as you think. And now I must run away; they're
waiting for me on the stage. Have you seen the piece? Would you like to go
'No, not to-night, Dick; I feel too sad. But won't you kiss me before I
Dick bent his face and kissed her; but there was a chill in the kiss that
went to her heart, and she felt that his lips would never touch hers again.
But she had no protest to make, and almost in silence she allowed herself
to be shown out of the theatre. When she got into the mist she shivered a
little, and drew her thin shawl tighter about her thin shoulders, and, with
one of the choruses still ringing in her ears, she walked in the direction
of the Strand. Somehow her sorrow did not seem too great for her to bear.
The interview had passed neither as badly nor as well as had been expected,
and thinking of the six months of probation that lay before her, but
without being in the least able to realize their meaning, she walked
dreaming through the sloppy, fog-smelling streets. The lamps were now but
like furred patches of yellow laid on a dead grey background, and a
mud-bespattered crowd rolled in and out of the darkness. The roofs overhead
were engulfed in the soot-coloured sky that seemed to be descending on the
heads of the passengers. Men passed carrying parcels; the white necktie of
a theatre-goer was caught sight of. From Lambeth, from Islington, from
Pimlico, from all the dark corners where it had been lurking in the
daytime, prostitution at the fading of the light, had descended on the
town--portly matrons, very respectable in brown silk dresses and veils,
stood in the corners of alleys and dingy courts, scorned by the younger
generation; young girls of fifteen and sixteen going by in couples with
wisps of dyed hair hanging about their shoulders, advertisements of their
age; the elder taking the responsibility of choosing; Germans in long
ulsters trafficked in guttural intonations; policemen on their beats could
have looked less concerned. The English hung round the public-houses,
enviously watching the arched insteps of the Frenchwomen tripping by.
Smiles there were plenty, but the fog was so thick that even the Parisians
lost their native levity and wished themselves back in Paris.
At the crossing of Wellington Street she stumbled against a small man who
leaned against a doorway coughing violently. They stared at each other in
profound astonishment, and then Kate said in a pained and broken voice:
'Oh, Ralph! is it you?'
'Yes, indeed it is. But to think of meeting you here in London!'
They had, for the second, in a sort of way, forgotten that they had once
been man and wife, and after a pause Kate said:
'But that's just what I was thinking. What are you doing in London?'
Ralph was about to answer when he was cut short by a fit of coughing. His
head sank into his chest, and his little body was shaken until it seemed as
if it were going to break to pieces like a bundle of sticks. Kate looked at
him pityingly, and passing unconsciously over the dividing years just as
she might have done when they kept shop together in Hanley, she said:
'Oh! you know you shouldn't stop out in such weather as this: you'll be
'Oh no, I shan't; I've got a new remedy. But I've lost my way; that's the
reason why I'm so late.'
'Perhaps I can tell you. Where are you staying?'
'In an hotel in Bedford Street, near Covent Garden.'
'Well, then, this is your way; you've come too far.'
And passing again into the jostling crowd they walked on in silence side by
side. A slanting cloud of fog had drifted from the river down into the
street, creating a shivering and terrifying darkness. The cabs moved at
walking pace, the huge omnibuses stopped belated, and their advertisements
could not be read even when a block occurred close under a gas-lamp. The
jewellers' windows emitted the most light; but even gold and silver wares
seemed to have become tarnished in the sickening atmosphere. Then the smell
from fishmongers' shops grew more sour as the assistant piled up the
lobsters and flooded the marbles preparatory to closing; and, just within
the circle of vision, inhaling the greasy fragrance of soup, a woman in a
blue bonnet loitered near a grating.
'This is Bedford Street, I think,' said Kate, 'but it's so dark that it's
impossible to see.'
'I suppose you know London well?' replied Ralph somewhat pointedly.
'Pretty well, I've been here now for some time.'
For the last three or four minutes not a word had been spoken. Kate was
surprised that Ralph was not angry with her; she wanted to speak to him of
old times, but it was hard to break the ice of intervening years. At last,
as they stopped before the door of a small family hotel, he said:
'It's now something like four years since we parted, ain't it?'
The question startled her, and she answered nervously and hurriedly:
'I suppose it is, but I'd better wish you good-bye now--you're safe at
'Oh no! come in; you look so very tired, a glass of wine will do you good.
Besides, what harm? Wasn't I your husband once?'
'Oh, Ralph! how can you?'
'Why, there's no reason why I shouldn't hear how you've been getting on.
We're just like strangers, so many things have occurred; I've married
since--but perhaps you didn't hear of it?'
'Married! Who did you marry?'
'Well! I married your assistant, Hender.'
'What, Hender your wife?' said Kate, with an intonation of voice that was
full of pain. A dagger thrust suddenly through her side as she went up the
staircase could not have wounded her more cruelly than the news that the
woman who had been her assistant now owned the house that once was hers.
The story of the dog in the manger is as old as the world.
Through the windows of the little public sitting-room nothing was visible;
everything was shrouded in the yellow curtain of fog. A commercial
traveller had drawn off his boots, and was warming his slippered feet by
'Dreadful weather, sir,' said the man. 'I'm afraid it won't do your cough
much good. Will you come near the fire?'
'Thank you,' said Ralph.
Kate mechanically drew forward a chair. It would be impossible for them to
say a word, for the traveller was evidently inclined to be garrulous, and
both wondered what they should do; but at that moment the chambermaid came
to announce that the gentleman's room was ready. He took up his boots and
retired, leaving the two, who had once been husband and wife, alone; and
yet it seemed as difficult as ever to speak of what was uppermost in their
minds. Kate helped Ralph off with his great-coat, and she noticed that he
looked thinner and paler. The servant brought up two glasses of grog, and
when Kate had taken off her bonnet, she said: 'Do you think I'm much
'Well, since you ask me, Kate, I must say I don't think you're looking very
well. You're thinner than you used to be, and you've lost a good deal of
'I've only just recovered from a bad illness,' she said, sighing, and as
she raised the glass to her lips the gaslight defined the whole contour of
her head. The thick hair that used to encircle her pale prominent temples
like rich velvet, looked now like a black silk band frayed and whitened at
'But what have you been doing? Have things gone pretty well with you?' said
Ralph, whose breath came from him in a thin but continuous whistle. 'What
happened when I got my decree of divorce?'
'Nothing particular for a while, but afterwards we were married.'
'Oh!' said Ralph, 'so he married you, did he? Well, I shouldn't have
expected it of him. So we're both married. Isn't it odd? And meeting, too,
in this way.'
'Yes, many things have happened since then. I've been on the
stage--travelling all over England.'
'What! you on the stage, Kate?' said Ralph, lifting his head from his hand.
'Oh lord! oh lord! how--Ha! ha! oh! but I mustn't la-ugh; I won't be able
Kate turned to him almost angrily, and the ghost of the prima donna
awakening in her, she said:
'I don't see what there is to laugh at. I've played all the leading parts,
and in all the principal towns in England--Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds.
The Newcastle Chronicle said my Serpolette was the best they'd seen.
Ralph looked bewildered, like a man blinded for a moment by a sudden flash
of lightning. He could not at once realize that this woman, who had been
his wife, who had washed and scrubbed in his little home in Hanley, was now
one of those luminous women who, in clear skirts and pink stockings, wander
singing beautiful songs, amid illimitable forests and unscalable mountains.
For a moment he regretted he had married Miss Hender.
'But I don't think I shall ever act again.'
'How's that?' he said with an intonation of disappointment in his voice.
'I don't know,' said Kate. 'I'm not living with my husband now, and I
haven't the courage to look out for an engagement myself.'
Ralph stared at her vaguely. 'Look out for an engagement?' he repeated to
himself; it seemed to him that he must be dreaming.
'Aren't you happy with him? Doesn't he treat you well?' said Ralph,
dropping perforce from his dream back into reality,
'Oh yes, he has always been very good to me. I can't say how it was, but
somehow after a time we didn't get on. I dare say it was my fault. But how
do you get on with Miss Hender?' said Kate, partly from curiosity, half
from a wish to change the conversation.
'Oh, pretty well,' said Ralph, with something that sounded, in spite of his
wheezing, like a sigh.
'How does she manage the dressmaking? She was always a good workwoman, but
she never had much taste, and I should fancy wouldn't be able to do much if
left entirely to herself.'
'That's just what occurred. It's curious you should have guessed so
correctly. The business has all gone to the dogs, and since mother's death
we've turned the house into a lodging-house.'
'And is mother dead?' cried Kate, clasping her hands. 'What must she have
thought of me.'
Ralph did not answer, but after a long silence he said:
'It's a pity, ain't it, that we didn't pull it off better together?'
Kate raised her head and looked at him quickly. Her look was full of
'Yes,' she said, 'I behaved very badly towards you, but I believe I've been
punished for it.'
'You told me that he married you and treated you very well.'
'Oh!' she said, bursting into tears, 'don't ask me, it's too long a story;
I'll tell you another time, but not now.'
It appeared to Kate that her heart was on fire and that she must die of
grief. 'Was this life?' she asked herself. Oh, to be at rest and out of the
way for ever! Ralph, too, seemed deeply affected; after a pause he said:
'I don't know how it was, or why, but now I come to think of it I remember
that I used to be cross with you.'
'It was the asthma that made you cross, and well it might;' and she asked
him if he still suffered from asthma, and he answered:
'At times, yes.'
'But the cigarettes,' she said, 'used to relieve you; do you still smoke
'Yes, and sometimes they relieve me and sometimes they don't.' A long
silence separated them, and breaking it suddenly he said:
'There were faults on both sides. On every side,' he added, 'for I don't
exempt mother from blame either. She was always too hard upon you. Now, I
should never have minded your going to the theatre and amusing yourself. I
shouldn't have minded your being an actress, and I should have gone to
fetch you home every evening.'
Kate smiled through her misery, and he continued, following his idea to the
'It wouldn't have interfered with the business if you had been; on the
contrary, it would have brought us a connection, and I might have had up
those plate-glass windows, and taken in the fruiterer's shop.'
Ralph stopped. The roar of London had sunk out of hearing in the yellow
depths of the fog, and for some minutes nothing was heard but the short
ticking of the clock. It was a melancholy pleasure to dream what might have
been had things only taken a different turn, and like children making
mud-pies it amused them to rebuild the little fabric of their lives; whilst
one reconstructed his vision of broken glass, the other lamented over the
ruins of penny journal sentiment. Then awakening by fits and starts, each
confided in the other. Ralph told Kate how Mrs. Ede had spoken of her when
her flight had been discovered; Kate tried to explain that she was not as
much to blame as might be imagined. Ralph's curiosity constantly got the
better of him, and he couldn't but ask her to tell him something about her
stage experience. One thing led to another, and before twelve o'clock it
surprised her to think she had told him so much.
The conversation was carried on in brief and broken phrases. The man and
the woman sat close together shivering over the fire. There were no
curtains to the windows, and the fog had crept through the sashes into the
room. Kate coughed from time to time--a sharp, hacking cough--and Ralph's
wheezing grew thicker in sound.
'I'm a-fraid I shall have a b-bad night, this dre-ad-ful weather.'
'I should like to stop to nurse you; but I must be getting home.'
'You surely won't think of going out such a night as this; you'll never
find your way home.'
'Yes, yes, I shall; it wouldn't do for me to remain here.'
They who had once been husband and wife looked at each other, and both
'Ve-ry well, I'll see you do-wnstairs.'
'Oh no! you mustn't, you'll kill yourself I'
Ralph, however, insisted. They stood on the doorstep for a moment together,
suffocating in a sulphur-hued atmosphere.
'You'll come a-nd and see me again to-to-morrow, won't you?'
'Yes, yes!' cried Kate; 'to-morrow! to-morrow!' and she disappeared in the
But on the morrow she could not leave her room, and at the end of the week
the news at the Bedford Hotel was that Mr. Ede had gone away the day before
without leaving any message.
The porter who informed her of his departure looked her over curiously,
setting her thinking that he thought Mr. Ede had done well to get clear of
the likes of her. She had tried to make herself look tidy and thought she
had succeeded, but tidy or untidy, it was all the same, nothing mattered
now; she was done for. No doubt the porter was right; Ralph had gone away
to escape from her, which was just as well, for what more had they to say
to each other: hadn't he married Hender? And passing in front of a
shop-window she caught sight of herself in a looking-glass. 'Not up to
much,' she said, and passed on into the Strand mumbling her misfortunes and
causing the passers-by to look after her. She had not pinned up her skirt
safely, a foot of it dragged over the pavement, and hearing jeering voices
behind her she went into a public-house to ask for a pin. The barmaid
obliged her with one, and while arranging her skirt she heard a man say:
'Well, they that talk of the evil of drinking know very little of what they
are talking about. Drink has saved as many men as it has killed.' Kate's
heart warmed to the man, for she knew a glass had often saved her from
making away with herself, but never had she felt more like the river in her
life than she did that morning. Threepennyworth would be enough, she could
not afford more; Dick was only allowing her two pounds a week, and a woman
had to look after the thirty-nine shillings very strictly to find the
fortieth in her pocket before her next week's money was due. She felt
better after having her glass; her thoughts were no longer on the river
lying at the end of Wellington Street, but on the passengers in the Strand,
the swaggering mummers, male and female; the men with lordly airs and
billycock hats; the women with yellow hair wad unholy looks upon their
faces. There were groups of men and women round a theatrical agent's place
of business, all sorts of people coming and going; lawyers from the Temple,
journalists on their way to Fleet Street; prostitutes of all kinds and all
sorts, young and old, fat and thin, of all nationalities, French, Belgian,
and German, went by in couples, in rows, their eyes flaming invitations.
Children with orange coloured hair sold matches and were followed down
suspicious alleys; a strange hurried life, full of complexity, had begun in
the twilight before the lamplighters went by. Girls and boys scrambled
after each other quarrelling and selling newspapers. The spectacle helped
the time away between four o'clock and seven. At seven she turned into some
eating-house and dined for a shilling, and afterwards there was nothing to
do than wander in the Strand. Some of the women who preferred to pick up a
living by the sale of their lips rather than by standing for hours over a
stinking wash-tub were very often kindly human beings, and there was nobody
else except these street-walkers with whom she could exchange a few words
and invite into a drinking shop for a glass. Over the counter she related
her successes as Clairette in _Madame Angot_ and Serpolette in _Les
Cloches de Corneville_, and if an incredulous look came into the faces
of her guests she sang to them the little ditties, proving by her knowledge
of them that all she told them was true. From the drinking-shop they passed
out in groups, and these women took Kate to their eating-houses, and she
listened to their stories, and when at the end of the week she had spent
all her money sometimes these women lent her shillings and half-crowns, and
when she could not return the money she had borrowed they asked her: 'Why
don't you do as we do?'
Her pretty face of former days was almost gone by this time, but traces of
it still remained. 'If you would only dress yourself a little more
becomingly and come along with us, you would be able to make two ends meet.
With what you get from your husband you would be better off than any of
us.' But she could not be persuaded, and as time moved on, and drunkenness
became more inveterate, the belief that she was not utterly lost unless she
was unfaithful to Dick took possession of her, and she clung to it with an
almost desperate insistency, saying to her friends, 'If I were to do that I
should go down to the river and drown myself.' She used to hear laughter
when she said these words, and the replies were that every woman had said
the same thing: 'But we all come to it sooner or later.' 'Not me, not me!'
she replied, tottering out of the public-house. But one night, awakening in
the dusk between daylight and dark, she remembered that something had
befallen her that had never befallen her before. She was not sure, it may
have been that she had dreamed it. All the same, she could not rid herself
of the idea that last night in the public-house near Charing Cross a man
had come in and said he would pay for the drinks, and that afterwards she
had gone to one of the hotels in Villiers Street. If she hadn't why did she
think of Villiers Street? She rarely went down that street. Yet she was
haunted by a memory, a hateful memory that had kept her awake, and had
caused her to moan and to cry for hours, till at last sleep fell upon her.
On waking her first thought was to inquire from the women, and she walked
up and down the Strand seeking them till nightfall. But they could tell her
nothing of what had happened after she left them, 'Dry your eyes, Kate,'
they said. 'What matter? Your husband deserted you; aren't you free to live
with whom you please?'
Kate felt that all they said was true enough, but she prayed that the
memory of the hotel bedroom that had risen up in her mind was the memory of
a dream, and not of something that had befallen her in her waking senses.
It were bad enough that she should have dreamed such a thing, and on
returning home she fell on her knees and prayed that what she feared had
been, had not been; and she rose from her knees, her eyes full of tears,
and a sort of leaden despair in her heart that she felt would never pass
As the days went by her mind became denser, she fell into obtusities out of
which she found it difficult to rouse herself. Even her violent temper
seemed to leave her, and miserable and hopeless she rolled from one lodging
to another, drinking heavily, bringing the drink back with her and drinking
in her bed until her hand was too unsteady to pour out another glass of
whisky. She drank whisky, brandy, gin, and if she couldn't get these, any
other spirit would serve her purpose, even methylated spirit.
Her bed-curtains were taken away by the landlady lest Kate should set them
on fire. The landlady lit the gas at nightfall and turned it out before she
went to bed--'Only in that way,' she said to herself, 'can we be sure that
that woman won't burn us all to death in our beds. Once a room is let,' she
continued, 'it's hard to turn a sick woman out, especially if there's no
excuse, and in this case there's none. For you see, Mrs. Lennox is getting
two pounds a week from her husband,' Mr. Locker, Mrs. Rawson's evening
friend, agreed with her; and he spoke of the recompense she would be
entitled to from Mr. Lennox in the event of Mrs. Lennox's death; 'for, of
course, every trouble and annoyance should be recompensed.' She agreed with
him; but her eyes suddenly softening, she said: 'I haven't seen her since
this morning when I took her up a cup of tea. She may like a bit of dinner.
We're having some rabbit for supper, I'll ask her if she'd like a piece.'
A few minutes later she returned saying she was afraid Mrs. Lennox was
dying, and that it might be as well to send to the hospital. Locker
answered that perhaps it would be just as well, but on second thoughts he
suggested that the husband should be communicated with.
'It isn't far to the Opera Comique,' Mrs. Rawson answered, 'I'll just put
on my hat and jacket and go round there.'
'It'll be the best way to escape responsibility,' Locker said on the
doorstep; but without answering she went up the Strand, passing over to the
other side when she came in sight of the Globe Theatre.
'Where's the stage entrance of the Opera Comique?' she asked at the
bookstall at the corner of Holliwell Street, and was told that she would
find the stage entrance in Wytch Street, about half-way down the street.
'The stage-doors of the Globe and the Opera Comique are side by side,' was
cried after her. 'What does he mean by half-way down the street,' she
muttered; 'he meant a quarter down,' and she addressed herself to the
door-keeper, who answered surlily that Mr. Lennox was particularly engaged
at that moment, but at Mrs. Rawson's words--'I believe his wife is
dying'--he agreed to send up a message as soon as he could get hold of
somebody to take it. At last somebody's dresser was stopped as he was about
to pass through the swing-door; he agreed to take the message, and a few
minutes after Mrs. Rawson was conducted up several little staircases and
down some passages to find herself eventually in a small room in which
there were three people, one a pleasant-faced man, so affable and kind that
Mrs. Rawson thought she could have got on with him very well if she had had
a chance. By him stood a tall imperious lady who rustled a voluminous
skirt--a person of importance, Mrs. Rawson judged her to be from the
deference with which a little thread-paper-man listened to her--the
costumier, she learnt from scraps of conversation.
'I'm sorry,' Mr. Lennox said. 'All you tell me is very sad. But I'm afraid
I can do nothing.'
'That's what I think myself,' Mrs. Rawson answered. 'I'm afraid there's
nothing to be done, but I thought I'd better come and tell you. You see,
when I went up with some beef-tea she looked to me like one that hadn't
many days to live. I may be mistaken, of course.'
'She should have a nurse,' Mrs. Forest said.
'I do all I can for her,' Mrs. Rawson murmured, 'but you see with three
children to look after and only one maid,'--the two women began to talk
together and the thread-paper man took advantage of the opportunity to
whisper to Dick that he thought he could manage to do the flower-girls'
dresses at five shillings less.
'That will be all right,' Dick replied. 'I will call round in the morning,
Mrs. Forest held out her jacket to Dick, who helped her into it.
'Where are you going ... shall you be coming back again?' he asked.
'I'm going to nurse your wife, Dick,' she said, picking up her long feather
boa, 'and isn't all that is happening now a vindication that we did well
not to yield ourselves to ourselves?--for had we done so our regrets would
be now unanimous, and I shouldn't be able to go to her with clear
conscience.... She's been drinking heavily again, no doubt,' Mrs. Forest
said, turning to Mrs. Rawson. 'But we mustn't judge or condemn anyone, so
Jesus hath said. I'll go with you now, Mrs. Rawson, and you'll perhaps come
to-morrow, Dick, to see her?'
'If I could help my wife I'd go, Laura, but as I've often told you, my will
to help her was spent long ago; it would be of no use.' Laura's eyes lit up
for a moment. 'But if she asks to see me I'll go.' At these words Mrs.
Forest's eyes softened, and he began to ask himself how much truth there
was in Laura's resolve to go and attend upon his wife in what was no doubt
a last agony. Seeing and hearing her put into his head remembrances of an
actress, he could not remember which. Her demeanour was as lofty as any and
her speech almost rose into blank verse at times; and he began to think
that she had missed her vocation in life. It might have been that she was
destined by nature for the stage. 'She's more mummer than myself or Kate,'
he said to himself, and giving an ear to her outpourings, he recognized in
them the rudiments of the grand style: and he admired her transitions--her
voice would drop and she seemed to find her way back into homely speech.
Her soul seemed to pass back and forwards easily, and Dick did not feel
sure which was the real woman and which the fictitious. 'She doesn't know
herself,' he said, for at that moment she had left the tripod and was
sitting in imagination at the bedside in attendance, looking from the
patient to the clock, administering the medicine on the exact time.
When Mrs. Rawson spoke about the length of the day and night she answered
that she would take her work with her, and bade Dick not to be anxious
about the changes he had asked her to make in the second act. 'They shall
be made,' she said, 'and without laying myself open to any claim for
'Demurrage' Dick exclaimed.
'She shall have attendance, but a soul ready to depart shouldn't be
detained in port longer than is necessary. And Mrs. Rawson would like to
let her room to one who has not received her sailing orders, as is the case
with your poor wife, Dick,--that is to say, if I understand Mrs. Rawson's
account of her illness.'
'She's not here for long,' Mrs. Rawson answered; 'but you mustn't think,
ma'am, that I'd lay any under claim for the trouble she's been to me, only
what is fair. "Fair is fair all the world over," has been my maxim ever
since I started letting apartments. But perhaps, ma'am, you'll be wanting a
room in my house. If you do there's the drawing-room floor, which would
suit you nicely. But you can't be day nurse and night nurse yourself.'
Laura answered that that was true, and talking of a nurse from Charing
Cross Hospital they went out of the house together. At the end of the
street Laura stopped suddenly. 'But she must have a doctor,' she said, and
waited for Mrs. Rawson to recommend one, and Mrs. Rawson replied that the
doctor that attended her and her children was out of town.
'We will ask here,' Laura said, and called to the cabby to stop at the
apothecary's, and the questions she put to the man behind the counter were
so pertinent that Mrs. Rawson began to think that perhaps she had misjudged
Mrs. Forest, who now seemed to her a sensible and practical woman. They
jumped again into a cab, and after a short drive returned with a doctor,
Laura relating to him in the cab all they knew about his patient.
'From what you tell me it seems a bad case,' he said, and turning from
Laura to Mrs. Rawson he asked her to describe the patient.
'When I took up the beef-tea I found her that bad that I felt that I'd
always have it on my conscience if I didn't let her husband know how bad
his wife was----
'I'm afraid, doctor, that she's been drinking for years,' Laura
'Well, as soon as I see Mrs. Lennox I shall be able to tell you if there is
in my opinion any reasonable hope of saving her. I believe you're going to
nurse Mrs. Lennox through this illness?' he asked Laura, and she began to
tell him how she had always known of this duty: years before she had ever
met Mr. Lennox it had been revealed to her--not the exact time, but the
fact that she would have to attend upon the wife of some man who would be
engaged in the publication of some of her works. 'You see, her husband is
producing my play _Incarnation_ at the Opera Comique, and I've brought
some of my work with me.' She opened her bag and laid on the table the
manuscript entitled _Sayings of the Sybil_, and the doctor listened at
first not satisfied that she was altogether the nurse into whose charge he
would have liked to have given Mrs. Lennox; but feeling that, if he were to
press the necessity of a nurse on Mrs. Forest, she might leave, he
refrained, thinking that very often people who talked eccentrically were
very practical. He had known extravagant speech go with practical nursing,
and hoping that Mrs. Forest would prove another such one, he laid down the
manuscript on the table.
'But if you believe that we live hereafter, why should you deny
pre-existence?' and without waiting for the doctor to answer, Laura averred
that she had lived at least eight times already; witnessing the dread
contest of death, and dying for the cause of Pan, and the Light-King, and
Eros the immortal, whose I am,' she said; 'and once again, for the ninth
time, I live and watch the contest--watch with joy which overcomes fear,
with love that conquers death.'
'Well, I hope we shall be able to conquer death in this instance,' the
doctor answered, 'and with care we may save her for some time, and if--'
'Ah, if,' Laura interjected, and curtseying to him she led the doctor to
the door. 'Nothing,' she began, 'can be worse than the present state of
earth-life, and in all its phases; if the human race is to be evolved into
a higher degree of perfection, no weak half-measures will avail to effect
the change; there must, on the contrary, be a radical change in hereditary
The doctor listened a moment and, as if enchanted with the impression she
had produced, Laura went back to the writing-table, and settling the folds
of her brown silk widely over the floor, she began to write:
'"Ye gods, they fail, they falter,
Thy hand hath struck them down.
Their woof the Parcae alter,
Beware thy mother's frown!
What such as I in glory
Compared with such as thee?
Would, in the conflict gory,
That I had died for thee!"'
At this point the inspiration seemed to desert her, and raising her pen
from the paper, she bit its end thoughtfully, seeking for a transitional
phrase whereby she might be able to allude to the Light-god.
They were in a six-shilling-a-week bedroom in the neighbourhood of the
Strand. The window looked on to a bit of red-tiled roofing, a cistern, and
a clothes-line on which a petticoat flapped, and in a small iron bedstead,
facing the light, Kate lay delirious, her stomach enormously distended by
dropsy. From time to time she waved her arms, now wasted to mere bones. She
had been insensible for three whole days, speaking in broken phrases of her
past life--of Mrs. Ede, the potteries, the two little girls, Annie and
Lizzie. Dick, she declared, had been very good to her. Ralph, too, had been
kind, and she was determined that the two men should not quarrel over her.
They must not kill each other; she would not allow it; they should be
friends. They would all be friends yet; that is to say, if Mrs. Ede would
permit of it; and why should she stand between people and make enemies of
them? She fell back into stupor; and next day her ideas were still more
confused. In the belief that it was for the part of the Baillie that Dick
and Ralph were quarrelling she began to express her regret that there was
nothing in the piece for her. Nor were memories of the baby girl who had
died in Manchester lacking. She prayed Ralph to believe that the child was
not his but Dick's child. She prayed and supplicated in Laura's arms till
Laura laid her back on the pillow exhausted.
'Give me something to drink; I'm dying of thirst,' the sick woman murmured
Laura started from her reveries, and going over to the fireplace, where the
beef-tea was standing, poured out half a cup; but, owing to great
difficulty in breathing, it was some time before the patient could drink
After a long silence Kate said:
'I've been very ill, haven't I? I think I must be dying.'
'Death is not death,' Laura answered, 'when we die for Pan, the undying
representative of the universe cognizable to the senses.'
Over Kate's mind lay a vague dream, through whose gloom two things were
just perceptible--an idea of death and a desire to see Dick. But she was
almost too weak to seek for words, and it was with great effort that she
'I don't remember who you are; I can think of nothing now, but I should
like to see my husband once more. Could you fetch him? Is he here?'
'You've not been happy with him, I know, my sister; but I don't blame you.
Your marriage was not a psychological union; and when marriage isn't that,
woman cannot set her foot on the lowest temple of Eros.'
'I'm too ill to talk with you,' Kate replied, 'but I loved my husband well,
too well. I keep all my little remembrances of him in that box; they aren't
much--not much--but I should like him to have them when I'm gone, so that
he may know that I loved him to the last. Perhaps then he may forgive me.
Will you let me see them?'
She looked at the packet of letters, kissed the crumpled calico rose, the
button she had pulled off his coat in a drunken fit and preserved for love,
and she even slipped on her wrist the last few pearls that remained of the
chaplet she wore when they played at sweethearts in _The Lovers'
Knot_. But after the love-tokens had been put back in the box, and Kate
again asked Mrs. Foreat to bring Dick to her, she began to ramble in her
speech, and to fancy herself in Hanley. The most diverse scenes were heaped
together in the complex confusion of Kate's nightmare; the most opposed
ideas were intermingled. At one moment she told the little girls, Annie and
Lizzie, of the immorality of the conversations in the dressing-rooms of
theatres; at another she stopped the Rehearsal of an _opera bouffe_ to
preach to the mummers--in phrases that were remembrances of the
extemporaneous prayers in the Wesleyan Church--of the advantages of an
earnest, working religious life. It was like a costume ball, where chastity
grinned from behind a mask that vice was looking for, while vice hid his
nakedness in some of the robes that chastity had let fall. Thus up and
down, like dice thrown by demon players, were rattled the two lives, the
double life that this weak woman had lived, and a point was reached where
the two became one, when she began to sing her famous song:
'Look at me here, look at me there,'
alternately with the Wesleyan hymns. Sometimes in her delirium she even
fitted the words of one on to the tune of the other.
Still, Laura took no notice, and her pen continued to scratch, scratch,
till it occurred to her that although Dick's marriage had not been a
psychological one, it might be as well that he should see his wife before
she died; and having come to this conclusion suddenly, she put on her
bonnet and left the house.
The landlady brought in the lamp, placing it on the table, out of sight of
the dying woman's eyes.
A dreadful paleness had changed even the yellow of her face to an ashen
tint; her lips had disappeared, her eyes were dilated, and she tried to
raise herself up in bed. Her withered arms were waved to and, fro, and in
the red gloom shed from the ill-smelling paraffin lamp the large, dimly
seen folds of the bedclothes were tossed to and fro by the convulsions hat
agitated the whole body. Another hour passed away, marked by the cavernous
breathing of the woman as she crept to the edge of death. At last there
came a sigh, deeper and more prolonged; and with it she died.
Soon after, before the corpse had grown cold, heavy steps were heard on the
staircase, and Dick and Laura entered, one with a quantity of cockatoo-like
flutterings, the other steadily, like a big and ponderous animal. At a
glance they saw that all was over, and in silence they sat down, their
hands resting on the table. The man spoke hesitatingly in awkward phrases
of a happy release; the woman listened with a calm serenity that caused
Dick to wonder. She would have liked to have said something concerning
psychological marriages, but the appearance of the huge body beneath the
bed-clothes restrained her: he wished to say something nice and kind, but
Laura's presence put everything out of his head, and so his ideas became
more than ever broken and disjointed, his thoughts wandered, until at last,
lifting his eyes from the manuscript on the table, he said:
'Have you finished the second act, dear?'