Part 2 out of 6
she spoke he was about to tell her of his evening--of the meeting, and of
his drive home with Lady Maxwell. He had been far too proud hitherto, and
far too confident in himself, to make any secret to Letty of what he did.
And, luckily, she had raised no difficulties. In truth, she had been too
well provided with amusements and flatteries of her own since their
return from the country to leave her time or opportunities for jealousy.
Perhaps, secretly, the young husband would have been more flattered if
she had been more exacting.
But as she quoted Harding something stiffened in him. Later, after the
ball, when they were alone, he would tell her--he would try and make her
understand what sort of a woman Marcella Maxwell was. In his trouble of
mind a confused plan crossed his thoughts of trying to induce Lady
Maxwell to make friends with Letty. But a touch of that charm, that
poetry!--he asked no more.
He glanced at his wife. She looked pretty and young as she sat beside
him, lost in a pleasant pondering of social successes. But he wondered,
uncomfortably, why she must use such a thickness of powder on her still
unspoilt complexion; and her dress seemed to him fantastic, and not
over-modest. He had begun to have the strangest feeling about their
relation, as though he possessed a double personality, and were looking
on at himself and her, wondering how it would end. It was characteristic,
perhaps, of his half-developed moral life that his sense of ordinary
husbandly responsibility towards her was not strong. He always thought of
her as he thought of himself--as a perfectly free agent, dealing with him
and their common life on equal terms.
The house to which they were going belonged to very wealthy people, and
Letty was looking forward feverishly to the cotillon.
"They say, at the last dance they gave, the cotillon gifts cost eight
hundred pounds," she said gleefully, to George. "They always do things
No doubt it was the prospect of the cotillon that had brought such a
throng together. The night was stifling; the stairs and the supper-room
were filled with a struggling mob; and George spent an hour of purgatory
wondering at the gaieties of his class.
He had barely more than two glimpses of Letty after they had fought their
way into the room. On the first occasion, by stretching himself to his
full height so as to look over the intervening crowd, he saw her seated
in a chair of state, a mirror in one hand and a lace handkerchief in the
other. Young men were being brought up behind her to look into the glass
over her shoulder, and she was merrily brushing their images away.
Presently a tall, dark fellow advanced, with jet-black moustache and red
cheeks. Letty kept her handkerchief suspended a moment over the
reflection in the glass. George could see the corners of her lips
twitching with amusement. Then she quietly handed the mirror to the
leader of the cotillon, rose, gathered up her white skirt a little, the
music struck up joyously, and she and Lord Cathedine spun round the room
together, followed by the rest of the dancers.
George meanwhile found few people to talk to. He danced a few dances,
mostly with young girls in the white frocks of their first season--a
species of partner for which, as a rule, he had no affinity at all. But
on the whole he passed the time leaning against the wall in a corner,
lost in a reverie which was a vague compound of this and that, there and
here; of the Manx Road schoolroom, its odours and heats, its pale,
uncleanly crowd absorbed in the things of daily bread, with these gay,
scented rooms, and this extravagance of decoration, that made even
flowers a vulgarity, with these costly cotillon gifts--pins, bracelets,
rings--that were being handed round and wondered over by people who had
already more of such things than they could wear; of these rustling
women, in their silks and diamonds, with that gaunt stooping image of the
loafer's wife, smiling her queer defiance at pain and fate, and letting
meddling "lidies" know that without sixteen hours' "settin" she could not
keep her husband and children alive. Stale commonplace, that all the
world knows by heart!--the squalor of the _pauperum tabernae_ dimming the
glory of the _regum turres_. Yet there are only a few men and women in
each generation who really pass into the eclipsing shadow of it. Others
talk--_they_ feel and struggle. There were many elements in Tressady's
nature that might seem destined to force him into their company. Yet
hitherto he had resolutely escaped his destiny--and enjoyed his life.
About supper-time he found himself near Lady Cathedine, a thin-faced,
silent creature, whose eyes suddenly attracted him. He took her down to
supper, and spent an exceedingly dull time. She had the air of one pining
to talk, to confide herself. Yet in practice it was apparently impossible
for her to do it. She fell back into monosyllables or gentle banalities;
and George noticed that she was always restlessly conscious of the
movements in the room--who came in, who went out--and throwing little
frightened glances towards the door.
He was glad indeed when his task was over. On their way to the
drawing-rooms they passed a broad landing, which on one side led out to a
balcony, and had been made into a decorated bower for sitting-out. At
the farther end he saw Letty sitting beside Harding Watton. Letty was
looking straight before her, with a flushed and rather frowning face.
Harding was talking to her, and, to judge from his laughing manner, was
amusing himself, if not her.
George duly found Lady Cathedine a seat, and returned himself to ask
Letty whether it was not time to go. He found, however, that she had been
carried off by another partner, and could only resign himself to a fresh
twenty minutes of boredom. He leant, yawning, against the wall, feeling
the evening interminable.
Then a Harrow and Oxford acquaintance came up to him, and they chatted
for a time behind a stand of flowers that stood between them and one of
the doorways to the ballroom. At the end of the dance George saw Lady
Cathedine hurrying up to this door with the quick, furtive step that was
characteristic of her. She passed on the other side of the flowers, and
George heard her say to someone just inside the room:
"Robert, the carriage has come!"
A pause; then a thick voice said, in an emphatic undertone:
"Damn the carriage!--go away!"
"But, Robert, you know we _promised_ to look in at Lady Tuam's on the
The thick voice dropped a note lower.
"Damn Lady Tuam! I shall come when it suits me."
Lady Cathedine fell back, and George saw her cross the landing, and drop
into a chair beside an old general, who was snoozing in a peaceful corner
till his daughters should see fit to take him home. The old general took
no notice of her, and she sat there, playing with her fan, her rather
prominent grey eyes staring out of her white face.
Both George and his friend, as it happened, had heard the conversation.
The friend raised his eyebrows in disgust.
"What a brute that fellow is! They have been married four months.
However, she was amply warned."
"Who was she?"
"The daughter of old Wickens, the banker. He married her for her money,
and lives upon it religiously. By now, I should think, he has dragged her
through every torture that marriage admits of."
"So soon?" said George, drily.
"Well," said the friend, laughing, "no doubt it admits of a great many."
"I am ready to go home," said a voice at Tressady's elbow.
Something in the intonation surprised him, and he turned quickly.
"By all means," he said, throwing an astonished look at his wife, who had
come up to him on Lord Cathedine's arm. "I will go and look for the
What was the matter, he asked himself as he ran downstairs--what was the
meaning of Letty's manner and expression?
But by the time he had sent for the carriage the answer had suggested
itself. No doubt Harding Watton had given Letty news of that hansom in
Pall Mall, and no doubt, also--He shrugged his shoulders in annoyance.
The notion of having to explain and excuse himself was particularly
unpalatable. What a fool he had been not to tell Letty of his East End
adventure on their way to Queen's Gate.
He was standing in a little crowd at the foot of the stairs when Letty
swept past him in search of her wraps. He smiled at her, but she held her
head erect as though she did not see him.
So there was to be a scene. George felt the rise of a certain inner
excitement. Perhaps it was as well. There were a good many things he
wanted to say.
At the same time, the Cathedine episode had filled him with a new disgust
for the violences and brutalities to which the very intimacy of the
marriage relation may lead. If a scene there was to be, he meant to be
more or less frank, and at the same time to keep both himself and her
* * * * *
"You can't deny that you made a secret of it from me," cried Letty,
angrily. "I asked you what had been doing in the House, and you never let
me suspect that you had been anywhere else the whole evening."
"I daresay," said George, quietly. "But I never meant to make any
mystery. Something you said about Lady Maxwell put me off telling
you--then. I thought I would wait till we got home."
They were in George's study--the usual back-room on the ground-floor,
which George could not find time to make comfortable, while Letty had
never turned her attention to it. Tressady was leaning against the
mantelpiece. He had turned up a solitary electric light, and in the cold
glare of it Letty was sitting opposite to him, angrily upright. The ugly
light had effaced the half-tones of the face and deepened the lines of
it, while it had taken all the grace from her extravagant dress and
tumbled flowers. She seemed to have lost her prettiness.
"Something I said about Lady Maxwell?" she repeated scornfully. "Why
shouldn't I say what I like about Lady Maxwell? What does she matter
either to you or to me that I should not laugh at her if I please?
Everybody laughs at her."
"I don't think so," said Tressady, quietly. "I have seen her to-night in
a curious and touching scene--in a meeting of very poor people. She tried
to make a speech, by the way, and spoke badly. She did not carry the
meeting with her, and towards the end it got noisy. As we came out she
was struck with a stone, and I got a hansom for her, and drove her home
to St. James's Square. We were just turning into the Square when Harding
saw us. I happened to be with her in the crowd when the stone hit her.
What do you suppose I could do but bring her home?"
"Why did you go? and why didn't you tell me at once?"
"Why did I go?" Tressady hesitated, then looked down upon his wife.
"Well!--I suppose I went because Lady Maxwell is very interesting to
watch--because she is sympathetic and generous, and it stirs one's mind
to talk to her."
"Not at all!" cried Letty, passionately. "You went because she is
handsome--because she is just a superior kind of flirt. She is always
making women anxious about their husbands under this pretence of
politics. Heaps of women hate her, and are afraid of her."
She was very white, and could hardly save herself from the tears of
excitement. Yet what was working in her was not so much Harding Watton's
story as this new and strange manner of her husband's. She had sat
haughtily silent in the carriage on their way home, fully expecting him
to question her--to explain, entreat, excuse himself, as he had generally
been ready to do whenever she chose to make a quarrel. But he, too, said
nothing, and she could not make up her mind how to begin. Then, as soon
as they were shut into his room her anger had broken out, and he had not
yet begun to caress and appease her. Her surprise had brought with it a
kind of shock. What was the matter? Why was she not mistress as usual?
As she made her remark about Marcella, Tressady smiled a little, and
played with a cigarette he had taken up.
"Whom do you mean?" he asked her. "One often hears these things said of
her in the vague, and never with any details. I myself don't believe it.
Harding, of course, believes anything to her disadvantage."
Letty hesitated; then, remembering all she could of Harding's ill-natured
gossip, she flung out some names, exaggerating and inventing freely. The
emphasis with which she spoke reddened all the small face again--made it
hot and common.
Tressady raised his shoulders as she came to the end of her tirade.
"Well, you know I don't believe all that--and I don't think Harding
believes it. Lady Maxwell, as you once said yourself, is not, I suppose,
a woman's woman. She gets on better, no doubt, with men than with women.
These men you speak of are all personal and party friends. They support
Maxwell, and they like her. But if anybody is jealous, I should think
they might remember that there is safety in numbers."
"Oh, that's all very well! But she wants _power_, and she doesn't care a
rap how she gets it. She is a dangerous, intriguing woman--and she just
trades upon her beauty!"
Tressady, who had been leaning with his face averted from her, turned
round with sparkling eyes.
"You foolish child!" he said slowly--"you foolish child!"
Her lips twitched. She put out a shaking hand to her cloak, that had
fallen from her arms.
"Oh! very well. I sha'n't stay here to be talked to like that, so
He took no notice. He walked up to her and put his hands on her
"Don't you know what it is"--he spoke with a curious imperiousness--"that
protects any woman--or any man either for the matter of that--from
Marcella Maxwell's beauty? Don't you know that she adores her husband?"
"That's a pose, of course, like everything else," cried Letty, trying to
move herself away; "you once said it was."
"Before I knew her. It's not a pose--it's the secret of her whole life."
He walked back to the mantelpiece, conscious of a sudden rise of inward
"Well, I shall go to bed," said Letty, again half rising. "You might, I
think, have had the kindness and the good taste to say you were sorry I
should have the humiliation of finding out where my husband spends his
evenings, from Harding Watton!"
Tressady was stung.
"When have I ever concealed what I did from you?" he asked her hotly.
Letty, who was standing stiff and scornful, tossed her head
"That means," said Tressady after a pause, "that you don't take my word
for it--that you suspect me of deceiving you before to-night?"
Letty still said nothing. His eyes flashed. Then a pang of conscience
smote him. He took up his cigarette again with a laugh.
"I think we are both a pair of babies," he said, as he pretended to look
for matches. "You know very well that you don't really think I tell you
mean lies. And let me assure you, my dear child, that fate did not mean
Lady Maxwell to have lovers--and that she never will have them. But when
that's said there's something else to say."
He went up to her again, and touched her arm.
"You and I couldn't have this kind of scene, Letty, could we, if
everything was all right?"
Her breast rose and fell hurriedly.
"Oh! I supposed you would want to retaliate--to complain on your side!"
"Yes," he said deliberately, "I think I do want to complain. Why is it
that--I began to like going down to see Lady Maxwell--why did I like
talking to her at Castle Luton? Well! of course it's pleasant to be with
a beautiful person--I don't deny that in the least. But she might have
been as beautiful as an angel, and I mightn't have cared twopence about
her. She has something much less common than beauty. It's very simple,
too--I suppose it's only _sympathy_--just that. Everybody feels the same.
When you talk to her she seems to care about it; she throws her mind into
yours. And there's a charm about it--there's no doubt of that."
He had begun his little speech meaning to be perfectly frank and
honest--to appeal to her better nature and his own. But something
stopped him abruptly, perhaps the sudden perception that he was after
playing the hypocrite--perhaps the consciousness that he was only making
"It's a pity you didn't say all these things before," she said, with
a hard laugh, "instead of denouncing the political woman, as you
used to do."
He sat down on the arm of the chair beside her, balancing lightly, with
his hands in his pockets.
"Did I denounce the political woman? Well, the Lord knows I'm not in love
with her now! It isn't politics, my dear, that are attaching--it's the
kind of human being. Ah! well, don't let's talk of it. Let's go back to
that point of sympathy. There's more in it than I used to think. Suppose,
for instance, you were to try and take a little more interest in my
political work than you do? Suppose you were to try and see money matters
from my point of view, instead of driving us"--he paused a moment, then
went on coolly, lifting his thin, long-chinned face to her as she stood
quivering beside him--"driving us into expenses that will, sooner or
later, be the ruin of us--that rob us, too, of self-respect. Suppose you
were to take a little more account, also, of my taste in people? I am
afraid I don't like Harding, though he is your cousin, and I don't
certainly see why he should furnish our drawing-rooms and empty our purse
for us as he has been doing. Then, as to Lord Cathedine, I'm really not
over-particular, but when I hear that fellow's in the house, my impulse
is to catch the nearest hansom and drive away from it. I heard him speak
to his wife to-night in a way for which he ought to be kicked down Oxford
Street--and, in general, I should say that it takes the shine off a
person to be much seen with Cathedine."
The calm attitude--the voice, just a shade interrogative, exasperated
Letty still more. She, too, sat down, her cheeks flaming.
"I am _extremely_ obliged to you! You really couldn't have been more
frank. I am sorry that _nothing_ I do pleases you. You must be quite
sorry by now you married me--but really I didn't force you! Why should I
give up my friends? You know very well you won't give up Lady Maxwell."
She looked at him keenly, her little foot beating the ground.
"But what is there to give up?" he cried. "Come and see her
yourself--come with me, and make friends with her. You would be
But as he spoke he knew that he was talking absurdly, and that Letty had
reason for her laugh.
"Thank you! Lady Maxwell made it _quite_ plain to me at Castle Luton that
she didn't want _my_ acquaintance. I certainly sha'n't force myself upon
her any more. But if you'll give up going to see her--well, perhaps I'll
see what can be done to meet your wishes; though, of course, I think all
you say about Harding and Lord Cathedine is just unreasonable prejudice!"
George was silent. His mind was torn between the pricks of a conscience
that told him Letty had in truth, as far as he was concerned, a far more
real grievance than she imagined, and a passionate intellectual contempt
for the person who could even distantly imagine that Marcella Maxwell
belonged to the same category as other women, and was to be won by the
same arts as they. At last he broke out impatiently:
"I cannot possibly show discourtesy to one who has been nothing but
kindness to me, as she is to scores of others--to old friends like Edward
Watton, or new ones like--"
"She wants your vote, of course!" threw in Letty, with an excited laugh.
"_Either_ she is a flirt--_or_ she wants your vote. Why should she take
so much notice of you? She isn't your side--she wants to get hold of
you--and it makes you ridiculous. People just laugh at you and her!" She
turned upon him passionately. A little more, and the wish to say the
wounding, venomous thing would have grown like a madness upon her. But
George kept his self-possession.
"Well, they may laugh," he said, with a strong effort to speak
good-humouredly. "But politics aren't managed like that, as you and they
will find out. Votes are not so simple as they sound."
He got up and walked away from her as he spoke. As usual, his mood was
beginning to cool. He saw no way out. They must both accept the _status
quo_. No radical change was possible. It is character that makes
circumstance, and character is inexorable.
"Well, of course I didn't altogether believe that you would really be
such a fool, and wreck all your prospects!" said Letty, violently, her
feverish eyes intent the while on her husband and on the thin fingers
once more busied with the cigarette. "There now! I think we have had
enough of this! It doesn't seem to have led to much, does it?"
"No," said George, coolly; "but perhaps we shall come to see more alike
in time. I don't want to tyrannise--only to show you what I think. Shall
I carry up your cloak for you?"
He approached her punctiliously. Letty gathered her wraps upon her arm in
a disdainful silence, warding him off with a gesture. As he opened the
door for her she turned upon him:
"You talk of my extravagance, but you never seem to consider what you
might do to make up to me for the burden of being your mother's relation!
You expect me to put up with the annoyance and ridicule of belonging to
her--and to let her spend all your money besides. I give you fair warning
that I sha'n't do it! I shall try and spend it on my side, that she
sha'n't get it."
She was perfectly conscious that she was behaving like a vixenish child,
but she could not restrain herself. This strange new sense that she could
neither bend nor conquer him was becoming more than she could bear.
George looked at her, half inclined to shake her first, and then insist
on making friends. He was conscious that he could probably assert himself
with success if he tried. But the impulse failed him. He merely said,
without any apparent temper, "Then I shall have to see if I can invent
some way of protecting both myself and you."
She flung through the door, and almost ran through the long passage to
the stairs, in a sobbing excitement. A sudden thought struck George as he
stood looking after her. He pursued her, caught her at the foot of the
stairs, and held her arm strongly.
"Letty! I wasn't to tell you, but I choose to break my promise. Don't be
too cruel, my dear, or too angry. My mother is dying!"
She scanned him deliberately, the flushed face--the signs of strongly
felt yet strongly suppressed emotion. The momentary consciousness flew
through her that he was at bottom a very human, impressionable
creature--that if she could but have broken down and thrown herself on
his neck, this miserable evening might open for both of them a new way.
But her white-heat of passion was too strong. She pushed him away.
"She made you believe that this morning? Then I'd better hurry up at
Ferth; for of course it only means that there will be a fresh list of
He let her go, and she heard him walk quickly back to his study and
shut the door. She stared after him triumphantly for a moment, then
In her room her maid was waiting for her. Grier's sallow face and gloomy
eyes showed considerable annoyance at being kept up so late. But she said
nothing, and Letty, who in general was only too ready to admit the woman
to a vulgar familiarity, for once held her tongue. Her state of
excitement and exhaustion, however, was evident, and Grier bestowed many
furtive, examining glances upon her mistress in the course of the
undressing. She thought she had heard "them" quarrelling on the stairs.
What a pity she had been too tired and cross to listen!
Of course they must come to quarrelling! Grier's sympathies were
tolerably impartial. She had no affection for her mistress, and she
cordially disliked Sir George, knowing perfectly well that he thought ill
of her. But she had a good place, and meant to keep it if she could. To
which end she had done her best to strengthen a mean hold on Letty. Now,
as she was brushing out Letty's brown hair, and silently putting two and
two together the while, an idea occurred to her which pleased her.
After Grier had left her, Letty could not make up her mind to go to bed.
She was still pacing up and down the room in her dressing-gown, when she
heard a knock--Grier's knock.
"Please, my lady," said Grier, appearing with something in her hand,
"doesn't this belong to your photograph box? I found it on the floor in
Sir George's dressing-room this morning."
Letty hastily took it from her, and, in spite of an instant effort to
control herself, the red flushed again into a cheek that had been very
pale when Grier came in.
"Where did you find it?"
"It had tumbled off Sir George's table, I think," said Grier, with
elaborate innocence; "someone must have took it out of your photo-box."
"Thank you," said Letty, shortly. "You may go, Grier."
The maid went, and Letty was left standing with the photograph in
Two days before Tressady had been in Edward Watton's room in St.
James's Street, and had seen this amateur photograph of Marcella
Maxwell and her boy on Watton's table. The poetic charm of it had
struck him so forcibly that he had calmly put it in his pocket, telling
the protesting owner that he in his _rôle_ of great friend could easily
procure another, and must beware of a grudging spirit. Watton had
laughed and submitted, and Tressady had carried off the picture,
honestly meaning to present it to Letty for a collection of
contemporary "beauties" she had just begun to make.
Later in the day, as he was taking off his coat in the evening to dress
for dinner, Tressady drew out the photograph. A sudden instinct, which he
himself could hardly have explained, made him delay handing it over to
Letty. He thrust it into the top tray of his collar-and-shirt wardrobe.
Two days later the butler, coming in a hurry before breakfast to put out
his master's clothes, shook the photograph out of the folds of the shirt,
where it had hidden itself, without noticing what he had done. The
picture slipped between the wardrobe and the wall of the recess in which
it stood, was discovered later in the day by the housemaid, and given to
Lady Tressady's maid.
Letty laid the photograph down on the dressing-table, and stood leaning
upon her hands, looking at it. Marcella was sitting under one of the
cedars of Maxwell Court with her boy beside her. A fine corner of the old
house made a background, and the photographer had so dealt with his
picture as to make it a whole, full of significance, and culminating in
the two faces--the sensitive, speaking beauty of the mother, the sturdy
strength of the child. Marcella had never looked more wistful, more
attaching. It was the expression of a woman at rest, in the golden moment
of her life, yet conscious--as all happiness is conscious--of the common
human doom that nothing escapes. Meanwhile the fine, lightly furrowed
brow above the eyes spoke action and power; so did the strong waves of
black hair blown back by the breeze. A noble, strenuous creature, yet
quivering through and through with the simplest, most human instincts. So
one must needs read her, as one looked from the eyes to the eager clasp
of the arm about the boy.
Letty studied it, as though she would pierce and stab it with looking.
Then, with a sudden wild movement, she took up the picture, and tore it
into twenty pieces. The pieces she left strewn on the floor, so that they
must necessarily strike the eye of anyone coming into the room. And in a
few more minutes she was in bed, lying still and wakeful, with her face
turned away from the door.
About an hour afterwards there was a gentle knock at her door. She made
no answer, and Tressady came in. He stepped softly, thinking she was
asleep, and presently she heard him stop, with a stifled exclamation. She
made no sound, but from his movement she guessed that he was picking up
the litter on the floor. Then she heard it thrown into the basket under
her writing-table, and she waited, holding her breath.
Tressady walked to a far window, drew a curtain back softly, and stood
looking out at the starlight over the deserted street. Once, finding him
so still, she ventured a hasty glance at him over the edge of the sheet.
But she could see nothing. And after a time he turned and came to his
accustomed place beside her. In twenty minutes at latest, she knew, much
to her chagrin, that he was asleep.
She herself had no sleep. She was stung to wakefulness by that recurrent
sense of the irrevocable which makes us say to ourselves in wonder, "How
can it have happened? Two hours ago--such a little while--it had not
happened!" And the mind clutches at the bygone hour, so near, so
eternally distant--clutches at its ghost, in vain.
Yet it seemed to her now that she had been jealous from the first moment
when she and George had come into contact with Marcella Maxwell. During
the long hours of this night her jealousy burnt through her like a hot
pain--jealousy, mixed with reluctant memory. Half consciously she had
always assumed that it had been a piece of kindness on her part to marry
George Tressady at all. She had almost condescended to him. After all,
she had played with ambitions so much higher! At any rate, she had taken
for granted that he would always admire and be grateful to her--that in
return for her pretty self she might at least dispose of him and his as
And now, what galled her intolerably was this discernment of the way in
which--at least since their honeymoon--he must have been criticising
and judging her--judging her by comparison with another woman. She
seemed to see at a glance, the whole process of his mind, and her
vanity writhed under it.
How much else than vanity? As she turned restlessly from side to side,
possessed by plans for punishing George, for humiliating Lady Maxwell,
and avenging herself, she said to herself that she did not care,--that it
was not worth caring about,--that she would either bring George to his
senses, or manage to amuse herself without him.
But in reality she was held tortured and struggling all the time in the
first grip of that masterful hold wherewith the potter lifts his clay
when he lays it on the eternal whirring of the wheel.
The newspapers of the morning following these events--that is to say,
of Saturday, July 5--gave very lively accounts of the East End meeting,
at which, as some put it, Lady Maxwell "had got her answer" from the
East End mob. The stone-throwing, the blow, the woman, and the cause
were widely discussed that same day throughout the clubs and
drawing-rooms of Mayfair and Belgravia, no less than among the clubs and
"publics" of the East End; and the guests at country-house parties as
they hurried out of town for the Sunday, carried the gossip of the
matter far and wide. The Maxwells went down alone to Brookshire, and the
curious visitors who called in St. James's Square "to inquire" came away
with nothing to report.
"A put-up thing, the whole business," said Mrs. Watton, indignantly, to
her son Harding, as she handed him the "Observer," on the Sunday morning,
in the dining-room of the family house in Tilney Street. "Of course, a
little martyrdom just now suits her book excellently. How that man _can_
let her make him a laughing-stock in this way--"
"A laughing-stock?" said Harding, smiling. "Not at all. Don't spoil your
first remark, mother. For, of course, it is all practical politics. The
handsomest woman in England doesn't give her temple to be gashed for
nothing. You will see what her friends will make out of it!--and out of
the brutal violence of our mob."
"Disgusting!" said Mrs. Watton, playing severely with the lid of the
mustard-pot that stood beside her.
She and Harding were enjoying a late breakfast _tête-à-tête._ The old
Squire had finished long before, and was already doing his duty with a
volume of sermons in the library upstairs, preparatory to going to
church. Mrs. Watton and Harding, however, would accompany him thither
presently; for Harding was a great supporter of the Establishment.
The son raised his shoulders at his mother's adjective.
"What I want to know," he said, "is whether Lady Maxwell is going to bag
George Tressady, or not. He brought her home from the meeting on Friday."
"Brought her home from the meeting?--_George Tressady?_"
Mrs. Watton raised her masculine head and frowned at her son, as though
he were, in some sense, personally responsible for this unseemly fact.
"He has been haunting her in the East End for weeks. I got that out of
Edward. But, of course, one knew that was going to happen as soon as
one saw them together at Castle Luton. She throws her flies cleverly,
"All I can say is," observed Mrs. Watton, ponderously, "that in any
decent state of society such a woman would be banned!"
Harding rose, and stood by the open window caressing his moustache. It
was a perception of long standing with him, that life would have been
better worth living had his mother possessed a sense of humour.
"It seems to me," his mother resumed after a pause, "that someone at
least should give Letty a hint."
"Oh! Letty can take care of herself," said Watton, laughing. He might
have said, if he had thought it worth while, that somebody had already
given Letty a hint. Tressady, it appeared, disliked him. Well, people
that disliked you were fair game. However, in spite of Tressady's
dislike, he had been able to amuse himself a good deal with Letty and
Letty's furnishing during the last few months. Harding, who prided
himself on the finest of tastes, liked to be consulted; he liked
anything, also, that gave him importance, if it were only with the master
of a curiosity shop, and, under cover of Letty's large dealings, he had
carried off various spoils of his own for his rooms in the Temple--spoils
which were not to be despised--at a very moderate price indeed.
"Who could have thought George Tressady would turn out such a weak
creature," said his mother, rising, "when one remembers how Lord Fontenoy
believed in him?"
"And does still believe in him, more or less," said Harding; "but
Fontenoy will have to be warned."
He looked at the clock, to see if there was time for a cigarette before
church, lit it, and, leaning against the window, gazed towards the hazy
park with a meditative air.
"Do you mean there is any question of his ratting?" said his mother.
Harding raised his eyebrows.
"Well, no--hardly anything so gross as that. But you can see all the
spirit has gone out of him. He does no work for us. The party gets
nothing out of him."
Harding spoke as if he had the party in his pocket. His mother looked at
him with a severely concealed admiration. There were few limits to her
belief in Harding. But it was not her habit to flatter her sons.
"What makes one so mad," she said, as she sailed towards the door in a
stiff rustle of Sunday brocade, "is the way in which the people who
admire her talk of her. When one thinks that all this 'slumming,' and all
this stuff about the poor, only means keeping her husband in office and
surrounding herself with a court of young men, it turns one sick!"
"My dear mother, we keep all our little hypocrisies," said Harding,
indulgently. "Don't forget that Lady Maxwell provides me with a deal of
And after his mother had left him he smoked on, thinking with pleasure of
an article of his on "The Woman of the Slums," packed with allusions to
Marcella Maxwell, which was to appear in the next number of the
"Haymarket Reporter," the paper that he and Fontenoy were now running.
Harding was not the editor. He disliked drudgery and office-hours; and
his father was good for enough to live upon. But he was a powerful
adviser in the conduct of the new journal, and wrote, perhaps, the
The paper, indeed, was written by the smartest people conceivable, and
had achieved the smartest combinations. "Liberty" was its catchword; but
the employer must be absolute. To care or think about religion was
absurd; but whoso threw a stone at the Established Church, let him die
the death. Christianity must be steadily, even ferociously supported; in
the policing of an unruly world it was indispensable. But the perennial
butt of the paper was the fool who "went about doing good." The young men
who lived in "settlements," for instance, and gave University Extension
Lectures--the paper pursued all such with a hungry malice, only less
biting than that wherewith day by day it attacked Lord Maxwell, the arch
offender of all the philanthropic tribe. To help a man who had toiled his
ten or twelve hours in the workshop or the mine to read Homer or Dante in
the evening,--well! in the language of Hedda Gabler "people don't do
these things,"--not people with any sense of the humorous or the seemly.
Harding and his crew had required a good deal of help in their time
towards the reading of those authors; that, however, was only their due,
and in the order of the universe. The same universe had sent the miner
below to dig coals for his betters, while Harding Watton went to college.
But the last and worst demerit in the eyes of Harding and his set was
that old primitive offence that Cain already found so hard to bear. Half
the violence which the new paper had been lavishing on Maxwell--apart
from passionate conviction of the Fontenoy type, which also spoke through
it--sprang from this source. Maxwell, in spite of his obvious drawbacks,
threatened to succeed, to be accepted, to take a large place in English
political life. And his wife, too, reigned, and had her way without the
help of clever young men who write. There was the sting. Harding at any
rate found it intolerable.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, in spite of newspapers to right of it and newspapers to left
of it, the political coach clattered on.
The following day--Monday--was a day of early arrivals, packed benches,
and much excitement in the House of Commons; for the division on the
second reading was to be taken after the Home Secretary's reply on the
debate. Dowson was expected to get up about ten o'clock, and it was
thought that the division would be over by eleven.
On this afternoon and evening Fontenoy was ubiquitous. At least so it
seemed to Tressady. Whenever one put one's head into the Smoking-room or
the Library, whenever one passed through the Lobby, or rushed on to the
Terrace for ten minutes' fresh air, Fontenoy's great brow and rugged face
were always to be seen, and always in fresh company.
The heterogeneous character of the Opposition with which the Government
was confronted, the conflicting groups and interests into which it was
split up, offered large scope for the intriguing, contriving genius of
the man. And he was spending it lavishly. The small eyes were more
invisible, the circles round them more saucer-like than ever.
Meanwhile George Tressady had never been so keenly conscious as on
this critical afternoon that his party had begun to drop him out of
its reckonings. Consultations that would once have included him as a
matter of course were going on without him. During the whole of this
busy day Fontenoy even had hardly spoken to him; the battle was
leaving him on one side.
Well, what room for bitterness?--though, with the unreason that no man
escapes, he was not without bitterness. He had disappointed them as a
debater--and, in other ways, what had he done for them since Whitsuntide?
No doubt also the mention of his name in the reports of the Mile End
meeting had not been without its effect. He believed that Fontenoy's
personal regard for him still held. Otherwise, he was beginning to feel
himself placed in a tacit isolation.
What wonder, good Lord! During the dinner-hour he found himself in a
corner of the library, dreaming over a biography of Lord Melbourne. Poor
Melbourne! in those last tragic years of waiting and pining, every day
expecting the proffer of office that never came and the familiar
recognition that would be his no more. But Melbourne was old, and had
had his day.
"I wanted to speak to you," said a hoarse voice, over his shoulder.
"Say on, and sit down," said George, smiling, and pushing forward a chair
beside him. "I should think you'll want a week's sleep after this."
"Have you got some time to spare this week," said Fontenoy, abruptly, as
he sat down.
"Well, no. I ought to go down to the country immediately, and see after
my own affairs and the strike, before Committee begins. There is a
meeting of coal-owners on Wednesday."
"What I want wouldn't take long," said Fontenoy, persistently, after a
pause. "I hear you have been going round workshops lately?"
His keen, peremptory eyes fixed his companion.
"I had a round or two with Everard," said George. "We saw a fair
The thought that flashed through Fontenoy's mind was, "Why the deuce
didn't you speak of it to me?" Aloud, he said with impatience:
"Representing what Everard chose to show, I should think. However, what I
want is this. You know the series of extracts from reports that has been
going on lately in the 'Chronicle.'"
"We want something done to correct the impression that has been made. You
and I know perfectly well that the vast majority of workshops work
factory-hours and an average of four and a half days a week. You have
just had personal experience, and you can write. Will you do three or
four signed articles for the 'Reporter' this week or next? Of course the
office will give you every help."
"I think not," he said presently, looking up. "I shouldn't do it well.
Perhaps I have become too conscious of the exceptions--the worst cases.
Frankly, the whole thing has become more of a problem to me than it was."
Fontenoy moved, and grunted uneasily.
"Does that mean," he said at last, in his harshest manner, "that you
will feel any difficulty in--?"
"In voting? No. I shall vote right enough. I am all for delay. This
particular Bill doesn't convince me any more than it did. But I don't
want to take a strong public part just at present."
The two men eyed each other in silence.
"I thought there was something brewing," said Fontenoy at last.
"Well, I'm not sorry to have had these few words," was George's reply,
after a pause. "I wanted to tell you that, though I shall vote, I don't
think I shall speak much more. I don't believe I'm the stuff people in
Parliament ought to be made of. I shall be remorseful presently for
having led you into a mistake!" He forced a smile.
"I made no mistake," said Fontenoy, grimly, and departed. Then, as he
walked down the corridor, he completed his sentence--"except in not
seeing that you were the kind of man to be made a fool of by women!"
First of all, a hasty marriage with a silly girl who could be no help to
him or to the cause; now, according to Watton--who had called upon
Fontenoy that morning, at his private house, to discuss various matters
of business--the Lady-Maxwell fever in a pronounced form. Most likely. It
was the best explanation.
The leader's own sense of annoyance and disappointment was considerable.
There was no man for whom he had felt so much personal liking as for
Tressady since the fight began.
Somewhere before midnight the division on the second reading was taken,
amid all those accompaniments of crowd, expectation, and commotion, that
are usually evoked by the critical points of a contested measure. The
majority for Government was forty-four--less by twenty-four votes than
its normal figure.
As the cheers and counter-cheers subsided, George found himself borne
into the Lobby with the crowd pouring out of the House. As he approached
the door leading to the outer lobby, a lady in front of him turned.
George received a lightning impression of beauty, of a kind of anxious
joy, and recognised Marcella Maxwell.
She held out her hand.
"Well, the first stage is over!" she said.
"Yes, and well over," he said, smiling. "But you have shed a great many
"Oh! I know--I know. The next few weeks will be intolerable; one will
feel sure of nobody." Then her voice changed--took a certain shyness. "A
good many people from here are coming down to us at Mile End during the
next few weeks--will you come some time, and bring Lady Tressady?"
"Thank you," said George, rather formally. "It is very kind of you."
Then, in another voice: "And you are really none the worse?"
His eyes sought the injured temple, and she instinctively put up her
hand to the black wave of hair that had been drawn forward so as to
conceal the mark.
"Oh no! That boy was not an expert, luckily. How absurd the papers
George shook his head.
"I don't know what else one could expect," he said, laughing.
"Not at all!"--the flush mounted in the delicate hollow of the cheek.
"Why should there be any more fuss about a woman's being struck than a
man? We don't want any of this extra pity and talk."
"Human nature, I am afraid," said George, raising his shoulders. Did she
really suppose that women could mix in the political fight on the same
terms as men--could excite no more emotion there than men? Folly!
Then Maxwell, who was standing behind her, came forward, greeted Tressady
kindly, and they talked for a few minutes about the evening's debate. The
keen look of the elder scanned the younger's face and manner the while
with some minuteness. As for George, his dialogue with the Minister, at
which more than one passer-by threw looks of interest and amusement, gave
him no particular pleasure. Maxwell's qualities were not of the kind that
specially appealed to him; nor was he likely to attract Maxwell.
Nevertheless, he could have wished their ten minutes' talk to last
interminably, merely because of the excuse it gave him to be near
her!--played upon by her movements and her tones. He talked to Maxwell of
speeches, and votes, and little incidents of the day. And all the time he
knew how she was surrounded; how the crowd that was always gathering
about her came and went; with whom she talked; above all, how that eager,
sensitive charm which she had shown in its fulness to him--perhaps to
him only, beside her husband, of all this throng--played through her
look, her voice, her congratulations, and her dismays. For had he not
seen her in distress and confusion--seen her in tears, wrestling with
herself? His heart caressed the thought like a sacred thing, all the time
that he was conscious of her as the centre of this political throng--the
adored, detested, famous woman, typical in so many ways of changing
custom and of an expanding world.
Then, in a flash, as it were, the crowd had thinned, the Maxwells had
gone, and George was running down the steps of the members' entrance,
into the rain outside. He seemed to carry with him the scent of a
rose,--the rose she had worn on her breast,--and his mind was tormented
with the question he had already asked himself: "How is it going to end?"
He pushed on through the wet streets, lost in a hundred miseries and
exaltations. The sensation was that of a man struggling with a rising
tide, carried helplessly in the rush and swirl of it. Yet conscience had
very little to say, and, when it did speak, got little but contempt for
its pains. What had any clumsy code, social or moral, to do with it? When
would Marcella Maxwell, by word or look or thought, betray the man she
loved? Not till
A' the seas gang dry, my dear,
An the rocks melt wi' the sun!
How he found his way home he hardly knew; for it was a moment of blind
crisis with him. All that crowded, dramatic scene of the House--its
lights, its faces, its combinations--had vanished from his mind. What
remained was a group of three people, contemplated in a kind of
terror--terror of what this thing might grow to! Once, in St. James's
Street, the late hour, the soft, gusty night, suddenly reminded him of
that other gusty night in February when he had walked home after his
parting with Letty, so well content with himself and the future, and
had spoken to Marcella Maxwell for the first time amid that little
crowd in the Mall. Nothing had been irreparable then. He had his life
in his hands.
As for this passion, that was creeping into all his veins, poisoning and
crippling all his vitalities, he was still independent enough of it to be
able to handle it with the irony it deserved. For it was almost as
ludicrous as it was pitiable. He did not want any man of the world, any
Harding Watton, to tell him that.
What amazed him was the revelation of his own nature that was coming out
of it. He had always been rather proud to think of himself as an
easygoing fellow with no particular depths. Other men were proud of a
"storm period"--of feasting and drinking deep--made a pose of it.
Tressady's pose had been the very opposite. Out of a kind of good taste,
he had wished to take life lightly, with no great emotion. And marriage
with Letty had seemed to satisfy this particular canon.
Now, for the first time, certain veils were drawn aside, and he knew what
this hunger for love, and love's response, can do with a man--could do
with _him_, were it allowed its scope!
Had Marcella Maxwell been another woman, less innocent, less secure!
As it was, Tressady no sooner dared to give a sensuous thought to her
beauty than his own passion smote him back--bade him beware lest he
should be no longer fit to speak and talk with her, actually or
spiritually. For in this hopeless dearth of all the ordinary rewards and
encouragements of love he had begun to cultivate a sort of second, or
spiritual, life, in which she reigned. Whenever he was alone he walked
with her, consulted her, watched her dear eyes, and the soul playing
through them. And so long as he could maintain this dream he was
conscious of a sort of dignity, of reconciliation with himself; for the
passions and tragedies of the soul always carry with them this dignity,
as Dante, of all mortals, knew first and best.
But with the turn into Upper Brook Street, the dream suddenly and
painfully gave way. He saw his own house, and could forget Letty and the
problem of his married life no more. What was he going to do with her and
it? What relation was he going to establish with his wife, through all
these years that stretched so interminably before them? Remorse mingled
with the question. But perhaps impatience, still more--impatience of his
own misery, of this maze of emotion in which he felt himself entangled,
as it were against his will.
During the three days which had passed since his quarrel with Letty,
their common life had been such a mere confusion of jars and discomforts
that George's hedonist temper was almost at the end of its patience; yet
so far, he thought, he had not done badly in the way of forbearance.
After the first moment of angry disgust, he had said to himself that the
tearing up of the photograph was a jealous freak, which Letty had a right
to if it pleased her. At any rate, he had made no comment whatever upon
it, and had done his best to resume his normal manner with her the next
day. She had been, apparently, only the more enraged; and, although there
had been no open quarrelling since, her cutting, contemptuous little airs
had been very hard to bear. Nor was it possible for George to ignore her
exasperated determination to have her own way in the matter both of
friends and expenses.
As he took his latch-key out of the lock, and turned up the electric
light, he saw two handsome marqueterie chairs standing in the hall. He
went to look at them in some perplexity. Ah! no doubt they had been sent
as specimens. Letty had grown dissatisfied with the chairs originally
bought for the dining-room. He remembered to have heard her say something
about a costly set at a certain Asher's, that Harding had found.
He studied them for a few moments, his mouth tightening. Then, instead of
going upstairs, he went into his study, and sat down to his table to
write a letter.
Yes--he had better go off to Staffordshire by the early train; and this
letter, which he would put upon her writing-desk in the drawing-room,
should explain him to Letty.
The letter was long and candid, yet by no means without tenderness. "I
have written to Asher," it said, "to direct him to send in the morning
for the chairs I found in the hall. They are too expensive for us, and I
have told him that I will not buy them, I need not say that in writing to
him I have avoided every word that could be annoying to you. If you would
only trust me, and consult me a little about such things,--trifles as
they be,--life just now would be easier than it is."
Then he passed to a very frank statement of their financial position, and
of his own steady resolve not to allow himself to drift into hopeless
debt. The words were clear and sharp, but not more so than the course of
the preceding six weeks made absolutely necessary. And their very
sharpness led him to much repentant kindness at the end. No doubt she was
disappointed both in him and in his circumstances; and, certainly,
differences had developed between them that they had never foreseen at
the time of their engagement. But to "make a good thing" of living
together was never easy. He asked her not to despair, not to judge him
hardly. He would do his best--let her only give him back her confidence
He closed the letter, and then paced restlessly about the little room for
a time. It seemed to him that he was caught in a vice--that neither
happiness, nor decent daily comfort, nor even the satisfactions of
ambition, were ever to be his.
Next day he was off to Euston before Letty was properly awake. She found
his letter waiting for her when she descended, and spent the day in a
pale excitement. Yet by the end of it she had pretty well made up her
mind. She would have to give in on the money question. George's figures
and her natural shrewdness convinced her that the ultimate results of
fighting him in this matter could only be more uncomfortable for herself
than for him. But as to her freedom in choosing her own friends, or as
to her jealousy of Lady Maxwell, she would never give in. If George had
ceased to court his wife, then he could have nothing to say if she
looked for the amusement and admiration that were her due from other
people. There was no harm in that. Everybody else did it; and she was
not going to be pretty and young for nothing. Whereupon she sat down and
wrote a line to Lord Cathedine to tell him that she and "Tully" would be
at the Opera on the following night, and to beg him to make sure that
she got her "cards for Clarence House." Moreover, she meant to make use
of him to procure her a card for a very smart ball, the last of the
season, which was coming off in a fortnight. That could be arranged, no
doubt, at the Opera.
* * * * *
George returned from the North in a few days looking, if possible,
thinner and more careworn than when he went. He had found the strike a
very stubborn business. Burrows was riding the storm triumphantly; and
while upon his own side Tressady looked in vain for a "man," there was a
dogged determination to win among the masters. George's pugnacity shared
it fully. But he was beginning to ask himself a number of questions about
these labour disputes which, apparently, his co-employers did not ask
themselves. Was it that here, no less than in matters that concerned the
Bill before Parliament, _her_ influence, helped by the power of an
expanding mind, had developed in him that fatal capacity for sympathy,
for the double-seeing of compromise, which takes from a man all the joy
Letty, at any rate, was not troubled by anything of the sort. When he
came back he found that she was ready to be on fairly amicable terms with
him. Moreover, she had postponed the more expensive improvements and
changes she had begun to make at Perth against his will; nor was there
any sign of the various new purchases for the London house with which she
had threatened him. On the other hand, she ceased to consult him about
her own engagements; and she let him know, though without any words on
the subject, that she had entirely broken with his mother--would neither
see her nor receive her. As her attitude on this point involved--or,
apparently, must involve--a refusal to accept her husband's statement
made solemnly under strong emotion, George's pride took it in absolute
silence. No doubt it was her revenge upon him for their crippled
income--and for Lady Maxwell.
The effect of her behaviour on this point was to increase his own pity
for his mother. He told her frankly that Letty could not get over the
inroads upon their income and the shortening of their resources produced
by the Shapetsky debt, just at a time when they should have been able to
spend, and were already hampered by the state of the coal trade. It would
be better that she and Letty should not meet for a time. He would do his
best to make it up.
Lady Tressady took his news with a curious equanimity.
"Well, she always hated me!" she said--"I don't exactly know why--and was
a little jealous of my gowns, too, I think. Don't mind, George. I must
say it out. You know, she doesn't really dress very well--Letty doesn't.
Though, my goodness, the bills! Wait till you see them before you call
_me_ extravagant. You should make her go to that new woman--what do they
call her? She's a _darling_, and such a style! Never mind about Letty;
you needn't bother. I daresay she isn't very nice to _you_ about it. But
if you don't come and see me, I shall cut my throat, and leave a note on
the dressing-table. It would spoil your career dreadfully, so you'd
better take care."
But, indeed, George came, without any pressing, almost every day. He saw
her in her bursts of gaiety and affectation, when the habits of a
lifetime asserted themselves as strongly as ever; and he saw her in her
moments of pain and collapse, when she could hide the omens of inexorable
physical ill neither from herself nor him. By the doctor's advice, he
ceased to press her to give in, to resign herself to bed and invalidism.
It was best, even physically, to let her struggle on. And he was both
astonished and touched by her pluck. She had never been so repellent to
him as on those many occasions in the past when she had feigned illness
to get her way. Now that Death was really knocking, the half-gay,
half-frightened defiance with which she walked the palace of life, one
moment listening to the sounds at the gate, the next throwing herself
passionately into the revelry within, revealed to the son a new fact
about her--a fact of poetry unutterably welcome.
Even her fawning dependents, the Fullertons, ceased to annoy him. They
were poor parasites, but she thought for them, and they professed to love
her in return. She had emptied her life of finer things, but this
relation of patron and flatterer, such as it was, did something to fill
the vacancy; and George made no further effort to disturb it.
It was surprising, indeed, how easily, as the weeks went on, he came
to bear many of those ways of hers which had once set him most on
edge--even her absurd outbursts of affection towards him, and
preposterous praise of him in public. In time he submitted even to
being flown at and kissed before the Fullertons. Amazing into what new
relations that simple perspective of _the end_ will throw all the
stuff of life!
* * * * *
In Parliament the weeks rushed by. The first and comparatively
non-contentious sections of the Bill passed with a good deal of talk and
delay. George spoke once or twice, without expecting to speak,
instinctively pleasing Fontenoy where he could. They had now but little
direct intercourse. But George did not feel that his leader had become
his enemy, and was not slow to recognise a magnanimity he had not
foreseen. Yet, after all, he had not offered the worst affront to party
discipline. Fontenoy could still count on his vote. As to the rest of
his party, he saw that he was to be finally reckoned as a "crank," and
let alone. It was not, he found, altogether to be regretted. The position
gave him a new freedom of speech.
Meanwhile he and Marcella Maxwell rarely met. Week after week passed, and
still Tressady avoided those gatherings at the Mile End house, of which
he heard full accounts from Edward Watton. He once formally asked Letty
if she would go with him to one of Lady Maxwell's East End "evenings,"
and she, with equal formality, refused. But he did not take advantage of
her refusal to go himself. Was it fear of his own weakness, or
compunction towards Letty, or the mere dread of being betrayed into
something at once ridiculous and irreparable?
At the same time, it was surprising how often during these weeks he had
occasion to pass through St. James's Square. Once or twice he saw her go
out or come in, and sometimes was near enough to catch the sudden smile
and look which surely must be the smile and look she gave her friends,
and not to every passing stranger! Once or twice, also, he met her for a
few minutes in the Lobby, or on the Terrace, but always in a crowd. She
never repeated her invitation. He divined that she was, perhaps, vexed
with herself for having seemed to press the point on the night of the
* * * * *
July drew to an end. The famous "workshop clause" had been debated for
nearly ten days, the whole country, as it were, joining in. One evening
in the last week of the month Naseby and Lady Madeleine were sitting
together in a corner of a vast drawing-room in Carlton House Terrace.
The drawing-room was Mrs. Allison's. She had returned about a fortnight
before from Bad Wildheim, and was now making an effort, for the boy's
sake, to see some society. As she moved about the room in her black silk
and lace she was more gentle, but in a sense more inaccessible, than
ever. She talked with everyone, but her eyes followed her son's auburn
head, with its strange upstanding tufts of hair above the fair, freckled
face; or they watched the door, even when she was most animated. She
looked ill and thin, and the many friends who loved her would have
gladly clung about her and cherished her. But it was not easy to cherish
"Do you see how our hostess keeps a watch for Fontenoy?" said Naseby, in
a low voice, to Lady Madeleine.
Madeleine turned her startled face to him. Nature had given her this
hunted look--the slightly open mouth, the wide eyes of one who
perpetually hears or expects bad news. Naseby did not like it, and had
tried to laugh her out of her scared ways before this. But he had no
sooner laughed at her than he found himself busy--to use Watton's
word--in "stroking" and making it up to her, so tender and clinging was
the girl's whole nature, so golden was her hair, so white her skin!
"Isn't it the division news she is expecting?"
"Yes--but don't look so unhappy! She will bear up--even if they are
beaten. And they will be beaten. Fontenoy's hopes have been going down.
The Government will get through this clause at all events--by a shave."
"What a fuss everybody is making about this Bill!"
"Well, you don't root up whole industries without a fuss. But, certainly,
Maxwell has roused the country finely."
"_She_ will break down if it goes on," said Lady Madeleine, in a
"Not at all! Lady Maxwell was made for war--she thrives on it. Don't you,
too, enjoy it?"
"I don't know," said the girl, drearily. "I don't know what I was
And over her feather fan her wide eyes travelled to the distant ogress
figure of her mother, sitting majestical in black wig and diamonds beside
the Russian Ambassador. Naseby's also travelled thither--unwillingly. It
was a disagreeable fact that Lady Kent had begun to be very amiable to
him of late.
Lady Madeleine's remark made him silent a moment. Then he looked at
"I am going to offend you," he said deliberately. "I am going to tell you
that you were made to wear white satin and pearls, and to look as you
look this evening."
The girl flushed hotly.
"I knew you despised women," she said, in a strained voice, staring back
at him reproachfully. During her months of distress and humiliation she
had found her only comfort in "movements" and "causes"--in the moral
aspirations generally--so far as her mother would allow her to have
anything to do with them. She had tried, for instance, to work with
Marcella Maxwell--to understand her.
But Naseby held his ground.
"Do I despise women because I think they make the grace and poetry of the
world?" he asked her. "And, mind you, I don't draw any lines. Let them be
county councillors and guardians, and inspectors, and queens as much as
they like. I'm very docile. I vote for them. I do as I'm told."
"Only, you don't think that _I_ can do anything useful!"
"I don't think you're cut out for a 'platform woman,' if that's what you
mean," he said, laughing--"even Lady Maxwell isn't. And if she was, she
wouldn't count. The women who matter just now--and you women are getting
a terrible amount of influence--more than you've had any time this half
century--are the women who sit at home in their drawing-rooms, wear
beautiful gowns, and attract the men who are governing the country to
come and see them."
"Lady Maxwell doesn't sit at home and wear beautiful gowns!"
"I vow she does!" said Naseby, with spirit. "I can vouch for it. I was
caught that way myself. Not that I belong to the men who are governing
the country. And now she has roped me to her chariot for good and all.
Ah, Ancoats! how do you do?"
He got up to make room for the master of the house as he spoke. But as
he walked away he said to himself, with a kind of delight: "Good! she
didn't turn a hair."
Lady Madeleine, indeed, received her former suitor with a cool dignity
that might have seemed impossible to anyone so plaintively pretty. He
lingered beside her, twirling his carefully pointed moustache, that
matched the small Richelieu chin, and looking at her with a furtive
closeness from time to time.
"Well--so you have just come back from Paris?" she said indifferently.
"Yes; I stayed a day or two after my mother. One didn't want to come back
to this dull hole."
"Did you see the new piece at the Francais?"
He made a face.
"Not I! One couldn't be caught by such _vieux jeu_ as that! There was a
splendid woman in one of the _cafés chantants_--but I suppose you don't
go to _cafés chantants?"_
"No," said Madeleine, eyeing him over her fan with a composure that
astonished herself. "No, I don't go to _cafés chantants_."
Ancoats looked blank a moment, then resumed, with fervour:
"This woman's divine--_épatant_! Then, at the Chat Noir--but--ah! well,
perhaps you don't go to the Chat Noir?"
"No, I don't go to the Chat Noir."
He fidgeted for a minute. She sat silent. Then he said:
"There are some new French pictures in the next room. Will you come and
"Thank you, I think I'll stay here," she said coldly.
He lingered another second or two, then departed. The girl drew a long
breath, then instinctively turned her white neck to see if Naseby had
really left her. Strange! he too, from far away, was looking round. In
another moment he was making his way slowly back to her.
* * * * *
"Ah, there's Tressady! Now for news."
The remark was Naseby's. He and Lady Madeleine were, as it happened,
inspecting the very French pictures that the girl had just refused to
look at in Ancoats's company.
But now they hurried back to the main drawing-room where the Tressadys
were already surrounded by an eager crowd.
"Eighteen majority," Tressady was saying. "The Socialists saved it at
the last moment, after growling and threatening till nobody knew what
was going to happen. Forty Ministerialists walked out, twenty more, at
least, were away unpaired, and the Old Liberals voted against the
Government to a man."
"Oh! they'll go--they'll go on the next clause," said an elderly peer,
whose ruddy face glowed with delight. "Serve them right, too! Maxwell's
whole aim is revolution made easy. The most dangerous man we have had for
years! Looks so precious moderate, too, all the time. Tell me how did
Slade vote after all?"
And Tressady found himself buttonholed by one person after another;
pressed for the events and incidents of the evening: how this person had
voted, how that; how Ministers had taken it; whether, after this Pyrrhic
victory there was any chance of the Bill's withdrawal, or at least of
some radical modification in the coming clauses. Almost everyone in the
crowded room belonged, directly or indirectly, to the governing political
class. Barely three people among them could have given a coherent account
of the Bill itself. But to their fathers and brothers and cousins would
belong the passing or the destroying of it. And in this country there is
no game that amuses so large a number of intelligent people as the
"I don't know why he should look so d--d excited over it," said Lord
Cathedine to Naseby in a contemptuous aside, with a motion of the head
towards Tressady, showing pale and tall above the crowd. "He seems to
have voted straight this time, but he's as shaky as he can be. You
never know what that kind of fellow will be up to. Ah, my lady! and
how are you?"
He made a low bow, and Naseby, turning, saw young Lady Tressady
"Are you, too, talking politics?" said Letty, with affected disgust,
giving her hand to Cathedine and a smile to Naseby.
"We will now talk of nothing but your scarlet gown," said Cathedine in
her ear. "Amazing!"
"You like it?" she said, with nonchalant self-possession. "It makes me
look dreadfully wicked, I know." And she threw a complacent glance at a
mirror near, which showed her a gleam of white shoulders in a setting of
"Well, you wouldn't wish to look good," said Cathedine, pulling his
black moustache. "Any fool can do that!"
"You cynic!" she said, laughing. "Come and talk to me over there. Have
you got me my invitations?"
Cathedine followed, a disagreeable smile on his full lips, and they
settled themselves in a corner out of the press. Nor were they disturbed
by the sudden hush and parting of the crowd when, five minutes later,
amid a general joyous excitement, Fontenoy walked in.
Mrs. Allison forgot her usual dignity, and hurried to meet the leader as
he came up to her, with his usual flushed and haggard air.
"Magnificent!" she said tremulously. "Now you are going to win!"
He shook his head, and would hardly let himself be congratulated by any
of the admirers, men or women, who pressed to shake hands with him. To
most of them he said, impatiently, that it was no good hallooing till
one was out of the wood, that for his own part he had expected more, and
that the Government might very well rally on the next clause. Then, when
he had effectively chilled the enthusiasm of the room, he drew his
"Well, and are you happier?" he said to her in a low voice, his whole
"Oh, dear friend! don't think of me," she said, putting out a thin hand
to him with a grateful gesture. "Yes, the boy has been very good--he
gives me a great deal of his time. But how can one _know_--how can one
Her pale, small face contracted with a look of pain. Fontenoy, too,
frowned as he looked across at Ancoats, who was leaning against the wall
in an affected pose, and quoting bits from a new play to George Tressady.
After a pause, he said:
"I think if I were you I should cultivate Tressady. Ancoats likes him. It
might be possible some time for you to work through him."
The mother assented eagerly, then said, with a smile:
"But I gather you don't find him much to be depended on in the House?"
Fontenoy shrugged his shoulders.
"Lady Maxwell has bedevilled him somehow. You're responsible!"
"Poor Castle Luton! You must tell me how it and I can make up. But you
don't mean that there is any thought of his going over?"
"His vote's all safe--I suppose. He would make too great a fool of
himself if he failed us there. But he has lost all heart for the
business. And Harding Watton tells me it's all her doing. She has been
taking him about in the East End--getting her friends to show him round."
"And _now_ you are in the mood to put the women down--to show them
She looked at him with gentle humour--a very delicate high-bred figure,
in her characteristic black-and-white. Fontenoy's whole aspect changed as
he caught the reference to their own relation. The look of premature old
age, of harsh fatigue, was for the moment effaced by something young and
ardent as he bent towards her.
"No--I take the rough with the smooth. Lady Maxwell may do her worst. We
have the counter-charm."
A flush showed itself in her lined cheek. She was fourteen years older
than he, and had refused a dozen times to marry him. But she would have
found it hard to live without his devotion, and she had brought him by
now into such good order that she dared to let him know it.
* * * * *
Half an hour later George and Letty mounted another palatial staircase,
and at the top of it Letty put on fresh smiles for a new hostess. George,
tired out with the drama of the day, could hardly stifle his yawns; but
Letty had treated the notion of going home after one party when, they
might, if they pleased, "do" four, with indignant amazement.
So here they were at the house of one of the greatest of bankers, and
George stalked through the rooms in his wife's train, taking
comparatively little part in the political buzz all about him, and
thinking mostly of a hurried little talk with Mrs. Allison that had taken
up his last few minutes in her drawing-room. Poor thing! But what could
he do for her? The lad was as stage-struck as ever--could barely talk
sense on any other subject, and not much on that.
But if he, owing to the clash of an inner struggle, was weary of
politics, the world in general could think and speak of nothing else. The
rooms were full of politicians and their wives, of members just arrived
from the House, of Ministers smiling at each other with lifted eyebrows,
like boys escaped from a birching. A tempest of talk surged through the
rooms--talk concerned with all manner of great issues, with the fate of a
Government, the rousing of a country, the fortunes of individual
statesmen. Through it all the little host himself, a small fair-haired
man, with the tired eyes and hot-house air of the financier, walked about
from group to group, gossiping over the incidents of the division, and
now and then taking up some newcomer to be introduced to his pretty and
Somewhere in the din George stumbled across Lady Leven, who was talking
merrily to young Bayle; and found her, notwithstanding, very ready to
turn and chat with him.
"Of course we are all waiting for the Maxwells," she said to him. "Will
they come, I wonder?"
"Do people show on their way to disaster? I think I should stay at home
if I were she."
"Why, they have to hearten their friends!"
"No good," said Betty, pursing her pretty lips; "and they have
fought so hard."
"And may win yet," said George, an odd sparkle in his eye, as he stood
looking over his tiny companion to the door. "Nobody is sure of anything,
I can tell you."
"I don't believe _you_ care," she said audaciously, shaking her golden
head at him.
"Oh! you don't seem at all desperate," she said coolly. "Perhaps you're
like Frank--you think the other side make so much better points than you
do. 'If Dowson makes another speech,' Frank said to me yesterday, 'I vow
I shall rat!' There's a way of talking of your own chiefs. Oh! I shall
have to take him out of politics."
And she unfurled her fan with a jerk half melancholy, half decided.
Then, suddenly, a laugh flashed over her face; she raised herself
eagerly on tiptoe.
"Ah! bravo!" she said. "Here they are!"
George turned with the crowd, and saw them enter, Marcella first,
in a blaze of diamonds; then the quiet face and square shoulders of
Nothing, he thought, could have been better than the manner in which both
bore themselves as they passed through the throng, answering the
greetings of friend and foe, and followed by the keen or hostile scrutiny
of hundreds. There was no bravado, no attempt to disguise the despondency
that must naturally follow on a division so threatening and in many ways
so wounding. Maxwell looked grey with fatigue and short nights, while her
black eyes passed wistfully from friend to friend, and had never been
more quick, more responsive. Their cause was in danger; nevertheless, the
impression on Tressady's mind was of two people consciously in the grip
of forces infinitely greater than they--forces that would hold on their
path whatever befell their insignificant mortal agents.
I steadier step when I recall,
Howe'er I slip, thou canst not fall.
So cries the thinker to his mistress, Truth. And in the temper of that
cry lies the secret of brave living. One looker-on, at least,--and that
an opponent,--recalled the words as he watched Marcella and her husband
taking their way through the London crowd, amid the doubts of their
friends and the half-concealed triumph of their foes.
It seemed to him that he could have no chance of speech with her. But
presently, from the other side of the room, he saw that she had
recognised and was greeting him, and, do what he would, he must needs
make his way to her.
She welcomed him with great friendliness, and without a word of small
reproach on the score of the weeks he had let pass without coming to see
her. They fell into talk about the speeches of the evening. George
thought he could see that she, or Maxwell speaking through her, was
dissatisfied with Dowson's conduct of the Bill in the House, and chafing
under the constitutional practice that made it necessary to give him so
large a share in the matter. But she said nothing ungenerous; nor was
there any bitterness towards the many false friends who had deserted them
that night in the division-lobby. She spoke with eager hope of a series
of speeches Maxwell was about to make in the North, and then she turned
upon her companion.
"You haven't spoken since the second reading--on any of the fighting
points, at least. I have been wondering what you thought of many things."
George threw his head back against the wall beside her, and was silent a
moment. At last he said, looking down upon her:
"Perhaps, very often I haven't known what to think."
She started--reddened ever so little. "Does that mean"--she hesitated for
a phrase--"that you have moved at all on the main question?"
"No," he said deliberately--"no! I think as I always did, that you are
calling in law to do what law can't do. But perhaps I appreciate better
than I once did what provokes you to it. It seems to me difficult now to
meet the case your side is putting forward by a mere _non possumus_. One
wants to stop the machine a bit and think it out. So much I admit."
She met his smile with a curious, tremulous look. Instinctively he
guessed that this partial triumph in him of her cause--of Maxwell's
cause--had let flow some inner font of feeling.
"If you only knew," she said, "how all this Parliamentary rush and
clatter seem to me beside the mark. People talk to me of divisions and
votes. I think all the time of persons I know--of faces of
children--sick-beds, horrible rooms--"
She had turned her face from the crowd towards the open window, in whose
recess they were standing. As she spoke they both fell back a little into
comparative solitude, and he drew her on to talk--trying in a young eager
way to make her rest in his kindness, to soothe her weariness and
disappointment. And as she spoke, he clutched at the minutes; he threw
more and more sympathy at her feet to keep her talking, to enchain her
there beside him, in her lovely whiteness and grace. And, mingled with it
all, was the happy guess that she liked to linger with him--that amid
all this hard clamour of public talk and judgment she felt him a friend
in a peculiar sense--a friend whose loyalty grew with misfortune. As for
this wild-beast world, that was thwarting and libelling her, he began to
think of it with a blind, up-swelling rage--a desire to fight and win
for her--to put down--
"Tressady, your wife sent me to find you. She wishes to go home."
The voice was Harding Watton's. That observant young man advanced bowing,
and holding out his hand to Lady Maxwell.
When Marcella had drifted once more into the fast-melting crowd, George
found himself face to face with Letty. She was very white, and stared at
him with wide, passionate eyes.
And on the way home George, with all his efforts, could not keep the
peace. Letty flung at him a number of bitter and insulting things that he
found very hard to bear.
"What do you want me to do?" he said to her at last, impatiently. "I have
hardly spoken six sentences to Lady Maxwell, since the meeting, till
tonight--I suppose because you wished it. But neither you nor anyone else
shall make me rude to her. Don't be such a fool, Letty! Make friends with
her, and you will be ashamed of saying or even thinking such things."
Whereat Letty burst into hysterical tears, and he soon found himself
involved in all the remorseful, inconsequent speeches to which a man in
such a plight feels himself driven. She allowed herself to be calmed,
and they had a dreary making-up. When it was over, however, George was
left with the uneasy conviction that he knew very little of his wife. She
was not of a nature to let any slight to her go unpunished. What was she
planning? What would she do?
"Hullo! Are you come back?"
The speaker was George Tressady. He was descending the steps of his club
in Fall Mall, and found his arm caught by Naseby, who had just dismissed
his hansom outside.
"I came back last night. Are you going homewards? I'll walk across the
Square with you."
The two men turned into St. James's Square, and Naseby resumed:
"Yes, we had a most lively campaign. Maxwell spoke better than I ever
"The speeches have been excellent reading, too. And you had good
"Splendid! The country is rallying, I can tell you. The North is now
strong for Maxwell and the Bill--or seems to be."
"Just as we are going to kick it out in the House! It's very queer--for
no one could tell, a month ago, how the big towns were going. And it
looked as though London even were deserting them."
"A mere wave, I think. At least, I'll bet you anything they'll win this
Stepney election. Shall we get the division on the hours clause
"They say so."
"If you know your own interests, you'll hurry up," said Naseby, smiling.
"The country is going against you."
"I imagine Fontenoy has got his eye on the country! He's been letting the
Socialists talk nonsense till now to frighten the steady-going old
fellows on the other side or putting up our men to mark time. But I saw
yesterday there was a change."
"Between ourselves, hasn't he been talking a good deal of nonsense on his
Naseby threw a glance of laughing inquiry at his companion. George
shrugged his shoulders in silence. It had become matter of public remark
during the last few days that Fontenoy was beginning at last to show the
strain of the combat--that his speeches were growing hysterical and his
rule a tyranny. His most trusted followers were now to be heard grumbling
in private over certain aspects of his bearing in the House. He had come
into damaging collision with the Speaker on one or two occasions, and had
made here and there a blunder in tactics which seemed to show a weakening
of self-command. Tressady, indeed, knew enough to wonder that the man's
nerve and coolness had maintained themselves in their fulness so long.
"So Maxwell took a party to the North?" said George, dropping the subject
"Lady Maxwell, of course--myself, Bennett, and Madeleine Penley. It was a
pleasure to see Lady Maxwell. She has been dreadfully depressed in town
lately. But those trade-union meetings in Lancashire and Yorkshire were
magnificent enough to cheer anyone up."
George shook his head.
"I expect they come too late to save the Bill."
"I daresay. Well, one can't help being tremendously sorry for her. I
thought her looking quite thin and ill over it. It makes one doubt about
women in politics! Maxwell will take it a deal more calmly, unless one
misunderstands his cool ways. But I shouldn't wonder if _she_ had a
George made no reply. Naseby talked a little more about Maxwell and the
tour, the critical side of him gaining upon the sympathetic with every
sentence. At the corner of King Street he stopped.
"I must go back to the club. By the way, have you heard anything of
George made a face.
"I saw him in a hansom last night, late, crossing Regent Circus with a
young woman--_the_ young woman, to the best of my belief."
In the few moments' chat that followed Tressady found that Naseby, like
Fontenoy, regarded him as the new friend who might be able to do
something for a wild fellow, now that mother and old friends were alike
put aside and ignored. But, as he rather impatiently declared--and was
glad to declare--such a view was mere nonsense. He had tried, for the
mother's sake, and could do nothing. As for him, he believed the thing
was very much a piece of _blague_--
"Which won't prevent it from taking him to the devil," said Naseby,
coolly; "and his mother, by all accounts, will die of it. I'm sorry for
her. He seems to think tremendous things of you. I thought you might,
perhaps, have knocked it out of him." George shook his head again, and
In truth, Tressady was not particularly flattered by Ancoats's fancy for
him. He did not care enough about the lad in return. Yet, in response to
one or two outbreaks of talk on Ancoats's part--talks full of a stagey
railing at convention--he had tried, for the mother's sake, to lecture
the boy a little--to get in a word or two that might strike home. But
Ancoats had merely stared a moment out of his greenish eyes, had shaken
his queer mane of hair, as an animal shakes off the hand that curbs it,
had changed the subject at once, and departed. Tressady had seen very
little of him since.
And had not, in truth, taken it to heart. He had neither time nor mind to
think about Ancoats. Now, as he walked home to dinner, he put the subject
from him impatiently. His own moral predicament absorbed him--this weird,
silent way in which the whole political scene was changing in aspect and
composition under his eyes, was grouping itself for him round one
Had he any beliefs left about the Bill itself? He hardly knew. In truth
it was not his reason that was leading him. It now was little more than a
passionate boyish longing to wrench himself free from this odious task of
hurting and defeating Marcella Maxwell. The long process of political
argument was perhaps tending every day to the loosening and detaching of
those easy convictions of a young Chauvinism, that had drawn him
originally to Fontenoy's side. Intellectually he was all adrift. At the
same time he confessed to himself, with perfect frankness, that he could
and would have served Fontenoy happily enough, but for another
Yet his old loyalty to Fontenoy tugged sorely at his will. And with this
loyalty of course was bound up the whole question of his own personal
honour and fidelity--his pledges to his constituents and his party.
Was there no rational and legitimate way out? He pondered the political
situation as he walked along with great coolness and precision. When the
division on the hours clause was over the main struggle on the Bill, as
he had all along maintained, would be also at an end. If the Government
carried the clause--and the probability still was that they would carry
it by a handful of votes--the two great novelties of the Bill would have
been affirmed by the House. The homework in the scheduled trades would
have been driven by law into inspected workshops, and the male workers in
these same trades would have been brought under the time-restrictions of
the Factory Acts.
Compared to these two great reforms, or revolutions, the remaining
clause--the landlords clause--touched, as he had already said to
Fontenoy, questions of secondary rank, of mere machinery. Might not a man
thereupon--might not he, George Tressady--review and reconsider his
He had told Fontenoy that his vote was safe; but must that pledge extend
to more than the vital stuff, the main proposals of the Bill? The hours
clause?--yes. But after it?
Fontenoy, no doubt, would carry on the fight to the bitter end, counting
on a final and hard-wrung victory. The sanguine confidence which had
possessed him about the time of the second reading was gone. He did not,
Tressady knew, reckon with any certainty on turning out the Government in
this coming division. The miserable majority with which they had carried
the workshops clause would fall again--it would hardly be altogether
effaced. That final wiping-out would come--if indeed it were attained--in
the last contest of all, to which Fontenoy was already heartening and
urging on his followers.
Fontenoy's position, of course, in the matter was clear. It was that of
the leader and the irreconcilable.
But for the private member, who had seen cause to modify some of his
opinions during the course of debate, who had voted loyally with his
party up till now--might not the division on the hours clause be said to
mark a new stage in the Bill--a stage which restored him his freedom?
The House would have pronounced on the main points of the Bill; the
country was rallying in a remarkable and unexpected way to the
Government--might it not be fairly argued that the war had been carried
He already, indeed, saw signs of that backing down of opposition which he
had prophesied to Fontenoy. The key to the whole matter lay, he believed,
in the hands of the Old Liberals, that remnant of a once great host, who
were now charging the Conservative Government with new and damaging
concessions to the Socialist tyranny. These men kept a watchful eye on
the country; they had maintained all along that the country had not
spoken. George had already perceived a certain weakening among them. And
now, this campaign of Maxwell's, this new enthusiasm in the industrial
North--no doubt they would have their effect.
He hurried on, closely weighing the whole matter, the prey to a strange
and mingled excitement.
Meanwhile the streets through which he walked had the empty, listless air
which marks a stage from which the actors have departed. It was nearing
the middle of August, and society had fled.
All the same, as he reflected with a relief which was not without its
sting, he and Letty would not be alone at dinner. Some political friends
were coming, stranded, like themselves, in this West End, which had by
now covered up its furniture and shut its shutters.
What a number of smart invitations had been showering upon them during
the last weeks of the season, and were now still pursuing them, for the
country-house autumn! The expansion of their social circle had of late
often filled George with astonishment. No doubt, he said to
himself,--though with a curious doubtfulness,--Letty was very successful;
still, the recent rush of attentions from big people, who had taken no
notice of them on their marriage, was rather puzzling. It had affected
her so far more than himself. For he had been hard pressed by Parliament
and the strike, and she had gone about a good deal alone--appearing,
indeed, to prefer it.
* * * * *
"Come out with me on the Terrace," said Marcella to Betty Leven; "I had
rather not wait here. Aldous, will you take us through?"
She and Betty were standing in the inner lobby of the House of Commons.
The division had just been called and the galleries cleared. Members were
still crowding into the House from the Library, the Terrace, and the
smoking-rooms; and all the approaches to the Chamber itself were filled
with a throng about equally divided between the eagerness of victory and
the anxieties of defeat.
Maxwell took the ladies to the Terrace, and left them there, while he
himself went back to the House. Marcella took a seat by the parapet,
leant both hands upon it, and looked absently at the river and the
clouds. It was a cloudy August night, with a broken, fleecy sky, and
gusts of hot wind from the river. A few figures and groups were moving
about the Terrace in the flickering light and shade--waiting like
"Will you be very sad if it goes wrongly?" said Betty, in a low voice, as
she took her friend's hand in hers.
"Yes--" said Marcella, simply. Then, after a pause, she added, "It will
be all the harder after this time in the North. Everything will have come
There was a silence; then Betty said, not without sheepishness, "Frank's
Marcella smiled. She knew that little Betty had been much troubled by
Frank's tempers of late, and had been haunted by some quite serious
qualms about his loyalty to Maxwell and the Bill. Marcella had never
shared them. Frank Leven had not grit enough to make a scandal and desert
a chief. But Betty's ambition had forced the boy into a life that was
not his; had divided him from the streams and fields, from the country
gentleman's duties and pleasures, that were his natural sphere. In this
hot town game of politics, this contest of brains and ambitions, he was
out of place--was, in fact, wasting both time and capacity. Betty would
have to give way, or the comedy of a lovers' quarrel might grow to
something ill-matched with the young grace and mirth of such a pair of
Marcella meant to tell her friend all this in due time. Now she
could only wait in silence, listening for every sound, Betty's soft
fingers clasping her own, the wind as it blew from the bridge
cooling her hot brow.
"Here they are!" said Betty.
They turned to the open doorway of the House. A rush of feet and voices
approached, and the various groups on the Terrace hurried to meet it.
"Just saved! By George, what a squeak!" said a man's voice in the
distance; and at the same moment Maxwell touched his wife on the
"A majority of ten! Nobody knew how it had gone till the last moment."
She put up her face to him, leaning against him.
"I suppose it means we can't pull through?" He bent to her.
"I should think so. Darling, don't take it to heart so much!"
In the darkness he felt the touch of her lips on his hand. Then she
turned, with a white cheek and smiling mouth, to meet the greetings and
rueful congratulations of the friends that were crowding about them.
The Terrace was soon a moving mass of people, eagerly discussing the
details of the division. The lamps, blown a little by the wind, threw
uncertain lights on faces and figures, as they passed and re-passed
between the mass of building on the one hand and the wavering darkness of
the river on the other. To Marcella, as she stood talking to person after
person--talking she hardly knew what--the whole scene was a dim
bewilderment, whence emerged from time to time faces or movements of
Now it was Dowson, the Home Secretary, advancing to greet her, with his
grey shaven face, eyelids somewhat drooped, and the cool, ambiguous look
of one not quite certain of his reception. He had been for long a close
ally of Maxwell's. Marcella had thought him a true friend. But certainly,
in his conduct of the Bill of late there had been a good deal to suggest
the attitude of a man determined to secure himself a retreat, and
uncertain how far to risk his personal fortunes on a doubtful issue. So
that she found herself talking to him with a new formality, in the tone
of those who have been friends, yet begin to foresee the time when they
may be antagonists.
Or, again, it was Fontenoy--Fontenoy's great head and overhanging brows,
thrown suddenly into light against the windy dusk. He was walking with a
young viscount whose curls, clothes, and shoulders were alike
unapproachable by the ordinary man. This youth could not forbear an
exultant twitching of the lip as he passed the Maxwells. Fontenoy
ceremoniously took off his hat. Marcella had a momentary impression of
the passionate, bull-like force of the man, before he disappeared into
the crowd. His eye had wavered as it met hers. Out of courtesy to the
woman he had tried not to _look_ his triumph.
And now it was quite another face--thin, delicately marked, a noticeable
chin, an outstretched hand.
She was astonished by her own feeling of pleasure.
"Tell me," she said quickly, as she moved eagerly forward--"tell me! is
it about what you expected?"
They turned towards the river. George Tressady hung over the wall
"Yes. I thought it might be anything from eight to twenty."
"I suppose Lord Fontenoy now thinks the end quite certain."
"He may. But the end is not certain!"
"But what can prevent it! The despairing thing for us is, that if the
country had been roused earlier, everything might have been different.
But now the House--"
"Has got out of hand? It may be; but I find a great many people affected
by Lord Maxwell's speeches in the North, and his reception there.
To-day's result was inevitable, but, if I'm not mistaken, we shall now
see a number of new combinations."
The sensitive face became in a moment all intelligence. She played the
politician, and cross-examined him. He hesitated. What he was doing was
already a treachery. But he only hesitated to give way. They lingered by
the wall together, discussing possibilities and persons; and when Maxwell
at last turned from his own conversations to suggest to his wife that it
was time to go home, she came forward with a mien of animation that
surprised him. He greeted Tressady with friendliness, and then, as though
a thought had struck him, suddenly drew the young man aside.
"Ancoats, of course," said George to himself; and Ancoats it was.
Maxwell, without preliminaries, and taking his companion's knowledge of
the story for granted--no doubt on Fontenoy's information--said a few
words about the renewal of the difficulty. Did he not think it had all
begun again? Yes, George had some reason to think so. "If you can do
anything for us--"
"Of course! but what can I do? As we all know, Ancoats does not sit still
to be scolded."
Their colloquy lasted only a minute or two; yet when it was over, and
the Maxwells had gone, George was left with a vivid impression of the
great man's quiet strength and magnanimity. No one could have guessed
from his anxious and well-considered talk on this private matter that he
was in the very heat of a political struggle that must affect all his
own fortunes. Tressady had been accustomed to spend his wit on the
heavier sides of Maxwell's character. To-night, he said to himself, half
in a passion, grudging the confession, that it was not wonderful she
She! The remembrance of how her whole nature had brightened from its