Part 5 out of 6
"Not in the least."
"In the Long Gallery. I sent her there."
"Upon my word!" he said, after a pause. "Do you want to rule us all?"
His cheek had flushed again; his look was half rebellious.
A flash of pain struck through her brightness.
"No, no!" she said, protesting. "But I know--you don't!"
He rose deliberately, and bowed with the air of obeying her commands.
Then suddenly he bent down to her.
"I knew perfectly well that she was in the Long Gallery! But I also knew
that Mrs. Bayle had chosen to join her there. The coast, you may
perceive, is now clear."
He walked away. Marcella looked round, and saw an elegant little bride,
Mr. Bayle's new wife, rustling into the room again. She leant back in
her chair, half laughing, yet her eyes were wet. The new joy brought a
certain ease to old regrets. Only that word "rule" rankled a little.
Yet the old regrets were all sharp and active again. It seemed to be
impossible now to talk with George Tressady, to make any real breach in
the barrier between them; but how impossible also not to think of
him!--of the young fellow, who had given Maxwell his reward, and said to
herself such sad, such agitating things! She did think of him. Her heart
ached to serve him. The situation made a new and a very troubling appeal
to her womanhood.
* * * * *
The night was warm, and still, and the windows were open to it as they
had been on that May night at Castle Luton. Maxwell came to look for
Tressady, and took him out upon a flagged terrace that ran the length of
They talked first of the Ancoats incident, George supplementing his
letters by some little verbal pictures of Ancoats's life and surroundings
that made Maxwell laugh grimly from time to time. As to Mrs. Allison,
Maxwell reported that Ancoats seemed to have gained his point. There was
talk of the marriage coming off some time in the winter.
"Well, Fontenoy has earned his prize," said George.
"There are more than twelve years between them. But she seems to be one
of the women who don't age. I have seen her go through griefs that
would kill most women; and it has been like the passage of a storm over
"Religion, I suppose, carried to that point, protects one a good deal,"
said George, not, in truth, feeling much interest in the matter or in
Mrs. Allison now that his task was done.
"And especially religion of the type that allows you to give your soul
into someone else's keeping. There is no such anodyne," said Maxwell,
musing. "I have often noticed how Catholic women keep their youth and
softness. But now, do allow me a few words about yourself. Is what I hear
about your withdrawal from Parliament irrevocable?"
George's reply led to a discussion in which Maxwell, without any attempt
at party proselytism, endeavoured to combat all that he could understand
of the young man's twofold disgust, disgust with his own random
convictions no less than with the working of the party machine.
"Where do I belong?" he said. "I don't know myself. I ought never to have
gone in. Anyway, I had better stand aside for a time."
"But evidently the Malford people want to keep you."
"Well, and of course I shall consult their convenience as much as I can,"
said George, unwillingly, but would say no more.
Nothing, indeed, could be more flattering, more healing, than all that
was implied in Maxwell's earnestness, in the peculiar sympathy and
kindness with which the elder man strove to win the younger's confidence;
but George could not respond. His whole inner being was too sore; and his
mind ran incomparably more upon the damnable letter that must be lying
somewhere in the archives of the memory of the man talking to him, than
upon his own political prospects. The conversation ended for Maxwell in
mere awkwardness and disappointment,--deep disappointment if the truth
were known. Once roused his idealism was little less stubborn, less
wilful than Marcella's.
When the ladies withdrew, a brilliant group of them stood for a moment on
the first landing of the great oak staircase, lighting candles and
chattering. Madeleine Penley took her candle absently from Marcella's
hand, saying nothing. The girl's curious face under its crown of gold-red
hair was transformed somehow to an extraordinary beauty. The frightened
parting of the lips and lifting of the brows had become rather a look of
exquisite surprise, as of one who knows at last "the very heart of love."
"I am coming to you, presently," murmured Marcella, laying her cheek
against the girl's.
"Oh, _do_ come!" said Madeleine, with a great breath, and she walked
away, unsteadily, by herself, into the darkness of the tapestried
passage, her white dress floating behind her.
Marcella looked after her, then turned with shining eyes to Letty
Tressady. Her expression changed.
"I am afraid your headache has been very bad all the evening," she said
penitently. "Do let me come and look after you."
She went with Letty to her room, and put her into a chair beside the wood
fire, that even on this warm night was not unwelcome in the huge place.
Letty, indeed, shivered a little as she bent towards it.
"Must you go so early?" said Marcella, hanging over her. "I heard Sir
George speak of the ten o'clock train."
"Oh, yes," said Letty, "that will be best."
She stared into the fire without speaking. Marcella knelt down
"You won't hate me any more?" she said, in a low, pleading voice, taking
two cold hands in her own.
Letty looked up.
"I should like," she said, speaking with difficulty, "if you cared--to
see you sometimes."
"Only tell me when," said Marcella, laying her lips lightly on the hands,
"and I will come." Then she hesitated. "Oh, do believe," she broke out at
last, but still in the same low voice, "that all can be healed! Only show
him love,--forget everything else,--and happiness must come. Marriage is
so difficult--such an art--even for the happiest people, one has to learn
it afresh day by day."
Letty's tired eyes wavered under the other's look.
"I can't understand it like that," she said. Then she moved restlessly in
her chair. "Ferth is a terrible place! I wonder how I shall bear it!"
* * * * *
An hour later Marcella left Madeleine Penley and went back to her own
room. The smile and flush with which she had received the girl's last
happy kisses disappeared as she walked along the corridor. Her head
drooped, her arms hung listlessly beside her.
Maxwell found her in her own little sitting-room almost in the dark. He
sat down by her and took her hand.
"You couldn't make any impression on him as to Parliament?" she asked
him, almost whispering.
"No. He persists that he must go. I think his private circumstances at
Ferth have a great deal to do with it."
She shook her head. She turned away from him, took up a paper-knife, and
let it fall on the table beside her. He thought that she must have been
in tears, before he found her, and he saw that she could find no words in
which to express herself. Lifting her hand to his lips, he held it there,
silently, with a touch all tenderness.
"Oh, why am I so happy!" she broke out at last, with a sob, almost
drawing her hand away. "Such a life as mine seems to absorb and batten
upon other people's dues--to grow rich by robbing their joy, joy that
should feed hundreds and comes all to me! And that besides I should
actually bruise and hurt--"
Her voice failed her.
"Fate has a way of being tolerably even, at last," said Maxwell, slowly,
after a pause. "As to Tressady, no one can say what will come of it. He
has strange stuff in him--fine stuff I think. He will pull himself
together. And for the wife--probably, already he owes you much! I saw her
look at you to-night--once as you touched her shoulder. Dear!--what
spells have you been using?"
"Oh! I will do all I can--all I can!" Marcella repeated in a low,
passionate voice, as one who makes a vow to her own heart.
"But after to-morrow he will not willingly come across us again," said
Maxwell, quietly. "That I saw."
She gave a sad and wordless assent.
Letty Tressady sat beside the doorway of one of the small red-brick
houses that make up the village of Ferth. It was a rainy October
afternoon, and through the door she could see the black main street
--houses and road alike bedabbled in wet and mire. At one point in the
street her eye caught a small standing crowd of women and children, most
of them with tattered shawls thrown over their heads to protect them from
the weather. She knew what it meant. They were waiting for the daily
opening of the soup kitchen, started in the third week of the great
strike by the Baptist minister, who, in the language of the Tory paper,
was "among the worst firebrands of the district." There was another soup
kitchen further down, to which George had begun to subscribe immediately
on his return to the place. She had thought it a foolish act on his part
thus to help his own men to fight him the better. But--now, as she
watched the miserable crowd outside the Baptist chapel, she felt the
teasing pressure of those new puzzles of her married life which had so
far done little else, it seemed, than take away her gaiety and her power
of amusing herself.
Near her sat an oldish woman with an almost toothless mouth, who was
chattering to her in a tone that Letty knew to be three parts
"Well, the treuth is the men is that fool 'ardy when they gets a thing
into their yeds, there's no taakin wi un. There's plenty as done like the
strike, my lady, but they dursent say so--they'd be afeard o' losin the
skin off their backs, for soom o' them lads o' Burrows's is a routin
rough lot as done keer what they doos to a mon, an yo canna exspeck a
quiet body to stan up agen 'em. Now, my son, ee comes in at neet all
slamp and downcast, an I says to 'im, 'Is there noa news yet o' the Jint
Committee, John?' I ses to un. 'Noa, mither,' ee says, 'they're just
keepin ov it on.' An ee do seem so down'earted when ee sees the poor
soart ov a supper as is aw I can gie un to 'is stomach. Now, _I'm_ wun o'
thoase as _wants_ nuthin. The doctor ses, 'Yo've got no blude in yer,
Missus 'Ammersley, what 'ull yer 'ave?' An I says, '_Nuthin!_ it's sun
cut, an it's sun cooked, _nuthin!_' Noa, I've niver bin on t' parish--an
I _might_--times. An I don't 'old wi strikes. Lor, it is a poor pleace,
is ours--ain't it?--an nobbut a bit o' bread an drippin for supper."
The old woman threw her eyes round her kitchen, bringing them back slyly
to Letty's face. Letty ended by leaving some money with her, and walking
away as dissatisfied with her own charity as she was with its recipient.
Perhaps this old body was the only person in the village who would have
begged of "Tressady's wife" at this particular moment. Letty, moreover,
had some reason to believe that her son was one of the roughest of
Burrows's bodyguard; while the old woman was certainly no worse off than
any of her neighbours.
Outside, she was disturbed to find as she walked home, that the street
was full of people, in spite of the rain--of gaunt men and pinched
women, who threw her hostile and sidelong glances as she passed. She
hurried through them. How was it that she knew nothing of them--except,
perhaps, of the few toadies and parasites among them? How was one to
penetrate into this ugly, incomprehensible world of "the people"? The
mere idea of trying to do so filled her with distaste and ennui. She was
afraid of them. She wished she had not stayed so long with that old
gossip, Mrs. Hammersley, and that there were not so many yards of dark
road between her and her own gate. Where was George? She knew that he
had gone up to the pits that afternoon to consult his manager about some
defect in the pumping arrangements. She wished she had secured his
escort for the walk home.
But before she left the village she paused irresolutely, then turned down
a side street, and went to see Mary Batchelor, George's old nurse, the
mother who had lost her only son in his prime.
When, a few minutes later, she came up the lane, she was flatly conscious
of having done a virtuous thing--several virtuous things--that afternoon,
but certainly without any pleasure in them. She did not get on with Mary,
nor Mary with her. The tragic absorption of the mother--little abated
since the spring--in her dead boy seemed somehow to strike Letty dumb.
She felt pity, but yet the whole emotion was beyond her, and she shrank
from it. As for Mary, she had so far received Lady Tressady's visits with
a kind of dull surprise, always repeated and not flattering. Letty
believed that, in her inmost heart, the broken woman was offended each
time that it was not George who came. Moreover, though she never said a
word of it to Tressady's wife, she was known to be passionately on the
side of the strikers, and her manner gave the impression that she did not
want to be talking with their oppressors. Perhaps it was this feeling
that had reconciled her to the loutish lad who lived with her, and had
been twice "run in" by the police for stone-throwing at non-union men
since the beginning of the strike. At any rate, she took a great deal
more notice of him than she had done.
No--they were not very satisfactory, these attempts of Letty's in the
village. She thought of them with a kind of inner exasperation as she
walked home. She had been going to a few old and sick people, and trying
to ignore the strike. But at bottom she felt an angry resentment towards
these loafing, troublesome fellows, who filled the village street when
they ought to have been down in the pits--who were starving their own
children no less than disturbing and curtailing the incomes of their
betters. Did they suppose that people were going to run pits for them for
nothing? Their drink and their religion seemed to her equally hideous.
She hated the two Dissenting ministers of the place only less than
Valentine Burrows himself, and delighted to pass their wives with her
head high in air.
With these general feelings towards the population in her mind, why
these efforts at consolation and almsgiving? Well, the poor old people
were not responsible; but she did not see that any good had come of it.
She had said nothing about her visits to George, nor did-she suppose
that he had noticed them. He had been so incessantly busy since their
arrival with conferences and committees that she had seen very little of
him. It was generally believed that the strike was nearing its end, and
that the men were exhausted; but she did not think that George was very
Presently, as she neared a dark slope of road, bordered with trees on
one side and the high "bank" of the main pit on the other, her thoughts
turned back to their natural and abiding subject--herself. Oh, the
dulness of life at Ferth during the last three weeks! She thought of
her amusements in town, of the country houses where they might now be
staying but for George's pride, of Cathedine, even; and a rush of
revolt and self-pity filled her mind. George always away, nothing to do
in the ugly house, and Lady Tressady coming directly--she said to
herself, suffocating, her small hands stiffening, that she felt fit to
Half-way down the slope she heard steps behind her in the gathering
darkness, and at the same moment something struck her violently on the
shoulder. She cried out, and clutched at some wooden railings along the
road for support, as the lump of "dirt" from the bank which had been
flung at her dropped beside her.
"Letty, is that you?" shouted a voice from the direction of the
village--her husband's voice. She heard running. In a few seconds George
had reached her and was holding her.
"What is it struck you? I see! Cowards! _damned_ cowards! Has it broken
your arm? Try and move it."
Sick with pain she tried to obey him. "No," she said faintly; "it is not
broken--I think not."
"Good!" he cried, rejoicing; "probably only a bad bruise. The brute
mercifully picked up nothing very hard"--and he pushed the lump with
his foot. "Take my scarf, dear; let me sling it. Ah!--what was that?
Letty! can you be brave--can you let me go one minute? I sha'n't be out
of your sight."
And he pointed excitedly to a dark spot moving among the bushes along the
lower edge of the "bank."
Letty nodded. "I can stay here."
George leapt the palings and ran. The dark spot ran too, but in queer
leaps and bounds. There was the sound of a scuffle, then George returned,
dragging something or someone behind him.
"I knew it," he said, panting, as he came within earshot of his wife; "it
was that young ruffian, Mary Batchelor's grandson! Now you stand still,
will you? I could hold two of the likes of you with one hand. Madan!"
He had but just parted from his manager on the path which led sideways up
the "bank," and waited anxiously to see if his voice would reach the
Scotchman's ears. But no one replied. He shouted again; then he put two
fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly towards the pit, holding the
struggling lad all the time.
At the same moment a couple of heavily built men, evidently colliers,
came down the road from the village. George at once called to them from
across the palings.
"Here, you there! this young rascal has been throwing a lump of dirt at
Lady Tressady, and has hit her badly on the arm. Will you two just walk
him up to the police-station for me, while I take my wife home?"
The two men stopped and stared at the lady by the railings and at Sir
George holding the boy, whose white but grinning face was just visible in
the growing dusk.
"Noa," said one of them at last, "it's noa business ov ourn--is
"Noa," said the other, stolidly; and on they tramped.
"Oh, you heroes!" George flung after them. "Attacking a woman in the dark
is about what you understand!--Madan!"
He whistled again, and this time there was a hurrying from overhead.
"Come down here, will you, at once!"
In a few more minutes the boy was being marched up the road to the
police-station in charge of the strong-wristed Scotch manager, and George
was free to attend to Letty.
He adjusted a sling very fairly, then made her cling to him with her
sound arm; and they were soon inside their own gates.
"You can't climb this hill," he said to her anxiously. "Rest at the
lodge, and let me go for the brougham."
"I can walk perfectly well--and it will be much quicker."
Involuntarily, he was surprised to find her rather belittling than
exaggerating the ill. As they climbed on in the dark, he helping her as
much as he could, both could not but think of another accident and
another victim. Letty found herself imagining again and again what the
scene with Lady Maxwell, after the East End meeting, might have been
like; while, as for him, a face drew itself upon the rainy dusk, which
the will seemed powerless to blot out. It was a curious and unwelcome
coincidence. His secret sense of it made him the more restlessly kind.
"What were you in the village for?" he asked, bending to her; "I did not
know you had anything to do there!"
"I had been to see old Bessie Hammersley and Mrs. Batchelor," she
said, in a tone that tried to be stiff or indifferent. "Bessie begged,
"That was very good of you. Have you been doing visiting, then, during
all these days I have been away?"
"Yes--a few people."
"What's the use of it--or of anything? They hate us and we them. This
strike begins to eat into my very being. And the men will be beaten soon,
and the feeling towards the employers will be worse than ever."
"You are sure they will be beaten?"
"Before Christmas, anyway. I daresay there will be some bad times first.
To think a woman even can't walk these roads without danger of
ill-treatment! How is one to have any dealings with the brutes, or any
peace with them?"
His rage and bitterness made her somehow feel her bruises less. She even
looked up in protest.
"Well, it was only a boy, and you used to think he wasn't all there."
"Oh! all there!" said George, scornfully. "There'd be half of them in
Bedlam if one had to make that excuse for them. There isn't a day passes
without some devilry against the non-union men somewhere. It was only
this morning I heard of two men being driven into a reservoir near
Rilston, and stoned in the water."
"Perhaps we should do the same," she said unwillingly.
"Lean on me more heavily--we shall soon be there. You think we should be
brutes too? Probably. We seem to be all brutes for each other--that's the
charming way this competitive world is managed. So you have been looking
after some of the old people, have you? You must have had a dull time of
it this last three weeks--don't think I don't know that!"
He spoke with emotion. He thought he felt her grasp waver a little on his
arm, but she did not speak.
"Suppose--when this business was over--I were to cut the whole
concern--let the pits and the house, and go right away? I daresay I
"Could you?" she said eagerly.
"We shouldn't get so much money, you know, as in the best years. But
then it would be certain. What would you say to a thousand a year less?"
he asked her, trying to speak lightly.
"Well, it doesn't seem easy to get on with what we have--even if we had
it," she said sharply.
He understood the reference to his mother's debts, and was silent.
But evidently the recollection, once introduced, generated the usual heat
and irritation in her, for, as they neared the front door, she suddenly
said, with an acerbity he had not heard for some weeks:
"Of course, to have a country house, and not to be able to spend a
farthing upon it--to ask your friends, or have anything decent--is enough
to make anyone sick of it. And, above all, when we needn't have been here
at all this October--"
She stopped, shrinking from the rest of the sentence, but not before he
had time to think, "She say _that_!--monstrous!"
Aloud he coldly replied:
"It is difficult to see where I could have been but here, this October."
Then the door opened, and the light showed her to him pale, with lips
tight pressed from the pain of her injury. Instantly he forgot everything
but his natural pity and chivalry towards women. He led her in, and half
carried her upstairs. A little later she was resting on her bed, and he
had done everything he could for her till the doctor should come. She
seemed to have passed into an eclipse of temper or moodiness, and he got
The evening post brought her a letter which he took up to her himself.
He knew the clear, rapid hand, and he knew, too, that Letty had received
many such during the preceding month. He stood beside her a moment,
almost on the point of asking her to let him see it. But the words died
on his lips. And, perceiving that she would not read it while he was
there, he went away again.
When he returned, carrying a new book and asking if he should read to
her, he found her lying with her cheek on her hand, staring into the
fire, and so white and miserable that his heart sank. Had he married her,
a girl of twenty-four, only to destroy her chance of happiness
altogether? A kind of terror seized him. He had been "good to her," so
far as she and his business had allowed him, since their return; there
had been very little outward jarring; but no one knew better than he that
there had not been one truly frank or reconciling moment.
His own inner life during these weeks had passed in one obscure
continuous struggle--a sort of dull fever of the soul. And she had simply
held herself aloof from him.
He knelt down beside her, and laid his face against hers.
"Don't look so unhappy!" he said in a whisper, caressing her free hand.
She did not answer or make any response till, as he got up again in a
kind of despair as to what to do or say next, she hastily asked:
"Has the constable been up here to see you?"
He looked at her in surprise.
"Yes. It is all arranged. The lad will be brought up before the
magistrates on Thursday."
She fidgeted, then said abruptly:
"I should like him to be let off."
"That's very nice of you, but it wouldn't be very good for the district."
She did not press the matter, but as he moved away she said fretfully:
"I wish you'd read to me. The pain's horrid."
Thankful, in his remorse, to do anything for her, he tried to amuse and
distract her as he best could. But in the middle of a magazine story she
"Isn't it the day after to-morrow your mother's coming?"
"According to her letter this morning." He put down the book. "But I
don't think you'll be at all fit to look after her. Shall I write
to-night and suggest that she stays in London a little?"
"No. I shall be all right, the doctor says. I want to tell
Esther"--Esther was the housemaid--"_not_ to get the Blue Room ready for
her. I looked in to-day, and it seemed damp. The back room over the
dining-room is smaller, but it's much warmer."
She turned to look at him with a rather flushed face.
"You know best," he said, smiling. "I am sure it will be all right. But I
sha'n't let her come unless you are better."
He went on reading till it grew late, and it seemed to him she was
dropping off to sleep. He was stealing off by way of the large
dressing-room near by, where he had been installed since their return,
when, she said faintly, "Good-night!"
He returned, and felt the drawing of her hot hand. He stooped and kissed
her. Then she turned away from him, and seemed to go instantly to sleep.
He went downstairs to his library, and gathered about him some documents
he had brought back from the last meeting of the masters' committee,
which had to be read. But in reality he spent an hour of random thought.
When would she herself tell him anything of her relations to Lady
Maxwell, of the nature and causes of that strange subjection which, as
he saw quite plainly, had been brought about? She must know that he
pined to know; yet she held her secret only the more jealously, no doubt
to punish him.
He thought of her visits to the village, half humorously, half sadly;
then of her speech about the Blue Room and his mother. They seemed to him
signs of some influence at work.
But at last he turned back to his papers with a long impatient sigh. The
clear pessimism with which he was wont to see facts that concerned
himself maintained that all the surrounding circumstance of the case was
as untoward as it could be--this dull house, a troubled district, his
money affairs, the perpetual burden of his mother, Letty's own thirst for
pleasure, and the dying down in himself of the feelings that might
once--possibly--have made up to her for a good deal. The feelings might
be simulated. Was the woman likely to be deceived? That she was capable
of the fiercest jealousy had been made abundantly plain; and such a
temper once roused would find a hundred new provocations, day by day, in
the acts and doings of a husband who had ceased to be a lover.
Two days later Lady Tressady arrived, with Justine, and her dogs, and
all her paraphernalia. She declared herself better, but she was a mere
shadow of the woman who had tormented George with her debts and
affectations at Malford House a twelvemonth before. She took Ferth
discontentedly, as usual, and was particularly cross with Letty's
assignment to her of the back room, instead of the larger spare room to
the front of the house.
"Damp?--nonsense!" she said to Justine, who was trying to soothe her on
the night she arrived. "I suppose Lady Tressady has some friend of her
own coming to stay--that's, of _course_, what it is. _C'est parfaitement
clair, je te dis--parfaitement!_"
The French maid reminded her that her daughter-in-law had said, on
showing her the room, she had only to express a wish to change, and the
arrangements should be altered at once.
"I daresay," cried Lady Tressady. "But I shall ask _no_ favours of
her--and that, of course, she knew."
"But, miladi, I need only speak to the housemaid."
"Thank you! Then afterwards, whenever I had a pain or a finger-ache, it
would be, 'I told you so!' No! she has managed it very cleverly--very
cleverly indeed!--and I shall let it alone."
Thenceforward, however, there were constant complaints of everything
provided for her--room, food, the dulness of the place, the manners of
her daughter-in-law. Whether it was that her illness had now reached a
stage when the will could no longer fight against it, and its only effect
was demoralising; or whether the strange flash of courage and natural
affection struck from the volatile nature by the first threat of death
could not in any case have maintained itself, it is hard to say. At any
rate, George also found it hard to keep up his new and better ways with
her. The fact was, he suffered through Letty. In a few days his
sympathies were all with her, and to his amazement he perceived before
long that, in spite of occasional sharp speeches and sulky moments that
only an angel could have forborne, she was really more patient under his
mother's idiosyncrasies than he was. Yet Lady Tressady, even now, was
rarely unmanageable in his presence, and could still restrain herself if
it was a question of his comfort and repose; whereas, it was clear that
she felt a cat-like impulse to torment Letty whenever she saw her.
One recent habit, however, bore with special heaviness on himself. Oddly
enough, it was a habit of religious discussion. Lady Tressady in health
had never troubled herself in the least as to what the doctors of the
soul might have to say, and had generally gaily professed herself a
sceptic in religious matters, mostly, as George had often thought, for
the sake of escaping all inconvenient restrictions--such as family
prayers, or keeping Sunday, or observing Lent--which might have got in
the way of her amusements.
But, now, poor lady, she was all curiosity and anxiety about this strange
other side of things, and inclined, too, to be rather proud of the
originality of her inquiries on the subject. So that night after night
she would keep George up, after an exhausting day, till the small hours,
while she declared her own views "on God, on Nature, and on Human Life,"
and endeavoured to extract his. This latter part of the exercise was
indeed particularly attractive to her; no doubt because of its
difficulty. George had been a singularly reserved person in these
respect's all his life, and had no mind now to play the part of a
coal-seam for his mother to "pike" at. But "pike" she would incessantly.
"Now, George, look here! what do you _really_ think about a future life?
Now don't try and get out of it! And don't just talk nonsense to me
because you think I'm ill. I'm not a baby--I really am not. Tell
me--seriously--what you think. Do you honestly expect there _is_ a
"I've told you before, mother, that I have no particular thoughts on that
subject. It isn't in my line," George would say, smiling profanely, but
uneasily, and wondering how long this bout of it might be going to last.
"Don't be shocking, George! You _must_ have some ideas about it. Now,
don't hum and haw--just tell me what you think." And she would lean
forward, all urgency and expectation.
A pause, during which George could think only of the ghastly figure on
the sofa. She sat upright, generally, against a prop of cushions,
dressed in a white French tea-gown, slim enough to begin, with, but far
too large now for the shrunk form--a bright spot of rouge on either
pinched cheek, and the dyed "fringe" and "coils" covering all the once
shapely head. Meanwhile her hand would play impatiently on her knee.
The hand was skin and bone; and the rings with which it was laden would
often slip off from it to the floor--a diversion of which George was
always prompt to avail himself.
"Why don't you talk to Mr. Fearon, mother?" he would say gently at last.
"It's his business to discuss these things."
"Talk to a clergyman! thank you! I hope I have more respect for my own
intelligence. What can a priest do for you? What does he know more than
anybody else? But I do want to know what my own son thinks. Now, George,
just answer me. If there _is_ a future life"--she spread out her hand
slowly on her lap--"what do you suppose your father's doing at this
moment? That's a thing I often think of, George. I don't think I want a
future life if it's to be just like the past. You know--you remember how
he used to be--poking about the house, and going down to the pits,
and--and--swearing at the servants, and having rows with me about the
accounts--and all his dear dreadful little ways? Yet, what else in the
world can you imagine him doing? As to singing hymns!"
She raised her hands expressively.
George laughed, and puffed away at his cigarette. But as he still said
nothing Lady Tressady began to frown.
"That's the way you always get out of my questions," she said fretfully;
"it's so provoking of you."
"I've recommended you to the professional," he said, patting her hand.
"What else could I do?"
Her thin cheek flamed.
"As if we couldn't be certain, anyway," she cried, "that the Christians
don't know anything about it. As M. d'Estrelles used to say to me at
Monte Carlo, if there's one thing clear, it is that we needn't bother
ourselves with _their_ doctrines!"
"Needn't we?" said George. Then he looked at her, smiling. "And you think
M. d'Estrelles was an authority?"
Odd recollections began to run through his mind of this elderly
French admirer of his mother's, whom he had seen occasionally
flitting about their London lodgings when, as a boy, he came up from
Eton for his _exeat_.
"Oh! don't you scoff, George," said his mother, angrily. "M. d'Estrelles
was a very clever man, though he did gamble like a fool. Everybody said
his memory was marvellous. He used to quote me pages out of Voltaire and
the rest of them on the nights when we walked up and down the gardens at
Monte Carlo, after he'd cleared himself out. He always said he didn't see
why these things should be kept from women--why men shouldn't tell women
exactly what they think. And I know he'd been a Catholic in his youth, so
he'd had experience of both. However, I don't care about M. d'Estrelles.
I want your opinions. Now, George!"--her voice would begin to break--"how
can you be so unkind. You might really compose my mind a little, as the
And through her incorrigible levity he would see for a moment the terror
which always possessed her raise its head. Then it would be time for him
to go and put his arm round her, and try and coax her to bed.
One night, after he had taken her upstairs, he came down so wearied and
irritable that he put all his letters aside, and tried to forget himself
in some miscellaneous reading.
His knowledge of literature was no more complete than his character.
Certain modern English poets--Rossetti, Morris, Keats, and Shelley--he
knew almost by heart. And in travels and biography--mostly of men of
action--he had, at one time or another, read voraciously. But "the
classics he had not read," as with most of us, would have made a list of
Since his return to Ferth, however, he had browsed a good deal among the
books collected by his grandfather, mostly by way of distracting himself
at night from the troubles and worries of the day.
On this particular night there were two books lying on his table. One was
a volume of Madame de Sévigné, the other St. Augustine's "Confessions."
He turned over first one, then the other.
"Au reste, ma fille, une de mes grandes envies, ce serait d'être dévote;
je ne suis ni an Dieu, ni an Diable; cet état m'ennuie, quoiqu' entre
nous je le trouve le plus naturel du monde. On n'est point an Diable
parce qu'on craint Dieu, et qu' an fond on a un principe de religion; on
n'est point à Dieu aussi, parce que sa loi paroit dure, et qu' on n'aime
point à se détruire soi-même."
"Admirable!" he thought to himself, "_admirable!_ We are all there--my
mother and I--three parts of mankind."
But on a page of the other book he had marked these lines--for the
beauty of them:
"Beatus qui amat te, et amicum in te, et inimicum propter te. Solus enim
nullum eorum amittit, cui omnes in illo cari sunt qui non amittitur."
He hung over the fire, pondering the two utterances.
"A marvellous music," he thought of the last. "But I know no more what it
means than I know what a symphony of Brahms' means. Yet some say they
know. Perhaps of _her_ it might be true."
The weeks ran on. Outside, the strike was at its worst, though George
still believed the men would give in before Christmas. There was hideous
distress, and some bad rioting in different parts of the country. Various
attempts had been made by the employers to use and protect non-union
labour, but the crop of outrage they had produced had been too
threatening: in spite of the exasperation of the masters they had been
perforce let drop. The Press and the public were now intervening in good
earnest--"every fool thinks he can do our business for us," as George
would put it bitterly to Letty. Burrows was speaking up and down the
district with a superhuman energy, varied only by the drinking-bouts to
which he occasionally succumbed; and George carried a revolver with him
when he went abroad.
The struggle wore him to death; the melancholy of his temperament had
never been so marked. At the same time Letty saw a doggedness in him, a
toughness like Fontenoy's own, which astonished her. Two men seemed to be
fighting in him. He would talk with perfect philosophy of the miners'
point of view, and the physical-force sanction by which the lawless among
them were determined to support it; but at the same time he belonged to
the stiffest set among the masters.
Meanwhile, at home, friction and discomfort were constantly recurring.
In the course of three or four weeks Lady Tressady had several attacks
of illness, and it was evident that her weakness increased rapidly. And
with the weakness, alas! the ugly incessant irritability, that dried up
the tenderness of nurses, and made a battleground of the sick-room.
Though, indeed, she could never be kept in her room; she resented being
left a moment alone. She claimed, in spite of the anxieties of the
moment, to be constantly amused; and though George could sometimes
distract and quiet her, nothing that Letty did, or said, or wore was
ever tolerable to a woman who merely saw in this youth beside her a
bitter reminder of her own.
At last, one day early in November, came a worse turn than usual. The
doctor was in the house most of the day, but George had gone off before
the alarm to a place on the further side of the county, and could not be
got at till the evening.
He came in to find Letty waiting for him in the hall. There had been a
rally; the doctor had gone his way marvelling, and it was thought there
was no immediate danger.
"But oh, the pain!" said Letty, under her breath, pressing her hands
together, and shivering. Her eyes were red, her cheeks pale; he saw that
she was on the point of exhaustion; and he guessed that she had never
seen such a sight before.
He ran up to visit his mother, whom he found almost speechless from
weakness, yet waiting, with evident signs of impatience and temper, for
her evening food. And while he and Letty were at their melancholy dinner
together, Justine came flying downstairs in tears. Miladi would not eat
what had been taken to her. She was exciting herself; there would be
Husband and wife hurried from the room. In the hall they found the butler
just receiving a parcel left by the railway delivery-cart.
George passed the box with an exclamation and a shudder. It bore a large
label, "From Worth et Cie," and was addressed to Lady Tressady. But Letty
stopped short, with a sudden look of pleasure.
"You go to her. I will have this unpacked."
He went up and coaxed his mother like a child to take her soup and
champagne. And presently, just as she was revived enough to talk to
him, Letty appeared. Her mother-in-law frowned, but Letty came gaily up
to the bed.
"There is a parcel from Paris for you," she said, smiling. "I have had it
opened. Would you like it brought in?"
Lady Tressady first whimpered, and said it should go back--what did a
dying woman want with such things?--then demanded greedily to see it.
Letty brought it in herself. It was a new evening gown of the softest
greens and shell-pinks, fit for a bride in her first season. To see the
invalid, ashen-grey, stretching out her hand to finger it was almost more
than George could stand. But Letty shook out the rustling thing, put on
the skirt herself that Lady Tressady might see, and paraded up and down
in it, praising every cut and turning with the most ingenious ardour.
"I sha'n't wear it, of course, till after Christmas," said Lady Tressady
at last, still looking at it with half-shut covetous eyes. "Isn't it
_darling_ the way the lace is put on! Put it away. George!--it's the
_first_ I've had from him this year."
She looked up at him appealingly. He stooped and kissed her.
"I am so glad you like it, mother dear. Can't you sleep now?"
"Yes, I think so. Good-night. And good-night, Letty."
Letty came, and Lady Tressady held her hand, while the blue eyes, still
bearing the awful impress of suffering, stared at her oddly.
"It was nice of you to put it on, Letty. I didn't think you'd have done
it. And I'm glad you think it's pretty. I wish you would have one made
like it. Kiss me."
Letty kissed her. Then George slipped his wife's arm in his, and they
left the room together. Outside Letty turned suddenly white, and nearly
fell. George put his arms round her, and carried her down to his study.
He put her on the sofa, and watched her tenderly, rubbing the cold hands.
"How you _could_," he said at last, in a low voice, when he saw that
she was able to talk; "how you _could!_ I shall never forget that
"You'd have done anything, if you'd seen her this morning," she said,
with her eyes still closed.
He sat beside her, silent, thinking over the miseries of the last few
weeks. The net result of them--he recognised it with a leap of
surprise--seemed to have been the formation of a new and secret bond
between himself and Letty. During all the time he had been preparing
himself for the worst this strange thing had been going on. How had it
been possible for her to be, comparatively, so forbearing? He could see
nothing in his past knowledge of her to explain it.
He recalled the effort and gloom with which she had made her first
preparations for Lady Tressady. Yet she had made them. Is there really
some mystic power, as the Christians say, in every act of self-sacrifice,
however imperfect,--a power that represents at once the impelling and the
rewarding God,--that generates, moreover, from its own exercise, the
force to repeat itself? Personally such a point of view meant little to
him, nor did his mind dwell upon it long. All that he knew was that some
angel had stirred the pool--that old wounds smarted less--that hope
seemed more possible.
Letty knew quite well that he was watching her in a new way, that there
was a new clinging in his touch. She, little more than he, understood
what was happening to her. From time to time during these weeks of
painful tension there had been hours of wild rebellion, when she had
hated her surroundings, her mother-in-law, and her general ill-luck as
fiercely as ever. Then there had followed strange appeasements, and
inflowing calms--moments when she had been able somehow to express
herself to one who cared to listen who poured upon her in return a
sympathy which braced while it healed.
Suddenly she opened her eyes.
"Do you want to hear about that first time when she came to see me?" she
whispered, her look wavering under his.
He flushed and hesitated. Then he kissed her hand.
"No, not now. You are worn out. Another time. But I love you for thinking
of telling me."
A feeling of rest and well-being stole over her. Mercifully he made no
protestations, and she asked for none, but there was a gentle moving of
heart towards heart. And the memory of that hour, that night, made one of
the chief barriers between her and despair in the time that followed.
Two days later a painless death, death in her sleep, overtook Lady
Tressady. Her delicate face, restored to its true years, and framed in
its natural grey hair, seemed for the first time beautiful to George when
he saw her in her coffin. He could not remember admiring her, even when
he was a boy, and she was reckoned among the handsomest women of her day.
Parting with her was like the snapping of a strain that had pulled life
out of its true bearings and proportions. An immense, inevitable relief
followed. But after her death Letty never said a harsh word of her, and
George had a queer, humble feeling that after all he might be found to
owe her much.
For as November and December passed away the relation between the husband
and wife steadily settled and improved. "We shall rub along," George
said to himself in his frank, secret thoughts--"in the end it will be
much better perhaps than either of us could have hoped." That no doubt
was the utmost that could ever be said; but it was much.
The night after his mother's death, Letty abruptly, violently even, as
though worked up to it by an inner excitement, told him the story of her
wrestle with Marcella. Then, throwing some letters into his hand she
broke into sobbing and ran away from him. When he went to look for her
his own eyes were wet. "Who else could have done such a thing?" he said;
and Letty made no protest.
The letters gave him food for thought for many a day afterwards. They
were little less of a revelation to him than the motives and personality
lying behind them had been to Letty. In spite of all that he had felt for
the woman who had written them, they still roused in him a secret and
abiding astonishment. We use the words "spiritual," "poetic" in relation
to human conduct; we talk as though all that the words meant were
familiarly understood by us; and yet when the spiritual or the poetic
comes actually to walk among us, slips into the forms and functions of
our common life, we find it amazing, almost inhuman. It gives us some
trouble to take it simply, to believe in it simply.
Yet nothing in truth could be a more inevitable outcome of character and
circumstance than these letters of Marcella Maxwell to George Tressady's
wife. Marcella had suffered under a strong natural remorse, and to free
her heart from the load of it she had thrown herself into an effort of
reconciliation and atonement with all the passion, the subtlety, and the
resource of her temperament. She had now been wooing Letty Tressady for
weeks, nor had the eager contriving ability she had been giving to the
process missed its reward. Letty fresh from the new impressions made upon
her by Marcella at home, and Marcella as a wife, by a beauty she could no
longer hate, and a charm to which she had been forced to yield, had found
herself amid the loneliness and dulness of Perth gradually enveloped and
possessed anew by the same influence, acting in ways that grew week by
week more personal, and more subduing.
What to begin with could be more flattering either to heart or vanity
than the persistence with which one of the most famous women of her
time--watched, praised, copied, attacked, surrounded, as Letty knew her
to be, from morning till night--had devoted herself first to the
understanding, then to the capturing, of the smaller, narrower life. The
reaction towards a natural reserve, a certain proud, instinctive
self-defence, which had governed Marcella's manner during a great part of
Letty's visit to the Court, had been in these letters deliberately broken
down--at first with effort, then more and more frankly, more and more
sweetly. Day after day, as Letty knew, Marcella had taken time from
politics, from society, from her most cherished occupations, to write to
this far-off girl, from whom she had nothing either to gain or to fear,
who had no claims whatever on her friendship, had things gone normally,
while thick about the opening of their relation to each other hung the
memory of Letty's insults and Letty's violence.
And the letters were written with such abandonment! As a rule Marcella
was a hasty or impatient correspondent. She thought letters a waste of
time; life was full enough without them. But here, with Letty, she
lingered, she took pains. The mistress of Les Rochers writing to her
absent, her exacting Pauline, could hardly have been more eager to
please. She talked--at leisure--of all that concerned her--husband,
child, high politics, the persons she saw, the gaieties she bore with,
the books she read, the schemes in which she was busied; then, with
greater tenderness, greater minuteness, of the difficulties and tediums
of Letty's life at Ferth, as they had been dismally drawn out for her in
Letty's own letters. The animation, the eager kindness of it all went for
much; the amazing self-surrender, self-offering, implied in every page
for much more.
Strange!--as he read the letters George felt his own heart beating. Were
they in some hidden way meant for him too?--he seemed to hear in them a
secret message--a woman's yearning, a woman's response.
At any rate, the loving, reconciling effort had done its work. Letty
could not be insensible to such a flattery, a compliment so unexpected,
so bewildering--the heart of a Marcella Maxwell poured out to her for the
taking. She neither felt it so profoundly, nor so delicately as hundreds
of other women could have felt it. Nevertheless the excitement of it had
thrilled and broken up the hardnesses of her own nature. And with each
yielding on her part had come new capacity for yielding, new emotions
that amazed herself; till she found herself, as it were, groping in a
strange world, clinging to Marcella's hand, trying to express feelings
that had never visited her before, one moment proud of her new friend
with a pride half moral, half selfish, the next, ill at ease with her,
and through it all catching dimly the light of new ideals.
One day, as George walked into Letty's sitting-room, to discuss some
small business of the afternoon, he saw on her writing-table that same
photograph of Lady Maxwell and her boy, whereof an earlier copy had come
to such a tragic end in Letty's hands. He walked up to it with an
exclamation; Letty was not in the room. Suddenly, however, she came in.
He made no attempt whatever to disguise that he had been looking at the
photograph; he bent over it indeed a moment longer, deliberately. Then,
walking away to the window, he began speaking of the matter which had
brought him to look for his wife. Letty answered absently. The colour had
rushed to her face. Her hands fidgeted with the books and papers on her
table, and her mind was full of fevered remembrance.
Presently George, having settled the little point he came to speak of,
fell silent. But he still stood by the window, looking out through the
rain-splashed glass to the wintry valley below with its chimneys and
straggling village. Letty, who was pretending to write a note, raised her
head, looked at him--the quick breath beating through the parted lips,
the blue eyes half wild, half miserable. She was not nearly so pretty as
she had been a year before. George had often noticed it; it made part of
his remorse. But the face was more troubling, infinitely more human;
and, in truth, he knew it much better, was more sensitively alive to it,
so to speak, than he ever had been in the days of their courtship.
Before he left the room he came back to her, put his arm round her
shoulders and kissed her hair. She did not raise her head or say
anything. But when he had gone she looked up with a sudden fierce sob,
took the photograph from its place, and thrust it angrily into the drawer
in front of her. Afterwards she sat for some minutes, motionless, with
her handkerchief at her lips, trying to choke down the tears that had
seized her. And last of all, with trembling fingers, she took out the
picture again, wrapped it in some soft tissue paper that lay near, as
though propitiating it, and once more put it out of sight.
What had made her first ask Marcella for it, and then place it on her
table where George might, nay, must see it? Some vague wish, no doubt, to
"make up"; to punish herself, while touching him. But the recollection of
him, bending over the picture, tortured her, gripped her at the heart for
many a day afterwards. She let it be seen no more. Yet that week she
wrote more fully, more incoherently, more piteously to Marcella than ever
before. She talked, not without bitterness and injustice, of her bringing
up, asked what she should read, spread out her puzzles with the poor, or
with her household--half angrily, as though she were accusing someone.
For the first time, as it were, she was seeking a teacher in the art of
living. And though the tone was still querulous, she knew, and Marcella
presently dared to guess, that the ugly house on the hill had in truth
ceased to be in the least dull or burdensome to her. George went in and
out of it. And for the woman that has come to hunger for her husband's
step, there is no more ennui.
* * * * *
Letty indeed hardly knew the strength of her own position. The reading
of Lady Maxwell's letters to his wife had cleared a number of relics
and fragments from George's mind. The day of passion was done.
Yes!--but to see her frequently, to be brought back into any of the old
social or political relations to her and Maxwell, from this his pride
shrank no less than his conscience. Yet there was a large party in his
constituency, and belonging to it some of the men whose probity and
intelligence he had come to rate most highly, who were pressing him
hard not to resign in February, and, indeed, not to resign at all. The
few public meetings he had so far addressed had been stormy indeed, but
on the whole decidedly friendly to him, and it was urged that he must
at least present himself for re-election, in which case his expenses
should be borne, and he should be left as unpledged as possible. Since
the passage of the Bill Fontenoy's reactionary movement had lost ground
largely in the constituency; and the position of independent member
with a general leaning to the Government was no doubt easily open to
But his whole soul shrank from such a renewal of the effort of
politics--probably because of that something in him, that enfeebling,
paralysing something, which in all directions made him really prefer the
half to the whole, and see barriers in the way of all enthusiasms.
Nevertheless, the arguments he had to meet, and the kind persuasions he
had to rebut, made these weeks all the more trying to him.
The second week of December came, the beginning of the end so far as the
strike was concerned. The men's resources were exhausted; the masters
stood unbroken. They had met the men in a joint committee; but they had
steadily refused arbitration from outside. At the beginning of this week,
rioting broke out in a district where the Union had least strength,
caused, no doubt, by the rage of impending failure. By the middle of the
following week, men were going in here and there, and the stampede of
defeat had begun.
George, passing through the pinched and lowering faces that lined the
village, hated the triumph of his class. On the 21st, he rode over to a
neighbouring town, where local committees, both of masters and men,
were sitting, to see if there was any final news as to the pits of his
About eight o'clock in the evening Letty heard his horse's hoofs
returning. She knew that he was accustomed to ride in the dark, but the
rumours of violence and excitement that filled the air had unnerved her,
and she had been listening to every sound for some time past.
When the door was open she ran out.
"Yes, I'm late," said George, in answer to her remonstrances; "but it is
all right--it was worth waiting for. The thing's over. Some of the men go
down to-morrow week, and the rest as we can find room for them."
"On the masters' terms?"
"Of course--or all but."
She clapped her hands.
"Oh, for goodness' sake, don't!" he said, as he hung up his hat, and she,
supposing that he was irritable from over-fatigue, managed to overlook
the sharpness of his tone.
Their Christmas passed in solitude. George, more and more painfully alive
to the disadvantages of Ferth as the home of a young woman with a natural
love of gaiety, had tried, in spite of their mourning, to persuade Letty
to ask some friends to spend Christmas week with them. She had refused,
however, and they were still alone when the end of the strike arrived.
The day before the men were to go back to work, George returned late from
a last meeting of the employers. Letty had begun dinner, and when he
walked into the dining-room she saw at once that some unusual excitement
or strain had befallen him.
"Let me have some food!" was all he would say in answer to her first
questions, and she let him alone. When the servants were gone he
"I have had a shindy with Burrows, dear--rather a bad one. But that's
all. I walked down to the station with Ashton"--Ashton was a
neighbouring magistrate and coal-owner--"and there we found Valentine
Burrows. Two or three friends were in charge of him, and it has been
given out lately that he has been suffering from nervous breakdown,
owing to his exertions. All that I could see was that he was drunker
than usual--no doubt to drown defeat. Anyway, directly he saw me he
made a scene--foamed and shouted. According to him, I am at the bottom
of the men's defeat. It is all my wild-beast delight in the sight of
suffering,--my love of 'fattening on the misery of the collier,'--my
charming villanies of all sorts--that are responsible for everything.
Altogether he reached a fine flight! Then he got violent--tried to get
at me with his knobbed stick. Ashton and I, and the men with him,
succeeded in quelling him without bothering the police.--I don't think
anything more will come of it."
And he stretched out his hand to some salted almonds, helping himself
with particular deliberation.
After dinner, however, he lay down on a sofa in Letty's sitting-room,
obliged to confess himself worn out. She made him comfortable, and after
she had given him a cushion, she suddenly bent over him from behind and
"Come here!" he said, with a smile, throwing up his hand to catch her.
But with an odd blush and conscious look, she eluded him.
When, a little later, she came to sit by him with some needle-work she
found him restless and inclined to talk.
"I wonder if we are always to live in this state of war for one's
bread and butter!" he said, impatiently throwing down a newspaper he
had been reading. "It doesn't tend to make life agreeable--does it?
Yet what on earth--"
He threw back his head, with a stiff protesting air, staring
across the room.
Letty had the sudden impression that he was not talking to her at all,
but to some third person, unseen.
"_Either_ capital gets its fair remuneration"--he went on in an
argumentative voice--"and ability its fair wages--_or_ the Marxian state,
labour-notes, and the rest of it. There is no half-way house--absolutely
none. As for me, I am not going to lend my capital for nothing--nor to
give my superintendence for nothing. And I don't ask exorbitant pay for
either. It is quite simple. My conscience is quite clear."
"I should think so!" said Letty, resentfully. "I wonder whether
Marcella--is all for the men? She has never mentioned the strike in
As the Christian name slipped out, she flushed, and he was conscious of a
curious start. But the breaking through of a long reticence was
deliberate on Letty's part.
"Very likely she is all for the men," he said drily, after a pause. "She
never could take a strike calmly. Her instinct always was to catch hold
of any stick that could beat the employers--Watton and I used often to
tease her about it."
He threw himself back against the sofa, with a little laugh that was
musical in Letty's ear. It was the first time that Lady Maxwell's name
had been mentioned between them in this trivial, ordinary way. The
young wife sat alert and straight at her work, her cheek still pink,
her eyes bright.
But after a silence, George suddenly sprang up to pace the little room,
and she heard him say, under his breath, "_But who am I, that I should
be coercing them and trampling on them!--men old enough to be my
father--driving them down to-morrow--while I sleep--for a dog's wage!_"
"George, what is the matter with you?" she cried, looking at him in
"Nothing! _nothing!_--Darling, who's ill? I saw the old doctor on the
road home, and he threw me a word as he passed about having been
here--looked quite jolly over it. What's wrong--one of the servants?"
Letty put down her work upon her knee and her hands upon it. She grew red
and pale; then she turned away from him, pressing her face into the back
of her chair.
He flew to her, and she murmured in his ear.
* * * * *
What she said was by no means all sweetness. There was mingled with it
much terror and some anger. Letty was not one of the women who take
maternity as a matter of course.
But emotion and natural feeling had their way. George was dissolved in
joy. He threw himself at her feet, resting his head against her knee.
"If he doesn't have your eyes and hair I'll disinherit him," he said,
with a gaiety which seemed to have effaced all his fatigue.
"I don't want him," was her pettish reply; "but if _she_ has your chin,
I'll put her out to nurse. Oh! how I hate the thought of it!" and she
He caught her hand, comforting her. Then, putting up both his own, he
drew her down to him.
"After all, little woman, it hasn't turned out so badly?" he said in her
ear, with sad appeal. Their lips met, trembling. Suddenly Letty broke
into passionate weeping. George sprang up, gathered her upon his knee,
and they sat for long, in silence, clinging to each other.
At last Letty drew back from him, pushing a hand against his shoulder.
"You know--you didn't care a bit for me--when you married me," she said,
half bitter, half crying.
"Didn't I? And you?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Oh! I don't remember!" she said hurriedly, and dropped her face on his
"Well, we are going to care for each other," he said in a low voice,
after a pause. "That's what matters now, isn't it?"
She made no reply, but she put up a hand, and touched his face. He turned
his lips to the hand and kissed it tenderly. There was a sore, sad spot
in each heart; and neither dared to look forward. But tonight there was a
sense of belonging to each other in a new and sacred way, of being drawn
apart, separated from the world, husband and wife, together. Through
George's mind there wandered half-astonished thoughts about this strange
compelling power of marriage,--the deep grip it makes on life--the almost
mechanical way in which it bears down resistance, provided only that
certain compunctions, certain scruples still remain for it to work on.
George slept lightly, being over-tired. All through the night the vision
of the beaten men going down sullenly to their first shift seemed to
hold him as though in a nightmare.
Between seven and eight o'clock a sound startled him. He found himself
standing by his bed, struggling to wake and collect himself.
A sound that had shaken the house, passing like a dull thud through the
valley? A horror seized him. He looked at Letty, who was fast asleep;
then he walked noiselessly into his dressing-room, and began to hurry on
Five minutes later he was running down the hill at his full speed. It was
bitterly cold and still; the first snow lay on the grass, and a raw grey
veil hung over the hills. As he came in sight of the distant pit-bank he
saw a crowd of women swarming up it; a confused and hideous sound of
crying and shrieking came to his ears; and at the same moment a boy,
panting and dead-white, ran through the lodge-gates to meet him.
"Where is it, Sprowston?"
"Oh, sir, it's No. 2 pit. The damp's comin up the upcast, and the cage is
blown to pieces. But the down shaft's all right, and Mr. Madan and Mr.
Macgregor were starting down as I come away. There was eighty-six men and
boys went down first shift."
George groaned, and rushed on.
England knows these scenes too well!
When Tressady, out of breath with running, reached the top of the bank,
and threw a hurried look in front of him, his feeling was that he had
seen everything before--the wintry dawn, the crowds of pale men and
weeping women ranged on either hand, the police keeping the ground round
the shafts clear for the mine officials--even the set white face of his
manager, who, with Macgregor the fireman and two hewers, had just emerged
from the cage that was waiting at the mouth of the downcast shaft.
As soon as Madan saw Tressady rounding the corner of the engine-house he
hurried towards his employer.
"Have you been down yet?" Tressady cried to him.
"Just come up, sir. We got about fifty yards--air fairly good--then we
found falls along the main intake. We got over three or four, till the
damp rose on us too bad--we had a rough bit getting back. I thought you'd
be here by now. Macgregor thinks from the direction in which things were
lying that the blast had come from Holford's Heading or thereabouts."
And the manager hastily opened a map of the colliery he was carrying in
his hand against the wall of the engine-house, and pointed to the spot.
"How many men there?"
"About thirty-two in the workings round about--as near as I can
"Any sign of the rest? How many went down?"
"Eighty-six. A cageful of men and lads--just them from the
shaft-bottom--got up immediately after the explosion. Since then, not a
sound from anyone! The uptake shaft is chock-full of damp. Mitchell, in
the fan-room, had to run for it at first, it was coming up so fast."
"Good God!" said George, under his breath; and the two men eyed each
"Have you sent for the inspector?" said Tressady, after a moment.
"He ought to be here in five minutes now, sir."
"Got some baulks together?"
"The men are piling them by the shaft at this moment."
"Yes, sir--and speed increased."
Followed by Madan, Tressady walked up to the shaft, and himself
questioned Macgregor and the two hewers.
Then he beckoned to Madan, and the two walked in close converse towards
the lamphouse, discussing a plan of action. As they passed slowly along
the bank the eyes of the miserable terror-stricken throng to either side
followed every movement. But there was not a sound from anyone. Once
Tressady looked up and caught the faces of some men near him--dark
faces, charged with a meaning that seemed instantly to stiffen his own
nerve for what he had to do.
"I give Dixon three more minutes," he said, impatiently looking at his
watch; "then we go down without him."
Dixon was the inspector. He was well known throughout the district, a
plucky, wiry fellow, who was generally at the pit's mouth immediately
after an accident, ready and keen to go with any rescue party on any
errand, however dangerous--purely, as he himself declared, for
professional and scientific reasons. In this case, he lived only a mile
away, on the further side of the village, so that Madan's messenger had
not far to go.
As he spoke, George felt his arm clutched from behind. He turned, and saw
Mary Batchelor, who had come forward from a group of women.
"Sir George! Listen 'ere, Sir George." Her lined face and tear-blurred
eyes worked with a passion of entreaty. "The boy went down at five with
the rest. Don't yer bear 'im no malice. Ee's a poor sickly creetur, an
the Lord an't give 'im the full use of his wits."
George smiled at the poor thing's madness, and touched her kindly on
"Don't you trouble yourself, Mary; all that can be done will be done--for
everybody. We are only giving Mr. Dixon another minute; then we go down.
Look here"--he drew her inside the door of the lamproom, which happened
to be close by, for an open-mouthed group, eager to hear whatever he
might be saying, had begun to press about them. "Can you take this
message from me up to the house? There'll be no news here, you know, for
a long time, and I left Lady Tressady asleep."
He tore a half-sheet from the letter in his pocket, scribbled a few words
upon it, and put it into Mary's hand.
The woman, with her shawl over her head, ran past the lamphouse towards
the entrance-gate as fast as her age would let her, while George
"Ah, there he is!"
For the small, lean figure of the inspector was already passing the gate.
Tressady hurried to meet him.
By the time the first questions and answers were over, Tressady, looking
round for Madan, saw that the manager was speaking angrily to a tall man
in a rough coat and corduroy trousers who had entered the pit premises in
the wake of Mr. Dixon.
"You take yourself off, Mr. Burrows! You're not wanted here."
"Madan!" called Tressady, "attend to Mr. Dixon, please. I'll see to
And he walked up to Burrows, while the men standing near crowded over the
line they had been told to keep.
"What do you want?" he said, as he reached the newcomer.
"I have come to offer myself for the rescue party. I've been a working
miner for years. I've had special experience in accidents before. I can
beat anybody here in physical strength."
As he spoke the great heavily built fellow looked round him, and a
murmur of assenting applause came from the bystanders.
Tressady studied him.
"Are you fit?" he said shortly.
Burrows flushed. Tressady's penetrating look forced his own to meet it.
"As fit as you are," was his haughty reply.
"Well"--said Tressady, slowly, "we don't want to be refusing strong men.
If Madan'll have you, you shall come. Mind, we're all under his orders."
He went to the manager, and said a word in his ear. Madan, in response,
vouchsafed neither look nor remark to the man, whom he hated apparently
more bitterly than his employer did. But he made no further objection to
his joining the search party.
Presently all preparations were made. Picked bands of firemen and
timbermen descended first, with Madan at their head. Then George, Mr.
Dixon, a couple of local doctors who had hurried up to offer their
services, and Burrows.
As they shot down into the darkness George was conscious of a strange
exhilaration. Working on the indications given him by the first exploring
party, his mind was alive with conjectures as to the cause of the
accident, and with plans for dealing with the various obstacles that
might occur. Never during these weeks of struggle and noise and
objurgation had he felt so fit, so strenuous. At the bottom of the shaft
he had even to remind himself, with a shudder, of the dead men who must
be waiting for them in these blank depths.
For some little distance from the shaft nothing was to be seen that
spoke of an explosion. Some lamps in the porch of the shaft and along the
main roadway were burning as usual, and the "journey" of trucks, from
which the "hookers-on" and engine-men had escaped at the first sign of
danger, was standing laden in the entrance of the mine. The door of the
under-manager's cabin, near the base of the shaft, was open. Madan looked
into the little den, where the lamp was still burning on the wall, and
groaned. The young fellow who was generally to be found there was a great
friend of his, and they attended the same chapel together. A little
farther an open cupboard was noticed with a wisp of spun yarn hanging out
from it--inflammable stuff, quite untouched. But about thirty yards
farther they came upon the first signs of mischief. A heavy fall of roof
had to be scrambled over, and beyond it afterdamp was clearly
Here there was an exclamation from Burrows, who was to the front, and the
first victim showed out of the dark in the pale glow-worm light of the
lamps turned upon him. A man lay on his side, close against the wall,
with an unlocked lamp in his hands, which were badly burnt. But no other
part of him was burnt, and it was clear that he had died of afterdamp in
trying to escape. He had evidently come from one of the nearer
work-places, and fallen within a few yards of safety. The inspector
pounced upon the lamp at once, while the doctors knelt by the body. But
in itself the lamp told little. If it were the illegal unlocking of a
lamp that caused the disaster, neither this lamp nor this man could be at
fault; for he had died clearly on the verge of the explosion area, and
from the after-effects of the calamity. But the inspector, who had
barely looked at the dead man, turned the lamp round in his hands,
"Bad pattern! bad pattern! If I had my way I'd fine every manager whose
lamps _could_ be unlocked," he said to himself, but quite audibly.
"The fireman may have unlocked it, sir, to re-light his own or someone
else's," said Madan, stiffly, put at once on his defence.
"Oh! I know you're within your legal right, Mr. Madan," said the
inspector, briskly. "_I_ haven't the making of the laws."
And he sat down on the floor, taking the lamp to pieces, and bending his
shrewd, black-eyed face over it, all the time that the doctors were
examining its owner. He was, perhaps, one of the most humane men in his
profession, but a long experience had led him to the conclusion that in
these emergencies the fragments of a lamp, or a "tamping," or a "shot,"
matter more to the community than dead men.
Meanwhile George crouched beside the doctors, watching them. The owner of
the lamp was a strong, fair-haired young man, without a mark on him
except for the burning of the hands, the eyes quietly shut, the face at
peace. One of the colliers in the search party had burst out crying when
he saw him. The lad was his nephew, and had been a favourite in the pit,
partly because of his prowess as a football player. But the young life
had gone out irrevocably. The doctor shook his head as he lifted himself,
and they left him there, in order not to waste any chance of getting out
the living first.
Twenty yards farther on three more bodies were found, two oldish men and
a boy, very little burnt. They also had been killed in escaping, dragged
down by the inexorable afterdamp.
A little beyond this group a fall of mingled stone and coal from the roof
blocked the way so heavily that the hewers and timbermen had to be set to
work to open out and shore up before a passage could be made. Meanwhile
the air in the haulage road was clearing fast, and George could sit on a
lump of stone and watch the dim light playing on the figures of the men
at work. The blows struck echoed from floor to roof; the work of the bare
arms and backs, as they swayed and jerked, woke a clamour in the mine.
Were there any ears still to listen for them beyond that mass? He could
scarcely keep a limb quiet, as he sat looking on, for impatience and
excitement. Burrows meanwhile was wielding a pick with the rest, and
George envied him the bodily skill and strength that, in spite of his
irregular ways of life, were still left to him.
To restore the ventilation-current was their first object, and the
foremost pick had no sooner gained the roadway on the other side than a
strong movement of the air was perceptible. Madan's face cleared. The
ventilation circuit between the downcast and upcast shafts must be
already in some sort re-established. Let them only get a few more
"stoppings" and brattices put temporarily to rights, and the fan, working
at its increased speed, would soon drive the renewed air-currents forward
again, and make it possible to get all over the mine. The hole made was
quickly enlarged, and the rescuers scrambled through.
But still fall after fall on the further side delayed their progress,
and the work of repairing the blown-out stoppings by such wood brattice
as could be got at, was long and tedious. The rescuers toiled and
sweated, pausing every now and then to draw upon the food and drink sent
up from behind; and the hours flew unheeded. At last, upon the further
side of one of the worst of these falls--a loose mingled mass of rock and
coal--they came on indications that showed them they had reached the
centre and heart of the disaster. A door leading on the right to one of
the side-roads of the pit known as Holford's Heading was blown outwards,
and some trucks from the heading had been dashed across the main intake,
and piled up in a huddled and broken mass against the farther wall. Just
inside that door lay victim after victim, mostly on their faces, poor
fellows! as they had come running out from their stalls at the noise of
the explosion, only to meet the fiery blast that killed them. Two or
three had been flung violently against the sides of the heading, and were
left torn, with still bleeding wounds, as well as charred and blackened
by the flame. Of sixteen men and boys that lay in this place of death,
not one had survived to hear the stifled words--half groans, half sobs,
of the comrades who had found them.
"But, thank God! no torture, no _thought_," said George to himself as he
went from face to face; "an instant--a flash--then nothingness."
Many of the men were well known to him. He had seen them last hanging
about the village street, pale with famine--the hatred in their eyes
He knelt down an instant beside an elderly man whom he could remember
since he was quite a boy--a weak-eyed, sallow fellow, much given to
preaching--much given, too, it was said, to beating his wife and
children, as the waves of excitement took him. Anyway, a fellow who could
feel, whose nerves stung and tormented him, even in the courses of
ordinary life. He lay with his eyes half open, the face terribly
scorched, the hands clenched, as though he still fought with the death
that had overcome him.
George covered the man's face with a handkerchief as the doctor left the
body. "_He_ suffered," he said, under his breath. The doctor heard him,
and nodded sadly.
Hark! What was that? A cry--a faint cry!
"They're some of them alive in the end workings," cried Madan, with a sob
of joy. "Come on, my lads! come on!"
And the party--all but Mr. Dixon--leaving the dead, pushed on through
the foul atmosphere, over heaps of fallen stone and coal, in quest of
"Leave me a man," said Mr. Dixon, detaining the manager a moment. "I stay
here. You have enough with you. If I judge right, it all began here."
A collier stayed with him, unwillingly, panting all the time under the
emotion of the rescue the man imagined but was not to see.
For while the inspector measured and sketched, far up the heading, in
some disused workings off a side-dip or roadway, Burrows was the first to
come upon twenty-five men, eighteen of whom were conscious and uninjured.
Two of them had strength enough, as they heard the footsteps and shouts
approaching, to stagger out into the heading to meet their rescuers. One,
a long, thin lad, came forward with leaps and gambols, in spite of his
weakness, and fell almost at Tressady's feet. As he recognised the tall
man standing above him, his bloodless mouth twitched into a broad grin.
"I say, give us a chance. Take me out--won't you?"
It was Mary Batchelor's grandson. In retribution for the assault on Letty
the lad had been sentenced to three weeks' imprisonment, and George had
not seen him since. He stooped now, and poured some brandy down the boy's
throat. "We'll get you out directly," he said, "as soon as we've looked
to the others."
"There's some on 'em not worth takin out," said the boy, clinging to
George's leg. "They're dead. Take me out first." Then, with another grin,
as George disengaged himself, "Some on em's prayin."
Indeed, the first sight of that little group was a strange and touching
one. About a dozen men sat huddled round one of their number, a Wesleyan
class-leader, who had been praying with them and reciting passages from
St. John. All of them, young or old, were dazed and bent from the effects
of afterdamp, and scarcely one of them had strength to rise till they
were helped to their feet. Nevertheless, the cry which had been heard by
their rescuers had not been a cry for help, but the voices of the little
prayer-meeting raised feebly through the darkness in the Old Hundredth.
A little distance from the prayer-meeting, the sceptics of the party
leant against the wall or lay along the floor, unheeding; while seven
men were unconscious, and possibly dying. Two or three young fellows
meanwhile, who had been least touched by the afterdamp, had "amused
themselves," as they said, by riding up and down the neighbouring level
on the "jummer" or coal-truck of one of them.
"Weren't you afraid?" Tressady asked one of these, turning a curious look
at him, while the doctors were examining the worst cases, and rough men
were sobbing and shaking each other's hands off.
"Noa," said the young hewer, his face, like something cut out in
yellowish wax, returning the light from Tressady's lamp. "Noa, theer was
cumpany. Old Moses, there--ee saved us."
Old Moses was the leader of the prayer-meeting. He was a fireman besides,
who had been for twenty-six years in the mine. At the time of the
explosion, it appeared, he had been in a working close to that door on
the heading where death had done so ghastly and complete a work. But the
flame in its caprice had passed him by, and he and another man had been
able to struggle through the afterdamp back along the heading, just in
time to stem the rush of men and boys from the workings at the farther
end. These men were at the moment in a madness of terror, and ready even
to plunge into the white death-mist advancing to meet them, obeying only
the instinct of the trapped animal to "get out." But Moses was able to
control them, to draw them back by degrees along the heading till, in the
distant workings where they were found, the air was more tolerable, and
they could wait for rescue.
George was the first to help the old fireman to his feet. But instead of
listening to any praises of his own conduct, he was no sooner clinging to
Tressady's arm than he called to Madan:
"Mr. Madan, sir!"
"Have ye heard aught of them in the West Heading yet?"
"No, Moses; we must get these fellows out first. We'll go there next."
"I left thirty men and boys there this morning at half-past six. It was
fair thronged up with them." The old man's voice shook.
Meanwhile Madan and the doctors were busy with the transport of the seven
unconscious men, some of whom were already dying. Each of them had to be
carried on his back by two men, and as soon as the sick procession was
organised it was seen that only three of the search party were left
free--Tressady, Burrows, and the Scotch fireman, Macgregor.
Up the level and along the heading, past the point where Dixon was still
at work, over the minor falls that everywhere attested the range of the
explosion, and through the pools of water that here and there gathered
the drippings of the mine, the seven men were tenderly dragged or
carried, till at last the party regained the main intake or roadway.
George turned to Madan.
"You will have your hands full with these poor fellows. Macgregor and
I--Mr. Burrows, if he likes--will push on to the West Heading."
Madan looked uneasy.
"You'd better go up, Sir George," he said, in a low voice, "and let me
go on. You don't know the signs of the roof as I do. Eight or nine hours
after an explosion is the worst time for falls. Send down another shift,
sir, as quick as you can."
"Why should you risk more than I?" said George, quietly. "Stop! What time
is it?" He looked at his watch. Five o'clock--nearly nine hours since
they descended! He might have guessed it at three, if he had been asked.
Time in the midst of such an experience contracts to a pin's point. But
the sight of the watch stirred a pang in him.
"Send word at once to Lady Tressady," he said, in Madan's ear, drawing
the manager to one side. "Tell her I have gone on a little farther, and
may be another hour or two in getting back. If she is down at the bank,
beg her from me to go home. Tell her the chances are that we may find the
other men as safe as these."
Madan acquiesced reluctantly. George then plundered him of some dry
biscuits--of some keys, moreover, that might be useful in opening one or
two locked doors farther up the workings.
"Macgregor, you'll come?"
"Aye, Sir George."
"You, Mr. Burrows?"
"Of course," said Burrows, carelessly, throwing back his handsome head.
Some of the rescued men turned and looked hard at their agent and leader
with their sunken eyes. Others took no notice. His prestige had been lost
in defeat; and George had noticed that they avoided speech with him. No
doubt this rescue party had presented itself to the agent as an opening
he dare not neglect.
"Come on, then," said George; and the three men turned back towards the
interior of the pit.
Old Moses, from whose clutch George had just freed himself, stopped short
and looked after them. Then he raised a hoarse voice:
"Be you going to the West Heading, Sir George?"
"Yes," George flung back over his shoulder, already far away.
"The Lord go with yer, Sir George!"
No answer. The old man, breathing hard, caught hold of one of his
stronger comrades and tottered on towards the shaft. Two or three of his
fellows gathered round him. "Aye," said one of them, out of Madan's
hearing, "ee's been a-squeezing of us through the ground, ee ave, but
ee's a plucky lot, is the boss."
"They do say as Burrers slanged 'im fine at the station yesterday," said
another, hoarsely. "Called 'im the devil untied, one man told me."
The first speaker, still haggard and bowed from the poison in his blood,
made no reply, and the movement of old Moses' lips, as he staggered
forward, helped on by the two others, his head hanging on his breast,
showed that he was praying.
* * * * *
Meanwhile George and his two companions pushed cautiously on, Macgregor
trying the roof with his lamp from time to time for signs of fire-damp.
Two seams of coal were worked in the mine, one of which was "fiery." No
naked lights, therefore, were allowed, and all "shots" or charges for
loosening the coal were electrically fired.
As they walked, they spoke now and then of the possible cause of the
disaster: whereof Dixon, as they passed him, had bluntly declined to say
a word till his task was done. George, with the characteristic contempt
of intelligence for the blunderer, threw out a few caustic remarks as to
the obstinate disobedience or carelessness of a certain type of
miner--disobedience which, in his own experience even, had already led to
a score of fatal accidents. Burrows, irritated apparently by his tone,
took up a provoking line of reply. Suppose a miner, set to choose between
the risk of bringing the coal-roof down on his head for lack of a proper
light to work by, and the risk of "being blown to hell" by the opening of
his lamp, did a mad thing sometimes, who were other people that they
should blame him? His large, ox-like eyes, clear in the light of his
lamp, turned a scornful defiance on his companion. "Try it yourself, my
fine gentleman"--that was what the expression of them meant.
"He doesn't only risk his own life," said George, shortly. "That's the
answer.--I say, Macgregor, isn't this the door to the Meadows Pit? If
anything cut us off from the shaft, and supposing we couldn't get round
yet by the return, we might have to try it, mightn't we?"
Macgregor assented, and George as he passed stepped up to the heavy
wooden door, and tried one of the keys he held, that he might be sure of
opening it in case of need.
The door had been unopened for long, and he shook it backwards and
forwards to make the key bite.
Meanwhile Macgregor had lingered a little behind, while Burrows had
walked on. Suddenly, above the rattle of the door a cracking noise was
heard. A voice of agony rang through the roadway.
"Run, Sir George! run!"
A rattle like thunder roared through the mine. It was heard at the
pithead, and the people crowded there ran hither and thither in dismay,
thinking it was another explosion.
* * * * *
Hours passed. At last in George's numbed brain there was a faint stir of
consciousness. He opened his eyes slowly.
Oh, horror! oh, cruelty! to come back from merciful nothingness and peace
to this burning anguish, not to be borne, of body and mind. "I had died,"
he thought--"it was done with," and a wild, impotent rage, as against
some brutality done him, surged through him.
A little later he made a first slight movement, which was answered at
once by another movement on the part of a man sitting near him. The man
bent over him in the darkness and felt for his pulse.
"Burrows!" The whisper was just perceptible.
"Yes, Sir George."
"What has happened? Where is Macgregor? Give me some brandy--there, in my
"No; I have it. Can you swallow it? I have tried several times before,
but your mouth was set--it ran down my fingers."
"Give it me."
Their fingers met, George feeling for the flask. As he moved his arm a
groan of anguish broke from him.
"Drink it--if you possibly can."
George put all the power of his being into the effort to swallow a few
drops. Still the anguish! "O God, my back! and the legs--paralysed!"
The words were only spoken in the brain, but it seemed to him that he
cried them aloud. For a moment or two the mind swam again; then the
brandy began to sting.
He slid down a hand slowly, defying the pain it caused him, to feel his
right leg. The trouser round the thigh hung in ribbons, but the fragments
lying on the flesh were caked and hard; and beneath him was a pool. His
reason worked with difficulty, but clearly. "Some bad injury to the
thigh," he thought. "Much bleeding--probably the bleeding has dulled the
worst pain. The back and shoulders burnt--"
Then, in the same hesitating, difficult way he managed to lift his hand
to his head, which ached intolerably. The right temple and the hair upon
it were also caked and wet.
He let his hand drop. "How long have I--?" he thought. For already his
revived consciousness could hardly maintain itself; something from the
black tunnels of the mine seemed to be perpetually pressing out upon it,
threatening to drown it like a flood.
"Burrows!"--he felt again with his hand--"where's Macgregor?"
A sob broke from the darkness beside him.
"Crushed in an instant. I heard one cry. Why not we, too?"
"It was such a bad fall?"
"The whole mine seemed to come down." George felt the shudder of the huge
frame. "I escaped; you must have been caught by some of it. Macgregor was
right underneath it. But there was an explosion besides."
"Macgregor's lamp? Broken?" whispered George, after a pause.
"Possibly. It couldn't have been much, or we should have been killed
instantly. I was only stunned--a bit scorched, too--not badly. You're the
lucky one. I shall die by inches."
"Cheer up!" said George, faintly. "I can't last--but they'll find you."
"What chance for either of us," said Burrows, groaning. "The return must
be blocked, too, or they'd have got round to us by now."
"God knows! To judge by the time I've been sitting--since I got you
here--it's night long ago."
"Since you got me here?" repeated George, with feeble interrogation.
"When I came to I was lying with my face in a dampish sort of hollow, and
I suppose the afterdamp had lifted a bit, for I could raise my head. I
felt you close by. Then I dragged myself on a bit, till I felt some
brattice. I got past that, found a dip where the air was better, came
back for you, and dragged you here. I thought you were dead at first;
then I felt your heart. And since we got here I've found an air-pipe up
here along the wall, and broken it."
George was silent. But the better atmosphere was affecting him somewhat,
and consciousness was becoming clearer. Only, what seemed to him a loud
noise disturbed him--tortured the wound in his head. Then, gradually, as
he bent his mind upon it, he made out what it was--a slow drip or trickle
of water from the face of the wall. The contrast between his imagination
and the reality supplied him with a kind of measure of the silence that
enwrapped them--silence that seemed in itself a living thing, charged
with the brooding vengeance of the earth upon the creatures that had been
delving at her heart.
"Burrows!--that water--maddens me." He moved his head miserably. "Could
you get some? The brandy-flask has a cup."
"There is a little pool by the brattice. I put my cap in as we got there,
and dashed it over you. I'll go again."
George heard the long limbs drag themselves painfully along. Then he lost
count again of time, and all impressions on the ear, till he was roused
by the water at his lips and a hand dashing some on his brow.
He drank greedily.
"Thanks! Put it by me--there; that's safe. Now, Burrows, I'm dying. Leave
me. You can't do anything--and you--you might still try for it. There are
one or two ways that might be worth trying. Take these keys. I could
But the little thread of life wavered terribly as he spoke. Burrows had
to put his ear close to the scorched lips.
"No," he said gloomily, "I don't leave a man while there's any life in
him. Besides, there's no chance--I don't know the mine."
Suddenly, as though answering to the other's despair, a throb of such
agony rose in George it seemed to rive body and soul asunder. His poor
Letty!--his child that was to be!--his own energy of life, he had been so
conscious of at the very moment of descending to this hideous death--all
gone, all done!--his little moment of being torn from him by the
inexorable force that restores nothing and explains nothing.
A picture flashed into his mind, an etching that he had seen in Paris in
a shop window--had seen and pondered over. "Entombed" was written
underneath it, and it showed a solitary miner, on whom the awful trap
has fallen, lifting his arms to his face in a last cry against the
universe that has brought him into being, that has given him nerve and
Wherever he turned his eyes in the blackness he saw it--the lifted arms,
the bare torso of the man, writhing under the agony of realisation--the
tools, symbols of a life's toil, lying as they had dropped for ever from
the hands that should work no more. It had sent a shudder through him,
even amid the gaiety of a Paris street.
Then this first image was swept away by a second. It seemed to him that
he was on the pit bank again. It was night, but the crowd was still
there, and big fires lighted for warmth threw a glow upon the faces.
There were stars, and a pale light of snow upon the hills. He looked
into the engine-house. There she was--his poor Letty! O God! He tried to
get through to her, to speak to her. Impossible!
A sound disturbed his dream.
His ear and brain struggled with it--trying to give it a name. A man's
long, painful breaths--half sobs. Burrows, no doubt--thinking of the
woman he loved--of the poor emaciated soul George had seen him tending
in the cottage garden on that April day.
He put out his hand and touched his companion.
"Don't despair," he whispered; "you will see her again. How strange--we
two--we enemies--but this is the end. Tell me about her."
"I took her from a ruffian who had nearly murdered her and the child,"
said the hoarse voice after a pause. "She was happy--in spite of the
drink, in spite of everything--she would have been happy, till she died.
To think of her alone is too cruel. If people turned their backs on her,
I made up."
"You will see her again," George repeated, but hardly knowing what the
words were he said.
When he next spoke it was with an added strength that astonished his
"Burrows, promise me something. Take a message from me to my wife.
Then, as he felt his companion's breath on his cheek, he roused himself
to speak plainly:
"Tell her--I sent her my dear love--that I thanked her with all my heart
and soul for her love--that it was very hard to leave her--and our child.
Write the words for her, Burrows. Tell her it was impossible for me to
write, but I dictated this." He paused for a long time, then resumed:
"And tell her, too--my last wish was--that she should ask Lord and Lady
Maxwell--can you hear plainly?"--he repeated the names--"to be her
friends and guardians. And bid her ask them--from me--not to forsake her.
Have you understood? Will you repeat it?"
Burrows, in the mood of one humouring the whim of the dying, repeated
what had been said to him word by word, his own sensuous nature swept the
while by the terrors of a death which seemed but one little step further
from himself than from Tressady. Yet he did his best to understand, and
recollect; and to the message so printed on his shrinking brain a woman's
misery owed its only comfort in the days that followed.
"Thank you," said Tressady, painfully listening for the last word. "Give