Part 4 out of 7
"You didn't tell me she was out with Mr. Fores," said Mrs. Maldon,
stiffly but weakly.
"It's first I knew of it," Mrs. Tams replied, still spying over the
pavement. "He's given her th' key. There! He's gone."
Mrs. Maldon muttered--
"The key? What key?"
"Th' latch-key belike."
"I must speak to Miss Rachel," breathed Mrs. Maldon in a voice of
extreme and painful apprehension.
The front door closing sent a vibration through the bedroom. Mrs.
Tarns hesitated an instant, and then raised the gas. Mrs. Maldon lay
with shut eyes on her left side and gave no sign of consciousness.
Light footsteps could be heard on the stairs.
"I'll go see," said Mrs. Tams.
In the heart of the aged woman exanimate on the bed, and in the heart
of the aging woman whose stout, coarse arm was still raised to the
gas-tap, were the same sentiments of wonder, envy, and pity, aroused
by the enigmatic actions of a younger generation going its perilous,
instinctive ways to keep the race alive.
Mrs. Tarns lighted a benzolene hand-lamp at the gas, and silently left
the bedroom. She still somewhat feared an unlawful invader, but the
arrival of Rachel had reassured her. Preceded by the waving
little flame, she passed Rachel's door, which was closed, and went
downstairs. Every mysterious room on the ground floor was in order and
empty. No sign of an invasion. Through the window of the kitchen she
saw the fresh cutlets under a wire cover in the scullery; and on the
kitchen table were the tin of pineapple and the tin of cocoa, with the
reticule near by. All doors that ought to be fastened were fastened.
She remounted the stairs and blew out the lamp on the threshold of the
mistress's bedroom. And as she did so she could hear Rachel winding
up her alarm-clock in quick jerks, and the light shone bright like a
silver rod under Rachel's door.
"Her's gone reet to bed," said Mrs. Tams softly, by the bedside of
Mrs. Maldon. "Ye've no cause for to worrit yerself. I've looked over
Mrs. Maldon was fast asleep.
Mrs. Tams lowered the gas and resumed her chair, and the street lamp
once more threw the shadows of the window-frames on the blinds.
The next day Mrs. Tams, who had been appointed to sleep in the spare
room, had to exist under the blight of Rachel's chill disapproval
because she had not slept in the spare room--nor in any bed at all.
The arrangement had been that Mrs. Tams should retire at 4 a.m.,
Rachel taking her place with Mrs. Maldon. Mrs. Tams had not retired at
4 a.m. because Rachel had not taken her place.
As a fact, Rachel had been wakened by a bang of the front door,
at 10.30 a.m. only. Her first glance at the alarm-clock on her
dressing-table was incredulous. And she refused absolutely to believe
that the hour was so late. Yet the alarm-clock was giving its usual
sturdy, noisy tick, and the sun was high. Then she refused to believe
that the alarm had gone off, and in order to remain firm in her belief
she refrained from any testing of the mechanism, which might--indeed,
would--have proved that the alarm had in fact gone off. It became
with her an article of dogma that on that particular morning, of all
mornings, the very reliable alarm-clock had failed in its duty. The
truth was that she had lain awake till nearly three o'clock, turning
from side to side and thinking bitterly upon the imperfections of
human nature, and had then fallen into a deep, invigorating sleep from
which perhaps half a dozen alarm-clocks might not have roused her.
She arose full of health and anger, and in a few minutes she was out
of the bedroom, for she had not fully undressed; like many women, when
there was watching to be done, she loved to keep her armour on and to
feel the exciting strain of the unusual in every movement. She fell
on Mrs. Tams as Mrs. Tams was coming upstairs after letting out the
doctor and refreshing herself with cocoa in the kitchen. A careless
observer might have thought from their respective attitudes that it
was Mrs. Tarns, and not Rachel, who had overslept herself. Rachel
divided the blame between the alarm-clock and Mrs. Tams for not
wakening her; indeed, she seemed to consider herself the victim of
a conspiracy between Mrs. Tams and the alarm-clock. She explicitly
blamed Mrs. Tams for allowing the doctor to come and go without her
knowledge. Even the doctor did not get off scot-free, for he ought to
have asked for Rachel and insisted on seeing her.
She examined Mrs. Tams about the invalid's health as a lawyer examines
a hostile witness. And when Mrs. Tams said that the invalid had slept,
and was sleeping, stertorously in an unaccountable manner, and hinted
that the doctor was not undisturbed by the new symptom and meant to
call again later on, Rachel's tight-lipped mien indicated that this
might not have occurred if only Mrs. Tams had fulfilled her obvious
duty of wakening Rachel. Though she was hungry, she scornfully
repulsed the suggestion of breakfast. Mrs. Tams, thoroughly accustomed
to such behaviour in the mighty, accepted it as she accepted the
weather. But if she had had to live through the night again--after
all, a quite tolerable night--she would still not have wakened Rachel
at 4 a.m.
Rachel softened as the day passed. She ate a good dinner at one
o'clock, with Mrs. Tams in the kitchen, one or the other mounting at
short intervals to see if Mrs. Maldon had stirred. Then she changed
into her second-best frock, in anticipation of the doctor's Sunday
afternoon visit, strictly commanded Mrs. Tams (but with relenting
kindness in her voice) to go and lie down, and established herself
neatly in the sick-room.
Though her breathing had become noiseless again, Mrs. Maldon still
slept. She had wakened only once since the previous night. She lay
calm and dignified in slumber--an old and devastated woman, with that
disconcerting resemblance to a corpse shown by all aged people
asleep, but yet with little sign of positive illness save the slight
distortion of her features caused by the original attack. Rachel sat
idle, prim, in vague reflection, at intervals smoothing her petticoat,
or giving a faint cough, or gazing at the mild blue September sky. She
might have been reading a book, but she was not by choice a reader.
She had the rare capacity of merely existing. Her thoughts flitted to
and fro, now resting on Mrs. Maldon with solemnity, now on Mrs. Tams
with amused benevolence, now on old Batchgrew with lofty disgust, and
now on Louis Fores with unquiet curiosity and delicious apprehension.
She gave a little shudder of fright and instantly controlled it--Mrs.
Maldon, instead of being asleep, was looking at her. She rose and went
to the bedside and stood over the sick woman, by the pillow, benignly,
asking with her eyes what desire of the sufferer's she might fulfil.
And Mrs. Maldon looked up at her with another benignity. And they both
"You've slept very well," said Rachel softly.
Mrs. Maldon, continuing to smile, gave a scarcely perceptible
affirmative movement of the head.
"Will you have some of your Revalenta? I've only got to warm it, here.
"Nothing, thank you, dear," said Mrs. Maldon, in a firm,
The doctor had left word that food was not to be forced on her.
"Do you feel better?"
Mrs. Maldon answered, in a peculiar tone--
"My dear, I shall never feel any better than I do now."
"Oh, you mustn't talk like that!" said Rachel in gay protest.
"I want to talk to you, Rachel," said Mrs. Maldon, once more
reassuringly matter-of-fact. "Sit down there."
Rachel obediently perched herself on the bed, and bent her head. And
her face, which was now much closer to Mrs. Maldon's, expressed
the gravity which Mrs. Maldon would wish, and also the affectionate
condescension of youth towards age, and of health towards infirmity.
And as almost unconsciously she exulted in her own youth, and
strength, delicate little poniards of tragic grief for Mrs. Maldon's
helpless and withered senility seemed to stab through that personal
pride. The shiny, veined right hand of the old woman emerged from
under the bedclothes and closed with hot, fragile grasp on Rachel's
Within the impeccable orderliness of the bedroom was silence;
and beyond was the vast Sunday afternoon silence of the district,
producing the sensation of surcease, re-creating the impressive
illusion of religion even out of the brutish irreligion that was
bewailed from pulpits to empty pews in all the temples of all the Five
Towns. Only the smoke waving slowly through the clean-washed sky from
a few high chimneys over miles of deserted manufactories made a link
between Saturday and Monday.
"I've something I want to say to you," said Mrs. Maldon, in that
deceptive matter-of-fact voice. "I wanted to tell you yesterday
afternoon, but I couldn't. And then again last night, but I went off
"Yes?" murmured Rachel, duped by Mrs. Maldon's manner into perfect
security. She was thinking: "What's the poor old thing got into her
head now? Is it something fresh about the money?"
"It's about yourself," said Mrs. Maldon.
Rachel exclaimed impulsively--
"What about me?"
She could feel a faint vibration in Mrs. Maldon's hand.
"I want you not to see so much of Louis."
Rachel was shocked and insulted. She straightened her spine and threw
back her head sharply. But she dared not by force withdraw her hand
from Mrs. Maldon's. Moreover, Mrs. Maldon's clasp tightened almost
"I suppose Mr. Batchgrew's been up here telling tales while I was
asleep," Rachel expostulated, hotly and her demeanour was at once
pouting, sulky, and righteously offended.
Mrs. Maldon was puzzled.
"This morning, do you mean, dear?" she asked.
Tears stood in Rachel's eyes. She could not speak, but she nodded her
head. And then another sentence burst from her full breast: "And you
told Mrs. Tams she wasn't to tell me Mr. Batchgrew'd called!"
"I've not seen or heard anything of Mr. Batchgrew," said Mrs. Maldon.
"But I did hear you and Louis talking outside last night."
The information startled Rachel.
"Well, and what if you did, Mrs. Maldon?" she defended herself. Her
foot tapped on the floor. She was obliged to defend herself, and
with care. Mrs. Maldon's tranquillity, self-control, immense age and
experience, superior deportment, extreme weakness, and the respect
which she inspired, compelled the girl to intrench warily, instead
of carrying off the scene in one stormy outburst of resentment as
theoretically she might have done.
Mrs. Maldon said, cajolingly, flatteringly--
"My dear, do be your sensible self and listen to me."
It then occurred to Rachel that during the last day or so (the period
seemed infinitely longer) she had been losing, not her common
sense, but her immediate command of that faculty, of which she was,
privately, very proud. And she braced her being, reaching up towards
her own conception of herself, towards the old invulnerable Rachel
Louisa Fleckring. At any cost she must keep her reputation for common
sense with Mrs. Maldon.
And so she set a watch on her gestures, and moderated her voice,
secretly yielding to the benevolence of the old lady, and said, in
the tone of a wise and kind woman of the world and an incarnation of
"What do I see of Mr. Fores, Mrs. Maldon? I see nothing of Mr. Fores,
or hardly. I'm your lady help, and he's your nephew--at least, he's
your great-nephew, and it's your house he comes to. I can't help being
in the house, can I? If you're thinking about last night, well, Mr.
Fores called to see how you were getting on, and I was just going out
to do some shopping. He walked down with me. I suppose I needn't tell
you I didn't ask him to walk down with me. He asked me. I couldn't
hardly say no, could I? And there were some parcels and he walked back
She felt so wise and so clever and the narrative seemed so entirely
natural, proper, and inevitable that she was tempted to continue--
"And supposing we _did_ go into a cinematograph for a minute or
But she had no courage for the confession. As a wise woman she
perceived the advisability of letting well alone. Moreover, she hated
confessions, remorse, and gnashing of teeth.
And Mrs. Maldon regarded her worldly and mature air, with its touch of
polite condescension, as both comic and tragic, and thought sadly
of all the girl would have to go through before the air of mature
worldliness which she was now affecting could become natural to her.
"My dear," said Mrs. Maldon, "I have perfect confidence in you." It
was not quite true, because Rachel's protest as to Mr. Batchgrew,
seeming to point to strange concealed incidents, had most certainly
impaired the perfection of Mrs. Maiden's confidence in Rachel.
Rachel considered that she ought to pursue her advantage, and in a
voice light and yet firm, good-natured and yet restive, she said--
"I really don't think anybody has the right to talk to me about Mr.
Fores.... No, truly I don't."
"You mustn't misunderstand me, Rachel," Mrs. Maldon replied, and her
other hand crept out, and stroked Rachel's captive hand. "I am only
saying to you what it is my duty to say to you--or to any other young
woman that comes to live in my house. You're a young woman, and Louis
is a young man. I'm making no complaint. But it's my duty to warn you
against my nephew."
"But, Mrs. Maldon, I didn't know either him or you a month ago!"
Mrs. Maldon, ignoring the interruption, proceeded quietly--
"My nephew is not to be trusted."
Her aged face slowly flushed as in that single brief sentence she
overthrew the grand principle of a lifetime. She who never spoke ill
of anybody had spoken ill of one of her own family.
"But--" Rachel stopped. She was frightened by the appearance of the
flush on those devastated yellow cheeks, and by a quiver in the feeble
voice and in the clasping hand. She could divine the ordeal which Mrs.
Maldon had set herself and through which she had passed. Mrs. Maldon
carried conviction, and in so doing she inspired awe. And on the
top of all Rachel felt profoundly and exquisitely flattered by the
immolation of Mrs. Maiden's pride.
"The money--it has something to do with that!" thought Rachel.
"My nephew is not to be trusted," said Mrs. Maldon again. "I know
all his good points. But the woman who married him would suffer
"I'm so sorry you've had to say this," said Rachel, very kindly. "But
I assure you that there's nothing at all, nothing whatever, between
Mr. Fores and me." And in that instant she genuinely believed that
there was not. She accepted Mrs. Maldon's estimate of Louis. And
further, and perhaps illogically, she had the feeling of having
escaped from a fatal danger. She expected Mrs. Maldon to agree eagerly
that there was nothing between herself and Louis, and to reiterate
her perfect confidence. But, instead, Mrs. Maldon, apparently treating
Rachel's assurance as negligible, continued with an added solemnity--
"I shall only live a little while longer--a very little while." The
contrast between this and her buoyant announcement on the previous
day that she was not going to die just yet was highly disturbing,
but Rachel could not protest or even speak. "A very little while!"
repeated Mrs. Maldon reflectively. "I've not known you long--as you
say--Rachel. But I've never seen a girl I liked more, if you don't
mind me telling you. I've never seen a girl I thought better of. And I
don't think I could die in peace if I thought Louis was going to
cause you any trouble after I'm gone. No, I couldn't die in peace if I
And Rachel, intimately moved, thought: "She has saved me from
something dreadful!" (Without trying to realize precisely from what.)
"How splendid she is!"
And she cast out from her mind all the multitudinous images of Louis
Fores that were there. And, full of affection, and flattered pride and
gratitude and childlike admiration, she bent down and rewarded the old
woman who had so confided in her with a priceless girlish kiss. And
she had the sensation of beginning a new life.
And yet, a few moments later, when Mrs. Maldon faintly murmured, "Some
one at the front door," Rachel grew at once uneasy, and the new life
seemed an illusion--either too fine to be true or too leaden to be
desired; and she was swaying amid uncertainties. Perhaps Louis was at
the front door. He had not yet called; but surely he was bound to call
some time during the day! Of the dozen different Rachels in Rachel,
one adventurously hoped that he would come, and another feared that he
would come; one ruled him sharply out of the catalogue of right-minded
persons, and another was ready passionately to defend him.
"I think not," said Rachel.
"Yes, dear; I heard some one," Mrs. Maldon insisted.
Mrs. Maldon, long practised in reconstructing the life of the street
from trifling hints of sound heard in bed, was not mistaken. Rachel,
opening the door of the bedroom, caught the last tinkling of the
front-door bell below. On the other side of the front door somebody
was standing--Louis Fores, or another!
"It may be the doctor," she said brightly, as she left the bedroom.
The coward in her wanted it to be the doctor. But, descending the
stairs, she could see plainly through the glass that Louis himself was
at the front door. The Rachel that feared was instantly uppermost in
her. She was conscious of dread. From the breathless sinking within
her bosom the stairs might have been the deck of a steamer pitching in
a heavy sea.
"Here is the Louis to whom I am indifferent. There is nothing between
us, really. But shall I have strength to open the door to him?"
She opened the door, with the feeling that the act was tremendous and
The street, in the Sabbatic sunshine, was as calm as at midnight.
Louis Fores, stiff and constrained, stood strangely against the
background of it. The unusualness of his demeanour, which was plain to
the merest glance, increased Rachel's agitation. It appeared to Rachel
that the two of them faced each other like wary enemies. She tried to
examine his face in the light of Mrs. Maldon's warning, as though it
were the face of a stranger; but without much success.
"Is auntie well enough for me to see her?" asked Louis, without
greeting or preliminary of any sort. His voice was imperfectly under
Rachel replied curtly--
"I dare say she is."
To herself she said--
"Of course if he's going to sulk about last night--well, he must sulk.
Really and truly he got much less than he deserved. He had no business
at all to have suggested me going to the cinematograph with him. The
longer he sulks the better I shall be pleased."
And in fact she was relieved at his sullenness. She tossed her proud
head, but with primness. And she fervently credited to the full Mrs.
Maldon's solemn insinuations against the disturber.
Louis hesitated a second, then stepped in. Rachel marched
processionally upstairs, and with the detachment of a footman
announced to Mrs. Maldon that Mr. Fores waited below. "Oh, please
bring him up," said Mrs. Maldon, with a mild and casual benevolence
that surprised the girl; for Rachel, in the righteous ferocity of
her years, vaguely thought that an adverse moral verdict ought to be
swiftly followed by something in the nature of annihilation.
"Will you please come up," she invited Louis, from the head of the
stairs, adding privately--"I can be as stiff as you can--and stiffer.
How mistaken I was in you!"
She preceded him into the bedroom, and then with ostentatious
formality left aunt and nephew together. Nobody should ever say any
more that she encouraged the attentions of Louis Fores.
"What is the matter, dear?" Mrs. Maldon inquired from her bed,
perceiving the signs of emotion on Louis' face.
"Has Mr. Batchgrew been here yet?" Louis demanded.
"No. Is he coming?"
"Yes, he's just been to my digs. Came in his car. Auntie, do you know
that he's accusing me of stealing your money--and--and--all sorts of
things! I don't want to hide anything from you. It's true I was with
Rachel at the cinematograph last night, but--"
Mrs. Maldon raised her enfeebled, shaking hand.
"Louis!" she entreated. His troubled, ingenuous face seemed to torture
"I know it's a shame to bother you, auntie. But what was I to do? He's
coming up here. I only want to tell you I've not got your money. I've
not stolen it. I'm absolutely innocent--absolutely. And I'll swear it
on anything you like." His voice almost broke under the strain of its
own earnestness. His plaintive eyes invoked justice and protection.
Who could have doubted that he was sincere in this passionate, wistful
protestation of innocence?
"Louis!" Mrs. Maldon entreated again, committing herself to naught,
taking no side, but finding shelter beneath the enigmatic, appealing
repetition of his name. It was the final triumph of age over crude
Rachel stood expectant and watchful in the kitchen. She was now filled
with dread. She wanted to go up and waken Mrs. Tams, but was too
proud. The thought had come into her mind: "His coming like this has
something to do with the money. Perhaps he wasn't sulking with me
after all. Perhaps ..." But what it was that she dreaded she could
not have defined. And then she caught the sound of an approaching
automobile. The car threw its shadow across the glazed front door,
which she commanded from the kitchen, and stopped. And the front-door
bell rang uncannily over her head. She opened the door to Councillor
Batchgrew, whose breathing was irregular and rapid.
"Has Louis Fores been here?" Batchgrew asked.
"He's upstairs now with Mrs. Maldon."
Without warning, Thomas Batchgrew strode into the house and straight
upstairs. His long whiskers sailed round the turn of the stairs and
disappeared. Rachel was somewhat discomfited, and very resentful.
But her dread was not thereby diminished. "They'll kill the old lady
between them if they don't take care," she thought.
The next instant Louis appeared at the head of the stairs. With
astounding celerity Rachel slipped into the parlour. She could not
bear to encounter him in the lobby--it was too narrow. She heard Louis
come down the stairs, saw him take his hat from the oak chest and
heard him open the front gate. In the lobby he had looked neither
to right nor left. "How do, Ernest!" she heard him greet the amateur
chauffeur-in-chief of the Batchgrew family. His footfalls on the
pavement died away into the general silence of the street. Overhead
she could hear old Batchgrew walking to and fro. Without reflection
she went upstairs and hovered near the door of Mrs. Maldon's bedroom.
She said to herself that she was not eavesdropping. She listened,
while pretending not to listen, but there was no sign of conversation
within the room. And then she very distinctly heard old Batchgrew
"And they go gallivanting off together to the cinema!"
Upon which ensued another silence.
Rachel flushed with shame, fury, and apprehension. She hated
Batchgrew, and Louis, and all gross masculine invaders.
The mysterious silence within the room persisted. And then old
Batchgrew violently opened the door and glared at Rachel. He showed no
surprise at seeing her there on the landing.
"Ye'd better keep an eye on missis," he said gruffly. "She's gone to
And with no other word he departed.
Before the car had given its warning hoot Rachel was at Mrs. Maldon's
side. The old lady lay in all tranquillity on her left arm. She was
indeed asleep, or she was in a stupor, and the peculiar stertorous
noise of her breathing had recommenced.
Rachel's vague dread vanished as she gazed at the worn features, and
gave place to a new and definite fright.
"They have killed her!" she muttered.
And she ran into the next room and called Mrs. Tams.
"Who's below?" asked Mrs. Tarns, as, wide awake, she came out on to
"Nobody," said Rachel. "They've gone."
But the doctor was below. Mr. Batchgrew had left the front door open.
"What a good thing!" cried Rachel.
In the bedroom Dr. Yardley, speaking with normal loudness, just as
though Mrs. Maldon had not been present, said to Rachel--
"I expected this this morning. There's nothing to be done. If you
try to give her food she'll only get it into the lung. It's very
improbable that she'll regain consciousness."
"But are you sure, doctor?" Rachel asked.
The doctor answered grimly--
"No, I'm not--I'm never sure. She _may_ recover."
"She's been rather disturbed this afternoon."
The doctor lifted his shoulders.
"That's got nothing to do with it," said he. "As I told you, she's
had an embolus in one artery of the brain. It lessened at first for
a bit--they do sometimes--and now it's enlarging, that's all. Nothing
external could affect it either way."
"But how long--?" asked Rachel, recoiling.
Her chief sensation that evening was that she was alone, for Mrs.
Tams was not a companion, but a slave. She was alone with a grave and
strange responsibility, which she could not evade. Indeed, events had
occurred in such a manner as to make her responsibility seem
natural and inevitable, to give it the sanction of the most correct
convention. Between 4.30 and 6 in the afternoon four separate calls of
inquiry had been made at the house, thus demonstrating Mrs. Maldon's
status in the town. One lady had left a fine bunch of grapes. To all
these visitors Rachel had said the same things, namely, that Mrs.
Maldon had been better on the Saturday, but was worse; that the case
was very serious; that the doctor had been twice that day and was
coming again, that Councillor Batchgrew was fully informed and had
seen the patient; that Mr. Louis Fores, Mrs. Maldon's only near
relative in England, was constantly in and out; that she herself had
the assistance of Mrs. Tams, who was thoroughly capable, and that
while she was much obliged for offers of help, she could think of no
way of utilizing them.
So that when the door closed on the last of the callers, Rachel, who
a month earlier had never even seen Mrs. Maldon, was left in sole
rightful charge of the dying-bed. And there was no escape for her.
She could not telegraph--the day being Sunday. Moreover, except Thomas
Batchgrew, there was nobody to whom she might telegraph. And she did
not want Mr. Batchgrew. Though Mr. Batchgrew certainly had not guessed
the relapse, she felt no desire whatever to let him have news.
She hated his blundering intrusions; and in spite of the doctor's
statements she would insist to herself that he and Louis between them
had somehow brought about the change in Mrs. Maldon. Of course she
might fetch Louis. She did not know his exact address, but he could
be discovered. At any rate, Mrs. Tams might be sent for him. But she
could not bring herself to make any advance towards Louis.
At a little after six o'clock, when the rare chapel-goers had ceased
to pass, and the still rarer church-goers were beginning to respond
to distant bells, Mrs. Tams informed her that tea was ready for her in
the parlour, and she descended and took tea, utterly alone. Mrs. Tams
had lighted the fire, and had moved the table comfortably towards the
fire--act of astounding initiative and courage, in itself a dramatic
proof that Mrs. Maldon no longer reigned at Bycars. Tea finished,
Rachel returned to the sick-room, where there was nothing whatever
to do except watch the minutes recede. She thought of her father and
brother in America.
Then Mrs. Tams, who had been clearing away the tea-things, came into
the bedroom and said--
"Here's Mr. Fores, miss."
"Mr. Fores! What does he want?" she asked querulously.
Mrs. Tams preserved her blandness.
"He asked for you, miss."
"Didn't he ask how Mrs. Maldon is?"
"Well, I don't want to see him. You might run down and tell him what
the doctor said, Mrs. Tams." She tried to make her voice casually
"Shall I, miss?" said Miss Tams doubtfully, and turned to the door.
Rachel was again full of fear and resentment. Louis had committed the
infamy of luring her into the cinematograph. It was through him that
she had "got herself talked about." Mrs. Maldon's last words had
been a warning against him. He and Mr. Batchgrew had desecrated the
sick-room with their mysterious visitations. And now Louis was come
again. From what catastrophes had not Mrs. Maldon's warning saved her!
"Here! I'll go," said Rachel, in a sudden resolve.
"I'm glad on it," said Mrs. Tams simply.
In the parlour Louis stood in front of the fire. Although the blinds
were drawn, the gas had not been lighted; but the fire and the
powerful street lamp together sufficed to give clearness to every
object in the room. The table had been restored to its proper
situation. The gift of grapes ornamented the sideboard.
"Good-evening," said Rachel sullenly, as if pouting. She avoided
looking at Louis, and sat down on the Chesterfield.
Louis broke forth in a cascade of words--
"I say, I'm most awfully sorry. I hadn't the faintest notion this
afternoon she was any worse--not the faintest. Otherwise I shouldn't
have dreamt--I met the doctor just now in Moorthorne Road, and he told
"What did he tell you?" asked Rachel, still with averted head, picking
at her frock.
"Well, he gave me to understand there's very little hope, and nothing
to be done. If I'd had the faintest notion--"
"You needn't worry about that," said Rachel. "Your coming made no
difference. The doctor said so." And she asked herself why she should
go out of her way to reassure Louis. It would serve him right to think
that his brusque visit, with Mr. Batchgrew's, was the origin of the
"Is there any change?" Louis asked.
Rachel shook her head "No," she said. "We just have to sit and watch."
"Doctor's coming in again to-night, isn't he?"
"It seems it's an embolus."
Rachel nodded once more. She had still no conception of what an
embolus was; but she naturally assumed that Louis could define an
embolus with exactitude.
"I say," said Louis, and his voice was suddenly charged with magical
qualities of persuasion, entreaty, and sincerity--"I say, you might
look at me."
She flushed, but she looked up at him. She might have sat straight and
remarked: "Mr. Fores, what do you mean by talking to me like that?"
But she raised her eyes and her crimson cheeks for one timid instant,
and dropped them. His voice had overcome her. With a single phrase,
with a mere inflection, he had changed the key of the interview. And
the glance at him had exposed her to the appeal of his face, more
powerful than ten thousand logical arguments and warnings. His
face proved that he was a sympathetic, wistful, worried
fellow-creature--and miraculously, uniquely handsome. His face in the
twilight was the most romantic face that Rachel had ever seen. His
gestures had a celestial charm.
"I know I ought to apologize for the way I came in this afternoon. I
do. But if you knew what cause I had ...! Would you believe that old
Batch had come to my place, and practically accused me of stealing the
old lady's money--_stealing_ it!"
"Never!" Rachel murmured.
"Yes, he did. The fact is, he knew jolly well he'd no business to
have left it in the house that night, so he wanted to get out of it by
making _me_ suffer. You know he's always been down on me. Well,
I came straight up here and I told auntie. Of course I couldn't make a
fuss, with her ill in bed. So I simply told her I hadn't got her money
and I hadn't stolen it, and I left it at that. I thought the less said
the better. But I had to say that much. I wonder what Julian would
have said if he'd been accused. I just wonder!" He repeated the word,
queerly evocative: "Julian!"
"What did Mrs. Maldon say?" Rachel asked.
"Well, she didn't say much. She believed me, naturally. And then old
Batch came. I wasn't going to have a regular scene with him up there,
so I left. I thought that was the only dignified thing to do. I wanted
to tell you, and I've told you. Don't you think it's a shame?"
Rachel answered passionately--
She answered thus because she had a tremendous desire to answer thus.
To herself she said: "Do I?... Yes, I do." Louis' eyes drew sympathy
out of her. It seemed to her to be of the highest importance that
those appealing eyes should not appeal in vain.
"Item, he made a fearful fuss about you and me being at the cinema
"I should like to know what it's got to do with him!" said Rachel,
almost savagely. The word "item" puzzled her. Not understanding it,
she thought she had misheard.
"That's what I thought, too," said Louis, and added, very gravely:
"At the same time I'm really awfully sorry. Perhaps I oughtn't to
have asked you. It was my fault. But old Batch would make the worst of
Rachel replied with feverish conviction--
"Mr. Batchgrew ought to be ashamed. You weren't to blame, and I won't
hear of it!"
Louis started forward with a sudden movement of the left arm.
"You're magnificent," he said, with emotion.
Rachel trembled, and shut her eyes. She heard his voice again, closer
to her, repeating with even greater emotion: "You're magnificent."
Tears were in her eyes. Through them she looked at him. And his form
was so graceful, his face so nice, so exquisitely kind and lovable and
loving, that her admiration became intense, even to the point of
pain. She thought of Batchgrew, not with hate, but with pity. He was
a monster, but he could not help it. He alone was responsible for all
slanders against Louis. He alone had put Mrs. Maldon against Louis.
Louis was obviously the most innocent of beings. Mrs. Maiden's
warning, "The woman who married him would suffer horribly," was
manifestly absurd. "Suffer horribly"--what a stinging phrase, like a
needle broken in a wound! She felt tired and weak, above all tired of
His hand was on hers. She trembled anew. She was not Rachel, but
some new embodiment of surrender and acquiescence. And the change was
delicious, fearful.... She thought: "I could die for him." She forgot
that a few minutes before she had been steeling herself against him.
She wanted him to kiss her, and waited an eternity. And when he had
kissed her, and she was in a maze of rapture, a tiny idea shaped
itself clearly in her mind for an instant: "This is wrong. But I don't
care. He is mine"--and then melted like a cloud in a burning sky. And
a sense of the miraculousness of destiny overcame her. In two days had
happened enough for two years. It was staggering to think that only
two days earlier she had been dreaming of him as of a star. Could
so much, indeed, happen in two days? She imagined blissfully, in her
ignorance of human experience, that her case was without precedent.
Nay, her case appalled her in the rapidity of its development! And was
thereby the more thrilling! She thought again: "Yes, I could die
for him--and I would!" He was still the star, but--such was the
miracle--she clasped him.
They heard Mrs. Tams knocking at the door. Nothing would ever cure the
charwoman's habit of knocking before entering. Rachel arose from the
sofa as out of a bush of blossoms. And in the artless, honest glance
of her virginity and her simplicity, her eyes seemed to say to Mrs.
Tams: "Behold the phoenix among men! He is to be my husband." Her
pride in the strange, wondrous, incredible state of being affianced
was tremendous, to the tragic point.
"Can ye hear, begging yer pardon?" said Mrs. Tams, pointing through
the open door and upward. "Her's just begun to breathe o' that'n [like
The loud, stertorous sound of Mrs. Maldon unconsciously drawing the
final breaths of life filled the whole house. Louis and Rachel glanced
at each other, scared, shamed, even horrified, to discover that the
vast pendulum of the universe was still solemnly ticking through their
"I'm coming," said Rachel.
THE MARRIED WOMAN
Wonderful things happen. If anybody had foretold to Mrs. Tams that in
her fifty-eighth year she would accede to the honourable order of the
starched white cap, Mrs. Tams could not have credited the prophecy.
But there she stood, in the lobby of the house at Bycars, frocked
in black, with the strings of a plain but fine white apron stretched
round her stoutness, and the cap crowning her grey hair. It was Louis
who had insisted on the cap, which Rachel had thought unnecessary
and even snobbish, and which Mrs. Tams had nervously deprecated.
Not without pleasure, however, had both women yielded to his indeed
unanswerable argument: "You can't possibly have a servant opening the
door without a cap. It's unthinkable."
Thus in her latter years of grandmotherhood had Mrs. Tams cast off
the sackcloth of the charwoman and become a glorious domestic servant,
with a room of her own in the house, and no responsibilities beyond
the house, and no right to leave the house save once a week, when she
visited younger generations, who still took from her and gave nothing
back. She owed the advancement to Rachel, who, quite unused to
engaging servants, and alarmed by harrowing stories of the futility
of registry offices and advertisements, had seen in Mrs. Tams the
comfortable solution of a fearful problem. Louis would have preferred
a younger, slimmer, nattier, fluffier creature than Mrs. Tams, but was
ready to be convinced that such as he wanted lived only in his fancy.
Moreover, he liked Mrs. Tams, and would occasionally flatter her by a
smack on the shoulder.
So in the April dusk Mrs. Tams stood in the windy lobby, and was full
of vanity and the pride of life. She gazed forth in disdain at
the little crowd of inquisitive idlers and infants that remained
obstinately on the pavement hoping against hope that the afternoon's
marvellous series of social phenomena was not over. She scorned the
slatternly, stupid little crowd for its lack of manners. Yet she ought
to have known, and she did know as well as any one, that though in
Bursley itself people will pretend out of politeness that nothing
unusual is afoot when something unusual most obviously _is_
afoot, in the small suburbs of Bursley, such as Bycars, no human
or divine power can prevent the populace from loosing its starved
curiosity openly upon no matter what spectacle that may differ from
the ordinary. Alas! Mrs. Tams in the past had often behaved even as
the simple members of that crowd. Nevertheless, all ceremonies being
over, she shut the front door with haughtiness, feeling glad that she
was not as others are. And further, she was swollen and consequential
because, without counting persons named Batchgrew, two visitors had
come in a motor, and because at one supreme moment no less than two
motors (including a Batchgrew motor) had been waiting together at
the curb in front of her cleaned steps. Who could have foreseen this
arrant snobbishness in the excellent child of nature, Mrs. Tams?
A far worse example of spiritual iniquity sat lolling on the
Chesterfield in the parlour. Ignorance and simplicity and a menial
imitativeness might be an excuse for Mrs. Tams; but not for Rachel,
the mistress, the omniscient, the all-powerful, the giver of good,
who could make and unmake with a nod. Rachel sitting gorgeous on the
Chesterfield amid an enormous twilit welter and litter of disarranged
chairs and tables; empty teapots, cups, jugs, and glasses; dishes of
fragmentary remains of cake and chocolate; plates smeared with roseate
ham, sticky teaspoons, loaded ash-trays, and a large general crumby
mess--Rachel, the downright, the contemner of silly social prejudices
and all nonsense, was actually puffed up because she had a servant in
a cap and because automobiles had deposited elegant girls at her door
and whirled them off again. And she would have denied it and yet was
The sole extenuation of Rachel's base worldliness was that during the
previous six months she had almost continuously had the sensations of
a person crossing Niagara on a tight-rope, and that now, on this very
day, she had leaped to firm ground and was accordingly exultant. After
Mrs. Maldon's death she had felt somehow guilty of disloyalty; she
passionately regretted having had no opportunity to assure the old
lady that her suspicions about Louis were wrong and cruel, and
to prove to her in some mysterious way the deep rightness of the
betrothal. She blushed only for the moment of her betrothal. She had
solemnly bound Louis to keep the betrothal secret until Christmas. She
had laid upon both of them a self-denying ordinance as to meeting.
The funeral over, she was without a home. She wished to find another
situation; Louis would not hear of it. She contemplated a visit to her
father and brother in America. In response to a letter, her brother
sent her the exact amount of the steerage fare, and, ready to accept
it, she was astounded at Louis' fury against her brother and at the
accent with which he had spit out the word "steerage." Her brother
and father had gone steerage. However, she gave way to Louis, chiefly
because she could not bear to leave him even for a couple of months.
She was lodging at Knype, at a total normal expense of ten shillings
a week. She possessed over fifty pounds--enough to keep her for six
months and to purchase a trousseau, and not one penny would she deign
to receive from her affianced.
The disclosure of Mrs. Maldon's will increased the delicacy of her
situation. Mrs. Maldon had left the whole of her property in equal
shares to Louis and Julian absolutely. There were others who by blood
had an equal claim upon her with these two, but the rest had been
mere names to her, and she had characteristically risen above the
conventionalism of heredity. Mr. Batchgrew, the executor, was able
to announce that in spite of losses the heirs would get over three
thousand five hundred pounds apiece. Hence it followed that Rachel
would be marrying for money as well as for position! She trembled
when the engagement was at length announced. And when Louis, after
consultation with Mr. Batchgrew, pointed out that it would be
advantageous not merely to the estate as a whole, but to himself and
to her, if he took over the house at Bycars and its contents at
a valuation and made it their married home, she at first declined
utterly. The scheme seemed sacrilegious to her. How could she dare to
be happy in that house where Mrs. Maldon had died, in that house which
was so intimately Mrs. Maldon's? But the manifold excellences of the
scheme, appealing strongly to her common sense, overcame her scruples.
The dead are dead; the living must live, and the living must not be
morbid; it would be absurd to turn into a pious monument every
house which death has emptied; Mrs. Maldon, had she known all the
circumstances, would have been only too pleased, etc., etc. The affair
was settled, and grew into public knowledge.
Rachel had to emerge upon the world as an engaged girl. Left to
herself she would have shunned all formalities; but Louis, bred up
in Barnes, knew what was due to society. Naught was omitted. Louis'
persuasiveness could not be withstood. Withal, he was so right. And
though Rachel in one part of her mind had a contempt for "fuss," in
another she liked it and was half ashamed of liking it. Further, her
common sense, of which she was still proud, told her that the delicacy
of her situation demanded "fuss," and would be much assuaged thereby.
And finally, the whole thing, being miraculous, romantic, and
incredible, had the quality of a dream through which she lived in a
dazed nonchalance. Could it be true that she had resided with Mrs.
Maldon only for a month? Could it be true that her courtship had
lasted only two days--or at most, three? Never, she thought, had a
sensible, quiet girl ridden such a whirlwind before in the entire
history of the world. Could Louis be as foolishly fond of her as
he seemed? Was she truly to be married? "I shan't have a single
wedding-present," she had said. Then wedding-presents began to come.
"Are we married?" she had said, when they were married and in the
conventional clothes in the conventional vehicle. After that she soon
did realize that the wondrous and the unutterable had happened to her
too. And she swung over to the other extreme: instead of doubting the
reality of her own experiences, she was convinced that her experiences
were more real than those of any other created girl, and hence she
felt a slight condescension towards all the rest. "I am a married
woman," she reflected at intervals, with intense momentary pride.
And her fits of confusion in public would end in recurrences of this
strange, proud feeling.
Then she had to face the return to Bursley, and, later, the At Home
which Louis propounded as a matter of course, and which she knew to be
inevitable. The house was her toy, and Mrs. Tams was her toy. But
the glee of playing with toys had been overshadowed for days by the
delicious dread of the At Home. "It will be the first caller that will
kill me," she had said. "But will anybody really come?" And the first
caller had called. And, finding herself still alive, she had become
radiant, and often during the afternoon had forgotten to be clumsy.
The success of the At Home was prodigious, startling. Now and then
when the room was full, and people without chairs perched on the end
of the Chesterfield, she had whispered to her secret heart in a tiny,
tiny voice: "These are my guests. They all treat me with special
deference. I am the hostess. _I am Mrs. Fores_." The Batchgrew
clan was well represented, no doubt by order from authority, Mrs.
Yardley came, in surprising stylishness. Visitors arrived from Knype.
Miss Malkin came and atoned for her historic glance in the shop. But
the dazzlers were sundry male friends of Louis, with Kensingtonian
accents, strange phrases, and assurance in the handling of teacups and
the choosing of cake.... One by one and two by two they had departed,
and at last Rachel, with a mind as it were breathless from rapid
flittings to and fro, was seated alone on the sofa.
She was richly dressed in a dark blue taffeta dress that gave
brilliance to her tawny hair. Perhaps she was over-richly dressed,
for, like many girls who as a rule are not very interested in clothes,
she was too interested in them at times, and inexperienced taste was
apt to mislead her into an unfitness. Also her figure was too stiff
and sturdy to favour elegance. But on this occasion the general
effect of her was notably picturesque, and her face and hair, and the
expression of her pose, atoned in their charm for the shortcomings
and the luxuriance of the frock. She was no more the Rachel that
Mrs. Maldon had known and that Louis had first kissed. Her glance had
altered, and her gestures. She would ask herself, could it be true
that she was a married woman? But her glance and gestures announced
it true at every instant. A new languor and a new confidence had
transformed the girl. Her body had been modified and her soul at
once chastened and fired. Fresh in her memory was endless matter for
meditation. And on the sofa, in a negligent attitude of repose,
with shameless eyes gazing far into the caverns of the fire, and an
unreadable faint smile on her face, she meditated. And she was the
most seductive, tantalizing, self-contradictory object for study in
the whole of Bursley. She had never been so interesting as in this
brief period, and she might never be so interesting again.
Mrs. Tams entered. With her voice Mrs. Tams said, "Shall I begin to
clear all these things away, _mam_?" But with her self-conscious
eyes Mrs. Tams said to the self-conscious eyes of Rachel, "What a
staggering world we live in, don't we?"
Rachel sprang from the Chesterfield, smoothed down her frock, shook
her hair, and then ran upstairs to the large front bedroom, where
Louis, to whom the house was just as much a toy as to Rachel, was
about to knock a nail into a wall. Out of breath, she stood close
to him very happily. The At Home was over. She was now definitely
received as a married woman in a town full of married women and girls
waiting to be married women. She had passed successfully through a
trying and exhausting experience; the nervous tension was slackened.
And therefore it might be expected that she would have a sense of
reaction, the vague melancholy which is produced when that which has
long been seen before is suddenly seen behind. But it was not so
in the smallest degree. Every moment of her existence equally was
thrilling and happy. One piquant joy was succeeded immediately by
another as piquant. To Rachel it was not in essence more exciting to
officiate at an At Home than to watch Louis drive a nail into a wall.
The man winked at her in the dusk; she winked back, and put her hand
intimately on his shoulder. She thought, "I am safe with him now in
the house." The feeling of solitude with him, of being barricaded
against the world and at the mercy of Louis alone, was exquisite to
her. Then Louis raised himself on his toes, and raised his left arm
with the nail as high as he could, and stuck the point of the nail
against a pencil-mark on the wall. Then he raised the right hand with
the hammer; but the mark was just too high to be efficiently reached
by both hands simultaneously. Louis might have stood on a chair. This
simple device, however, was too simple for them.
"Shall I stand on a chair and hold the nail for you?" Louis murmured--
"Brainy little thing! Never at a loss!"
She skipped on to a chair and held the nail. Towering thus above him,
she looked down on her husband and thought: "This man is mine alone,
and he is all mine." And in Rachel's fancy the thought itself seemed
to caress Louis from head to foot.
"Supposing I catch you one?" said Louis, as he prepared to strike.
"I don't care," said Rachel.
And the fact was that really she would have liked him to hit her
finger instead of the nail--not too hard, but still smartly. She would
have taken pleasure in the pain: such was the perversity of the young
wife. But Louis hit the nail infallibly every time.
He took up a picture which had been lying against the wall in a dark
corner, and thrust the twisting wire of it over the nail.
Rachel, when in the deepening darkness she had peered into the frame,
"Oh, darling, you aren't going to hang that here, are you? It's so
old-fashioned. You said it was old-fashioned yourself. I did want that
thing that came this morning to be put somewhere here. Why can't
you stick this in the spare room?... Unless, of course, you
_prefer_...." She was being deferential to the art-expert in him,
as well as to the husband.
"Not in the least!" said Louis, acquiescent, and unhooked the picture.
Taste changes. The rejected of Rachel was a water-colour by the late
Athelstan Maldon, adored by Mrs. Maldon. Already it had been degraded
from the parlour to the bedroom, and now it was to be pushed away
like a shame into obscurity. It was a view of the celebrated Vale of
Llangollen, finicking, tight, and hard in manner, but with a certain
sentiment and modest skill. The way in which the initials "A.M."
had been hidden amid the foreground foliage in the left-hand corner
disclosed enough of the painter's quiet and proud temperament to
show that he "took after" his mother. Yet a few more years, and the
careless observer would miss those initials altogether and would
be contemptuously inquiring, "Who did this old daub, I wonder?" And
nobody would know who did the old daub, or that the old daub for
thirty years had been an altar for undying affection, and also a
distinguished specimen--admired by a whole generation of townsfolk--of
the art of water-colour.
And the fate of Athelstan's sketch was symptomatic. Mrs. Maiden's
house had been considered perfect, up to the time of her death. Rachel
had at first been even intimidated by it; Louis had sincerely
praised it. And indeed its perfection was an axiom of drawing-room
conversation. But as soon as Louis and Rachel began to look on the
house with the eye of inhabitants, the axiom fell to a dogma, and the
dogma was exploded. The dreadful truth came out that Mrs. Maldon had
shown a strange indifference to certain aspects of convenience, and
that, in short, she must have been a peculiar old lady with ideas
of her own. Louis proved unanswerably that in the hitherto faultless
parlour the furniture was ill arranged, and suddenly the sideboard and
the Chesterfield had changed places, and all concerned had marvelled
that Mrs. Maldon had for so long kept the Chesterfield where so
obviously the sideboard ought to have been, and the sideboard where so
obviously the Chesterfield ought to have been.
And still graver matters had come to light. The house had an attic
floor, which was unused and the scene of no activity except spring
cleaning. A previous owner, infected by the virus of modernity, had
put a bath into one of the attics. Now Mrs. Maldon, as experiments
disclosed, had actually had the water cut off from the bath. Eyebrows
were lifted at the revelation of this caprice. The restoration of
the supply of water and the installing of a geyser were the only
expenditures which thrifty Rachel had sanctioned in the way of
rejuvenating the house. Rachel had decided that the house must, at any
rate for the present, be "made to do." That such a decision should be
necessary astonished Rachel; and Mrs. Maldon would have been more
than astonished to learn that the lady help, by fortitude and
determination, was making her perfect house "do." As regards the
household inventory, Rachel had been obliged to admit exceptions to
her rule of endurance. Perhaps her main reason for agreeing to live in
the house had been that there would be no linen to buy. But truly
Mrs. Maldon's notion of what constituted a sufficiency of--for
example--towels, was quite too inadequate. Louis protested that he
could comfortably use all Mrs. Maldon's towels in half a day. More
towels had to be obtained. There were other shortages, but some of
them were set right by means of veiled indications to prospective
givers of gifts.
"You mean that 'Garden of the Hesperides' affair for up here, do you?"
Rachel gazed round the bedchamber. A memory of what it had been shot
painfully through her mind. For the room was profoundly changed
in character. Two narrow bedsteads given by Thomas Batchgrew, and
described by Mrs. Tarns, in a moment of daring, as "flighty," had
taken the place of Mrs. Maldon's bedstead, which was now in the spare
room, the spare-room bedstead having been allotted to Mrs. Tams,
and Rachel's old bedstead sold. Bright crocheted and embroidered
wedding-presents enlivened the pale tones of the room. The wardrobe,
washstand, dressing-table, chairs, carpet, and ottoman remained.
But there were razors on the washstand and boot-trees under it; the
wardrobe had been emptied, and filled on strange principles with
strange raiment; and the Maldon family Bible, instead of being on the
ottoman, was in the ottoman--so as to be out of the dust.
"Perhaps we may as well keep that here, after all," said Rachel,
indicating Athelsan's water-colour. Her voice was soft. She remembered
that the name of Mrs. Maldon, only a little while since a major
notability of Bursley and the very mirror of virtuous renown, had
been mentioned but once, and even then apologetically, during the
Louis asked, sharply--
"Why, if you don't care for it? _I_ don't."
"Well--" said Rachel. "As you like, then, dearest."
Louis walked out of the room with the water-colour, and in a moment
returned with a photogravure of Lord Leighton's "The Garden of the
Hesperides," in a coquettish gold frame--a gift newly arrived from
Louis' connections in the United States. The marmoreal and academic
work seemed wonderfully warm and original in that room at Bycars.
Rachel really admired it, and admired herself for admiring it. But
when Louis had hung it and flicked it into exact perpendicularity, and
they had both exclaimed upon its brilliant effect even in the dusk,
Rachel saw it also with the eyes of Mrs. Maldon, and wondered what
Mrs. Maldon would have thought of it opposite her bed, and knew what
Mrs. Maldon would have thought of it.
And then, the job being done and the progress of civilization assured,
Louis murmured in a new appealing voice--
"I say, Louise!"
"Louise" was perhaps his most happy invention, and the best proof
that Louis was Louis. Upon hearing that her full Christian names
were Rachel Louisa, he had instantly said--"I shall call you Louise."
Rachel was ravished, Louisa is a vulgar name--at least it is vulgar
in the Five Towns, where every second general servant bears it. But
Louise was full of romance, distinction, and beauty. And it was the
perfect complement to Louis. Louis and Louise--ideal coincidence!
"But nobody except me is to call you Louise," he had added. And thus
completed her bliss.
"What?" she encouraged him amorously.
"Suppose we go to Llandudno on Saturday for the week-end?"
His tone was gay, gentle, innocent, persuasive. Yet the words stabbed
her and her head swam.
"But why?" she asked, controlling her utterance.
"Oh, well! Be rather a lark, wouldn't it?" It was when he talked in
this strain that the inconvenient voice of sagacity within her would
question for one agonizing instant whether she was more secure as the
proud, splendid wife of Louis Fores than she had been as a mere lady
help. And the same insistent voice would repeat the warnings which she
had had from Mrs. Maldon and from Thomas Batchgrew, and would remind
her of what she herself had said to herself when Louis first kissed
her--"This is wrong. But I don't care. He is mine."
Upon hearing of his inheritance from Mrs. Maldon, Louis was for
throwing up immediately his situation at Horrocleave's. Rachel had
dissuaded him from such irresponsible madness. She had prevented him
from running into a hundred expenses during their engagement and in
connection with the house. And he had in the end enthusiastically
praised her common sense. But that very morning at the midday meal he
had surprised her by announcing that on account of the reception he
should not go to the works at all in the afternoon, though he had
omitted to warn Horrocleave. Ultimately she had managed, by guile, to
dispatch him to the works for two hours. And now in the evening he
was alarming her afresh. Why go to Llandudno? What point was there in
rushing off to Llandudno, and scattering in three days more money than
they could save in three weeks? He frightened her ingrained prudence,
and her alarm was only increased by his obvious failure to realize the
terrible defect in himself. (For to her it was terrible.) The joyous
scheme of an excursion to Llandudno had suddenly crossed his mind,
exciting the appetite for pleasure. Hence the appetite must be
immediately indulged!... Rachel had been brought up otherwise. And as
a direct result of Louis' irresponsible suggestion she had a vision of
the house with county-court bailiffs lodged in the kitchen.... She had
only to say--"Yes, let's go," and they would be off on the absurd and
"I'd really rather not," she said, smiling, but serious.
"All serene. But, anyhow, next week's Easter, and we shall have to go
somewhere then, you know."
She put her hands on his shoulders and looked close at him, knowing
that she must use her power and that the heavy dusk would help her.
"Why?" she asked again. "I'd much sooner stay here at Easter. Truly I
would!... With you!"
The episode ended with an embrace. She had won.
"Very well! Very well!" said Louis. "Easter in the coal-cellar if you
like. I'm on for anything."
"But don't you _see_, dearest?" she said.
And he imitated her emphasis, full of teasing good humour--
"Yes, I _see_, dearest."
She breathed relief, and asked--
"Are you going to give me my bicycle lesson?"
Louis had borrowed a bicycle for Rachel to ruin while learning to
ride. He said that a friend had lent it to him--a man in Hanbridge
whose mother had given up riding on account of stoutness--but who
exactly this friend was Rachel knew not, Louis' information being
characteristically sketchy and incomplete; and with his air of candour
and good humour he had a strange way of warding off questions; so that
already Rachel had grown used to a phrase which she would utter only
in her mind, "I don't like to ask him--"
It pleased Louis to ride this bicycle out of the back yard, down
the sloping entry, and then steer it through another narrow gateway,
across the pavement, and let it solemnly bump, first with the front
wheel and then with the back wheel, from the pavement into the road.
During this feat he stood on the pedals. He turned the machine up
Bycars Lane, and steadily climbed the steep at Rachel's walking pace.
And Rachel, hurrying by his side, watched in the obscurity the play of
his ankles as he put into practice the principles of pedalling which
he had preached. He was a graceful rider; every movement was natural
and elegant. Rachel considered him to be the most graceful cyclist
that ever was. She was fascinated by the revolutions of his feet.
She felt ecstatically happy. The episode of his caprice for the
seaside was absolutely forgotten; after all, she asked for nothing
more than possession of him, and she had that, though indeed it seemed
too marvellous to be true. The bicycle lesson was her hour of magic;
and more so on this night than on previous nights.
"I must change my dress," she had said. "I can't go in this one."
His impatience could not wait. He had helped her. He undid hooks, and
fastened others.... The rich blue frock lay across the bed and looked
lovely on the ivory-coloured counterpane. It seemed indeed to be a
part of that in her which was Louise. Then she was in a short skirt
which she had devised herself, and he was pushing her out of the room,
his hand on her back. And she had feigned reluctance, resisting his
pressure, while laughing with gleeful eagerness to be gone. No delay
had been allowed. As they passed through the kitchen, not one instant
for parley with Mrs. Tams as to the domestic organization of the
evening! He was still pushing her.... Thus she had had to confide her
precious house and its innumerable treasures to Mrs. Tams. And in this
surrender to Louis' whim there was a fearful joy.
When Louis turned at last into Park Road, and stepped from between the
wheels, she exclaimed, a little breathless from quick walking level
with him up the hill--
"I can't bear to see you ride so well. Oh!" She crunched her teeth
with a loving, cruel gesture. "I should like to hurt you frightfully!"
"Because I shall never, never be able to ride as well as you do!"
"Here! Take hold."
"I'm not ready! I'm not ready!" she cried.
But he loosed the machine, and she was obliged to seize it as it fell.
That was his teasing.
Park Road had been the scene of the lesson for three nights. It was
level, and it was unfrequented. "And the doctor's handy in case
you break your neck," Louis had said. Dr. Yardley's red lamp shone
amicably among yellow lights, and its ray with theirs was lost in the
mysterious obscurities of the closed park. Not only was it socially
advisable for Rachel to study the perverse nature of the bicycle at
night--for not to know how to ride the bicycle was as shameful as not
to know how to read and write--but she preferred the night for the
romantic feeling of being alone with Louis, in the dark and above the
glow of the town. She loved the sharp night wind on her cheek, and
the faint clandestine rustling of the low evergreens within the park
palisade, and the invisible and almost tangible soft sky, revealed
round the horizon by gleams of fire. She had longed to ride the
bicycle as some girls long to follow the hunt or to steer an
automobile or a yacht. And now her ambition was being attained amid
all circumstances of bliss.
And yet she would shrink from beginning the lesson.
"The lamp! You've forgotten to light the lamp!" she said.
"Get on," said he.
"But suppose a policeman comes?"
"Suppose you get on and start! Do you think I don't know you?
Policemen are my affair. Besides, all nice policemen are in bed....
Don't be afraid. It isn't alive. I've got hold of the thing. Sit well
down. No! There are only two pedals. You seem to think there are about
nineteen. Right! No, no, _no_! Don't--do not--cling to those
blooming handle-bars as if you were in a storm at sea. Be a nice
little cat in front of the fire--all your muscles loose. Now! Are you
"Yes," she murmured, with teeth set and dilated eyes staring ahead at
the hideous dangers of Park Road.
He impelled. The pedals went round. The machine slid terribly forward.
And in a moment Louis said, mischievously--
"I told you you'd have to go alone to-night. There you are!"
His footsteps ceased.
"Louis!" she cried, sharply and yet sadly upbraiding his unspeakable
treason. Her fingers gripped convulsively the handle-bars. She was
moving alone. It was inconceivably awful and delightful. She was on
the back of a wild pony in the forest. The miracle of equilibrium was
being accomplished. The impossible was done, and at the first attempt.
She thought very clearly how wondrous was life, and how perfectly
happy fate had made her. And then she was lying in a tangle amid
dozens of complex wheels, chains, and bars.
"Hurt?" shouted Louis, as he ran up.
She laughed and said "No," and sat up stiffly, full of secret dolours.
Yet he knew and she knew that the accidents of the previous two nights
had covered her limbs with blue discolorations, and that the latest
fall was more severe than any previous one. Her courage enchanted
Louis and filled him with a sense of security. She was not graceful in
these exercises. Her ankles were thick and clumsy. Not merely had she
no natural aptitude for physical feats--apparently she was not lissom,
nor elegant in motion. But what courage! What calm, bright endurance!
What stoicism! Most girls would have reproached him for betraying them
to destruction, would have pouted, complained, demanded petting and
apologies. But not she! She was like a man. And when he helped her
to pick herself up he noticed that after all she was both lissom and
agile, and exquisitely, disturbingly girlish in her short dusty skirt;
and that she did trust him and depend on him. And he realized that he
was safe for life with her. She was created for him.
Work was resumed.
"Now don't let go of me till I tell you," she enjoined lightly.
"I won't," he answered. And it seemed to him that his loyalty to her
expanded and filled all his soul.
Later, as she approached the other end of Park Road, near Moorthorne
Road, a tram-car hurled itself suddenly down Moorthorne Road and
overthrew her. It is true that the tram-car was never less than twenty
yards away from her. But even at twenty yards it could overthrow.
Rachel sat dazed in the road, and her voice was uncertain as she
told Louis to examine the bicycle. One of the pedals was bent, and
prevented the back wheel from making a complete revolution.
"It's nothing," said Louis. "I'll have it right in the morning."
"Who's that?" Rachel, who had risen, gasping, turned to him excitedly
as he was bending over the bicycle. Conscious that somebody had been
standing at the corner of the street, he glanced up. A figure was
moving quickly down Moorthorne Road in the direction of the station.
"I dun'no," said he.
"It's not Julian, is it?"
In a peculiar tone Louis replied--
"Looks like him, doesn't it?" And then impulsively he yelled "Hi!"
The figure kept on its way.
"Seeing that the inimitable Julian's still in South Africa, it can't
very well be him. And, anyhow, I'm not going to run after him."
"No, of course it can't," Rachel assented.
Presently the returning procession was re-formed. Louis pushed the
bicycle on its front wheel, and Rachel tried to help him to support
the weight of the suspended part. He had attempted in vain to take the
pedal off the crank.
"It's perhaps a good thing you fell just then," said Louis. "Because
old Batch is coming in to-night, and we'd better not be late."
"But you never told me!"
"Didn't I? I forgot," he said blandly.
"Oh, Louis!... He's not coming for supper, I hope?"
"My child, if there's a chance of a free meal, old Batch will be on
The unaccustomed housewife foretold her approaching shame, and
proclaimed Louis to be the author of it. She began to quicken her
"You certainly ought to have let me know sooner, dearest," she said
seriously. "You really are terrible."
Hard knocks had not hurt her. But she was hurt now. And Louis'
smile was very constrained. Her grave manner of saying "dearest" had
It is true that Rachel held Councillor Thomas Batchgrew in hatred,
that she had never pardoned him for the insult which he had put upon
her in the Imperial Cinema de Luxe; and that, indeed, she could never
pardon him for simply being Thomas Batchgrew. Nevertheless, there was
that evening in her heart a little softening towards him. The fact
was that the councillor had been flattering her. She would have denied
warmly that she was susceptible to flattery; even if authoritatively
informed that no human being whatever is unsusceptible to flattery,
she would still have protested that she at any rate was, for, like
numerous young and inexperienced women, she had persuaded herself that
she was the one exception to various otherwise universal rules.
It remained that Thomas Batchgrew had been flattering her. On arrival
he had greeted her with that tinge of deference which from an old man
never fails to thrill a girl. Rachel's pride as a young married woman
was tigerishly alert and hungry that evening. Thomas Batchgrew, little
by little, tamed and fed it very judiciously at intervals, until at
length it seemed to purr content around him like a cat. The phenomenon
was remarkable, and the more so in that Rachel was convinced that,
whereas she was as critical and inimical as ever, old Batchgrew had
slightly improved. He behaved "heartily," and everybody appreciates
such behaviour in the Five Towns. He was by nature far too insensitive
to notice that the married lovers were treating each other with
that finished courtesy which is the symptom of a tiff or of a
misunderstanding. And the married lovers, noticing that he noticed
nothing, were soon encouraged to make peace; and by means of certain
tones and gestures peace was declared in the very presence of the
unperceiving old brute, which was peculiarly delightful to the
Rachel had less difficulty with the supper than she feared, whereby
also her good-humour was fostered. With half a cold leg of mutton,
some cheeses, and the magnificent fancy remains of an At Home tea,
arrayed with the d'oyleys and embroidered cloths which brides always
richly receive in the Five Towns, a most handsome and impressive
supper can be concocted. Rachel was astonished at the splendour of her
own table. Mr. Batchgrew treated this supper with unsurpassable tact.
The adjectives he applied to it were short and emphatic and spoken
with a full mouth. He ate the supper; he kept on eating it; he passed
his plate with alacrity; he refused naught. And as the meal neared its
end he emitted those natural inarticulate noises from his throat which
in Persia are a sign of high breeding. Useless for Rachel in her heart
to call him a glutton--his attitude towards her supper was impeccable.
And now the solid part of the supper was over. One extremity of the
Chesterfield had been drawn closer to the fire--an operation easily
possible in its new advantageous position--and Louis as master of the
house had mended the fire after his own method, and Rachel sat upright
(somewhat in the manner of Mrs. Maldon) in the arm-chair opposite Mr.
Batchgrew, extended half-reclining on the Chesterfield. And Mrs. Tams
entered with coffee.
"You'll have coffee, Mr. Batchgrew?" said the hostess.
"Nay, missis! I canna' sleep after it."
Secretly enchanted by the sweet word "missis," Rachel was nevertheless
piqued by this refusal.
"Oh, but you must have some of Louise's coffee," said Louis, standing
negligently in front of the fire.
Already, though under a month old as a husband, Louis, following the
eternal example of good husbands, had acquired the sure belief that
his wife could achieve a higher degree of excellence in certain
affairs than any other wife in the world. He had selected coffee as
"Louise's?" repeated old Batchgrew, puzzled, in his heavy voice.
Rachel flushed and smiled.
"He calls me Louise, you know," said she.
"Calls you Louise, does he?" Batchgrew muttered indifferently. But he
took a cup of coffee, stirred part of its contents into the saucer
and on to the Chesterfield, and began to sup the remainder with a
prodigious splutter of ingurgitation.
"And you must have a cigarette, too," Louis carelessly insisted. And
Mr. Batchgrew agreed, though it was notorious that he only smoked once
in a blue moon, because all tobacco was apt to be too strong for him.
"You can clear away," Rachel whispered, in the frigid tones of one
accustomed to command cohorts of servants in the luxury of historic
"Yes, ma'am," Mrs. Tams whispered back nervously, proud as a
major-domo, though with less than a major-domo's aplomb.
No pride, however, could have outclassed Rachel's. She had had a full
day, and the evening was the crown of the day, because in the evening
she was entertaining privately for the first time. She was the one
lady of the party; for these two men she represented woman, and they
were her men. They depended on her for their physical well-being, and
not in vain. She was the hostess; hers to command; hers the complex
responsibility of the house. She had begun supper with painful
timidity, but the timidity had now nearly vanished in the flush
of social success. Critical as only a young wife can be, she was
excellently well satisfied with Louis' performance in the role of
host. She grew more than ever sure that there was only one Louis. See
him manipulate a cigarette--it was the perfection of worldliness and
agreeable, sensuous grace! See him hold a match to Mr. Batchgrew's
Now Mr. Batchgrew smoked a cigarette clumsily. He seemed not to be
able to decide whether a cigarette was something to smoke or something
to eat. Mr. Batchgrew was more ungainly than ever, stretched in his
characteristic attitude at an angle of forty-five degrees; his long
whiskers were more absurdly than ever like two tails of a wire-haired
white dog; his voice more coarsely than ever rolled about the room
like undignified thunder. He was an old, old man, and a sinister. It
was precisely his age that caressed Rachel's pride. That any man so
old should have come to her house for supper, should be treating her
as an equal and with the directness of allusion in conversation due to
a married woman but improper to a young girl--this was very sweet to
Rachel. The subdued stir made by Mrs. Tams in clearing the table was
for Rachel a delicious background to the scene. The one flaw in it
was her short skirt, which she had not had time to change. Louis
had protested that it was entirely in order, and indeed admirably
coquettish, but Rachel would have preferred a long train of soft
drapery disposed with art round the front of her chair.
"What you want here is electricity," said Thomas Batchgrew, gazing
at the incandescent gas; he could never miss a chance, and was never
discouraged in the pursuit of his own advantage.
"You think so?" murmured Louis genially.
"I could put ye in summat as 'u'd----"
Rachel broke in a clear, calm decision--
"I don't think we shall have any electricity just yet."
The gesture of the economical wife in her was so final that old
Batchgrew raised his eyebrows with a grin at Louis, and Louis
humorously drew down the corners of his mouth in response. It was as
if they had both said, in awe--
"She has spoken!"
And Rachel, still further flattered and happy, was obliged to smile.
When Mrs. Tams had made her last tiptoe journey from the room and
closed the door with due silent respect upon those great ones, the
expression of Thomas Batchgrew's face changed somewhat; he looked
round, as though for spies, and then drew a packet of papers from his
pocket. And the expression of the other two faces changed also. For
the true purpose of the executor's visit was now to be made formally
"Now about this statement of account--_re_ Elizabeth Maldon,
deceased," he growled deeply.
"By the way," Louis interrupted him. "Is Julian back?"
"Julian back? Not as I know of," said Mr. Batchgrew aggressively.
"We thought we saw him walking down Moorthorne Road to-night."
"Yes," said Rachel. "We both thought we saw him."
"Happen he is if he aeroplaned it!" said Batchgrew, and fumbled
nervously with the papers.
"It couldn't have been Julian," said Louis, confidently, to Rachel.
"No, it couldn't," said Rachel.
But neither conjured away the secret uneasiness of the other. And
as for Rachel, she knew that all through the evening she had,
inexplicably, been disturbed by an apprehension that Julian, after
his long and strange sojourn in South Africa, had returned to the
district. Why the possible advent of Julian should disconcert her, she
thought she could not divine. Mr. Batchgrew's demeanour as he answered
Louis' question mysteriously increased her apprehension. At one moment
she said to herself, "Of course it wasn't Julian." At the next, "I'm
quite sure I couldn't be mistaken." At the next, "And supposing it was
Julian--what of it?"
When Batchgrew and Louis, sitting side by side on the Chesterfield,
began to turn over documents and peer into columns, and carry the
finger horizontally across sheets of paper in search of figures,
Rachel tactfully withdrew, not from the room, but from the
conversation, it being her proper role to pretend that she did not
and could not understand the complicated details which they were
discussing. She expected some rather dazzling revelation of men's
trained methods at this "business interview" (as Louis had announced
it), for her brother and father had never allowed her the slightest
knowledge of their daily affairs. But she was disappointed. She
thought that both the men were somewhat absurdly and self-consciously
trying to be solemn and learned. Louis beyond doubt was
self-conscious--acting as it were to impress his wife--and Batchgrew's
efforts to be hearty and youthful with the young roused her private
Moreover, nothing fresh emerged from the interview. She had known all
of it before from Louis. Batchgrew was merely repeating and resuming.
And Louis was listening with politeness to recitals with which he was
quite familiar. In words almost identical with those already reported
to her by Louis, Batchgrew insisted on the honesty and efficiency of
the valuer in Hanbridge, a lifelong friend of his own, who had for a
specially low fee put a price on the house at Bycars and its contents
for the purpose of a division between Louis and Julian. And now, as
previously with Louis, Rachel failed to comprehend how the valuer, if
he had been favourably disposed towards Louis, as Batchgrew averred,
could at the same time have behaved honestly towards Julian. But
neither Louis nor Batchgrew seemed to realize the point. They
both apparently flattered themselves with much simplicity upon the
partiality of the lifelong friend and valuer for Louis, without
perceiving the logical deduction that if he was partial he was a
rascal. Further, Thomas Batchgrew "rubbed Rachel the wrong way" by
subtly emphasizing his own marvellous abilities as a trustee and
executor, and by assuring Louis repeatedly that all conceivable books
of account, correspondence, and documents were open for his inspection
at any time. Batchgrew, in Rachel's opinion, might as well have said,
"You naturally suspect me of being a knave, but I can prove to you
that you are wrong."
Finally, they came to the grand total of Louis' inheritance, which
Rachel had known by heart for several days past; yet Batchgrew rolled
it out as a piece of tremendous news, and immediately afterwards
hinted that the sum represented less than the true worth of Louis'
inheritance, and that he, Batchgrew, as well as his lifelong friend
the valuer, had been influenced by a partiality for Louis. For
example, he had contrived to put all the house property, except the
house at Bycars, into Julian's share; which was extremely advantageous
for Louis because the federation of the Five Towns into one borough
had rendered property values the most capricious and least calculable
of all worldly possessions.... And Louis tried to smile knowingly at
the knowing trustee and executor with his amiable partiality for one
legatee as against the other. Louis' share, beyond the Bycars house,
was in the gilt-edged stock of limited companies which sold water and
other necessaries of life to the public on their own terms.
Rachel left the pair for a moment, and returned from upstairs with
a grey jacket of Louis' from which she had to unstitch the black
_crepe_ armlet announcing to the world Louis' grief for his dead
great-aunt; the period of mourning was long over, and it would not
have been quite nice for Louis to continue announcing his grief.
As she came back into the room she heard the word "debentures,"
and that single word changed her mood instantly from bland feminine
toleration to porcupinish defensiveness. She did not, as a fact, know
what debentures were. She could not for a fortune have defined
the difference between a debenture and a share. She only knew that
debentures were connected with "limited companies"--not waterworks
companies, which she classed with the Bank of England--but just any
limited companies, which were in her mind a bottomless pit for the
savings of the foolish. She had an idea that a debenture was, if
anything, more fatal than a share. She was, of course, quite wrong,
according to general principles; but, unfortunately, women, as all men
sooner or later learn, have a disconcerting habit of being right
in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. In a single moment, without
justification, she had in her heart declared war on all debentures.
And as soon as she gathered that Thomas Batchgrew was suggesting to
Louis the exchange of waterworks stock for seven per cent. debentures
in the United Midland Cinemas Corporation, Limited, she became more
than ever convinced that her instinct about debentures was but too
correct. She sat down primly, and detached the armlet, and removed all
the bits of black cotton from the sleeve, and never raised her head
nor offered a remark, but she was furious--furious to protect her
husband against sharks and against himself.
The conduct and demeanour of Thomas Batchgrew were now explained.
His visit, his flattery, his heartiness, his youthfulness, all had a
motive. He had safeguarded Louis' interests under the will in order
to rob him afterwards as a cinematograph speculator. The thing was
as clear as daylight. And yet Louis did not seem to see it. Louis
listened to Batchgrew's ingenious arguments with naive interest and
was obviously impressed. When Batchgrew called him "a business man as
smart as they make 'em," and then proved that the money so invested
would be as safe as in a stocking, Louis agreed with a great air of
acumen that certainly it would. When Batchgrew pointed out that, under
the proposed new investment, Louis would be receiving in income thirty
or thirty-five shillings for every pound under the old investments,
Louis' eye glistened--positively glistened! Rachel trembled. She saw
her husband beggared, and there was nothing that frightened her more
than the prospect of Louis without a reserve of private income. She
did not argue the position--she simply knew that Louis without sure
resources behind him would be a very dangerous and uncertain Louis,
perhaps a tragic Louis. She frankly admitted this to herself. And old
Batchgrew went on talking and inveigling until Rachel was ready to
believe that the device of debentures had been originally invented by
Thomas Batchgrew himself with felonious intent.
An automobile hooted in the street.
"Well, ye'll think it over," said Thomas Batchgrew.
"Oh I _will_!" said Louis eagerly.
And Rachel asked herself, almost shaking--"Is it possible that he is
such a simpleton?"
"Only I must know by Tuesday," said Thomas Batchgrew. "I thought I'd
give ye th' chance, but I can't keep it open later than Tuesday."
"Thanks, awfully," said Louis. "I'm very much obliged for the offer.
I'll let you know--before Tuesday."
Rachel frowned as she folded up the jacket. If, however, the two men
could have seen into her mind they would have perceived symptoms of
danger more agitating than one little frown.
"Of course," said Thomas Batchgrew easily, with a short laugh, in the
lobby, "if it hadna been for _her_ making away with that nine
hundred and sixty-odd pound, you'd ha' had a round sum o' thousands to
invest. I've been thinking o'er that matter, and all I can see for it
is as her must ha' thrown th' money into th' fire in mistake for th'
envelope, or with th' envelope. That's all as I can see for it."
Louis flushed slightly as he slapped his thigh.
"Never thought of that!" he cried. "It very probably _was_ that.
Strange it never occurred to me!"
Rachel said nothing. She had extreme difficulty in keeping control of
herself while old Batchgrew, with numerous senile precautions, took
his slow departure. She forgot that she was a hostess and a woman of
"Hello! What's that?" Rachel asked, in a self-conscious voice, when
they were in the parlour again.
Louis had almost surreptitiously taken an envelope from his pocket,
and was extracting a paper from it.
On finding themselves alone they had not followed their usual
custom of bursting into comment, favourable or unfavourable, on the
departed--a practice due more to a desire to rouse and enjoy each
other's individualities than to a genuine interest in the third
person. Nor had they impulsively or deliberately kissed, as they
were liable to do after release from a spell of worldliness. On the
contrary, both were still constrained, as if the third person was
still with them. The fact was that there were two other persons in
the room, darkly discerned by Louis and Rachel--namely, a different,
inimical Rachel and a different, inimical Louis. All four, the seen
and the half-seen, walked stealthily, like rival beasts in the edge of
"Oh!" said Louis with an air of nonchalance. "It came by the last post
while old Batch was here, and I just shoved it into my pocket."
The arrivals of the post were always interesting to them, for during
the weeks after marriage letters are apt to be more numerous than
usual, and to contain delicate and enchanting surprises. Both of
them were always strictly ceremonious in the handling of each other's
letters, and yet both deprecated this ceremoniousness in the beloved.
Louis urged Rachel to open his letters without scruple, and Rachel
did the same to Louis. But both--Louis by chivalry and Rachel by
pride--were prevented from acting on the invitation. The envelope in
Louis' hand did not contain a letter, but only a circular. The fact
that the flap of the envelope was unsealed and the stamp a
mere halfpenny ought rightly to have deprived the packet of all
significance as a subject of curiosity. Nevertheless, the different,
inimical Rachel, probably out of sheer perversity, went up to Louis
and looked over his shoulder as he read the communication, which was a
printed circular, somewhat yellowed, with blanks neatly filled in, and
the whole neatly signed by a churchwarden, informing Louis that his
application for sittings at St. Luke's Church (commonly called the Old
Church) had been granted. It is to be noted that, though applications
for sittings in the Old Church were not overwhelmingly frequent, and
might indeed very easily have been coped with by means of autograph
replies, the authorities had a sufficient sense of dignity always to
circularize the applicants.
This document, harmless enough, and surely a proof of laudable
aspirations in Louis, gravely displeased the different, inimical
Rachel, and was used by her for bellicose purposes.
"So that's it, is it?" she said ominously.
"But wasn't it understood that we were to go to the Old Church?" said
the other Louis, full of ingenious innocence.
"Oh! Was it?"
"Didn't I mention it?"
"I don't remember."
"I'm sure I did."
The truth was that Louis had once casually remarked that he supposed
they would attend the Old Church. Rachel would have joyously attended
any church or any chapel with him. At Knype she had irregularly
attended the Bethesda Chapel--sometimes (in the evenings) with her
father, oftener alone, never with her brother. During her brief
employment with Mrs. Maldon she had been only once to a place of
worship, the new chapel in Moorthorne Road, which was the nearest to
Bycars and had therefore been favoured by Mrs. Maldon when her
limbs were stiff. In the abstract she approved of religious rites.
Theologically her ignorance was such that she could not have
distinguished between the tenets of church and the tenets of chapel,
and this ignorance she shared with the large majority of the serious
inhabitants of the Five Towns. Why, then, should she have "pulled a
face" (as the saying down there is) at the Old Parish Church?
One reason, which would have applied equally to church or chapel, was
that she was disconcerted and even alarmed by Louis' manifest tendency
to settle down into utter correctness. Louis had hitherto been a
devotee of joy--never as a bachelor had he done aught to increase the
labour of churchwardens--and it was somehow as a devotee of joy that
Rachel had married him. Rachel had been settled down all her life, and
naturally desired and expected that an unsettling process should now
occur in her career. It seemed to her that in mere decency Louis
might have allowed at any rate a year or two to pass before occupying
himself so stringently with her eternal welfare. She belonged to the
middle class (intermediate between the industrial and the aristocratic
employing) which is responsible for the Five Towns' reputation for
joylessness, the class which sticks its chin out and gets things done
(however queer the things done may be), the class which keeps the
district together and maintains its solidity, the class which is
ashamed of nothing but idleness, frank enjoyment, and the caprice of
the moment. (Its idiomatic phrase for expressing the experience of
gladness, "I sang 'O be joyful,'" alone demonstrates its unwillingness
to rejoice.) She had espoused the hedonistic class (always secretly
envied by the other), and Louis' behaviour as a member of that class
had already begun to disappoint her. Was it fair of him to say in his
conduct: "The fun is over. We must be strictly conventional now"? His
costly caprices for Llandudno and the pleasures of idleness were quite
beside the point.
Another reason for her objection to Louis' overtures to the Old Church
was that they increased her suspicion of his snobbishness. No person
nourished from infancy in chapel can bring himself to believe that
the chief motive of church-goers is not the snobbish motive of social
propriety. And dissenters are so convinced that, if chapel means
salvation in the next world, church means salvation in this, that to
this day, regardless of the feelings of their pastors, they will go
to church once in their lives--to get married. At any rate, Rachel was
positively sure that no anxiety about his own soul or about hers had
led Louis to join the Old Church.
"Have you been confirmed?" she asked.
"Yes, of course," Louis replied politely.
She did not like that "of course."
"Shall I have to be?"
"I don't know."
"Well," said she, "I can tell you one thing--I shan't be."
Rachel went on--
"You aren't really going to throw your money away on those debenture
things of Mr. Batchgrew's, are you?"
Louis now knew the worst, and he had been suspecting it. Rachel's tone
fully displayed her sentiments, and completed the disclosure that "the
little thing" was angry and aggressive. (In his mind Louis regarded
her at moments, as "the little thing.") But his own politeness was
so profoundly rooted that practically no phenomenon of rudeness could
"No," he said, "I'm not going to 'throw my money away' on them."
"That's all right, then," she said, affecting not to perceive his
drift. "I thought you were."
"But I propose to put my money into them, subject to anything you, as
a financial expert, may have to say."
Nervously she had gone to the window and was pretending to straighten
"I don't think you need to make fun of me," she said. "You think I
don't notice when you make fun of me. But I do--always."
"Look here, young 'un," Louis suddenly began to cajole, very
"I'm about as old as you are," said she, "and perhaps in some ways a
bit older. And I must say I really wonder at you being ready to help
Mr. Batchgrew after the way he insulted me in the cinema."
"Insulted you in the cinema!" Louis cried, genuinely startled, and
then somewhat hurt because Rachel argued like a woman instead of like
a man. In reflecting upon the excellences of Rachel he had often
said to himself that her unique charm consisted in the fact that she
combined the attractiveness of woman with the powerful commonsense of
man. In common with a whole enthusiastic army of young husbands he had
been convinced that his wife was the one female creature on earth to
whom you could talk as you would to a male. "Oh!" he murmured.
"Have you forgotten it, then?" she asked coldly. To herself she was
saying: "Why am I behaving like this? After all, he's done no harm
yet." But she had set out, and she must continue, driven by the
terrible fear of what he might do. She stared at the blind. Through a
slit of window at one side of it she could see the lamp-post and the
iron kerb of the pavement.
"But that's all over long ago," he protested amiably. "Just look how
friendly you were with him yourself over supper! Besides--"
"Besides what? I wasn't friendly. I was only polite. I had to be.
Nobody's called Mr. Batchgrew worse names than you have. But you
forget. Only I don't forget. There's lots of things I don't forget,
although I don't make a song about them. I shan't forget in a hurry
how you let go of my bike without telling me and I fell all over the
road. I know I'm lots more black and blue even than I was."
If Rachel would but have argued according to his rules of debate,
Louis was confident that he could have conducted the affair to a
proper issue. But she would not. What could he say? In a flash he
saw a vista of, say, forty years of conjugal argument with a woman
incapable of reason, and trembled. Then he looked again, and saw
the lines of Rachel's figure in her delightful short skirt and was
reassured. But still he did not know what to say. Rachel spared
him further cogitation on that particular aspect of the question
by turning round and exclaiming, passionately, with a break in her
"Can't you see that he'll swindle you out of the money?"
It seemed to her that the security of their whole future depended on
her firmness and strong sagacity at that moment. She felt herself to
be very wise and also, happily, very vigorous. But at the same time
she was afflicted by a kind of despair at the thought that Louis had
indeed been, and still was, ready to commit the disastrous folly of