Part 3 out of 7
had desired to go to his aid, but he could not budge from his post.
Presently the colour began slowly to return to Horrocleave's cheek;
his eyes opened; he looked round sleepily and then wildly; and then he
rubbed his eyes and yawned. He remained quiescent for several minutes,
while a railway lorry thundered through the archway and the hoofs of
the great horse crunched on shawds in the yard. Then he called, in a
"Louis! Where the devil are ye?"
Louis re-entered the room, and as he did so Horrocleave shut the
petty-cash book with an abrupt gesture.
"Here, take it!" said he, pushing the book away.
"Is it all right?" Louis asked.
Horrocleave nodded. "Well, I've checked about forty additions." And he
"I think you might do it a bit oftener," said Louis, and then went on:
"I say, don't you think it might be a good thing if you took your boot
off. You never know, when you've slipped, whether it won't swell--I
mean the ankle."
"Bosh!" exclaimed Horrocleave, with precipitation, but after an
instant added thoughtfully: "Well, I dun'no'. Wouldn't do any harm,
would it? I say--get me some water, will you? I don't know how it is,
but I'm as thirsty as a dog."
The heroic martyr to the affirmation that he had not hurt himself had
handsomely saved his honour. He could afford to relax a little now the
rigour of consistency in conduct. With twinges and yawns he permitted
Louis to help him with the boot and to put an art-lustre cup to his
Louis was in the highest spirits. He had seen the gates of the
Inferno, and was now snatched up to Paradise. He knew that Horrocleave
had never more than half suspected him, and that the terrible
Horrocleave pride would prevent Horrocleave from asking for the
book again. Henceforth, saved by a miracle, he could live in utter
rectitude; he could respond freely to the inspiring influence of
Rachel, and he would do so. He smiled at his previous fears, and was
convinced, by no means for the first time, that a Providence watched
over him because of his good intentions and his nice disposition--that
nothing really serious could ever occur to Louis Fores. He reflected
happily that in a few days he would begin a new petty-cash book--and
he envisaged it as a symbol of his new life. The future smiled. He
made sure that his aunt Maldon was dying, and though he liked her very
much and would regret her demise, he could not be expected to be blind
to the fact that a proportion of her riches would devolve on himself.
Indeed, in unluckily causing a loss of money to his aunt Maldon he had
in reality only been robbing himself. So that there was no need for
any kind of remorse. When the works closed for the week-end, he
walked almost serenely up to Bycars for news--news less of his aunt's
condition than of the discovery that a certain roll of bank-notes had
The front door was open when Louis arrived at Mrs. Maldon's house, and
he walked in. Anybody might have walked in. There was nothing unusual
in this; it was not a sign that the mistress of the house was ill in
bed and its guardianship therefore disorganized. The front doors of
Bursley--even the most select--were constantly ajar and the fresh wind
from off the pot-bank was constantly blowing through those exposed
halls and up those staircases. For the demon of public inquisitiveness
is understood in the Five Towns to be a nocturnal demon. The fear
of it begins only at dusk. A woman who in the evening protects her
parlour like her honour, will, while the sun is above the horizon,
show the sacred secrets of the kitchen itself to any one who chooses
to stand on the front step.
Louis put his hat and stick on the oak chest, and with a careless,
elegant gesture brushed back his dark hair. The door of the parlour
was slightly ajar. He pushed it gently open, and peeped round it with
a pleasant arch expression, on the chance of there being some one
Rachel was lying on the Chesterfield. Her left cheek, resting on her
left hand, was embedded in the large cushion. A large coil of her
tawny hair, displaced, had spread loosely over the dark green of the
sofa. The left foot hung limp over the edge of the sofa; the jutting
angle of the right knee divided sharply the drapery of her petticoat
into two systems, and her right shoe with its steel buckle pressed
against the yielding back of the Chesterfield. The right arm lay
lissom like a snake across her breast. All her muscles were lax,
and every full curve of her body tended downward in response to the
negligent pose. Her eyes were shut, her face flushed; and her chest
heaved with the slow regularity of her deep, unconscious breathing.
Louis as he gazed was enchanted. This was not Miss Fleckring, the
companion and household help of Mrs. Maldon, but a nymph, a fay, the
universal symbol of his highest desire.... He would have been happy to
kiss the glinting steel buckle, so feminine, so provocative, so coy.
The tight rounded line of the waist, every bend of the fingers, the
fall of the eye-lashes--all were exquisite and precious to him after
the harsh, unsatisfying, desolating masculinity of Horrocleave's.
This was the divine reward of Horrocleave's, the sole reason of
Horrocleave's. Horrocleave's only existed in order that this might
exist and be maintained amid cushions and the softness of calm and
sequestered interiors, waiting for ever in acquiescence for the
arrival of manful doers from Horrocleave's. The magnificent pride of
male youth animated Louis. He had not a care in the world. Even
his long-unpaid tailor's bill was magically abolished. He was an
embodiment of exulting hope and fine aspirations.
Rachel stirred, dimly aware of the invasion. And Louis, actuated by
the most delicate regard for her sensitive modesty, vanished back for
a moment into the hall, until she should have fitted herself for his
Mrs. Tams had come from somewhere into the hall. She was munching a
square of bread and cold bacon, and she curtsied, exclaiming--
"It's never Mester Fores! That's twice her's been woke up this day!"
"Who's there?" Rachel called out, and her voice had the breaking,
bewildered softness of a woman's in the dark, emerging from a dream.
"Sorry! Sorry!" said Louis, behind the door.
"It's all right," she reassured him.
He returned to the room. She was sitting upright on the sofa, her arms
a little extended and the tips of her fingers touching the sofa. The
coil of her hair had been arranged. The romance of the exciting night
still clung to her, for Louis; but what chiefly seduced him was the
mingling in her mien of soft confusion and candid, sturdy honesty and
dependableness. He felt that here was not only a ravishing charm, but
a source of moral strength from which he could draw inexhaustibly that
which he had had a slight suspicion he lacked. He felt that here was
joy and salvation united, and it seemed too good to be true. Strange
that when she greeted him at the door-step on the previous evening, he
had imagined that she was revealing herself to him for the first
time; and again later, in the kitchen, he had imagined that she was
revealing herself to him for the first time; and again, still later,
in the sudden crisis at his bedroom door, he had imagined that she was
revealing herself to him for the first time. For now he perceived that
he had never really seen her before; and he was astounded and awed.
"Auntie still on the up-grade?" he inquired, using all his own charm.
He guessed, of course, that Mrs. Maldon must be still better, and he
was very glad, although, if she recovered, it would be she and not
himself that he had deprived of bank-notes.
"Oh yes, she's better," said Rachel, not moving from the sofa; "but
have you heard what's happened?"
In spite of himself he trembled, awaiting the disclosure. "Now for the
bank-notes!" he reflected, bracing his nerves. He shook his head.
She told him what had happened; she told him at length, quickening
her speech as she proceeded. And for a few moments it was as if he
was being engulfed by an enormous wave, and would drown. But the next
instant he recollected that he was on dry land, safe, high beyond the
reach of any catastrophe. His position was utterly secure. The past
was past; the leaf was turned. He had but to forget, and he was
confident of his ability to forget. The compartments of his mind were
innumerable, and as separate as the dungeons of a mediaeval prison.
"Isn't it awful?" she murmured.
"Well, it is rather awful!"
"Nine hundred and sixty-five pounds! Fancy it!"
The wave approached him again as she named the sum. Nevertheless,
he never once outwardly blenched. As he had definitely put away
unrighteousness, so his face showed no sign of guilt. Like many
ingenuous-minded persons, he had in a high degree the faculty of
appearing innocent--except when he really was innocent.
"If you ask me," said Rachel, "she never took any of the notes
upstairs at all; she left them all somewhere downstairs and only took
the serviette upstairs."
"Yes," he agreed thoughtfully, wondering whether on the other hand,
Mrs. Maldon had not taken all the notes upstairs, and left none of
them downstairs. Was it possible that in that small roll, in that
crushed ball that he had dropped into the grate, there was nearly a
thousand pounds--the equivalent of an income of a pound a week
for ever and ever?... Never mind! The incident, so far as he was
concerned, was closed. The dogma of his future life would be that the
bank-notes had never existed.
"And I've looked _ev_'rywhere!" Rachel insisted with strong
Louis remarked, thoughtfully, as though a new aspect of the affair was
presenting itself to him--
"It's really rather serious, you know!"
"I should just say it was--as much money as that!"
"I mean," said Louis, "for everybody. That is to say, Julian and me.
"How can you be involved? You didn't even know it was in the house."
"No. But the old lady might have dropped it. I might have picked it
up. Julian might have picked it up. Who's to prove--"
She cut in coldly--
"Please don't talk like that!"
He smiled with momentary constraint. He said to himself--
"It won't do to talk to this kind of girl like that. She won't stand
it.... Why, she wouldn't even _dream_ of suspicion falling on
herself--wouldn't dream of it."
After a silence he began--
"Well--" and made a gesture to imply that the enigma baffled him.
"I give it up!" breathed Rachel intimately. "I fairly give it up!"
"And of course that was the cause of her attack?" he said suddenly, as
if the idea had just occurred to him.
"Well," said he, "I'll look in again during the afternoon. I must
be getting along for my grub." He was hoping that he had not
unintentionally brought about his aunt's death.
"Not had your dinner!" she cried. "Why! It's after half-past two!"
"Oh, well, you know ... Saturday...."
"I shall get you a bit of dinner here," she said. "And then perhaps
Mrs. Maldon will be waking up. Yes," she repeated, positively, "I
shall get you a bit of dinner here, myself. Mrs. Maldon would not be
at all pleased if I didn't."
"I'm frightfully hungry," he admitted.
And he was.
When she had left the parlour he perceived evidences here and there
that she had been hunting up hill and down dale for the notes; and he
went into the back room with an earnest, examining air, as though
he might find part of the missing hoard, after all, in some niche
overlooked by Rachel. He would have preferred to think that Mrs.
Maldon had not taken the whole of the money upstairs, but reflection
did much to convince him that she had. It was infinitely regrettable
that he had not counted his treasure-trove under the chair.
The service of his meal, which had the charm of a picnic, was
interrupted by the arrival of the doctor, whose report on the invalid,
however, was so favourable that Louis could quite dismiss the possibly
homicidal aspect of his dealings with the bank-notes. The shock of the
complete disappearance of the vast sum had perhaps brought Mrs.
Maldon to the brink of death, but she had edged safely away again,
in accordance with her own calm prophecy that very morning. When the
doctor had gone, and the patient was indulged in her desire to be
left alone for sleep, Louis very slowly and luxuriously finished his
repast, with Rachel sitting opposite to him, in Mrs. Maldon's place,
at the dining-table. He lit a cigarette and, gracefully leaning
his elbows on the table, gazed at her through the beautiful grey
smoke-veil, which was like the clouds of Paradise.
What thrilled Louis was the obvious fact that he fascinated her. She
was transformed under his glance. How her eyes shone! How her cheek
flushed and paled! What passionate vitality found vent in her little
gestures! But in the midst of this transformation her honesty,
her loyalty, her exquisite ingenuousness, her superb dependability
remained. She was no light creature, no flirt nor seeker after dubious
sensations. He felt that at last he was appreciated by one whose
appreciation was tremendously worth having. He was confirmed in that
private opinion of himself that no mistakes hitherto made in his
career had been able to destroy. He felt happy and confident as never
Luck, of course; but luck deserved! He could marry this unique
creature and be idolized and cherished for the rest of his life. In
an instant, from being a scorner of conjugal domesticity, he became
a scorner of the bachelor's existence, with its immeasurable secret
ennui hidden beneath the jaunty cloak of a specious freedom--freedom
to be bored, freedom to fret, and long and envy, freedom to eat ashes
and masticate dust! He would marry her. Yes, he was saved, because he
was loved. And he meant to be worthy of his regenerate destiny. All
the best part of his character came to the surface and showed in his
face. But he did not ask his heart whether he was or was not in love
with Rachel. The point did not present itself. He certainly never
doubted that he was seeing her with a quite normal vision.
Their talk went through and through the enormous topic of the night
and day, arriving at no conclusion whatever, except that there was no
conclusion--not even a theory of a conclusion. (And the Louis who now
discussed the case was an innocent, reborn Louis, quite unconnected
with the Louis of the previous evening; he knew no more of the
inwardness of the affair than Rachel did. Of such singular feats of
doubling the personality is the self-deceiving mind capable.) After
a time it became implicit in the tone of their conversation that
the mysterious disappearance in a small, ordinary house of even so
colossal a sum as nine hundred and sixty-five pounds did not mean
the end of the world. That is to say, they grew accustomed to the
situation. Louis, indeed, permitted himself to suggest, as a man of
the large, still-existing world, that Rachel should guard against
over-estimating the importance of the sum. True, as he had several
times reflected, it did represent an income of about a pound a
week! But, after all, what was a pound a week, viewed in a proper
Louis somehow glided from the enormous topic to the topic of the
newest cinema--Rachel had never seen a cinema, except a very primitive
one, years earlier--and old Batchgrew was mentioned, he being
notoriously a cinema magnate. "I cannot stand that man," said Rachel
with a candour that showed to what intimacy their talk had developed.
Louis was delighted by the explosion, and they both fell violently
upon Thomas Batchgrew and found intense pleasure in destroying him.
And Louis was saying to himself, enthusiastically, "How well she
understands human nature!"
So that when old Batchgrew, without any warning or preliminary sound,
stalked pompously into the room their young confusion was excessive.
They felt themselves suddenly in the presence of not merely a personal
adversary, but of an enemy of youth and of love and of joy--of a being
mysterious and malevolent who neither would nor could comprehend them.
And they were at once resentful and intimidated.
During the morning Councillor Batchgrew had provided
himself--doubtless by purchase, since he had not been home--with a
dandiacal spotted white waistcoat in honour of the warm and sunny
weather. This waistcoat by its sprightly unsuitability to his
aged uncouthness, somehow intensified the sinister quality of his
"Found it?" he demanded tersely.
Rachel, strangely at a loss, hesitated and glanced at Louis as if for
"No, I haven't, Mr. Batchgrew," she said. "I haven't, I'm sure. And
I've turned over every possible thing likely or unlikely."
Mr. Batchgrew growled--
"From th' look of ye I made sure that th' money had turned up all
right--ye were that comfortable and cosy! Who'd guess as nigh on a
thousand pound's missing out of this house since last night!"
The heavy voice rolled over them brutally. Louis attempted to
withstand Mr. Batchgrew's glare, but failed. He was sure of the
absolute impregnability of his own position; but the clear memory
of at least one humiliating and disastrous interview with Thomas
Batchgrew in the past robbed Louis' eye of its composure. The
circumstances under which he had left the councillor's employ some
years ago were historic and unforgettable.
"I came in back way instead of front way," said Thomas Batchgrew,
"because I thought I'd have a look at that scullery door. Kitchen's
"What about the scullery door?" Louis lightly demanded.
"I forgot to tell you; it was open when I came down in the middle of
the night." And then she added: "Wide open."
"Upon my soul!" said Louis slowly, with marked constraint. "I really
forget whether I looked at that door before I went to bed. I know I
looked at all the others."
"I'd looked at it, anyway," said Rachel defiantly, gazing at the
"And when you found it open, miss," pursued Thomas Batchgrew, "what
did ye do?"
"I shut it and locked it."
"Where was the key?"
"In the door."
"Lock in order?"
"Well, then, how could it have been opened from the outside? There
isn't a mark on the door, outside _or_ in."
"As far as that goes, Mr. Batchgrew," said Rachel, "only last week the
key fell out of the lock on the inside and slid down the brick floor
to the outside--you know there's a slope. And I had to go out of the
house by the front and the lamplighter climbed over the back gate for
me and let me into the yard so that I could get the key again. That
might have happened last night. Some one might have shaken the key
out, and pulled it under the door with a bit of wire or something."
"That won't do," Thomas Batchgrew stopped her. "You said the key was
in the door on the inside."
"Well, when they'd once opened the door from the outside, couldn't
they have put the key on the inside again?"
Thomas Batchgrew repeated sarcastically--
"Burglars! Burglars!" and snorted.
"Well, Mr. Batchgrew, either burglars must have been at work," said
Louis, who was fascinated by Rachel's surprising news and equally
surprising theory--"either burglars must have been at work," he
repeated impressively, "_or_--the money is still in the house.
"Is it?" snarled Batchgrew. "Look here, miss, and you, young Fores, I
didn't make much o' this this morning, because I thought th' money 'ud
happen be found. But seeing as it isn't, and _as_ we're talking
about it, what time was the rumpus last night?"
"What time?" Rachel muttered. "What time was it, Mr. Fores?"
"I dun'no'," said Louis. "Perhaps the doctor would know."
"Oh!" said Rachel, "Mrs. Tams said the hall clock had stopped; that
must have been when Mrs. Maldon knocked up against it."
She went to the parlour door and opened it, displaying the hall clock,
which showed twenty-five minutes past twelve. Louis had crept up
behind Mr. Batchgrew, who in his inapposite white waistcoat stood
between the two lovers, stertorous with vague anathema.
"So that was the time," said he. "And th' burglars must ha' been and
gone afore that. A likely thing burglars coming at twelve o'clock
at night, isn't it? And I'll tell ye summat else. Them burglars was
copped last night at Knype at eleven o'clock when th' pubs closed, if
ye want to know--the whole gang of three on 'em."
"Then what about that burglary last night down the Lane?" Rachel asked
"Oh!" exclaimed Louis. "Was there a burglary down the Lane last night?
I didn't know that."
"No, there wasn't," said Batchgrew ruthlessly. "That burglary was a
practical joke, and it's all over the town. Denry Machin had a hand in
that affair, and by now I dare say he wishes he hadn't."
"Still, Mr. Batchgrew," Louis argued superiorly, with the philosophic
impartiality of a man well accustomed to the calm unravelling of
crime, "there may be other burglars in the land beside just those
three." He would not willingly allow the theory of burglars to
crumble. Its attractiveness increased every moment.
"There may and there mayn't, young Fores," said Thomas Batchgrew. "Did
_you_ hear anything of 'em?"
"No, I didn't," Louis replied restively.
"And yet you ought to have been listening out for 'em."
"Why ought I to have been listening out for them?"
"Knowing there was all that money in th' house."
"Mr. Fores didn't know," said Rachel.
Louis felt himself unjustly smirched.
"It's scarcely an hour ago," said he, "that I heard about this money
for the first time." And he felt as innocent and aggrieved as he
Mr. Batchgrew smacked his lips loudly.
"Then," he announced, "I'm going down to th' police-station, to put it
i' Snow's hands."
Rachel straightened herself.
"But surely not without telling Mrs. Maldon?"
Mr. Batchgrew fingered his immense whiskers.
"Is she better?" he inquired threateningly. This was his first sign of
interest in Mrs. Maldon's condition.
"Oh, yes; much. She's going on very well. The doctor's just been."
"Is she asleep?"
"She's resting. She may be asleep."
"Did ye tell her ye hadn't found her money?"
"What did she say?"
"She didn't say anything."
"It might be municipal money, for all she seems to care!" remarked
Thomas Batchgrew, with a short, bitter grin. "Well, I'll be moving to
th' police-station. I've never come across aught like this before, and
I'm going to get to the bottom of it."
Rachel slipped out of the door into the hall.
"Please wait a moment, Mr. Batchgrew," she whispered timidly.
"Till I've told Mrs. Maldon."
"But if her's asleep?"
"I must waken her. I couldn't think of letting you go to the
police-station without letting her know--after what she said this
Rachel waited. Mr. Batchgrew glanced aside.
"Here! Come here!" said Mr. Batchgrew in a different tone. The fact
was that, put to the proof, he dared not, for all his autocratic
habit, openly disobey the injunction of the benignant, indifferent,
helpless Mrs. Maldon. "Come here!" he repeated coarsely. Rachel
obeyed, shamefaced despite herself. Batchgrew shut the door. "Now,"
he said grimly, "what's your secret? Out with it. I know you and her's
got a secret. What is it?"
Rachel sat down on the sofa, hid her face in her hands, and startled
both men by a sob. She wept with violence. And then through her tears,
and half looking up, she cried out passionately: "It's all your fault.
Why did you leave the money in the house at all? You know you'd no
right to do it, Mr. Batchgrew!"
The councillor was shaken out of his dignity by the incredible
impudence of this indictment from a chit like Rachel. Similar
experiences, however, had happened to him before; for, though as a
rule people most curiously conspired with him to keep up the fiction
that he was sacred, at rare intervals somebody's self-control would
break down, and bitter, inconvenient home truths would resound in
the ear of Thomas Batchgrew. But he would recover himself in a few
moments, and usually some diversion would occur to save him--he was
nearly always lucky. A diversion occurred now, of the least expected
kind. The cajoling tones of Mrs. Tams were heard on the staircase.
"Nay, ma'am! Nay, ma'am! This'll never do. Must I go on my bended
knees to ye?"
And then the firm but soft voice of Mrs. Maldon--
"I must speak to Mr. Batchgrew. I must have Mr. Batchgrew here at
once. Didn't you hear me call and call to you?"
"That I didn't, ma'am! I was beating the feather bed in the back
bedroom. Nay, not a step lower do you go, ma'am, not if I lose me job
Thomas Batchgrew and Louis were already out in the hall. Half-way down
the stairs stood Mrs. Maldon, supporting herself by the banisters and
being supported by Mrs. Tams. She was wearing her pink peignoir with
white frills at the neck and wrists. Her black hair was loose on her
shoulders like the hair of a young girl. Her pallid and heavily seamed
features with the deep shining eyes trembled gently, as if in response
to a distant vibration. She gazed upon the two silent men with
an expression that united benignancy with profound inquietude and
sadness. All her past life was in her face, inspiring it with strength
"Mr. Batchgrew," she said. "I've heard your voice for a long time. I
want to speak to you."
And then she turned, yielded to the solicitous alarm of Mrs. Tams,
climbed feebly up the stairs, and vanished round the corner at the
top. And Mrs. Tams, putting her frowsy head for an instant over the
hand-rail, stopped to adjure Mr. Batchgrew--
"Eh, mester; ye'd better stop where ye are awhile."
From the parlour came the faint sobbing of Rachel.
The two men had not a word to say. Mr. Batchgrew grunted, vacillating.
It seemed as if the majestic apparition of Mrs. Maldon had rebuked
everything that was derogatory and undignified in her trustee, and
that both he and Louis were apologizing to the empty hall for being
common, base creatures. Each of them--and especially Louis--had
the sense of being awakened to events of formidable grandeur whose
imminence neither had suspected. Still assuring himself that his
position was absolutely safe, Louis nevertheless was aware of a
sinking in the stomach. He could rebut any accusation. "And yet ...!"
murmured his craven conscience. What could be the enigma between Mrs.
Maldon and Rachel? He was now trying to convince himself that Mrs.
Maldon had in fact divided the money into two parts, of which he had
handled only one, and that the impressive mystery had to do with the
other part of the treasure, which he had neither seen nor touched.
How, then, could he personally be threatened? "And yet!..." said his
In about a minute Mrs. Tarns reappeared at the head of the stairs.
"Her _will_ have ye, mester!" said she to the councillor.
Thomas Batchgrew mounted after her.
Louis made a noise with his tongue as if starting a horse, and
returned to the parlour.
Rachel, still on the sofa, showed her wet face.
"I've got no secret," she said passionately. "And I'm sure Mrs. Maldon
hasn't. What's he driving at?"
The natural freedom of her gestures and vehement accent was enchanting
She jumped from the Chesterfield and ran away upstairs, flying.
He followed to the lobby, and saw her dash into her own room and
feverishly shut the door, which was in full view at the top of
the stairs. And Louis thought he had never lived in any moment so
exquisite and so alarming as that moment.
He was now alone on the ground floor. He caught no sound from above.
"Well, I'd better get out of this," he said to himself. "Anyhow, I'm
all right!... What a girl! Terrific!" And, lighting a fresh cigarette,
he left the house.
"And now what's amiss?" Thomas Batchgrew demanded, alone with Mrs.
Maldon in the tranquillity of the bedroom.
Mrs. Maldon lay once more in bed; the bedclothes covered her without
a crease, and from the neat fold-back of the white sheet her wrinkled
ivory face and curving black hair emerged so still and calm that her
recent flight to the stairs seemed unreal, impossible. The impression
her mien gave was that she never had moved and never would move from
the bed. Thomas Batchgrew's blusterous voice frankly showed acute
irritation. He was angry because nine hundred and sixty-five pounds
had monstrously vanished, because the chance of a good investment was
lost, because Mrs. Maldon tied his hands, because Rachel had forgotten
her respect and his dignity in addressing him; but more because he
felt too old to impose himself by sheer rough-riding, individual
force on the other actors in the drama, and still more because he, and
nobody else, had left the nine hundred and sixty-five pounds in the
house. What an orgy of denunciation he would have plunged into had
some other person insisted on leaving the money in the house with a
Mrs. Maldon looked up at him with a glance of compassion. She was
filled with pity for him because he had arrived at old age without
dignity and without any sense of what was fine in life; he was not
even susceptible to the chastening influences of a sick-room. She
knew, indeed, that he hated and despised sickness in others, and
that when ill himself he became a moaning mass of cowardice and
vituperation. And in her heart she invented the most wonderful excuses
for him, and transformed him into a martyr of destiny who had suffered
both through ancestry and through environment. Was it his fault that
he was thus tragically defective? So that by the magic power of her
benevolence he became dignified in spite of himself.
"Mr. Batchgrew, I want you to oblige me by not discussing my affairs
with any one but me."
At that moment the front door closed firmly below, and the bedroom
"Is that Louis going?" she asked.
Batchgrew went to the window and looked downward, lowering the pupils
as far as possible so as to see the pavement.
"It's Louis going," he replied.
Mrs. Maldon sighed relief.
Mr. Batchgrew said no more.
"What were you talking about downstairs to those two?" Mrs. Maldon
went on carefully.
"What d'ye suppose we were talking about?" retorted Batchgrew,
still at the window. Then he turned towards her and proceeded in an
outburst: "If you want to know, missis, I was asking that young wench
what the secret was between you and her."
"The secret? Between Rachel and me?"
"Aye! Ye both know what's happened to them notes, and ye've made it up
between ye to say nowt!"
Mrs. Maldon answered gravely--
"You are quite mistaken. I know nothing, and I'm sure Rachel doesn't.
And we have made nothing up between us. How can you imagine such
"Why don't ye have the police told?"
"I cannot do with the police in my house."
Mr. Batchgrew approached the bed almost threateningly.
"I'll tell you why ye won't have the police told. Because ye know
Louis Fores has taken your money. It's as plain as a pikestaff. Ye put
it on the chair on the landing here, and ye left it there, and he came
along and pocketed it." Mrs. Maldon essayed to protest, but he cut her
short. "Did he or did he not come upstairs after ye'd been upstairs
As Mrs. Maldon hesitated, Thomas Batchgrew began to feel younger and
"Yes, he did," said Mrs. Maldon at length. "But only because I asked
him to come up--to fasten the window."
"The landing window."
Mr. Batchgrew, startled and delighted by this unexpected confirmation
of his theory, exploded--
"Ha!... And how soon was that after ye'd been upstairs with the
"It was just afterwards."
"Ha!... I don't mind telling ye I've been suspecting that young man
ever since this morning. I only learnt just now as he was in th' house
all night. That made me think for a moment as he'd done it after ye'd
all gone to bed. And for aught I know he may have. But done it some
time he has, and you know it as well as I do, Elizabeth."
Mrs. Maldon maintained her serenity.
"We may be unjust to him. I should never forgive myself if I was. He
has a very good side to him, has Louis!"
"I've never seen it," said Mr. Batchgrew, still growing in authority.
"He began as a thief and he'll end as a thief, if it's no worse."
"Began as a thief?" Mrs. Maldon protested.
"Well, what d'ye suppose he left the bank for?"
"I never knew quite why he left the bank. I always understood there
was some unpleasantness."
"If ye didn't know, it was because ye didn't want to know. Ye never do
want to know these things. 'Unpleasantness!' There's only one sort of
unpleasantness with the clerks in a bank!... _I_ know, anyhow,
because I took the trouble to find out for myself, when I had that
bother with him in my own office. And a nice affair that was, too!"
"But you told me at the time that his books were all right with you.
Only you preferred not to keep him." Mrs. Maiden's voice was now
Thomas Batchgrew came close to the bed and leaned on the foot of it.
"There's some things as you won't hear, Elizabeth. His books were all
right, but he'd made 'em all right. I got hold of him afore he'd done
more than he could undo--that's all. There's one trifle as I might
ha' told ye if ye hadn't such a way of shutting folks up sometimes,
missis. I'll tell ye now. Louis Fores went down on his knees to me in
my office. On his knees, and all blubbing. What about that?"
Mrs. Maldon replied--
"You must have been glad ever since that you did give the poor boy
"There's nothing I've regretted more," said Thomas Batchgrew, with a
grimness that became him. "I heard last week he's keeping books and
handling cash for Horrocleave nowadays. I know how that'll end! I'd
warn Horrocleave, but it's no business o' mine, especially as ye made
me help ye to put him into Horrocleave's.... There's half a dozen
people in this town and in Hanbridge that can add up Louis Fores, and
have added him up! And now he's robbed ye in yer own house. But it
makes no matter. He's safe enough!" He sardonically snorted. "He's
safe enough. We canna' even stop the notes without telling the police,
and ye won't have the police told. Oh, no! He's managed to get on th'
right side o' you. However, he'll only finish in one way, that chap
will, whether you and me's here to see it or not."
Mr. Batchgrew had grown really impressive, and he knew it.
"Don't let us be hard," pleaded Mrs. Maldon. And then, in a firmer,
prouder voice: "There will be no scandal in my family, Mr. Batchgrew,
as long as I live."
Mr. Batchgrew's answer was superb in its unconscious ferocity--
"That depends how long ye live."
His meaningless eyes rested on her with frosty impartiality, as he
"I wonder how long she'll last."
He felt strong; he felt immortal. Exactly like Mrs. Maldon, he was
convinced that he was old only by the misleading arithmetic of years,
that he was not really old, and that there was a subtle and vital
difference between all other people of his age and himself. As for
Mrs. Maldon, he regarded her as a mere poor relic of an organism.
"At our age," Mrs. Maldon began, and paused as if collecting her
"At our age! At our age!" he repeated, sharply deprecating the phrase.
"At our age," said Mrs. Maldon, with slow insistence, "we ought not to
be hard on others. We ought to be thinking of our own sins."
But, although Mrs. Maldon was perhaps the one person on earth whom he
both respected and feared, Thomas Batchgrew listened to her injunction
only with rough disdain. He was incapable of thinking of his own sins.
While in health, he was nearly as unaware of sin as an animal.
Nevertheless, he turned uneasily in the silence of the pale room, so
full of the shy and prim refinement of Mrs. Maldon's individuality.
He could talk morals to others in the grand manner, and with positive
enjoyment, but to be sermonized himself secretly exasperated him
because it constrained him and made him self-conscious. Invariably,
when thus attacked, he would execute a flank movement.
He said bluntly--
"And I suppose ye'll let him marry this Rachel girl if he's a mind
Slowly a deep flush covered Mrs. Maldon's face.
"What makes you say that?" she questioned, with rising agitation.
"I have but just seen 'em together."
Mrs. Maldon moved nervously in the bed.
"I should never forgive myself if I stood by and let Louis marry
Rachel," she said, and there was a sudden desperate urgency in her
"Isn't she good enough for a nephew o' yours?"
"She's good enough for any man," said Mrs. Maldon quietly.
"Then it's him as isna' good enough! And yet, if he's got such a good
side to him as ye say--" Mr. Batchgrew snorted.
"He's not suited to her--not at all."
"Now, missis," said Mr. Batchgrew in triumph, "at last we're getting
down to your real opinion of young Fores."
"I feel I'm responsible for Rachel, and--What ought I to do about it?"
"Do? What can a body do when a respectable young woman wi' red hair
takes a fancy to a youth? Nowt, Elizabeth. That young woman'll marry
Louis Fores, and ye can take it from me."
"But why do you say a thing like that? I only began to notice anything
myself last night."
"She's lost her head over him, that's all. I caught 'em just now....
As thick as thieves in your parlour!"
"But I'm by no means sure that he's smitten with her."
"What does it matter whether he is or not? She's lost her head over
him, and she'll have him. It doesn't want a telescope to see as far as
"Well, then, I shall speak to her--I shall speak to her to-morrow
morning, after she's had a good night's rest, when I feel stronger."
"Ay! Ye may! And what shalt say?"
"I shall warn her. I think I shall know how to do it," said Mrs.
Maldon, with a certain air of confidence amid her trouble. "I wouldn't
run the risk of a tragedy for worlds."
"It's no _risk_ of a tragedy, as ye call it," said Thomas
Batchgrew, very pleased with his own situation in the argument. "It's
a certainty. She'll believe him afore she believes you, whatever ye
say. You mark me. It's a certainty."
After elaborate preparations of his handkerchief, he blew his nose
loudly, because blowing his nose loudly affected him in an agreeable
A few minutes later he left, saying the car would be waiting for him
at the back of the Town Hall. And Mrs. Maldon lay alone until Mrs.
Tams came in with a tray.
"An' I hope that's enough company for one day!" said Mrs. Tarns. "Now,
sup it up, do!"
That evening Rachel sat alone in the parlour, reclining on
the Chesterfield over the _Signal_. She had picked up the
_Signal_ in order to read about captured burglars, but the paper
contained not one word on the subject, or on any other subject except
football. The football season had commenced in splendour, and it
happened to be the football edition of the _Signal_ that the
paper-boy had foisted upon Mrs. Maldon's house. Despite repeated and
positive assurances from Mrs. Maldon that she wanted the late edition
and not the football edition on Saturday nights, the football edition
was usually delivered, because the paper-boy could not conceive that
any customer could sincerely not want the football edition. Rachel was
glancing in a torpid condition at the advertisements of the millinery
and trimming shops.
She would have been more wakeful could she have divined the blow
which she had escaped a couple of hours before. Between five and six
o'clock, when she was upstairs in the large bedroom, Mrs. Maldon
had said to her, "Rachel--" and stopped. "Yes, Mrs. Maldon," she had
replied. And Mrs. Maldon had said, "Nothing." Mrs. Maldon had desired
to say, but in words carefully chosen: "Rachel, I've never told you
that Louis Fores began life as a bank clerk, and was dismissed
for stealing money. And even since then his conduct has not been
blameless." Mrs. Maldon had stopped because she could not find the
form of words which would permit her to impart to her paid companion
this information about her grand-nephew. Mrs. Maldon, when the moment
for utterance came, had discovered that she simply could not do it,
and all her conscientious regard for Rachel and all her sense of duty
were not enough to make her do it. So that Rachel, unsuspectingly, had
been spared a tremendous emotional crisis. By this time she had grown
nearly accustomed to the fact of the disappearance of the money. She
had completely recovered from the hysteria caused by old Batchgrew's
attack, and was, indeed, in the supervening calm, very much ashamed of
She meant to doze, having firmly declined the suggestion of Mrs. Tams
that she should go to bed at seven o'clock, and she was just dropping
the paper when a tap on the window startled her. She looked in alarm
at the window, where the position of one of the blinds proved the
correctness of Mrs. Maldon's secret theory that if Mrs. Maldon did
not keep a personal watch on the blinds they would never be drawn
properly. Eight inches of black pane showed, and behind that dark
transparency something vague and pale. She knew it must be the hand of
Louis Fores that had tapped, and she could feel her heart beating.
She flew on tiptoe to the front door, and cautiously opened it. At
the same moment Louis sprang from the narrow space between the street
railings and the bow window on to the steps. He raised his hat with
the utmost grace.
"I saw your head over the arm of the Chesterfield," he said in a
cheerful, natural low voice. "So I tapped on the glass. I thought if
I knocked at the door I might waken the old lady. How are things
In those few words he perfectly explained his manner of announcing
himself, endowing it with the highest propriety. Rachel's misgivings
were soothed in an instant. Her chief emotion was an ecstatic
pride--because he had come, because he could not keep away, because
she had known that he would come, that he must come. And in fact was
it not his duty to come? Quietly he came into the hall, quietly she
closed the door, and when they were shut up together in the parlour
they both spoke in hushed voices, lest the invalid should be
disturbed. And was not this, too, highly proper?
She gave him the news of the house and said that Mrs. Tams was taking
duty in the sick-room till four o'clock in the morning, and herself
thenceforward, but that the invalid gave no apparent cause for
"Old Batch been again?" asked Louis, with a complete absence of any
She shook her head.
"You'll find that money yet--somewhere, when you're least expecting
it," said he, almost gaily.
"I'm sure we shall," she agreed with conviction.
"And how are _you_?" His tone became anxious and particular.
She blushed deeply, for the outbreak of which she had been guilty and
which he had witnessed, then smiled diffidently.
"Oh, I'm all right."
"You look as if you wanted some fresh air--if you'll excuse me saying
"I haven't been out to-day, of course," she said.
"Don't you think a walk--just a breath--would do you good!"
Without allowing herself to reflect, she answered--
"Well, I ought to have gone out long ago to get some food for
to-morrow, as it's Sunday. Everything's been so neglected to-day. If
the doctor happened to order a cutlet or anything for Mrs. Maldon,
I don't know what I should do. Truly I ought to have thought of it
She seemed to be blaming herself for neglectfulness, and thus the
enterprise of going out had the look of an act of duty. Her sensations
"Perhaps I could walk down with you and carry parcels. It's a good
thing it's Saturday night, or the shops might have been closed."
She made no answer to this, but stood up, breathing quickly.
"I'll just speak to Mrs. Tams."
Creeping upstairs, she silently pushed open the door of Mrs. Maldon's
bedroom. The invalid was asleep. Mrs. Tams, her hands crossed in her
comfortable lap, and her mouth widely open, was also asleep. But Mrs.
Tams was used to waking with the ease of a dog. Rachel beckoned her to
the door. Without a sound the fat woman crossed the room.
"I'm just going out to buy a few things we want," said Rachel in her
ear, adding no word as to Louis Fores.
Mrs. Tams nodded.
Rachel went to her bedroom, turned up the gas, straightened her hair,
and put on her black hat, and her blue jacket trimmed with a nameless
fur, and picked up some gloves and her purse. Before descending she
gazed at herself for many seconds in the small, slanting glass. Coming
downstairs, she took the marketing reticule from its hook in the
kitchen passage. Then she went back to the parlour and stood in the
doorway, speechless, putting on her gloves rapidly.
"Shall I?" Louis questioned, indicating the gas.
She nodded again, and, stretching to his full height, he managed
to turn the gas down without employing a footstool as Rachel was
compelled to do.
"Wait a moment," she whispered in the hall, when he had opened the
front door. These were the first words she had been able to utter. She
went to the kitchen for a latch-key. Inserting this latch-key in the
keyhole on the outside, and letting Louis pass in front of her, she
closed the front door with very careful precautions against noise, and
withdrew the key.
"I'll take charge of that if you like," said Louis, noticing that she
was hesitating where to bestow it.
She gave it up to him with a violent thrill. She was intensely happy
and intensely fearful. She was only going out to do some shopping;
but the door was shut behind her, and at her side was this magic,
mysterious being, and the nocturnal universe lay around. Only
twenty-four hours earlier she had shut the door behind her and gone
forth to find Louis. And now, having found him, he and she were going
forth together like close friends. So much had happened in twenty-four
hours that the previous night seemed to be months away.
Instead of turning down Friendly Street, they kept straight along the
lane till, becoming suddenly urban, it led them across tram-lines
and Turnhill Road, and so through a gulf or inlet of the market-place
behind the Shambles, the Police Office, and the Town Hall, into the
market-place itself, which in these latter years was recovering a
little of the commercial prestige snatched from it half a century
earlier by St. Luke's Square. Rats now marauded in the empty shops of
St. Luke's Square, while the market-place glittered with custom, and
the electric decoy of its facades lit up strangely the lower walls of
the black and monstrous Town Hall.
Innumerable organized activities were going forward at that moment in
the serried buildings of the endless confused streets that stretched
up hill and down dale from one end of the Five Towns to the
other--theatres, Empire music-halls, Hippodrome music-halls,
picture-palaces in dozens, concerts, singsongs, spiritualistic
propaganda, democratic propaganda, skating-rinks, Wild West
exhibitions, Dutch auctions, and the private seances in dubious
quarters of "psychologists," "clair-voyants," "scientific palmists,"
and other rascals who sold a foreknowledge of the future for
eighteenpence or even a shilling. Viewed under certain aspects, it
seemed indeed that the Five Towns, in the week-end desertion of its
sordid factories, was reaching out after the higher life, the subtler
life, the more elegant life of greater communities; but the little
crowds and the little shops of Bursley market-place were nevertheless
a proof that a tolerable number of people were still mainly interested
in the primitive elemental enterprise of keeping stomachs filled and
skins warm, and had no thought beyond it. In Bursley market-place the
week's labour was being translated into food and drink and clothing by
experts who could distinguish infallibly between elevenpence-halfpenny
and a shilling. Rachel was such an expert. She forced her thoughts
down to the familiar, sane, safe subject of shopping, though to-night
her errands were of the simplest description, requiring no brains. But
she could not hold her thoughts. A voice was continually whispering to
her--not Louis Fores' voice, but a voice within herself, that she had
never clearly heard before. Alternatively she scorned it and trembled
She stopped in front of the huge window of Wason's Provision Emporium.
"Is this the first house of call?" asked Louis airily, swinging the
reticule and his stick together.
"Well--" she hesitated. "Mrs. Tams told me they were selling Singapore
pineapple at sevenpence-halfpenny. Mas. Maldon fancies pineapple. I've
known her fancy a bit of pineapple when she wouldn't touch anything
else.... Yes, there it is!"
In fact, the whole of the upper half of Wason's window was yellow
with tins of preserved pineapple. And great tickets said: "Delicious
chunks, 7 1/2d. per large tin. Chunks, 6 1/2d. per large tin."
Customers in ones and twos kept entering and leaving the shop. Rachel
moved on towards the door, which was at the corner of the Cock yard,
and looked within. The long double counters were being assailed by
a surging multitude who fought for the attention of prestidigitatory
"Hm!" murmured Rachel. "That may be all very well for Mrs. Tams...."
A moment later she said--
"It's always like that with Wason's shops for the first week or two!"
And her faintly sarcastic tone of a shrewd housewife immediately set
Wason in his place--Wason with his two hundred and sixty-five shops,
and his racing-cars, and his visits to kings and princes. Wason had
emporia all over the kingdom, and in particular at Knype, Hanbridge,
and Longshaw. And now he had penetrated to Bursley, sleepiest of
the Five. His method was to storm a place by means of electricity,
full-page advertisements in news-papers, the power of his mere name,
and a leading line or so. At Bursley his leading line was apparently
"Singapore delicious chunks at 7-1/2d. per large tin." Rachel knew
Wason; she had known him at Knype. And she was well aware that his
speciality was second-rate. She despised him. She despised that
multitude of simpletons who, full of the ancient illusion that
somewhere something can regularly be had for nothing, imagined
that Wason's bacon and cheese were cheap because he sold preserved
pineapple at a penny less than anybody else in the town. And she
despised the roaring, vulgar success of advertising and electricity.
She had in her some tincture of the old nineteenth century, which
loved the decency of small, quiet things. And in the prim sanity of
her judgment upon Wason she forgot for a few instants that she was in
a dream, and that the streets and the whole town appeared strange and
troubling to her, and that she scarcely knew what she was doing, and
that the most seductive and enchanting of created men was at her side
and very content to be at her side. And also the voice within her was
"I don't see the fun of having the clothes torn off my back to save a
penny. I think I shall go to Malkin's. I'll get some cocoa there, too.
Mrs. Tams simply lives for cocoa."
And Louis archly answered--
"I've always wondered what Mrs. Tams reminds me of. Now I know. She's
exactly like a cocoa-tin dented in the middle."
She laughed with pleasure, not because she considered the remark in
the least witty, but because it was so characteristic of Louis Fores.
She wished humbly that she could say things just like that, and with
caution she glanced up at him.
They went into Ted Malkin's sober shop, where there was a nice handful
of customers, in despite of Wason only five doors away. And no sooner
had Rachel got inside than she was in the dream again, and the voice
resumed its monotonous phrase, and she blushed. The swift change took
her by surprise and frightened her. She was not in Bursley, but in
some forbidden city without a name, pursuing some adventure at
once shameful and delicious. A distinct fear seized her. Her
self-consciousness was intense.
And there was young Ted Malkin in his starched white shirt-sleeves
and white apron and black waistcoat and tie, among his cheeses and
flitches, every one of which he had personally selected and judged,
weighing a piece of cheddar in his honourable copper-and-brass scales.
He was attending to two little girls. He nodded with calm benevolence
to Rachel and then to Louis Fores. It is true that he lifted his
eyebrows--a habit of his--at sight of Fores, but he did so in a quite
simple, friendly, and justifiable manner, with no insinuations.
"In one moment, Miss Fleckring," said he.
And as he rapidly tied up the parcel of cheese and snapped off the
stout string with a skilled jerk of the hand, he demanded calmly--
"How's Mrs. Maldon to-night?"
"Much better," said Rachel, "thank you."
And Louis Fores joined easily in--
"You may say, very much better."
"That's rare good news! Rare good news!" said Malkin. "I heard you had
an anxious night of it.... Go across and pay at the other counter, my
dears." Then he called out loudly--"One and seven, please."
The little girls tripped importantly away.
"Yes, indeed," Rachel agreed. The tale of the illness, then, was
spread over the town! She was glad, and her self-consciousness somehow
decreased. She now fully understood the wisdom of Mrs. Maldon in
refusing to let the police be informed of the disappearance of the
money. What a fever in the shops of Bursley--even in the quiet shop of
Ted Malkin--if the full story got abroad!
"And what is it to be to-night, Miss Fleckring? These aren't quite
your hours, are they? But I suppose you've been very upset."
"Oh," said Rachel, "I only want a large tin of Singapore Delicious
But if she had announced her intention of spending a thousand pounds
in Ted Malkin's shop she would not have better pleased him. He
beamed. He desired the whole shop to hear that order, for it was the
vindication of honest, modest trading--of his father's methods and his
own. His father, himself, and about a couple of other tradesmen had
steadily fought the fight of the market-place against St. Luke's
Square in the day of its glory, and more recently against the
powerfully magnetic large shops at Hanbridge, and they had not been
defeated. As for Ted Malkin, he was now beyond doubt the "best"
provision-dealer and grocer in the town, and had drawn ahead even of
"Holl's" (as it was still called), the one good historic shop left in
Luke's Square. The onslaught of Wason had alarmed him, though he
had pretended to ignore it. But he was delectably reassured by
this heavenly incident of the representative of one of his most
distinguished customers coming into the shop and deliberately choosing
to buy preserved pineapple from him at 8-1/2d. when it could be got
thirty yards away for 7 1/2d. Rachel read his thoughts plainly.
She knew well enough that she had done rather a fine thing, and her
demeanour showed it. Ted Malkin enveloped the tin in suitable paper.
"Sure there's nothing else?"
"Not at this counter."
He gave her the tin, smiled, and as he turned to the next waiting
customer, called out--
"Singapore Delicious, eight and a half pence."
It was rather a poor affair, that tin--a declension from the great
days of Mrs. Maldon's married life, when she spent freely, knowing
naught of her husband's income except that it was large and elastic.
In those days she would buy a real pineapple, entire, once every three
weeks or so, costing five, six, seven, or eight shillings--gorgeous
and spectacular fruit. Now she might have pineapple every day if she
chose, but it was not quite the same pineapple. She affected to like
it, she did like it, but the difference between the old pineapple and
the new was the saddening difference, for Mrs. Maldon's secret heart,
between the great days and the paltry, facile convenience of the
It was to his aunt, who presided over the opposite side of the shop,
including the cash-desk, that Ted Malkin proclaimed in a loud voice
the amounts of purchases on his own side. Miss Malkin was a virgin of
fifty-eight years' standing, with definite and unchangeable ideas on
every subject on earth or in heaven except her own age. As Rachel,
followed by Louis Fores, crossed the shop, Miss Malkin looked at them
and closed her lips, and lowered her eyelids, and the upper part of
her body seemed to curve slightly, with the sinuosity of a serpent--a
strange, significant movement, sometimes ill described as "bridling."
The total effect was as though Miss Malkin had suddenly clicked the
shutters down on all the windows of her soul and was spying at Rachel
and Louis Fores through a tiny concealed orifice in the region of her
eye. It was nothing to Miss Malkin that Rachel on that night of all
nights had come in to buy Singapore Delicious Chunks at 8-1/2d. It
was nothing to her that Mrs. Maldon had had "an attack." Miss Malkin
merely saw Rachel and Fores gadding about the town together of a
Saturday night while Mrs. Maldon was ill in bed. And she regarded
Ted's benevolence as the benevolence of a simpleton. Between Miss
Malkin's taciturnity and the voice within her Rachel had a terrible
three minutes. She was "sneaped"; which fortunately made her red hair
angry, so that she could keep some of her dignity. Louis Fores seemed
to be quite unconscious that a fearful scene was enacting between Miss
Malkin and Rachel, and he blandly insisted on taking the pineapple-tin
and the cocoa-tin and slipping them into the reticule, as though he
had been shopping with Rachel all his life and there was a perfect
understanding between them. The moral effect was very bad. Rachel
When she emerged from the shop she had the illusion of being
breathless, and in the midst of a terrific adventure the end of which
none could foresee. She was furious against Miss Malkin and against
herself. Yet she indignantly justified herself. Was not Louis Fores
Mrs. Maiden's nephew, and were not he and she doing the best thing
they could together under the difficult circumstances of the old
lady's illness? If she was not to co-operate with the old lady's sole
relative in Bursley, with whom was she to co-operate? In vain such
justifications!... She murderously hated Miss Malkin. She said to
herself, without meaning it, that no power should induce her ever to
enter the shop again.
And she thought: "I can't possibly go into another shop to-night--I
can't possibly do it! And yet I must. Why am I such a silly baby?"
As they walked slowly along the pavement she was in the wild dream
anew, and Louis Fores was her only hope and reliance. She clung to
him, though not with her arm. She seemed to know him very intimately,
and still he was more enigmatic to her than ever he had been.
As for Louis, beneath his tranquil mien of a man of experience and
infinite tact, he was undergoing the most extraordinary and delightful
sensations, keener even than those which had thrilled him in Rachel's
kitchen on the previous evening. The social snob in him had somehow
suddenly expired, and he felt intensely the strange charm of going
shopping of a Saturday night with a young woman, and making a
little purchase here and a little purchase there, and thinking about
halfpennies. And in his fancy he built a small house to which he
and Rachel would shortly return, and all the brilliant diversions of
bachelordom seemed tame and tedious compared to the wondrous existence
of this small house.
"Now I have to go to Heath's the butcher's," said Rachel, determined
at all costs to be a woman and not a silly baby. After that plain
announcement her cowardice would have no chance to invent an excuse
for not going into another shop.
But she added--
"And that'll be all."
"I know Master Bob Heath. Known him a long time," said Louis Fores,
with amusement in his voice, as though to imply that he could relate
strange and titillating matters about Heath if he chose, and indeed
that he was a mine of secret lore concerning the citizens.
The fact was that he had travelled once to Woore races with the
talkative Heath, and that Heath had introduced him to his brother
Stanny Heath, a local book-maker of some reputation, from whom Louis
had won five pounds ten during the felicitous day. Ever afterwards Bob
Heath had effusively saluted Louis on every possible occasion, and had
indeed once stopped him in the street and said: "My brother treated
you all right, didn't he? Stanny's a true sport." And Louis had to
be effusive also. It would never do to be cold to a man from whose
brother you had won--and received--five pounds ten on a racecourse.
So that when Louis followed Rachel into Heath's shop at the top
of Duck Bank the fat and happy Heath gave him a greeting in which
astonishment and warm regard were mingled. The shop was empty of
customers, and also it contained little meat, for Heath's was not
exactly a Saturday-night trade. Bob Heath, clothed from head to foot
in slightly blood-stained white, stood behind one hacked counter, and
Mrs. Heath, similarly attired, and rather stouter, stood behind the
other; and each possessed a long steel which hung from an ample loose
Heath, a man of forty, had a salute somewhat military in gesture,
though conceived in a softer, more accommodating spirit. He raised his
chubby hand to his forehead, but all the muscles of it were lax and
the fingers loosely curved; at the same time he drew back his left
foot and kicked up the heel a few inches. Louis amiably responded.
Rachel went direct to Mrs. Heath, a woman of forty-five. She had never
before seen Heath in the shop.
"Doing much with the gees lately, Mr. Fores?" Heath inquired in a
cheerful, discreet tone.
"Well, I can't say I've had much luck myself, sir."
The conversation was begun in proper form. Through it Louis could hear
Rachel buying a cutlet, and then another cutlet, from Mrs. Heath, and
protesting that five-pence was a good price and all she desired to pay
even for the finest cutlet in the shop. And then Rachel asked about
sweetbreads. Heath's voice grew more and more confidential and at
length, after a brief pause, he whispered--
"Ye're not married, are ye, sir? Excuse the liberty."
It was a whisper, but one of those terrible, miscalculated whispers
that can be heard for miles around, like the call of the cuckoo.
Plainly Heath was not aware of the identity of Rachel Fleckring. And
in his world, which was by no means the world of his shop and his
wife, it was incredible that a man should run round shopping with a
woman on a Saturday night unless he was a husband on unescapable duty.
Louis shook his head.
Mrs. Heath called out in severe accents which were a reproof and a
warning: "Got a sweetbread, Robert? It's for Mrs. Maldon."
The clumsy fool understood that he had blundered.
He had no sweetbread--not even for Mrs. Maldon. The cutlets were
wrapped in newspaper, and Louis rather self-consciously opened the maw
of the reticule for them.
"No offence, I hope, sir," said Heath as the pair left the shop,
thus aggravating his blunder. Louis and Rachel crossed Duck Bank in
constrained silence. Rachel was scarlet. The new cinema next to the
new Congregational chapel blazed in front of them.
"Wouldn't care to look in here, I suppose, would you?" Louis
Rachel did not reply.
"Only for a quarter of an hour or so," said Louis.
Rachel did not venture to glance up at him. She was so agitated that
she could scarcely speak.
"I don't think so," she muttered.
"Why not?" he exquisitely pleaded. "It will do you good."
She raised her head and saw the expression of his face, so charming,
so provocative, so persuasive. The voice within her was insistent, but
she would not listen to it. Nobody had ever looked at her as Louis
was looking at her then. The streets, the town faded. She thought:
"Whatever happens, I cannot withstand that face." She was feverishly
happy, and at the same time ravaged by both pain and fear. She became
a fatalist. And she abandoned the pretence that she was not the slave
of that face. Her eyes grew candidly acquiescent, as if she were
murmuring to him, "I am defenceless against you."
It was not surprising that Rachel, who never in her life had beheld
at close quarters any of the phenomena of luxury, should blink her
ingenuous eyes at the blinding splendour of the antechambers of the
Imperial Cinema de Luxe. Eyes less ingenuous than hers had blinked
before that prodigious dazzlement. Even Louis, a man of vast
experience and sublime imperturbability, visiting the Imperial on its
opening night, had allowed the significant words to escape him, "Well,
I'm blest!"--proof enough of the triumph of the Imperial!
The Imperial had set out to be the most gorgeous cinema in the Five
Towns; and it simply was. Its advertisements read: "There is always
room at the top." There was. Over the ceiling of its foyer enormous
crimson peonies expanded like tropic blooms, and the heart of each
peony was a sixteen-candle-power electric lamp. No other two cinemas
in the Five Towns, it was reported, consumed together as much current
as the Imperial de Luxe; and nobody could deny that the degree of
excellence of a cinema is finally settled by its consumption of
Rachel now understood better the symbolic meaning of the glare in
the sky caused at night by the determination of the Imperial to make
itself known. She had been brought up to believe that, gas being
dear, no opportunity should be lost of turning a jet down, and that
electricity was so dear as to be inconceivable in any house not
inhabited by crass spendthrift folly. She now saw electricity
scattered about as though it were as cheap as salt. She saw written in
electric fire across the inner entrance the beautiful sentiment, "Our
aim is to please YOU." The "you" had two lines of fire under it.
She saw, also, the polite nod of the official, dressed not less
glitteringly than an Admiral of the Fleet in full uniform, whose sole
duty in life was to welcome and reassure the visitor. All this in
Bursley, which even by Knype was deemed an out-of-the-world spot and
home of sordid decay! In Hanbridge she would have been less surprised
to discover such marvels, because the flaunting modernity of Hanbridge
was notorious. And her astonishment would have been milder had she had
been in the habit of going out at night. Like all those who never went
out at night, she had quite failed to keep pace with the advancing
stride of the Five Towns on the great road of civilization.
More impressive still than the extreme radiance about her was the
easy and superb gesture of Louis as, swinging the reticule containing
pineapple, cocoa, and cutlets, he slid his hand into his pocket
and drew therefrom a coin and smacked it on the wooden ledge of the
ticket-window--gesture of a man to whom money was naught provided
he got the best of everything. "Two!" he repeated, with slight
impatience, bending down so as to see the young woman in white who sat
in another world behind gilt bars. He was paying for Rachel! Exquisite
experience for the daughter and sister of Fleckrings! Experience
unique in her career! And it seemed so right and yet so wondrous,
that he should pay for her!... He picked up the change, and without
a glance at them dropped the coins into his pocket. It was a glorious
thing to be a man! But was it not even more glorious to be a girl
and the object of his princely care?... They passed a heavy draped
curtain, on which was a large card, "Tea-Room," and there seemed to be
celestial social possibilities behind that curtain, though indeed it
bore another and smaller card: "Closed after six o'clock"--the result
of excessive caution on the part of a kill-joy Town Council. A boy in
the likeness of a midshipman took halves of the curving tickets and
dropped them into a tin box, and then next Rachel was in a sudden
black darkness, studded here and there with minute glowing rubies that
revealed the legend: "Exit. Exit. Exit."
Row after row of dim, pale, intent faces became gradually visible,
stretching far back-into complete obscurity; thousands, tens
of thousands of faces, it seemed--for the Imperial de Luxe was
demonstrating that Saturday night its claim to be "the fashionable
rage of Bursley." Then mysterious laughter rippled in the gloom, and
loud guffaws shot up out of the rippling. Rachel saw nothing whatever
to originate this mirth until an attendant in black with a tiny
white apron loomed upon them out of the darkness, and, beckoning them
forward, bent down, and indicated two empty places at the end of a
row, and the great white scintillating screen of the cinema came into
view. Instead of being at the extremity it was at the beginning of the
auditorium. And as Rachel took her seat she saw on the screen--which
was scarcely a dozen feet away--a man kneeling at the end of a
canal-lock, and sucking up the water of the canal through a hose-pipe;
and this astoundingly thirsty man drank with such rapidity that the
water, with huge boats floating on it, subsided at the rate of about a
foot a second, and the drinker waxed enormously in girth. The laughter
grew uproarious. Rachel herself gave a quick, uncontrolled, joyous
laugh, and it was as if the laugh had been drawn out of her violently
unawares. Louis Fores also laughed very heartily.
"Cute idea, that!" he whispered.
When the film was cut off Rachel wanted to take back her laugh. She
felt a little ashamed of having laughed at anything so silly.
"How absurd!" she murmured, trying to be serious.
Nevertheless she was in bliss. She surrendered herself to the joy
of life, as to a new sensation. She was intoxicated, ravished,
bewildered, and quite careless. Perhaps for the first time in her
adult existence she lived without reserve or preoccupation completely
in and for the moment. Moreover the hearty laughter of Louis Fores
helped to restore her dignity. If the spectacle was good enough for
him, with all his knowledge of the world, to laugh at, she need not
blush for its effect on herself. And in another ten seconds, when the
swollen man, staggering along a wide thoroughfare, was run down by
an automobile and squashed flat, while streams of water inundated the
roadway, she burst again into free laughter, and then looked round at
Louis, who at the same instant looked round at her, and they exchanged
an intimate smiling glance. It seemed to Rachel that they were alone
and solitary in the crowded interior, and that they shared exactly the
same tastes and emotions and comprehended one another profoundly and
utterly; her confidence in him, at that instant, was absolute, and
enchanting to her. Half a minute later the emaciated man was in a
room and being ecstatically kissed by a most beautiful and sweetly
shameless girl in a striped shirtwaist; it was a very small room, and
the furniture was close upon the couple, giving the scene an air of
delightful privacy. And then the scene was blotted out and gay music
rose lilting from some unseen cave in front of the screen.
Rachel was rapturously happy. Gazing along the dim rows, she descried
many young couples, without recognizing anybody at all, and most
of these couples were absorbed in each other, and some of the girls
seemed so elegant and alluring in the dusk of the theatre, and some
of the men so fine in their manliness! And the ruby-studded gloom
protected them all, including Rachel and Louis, from the audience at
The screen glowed again. And as it did so Louis gave a start.
"By Jove!" he said, "I've left my stick somewhere. It must have been
at Heath's. Yes, it was. I put it on the counter while I opened this
net thing. Don't you remember? You were taking some money out of your
purse." Louis had a very distinct vision of his Rachel's agreeably
gloved fingers primly unfastening the purse and choosing a shilling
"How annoying!" murmured Rachel feelingly.
"I wouldn't lose that stick for a five-pound note." (He had a
marvellous way of saying "five-pound note.") "Would you mind very much
if I just slip over and get it, before he shuts? It's only across the
road, you know."
There was something in the politeness of the phrase "mind _very
much_" that was irresistible to Rachel. It caused her to
imagine splendid drawing-rooms far beyond her modest level, and the
superlative deportment therein of the well-born.
"Not at all!" she replied, with her best affability. "But will they
let you come in again without paying?"
"Oh, I'll risk that," he whispered, smiling superiorly.
Then he went, leaving the reticule, and she was alone.
She rearranged the reticule on the seat by her side. The reticule
being already perfectly secure, there was no need for her to touch
it, but some nervous movement was necessary to her. Yet she was less
self-conscious than she had been with Louis at her elbow. She felt,
however, a very slight sense of peril--of the unreality of the plush
fauteuil on which she sat, and those rows of vaguely discerned faces
on her right; and the reality of distant phenomena such as Mrs. Maldon
in bed. Notwithstanding her strange and ecstatic experiences with
Louis Fores that night in the dark, romantic town, the problem of the
lost money remained, or ought to have remained, as disturbing as ever.
To ignore it was not to destroy it. She sat rather tight in her place,
increasing her primness, and trying to show by her carriage that she
was an adult in full control of all her wise faculties. She set her
lips to judge the film with the cold impartiality of middle age, but
they persisted in being the fresh, responsive, mobile lips of a young
girl. They were saying noiselessly: "He will be back in a moment.
And he will find me sitting here just as he left me. When I hear him
coming I shan't turn my head to look. It will be better not."
The film showed a forest with a wooden house in the middle of it. Out
of this house came a most adorable young woman, who leaped on to a
glossy horse and galloped at a terrific rate, plunging down ravines,
and then trotting fast over the crests of clearings. She came to a man
who was boiling a kettle over a camp-fire, and slipped lithely from
the horse, and the man, with a start of surprise, seized her pretty
waist and kissed her passionately, in the midst of the immense
forest whose every leaf was moving. And she returned his kiss without
restraint. For they were betrothed. And Rachel imagined the free
life of distant forests, where love was, and where slim girls rode
mettlesome horses more easily than the girls of the Five Towns
rode bicycles. She could not even ride a bicycle, had never had the
opportunity to learn. The vision of emotional pleasures that in
her narrow existence she had not dreamed of filled her with mild,
delightful sorrow. She could conceive nothing more heavenly than to
embrace one's true love in the recesses of a forest.... Then came
crouching Indians.... And then she heard Louis Fores behind her. She
had not meant to turn round, but when a hand was put heavily on her
shoulder she turned quickly, resenting the contact.
"I should like a word with ye, if ye can spare a minute, young miss,"
whispered a voice as heavy as the hand. It was old Thomas Batchgrew's
face and whiskers that she was looking up at in the gloom.
As if fascinated, she followed in terror those flaunting whiskers up
the slope of the narrow isle to the back of the auditorium. Thomas
Batchgrew seemed to be quite at home in the theatre; he wore no hat
and there was a pen behind his ear. Never would she have set foot
inside the Imperial de Luxe had she guessed that Thomas Batchgrew was
concerned in it. She thought she had heard once, somewhere, that he
had to do with cinemas in other parts of the country, but it would
not have occurred to her to connect him with a picture-palace so near
home. She was not alone in her ignorance of the councillor's share in
the Imperial. Practically nobody had heard of it until that night, for
Batchgrew had come into the new enterprise by the back door of a loan
to its promoters, who were richer in ideas than in capital; and now,
the harvest being ripe, he was arranging, by methods not unfamiliar to
capitalists, to reap where he had not sown.
Shame and fear overcame Rachel. The crystal dream was shivered
to dust. Awful apprehension, the expectancy of frightful events,
succeeded to it. She perceived that since the very moment of quitting
the house the dread of some disaster had been pursuing her; only she
had refused to see it--she had found oblivion from it in the new and
agitatingly sweet sensations which Louis Fores had procured for her.
But now the real was definitely sifted out from the illusory. And
nothing but her own daily existence, as she had always lived it, was
real. The rest was a snare. There were no forests, no passionate
love, no flying steeds, no splendid adorers--for her. She was Rachel
Fleckring and none else.
Councillor Batchgrew turned to the left, and through a small hole in
the painted wall Rachel saw a bright beam shooting out in the shape of
a cone--forests, and the unreal denizens of forests shimmering across
the entire auditorium to impinge on the screen! And she heard the
steady rattle of a revolving machine. Then Batchgrew beckoned her into
a very small, queerly shaped room furnished with a table and a chair
and a single electric lamp that hung by a cord from a rough hook in
the ceiling. A boy stood near the door holding three tin boxes one
above another in his arms, and keeping the top one in position with
his chin. These boxes were similar to that in which Louis' tickets had
"Did you want your boxes, sir?" asked the boy.
"Put 'em down," Thomas Batchgrew growled.
The boy deposited them in haste on the table and hurried out.
"How is Mrs. Maldon?" demanded Mr. Batchgrew with curtness, after he
had snorted and sniffed. He remained standing near to Rachel.
"Oh, she's very much better," said Rachel eagerly. "She was asleep
when I left."
"Have ye left her by herself?" Mr. Batchgrew continued his inquiry.
His voice was as offensive as thick dark glue.
"Of course not! Mrs. Tams is sitting up with her." Rachel meant her
tone to be a dignified reproof to Thomas Batchgrew for daring
to assume even the possibility of her having left Mrs. Maldon to
solitude. But she did not succeed, because she could not manage her
tone. She desired intensely to be the self-possessed, mature woman,
sure of her position and of her sagacity; but she could be nothing
save the absurd, guilty, stammering, blushing little girl, shifting
her feet and looking everywhere except boldly into Thomas Batchgrew's
"So it's Mrs. Tams as is sitting with her!"
Rachel could not help explaining--
"I had to come down town to do some shopping for Sunday. Somebody had
to come. Mr. Fores had called in to ask after Mrs. Maldon, and so he
walked down with me." Every word she said appeared intolerably foolish
to her as she uttered it.
"And then he brought ye in here!" Batchgrew grimly completed the tale.
"We came in here for ten minutes or so, as I'd finished my shopping
so quickly. Mr. Fores has just run across to the butcher's to get
something that was forgotten."
Mr. Batchgrew coughed loosely and loudly. And beyond the cough, beyond
the confines of the ugly little room which imprisoned her so close to
old Batchgrew and his grotesque whiskers, Rachel could hear the harsh,
quick laughter of the audience, and then faint music--far off.
"If young Fores was here," said Mr. Batchgrew brutally, "I should tell
him straight as he might do better than to go gallivanting about the
town until that there money's found."
He turned towards his boxes.
"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Batchgrew," said Rachel, tapping her
foot and trying to be very dignified.
"And I'll tell ye another thing, young miss," Batchgrew went on.
"Every minute as ye spend with young Fores ye'll regret. He's a bad
lot, and ye may as well know it first as last. Ye ought to thank me
for telling of ye, but ye won't."
"I really don't know what you mean, Mr. Batchgrew!" She could not
invent another phrase.
"Ye know what I mean right enough, young miss!... If ye only came in
for ten minutes yer time's up."
Rachel moved to leave.
"Hold on!" Batchgrew stopped her. There was a change in his voice.
"Look at me!" he commanded, but with the definite order was mingled
some trace of cajolery.
She obeyed, quivering, her cheeks the colour of a tomato. In spite of
all preoccupations, she distinctly noticed--and not without a curious
tremor--that his features had taken on a boyish look. In the almost
senile face she could see ambushed the face of the youth that Thomas
Batchgrew had been perhaps half a century before.
"Ye're a fine wench," said he, with a note of careless but genuine
admiration. "I'll not deny it. Don't ye go and throw yerself away.
Keep out o' mischief."
Forgetting all but the last phrase, Rachel marched out of the room,
unspeakably humiliated, wounded beyond any expression of her own. The
cowardly, odious brute! The horrible ancient! What right had he?...
What had she done that was wrong, that would not bear the fullest
inquiry. The shopping was an absolute necessity. She was obliged to
come out. Mrs. Maldon was better, and quietly sleeping. Mrs. Tarns was
the most faithful and capable old person that was ever born. Hence she
was justified in leaving the invalid. Louis Fores had offered to go
with her. How could she refuse the offer? What reason could there be
for refusing it? As for the cinema, who could object to the cinema?
Certainly not Thomas Batchgrew! There was no hurry. And was she not an
independent woman, earning her own living? Who on earth had the right
to dictate to her? She was not a slave. Even a servant had an evening
out once a week. She was sinless....
And yet while she was thus ardently defending herself she knew well
that she had sinned against the supreme social law--the law of "the
look of things." It was true that chance had worked against her. But
common sense would have rendered chance powerless by giving it no
opportunity to be malevolent. She was furious with Rachel Fleckring.
That Rachel Fleckring, of all mortal girls, should have exposed
herself to so dreadful, so unforgettable a humiliation was mortifying
in the very highest degree. Her lips trembled. She was about to burst
into a sob. But at this moment the rattle of the revolving machine
behind the hole ceased, the theatre blazed from end to end with sudden
light, the music resumed, and a number of variegated advertisements
were weakly thrown on the screen. She set herself doggedly to walk
back down the slope of the aisle, not daring to look ahead for Louis.
She felt that every eye was fixed on her with base curiosity.... When,
after the endless ordeal of the aisle, she reached her place, Louis
was not there. And though she was glad, she took offence at his
delay. Gathering up the reticule with a nervous sweep of the hand, she
departed from the theatre, her eyes full of tears. And amid all the
wild confusion in her brain one little thought flashed clear and was
gone: the wastefulness of paying for a whole night's entertainment and
then only getting ten minutes of it!
She met Louis Fores high up Bycars Lane, about a hundred yards below
Mrs. Maldon's house. She saw some one come out of the gate of the
house, and heard the gate clang in the distance. For a moment
she could not surely identify the figure, but as soon as Louis,
approaching, and carrying his stick, grew unmistakable even in the
darkness, all her agitation, which had been subsiding under the
influence of physical exercise, rose again to its original fever.
"Ah!" said Louis, greeting her with a most deferential salute. "There
you are. I was really beginning to wonder. I opened the front door,
but there was no light and no sound, so I shut it again and came back.
What happened to you?"
His ingenuous and delightful face, so confident, good-natured, and
respectful, had exactly the same effect on her as before. At the sight
of it Thomas Batchgrew's vague accusation against Louis was dismissed
utterly as the rancorous malice of an evil old man. For the rest, she
had never given it any real credit, having an immense trust in her own
judgment. But she had no intention of letting Louis go free. As she
had been put in the wrong, so must he be put in the wrong. This
seemed to her only just. Besides, was he not wholly to blame? Also she
remembered with strange clearness the admiration in the mien of the
hated Batchgrew, and the memory gave her confidence.
She said, with an effort after chilly detachment--
"I couldn't wait in the cinema alone for ever."
He was perturbed.
"But I assure you," he said nicely, "I was as quick as ever I could
be. Heath had put my stick in his back parlour to keep it safe for me,
and it was quite a business finding it again. Why didn't you wait?...
I say, I hope you weren't vexed at my leaving you."
"Of course I wasn't vexed," she answered, with heat. "Didn't I tell
you I didn't mind? But if you want to know, old Batchgrew came along
while you were gone and insulted me."
"Insulted you? How? What was he doing there?"
"How should I know what he was doing there? Better ask him questions
like that! All I can tell you is that he came to me and called me into
a room at the back--and--and--told me I'd no business to be there, nor
you either, while Mrs. Maldon was ill in bed."
"Silly old fool! I hope you didn't take any notice of him."
"Yes, that's all very fine, that is! It's easy for you to talk like
that. But--but--well, I suppose there's nothing more to be said!" She
moved to one side; her anger was rising. She knew that it was rising.
She was determined that it should rise. She did not care. She rather
enjoyed the excitement. She smarted under her recent experience; she
was deeply miserable; and yet, at the same time, standing there close
to Louis in the rustling night, she was exultant as she certainly had
never been exultant before.
She walked forward grimly. Louis turned and followed her.
"I'm most frightfully sorry," he said.
She replied fiercely--
"It isn't as if I didn't wait. I waited in the porch I don't know how
long. Then of course I came home, as there was no sign of you."
"When I went back you weren't there; it must have been while you were
with old Batch; so I naturally didn't stay. I just came straight up
here. I was afraid you were vexed because I'd left you alone."
"Well, and if I was!" said Rachel, splendidly contradicting herself.
"It's not a very nice thing for a girl to be left alone like
that--_and all on account of a stick_!" There was a break in her
Arrived at the gate, she pushed it open.
"Good-night," she snapped. "Please don't come in."
And within the gate she deliberately stared at him with an unforgiving
gaze. The impartial lamp-post lighted the scene.
"Good-night," she repeated harshly. She was saying to herself: "He
really does take it in the most beautiful way. I could do anything I
liked with him."
"Good-night," said Louis, with strict punctilio.
When she got to the top of the steps she remembered that Louis had the
latch-key. He was gone. She gave a wet sob and impulsively ran down
the steps and opened the gate. Louis returned. She tried to speak and
"I beg your pardon," said Louis. "Of course you want the key."
He handed her the key with a gesture that disconcertingly melted the
rigour of all her limbs. She snatched at it, and plunged for the gate
just as the tears rolled down her cheeks in a shower. The noise of the
gate covered a fresh sob. She did not look back. Amid all her quite
real distress she was proud and happy--proud because she was old
enough and independent enough and audacious enough to quarrel with
her lover, and happy because she had suddenly discovered life. And the
soft darkness and the wind, and the faint sky reflections of distant
furnace fires, and the sense of the road winding upward, and the very
sense of the black mass of the house in front of her (dimly lighted at
the upper floor) all made part of her mysterious happiness.
END AND BEGINNING
"Mrs. Tams!" said Mrs. Maldon, in a low, alarmed, and urgent voice.
The gas was turned down in the bedroom, and Mrs. Maldon, looking from
her bed across the chamber, could only just distinguish the stout,
vague form of the charwoman asleep in an arm-chair. The light from
the street lamp was strong enough to throw faint shadows of the
window-frames on the blinds. The sleeper did not stir.
Mrs. Maldon summoned again, more loudly--
And Mrs. Tams, starting out of another world, replied with
"Hey, hey!" as if saying: "I am here. I am fully awake and observant.
Please remain calm."
Mrs. Maldon said agitatedly--
"I've just heard the front door open. I'm sure whoever it was was
trying not to make a noise. There! Can't you hear anything?"
"That I canna'!" said Mrs. Tams.
"No!" Mrs. Maldon protested, as Mrs. Tams approached the gas to raise
it. "Don't touch the gas. If anybody's got in let them think we're
The mystery of the vanished money and the fear of assassins seemed
suddenly to oppress the very air of the room. Mrs. Maldon was leaning
on one elbow in her bed.
Mrs. Tams said to her in a whisper--
"I mun go see."
"Please don't!" Mrs. Maldon entreated.
"I mun go see," said Mrs. Tams.
She was afraid, but she conceived that she ought to examine the house,
and no fear could have stopped her from going forth into the zone of
The next moment she gave a short laugh, and said in her ordinary
"Bless us! I shall be forgetting the nose on my face next. It's Miss
Rachel coming in, of course."
"Miss Rachel coming in!" repeated Mrs. Maldon. "Has she been out? I
was not aware. She said nothing--"
"Her came up a bit since, and said her had to do some shopping."
"Shopping! At this time of night!" murmured Mrs. Maldon.
Said Mrs. Tams laconically--
"To-morrow's Sunday--and pray God ye'll fancy a bite o' summat tasty."
While the two old women, equalized in rank by the fact of Mrs.
Maldon's illness, by the sudden alarm, and by the darkness of the
room, were thus conversing, sounds came from the pavement through
the slightly open windows--voices, and the squeak of the gate roughly
"That's Miss Rachel now," said Mrs. Tams.
"Then who was it came in before?" Mrs. Maldon demanded.
There was the tread of rapid feet on the stone steps, and then the
gate squeaked again.
Mrs. Tams went to the window and pulled aside the blind.
"Aye!" she announced simply. "It's Miss Rachel and Mr. Fores."
Mrs. Maldon caught her breath.