Part 1 out of 6
SIR GEORGE TRESSADY, VOLUME II
IN TWO VOLUMES
MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
AUTHOR OF "MARCELLA," "THE HISTORY OF DAVID GRIEVE,"
"ROBERT ELSMERE," ETC.
On a hot morning at the end of June, some four weeks after the Castle
Luton visit, George Tressady walked from Brook Street to Warwick Square,
that he might obtain his mother's signature to a document connected with
the Shapetsky negotiations, and go on from there to the House of Commons.
She was not in the drawing-room, and George amused himself during his
minutes of waiting by inspecting the various new photographs of the
Fullerton family that were generally to be found on her table. What a
characteristic table it was, littered with notes and bills, with patterns
from every London draper, with fashion-books and ladies' journals
innumerable! And what a characteristic room, with its tortured
decorations and crowded furniture, and the flattered portraits of Lady
Tressady, in every caprice of costume, which covered the walls! George
looked round it all with an habitual distaste; yet not without the secret
admission that his own drawing-room was very like it.
His mother might, he feared, have a scene in preparation for him.
For Letty, under cover of some lame excuse or other, had persisted in
putting off the visit which Lady Tressady had intended to pay them at
Ferth during the Whitsuntide recess, and since their return to town
there had been no meeting whatever between the two ladies. George,
indeed, had seen his mother two or three times. But even he had just let
ten days pass without visiting her. He supposed he should find her in a
mood of angry complaint; nor could he deny that there would be some
grounds for it.
"Good morning, George," said a sharp voice, which startled him as he was
replacing a photograph of the latest Fullerton baby. "I thought you had
forgotten your way here by now."
"Why, mother, I am very sorry," he said, as he kissed her. "But I
have really been terribly busy, what with two Committees and this
"Oh! don't make excuses, pray. And of course--for Letty--you won't even
attempt it. I wouldn't if I were you."
Lady Tressady settled herself on a chair with her back to the light, and
straightened the ribbons on her dress with hasty fingers. Something in
her voice struck George. He looked at her closely.
"Is there anything wrong, mother? You don't look very well."
Lady Tressady got up hurriedly, and began to move about the room, picking
up a letter here, straightening a picture there. George felt a sudden
prick of alarm. Were there some new revelations in store for him? But
before he could speak she interrupted him.
"I should be very well if it weren't for this heat," she said pettishly.
"Do put that photograph down, George!--you do fidget so! Haven't you got
any news for me--anything to amuse me? Oh! those horrid papers!--I see.
Well! they'll wait a little. By the way, the 'Morning Post' says that
young scamp, Lord Ancoats, has gone abroad. I suppose that girl was
She sat down again in a shady corner, fanning herself vigorously.
"I am afraid I can't tell you any secrets," said George, smiling, "for I
don't know any. But it looks as though Mrs. Allison and Maxwell between
them had somehow found a way out."
"How's the mother?"
"You see, she has gone abroad, too--to Bad Wildheim. In fact, Lord
Ancoats has taken her."
"That's the place for heart, isn't it?" said his mother, abruptly.
"There's a man there that cures everybody."
"I believe so," said George. "May we come to business, mother? I have
brought these papers for you to sign, and I must get to the House in
Lady Tressady seemed to take no notice. She got up again, restlessly, and
walked to the window.
"How do you like my dress, George? Now, don't imagine anything absurd!
Justine made it, and it was quite cheap."
George could not help smiling--all the more that he was conscious of
relief. She would not be asking him to admire her dress if there were
fresh debts to confess to him.
"It makes you look wonderfully young," he said, turning a critical eye,
first upon the elegant gown of some soft pinky stuff in which his mother
had arrayed herself, then upon the subtly rouged and powdered face above
it. "You are a marvellous person, mother! All the same, I think the heat
must have been getting hold of you, for your eyes are tired. Don't racket
He spoke with his usual careless kindness, laying a hand upon her arm.
Lady Tressady drew herself away, and, turning her back upon him, looked
out of the window.
"Have you seen any more of the Maxwells?" she said, over her shoulders.
George gave a slight involuntary start. Then it occurred to him that his
mother was making conversation in an odd way.
"Once or twice," he said, reluctantly, in reply. "They were at the
Ardaghs' the other night, of course."
"Oh! you were there?"--Lady Tressady's voice was sharp again. "Well, of
course. Letty went as your wife, and you're a member of Parliament. Lady
Ardagh knows _me_ quite well--but I don't count now; she used to be glad
enough to ask me."
"It was a great crush, and very hot," said George, not knowing
what to say.
Lady Tressady frowned as she looked out of the window.
"Well!--and Lady Maxwell--is she as absurd as ever?"
"That depends upon one's point of view," said George, smiling. "She
seemed as convinced as ever."
"Who sent Mrs. Allison to that place? Barham, I suppose. He always sends
his patients there. They say he's in league with the hotel-keepers."
George stared. What was the matter with her? What made her throw out
these jerky sentences with this short, hurried breath.
Suddenly Lady Tressady turned.
"Yes, mother." He stepped nearer to her. She caught his sleeve.
"George "--there was something like a sob in her voice--"you were quite
right. I am ill. There, don't talk about it. The doctors are all fools.
And if you tell Letty anything about it, I'll never forgive you."
George put his arm round her, but was not, in truth, much disturbed. Lady
Tressady's repertory, alas! had many _rôles_. He had known her play that
of the invalid at least as effectively as any other.
"You are just overdone with London and the heat," he said. "I saw it at
once. You ought to go away."
She looked up in his face.
"You don't believe it?" she said.
Then she seemed to stagger. He saw a terrible drawn look in her face,
and, putting out all his strength, he held her, and helped her to a sofa.
"Mother!" he exclaimed, kneeling beside her, "what is the matter?"
Voice and tone were those of another man, and Lady Tressady quailed
under the change. She pointed to a small bag on a table near her. He
opened it, and she took out a box, from which she swallowed something.
Gradually breath and colour returned, and she began to move restlessly.
"That was nothing," she said, as though to herself--"nothing--and it
yielded at once. Well, George, I knew you thought me a humbug!"
Her eyes glanced at him with a kind of miserable triumph. He looked down
upon her, still kneeling, horror-struck against his will. After a life of
acting, was this the truth--this terror, which spoke in every movement,
and in some strange way had seized upon and infected himself?
He urgently asked her to be frank with him. And with a sob she poured
herself out. It was the tragic, familiar story that every household
knows. Grave symptoms, suddenly observed--the hurried visit to a
specialist--his verdict and his warnings.
"Of course, he said at first I ought to give up everything and go
abroad--to this very same place--Bad-what-do-you-call-it? But I told him
straight out I couldn't and wouldn't do anything of the sort. I am just
eaten up with engagements. And as to staying at home and lying-up, that's
nonsense--I should die of that in a fortnight. So I told him to give me
something to take, and that was all I could do. And in the end he quite
came round--they always do if you take your own line--and said I had
much better do what suited me, and take care. Besides, what do any of
them know? They all confess they're just fumbling about. Now, surgery,
of course--that's different. Battye"--Battye was Lady Tressady's ordinary
medical adviser--"doesn't believe all the other man said. I knew he
wouldn't. And as for making an invalid of me, he sees, of course, that it
would kill me at once. There, my dear George, don't make too much of it.
I think I was a fool to tell you."
And Lady Tressady struggled to a sitting position, looking at her son
with a certain hostility. The frown on her white face showed that she was
already angry with him for his emotion--this rare emotion, that she had
never yet been able to rouse in him.
He could only implore her to be guided by her doctor--to rest, to give up
at least some of the mill-round of her London life, if she would not go
abroad. Lady Tressady listened to him with increasing obstinacy and
"I tell you I know best!" she said, passionately, at last. "Don't go on
like this--it worries me. Now, look here--"
She turned upon him with emphasis.
"Promise me not to tell Letty a word of this. Nobody shall know--she
least of all. I shall do just as usual. In fact, I expect a very gay
season. Three 'drums' this afternoon and a dinner-party--it doesn't
look as though I were quite forgotten yet, though Letty does think me
an old fogey!"
She smiled at him with a ghastly mixture of defiance and conceit. The old
age in her pinched face, fighting with the rouged cheeks and the gaiety
of her fanciful dress, was pitiful.
"Promise," she said. "Not a word--to her!"
George promised, in much distress. While he was speaking she had a slight
return of pain, and was obliged to submit to lie down again.
"At least," he urged, "don't go out to-day. Give yourself a rest. Shall I
go back, and ask Letty to come round to tea?"
Lady Tressady made a face like a spoilt child.
"I don't think she'll come," she said. "Of course, I know from the first
she took an ungodly dislike to me. Though, if it hadn't been for
me--Well, never mind! Yes, you can ask her, George--do! I'll wait and see
if she comes. If she comes, perhaps I'll stay in. It would amuse me to
hear what she has been doing. I'll behave quite nicely--there!"
And, taking up her fan, Lady Tressady lightly tapped her son's hand with
it in her most characteristic manner.
He rose, seeing from the clock that he should only just have time to
drive quickly back to Letty if he was to be at the House in time for an
appointment with a constituent, which had been arranged for one o'clock.
"I will send Justine to you as I go out," he said, taking up his hat,
"and I shall hear of you from Letty this evening."
Lady Tressady said nothing. Her eyes, bright with some inner
excitement, watched him as he looked for his stick. Suddenly she said,
"George! kiss me!"
Her tone was unsteady. Infinitely touched and bewildered, the young man
approached her, and, kneeling down again beside her, took her in his
arms. He felt a quick sobbing breath pass through her; then she pushed
him lightly away, and, putting up the slim, pink-nailed hand of which she
was so proud, she patted him on the cheek.
"There--go along! I don't like that coat of yours, you know. I told you
so the other day. If your figure weren't so good, you'd positively look
badly dressed in it. You should try another man."
Tressady hailed a hansom outside, and drove back to Brook Street. On the
way his eyes saw little of the crowded streets. So far, he had had no
personal experience of death. His father had died suddenly while he was
at Oxford, and he had lost no other near relation or friend. Strange!
this grave, sudden sense that all was changed, that his careless,
half-contemptuous affection for his mother could never again be what it
had been. Supposing, indeed, her story was all true! But in the case of a
character like Lady Tressady's, there are for long, recurrent,
involuntary scepticisms on the part of the bystander. It seems
impossible, unfitting, to grant to such persons _le beau rôle_ they
claim. It outrages a certain ideal instinct, even, to be asked to believe
that they too can yield, in their measure, precisely the same tragic
stuff as the hero or the saint.
Letty was at home, just about to share her lunch with Harding Watton, who
had dropped in. Hearing her husband's voice, she came out to the
stairhead to speak to him.
But after a minute or two George dashed down again to his study, that he
might write a hurried note to a middle-aged cousin of his mother's,
asking her to go round to Warwick Square early in the afternoon, and
making excuses for Letty, who was "very much engaged."
For Letty had met his request with a smiling disdain. Why, she was simply
"crowded up" with engagements of all sorts and kinds!
"Mother is really unwell," said George, standing with his hands on his
sides, looking down upon her. He was fuming with irritation and hurry,
and had to put a force on himself to speak persuasively.
"My dear old boy!"--she rose on tiptoe and twisted his moustache for
him--"don't we know all about your mother's ailments by this time? I
suppose she wants to give me a scolding, or to hear about the Ardaghs, or
to tell me all about the smart parties _she_ has been to--or something of
the sort. No, really, it's quite impossible--this afternoon. I know I
must go and see her some time--of course I will."
She said this with the air of someone making a great concession. It was,
indeed, her first formal condonement of the offence offered her just
before the Castle Luton visit.
George attempted a little more argument and entreaty, but in vain. Letty
was rather puzzled by his urgency, but quite obdurate. And as he ran down
the stairs, he heard her laugh in the drawing-room mingled with Harding
Watton's. No doubt they were making merry over the "discipline" which
Letty found it necessary to apply to her mother-in-law.
In the House of Commons the afternoon was once more given up to the
adjourned debate on the second reading of the Maxwell Bill. The House was
full, and showing itself to advantage. On the whole, the animation and
competence of the speeches reflected the general rise in combative energy
and the wide kindling of social passions which the Bill had so far
brought about, both in and out of Parliament. Those who figured as the
defenders of industries harassed beyond bearing by the Socialist meddlers
spoke with more fire, with more semblance, at any rate, of putting their
hearts into it than any men of their kind had been able to attain since
the "giant" days of the first Factory debates. Those, on the other hand,
who were urging the House to a yet sterner vigilance in protecting the
worker--even the grown man--from his own helplessness and need, who
believed that law spells freedom, and that the experience of half a
century was wholly on their side--these friends of a strong cause were
also at their best, on their mettle. Owing to the widespread flow of a
great reaction, the fight had become a representative contest between two
liberties--a true battle of ideas.
Yet George, sitting below the Gangway beside his leader, his eyes staring
at the ceiling, and his hands in his pockets, listened to it all in much
languor and revolt. He himself had made his speech on the third day of
the debate. It had cost him endless labour, only to seem to him in the
end--by contrast with the vast majority of speeches made in the course of
the debate, even those by men clearly inferior to himself in mind and
training--to be a hollow and hypocritical performance. What did he
really think and believe? What did he really desire? He vowed to himself
once more, as he had vowed at Ferth, that his mind was a chaos, without
convictions, either intellectual or moral; that he had begun what he was
not able to finish; and that he was doomed to make a failure of his
parliamentary career, as he was already making a failure of coal-owning
and a failure--
He curbed something bitter and springing that haunted his most inmost
mind. But his effort could not prevent his dwelling angrily for a minute
on the thought of Letty laughing with Harding Watton--laughing because he
had asked her a small kindness, and she had most unkindly refused it.
Yet she _must_ help him with his poor mother. How softened were all his
thoughts about that difficult and troublesome lady! As it happened, he
had a good deal of desultory medical knowledge, for the problems and
perils of the body had always attracted his pessimist sense. Yet it did
not help him much at this juncture. At one moment he said to himself,
"eighteen months--she will live eighteen months," and at another, "Battye
was probably right; Barham took an unnecessarily gloomy view--she may
quite well last as long as the rest of us."
* * * * *
Suddenly he was startled by a movement beside him.
"The honourable member has totally misunderstood me," cried Fontenoy,
springing to his feet and looking eagerly towards the Speaker.
The member who was speaking on the Government side smiled, put on his
hat, and sat down. Fontenoy flung out a few stinging sentences, was hotly
cheered both by his own supporters and from a certain area of the Liberal
benches, and sat down again triumphant, having scored an excellent point.
George turned round to his companion.
"Good!" he said, with emphasis. "That rubbed it in!"
But when the man opposite was once more on his legs, labouring to undo
the impression which had been made, George found himself wondering
whether, after all, the point had been so good, and why he had been so
quick to praise. _She_ would have said, of course, that it was a point
scored against common-sense, against humanity. He began to fancy the
play of her scornful eyes, the eloquence of her white hand moving and
quivering as she spoke.
How long was it--one hurried month only--since he had walked with her
along the river at Castle Luton? While the crowded House about him was
again listening with attention to the speech which had just brought the
protesting Fontenoy to his legs; while his leader was fidgeting and
muttering beside him; while to his left the crowd of members round the
door was constantly melting, constantly reassembling, Tressady's mind
withdrew itself from its surroundings, saw nothing, heard nothing, but
the scenes of a far-off London and a figure that moved among them.
How often had he been with her since Castle Luton? Once or twice a week,
certainly, either at St. James's Square or in the East End, in spite of
Parliament, and Fontenoy, and his many engagements as Letty's husband.
Strange phenomenon--that little _salon_ of hers in the far East! For it
was practically a _salon_, though it existed for purposes the Hôtel
Rambouillet knew nothing of. He found himself one of many there. And,
like all _salons_, it had an inner circle. Charles Naseby, Edward Watton,
Lady Madeleine Penley, the Levens--some or all of these were generally to
be found in Lady Maxwell's neighbourhood, rendering homage or help in one
way or another. It was touching to see that girl, Lady Madeleine, looking
at the docker or the shirtmaker, with her restless greenish eyes, as
though she realised for the first time what hideous bond it is--the one
true commonalty--that crushes the human family together!
Well!--and what had he seen? Nothing, certainly, of which he had not had
ample information before. Under the fresh spur of the talk that occupied
the Maxwell circle he had made one or two rounds through some dismal
regions in Whitechapel, Mile End, and Hackney, where some of the worst of
the home industries to which, at last, after long hesitation on the part
of successive Governments, Maxwell's Bill was intended to put an end,
crowded every house and yard. He saw some of it in the company of a lady
rent-collector, an old friend of the Maxwells, who had charge of several
tenement blocks where the trouser and vest trade was largely carried on;
and he welcomed the chance of one or two walks in quest of law-breaking
workshops with a young inspector, who could not say enough in praise of
the Bill. But if it had been only a question of fact, George would have
felt when the rounds were done merely an added respect for Fontenoy,
perhaps even for his own party as a whole. Not a point raised by his
guides but had been abundantly discussed and realised--on paper, at any
rate--by Fontenoy and his friends. The young inspector, himself a hot
partisan, and knowing with whom he had to deal, would have liked to
convict his companion of sheer and simple ignorance; but, on the
contrary, Tressady was not to be caught napping. As far as the trade
details and statistics of this gruesome slopwork of East London went, he
knew all that could be shown him.
Nevertheless, cool and impassive as his manner was throughout, the
experience in the main did mean the exchange of a personal for a paper
and hearsay knowledge. When, indeed, had he, or Fontenoy, or anyone else
ever denied that the life of the poor was an odious and miserable
struggle, a scandal to gods and men? What then? Did they make the world
and its iron conditions? And yet this long succession of hot and smelling
dens, this series of pale, stooping figures, toiling hour after hour, at
fever pace, in these stifling backyards, while the June sun shone
outside, reminding one of English meadows and the ripple of English
grass; these panting, dishevelled women, slaving beside their husbands
and brothers, amid the rattle of the machines and the steam of the
pressers' irons, with the sick or the dying, perhaps, in the bed beside
them, and their blanched children at their feet--sights of this sort,
thus translated from the commonplace of reports and newspapers into a
poignant, unsavoury truth, had at least this effect--they vastly
quickened the personal melancholy of the spectator, they raised and drove
home a number of piercing questions which, probably, George Tressady
would never have raised, and would have lived happily without raising, if
it had not been for a woman, and a woman's charm.
For that woman's _solutions_ remained as doubtful to him as ever. He
would go back to that strange little house where she kept her strange
court, meet her eager eyes, and be roused at once to battle. How they had
argued! He knew that she had less hope than ever of persuading him even
to modify his view of the points at issue between the Government and his
own group. She could not hope for a moment that any act of his would be
likely to stand between Maxwell and defeat. He had not talked of his
adventures to Fontenoy--would rather, indeed, that Fontenoy knew nothing
of them. But he and she knew that Fontenoy, so far, had little to fear
And yet she had not turned from him. To her personal mood, to her wifely
affection even, he must appear more plainly than ever as the callous and
selfish citizen, ready and glad to take his own ease while his brethren
perished. He had been sceptical and sarcastic; he had declined to accept
her evidence; he had shown a persistent preference for the drier and more
brutal estimate of things. Yet she had never parted from him without
gentleness, without a look in her beautiful eyes that had often
tormented his curiosity. What did it mean? Pity? Or some unspoken comment
of a personal kind she could not persuade her womanly reticence to put
Or, rather: had she some distant inkling of the real truth--that he was
beginning to hate his own convictions--to feel that to be right with
Fontenoy was nothing, but to be wrong with her would be delight?
What absurdity! With a strong effort, he pulled himself
together--steadied his rushing pulse. It was like someone waking at night
in a nervous terror, and feeling the pressure of some iron dilemma, from
which he cannot free himself--cold vacancy and want on the one side,
calamity on the other.
For that cool power of judgment in his own case which he had always
possessed did not fail him now. He saw everything nakedly and coldly. His
marriage was not three months old, but no spectator could have discussed
its results more frankly than he was now prepared to discuss them with
himself. It was monstrous, no doubt. He felt his whole position to be as
ugly as it was abnormal. Who could feel any sympathy with it or him? He
himself had been throughout the architect of his own misfortune. Had he
not rushed upon his marriage with less care--relatively to the weight of
the human interest in such a matter--than an animal shows when it mates?
Letty's personal idiosyncrasies even--her way of entering a room, her
mean little devices for attracting social notice, the stubborn
extravagance of her dress and personal habits, her manner to her
servants, her sharp voice as she retailed some scrap of slanderous
gossip--her husband had by now ceased to be blind or deaf to any of
them. Indeed, his senses in relation to many things she said and did were
far more irritable at this moment--possibly far less just--than a
stranger's would have been. Often and often he would try to recall to
himself the old sense of charm, of piquancy. In vain. It was all gone--he
could only miserably wonder at the past. Was it that he knew now what
charm might mean, and what divinity may breathe around a woman!
* * * * *
"I say, where are you off to?"
Tressady looked up with a start as Fontenoy rose beside him.
"Good opportunity for dinner, I think," said Fontenoy, with a motion of
the head towards the man who had just caught the Speaker's eye. "Are you
coming? I should like a word with you."
George followed him into the Lobby. As the swing-door closed behind him,
they plunged into a whirlpool of talk and movement. All the approaches to
the House were full of folk; everybody was either giving news or getting
it. For the excitement of a coming crisis was in the air. This was
Friday, and the division on the second reading was expected on the
"What a crowd, and what a temperature!" said Fontenoy. "Come on to the
Terrace a moment."
They made their way into the air, and as they walked up and down Fontenoy
talked in his hoarse, hurried voice of the latest aspect of affairs. The
Government would get their second reading, of course that had never been
really doubtful; though Fontenoy was certain that the normal majority
would be a good deal reduced. But all the hopes of the heterogeneous
coalition which had been slowly forming throughout the spring hung upon
the Committee stage, and Fontenoy's mind was now full of the closest
calculations as to the voting on particular amendments.
For him the Bill fell into three parts. The first part, which was mainly
confined to small amendments and extensions of former Acts, would be
sharply criticised, but would probably pass without much change. The
second part contained the famous clause by which it became penal to
practise certain trades, such as tailoring, boot-finishing, and
shirt-making, in a man's or woman's own home--in the same place, that is
to say, as the worker uses for eating and sleeping. This clause, which
represented the climax of a long series of restrictions upon the right of
a man to stitch even his own life away, still more upon his right to
force his children or bribe his neighbour to a like waste of the nation's
force, was by now stirring the industrial mind of England far and wide.
And not the mind of England only. Ireland and Scotland, town and country,
talked of it, seethed with it. The new law, if it passed, was to be
tried, indeed, at first, in London only. But every provincial town and
every country district knew that, if it succeeded, there was not a corner
of the land that would not ultimately feel the yoke, or the deliverance,
of it Every workman's club, every trade-union meeting, every mechanics'
institute was ringing with it. Organised labour, dragged down at every
point--in London, at any rate--by the competition of the starving and
struggling crew of home-workers, clamoured for the Bill. The starving and
struggling crew themselves were partly voiceless, partly bewildered; now
drawn by the eloquence of their trade-union fellows to shout for the
revolution that threatened them, now surging tumultuously against it.
On this vital clause, in Fontenoy's belief, the Government would go down.
But if, by amazing good-fortune and good generalship, they should get
through with it, then the fight would but rage the more fiercely round
the last two sections of the Bill.
The third section dealt with the hours of labour in the new workshops
that were to be. For the first time it became directly penal for a man,
as well as a woman, to work more than the accepted factory-day of ten and
a half hours, with a few exceptions and exemptions in the matter of
overtime. On this clause, if it were ever reached, the Socialist vote,
were it given solidly for the Government, might, no doubt, pull them
through. "But if we have any luck--damn it! they won't get the chance!"
Fontenoy would say, with that grim, sudden reddening which revealed from
moment to moment the feverish tension of the man.
In the last section of the Bill the Government, having made its
revolution, looked round for a class on which to lay the burden of
carrying it into action, and found it in the landlords. The landlords
were to be the policemen of the new Act. To every owner of every tenement
or other house in London the Bill said: _You_ are responsible. If, after
a certain date, you allow certain trades to be carried on within your
walls at all, even by the single man or the single woman working in their
own room, penalty and punishment shall follow.
Of this clause in the Bill Fontenoy could never speak with calmness. One
might see his heart thumping in his breast as he denounced it. At bottom
it was to him the last and vilest step in a long and slanderous campaign
against the class to which he belonged, against property,--against the
existing social order. He fell upon the subject to-night _à propos_ of a
Socialist letter in the morning papers; and George, who was mostly
conscious at the moment of a sick fatigue with Fontenoy and Fontenoy's
arguments, had to bear it as best he might. Presently he interrupted:
"One assumption you make I should like to contest. You imagine, I think,
that if they carry the prohibition and the hours clauses we shall be able
to whip up a still fiercer attack on the 'landlords' clause. Now, that
isn't my view."
Fontenoy turned upon him, startled.
"Why isn't it your view?" he said abruptly.
"Because there are always waverers who will accept a _fait accompli_; and
you know how opposition has a trick of cooling towards the end of a Bill.
Maxwell has carried his main point, they will say; this is a question of
machinery. Besides, many of those Liberals who will be with us on the
main point don't love the landlords. No! don't flatter yourself that, if
we lose the main engagement, there will be any Prussians to bring up. The
thing will be done."
"Well, thank God!" grumbled Fontenoy, "we don't mean to lose the main
engagement. But if one of _our_ men were to argue in that way, I should
know what to say to him."
George made no reply.
They walked on in silence, the summer twilight falling softly over the
river and the Hospital, over the Terrace with its groups, and the
towering pile of buildings beside them.
Presently Fontenoy said, in another voice:
"I have really never had the courage to talk to you of the matter,
Tressady, but didn't you see something of that lad Ancoats before he went
"Yes, I saw him several times, first at the club; then he came and dined
with me here one night."
"And did he confide in you?"
"More or less," said George, smiling rather queerly at the recollection.
Fontenoy made a sound between a growl and a sigh.
"Really, it's rather too much to have to think out that young
man's affairs as well as one's own. And the situation is so
extraordinary!--Maxwell and I have to be in constant consultation. I went
to see him in his room in the House of Lords the other night, and met a
man coming out, who stopped, and stared as though he were shot. Luckily I
knew him, and could say a word to him, or there would have been all sorts
of cock-and-bull stories abroad."
"Well, and what are you and Maxwell doing?"
"Trying to get at the young woman. One can't buy her off, of course.
Ancoats is his own master, and could outbid us. But Maxwell has found a
brother--a decent sort of fellow--a country solicitor. And there is a
Ritualist curate, a Father somebody,"--Fontenoy raised his
shoulders,--"who seems to have an intermittent hold on the girl. When
she has fits of virtue she goes to confess to him. Maxwell has got hold
"And meanwhile Ancoats is at Bad Wildheim?"
"Ancoats is at Bad Wildheim, and behaving himself, as I hear from his
poor mother." Fontenoy sighed. "But the boy was frightened, of course,
when they went abroad. Now she is getting better, and one can't tell--"
"No, one can't tell," said George.
"I wish I knew what the thing really _meant_," said Fontenoy, presently,
in a tone of perplexed reverie. "What do you think? Is it a passion--?"
"Or a pose?"
"H'm," he said at last--"more of a pose, I think, than a passion. Ancoats
always seems to me the _jeune premier_ in his own play. He sees his life
in scenes, and plays them according to all the rules."
"Intolerable!" said Fontenoy, in exasperation. "And at least he might
refrain from dragging a girl into it! We weren't saints in my day, but we
weren't in the habit of choosing well-brought-up maidens of twenty in our
own set for our confidantes. You know, I suppose, what broke up the party
at Castle Luton?"
"Ancoats told me nothing. I have heard some gossip from Harding Watton,"
said George, unwillingly. It was one of his strongest characteristics,
this fastidious and even haughty dislike of chatter about other people's
private affairs, a dislike which, in the present case, had been
strengthened by his growing antipathy to Harding.
"How should he know?" said Fontenoy, angrily. He was glad enough to use
Watton as a political tool, but had never yet admitted him to the
smallest social intimacy.
Yet with Tressady he felt no difficulty in talking over these private
affairs; and he did, in fact, report the whole story--that same story
with which Marcella had startled Betty Leven on the night in question:
how Ancoats on this Sunday evening had decoyed this handsome,
impressionable girl, to whom throughout the winter he had been paying
decided and even ostentatious court, into a _tête-à-tête_--had poured out
to her frantic confessions of his attachment to the theatrical lady--a
woman he could never marry, whom his mother could never meet, but with
whom, nevertheless, come what might, he was determined to live and die.
She--Madeleine--was his friend, his good angel. Would she go to his
mother and break it to her? Would she understand, and forgive him? There
must be no opposition, or he would shoot himself. And so on, till the
poor girl, worn out with excitement and grief, tottered into Mrs.
Allison's room more dead than alive.
But at that point Fontenoy stopped abruptly.
George agreed that the story was almost incredible, and added the inward
and natural comment of the public-school man--that if people will keep
their boys at home, and defraud them of the kickings that are their due,
they may look out for something unwholesome in the finished product.
Then, aloud, he said:
"I should imagine that Ancoats was acting through the greater part of
that. He had said to himself that such a scene would be effective--and
would be new."
"Good heavens!--why, that makes it ten thousand times more abominable
"I daresay," said George, coolly. "But it also makes the future, perhaps,
a little more hopeful--throws some light on the passion or pose
alternative. My impression is, that if we can only find an effective exit
for Ancoats,--a last act that he would consider worthy of him,--he will
bow himself out of the business willingly enough."
Fontenoy smiled rather gloomily, and the two walked on in silence.
Once or twice, as they paced the Terrace, George glanced sidelong at his
leader. A corner of Fontenoy's nightly letter to Mrs. Allison was, he
saw, sticking out of the great man's coat-pocket. Every night he wrote a
crowded sheet upon his knee, under the shelter of a Blue Book, and on one
or two nights George's quick eyes had not been able to escape from the
pencilled address on the envelope to which it was ultimately consigned.
The sheet was written with the regularity and devotion of a Prime
Minister reporting to the Sovereign.
Well! it was all very touching and very remarkable. But George had some
sympathy with Ancoats. To be virtually saddled with a stepfather, with
whom your minutest affairs are confidentially discussed, and yet to have
it said by all the world that your poor mother is too unselfish and too
devoted to her son to marry again--the situation is not without its
pricks. And that Ancoats was acutely conscious of them George had good
reason to know.
"I say, Tressady, will you pair till eleven?" cried a man, swinging
bareheaded along the Terrace with his hat in his hand. "I want an hour or
two off badly, and there will be no big guns on till eleven or so."
George exchanged a word or two with Fontenoy, then stood still, and
thought a moment. A sudden animation flushed into his face. Why not?
"All right!" he said; "till eleven."
Then he and Fontenoy went back to dine. As they mounted the dark
staircase leading from the Terrace another man caught Tressady by the
"The strike notices are out," he said. "I have just had a wire. Everyone
leaves work to-night."
George shrugged his shoulders. He had been expecting the news at any
moment, and was glad that the long shilly-shallying on both sides was at
"Good luck to them!" he said. "I'm glad. The fight had to come."
"Oh! we shall be in the middle of arbitration before a fortnight's up.
The men won't stand."
George shook his head. He himself believed that the struggle would last
on through the autumn.
"Well, to be sure, there's Burrows," said his informant, himself a large
coal-owner in the Ferth district; "if Burrows keeps sober, and if
somebody doesn't buy him, Burrows will do his worst."
"That we always knew," said George, laughing, and passed on. He had but
just time to catch his train.
He walked across to the Underground station, and by the time he reached
it he had clean forgotten his pits and the strike, though as he passed
the post-office in the House a sheaf of letters and telegrams had been
put into his hands. Rather, he was full of a boy's eagerness and
exultation. He had never supposed he could be let off to-night, till the
offer of Dudley's pair tempted him. And now, in half an hour he would be
in that queer Mile End room, watching her--quarrelling with her.
A little later, however, as he was sitting quietly in the train, quick
composite thoughts of Letty, of his miners, and his money difficulties
began to clutch at him again. Perhaps, now that the strike was a reality,
it might even be a help to him and a bridle to his wife. Preposterous,
what she was doing and planning at Perth! His face flushed and hardened
as he thought of their many wrangles during the past fortnight, her
constant drag upon his purse, his own weakness, the annoyance and
contempt that made him yield rather than argue.
What was that fellow, Harding Watton, doing in the house at all hours,
and beguiling Letty, by his collector's airs, into a hundred foolish
wants and whims? And that brute Cathedine! Was it decent, was it
bearable, that a bride of three months should take no more notice of her
husband's wishes and dislikes in such a matter than Letty had shown with
regard to her growing friendship with that disreputable person? It seemed
to George that he called most afternoons. Letty laughed, excused herself,
or abused her visitor as soon as he had departed; but the rebuff which
George's pride would not let him ask of her directly, while yet his
whole manner demanded it, was never given.
He sat solitary in his brilliantly lit carriage, staring at the
advertisements opposite, his long chin thrust forward, his head, with its
fair curls, thrown moodily back. And all the time his mind was working
with an appalling clearness. This cold light, in which he was beginning
to see his wife and all she did--it was already a tragedy.
What was he flying to, what was he in search of--there in the East End?
His whole being flung the answer. A little sympathy, a little heart, a
little tenderness and delicacy of soul!--nothing else. He had once taken
it for granted that every woman possessed them in some degree. Or, was it
only since he had found them in this unexampled fulness and wealth that
he had begun to thirst for them in this way? He made himself face the
question. "One needn't lie to oneself!"
At Aldgate, as he was making his way out of the station, he stumbled upon
"Hullo! You bound for No. 20, too?"
"No; there is no function to-night. Lady Maxwell is at a meeting. It has
grown rather suddenly from small beginnings, and two days ago they made
her promise to speak. I came down because I am afraid of a row. Things
are beginning to look ugly down here, and I don't think she has much idea
of it. Will you come?"
Watton looked at him with an amused and friendly eye.
It was another instance of her power--that she had been able to bind
even this young enemy to her chariot-wheels. He hoped Letty had the sense
to approve! As a matter of fact, Watton had never, by his own choice,
become well acquainted with his cousin Letty, and had always secretly
marvelled at Tressady's sudden marriage.
The two men were soon on the top of the Mile End Road tramcar, on their
way eastward. It was a hot, dull evening. The setting sun behind them was
already swallowed up in mist, and the heavy air held down and made
palpable all the unsavoury odours of street and shop. Before them
stretched the wide, interminable road which was once the highway from the
great city to Colchester and East Anglia. A broad and comely thoroughfare
on the whole, save that from end to end it has now the dyed and patched
look that an old village street inevitably puts on when it has been
swallowed up by the bricks and mortar of an overtaking town.
Tressady looked round him in a reverie, interested in the place and the
streets because _she_ cared for them, and had struck one of her roots
here. Strange medley everywhere--in this main street, at all events--of
old and new! Here were the Trinity almshouses, with their Jacobean gables
and their low, spreading quadrangle behind the fine ironwork that
shelters them from the street--a poetic fragment from the days of Wren
and Dryden, sore threatened now by an ever-advancing London, hungry for
ground and space. Here was a vast mission-hall, there a still vaster
brewery; on the right, the quiet entrance to the oldworld quiet of
Stepney-Green; and to the left a huge flame-ringed gin-palace, with shops
on either side, hung to the roof with carpets, or brooms, or umbrellas,
plastered with advertisements, and blazing with gas. While in the street
between streamed the ever-moving crowd of East London folk, jostling,
chattering, loafing, doing their business or their pleasure, and made
perpetually interesting, partly by their frank preoccupation with the
simplest realities of life: with eating, drinking, earning, marrying,
child-rearing; still more, perhaps, by the constant presence among them
of that "leisured class" which, alike at the bottom and the top of
things, has time to be gay, curious, and witty.
As he rolled along, watching the scene, Tressady thought to himself, as
he had often thought before, that the East End, in many of its aspects,
is a very decentish sort of place, about which many people talk much
nonsense. He made the remark, carelessly, to Watton.
Watton shrugged his shoulders, and pointed silently to the entrances,
right and left, of two side-streets, the typical streets of the East End:
long lines of low houses,--two storeys always, or two storeys and a
basement,--all of the same yellowish brick, all begrimed by the same
smoke, every door-knocker of the same pattern, every window-blind hung in
the same way, and the same corner "public" on either side, flaming in the
Watton hardly put his comment into words; but Tressady, who knew him
well, understood, and nodded over his cigarette. Watton meant, of course,
to suggest the old commonplace of the mean and dull monotony that weighs
like a nightmare upon this vast East London and its human hive, which
hums and toils, drones and feeds, by night and day, in these numberless
featureless boxes of wood and stone, on this flat, interminable earth
that stretches eastward to Essex marshes and southward to the river, and
bears yellow brick and cemeteries for corn. Well! Tressady knew that the
thought of this monotony, and of the thousands under its yoke, was to
Watton a constant sting and oppression; he knew, too, or guessed, the
religious effects it produced in him. For Watton was a religious man, and
the action of the dream within showed itself in him and all he did. But
why should everyone make a grief of East London? He was in the mood again
to-night to feel it a kind of impertinence, this endless, peering anxiety
about a world you never planned and cannot mend. Whose duty is it to cry
for the moon?
"Better get down here, I think," said Watton, signalling to the
tram-conductor, "and find out whether they have really gone, or not."
They stopped, half-way down the Mile End Road, before a piece of wall
with a door in it. A trim maiden of fifteen in a spotless cotton frock
and white apron opened to them.
Inside was a small flagged courtyard and the old-fashioned house that
Marcella Maxwell, a year before,--some time after their first lodging had
been given up,--had rescued from demolition and the builder, to make an
East End home out of it. Somewhere about 1750 some City tradesman had
built it among fields, and taken his rest there; while somewhat later, in
a time of Evangelical revival, a pious widow had thrown out a low room to
one side for class-meetings. In this room Marietta now held her
gatherings, and both Tressady and Watton knew it well.
The little handmaid bubbled over with willing talk. Oh, yes, there was a
meeting up Manx Road, and her Ladyship had gone with Lord Naseby, and
Lady Madeleine, and Mr. Everard, the inspector, and, she thought, one or
two besides. She expected the ladies back about ten, and they were to
stay the night.
"An they do say, sir," she said eagerly, looking up at Watton, whom she
knew, "as there'll be a lot o' rough people at the meetin."
"Oh! I daresay," said Watton. "Well, we're going up, too, to look
As they walked on they talked over the general situation in the district,
and Watton explained what he knew of this particular meeting. In the
first place, he repeated, he could not see that Lady Maxwell understood
as yet the sort of opposition that the Bill was rousing, especially in
these East End districts. The middle-class and parliamentary resistance
she had always appreciated; but the sort of rage that might be awakened
among a degraded class of workers by proposals that seemed to threaten
their immediate means of living, he believed she had not yet realised, in
anything like its full measure and degree. And he feared that this
meeting might be a disagreeable experience.
For it was the direct fruit of an agitation that, as Tressady knew, was
in particular Fontenoy's agitation. The Free Workers' League, which had
called upon the trade-unionist of Mile End to summon the meeting, and to
hear therein what both sides had to say, was, in fact, Fontenoy's
creation. It had succeeded especially in organising the women
home-workers of Mile End and Poplar. Two or three lady-speakers employed
by the League had been active to the point of frenzy in denouncing the
Bill and shrieking "Liberty!" in the frightened ear of Mile End. Watton
could not find a good word for any of them--was sure that what mostly
attracted them was the notoriety of the position, involving, as it did,
a sort of personal antagonism to Lady Maxwell, who had, so to speak,
made Mile End her own. And to be Lady Maxwell's enemy was, Watton
opined, the next best thing, from the point of view of advertisement, to
being her friend.
"Excellent women, I daresay," said Tressady, laughing--"talking excellent
sense. But, tell me, what is this about Naseby--why Naseby?--on all these
"Why not, indeed?" said Watton. "Ah! you don't know? It seems to be
Naseby that's going to get the egg out of the hat for us."
And he plunged eagerly into the description of certain schemes wherewith
Naseby had lately astonished the Maxwell circle. Tressady listened,
languidly at first, then with a kind of jealous annoyance that
scandalised himself. How well he could understand the attraction of such
things for her quick mind! Life was made too easy for these "golden
lads." People attributed too much importance to their fancies.
Naseby, in fact,--but so much George already knew,--had been for some
months now the comrade and helper of both the Maxwells. His friends still
supposed him to be merely the agreeable and fashionable idler. In
reality, Naseby for some years past had been spending all the varied
leisure that his commission in the Life Guards allowed him upon the work
of a social and economic student. He had joined the staff of a well-known
sociologist, who was at the time engaged in an inquiry into certain
typical East London trades. The inquiry had made a noise, and the
evidence collected under it had already been largely used in the debates
on the Maxwell Bill. Tressady, for instance, had much of it by heart,
although he never knew, until he became a haunter of Lady Maxwell's
circle, that Naseby had played any part in the gathering of it.
At the same time, as George had soon observed, Naseby was no blind
follower of the Maxwells. In truth, under his young gaiety and coolness
he had the temper of the student, who was more in love with his problem
itself than with any suggested solution of it. As he had told Lady
Betty, he had "no opinions"--would himself rather leave the sweated
trades alone, and trust to much slower and less violent things than
law-making. All this the Maxwells knew perfectly, and liked and trusted
him none the less.
Now, however, it seemed there was a new development. If the Bill passed,
Naseby had a plan. He was already a rich man, independently of the
marquisate to come. His grandmother had left him a large preliminary
fortune, and through his friends and connections besides he seemed to
command as much money as he desired. And of this money, supposing the
Bill passed, he proposed to make original and startling use. He had
worked out the idea of a syndicate furnished with, say, a quarter of a
million of money, which should come down upon a given district of the
East End, map it out, buy up all the existing businesses in its typical
trade, and start a system of new workshops proportioned to the
population, supplying it with work just as the Board schools supply it
with education. The new scheme was to have a profit-sharing element: the
workers were to be represented on the syndicate, and every nerve was to
be strained to secure the best business management. The existing
middlemen would be either liberally bought out, or absorbed into the new
machine. It was by no means certain that they would show it any strong
Tressady made a number of unfriendly comments on the scheme as Watton
detailed it. A bit of amateur economics, which would only help the Bill
to ruin a few more people than would otherwise have gone down!
"Ah! well," said Watton, "if this thing passes there are bound to be
experiments, and Naseby means to be in 'em. So do I, only I haven't got a
quarter of a million. Here's our road! We're late, of course--the
meeting's begun. I say, just look at this!"
For Manx Road, as they turned into it, was already held by another big
meeting of its own. The room in the Board school which crossed the end of
the street must be full, and this crowd represented, apparently, those
who had been turned away.
As the two friends pushed their way through, Tressady's quick eye
recognised in the throng a number of familiar types. Well-to-do
"pressers" and machinists, factory-girls of different sorts, hundreds of
sallow women, representing the home-workers of Mile End, Bow, and
Stepney--poor souls bowed by toil and maternity, whose marred fingers
labour day and night to clothe the Colonies and the army; their husbands
and brothers, too, English slop-tailors for the most part, of the humbler
sort--the short side-street was packed with them. It was an anxious,
sensitive crowd, Tressady thought, as he elbowed his passage through it.
A small thing might inflame it; and he saw a number of rough lads on the
skirts of it.
Jews, too, there were in plenty. For the stress of this Bill had brought
Jew and Gentile together in a new comradeship that amazed the East End.
Here were groups representing the thrifty, hard-working London Jew of
the second generation,--small masters for the most part, pale with the
confinement and "drive" of the workshop,--men who are expelling and
conquering the Gentile East Ender, because their inherited passion for
business is not neutralised by any of the common English passions for
spending--above all by the passion for drink. Here, too, were men of a
far lower type and grade--the waste and refuse of the vast industrial
mill. Tressady knew a good many of them by sight--sullen, quick-eyed
folk, who buy their "greeners" at the docks, and work them day and night
at any time of pressure; whose workshops are still flaring at two
o'clock in the morning, and alive again by the winter dawn; who fight
and flout the law by a hundred arts, and yet, brutal and shifty as many
of them are, have a curious way of winning the Gentile inspector's
sympathy, even while he fines and harasses them, so clearly are they and
their "hands" alike the victims of a huge world-struggle that does but
toss them on its surge.
These gentry, however, were hard hit by more than one clause of the
Maxwell Bill, and they were here to-night to protest, as they had been
already protesting at many meetings, large and small, all over the East
End. And they had their slaves with them,--ragged, hollow-eyed creatures,
newly arrived from Russian Poland, Austria, or Romania, and ready to
shout or howl in Yiddish as they were told,--men whose strange faces and
eyes under their matted shocks of black or reddish hair suggested every
here and there the typical history and tragic destiny of the race which,
in other parts of the crowd, was seen under its softer and more
As the two men neared the door of the school, where the press was
densest, they were recognised as probably belonging to the Maxwell party,
and found themselves a good deal jeered and hustled, and could hardly
make any way at all. However, a friendly policeman came to their aid.
They were passed into a lobby, and at last, with much elbowing and
pushing, found themselves inside the schoolroom.
So crowded was the place and so steaming the atmosphere, that it was
some minutes before Tressady could make out what was going on. Then he
saw that Naseby was speaking--Naseby, looking remarkably handsome and
well curled, and much at his ease, besides, in the production of a string
of Laodicean comments on the Bill, his own workshop scheme, and the
general prospects of East End labour. He described the scheme, but in
such a way as rather to damn it than praise it; and as for the Bill
itself, which he had undertaken to compare with former Factory Bills,
when he sat down he left it, indeed, in a parlous case--a poor, limping,
doubtful thing, quite as likely to ruin the East End as to do it a hand's
turn of good.
Just as the speaker was coming to his peroration Tressady suddenly caught
sight of a delicate upraised profile on the platform, behind Naseby. The
repressed smile on it set him smiling, too.
"What on earth do they make Naseby speak for!" said Watton, indignantly.
"Idiocy! He spoils everything he touches. Let him give the money, and
other people do the talking. You can see the people here don't know what
to make of him in the least. Look at their faces.--Who's he talking to?"
"Lady Madeleine, I think," said Tressady. "What amazing red hair that
girl has! and what queer, scared eyes! It is like an animal--one wants to
"Well, Naseby strokes her," said Watton, laughing. "Look at her; she
brightens up directly he comes near."
Tressady thought of the tale Fontenoy had just told him, and wondered.
Consolation seemed to come easy to maidens of quality.
Meanwhile various trade-unionists--sturdy, capable men, in black
coats--were moving and seconding resolutions; flinging resentful
comments, too, at Naseby whenever occasion offered. Tressady heard very
little of what they had to say. His eyes and thoughts were busy with the
beautiful figure to the left of the chair. Its dignity and charm worked
upon him like a spell--infused a kind of restless happiness.
When he woke from his trance of watching, it was to turn upon Watton
with impatience. How long was this thing going on? The British workman
spoke with deplorable fluency. Couldn't they push their way through to
Watton looked at the crowd, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Not yet--I say! who's this they've put up. Come, my dear fellow, that
looks like the real thing!"
Tressady turned, and saw an old man, a Jew, with a long greyish beard,
coming slowly to the front of the platform. His eyes were black and deep,
sunk under white brows; he was decently but poorly dressed; and he began
to speak with a slight German accent, in an even, melancholy voice,
rather under-pitched, which soon provoked the meeting. He was
vociferously invited to speak up or sit down; and at the first
interruption he stopped timorously, and looked towards the Chair.
An elderly, grey-haired woman was presiding--no doubt to mark the
immense importance of the Bill for the women of the East End. She came
forward at the man's appeal.
"My friends," she said quietly, "you let this man speak, and don't you be
hard on him. He's got a sad story to tell you, and he won't be long about
it. You give him his chance. Some of you shall have yours soon."
Up. The speaker was the paid secretary of one of the women's unions; but
she had been a tailoress for years, and had known a tragic life. Once, at
a meeting where some flippant speaker had compared the reality and
frequency of "starvation" in London to the reality and frequency of the
sea serpent, Tressady had seen her get up and, with a sudden passion,
describe the death of her own daughter from hardship and want, with the
tears running down her cheeks. Her appeal to the justice of the meeting
succeeded, and the old man was allowed to go on. It soon appeared that he
had been put up by one of the tailoring unions to denounce the long hours
worked in some of the Whitechapel and Spitalfields workshops. His H facts
were appalling. But he put them badly, with a dull, stumbling voice, and
he got no hold on the meeting at all till suddenly he stepped forward,
paused,--his miserable face working, his head turning from if side to
side,--and finally said, with a sharp change of note:
"And now, if you please, I will tell you how it was about Isaac--my
brother Isaac. It was Mr. Jacobs "--he looked round, and pointed to the
tradeunion secretary who had been speaking before him--"Mr. Jacobs it
was that put it in my mind to come here and tell you about Isaac. For the
way Isaac died was like this. He and I were born in Spitalfields; he
wasn't one of your greeners--he was a reg'lar good worker, first-rate
general coat-hand, same as me. But he got with a hard master. And last
winter season but one there came a rush. And Isaac must be working six
days a week--and he must be working fourteen hours a day--and, more'n
that, he must be doing his bastes overtime, two hours one time, and an
hour or so, perhaps, another; anyway, they made it up to half a
day--eight hours and more in the week. _You_ know how they reckon it."
He stopped, grinning feebly. The trade-unionists about the platform
shouted or groaned in response. The masters round the door, with their
"greeners," stood silent.
"And about Wednesday in the third week," he went on, "he come to the
master, and he says--Isaac was older than me, and his chest it would be
beginning to trouble him pretty bad, so he says: 'I'm done,' he says; 'I
must go home. You can get another chap to do my bastes to-night--will
you?' And the master says to Isaac: 'If you don't do your bastes
overtime, if you're too high and mighty,' he says, 'why, there's plenty
as will, and you don't need to come to-morrow neither.' And Isaac had his
wife Judith at home, and four little uns; and he stopped and done his
bastes, of _course_. And next night he couldn't well see, and he'd been
dreadful sick all day, and he says to the master again, he says as he
must go home. And the master, he says the same to him--and Isaac stops.
And on Friday afternoon he come home. And the shop had been steamin hot,
but outside it was a wind to cut yer through. And his wife Judith says to
him, 'Isaac, you look starved!' and she set him by the fire. And he sat
by the fire, and he didn't say nothing. Then his hands fell down sudden
The old man let his hands drop heavily by his side with a simple dramatic
gesture. By this time there was not a sound in the crowded room. Even the
wildest and most wolfish of the greeners were staring silently, craning
brown necks forward.
"And his wife ran to him, and he falls against her; and he says, 'Lay me
down, Judith, and don't you let em wake me--not the young uns,' he says
'not for nothing and nobody. For if it was the trump of the Most High,'
he says--and Isaac was a religious man, and careful in his speech--'I
must have my sleep.' And she laid him down, and the children and she
watched--and by midnight Isaac turned himself over. He just opened his
eyes once, and groaned. And he never spoke no more--he was gone before
mornin.--And his master gave Judith five shillings towards the coffin,
and the men in the shop, they raised the rest."
The old man paused. He stood considering a moment, his face and ragged
beard thrown out--a spot of greyish white--against the figures behind,
his eyes blinking painfully under the gas.
"Well, we've tried many things," he said at last. "We've tried strikes
and unions, and it isn't no good. There's always one treading on
another, and if you don't do it, someone else will. It's the _law_ as'll
have to do it. You may take that and smoke it!--you won't get nothing
else. Why!"--his hoarse voice trembled--"why, they use us up cruel in the
sort of shop I work for. Ten or twelve years, and a man's all to pieces.
It's the irons, and the heat, and the sitting--_you_ know what it is.
I've lasted fifteen year, but I'm breaking up now. If my master give me
the sack for speaking here I'll have nothing but the Jewish Board of
Guardians to look to. All the same, I made up my mind as I'd come and say
how they served Isaac."
He stopped abruptly, and stood quite still a moment, fronting the
meeting, as though appealing to them, through the mere squalid physical
weakness he could find no more words to express. Then, with a sort of
shambling bow, he turned away, and the main body of the meeting clapped
excitedly, while at the back some of the "sweaters" grinned, and chatted
sarcastic things in Yiddish with their neighbours. Tressady saw Lady
Maxwell rise eagerly as the old man passed her, take his hand, and find
him a seat.
"That, I suppose, was an emotion," said Tressady, looking down upon his
"Or an argument," said Watton--"as you like!"
One other "emotion" of the same kind--the human reality at its simplest
and cruellest--Tressady afterwards remembered.
A "working-woman" was put up to second an amendment condemning the
workshops clause, which had been moved in an angry speech by one of
"Fontenoy's ladies," a shrill-voiced, fashionable person, the secretary
to the local branch of the Free Workers' League. Tressady had yawned
impatiently through the speech, which had seemed to him a violent and
impertinent performance. But as the speaker sat down he was roused by an
exclamation from a man beside him.
"_That_ woman!" cried a tall curate, straining on tiptoe to see. "No!
They ought to be ashamed of themselves!"
Tressady wondered who and why; but all that he saw was that a thin, tall
woman was being handed along the bench in front of him, while her
neighbours and friends clapped her on the back as she passed, laughing
and urging her on. Then, presently, there she stood on the platform, a
thin, wand-like creature, with her battered bonnet sideways on her head,
a woollen crossover on her shoulders, in spite of July, her hands clasped
across her chest, her queer light eyes wandering and smiling hither and
thither. In her emaciation, her weird cheerfulness, she was like a figure
from a Dance of Death. But what was amazing was her self-possession.
"Now yer laffin' at me," she began in a conversational tone, nodding
towards the group of women she had just left. "You go 'long! I told the
lidy I'd speak, an I will. Well, they comes to me, an they ses, Mrs.
Dickson, yer not to work at 'ome no longer--they'll put yer in prison if
yer do't, they ses; yer to go out ter work, same as the shop 'ands, they
ses; and what's more, if they cotch Mr. Butterford--that's my landlord;
p'raps yer dunno 'im--"
She looked down at the meeting with a whimsical grin, her eyes screwed up
and her crooked brows lifted, so that the room roared merely to look at
her. The trim lady-secretary, however, bent forward with an air of
annoyance. She had not, perhaps, realised that Mrs. Dickson was so much
of a character.
"If they cotch Mr. Butterford, they'll make 'im pay up smart for lettin
yer do such a thing as make knickers in 'is 'ouse. So I asks the lidy,
Wot's ter become o' me an the little uns? An she says she done know, but
yer mus come and speak Tuesday night, she says--Manx Road Schools, she
says--if yer want to perwent em making a law ov it. Which I'm a doin
Fresh laughter and response from the room. She went on satisfied.
"An, yer know, if I can't make the knickers at 'ome, I can't make 'em
awy from 'ome. For ther aint no shops as want kids squallin round, as
fer as I can make out. An Jimmy's a limb, as boys mos'ly are in my
egsperience. Larst week 'e give the biby a 'alfpenny and two o' my
biggest buttons to swaller, an I ony jest smacked 'em out of 'er in
time. Ther'd be murder done if I was to leave 'em. An 'ow 'ud I be able
to pay anyone fer lookin' after em? I can't git much, yer know, shop or
no shop. I aint wot I was."
She stopped, and pointed significantly to her chest. Tressady shuddered
as the curate whispered to him.
"I've been in orspital--cut about fearful. I can't go at the pace them
shops works at. They'd give me the sack, double-quick, if I was to go try
in 'em. No, it's _settin_ as does it--settin an settin. I'm at it by
seven, an my 'usband--yer can see im there--e'll tell yer."
She stopped, and pointed to a burly ruffian standing amid a group of
"pals" round the door. This gentleman had his arms folded, and was
alternately frowning and grinning at this novel spectacle of his wife as
a public performer. Bribes had probably been necessary to bring him to
consent to the spectacle at all. But he was not happy, and when his wife
pointed at him, and the meeting turned to look, he suddenly took a dive
head-foremost into the crowd about him; so that when the laughter and
horse-play that followed had subsided, it was seen that Mr. Tom Dickson's
place knew him no more.
Meanwhile Mrs. Dickson stood grinning--grinning wide and visibly. It was
the strangest mirth, as though hollow pain and laughter strove with each
other for the one poor indomitable face.
"Well, ee _could_ 'a told yer, if e'd ad the mind," she said, nodding,
"for ee knows. Ee's been out o' work this twelve an a arf year--well,
come, I'll bet yer, anyway, as ee 'asn't done a 'and's turn this three
year--an I don't blime im. Fust, there isn't the work to be got, and
then yer git out of the way o' wantin it. An beside, I'm used to im.
When Janey--no, it were Sue!--were seven month old, he come in one
night from the public, an after ee'd broke up most o' the things, he
says to me, 'Clear out, will yer!' An I cleared out, and Sue and me
set on the doorstep till mornin. And when mornin come, Tom opened the
door, an ee says, 'What are you doin there, mother? Why aint yer got my
breakfast?' An I went in an got it. But, bless yer, nowadays--the
_women won't do it_!--"
Another roar went up from the meeting. Mrs. Dickson still grinned.
"An so there's nothink but _settin_', as I said before--settin' till yer
can't set no more. If I begin o' seven, I gets Mr. Dickson to put the
teathings an the loaf andy, so as I don't 'ave to get up more'n jes to
fetch the kettle; and the chillen gets the same as me--tea an bread, and
a red 'erring Sundays; an Mr. Dickson, 'e gets 'is meals out. I gives
'im the needful, and 'e don't make no trouble; an the children is
dreadful frackshus sometimes, and gets in my way fearful. But there, if
I can _set_--set till I 'ear Stepney Church goin twelve--I can earn my
ten shillin a week, an keep the lot of 'em. Wot does any lidy or
genelman want, a comin' meddlin down 'ere? Now, that's the middle an
both ends on it. Done? Well, I dessay I is done. Lor, I ses to em in the
orspital it do seem rummy to me to be layin abed like that. If Tom was
'ere, why, 'e'd--"
She made a queer, significant grimace. But the audience laughed no
longer. They stared silently at the gaunt creature, and with their
silence her own mood changed.
Suddenly she whipped up her apron. She drew it across her eyes, and flung
it away again passionately.
"I dessay we shall be lyin abed in Kingdom Come," she said defiantly, yet
piteously. "But we've got to git there fust. An I don't want no shops,
She rambled on a little longer, then, at a sign from the lady-secretary,
made a grinning curtsy to the audience and departed.
"What do they get out of that?" said Watton, in Tressady's ear--"Poor
galley-slave in praise of servitude!"
"Her slavery keeps her alive, please."
"Yes--and drags down the standard of a whole class!"
"You'll admit she seemed content?"
"It's that content we want to kill.--Ah! _at last!_" and Watton clapped
loudly, followed by about half the meeting, while the rest sat silent.
Then Tressady perceived that the chair-woman had called upon Lady Maxwell
to move the next resolution, and that the tall figure had risen.
She came forward slowly, glancing from side to side, as though doubtful
where to look for her friends. She was in black, and her head was covered
with a little black lace bonnet, in the strings of which, at her throat,
shone a small diamond brooch. The delicate whiteness of her face and
hands, and this sparkle of light on her breast, that moved as she moved,
struck a thrill of pleasure through Tressady's senses. The squalid
monotony and physical defect of the crowd about him passed from his mind.
Her beauty redressed the balance. "'Loveliness, magic, and grace--they
are here; they are set in the world!'--and ugliness and pain have not
conquered while this face still looks and breathes." This, and nothing
less, was the cry of the young man's heart and imagination as he
strained forward, waiting for her voice.
Then he settled himself to listen--only to pass gradually from
expectation to nervousness, from nervousness to dismay.
What was happening? She had once told him that she was not a speaker, and
he had not believed her. She had begun well, he thought, though with a
hesitation he had not expected. But now--had she lost her thread--or
what? Incredible! when one remembered her in private life, in
conversation. Yet these stumbling sentences, this evident distress!
Tressady found himself fidgeting in sympathetic misery. He and Watton
looked at each other.
A little more, and she would have lost her audience. She _had_ lost it.
At first there had been eager listening, for she had plunged
straightway into a set explanation and defence of the Bill point by
point, and half the room knew that she was Lord Maxwell's wife. But by
the end of ten minutes their attention was gone. They were only staring
at her because she was handsome and a great lady. Otherwise, they
seemed not to know what to make of her. She grew white; she wavered.
Tressady saw that she was making great efforts, and all in vain. The
division between her and her audience widened with every sentence, and
Fontenoy's lady-organiser, in the background, sat smilingly erect.
Tressady, who had been at first inclined to hate the thought of her
success in this Inferno, grew hot with wrath and irritation. His own
vanity suffered in her lack of triumph.
Amazing! How _could_ her personal magic--so famous on so many
fields--have deserted her like this in an East End schoolroom, before
people whose lives she knew, whose griefs she carried in her heart?
Then an idea struck him. The thought was an illumination--he understood.
He shut his eyes and listened. Maxwell's sentences, Maxwell's
manner--even, at times, Maxwell's voice! He had been rehearsing to her
his coming speech in the House of Lords, and she was painfully repeating
it! To his disgust, Tressady saw the reporters scribbling away--no doubt
they knew their business! Aye, there was the secret. The wife's adoration
showed through her very failure--through this strange conversion of all
that was manly, solid, and effective in Maxwell, into a confused mass of
facts and figures, pedantic, colourless, and cold!
Edward Watton began to look desperately unhappy. "Too long," he said,
whispering in Tressady's ear, "and too technical. They can't follow."
And he looked at a group of rough factory-girls beginning to scuffle with
the young men near them, at the restless crowd of "greeners," at the
women in the centre of the hall lifting puzzled faces to the speaker, as
though in a pain of listening.
Tressady nodded. In the struggle of devotion with a half-laughing
annoyance he could only crave that the thing should be over.
But the next instant his face altered. He pushed forward instinctively,
turning his back on Watton, hating the noisy room, that would hardly
let him hear.
Ah!--those few last sentences, that voice, that quiver of passion--they
were her own--herself, not Maxwell. The words were very simple, and a
little tremulous--words of personal reminiscence and experience. But for
one listener there they changed everything. The room, the crowd, the
speaker--he saw them for a moment under another aspect: that poetic,
eternal aspect, which is always there, behind the veil of common things,
ready to flash out on mortal eyes. He _felt_ the woman's heart, oppressed
with a pity too great for it; the delicate, trembling consciousness, like
a point in space, weighed on by the burden of the world; he stood, as it
were, beside her, hearing with her ears, seeing the earth-spectacle as
she saw it, with that terrible second sight of hers: the all-environing
woe and tragedy of human things--the creeping hunger and pain--the
struggle that leads no whither--the life that hates to live and yet
dreads to die--the death that cuts all short, and does but add one more
hideous question to the great pile that hems the path of man.
A hard, reluctant tear rose in his eyes. Is it starved tailoresses and
shirtmakers alone who suffer? Is there no hunger of the heart, that
matches and overweighs the physical? Is it not as easy for the rich as
the poor to miss the one thing needful, the one thing that matters and
saves? Angrily, and in a kind of protest, he put out his hand, as it
were, to claim his own share of the common pain.
"Make way there! make way!" cried a police-sergeant, holding back the
crowd, "and let the lady pass."
Tressady did his best to push through with Lady Maxwell on his arm. But
there was an angry hum of voices in front of him, an angry pressure round
"We shall soon get a cab," he said, bending over her. "You are very
tired, I fear. Please lean upon me."
Yet he could but feel grateful to the crowd. It gave him this joy of
protecting and supporting her. Nevertheless, as he looked ahead, he
wished that they were safely off, and that there were more police!
For this meeting, which had been only mildly disorderly and inattentive
while Marcella was speaking, had suddenly flamed, after she sat down,
into a fierce confusion and tumult--why, Tressady hardly now understood.
A man had sprung up to speak as she sat down who was apparently in bad
repute with most of the unions of the district. At any rate, there had
been immediate uproar and protest. The trade-unionists would not hear
him--hurled names at him--"thief," "blackleg"--as he attempted to speak.
Then the Free Workers, for whom this dubious person had been lately
acting, rose in a mass and booed at the unionists; and finally some of
the dark-eyed, black-bearded "greeners" near the door, urged on,
probably, by the masters, whose slaves they were, had leaped the benches
near them, shouting strange tongues, and making for the hostile throng
around the platform.
Then it had been time for Naseby and the police to clear the platform and
open a passage for the Maxwell party. Unfortunately, there was no outlet
to the back, no chance of escaping the shouting crowd in Manx Road.
Tressady, joining his friends at last by dint of his height and a free
play of elbows, found himself suddenly alone with Lady Maxwell, Naseby
and Lady Madeleine borne along far behind, and no chance but to follow
the current, with such occasional help as the police stationed along the
banks of it might be able to give.
Outside, Tressady strained his eyes for a cab.
"Here, sir!" cried the sergeant in front, carving a passage by dint of
using his own stalwart frame as a ram.
They hurried on, for some rough lads on the edges of the crowd had
already begun stone-throwing. The faces about them seemed to be partly
indifferent, partly hostile. "Look at the bloomin bloats!" cried a wild
factory-girl with a touzled head as Lady Maxwell passed. "Let 'em stop at
'ome and mind their own 'usbands--yah!"
"Garn! who paid for your bonnet?" shouted another, until a third girl
pulled her back, panting, "If you say that any more I'll scrag yer!" For
this third girl had spent a fortnight in the Mile End Road house, getting
fed and strengthened before an operation.
But here was the cab! Lady Maxwell's foot was already on the step, when
Tressady felt something fly past him.
There was a slight cry. The form in front of him seemed to waver a
moment. Then Tressady himself mounted, caught her, and in another moment,
after a few plunges from the excited horse, they were off down Manx
Road, followed by a shouting crowd that gradually thinned.
"You are hurt!" he said.
"Yes," she said faintly, "but not much. Will you tell him to drive first
to Mile End Road?"
"I have told him. Can I do anything to stop the bleeding?"
He looked at her in despair. The handkerchief, and the delicate hand
itself that she was holding to her brow, were dabbled in blood.
"Have you a silk handkerchief to spare?" she asked him, smiling slightly
and suddenly through her pallor, as though at their common predicament.
By good fortune he had one. She took off her hat, and gave him a few
business-like directions. His fingers trembled as he tried to obey her;
but he had the practical sense that the small vicissitudes and hardships
of travel often develop in a man, and between them they adjusted a rough
but tolerable bandage.
Then she leant against the side of the cab, and he thought she would
have swooned. There was a pause, during which he watched the quivering
lines of the lips and nostrils and the pallor of the cheeks with a
feeling of dismay.
But she did not mean to faint, and little by little her will answered to
her call upon it. Presently she said, with eyes shut and brow contracted:
"I _trust_ the others are safe. Oh! what a failure--what a failure! I am
afraid I have done Aldous harm!"
The tone of the last words touched Tressady deeply. Evidently she could
hardly restrain her tears.
"They were not worthy you should go and speak to them," he said quickly.
"Besides, it was only a noisy minority."
She did not speak again till they drew up before the house in the Mile
End Road. Then she turned to him.
"I was to have stayed here for the night, but I think I must go home.
Aldous might hear that there had been a disturbance. I will leave a
message here, and drive home."
"I trust you will let me go with you. We should none of us be happy to
think of you as alone just yet. And I am due at the House by eleven."
She smiled, assenting, then descended, leaning heavily upon him in
When she reappeared, attended by her two little servants, all frightened
and round-eyed at their mistress's mishap, she had thrown a thick lace
scarf round her head, which hid the bandage and gave to her pale beauty a
singularly touching, appealing air.
"I wish I could see Madeleine," she said anxiously, standing beside the
cab and looking up the road. "Ah!"
For she had suddenly caught sight of a cab in the distance driving
smartly up. As it approached, Naseby and Lady Madeleine were plainly to
be seen inside it. The latter jumped out almost at Marcella's feet,
looking more scared than ever as she saw the bandage and the black scarf
twisted round the white face. But in a few moments Marcella had soothed
her, and given her over, apparently, to the care of another lady staying
in the house. Then she waved her hand to Naseby, who, with his usual
coolness, asked no questions and made no remarks, and she and Tressady
"Madeleine will stay the night," Marcella explained as they sped towards
Aldgate. "That was our plan. My secretary will look after her. She has
been often here with me lately, and has things of her own to do. But I
ought not to have taken her to-night. Lady Kent would never have forgiven
me if she had been hurt. Oh! it was all a mistake--all a great mistake! I
suppose I imagined--that is one's folly--that I could really do some
good--make an effect."
She bit her lip, and the furrow reappeared in the white brow.
Tressady felt by sympathy that her heart was all sore, her moral being
shaken and vibrating. After these long months of labour and sympathy and
emotion, the sudden touch of personal brutality had unnerved her.
Mere longing to comfort, to "make-up," overcame him.
"You wouldn't talk of mistake--of failing--if you knew how to be near
you, to listen to you, to see you, touches and illuminates some of us!"
His cheek burnt, but he turned a manly, eager look upon her.
Her cheek, too, flushed, and he thought he saw her bosom heave.
"Oh no!--no!" she cried. "How _impossible!_--when one feels oneself so
helpless, so clumsy, so useless. Why couldn't I do better? But perhaps it
is as well. It all prepares one--braces one--against--"
She paused and leaned forward, looking out at the maze of figures and
carriages on the Mansion House crossing, her tight-pressed lips trembling
against her will.
"Against the last inevitable disappointment." That, no doubt, was what
"If you only understood how loth some of us are to differ from you," he
cried,--"how hard it seems to have to press another view,--to be
"Oh yes!--_please_--I know that you are pledged," she said, in
hasty distress, her delicacy shrinking as before from the direct
They were silent a little. Tressady looked out at the houses in Queen
Victoria Street, at the lamplit summer night, grudging the progress of
the cab, the approach of the river, of the Embankment, where there would
be less traffic to bar their way--clinging to the minutes as they passed.
"Oh! how could they put up that woman?" she said presently, her eyes
still shut, her hand shaking, as it rested on the door. "How _could_
they? It is the thought of women like that--the hundreds and thousands of
them--that goads one on. A clergyman who knows the East End well said to
me the other day, 'The difference between now and twenty years ago is
that the women work much more, the men less.' I can never get away from
the thought of the women! Their lives come to seem to me the mere refuse,
the rags and shreds, that are thrown every day into the mill and ground
to nothing--without a thought--without a word of pity, an hour of
happiness! Cancer--three children left out of nine--and barely forty,
though she looked sixty! They tell me she may live eighteen months. Then,
when the parish has buried her, the man has only to hold up his finger to
find someone else to use up in the same way. And she is just one of
"I can only reply by the old, stale question," said Tressady, sturdily.
"Did we make the mill? Can we stop its grinding? And if not, is it fair
even to the race that has something to gain from courage and gaiety--is
it _reasonable_ to take all our own poor little joy and drench it in
this horrible pain of sympathy, as you do! But we have said all these
He bent over to her, smiling. But she did not look up. And he saw a tear
which her weakness, born of shock and fatigue, could not restrain, steal
from the lashes on the cheek. Then he added, still leaning towards her:
"Only, what I never have said--I think--is what is true to-night. At last
you have made one person feel--if that matters anything!--the things you
feel. I don't know that I am particularly grateful to you! And,
practically, we may be as far apart as ever. But I was without a sense
when I went into this game of politics; and now--"
His heart beat. What would he not have said, mad youth!--within the
limits imposed by her nature and his own dread--to make her look at him,
to soften this preposterous sadness!
But it needed no more. She opened her eyes, and looked at him with a wild
sweetness and gratitude which dazzled him, and struck his memory with the
thought of the Southern, romantic strain in her.
"You are very kind and comforting!" she said; "but then, from the
first--somehow--I knew you were a friend to us. One felt it--through all
The little sentences were steeped in emotion--emotion springing from
many sources, fed by a score of collateral thoughts and memories--with
which Tressady had, in truth, nothing to do. Yet the young man gulped
inwardly. She had been a tremulous woman till the words were said.
Now--strange!--through her very gentleness and gratefulness, a barrier
had risen between them. Something stern and quick told him this was
the very utmost of what she could ever say to him--the farthest limit
of it all.
They passed under Charing Cross railway bridge. Beside them, as they
emerged, the moon shone out above the darks and silvers of the river, and
in front, the towers of Westminster rose purplish grey against a west
"How were things going in the House this afternoon?" she asked, looking
at the towers. "Oh! I forgot. You see, the clock says close on eleven.
Please let me drop you here. I can manage by myself quite well."
He protested, and she yielded, with a patient kindness that made him
sore. Then he gave his account, and they talked a little of Monday's
division and of the next critical votes in Committee--each of them, so he
felt in his exaltation, a blow dealt to her--that he must help to deal.
Yet there was a fascination in the topic. Neither could get away from it.
Presently, Pall Mall being very full of traffic, they had to wait a
moment at the corner of the street that turns into St. James's Square. In
the pause Tressady caught sight of a man on the pavement. The man smiled,
looked astonished, and took off his hat. Lady Maxwell bowed coldly, and
immediately looked away. Tressady recognised Harding Watton. But neither
he nor she mentioned his name.
In another minute he had seen her vanish within the doors of her own
house. Her hand had rested gently, willingly, in his.
"I am so grateful!" she had said; "so will Maxwell be. We shall meet
soon, and laugh over our troubles!"
And then she was gone, and he was left standing a moment, bewildered.
Eleven? What had he to do?
Then he remembered his pair, and that he had promised to call for Letty
at a certain house, and take her on to a late ball. The evening, in fact,
instead of ending, was just beginning. He could have laughed, as he got
back into his cab.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Marcella had sped through the outer hall into the inner, where
one solitary light, still burning, made a rather desolate dark-in-light
through the broad, pillared space. A door opened at the farther side.
He came out, and she flew to him. He felt her trembling as she touched
him. In ten words she told him something of what had happened. Then
he saw the bandage round her temple. His countenance fell. She knew
that he turned white, and loved him for it. How few things had power
to move him so!
He wanted to lead her back into his library, where he was at work. But
"Let me go up to Annette," she said. "The little wound--oh! it is not
much, I _know_ it is not much--ought to be properly seen to. We will do
it between us in a moment. Then come--I will send her down for you. I
want to tell you."
But in her heart of hearts she was just a little afraid of telling him.
What if an exaggerated version should get into the papers--if it should
really do him harm--at this critical moment! She was always tormented by
this dread, a dread born of long-past indiscretions and mistakes.
He acquiesced, but first he insisted on half leading, half carrying her
upstairs; and she permitted it, delighting in his strong arm.
Half an hour later she sent for him. The maid found him pacing up and
down the hall, waiting.
When he entered her room she was lying on her sofa in a white wrapper of
some silky stuff. The black lace had been drawn again round her head, and
he saw nothing but a very pale face and her eager, timid eyes--timid for
no one in the world but him. As he caught sight of her, she produced in
him that exquisite mingled impression of grace, passion, self-yielding,
which in all its infinite variations and repetitions made up for him the
constant poem of her beauty. But though she knew it, she glanced at him
anxiously as he approached her. It had been to her a kind of luxury of
feeling, in the few moments that she had been waiting for him, to cherish
a little fear of him--of his displeasure.
"Now describe exactly what you have been doing," he said, sitting down by
her with a troubled face and taking her hand, as soon as he had assured
himself that the cut was slight and would leave no scar.
She told her tale, and was thrilled to see that he frowned. She laid her
hand on his shoulder.
"It is the first public thing I have done without consulting you. I meant
to have asked you yesterday, but we were both so busy. The meeting was
got up rather hurriedly, and they pressed me to speak, after all the
arrangements were made."
"We are both of us too busy," he said, rather sadly; "we glance, and nod,
and bustle by--"
He did not finish the quotation, but she could. Her eyes scanned his
face. "Do you think I ought to have avoided such a thing at such a time?
Will it do harm?"
His brow cleared. He considered the matter.
"I think you may expect some of the newspapers to make a good deal of
it," he said, smiling.
And, in fact, his own inherited tastes and instincts were all chafed by
her story. His wife--the wife of a Cabinet Minister--pleading for her
husband's Bill, or, as the enemy might say, for his political existence,
with an East End meeting, and incidentally with the whole
public--exposing herself, in a time of agitation, to the rowdyism and
the stone-throwing that wait on such things! The notion set the
fastidious old-world temper of the man all on edge. But he would never
have dreamed of arguing the matter so with her. A sort of high chivalry
forbade it. In marrying her he had not made a single condition--would
have suffered tortures rather than lay the smallest fetter upon her. In
consequence, he had been often thought a weak, uxorious person. Maxwell
knew that he was merely consistent. No sane man lays his heart at the
feet of a Marcella without counting the cost.
She did not answer his last remark. But he saw that she was wistful and
uneasy, and presently she laid her fingers lightly on his.
"Tell me if I am too much away from you--too much occupied with
He sighed,--the slightest sigh,--but she winced. "I had just an hour
before dinner," he said; "you were not here, and the house seemed very
empty. I would have come down to fetch you, but there were some important
papers to read before to-morrow." A Cabinet meeting was fixed, as she
knew, for the following day. "Then, I have been making Saunders draw up a
statement for the newspapers in answer to Watton's last attack, and it
would have been a help to talk to you before we sent it off. Above all,
if I had known of the meeting I should have begged you not to go. I ought
to have warned you yesterday, for I knew that there was some ugly
agitation developing down there. But I never thought of you as likely to
face a mob. Will you please reflect"--he pressed her hand almost roughly
against his lips--"that if that stone had been a little heavier, and
flung a little straighter--"
He paused. A dew came to her eyes, a happy glow to her cheek. As for her,
she was grateful to the stone that had raised such heart-beats.
Perhaps some instinct told him not to please her in this way too much,
for he rose and walked away a moment.
"There! don't let's think of it, or I shall turn tyrant after all, and
plunge into 'shalls' and 'sha'n'ts'! You _know_ you carry two lives, and
all the plans that either of us care about, in your hand. You say that
Tressady brought you home?"
He turned and looked at her.
"Yes. Edward Watton brought him to the meeting."
"But he has been down to see you there several times before, as well as
"Oh yes! almost every week since we met at Castle Luton."
"It is curious," said Maxwell, thoughtfully; "for he will certainly vote
steadily with Fontenoy all through. His election speeches pledged him
head over ears."
"Oh! of course he will vote," said Marcella, moving a little uneasily;
"but one cannot help trying to modify his way of looking at things. And
his tone _is_ changed."
Maxwell stood at the foot of her sofa, considering, a host of perplexed
and unwelcome notions flitting across his mind. In spite of his idealist
absorption in his work, his political aims, and the one love of his
life, he had the training of a man of the world, and could summon the
shrewdness of one when he pleased. He had liked this young Tressady, for
the first time, at Castle Luton, and had seen him fall under Marcella's
charm with some amusement. But this haunting of their camp in the East
End, at such a marked and critical moment, was strange, to say the least
of it. It must point, one would think, to some sudden and remarkable
strength of personal influence.
Had she any real consciousness of the power she wielded? Once or twice,
in the years since they had been married, Maxwell had watched this spell
of his wife's at work, and had known a moment of trouble. "If I were the
fellow she had talked and walked with so," he had once said to himself,
"I must have fallen in love with her had she been twenty times another
man's wife!" Yet no harm had happened; he had only reproached himself for
a gross mind without daring to breathe a word to her.
And he dared not now. Besides, how absurd! The young man was just
married, and, to Maxwell's absent, incurious eyes, the bride had seemed a
lively, pretty little person enough. No doubt it was the nervous strain
of his political life that made such fancies possible to him. Let him not
cumber her ears with them!
Then gradually, as he stood at her feet, the sight of her, breathing
weakness, submission, loveliness, her eyes raised to his, banished every
other thought from his happy heart, and drew him like a magnet.
Meanwhile she began to smile. He knelt down beside her, and she put both
hands on his shoulders.
"Dear!" she said, half laughing and half crying, "I did speak so badly;
you would have been ashamed of me. I couldn't hold the meeting. I didn't
persuade a soul. Lord Fontenoy's ladies had it all their own way. And
first I was dreadfully sorry I couldn't do such a thing decently--sorry
because of one's vanity, and sorry because I couldn't help you. And now I
think I'm rather glad."
"Are you?" said Maxwell, drily; "as for me, I'm enchanted! There!--so
much penalty you _shall_ have."
She pressed his lips with her hand.
"Don't spoil my pretty speech. I am only glad because--because public
life and public success make one stand separate--alone. I have gone
far enough to know how it might be. A new passion would come in, and
creep through one like a poison. I should win you votes--and our
hearts would burn dry! There! take me--scold me--despise me. I am a
poor thing--but yours!"
With such a humbleness might Diana have wooed her shepherd, stooping her
goddess head to him on the Latmian steep.
George went back to the House, and stayed for half an hour or so,
listening to a fine speech from a member of a former Liberal Cabinet. The
speech was one more sign of the new cleavage of parties that was being
everywhere brought about by the pressure of the new Collectivism.
"We always knew," said the speaker, referring to a Ministry in which
he had served seven years before, "that we should be fighting
Socialism in good earnest before many years were over; and we knew,
too, that we should be fighting it as put forward by a Conservative
Government. The hands are the hands of the English Tory, the voice is
the voice of Karl Marx."
The Socialists sent forth mocking cheers, while the Government benches
sat silent. The rank-and-file of the Conservative party already hated the
Bill. The second reading must go through. But if only some rearrangement
were possible without rushing the country into the arms of
revolutionists--if it were only conceivable that Fontenoy, or even the
old Liberal gang, should form a Government, and win the country, the
Committee stage would probably not trouble the House long.
Meanwhile in the smoking-rooms and lobbies the uncertainties of the
coming division kept up an endless hum of gossip and conjecture. Tressady
wandered about it all like a ghost, indifferent and preoccupied, careful
above all to avoid any more talk with Fontenoy. While he was in the House
itself he stood at the door or sat in the cross-benches, so as to keep a
space between him and his leader.
A little before twelve he drove home, dressed hastily, and went off to a
house in Berkeley Square, where he was to meet Letty. He found her
waiting for him, a little inclined to be reproachful, and eager for her
ball. As they drove towards Queen's Gate she chattered to him of her
evening, and of the people and dresses she had seen.
"And, you foolish boy!" she broke out, laughing, and tapping him on the
hand with her fan--"you looked so glum this morning when I couldn't go
and see Lady Tressady--and--what do you think? Why, she has been at a
party to-night--at a party, my dear!--and _dressed_! Mrs. Willy Smith
told me she had seen her at the Webers'."
"I daresay," said George, rather shortly; "all the same, this morning she
was very unwell."
Letty shrugged her shoulders, but she did not want to be disagreeable and
argue the point. She was much pleased with her dress--with the last
glance of herself that she had caught in the cloak-room looking-glass
before leaving Berkeley Square--and, finally, with this well-set-up,
well-dressed husband beside her. She glanced at him every now and then as
she put on a fresh pair of gloves. He had been very much absorbed in this
tiresome Parliament lately, and she thought herself a very good and
forbearing wife not to make more fuss. Nor had she made any fuss about
his going down to see Lady Maxwell at the East End. It did not seem to
have made the smallest difference to his opinions.
The thought of Lady Maxwell brought a laugh to her lips.
"Oh! do you know, Harding was so amusing about the Maxwells to-day!" she
said, turning to Tressady in her most good-humoured and confiding mood.
"He says people are getting so tired of her,--of her meddling, and her
preaching, and all the rest of it,--and that everybody thinks him so
absurd not to put a stop to it. And Harding says that it doesn't succeed
even--that Englishmen will never stand petticoat government. It's all
very well--they have to stand it in some forms!"
And, stretching her slim neck, she turned and gave her husband a tiny
flying kiss on the cheek. Mechanically grateful, George took her hand in
his, but he did not make her the pretty speech she expected. Just before