Part 5 out of 7
confiding money to Thomas Batchgrew for investment. And as Louis had
had a flashing vision of the future, so did Rachel now have such a
vision. But hers was more terrible than his. Louis foresaw merely
vexation. Rachel foresaw ruin doubtfully staved off by eternal
vigilance on her part and by nothing else--an instant's sleepiness,
and they might be in the gutter and she the wife of a ne'er-do-well.
She perceived that she must be reconciled to a future in which the
strain of intense vigilance could never once be relaxed. Strange that
a creature so young and healthy and in love should be so pessimistic,
but thus it was! She remembered in in spite of herself the warnings
against Louis which she had been compelled to listen to in the
"Odd, of course!" said Louis. "But I can't exactly see how he'll
swindle me out of the money! A debenture is a debenture."
"Do you know what a debenture is, my child?"
"I don't need to know what a debenture is, when Mr. Batchgrew's mixed
up in it."
Louis suppressed a sigh. He first thought of trying to explain to her
just what a debenture was. Then he abandoned the enterprise as too
complicated, and also as futile. Though he should prove to her that
a debenture combined the safety of the Bank of England with the
brilliance of a successful gambling transaction, she would not budge.
He was acquiring valuable and painful knowledge concerning women every
second. He grew sad, not simply with the weight of this new knowledge,
but more because, though he had envisaged certain difficulties of
married existence, he had not envisaged this difficulty. He had not
dreamed that a wife would demand a share, and demand it furiously, in
the control of his business affairs. He had sincerely imagined
that wives listened with much respect and little comprehension when
business was on the carpet, content to murmur soothingly from time to
time, "Just as you think best, dear." Life had unpleasantly astonished
It was on the tip of his tongue to say to Rachel, with steadying
"You mustn't forget that I know a bit about these things, having spent
years of my young life in a bank."
But a vague instinct told him that to draw attention to his career in
the bank might be unwise--at any rate, in principle.
"Can't you see," Rachel charged again, "that Mr. Batchgrew has only
been flattering you all this time so as to get hold of your money? And
wasn't it just like him to begin again harping on the electricity?>"
"Well, he couldn't bear you before--if you'd only heard the things he
used to say!--and now he simply licks your boots."
"What things did he say?" Louis asked, disturbed.
"Oh, never mind!"
Louis became rather glum and obstinate.
"The money will be perfectly safe," he insisted, "and our income
pretty nearly doubled. I suppose I ought to know more about these
things than you."
"What's the use of income being doubled if you lose the capital?"
Rachel snapped, now taking a horrid, perverse pleasure in the perilous
altercation. "And if it's so safe why is he ready to give you so much
The worst of women, Louis reflected, is that in the midst of a silly
argument that you can shatter in ten words they will by a fluke insert
some awkward piece of genuine ratiocination, the answer to which must
necessarily be lengthy and ineffective.
"It's no good arguing," he said pleasantly, and then repeated, "I
ought to know more about these things than you."
Rachel raised her voice in exasperation--
"I don't see it, I don't see it at all. If it hadn't been for me you'd
have thrown up your situation--and a nice state of affairs there would
have been then! And how much money would you have wasted on holidays
and so on and so on if I hadn't stopped you, I should like to know!"
Louis was still more astonished. Indeed, he was rather nettled. His
urbanity was unimpaired, but he permitted himself a slight acidity of
tone as he retorted with gentle malice--
"Well, you can't help the colour of your hair. So I'll keep my nerve."
"I didn't expect to be insulted!" cried Rachel, flushing far redder
than that rich hair of hers, and paced pompously out of the room, her
face working violently. The door was ajar. She passed Mrs. Tams on the
stairs, blindly, with lowered head.
In the conjugal bedroom, full of gas-glare and shadows, there were two
old women. One was Mrs. Tams, ministering; the other was Rachel Fores,
once and not long ago the beloved and courted girlish Louise of a
chevalier, now aged by all the sorrow of the world. She lay in bed--in
her bed nearest the fireplace and farthest from the door.
She had undressed herself with every accustomed ceremony, arranging
each article of attire, including the fine frock left on the bed,
carefully in its place, as is meet in a chamber where tidiness depends
on the loyal cooperation of two persons, but through her tears.
She had slipped sobbing into bed. The other bed was empty, and its
emptiness seemed sinister to her. Would it ever be occupied again?
Impossible that it should ever be occupied again! Its rightful
occupant was immeasurably far off, along miles of passages, down
leagues of stairs, separated by impregnable doors, in another
universe, the universe of the ground floor. Of course she might have
sprung up, put on her enchanting dressing-gown, tripped down a few
steps in a moment of time, and peeped in at the parlour door--just
peeped in, in that magic ribboned peignoir, and glanced--and the whole
planet would have been reborn. But she could not. If the salvation of
the human race had depended on it, she could not--partly because she
was a native of the Five Towns, where such things are not done, and no
doubt partly because she was just herself.
She was now more grieved than angry with Louis. He had been wrong; he
was a foolish, unreliable boy--but he was a boy. Whereas she was his
mother, and ought to have known better. Yes, she had become his mother
in the interval. For herself she experienced both pity and anger. What
angered her was her clumsiness. Why had she lost her temper and her
head? She saw clearly how she might have brought him round to her view
with a soft phrase, a peculiar inflection, a tiny appeal, a caress,
a mere dimpling of the cheek. She saw him revolving on her little
finger.... She knew all things now because she was so old. And then
suddenly she was bathing luxuriously in self-pity, and young and
imperious, and violently resentful of the insult which he had put upon
her--an insult which recalled the half-forgotten humiliations of her
school-days, when loutish girls had baptized her with the name of a
vegetable.... And then, again suddenly, she deeply desired that Louis
should come upstairs and bully her.
She attached a superstitious and terrible importance to the tragical
episode in the parlour because it was their first quarrel as husband
and wife. True, she had stormed at him before their engagement, but
even then he had kept intact his respect for her, whereas now, a
husband, he had shamed her. The breach, she knew, could never be
closed. She had only to glance at the empty bed to be sure that it was
eternal. It had been made slowly yet swiftly; and it was complete and
unbridgable ere she had realized its existence. When she contrasted
the idyllic afternoon with the tragedy of the night, she was astounded
by the swiftness of the change. The catastrophe lay, not in the
threatened loss of vast sums of money and consequent ruin--that had
diminished to insignificance!--but in the breach.
And then Mrs. Tams had inserted herself in the bedroom. Mrs. Tams knew
or guessed everything. And she would not pretend that she did not; and
Rachel would not pretend--did not even care to pretend, for Mrs. Tams
was so unimportant that nobody minded her. Mrs. Tams had heard and
seen. She commiserated. She stroked timidly with her gnarled hand the
short, fragile sleeve of the nightgown, whereat Rachel sobbed afresh,
with more plenteous tears, and tried to articulate a word, and could
not till the third attempt. The word was "handkerchief." She was not
weeping in comfort. Mrs. Tams was aware of the right drawer and
drew from it a little white thing--yet not so little, for Rachel was
Rachel!--and shook out its quadrangular folds, and it seemed beautiful
in the gaslight; and Rachel took it and sobbed "Thank you."
Mrs. Tams rose higher than even a general servant; she was the
soubrette, the confidential maid, the very echo of the young and
haughty mistress, leagued with the worshipped creature against the
wickedness and wile of a whole sex. Mrs. Tams had no illusions save
the sublime illusion that her mistress was an angel and a martyr. Mrs.
Tams had been married, and she had seen a daughter married. She was
an authority on first quarrels and could and did tell tales of first
quarrels--tales in which the husband, while admittedly an utterly
callous monster, had at the same time somehow some leaven of decency.
Soon she was launched in the epic recital of the birth and death of
a grandchild; Rachel, being a married women like the rest, could
properly listen to every interesting and recondite detail. Rachel
sobbed and sympathized with the classic tale. And both women, as it
was unrolled, kept well in their minds the vision of the vile man,
mysterious and implacable, alone in the parlour. Occasionally Mrs.
Tams listened for a footstep, ready discreetly to withdraw at the
slightest symptom on the stairs. Once when she did this, Rachel
murmured, weakly, "He won't--" and then lapsed into new weeping. And
after a little time Mrs. Tams departed.
Mrs. Tams had decided to undertake an enterprise involving extreme
gallantry--surpassing the physical. She went downstairs and stood
outside the parlour door, which was not quite shut. Within the
parlour, or throne-room, existed a beautiful and superior being, full
of grace and authority, who belonged to a race quite different from
her own, who was beyond her comprehension, who commanded her and kept
her alive and paid money to her, who accepted her devotion casually
as a right, who treated her as a soft cushion between himself and
the drift and inconvenience of the world, and who occasionally, as a
supreme favour, caught her a smart slap on the back, which flattered
her to excess. She went into the throne-room if she was called
thither, or if she had cleansing or tidying work there; she spoke to
the superior being if he spoke to her. But she had never till then
conceived the breath-taking scheme of entering the throne-room for
a purpose of her own, and addressing the superior being without an
invitation to do so.
Nevertheless, since by long practice she was courageous, she meant to
execute the scheme. And she began by knocking at the door. Although
Rachel had seriously warned her that for a domestic servant to
knock at the parlour door was a grave sin, she simply could not help
knocking. Not to knock seemed to her wantonly sacrilegious. Thus she
knocked, and a voice told her to come in.
There was the superior being, his back to the fire and his legs
She curtsied--another sin according to the new code. Then she
discovered that she was inarticulate.
Words burst from her--
"Her's crying her eyes out up yon, mester."
And Mrs. Tams also snivelled.
The superior being frowned and said testily, yet not without a touch
of careless toleration--
"Oh, get away, you silly old fool of a woman!"
Mrs. Tarns got away, not entirely ill-content.
In the lobby she heard an unusual rapping on the glass of the front
door, and sharply opened it to inform the late disturber that there
existed a bell and a knocker for respectable people. A shabby youth
gave her a note for "Louis Fores, Esq.," and said that there was an
answer. So that she was forced to renew the enterprise of entering the
In another couple of minutes Louis was running upstairs. His wife
heard him, and shook in bed from excitement at the crisis which
approached. But she could never have divined the nature of the
phenomenon by which the unbridgable breach was about to be closed.
"Yes," she whimpered. Then she ventured to spy at his face through
an interstice of the bedclothes, and saw thereon a most queer, white
"Some one's just brought this. Read it."
He gave her the note, and she deciphered it as well as she could--
DEAR Louis,--If you aren't gone to bed I want to see you
to-night about that missing money of aunt's. I've something I
must tell you and Rachel. I'm at the "Three Tuns."
"But what does he mean?" demanded Rachel, roused from her heavy mood
"I don't know."
"But what can he mean?" she insisted.
"Haven't a notion."
"But he must mean something!"
"Well, what should _you_ say he means?"
"How very strange!" Rachel murmured, not attempting to answer the
question. "And the 'Three Tuns'! Why does he write from the 'Three
Tuns'? What's he doing at the 'Three Tuns'? Isn't it a very low
public-house? And everybody thought he was still in South Africa!... I
suppose, then, it _must_ have been him that we saw to-night."
"You may bet it was."
"Then why didn't he come straight here? That's what I want to know. He
couldn't have called before we got here, because if he had Mrs. Tams
would have told us."
"Didn't you think Mr. Batchgrew looked very _queer_ when you
mentioned Julian to-night?" Rachel continued to express her curiosity
"No. I didn't notice anything particular," Louis replied vaguely.
Throughout the conversation his manner was self-conscious. Rachel
observed it, while feigning the contrary, and in her turn grew uneasy
and even self-conscious also. Further, she had the feeling that Louis
was depending upon her for support, and perhaps for initiative. His
glance, though furtive, had the appealing quality which rendered him
sometimes so exquisitely wistful to her. As he stood over her by the
bed, he made a peculiar compound of the negligent, dominant masculine
and the clinging feminine.
"And why didn't he let anybody know of his return?" Rachel went on.
Louis, veering towards the masculine, clenched the immediate point--
"The question before the meeting is," he smiled demurely, "what answer
am I to send?"
"I suppose you must see him to-night."
"Nothing else for it, is there? Well, I'll scribble him a bit of a
"But I shan't see him, Louis."
In an instant Rachel thought to herself: "He doesn't want me to see
Aloud she said: "I should have to dress myself all over again.
Besides, I'm not fit to be seen."
She was referring, without any apparent sort of shame, to the redness
of her eyes.
"Well, I'll see him by myself, then."
Louis turned to leave the bedroom. Whereat Rachel was very
disconcerted and disappointed. Although the startling note from Julian
had alarmed her and excited in her profound apprehensions whose very
nature she would scarcely admit to herself, the main occupation of her
mind was still her own quarrel with Louis. The quarrel was now over,
for they had conversed in quite sincere tones of friendliness, but she
had desired and expected an overt, tangible proof and symbol of peace.
That proof and symbol was a kiss.
Louis was at the door ... he was beyond the door ... she was lost.
"Louis!" she cried.
He put his face in at the door.
"Will you just pass me my hand-mirror. It's on the dressing-table."
Louis was thrilled by this simple request. The hand-mirror had arrived
in the house as a wedding-present. It was backed with tortoise-shell,
and seemingly the one thing that had reconciled Rachel the
downright to the possession of a hand-mirror was the fact that the
tortoise-shell was real tortoise-shell. She had "made out" that a
hand-mirror was too frivolous an object for the dressing-table of
a serious Five Towns woman. She had always referred to it as "the"
hand-mirror--as though disdaining special ownership. She had derided
it once by using it in front of Louis with the mimic foolish graces of
an empty-headed doll. And now she was asking for it because she wanted
it; and she had said "my" hand-mirror!
This revelation of the odalisque in his Rachel enchanted Louis, and
incidentally it also enchanted Rachel. She had employed a desperate
remedy, and the result on both of them filled her with a most
surprising gladness. Louis judged it to be deliciously right that
Rachel should be anxious to know whether her weeping had indeed made
her into an object improper for the beholding of the male eye, and
Rachel to her astonishment shared his opinion. She was "vain," and
they were both well content. In taking it she touched his hand. He
bent and kissed her. Each of them was ravaged by formidable fears for
the future, tremendously disturbed in secret by the mysterious word
from Julian; and yet that kiss stood unique among their kisses, and
in their simplicity they knew not why. And as they kissed they hated
Julian, and the past, and the whole world, for thus coming between
them and deranging their love. They would, had it been possible, have
sold all the future for tranquillity in that moment.
Going downstairs, Louis found Mrs. Tarns standing in the back part of
the lobby between the parlour door and the kitchen; obviously she had
stationed herself there in order to keep watch on the messenger from
the "Three Tuns." As the master of the house approached with dignity
the foot of the stairs, the messenger stirred, and in the classic
manner of messengers fingered uneasily his hat. The fingers were
dirty. The hat was dirty and shabby. It had been somebody else's hat
before coming into the possession of the messenger. The same applied
to his jacket and trousers. The jacket was well cut, but green; the
trousers, with their ragged, muddy edges, yet betrayed a pattern of
distinction. Round his neck the messenger wore a thin muffler, and
on his feet an exhausted pair of tennis-shoes. These noiseless shoes
accentuated and confirmed the stealthy glance of his eyes. Except for
an unshaven chin, and the confidence-destroying quality that lurked
subtly in his aspect, he was not repulsive to look upon. His features
were delicate enough, his restless mouth was even pretty, and
his carriage graceful. He had little of the coarseness of
industrialism--probably because he was not industrial. His age was
about twenty, and he might have sold _Signals_ in the street, or
run illegal errands for street-bookmakers. At any rate, it was certain
that he was not above earning a chance copper from a customer of the
"Three Tuns." His clear destiny was never to inspire respect or trust,
nor to live regularly (save conceivably in prison), nor to do any
honest daily labour. And if he did not know this, he felt it. All his
movements were those of an outcast who both feared and execrated the
organism that was rejecting him.
Louis, elegant, self-possessed, and superior, passed into the parlour
exactly as if the messenger had been invisible. He was separated from
the messenger by an immeasurable social prestige. He was raised to
such an altitude above the messenger that he positively could not see
the messenger with the naked eye. And yet for one fraction of a second
he had the illusion of being so intimately akin to the messenger
that a mere nothing might have pushed him into those vile clothes
and endowed him with that furtive look and that sinister aspect of
a helot. For one infinitesimal instant he was the messenger; and
shuddered. Then the illusion as swiftly faded, and--such being Louis'
happy temperament--was forgotten. He disappeared into the parlour,
took a piece of paper and an envelope from the small writing-table
behind Rachel's chair, and wrote a short note to Julian--a note from
which facetiousness was not absent--inviting him to come at once. He
rang the bell. Mrs. Tams entered, full of felicity because the great
altercation was over and concord established.
"Give this to that chap," said Louis, casually imperative, holding out
the note but scarcely glancing at Mrs. Tams.
"Yes, sir," said Mrs. Tarns with humble eagerness, content to be a
very minor tool in the hidden designs of the exalted.
"And then you can go to bed."
"Oh! It's of no consequence, I'm sure, sir," Mrs. Tams answered.
Louis heard her say importantly and condescendingly to the messenger--
"Here ye are, young man."
She shut the front door as though much relieved to get such a source
of peril and infection out of the respectable house.
Immediately afterwards strange things happened to Louis in the
parlour. He had intended to return at once to his wife in order to
continue the vague, staggered conversation about Julian's thunderbolt.
But he discovered that he could not persuade himself to rejoin Rachel.
A self-consciousness, growing every moment more acute and troublesome,
prevented him from so doing. He was afraid that he could not discuss
the vanished money without blushing, and it happened rarely that he
lost control of his features, which indeed he could as a rule mould
to the expression of a cherub whenever desirable. So he sat down in
a chair, the first chair to hand, any chair, and began to reflect. Of
course he was safe. The greatest saint on earth could not have been
safer than he was from conviction of a crime. He might be suspected,
but nothing could possibly be proved against him. Moreover, despite
his self-consciousness, he felt innocent; he really did feel innocent,
and even ill-used. The money had forced itself upon him in an
inexcusable way; he was convinced that he had never meant to
misappropriate it; assuredly he had received not a halfpenny of
benefit from it. The fault was entirely the old lady's. Yes, he was
innocent and he was safe.
Nevertheless, he did not at all like the resuscitation of the affair.
The affair had been buried. How characteristic of the inconvenient
Julian to rush in from South Africa and dig it up! Everybody concerned
had decided that the old lady on the night of her attack had not been
responsible for her actions. She had annihilated the money--whether by
fire, as Batchgrew had lately suggested, or otherwise, did not matter.
Or, if she had not annihilated the money, she had "done something"
with it--something unknown and unknowable. Such was the acceptable
theory, in which Louis heartily concurred. The loss was his--at least
half the loss was his--and others had no right to complain. But Julian
was without discretion. Within twenty-four hours Julian might well set
the whole district talking.
Louis was dimly aware that the district already had talked, but he was
not aware to what extent it had talked. Neither he nor anybody else
was aware how the secret had escaped out of the house. Mrs. Tarns
would have died rather than breathe a word. Rachel, naturally, had
said naught; nor had Louis. Old Batchgrew had decided that his highest
interest also was to say naught, and he had informed none save Julian.
Julian might have set the secret free in South Africa, but in a highly
distorted form it had been current in certain strata of Five Towns
society long before it could have returned from South Africa. The
rough, commonsense verdict of those select few who had winded the
secret was simply that "there had been some hanky-panky," and that
beyond doubt Louis was "at the bottom of it," but that it had little
importance, as Mrs. Maldon was dead, poor thing. As for Julian, "a
rough customer, though honest as the day," he was reckoned to be
capable of protecting his own interests.
And then, amid all his apprehensions, a new hope sprouted in Louis'
mind. Perhaps Julian was acquainted with some fact that might lead to
the recovery of a part of the money. Had Louis not always held
that the pile of notes which had penetrated into his pocket did
not represent the whole of the nine hundred and sixty-five pounds?
Conceivably it represented about half of the total, in which case a
further sum of, say, two hundred and fifty pounds might be coming to
Louis. Already he was treating this two hundred and fifty pounds as
a windfall, and wondering in what most pleasant ways he could employ
it!... But with what kind of fact could Julian be acquainted?...
Had Julian been dishonest? Louis would have liked to think Julian
dishonest, but he could not. Then what ...?
He heard movements above. And the front gate creaked. As if a spring
had been loosed, he jumped from the chair and ran upstairs--away from
the arriving Julian and towards his wife. Rachel was just getting up.
"Don't trouble," he said. "I'll see him. I'll deal with him. Much
better for you to stay in bed."
He perceived that he did not want Rachel to hear what Julian had to
say until after he had heard it himself.
"Do you think so?... What have you been doing? I thought you were
coming up again at once."
"I had one or two little things--"
A terrific knock resounded on the front door.
"There he is!" Louis muttered, as it were aghast.
Julian Maldon faced Louis in the parlour. Louis had conducted him
there without the assistance of Mrs. Tams, who had been not merely
advised, but commanded, to go to bed. Julian had entered the house
like an exasperated enemy--glum, suspicious, and ferocious. His mien
seemed to say: "You wanted me to come, and I've come. But mind you
don't drive me to extremities." Impossible to guess from his grim
face that he had asked permission to come! Nevertheless he had shaken
Louis' hand with a ferocious sincerity which Louis felt keenly the
next morning. He was the same Julian except that he had grown a brown
beard. He had exactly the same short, thick-set figure, and the same
defiant stare. South Africa had not changed him. No experience could
change him. He would have returned from ten years at the North Pole
or at the Equator, with savages or with uncompromising intellectuals,
just the same Julian. He was one of those beings who are violently
themselves all the time. By some characteristic social clumsiness
he had omitted to remove his overcoat in the lobby. And now, in
the parlour, he could not get it off. As a man seated, engaged in
conversation by a woman standing, forgets to rise at once and then
cannot rise, finding himself glued to the chair, so was Julian with
his overcoat; to take it off he would have had to flay himself alive.
"Won't you take off your overcoat?" Louis suggested.
With his instinctive politeness Louis turned to improve the fire.
And as he poked among the coals he said, in the way of amiable
"How's South Africa?"
"All right," replied Julian, who hated to impart his sensations. If
Julian had witnessed Napoleon's retreat from Moscow he would have come
to the Five Towns and, if questioned--not otherwise--would have said
that it was all right.
Louis, however, suspected that his brevity was due to Julian's
resentment of any inquisitiveness concerning his doings in South
Africa; and he therefore at once abandoned South Africa as a subject
of talk, though he was rather curious to know what, indeed, Julian had
been about in South Africa for six mortal months. Nobody in the Five
Towns knew for certain what Julian had been about in South Africa. It
was understood that he had gone there as a commercial traveller
for his own wares, when his business was in a highly unsatisfactory
condition, and that he had meant to stay for only a month. The
excursion had been deemed somewhat mad, but not more mad than sundry
other deeds of Julian. Then Julian's manager, Foulger, had (it
appeared) received authority to assume responsible charge of the
manufactory until further notice. From that moment the business had
prospered: a result at which nobody was surprised, because Foulger was
notoriously a "good man" who had hitherto been baulked in his ideas by
an obstinate young employer.
In a community of stiff-necked employers, Julian already held a high
place for the quality of being stiff-necked. Jim Horrocleave, for
example, had a queer, murderous manner with customers and with
"hands," but Horrocleave was friendly towards scientific ideas in the
earthenware industry, and had even given half a guinea to the fund for
encouraging technical education in the district. Whereas Julian Maldon
not only terrorized customers and work-people (the latter nevertheless
had a sort of liking for him), but was bitingly scornful of "cranky
chemists," or "Germans," as he called the scientific educated experts.
He was the pure essence of the British manufacturer. He refused to
make what the market wanted, unless the market happened to want what
he wanted to make. He hated to understand the reasons underlying
the processes of manufacture, or to do anything which had not been
regularly done for at least fifty years. And he accepted orders like
insults. The wonder was, not that he did so little business, but that
he did so much. Still, people did respect him. His aunt Maldon, with
her skilled habit of finding good points in mankind, had thought that
he must be remarkably intelligent because he was so rude.
Beyond a vague rumour that Julian had established a general pottery
agency in Cape Town with favourable prospects, no further news of
him had reached England. But of course it was admitted that his
inheritance had definitely saved the business, and also much improved
his situation in the eyes of the community ... And now he had achieved
a reappearance which in mysteriousness excelled even his absence.
"So you see we're installed here," said Louis, when he had finished
with the fire.
"Aye!" muttered Julian dryly, and shut his lips.
Louis tried no more conversational openings. He was afraid. He waited
for Julian's initiative as for an earthquake; for he knew now at the
roots of his soul that the phrasing of the note was misleading, and
that Julian had come to charge him with having misappropriated the sum
of nine hundred and sixty-five pounds. He had, in reality, surmised as
much on first reading the note, but somehow he had managed to put away
the surmise as absurd and incredible.
After a formidable silence Julian said savagely--
"Look here. I've got something to tell you. I've written it all down,
and I thought to send it ye by post. But after I'd written it I said
to myself I'd tell it ye face to face or I'd die for it. And so here I
"Oh!" Louis murmured. He would have liked to be genially facetious,
but his mouth was dried up. He could not ask any questions. He waited.
"Where's missis?" Julian demanded.
Louis started, not instantly comprehending.
"Rachel? She's--she's in bed. She'd gone to bed before you sent
"Well, I'll thank ye to get her up, then!" Julian pronounced. "She's
got to hear this at first hand, not at second." His gaze expressed a
frank distrust of Louis.
At this moment Rachel came into the parlour, apparently fully dressed.
Her eyes were red, but her self-control was complete.
Julian glared at Louis as at a trapped liar.
"I thought ye said she was in bed."
"She was," said Louis. He could find nothing to say to his wife.
Rachel nonchalantly held out her hand.
"So you've come," she said.
"Aye!" said Julian gruffly, and served Rachel's hand as he had served
She winced without concealment.
"Was it you we saw going down Moorthorne Road to-night?" she asked.
"It was," said Julian, looking at the carpet.
"Well, why didn't you come in then?"
"I couldn't make up my mind, if you must know."
"Aren't you going to sit down?"
Julian sat down.
Louis reflected that women were astonishing and incalculable, and the
discovery seemed to him original, even profound. Imagine her tackling
Julian in this fashion, with no preliminaries! She might have seen
Julian last only on the previous day! The odalisque had vanished in
this chill and matter-of-fact housewife.
"And why were you at the 'Three Tuns'?" she went on.
Julian replied with extraordinary bitterness--
"I was at the 'Three Tuns' because I was at the 'Three Tuns.'"
"I see you've grown a beard," said Rachel.
"Happen I have," said Julian. "But what I say is, I've got something
to tell you two. I've written it all down and I thought to post it to
ye. But after I'd written it I says to myself, 'I'll tell 'em face to
face or I'll die for it.'"
"Is it about that money?" Rachel inquired.
"Then Mr. Batchgrew did write and tell you about it. Won't you take
that great, thick overcoat off?"
Julian jumped up as if in fury, pulled off the overcoat with violent
gestures, and threw in on the Chesterfield. Then he sat down again,
and, sticking out his chin, stared inimically at Louis.
Louis' throat was now so tight that he was nervously obliged to make
the motion of swallowing. He could look neither at Rachel nor at
Julian. He was nonplussed. He knew not what to expect nor what
he feared. He could not even be sure that what he feared was an
accusation. "I am safe. I am safe," he tried to repeat to himself,
deeply convinced, nevertheless, against his reason, that he was not
safe. The whole scene, every aspect of it, baffled and inexpressibly
Julian still stared, with mouth open, threatening. Then he slapped his
"Nay!" said he. "I shall read it to ye." And he drew some sheets of
foolscap from his pocket. He opened the sheets, and frowned at them,
and coughed. "Nay!" said he. "There's nothing else for it. I must
And he produced a charred pipe which might or might not have been
the gift of Mrs. Maldon, filled it, struck a match on his boot,
and turbulently puffed outrageous quantities of smoke. Louis, with
singular courage, lit a cigarette, which gave him a little ease of
demeanour, if not confidence.
And then at length Julian began to read--
"'Before I went to South Africa last autumn I found myself in
considerable business difficulties. The causes of said difficulties
were bad trade, unfair competition, and price-cutting at home and
abroad, especially in Germany, and the modern spirit of unrest among
the working-classes making it impossible for an employer to be master
on his own works. I was not insolvent, but I needed capital, the
life-blood of industry. In justice to myself I ought to explain that
my visit to South Africa was very carefully planned and thought out. I
had a good reason to believe that a lot of business in door-furniture
could be done there, and that I could obtain some capital from a
customer in Durban. I point this out merely because trade rivals have
tried to throw ridicule upon me for going out to South Africa when I
did. I must ask you to read carefully'--you see, this was a letter
to you," he interjected--"read carefully all that I say. I will now
"'When I came to Aunt Maldon's the night before I left for South
Africa I wanted a wash, and I went into the back room--I mean the room
behind the parlour--and took off my coat preparatory to going into
the scullery to perform my ablutions. While in the back room I noticed
that the picture nearest the cupboard opposite the door was hung very
crooked. When I came back to put my coat on again after washing, my
eye again caught the picture. There was a chair almost beneath it.
I got on the chair and put the picture into an horizontal position.
While I was standing on the chair I could see on the top of the
cupboard, where something white struck my attention. It was behind the
cornice of the cupboard, but I could see it. I took it off the top of
the cupboard and carefully scrutinized it by the gas, which, as you
know, is at the corner of the fireplace, close to the cupboard. It
was a roll consisting of Bank of England notes, to the value of four
hundred and fifty pounds. I counted them at once, while I was standing
on the chair. I then put them in the pocket of my coat which I had
already put on. I wish to point out that if the chair had not been
under the picture I should in all human probability not have attempted
to straighten the picture. Also--'"
"But surely, Julian," Louis interrupted him, in a constrained voice,
"you could have reached the picture without standing on the chair?" He
interrupted solely from a tremendous desire for speech. It would have
been impossible for him to remain silent. He had to speak or perish.
"I couldn't," Julian denied vehemently. "The picture's practically as
high as the top of the cupboard--or was."
"And could _you_ see on to the top of the cupboard from a chair?"
Louis, with a peculiar gaze, was apparently estimating Julian's total
height from the ground when raised on a chair.
Julian dashed down the papers.
"Here! Come and look for yourself!" he exclaimed with furious
pugnacity. "Come and look." He jumped up and moved towards the door.
Rachel and Louis followed him obediently. In the back room it was he
who struck a match and lighted the gas.
"You've shifted the picture!" he cried, as soon as the room was
"Yes, we have," Louis admitted.
"But there's where it was!" Julian almost shouted, pointing. "You
can't deny it! There's the marks. Are they as high as the top of
the cupboard, or aren't they?" Then he dragged along a chair to the
cupboard and stood on it, puffing at his pipe. "Can I see on to the
top of the cupboard or can't I?" he demanded. Obviously he could see
on to the top of the cupboard.
"I didn't think the top was so low," said Louis.
"Well, you shouldn't contradict," Julian chastised him.
"It's just as your great-aunt said," put in Rachel, in a meditative
tone. "I remember she told us she pushed a chair forward with her
knee. I dare say in getting on to the chair she knocked her elbow or
something against the picture, and no doubt she left the chair more or
less where she'd pushed it. That would be it."
"Did she say that to you?" Louis questioned Rachel.
"It doesn't matter much what she said," Julian growled. "That's how
it _was_, anyway. I'm telling you. I'm not here to listen to
"Well," said Louis amiably, "you put the notes into your pocket. What
Julian removed his pipe from his mouth.
"What then? I walked off with 'em."
"But you don't mean to tell us you meant--to appropriate them, Julian?
You don't mean that!" Louis spoke reassuringly, good-naturedly, and
with a slight superiority.
"No, I don't. I don't mean I appropriated 'em." Julian's voice rose
defiantly. "I mean I stole them.... I stole them, and what's more,
I meant to steal them. And so there ye are! But come back to the
parlour. I must finish my reading."
He strode away into the parlour, and the other two had no alternative
but to follow him. They followed him like guilty things; for the
manner of his confession was such as apparently to put his hearers,
more than himself, in the wrong. He confessed as one who accuses.
"Sit down," said he, in the parlour.
"But surely," Louis protested, "if you're serious--"
"If I'm serious, man! Do you take me for a bally mountebank? Do you
suppose I'm doing this for fun?"
"Well," said Louis, "if you _are_ serious, you needn't tell us
any more. We know, and that's enough, isn't it?"
Julian replied curtly, "You've got to hear me out."
And picking up his document from the floor, he resumed the perusal.
"'Also, if the gas hadn't been where it is, I should not have noticed
anything on the top of the cupboard. I took the notes because I was
badly in need of money, and also because I was angry at money being
left like that on the tops of cupboards. I had no idea Aunt Maldon was
such a foolish woman.'"
Louis interjected soothingly: "But you only meant to teach the old
lady a lesson and give the notes back."
"I didn't," said Julian, again extremely irritated. "Can't ye
understand plain English? I say I stole the money, and I meant to
steal it. Don't let me have to tell ye that any more. I'll go on: 'The
sight of the notes was too sore a temptation for me, and I yielded
to it. And all the more shame to me, for I had considered myself
an honest man up to that very hour. I never thought about the
consequences to my Aunt Maldon, nor how I was going to get rid of
the notes. I wanted money bad, and I took it. As soon as I'd left the
house I was stricken with remorse. I could not decide what to do. The
fact is I had no time to reflect until I was on the steamer, and
it was then too late. Upon arriving at Cape Town I found the cable
stating that Aunt Maldon was dead. I draw a veil over my state of
mind, which, however, does not concern you. I ought to have returned
to England at once, but I could not. I might have sent to Batchgrew
and told him to take half of four hundred and fifty pounds off my
share of Aunt Maldon's estate and put it into yours. But that would
not have helped my conscience. I had it on my conscience, as it might
have been on my stomach. I tried religion, but it was no good to me.
It was between a prayer-meeting and an experience-meeting at Durban
that I used part of the ill-gotten money. I had not touched it till
then. But two days later I got back the very note that I'd spent.
A prey to remorse, I wandered from town to town, trying to do
Rachel stood up.
It was the first time in her life that she had called him by his
"Give me that." As he hesitated, she added, "I want it."
He handed her the written confession.
"I simply can't bear to hear you reading it," said Rachel
passionately. "All about a prey to remorse and so on and so on! Why
do you want to confess? Why couldn't you have paid back the money and
have done with it, instead of all this fuss?"
"I must finish it now I've begun," Julian insisted sullenly.
"You'll do no such thing--not in my house."
And, repeating pleasurably the phrase "not in _my_ house," Rachel
stuck the confession into the fire, and feverishly forced it into the
red coals with lunges of the poker. When she turned away from the fire
she was flushing scarlet. Julian stood close by her on the hearth-rug.
"You don't understand," he said, with half-fearful resentment. "I had
to punish myself. I doubt I'm not a religious man, but I had to punish
myself. There's nobody in the world as I should hate confessing to as
much as Louis here, and so I said to myself, I said, 'I'll confess
to Louis.' I've been wandering about all the evening trying to bring
myself to do it.... Well, I've done it."
His voice trembled, and though the vibration in it was almost
imperceptible, it was sufficient to nullify the ridiculousness of
Julian's demeanour as a wearer of sackcloth, and to bring a sudden
lump into Rachel's throat. The comical absurdity of his bellicose
pride because he had accomplished something which he had sworn to
accomplish was extinguished by the absolutely painful sincerity of his
final words, which seemed somehow to damage the reputation of Louis.
Rachel could feel her emotion increasing, but she could not have
defined what her emotion was. She knew not what to do. She was in the
midst of a new and intense experience, which left her helpless. All
she was clearly conscious of was an unrepentant voice in her heart
repeating the phrase: "I don't care! I'm glad I stuck it in the fire!
I don't care! I'm glad I stuck it in the fire." She waited for the
next development. They were all waiting, aware that individual forces
had been loosed, but unable to divine their resultant, and afraid of
that resultant. Rachel glanced furtively at Louis. His face had an
uneasy, stiff smile.
With an aggrieved air Julian knocked the ashes out of his pipe.
"Anyhow," said Louis at length, "this accounts for four hundred and
fifty out of nine sixty-five. What we have to find out now, all of us,
is what happened to the balance."
"I don't care a fig about the balance," said Julian impetuously. "I've
said what I had to say and that's enough for me."
And he did not, in fact, care a fig about the balance. And if the
balance had been five thousand odd instead of five hundred odd, he
still probably would not have cared. Further, he privately considered
that nobody else ought to care about the balance, either, having
regard to the supreme moral importance to himself of the four hundred
"Have you said anything to Mr. Batchgrew?" Louis asked, trying to
adopt a casual tone, and to keep out of his voice the relief and joy
which were gradually taking possession of his soul. The upshot of
Julian's visit was so amazingly different from the apprehension of it
that he could have danced in his glee.
"Not I!" Julian answered ferociously. "The old robber has been writing
me, wanting me to put money into some cinema swindle or other. I gave
him a bit of my mind."
"He was trying the same here," said Rachel. The words popped by
themselves out of her mouth, and she instantly regretted them.
However, Louis seemed to be unconscious of the implied reproach on a
subject presumably still highly delicate.
"But you can tell him, if you've a mind," Julian went on
"We shan't do any such thing," said Rachel, words again popping by
themselves out of her mouth. But this time she put herself right by
adding, "Shall we, Louis?"
"Of course not," Louis agreed very amiably.
Rachel began to feel sympathetic towards the thief. She thought: "How
strange to have some one close to me, and talking quite naturally,
who has stolen such a lot of money and might be in prison for it--a
convict!" Nevertheless, the thief seemed to be remarkably like
"Oh!" Julian ejaculated. "Well, here's the notes." He drew a lot of
notes from a pocket-book and banged them down on the table. "Four
hundred and fifty. The identical notes. Count 'em." He glared afresh,
and with even increased virulence.
"That's all right," said Louis. "That's all right. Besides, we only
want half of them."
Sundry sheets of the confession, which had not previously caught
fire, suddenly blazed up with a roar in the grate, and all looked
momentarily at the flare.
"You've _got_ to have it all!" said Julian, flushing.
"My dear fellow," Louis repeated, "we shall only take half. The other
"As God sees me," Julian urged, "I'll never take a penny of that
He snatched up all the notes and dashed wrathfully out of the parlour.
Rachel followed quickly. He went to the back room, where the gas had
been left burning high, sprang on to a chair in front of the cupboard,
and deposited the notes on the top of the cupboard, in the very place
from which he had originally taken them.
"There!" he exclaimed, jumping down from the chair. The symbolism of
the action appeared to tranquillize him.
For a moment Rachel, as a newly constituted housewife to whom every
square foot of furniture surface had its own peculiar importance, was
enraged to see Julian's heavy and dirty boots again on the seat of her
unprotected chair. But the sense of hurt passed like a spasm as her
eyes caught Julian's. They were alone together in the back room and
not far from each other. And in the man's eyes she no longer saw
the savage Julian, but an intensely suffering creature, a creature
martyrized by destiny. She saw the real Julian glancing out in torment
at the world through those eyes. The effect of the vibration in
Julian's voice a few minutes earlier was redoubled. Her emotion nearly
overcame her. She desired very much to succour Julian, and was aware
of a more distinct feeling of impatience against Louis.
She thought Julian had been magnificently heroic, and all his faults
of demeanour were counted to him for excellences. He had been a thief;
but the significance of the word "thief" was indeed completely altered
for her. She had hitherto envisaged thieves as rascals in handcuffs
bandied along the streets by policemen at the head of a procession of
urchins--dreadful rascals! But now a thief was just a young man like
other young men--only he had happened to see some bank-notes lying
about and had put them in his pocket and then had felt very sorry
for what he had done. There was no crime in what he had done ... was
there? She pictured Julian's pilgrimage through South Africa, all
alone. She pictured his existence at Knype, all alone; and his very
ferocity rendered him the more wistful and pathetic in her sight. She
was sure that his mother and sisters had never understood him; and she
did not think it quite proper on their part to have gone permanently
to America, leaving him solitary in England, as they had done. She
perceived that she herself was the one person in the world capable
of understanding Julian, the one person who could look after him,
influence him, keep him straight, civilize him, and impart some charm
to his life. And she was glad that she had the status of a married
woman, because without that she would have been helpless.
Julian sat down, or sank, on to the chair.
"I'm very sorry I spoke like that to you in the other room--I mean
about what you'd written," she said. "I suppose I ought not to have
She spoke in this manner because to apologize to him gave her a
"That's nothing," he answered, with the quietness of fatigue. "I dare
say you were right enough. Anyhow, ye'll never see me again."
She exclaimed, kindly protesting--
"Why not, I should like to know?"
"You won't want me here as a visitor, after all this." He faintly
"I shall," she insisted.
She replied: "You must come and see me. I shall expect you to. I must
tell you," she added confidentially, in a lower tone, "I think you've
been splendid to-night. I'm sure I respect you much more than I did
before--and you can take it how you like!"
"Nay! Nay!" he murmured deprecatingly. All the harshness had melted
out of his voice.
Then he stood up.
"I'd better hook it," he said briefly. "Will you get me my overcoat,
She comprehended that he wished to avoid speaking to Louis again that
night, and, nodding, went at once to the parlour and brought away the
"He's going," she muttered hastily to Louis, who was standing near the
fire. Leaving the parlour, she drew the door to behind her.
She helped Julian with his overcoat and preceded him to the front
door. She held out her hand to be tortured afresh, and suffered the
grip of the vice with a steady smile.
"Now don't forget," she whispered.
Julian seemed to try to speak and to fail.... He was gone. She
carefully closed and bolted the door.
Louis had not followed Julian and Rachel into the back room because
he felt the force of an instinct to be alone with his secret
satisfaction. In those moments it irked him to be observed, and
especially to be observed by Rachel, not to mention Julian. He was
glad for several reasons--on account of his relief, on account of the
windfall of money, and perhaps most of all on account of the discovery
that he was not the only thief in the family. The bizarre coincidence
which had divided the crime about equally between himself and Julian
amused him. His case and Julian's were on a level. Nevertheless, he
somewhat despised Julian, patronized him, condescended to him. He
could not help thinking that Julian was, after all, a greater sinner
than himself. Never again could Julian look him (Louis) in the face as
if nothing had happened. The blundering Julian was marked for life, by
his own violent, unreasonable hand. Julian was a fool.
Rachel entered rather solemnly.
"Has he really gone?" Louis asked. Rachel did not care for her
husband's tone, which was too frivolous for her. She was shocked to
find that Louis had not been profoundly impressed by the events of the
"Yes," she said.
"What's he done with the money?"
"He's left it in the other room." She would not disclose to Louis that
Julian had restored the notes to the top of the cupboard, because she
was afraid that he might treat the symbolic act with levity.
"All of it?"
"Yes. I'll bring it you."
She did so. Louis counted the notes and casually put them in his
"Oddest chap I ever came across!" he observed, smiling.
"But aren't you sorry for him?" Rachel demanded.
"Yes," said Louis airily. "I shall insist on his taking half,
"I'm going to bed," said Rachel. "You'll see all the lights out."
She offered her face and kissed him tepidly.
"What's come over the kid?" Louis asked himself, somewhat
disconcerted, when she had gone.
He remained smoking, purposeless, in the parlour until all sounds had
ceased overhead in the bedroom. Then he extinguished the gas in the
parlour, in the back room, in the kitchen, and finally in the lobby,
and went upstairs by the light of the street lamp. In the bedroom
Rachel lay in bed, her eyes closed. She did not stir at his entrance.
He locked the bank-notes in a drawer of the dressing-table, undressed
with his usual elaborate care, approached Rachel's bed and gazed at
her unresponsive form, turned down the gas to a pinpoint, and got into
bed himself. Not the slightest sound could be heard anywhere, either
in or out of the house, save the faint breathing of Rachel. And after
a few moments Louis no longer heard even that. In the darkness the
mystery of the human being next him began somehow to be disquieting.
He was capable of imagining that he lay in the room with an utter
stranger. Then he fell asleep.
Rachel, according to her own impression the next morning, had no sleep
during that night. The striking of the hall clock could not be heard
in the bedroom with the door closed, but it could be felt as a faint,
distinct concussion; and she had thus noted every hour, except four
o'clock, when daylight had come and the street lamp had been put out.
She had deliberately feigned sleep as Louis entered the room, and had
maintained the soft, regular breathing of a sleeper until long after
he was in bed. She did not wish to talk; she could not have talked
with any safety.
Her brain was occupied much by the strange and emotional episode of
Julian's confession, but still more by the situation of her husband in
the affair. Julian's story had precisely corroborated one part of Mrs.
Maldon's account of her actions on the evening when the bank-notes had
disappeared. Little by little that recital of Mrs. Maldon's had been
discredited, and at length cast aside as no more important than the
delirium of a dying creature; it was an inconvenient story, and would
only fit in with the alternative theories that money had wings and
could fly on its own account, or that there had been thieves in
the house. Far easier to assume that Mrs. Maldon in some lapse had
unwittingly done away with the notes! But Mrs. Maldon was now suddenly
reinstated as a witness. And if one part of her evidence was true, why
should not the other part be true? Her story was that she had put the
remainder of the bank-notes on the chair on the landing, and then (she
thought) in the wardrobe. Rachel recalled clearly all that she had
seen and all that she had been told. She remembered once more the
warnings that had been addressed to her. She lived the evening and
the night of the theft over again, many times, monotonously, and with
increasing woe and agitation.
Then with the greenish dawn, that the blinds let into the room, came
some refreshment and new health to the brain, but the trend of
her ideas was not modified. She lay on her side and watched the
unconscious Louis for immense periods, and occasionally tears
filled her eyes. The changes in her existence seemed so swift and so
tremendous as to transcend belief. Was it conceivable that only twelve
hours earlier she had been ecstatically happy? In twelve hours--in six
hours--she had aged twenty years, and she now saw the Rachel of
the reception and of the bicycle lesson as a young girl, touchingly
ingenuous, with no more notion of danger than a baby.
At six o'clock she arose. Already she had formed the habit of arising
before Louis, and had reconciled herself to the fact that Louis had to
be forced out of bed. Happily, his feet once on the floor, he became
immediately manageable. Already she was the conscience and time-keeper
of the house. She could dress herself noiselessly; in a week she had
perfected all her little devices for avoiding noise and saving time.
She finally left the room neat, prim, with lips set to a thousand
responsibilities. She had a peculiar sensation of tight elastic about
her eyes, but she felt no fatigue, and she did not yawn. Mrs. Tams,
who had just descended, found her taciturn and exacting. She would
have every household task performed precisely in her own way, without
compromise. And it appeared that the house, which had the air of being
in perfect order, was not in order at all, that indeed the processes
of organization had, in young Mrs. Fores' opinion, scarcely yet begun.
It appeared that there was no smallest part or corner of the house as
to which young Mrs. Fores had not got very definite ideas and plans.
The individuality of Mrs. Tams was to have scope nowhere. But after
all, this seemed quite natural to Mrs. Tams.
When Rachel went back to the bedroom, about 7.30, to get Louis by
ruthlessness and guile out of bed, she was surprised to discover that
he had already gone up to the bathroom. She guessed, with vague alarm,
from this symptom that he had a new and very powerful interest in
life. He came to breakfast at three minutes to eight, three minutes
before it was served. When she entered the parlour in the wake of
Mrs. Tams he kissed her with gay fervour. She permitted herself to be
kissed. Her unresponsiveness, though not marked, disconcerted him and
somewhat dashed his mood. Whereupon Rachel, by the reassurance of her
voice, set about to convince him that he had been mistaken in deeming
her unresponsive. So that he wavered between two moods.
As she sat behind the tray, amid the exquisite odours of fresh coffee
and Ted Malkin's bacon (for she had forgiven Miss Malkin), behaving
like a staid wife of old standing, she well knew that she was a
mystery for Louis. She was the source of his physical comfort, the
origin of the celestial change in his life which had caused him to
admit fully that to live in digs was "a rotten game"; but she was
also, that morning, a most sinister mystery. Her behaviour was
faultless. He could seize on no definite detail that should properly
disturb him; only she had woven a veil between herself and him. Still,
his liveliness scarcely abated.
"Do you know what I'm going to do this very day as ever is?" he asked.
"What is it?"
"I'm going to buy you a bike. I've had enough of that old crock I
borrowed for you. I shall return it and come back with a new 'un. And
I know the precise bike that I shall come back with. It's at Bostock's
at Hanbridge. They've just opened a new cycle department."
"Oh, Louis!" she protested.
His scheme for spending money on her flattered her. But nevertheless
it was a scheme for spending money. Two hundred and twenty-five
pounds had dropped into his lap, and he must needs begin instantly to
dissipate it. He could not keep it. That was Louis! She refused to
see that the purchase of a bicycle was the logical consequence of her
lessons. She desired to believe that by some miracle at some future
date she could possess a bicycle without a bicycle being bought--and
in the meantime was there not the borrowed machine?
Suddenly she yawned.
"Didn't you sleep well?" he demanded.
She could almost see into the interior of his brain, where he was
persuading himself that fatigue alone was the explanation of her
peculiar demeanour, and rejoicing that the mystery was, after all,
neither a mystery nor sinister.
"I say," he began between two puffs of a cigarette after breakfast, "I
shall send back half of that money to Julian. I'll send the notes by
"Yes. Don't you think he'll keep them?"
"Supposing I was to take them over to him myself--and insist?" she
"It's a notion. When?"
"Well, on Saturday afternoon. He'll be at home probably then."
"All right," Louis agreed. "I'll give you the money later on."
Nothing more was said as to the Julian episode. It seemed that husband
and wife were equally determined not to discuss it merely for the sake
of discussing it.
Shortly after half-past eight Louis was preparing the borrowed bicycle
and his own in the back yard.
"I shall ride mine and tow the crock," said he, looking up at Rachel
as he screwed a valve. She had come into the yard in order to show a
polite curiosity in his doings.
"Isn't it dangerous?"
"Are you dangerous?" he laughed.
"But when shall you go?"
"Shan't you be late at the works?"
"Well, if I'm late at the beautiful works I shall be late at the
beautiful works. Those who don't like it will have to lump it."
Once more, it was the consciousness of a loose, entirely available two
hundred and twenty-five pounds that was making him restive under the
yoke of regular employment. For a row of pins, that morning, he would
have given Jim Horrocleave a week's notice, or even the amount of a
week's wages in lieu of notice! Rachel sighed, but within herself.
In another minute he was elegantly flying down Bycars Lane, guiding
his own bicycle with his right hand and the crock with his left
hand. The feat appeared miraculous to Rachel, who watched from the
bow-window of the parlour. Beyond question he made a fine figure. And
it was for her that he was flying to Hanbridge! She turned away to her
It seemed to her that he had scarcely been gone ten minutes when one
of the glorious taxicabs which had recently usurped the stand of the
historic fly under the Town Hall porch drew up at the front door, and
Louis got out of it. The sound of his voice was the first intimation
to Rachel that it was Louis who was arriving. He shouted at the
cabman as he paid the fare. The window of the parlour was open and the
curtains pinned up. She ran to the window, and immediately saw that
Louis' head was bandaged. Then she ran to the door. He was climbing
rather stiffly up the steps.
"All right! All right!" he shouted at her. "A spill. Nothing of the
least importance. But both the jiggers are pretty well converted into
old iron. I tell you it's all _right_! Shut the door."
He bumped down on the oak chest, and took a long breath.
"But you are frightfully hurt!" she exclaimed. She could not properly
see his face for the bandages.
Mrs. Tams appeared. Rachel murmured to her in a flash--
"Go out the back way and fetch Dr. Yardley at once."
She felt herself absolutely calm. What puzzled her was Louis'
shouting. Then she understood he was shouting from mere excitement and
did not realize that he shouted.
"No need for any doctor! Quite simple!" he called out.
But Rachel gave a word confirming the original order to Mrs. Tams, who
"First thing I knew I was the centre of an admiring audience, and fat
Mrs. Heath, in her white apron and the steel hanging by her side, was
washing my face with a sponge and a basin of water, and Heath stood by
with brandy. It was nearly opposite their shop. People in the tram had
a rare view of me."
"But was it the tram-car you ran into?" Rachel asked eagerly.
He replied with momentary annoyance--
"Tram-car! Of course it wasn't the tram-car. Moreover, I didn't run
into anything. Two horses ran into me. I was coming down past the
Shambles into Duck Bank--very slowly, because I could hear a tram
coming along from the market-place--and just as I got past the
Shambles and could see along the market-place, I saw a lad on a
cart-horse and leading another horse. No stirrups, no saddle. He'd no
more control over either horse than a baby over an elephant. Not a bit
more. Both horses were running away. The horse he was supposed to
be leading was galloping first. They were passing the tram at a fine
"But how far were they off you?"
"About ten yards. I said to myself, 'If that chap doesn't look out
he'll be all over me in two seconds.' I turned as sharp as I could
away to the left. I could have turned sharper if I'd had your bicycle
in my right hand instead of my left. But it wouldn't have made any
difference. The first horse simply made straight for me. There was
about a mile of space for him between me and the tram, but he wouldn't
look at it. He wanted me, and he had me. They both had me. I never
felt the actual shock. Curious, that! I'm told one horse put his foot
clean through the back wheel of my bike. Then he was stopped by the
front palings of the Conservative Club. Oh! a pretty smash! The other
horse and the boy thereon finished half-way up Moorthorne Road. He
could stick on, no mistake, that kid could. Midland Railway horses.
Whoppers. Either being taken to the vets' or brought from the
vet's--_I_ don't know. I forget."
Rachel put her hand on his arm.
"Do come into the parlour and have the easy-chair."
"I'll come--I'll come," he said, with the same annoyance. "Give us a
chance." His voice was now a little less noisy.
"But you might have been killed!"
"You bet I might! Eight hoofs all over me! One tap from any of the
eight would have settled yours sincerely."
"Louis!" She spoke firmly. "You must come into the parlour. Now come
along, do, and sit down and let me look at your face." She removed his
hat, which was perched rather insecurely on the top of the bandages.
"Who was it looked after you?"
"Well," he hesitated, following her into the parlour, "it seems to
have been chiefly Mrs. Heath."
"But didn't they take you to a chemist's? Isn't there a chemist's
"The great Greene had one of his bilious attacks and was in bed,
it appears. And the great Greene's assistant is only just out of
petticoats, I believe. However, everybody acted for the best, and here
I am. And if you ask me, I think I've come out of it rather well."
He dropped heavily on to the Chesterfield. What she could see of his
cheeks was very pale.
"Open the window," he murmured. "It's frightfully stuffy here."
"The window is open," she said. In fact, a noticeable draught blew
through the room. "I'll open it a bit more."
Before doing so she lifted his feet on to the Chesterfield.
"That's better. That's better," he breathed.
When, a moment later, she returned to him with a glass of water which
she had brought from the kitchen, spilling drops of it along the whole
length of the passage, he smiled at her and then winked.
It was the wink that seemed pathetic to her. She had maintained her
laudable calm until he winked, and then her throat tightened.
"He may have some dreadful internal injury," she thought. "You never
know. I may be a widow soon. And every one will say, 'How young she is
to be a widow!' It will make me blush. But such things can't happen to
me. No, he's all right. He came up here alone. They'd never have let
him come up here alone if he hadn't been all right. Besides, he can
walk. How silly I am!"
She bent down and kissed him passionately.
"I must have those bandages off, dearest," she whispered. "I suppose
to-morrow I'd better return them to Mrs. Heath."
He muttered: "She said she always kept linen for bandages in the
shop because they so often cut themselves. Now, I used to think in my
innocence that butchers never cut themselves."
Very gently and intently Rachel unfastened two safety-pins that were
hidden in Louis' untidy hair. Then she began to unwind a long strip
of linen. It stuck to a portion of the cheek close to the ear. Louis
winced. The inner folds of the linen were discoloured. Rachel had a
glimpse of a wound....
"Go on!" Louis urged. "Get at it, child!"
"No," she said. "I think I shall leave it just as it is for the doctor
to deal with. Shall you mind if I leave you for a minute? I must get
some warm water and things ready against the doctor comes."
He retorted facetiously: "Oh! Do what you like! Work your will on
me.... Doctor! Any one 'ud think I was badly injured. Why, you cuckoo,
it's only skin wounds!"
"But doesn't it _hurt_?"
"Depends what you call hurt. It ain't a picnic."
"I think you're awfully brave," she said simply.
At the door she stopped and gazed at him, undecided.
"Louis," she said in a motherly tone, "I should like you to go to bed.
I really should. You ought to, I'm sure."
"Well, I shan't," he replied.
"But please! To please me! You can get up again."
"Oh, go to blazes!" he cried resentfully. "What in thunder should I go
to bed for, I should like to know? Have a little sense, do!" He shut
He had never till then spoken to her so roughly.
"Very well," she agreed, with soothing acquiescence. His outburst had
not irritated her in the slightest degree.
In the kitchen, as she bent over the kettle and the fire, each object
was surrounded by a sort of halo, like the moon in damp weather. She
brushed her hand across her eyes, contemptuous of herself. Then she
ran lightly upstairs and searched out an old linen garment and tore
the seams of it apart. She crept back to the parlour and peeped in.
Louis had not moved on the sofa. His eyes were still closed. After a
few seconds, he said, without stirring--
"I've not yet passed away. I can see you."
She responded with a little laugh, somewhat forced.
After an insupportable delay Mrs. Tams reappeared, out of breath.
Dr. Yardley had just gone out, but he was expected back very soon and
would then be sent down instantly.
Mrs. Tams, quite forgetful of etiquette, followed Rachel, unasked,
into the parlour.
"What?" said Louis loudly. "Two of you! Isn't one enough?"
Mrs. Tams vanished.
"Heath took charge of the bikes," Louis murmured, as if to the
Over half an hour elapsed before the gate creaked.
"There he is!" Rachel exclaimed happily. After having conceived a
hundred different tragic sequels to the accident, she was lifted by
the mere creak of the gate into a condition of pure optimism, and
she realized what a capacity she had for secretly being a ninny in an
unexpected crisis. But she thought with satisfaction: "Anyhow, I don't
show it. That's one good thing!" She was now prepared to take oath
that she had not for one moment been _really_ anxious about
Louis. Her demeanour, as she stated the case to the doctor, was a
masterpiece of tranquil unconcern.
Dr. Yardley said that he was in a hurry--that, in fact, he ought to
have been quite elsewhere at the time. He was preoccupied, and showed
no sympathy with the innocent cyclist who had escaped the fatal
menace of hoofs. When Rachel offered him the torn linen, he silently
disdained it, and, opening a small bag which he had brought with
him, produced therefrom a roll of cotton-wool in blue paper, and
a considerable quantity of sticking-plaster on a brass reel. He
accepted, however, Rachel's warm water.
"You might get me some Condy's Fluid," he said shortly.
She had none! It was a terrible lapse for a capable housewife.
Dr. Yardley raised his eyebrows: "No Condy's Fluid in the house!"
She was condemned.
"I do happen to have a couple of tablets of Chinosol," he said, "but I
wanted to keep them in reserve for later in the day."
He threw two yellow tablets into the basin of water.
Then he laid Louis flat on the sofa, asked him a few questions, and
sounded him in various parts. And at length he slowly, but firmly,
drew off Mrs. Heath's bandages, and displayed Louis' head to the
"Hm!" he exclaimed.
Rachel restrained herself from any sound. But the spectacle was
ghastly. The one particle of comfort in the dreadful matter was that
Louis could not see himself.
Thenceforward Dr. Yardley seemed to forget that he ought to have been
elsewhere. Working with extraordinary deliberation, he coaxed out
of Louis' flesh sundry tiny stones and many fragments of mud,
straightened twisted bits of skin, and he removed other pieces
entirely. He murmured, "Hm!" at intervals. He expressed a brief
criticism of the performance of Mrs. Heath, as distinguished from her
intentions. He also opined that the great Greene might not perhaps
have succeeded much better than Mrs. Heath, even if he had not been
bilious. When the dressing was finished, the gruesome terror of Louis'
appearance seemed to be much increased. The heroic sufferer rose and
glanced at himself in the mirror, and gave a faint whistle.
"Oh! So that's what I look like, is it? Well, what price me as a
victim of the Inquisition!" he remarked.
"I should advise you not to take exercise just now, young man," said
the doctor. "D'you feel pretty well?"
"Pretty well," answered Louis, and sat down.
In the lobby the doctor, once more in a hurry, said to Rachel--
"Better get him quietly to bed. The wounds are not serious, but he's
had a very severe shock."
"He's not marked for life, is he?" Rachel asked anxiously.
"I shouldn't think so," said the doctor, as if the point was a minor
one. "Let him have some nourishment. You can begin with hot milk--but
put some water to it," he added when he was half-way down the steps.
As Rachel re-entered the parlour she said to herself: "I shall just
have to get him to bed somehow, whatever he says! If he's unpleasant
he must _be_ unpleasant, that's all."
And she hardened her heart. But immediately she saw him again, sitting
forlornly in the chair, with the whole of the left side of his face
criss-crossed in whitish-grey plaster, she was ready to cry over him
and flatter his foolishest whim. She wanted to take him in her arms,
if he would but have allowed her. She felt that she could have borne
his weight for hours without moving, had he fallen asleep against her
bosom.... Still, he must be got to bed. How negligent of the doctor
not to have given the order himself!
Then Louis said: "I say! I think I may as well lie down!"
She was about to cry out, "Oh, you must!"
But she forbore. She became as wily as old Batchgrew.
"Do you think so?" she answered, doubtfully.
"I've nothing else particular on hand," he said.
She knew that he wanted to surrender without appearing to surrender.
"Well," she suggested, "will you lie down on the bed for a bit?"
"I think I will."
"And then I'll give you some hot milk."
She dared not help him to mount the stairs, but she walked close
"I was thinking," he said on the landing, "I'd stroll down and take
stock of those bicycles later in the day. But perhaps I'm not fit to
She thought: "You won't stroll down later in the day--I shall see to
"By the way," he said, "you might send Mrs. Tams down to Horrocleave's
to explain that I shan't give them my valuable assistance to-day....
Oh! Mrs. Tams"--the woman was just bustling out of the bedroom, duster
in hand--"will you toddle down to the works and tell them I'm not
"Eh, mester!" breathed Mrs. Tams, looking at him. "It's a mercy it's
"Yes," Louis teased her, "but you go and look at the basin downstairs,
Mrs. Tams. That'll give you food for thought."
Shaking her head, she smiled at Rachel, because the master had spirit
enough to be humorous with her.
In the bedroom, Louis said, "I might be more comfortable if I took
some of my clothes off."
Thereupon he abandoned himself to Rachel. She did as she pleased with
him, and he never opposed. Seven bruises could be counted on his left
side. He permitted himself to be formally and completely put to bed.
He drank half a glass of hot milk, and then said that he could not
possibly swallow any more. Everything had been done that ought to be
done and that could be done. And Rachel kept assuring herself that
there was not the least cause for anxiety. She also told herself that
she had been a ninny once that morning, and that once was enough.
Nevertheless, she remained apprehensive, and her apprehensions
increased. It was Louis' unnatural manageableness that disturbed her.
And when, about three hours later, he murmured, "Old girl, I feel
"I knew it," she said to herself.
His complaint was like a sudden thunderclap in her ears, after long
faint rumblings of a storm.
Towards tea-time she decided that she must send for the doctor again.
Louis indeed demanded the doctor. He said that he was very ill. His
bruised limbs and his damaged face caused him a certain amount of
pain. It was not, however, the pain that frightened him, but a general
and profound sensation of illness. He could describe no symptoms.
There were indeed no symptoms save the ebbing of vitality. He said he
had never in his life felt as he felt then. His appearance confirmed
the statement. The look of his eyes was tragic. His hands were
pale. His agonized voice was extremely distressing to listen to. The
bandages heightened the whole sinister effect. Dusk shadowed the room.
Rachel lit the gas and drew the blinds. But in a few moments Louis
complained of the light, and she had to lower the jet.
The sounds of the return of Mrs. Tams could be heard below. Mrs.
Tams had received instructions to bring the doctor back with her, but
Rachel's ear caught no sign of the doctor. She went out to the head
of the stairs. The doctor simply must be there. It was not conceivable
that when summoned he should be "out" twice in one day, but so it was.
Mrs. Tams, whispering darkly from the dim foot of the stairs, said
that Mrs. Yardley hoped that he would be in shortly, but could not be
"What am I to do?" thought Rachel. "This is a crisis. Everything
depends on me. What shall I do? Shall I send for another doctor?" She
decided to risk the chances and wait. It would be too absurd to have
two doctors in the house. What would people say of her and of Louis,
if the rumour ran that she had lost her head and filled the house with
doctors when the case had no real gravity? People would say that she
was very young and inexperienced, and a freshly married wife, and so
on. And Rachel hated to be thought young or freshly married. Besides,
another doctor might be "out" too. And further, the case could not be
truly serious. Of course, if afterwards it did prove to be serious,
she would never forgive herself.
"He'll be here soon," she said cheerfully, to Louis in the bedroom.
"If he isn't--" moaned Louis, and stopped.
She gave him some brandy, against his will. Then, taking his wrist to
feel it, she felt his fingers close on her wrist, as if for aid. And
she sat thus on the bed holding his hand in the gloom of the lowered
His weakness and his dependence on her gave her a feeling of kind
superiority. And also her own physical well-being was such that she
could not help condescending towards him. She cared for a trustful,
helpless little dog. She thought a great deal about him; she longed
ardently to be of assistance to him; she had an acute sense of her
responsibility and her duty. Yet, notwithstanding all that, her brain
was perhaps chiefly occupied with herself and her own attitude towards
existence. She became mentally and imaginatively active to an intense
degree. She marvelled at existence as she had never marvelled before,
and while seeming suddenly to understand it better she was far more
than ever baffled by it. Was it credible that the accident of a lad
losing control of a horse could have such huge and awful consequences
on two persons utterly unconnected with the lad? A few seconds sooner,
a few seconds later--and naught would have occurred to Louis, but he
must needs be at exactly a certain spot at exactly a certain instant,
with the result that now she was in torture! If this, if that, if the
other--Louis would have been well and gay at that very moment, instead
of a broken organism humiliated on a bed and clinging to her like a
The rapidity and variety of events in her life again startled her, and
once more she went over them. The disappearance of the bank-notes was
surely enough in itself. But on the top of that fell the miracle of
her love affair. Her marriage was like a dream of romance to her,
untrue, incredible. Then there was the terrific episode of Julian
on the previous night. One would have supposed that after that the
sensationalism of events would cease. But, no! The unforeseeable had
now occurred, something which reduced all else to mere triviality.
And yet what had in fact occurred? Acquaintances, in recounting her
story, would say that she had married her mistress's nephew, that
there had been trouble between Louis and Julian about some bank-notes,
and that Louis had had a bicycle accident. Naught more! A most
ordinary chronicle! And if he died now, they would say that Louis
had died within a month of the wedding and how sad it was! Husbands
indubitably do die, young wives indubitably are transformed into
widows--daily event, indeed!... She seemed to perceive the deep,
hidden meaning of life. There were three Rachels in her--one who
pitied Louis, one who pitied herself, and one who looked on and
impartially comprehended. The last was scarcely unhappy--only
fervently absorbed in the prodigious wonder of the hour.
"Can't you do anything?" Louis murmured.
"If Dr. Yardley doesn't come quick, I shall send for some other
doctor," she said, with decision.
"Better send for a lawyer at the same time," he said.
"Yes. You know I've not made my will."
"Oh, Louis! Please don't talk like that! I can't bear to hear you."
"You'll have to hear worse things than that," he said pettishly,
loosing her hand. "I've got to have a solicitor here. Later on you'll
probably be only too glad that I had enough common sense to send for
a solicitor. Somebody must have a little common sense. I expect you'd
better send for Lawton.... Oh! It's Friday afternoon--he'll have left
early for his week-end golf, I bet." This last discovery seemed to
exhaust his courage.
In another minute the doctor, cheerful and energetic, was actually in
the room, and the gas brilliant. He gazed at an exanimate Louis, made
a few inquiries and a few observations of his own, gave some brief
instructions, and departed. The day was in truth one of his busy days.
He seemed surprised when Rachel softly called to him on the stairs.
"I suppose everything's all right, doctor?"
"Yes," said he casually. "He'll feel mighty queer for a few days.
"Then there's no danger?"
"But he thinks he's dying."
Dr. Yardley smiled carelessly.
"And do you?... He's no more dying than I am. That's only the effect
of the shock. Didn't I tell you this morning? You probably won't be
able to stop him just yet from thinking he's dying--it is a horrid
feeling--but you needn't think so yourself, Mrs. Fores." He smiled.
"Oh, doctor," she burst out, "you don't know how you've relieved me!"
"You'll excuse me if I fly away," said Dr. Yardley calmly. "There's a
crowd of insurance patients waiting for me at the surgery."
In the middle of the night Rachel was awakened by Louis' appeal. She
was so profoundly asleep that for a few moments she could not recall
what it was that had happened during the previous day to cause her
After the visit of the doctor, Louis' moral condition had apparently
improved. He had affected to be displeased by the doctor's air of
treating his case as though it was deprived of all importance. He
had said that the doctor had failed to grasp his case. He had stated
broadly that in these days of State health insurance all doctors
were too busy and too wealthy to be of assistance to private patients
capable of paying their bills in the old gentlemanly fashion. But his
remarks had not been without a touch of facetiousness in their wilful
disgust. And the mere tone of his voice proved that he felt better. To
justify his previous black pessimism he had of course been obliged to
behave in a certain manner (well known among patients who have been
taking themselves too seriously), and Rachel had understood and
excused. She would have been ready, indeed, to excuse for worse
extravagances than any that could have occurred to the fancy of a
nature so polite and benevolent as that of Louis; for, in order to
atone for her silly school-girlishness, she had made a compact with
herself to be an angel and a serpent simultaneously for the entire
remainder of her married life.
Then Mrs. Tams had come in, from errands of marketing, with a copy of
the early special of the _Signal_, containing a description of
the accident. Mrs. Tams had never before bought such a thing as a
newspaper, but an acquaintance of hers who "stood the market" with
tripe and chitterlings had told her that Mr. Fores was "in" the
_Signal_, and accordingly she had bravely stopped a news-boy
in the street and made the purchase. To Rachel she pointed out the
paragraph with pride, and to please her and divert Louis, Rachel
had introduced the newspaper into the bedroom. The item was headed:
"Runaway Horses in Bursley Market-place. Providential Escape." It
spoke of Mr. Louis Fores' remarkable skill and presence of mind in
swerving away with two bicycles. It said that Mr. Louis Fores was an
accomplished cyclist, and that after a severe shaking Mr. Louis Fores
drove home in a taxicab "apparently little the worse, save for facial
contusions, for his perilous adventure." Lastly, it said that a
representative of the Midland Railway had "assured our representative
that the horses were not the property of the Midland Railway." Louis
had sardonically repeated the phrase "apparently little the worse,"
murmuring it with his eyes shut. He had said, "I wish they could see
me." Still, he had made no further mention of sending for a solicitor.
He had taken a little food and a little drink. He had asked Rachel
when she meant to go to bed. And at length Rachel, having first
arranged food for use in the night, and fixed a sheet of note-paper on
the gas-bracket as a screen between the gas and Louis, had undressed
and got into bed, and gone off into a heavy slumber with a mind
In response to his confusing summons, she stumbled to her peignoir and
slipped it on.
"Yes, dear?" she spoke softly.
"I couldn't bear it any longer," said the voice of Louis. "I just had
to waken you."
She raised the gas, and her eyes blinked as she stared at him. His
bedclothes were horribly disarranged.
"Are you in pain?" she asked, smoothing the blankets.
"No. But I'm so ill. I--I don't want to frighten you--"
"The doctor said you'd feel ill. It's the shock, you know."
She stroked his hand. He did indubitably look very ill. His appearance
of woe, despair, and dreadful apprehension was pitiable in the highest
degree. With a gesture of intense weariness he declined food, nor
could she persuade him to take anything whatever.
"You'll be ever so much better to-morrow. I'll sit up with you. You
were bound to feel worse in the night."
"It's more than shock that I've got," he muttered. "I say, Rachel,
it's all up with me. I _know_ I'm done for. You'll have to do the
best you can."
The notion shot through her head that possibly, after all, the doctor
might have misjudged the case. Suppose Louis were to die in the night?
Suppose the morning found her a widow? The world was full of the
strangest happenings.... Then she was herself again and immovably
cheerful in her secret heart. She thought: "I can go through worse
nights than this. One night, some time in the future, either he will
really be dying or I shall. This night is nothing." And she held his
hand and sat in her old place on his bed. The room was chilly. She
decided that in five minutes she would light the gas-stove, and also
make some tea with the spirit-lamp. She would have tea whether he
still refused or not. His watch on the night-table showed half-past
two. In about an hour the dawn would be commencing. She felt that she
had reserves of force against any contingency, against any nervous
Then he said, "I say, Rachel."
He was too ill to call her "Louise."
"I shall make some tea soon," she answered.
He went on: "You remember about that missing money--I mean before
auntie died. You remember--"
"Don't talk about that, dear," she interrupted him eagerly. "Why
should you bother about that now?"
In one instant those apparently exhaustless reserves of moral force
seemed to have ebbed away. She had imagined herself equal to any
contingency, and now there loomed a contingency which made her quail.
"I've got to talk about that," he said in his weak and desperate
voice. His bruised head was hollowed into the pillow, and he stared
monotonously at the ceiling, upon which the paper screen of the gas
threw a great trembling shadow. "That's why I wakened you. You don't
know what the inside of my brain's like.... Why did you say to them
you found the scullery door open that night? You know perfectly well
it wasn't open."
She could scarcely speak.
"I--I--Louis don't talk about that now. You're too ill," she implored.
"I know why you said it."
"Be quiet!" she said sharply, and her voice broke.