Part 4 out of 6
"Who was that, Kenrick?" said a sharp voice behind the man as the hansom
drove away. Letty Tressady, elaborately dressed, with a huge white hat
and lace parasol, was standing on the stairs, her pale face peering out
of the shadows. The butler handed her the card, and telling him to get
her a cab at once, she ran up again to the drawing-room.
Meanwhile Maxwell sped on towards Westminster, frowning over his problem.
As he drove down Whitehall the sun brightened to a naked midday heat,
throwing its cloak of mists behind it. The gilding on the Clock Tower
sparkled in the light; even the dusty, airless street, with its withered
planes, was on a sudden flooded with gaiety. Two or three official or
Parliamentary acquaintances saluted the successful minister as he passed;
and each was conscious of a certain impatience with the gravity of the
well-known face. That a great man should not be content to look victory,
as well as win it, seemed a kind of hypocrisy.
In the House of Commons, a few last votes and other oddments of the now
dying session were being pushed through to an accompaniment of empty
benches. Tressady was not there, nor in the library. Maxwell made his way
to the upper lobby, where writing-tables and materials are provided in
the window-recesses for the use of members.
He had hardly entered the lobby before he caught sight at its further end
of the long straight chin and fair head of the man he was in quest of.
And almost at the same moment, Tressady, who was sitting writing amid a
pile of letters and papers, lifted his eyes and saw Lord Maxwell
He started, then half rose, scattering his papers. Maxwell bowed as he
neared the table, then stopped beside it, without offering his hand.
"I fear I may be disturbing you," he said, with simple but cold courtesy.
"The fact is I have come down here on an urgent matter, which may perhaps
be my excuse. Could you give me twenty minutes, in my room?"
"By all means," said Tressady. He tried to put his papers together, but
to his own infinite annoyance his hand shook. He seemed hardly to know
what to do with them.
"Do not let me hurry you," said Maxwell, in the same manner. "Will you
follow me at your leisure?"
"I will follow you immediately," said Tressady; "as soon as I have put
these under lock and key."
His visitor departed. Tressady remained standing a moment by the table,
his blue eyes, unusually wide open, fixed absently on the river, a dark
red flush overspreading the face. Then he rapidly threw his papers
together into a black bag that stood near, and walked with them to his
locker in the wall.
For an hour after he left Marcella Maxwell he had wandered blindly up
and down the Green Park; at the end of it a sudden impulse had driven
him to the House, as his best refuge both from Letty and himself. There
he found waiting for him a number of letters, and a sheaf of telegrams
besides from his constituency, with which he had just begun to grapple
when Maxwell interrupted him. Some hours of hard writing and thinking
might, he thought, bring him by reaction to some notion of what to do
with the next days and nights--how to take up the business of his
private life again.
Now, as he withdrew his key from the lock, in a corridor almost empty of
inhabitants, abstraction seized him once more. He leant against the wall
a moment, with his hands in his pockets, seeing her face--the tears on
her cheek--feeling the texture of her dress against his lips. Barely two
hours ago! No doubt she had confided all to Maxwell in the interval. The
young fellow burnt with mingled rage and shame. This interview with the
husband seemed to transform it all to vaudeville, if not to farce. How
was he to get through it with any dignity and self-command? Moreover, a
passionate resentment towards Maxwell developed itself. His telling of
his secret had been no matter for a common scandal, a vulgar jealousy.
_She_ knew that--she could not have so misrepresented him. A sense of the
situation to which he had brought himself on all sides made his pride
feel itself in the grip of something that asked his submission. Yet why,
and to whom?
He walked along through the interminable corridors towards Maxwell's room
in the House of Lords, a prey to what afterwards seemed to him the
meanest moment of his life. Little knowing the pledges that a woman had
given for him, he did say to himself that Maxwell owed him much--that he
was not called upon to bear everything from a man he had given back to
power. And all the time his thoughts built a thorn-hedge about her face,
her pity. Let him see them no more, not even in the mirror of the mind.
Great heaven! what harm could such as he do to her?
By the time he reached Maxwell's door he seemed to himself as hard and
cool as usual. As he entered, the minister was standing by an oriel
window, overlooking the river, turning over the contents of a
despatch-box that had just been brought him. He advanced at once; and
Tressady noticed that he had already dismissed his secretary.
"Will you sit by the window?" said Maxwell. "The day promises to be
Tressady took the seat assigned him. Maxwell's grey eye ran over the
young man's figure and bearing. Then he bent forward from a chair on the
other side of a small writing-table.
"You will probably have guessed the reason of my intrusion upon you--you
and I have already discussed this troublesome affair--and the kind manner
in which you treated our anxieties then--"
"Ancoats!" exclaimed Tressady, with a start he could not control. "You
wish to consult me about Ancoats?"
A flash of wonder crossed the other's mind. "He imagined--" Instinctively
Maxwell's opening mildness stiffened into a colder dignity.
"I fear we may be making an altogether improper claim upon you," he said
quietly; "but this morning, about an hour ago, Ancoats's mother came to
us with the news that he had left her two days ago, and was now
discovered to be at Trouville, where he has a chalet, waiting for this
girl, of whom we all know, to join him. You will imagine Mrs. Allison's
despair. The entanglement is in itself bad enough. But she--I think you
know it--is no ordinary woman, nor can she bring any of the common
philosophy of life to bear upon this matter. It seems to be sapping her
very springs of existence, and the impression she left upon myself--and
upon Lady Maxwell"--he said the words slowly--"was one of the deepest
pity and sorrow. As you also know, I believe, I have till now been able
to bring some restraining influence to bear upon the girl, who is of
course not a girl, but a very much married woman, with a husband always
threatening to turn up and avenge himself upon her. There is a good man,
one of those High Church clergymen who interest themselves specially in
the stage, who has helped us many times already. I have telegraphed to
him, and expect him here before long. We know that she has not yet left
London, and it may be possible again, at the eleventh hour, to stop her.
"Is not enough," said Tressady, quickly, raising his head. "You want
someone to grapple with Ancoats?"
Face and voice were those of another man--attentive, normal, sympathetic.
Maxwell observed him keenly.
"We want someone to go to Ancoats; to represent to him his mother's
determination to leave him for good if this disgraceful affair goes on;
to break the shock of the girl's non-arrival to him, if, indeed, we
succeed in stopping her; and to watch him for a day or two, in case there
should be anything in the miserable talk of suicide with which he seems
to have been threatening his mother."
"Oh! Suicide! Ancoats!" said Tressady, throwing back his head.
"We rate him, apparently, much the same," said Maxwell, drily. "But it
is not to be wondered at that the mother should be differently affected.
She sent you"--the speaker paused a moment--"what seemed to me a
Tressady bent forward.
"'Tell him that I have no claim upon him--that I am ashamed to ask this
of him. But he once said some kind words to me about my son, and I know
that Ancoats desired his friendship. His help _might_ save us. I can say
Tressady looked up quickly, reddening involuntarily.
"Was Fontenoy there--did he agree?"
"Fontenoy agreed," said Maxwell, in the same measured voice. "In fact,
you grasp our petition. To speak frankly, my wife suggested it, and I was
deputed to bear it to you. But I need not say that we are quite prepared
to find that you are not able to do what we have ventured to ask of you,
or that your engagements will not permit it."
A strange gulp rose in Tressady's throat. He understood--oh! he
He leant back in his chair, looking through the open window to the
Thames. A breeze had risen and was breaking up the thunderous sky into
gay spaces of white and blue. The river was surging and boiling under the
tide, and strings of barges were mounting with the mounting water,
slipping fast along the terrace wall. The fronts of the various buildings
opposite rose in shadow against the dazzling blue and silver of the
water. Here over the river, even for this jaded London, summer was still
fresh; every mast and spar, every track of boat or steamer in the burst
of light, struck the eye with sharpness and delight.
Each line and hue printed itself on Tressady's brain. Then he turned
slowly to his companion. Maxwell sat patiently waiting for his reply; and
for the first time Tressady received, as it were, a full impression of a
personality he had till now either ignored or disliked. In youth Maxwell
had never passed for a handsome man. But middle life and noble habit were
every year giving increased accent and spiritual energy to the youth's
pleasant features; and Nature as she silvered the brown hair, and drove
deep the lines of thought and experience, was bringing more than she took
away. A quiet, modest fellow Maxwell would be to the end; not witty; not
brilliant; more and more content to bear the yoke of the great
commonplaces of life as subtlety and knowledge grew; saying nothing of
spiritual things, only living them--yet a man, it seemed, on whom England
would more and more lay the burden of her fortunes.
Tressady gazed at him, shaken with new reverences, new compunctions.
Maxwell's eyes were drawn to his--mild, penetrating eyes, in which for an
instant Tressady seemed to read what no words would ever say to him. Then
he sprang up.
"There is an afternoon train put on this month. I can catch it. Tell me,
if you can, a few more details."
Maxwell took out a half-sheet of notes from his pocket, and the two men
standing together beside the table went with care into a few matters it
was well for Tressady to know. Tressady threw a quick intelligence into
his questions that inevitably recalled to Maxwell the cut-and-thrust of
his speech on the preceding evening; nor behind his rapid discussion of a
vulgar business did the constrained emotion of his manner escape his
At last all was settled. At the last moment an uneasy question rose in
Maxwell's mind. "Ought _we_, at such a crisis, to be sending him away
from his wife?" But he could not bring himself to put it, even lightly,
into words, and as it happened Tressady did not leave him in doubt.
"I am glad you caught me," he said nervously, in what seemed an awkward
pause, while he looked for his hat, forgetting where he had put it. "I
was intending to leave London to-night. But my business can very well
wait till next week. Now I think I have everything."
He gathered up a new Guide-Chaix that Maxwell had put into his hand, saw
that the half-sheet of notes was safely stowed into his pocket-book, and
took up his hat and stick. As he spoke, Maxwell had remembered the
situation and Mrs. Allison's remark. No doubt Tressady had proposed to go
north that night on a mission of explanation to his Market Malford
constituents, and it struck one of the most scrupulous of men with an
additional pang, that he should be thus helping to put private motives in
the way of public duty. But what was done was done. And it seemed
impossible that either should speak a word of politics.
"I ought to say," said Tressady, pausing once more as they moved
together towards the door, "that I have not ultimately much hope for
Mrs. Allison. If this entanglement is put aside, there will be something
else. Trouville itself, in August, I should imagine, is a place of
_bonnes fortunes_ for the man who wants them, and Ancoats's mind runs to
He spoke with a curious eagerness, like one who pleads that his good-will
shall not be judged by mere failure or success.
Maxwell raised his shoulders.
"Nothing that can happen will in the least affect our gratitude to
_you_," he said gravely.
"Gratitude!" muttered the young man under his breath. His lip trembled.
He looked uncertainly at his companion. Maxwell did not offer his hand,
yet as he opened the door for his visitor there was a quiet cordiality
and kindness in his manner that made his renewed words of thanks sound
like a strange music in Tressady's ears.
* * * * *
When the minister was once more alone he walked back to the window, and
stood looking down thoughtfully on the gay pageant of the river. She was
right--she was always right. There was nothing vile in that young fellow,
and his face had a look of suffering it pained Maxwell to remember. Why
had he personally not come to know him better? "I think too little of
men, too much of machinery," he said to himself, despondently;
"unconsciously I leave the dealing with human beings far too often to
her, and then I wonder that a man sees and feels her as she is!"
Yet as he stood there in the sunshine a feeling of moral relief stole
upon him, the feeling that rewards a man who has tried to deal greatly
with some common and personal strait. Some day, not yet, he would make
Tressady his friend. He calmly felt it to be within his power.
Unless the wife!--He threw up his hand, and turned back to his
writing-table. What was to be done with that letter? Had Tressady
any knowledge of it? Maxwell could not conceive it possible that he
had. But, no doubt, it would come to his knowledge, as well as
For he meant to reply, and as he glanced at the clock on his table he saw
that he had just half an hour before his clergyman-visitor arrived.
Instantly, in his methodical way, he sat down to his task, labouring it,
however, with toil and difficulty, when it was once begun.
The few words he ultimately wrote ran as follows:
"Dear Lady Tressady,--Your letter was a great surprise and a great pain
to me. I believe you will recognise before long that you wrote it under a
delusion, and that you have said in it both unkind and unjust things of
one who is totally incapable of wronging you or anyone else. My wife read
your letter, for she and I have no secrets. She will try and see you at
once, and I trust you will not refuse to see her. She will prove to you,
I think, that you have been giving yourself quite needless torture, for
which she has no responsibility, but for which she is none the less
sorrowful and distressed.
"I have treated your letter in this way because it is impossible to
ignore the pain and trouble which drove you to write. I need not say that
if it became necessary for me to write or act in another way, I should
think only of my wife. But I will trust to the effect upon you of her own
words and character; and I cannot believe that you will misconstrue the
generosity that prompts her to go to you.
"Is it not possible, also, that your misunderstanding of your husband
may be in its own way as grave as your misunderstanding of Lady Maxwell?
Forgive an intrusive question, and believe me,
He read it anxiously over and over, then took a hasty copy of it, and
finally sealed and sent it. He was but half satisfied with it. How was
one to write such a letter without argument or recrimination? The poor
thing had a vulgar, spiteful, little soul; that was clear from her
outpouring. It was also clear that she was miserable; nor could Maxwell
disguise from himself that in a sense she had ample cause. From that hard
fact, with all its repellent and unpalatable consequences, a weaker man
would by now have let his mind escape, would at any rate have begun to
minimise and make light of George Tressady's act of the morning. In
Maxwell, on the contrary, after a first movement of passionate resentment
which had nothing whatever in common with ordinary jealousy, that act was
now generating a compelling and beneficent force, that made for healing
and reparation. Marcella had foreseen it, and in her pain and penitence
had given the impulse. For all things are possible to a perfect
affection, working through a nature at once healthy and strong.
Yet when Maxwell was once more established in his room at the Privy
Council, overwhelmed with letters, interviews, and all the routine of
official business, those who had to do with him noticed an unusual
restlessness in their even-tempered chief. In truth, whenever his work
left him free for a moment, all sorts of questions would start up in his
mind: "Is she there? Is that woman hurting and insulting her? Can I do
nothing? My love! my poor love!"
* * * * *
But Marcella's plans so far had not prospered.
When George Tressady, after hastily despatching his most urgent business
at the House, drove up to his own door in the afternoon just in time to
put his things together and catch a newly-put-on dining-train to Paris,
he found the house deserted. The butler reminded him that Letty
accompanied by Miss Tulloch had gone to Hampton Court to join a river
party for the day. George remembered; he hated the people she was to be
with, and instinct told him that Cathedine would be there.
A rush of miserable worry overcame him. Ought he to be leaving her?
Then, in the darkness of the hall, he caught sight of a card lying on the
table. _Her card_! Amazement made him almost dizzy, while the man at his
"Her ladyship called just after luncheon. She thought she would have
found my lady in--before she went out. But her ladyship is coming again,
probably this evening, as she wished to see Lady Tressady particularly."
Tressady gave the man directions to pack for him immediately, then took
the card into his study, and stood looking at it in a tumult of feeling.
Ah! let him begone--out of her way! Oh, heavenly goodness and compassion!
It seemed to him already that an angel had trodden this dark house, and
that another air breathed in it.
That was his first thought. Then the rush of sore longing, of unbearable
self-contempt, stirred all his worser self to life again. Had she not
better after all have left him and Letty alone! What did such lives as
theirs matter to her?
He ran upstairs to make his last preparations, wrote a few lines to Letty
describing Mrs. Allison's plight and the errand on which he was bound,
and in half an hour was at Charing Cross.
"Did you ring, my lady?"
"Yes. Kenrick, if Lady Maxwell calls to see me to-night, you will say,
please, that I am particularly engaged, and unable to receive anyone."
Letty Tressady had just come in from her river party. Dressed in a
delicate gown of lace and pale green chiffon, she was standing beside her
writing-table with Lady Maxwell's card in her hand. Kenrick had given it
to her on her arrival, together with the message which had accompanied
it, and she had taken a few minutes to think it over. As she gave the man
his order, the energy of the small figure, as it half turned towards the
door, the brightness of the eyes under the white veil she had just thrown
back, no less than the emphasis of her tone, awakened in the butler the
clear perception that neither the expected visit nor his mistress's
directions were to be taken as ordinary affairs. After he left the
drawing-room, Grier passed him on the stairs. He gave her a slight
signal, and the two retired to some nether region to discuss the secrets
of their employers.
Meanwhile Letty, having turned on the electric light in the room, walked
to the window and set it half open behind the curtain. In that way she
would hear the carriage approaching, it was between eight and nine
o'clock. No doubt Lady Maxwell would drive round after dinner.
Then, still holding the card lightly in her hand, she threw herself on
the sofa. She was tired, but so excited that she could not rest--first,
by the memory of the day that had just passed; still more by the thought
of the rebuff she was about to administer to the great lady who had
affronted her. No doubt her letter had done its work. The remembrance of
it tilled her with an uneasy joy. Did George know of it by now? She did
not care. Lady Maxwell, of course, was coming to try and appease her, to
hush it up. There had been a scene, it was to be supposed, between her
and her stiff husband. Letty gloated over the dream of it. Tears,
humiliation, reproaches, she meted them all out in plenty to the woman
she hated. Nor would things end there. Why, London was full of gossip!
Harding's paragraph--for of course it was Harding's--had secured that.
How clever of him! Not a name!--not a thing that could be taken hold
of!--yet so clear. Well!--if she, Letty, was to be trampled on and set
aside, at any rate other people should suffer too.
So George had gone off to France, leaving her alone, without "Good-bye."
She did not believe a word of his excuse; and, if it were true, it was
only another outrage that he should have thought twice of such a matter
at such a crisis. But it was probably a mere device of his and
_hers_--she would find out for what.
Her state of tension was too great to allow her to stay in the same place
for more than a few minutes. She got up, and went to the glass before the
mantelpiece. Taking out the pins that held her large Gainsborough hat,
she arranged her hair with her hands, putting the curls of the fringe in
their right place, fastening up some stray ends. She had given orders, as
we have seen, to admit no one, and was presumably going to bed.
Nevertheless, her behaviour was instinctively the behaviour of one who
expects a guest.
When, more or less to her satisfaction, she had restored the symmetry of
the little curled and crimped head, she took her face between her hands,
and stared at her own reflection. Memories of the party she had just
left, of the hot river, the slowly filling locks, the revelry, the
champagne, danced in her mind, especially of a certain walk through a
wood. She defiantly watched the face in the glass grow red, the eyelids
quiver. Then, like the tremor from some volcanic fire far within, a
shudder ran through her. She dropped her head on her hands. She
hated--_hated_ him! Was it to-morrow evening she had told him he might
come? She would go down to Ferth.
Wheels in the quiet street! Letty flew to the window like an excited
child, her green and white twinkling through the room.
A brougham, and a tall figure in black stepping slowly out of it. Letty
sheltered herself behind a curtain, held her breath, and listened.
Presently her lower lip dropped a little. What was Kenrick about? The
front door had closed, and Lady Maxwell had not re-entered her carriage.
She opened the drawing-room door with care, and was stooping over the
banisters when she saw Kenrick on the stairs. He seemed to be coming
from the direction of George's study.
"What have you been doing?" she asked him in a hard under-voice, looking
at him angrily. "I told you not to let Lady Maxwell in."
"I told her, my lady, that you were engaged and could see no one. Then
her ladyship asked if she might write a few lines to you and send them
up, asking when you would be able to see her. So I showed her into Sir
George's study, my lady, and she is writing at Sir George's desk."
"You should have done nothing of the sort," said Letty, sharply. "What is
She took it from his hand before the butler, somewhat bewildered by the
responsibilities of his position, could explain that he had just found it
in the letterbox, where it might have been lying some little time, as he
had heard no knock.
She let him go downstairs again, to await Lady Maxwell's exit, and
herself ran back to read her letter, her heart beating, for the address
of the sender was on the envelope.
When she had finished she threw it down, half suffocating.
"So I am to be lectured and preached to besides. Good heavens! In his
lofty manner, I suppose, that people talk of. Prig--odious,
insufferable prig! So I have mistaken George, have I? My own husband!
And insulted her--_her_! And she is actually downstairs, writing to me,
in my own house!"
She locked her hands, and began stormily to pace the room again. The
image of her rival, only a few feet from her, bending over George's
table, worked in her with poisonous force. Suddenly she swept to the bell
and rang it. A door opened downstairs. She ran to the landing.
"Yes, my lady." She heard a pause, and the soft rustle of a dress.
"Tell Lady Maxwell, please"--she struggled hard for the right, the
dignified tone--"that if it is not too late for her to stay, I am now
able to see her."
She hurried back into the drawing-room and waited. _Would_ she come?
Letty's whole being was now throbbing with one mad desire. If Kenrick
let her go!
But steps approached; the door was thrown open.
Marcella Maxwell came in timidly, very pale, the dark eyes shrinking from
the sudden light of the drawing-room. She was bareheaded, and wore a long
cloak of black lace over her white evening dress. Letty's flash of
thought as she saw her was twofold: first, hatred of her beauty, then
triumph in the evident nervousness with which her visitor approached her.
Without making the slightest change of position, the mistress of the
house spoke first.
"Will you please tell me," she said, in her sharpest, thinnest voice, "to
what I owe the honour of this visit?"
Marcella paused half-way towards her hostess.
"I read your letter to my husband," she said quietly, though her voice
shook, "and I thought you would hardly refuse to let me speak to you
"Then perhaps you will sit down," said Letty, in the same voice; and she
If she had wished to heighten the effect of her reception by these small
discourtesies she did not succeed. Rather, Marcella's self-possession
returned under them. She looked round simply for a chair, brought one
forward within speaking distance of her companion, moving once more, in
her thin, tall grace, with all that unconscious dignity Letty had so
often envied and admired from a distance.
But neither dignity nor grace made any bar to the emotion that filled
her. She bent forward, clasping her hands on her knee.
"Your letter to my husband made me so unhappy--that I could not help
coming," she said, in a tone that was all entreaty, all humbleness.
"Not--of course--that it seemed to either of us a true or just account of
what had happened"--she drew herself up gently--"but it made me
realise--though indeed I had realised it before I read it--that in my
friendship with your husband I had been forgetting--forgetting those
things--one ought to remember most. You will let me put things, won't
you, in my own way, as they seem to me? At Castle Luton Sir George
attracted me very much. The pleasure of talking to him there first made
me wish to try and alter some of his views--to bring him across my poor
people--to introduce him to our friends. Then, somehow, a special bond
grew up between him and me with regard to this particular struggle in
which my husband and I"--she dropped her eyes that she might not see
Letty's heated face--"have been so keenly interested. But what I ought to
have felt--from the very first--was, that there could be, there ought to
have been, something else added. Married people "--she spoke hurriedly,
her breath rising and falling--"are not two, but one--and my first step
should have been to come--and--and ask you to let me know you too--to
find out what your feelings were, whether you wished for a
friendship--that--that I had perhaps no right to offer to Sir George
alone. I have been looking into my own heart"--her voice trembled
again--"and I see that fault, that great fault. To be excluded myself
from any strong friendship my husband might make, would be agony to me!"
The frank, sudden passion of her lifted eyes sent a thrill even through
Letty's fierce and hardly, kept silence. "And that I wanted to say to
you, first of all. I wronged my own conception of what marriage should
be, and you were quite, quite right to be angry!"
"Well, I think it's quite clear, isn't it, that you forgot from the
beginning George had a wife?" cried Letty, in her most insulting voice.
"That certainly can't be denied. Anybody could see that at Castle Luton!"
Marcella looked at her in perplexity. What could suggest to her how to
say the right word, touch the right chord? Would she be able to do more
than satisfy her own conscience and then go, leaving this strange little
fury to make what use she pleased of her visit and her avowals?
She shaded her eyes with her hand a moment, thinking. Then she said:
"Perhaps it is of no use for me to ask you to remember how full our
minds--my husband's and mine--have been of one subject--one set of
ideas. But, if I am not keeping you too long, I should like to give you
an account, from my point of view, of the friendship between Sir George
and myself. I think I can remember every talk of ours, from our first
meeting in the hospital down to--down to this morning."
"This morning!" cried Letty, springing up. "This _morning_! He went to
The little face convulsed with passion raised an intolerable distress
"Yes, he came to see me," she said, her dark eyes, full of pain, full,
too, once more, of entreaty, fixed upon her interrogator. "But do let me
tell you! I never saw anyone in deeper trouble--trouble about
you--trouble about himself."
Letty burst into a wild laugh.
"Of course! No doubt he went to complain of me--that I flirted--that I
ill-treated his mother--that I spent too much money--and a lot of other
pleasant little things. Oh! I can imagine it perfectly. Besides that, I
suppose he went to be thanked. Well, he deserved _that_. He has thrown
away his career to please you; so if you didn't thank him, you ought!
Everybody says his position in Parliament now isn't worth a straw--that
he must resign--which is delightful, of course, for his wife. And I saw
it all from the beginning--I understood exactly what you _wanted_ to do
at Castle Luton--only I couldn't believe then--I was only six weeks
A wave of excitement and self-pity swept over her. She broke off
with a sob.
Marcella's heart was wrung. She knew nothing of the real Letty Tressady.
It was the wife as such, slighted and set aside, that appealed to the
imagination, the remorse of this happy, this beloved woman. She rose
quickly, she held out her hands, looking down upon the little venomous
creature who had been pouring these insults upon her.
"Don't--_don't_ believe such things," she said, with sobbing breath. "I
never wronged you consciously for a moment. Can't you believe that Sir
George and I became friends because we cared for the same kind of
questions; because I--I was full of my husband's work and everything that
concerned it; because I liked to talk about it, to win him friends. If it
had ever entered my mind that such a thing could pain and hurt you--"
"Where have you sent him to-day?" cried Letty, peremptorily, interrupting
her, while she drew her handkerchief fiercely across her eyes.
Instantly Marcella was conscious of the difficulty of explaining her own
impulse and Maxwell's action.
"Sir George told me," she said, faltering, "that he must go away from
London immediately, to think out some trouble that was oppressing him.
Only a few minutes after he left our house we heard from Mrs. Allison
that she was in great distress about her son. She came, in fact, to beg
us to help her find him. I won't go into the story, of course; I am sure
you know it. My husband and I talked it over. It occurred to us that if
Maxwell went to him--to Sir George--and asked him to do us and her this
great kindness of going to Ancoats and trying to bring him back to his
mother, it would put everything on a different footing. Maxwell would
get to know him,--as I had got to know him. One would find a way--to
silence the foolish, unjust things--that have been said--I suppose--I
She paused, confused by the difficulties in her path, her cheeks hot and
flushed. But the heart knew its own innocence. She recovered herself; she
"--If only--at the same time--I could make you realise how truly--how
bitterly--I had felt for any pain you might have suffered--if I could
persuade you to look at it all--your husband's conduct and mine--in its
true light, and to believe that he cares--he _must_ care--for nothing in
the world so much as his home--as you and your happiness!"
The nobleness of the speaker, the futility of the speech, were about
equally balanced! Candour was impossible, if only for kindness' sake. And
the story, so told, was not only unconvincing, it was hardly intelligible
even, to Letty. For the two personalities moved in different worlds, and
what had seemed to the woman who was all delicate impulse and romance the
natural and right course, merely excited in Letty, and not without
reason, fresh suspicion and offence. If words had been all, Marcella had
But a strange tumult was rising in Letty's breast. There was something in
this mingling of self-abasement with an extraordinary moral richness and
dignity, in these eyes, these hands that would have so gladly caught and
clasped her own, which began almost to intimidate her. She broke out
again, so as to hold her own bewilderment at bay:
"What right had you to send him away--to plan anything for _my_ husband
without my consent? Oh, of course you put it very finely; I daresay you
know about all sorts of things _I_ don't know about; I'm not clever, I
don't talk politics. But I don't quite see the good of it, if it's only
to take husbands away from their wives. All the same, I'm not a
hypocrite, and I don't mean to pretend I'm a meek saint. Far from it.
I've no doubt that George thinks he's been perfectly justified from the
beginning, and that I have brought everything upon myself. Well! I don't
care to argue about it. Don't imagine, please, that I have been playing
the deserted wife all the time. If people injure me, it's not my way to
hold my tongue, and I imagine that, after all, I do understand my own
husband, in spite of Lord Maxwell's kind remarks!" She pointed scornfully
to Maxwell's letter on the table. "But as soon as I saw that nothing I
said mattered to George, and that his whole mind was taken up with your
society, why, of course, I took my own measures! There are other men in
the world--and one of them happens to amuse me particularly at this
moment. It's your doing and George's, you see, if he doesn't like it!"
Marcella recoiled in sudden horror, staring at her companion with wide,
startled eyes. Letty braved her defiantly, her dry lips drawn into a
miserable smile. She stood, looking very small and elegant, beside her
writing-table, her hand, blazing with rings, resting lightly upon it, the
little, hot withered face alone betraying the nerve tension behind.
The situation lasted a few seconds, then with a quick step Marcella
hurried to a chair on the further side of the room, sank into it, and
covered her face with her hands.
Letty's heart seemed to dip, as it were, into an abyss. But there was a
frenzied triumph in the spectacle of Marcella's grief and tears.
_Marcella Maxwell_--thus silenced, thus subdued! The famous name, with
all that it had stood for in Letty's mind, of things to be envied and
desired, echoed in her ear, delighted her revenge. She struggled to
maintain her attitude.
"I don't know why what I said should make you so unhappy," she said
coldly, after a pause.
Marcella did not reply. Presently Letty saw that she was resting her
cheek on her hand and gazing before her into vacancy. At last she turned
round, and Letty could satisfy herself that in truth her eyes were wet.
"Is there no one," asked the full, tremulous voice, "whom you care for,
whom you would send for now to advise and help you?"
"Thank you!" said Letty, calmly, leaning against the little
writing-table, and beating the ground slightly with her foot. "I don't
want them. And I don't know why you should trouble yourself about it."
But for the first time, and against its owner's will, the hard
Marcella rose impetuously again, and came towards her.
"When one thinks of all the long years of married life," she said, still
trembling, "of the children that may come--"
Letty lifted her eyebrows.
"If one happened to wish for them. But I don't happen to wish for them,
never did. I daresay it sounds horrid. Anyway, one needn't take that into
"And your husband? Your husband, who must be miserable, whose great gifts
will be all spoiled unless you will somehow give up your anger and make
peace. And instead of that, you are only thinking of revenging yourself,
of making more ruin and pain. It breaks one's heart! And it would need
such a _little_ effort on your part, only a few words written or spoken,
to bring him back, to end all this unhappiness!"
"Oh! George can take care of himself," said Letty, provokingly; "so can
I. Besides, you have sent him away."
Marcella looked at her in despair. Then silently she turned away, and
Letty saw that she was searching for some gloves and a handkerchief she
had been carrying in her hand when she came in.
Letty watched her take them up, then said suddenly, "Are you going away?"
"It is best, I think. I can do nothing."
"I wish I knew why you came to see me at all! They say, of course,
you are very much in love with Lord Maxwell. Perhaps--that made you
sorry for me?"
Marcella's pride leapt at the mention by those lips of her own married
life. Then she drove her pride down.
"You have put it better than I have been able to do, all the time." Her
mouth parted in a slight, sad smile--"Good-night."
Letty took no notice. She sat down on the arm of a chair near her. Her
eyes suddenly blazed, her face grew dead-white.
"Well, if you want to know--" she said--"no, don't go--I don't mean to
let you go just yet--I _am_ about the most miserable wretch going! There,
you may take it or leave it; it's true. I don't suppose I cared much
about George when I married him; plenty of girls don't. But as soon as he
began to care about _you_,--just contrariness, I suppose,--I began to
feel that I could kill anybody that took him from me, and kill myself
afterwards! Oh, good gracious! there was plenty of reason for his getting
tired of me. I'm not the sort of person to let anyone get the whip-hand
of me, and I _would_ spend his money as I liked, and I _would_ ask the
persons I chose to the house; and, above all, I wasn't going to be
pestered with looking after and giving up to his _dreadful_ mother, who
made my life a burden to me. Oh! why do you look so white? Well, I
daresay it does sound atrocious. I don't care. Perhaps you'll be still
more horrified when you know that they came round this afternoon, when I
was out and George was gone, to tell me that Lady Tressady was
frightfully ill--dying, I think my maid said. And I haven't given it
another thought since--not one--till now"--she struck one hand against
the other--"because directly afterwards the butler told me of your visit
this afternoon, and that you were coming again--and I wasn't going to
think of anything else in the world but you, and George. No, don't look
like that, don't come near me--I'm not mad. I assure you I'm not mad! But
that's all by the way. What was I saying? Oh! that George had cause
enough to stop caring about me. Of course he had; but if he's lost to
me--I shall give him a good deal more cause before we've done. That
other man--you know him--Cathedine--gave me a kiss this afternoon, when
we were in a wood together"--the same involuntary shudder overtook her,
while she still held her companion at arm's length. "Oh, he is a
brute--a _brute_! But what do I care what happens to me? It's so strange
I don't--rather creditable, I think--for after all I like parties, and
being asked about. But now George hates me--and let you send him away
from me--why, of course, it's all simple enough! I--Don't--don't come. I
shall never, never forgive--it's just being tired--"
But Marcella sprang forward. Mercifully, there is a limit to nerve
endurance, and Letty in her raving had overpassed it. She sank gasping on
a sofa, still putting out her hand as though to protect herself. But
Marcella knelt beside her, the tears running down her cheeks. She put her
arms--arms formed for tenderness, for motherliness--round the girl's
slight frame. "Don't--don't repulse me," she said, with trembling lips,
and suddenly Letty yielded. She found herself sobbing in Lady Maxwell's
embrace, while all the healing, all the remorse, all the comfort that
self-abandonment and pity can pour out on such a plight as hers,
descended upon her from Marcella's clinging touch, her hurried,
fragmentary words. Assurances that all could be made right entreaties for
gentleness and patience--revelations of her own inmost heart as a wife,
far too sacred for the ears of Letty Tressady--little phrases and
snatches of autobiography steeped in an exquisite experience: the nature
Letty had rained her blows upon, kept nothing back, gave her all its
best. How irrelevant much of it was!--chequered throughout by those
oblivions, and optimisms, and foolish hopes by which such a nature as
Marcella's protects itself from the hard facts of the world. By the time
she had ranged through every note of entreaty and consolation, Marcella
had almost persuaded herself and Letty that George Tressady had never
said a word to her beyond the commonplaces of an ordinary friendship; she
had passionately determined that this blurred and spoiled marriage could
and should be mended, and that it lay with her to do it; and in the
spirit of her audacious youth she had taken upon herself the burden of
Letty's character and fate, vowing herself to a moral mission, to a long
patience. The quality of her own nature, perhaps, made her bear Letty's
violences and frenzies more patiently than would have been possible to a
woman of another type; generous remorse and regret, combined with her
ignorance of Letty's history and the details of Letty's life, led her
even to look upon these violences as the effects of love perverted, the
anguish of a jealous heart. Imagination, keen and loving, drew the
situation for her in rapid strokes, draped Letty in the subtleties and
powers of her own heart, and made forbearance easy.
As for Letty, her whole being surrendered itself to a mere ebb and flow
of sensations. That she had been able thus to break down the barriers of
Marcella's stateliness filled her all through, in her passion as in her
yielding, with a kind of exultation. A vision of a tall figure in a white
and silver dress, sitting stiff and unapproachable beside her in the
Castle Luton drawing-room, fled through her mind now and then, only
to make the wonder of this pleading voice, these confidences, this
pity, the more wonderful. But there was more than this, and better
than this. Strange up-wellings of feelings long trampled on and
suppressed--momentary awakenings of conscience, of repentance, of
regret--sharp realisations of an envy that was no longer ignoble but
moral, softer thoughts of George, the suffocating, unwilling recognition
of what love meant in another woman's life--these messengers and
forerunners of diviner things passed and repassed through the spaces of
Letty's soul as she lay white and passive under Marcella's yearning look.
There was a marvellous relief besides, much of it a physical relief, in
this mere silence, this mere ceasing from angry railing and offence.
Marcella was still sitting beside her, holding her hands, and talking in
the same low voice, when suddenly the loud sound of a bell clanged
through the house. Letty sprang up, white and startled.
"What can it be? It's past ten o'clock. It can't be a telegram."
Then a guilty remembrance struck her. She hurried to the door as
"Lady Tressady's maid would like to see you, my lady. They want Sir
George's address. The doctors think she will hardly live over to-morrow."
And behind Kenrick, Justine, the French maid, pushed her way in, weeping
and exclaiming. Lady Tressady, it seemed, had been in frightful pain all
the afternoon. She was now easier for the moment, though dangerously
exhausted. But if the heart attacks returned during the next twenty-four
hours, nothing could save her. The probability was that they would
return, and she was asking piteously for her son, who had seen her,
Justine believed, the day before these seizures began, just before his
departure for Paris, and had written. "Et la pauvre âme!" cried the
Frenchwoman at last, not caring what she said to this amazing
daughter-in-law, "elle est là toujours, quand les douleurs s'apaisent un
peu, écoutant, espérant--et personne ne vient--_personne_! Voulez-vous
bien, madame, me dire où on peut trouver Sir George?"
"Poste Restante, Trouville," said Letty, sullenly. "It is the only
address that I know of."
But she stood there irresolute and frowning, while the French girl,
hardly able to contain herself, stared at the disfigured face, demanding
by her quick-breathing silence, by her whole attitude, something else,
something more than Sir George's address.
Meanwhile Marcella waited in the background, obliged to hear what passed,
and struck with amazement. It is perhaps truer of the moral world than
the social that one half of it never conceives how the other half lives.
George Tressady's mother--alone--dying--in her son's absence--and Letty
Tressady knew nothing of her illness till it had become a question of
life and death, and had then actually refused to go--forgotten the
When Letty, feverish and bewildered, turned back to the companion
whose heart had been poured out before her during this past hour of
high emotion, she saw a new expression in Lady Maxwell's eyes from
which she shrank.
"Ought I to go?" she said fretfully, almost like a peevish child, putting
her hand to her brow.
"My carriage is downstairs," said Marcella, quickly. "I can take you
there at once. Is there a nurse?" she asked, turning to the maid.
Oh, yes; there was an excellent nurse, just installed, or Justine could
not have left her mistress; and the doctor close by could be got at a
moment's notice. But the poor lady wanted her son, or at least some one
of the family,--Justine bit her lip, and threw a nervous side glance at
Letty,--and it went to the heart to see her. The girl found relief in
describing her mistress's state to this grave and friendly lady, and
showed more feeling and sincerity in speaking of it than might have been
expected from her affected dress and manner.
Meanwhile Letty seemed to be wandering aimlessly about the room. Marcella
went up to her.
"Your hat is here, on this chair. I have a shawl in the carriage. Won't
you come at once, and leave word to your maid to bring after you what
you want? Then I can go on, if you wish it, and send your telegram to
"But you wanted him to do something?" said Letty, looking at her
"Mothers come first, I think!" said Marcella, with a smile of wonder.
"It is best to write it before we go. Will you tell me what to say?"
She went to the writing-table, and had to write the telegram with small
help from Letty, who in her dazed, miserable soul was still fighting some
demonic resistance or other to the step asked of her. Instinctively and
gradually, however, Marcella took command of her. A few quiet words to
Justine sent her to make arrangements with Grier. Then Letty found a
cloak that had been sent for being drawn round her shoulders, and was
coaxed to put on her hat. In another minute she was in the Maxwells'
brougham, with her hand clasped in Marcella's.
"They will want me to sit up," she said, dashing an irrelevant tear from
her eyes, as they drove away. "I am so tired--and I hate illness!"
"Very likely they won't let you see her to-night. But you will be there
if the illness comes on again. You would feel it terribly if--if she died
all alone, with Sir George away."
"Died!" Letty repeated, half angrily. "But that would be so
horrible--what could I do?"
Marcella looked at her with a strange smile.
"Only be kind, only forget everything but her!"
The softness of her voice had yet a severity beneath it that Letty felt,
but had no spirit to resent, Rather it awakened an uneasy and painful
sense that, after all, it was not she who had come off conqueror in this
great encounter. The incidents of the last half-hour seemed in some
curious way to have reversed their positions. Letty, smarting, felt that
her relation to George's dying mother had revealed her to Lady Maxwell
far more than any wild and half-sincere confessions could have done. Her
vanity felt a deep inner wound, yet of a new sort. At any rate,
Marcella's self-abasement was over, and Letty instinctively realised that
she would never see it again, while at the same time a new and clinging
need had arisen in herself. The very neighbourhood of the personality
beside her had begun to thrill and subjugate her. She had been conscious
enough before--enviously, hatefully conscious--of all the attributes and
possessions that made Maxwell's wife a great person in the world of
London. What was stealing upon her now was glamour and rank and influence
of another kind.
Not unmixed, no doubt, with more mundane thoughts! No ordinary preacher,
no middle-class eloquence perhaps would have sufficed--nothing less
dramatic and distinguished than the scene which had actually passed, than
a Marcella at her feet. Well! there are many modes and grades of
conversion. Whether by what was worst in her, or what was best; whether
the same weaknesses of character that had originally inflamed her had now
helped to subdue her or no, what matter? So much stood--that one short
hour had been enough to draw this vain, selfish nature within a moral
grasp she was never again to shake off.
Meanwhile, as they drove towards Warwick Square Marcella's only thought
was how to hand her over safe to her husband. A sense of agonised
responsibility awoke in the elder woman at the thought of Cathedine. But
no more emotion--only common sense and gentleness.
As they neared Warwick Square, Letty withdrew her hand.
"I don't suppose you will ever want to see me again," she said huskily,
turning her head away.
"Do you think that very possible between two people who have gone
through such a time as you and I have?" said Marcella, pale, but
smiling. "When may I come to see you to-morrow? I shall send to inquire,
of course, very early."
Some thought made Letty's breath come quickly. "Will you come in the
afternoon--about four?" she said hastily. "I suppose I shall be here."
They were just stopping at the door in Warwick Square. "You said you
would tell me--"
"I have a great deal to tell you.... I will come, then, and see if you
can be spared.... Good-night. I trust she will be better! I will go on
and send the telegram."
Letty felt her hand gravely pressed, the footman helped her out, and
in another minute she was mounting the stairs leading to Lady
Tressady's room, having sent a servant on before her to warn the nurse
of her arrival.
The nurse came out, finger on lip. She was very glad to see Lady
Tressady, but the doctor had left word that nothing whatever was to be
allowed to disturb or excite his patient. Of course, if the attack
returned--But just now there was hope. Only it was so difficult to keep
her quiet. Instead of trying to sleep, she was now asking for Justine,
declaring that Justine must read French novels aloud to her, and bring
out two of her evening dresses, that she might decide on some
alteration in the trimmings. "I daren't fight with her," said the
nurse, evidently in much perplexity. "But if she only raises herself in
bed she may kill herself."
She hurried back to her patient, promising to inform the daughter-in-law
at once if there was a change for the worse, and Letty, infinitely
relieved, made her way to the spare room of the house, where Grier was
already unpacking for her.
After a hasty undressing she threw herself into bed, longing for sleep.
But from a short nightmare dream she woke up with a start. Where was she?
In her mother-in-law's house,--she could actually hear the shrill
affected voice laughing and talking in the room next door,--and brought
there by Marcella Maxwell! The strangeness of these two facts kept her
tossing restlessly from side to side. And where was George? Just arrived
at Paris, perhaps. She thought of the glare and noise of the Gare du
Nord--she heard his cab rattling over the long stone-paved street
outside. In the darkness she felt a miserable sinking of heart at the
thought of his going with every minute farther, farther away from her.
Would he ever forgive her that letter to Lord Maxwell, when he knew of
it? Did she want him to forgive her?
A mood that was at once soft and desolate stole upon her, and made her
cry a little. It sprang, perhaps, from a sense of the many barriers she
had heaped up between herself and happiness. The waves of feeling, half
self-assertive, half repentant, ebbed and flowed. One moment she yearned
for the hour when Marcella was to come to her; the next, she hated the
notion of it. So between dream and misery, amid a maze of thought without
a clue, Letty's night passed away. By the time the morning dawned, the
sharp conviction had shaped itself within her that she had grown older,
that life had passed into another stage, and could never again be as it
had been the day before. Two emotions, at least, or excitements, had
emerged from all the rest and filled her mind--the memory of the scene
with Marcella, and the thought of George's return.
"My dear, you don't mean to say you have had her here for ten days?"
The speaker was Betty Leven, who had just arrived at Maxwell Court, and
was sitting with her hostess under the cedars in front of the magnificent
Caroline mansion, which it was the never-ending task of Marcella's life
to bring somehow into a democratic scheme of things.
A still September afternoon, lightly charged with autumn mists, lay
gently on the hollows of the park. Betty was in her liveliest mood and
her gayest dress. Her hat, a marvel in poppies, was perched high upon no
less ingenious waves and frettings of hair. Her straw-coloured gown,
which was only simple for the untrained eye, gave added youth even to
her childish figure; and her very feet, clothed in the smallest and most
preposterous of shoes, had something merry and provocative about them,
as they lay crossed upon the wooden footstool Marcella had pushed
The remark just quoted followed upon one made by her hostess, to the
effect that Lady Tressady would be down to tea shortly.
"Now, Betty," said Marcella, seriously, though she laughed, "I meant to
have a few words with you on this subject first thing--let's have them.
Do you want to be very kind to me, or do you ever want me to be very
nice to you?"
"You can't do half as much for me now as you once could, now that Frank's
going to leave Parliament," she remarked, with as much worldly wisdom as
her face allowed. "Nevertheless, the quality of my nature is such that,
sometimes, I might even be nice to you for nothing. But information
before benevolence--why have you got her here?"
"Because she was fagged and unhappy in London, and her husband had gone
to take his mother abroad, after first doing Maxwell a great kindness,"
said Marcella,--not, however, without embarrassment, as Betty saw,--"and
I want you to be kind to her."
"Reasons one and two no reasons at all," said Betty, meditating; "and the
third wants examining. You mean that George Tressady went after Ancoats?"
Marcella raised her shoulders, and was silent.
"If you are going to be stuffy and mysterious," said Betty, with
vivacity, "you know what sort of a hedgehog I can be. How can you expect
me to be nice to Letty Tressady unless you make it worth my while?"
"Betty, you infant! Well, then, he did go after Ancoats--got him safely
away from Trouville, brought him to Paris to join Mrs. Allison, and, in
general, has laid us all under very great obligations. Meanwhile, she was
very much tired out with nursing her mother-in-law--"
"Oh, and such a mother-in-law--such a jewel!" ejaculated Betty.
"And I brought her down here to rest, till he should come back from
Wildheim and take her home. He will probably be here to-night."
The speaker reddened unconsciously during her story, a fact not
lost on Betty.
"Well, I knew most of that before," said Betty, quietly. "And what sort
of a time have you been having this ten days?"
"I have been very glad to have her here," came the quick reply. "I ought
to have known her long ago."
Betty looked at the speaker with a half-incredulous smile.
"You have been 'collecting' her, I suppose, as Hallin collects grasses.
Of course, what I pine to know is what sort of a time _she's_ had. You're
not the easiest person in the world to get on with, my lady."
"I know that," said Marcella, sighing; "but I don't think she has
Betty's green eyes opened suddenly to the light.
"Are you ever going to tell me the truth? Have you got her under your
thumb? Does she adore you?"
"Betty, don't be an idiot!"
"I expect she does," said Betty, thoughtfully, a myriad thoughts and
conjectures passing through her quick brain as she studied her friend's
face and attitude. "I see exactly what fate is going to happen to you in
middle life. Women couldn't get on with you when you were a girl--you
didn't like them, nor they you; and now everywhere I hear the young women
beginning to talk about you, especially the young married women; and in a
few years you will have them all about you like a cluster of doves,
cooing and confessing, and making your life a burden to you."
"Well, suppose you begin?" said Marcella, with meaning. "I'm quite ready.
How are Frank's spirits since the great decision?"
"Frank's spirits?" said Betty. She leisurely took off her glove. "Frank's
spirits, my dear, if you wish to know, are simply an affront to his wife.
My ruined ambitions appear to affect him as Parrish's food does the baby.
I prophesy he will have gained a stone by Christmas."
For the great step had been taken. Betty had given way, and Frank was to
escape from politics. For three years Betty had held him to his task--had
written his speeches, formed his opinions, and done her very best to
train him for a statesman. But the young man had in truth no opinions,
save indeed whatever might be involved in the constant opinion that
Heaven had intended him for a country gentleman and a sportsman, and for
nothing else. And at last a mixture of revolt and melancholy had served
his purpose. Betty was subdued; the Chiltern Hundreds were in sight. The
young wife, with many sighs, had laid down all dreams of a husband on the
front bench. But--in compensation--she had regained her lover, and the
honeymoon shone once more.
"Frank came to see me yesterday," said Marcella, smiling.
Betty sprang forward.
"What did he say? Didn't he tell you I was an angel? Now there's a
bargain! Repeat to me every single word he said, and I will devote
myself, body and bones, to Letty Tressady."
"Hush!" said Marcella, laying two fingers on the pretty mouth. "Here
Letty Tressady, in fact, had just emerged from a side-door of the house,
and was slowly approaching the two friends on the terrace. Lady Leven's
discerning eye ran over the advancing figure. Marcella heard her make
some exclamation under her breath. Then she rose with little, hurrying
steps, and went to greet the newcomer with a charming ease and kindness.
Letty responded rather nervously. Marcella looked up with a smile, and
pointed to a low chair, which Letty took with a certain stiffness. It was
evident to Marcella that she was afraid of Lady Leven, who had, indeed,
shown a marked indifference to her society at Castle Luton.
But Betty was disarmed. The "minx" had lost her colour, and, for the
moment, her prettiness. She looked depressed, and talked little. As to
her relation to Marcella Betty's inquisitive brain indulged itself in a
score of conjectures. "How like her!" she thought to herself, "to forget
the wife's existence to begin with, and then to make love to her by way
of warding off the husband!"
Meanwhile, aloud, Lady Leven professed herself exceedingly dissatisfied
with the entertainment provided for her. Where were the gentlemen? What
was the good of one putting on one's best frock to come down to a Maxwell
Court Saturday to find only a "hen tea-party" at the end? Marcella
protested that there were only too many men somewhere on the premises
already, and more--with their wives--were arriving by the next train.
But Maxwell had taken off such as had already appeared for a long
Betty demanded the names, and Marcella gave them obediently. Betty
perceived at once that the party was the party of a political chief
obliged to do his duty. She allowed herself a good many shrugs of her
small shoulders. "Oh, Mrs. Lexham,--very charming, of course,--but what's
the good of being friends with a person who has five hundred people in
London that call her Kelly? Lady _Wendover_? I ought to have had notice.
A good mother? I should think she is! That's the whole point against her.
She always gives you the idea of having reared fifteen out of a possible
twelve. To see her beaming on her offspring makes me positively ashamed
of being in the same business myself. Don't you agree, Lady Tressady?"
But Letty, whose chief joy a month before would have been to dart in on
such a list with little pecking proofs of acquaintance, was leaning back
listlessly in her chair, and could only summon a forced smile for answer.
"And Sir George, too, is coming to-night, isn't he?" said Lady Leven.
"Yes, I expect my husband to-night," said Letty, coldly, without looking
at her questioner. Betty glanced quickly at the expression of the eyes
which were bent upon the further reaches of the park; then, to Letty's
astonishment, she bent forward impulsively and laid her little hand on
Lady Tressady's arm.
"Do you mind telling me," she said in a loud whisper, with a glance over
her shoulder, "your candid opinion of _her_ as a country lady?"
Letty, taken aback, turned and laughed uneasily; but Betty went rattling
on. "Have you found out that she treats her servants like hospital
nurses; that they go off and on duty at stated hours; that she has
workshops and art schools for them in the back premises; and that the
first footman has just produced a cantata which has been sent in to the
committee of the Worcester Festival (Be quiet, Marcella; if it isn't
that, it's something near it); that she teaches the stable boys and the
laundry maids old English dances, and the _pas de quatre_ once a
fortnight, and acts showman to her own pictures for the benefit of the
neighbourhood once a week? I came once to see how she did it, but I found
her and the Gairsley ironmonger measuring the ears of the Holbeins--it
seems you can't know anything about pictures now unless you have measured
all the ears and the little fingers, which I hope you know; I didn't!--so
I fled, as she hadn't a word to throw to me, even as one of the public.
Then perhaps you don't know that she has invented a whole, new, and
original system of game-preserving--she and Frank fight over it by the
hour--that she has upset all the wage arrangements of the county--that,
perhaps, you do know, for it got into the papers--and a hundred other
trifles. Has she revealed these things?"
Letty looked in perplexity from Betty's face, full of sweetness and
mirth, to Marcella's.
"She hasn't talked about them," she said, hesitating. "Of course, I
haven't understood a good many things that are done here--"
"Don't try," said Marcella, first laughing and then sighing.
Nothing appeased, Lady Leven chattered away, while Letty watched her
hostess in silence. She had come down to the Court gloating somewhat, in
spite of her very real unhappiness, over the prospect of the riches and
magnificence she was to find there. And to discover that wealth might be
merely the source of one long moral wrestle to the people who possessed
it, burdening them with all sorts of problems and remorses that others
escaped, had been a strange and, on the whole, jarring experience to her.
Of course there must be rich and poor; of course there must be servants
and masters. Marcella's rebellion against the barriers of life had been a
sort of fatigue and offence to Letty ever since she had been made to feel
it. And daily contact with the simple, and even Spartan, ways of living
that prevailed--for the owners of it, at least--in the vast house, with
the overflowing energy and humanity that often made its mistress a
restless companion, and led her into a fair percentage of mistakes--had
roused a score of half-scornful protests in the small, shrewd mind of her
guest. Nevertheless, when Marcella was kind, when she put Letty on the
sofa, insisting that she was tired, and anxiously accusing herself of
some lack of consideration or other; when she took her to her room at
night, seeing to every comfort, and taking thought for luxuries that in
her heart she despised; or when, very rarely, and turning rather pale,
she said a few words--sweet, hopeful, encouraging--about George's return,
then Letty was conscious of a strange leap of something till then
unknown, something that made her want to sob, that seemed to open to her
a new room in the House of Life. Marcella had not kissed her since the
day of their great scene; they had been "Lady Maxwell" and "Lady
Tressady" to each other all the time, and Letty had but realised her own
insolences and audacities the more, as gradually the spiritual dignity of
the woman she had raved at came home to her. But sometimes when Marcella
stood beside her, unconscious, talking pleasantly of London folk or
Ancoats, or trying to inform herself as to Letty's life at Ferth, a
half-desolate intuition would flash across the younger woman of what it
might be to be admitted to the intimate friendship of such a nature, to
feel those long, slender arms pressed about her once more, not in pity or
remonstrance, as of one trying to exorcise an evil spirit, but in mere
love, as of one asking as well as giving. The tender and adoring
friendship of women for women, which has become so marked a feature of
our self-realising generation, had passed Letty by. She had never known
it. Now, in these unforeseen circumstances, she seemed to be trembling
within reach of its emotion; divining it, desiring it, yet forced onward
to the question, "What is there in me that may claim it?"
Marcella, indeed, after their first stormy interview, had once more
returned to the subject of it. She had told the story of her friendship
with George Tressady, very gently and plainly, in a further conversation,
held between them at the elder Lady Tressady's house during that odd
lady's very odd convalescence; till, indeed, she reached the last scene.
She could not bring herself to deliver the truth of that. Nor was it
necessary. Letty's jealousy had guessed it near enough long ago. But when
all else was told, Letty had been conscious at first of a half-sore
resentment that there was so little to tell. In her secret soul she knew
very well what had been the effect on George. Her husband's mind had been
gradually absorbed by another ideal in which she had no part; nor could
she deny that he had suffered miserably. The memory of his face as he
asked her to "forgive him" when she fled past him on that last wretched
night was enough. But suffered for what? A few talks about politics, a
few visits to poor people, an office of kindness after a street accident
that any stranger must have rendered, a few meetings in the House and
Letty's vanity was stabbed anew by the fact that Lady Maxwell's
offence was so small. It gave her a kind of measure of her own hold
upon her husband.
Once, indeed, Marcella's voice and colour had wavered when she made
herself describe how, on the Mile End evening, she had been conscious of
pressing the personal influence to gain the political end. But good
heavens!--Letty hardly understood what the speaker's evident compunction
was about. Why, it was all for Maxwell! What had she thought of all
through but Maxwell? Letty's humiliation grew as she understood, and as
in the quiet of Maxwell Court she saw the husband and wife together.
Her anger and resentment might very well only have transferred themselves
the more hotly to George. But this new moral influence upon her had a
kind of paralysing effect. The incidents of the weeks before the crisis
excited in her now a sick, shamed feeling whenever she thought of them.
For contact with people on a wholly different plane of conduct, if such
persons as Letty can once be brought to submit to it, will often produce
effects, especially on women, like those one sees produced every day by
the clash of two standards of manners. It means simply the recognition
that one is unfit to be of certain company, and perhaps there are few
moral ferments more penetrating. Probably Letty would have gone to her
grave knowing nothing of it, but for the accident which had opened to her
the inmost heart of a woman with whom, once known, not even her vanity
dared measure itself.
George and she had already met since the day when he had gone off to
Paris in search of Ancoats. The telegram sent to him by Marcella on the
night of his mother's violent illness had, indeed, been recalled next
day. Lady Tressady, following the idiosyncrasies of her disease, sprang
from death to life--and life of the sprightliest kind--in the course of a
few hours. The battered, grey-haired woman--so old, do what she would,
under the betraying hand of physical decay!--no sooner heard that George
had been sent for than she at once and peremptorily telegraphed to him
herself to stay away. "I'm not dead yet," she wrote to him afterwards,
"in spite of all the fuss they've made with me. I was simply ashamed to
own such a cadaverous-looking wretch as you were when you came here last,
and if you take my advice you'll stay at Trouville with Lord Ancoats and
amuse yourself. As to that young man, of course it's no good, and his
mother's a great fool to suppose that you or anybody else can prevent
his enjoying himself. But these High Church women are so extraordinary."
Letty, indeed, remembering her mother-in-law's old ways, and finding
them little changed as far as she herself was concerned, was puzzled and
astonished by the new relations between mother and son. On the smallest
excuse or none, Lady Tressady, a year before, would have been ready to
fetch him back from furthest land without the least scruple. Now,
however, she thought of him, or for him, incessantly. And one day Letty
actually found her crying over an official intimation from the lawyer
concerned that another instalment of the Shapetsky debt would be due
within a month. But she angrily dried her tears at sight of Letty, and
Letty said nothing.
George, however, came back within about ten days of his departure, having
apparently done what he was commissioned to do, though Letty took so
little interest in the Ancoats affair that she barely read those portions
of his letters in which he described the course of it. His letters,
indeed, with the exception of a few ambiguous words here and there, dealt
entirely with Trouville, Ancoats, or the ups and downs of public opinion
on the subject of his action and speech in the House. Letty could only
gather from a stray phrase or two that he enjoyed nothing; but evidently
he could not yet bring himself to speak of what had happened.
When he did come back, the husband and wife saw very little of each
other. It was more convenient that he should stay in Upper Brook Street
while she remained at her mother-in-law's; and altogether he was hardly
three days in London. He rushed up to Market Malford to deliver his
promised speech to his constituents, and immediately afterwards, on the
urgent advice of the doctors, he went off to Wildheim with his mother and
the elderly cousin whose aid he had already invoked. Before he went, he
formally thanked his wife--who hardly spoke to him unless she was
obliged--for her attention to his mother, and then lingered a little,
looking no less "cadaverous," certainly, than when he had gone away, and
apparently desiring to say more.
"I suppose I shall be away about a fortnight," he said at last, "if one
is to settle her comfortably. You haven't told me yet what you would like
to do. Couldn't you get Miss Tulloch to go down with you to Ferth, or
would you go to your people for a fortnight?"
He was longing to ask her what had come of that promised visit of Lady
Maxwell's. But neither by letter nor by word of mouth had Letty as yet
said a word of it. And he did not know how to open the subject. During
the time that he was with his wife and mother, nothing was seen of
Marcella in Warwick Square, and an interview that he was to have had with
Maxwell, by way of supplement to his numerous letters, had to be
postponed because of overcrowded days on both sides. So that he was still
in the dark.
Letty at first made no answer to his rather lame proposals for her
benefit. But just as he was turning away with a look of added
worry, she said:
"I don't want to go home, thank you, and I still less want to go
"But you can't stay in London. There isn't a soul in town; and it would
be too dull for you."
He gazed at her in perplexity, praying, however, that he might not
provoke a scene, for the carriage that was to take him and his mother to
the station was almost at the door.
Letty rose slowly, and folded up some embroidery she had been
playing with. Then she took a note from her work-basket, and laid it
on the table.
"You may read that if you like. That's where I'm going."
And she quickly went out of the room.
George read the note. His face flushed, and he hurriedly busied himself
with some of his preparations for departure. When his wife came into the
room again he went up to her.
"You could have done nothing so likely to save us both," he said huskily,
and then could think of nothing more to say. He drew her to him as though
to kiss her, but a blind movement of the old rage with him or
circumstance leapt in her, and she pulled herself away. The thought of
that particular moment had done more perhaps than anything else to thin
and whiten her since she had been at Maxwell Court.
And now he would be here to-night. She knew both from her host himself
and from George's letters that Lord Maxwell had specially written to him
begging him to come to the Court on his return, in order to join his wife
and also to give that oral report of his mission for which there had been
no time on his first reappearance. Maxwell had spoken to her of his wish
to see her husband, without a tone or a word that could suggest anything
but the natural friendliness and good-will of the man who has accepted a
signal service from his junior. But Letty avoided Maxwell when she could;
nor would he willingly have been left alone with this thin, sharp-faced
girl whose letter to him had been like the drawing of an ugly veil from
nameless and incredible things. He was sorry for her; but in his strong,
deep nature he felt a repulsion for her he could not explain; and to
watch Marcella with her amazed him.
* * * * *
Immediately after tea, Lady Leven's complaints of her entertainment
became absurd. Guests poured in from the afternoon train, and a variety
of men, her husband foremost among them, were soon at her disposal,
asking nothing better than to amuse her.
Letty Tressady meanwhile looked on for a time at the brilliant crowd
about her on the terrace, with a dull sense of being forgotten and of no
account. She said to herself sullenly that of course no one would want to
talk to her; it was not her circle, and she had even few acquaintances
Then, to her astonishment, she began to find herself the object of an
evident curiosity and interest to many people among the throng. She
divined that her name was being handed from one to the other, and she
soon perceived that Marcella had been asked to introduce to her this
person and that, several of them men and women whose kindness, a few
weeks before, would have flattered her social ambitions to the highest
point. Colour and nerve returned, and she found herself sitting up,
forgetting her headache, and talking fast.
"I am delighted to have this opportunity of telling you, Lady Tressady,
how much I admired your husband's great speech," said the deep and
unctuous voice of the grey-haired Solicitor-General as he sank into a
chair beside her. "It was not only that it gave us our Bill, it gave the
House of Commons a new speaker. Manner, voice, matter--all of it
excellent! I hope there'll be no nonsense about his giving up his seat.
Don't you let him! He will find his feet and his right place before long,
and you'll be uncommonly proud of him before you've done."
"Lady Tressady, I'm afraid you've forgotten me," said a plaintive voice;
and, on turning, Letty saw the red-haired Lady Madeleine asking with
smiles to be remembered. "Do you know, I was lucky enough to get into the
House on the great day? What a scene it was! You were there, of course?"
When Letty unwillingly said "No," there was a little chorus of
"Well, take my advice, my dear lady," said the Solicitor-General,
speaking with lazy patronage somewhere from the depths of comfort,--he
was accustomed to use these paternal modes of speech to young
women,--"don't you miss your husband's speeches. We can't do without our
domestic critics. But for the bad quarters of an hour that lady over
there has given me, I should be nowhere."
And he nodded complacently towards the wife as stout as himself, who was
sitting a few yards away. She, hearing her name, nodded back, with smiles
aside to the bystanders. Most of the spectators, however, were already
acquainted with a conjugal pose which was generally believed to be not
according to facts, and no one took the cue.
Then presently Mr. Bennett--the workmen's member from the North--was at
Letty's elbow saying the most cordial things of the absent George. Bayle,
too, the most immaculate and exclusive of private secretaries, who was at
the Court on a wedding visit with a new wife, chose to remember Lady
Tressady's existence for the first time for many months, and to bestow
some of his carefully adapted conversation upon her. While, last of all,
Edward Watton came up to her with a cousinly kindness she had scarcely
yet received from him, and, drawing a chair beside her, overflowed with
talk about George, and the Bill, and the state of things at Market
Malford. In fact, it was soon clear even to Letty's bewildered sense that
till her husband should arrive she was perhaps, for the moment, the
person of most interest to this brilliant and representative gathering of
a victorious party.
Meanwhile she was made constantly aware that her hostess remembered her.
Once, as Marcella passed her, after introducing someone to her, Letty
felt a hand gently laid on her shoulder and then withdrawn. Strange waves
of emotion ran through the girl's senses. When would George be here?
About seven, she thought, when they would all have gone up to dress. He
would have arrived from Wildheim in the morning, and was to spend the day
doing business in town.
Letty was lying on a sofa in her bedroom. Her maid was to come to her
shortly, and she was impatiently listening to every sound that approached
or passed her door. The great clock in the distant hall struck seven, and
it seemed to her intolerably long before she heard movements in the
passage, and then Maxwell's voice outside.
"Here is your room, Sir George. I hope you don't mind a few ghosts! It is
one of the oldest bits of the house."
Letty sprang up. She heard the shutting of the passage door, then
immediately afterwards the door from the dressing-room opened, and George
"Well!" she said, staring at him, her face flushing; "surely you are
He came up to her, and put his arms round her, while she stood passive.
"Not so very," he said, and she could hear that his voice was unsteady.
"How are you? Give me a kiss, little woman--be a little glad to see me!"
He looked down upon her wistfully. On the journey he had been conscious
of great weariness of mind and body, a longing to escape from struggle,
to give and receive the balm of kind looks and soft words. He had come
back full of repentance towards her, if she had only known, full too of a
natural young longing for peace and good times.
She let him kiss her, but as he stooped to her it suddenly struck her
that she had never seen him look so white and worn. Still; after all this
holiday-making! Why? For love of a woman who never gave him a thought,
except of pity. Bitterness possessed her. She turned away indifferently.
"Well, you'll only just have time to dress. Is someone unpacking for
He looked at her.
"Is that all you have to say?"
She threw back her head and was silent.
"I was very glad to come back to you," he said, with a sigh, "though I--I
wish it were anywhere else than here. But, all things considered, I did
not see how to refuse. And you have been here the whole fortnight?"
"Have you"--he hesitated--"have you seen a great deal of Lady Maxwell?"
"Well, I suppose I have--in her own house." Then she broke out, her
heart leaping visibly under her light dressing-gown. "I don't blame
_her_ any more, if you want to know that; she doesn't think of anyone in
the world but him."
The gesture of her hand seemed to pursue the voice that had been just
speaking in the corridor.
"Well, at least I'm glad you've come to see that!" he said quietly. "And
is that all?"
He had walked away from her, but at his renewed question he turned
back quickly, his hands in his pockets. Something in the look of him
gave her a moment of pleasure, a throb of possession. But she showed
nothing of it.
"No, it's not all"--her pale blue eyes pierced him. "Why did you go and
see her that morning, and why have you never told me since?"
He started, and shrugged his shoulders.
"If you have been seeing much of her," he replied, after a pause, "you
probably know as much as I could tell you."
"No," she said steadily; "she has told me much about
He walked restlessly about for a few seconds, then returned, holding out
"Well, my dear, I said some mad and miserable things. They are as dead
now as if they had never been spoken. And they were not love-making--they
were crying for the moon. Take me, and forget them. I am an
unsatisfactory sort of fellow, but I will do the best I can."
"Wait a bit," she said, retreating, and speaking with a hard
incisiveness. "There are plenty of things you don't know. Perhaps you
don't know, for instance, that I wrote to Lord Maxwell? I sat up writing
it that night--he got it the same morning you saw her."
"You wrote to Maxwell!" he said in amazement--then, under his breath--"to
complain of her. My God!"
He walked away again, trying to control himself.
"You didn't suppose," she said huskily, "I was going to sit down calmly
under your neglect of me? I might have been silly in not--not seeing what
kind of a woman she was; that's different--besides, of course, she ought
to have thought more about me. But _that's_ not all!"
Her hand shook as she stood leaning on the sofa. George turned, and
looked at her attentively.
"The day you left I went to Hampton Court with the Lucys. Cathedine was
there. Of course I flirted with him all the time, and as we were going
through a wood near the river he said abominable things to me, and
Her brows were drawn defiantly. Her eyes seemed to be riveted to his. He
was silent a moment, the colour dyeing his pale face deep. Then she heard
his long breath.
"Well, we seem to be about quits," he said, in a bitter voice. "Have you
seen him since?"
"No. That's Grier knocking--you'd better go and dress."
He paused irresolutely. But Letty said, "Come in," and he retreated into
Husband and wife hurried down together, without another word to each
other. When George at last found himself at table between Lady Leven and
Mr. Bayle's new and lively wife, he had never been so grateful before to
the ease of women's tongues. In his mental and physical fatigue, he could
scarcely bear even to let himself feel the strangeness of his presence in
this room--at her table, in Maxwell's splendid house. _Not_ to
feel!--somehow to recover his old balance and coolness--that was the cry
of the inner man.
But the situation conquered him. _Why_ was he here? It was barely a month
since in her London drawing-room he had found words for an emotion, a
confession it now burnt him to remember. And here he was, breaking bread
with her and Maxwell, a few weeks afterwards, as though nothing lay
between them but a political incident. Oh! the smallness, the triviality
of our modern life!
Was it only four weeks, or nearly? What he had suffered in that time! An
instant's shudder ran through him, during an interval, while Betty's
unwilling occupation with her left-hand neighbour left memory its chance.
All the flitting scenes of the past month, Ancoats's half-vicious
absurdities, the humours of the Trouville beach, the waves of its grey
sea, his mother's whims and plaints, the crowd and heat of the little
German watering-place where he had left her--was it he, George Tressady,
that had been really wrestling with these things and persons, walking
among them, or beside them? It seemed hardly credible. What was real,
what remained, was merely the thought of some hours of solitude, beside
the Norman sea, or among the great beech-woods that swept down the hills
about Bad Wildheim. Those hours--they only--had stung, had penetrated,
had found the shrinking core of the soul.
What in truth was it that had happened to him? After weeks of a growing
madness he had finally lost his self-command, had spoken passionately,
as only love speaks, to a married woman, who had no thought for any man
in the world but her husband, a woman who had immediately--so he had
always read the riddle of Maxwell's behaviour--reported every incident
of his conversation with her to the husband, and had then tried her
best, with an exquisite kindness and compunction, to undo the mischief
her own charm had caused. For that effort, in the first instance,
George, under the shock of his act and her pain, had been, at intervals,
speechlessly grateful to her; all his energies had gone into pitiful,
eager response. Now, her attempt, and Maxwell's share in it, seemed to
have laid him under a weight he could no longer bear. His acceptance of
Maxwell's invitation had finally exhausted his power of playing the
superhuman part to which she had invited him. He wished with all his
heart he had not accepted it! From the moment of her greeting--with its
mixture of shrinking and sweetness--he had realised the folly, the
humiliation even, of his presence in her house. He could not rise--it
was monstrous, ludicrous almost, that she should wish it--to what she
seemed to ask of him.
What had he been in love with? He looked at her once or twice in
bewilderment. Had not she herself, her dazzling, unconscious purity,
debarred him always from the ordinary hopes and desires of the sensual
man? His very thought had moved in awe of her, had knelt before her.
Throughout there had been this half-bitter glorying in the strangeness of
his own case. The common judgment in its common vileness mattered nothing
to him. He had been in love with love, with grace, with tenderness, with
delight. He had seen, too late, a vision of the _best_; had realised
what things of enchantment life contains for the few, for the
chosen--what woman at her richest can be to man. And there had been a cry
of personal longing--personal anguish.
Well!--it was all done with. As for friendship, it was impossible,
grotesque. Let him go home, appease Letty, and mend his life. He
constantly realised now, with the same surprise, as on the night before
his confession, the emergence within himself, independent as it were of
his ordinary will, and parallel with the voice of passion or grief, of
some new moral imperative. Half scornfully he discerned in his own nature
the sort of paste that a man inherits from generations of decent dull
forefathers who have kept the law as they understood it. He was conscious
of the same "ought" vibrating through the moral sense as had governed
their narrower lives and minds. It is the presence or the absence indeed
of this dumb compelling power that in moments of crisis differentiates
one man from another. He felt it; wondered perhaps that he should feel
it; but knew, nevertheless, that he should obey it. Yes, let him go home,
make his wife forgive him, rear his children--he trusted to God there
would be children!--and tame his soul. How strange to feel this tempest
sweeping through him, this iron stiffening of the whole being, amid this
scene, in this room, within a few feet of that magic, that voice--
* * * * *
"Thank goodness I have got rid of my man at last!" said Betty's laughing
whisper in his ear. "Three successive packs of hounds have I followed
from their cradles to their graves. Make it up to me, Sir George, at
once! Tell me everything I want to know!"
George turned to her smiling.
"Of course. Now don't be discreet!--I know too much already. How did he
George laughed--not noticing that instead of laughing with him, little
Betty was staring at him open-eyed over her fan.
"To begin with, he invited me to fight--coffee and pistols before
eight, on the following morning, in the garden of his chalet, which
would not have been at all a bad place, for he is magnificently
installed. I came from his enemies, he said. They had prevented the
woman he loved from joining him, and covered him with ridicule. As
their representative I ought to be prepared to face the consequences
like a man. All this time he was storming up and down, in a marvellous
blue embroidered smoking suit--"
"Of course, to go with the hair," put in Betty.
"I said I thought he'd better give me some dinner before we talked it
out. Then he looked embarrassed and said there were friends coming. I
replied, '_Tant mieux.'_ He inquired fiercely whether it was the part of
a gentleman to thrust himself where he wasn't wanted. I kept my temper,
and said I was too famished to consider. Then he haughtily left the room,
and presently a servant came and asked for my luggage, which I had left
at the station, and showed me a bedroom. Ancoats, however, appeared again
to invite me to withdraw, and to suggest the names of two seconds who
would, he assured me, be delighted to act for me. I pointed out to him
that I was unpacked, and that to turn me out dinnerless would be simply
barbarous. Then, after fidgeting about a little, he burst out laughing in
an odd way, and said, 'Very well--only, mind, I didn't ask you.' Sure
enough, of course I found a party."
"You needn't tell me much about the party," said Betty, nervously,
"unless it's necessary."
"Well, it wasn't a very reputable affair, and two young women were
"No need to talk about the young women," said Betty, hastily.
George bowed submission.
"I only mentioned them because they are rather necessary to the story.
Anyway, by the time the company was settled Ancoats suddenly threw off
his embarrassment, and, with some defiant looks at me, behaved himself, I
imagine, much as he would have done without me. When all the guests were
gone, I asked him whether he was going to keep up the farce of a _grande
passion_ any more. He got in a rage and vowed that if 'she' had come, of
course all those creatures, male and female, would be packed off. I
didn't suppose that he would allow the woman he loved to come within a
mile of them? I shrugged my shoulders and declined to suppose anything
about his love affairs, which seemed to me too complicated. Then, of
course, I had to come to plain speaking, and bring in his mother."
"That she should have produced such a being!" cried Betty; "that he
should have any right in her at all!"
"That she should keep such a heart for him!" said George, raising his
eyebrows. "He turned rather white, I was relieved to see, when I told him
from her that she would leave his house if the London affair went on.
Well, we walked up and down in his garden, smoking, the greater part of
the night, till I could have dropped with fatigue. Every now and then
Ancoats would make a dash for the brandy and soda on the verandah; and in
between I had to listen to tirades against marriage, English prudery, and
English women,--quotations from Gautier and Renan,--and Heaven knows
what. At last, when we were both worn out, he suddenly stood still and
delivered his ultimatum. 'Look here--if you think I've no grievances,
you're much mistaken. Go back and tell my mother that if she'll marry
Fontenoy straight away I'll give up Marguerite!' I said I would deliver
no such impertinence. 'Very well,' he said; 'then I will. Tell her I
shall be in Paris next week, and ask her to meet me there. When are you
going?' 'Well,' I said, rather taken aback, 'there is such an institution
as the post. Now I've come so far, suppose you show me Trouville for a
few days?' He muttered something or other, and we went to bed.
Afterwards, he behaved to me quite charmingly, would not let me go, and I
ended by leaving him at the door of an hotel in Paris where he was to
meet his mother. But on the subject of Fontenoy it is an _idée fixe_. He
chafes under the whole position, and will yield nothing to a man who, as
he conceives, has no _locus standi_. But if his pride were no longer
annoyed by its being said that his mother had sacrificed her own
happiness to him, and if the situation were defined, I _think_ he might
be more amenable. I think they might marry him."
"That's how the man puts it!" said Betty, tightening her lip. "Of course
_any_ marriage is desirable for _any_ woman!"
"I was thinking of Mrs. Allison," said George, defensively. "One can't
think of a Lady Ancoats till she exists."
"_Merci!_ Never mind. Don't apologise for the masculine view. It has to
be taken with the rest of you. Do you understand that matrimony is in the
air here to-night? Have you been talking to Lady Madeleine?"
"No, not yet. But how handsome she's grown! I see Naseby's not far off."
George turned smiling to his companion. But, as he did so, again
something cold and lifeless in his own face and in the expression
underlying the smile pricked little Betty painfully. Marcella had made
her no confidences, but there had been much gossip, and Letty Tressady's
mere presence at the Court set the intimate friend guessing very near
She did her best to chatter on, so as to keep him at least
superficially amused. But both became more and more conscious of two
figures, and two figures only, at the crowded table--Letty Tressady,
who was listening absently to Edward Watton with oppressed and indrawn
eyes, and Lady Maxwell.
George, indeed, watched his wife constantly. He hungered to know more of
that first scene between her and Lady Maxwell, or he thought with bitter
repulsion of the letter she had confessed to him. Had he known of it,--in
spite of that strange, that compelling letter of Maxwell's, so reticent,
and yet in truth so plain,--he could hardly have come as a guest to
Maxwell's house. As for her revelations about Cathedine, he felt little
resentment or excitement. For the future a noxious brute had to be kept
in order--that was all. It was his own fault, he supposed, much more than
hers. The inward voice, as before, was clear enough. "I must just take
her home and be good to her. _She_ shirked nothing--now, no doubt, she
expects me to do my part."
"Do you notice those jewels that Lady Maxwell is wearing to-night?" said
Betty at last, unable to keep away from the name.
"I imagine they are a famous set?"
"They belonged to Marie Antoinette. At last Maxwell has made her have
them cleaned and reset. What a pity to have such desperate scruples as
she has about all your pretty things!"
"Must diamonds and rubies, then, perish out of the world?" he asked her,
absently, letting his eyes rest again upon the beautiful head and neck.
Betty made some flippant rejoinder, but as she watched him, she
was not gay.
* * * * *
George had had but a few words with his hostess before dinner, and
afterwards a short conversation was all that either claimed. She had
hoped and planned so much! On the stage of imagination before he
came--she had seen his coming so often. All was to be forgotten and
forgiven, and this difficult visit was to lead naturally and without
recall to another and happier relation. And now that he was here she felt
herself tongue-tied, moving near him in a dumb distress. Both realised
the pressure of the same necessities, the same ineluctable facts; and
tacitly, they met and answered each other, in the common avoidance of a
companionship which could after all avail nothing. Once or twice, as they
stood together after dinner, he noticed amid her gracious kindness, her
inquiries after Mrs. Allison or his mother, the search her eyes made for
Letty, and presently she began to talk with nervous, almost appealing,
emphasis--with a marked significance and intensity indeed--of Letty's
fatigue after her nursing, and the need she had for complete change and
rest. George found himself half resenting the implications of her manner,
as the sentences flowed on. He felt her love of influence, and was not
without a hidden sarcasm. In spite of his passionate gratitude to her, he
must needs ask himself, did she suppose that a man or a marriage was to
be remade in a month, even by her plastic fingers? Women envisaged these
things so easily, so childishly, almost.
When he moved away, a number of men who had already been talking to him
after dinner, and some of the most agreeable women of the party besides,
closed about him, making him, as it were, the centre of a conversation
which was concerned almost entirely with the personalities and chances
of the political moment. He was scarcely less astonished than Letty had
been by his own position amongst the guests gathered under Maxwell's
roof. Never had he been treated with so much sympathy, so much deference
even. Clearly, if he willed it so, what had seemed the dislocation might
only be the better beginning of a career. Nonsense! He meant to throw it
all up as soon as Parliament met again in February. The state of his
money affairs alone determined that. The strike was going from bad to
worse. He must go home and look after his own business. It was a folly
ever to have attempted political life. Meanwhile he felt the stimulus of
his reception in a company which included some of the keenest brains in
England. It appealed to his intelligence and virility, and they
responded. Letty once, glancing at him, saw that he was talking briskly,
and said to herself, with contradictory bitterness, that he was looking
as well as ever, and was going, she supposed, to behave as if nothing
"What is the matter with you to-night, my lady?" said Naseby, taking a
seat beside his hostess. "May I be impertinent and guess?--you don't like
your gems? Lady Leven has been telling me tales about them. They are the
most magnificent things I ever saw. I condole with you."
She turned rather listlessly to meet his bantering look.
"'Come you in friendship, or come you in war?'" she said, pointing to a
seat beside her. "I have no fight in me. But I have a great many things
to say to you."
He reddened for an instant, then recovered himself.
"So have I to you," he said briskly. "In the first place, I have some
fresh news from Mile End."
She half laughed, as who should say, "You put me off," then surrendered
herself with eagerness to the pleasure of his report. At the moment of
his approach, under pretence of talking to an elderly cousin of
Maxwell's, she had been lost in such an abstraction of powerless pity for
George Tressady--whose fair head, somehow, never escaped her, wherever it
moved--that she had hardly been able to bear with her guests or the
burden of the evening.
But Naseby roused her. And, indeed, his story so far was one to set the
blood throbbing in the veins of a creature who, on one side pure woman,
was on the other half poet, half reformer. Since the passage of the
Maxwell Bill, indeed, Naseby and a few friends of his, some "gilded
youths" like himself, together with some trade-union officials of a long
experience, had done wonders. They had been planning out the industrial
reorganisation of a whole district, through its two staple trades, with
the enthusiastic co-operation of the workpeople themselves; and the
result so far struck the imagination. Everywhere the old workshops were
to be bought up, improved, or closed; everywhere factories in which life
might be decent, and work more than tolerable, were to be set up;
everywhere the prospective shortening of hours, and the doing away with
the most melancholy of the home trades was working already like the
incoming of a great slowly surging tide, raising a whole population on
its breast to another level of well-being and of hope.
Most of what had been done or designed was of course already well known
to Maxwell's wife; she had indeed given substantial help to Naseby
throughout. But Naseby had some fresh advances to report since she was
last in East London, and she drank them in with an eagerness, which
somehow assuaged a hidden smart; while he wondered a little perhaps in
his philosopher's soul at the woman of our English day, with her
compunctions and altruisms, her entanglement with the old scheme of
things, her pining for a new. It had often seemed to him that to be a
Nihilist nurse among a Russian peasantry would be an infinitely easier
task than to reconcile the social remorses and compassions that tore his
companion's mind with the social pageant in which her life, do what she
would, must needs be lived. He knew that, intellectually, she no more
than Maxwell saw any way out of unequal place, unequal spending, unequal
recompense, if civilisation were to be held together; but he perceived
that morally she suffered. Why? Because she and not someone else had been
chosen to rule the palace and wear the gems that yet must be? In the end,
Naseby could but shrug his shoulders over it. Yet even his sceptical
temper made no question of sincerity.
When all his budget was out, and her comments made, she leant back a
little in her chair, studying him. A smile came to play about her lips.
"What do you want to say to me?" he asked her quickly.
She looked round her to see that they were not overheard.
"When did you see Madeleine last?"
"At her brother's house, a fortnight ago."
"Was she nice to you?"
He bit his lip, and drew his brows a little together, under her scrutiny.
"Do you imagine I am going to be cross-examined like this?"
"Well, I don't know what her conception of 'niceness' may be; it didn't
fit mine. She had got it into her head that I 'pitied' her, which seemed
to be a crime. I didn't see how to disprove it, so I came away."
He spoke with a dry lightness, but she perceived anxiety and unrest under
his tone. She bent forward.
"Do you know where Madeleine is now?"