Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Sir George Tressady, Vol. I by Mrs. Humphry Ward

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

* * * * *

Yet, as Marcella said and felt, it was a hard fate that had forced
Maxwell to concern himself with Ancoats's love-affairs at this
particular moment.

"Don't think of it," she said at last, urgently, as they walked along.
"It is too bad; as if there were not enough!"

Maxwell stood still, with a little smile, and put his arm round her

"Dear, I shall soon have time enough, probably, to think about Ancoats's
affairs or anything else. Do you know that I was planning this morning
what we would do when we go out? Shall we slip over to the Australian
colonies in the autumn? I would give a good deal to see them for myself."

She gave a low cry of pain.

"Why are you so depressed to-night? Is there any fresh news?"

"Yes. And, altogether, things look increasingly bad for us, and
increasingly well for them. It will be extraordinarily close
anyway--probably a matter of a vote or two." And he gave her a summary
of his after-dinner conversation with Lord Cathedine, a keen ally of
Fontenoy's in the Lords, and none the less a shrewd fellow because he
happened to be also a detestable person.

Marcella heard the news of one or two fresh defections from the
Government with amazement and indignation. She stood there in the
darkness, leaning against the man she loved, her heart beating fast and
stormily. How could the world thus misconceive and thwart him? And what
could she do? Her mind ran passionately through a hundred schemes,
refusing to submit--to see him baffled and defeated.


To Lord Ancoats himself this party of his mother's was an oppression
and a nuisance. He had only been induced to preside over it with
difficulty; and his mother had been both hurt and puzzled by his
reluctance to play the host.

If you had asked Maxwell's opinion on the point, he would have told you
that Ancoats's bringing up had a good deal to do with the present
anxieties of Ancoats's mother. He--Maxwell--had done his best, but he had
been overmatched.

First and foremost, Ancoats had been to no public school. It was not the
custom of the family; and Mrs. Allison could not be induced to break the
tradition. There was accordingly a succession of tutors, whose
Church-principles at least were sound. And Ancoats showed himself for a
time an impressionable, mystical boy, entirely in sympathy with his
mother. His confirmation was a great family emotion, and when he was
seventeen Mrs. Allison had difficulty in making him take food enough in
Lent to keep him in health. Maxwell was beginning to wonder where it
would end, when the lad was sent to Cambridge, and the transformation
scene that might always perhaps have been expected, began.

He had been two years at Trinity when he went to pay the Maxwells a
visit at the Court. Maxwell could hardly believe his eyes or ears. The
boy who at nineteen was an authority on church music and ancient "uses,"
by twenty-one talked and thought of nothing in heaven or earth but the
stage and French _bric-à-brac._ His conversation swarmed with the names
of actors, singers, and dancers; but they were names that meant nothing
except to the initiated. They were the small people of the small
theatres; and Ancoats was a Triton among them, not at all, so he
carefully informed his kindred, because of his wealth and title, but
because he too was an artist, and could sing, revel, write, and dance
with the best of them.

For some time Maxwell was able to console Mrs. Allison with the
historical reflection that more than one son of the Oxford Movement had
found in a passion for the stage a ready means of annoying the English
Puritan. When it came, however, to the young man's producing risky plays
of his own composing at extremely costly _matinées_, there was nothing
for it but to interfere. Maxwell at last persuaded him to give up the
farce of Cambridge and go abroad. But Ancoats would only go with a man of
his own sort; and their time was mostly spent in Paris, where Ancoats
divided his hard-spent existence between the furious pursuit of Louis
Quinze _bibelots_ and the patronage of two or three minor theatres. To be
the king of a first night, raining applause and bouquets from his
stage-box, seemed to give him infinite content; but his vanity was hardly
less flattered by the compliments say of M. Tournonville, the well-known
dealer on the Quai Voltaire, who would bow himself before the young
Englishman with the admiring cry, "Mon Dieu! milord, que vous êtes fin
connoisseur!" while the dealer's assistant grinned among the shadows of
the back-shop.

At last, at twenty-four, he must needs return to England for his coming
of age under his grandfather's will and the taking over of his estate.
Under the sobering influence of these events, his class and his mother
seemed for a time to recover him. He refurnished a certain number of
rooms at Castle Luton, and made a special marvel of his own room, which
was hung thick with Boucher, Greuze, and Watteau engravings, littered
with miniatures and trinkets, and encumbered here and there with
portfolios of drawings which he was not anxious to unlock in his
mother's presence.

Moreover, he was again affectionate to his mother, and occasionally even
went to church with her. The instincts of the English aristocrat
reappeared amid the accomplishments of the _petit-maître,_ and poor Mrs.
Allison's spirits revived. Then the golden-haired Lady Madeleine was
asked to stay at Castle Luton. When she came Ancoats devoted himself with
extraordinary docility. He drew her, made songs for her, and devised
French charades to act with her; he even went so far as to compare her
with enthusiasm to the latest and most wonderful "Salome" just exhibited
in the Salon by the latest and most wonderful of the impressionists. But
Lady Madeleine fortunately had not seen the picture.

Then suddenly, one morning, Ancoats went up to town without notice and
remained there. After a while his mother pursued him thither; but Ancoats
was restless at sight of her, and she was not long in London, though
long enough to show the Maxwells and others that her heart was anxiously
set upon Lady Madeleine as a daughter-in-law.

This then--taken together with the stories now besprinkling the
newspapers--was the situation. Naturally, Ancoats's affairs, as he
himself was irritably aware, were now, in one way or another, occupying
the secret thoughts or the private conversations of most of his
mother's guests.

For instance--

* * * * *

"Are you nice?" said Betty Leven, suddenly, to young Lord Naseby, in the
middle of Sunday morning. "Are you in a charitable, charming, humble, and
trusting frame of mind? Because, if not, I shall go away--I have had too
much of Lady Kent!"

Charlie Naseby laughed. He was sitting reading in the shade at the edge
of one of the Castle Luton lawns. For some time past he had been watching
Betty Leven and Lady Kent, as they talked under a cedar-tree some little
distance from him. Lady Kent conversed with her whole bellicose
person--her cap, her chin, her nose, her spreading and impressive
shoulders. And from her gestures young Naseby guessed that she had been
talking to Betty Leven rather more in character than usual.

He felt a certain curiosity about the _tête-à-tête._ So that when Betty
left her companion and came tripping over the lawn to the house, the
young man lifted his face and gave her a smiling nod, as though to invite
her to come and visit him on the way. Betty came, and then as she stood
in front of him delivered the home question already reported.

"Am I nice?" repeated young Naseby. "Far from it. I have not been to
church, and I have been reading a French novel of which I do not even
propose to tell you the name."

And he promptly slipped his volume into his pocket.

"Which is worst?" said Betty, pensively: "to break the fourth
Commandment or the ninth? Lady Kent, of course, has been trampling on
them both. But the ninth is her particular victim. She calls it 'getting
to the roots of things.'"

"Whose roots has she been delving at this morning?" said Naseby.

Betty looked behind her, saw that Lady Kent had gone into the house,
and let herself drop into the corner of Naseby's bench with a sigh
of fatigue.

"One feels as though one were a sort of house-dog tussling with a
burglar. I have been keeping her off all my friends' secrets by main
force; so she had to fall back on George Tressady, and tell me ugly tales
of his mamma."

"George Tressady! Why on earth should she do him an ill turn? I don't
believe she ever saw him before."

Betty pressed her lips. She and Charlie Naseby had been friends since
they wore round pinafores and sat on high nursery chairs side by side.

"One needn't go to the roots of things," she said, severely, "but one
should have eyes in one's head. Has it ever occurred to you that Ancoats
has taken a special fancy to Sir George--that he sat talking to him last
night till all hours, and that he has been walking about with him the
whole of this morning, instead of walking about--well! with somebody
else--as he was meant to do? Why do men behave in this ridiculous manner?
Women, of course. But _men!_ It's like a trout that won't let itself be
landed. And what's the good? It's only prolonging the agony."

"Not at all," said Naseby, laughing. "There's always the chance of
slipping the hook." Then his lively face became suddenly serious. "But
it's time, I think," he added, almost with vehemence, "that Lady Kent
stopped trying to land Ancoats. In the first place, it's no good. He
won't be landed against his will. In the next--well, I only know," he
broke off, "that if I had a sister in love with Ancoats at the present
moment, I'd carry her off to the North Pole rather than let her be talked
about with him!"

Betty opened her eyes.

"Then there _is_ something in the stories!" she cried. "Of course,
Frank told me there was nothing. And the Maxwells have not said a
word. And _now_ I understand why Lady Kent has been dinning it into
my ears--I could only be thankful Mrs. Allison was safe at church--that
Ancoats should marry early. 'Oh! my dear, it's always been the only
hope for them!'" Betty mimicked Lady Kent's deep voice and important
manner: "'Why, there was the grandfather--_his_ wife had a time!--I
could tell you things about _him_!--oh! and her too.--And even Henry
Allison!--' There, of course, I stopped her."

"Old ghoul!" said Naseby, in disgust. "So she knows. And yet--good
Heavens! where does that charming girl come from?"

He knocked the end off his cigarette, and returned it to his mouth with a
rather unsteady hand.

"Knows?--knows what?" said Betty. There was a pink flush, perhaps of
alarm, on her pretty cheek, but her eyes said plainly that if there were
risks she must run them.

Naseby hesitated. The natural reticence of one young man about another
held him back--and he was Ancoats's friend. But he liked Lady Madeleine,
and her mother's ugly manoeuvres in the sight of gods and men filled him
with a restless ill-temper.

"You say the Maxwells have told you nothing?" he said at last. "But all
the same I am pretty certain that Maxwell is here for nothing else. What
on earth should he be doing in this _galère_ just now! Look at him and
Fontenoy! They've been pacing that lime-walk for a good hour. No one ever
saw such a spectacle before. Of course something's up!"

Betty followed his eyes, and caught the figures of the two men between
the trunks as they moved through the light and shadow of the
lime-walk--Fontenoy's massive head sunk in his shoulders, his hands
clasped behind his back; Maxwell's taller and alerter form beside him.
Fontenoy had, in fact, arrived that morning from town, just too late to
accompany Mrs. Allison and her flock to church; and Maxwell and he had
been together since the moment when Ancoats, having brought his guest
into the garden, had gone off himself on a walk with Tressady.

"Ancoats and Tressady came back past here," Naseby went on. "Ancoats
stood still, with his hands on his sides, and looked at those two. His
expression was not amiable. 'Something hatching,' he said to Tressady.
I suppose Ancoats got his sneer from his actor-friends--none of us
could do it without practice. 'Shall we go and pull the chief out of
that?' But they didn't go. Ancoats turned sulky, and went into the
house by himself."

"I'm glad I don't have to keep that youth straight," said Betty,
devoutly. "Perhaps I don't care enough about him to try. But his mother's
a darling saint!--and if he breaks her heart he ought to be hung."

"She knows nothing--I believe--" said Naseby, quickly.

"Strange!" cried Betty. "I wonder if it pays to be a saint. I shall know
everything about _my_ boy when he's that age."

"Oh! will you?" said Naseby, looking at her with a mocking eye.

"Yes, sir, I shall. Your secrets are not so difficult to know, if one
_wants_ to know them. Heaven forbid, however, that I should want to know
anything about any of you till Bertie is grown up! Now, please tell me
everything. Who is the lady?"

"Heaven forbid I should tell you!" said Naseby, drily.

"Don't trifle any more," said Betty, laying a remonstrating hand on his
arm; "they will be home from church directly."

"Well, I won't tell you any names," said Naseby, reluctantly. "Of
course, it's an actress--a very small one. And, of course, she's a bad
lot--and pretty."

"Why, there's no of course about it--about either of them!" said Betty,
with more indignation than grammar. She also had dramatic friends, and
was sensitive on the point.

Naseby protested that if he must argue the ethics of the stage before he
told his tale, the tale would remain untold. Then Betty, subdued, fell
into an attitude of meek listening, hands on lap. The tale when told
indeed proved to be a very ordinary affair, marked out perhaps a trifle
from the ruck by the facts that there was another pretender in the field
with whom Ancoats had already had one scene in public, and would probably
have more; that Ancoats being Ancoats, something mad and conspicuous was
to be expected, which would bring the matter inevitably to his mother's
ears; and that Mrs. Allison was Mrs. Allison.

"Can he marry her?" said Betty, quickly.

"Thank Heaven! no. There is a husband somewhere in Chili. So that it
doesn't seem to be a question of driving Mrs. Allison out of Castle
Luton. But--well, between ourselves, it would be a pity to give Ancoats
so fine a chance of going to the bad, as he'll get, if this young woman
lays hold of him. He mightn't recover it."

Betty sat silent a moment. All her gaiety had passed away. There was a
fierceness in her blue eyes.

"And that's what we bring them up for!" she exclaimed at last--"that they
may do all these ugly, stale, stupid things over again. Oh! I'm not
thinking so much, of the morals!"--she turned to Naseby with a defiant
look. "I am thinking of the hateful cruelty and unkindness!"

"To his mother?" said Naseby. He shrugged his shoulders.

Betty allowed herself an outburst. Her little hand trembled on her knee.
Naseby did not reply. Not that he disagreed; far from it. Under his young
and careless manner he was already a person of settled character,
cherishing a number of strong convictions. But since it had become the
fashion to talk as frankly of a matter of this kind to your married-women
friends as to anybody else, he thought that the women should take it with
more equanimity.

Betty, indeed, regained her composure very quickly, like a stream when
the gust has passed. They fell into a keen, practical discussion of the
affair. Who had influence with Ancoats? What man? Naseby shook his
head. The difference in age between Ancoats and Maxwell was too great,
and the men too unlike in temperament. He himself had done what he
could, in vain, and Ancoats now told him nothing; for the rest, he
thought Ancoats had very few friends amid his innumerable acquaintance,
and such as he had, of a third-rate dramatic sort, not likely to be of
much use at this moment.

"I haven't seen him take to any fellow of his own kind as much as he has
taken to George Tressady these two days, since he left Cambridge. But
that's no good, of course--it's too new."

The two sat side by side, pondering. Suddenly Naseby said, smiling, with
a change of expression:

"This party is really quite interesting. Look there!"

Betty looked, and saw George Tressady, with his hands in his pockets,
lounging along a distant path beside Marcella Maxwell.

"Well!" said Betty, "what then?"

Naseby gave his mouth a twist.

"Nothing; only it's odd. I ran across them just now--I was playing ball
with that jolly little imp, Hallin. You never saw two people more
absorbed. Of course he's _sous le charme_--we all are. Our English
politics are rather rum, aren't they? They don't indulge in this amiable
country-house business in a South American republic, you know. They
prefer shooting."

"And you evidently think it a healthier state of things. Wait till we
come to something nearer to _our_ hearths and bosoms than Factory Acts,"
said Betty, with the wisdom of her kind. "All the same, Lord Fontenoy is
in earnest."

"Oh yes, Fontenoy is in earnest. So, I suppose, is Tressady. So--good
Heavens!--is Maxwell. I say, here comes the church party."

And from a side-door in a venerable wall, beyond which could be seen the
tower of a little church, there emerged a small group of people--Mrs.
Allison, Lady Cathedine, and Madeleine Penley in front, escorted by the
white-haired Sir Philip; and behind, Lady Tressady, between Harding
Watton and Lord Cathedine.

"Cathedine!" cried Naseby, staring at the group. "Cathedine been
to church?"

"For the purpose, I suppose, of disappointing poor Laura, who might have
hoped to get rid of him," said Betty, sharply. "No!--if I were Mrs.
Allison I should draw the line at Lord Cathedine."

"Nobody need see any more of Cathedine than they want," said Naseby,
calmly; "and, of course, he behaves himself here. Moreover, there is no
doubt at all about his brains. They say Fontenoy expects to make great
use of him in the Lords."

"By the way," said Betty, turning round upon him, "where are you?"

"Well, thank God! I'm not in Parliament," was Naseby's smiling reply. "So
don't trouble me for opinions. I have none. Except that, speaking
generally, I should like Lady Maxwell to get what she wants."

Betty threw him a sly glance, wondering if she might tease him about the
news she heard of him from Marcella.

She had no time, however, to attack him, for Mrs. Allison approached.

* * * * *

"What is the matter with her?--with Madeleine?--with all of them?"
thought Betty, suddenly.

For Mrs. Allison, pale and discomposed, did not return, did not
apparently notice Lady Leven's greeting. She walked hastily past them,
and would have gone at once into the house but that, turning her head,
she perceived Lord Fontenoy hurrying towards her from the lime-walk. With
an obvious effort she controlled herself, and went to meet him, leaning
heavily on her silver-topped stick.

The others paused, no one having, as it seemed, anything to say. Letty
poked the gravel with her parasol; Sir Philip made a telescope of his
hands, and fixed it upon Maxwell, who was coming slowly across the lawn;
while Lady Madeleine turned a handsome, bewildered face on Betty.

Betty took her aside to look at a flower on the house.

"What's the matter?" said Lady Leven, under her breath.

"I don't know," said the other. "Something dreadful happened on the way
home. There was a girl--"

But she broke off suddenly. Ancoats had just opened and shut the
garden-door, and was coming to join his guests.

"Poor dear!" thought Betty to herself, with a leap of pity. It was so
evident the girl's whole nature thrilled to the approaching step. She
turned her head towards Ancoats, as though against her will, her tall
form drawn erect, in unconscious tension.

Ancoats's quick eyes ran over the group.

"He thinks we have been talking about him," was Betty's quick reflection,
which was probably not far from the truth. For the young man's face at
once assumed a lowering expression, and, walking up to Lady Tressady,
whom as yet he had noticed no more than civility required, he asked
whether she would like to see the "houses" and the rose-garden.

Letty, delighted by the attention, said Yes in her gayest way, and
Ancoats at once led her off. He walked quickly, and their figures soon
disappeared among the trees.

Madeleine Penley gazed after them. Betty, who had a miserable feeling
that the girl was betraying herself to men like Harding Watton or Lord
Cathedine,--a feeling which was, however, the creation of her own nervous
excitement,--tried to draw her away. But Lady Madeleine did not seem to
understand. She stood mechanically buttoning and unbuttoning her long
gloves. "Yes, I'm coming," she said, but she did not move.

Then Betty saw that Lord Naseby had approached her; and it seemed to the
observer that all the young man's vivid face was suffused with something
at once soft and fierce.

"The thorn-blossom on the hill is a perfect show just now, Lady
Madeleine," he said. "Come and look at it. There will be just time
before lunch."

The girl looked at him. The colour rushed to her cheeks, and she walked
submissively away beside him.

* * * * *

Meanwhile Letty and Ancoats pursued their way towards the greenhouses and
walled gardens. Letty tripped along, hardly able to keep up with her
companion's stride, but chattering fast all the time. At every turn of
the view she overflowed with praise and wonder; nor could anything have
been at once more enthusiastic or more impertinent than the questions
with which she plied him as to his gardeners, his estate, and his
affairs, in the intervals of panegyric.

Ancoats at first hardly listened to her. A perfunctory "Yes" or "No"
seemed to be all that the situation demanded. Then, when he did
sufficiently emerge from the tempest of his own thoughts to catch some of
the things she was saying, his irritable temper rebelled at once. What
had Tressady been about?--ill-bred, tiresome woman!

His manner stiffened; he stalked along in front of her, doing his bare
host's duty, and warding off her conversation as much as possible; while
Letty, on her side, soon felt the familiar chill and mortification
creeping over her. Why, she wondered angrily, should he have asked her to
walk with him if he could not be a more agreeable companion?

Towards the end of the lime-walk they came across Mrs. Allison and Lord
Fontenoy. As they passed the older pair the pale mother lifted her eyes
to her son with a tremulous smile.

But Ancoats made no response, nor had he any greeting for Fontenoy. He
carried his companion quickly on, till they found themselves in a
wilderness of walled gardens opening one into another, each, as it
seemed, more miraculously ordered and more abundantly stocked than its

"I wonder you know your way," laughed Letty. "And who can possibly
consume all this?"

"I haven't an idea," said Ancoats, abruptly, as he opened the door of the
tenth vinery. "I wish you'd tell me."

Letty raised her eyebrows with a little cry of protest.

"Oh! but it makes the whole place so magnificent, so complete."

"What is there magnificent in having too much?" said Ancoats, shortly.
"I believe the day of these huge country places, with all their dull
greenhouses and things, is done."

Much he cared, indeed, about his gardeners and his grapes! He was in the
mood to feel his whole inheritance a burden round his neck. But at the
same time to revile his own wealth gave him a pungent sense of playing
the artist.

"Have you argued that with Lord Fontenoy?" she inquired archly.

"I should not take the trouble," he said, with careless hauteur.
"Ah!"--Letty's vanity winced under his involuntary accent of relief--"I
see your husband and Lady Maxwell."

Marcella and George came towards them. They were strolling along a broad
flowery border, which was at the moment a blaze of paeonies of all
shades, interspersed with tall pyramidal growths of honeysuckle. Marcella
was loitering here and there, burying her face in the fragrance of the
honeysuckle, or drawing her companion's attention in delight to the
glowing clumps of paeonies Hallin hovered round them, now putting his
hand confidingly into Tressady's, now tugging at his mother's dress, and
now gravely wooing the friendship of a fine St. Bernard that made one of
the party. George, with his hands in his pockets, walked or paused as the
others chose; and it struck Letty at once that he was talking with
unusual freedom and zest.

Yes, it was true, indeed, as Harding said--they had made friends. As she
looked at them the first movement of a jealous temper stirred in Letty.
She was angry with Lady Maxwell's beauty, and angry with George's
enjoyment. It was like the great lady all over to slight the wife and
annex the husband. George certainly might have taken the trouble to come
and look for her on their return from church!

So, while Ancoats talked stiffly with Marcella, the bride, a few paces
off, let George understand through her bantering manner that she was out
of humour.

"But, dear, I had no notion you would be let out so soon," pleaded
George. "That good man really can't earn his pay."

"Oh! but of course you knew it was High Church--all split up into little
bits," said Letty, unappeased. "But naturally--"

She was about to add some jealous sarcasm when it was arrested by the
arrival of Sir Philip Wentworth and Watton, whose figures appeared in a
side-archway close to her.

"Ah! well guessed," said Sir Philip. "I thought we should find you among
the paeonies. Lady Tressady, did you ever see such a show? Ancoats, is
your head gardener visible on a Sunday? I ask with trembling, for there
is no more magnificent member of creation. But if I _could_ get at him,
to ask him about an orchid I saw in one of your houses yesterday, I
should be grateful."

"Come into the next garden, then," said Ancoats, "where the orchid-houses
are. If he isn't there, we'll send for him."

"Then, Lady Tressady, you must come and see me through," said Sir Philip,
gallantly. "I want to quarrel with him about a label--and you remember
Dizzy's saying--'a head gardener is always opinionated'? Are you coming,
Lady Maxwell?"

Marcella shook her head, smiling.

"I am afraid I hate hothouses," she said.

"My dear lady, don't pine for the life according to nature at Castle
Luton!" said Sir Philip, raising a finger. "The best of hothouses, like
the best of anything, demands a thrill."

Marcella shrugged her shoulders.

"I get more thrill out of the paeonies."

Sir Philip laughed, and he and Watton carried off Letty, whose vanity was
once more happy in their society; while Ancoats, glad of the pretext,
hurried along in front to find the great Mr. Newmarch.

* * * * *

"I believe there are some wonderful irises out in the Friar's Garden,"
said Marcella. "Mrs. Allison told me there was a show of them somewhere.
Let me see if I can find the way. And Hallin would like the goldfish in
the fountain."

Her two companions followed her gladly, and she led them through devious
paths till there was a shout from Hallin, and the most poetic corner of a
famous garden revealed itself. Amid the ruins of a cloister that had once
formed part of the dissolved Cistercian priory on whose confiscated lands
Castle Luton had arisen, a rich medley of flowers was in full and perfect
bloom. Irises in every ravishing shade of purple, lilac, and gold,
carpets of daffodils and narcissus, covered the ground, and ran into each
corner and cranny of the old wall. Yellow banksia and white clematis
climbed the crumbling shafts, or made new tracery for the empty windows,
and where the ruin ended, yew hedges, adorned at top with a whole
procession of birds and beasts, began. The flowery space thus enclosed
was broken in the centre by an old fountain; and as one sat on a stone
seat beside it, one looked through an archway, cut through the darkness
of the yews, to the blue river and the hills.

The little place breathed perfume and delight. But Marcella did not,
somehow, give it the attention it deserved. She sat down absently on the
bench by the fountain, and presently, as George and Hallin were poking
among the goldfish, she turned to her companion with the abrupt question:

"You didn't know Ancoats, I think, before this visit, did you?"

"Only as one knows the merest acquaintance. Fontenoy introduced me to him
at the club."

Marcella sighed. She seemed to be arguing something with herself. At
last, with a quick look towards the approaches of the garden, she said in
a low voice:

"I think you must know that his friends are not happy about him?"

It so happened that Watton had found opportunity to show Tressady that
morning a paragraph from one of the numerous papers that batten on the
British peer, his dress, his morals, and his sport. The paragraph,
without names, without even initials, contained an outline of Lord
Ancoats's affairs which Harding, who knew everything of a scandalous
nature, declared to be well informed. It had made George whistle; and
afterwards he had watched Mrs. Allison go to church with a new interest
in her proceedings.

So that when Marcella threw out her hesitating question, he said at

"I know what the papers are beginning to say--that is, I have seen a

"Oh! those newspapers!" she said in distress. "We are all afraid of some
madness, and any increase of talk may hasten it. There is no one who can
control him, and of late he has not even tried to conceal things."

"It is a determined face," said George. "I am afraid he will take his
way. How is it that he comes to be so unlike his mother?"

"How is it that adoration and sacrifice count for so little?" said
Marcella, sadly. "She has given him all the best of her life."

And she drew a rapid sketch of the youth's career and the mother's

George listened in silence. What she said showed him that in his
conversations with Ancoats that young man had been talking round and
about his own case a good deal! and when she paused he said drily:

"Poor Mrs. Allison! But, you know, there must be some crumples in the
rose-leaves of the great."

She looked at him with a momentary astonishment.

"Why should one think of her as 'great'? Would not any mother suffer?
First of all he is so changed; it is so difficult to get at him--his
friends are so unlike hers--he is so wrapped up in London, so apathetic
about his estate. All the religious sympathy that meant so much to her is
gone. And now he threatens her with this--what shall I call it?"--her lip
curled--"this entanglement. If it goes on, how shall we keep her from
breaking her heart over it? Poor thing! poor mothers!"

She raised her white hand, and let it fall upon her knee with one of the
free, instinctive gestures that made her beauty so expressive.

But George would not yield himself to her feeling.

"Ancoats will get through it--somehow--as other men do," he said
stubbornly, "and she must get through it too--and _not_ break her heart."

Marcella was silent. He turned towards her after a moment.

"You think that a brutal doctrine? But if you'll let me say it, life and
ease and good temper are really not the brittle things women make them!
Why do they put all their treasure into that one bag they call their
affections? There is plenty else in life--there is indeed! It shows
poverty of mind!"

He laughed, and taking up a pebble dropped it sharply among the goldfish.

"Alack!" said Marcella, caressing her child's head as he stood playing
beside her. "Hallin, I can't have you kiss my hand like that. Sir George
says it's poverty of mind."

"It ain't," said Hallin, promptly. But his remark had a deplorable lack
of unction, for the goldfish, startled by George's pebble, were at that
moment performing evolutions of the greatest interest, and his black eyes
were greedily bent upon them.

Both laughed, and George let her remark alone. But his few words left
on Marcella a painful impression, which renewed her compassion of the
night before. This young fellow, just married, protesting against an
over-exaltation of the affections!--it struck her as half tragic, half
grotesque. And, of course, it was explained by the idiosyncrasies of
that little person in a Paris gown now walking about somewhere with
Sir Philip!

Yet, just as she had again allowed herself to think of him as someone far
younger and less mature than herself, he quietly renewed the
conversation, so far as it concerned Ancoats, talking with a caustic good
sense, a shrewd perception, and at bottom with a good feeling, that first
astonished her, and then mastered her friendship more and more. She found
herself yielding him a fuller and fuller confidence, appealing to him,
taking pleasure in anything that woke the humour of the sharp, long face,
or that rare blink of the blue eyes that meant a leap of some responsive
sympathy he could not quite conceal.

And for him it was all pleasure, though he never stopped to think of it.
The lines of her slender form, as she sat with such careless dignity
beside him, her lovely eyes, the turns of her head, the softening tones
of her voice, the sense of an emerging bond that had in it nothing
ignoble, nothing to be ashamed of, together with the child's simple
liking for him, and the mere physical delight of this morning of late
May--the rush and splendour of its white, thunderous clouds, its
penetrating, scented air: each and all played their part in the rise of a
new emotion he would not have analysed if he could.

He was particularly glad that in this fresh day of growing intimacy she
had as yet talked politics or "questions" of any sort so little! It made
it all the more possible to escape from, to wholly overthrow in his
mind, that first hostile image of her, impressed--strange unreason on his
part!--by that first meeting with her in the crowd round the injured
child, and in the hospital ward. Had she started any subject of mere
controversy he would have held his own as stoutly as ever. But so long as
she let them lie, _herself_, the woman, insensibly argued for her, and
wore down his earlier mood.

So long, indeed, as he forgot Maxwell's part in it all! But it was not
possible to forget it long. For the wife's passion, in spite of a noble
reticence, shone through her whole personality in a way that alternately
touched and challenged her new friend. No; let him remember that
Maxwell's ways of looking at things were none the less pestilent because
_she_ put them into words.

* * * * *

After luncheon Betty Leven found herself in a corner of the Green
Drawing-room. On the other side of it Mrs. Allison and Lord Fontenoy were
seated together, with Sir Philip Wentworth not far off. Lord Fontenoy was
describing his week in Parliament. Betty, who knew and generally shunned
him, raised her eyebrows occasionally, as she caught the animated voice,
the queer laughs, and fluent expositions, which the presence of his muse
was drawing from this most ungainly of worshippers. His talk, indeed, was
one long invocation; and the little white-haired lady in the armchair was
doing her best to play Melpomene. Her speech was very soft. But it made
for battle; and Fontenoy was never so formidable as when he was fresh
from Castle Luton.

Betty's thoughts, however, had once more slipped away from her immediate
neighbours, and were pursuing more exciting matters,--the state of
Madeleine Penley's heart and the wiles of that witch-woman in London, who
must be somehow plucked like a burr from Ancoats's skirts,--when Marcella
entered the room, hat in hand.

"Whither away, fair lady?" cried Betty; "come and talk to me."

"Hallin will be in the river," said Marcella, irresolute.

"If he is, Sir George will fish him out. Besides, I believe Sir George
and Ancoats have gone for a walk, and Hallin with them. I heard Maxwell
tell Hallin he might go."

Marcella turned an uncertain look upon Lord Fontenoy and Mrs. Allison.
But directly Maxwell's wife entered the room, Maxwell's enemy had dropped
his talk of political affairs, and he was now showing Sir Philip a
portfolio of Mrs. Allison's sketches, with a subdued ardour that brought
a kindly smile to Marcella's lip. In general, Fontenoy had neither eye
nor ear for anything artistic; moreover, he spoke barbarous French, and
no other European tongue; while of letters he had scarcely a tincture.
But when it became a question of Mrs. Allison's accomplishments, her
drawing, her embroidery, still more her admirable French and excellent
Italian, the books she had read, and the poetry she knew by heart, he was
all appreciation--one might almost say, all feeling. It was Cymon and
Iphigenia in a modern and middle-aged key.

His mien he fashioned and his tongue he filed.

And did a blunder come, Iphigenia gently and deftly put it to rights.

"Where is Madeleine?" asked Betty, as Marcella approached her sofa.

"Walking with Lord Naseby, I think."

"What was the matter on the way from church?" asked Betty, in a low
voice, raising her face to her friend.

Marcella, looked gravely down upon her.

"If you come into the garden I will tell you. Madeleine told me."

Betty, all curiosity, followed her friend through the open window to a
seat in the Dutch garden outside.

"It was a terrible thing that happened," said Marcella, sitting erect,
and speaking with a manner of suppressed energy that Betty knew well;
"one of the things that make my blood boil when I come here. You know how
she rules the village?"--She turned imperceptibly towards the distant
drawing-room, where Mrs. Allison's white head was still visible. "Not
only must all the cottages be beautiful, but all the people must reach a
certain standard of virtue. If a man drinks, he must go; if a girl loses
her character, she and her child must go. It was such a girl that threw
herself in the way of the party this morning. Her mother would not part
with her; so the decree went forth--the whole family must go. They say
the girl has never been right in her head since the baby's birth; she
raved and wept this morning, said her parents could find no work
elsewhere--they must die, she and her child must die. Mrs. Allison tried
to stop her, but couldn't; then she hurriedly sent the others on, and
stayed behind herself--only for a minute or two; she overtook Madeleine
almost immediately. Madeleine is sure she was inexorable; so am I; she
always is. I once argued with her about a case of the kind--a _cruel_
case! 'Those are the sins that make me _shudder!_' she said, and one
could make no impression on her whatever. You see how exhausted she looks
this afternoon. She will wear herself out, probably, praying and weeping
over the girl."

Betty threw up her hands.

"My dear!--when she knows--"

"It may perfectly well kill her," said Marcella, steadily. Then, after a
pause, Betty saw her face flush from brow to chin, and she added, in a
low and passionate voice: "Nevertheless, from all tyrannies and cruelties
in the name of Christ, good Lord, deliver us!"

The two lingered together for some time without speaking. Both were
thinking of much the same things, but both were tired with the endless
talking of a country-house Sunday, and the rest was welcome.

And presently Marcella rambled away from her friend, and spent an hour
pacing by herself in a glade beside the river.

And there her mind instantly shook itself from every care but one--the
yearning over her husband and his work.

Two years of labour--she caught her breath with a little sob--labour
which had aged and marked the labourer; and now, was it really to be
believed, that after all the toil, after so much hope and promise of
success, everything was to be wrecked at last?

She gave herself once more to eager forecasts and combinations. As to
individuals--she recalled Tressady's blunt warning with a smile and a
wince. But it did not prevent her from falling into a reverie of which
he, or someone like him, was the centre. Types, incidents, scenes, rose
before her--if they could only be pressed upon, _burnt into_ such a mind,
as they had been burnt into her mind and Maxwell's! That was the whole
difficulty--lack of vision, lack of realisation. Men were to have the
deciding voice in this thing, who had no clear conception of how poverty
and misery live, no true knowledge of this vast tragedy of labour
perpetually acted, in our midst, no rebellion of heart against conditions
of life for other men they themselves would die a thousand times rather
than accept. She saw herself, in a kind of despair, driving such persons
through streets, and into houses she knew, forcing them to look, and
_feel_. Even now, at the last moment--

How much better she had come to know this interesting, limited being,
George Tressady, during these twenty-four hours! She liked his youth, his
sincerity--even the stubbornness with which he disclaimed inconvenient
enthusiasms; and she was inevitably flattered by the way in which his
evident prejudice against herself had broken down.

His marriage was a misfortune, a calamity! She thought of it with the
instinctive repulsion of one who has never known any temptation to the
small vulgarities of life. One could have nothing to say to a little
being like that. But all the more reason for befriending the man!

* * * * *

An hour or two later Tressady found himself strolling home along the
flowery bank of the river. It was not long since he had parted from Lady
Maxwell and Hallin, and on leaving them he had turned back for a while
towards the woods on the hill, on the pretext that he wanted more of a
walk. Now, however, he was hurrying towards the house, that there might
be time for a chat with Letty before dressing. She would think he had
been away too long. But he had proposed to take her on the river after
tea, and she had preferred a walk with Lord Cathedine.

Since then--He looked round him at the river and the hills. There was a
flush of sunset through the air, and the blue of the river was interlaced
with rosy or golden reflections from a sky piled with stormy cloud and
aglow with every "visionary majesty" of light and colour. The great
cloud-masses were driving in a tragic splendour through the west; and hue
and form alike, throughout the wide heaven, seemed to him to breathe a
marvellous harmony and poetry, to make one vibrating "word" of beauty.
Had some god suddenly gifted him with new senses and new eyes? Never had
he felt so much joy in Nature, such a lifting up to things awful and
divine. Why? Because a beautiful woman had been walking beside
him?--because he had been talking with her of things that he, at least,
rarely talked of--realities of feeling, or thought, or memory, that no
woman had ever shared with him before?

How had she drawn him to such openness, such indiscretions? He was half
ashamed, and then forgot his discomfort in the sudden, eager glancing of
the mind to the future, to the opportunities of the day just coming--for
Mrs. Allison's party was to last till Whit Tuesday--to the hours and
places in London where he was to meet her on those social errands of
hers. What a warm, true heart! What a woman, through all her dreams and
mistakes, and therefore how adorable!

* * * * *

He quickened his pace as the light failed. Presently he saw a figure
coming towards him, emerging from the trees that skirted the main lawn.
It was Fontenoy, and Fontenoy's supporter must needs recollect himself as
quickly as possible. He had not seen much of his leader during the day.
But he knew well that Fontenoy never forgot his _rôle_, and there were
several points, newly arisen within the last forty-eight hours, on which
he might have expected before this to be called to counsel.

But Fontenoy, when he came up with the wanderer, seemed to have no great
mind for talk. He had evidently been pacing and thinking by himself, and
when he was fullest of thought he was as a rule most silent and

"You are late; so am I," he said, as he turned back with Tressady.

George assented.

"I have been thinking out one or two points of tactics."

But instead of discussing them he sank into silence again. George let him
alone, knowing his ways.

Presently he said, raising his powerful head with a jerk, "But tactics
are not of such importance as they were. I think the thing is
done--_done!_" he repeated with emphasis.

George shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know. We may be too sanguine. It is not possible that Maxwell
should be easily beaten."

Fontenoy laughed--a strange, high laugh, like a jay's, that seemed to
have no relation to his massive frame, and died suddenly away.

"But we shall beat him," he said quietly; "and her, too. A well-meaning
woman--but what a foolish one!"

George made no reply.

"Though I am bound to say," Fontenoy went on quickly, "that in private
matters no man could be kinder and show a sounder judgment than Maxwell.
And I believe Mrs. Allison feels the same with regard to her."

His look first softened, then frowned; and as he turned his eyes towards
the house, George guessed what subject it was that he and Maxwell had
discussed under the limes in the morning.

* * * * *

He found Letty in very good spirits, owing, as far as he could judge, to
the civilities and attentions of Lord Cathedine. Moreover, she was more
at ease in her surroundings, and less daunted by Mrs. Allison.

"And of course, to-morrow," she said, as she put on her diamonds, "it
will be nicer still. We shall all know each other so much better."

In her good-humour she had forgotten her twinge of jealousy, and did not
even inquire with whom he had been wandering so long.

But Letty was disappointed of her last day at Castle Luton. For the
party broke up suddenly, and by ten o'clock on Monday morning all
Mrs. Allison's guests but Lord Fontenoy and the Maxwells had left
Castle Luton.

It was on this wise.

After dinner on Sunday night Ancoats, who had been particularly silent
and irritable at table, suddenly proposed to show his guests the house.
Accordingly, he led them through its famous rooms and corridors, turned
on the electric light to show the pictures, and acted cicerone to the
china and the books.

Then, suddenly it was noticed that he had somehow slipped away, and that
Madeleine Penley, too, was missing. The party straggled back to the
drawing-room without their host.

Ancoats, however, reappeared alone in about half an hour. He was
extremely pale, and those who knew him well, and were perforce observing
him at the moment, like Maxwell and Marcella, drew the conclusion that he
was in a state of violent though suppressed excitement. His mother,
however, strange to say, noticed nothing. But she was clearly exhausted
and depressed, and she gave an early signal for the ladies' withdrawal.

The great house sank into quietness. But about an hour after Marcella and
Betty had parted at Betty's door, Betty heard a quick knock, and opened
it in haste.

"Mrs. Allison is ill!" said Marcella in a low, rapid voice. "I think
everyone ought to go quite early to-morrow. Will you tell Frank? I am
going to Lady Tressady. The gentlemen haven't come up."

Betty caught her arm. "Tell me--"

"Oh! my dear," cried Marcella, under her breath, "Ancoats and Madeleine
had an explanation in his room. He told her everything--that child! She
went to Mrs. Allison--he asked her to! Then the maid came for me in
terror. It has been a heart-attack--she has often had them. She is rather
better. But _do_ let everybody go!" and she wrung her hands. "Maxwell and
I must stay and see what can be done."

Betty flew to ring for her maid and look up trains. Lady Maxwell went on
to Letty Tressady's room.

But on the way, in the half-dark passage, she came across George Tressady
coming up from the smoking-room. So she gave her news of Mrs. Allison's
sudden illness to him, begging him to tell his wife, and to convey their
hostess's regrets and apologies for this untoward break-up of the party.
It was the reappearance of an old ailment, she said, and with quiet would

George heard her with concern, and though his mind was active with
conjectures, asked not a single question. Only, when she said good-night
to him, he held her hand a friendly instant.

"We shall be off as early as possible, so it is goodbye. But we shall
meet in town--as you suggested?"

"Please!" she said, and hurried off.

But just as he reached his own door, he turned with a long breath towards
the passage where he had just seen her. It seemed that he saw her
still--her white face and dress, the trouble and pity under her quiet
manner, her pure sweetness and dignity. He said to himself, with a sort
of pride, that he had made a friend, a friend whose sympathy, whose heart
and mind, he was now to explore.

Who was to make difficulties? Letty? But already as he stood there, with
his hand upon the handle of her door, his mind, in a kind of flashing
dream, was already making division of his life between the woman he had
married with such careless haste and this other, who at highest thought
of him with a passing kindness, and at lowest regarded him as a mere pawn
in the political game.

What could he win by this friendship, that would injure Letty? Nothing!
absolutely nothing.


Book of the day: