Part 6 out of 7
But he continued in the same tone--
"You made up that tale about the scullery door because you guessed
I'd collared the money and you wanted to save me from being suspected.
Well, I did collar the money! Now I've told you!"
She burst into a sob, and her head dropped on to his body.
"Louis!" she cried passionately, amid her sobs. "Why ever did you tell
me? You've ruined everything now. Everything!"
"I can't help that," said Louis, with a sort of obstinate and defiant
weariness. "It was on my mind, and I just had to tell you. You don't
seem to understand that I'm dying."
Rachel jumped up and sprang away from the bed.
"Of course you're not dying!" she reproached him. "How can you imagine
Her heart suddenly hardened against him--against his white-bandaged
head and face, against his feeble voice of a beaten martyr. It seemed
to her disgraceful that he, a strong male creature, should be lying
there damaged, helpless, and under the foolish delusion that he was
dying. She recalled with bitter gusto the tone in which the doctor had
said, "He's no more dying than I am!" All her fears that the doctor
might be wrong had vanished away. She now resented her husband's
illness; as a nurse, when danger is over, will resent a patient's long
convalescence, somehow charging it to him as a sin.
"I found the other half of the notes under the chair on the--" Louis
"Please!" she objected with quick resounding violence, and raised a
"You must listen."
She answered, passionately--
"I won't listen! I won't listen! And if you don't stop I shall leave
the room! I shall leave you all alone!... Yes, I shall!" She moved a
little towards the door.
His gloomy and shifty glance followed her, and there was a short
"You needn't work yourself up into such a state," murmured Louis at
length. "But I _should_ like to know whether the scullery door
was open or not, when you came downstairs that night?"
Rachel's glance fell. She blushed. The tears had ceased to drop from
her eyes. She made no answer.
"You see," said Louis, with a half-sneering triumph, "I knew jolly
well it wasn't open. So did old Batchgrew know, too."
She shut her lips together, went decisively to the mantelpiece, struck
a match, and lit the stove. Like the patent gas-burner downstairs,
the stove often had to be extinguished after the first lighting and
lighted again with a second and different kind of explosion. And so
it was now. She flung down the match pettishly into the hearth.
Throughout the whole operation she sniffed convulsively, to prevent a
new fit of sobbing. Her peignoir being very near to the purple-green
flames that folded themselves round the asbestos of the stove, she
reflected that the material was probably inflammable, and that a
careless movement might cause it to be ignited. "And not a bad thing,
either!" she said to herself. Then, without looking at all towards
the bed, she lit the spirit-lamp in order to make tea. The sniffing
continued, as she went through the familiar procedure.
The water would not boil, demonstrating the cruel truth of proverbs.
She sat down and, gazing into the stove, now a rich red, ignored the
saucepan. The dry heat from the stove burnt her ankles and face. Not
a sound from the small saucepan, balanced on its tripod over the
wavering blue flame of the spirit-lamp! At last, uncontrollably
impatient, she lifted the teapot off the inverted lid of the saucepan,
where she had placed it to warm, and peered into the saucepan. The
water was cheerfully boiling! She made the tea, and sat down again to
wait until it should be infused. She had to judge the minutes as well
as she could, for she would not go across to the night-table to look
at Louis' watch; her own was out of order, and so was the clock. She
counted two hundred and fifty, and then, anticipating feverishly
the tonic glow of the tea in her breast, she poured out a cup. Only
colourless steaming water came forth from the pot. She had forgotten
to put in the tea! Misfortune not unfamiliar to dazed makers of tea in
the night! But to Rachel now the consequences of the omission seemed
to amount to a tragedy. Had she the courage to begin the interminable
weary process afresh? She was bound to begin it afresh. With her
eyes obscured by tears, she put the water back into the saucepan and
searched for the match-box. The water boiled almost immediately, and
by so doing comforted her.
While waiting for the infusion, she realized little by little that for
a few moments she must have been nearly hysterical, and she partially
resumed possession of herself. The sniffing ceased, her vision
cleared; she grew sardonic. All her chest was filled with cold lead.
"This truly is the end," she thought. She had thought that Julian's
confession must be the end of the violent experiences which had
befallen her in Mrs. Malden's house. Then she had thought that Louis'
accident must be the end. Each time she had been mistaken. But she
could not be mistaken now. No conceivable event, however awful,
could cap Louis' confession that he had thieved--and under such
She did not drink the first cup of tea. No! She must needs carry it,
spilling it, to Louis in bed. He was asleep, or he was in a condition
that resembled sleep. Assuredly he was ill. He made a dreadful object
in his bandages amid the disorder of the bed, upon which strong
shadows fell from the gas and from the stove. No matter! If he was
ill, he was ill. So much the worse for him! He was not dangerously
ill. He was merely passing through a stress which had to be passed
through. It would soon be over, and he would be the same eternal Louis
that he had always been.
"Here!" she said.
He stirred, opened his eyes.
"Here's some tea!" she said coldly. "Drink it."
He gave a gesture of dissent. But it was useless. She had brewed the
tea and had determined that he should drink a cup. Whether he desired
it or loathed it was a question irrelevant. He was appointed to
drink some tea, and she would not taste until he had drunk. This
self-sacrifice was her perverse pleasure.
"Come!... Please don't make it any more awkward for me."
With her right arm she raised the pillow and his head on it. He drank,
his sick lips curling awkwardly upon the rim of the cup, which
she held for him. When he had drunk, she put the cup down on the
night-table, and tidied his bed, as though he had been a naughty
child. And then she left him, and drank tea slowly, savouringly, by
herself in a chair near the dressing-table, out of the same cup.
She had lied about the scullery door being open when she went
downstairs on the night of the disappearance of the bank-notes.
The scullery door had not been open. The lie was clumsy, futile,
ill-considered. It had burst out of the impulsiveness and generosity
of her nature. She had perceived that suspicion was falling, or might
fall, upon Louis Fores, and the sudden lie had flashed forth to defend
him. That she could ultimately be charged with having told the lie in
order to screen herself from suspicion had never once occurred to her.
And it did not even occur to her now as she sat perched uncomfortably
on the chair in the night of desolation. She was now deeply ashamed
of the lie--and she ought not to have been ashamed, for it was a lie
magnanimous and fine; she might rather have taken pride in it. She was
especially ashamed of her repetition of the lie on the following day
to Thomas Batchgrew, and of her ingenious embroidery upon it. She
hated to remember that she had wept violently in front of Thomas
Batchgrew when he had charged her with having a secret about the loss
of the notes. He must have well known that she was lying; he must
have suspected her of some complicity; and if later he had affected to
ignore all the awkward aspects of the episode it was only because he
wished to remain on good terms with Louis for his own ends.
Had she herself all the time suspected Louis? In the harsh realism
of the night hours she was not able positively to assert that she
had never suspected him until after Julian's confession had made her
think; but, on the other hand, she would not directly accuse herself
of having previously suspected him. The worst that she could say was
that she had been determined to believe him guiltless. She loved him;
she had wanted his love; she would permit nothing to prevent their
coming together; and so in her mind she had established his innocence
apparently beyond any overthrowing. She might have allowed herself
to surmise that in the early past he had been naughty, untrustworthy,
even wicked--but that was different, that did not concern her. His
innocence with regard to the bank-notes alone mattered. And she had
been genuinely convinced of it. A few moments before he kissed her for
the first time, she had been genuinely convinced of it. And after the
betrothal her conviction became permanent. She tried to scorn now the
passion which had blinded her. Mrs. Maldon, at any rate, must have
known that he was connected with the disappearance of the notes. In
the light of Louis' confession Rachel could see all that Mrs. Maldon
was implying in that last conversation between them.
So that she might win him she had been ready to throttle every doubt
of his honesty. But now the indubitable fact that he was a thief
seemed utterly monstrous and insupportable. And, moreover, his crime
was exceptionally cruel. Was it conceivable that he could so lightly
cause so much distress of spirit to a woman so aged, defenceless, and
kind? According to the doctor, the shock of the robbery had not been
the originating cause of Mrs. Maldon's death; but it might have been;
quite possibly it had hastened death.... Louis was not merely a thief;
he was a dastardly thief.
But even that in her eyes did not touch the full height of his
offence. The vilest quality in him was his capacity to seem innocent.
She could recall the exact tone in which he had exclaimed: "Would
you believe that old Batch practically accused me of stealing the
old lady's money?... Don't you think it's a shame?" The recollection
filled her with frigid anger. Her resentment of the long lie which he
had lived in her presence since their betrothal was tremendous in its
calm acrimony. A man who could behave as he had behaved would stop at
nothing, would be capable of all.
She contrasted his conduct with the grim candour of Julian Maldon,
whom she now admired. It was strange and dreadful that both the
cousins should be thieves; the prevalence of thieves in that family
gave her a shudder. But she could not judge Julian Maldon severely.
He did not appear to her as a real thief. He had committed merely an
indiscretion. It was his atonement that made her admire him. Though
she hated confessions, though she had burnt his exasperating document,
she nevertheless liked the manner of his atonement. Whereas she
contemned Louis for having confessed.
"He thought he was dying and so he confessed!" she reflected with
asperity. "He hadn't even the pluck to go through with what he had
begun.... Ah! If I had committed a crime and once denied it, I would
deny it with my last breath, and no torture should drag it out of me!"
And she thought: "I am punished. This is my punishment for letting
myself be engaged while Mrs. Maldon was dying."
Often she had dismissed as childish the notion that she was to blame
for accepting Louis just when she did. But now it returned full of
power and overwhelmed her. And like a whipped child she remembered
Mrs. Maldon's warning: "My nephew is not to be trusted. The woman
who married him would suffer horribly." And she was the woman who had
married him. It seemed to her that the warnings of the dying must of
necessity prove to be valid.
Some mysterious phenomenon on the window-blind at her right hand
attracted her attention, and she looked round, half startled. It was
the dawn, furtive and inexorable. She had watched dawns, and she had
watched them in that very bedroom. Only on the previous morning the
dawn had met her smarting and wakeful eyes, and she had imagined that
no dawn could be more profoundly sad!... And a little earlier still
she had been desolating herself for hours because Louis was going to
be careless about his investments, because he was unreliable and she
would have to watch ceaselessly over his folly. She had imagined then
that no greater catastrophe could overtake her than some material
result of his folly!... What a trivial apprehension! What a child she
In the excitement and alarm of his accident she had honestly forgotten
her suspicions of him. That disconcerted her.
She rose from the chair, stiff. The stove, with its steady faint
roar of imperfectly consumed gas, had thoroughly heated the room. In
careful silence she put the tea-things together. Then she ventured to
glance at Louis. He was asleep. He had been restlessly asleep for a
long time. She eyed him bitterly in his bandages. Only last night
she had been tormented by that fear that his face might be marked
for life. Again the trivial! What did it matter whether his face was
marked for life or not?...
It did not occur to her to attempt to realize how intense must have
been the spiritual tribulation which had forced him to confess. She
knew that he was not dying, that he was in no danger whatever, and
she was perfectly indifferent to the genuineness of his own conviction
that he was dying. She simply thought: "He had to go through all that.
If he fancied he was dying, can I help it?" ... Then she looked at her
own empty bed. He reposed; he slept. But she did not repose nor sleep.
She drew aside one of the blinds, and as she did so she could feel the
steady slight current of cold air entering the room from the window
open at the top. The street seemed to be full of daylight. The dawn
had been proceeding in its vast secrecy and was now accomplished.
She drew up the blind slowly, and then the gas-flame over the
dressing-table seemed so pale and futile that she extinguished it,
from a sort of pity. In silence she pulled out the iron bolts in the
window-sash that had been Mrs. Maldon's device for preventing burglars
from opening further a window already open a little, thus combining
security with good hygiene. Louis had laughed at these bolts, but Mrs.
Maldon had so instilled their use into both Rachel and Mrs. Tams that
to insert them at night was part of the unchangeable routine of the
house. Rachel gently pushed up the lower sash and looked forth.
Bycars Lane, though free from mud, was everywhere heavily bedewed. The
narrow pavement glistened. The roofs glistened. Drops of water hung
on all the edges of the great gas-lamp beneath her, which was still
defying the dawn. The few miserable trees and bushes on the vague
lands beyond the lane were dripping with water. The sky was low and
heavy, in scarcely distinguishable shades of purplish grey, and Bycars
Pool, of which she had a glimpse, appeared in its smooth blackness to
be not more wet than the rest of the scene. Nothing stirred. Not the
tiniest branch stirred on the leafless trees, nor a leaf on a grey
rhododendron-bush in a front garden below. Every window within sight
had its blind drawn. No smoke rose from any house-chimney, and the
distant industrial smoke on the horizon hung in the lower air, just
under the clouds, undecided and torpid. The wet air was moveless, and
yet she could feel it impinging with its cool, sharp humidity on her
The sensation of this contact was delicious. She was surrounded, not
by the slatternly Five Towns landscape and by the wretchedness of the
familiar bedroom, but by the unanswerable, intimidating, inspiring
mystery of life itself. A man came hurrying with a pole out of the
western vista of the lane, and stopped in front of the gas-lamp, and
in an instant the flame was reduced to a little fat worm of blue, and
the man passed swiftly up the lane, looking straight ahead with bent
shoulders, and was gone. Never before had Rachel actually seen the
lamp put out. Never before had she noticed, as she noticed now, that
the lamp had a number, an identity--1054. The meek acquiescence of
the lamp, and the man's preoccupied haste, seemed to bear some deep
significance, which, however, she could not seize. But the aspect of
the man afflicted her, she did not know why.
Then a number of other figures, in a long spasmodic procession, passed
up the lane after the man, and were gone out of sight. Their heavy
boots clacked on the pavement. They wore thick, dirty greyish-black
clothes, but no overcoats; small tight caps in their hands, and dark
kerchiefs round their necks: about thirty of them in all, colliers
on their way to one of the pits on the Moorthorne ridge. They walked
quickly, but they did not hurry as their forerunner hurried. Several
of them smoked pipes. Though some walked in pairs, none spoke; none
looked up or aside. With one man walked stolidly a young woman, her
overskirt raised and pulled round her head from the back for a shawl;
but even these two did not converse. The procession closed with one or
two stragglers. Rachel had never seen these pilgrims before, but she
had heard them; and Mrs. Maldon had been acquainted with all their
footfalls. They were tragic to Rachel; they infected her with the most
recondite horror of existence; they left tragedy floating behind them
in the lane like an invisible but oppressive cloud. Their utterly
incurious indifference to Rachel in her peignoir at the window was
The dank lane and vaporous, stagnant landscape were once more dead and
silent, and would for a long time remain so, for though potters begin
work early, colliers begin work much earlier, living in a world of
customs of their own. At last a thin column of smoke issued magically
from a chimney down to the left. Some woman was about; some woman's
day had opened within that house. At the thought of that unseen woman
in that unknown house Rachel could have cried. She could not remain at
the window. She was unhappy; but it was not her woe that overcame her,
for if she was unhappy, her unhappiness was nevertheless exquisite.
It was the mere realization that men and women lived that rendered her
emotions almost insupportable. She felt her youth. She thought, "I am
only a girl, and yet my life is ruined already." And even that thought
she hugged amorously as though it were beautiful. Amid the full
disaster and regret, she was glad to be alive. She could not help
exulting in the dreadful moment.
She closed the sash and began to dress, seldom glancing at Louis,
who slept and dreamed and muttered. When she was dressed she looked
carefully in the drawer where he deposited certain articles from his
pockets, in order to find the bundle of notes left by Julian. In vain!
Then she searched for his bunch of keys (which ultimately she found
in one of his pockets) and unlocked his private drawer. The bundle
of notes lay there. She removed it, and hid it away in one of her
own secret places. After she had made preparations to get ready some
invalid's food at short notice, she went downstairs.
She went downstairs without any definite purpose--merely because
activity of some kind was absolutely necessary to her. The clock
in the lobby showed dimly a quarter past five. In the chilly twilit
kitchen the green-lined silver-basket lay on the table in front of the
window, placed there by a thoughtful and conscientious Mrs. Tams. On
the previous morning Rachel had given very precise orders about the
silver (as the workaday electro-plate was called), but owing to the
astounding events of the day the orders had not been executed. Mrs.
Tams had evidently determined to carry them out at an early hour.
Rachel opened a cupboard and drew forth the apparatus for cleaning.
She was intensely fatigued, weary, and seemingly spiritless, but she
began to clean the silver--at first with energy and then with serious
application. She stood at the table, cleaning, as she had stood there
when Louis came into her kitchen on the night of the robbery; and she
thought of his visit and of her lost bliss, and the tears fell
from her eyes on the newspaper which protected the whiteness of the
scrubbed table. She would not think of the future; could not. She went
on cleaning, and that silver had never been cleaned as she cleaned it
then. She cleaned it with every attribute of herself, forgetting her
fatigue. The tears dried on her cheek. The faithful, scrupulous work
either drugged or solaced her. Just as she was finishing, Mrs. Tarns,
with her immense bodice unfastened, came downstairs, apronless. The
lobby clock struck six.
"Eh, missis!" breathed Mrs. Tams. "What's this?"
Rachel gave a nervous laugh.
"I was up. Mr. Fores was asleep, and I had to do something, so I
"Has he had a good night, ma'am?"
"Fair. Yes, pretty good. I must run up and see if he is awake."
Mrs. Tams saw the stains on Rachel's cheeks, but she could not mention
them. Rachel had an impulse to fall on Mrs. Tams' enormous breast and
weep. But the conventions of domesticity were far too strong for
her also. Mrs. Tams was the general servant; what Louis occasionally
called "the esteemed skivvy." Once Mrs. Tams had been wife, mother,
grandmother, victim, slave, diplomatist, serpent, heroine. Once she
had bent from morn till night under the terrific weight of a million
perils and responsibilities. Once she could never be sure of her next
meal, or the roof over her head, or her skin, or even her bones. Once
she had been the last resource and refuge not merely of a house, but
of half a street, and she had had a remedy for every ill, a balm
for every wound. But now she was safe, out of harm's way. She had no
responsibilities worth a rap. She had everything an old woman ought
to desire. And yet the silly old woman felt a lack, as she impotently
watched Rachel leave the kitchen. Perhaps she wanted her eye blacked,
or the menace of a policeman, or a child down with diphtheria, to
remind her that the world revolved.
Louis had wakened up a few minutes before Rachel returned to
the bedroom from that most wonderfully conscientious spell of
silver-cleaning. He was relieved to find himself alone. He was ill,
perhaps very ill, but he felt unquestionably better than in the night.
He was delivered from the appalling fear of death which had tortured
and frightened him, and his thankfulness was intense; and yet at the
same time he was aware of a sort of heroical sentimental regret that
he was not, after all, dead; he would almost have preferred to die
with grandeur, young, unfortunate, wept for by an inconsolable
wife doomed to everlasting widowhood. He was ashamed of his bodily
improvement, which rendered him uncomfortably self-conscious, for
he had behaved as though dying when, as the event proved, he was not
When Rachel came in, this self-consciousness grew terrible. And in his
weakness, his constraint, his febrile perturbation which completely
destroyed presence of mind, he feebly remarked--
"Did any one call yesterday to ask how I was?"
As soon as he had said it he knew that it was inept, and quite
unsuitable to the role which he ought to play.
Rachel had gone straight to the dressing-table, apparently ignoring
him, though she could not possibly have failed to notice that he was
awake. She turned sharply and gazed at him with a look of inimical
contempt that aggrieved and scarified him very acutely. Making no
answer to his query, content solely to condemn it with her eyes as
egotistic and vain, she said--
"I'm going to make you some food."
And then she curtly showed him her bent back, and over the foot of the
bed he could see her preparations--preliminary stirring with a spoon,
the placing of the bright tin saucepan on the lamp, the opening of the
wick, seizing of the match-box.
As soon as the cooking was in train, she threw up the window wide and
then came to the bed.
"I'll just put your bed to rights again," she remarked, and seized the
pillow, waiting implacably for him to raise his head. He had to raise
"I'm very ill," he moaned.
She replied in a tone of calm indifference--
"I know you are. But you'll soon be better. You're getting a little
better every hour." And she finished arranging the bed, which was
presently in a state of smooth geometrical correctness. He could find
no fault with her efficiency, nor with her careful handling of his
sensitive body. But the hard, the marmoreal cruelty of his wife's
spirit exquisitely wounded his soul, which, after all, was at least as
much in need of consolation as his body. He was positively daunted.
He had passed through dreadful moments in the early part of the night
while Rachel slept. When he had realized that he was doomed--for the
conviction that death was upon him had been absolutely sincere and
final for a long time--he was panic-stricken, impressed, and strangely
proud, all at once. But the panic was paramount. He was afraid,
horribly afraid. His cowardice was ghastly, even to himself, shot
through though it was by a peculiar appreciation of the grandiosity
of his fate as a martyr to clumsy chance. He was reduced by it to
the trembling repentant sinner, as the proud prisoner is reduced to
abjection by prolonged and secret torture in Oriental prisons. He
ranged in fright over the whole of his career, and was obliged to
admit, and to admit with craven obsequiousness, that he had been a
wicked man, obstinate in wickedness.
He remembered matters which had utterly vanished from his memory. He
remembered, for example, the excellence of his moral aspirations when
he had first thought of Rachel as a wife, and the firm, high resolves
which were to be carried out if he married her. Forgotten!
Forgotten! As soon as he had won her he had thought of nothing but
self-indulgence, pleasure, capricious delights. His tailor still
languished for money long justly due. He had not even restored the
defalcations in Horrocleave's petty cash. Of course it would have
been difficult to restore a sum comparatively so large without causing
suspicion. To restore it would have involved a long series of minute
acts, alterations of alterations in the cash entries, and constant
ingenuity in a hundred ways. But it ought to have been done, and might
have been done. It might have been done. He admitted that candidly,
fully, with despicable tremblings....
And the worst of all, naturally, was the theft from his aunt. Theft?
Was it a theft? He had never before consented to define the affair
as a theft; it had been a misfortune, an indiscretion. But now he was
ready to call it a theft, in order to be on the safe side. For the
sake of placating Omnipotence let it be deemed a theft, and even a
mean theft, entailing dire consequences on a weak old woman! Let it be
as bad as the severest judge chose to make it! He would not complain.
He would accept the arraignment (though really he had not been so
blameworthy, etc....). He knew that with all his sins he, possessed
the virtues of good nature, kindness, and politeness. He was not
wholly vile. In some ways he honestly considered himself a model to
And then he had recalled certain information received in childhood
from authoritative persons about the merciful goodness of God. His
childhood had been rather ceremoniously religious, for his step-uncle,
the Lieutenant-General, was a great defender of Christianity as well
as of the British Empire. The Lieutenant-General had even written
a pamphlet against a ribald iconoclastic book published by the
Rationalist Press Association, in which pamphlet he had made a sorry
mess of Herbert Spencer. All the Lieutenant-General's relatives and
near admirers went to church, and they all went to precisely the same
kind of church, for no other kind would have served. Louis, however,
had really liked going to church. There had once even been a
mad suggestion that he should become a choir-boy, but the
Lieutenant-General had naturally decided that it was not meet for a
child of breeding to associate with plebeians in order to chant the
praises of the Almighty.
Louis at his worst had never quite ceased to attend church, though he
was under the impression that his religious views had broadened, if
not entirely changed. Beneath the sudden heavy menace of death he
discovered that his original views were, after all, the most authentic
and the strongest. And he had much longed for converse with a
clergyman, who would repeat to him the beautiful reassurances of his
infancy. Even late in the afternoon, hours before the supreme crisis,
he would have welcomed a clergyman, for he was already beginning to
be afraid. He would have liked a clergyman to drop in by accident; he
would have liked the first advances to come from the clergyman.
But he could not bring himself to suggest that the rector of St.
Luke's, of whose flock he now formed part, should be sent for. He had
demanded a lawyer, and that was as near to a clergyman as he could
get. He had been balked of the lawyer. Further on in the evening,
when his need was more acute and his mind full of frightful secret
apprehensions, he was as far as ever from obtaining a clergyman. And
he knew that, though his eternal welfare might somehow depend on the
priest, he could never articulate to Rachel the words, "I should
like to see a clergyman." It would seem too absurd to ask for a
clergyman.... Strangeness of the human heart!
It was after Rachel had fallen asleep that the idea of confession
had occurred to him as a means towards safety in the future life. The
example of Julian had inspired him. He had despised Julian; he had
patronized Julian; but in his extremity he had been ready to imitate
him. He seemed to conceive that confession before death must be
excellent for the soul. At any rate, it prevented one from going down
to the tomb with a lie tacit on the lips. He was very ill, very
weak, very intimidated. And he was very solitary and driven in on
himself--not so much because Rachel had gone to sleep as because
neither Rachel nor anybody else would believe that he was really
dying. His spirit was absorbed in the gravest preoccupations that can
trouble a man. His need of sympathy and succour was desperate. Thus he
had wakened Rachel. At first she had been as sympathetic and consoling
as he could desire. She had held his hand and sat on the bed. The
momentary relief was wonderful. And he had been encouraged to confess.
He had prodded himself on to confession by the thought that Rachel
must have known of his guilt all along--otherwise she would never have
told that senseless lie about the scullery door being open. Hence his
confession could not surprise her. She would receive it in the right,
loving, wifely attitude, telling him that he was making too much of
a little, that it was splendid of him to confess, and generally
exonerating and rehabilitating him.
Then he had begun to confess. The horrible change in her tone as he
came to the point had unnerved him. Her wild sobs when the confession
was made completed his dismay. And then, afterwards, her incredible
harshness and cruelty, her renewed refusal, flat and disdainful,
to believe that he was dying--these things were the most wounding
experience of his entire existence. As for her refusal to listen to
the rest of his story, the important part, the exculpatory part--it
was monstrously unjust. He had had an instant's satisfaction on
beholding her confusion at being charged with the lie about the
scullery door, but it was a transient advantage. He was so ill....
She had bullied him with the lacerating emphasis of her taciturn
remarks.... And at last she had requested him not to make it any more
awkward for _her_!...
When he had obediently taken the food and thanked her for it very
nicely, he felt much better. The desire for a clergyman, or even for a
lawyer, passed away from his mind; he forgot the majority of his sins
and his aspirations, and the need for restoring the defalcations to
Jim Horrocleave seemed considerably less urgent. Rachel stayed by him
while he ate, but she would not meet his glance, and looked carefully
at the window.
"As soon as I've tidied up the room, I'll just sponge your hands,"
said she. "The doctor will be here early. I suppose I mustn't touch
"How do you know he'll be here early?"
"He said he should--because of the dressings, you know."
She went to work on the room, producing a duster from somewhere, and
ringing for Mrs. Tams, who, however, was not permitted to enter. Louis
hated these preparations for the doctor. He had never in his life been
able to understand why women were always so absurdly afraid of the
doctor's eye. As if the doctor would care! Moreover, the room was
being tidied for the doctor, not for the invalid! The invalid didn't
matter! When she came to him with a bowl of water, soap, and a towel,
he loathed the womanish scheme of being washed in bed.
"I'll get up," he said. "I'm lots better." He had previously intended
to feign extreme illness, but he forgot.
"Oh no, you won't," she replied coldly. "First you think you're dying,
and then you think you're all right. You won't stir out of that bed
till the doctor's been, at any rate."
And she lodged the bowl dangerously between his knees. He pretended to
be contemptuous of her refusal to let him get up, but in fact he
was glad of an excuse for not making good his boast. His previous
statement that he was very ill was much nearer to the truth than the
fine talking about being "lots better." If not very ill, he was, at
any rate, more ill than he now thought he was, and eating had fatigued
him. Nevertheless, he would wash his own hands. Rachel yielded to him
in this detail with cynical indifference. She put the towel by the
bowl, and left him to balance the bowl and keep the soap off the
counterpane as best he could, while she rummaged in one of the drawers
of the wardrobe--obviously for the simple sake of rummaging.
Her unwifeliness was astounding; it was so astounding that Louis did
not all at once quite realize how dangerously he was wounded by it.
He had seen that hard, contumelious mask on her face several times
before; he had seen it, for instance, when she had been expressing her
views on Councillor Batchgrew; but he had not conceived, in his absurd
male confidence, that it would ever be directed against himself. He
could not snatch the mask from her face, but he wondered how he might
pierce it, and incidentally hurt her and make her cry softly. Ah!
He had seen her in moods of softness which were celestial to
him--surpassing all dreams of felicity!
The conviction of his own innocence and victimhood strengthened
in him. Amid the morbid excitations of the fear of death, he had
forgotten that in strict truth he had not stolen a penny from his
great-aunt, that he was utterly innocent. He now vividly remembered
that his sole intention in taking possession of the bank-notes had
been to teach his great-aunt a valuable lesson about care in the
guarding of money. Afterwards he had meant to put the notes back where
he had found them; chance had prevented; he had consistently acted for
the best in very sudden difficulties, and after all, in the result, it
was not he who was responsible for the destruction of the notes, but
Rachel.... True, that in the night his vision of the affair had been
less favourable to himself, but in the night illness had vitiated his
judgment, which was not strange, seeing the dreadful accident he had
experienced.... He _might_ have died, and where would Rachel
have been then?... Was it not amazing that a young wife who had just
escaped widowhood so narrowly could behave to a husband, a seriously
sick husband, as Rachel was behaving to him?
He wished that he had not used the word "collar" in confessing to
Rachel. It was equal to "steal." Its significance was undebatable.
Yes, "collar" was a grave error of phrasing.
"I'm about done with this basin thing," he said, with all possible
dignity, and asked for brushes of various sorts for the completion of
his toilet. She served him slowly, coolly. Her intention was clear
to act as a capable but frigid nurse--not as a wife. He saw that she
thought herself the wife of a thief, and that she was determined not
to be the wife of a thief. He could not bear it. The situation must be
changed immediately, because his pride was bleeding to death.
"I say," he began, when she had taken away the towel and his
"What?" Her tone challenged him.
"You wouldn't let me finish last night. I just wanted to tell you that
"I've no wish to hear another word." She stopped him, precisely as she
had stopped him in the night. She was at the washstand.
"I should be obliged if you'd look at me when you speak to me," he
reproached her manners. "It's only polite."
She turned to him with face flaming. They were both aware that his
deportment was better than hers; and he perceived that the correction
had abraded her susceptibility.
"I'll look at you all right," she answered, curtly and rather loudly.
He adopted a superior attitude.
"Of course I'm ill and weak," he said, "but even if I am I suppose I'm
entitled to some consideration." He lay back on the pillow.
"I can't help your being ill," she answered. "It's not my fault. And
if you're so ill and weak as all that, it seems to me the best thing
you can do is to be quiet and not to talk, especially about--about
"Well, perhaps you'll let me be the best judge of what I ought to
talk about. Anyhow, I'm going to talk about it, and you're going to
"I say you're going to listen," he insisted, turning on his side
towards her. "And why not? Why, what on earth did I say last night,
after all, I should like to know?"
"You said you'd taken the other part of the money of Mrs.
Maldon's--that's what you said. You thought you were dying, and so you
"That's just what I want to explain. I'm going to explain it to you."
"No explanations for me, thanks!" she sneered, walking in the
direction of the hearth. "I'd sooner hear anything, anything, than
your explanations." She seemed to shudder.
He nerved himself.
"I tell you I _found_ that money," he cried, recommencing.
"Well, good-bye," she said, moving to the door. "You don't seem to
At the same moment there was a knock at the door.
"Come in, Mrs. Tarns," said Rachel calmly.
"She mustn't come in now," Louis protested.
"Come in, Mrs. Tams," Rachel repeated decisively.
And Mrs. Tams entered, curtsying towards the bed.
"What is it?" Rachel asked her.
"It's the greengrocer's cart, ma'am." The greengrocer usually did send
round on Saturday mornings.
"I'll go down. Just clear up that washstand, will you?"
It was remarkable to Louis how chance would favour a woman in an
altercation. But he had decided, even if somewhat hysterically, to
submit to no more delay, and to end the altercation--and moreover, to
end it in his own way.
"Rachel!" he called. Several times he called her name, more and more
loudly. He ignored what was due to servants, to greengrocers, and to
the dignity of employers. He kept on calling.
"Shall I fetch missis, sir?" Mrs. Tams suggested at length.
He nodded. Mrs. Tams departed, laden. Certainly the fat creature, from
whom nothing could be hid by a younger generation, had divined that
strife had supervened on illness, and that great destinies hung upon
the issue. Neither Mrs. Tams nor Rachel returned to the bedroom. Louis
began again to call for Rachel, and then to yell for her. He could
feel that the effort was exhausting him, but he was determined to
Without a sound she startlingly appeared in the room.
"What's the matter?" she inquired, with her irritating assumption of
"You know what's the matter."
"I wish you wouldn't scream like a baby," she said.
"You know I want to speak to you, and you're keeping out of the way on
"Look here, Louis! Do you want me to leave the house altogether?"
"What is she saying? We've only been married a few weeks. This is
Aloud he answered--
"Of course I don't want you to leave the house."
"Well, then, don't say any more. Because if you do, I shall. I've
heard all I want to hear. There are some things I can bear, and some I
"If you don't listen--!" he exclaimed. "I'm warning you!"
She glanced at the thief in him, and at the coward penitent of the
night, with the most desolating disdain, and left the room. That was
her answer to his warning.
"All right, my girl! All right!" he said to himself, when she had
gone, pulling together his self-esteem, his self-pity, and his
masculinity. "You'll regret this. You see if you don't. As to leaving
the house, we shall see who'll leave the house. Wait till I'm on my
legs again. If there is to be a scandal, there shall be a scandal."
One thing was absolutely sure--he could not and would not endure her
contumely, nor even her indifferent scorn. For him to live with it
would be ridiculous as well as impossible. He was weak, but two facts
gave him enormous strength. First, he loved her less than she loved
him, and hence she was at a disadvantage. But supposing her passion
for him was destroyed? Then the second fact came into play. He had
money. He had thousands of pounds, loose, available! To such a nature
as his the control of money gives a sense of everlasting security.
Already he dreamt of freedom, of roaming the wide world, subject to no
yoke but a bachelor's whim.
Rachel thought she understood all Louis' mental processes. With the
tragic self-confidence of the inexperienced wife, she was convinced
that she had nothing to learn about the secret soul of the stranger to
whom she had utterly surrendered herself, reserving from him naught
of the maiden. Each fresh revelation of him she imagined to be final,
completing her studies. In fact, it would have taken at least ten
years of marriage to prove to her that a perception of ignorance is
the summit of knowledge. She had not even realized that human nature
is chiefly made up of illogical and absurd contradictions. Thus
she left the house that Saturday morning gloomy, perhaps hopeless,
certainly quite undecided as to the future, but serene, sure of her
immediate position, and sure that Louis would act like Louis. She knew
that she had the upper hand, both physically and morally. The doctor
had called and done his work, and given a very reassuring report. She
left Louis to Mrs. Tams, as was entirely justifiable, merely informing
him that she had necessary errands, and even this information she gave
through her veil, a demure contrivance which she had adapted for the
first time on her honeymoon. It was his role to accept her august
The forenoon was better than the dawn. The sun had emerged; the
moisture had nearly disappeared, except in the road; and the impulse
of spring was moving in the trees and in the bodies of young women;
the sky showed a virginal blue; the wandering clouds were milky and
rounded, the breeze infinitely soft. It seemed to be in an earlier age
that the dark colliers had silently climbed the steep of Bycars
Lane amid the dankness and that the first column of smoke had risen
forlornly from the chimney.
In spite of her desolated heart, and of her primness, Rachel stepped
forward airily. She was going forth to an enormous event, namely, her
first apparition in the shopping streets of the town on a Saturday
morning as Mrs. Louis Fores, married woman. She might have postponed
it, but into what future? Moreover, she was ashamed of being diffident
about it. And, in the peculiar condition of her mind, she would have
been ashamed to let a spiritual crisis, however appalling, interfere
with the natural, obvious course of her duties. So far as the world
was concerned, she was a happy married woman, who had to make her
debut as a shopping housewife, and hence she was determined that her
debut should be made.... And yet, possibly she might not have ventured
away from the house at all, had she not felt that if she did not
escape for a time from its unbreathable atmosphere into the liberty of
the streets, she would stifle and expire. Wherever she put herself
in the house she could not feel alone. In the streets she felt alone,
even when saluting new acquaintances and being examined and probed by
their critical stare. The sight of these acquaintances reminded her
that she had a long list of calls to repay. And then the system of
paying calls and repaying, and the whole system of society, seemed
monstrously fanciful and unreal to her. There was only one reality.
The solid bricks of the pavement suddenly trembled under her feet as
though she were passing over a suspension-bridge. The enterprise of
shopping became idiotic, humorous, incredibly silly in the face of
Nevertheless, the social system of Bursley, as exemplified in Wedgwood
Street and the market-place, its principal shopping thoroughfares, was
extremely alluring, bright, and invigorating that morning. It almost
intoxicated, and had, indeed, a similar effect to that of a sparkling
drink. Rachel had never shopped at large with her own money before.
She had executed commissions for Mrs. Maldon. She had been an unpaid
housekeeper to her father and brother. Now she was shopping as
mistress of a house and of money. She owed an account of her outlay
to nobody, not even to Louis. She recalled the humble and fantastic
Saturday night when she had shopped with Louis as reticule-carrier
... centuries since. The swiftness and unforeseeableness of events
frightened the girl masquerading as a wise, perfected woman. Her heart
lay like a weight in her corsage for an instant, and the next instant
she was in the bright system again, because she was so young.
Here and there in the streets, and in small groups in the chief shops,
you saw prim ladies of every age, each with a gloved hand clasped over
a purse. (But sometimes the purse lay safe under the coverlet of
a perambulator.) These purses made all the ladies equal, for their
contents were absolutely secret from all save the owners. All the
ladies were spending, and the delight of spending was theirs. And in
theory every purse was inexhaustible. At any rate, it was impossible
to conceive a purse empty. The system wore the face of the ideal.
Manners were proper to the utmost degree; they neatly marked the
equality of the shoppers and the profound difference between the
shoppers and the shopkeepers. All ladies were agreeable, all babies in
perambulators were darlings. The homes thus represented by ladies and
babies were clearly polite homes, where reigned suavity, tranquillity,
affection, and plenty. Civilization was justified in Wedgwood
Street and the market-place--and also, to some extent, in St. Luke's
Square.... And Rachel was one of these ladies. Her gloved hand closed
over a purse exactly in the style of the others. And her purse, regard
being had to the inheritance of her husband, was supposed to hide vast
sums; so much so that ladies who had descended from distant heights
in pony-carts gazed upon her with the respect due to a rival. All
welcomed her into the exclusive, correct little world--not only the
shopkeepers but the buyers therein. She represented youthful love. Her
life must be, and was, an idyll! True, she had no perambulator, but
middle-aged ladies greeted her with wistfulness in their voices and in
She smiled often as she told and retold the story of Louis' accident,
and gave positive assurances that he was in no danger, and would
not bear a scar. She blushed often. She was shyly happy in her
unhappiness. The experience alternated between the unreal and the
real. The extraordinary complexity of life was beginning to put its
spell on her. She could not determine the relative values of the
various facets of the experience.
When she had done the important parts of her business, she thought she
would go into the covered market, which, having one entrance in
the market-place and another in Wedgwood Street, connects the two
thoroughfares. She had never been into the covered market because
Mrs. Maldon had a prejudice against its wares. She went out of mere
curiosity, just to enlarge her knowledge of her adopted town. The huge
interior, with its glazed roof, was full of clatter, shouting, and
the smell of innumerable varieties of cheese. She passed a second-hand
bookstall without seeing it, and then discerned admirable potatoes at
three-halfpence a peck less than she had been paying--and Mrs. Maldon
was once more set down as an old lady with peculiarities. However, by
the time Rachel had made a critical round of the entire place, with
its birds in cages, popular songs at a penny, sweetstuffs, cheap
cottons and woollens, bright tinware, colonial fleshmeat, sausage
displays, and particularly its cheeses, Mrs. Maldon was already
recovering her reputation as a woman whose death was an irreparable
loss to the town.
As Rachel passed the negligible second-hand bookstall again, it was
made visible to her by the fact that Councillor Thomas Batchgrew was
just emerging from the shop behind it, with a large volume in his
black-gloved hands. Thomas Batchgrew came out of the dark bookshop
as a famous old actor, accustomed to decades of crude public worship,
comes out of a fashionable restaurant into a fashionable thoroughfare.
His satisfied and self-conscious countenance showed that he knew
that nearly everybody in sight was or ought to be acquainted with his
identity and his renown, and showed also that his pretence of being
unaware of this tremendous and luscious fact was playful and not
seriously meant to deceive a world of admirers. He was wearing a light
tweed suit, with a fancy waistcoat and a hard, pale-grey hat. As he
aged, his tendency to striking pale attire was becoming accentuated;
at any rate, it had the advantage of harmonizing with his unique
whiskers--those whiskers which differentiated him from all the rest of
the human race in the Five Towns.
Rachel blushed, partly because he was suddenly so close to her, partly
because she disapproved of the cunning expression on his red, seamed
face and was afraid he might divine her thoughts, and partly because
she recalled the violent things she had said against him to Louis. But
as soon as Thomas Batchgrew caught sight of her the expression of his
faced changed in an instant to one of benevolence and artless joy; the
change in it was indeed dramatic.
And Rachel, pleased and flattered, said to herself, almost startled--
"He really admires me. And I do believe he always did."
And since admiration is a sweet drug, whether offered by a rascal
or by the pure in heart, she forgot momentarily the horror of her
"Eh, lass!" Thomas Batchgrew was saying familiarly, after he had
inquired about Louis, "I'm rare glad for thy sake it was no worse."
His frank implication that he was glad only for her sake gratified and
did not wound her as a wife.
The next moment he had dismissed the case of Louis and was displaying
to her the volume which he carried. It was a folio Bible, printed by
the Cornishman Tregorthy in the town of Bursley, within two hundred
yards of where they were standing, in the earliest years of the
nineteenth century--a bibliographical curiosity, as Thomas Batchgrew
vaguely knew, for he wet his gloved thumb and, resting the book on
one raised knee, roughly turned over several pages till he came to the
title-page containing the word "Bursley," which he showed with pride
to Rachel. Rachel, however, not being in the slightest degree a
bibliophile, discerned no interest whatever in the title-page.
She merely murmured with politeness, "Oh, yes! Bursley," while
animadverting privately on the old man's odious trick of wetting his
gloved thumb and leaving marks on the pages.
"The good old Book!" he said. "I've been after that volume for six
months and more. I knew I should get it, but he's a stiff un--yon is,"
jerking his shoulder in the direction of the second-hand bookseller.
Then he put the folio under his arm, delighted at the souvenir of
having worsted somebody in a bargain, and repeated, "The good old
"You unspeakable old sinner!"
Still, she liked his attitude towards herself. In addition to the book
he insisted on carrying a small white parcel of hers which she had
not put into the reticule. They climbed the steps out of the covered
market and walked along the market-place together. And Rachel
unmistakably did find pleasure in being seen thus with the great and
powerful, if much criticized, Thomas Batchgrew, him to whom several
times, less than a year earlier, she had scathingly referred as
_that man_. His escort in the thoroughfare, and especially
his demeanour towards herself, gave her a standing which she could
otherwise scarcely have attained. Moreover, people might execrate him
in private, but that he had conquered the esteem of their secret souls
was well proved by their genuine eagerness to salute him as he walked
sniffing along. He counted himself one of the seven prides of the
district, and perhaps he was not far out.
"Come in a minute, lass," he said in a low, confidential voice,
as they reached his branch shop, just beyond Malkin's. "I'll--" He
A motor, apparently enormous, was buzzing motion-less in the wide
entry by the side of the shop. It very slowly moved forward, crossed
the footpath and half the street opposite the Town Hall, impeding a
tram-car, and then curved backward into a position by the kerbstone.
John's Ernest was at the steering-wheel. Councillor Batchgrew stood
still with his mouth open to watch the manoeuvre.
"This is John's Ernest--my son John's eldest. Happen ye know him?"
said Batchgrew to Rachel. "He's a good lad."
John's Ernest, a pleasant-featured young man of twenty-five, blushed
and raised his hat. And Rachel also blushed as she nodded. It was
astonishing that old Batchgrew could have a grandson with so honest
a look on his face, but she had heard that son John, too, was very
different from his father.
"Dunna go till I've seen thee," said Mr. Batchgrew to John's Ernest,
and to Rachel, "Come in, Mrs. Fores."
John's Ernest silenced the car, and extricated himself with practised
rapidity from the driver's seat.
"Where are ye going?" asked his grandfather.
"I'm going to lock the garage doors," said John's Ernest, with a
humorous smile which seemed to add, "Unless you'd like them to be left
open all Saturday afternoon." Rachel vividly remembered the playful,
boyish voice which she had heard one night when the motor-car had
called to take Mr. Batchgrew to Red Cow.
The councillor nodded.
In the small, untidy, disagreeable, malodorous shop, which in about
half a century had scarcely altered its aspect, Thomas Batchgrew
directed Rachel to a corner behind the counter and behind a partition,
with a view of a fragment of the window. As she passed she saw one of
the Batchgrew women (the wife of another grandson) and three little
girls of various sizes flash in succession across an open doorway at
the back. The granddaughter-in-law, who had an abode full of costly
wedding-presents over the shop, had been one of her callers, but when
they flashed across that doorway the Batchgrew women made a point of
ignoring all phenomena in the shop.
"Has Louis decided about them debentures?" Thomas Batchgrew asked,
still in a very low and confidential tone, as the two stood together
in the corner. He had put the Book and the parcel down on a very
ragged blotting-pad that lay on a chipped and ink-stained deal desk,
and began to finger a yellow penholder. There was nobody else in the
Rachel had foreseen his question.
She answered calmly: "Yes. He's quite decided that on the whole it'll
be better if he doesn't put his money into debentures."
There was no foundation whatever for this statement; yet, in
uttering the lie, she was clearly conscious of a feeling of lofty
righteousness. She faced Thomas Batchgrew, though not with a
tranquillity perfectly maintained, and she still enjoyed his
appreciation of her, but she did not seem to care whether he guessed
that she was lying or not.
"I'm sorry, lass!" he said simply, sniffing. "The lad's a fool. It
isn't as if I've got to go hawking seven per cent. debentures to get
rid of 'em--and in a concern like that, too! They'd never ha' been
seven per cent if it hadna been for me. But it was you as I was
thinking of when I offered 'em to Louis. I thought I should be doing
ye a good turn."
The old man smiled amid his loud sniffs. He was too old to have
retained any save an artistic interest in women. But an artistic
interest in them he certainly had; and at an earlier period he had
acquainted himself with life, as his eye showed. Rachel blushed a
third time that morning, and more deeply than before. He was seriously
nattering her now. Endearing qualities that had expired in him long
ago seemed to be resuscitated and to animate his ruined features.
Rachel dimly understood how it was that some woman had once married
him and borne him a lot of children, and how it was that he had been
so intimate and valued a friend of the revered husband of such a woman
as Mrs. Maldon. She was, in the Five Towns phrase, "flustered." She
almost believed what Thomas Batchgrew had said. She did believe it.
She had misjudged him on the Thursday night when he spread the lure of
the seven per cent. in front of Louis. At any rate, he assuredly did
not care, personally, whether Louis accepted the debentures or not.
"However," the councillor went on, "he's got to know his own business
best. And I don't know as it's any affair o' mine. But I was just
thinking of you. When the husband has a good investment, th' wife
generally comes in for something.... And what's more, it 'ud ha'
stopped him from doing anything silly with his brass! _You_
"Yes," she murmured.
"I'm talking to ye because I've taken a fancy to ye," said the
councillor. "I knew what you were the first time I set eyes on ye. Oh,
I don't mind telling ye now--what harm is there in it? I'd a sort of a
fancy as one day you and John's Ernest might ha' hit it off. I had it
in my mind like."
A crude compliment, possibly in bad taste, possibly offensive; but
Rachel was singularly moved by the revelation thus made. Before she
could find a reply John's Ernest came into the shop, followed by an
Then she was sitting by John's Ernest's side in the big motor-car,
with her possessions at her feet. The enthronement had happened in a
few moments. John's Ernest was going to Hanbridge.
"Ye can run Mrs. Fores up home on yer way," Thomas Batchgrew had
"But Bycars Lane is miles out of your way!" Rachel had cried.
Both men had smiled. "Won't make a couple of minutes' difference in
the car," John's Ernest had modestly murmured.
She had been afraid to get into the automobile--afraid with a sort of
stage-fright; afraid, as she might have been had she been called
upon to sing at a concert in the Town Hall. She had imagined that all
Bursley was gazing at her as she climbed into the car. Over the face
of England automobiles are far more common than cuckoos, and yet for
the majority, even of the proud and solvent middle class, they still
remain as unattainable, as glitteringly wondrous, as a title. Rachel
had never been in an automobile before; she had never hoped to be
in an automobile. A few days earlier, and she had been regarding a
bicycle as rather romantic! Louis had once mentioned a motor-cycle
and side-carriage for herself, but she had rebuffed the idea with a
The whole town slid away behind her. The car was out of the
market-place and crossing the top of Duck Bank, the scene of Louis'
accident, before she had settled her skirts. She understood why the
men had smiled at her; it was no more trouble for the car to go to
Bycars than it would be for her to run upstairs. The swift movement of
the car, silent and arrogant, and the occasional deep bass mysterious
menace of its horn, and the grace of John's Ernest's gestures on the
wheel as he curved the huge vehicle like a phantom round lumbering
obstacles--these things fascinated and exalted her.
In spite of the horrible secret she carried all the time in her heart,
she was somehow filled with an instinctive joy. And she began to
perceive changes in her own perspective. The fine Louis, whom she
had regarded as the summit of mankind, could never offer her an
automobile; he existed entirely in a humbler world; he was, after all,
a young man in a very small way of affairs. Batchgrew's automobile
would swallow up, week by week, more than the whole of Louis' income.
And further, John's Ernest by her side was invested with the mighty
charm of one who easily and skilfully governs a vast and dangerous
organism. All the glory of the inventors and perfecters of
automobiles, and of manufacturing engineers, and of capitalists who
could pay for their luxurious caprices, was centred in John's Ernest,
merely because he directed and subjugated the energy of the miraculous
And John's Ernest was so exquisitely modest and diffident, and yet had
an almost permanent humorous smile. But the paramount expression on
his face was honesty. She had never hitherto missed the expression of
honesty on Louis' face, but she realized now that it was not there....
And she had been adjudged worthy of John's Ernest! The powerful of the
world had had their eyes on her! Not Louis alone had noted her! Had
Fate chosen, and had she herself chosen, that very motor-car might
have been hers, and she at that instant riding in it as the mistress
thereof! Strange thoughts, which intensely flattered and fostered her
self-esteem. But she still had the horrible secret to carry with her.
When the car stopped in front of her gate, she forced open the door
and jumped down with almost hysterical speed, said "Good-bye" and
"Thank you" to John's Ernest, who becomingly blushed, and ran round
the back of the car with her purchases. The car went on up the lane,
the intention of John's Ernest being evident to proceed along Park
Road and the Moorthorne ridge to Hanbridge rather than turn the car
in the somewhat narrow lane. Rachel, instead of entering the house,
thrust her parcels frantically on to the top step against the front
door, and rushed down the steps again and down the lane. In a minute
she was overtaking a man.
"Louis!" she cried.
From the car she had seen the incredible vision of Louis walking down
the lane from the house. He and John's Ernest had not noticed each
other, nor had Louis noticed that his wife was in the car.
Louis stopped now and looked back, hesitant.
There he was, with his plastered, pale face all streaked with
greyish-white lines! Really Rachel had difficulty in believing her
eyes. She had left him in bed, weak, broken; and he was there in the
road fully dressed for the town and making for the town--a dreadful
sight, but indubitably moving unaided on his own legs. It was simply
monstrous! Fury leaped up in her. She had never heard of anything more
monstrous. The thing was an absolute outrage on her nursing of him.
"Are you stark, staring mad?" she demanded.
He stood weakly regarding her. It was clear that he was already very
enfeebled by his fantastic exertions.
"I wonder how much farther you would have gone without falling!" she
said. "I'll thank you to come back this very instant!... This very
He had no strength to withstand her impetuous anger. His lower lip
fell. He obeyed with some inarticulate words.
"And I should like to know what Mrs. Tams was doing!" said Rachel.
She neither guessed nor cared what was the intention of Louis'
shocking, impossible escapade. She grasped his arm firmly. In ten
minutes he was in bed again, under control, and Rachel was venting
herself on Mrs. Tams, who took oath that she had been utterly unaware
of the master's departure from the house.
THE CHANGED MAN
Exactly a week passed, and Easter had come, before Rachel could set
out upon an enterprise which she both longed and hated to perform. In
the meantime the situation in the house remained stationary, except
that after a relapse Louis' condition had gradually improved. She
nursed him; he permitted himself to be nursed; she slept near him
every night; no scene of irritation passed between them. But nothing
was explained; even the fact that Rachel on the Saturday morning
had overtaken Louis instead of meeting him--a detail which in secret
considerably puzzled Louis, since it implied that his wife had been
in the house when he left it--even this was not explained; as for the
motor-car, Louis, absorbed, had scarcely noticed it, and Rachel
did not mention it. She went on from one day into the next, proud,
self-satisfied, sure of her strength and her position, indifferently
scornful of Louis, and yet fatally stricken; she knew not in the least
what was to be done, and so she waited for Destiny. Louis had to stop
in bed for five days. His relapse worried Dr. Yardley, who, however,
like many doctors, was kept in complete ignorance of the truth;
Rachel was ashamed to confess that her husband had monstrously taken
advantage of her absence to rise up and dress and go out; and Louis
had said no word. On the Friday he was permitted to sit in a chair
in the bedroom, and on Saturday he had the freedom of the house.
It surprised Rachel that on the Saturday he had not dashed for the
street, for after the exploit of the previous Saturday she was ready
to expect anything. Had he done so she would not have interfered; he
was really convalescent, and also the number of white stripes over
his face and hair had diminished. In the afternoon he reclined on the
Chesterfield to read, and fell asleep. Then it was that Rachel set out
upon her enterprise. She said not a word to Louis, but instructed Mrs.
Tams to inform the master, if he inquired, that she had gone over to
Knype to see Mr. Maldon.
"Are you a friend of Mester Maldon's?" asked the grey-haired slattern
who answered her summons at the door of Julian's lodgings in Granville
Street, Knype. There was a challenge in the woman's voice. Rachel
accepted it at once.
"Yes, I am," she said, with decision.
"Well, I don't know as I want any o' Mester Maldon's friends here,"
said the landlady loudly. "Mester Maldon's done a flit from here,
Mester Maldon has; and," coming out on to the pavement and pointing
upward to a broken pane in the first-floor window, "that's a bit o'
his fancy work afore he flitted!"
Rachel put her lips together.
"Can you give me his new address?"
"Can I give yer his new address? Pr'aps I can and pr'aps I canna,
but I dunna see why I should waste my breath on Mester Maldon's
friends--that I dunna! And I wunna!"
Rachel walked away. Before she reached the end of the frowsy street,
whose meanness and monotony of tiny-bow-windows exemplified intensely
the most deplorable characteristics of a district where brutish
licence is decreasing, she was overtaken by a lanky girl in a
"If ye please, miss, Mester Maldon's gone to live at 29 Birches
Having made this announcement, the girl ran off, with a short giggle.
Rachel, had to walk half a mile to reach the tram-route. This
re-visiting of her native town, which she had quitted only a few weeks
earlier, seemed to her like the sad resumption of an existence
long forgotten. She was self-conscious and hoped that she would not
encounter the curiosity of any of her Knype acquaintances. She felt
easier when she was within the sheltering car and rumbling and jerking
through the gloomy carnival of Easter Saturday afternoon in Knype and
Cauldon on the way to Hanbridge.
After leaving the car in Crown Square, she had to climb through all
the western quarter of Hanbridge to the very edge of the town, on the
hummock that separates it from the Axe Moorlands. Birches Street, as
she had guessed, was in the suburb known as Birches Pike. It ran
right to the top of the hill, and the upper portion consisted of new
cottage-houses in groups of two or three, with vacant lots between.
Why should Julian have chosen Birches Street for residence, seeing
that his business was in Knype? It was a repellent street; it was out
even of the little world where sordidness is at any rate dignified
by tradition and anaemic ideals can support each other in close
companionship. It had neither a past nor a future. The steep end of
it was an horizon of cloud. The April east wind blew the smoke of
Hanbridge right across it.
In this east wind men in shirt-sleeves, and women with aprons over
their heads, stood nonchalantly at cottage gates contemplating the
vacuum of leisure. On two different parcels of land teams of shrieking
boys were playing football, with piles of caps and jackets to serve as
goal-posts. To the left, in a clough, was an enormous yellow marlpit,
with pools of water in its depths, and gangways of planks along them,
and a few overturned wheelbarrows lying here and there. A group of men
drove at full speed up the street in a dogcart behind a sweating cob,
stopped violently at the summit, and, taking watches from pockets,
began to let pigeons out of baskets. The pigeons rose in wide circles
and were lost in the vast dome of melancholy that hung over the
No. 29 was the second house from the top, new, and already in decay.
It and its attached twin were named "Prospect Villas" in vermilion
tiles on the yellowish-red bricks of the facade. Hot, and yet chilled
by the wind, Rachel hesitated a moment at the gate, suddenly realizing
the perils of her mission. And then she saw Julian Maldon standing in
the bay-window of the ground floor; he was eating. Simultaneously he
She thought, "I can't go back now."
He came sheepishly to the front door and asked her to walk in.
"Who'd have thought of seeing you?" he exclaimed. "You must take me as
I am. I've only just moved in."
"I've been to your old address," she said, smiling, with an attempt at
"A rare row I had there!" he murmured.
She understood, with a pang of compassion and yet with feminine
disdain, the horrible thing that his daily existence was. No wonder he
would never allow Mrs. Maldon to go and see him! The spectacle of his
secret squalor would have desolated the old lady.
"Don't take any notice of all this," he said apologetically, as he
preceded her into the room where she had seen him standing. "I'm not
straight yet.... Not that it matters. By the way, take a seat, will
Rachel courageously sat down.
Just as there were no curtains to the windows, so there was no carpet
on the planked floor. A few pieces of new, cheap, ignoble furniture
half filled the room. In one corner was a sofa-bedstead covered with
an army blanket, in the middle a crimson-legged deal table, partly
covered with a dirty cloth, and on the cloth were several apples, an
orange, and a hunk of brown bread--his meal. Although he had only just
"moved in," dust had had time to settle thickly on all the furniture.
No pictures of any kind hid the huge sunflower that made the pattern
of the wall-paper. In the hearth, which lacked a fender, a small fire
"Ye see," said Julian, "I only eat when I'm hungry. It's a good plan.
So I'm eating now. I've turned vegetarian. There's naught like it.
I've chucked all that guzzling an swilling business. It's no good. I
never touch a drop of liquor, nor a morsel of fleshmeat. Nor smoke,
either. When you come to think of it, smoking's a disgusting habit."
Rachel said, pleasantly, "But you were smoking last week, surely?"
"Ah! But it's since then. I don't mind telling you. In fact, I meant
to tell you, anyhow. I've turned over a new leaf. And it wasn't too
soon. I've joined the Knype Ethical Society. So there you are!" His
voice grew defiant and fierce, as in the past, and he proceeded with
Rachel knew nothing of the Knype Ethical Society, except that in
spite of its name it was regarded with unfriendly suspicion by the
respectable as an illicit rival of churches and chapels and a haunt of
dubious characters who, under high-sounding mottoes, were engaged in
the wicked scheme of setting class against class. She had accepted
the general verdict on the Knype Ethical Society. And now she was
confirmed in it. As she gazed at Julian Maldon in that dreadful
interior, chewing apples and brown bread and sucking oranges, only
when he felt hungry, she loathed the Knype Ethical Society. It was
nothing to her that the Knype Ethical Society was responsible for a
religious and majestic act in Julian Maldon--the act of turning over a
"And why did you come up here?"
"Oh, various reasons!" said Julian, with a certain fictitious
nonchalance, beneath which was all his old ferocious domination.
"You see, I didn't get enough exercise before. Lived too close to the
works. In fact, a silly existence. I saw it all plain enough as soon
as I got back from South Africa.... Exercise! What you want is for
your skin to act at least once every day. Don't you think so?" He
seemed to be appealing to her for moral support in some revolutionary
"Well--I'm sure I don't know."
"If you ask me, I believe there are some people who never perspire
from one year's end to another. Never! How can they expect to be well?
How can they expect even to be clean? The pores, you know. I've been
reading a lot about it. Well, I walk up here from Knype full speed
every day. Everybody ought to do it. Then I have a bath."
"Oh! Is there a bathroom?"
"No, there isn't," he answered curtly. Then in a tone of apology: "But
I manage. You see, I'm going to save. I was spending too much
down there--furnished rooms. Here I took two rooms--this one and a
kitchen--unfurnished; very much cheaper, of course. I've just fixed
them up temporarily. Little by little they'll be improved. The woman
upstairs comes in for half an hour in the morning and just cleans up
when I'm gone."
"And does your cooking?"
"Not much!" said Julian bravely. "I do that myself. In the first
place, I want very little cooking. Cooking's not natural. And what
bit I do want--well, I have my own ideas about it, I've got a little
pamphlet about rational eating and cooking. You might read it.
Everybody ought to read it."
"I suppose all that sort of thing's very interesting," Rachel remarked
at large, with politeness.
"It is," Julian said emphatically.
Neither of them felt the necessity of defining what was meant by "all
that sort of thing." The phrase had been used with intention and was
"But if you want to know what I really came up here for," Julian
resumed, "I'll show you."
"Outside." And he repeated, "I'll show you."
She followed him as, bareheaded, he hurried out of the room into the
"Shan't you take cold without anything on your head in this wind?" she
He would have snapped off the entire head of any other person who had
ventured to make the suggestion. But he treated Rachel more gently
because he happened to think that she was the only truly sensible and
kind woman he had ever met in his life.
"No fear!" he muttered.
At the front gate he stopped and looked back at his bay-window.
"Now--curtains!" he said. "I won't have curtains. Blinds, at night,
yes, if you like. But curtains! I never could see any use in curtains.
Fallals! Keep the light out! Dust-traps!"
Rachel gazed at him. Despite his beard, he appeared to her as a big
schoolboy, blundering about in the world, a sort of leviathan puppy in
earnest. She liked him, on account of an occasional wistful expression
in his eyes, and because she had been kind to him during his fearful
visit to Bycars. She even admired him, for his cruel honesty and
force. At the same time, he excited her compassion to an acute degree.
As she gazed at him the tears were ready to start from her eyes. What
she had seen, and what she had heard of the new existence which he was
organizing for himself made her feel sick with pity. But mingled
with her pity was a sharp disdain. The idea of Julian talking about
cleanliness, dust-traps, and rationality gave her a desire to laugh
and cry at once. All the stolid and yet wary conservatism of her
character revolted against meals at odd hours, brown bread, apples,
orange-sucking, action of the skin, male cooking, camp-beds, the
frowsiness of casual charwomen, bare heads, and especially bare
windows. If Rachel had been absolutely free to civilize Julian's life,
she would have begun by measuring the bay-window.
She said firmly--
"I must say I don't agree with you about curtains."
His gestures of impatience were almost violent; but she would not
He drew breath. "Well, I'll get some--if it'll satisfy you."
His surrender was intensely dramatic to her. It filled her with
happiness, with a consciousness of immense power. She thought: "I can
influence him. I alone can influence him. Unless _I_ look after
him his existence will be dreadful--dreadful."
"You'd much better let me buy them for you." She smiled persuasively.
"Have it your own way!" he said gloomily. "Just come along up here."
He led her up to the top of the street.
"Ye'll see what I live up here for," he muttered as they approached
The other half of the world lay suddenly at their feet as they capped
the brow, but it was obscured by mist and cloud. The ragged downward
road was lost in the middle distance amid vaporous grey-greens and
"No go!" he exclaimed crossly. "Not clear enough! But on a fine day ye
can see Axe and Axe Edge.... Finest view in the Five Towns."
The shrill cries of the footballers reached them.
"What a pity!" she sympathized eagerly. "I'm sure it must be
splendid." His situation seemed extraordinarily tragic to her. His
short hair, ruffled by the keen wind, was just like a boy's hair and
somehow the sight of it touched her deeply.
He put his hands far into his pockets and drummed one foot on the
"What brought ye up here?" he demanded, with his eyes on an invisible
town of Axe.
She opened her hand-bag.
"I came to bring you this," she said, and offered him an envelope,
which he took, wonderingly.
Then, when he had it in his hands, he said abruptly, angrily, "If it's
that money, I won't take it."
"Yes you will."
"Has Louis sent ye?" This was the first mention of Louis, though he
was well aware of the accident.
She shook her head.
"Well, let him keep his half, and you can keep mine."
"It's all there."
"All that you left the other night."
"But--but--" He seemed to be furious as he faced her.
Rachel went on--
"The other part of the missing money's been found ... Louis had it. So
all this belongs to you. If some one hadn't told you it wouldn't have
She flushed slowly, trembling, but looking at him.
"Well!" Julian burst out with savage solemnity, "there's not many of
your sort knocking about. By G---- there isn't!"
She walked quickly away from his passionate homage to her.
"Here!" he shouted, fingering the envelope.
But she kept on at a swift pace towards Hanbridge. About a quarter of
a mile down the road the pigeon-flyer's dogcart stood empty outside a
Rachel stood at her own front door and took off her glove in order
more easily to manipulate the latch-key, which somehow, since coming
into frequent use again, had never been the same manageable latch-key,
but a cantankerous old thing, though still very bright. She opened
the door quietly, and stepped inside quietly, lest by chance she might
disturb Louis, the invalid--but also because she was a little afraid.
The most contradictory feelings can exist together in the mind. After
the desolate discomfort of Julian Maldon's lodging and the spectacle
of his clumsiness in the important affair of mere living, Rachel
was conscious of a deep and proud happiness as she re-entered
the efficient, cosy, and gracious organism of her own home. But
simultaneously with this feeling of happiness she had a dreadful
general apprehension that the organism might soon be destroyed, and a
particular apprehension concerning her next interview with Louis, for
at the next interview she would be under the necessity of telling him
about her transaction with Julian. She had been absolutely determined
upon that transaction. She had said to herself, "Whatever happens, I
shall take that money to Julian and insist on his keeping all of
it." She had, in fact, been very brave--indeed, audacious. Now the
consequences were imminent, and they frightened her; she was less
brave now. One awkward detail of the immediate future was that to tell
Louis would be to reopen the entire question of the theft, which she
had several times in the most abrupt and arrogant manner refused to
discuss with him.
As soon as she had closed the front door she perceived that twilight
was already obscuring the interior of the house. But she could plainly
see that the parlour door was about two inches ajar, exactly as she
had left it a couple of hours earlier. Probably Louis had not stirred.
She listened vainly for a sign of life from him. Probably he was
reading, for on rare occasions when he read a novel he would stick
to the book with surprising pertinacity. At any rate, he would be
too lofty to give any sign that he had heard her return. Under less
sinister circumstances he might have yelled gaily: "I say, Rache!" for
in a teasing mood he would sometimes prefer "Rache" to "Louise."
Rachel from the lobby could see the fire bright in the kitchen, and
a trayful of things on the kitchen table ready to be brought into the
parlour for high tea.
Mrs. Tams was out. It was not among Mrs. Tams's regular privileges
to be out in the afternoon. But this was Easter Saturday--rather a
special day--and, further, one of her daughters had gone away for
Easter and left a child with one of her daughters-in-law, and
Mrs. Tams had desired to witness some of the dealings of her
daughter-in-law with her grandchild. Not without just pride had Mrs.
Tams related the present circumstances to Rachel. In Mrs. Tams's young
maturity parents who managed a day excursion to Blackpool in the year
did well, and those who went away for four or five days at Knype Wakes
in August were princes and plutocrats. But nowadays even a daughter
of Mrs. Tams, not satisfied with a week at Knype Wakes, could take a
week-end at Easter just like great folk such as Louis. Which proved
that the community at large, or Mrs. Tams's family, had famously got
up in the world. Rachel recalled Louis' suggestion, more than a week
earlier, of a trip to Llandudno. The very planet itself had aged since
She looked at the clock. In twenty minutes Mrs. Tams would be back.
She and Louis were alone together in the house. She might go straight
into the parlour, and say, in as indifferent and ordinary a voice as
she could assume: "I've just been over to Julian Maldon's to give him
that money--all of it, you know," and thus get the affair finished
before Mrs. Tams's reappearance. Louis was within a few feet of her,
hidden only by the door which a push would cause to swing!... Yes, but
she could not persuade herself to push the door! The door seemed to
be protected from her hand by a mysterious spell which she dared not
break. She was, indeed, overwhelmed by the simple but tremendous fact
that Louis and herself were alone together in the darkening house. She
decided, pretending to be quite calm: "I'll just run upstairs and take
my things off first. There's no use in my seeming to be in a hurry."
In the bedroom she arranged her toilet for the evening, and
established order in every corner of the chamber. Under the washstand
lay the long row of Louis' boots and shoes, each pair in stretchers.
She suddenly contrasted Julian's heavy and arrogant dowdiness with the
nice dandyism of Louis. She could not help thinking that Julian
would be a terrible person to live with. This was the first thought
favourable to Louis which had flitted through her mind for a long
time. She dismissed it. Nothing in another man could be as terrible to
live with as the defects of Louis. She set herself--she was obliged to
set herself--high above Louis. The souvenir of the admiration of
old Batchgrew and John's Ernest, the touching humility before her
of Julian Maldon, once more inflated her self-esteem--it could not
possibly have failed to do so. She knew that she was an extraordinary
woman, and a prize.
Invigorated and reassured by these reflections, she descended proudly
to the ground floor. And then, hesitating at the entrance to the
parlour, she went into the kitchen and poked the fire. As the fire
was in excellent condition there was no reason for this act except her
diffidence at the prospect of an encounter with Louis. At last, having
examined the tea-tray and invented other delays, she tightened her
nerves and passed into the parlour to meet the man who seemed to be
waiting for her like the danger of a catastrophe. He was not there.
The parlour was empty. His book was lying on the Chesterfield.
She felt relieved. It was perhaps not very wise for him to have gone
out for a walk, but if he chose to run risks, he was free to do so,
for all she cared. In the meantime the interview was postponed; hence
her craven relief. She lit the gas, but not by the same device as in
Mrs. Maldon's day; and then she saw an envelope lying on the table.
It was addressed in Louis' handwriting to "Mrs. Louis Fores." She was
alone in the house. She felt sick. Why should he write a letter to her
and leave it there on the table? She invented half a dozen harmless
reasons for the letter, but none of them was the least convincing.
The mere aspect of the letter frightened her horribly. There was no
strength in her limbs. She tore the envelope in a daze.
The letter ran--
Dear Rachel,--I have decided to leave England. I do not know
how long I shall be away. I cannot and will not stand the life
I have been leading with you this last week. I had a perfectly
satisfactory explanation to give you, but you have most rudely
refused to listen to it. So now I shall not give it. I shall
write you as to my plans. I shall send you whatever money is
necessary for you. By the way, I put four hundred and fifty
pounds away in my private drawer. On looking for it this
afternoon I see that you have taken it, without saying a word
to me. You must account to me for this money. When you have
done so we will settle how much I am to send you. In the
meantime you can draw from it for necessary expenses.
Rachel stared at the letter. It was the first letter she had seen
written on the new note-paper, embossed with the address, "Bycars,
Bursley." Louis would not have "Bycars Lane" on the note-paper,
because "Bycars" alone was more vague and impressive; distant
strangers might take it to be the name of a magnificent property. Her
lips curled. She violently ripped the paper to bits and stuck them in
the fire; a few fragments escaped and fluttered like snow on to the
fender. She screwed up the envelope and flung it after the letter. Her
face smarted and tingled as the blood rushed passionately to her head.
She thought, aghast: "Everything is over! He will never come back.
He will never have enough moral force to come back. We haven't
been married two months, and everything is over! And this is Easter
Saturday! He wanted us to be at Llandudno or somewhere for Easter, and
I shouldn't be at all surprised if he's gone there. Yes, he would be
capable of that. And if it wasn't for the plaster on his face, he'd be
capable of gallivanting on Llandudno pier this very night!"
She had no illusion as to him. She saw him as objectively as a god
might have seen him.
And then she thought with fury: "Oh, what a fool I've been! What a
little fool! Why didn't I listen to him? Why didn't I foresee?... No,
I've _not_ been a fool! I've not! I've not! What did I do wrong?
Nothing! I couldn't have borne his explanations!... Explanations,
indeed! I can imagine his explanations! Did he expect me to smile and
kiss him after he'd told me he was a thief?"
And then she thought, in reference to his desertion: "It's not true!
It can't be true!"
She wanted to read the letter again, so that perhaps she might
read something into it that was hopeful. But to read it again was
impossible. She tried to recall its exact terms, and could not. She
could only remember with certainty that the final words were "Yours,
L.F." Nevertheless, she knew that the thing was true; she knew by the
weight within her breast and the horrible nausea that almost overcame
She whispered, alone in the room--
"Yes, it's true! And it's happened to me!... He's gone!"
And not the ruin of her life, but the scandal of the affair, was the
first matter that occupied her mind. She was too shaken yet to feel
the full disaster. Her mind ran on little things. And just as once
she had pictured herself self-conscious in the streets of Bursley as
a young widow, so now she pictured herself in the far more appalling
role of deserted wife. The scandal would be enormous. Nothing--no
carefully invented fiction--would suffice to stifle it. She would
never dare to show her face. She would be compelled to leave the
district. And supposing a child came! Fears stabbed her. She felt
tragically helpless as she stood there, facing a vision of future
terrors. She had legal rights, of course. Her common sense told her
that. She remembered also that she possessed a father and a brother in
America. But no legal rights and no relatives would avail against
the mere simple, negligent irresponsibility of Louis. In the end, she
would have to rely on herself. All at once she recollected that she
had promised to see after Julian's curtains.
She had almost no money. And how could the admiration of three men
other than her husband (so enheartening a few minutes earlier) serve
her in the crisis? No amount of masculine admiration could mitigate
the crudity of the fact that she had almost no money. Louis' illness
had interrupted the normal course of domestic finance--if, indeed, a
course could be called normal which had scarcely begun. Louis had
not been to the works. Hence he had received no salary. And how much
salary was due to him, and whether he was paid weekly or monthly, she
knew not. Neither did she know whether his inheritance actually had
been paid over to him by Thomas Batchgrew.
What she knew was that she had received no house-keeping allowance for
more than a week, and that her recent payments to tradesmen had been
made from a very small remaining supply of her own prenuptial money.
Economically she was as dependent on Louis as a dog, and not more so;
she had the dog's right to go forth and pick up a living.... Of course
Louis would send her money. Louis was a gentleman--he was not a cad.
Yes, but he was a very careless gentleman. She was once again filled
with the bitter realization of his extreme irresponsibility.
She heard a noise in the back lobby, and started. It was Mrs. Tams,
returned. Mrs. Tams had a key of her own, of which she was proud--an
affair of about four inches in length and weighing over a quarter of a
pound. It fitted the scullery door, and was, indeed, the very key with
which Rachel had embroidered her lie to Thomas Batchgrew on the day
after the robbery. Mrs. Tams always took pleasure in entering the
house from the rear, without a sound. She was now coming into the
parlour with the tray for high tea. No wonder that Rachel started.
Here was the first onset of the outer world.
Mrs. Tams came in, already perfectly transformed from a mother,
mother-in-law, and grandmother into a parlour-maid with no human tie.
"Good-afternoon, Mrs. Tams."
"So ye've got back, ma'am!"
While Mrs. Tams laid the table, with many grunts and creakings of the
solid iron in her stays, Rachel sat on a chair by the fire, trying to
seem in a casual, dreamy mood, cogitating upon what she must say.
"Will mester be down for tea, ma'am?" asked Mrs. Tams, who had
excusably assumed that Louis was upstairs.
And Rachel, forced now to defend, instead of attacking, blurted out--
"Oh! By the way, I was forgetting; Mr. Fores will not be in for tea."
Mrs. Tams, forgetting she was a parlour-maid, vociferated in amazement
"Not be in for tea, ma'am? And him as he is!" All her lately gathering
suspicions were strengthened and multiplied.
Rachel had to continue as she had begun: "He's been called away on
very urgent business. He simply had to go."
Mrs. Tams, intermitting her duties, stood still and gazed at Rachel.
"Was it far, ma'am, as he had for to go?"
A simple question, and yet how difficult to answer plausibly!
"I suppose he'll be back to-night, ma'am?"
"Oh yes, of course!" replied Rachel, in absurd haste. "But if he
isn't, I'm not to worry, he said. But he fully expects to be. We
scarcely had time to talk, you see. He was getting ready when I came
"A telegram, ma'am, I suppose it was?"
"Yes.... That is, I don't know whether there was a telegram first, or
not. But he was called for, you see. A cab. I couldn't have let him go
off walking, not as he is."
Mrs. Tarns gave a gesture.
"I suppose I mun alter this 'ere table, then," said she, putting a cup
and saucer back on the tray.
"Idiot! Idiot!" Rachel described herself to herself, when Mrs.
Tams, very much troubled, had left the room. "'By the way, I was
forgetting'--couldn't I have told her better than that? She's known
for a week that there's been something wrong, and now she's certainly
guessed there's something dreadfully wrong.... Just look at all the
silly lies I've told already! What will it be like to-morrow--and
Monday? I wonder what my face looked like while I was telling her!"
She rushed upstairs to discover what luggage Louis had taken with him.
But apparently he had taken nothing whatever. The trunk, the valise,
and the various bags were all stacked in the empty attic, exactly as
she had placed them. He must have gone off in a moment, without any
reflection or preparation.
And when Mrs. Tams served the solitary tea, Rachel was just as idiotic
"By the way, Mrs. Tams," she began again, "did you happen to tell Mr.
Fores where I'd gone this afternoon?... You see, we'd no opportunity
to discuss anything," she added, striving once more after
"Yes'm. I told him when I took him his early cup o' tea."
"Did he ask you?"
"Now ye puzzle me, ma'am! I couldn't swear to it to save my life. But
I told him."
"What did he say?" Rachel tried to smile.
"He didna say aught."
Rachel remained alone, to objurgate Rachel. It was indeed only too
obvious from Mrs. Tams's constrained and fussy demeanour that the
old woman had divined the existence of serious trouble in the Fores
Some time after the empty ceremony of tea, Rachel sat in state in the
parlour, dignified, self-controlled, pretending to sew, as she had
pretended to eat and drink and, afterwards, to have an important
enterprise of classifying and rearranging her possessions in the
wardrobe upstairs. Let Mrs. Tams enter ever so unexpectedly, Rachel
was a fit spectacle for her, with a new work-basket by her side on the
table, and her feet primly on a footstool, quite in the style of the
late Mrs. Maldon, and a serious and sagacious look on her face that
the fire and the gas combined to illuminate. She did not actually sew,
but the threaded needle was ready in her hand to move convincingly
at a second's notice, for Mrs. Tams was of a restless and inquisitive
disposition that night.
Apparently secure between the drawn blinds, the fire, the
Chesterfield, and the sideboard, Rachel was nevertheless ranging wide
among vast, desolate tracts of experience, and she was making singular
discoveries. For example, it was not until she was alone in the
parlour after tea that she discovered that during the whole of her
interview with Julian Maldon in the afternoon she had never regarded
him as a thief. And yet he was a thief--just as much as Louis! She had
simply forgotten that he was a thief. He did not seem to be any the
worse for being a thief. If he had shown the desire to explain to her
by word of mouth the entire psychology of his theft, she would have
listened with patience and sympathy; she would have encouraged him
to rectitude. And yet Julian had no claim on her; he was not her
husband; she did not love him. But because Louis was her husband,
and had a claim on her, and had received all the proofs of her