Part 3 out of 6
cloud as he drew out for her his own forecast of what might still happen;
the sweet confidence and charm that she had shown him; the intimacy of
the tone she had allowed between them; the mingling all through of a
delicate abstinence from anything touching on his own personal position,
with an unspoken recognition of it--the impulse of a generosity that
could not help rewarding what seemed to it the yielding of an adversary;
these things filled him with a delicious pleasure as he walked home. In a
hundred directions--political, social, spiritual--the old horizons of the
mind seemed to be lightening and expanding. The cynical, indifferent
temper of his youth was breaking down; the whole man was more
intelligent, capable, tender. Yet what sadness and restlessness of soul
as soon as the brief moment of joy had come and gone!
A few afternoons of Supply encroached upon the eight days that still
remained before the last clause of the Bill came to a division. But the
whole eight days, nevertheless, were filled with the new permutations and
combinations which Tressady had foreseen. The Government carried the
Stepney election, and in other quarters the effects of the speechmaking
in the North began to be visible. Rumours of the syndicate already formed
to take over large numbers of workshops in both the Jewish and Gentile
quarters of the East End, and of the hours and wages that were likely to
obtain in the new factories, were driving a considerable mass of
working-class opinion, which had hitherto held aloof, straight for the
Government, and splitting up much of that which had been purely hostile.
Nevertheless, the situation in the House itself was hardly changing with
the change in the country. The Socialist members very soon developed the
proposal to make the landlords responsible for the carrying-out of the
new Act into a furious general attack on the landlords of London. Their
diatribes kept up the terrors which had already cost the Government so
many men. It was not possible, not seemly, to yield, as Maxwell was
yielding, all along the line to these fellows!
But the Old Liberals, or the New Whigs, as George had expected, were
restless. They felt the country, and they had no affection for landlords
as such. Did a man arise who could give them a lead, there was no saying
how soon they might not break away from the Fontenoy combination.
Fontenoy felt it, and prowled among them like a Satan, urging them to
complete their deed, to give the _coup de grāce_.
On the Wednesday afternoon before the Friday on which he thought the
final vote would be taken, George let himself into his own house about
six o'clock, thankful to feel that he had a quiet evening before him. He
had been wandering about the House of Commons and its appurtenances all
day, holding colloquies with this person and that, unable to see his
way--to come to any decision. And, as was now usual, he and Fontenoy had
been engaged in steering out of each other's way as much as possible.
As he went upstairs he noticed a letter lying on the step. He took it up,
and found an open note, which he read, at first without thinking of it:
"My dear Lady,--Chatsworth can't be done. I have thrown my flies with
great skill, but--no go! I don't seem to have influence enough in that
quarter. But I have various other plans on hand. You shall have a jolly
autumn, if I can manage it. There are some Scotch invitations I can
certainly get you--and I should like to show you the ways of those
parts. By the way, I hope your husband shoots decently. People are very
particular. And you really must consult me about your gowns--I'm deuced
clever at that sort of thing! I shall come to-morrow, when I have packed
off my family to the country. Don't know why God made families!
"George! is that you?" cried Letty from above him, in a voice half angry,
half hesitating; "and--and--that's my note. Please give it me at once."
He finished it under her eyes, then handed it to her with formal
courtesy. They walked into the drawing-room, and George shut the door. He
was very pale, and Letty quailed a little.
"So Cathedine has been introducing us into society," he said, "and
advising you as to your gowns. Was that--quite necessary--do you think?"
"It's very simple what he has been doing," was her angry reply. "You
never take any pains to make life amusing to me, so I must look
elsewhere, if I want society--that's all."
"And it never occurs to you that you are thereby incurring an unseemly
obligation to a man whom I dislike, whom I have warned you against, who
bears everywhere an evil name? You think I am likely to enjoy--to put up
with, even--the position of being asked on sufferance--as your
appendage--provided I 'shoot decently'?"
His tone of scorn, his slight figure, imperiously drawn up, sent her a
challenge, which she answered with sullen haste.
"That's all nonsense, of course! And he wouldn't be rude to you if you
weren't always rude to him."
"Rude to him!" He smiled. "But now, let us get to the bottom of this
thing. Did Cathedine get us the cards for Clarence House--and that
Letty made no answer. She stared at him defiantly, twisting and
untwisting the ribbons of her blue dress.
George reddened hotly. His personal pride in matters of social manners
was one of his strongest characteristics.
"Let me beg you, at any rate, to write and tell Lord Cathedine that we
will not trouble him for any more of these kind offices. And, moreover, I
shall not go to any of these houses in the autumn unless I am quite
certain he has had nothing to do with it."
"I have accepted," said Letty, breathing hard.
"I cannot help that. You should have been frank with me. I am not going
to do what would destroy my own self-respect."
"No--you prefer making love to Lady Maxwell!"
He looked steadily a moment at her pallor and her furious eyes. Then he
said, in another tone:
"Letty, does it ever occur to you that we have not been married yet five
months? Are our relations to each other to go on for ever like this? I
think we might make something better of them."
"That's your lookout. But as to these invitations, I have accepted them,
and I shall go."
"I don't think you will. You would find it wouldn't do. Anyway,
Cathedine must be written to."
"I shall do nothing of the kind!" she cried.
"Then I shall write myself."
She rose, quivering with passion, supporting herself on the arm of
"If you do, I will find some way of punishing you for it. Oh, if I had
never made myself miserable by marrying you!"
Their eyes met. Then he said:
"I think I had better go and dine at the club. We are hardly fit to be
"Go, for heaven's sake!" she said, with a disdainful gesture.
Outside the door he paused a moment, head bent, hands clenched. Then a
wild, passionate look overspread his young face. "It is her evening," he
said to himself. "Letty turns me out. I will go."
Meanwhile Letty stood where he had left her till she had heard the
street-door close. The typical, significant sound knelled to her heart.
She began to walk tempestuously up and down, crying with excitement.
Time passed on. The August evening closed in; and in this deserted London
nobody came to see her. She dined alone, and afterwards spent what seemed
to her interminable hours pacing the drawing-room and meditating. At last
there was a pause in the rush of selfish or jealous feeling which had
been pulsing through her for weeks past, dictating all her actions,
fevering all her thoughts. And there is nothing so desolate as such a
pause, to such a nature. For it means reflection; it means putting one's
life away from one, and looking at it as a whole. And to the Lettys of
this world there is no process more abhorrent--none they will spend more
energy in escaping.
It was inexplicable, intolerable that she should be so unhappy. What was
it that tortured her so--hatred of Marcella Maxwell, or pain that she had
lost her husband? But she had never imagined herself in love with him
when she married him. He had never obtained from her before a tenth part
of the thought she had bestowed upon him during the past six weeks.
During all the time that she had been flirting with Cathedine, and
recklessly placing herself in his power by the favours she asked of him,
she saw now, with a kind of amazement, that she had been thinking
constantly of George, determined to impress him with her social success,
to force him to admire her and think much of her.
Cathedine? Had he any real attraction for her? Why, she was afraid of
him, she knew him to be coarse and brutal, even while she played with him
and sent him on her errands. When she compared him with George--even
George as she had just seen him in this last odious scene--she felt the
tears of anger and despair rising.
But to be forced to dismiss him at George's word, to submit in this
matter of the invitations, to let herself be trampled on, while George
gave all his homage, all his best mind, to Lady Maxwell--something
scorching flew through her veins as she thought of it. Never! never!
She would find, she had already thought of, a startling way of
Late at night George came home. She had locked her door, and he turned
into his dressing-room. When the house was quiet again, she pressed her
face into the pillows, and wept till she was amazed at her own pain, and
must needs turn her rage upon herself.
* * * * *
When Tressady arrived at the house in Mile End Road he found the pretty,
bare room where Marcella held her gatherings full of guests. The East End
had not "gone out of town." The two little workhouse girls, in the
whitest of caps and aprons, were carrying round trays of coffee and
cakes; and beyond the open window was a tiny garden, backed by a huge
Board School and some tall warehouses, yet as pleasant within its own
small space as a fountain and flowers, constantly replenished from
Maxwell Court, could make it.
Amid the medley of workmen, union officials, and members of Parliament
that the room contained, George was set first of all to talk to a young
schoolmaster or two, but he had never felt so little able to adjust his
mind to strangers. The thought of his home miseries burnt within him.
When could he get his turn with her? He was thirsty for the sound of her
voice, the kindness of her eyes.
She had received him with unusual warmth, and an eagerness of look that
seemed to show she had at least as much to say to him as he to her. And
at last his turn came. She took some of her guests into the garden.
George followed, and they found themselves side by side. He noticed that
she was very pale. Yet how was it that fatigue and anxiety instead of
marring her physical charm, only increased it? This thin black dress in
which the tall figure moved so finely, the black lace folded in a fashion
all her own about her neck and breast, the waving lines of hair above the
delicate stateliness of the brow--those slight tragic hollows in cheek
and temple with their tale of spirit and passionate feeling, and all the
ebb and flow of noble life--he had never felt her so rare, so adorable.
"Well! what do you think of it all to-day? Are you still inclined to
prophesy?" she asked him, smiling.
"I might be--if I saw any chance of the man you want. But he doesn't seem
to be forthcoming, and--"
"And to-morrow is the end!"
"The Government has quite made up its mind not to take defeat--not to
She shook her head.
They were standing at the end of the garden, looking into the brightly
lit windows of the Board School, where evening-classes were going on. She
gave a long sigh.
"As for us personally, we can only be thankful to have it over. Neither
of us could have borne it much longer. I suppose, when the crisis is all
over, we shall go away for a long time."
By "the crisis" she meant, of course, the resignation of Ministers and
a change of Government. So that a few days hence she would be no longer
within his reach at all. Maxwell, once out of office, would, no doubt,
for a long while to come prefer to spend the greater part of his time
in Brookshire, away from politics. A sudden sharp perception woke in
Tressady of what it would mean to him to find himself in a world
where, on going out of a morning, it would be no longer possible to
come across her.
At last she broke the silence.
"How little I really thought, in spite of all one's anxiety, that Lord
Fontenoy was going to win! He has played his cards amazingly well."
George took no notice. Thoughts were whirling in his brain.
"What would you say to me, I wonder," he said at last, "if _I_ were to
try the part?"
He spoke in a bantering tone, poking at the black London earth with
"Well, it seems to me I might put the case. One wants to argue the thing
in a common-sense way. I don't feel towards this clause as I did towards
the others. I know a good many men don't."
He turned to her with a light composure.
She stared in bewilderment.
"I don't understand."
"Well; why shouldn't one put the case? We have always counted on the
hostility of the country. But the country seems to be coming round. Some
of us now feel the Bill should have its chance--we are inclined to let
Ministers take the responsibility. But, gracious heavens!--to suppose the
House would pay any attention to me!"
He took up a stone and jerked it over the wall. She did not speak for a
moment. At last she said:
"It would be a grave thing for _you_ to do."
He turned, and their eyes met, hers full of emotion, and his hesitating
and reflective. Then he laughed, his pride stung a little by her
"You think I should do myself more harm, than good to anybody else?"
"No.--Only it would be serious," she repeated after a pause.
Instantly he dropped the subject as far as his own action was
concerned. He led her back into discussion of other people, and of the
situation in general.
Then suddenly, as they talked, a host of thoughts fled cloud-like,
rising and melting, through Marcella's memory. She remembered with what
prestige--considering his youth and inexperience--he had entered
Parliament, the impression made by the short and brilliant campaign of
his election. Now, since the real struggle of the session had begun, his
energies seemed to have been unaccountably in abeyance, and eclipse.
People she noticed had ceased to talk of him. But supposing, after all,
there had been a crisis of mind and conviction underlying it?--supposing
that now, at the last moment, in a situation that cried out for a
leader, something should suddenly release his powers and gifts to do
their proper work--
It vexed her to realise her own excitement, together with an odd
shrinking and reluctance that seemed to be fighting with it. All in a
moment, to Tressady's astonishment, she recalled the conversation to the
point where it had turned aside.
"And you think--you _really_ think"--her voice had a nervous appealing
note--"that even at this eleventh hour--No, I don't understand!--I
_can't_ understand!--why, or how you should still think it possible to
change things enough!"
He felt a sting of pleasure, and the passing sense of hurt pride was
soothed. At least he had conquered her attention, her curiosity!
"I am sure that anything might still happen," he said stubbornly.
"Well, only let it be settled!" she said, trying to speak lightly, "else
there will be nothing left of some of us."
She raised her hand, and pushed back her hair with a childish gesture of
weariness, that was quite unconscious, and therefore touching.
As she spoke, indeed, the thought of a strong man harassed with overwork,
and patiently preparing to lay down his baffled task, and all his
cherished hopes, captured her mind, brought a quick rush of tears even to
her eyes. Tressady looked at her; he saw the moisture in the eyes, the
reddening of the cheek, the effort for self-control.
"Why do you let yourself feel it so much?" he said resentfully; "it is
not natural, nor right."
"That's our old quarrel, isn't it?" she answered, smiling.
He was staring at the ground again, poking with his stick.
"There are so many things one _must_ feel," he said in a bitter low
voice; "one may as well try to take politics calmly."
She looked down upon him, understanding, but not knowing how to meet him,
how to express herself. His words and manner were a confession of
personal grief,--almost an appeal to her,--the first he had ever made.
Yet how to touch the subject of his marriage! She shrank from it
painfully. What ominous, disagreeable things she had heard lately of the
young Lady Tressady from people she trusted! Why, oh! why had he ruined
his own life in such a way!
And with the yearning towards all suffering which was natural to her,
there mingled so much else--inevitable softness and gratitude for that
homage towards herself, which had begun to touch and challenge all the
loving, responsive impulse which was at the root of her character--an
eager wish to put out a hand and guide him--all tending to shape in her
this new longing to rouse him to some critical and courageous action,
action which should give him at least the joy that men get from the
strenuous use of natural powers, from the realisation of themselves. And
through it all the most divinely selfish blindness to the real truth of
the situation! Yet she tried not to think of Maxwell--she wished to think
only of and for her friend.
After his last words they stood side by side in silence for a few
moments. But the expression of her eyes, of her attitude, was all
sympathy. He must needs feel that she cared, she understood, that his
life, his pain, his story mattered to her. At last she said, turning her
face away from him, and from the few people who had not yet left the
garden to go and listen to some music that was going on in the
"Sometimes, the best way to forget one's own troubles--don't you
think?--is to put something else first for a time--perhaps in your
case, the public life and service. Mightn't it be? Suppose you thought it
all really out, what you have been saying to me--gave yourself up to
it--and then _determined_. Perhaps afterwards--"
She paused--overcome with doubt, even shyness--and very pale too, as she
turned to him again. But so beautiful! The very perplexity which spoke in
the gently quivering face as it met his, made her lovelier in his eyes.
It seemed to strike down some of the barrier between them, to present her
to him as weaker, more approachable.
But after waiting a moment, he gave a little harsh laugh.
"Afterwards, when one has somehow settled other people's affairs, one
might see straighter in one's own? Is that what you mean?"
"I meant," she said, speaking with difficulty, "what I have often
found--myself--that it helps one sometimes, to throw oneself altogether
into something outside one's own life, in a large disinterested way.
Afterwards, one comes back to one's own puzzles--with a fresh strength
"Hope!" he said despondently, with a quick lifting of the shoulders.
Then, in another tone--
"So that's your advice to me--to take this thing seriously--to take
myself seriously--to think it out?"
"Yes, yes," she said eagerly; "don't trifle with it--with what you might
think and do--till it is too late to think and do anything."
Suddenly it flashed across them both how far they had travelled since
their first meeting in the spring. Her mind filled with a kind of dread,
an uneasy sense of responsibility--then with a tremulous consciousness of
power. It was as though she felt something fluttering like a bird in her
hands. And all the time there echoed through her memory a voice speaking
in a moonlit garden--"You know--you don't mind my saying it?--nobody is
No, but there may be honest advance and change--why not? And if she had
influenced him--was it not Maxwell's work and thought that had spoken
"Well, anyway," said Tressady's voice beside her, "whatever
"That you won't help to give us the _coup de grāce_ unless you must?" she
said, half laughing, yet with manifest emotion. "Anyway, I should have
"And you really care so much?" he asked her again, looking at her
She suddenly dropped her head upon her hands. They were alone now in the
moonlit garden, and she was leaning over the low wall that divided them
from the school enclosure. But before he could say anything--before he
could even move closer to her--she had raised her face again, and drawn
her hand rapidly across her eyes.
"I suppose one is tired and foolish after all these weeks," she said,
with a breaking voice--"I apologise. You see when one comes to see
everything through another's eyes--to live in another's life--" He felt
a sudden stab, then a leap of joy--hungry, desolate joy--that she should
thus admit him to the very sanctuary of her heart--let him touch the
"very pulse of the machine." At the same moment that it revealed the
eternal gulf between them, it gave him a delicious passionate sense of
"You have--a marvellous idea of marriage"--he said, under his breath, as
he moved slowly beside her towards the house.
She made no answer. In another minute she was talking to him of
indifferent things, and immediately afterwards he found himself parted
from her in the crowd of the drawing-room.
When the party dispersed and he was walking alone towards Aldgate through
the night, he could do nothing but repeat to himself fragments of what
she had said to him--lost all the time in a miserable yearning memory of
her eyes and voice.
His mind was made up. And as he lay sleepless and solitary through the
night, he scarcely thought any more of the strait to which his married
life had come. Forty-eight hours hence he should have time for that. For
the present he had only to "think out" how it might be possible for him
to turn doubt and turmoil into victory, and lay the crown of it at
Marcella Maxwell's feet.
Meanwhile Marcella, on her return to St. James's Square, put her hands on
Maxwell's shoulders, and said to him, in a voice unlike herself: "Sir
George Tressady was at the party to-night. I _think_ he may be going to
throw Lord Fontenoy over. Don't be surprised if he speaks in that sense
Maxwell looked extraordinarily perturbed.
"I hope he will do nothing of the kind," he said, with decision. "It will
do him enormous harm. All the conviction he has ever shown has been the
other way. It will be thought to be a mere piece of caprice and
Marcella said nothing. She walked away from him, her hands clasped behind
her, her soft skirt trailing--a pale muse of meditation--meditation in
which for once she did not invite him to share.
"Tressady, by all that's wonderful!" said a member of Fontenoy's party to
his neighbour. "What's _he_ got to say?"
The man addressed bent forward, with his hands on his knees, to look
eagerly at the speaker.
"I knew there was something up," he said. "Every time I have come across
Tressady to-day he has been deep with one or other of those fellows"--he
jerked his head towards the Liberal benches. "I saw him buttonholing
Green in the Library, then with Speedwell on the Terrace. And just look
at their benches! They're as thick as bees! Yes, by George! there _is_
His young sportsman's face flushed with excitement, and he tried hard
through the intervening heads to get a glimpse of Fontenoy. But nothing
was to be seen of the leader but a hat jammed down over the eyes, a
square chin, and a pair of folded arms.
The House, indeed, throughout the day had worn an aspect which, to the
experienced observer--to the smooth-faced Home Secretary, for instance,
watching the progress of this last critical division--meant that
everything was possible, the unexpected above all. Rumours gathered and
died away. Men might be seen talking with unaccustomed comrades; and
those who were generally most frank had become discreet. It was known
that Fontenoy's anxiety had been growing rapidly; and it was noticed that
he and the young viscount who acted as the Whip of the party had kept an
extraordinarily sharp watch on all their own men through the dinner-hour.
Fontenoy himself had spoken before dinner, throwing scorn upon the
clause, as the ill-conceived finish of an impossible Bill. So the
landlords were to be made the executants, the police, of this precious
Act? Every man who let out a tenement-house in workmen's dwellings was to
be haled before the law and punished if a tailor on his premises did his
work at home, if a widow took in shirtmaking to keep her children. Pass,
for the justice or the expediency of such a law in itself. But who but a
madman ever supposed you could get it carried out! What if the landlords
refused or neglected their part? _Quis custodiet?_ And was Parliament
going to make itself ridiculous by setting up a law, which, were it a
thousand times desirable, you simply could not enforce?
The speech was delivered with amazing energy. It abounded in savage
epigram and personality; and a month before it would have had great
effect. Every Englishman has an instinctive hatred of paper reforms.
During the dinner-hour Tressady met Fontenoy in the Lobby, and
suddenly stopped to speak. The young man was deeply flushed and
holding himself stiffly erect. "If you want me," he said--"you will
find me in the Library. I don't want to spring anything upon you. You
shall know all I know."
"Thank you," said the other with slow bitterness--"but we can look after
ourselves. I think you and I understood each other this morning."
The two men parted abruptly. Tressady walked on, stung and excited afresh
by the memory of the hateful half hour he had spent that morning in
Fontenoy's library. For after all, when once he had come to his decision,
he had tried to behave with frankness, with consideration.
Fontenoy hurried on to look for the young viscount with the curls and
shoulders, and the two men stood about the inner lobby together, Fontenoy
sombrely watching everybody who came out or in.
It was about ten o'clock when Tressady caught the Speaker's eye. He
rose in a crowded House, a House conscious not only that the division
shortly to be taken would decide the fate of a Government, but vaguely
aware, besides, that something else was involved--one of those
personal incidents that may at any moment make the dullest piece of
routine dramatic, or rise into history by the juxtaposition of some
The House had not yet made up its opinion about him as a speaker. He had
done well; then, not so well. And, moreover, it was so long since he had
taken any part in debate that the House had had time to forget whatever
qualities he might once have shown.
His bearing and voice won him a first point. For youth, well-bred and
well-equipped, the English House of Commons has always shown a
peculiar indulgence. Then members began to bend eagerly forward, to
crane necks, to put hands to ears. The Treasury Bench was seen to be
listening as one man.
Before the speech was over many of those present had already recognised
in it a political event of the first order. The speaker had traced with
great frankness his own relation to the Bill--from an opinion which was
but a prejudice, to a submission which was still half repugnance. He drew
attention to the remarkable and growing movement in support of the
Maxwell policy which was now spreading throughout the country, after a
period of coolness and suspended judgment; he pointed to the probable
ease with which, as it was now seen, the "harassed trades" would adapt
themselves to the new law; he showed that the House, in at least three
critical divisions, and under circumstances of enormous difficulty, had
still affirmed the Bill; that the country, during the progress of the
measure, had rallied unmistakably to the Government, and that all that
remained was a question of machinery. That being so, he--and, he
believed, some others--had reconsidered their positions. Their electoral
pledges, in their opinion, no longer held, though they would be ready at
any moment to submit themselves to consequences, if consequences there
were to be.
Then, taking up the special subject-matter of the clause, he threw
himself upon his leader's speech with a nervous energy, an information,
and a resource which held the House amazed. He tore to pieces
Fontenoy's elaborate attack, showed what practical men thought of the
clause, and with what careful reliance upon their opinion and their
experience it had been framed; and, finally--with a reference not
lacking in a veiled passion that told upon the House, to those "dim
toiling thousands" whose lot, "as it comes to work upon the mind, is
daily perplexing if not transforming the thoughts and ideals of such men
as I"--he, in the plainest terms, announced his intention of voting with
the Government, and sat down, amid the usual mingled storm, in a
shouting and excited House.
The next hour passed in a tumult. One speaker after another got up from
the Liberal benches--burly manufacturers and men of business, who had so
far held a strong post in the army of resistance--to tender their
submission, to admit that the fight had gone far enough, that the country
was against them, and that the Bill must be borne. What use, too, in
turning out a Government which would either be sent back with redoubled
strength or replaced by combinations that had no attractions whatever
from men of moderate minds? Sadness reigned in the speeches of this
Liberal remnant; nor could the House from time to time forbear to jeer
them. But they made their purpose plain, and the Government Whip,
standing near the door, gleefully struck off name after name from his
Then followed the usual struggle between the division that all men
wanted and the speakers that no man could endure. But at last the bell
was rung, the House cleared. As Tressady turned against the stream of
his party, Fontenoy, with a sarcastic smile, stood elaborately aside to
let him pass.
"We shall soon know what you have cost us," he said hoarsely in
Tressady's ear; then, advancing a little towards the centre of the
floor, he looked up markedly and deliberately at the Ladies' Gallery.
Tressady made no reply. He held his fair head higher than usual as he
passed on his unaccustomed way to the Aye Lobby. Many an eager eye
strained back to see how many recruits would join him as he reached the
Front Opposition Bench; many a Parliamentary Nestor watched the young
man's progress with a keenness born of memory--memory that burnt anew
with the battles of the past.
"Do you remember Chandos," said one old man to another--"young Chandos,
that went for Peel in '46 against his party? It was my first year in
Parliament. I can see him now. He was something like this young fellow."
"But _his_ ratting changed nothing," said his companion, with an uneasy
laugh; and they both struggled forward among the Noes.
Twenty minutes later the tellers were at the table, and the moment that
was to make or mar a great Ministry had come.
"Ayes, 306; Noes, 280. The Ayes have it!"
"By Jove, he's done it!--the Judas!" cried a young fellow, crimson with
excitement, who was standing beside Fontenoy!
"Yes--he's done it!" said Fontenoy, with grim composure, though the hand
that held his hat shook. "The curtain may now fall."
"Where is he?" shouted the hot bloods around him, hooting and groaning,
as their eyes searched the House for the man who had thus, in an
afternoon, pulled down and defeated all their hopes.
But Tressady was nowhere to be seen. He had left the House just as the
great news, surging like a wave through Lobby and corridor, reached a
group of people waiting in a Minister's private room--and Marcella
Maxwell knew that all was won.
"I Shall go straight to Brook Street, and see if I can be a comfort to
Letty," said Mrs. Watton, with a tone and air, however, that seemed to
class her rather with the Sons of Thunder than the Sons of Consolation.
She was standing on the steps of the Ladies' Gallery entrance to the
House of Commons, and Harding, who had just called a cab for her, was
"Could you see from the Gallery whether George had left?"
"He was still there when I came down," said Mrs. Watton, ungraciously, as
though she grudged to talk of such a monster. "I saw him near the door
while they hooted him. But, anyway, I should go to Letty--I don't forget
that I am her only relative in town."
As a matter of fact, her eyes had played her false. But the wrath with
which her large face and bonnet were shaking was cause enough for
"Then I'll go, too," said Harding, who had been hesitating. "No doubt
Tressady'll stay for his thanks! But I daresay we sha'n't find Letty at
home yet. I know she was to go to the Lucys' to-night."
"Poor lamb!" said Mrs. Watton, throwing up her hands.
"Oh! Letty won't take it like a lamb--you'll see!"
"What can a woman do?" said his mother, scornfully. "A decent woman, I
mean, whom one can still have in one's house. All she can do is to cry,
and take a district."
When they reached Upper Brook Street, the butler reported that his
mistress had just come in. He made, of course, no difficulty about
admitting Lady Tressady's aunt, and Mrs. Watton sailed up to the
drawing-room, followed by Harding, who carried his head poked forward, as
was usual to him, an opera-hat under his arm, and an eyeglass swinging
from a limp wrist.
As they entered the drawing-room door, Letty, in full evening-dress, was
standing with her back to them. She had the last edition of an evening
paper open before her, so that her small head and shoulders seemed buried
in the sheet. And so eager was her attention to what she was reading that
she had not heard their approach.
"Letty!" said Mrs. Watton.
Her niece turned with a violent start.
"My dear Letty!" The aunt approached, quivering with majestic sympathy,
both hands outstretched.
Letty looked at her a moment, frowning; then recoiled impatiently,
without taking any notice of the hands.
"So I see George has spoken against his party. There has been a scene.
What has happened? What's the end?"
"Only that the Government has won its clause," said Harding, interposing
his smooth falsetto--"won by a substantial majority, too. No chance of
the Lords playing the fool!"
"The Government has won?--the Maxwells have won, that is,--she has won!"
said Letty, still frowning, her voice sharp and tingling.
"If you like to put it so," said Harding, raising his shoulders. "Yes, I
should think that set's pretty jubilant to-night."
"And you mean to say that George did and said nothing to prepare you, my
poor child?" cried Mrs. Watton, in her heaviest manner. She had picked up
the newspaper, and was looking with disgust at the large head-lines with
which the hastily printed sheet strove to eke out the brevity of the few
words in which it announced the speech of the evening: "_Scene in the
House of Commons--Break-down of the Resistance to the Bill--Sir George
Tressady's Speech--Unexampled Excitement_."
Letty breathed fast.
"He said something a day or two ago about a change, but of course I never
believed--He has disgraced himself!"
She began to pace stormily up and down the room, her white skirts
floating behind her, her small hands pulling at her gloves. Harding
Watton stood looking on in an attitude of concern, one pensive finger
laid upon his lip.
"Well, my dear Letty," said Mrs. Watton, impressively, as she laid down
the newspaper, "the only thing to be done is to take him away. Let people
forget it--if they can. And let me tell you, for your comfort, that he is
not the first man, by a long way, that woman has led astray--nor will he
be the last."
Letty's pale cheeks flamed into red. She stopped. She turned upon her
comforter with eyes of hot resentment and dislike.
"And they dare to say that he did it for her! What right has anybody
to say it?"
Mrs. Watton stared. Harding slowly and compassionately shook his head.
"I am afraid the world dares to say a great many unpleasant things--don't
you know? One has to put up with it. Lady Maxwell has a characteristic
way of doing things. It's like a painter: one can't miss the touch."
"No more than one can mistake a saying of Harding Watton's," said a
vibrating voice behind them.
And there in the open doorway stood Tressady, pale, spent, and
hollow-eyed, yet none the less the roused master of the house, determined
to assert himself against a couple of intruders.
Letty looked at him in silence, one foot beating the ground. Harding
started, and turned aside to search for his opera-hat, which he had
deposited upon the sofa. Mrs. Watton was quite unabashed.
"We did not expect you so soon," she said, holding out a chilly hand.
"And I daresay you will misunderstand our being here. I cannot help that.
It seemed to me my duty, as Letty's nearest relative in London, to come
here and condole with her to-night on this deplorable event."
"I don't know what you mean," said Tressady, coolly, his hand on his
side. "Are you speaking of the division?"
Mrs. Watton threw up her hands and her eyebrows. Then, gathering up her
dress, she marched across the room to Letty.
"Good-night, Letty. I should have been glad to have had a quiet talk with
you, but as your husband's come in I shall go. Oh! I'm not the person to
interfere between husband and wife. Get him to tell you, if you can,
_why_ he has disappointed the friends and supporters who got him into
Parliament; why he has broken all his promises, and given everybody the
right to pity his unfortunate young wife! Oh! don't alarm yourself, Sir
George! I say my mind, but I'm going. I know very well that I am
intruding. Good-night. Letty understands that she will always find
sympathy in _my_ house."
And the fierce old lady swept to the door, holding the culprit with her
eyes. Harding, too, stepped up to Letty, who was standing now by the
mantelpiece, with her back to the room. He took the hand hanging by her
side, and folded it ostentatiously in both of his.
"Good-night, dear little cousin," he said, in his most affected voice.
"If you have any need of us, command us."
"Are you going?" said Tressady. His brow was curiously wrinkled.
Harding made him a bow, and walked with rather sidling steps to the door.
Tressady followed him to the landing, called to the butler, who was still
up, and ceremoniously told him to get Mrs. Watton a cab. Then he walked
back to the drawing-room, and shut the door behind him.
His tone startled her. She looked round hastily.
"Letty! you were defending me as I came in."
He was extraordinarily pale--his blue eyes flashed. Every trace of the
hauteur with which he had treated the Wattons had disappeared.
Letty recovered herself in an instant. The moment he showed softness she
became the tyrant.
"Don't come!--don't touch me!" she said passionately, putting out her
hand as he approached her. "If I defended you, it was just for decency's
sake. You _have_ disgraced us both. It is perfectly true what Aunt Watton
says. I don't suppose we shall ever get over it. Oh! don't try to bully
me"--for Tressady had turned away with an impatient groan. "It's no use.
I know you think me a little fool! _I'm_ not one of your great political
ladies, who pretend to know everything that they may keep men dangling
after them. I don't pose and play the hypocrite, as some--some people do.
But, all the same, I know that you have done for yourself, and that
people will say the most disgraceful things. Of course they will! And you
can't deny them--you know you can't. Why did you never tell me a thing?
_Who_ made you change over? Ah! you can't answer--or you won't!"
Tressady was walking up and down with folded arms. He paused at her
"Why didn't I tell you? Do you remember that I wanted to talk to you
yesterday morning--that I suggested you should come and hear my
speech--and you wouldn't have it? You didn't care about politics, you
said, and weren't going to pretend.--What made me go over? Well--I
changed my mind--to some extent," he said slowly.
"To some extent?" She laughed scornfully, mimicking his voice. "_To
some extent_! Are you going to try and make me believe there was
"No. As I walked home to-night I determined not to conceal the truth
from you. Opinions counted for something. I voted--yes, taking all
things together, I think it may be said that I voted honestly. But I
should never have taken the part I did but--" he hesitated, then went
on deliberately--"but that I had come to have a strong--wish--to give
Lady Maxwell her heart's desire. She has been my friend. I repaid her
what I could."
Letty, half beside herself, flung at him a shower of taunts hysterical
and hardly intelligible. He showed no emotion. "Of course," he said
disdainfully, "if you choose to repeat this to others you will do us both
great damage. I suppose I can't help it. For anybody else in the
world--for Mrs. Watton and her son, for instance--I have a perfectly good
political defence, and I shall defend myself stoutly. I have no intention
whatever of playing the penitent in public."
And what, she asked him, striving with all her might to regain the
self-command which could alone enable her to wound him, to get the
mastery--what was to be her part in this little comedy? Did he expect
_her_ to put up with this charming situation--to take what Marcella
"No," he said abruptly. "You have no right to reproach me or her in any
vulgar way. But I recognise that the situation is impossible. I shall
probably leave Parliament and London."
She stared at him in speechless passion, then suddenly gathered up her
fan and gloves and fled past him.
He caught at her, and stopped her, holding her satin skirt.
"My poor child!" he cried in remorse; "bear with me, Letty--and
"I hate you!" she said fiercely, "and I will never forgive you!"
She wrenched her dress away; he heard her quick steps across the floor
and up the stairs.
Tressady fell into a chair, broken with exhaustion. His day in the House
of Commons alone would have tried any man's nervous strength; this final
scene had left him in a state to shrink from another word, another sound.
He must have dozed as he sat there from pure fatigue, for he found
himself waking suddenly, with a sense of chill, as the August dawn was
penetrating the closed windows and curtains.
He sprang up, and pulled the curtains back with a stealthy hand, so as to
make no noise. Then he opened the window and stepped out upon the
balcony, into a misty haze of sun.
The morning air blew upon him, and he drew it in with delight. How
blessed was the sun, and the silence of the streets, and the dappled sky
there to the east, beyond the Square!
After those long hours of mental tension in the crowd and heat of the
House of Commons, what joy! what physical relief! He caught eagerly at
the sensation of bodily pleasure, driving away his cares, letting the
morning freshness recall to him a hundred memories--the memories of a
traveller who has seen much, and loved Nature more than man. Blue
surfaces of rippling sea, cool steeps among the mountains, streams
brawling over their stones, a thousand combinations of grass and trees
and sun--these things thronged through his brain, evoked by the wandering
airs of this pale London sunrise and the few dusty plains which he could
see to his right, behind the Park railings. And, like heralds before the
presence, these various images flitted, passed, drew to one side, while
memory in trembling revealed at last the best she had--an English river
flowing through June meadows under a heaven of flame, a woman with a
child, the scents of grass and hawthorn, the plashing of water.
He hung over the balcony, dreaming.
But before long he roused himself, and went back into the house. The
gaudy drawing-room looked singularly comfortless and untidy in the
delicate purity of the morning light. The flowers Letty had worn in her
dress the night before were scattered on the floor, and the evening paper
lay on the chair, where she had flung it down.
He stood in the centre of the room, his head raised, listening. No sound.
Surely she was asleep. In spite of all the violence she had shown in
their after-talk, the memory of her speech to Mrs. Watton lingered in the
young fellow's mind. It astonished him to realise, as he stood there, in
this morning silence, straining to hear if his wife were moving overhead,
how, _pari passu_ with the headlong progress of his act of homage to the
one woman, certain sharp perceptions with regard to the other had been
rising in his mind.
His life had been singularly lacking till now in any conscious moral
strain. That a man's desires should outrun his conscience had always
seemed to him, on the whole, the normal human state. But all sorts of new
standards and ideals had begun to torment him since the beginning of his
friendship with Marcella Maxwell, and a hundred questions that had never
yet troubled him were even now pressing through his mind as to his
relations to his wife, and the inexorableness of his debt towards her.
Moreover, he had hardly left the House of Commons and its uproar--his
veins were still throbbing with the excitement of the division--when a
voice said to him, "This is the end! You have had your 'moment'--now
leave the stage before any mean anti-climax comes to spoil it all. Go.
Break your life across. Don't wait to be dismissed and shaken off--take
her gratitude with you, and go!"
Ah! but not yet--not yet! He sat down before his wife's little
writing-table, and buried his face in his hands, while his heart burnt
with longing. One day--then he would accept his fate, and try and mend
both his own life and Letty's.
Would it be generous to drop out of her ken at once, leave the gift
in her lap, and say nothing? Ah! but he was not capable of it. His
act must have its price. Just one half hour with her--face to face.
Then, shut the door--and, good-bye! What was there to fear? He could
control himself. But after all these weeks, after their conversation
of the night before, to go away without a word would be
discourteous--unkind even--almost a confession to her of the whys and
wherefores of what he had done.
He had a book of hers which he had promised to return. It was a precious
little manuscript book, containing records written out by herself of
lives she had known among the poor. She prized it much, and had begged
him to keep it safe and return it.
He took it out of his pocket, looked at it, and put it carefully back. In
a few hours the little book should pass him into her presence. The
impulse that possessed him barred for the moment all remorse, all regret.
Then he looked for paper and pen and began to write.
He sat for some time, absorbed in his task, doing his very best with it.
It was a letter to his constituents, and it seemed to him he must have
been thinking of it in his sleep, so easily did the sentences run.
No doubt, ill-natured gossip of the Watton type would be humming and
hissing round her name for the next few days. Well, let him write his
letter as well as he could, and publish it as soon as possible! It took
him about an hour and a half, and when he read it over it appeared to him
the best piece of political statement he had yet achieved. Very likely it
would make Fontenoy more savage still. But Fontenoy's tone and attitude
in the House of Commons had been already decisive. The breech between
them was complete.
He put the sheets down at last, groaning within himself. Fustian and
emptiness! What would ever give him back his old self-confidence, the gay
whole-heartedness with which he had entered Parliament? But the thing had
to be done, and he had done it efficiently. Moreover, the brain-exercise
had acted as a tonic; his tension of nerve had returned. He stood beside
the window once more, looking out into a fast-awakening London with an
absent and frowning eye. He was thinking out the next few hours.
* * * * *
A little after eight Letty was roused from a restless sleep by the sound
of a closing door. She rang hastily, and Grier appeared.
"Who was that went out?"
"Sir George, my lady. He's just dressed and left word that he had gone to
take a packet to the 'Pall Mall' office. He said it must be there early,
and he would breakfast at his club."
Letty sat up in bed, and bade Grier draw the curtains, and be quick
in bringing her what she wanted. The maid glanced inquisitively,
first at her mistress's haggard looks, then at the writing-table, as
she passed it on her way to draw the blinds. The table was littered
with writing-materials; some torn sheets had been transferred to the
waste-paper basket, and a sealed letter was lying, address
downwards, on the blotting-book. Letty, however, did not encourage
her to talk. Indeed, she found herself sent away, and her mistress
dressed without her.
Half an hour later Letty in her hat and cape slipped out of her room. She
looked over the banisters into the hall. No one was to be seen, and she
ran downstairs to the hall-door, which closed softly behind her. Five
minutes later a latch-key turned quietly in the lock, and Letty
reappeared. She went rapidly up to her room, a pale, angry ghost,
glancing from side to side.
"Is Lady Maxwell at home?"
The butler glanced doubtfully at the inquirer.
"Sir George Tressady, I believe, sir? I will go and ask, if you will
kindly wait a moment. Her ladyship does not generally see visitors in
"Tell her, please, that I have brought a parcel to return to her."
The butler retired, and shortly appeared at the corner of the stairs
beckoning to the visitor. George mounted.
They passed through the outer drawing-room, and the servant drew aside
the curtain of the inner room. Was it February again? The scent of
hyacinth and narcissus seemed to be floating round him.
There was a hasty movement, and a tall figure came with a springing step
to meet him.
"Sir George! How kind of you to come! I wish Maxwell were in. He would
have enjoyed a chat with you so much. But Lord Ardagh sent him a note at
breakfast-time, and he has just gone over to Downing Street. Hallin,
move your puzzle a little, and make a way for Sir George to pass. Will
you sit there?"
Hallin sprang up readily enough at the sight of his friend Sir George,
put a fat hand into his, and then gave his puzzle-map of Europe a
vigorous push to one side that drove Crete helplessly into the arms of
the United Kingdom.
"Oh! what a muddle!" cried his mother, laughing, and standing to look at
the disarray. "You must try, Hallin, and see if you can straighten it
out--as Sir George straightened out father's Bill for him last night."
She turned to him; but the softness of her eyes was curiously veiled. It
struck George at once that she was not at her ease--that there had been
embarrassment in her very greeting of him.
They began to talk of the debate. She asked him minutely about the
progress of the combination that had defeated Fontenoy. They discussed
this or that man's attitude, or they compared the details of the division
with those of the divisions which had gone before.
All through it seemed to Tressady that the person sitting in his chair
and talking politics was a kind of automaton, with which the real George
Tressady had very little to do. The automaton wore a grey summer suit,
and seemed to be talking shrewdly enough, though with occasional lapses
and languors. The real Tressady sat by, and noted what passed. "_How pale
she is! She is not really happy--or triumphant. How she avoids all
personal talk--nothing to be said_, _or hardly, of my part in it--my
effort. Ah! she praises my speech, but with no warmth--I see! she would
rather not owe such a debt to me. Her mind is troubled--perhaps
Maxwell?--or some vile talk?"_
Meanwhile, all that Marcella perceived was that the man beside her
became gradually more restless and more silent. She sat near him, with
Hallin at her feet, her beautiful head held a little stiffly, her eyes
at once kind and reserved. Nothing could have been simpler than her cool
grey dress, her quiet attitude. Yet it seemed to him he had never felt
her dignity so much--a moral dignity, infinitely subtle and exquisite,
which breathed not only from her face and movements, but from the room
about her--the room which held the pictures she loved, the books she
read, the great pots of wild flowers or branching green it was her joy
to set like jewels in its shady corners. He looked round it from time to
time. It had for him the associations and the scents of a shrine, and he
would never see it again! His heart swelled within him. The strange
double sense died away.
Presently, Hallin, having put his puzzle safely into its box, ran off to
his lessons. His mother looked after him, wistfully. And he had no sooner
shut the door than Tressady bent forward. "You see--I thought it out!"
"Yes indeed!" she said, "and to some purpose."
But her voice was uncertain, and veiled like her eyes. Something in her
reluctance to meet him, to talk it over, both alarmed and stung him. What
was wrong? Had she any grievance against him? Had he so played his part
as to offend her in any way? He searched his memory anxiously, his
self-control, that he had been so sure of, failing him fast.
"It was a strange finish to the session--wasn't it?" he said, looking at
her. "We didn't think it would end so, when we first began to argue. What
a queer game it all is! Well, my turn of it will have been exciting
enough--though short. I can't say, however, that I shall much regret
putting down the cards. I ought never to have taken a hand."
She turned to him, in flushed dismay.
"You _are_ thinking of leaving Parliament? But why--_why_ should you?"
"Oh yes!--I am quite clear about that," he said deliberately. "It was
not yesterday only. I am of no use in Parliament. And the only use it
has been to me, is to show me--that--well!--that I have no party really,
and no convictions. London has been a great mistake. I must get out of
it--if only--lest my private life should drift on a rock and go to
pieces. So far as I know it has brought me one joy only, one happiness
only--to know you!"
He turned very pale. The hand that was lying on her lap suddenly shook.
She raised it hastily, took some flowers out of a jar of poppies and
grass that was standing near, and nervously put them back again. Then she
said gently, almost timidly:
"I owe a great deal to your friendship. My mind--please believe it--is
full of thanks. I lay awake last night, thinking of all the thousands of
people that speech of yours would save--all the lives that hang upon it."
"I never thought of them at all," he said abruptly. His heart seemed to
be beating in his throat.
She shrank a little. Evidently her presence of mind failed her, and he
"I never thought of them," he repeated, "or, at least, they weighed with
me as nothing compared with another motive. As for the thing itself, by
the time yesterday arrived I had given up my judgment to yours--I had
simply come to think that what you wished was good. A force I no longer
questioned drove me on to help you to your end. That was the whole secret
of last night. The rest was only means to a goal."
But he paused. He saw that she was trembling--that the tears were
in her eyes.
"I have been afraid," she said, trying hard for composure--"it has been
weighing upon me all through these hours--that--I had been putting a
claim--a claim of my own forward." It seemed hardly possible for her to
find the words. "And I have been realising the issues for _you_, feeling
bitterly that I had done a great wrong--if it were not a matter of
conviction--in--in wringing so much from a friend. This morning
everything,--the victory, the joy of seeing hard work bear fruit,--it has
all been blurred to me."
He gazed at her a moment--fixing every feature, every line upon
"Don't let it be," he said quietly, at last. "I have had my great moment.
It does not fall to many to feel as I felt for about an hour last night.
I had seen you in trouble and anxiety for many weeks. I was able to
brush them away, to give you relief and joy,--at least, I thought I
was"--he drew himself up with a half-impatient smile. "Sometimes I
suspected that--that your kindness might be troubled about me; but I said
to myself, 'that will pass away, and the solid thing--the fact--will
remain. She longed for this particular thing. She shall have it. And if
the truth is as she supposes it,--why not?--there are good men and keen
brains with her--what has been done will go on gladdening and satisfying
her year by year. As for me, I shall have acknowledged, shall have
He hesitated--paused--looked up.
A sudden terror seized her--her lips parted.
"Don't--don't say these things!" she said, imploring, lifting her hand.
It was like a child flinching from a punishment.
He smiled unsteadily, trying to master himself, to find a way through the
tumult of feeling.
"Won't you listen to me?" he said at last, "I sha'n't ever trouble
She could make no reply. Intolerable gratitude and pain held her, and he
went on speaking, gazing straight into her shrinking face.
"It seems to me," he said slowly, "the people who grow up in the dry and
mean habit of mind that I grew up in, break through in all sorts of
different ways. Art and religion--I suppose they change and broaden a
man. I don't know. I am not an artist--and religion talks to me of
something I don't understand. To me, to know you has broken down the
walls, opened the windows. It always used to come natural to me--well!
to think little of people, to look for the mean, ugly things in them,
especially in women. The only people I admired were men of
action--soldiers, administrators; and it often seemed to me that women
hampered and belittled them. I said to myself, one mustn't let women
count for too much in one's life. And the idea of women troubling their
heads with politics, or social difficulties, half amused, half disgusted
me. At the same time I was all with Fontenoy in hating the usual
philanthropic talk about the poor. It seemed to be leading us to
mischief--I thought the greater part of it insincere. Then I came to know
you.--And, after all, it seemed a woman could talk of public things, and
still be real--the humanity didn't rub off, the colour stood! It was
easy, of course, to say that you had a personal motive--other people said
it, and I should have liked to echo it. But from the beginning I knew
that didn't explain it. All the women,"--he checked himself,--"most of
the women I had ever known judged everything by some petty personal
standard. They talked magnificently, perhaps, but there was always
something selfish and greedy at bottom. Well, I was always looking for it
in you! Then instead--suddenly--I found myself anxious lest what I said
should displease or hurt you--lest you should refuse to be my friend. I
longed, desperately, to make you understand me--and then, after our
talks, I hated myself for posing, and going further than was sincere. It
was so strange to me not to be scoffing and despising."
Marcella woke from her trance of pain--looked at him with amazement.
But the sight of him--a man, with the perspiration on his brow,
struggling now to tell the bare truth about himself and his
plight--silenced her. She hung towards him again, as pale as he, bearing
what fate had sent her.
"And ever since that day," he went on, putting his hand over his eyes,
"when you walked home with me along the river, to be with you, to watch
you, to puzzle over you, has built up a new self in me, that strains
against and tears the old one. So these things--these heavenly, exquisite
things that some men talk of--this sympathy, and purity, and
sweetness--were true! They were true because you existed--because I had
come to know something of your nature--had come to realise what it might
be--for a man to have the right--"
He broke off, and buried his face in his hands, murmuring incoherent
things. Marcella rose hurriedly, then stood motionless, her head turned
from him, that she might not hear. She felt herself stifled with rising
tears. Once or twice she began to speak, and the words died away again.
At last she said, bending towards him:
"I have done very ill--very, _very_ ill. I have been thinking all through
of my personal want--of personal victory."
He shook his head, protesting. And she hardly knew how to go on. But
suddenly the word of nature, of truth, came; though in the speaking it
startled them both.
"Sir George!"--she put out her hand timidly and touched him--"may I tell
you what I am thinking of? Not of you, nor of me--of another person
He looked up.
"My wife?" he said, almost in his usual voice.
She said nothing; she was struggling with herself. He got up abruptly,
walked to the open window, stood there a few seconds, and came back.
"It has to be all thought out again," he said, looking at her
appealingly. "I must go away, perhaps--and realise--what can be done. I
took marriage as carelessly as I took everything else. I must try and do
better with it."
A sudden perception leapt in Marcella, revealing strange worlds. How she
could have hated--with what fierceness, what flame!--the woman who taught
ideal truths to Maxwell! She thought of the little self-complacent being
in the white satin wedding-dress, that had sat beside her at Castle
Luton--thought of her with overwhelming soreness and pain. Stepping
quickly, her tears driven back, she went across the room to Tressady.
"I don't know what to say," she began, stopping suddenly beside him, and
leaning her hand for support on a table while her head drooped. "I have
been very selfish--very blind. But--mayn't it be the beginning--of
something quite--quite--different? I was thinking only of Maxwell--or
myself. But I ought to have thought of you--of my friend. I ought to have
seen--but oh! how _could_ I!" She broke off, wrestling with this amazing
difficulty of choosing, amid all the thoughts that thronged to her lips,
something that might be said--and if said, might heal.
But before he could interrupt her, she went on: "The harm was, in acting
all through--by myself--as if only you and I, and Maxwell's work--were
concerned. If I had made you known to _him_--if I had remembered--had
But she stopped again, in a kind of bewilderment. In truth she did not
yet understand what had happened to her--how it could have happened to
her--to _her_, whose life, soul, and body, to the red ripe of its inmost
heart, was all Maxwell's, his possession, his chattel.
Tressady looked at her with a little sad smile.
"It was your unconsciousness," he said, in a low trembling voice, "of
what you are--and have--that was so beautiful."
Somehow the words recalled her natural dignity, her noble pride as
Maxwell's wife. She stood erect, composure and self-command returning.
She was not her own, to humble herself as she pleased.
"We must never talk to each other like this again," she said gently,
after a little pause. "We must try and understand each other--the _real_
things in each other's lives.--Don't lay a great remorse on me, Sir
George!--don't spoil your future, and your wife's--don't give up
Parliament! You have great, great gifts! All this will seem just a
passing misunderstanding--both to you--and me--by and by. We shall learn
to be--real friends--you and we--together?"
She looked at him appealing--her face one prayer.
But he, flushing, shook his head.
"I must not come into your world," he said huskily. "I must go."
The wave of grief rolled upon her again. She turned away, looking
across the room with wide dim eyes, as though asking for some help that
did not come.
Tressady walked quickly back to the chair where he had been sitting, and
took up his hat and gloves. Suddenly, as he looked back to her, he struck
one of the gloves across his hand.
"What a _coward_--what a mean whining wretch I was to come to you this
morning! I said to myself--like a hypocrite--that I could come--and
go--without a word. My God--if I had!"--the low hoarse voice became a cry
of pain--"I might still have taken some joy--"
He wrestled with himself.
"It was mad selfishness," he said at last, recovering himself by a fierce
effort. "Mad it must have been--or I could never have come here to give
you pain. Some demon drove me. Oh, forgive me!--forgive me! Good-bye! I
shall bless you while I live. But you--you must never think of me, never
speak of me--again."
She felt his grasp upon her fingers. He stooped, passionately kissed her
hand and a fold of her dress. She rose hurriedly; but the door had
closed upon him before she had found her voice or choked down the sob in
She could only drop back into her chair, weeping silently, her face
hidden in her hands.
A few minutes passed. There was a step outside. She sprang up and
listened, ready to fly to the window and hide herself among the curtains.
Then the colour flooded into her cheek. She waited. Maxwell came in. He,
too, looked disturbed, and as he entered the room he thrust a letter into
his pocket, almost with violence. But when his eyes fell on his wife a
pang seized him. He hurried to her, and she leant against him, saying in
a sobbing voice:
"George Tressady has been here. I seem to have done him a wrong--and his
wife. I am not fit to help you, Aldous. I do such rushing, blind, foolish
things--and all that one hoped and worked for turns to mere selfishness
and misery. Whom shall I hurt next? You, perhaps--_you_!"
And she clung to him in despair.
* * * * *
A few minutes later the husband and wife were in conference together,
Marcella sitting, Maxwell standing beside her. Marcella's tears had
ceased; but never had Maxwell seen her so overwhelmed, so sad, and he
felt half ashamed of his own burning irritation and annoyance with the
Clearly, what he had dimly foreseen on the night of her return from the
Mile End meeting had happened. This young man, ill-balanced, ill-mated,
yet full of a sensitive ability and perception, had fallen in love with
her; and Maxwell owed his political salvation to his wife's charm.
The more he loved her, the more odious the situation was to him. That any
rational being should have even the shred of an excuse for regarding her
as the political coquette, using her beauty for a personal end, struck
him as a kind of sacrilege, and made him rage inwardly. Nevertheless, the
idea struck him--struck and kindled him all at once that the very
perfectness of this tie that bound them together weakened her somewhat as
a woman in her dealing with the outside world. It withdrew from her some
of a woman's ordinary intuitions with regard to the men around her. The
heart had no wants, and therefore no fears. To any man she liked she was
always ready, as she came to know him, to show her true self with a
freedom and loveliness that were like the freedom and loveliness of a
noble child. To have supposed that such a man could have any feelings
towards her other than those she gave to her friends would have seemed to
her a piece of ill-bred vanity. Such contingencies lay outside her ken;
she would have brushed them away with a laughing contempt had they been
presented to her. Her life was at once too happy and too busy for such
things. How could anyone fall in love with Aldous's wife? Why should
they?--if one was to ask the simplest question of all.
Yet Maxwell, as he stood looking down upon her, conscious of a certain
letter in his inner pocket, felt with growing yet most unwilling
determination that he must somehow try and make her turn her eyes upon
this dingy world and see it as it is.
For it was not the case merely of a spiritual drama in which a few souls,
all equally sincere and void of offence, were concerned. That, in
Maxwell's eyes, would have been already disagreeable and tragic enough.
But here was this keen, spiteful crowd of London society watching for
what it might devour--those hateful newspapers!--not to speak of the
ordinary fool of everyday life.
There had not been wanting a number of small signs and warnings. The
whole course of the previous day's debate, the hour of Tressady's speech,
while Maxwell sat listening in the Speaker's Gallery overhead, had been
for him--for her, too--poisoned by a growing uneasiness, a growing
distaste for the triumph laid at their feet. She had come down to him
from the Ladies' Gallery pale and nervous, shrinking almost from the
grasp of his hand.
"What will happen? Has he made his position in Parliament impossible?"
she had said to him as they stood together for a moment in the Home
Secretary's room; and he understood, of course, that she was speaking of
Tressady. In the throng that presently overwhelmed them he had no time to
answer her; but he believed that she, too, had been conscious of the
peculiar note in some of the congratulations showered upon them on their
way through the crowded corridors and lobbies. On the steps of St.
Stephen's entrance an old white-haired gentleman, the friend and
connection of Maxwell's father, had clapped the successful Minister on
the back, with a laughing word in his ear: "Upon my word, Aldous, your
beautiful lady is a wife to conjure with! I hear she has done the whole
thing--educated the young man, brought him to his bearings, spoilt all
Fontenoy's plans, broken up the group, in fact. Glorious!" and the old
man looked with eyes half sarcastic, half admiring at the form of Lady
Maxwell standing beside the carriage-door.
"I imagine the group has broken itself up," said Maxwell, shortly,
shaking off his tormentor. But as he glanced back from, the
carriage-window to the crowded doorway, and the faces looking after them,
the thought of the talk that was probably passing amid the throng set
every nerve on edge.
Meanwhile she sat beside him, unconsciously a little more stately than
usual, but curiously silent--till at last, as they were nearing Trafalgar
Square, she threw out her hand to him, almost timidly:
"You _do_ rejoice?"
"I do," he said, with a long breath, pressing the hand. "I suppose
nothing ever happens as one has foreseen it. How strange, when one looks
back to that Sunday!"
She made no reply, and since then Tressady's name had been hardly
mentioned between them. They had discussed every speech but his--even
when the morning papers came, reflecting the astonishment and
excitement of the public. The pang in Marcella's mind was--"Aldous
thinks I asked a personal favour--_Did_ I?" And memory would fall back
into anxious recapitulation of the scene with Tressady. Had she indeed
pressed her influence with him too much--taken advantage of his
Parliamentary youth and inexperience? In the hours of the night that
followed the division, merely to ask the question tormented a
conscience as proud as it was delicate.
And now!--this visit--this incredible declaration--this eagerness for his
reward! Maxwell's contempt and indignation were rising fast. Mere
chivalry, mere decent manners even, he thought, might have deterred a man
from such an act. Meanwhile, in rapid flashes of thought he began to
debate with himself how he should use this letter in his pocket--this
besmirching, degrading letter.
But Marcella had much more to say. Presently she roused herself from her
trance and looked at her husband.
"Aldous!"--she touched him on the arm, and he turned to her
gravely--"There was one moment at Mile End, when--when I did play upon
his pity--his friendship. He came down to Mile End on Thursday night. I
told you. I saw he was unhappy--unhappy at home. He wanted sympathy
desperately. I gave it him. Then I urged him to throw himself into his
public work--to think out this vote he was to give. Oh! I don't know!--I
don't know--" she broke off, in a depressed voice, shaking her head
slowly--"I believe I threw myself upon his feelings--I felt that he was
very sympathetic, that I had a power over him--it was a kind of bribery."
Her brow drooped under his eye.
"I believe you are quite unjust to yourself," he said unwillingly. "Of
course, if any man chooses to misinterpret a confidence--"
"No," she said steadily. "I knew. It was quite different from any other
time. I remember how uncomfortable I felt afterwards. I did try to
influence him--just through, being a woman. There!--it is quite true."
He could not withdraw his eyes from hers--from the mingling of pride,
humility, passion, under the dark lashes.
"And if you did, do you suppose that _I_ can blame you?" he said slowly.
He saw that she was holding an inquisition in her own heart, and looking
to him as judge. How could he judge?--whatever there might be to judge.
He adored her.
For the moment she did not answer him. She clasped her hands round her
knees, thinking aloud.
"From the beginning, I remember I thought of him as somebody quite new
and fresh to what he was doing--somebody who would certainly be
influenced--who ought to be influenced. And then"--she raised her eyes
again, half shrinking--"there was the feeling, I suppose, of personal
antagonism to Lord Fontenoy! One could not be sorry to detach one of his
chief men. Besides, after Castle Luton, George Tressady was so
attractive! You did not know him, Aldous; but to talk to him stirred all
one's energies; it was a perpetual battle--one took it up again and
again, enjoying it always. As we got deeper in the fight I tried never to
think of him as a member of Parliament--often I stopped myself from
saying things that might have persuaded him, as far as the House was
concerned. And yet, of course"--her face, in its nobility, took a curious
look of hardness--"I _did_ know all the time that he was coming to think
more and more of me--to depend on me. He disliked me at first--afterwards
he seemed to avoid me--then I felt a change. Now I see I thought of him
all along; just in one capacity--in relation to what I wanted--whether I
tried to persuade him or no. And all the time--"
A cloud of pain effaced the frown. She leant her head against her
"Aldous!"--her voice was low and miserable,--"what can his wife have
felt towards me? I never thought of her after Castle Luton--she seemed to
me such a vulgar, common little being. Surely, surely!--if they are so
unhappy, it can't be--_my_ doing; there was cause enough--"
Nothing could have been more piteous than the tone. It was laden with the
remorse that only such a nature could feel for such a cause. Maxwell's
hand touched her head tenderly. A variety of expressions crossed his
face, then a sharp flash of decision.
"Dear! I think you ought to know--she has written to me."
Marcella sprang up. Face and neck flushed crimson. She threw him an
uncertain look, the nostrils quivering.
"Will you show me the letter?"
He hesitated. On his first reading of it he had vowed to himself that she
should never see it. But since her confessions had begun to make the
matter clearer to him a moral weight had pressed upon him. She must
realise her power, her responsibility! Moreover, they two, with
conscience and good sense to guide them, had got to find a way out of
this matter. He did not feel that he could hide the letter from her if
there was to be common action and common understanding.
So he gave it to her.
She read it pacing up and down, unconscious sounds of pain and protest
forcing themselves to her lips from time to time, which made it very
difficult for him to stand quietly where he was. On that effusion of gall
and bitterness poor Letty had spent her sleepless night. Every charge
that malice could bring, every distortion that jealousy could apply to
the simplest incident, every insinuation that, judged by her own
standard, had seemed to her most likely to work upon a husband--Letty had
crowded them all into the mean, ill-written letter--the letter of a
shopgirl trying to rescue her young man from the clutches of a rival.
But every sentence in it was a stab to Marcella. When she had finished it
she stood with it in her hand beside her writing-table, looking absently
through the window, pale, and deep in thought. Maxwell watched her.
When her moment of consideration broke her look swept round to him.
"I shall go to her," she said simply. "I must see her!"
"I think," he said reluctantly, "she would only repulse and insult you."
"Then it must be borne. It cannot end so."
She walked up to him and let him draw his arm about her. They stood in
silence for a minute or two. When she raised her head again, her eyes
sought his beseechingly.
"Aldous, help me! If we cannot repair this mischief,--you and I,--what
are we worth? I will tell you my plan--"
There was a sound at the door. Husband and wife moved away from each
other as the butler entered.
"My lord, Mrs. Allison and Lord Fontenoy are in the library. They asked
me to say that they wish to consult your lordship on something very
urgent. I told them I thought your lordship was engaged, but I would
come and see."
Marcella and Maxwell looked at each other. Ancoats! No doubt the
catastrophe so long staved off had at last arrived. Maxwell's stifled
exclamation was the groan of the overworked man who hardly knows how to
find mind enough for another anxiety. But a new and sudden light shone in
his wife's face. She turned to the servant almost with eagerness:
"Please tell Mrs. Allison and Lord Fontenoy to come up."
The door opened silently, and there came in a figure that for a moment
was hardly recognised by either Maxwell or his wife. Shrunken, pale, and
grief-stricken, Ancoats's poor mother entered, her eye seeking eagerly
for Maxwell, perceiving nothing else. She was in black, her veil
hurriedly thrown back, and the features beneath it were all blurred by
distress and fatigue.
Marcella hurried to her. Mrs. Allison took her hand in both her own with
the soft, appealing motion habitual to her, then said hastily, still
looking at Maxwell:
"Maxwell, the boy has gone. He left me two days ago. This morning, in my
trouble, I sent for Lord Fontenoy, my kind, kind friend. And he persuaded
me to come to you at once. I begged him to come too--"
She glanced timidly from one to the other, implying many things.
But even with this preface, Maxwell's greeting of his defeated
antagonist was ceremony itself. The natural instinct of such a man is to
mask victory in courtesy. But a paragraph that morning in Fontenoy's
paper--a paragraph that he happened to have seen in Lord Ardagh's
room--had appealed to another natural instinct, stronger and more
primitive. It amazed him that even this emergency and Mrs. Allison's
persuasions could have brought the owner of the paper within his doors
on this particular morning.
Fontenoy, immersed in the correspondence of the morning, had not yet
chanced to see the paragraph, which was Harding Watton's. Yet, if he had,
he could not have shown a more haughty and embarrassed bearing. He was
there under a compulsion he did not know how to resist, a compulsion of
tears and grief; but the instinct for manners, which so often upon
occasion serves the man of illustrious family, as well, almost, as good
feeling or education may serve another, had been for the time weakened in
him by the violences and exhaustion of the political struggle, and he did
not feel certain that he could trust himself. He was smarting still
through every nerve, and the greeting especially that Maxwell's tall wife
extended to him was gall and bitterness. She meanwhile, as she advanced
towards him, was mostly struck with the perfection of his morning dress.
The ultra-correctness and strict fashion that he affected in these
matters were generally a surprise to those who knew him only by
After five minutes' question and answer the Maxwells understood something
of the situation. A servant of Ancoats's had been induced to disclose
what he knew. There could be no question that the young fellow had gone
off to Normandy, where he possessed a chalet close to Trouville, in the
expectation that his fair lady would immediately join him there. She had
not yet started. So much Fontenoy had already ascertained. But she had
thrown up a recent engagement within the last few days, and before
Ancoats's flight all Fontenoy's information had pointed to the likelihood
of a _coup_ of some sort. As for the boy himself, he had left his mother
at Castle Luton, three days before, on the pretext of a Scotch visit, and
had instead taken the evening train to Paris, leaving a letter for his
mother in which the influence of certain modern French novels of the
psychological kind could perhaps be detected. "The call of the heart that
drives me from you," wrote this incredible young man, "is something
independent of myself. I wring my hands, but I follow where it leads.
Love has its crimes,--that I admit,--but they are the only road to
experience. And experience is all I care to live for! At any rate, I
cannot accept the limits that you, mother, would impose upon me. Each of
us must be content to recognise the other's personality. I have tried to
reconcile you to an affection that must be content to be irregular. You
repel it and me, under the influence of a bigotry in which I have ceased
to believe. Suffer me, then, to act for myself in this respect. At any
time that you like to call upon me I will be your dutiful son, so long as
this matter is not mentioned between us. And let me implore you not to
bring in third persons. They have already done mischief enough. Against
them I should know how to protect myself."
Maxwell returned the letter with a disgust he could hardly repress.
Everything in it seemed to him as pinchbeck as the passion itself. Mrs.
Allison took it with the same miserable look, which had in it, Marcella
noticed, a certain strange sternness, as of some frail creature nerving
itself to desperate things.
"Now what shall we do?" said Maxwell, abruptly.
Fontenoy moved forward. "I presume you still command the same persons you
set in motion before? Can you get at them to-day?"
Maxwell pondered. "Yes, the clergyman. The solicitor-brother is too far
away. Your idea is to stop the girl from crossing?"
"If it were still possible." Fontenoy dropped his voice, and his gesture
induced Maxwell to follow him to the recess of a distant window.
"The chief difficulty, perhaps," said Fontenoy, resuming, "concerns the
lad himself. His mother, you will understand, cannot run any risk of
being brought in contact with that woman. Nor is she physically fit for
the voyage; but someone must go, if only to content her. There has been
some wild talk of suicide, apparently--mere bombast, of course, like so
much of it, but she has been alarmed."
"Do you propose, then, to go yourself?"
"I am of no use," said Fontenoy, decisively.
Maxwell had cause to know that the statement was true, and did not press
him. They fell into a rapid consultation.
Meanwhile, Marcella had drawn Mrs. Allison to the sofa beside her, and
was attempting a futile task of comfort. Mrs. Allison answered in
monosyllables, glancing hither and thither. At last she said in a low,
swift voice, as though addressing herself, rather than her companion, "If
all fails, I have made up my mind. I shall leave his house. I can take
nothing more from him."
Marcella started. "But that would deprive you of all chance, all hope of
influencing him," she said, her eager, tender look searching the other
"No; it would be my duty," said Mrs. Allison, simply, crossing her hands
upon her lap. Her delicate blue eyes, swollen with weeping, the white
hair, of which a lock had escaped from its usual quiet braids and hung
over her blanched cheeks, her look at once saintly and indomitable--every
detail of her changed aspect made a chill and penetrating impression.
Marcella began to understand what the Christian might do, though the
mother should die of it.
Meanwhile she watched the two men at the other side of the room, with a
manifest eagerness for their return. Presently, indeed, she half rose
Lord Maxwell turned.
"Are you thinking of someone who might go to Trouville?" she asked him.
"Yes, but we can hit on no one," he replied, in perplexity.
She moved towards him, bearing herself with a peculiar erectness
"Would it be possible to ask Sir George Tressady to go?" she said
Maxwell looked at her open-mouthed for an instant. Fontenoy, behind him,
threw a sudden, searching glance at the beautiful figure in grey.
"We all know," she said, turning back to the mother, "that Ancoats likes
Mrs. Allison shrunk a little from the clear look. Fontenoy's rage of
defeat, however modified in her presence, had nevertheless expressed
itself to her in phrases and allusions that had both perplexed and
troubled her. _Had_ Marcella indeed made use of her beauty to decoy a
weak youth from his allegiance? And now she spoke his name so simply.
But the momentary wonder died from the poor mother's mind.
"I remember," she said sadly, "I remember he once spoke to me very kindly
about my son."
"And he thought kindly," said Marcella, rapidly; "he is kind at heart.
Aldous! if Cousin Charlotte consents, why not at least put the case to
him? He knows everything. He might undertake what we want, for her
sake,--for all our sakes,--and it might succeed."
The swift yet calm decision of her manner completed Maxwell's
His eyes sought hers, while the others waited, conscious, somehow, of a
dramatic moment. Fontenoy's flash of malicious curiosity made him even
forget, while it lasted, the little tragic figure on the sofa.
"What do you say, Cousin Charlotte?" said Maxwell at last.
His voice was dry and business-like. Only the wife who watched him
perceived the silent dignity with which he had accepted her appeal.
He went to sit beside Mrs. Allison, stooping over her, while they talked
in a low key. Very soon she had caught at Marcella's suggestion, with an
energy of despair.
"But how can we find him?" she said at last, looking helplessly round
the room, at the very chair, among others, where Tressady had just
Maxwell felt the humour of the situation without relishing it.
"Either at his own house," he said shortly, "or the House of Commons."
"He may have left town this morning. Lord Fontenoy thought"--she looked
timidly at her companion--"that he would be sure to go and explain
himself to his constituents at once."
"Well, we can find out. If you give me instructions,--if you are sure
this is what you want,--we will find out at once. Are you sure?"
"I can think of nothing better," she said, with a piteous gesture.
"And if he goes, I have only one message to give him. Ancoats knows
that I have exhausted every argument, every entreaty. Now let him tell
my son"--her voice grew firm, in spite of her look of anguish--"that
if he insists on surrendering himself to a life of sin I can bear him
company no more. I shall leave his house, and go somewhere by myself,
to pray for him."
Maxwell tried to soothe her, and there was some half-whispered talk
between them, she quietly wiping away her tears from time to time.
Meanwhile, Marcella and Fontenoy sat together a little way off, he at
first watching Mrs. Allison, she silent, and making no attempt to play
the hostess. Gradually, however, the sense of her presence beside him,
the memory of Tressady's speech, of the scene in the House of the night
before, began to work in his veins with a pricking, exciting power. His
family was famous for a certain drastic way with women; his father, the
now old and half-insane Marquis, had parted from his mother while
Fontenoy was still a child, after scenes that would have disgraced an
inn parlour. Fontenoy himself, in his reckless youth, had simply avoided
the whole sex, so far as its reputable members were concerned; till one
woman by sympathy, by flattery perhaps, by the strange mingling in
herself of iron and gentleness, had tamed him. But there were brutal
instincts in his blood, and he became conscious of them as he sat beside
Suddenly he broke out, bending forward, one hand on his knee, the other
nervously adjusting the eyeglass without which he was practically blind.
"I imagine your side had foreseen last night better than we had?"
She drew herself together instantly.
"One can hardly say. It was evident, wasn't it, that the House as a whole
was surprised? Certainly, no one could have foreseen the numbers."
She met his look straight, her white hand playing with Mrs.
"Oh! a slide of that kind once begun goes like the wind," said Fontenoy.
"Well, and are you pleased with your Bill--not afraid of your
promises--of all the Edens you have held out?"
The smile that he attempted roused such ogerish associations in Marcella,
she must needs say something to give colour to the half-desperate laugh
that caught her.
"Did you suppose we should be already _en penitence?_" she asked him.
The man's wrath overcame him. So England--all the serious forces of the
country--were to be more and more henceforward at the mercy of this kind
of thing! He had begun the struggle with a scornful disbelief in current
gossip. He--politically and morally the creation of a woman--had yet not
been able to bring himself to fear a woman. And now he sat there,
fiercely saying to himself that this woman, playing the old game under
new names, had undone him.
"Ah! I see," he said. "You are of the mind of the Oxford don--never
regret, never retract, never apologise?"
The small, reddish eyes, like needle-points, fixed the face before him.
She looked up, her beautiful lips parting. She felt the insult--marvelled
at it! On such an errand, in her own house! Scorn was almost lost in
"A quotation which nobody gets right--isn't it so?" she said calmly. "If
a wise man said it, I suppose he meant, 'Don't explain yourself to the
wrong people,' which is good advice, don't you think?"
She rose as she spoke, and moved away from him, that she might listen to
what her husband was saying. Fontenoy was left to reflect on the folly of
a man who, being driven to ask a kindness of his enemy, cannot keep his
temper in the enemy's house. Yet his temper had been freshly tried since
he entered it. The whole suggestion of Tressady's embassy was to himself
galling in the extreme. "There is a meaning in it," he thought; "of
course she thinks it will save appearances!" There was no extravagance,
no calumny, that this cold critic of other men's fervours was not for the
moment ready to believe.
Nevertheless, as he threw himself back in his chair, and his eye caught
Mrs. Allison's bent figure on the other side of the room, he knew that he
must needs submit--he did submit--to anything that could give that torn
heart ease. Of his two passions, one, the passion for politics, seemed
for the moment to have lost itself in disgust and disappointment; to the
other he clung but the more strongly. Once or twice in her talk with
Maxwell, Mrs. Allison raised her gentle eyes and looked across to
Fontenoy. "Are you there, my friend?" the glance seemed to say, and a
thrill spread itself through the man's rugged being. Ah, well! the
follies of this young scapegrace must wear themselves out in time, and
either he would marry and so free his mother, or he would so outrage her
conscience that she would separate herself from him. Then would come
other people's rewards.
Presently, indeed, Mrs. Allison rose from her seat and advanced to him
with hurried steps.
"We have settled it, I think; Maxwell will do all he can. It seems hard
to trust so much to a stranger like Sir George Tressady, but if he will
go--if Ancoats likes him? We must do the best, mustn't we?"
She raised to him her delicate, small face, in a most winning dependence.
Fontenoy did not even attempt resistance.
"Certainly--it is not a chance to lose. May I suggest also"--he looked
at Maxwell--"that there is no time to lose?"
"Give me ten minutes, and I am off," said Maxwell, hurriedly carrying a
bundle of unopened letters to a distance. He looked through them, to see
if anything especially urgent required him to give instructions to his
secretary before leaving the house.
"Shall I take you home?" said Fontenoy to Mrs. Allison.
She drew her thick veil round her head and face, and said some tremulous
words, which unconsciously deepened the gloom on Fontenoy's face.
Apparently they were to the effect that before going home she wished to
see the Anglican priest in whom she especially confided, a certain Father
White, who was to all intents and purposes her director. For in his
courtship of this woman of fifty, with her curious distinction and her
ethereal charm, which years seemed only to increase, Fontenoy had not one
rival, but two--her son and her religion.
Fontenoy's fingers barely touched those of Maxwell and his wife. As he
closed the door behind Mrs. Allison, leaving the two together, he said to
himself contemptuously that he pitied the husband.
When the latch had settled, Maxwell threw down his letters and crossed
the room to his wife.
"I only half understood you," he said, a flush rising in his face. "You
really mean that we, on this day of all days--that I--am to personally
ask this kindness of George Tressady?"
"I do!" she cried, but without attempting any caress. "If I could only go
and ask it myself!" "That would be impossible!" he said quickly.
"Then you, dear husband--dear love!--go and ask it for me! Must we
not--oh! do see it as I do!--must we not somehow make it possible to be
friends again, to wipe out that--that half-hour once for all?"--she threw
out her hand in an impetuous gesture. "If you go, he will feel that is
what we mean--he will understand us at once--there is nothing vile in
him--nothing! Dear, he never said a word to me I could resent till this
morning. And, alack, alack! was it somehow my fault?" She dropped her
face a moment on the back of the chair she held. "How I am to play my own
part--well! I must think. But I cannot have such a thing on my heart,
He was silent a moment; then he said:
"Let me understand, at least, what it is precisely that we are doing. Is
the idea that it should be made possible for us all to meet again as
though nothing had happened?"
She shrank a moment from the man's common sense; then replied,
"Only not to leave the open sore--to help him to forget! He must know--he
does know"--she held herself proudly--"that I have no secrets from you.
So that when the time comes for remembering, for thinking it over, he
will shrink from you, or hate you. Whereas, what I want"--her eyes filled
with tears--"is that he should _know_ you--only that! I ought to have
brought it about long ago."
"Are you forgetting that I owe him this morning my political existence?"
The voice betrayed the inner passion.
"He would be the last person to remember it!" she cried. "Why not take it
quite, quite simply?--behave so as to say to him, without words, 'Be our
friend--join with us in putting out of sight what hurts us no less than
you to think of. Shut the door upon the old room--pass with us into a
new!'--oh! if I could explain!"
She hid her face in her hands again.
"I understand," he said, after a long pause. "It is very like you. I am
not quite sure it is very wise. These things, to my mind, are best left
to end themselves. But I promised Mrs. Allison; and what you ask, dear,
you shall have. So be it."
She lifted her head hastily, and was dismayed by the signs of
agitation in him as he turned away. She pursued him timidly, laying
her hand on his arm.
Her voice sank to its most pleading note. He caught her hand; but she
withdrew herself in haste.
"And then," she went on, struggling for a smile, "then you and I have
things to settle. Do you think I don't know that I have made all your
work, and all your triumph, gall and bitterness to you--do you think I
She gazed at him with a passionate intensity through her tears, yet by
her gesture forbidding him to come near her. What man would not have
endured such discomforts a thousand times for such a look?
He stooped to her.
"We are to talk that out, then, when I come back?--Please give these
letters to Saunders--there is nothing of importance. I will go first to
* * * * *
Maxwell drove away through the sultry streets, his mind running on his
task. It seemed to him that politics had never put him to anything so
hard. But he began to plan it with his usual care and precision. The
butler who opened the door of the Upper Brook Street house could only say
that his master was not at home.
"Shall I find him, do you imagine, at the House of Commons?"
The butler could not say. But Lady Tressady was in, though just on the
point of going out. Should he inquire?
But the visitor made it plain that he had no intention of disturbing Lady
Tressady, and would find out for himself. He left his card in the