Part 7 out of 7
affection--therefore, she must be merciless for Louis! She perceived
the inconsistency; she perceived it with painful clearness. She had
the impartial logic of the self-accuser. At intervals the self-accuser
was flagellated and put to flight by passionate reaction, but only to
return stealthily and irresistibly....
She had been wrong to take the four hundred and fifty pounds without a
word. True, Louis had somewhat casually authorized her to return half
of the sum to Julian, but the half was not the whole. And in any case
she ought to have told Louis of her project. There could be no doubt
that, immediately upon Mrs. Tams's going out, Louis had looked for
the four hundred and fifty pounds, and, in swift resentment at its
disappearance, had determined to disappear also. He had been stung and
stung again, past bearing (she argued) daily and hourly throughout
the week, and the disappearance of the money had put an end to his
patience. Such was the upshot, and she had brought it about!
She had imagined that she was waiting for destiny, but in fact she had
been making destiny all the time, with her steely glances at Louis and
her acrid, uncompromising tongue!... And did those other men really
admire her? How, for instance, could Thomas Batchgrew admire her,
seeing that he had suspected her of lies and concealment about the
robbery? If it was on account of supposed lies and concealment that he
admired her, then she rejected Thomas Batchgrew's admiration....
The self-accuser and the self-depreciator in her grew so strong that
Louis' conduct soon became unexceptionable--save for a minor point
concerning a theft of some five hundred pounds odd from an old lady.
And as for herself, she, Rachel, was an over-righteous prig, an
interfering person, a blundering fool of a woman, a cruel-hearted
creature. And Louis was just a poor, polite martyr who had had the
misfortune to pick up certain bank-notes that were not his.
Then the tide of judgment would sweep back, and Rachel was the
innocent, righteous martyr again, and Louis the villain. But not for
She cried passionately within her brain: "I must have him. I must get
hold of him. I _must_!"
But when the brief fury of longing was exhausted she would ask: "How
can I get hold of him? Where is he?" Then more forcibly: "What am I to
do first? Yes, what ought I to do? What is wisest? He little guesses
that he is killing me. If he had guessed, he wouldn't have done it.
But nothing will kill me! I am as strong as a horse. I shall live for
ages. There's the worst of it all!... And it's no use asking what I
ought to do, either, because nothing, nothing, nothing would induce me
to run after him, even if I knew where to run to! I would die first. I
would live for a hundred years in torture first. That's positive."
The hands of the clock, instead of moving slowly, seemed to progress
at a prodigious rate. Mrs. Tams came in--
"Shall I lay mester's supper, ma'am?"
The idea of laying supper for the master had naturally not occurred to
When the supper was laid upon one half of the table, the sight of it
almost persuaded Rachel that Louis would be bound to come--as though
the waiting supper must mysteriously magnetize him out of the world
beyond into the intimacy of the parlour.
And she thought, as she strove for the hundredth time to recall the
phrases of the letter--
"'Perfectly satisfactory explanation!' suppose he _has_ got a
perfectly satisfactory explanation! He must have. He must have. If
only he has, everything would be all right. I'd apologize. I'd almost
go on my knees to him.... And he was so ill all the time, too!... But
he's gone. It's too late now for the explanation. Still, as soon as I
hear from him, I shall write and ask him for it."
And in her mind she began to compose a wondrous letter to him--a
letter that should preserve her own dignity while salving his, a
letter that should overwhelm him with esteem for her.
She rang the bell. "Don't sit up, Mrs. Tams."
And when she had satisfied herself that Mrs. Tams with unwilling
obedience had retired upstairs, she began to walk madly about
the parlour (which had an appearance at once very strange and
distressingly familiar), and to whisper plaintively, and raging, and
plaintively again: "I must get him back. I cannot bear this. It is too
much for me. I _must_ get him back. It's all my fault!" and then
dropped on the Chesterfield in a collapse, moaning: "No. It's no use
And then she fancied that she heard the gate creak, and a latch-key
fumbling into the keyhole of the front door. And one part of her brain
said on behalf of the rest: "I am mad. I am delirious."
It was a fact that Louis had caused to be manufactured for his own use
a new latch-key. But it was impossible that this latch-key should now
be in the keyhole. She was delirious. And then she unmistakably
heard the front door open. Her heart jumped with the most afflicting
violence. She was ready to fall on to the carpet, but seemed to be
suspended in the air. When she recognized Louis' footsteps in the
lobby tears burst from her eyes in an impetuous torrent.
IN THE MONASTERY
When Mrs. Tams brought in his early cup of tea that Easter Saturday
afternoon, Louis had no project whatever in his head, and he was
excessively, exasperatingly bored. A quarter of an hour earlier he had
finished reading the novel which had been mitigating the worst
tedium of his shamed convalescence, and the state of his mind was not
improved by the fact that in his opinion the author of the novel had
failed to fulfil clear promises--had, in fact, abused his trust. On
the other hand, he felt very appreciably stronger, and his self-esteem
was heightened by the complete correctness of his toilet. On that
morning he had dressed himself with art and care for the first time
since the accident. He enjoyed a little dandyism; dandified, he was a
better man; the "fall" of a pair of trousers over the knee, the gloss
of white wristbands, just showing beneath the new cloth of a well-cut
sleeve--these phenomena not only pleased him but gave him confidence.
And herein was the sole bright spot of his universe when Mrs. Tams
He was rather curt with Mrs. Tams because she was two minutes late;
for two endless minutes he had been cultivating the resentment of a
man neglected and forgotten by every one of those whose business in
life it is to succour, humour, and soothe him.
Mrs. Tams comprehended his mood with precision, and instantly. She
hovered round him like a hen, indeed like a whole flock of hens, and
when he savagely rebuffed her she developed from a flock of hens into
a flight of angels.
"Missis said as I was to tell you as she'd gone to see Mr. Julian
Maldon, sir," said Mrs. Tams, in the way of general gossip.
Louis made no sign.
"Her didna say how soon her'd be back. I was for going out, sir, but
I'll stop in, sir, and willing--"
"What time are you supposed to go out?" Louis demanded, in a tone less
inimical than his countenance.
"By rights, now, sir," said Mrs. Tams, looking backward through the
open door at the lobby clock.
"Well," Louis remarked with liveliness, "if you aren't outside this
house in one minute, in sixty seconds, I shall put you out, neck and
Mrs. Tams smiled. His amiability was returning, he had done her the
honour to tease her. She departed, all her "things" being ready in the
kitchen. Even before she had gone Louis went quickly upstairs, having
drunk less than half a cup of tea, and with extraordinary eagerness
plunged into the bedroom and unlocked his private drawer. He both
hoped and feared that the money which he had bestowed there after
Julian's historic visit would have vanished. It had vanished.
The shock was unpleasant, but the discovery itself had a pleasant
side, because it justified the theory which had sprung complete into
his mind when he learnt where Rachel had gone, and also because it
denuded Rachel of all reasonable claim to consideration. He had
said to himself: "She has gone off to return half of that money to
Julian--that's what it is. And she's capable of returning all of it to
him!" ... And she had done so. And she had not consulted him, Louis.
He, then, was a nobody--zero in the house! She had deliberately
filched the money from him, and to accomplish her purpose she had
abstracted his keys, which he had left in his pocket. She must have
stolen the notes several days before, perhaps a week before, when he
was really seriously ill. She had used the keys and restored them to
his pocket. Astounding baseness!
He murmured: "This finishes it. This really does finish it."
He was immensely righteous as he stood alone in the bedroom in front
of the rifled drawer. He was more than righteous--he was a martyr. He
had done absolutely nothing that was wrong. He had not stolen money;
he had not meant to steal; the more he examined his conduct, the more
he was convinced that it had been throughout unexceptionable, whereas
the conduct of Rachel ...! At every point she had sinned. It was she,
not he, who had burnt Mrs. Maldon's hoard. Was it not monstrous that a
woman should be so careless as to light a fire without noticing that
a bundle of notes lay on the top of the coal? Besides, what affair
was it of hers, anyway? It concerned himself, Mrs. Maldon, and Julian,
alone. But she must needs interfere. She had not a penny to bless
herself with, but he had magnanimously married her; and his reward was
her inexcusable interference in his private business.
His accident was due solely to his benevolence for her. If he had not
been wheeling a bicycle procured for her, and on his way to buy her a
new bicycle, the accident would never have occurred. But had she shown
any gratitude? None. It was true that he had vaguely authorized her to
return half of the money replaced by the contrite Julian; but no date
for doing so had been fixed, and assuredly she had no pretext whatever
for dealing with all of it. That she should go to Julian Maldon with
either the half or the whole of the money without previously informing
him and obtaining the ratification of his permission was simply
scandalous. And that she should sneakingly search his pockets for
keys, commit a burglary in his drawer, and sneakingly put the keys
back was outrageous, infamous, utterly intolerable.
He said, "I'll teach you a lesson, my lady, once for all."
Then he went downstairs. The kitchen was empty; Mrs. Tams had gone.
But between the kitchen and the parlour he changed his course, and ran
upstairs again to the drawer, which he pulled wide open. At the back
of it there ought to have been an envelope containing twenty pounds in
notes, balance of an advance payment from old Batchgrew. The envelope
was there with its contents. Rachel had left the envelope. "Good of
her!" he ejaculated with sarcasm. He put the money in his pocket-book,
and descended to finish his tea, which he drank up excitedly.
A dubious scheme was hypnotizing him. He was a man well acquainted
with the hypnotism of dubious schemes. He knew all the symptoms.
He fought against the magic influence, and then, as always, yielded
himself deliberately and voluptuously to it. He would go away. He
would not wait; he would go at once, in a moment. She deserved as
much, if not more. He knew not where he should go; a thousand reasons
against going assailed him; but he would go. He must go. He could no
longer stand, even for a single hour, her harshness, her air of moral
superiority, her adamantine obstinacy. He missed terribly her candid
worship of him, to which he had grown accustomed and which had become
nearly a necessity of his existence. He could not live with an eternal
critic; the prospect was totally inconceivable. He wanted love, and he
wanted admiring love, and without it marriage was meaningless to him,
a mere imprisonment.
So he would go. He could not and would not pack; to pack would
distress him and bore him; he would go as he was. He could buy what
he needed. The shops--his kind of shops--were closed, and would remain
closed until Tuesday. Nevertheless, he would go. He could buy the
indispensable at Faulkner's establishment on the platform at Knype
railway-station, conveniently opposite the Five Towns Hotel. He
had determined to go to the Five Towns Hotel that night. He had no
immediate resources beyond the twenty pounds, but he would telegraph
to Batchgrew, who ad not yet transferred to him the inheritance, to
pay money into his bank early on Tuesday; if he were compelled to
draw a cheque he would cross it, and then it could not possibly be
presented before Wednesday morning.
At all costs he would go. His face was still plastered; but he would
go, and he would go far, no matter where! The chief thing was to go.
The world was calling him. The magic of the dubious scheme held him
fast. And in all other respects he was free--free as impulse. He would
go. He was not yet quite recovered, not quite strong.... Yes, he was
all right; he was very strong! And he would go.
He put on his hat and his spring overcoat. Then he thought of the
propriety of leaving a letter behind him--not for Rachel's sake, but
to insist on his own dignity and to spoil hers. He wrote the letter,
read it through with satisfaction, and quitted the house, shutting the
door cheerfully, but with a trembling hand. Lest he might meet Rachel
on her way home he went up the lane instead of down, and, finding
himself near the station, took a train to Knype--travelling first
class. The glorious estate of a bachelor was his once more.
The Five Towns Hotel stood theoretically in the borough of Hanbridge,
but in fact it was in neither Hanbridge nor Knype, but "opposite Knype
station," on the quiet side of Knype station, far away from any urban
traffic; the gross roar of the electric trams running between Knype
and Hanbridge could not be heard from the great portico of the hotel.
It is true that the hotel primarily existed on its proximity to the
railway centre of the Five Towns. But it had outgrown its historic
origin, and would have moderately flourished even had the North
Staffordshire railway been annihilated. By its sober grandeur and its
excellent cooking it had taken its place as the first hotel in the
district. It had actually no rival. Heroic, sublime efforts had been
made in the centre of Hanbridge to overthrow the pre-eminence of
the Five Towns Hotel. The forlorn result of one of these efforts--so
immense was it!--had been bought by the municipality and turned into a
Town Hall--supreme instance of the Five Towns' habit of "making things
do!" No effort succeeded. Men would still travel from the ends of the
Five Towns to the bar, the billiard-rooms, the banqueting-halls of the
Five Towns Hotel, where every public or semi-public ceremonial that
included conviviality was obliged to happen if it truly respected
The Five Towns Hotel had made fortunes, and still made them. It was
large and imposing and sombre. The architect, who knew his business,
had designed staircases, corridors, and accidental alcoves on the
scale of a palace; so that privacy amid publicity could always be
found within its walls. It was superficially old-fashioned, and in
reality modern. It had a genuine chef, with sub-chefs, good waiters
whose sole weakness was linguistic, and an apartment of carven oak
with a vast counterfeit eye that looked down on you from the ceiling.
It was ready for anything--a reception to celebrate the nuptials of
a maid, a lunch to a Cabinet Minister with an axe to grind in the
district, or a sale by auction of house-property with wine _ad
libitum_ to encourage bids.
But its chief social use was perhaps as a retreat for men who were
tired of a world inhabited by two sexes. Sundry of the great hotels
of Britain have forgotten this ancient function, and are as full of
frills, laces, colour, and soft giggles as a London restaurant, so
that in Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow a man in these days has
no safe retreat except the gloominess of a provincial club. The Five
Towns Hotel has held fast to old tradition in this respect. Ladies
were certainly now and then to be seen there, for it was a hotel and
as such enjoyed much custom. But in the main it resembled a monastery.
Men breathed with a new freedom as they entered it. Commandments
reigned there, and their authority was enforced; but they were
not precisely the tables of Moses. The enormous pretence which men
practise for the true benefit of women was abandoned in the Five Towns
Hotel. Domestic sultans who never joked in the drawing-room would
crack with laughter in the Five Towns Hotel, and make others crack,
too. Old men would meet young men on equal terms, and feel rather
pleased at their own ability to do so. And young men shed their youth
there, displaying the huge stock of wisdom and sharp cynicism which by
hard work they had acquired in an incredibly short time. Indeed, the
hotel was a wonderful institution, and a source of satisfaction to
half a county.
It was almost as one returned from the dead that Louis Fores entered
the Five Towns Hotel on Easter Saturday afternoon, for in his celibate
prime he had been a habitue of the place. He had a thrill; and he knew
that he would be noticed, were it only as the hero and victim of a
street accident; a few remaining plasters still drew attention to his
recent history. At the same time, the thrill which affected him was
not entirely pleasurable, for he was frightened by what he had done:
by the letter written to Rachel, by his abandonment of her, and also
by the prospect of what he meant to do. The resulting situation would
certainly be scandalous in a high degree, and tongues would dwell
on the extreme brevity of the period of marriage. The scandal would
resound mightily. And Louis hated scandal, and had always had a
genuine desire for respectability.... Then he reassured himself.
"Pooh! What do I care?" Besides, it was not his fault. He was utterly
blameless; Rachel alone was the sinner. She had brought disaster upon
herself. On the previous Saturday he had given her fair warning by
getting up out of bed in his weakness and leaving the house--more from
instinct than from any set plan. But she would not take a hint. She
would not learn. Very good! The thought of his inheritance and of his
freedom uplifted him till he became nearly a god.
Owing to the Easter holidays the hotel was less bright and worldly
than usual. Moreover, Saturday was never one of its brilliant days of
the week. In the twilight of a subsidiary lounge, illuminated by one
early electric spark, a waiter stood alone amid great basket-chairs
and wicker-tables. Louis knew the waiter, as did every man-about-town;
but Louis imagined that he knew him better than most; the waiter gave
a similar impression to all impressionable young men.
"How do you do, Krupp!" Louis greeted him, with kind familiarity.
"Good afternoon, sir."
It was perhaps the hazard of his name that had given the waiter
a singular prestige in the district. Krupp is a great and an
unforgettable name, wherever you go. And also it offers people a
chance to be jocose with facility. A hundred habitue's had made the
same joke to Krupp about Krupp's name, and each had supposed himself
to be humorous in an original manner. Krupp received the jocularities
with the enigmatic good-fellow air with which he received everything.
None knew whether Krupp admired or disdained, loved or hated, the Five
Towns and the English character. He was a foreigner from some vague
frontier of Switzerland, possessing no language of his own but a
patois, and speaking other languages less than perfectly. He had been
a figure in the Five Towns Hotel for over twenty years. He was an
efficient waiter; yet he had never risen on the staff, and was still
just the lounge or billiard-room waiter that he had always been--and
apparently content with Destiny.
Louis asked brusquely, as one who had no time to waste, "Will
Faulkner's be open?"
Krupp bent down and glanced through an interstice of a partition at a
clock in the corridor.
"Yes, sir," said Krupp with calm certainty.
Louis, pleased, thought, "This man is a fine waiter." Somehow Krupp
made it seem as if by the force of his will he had forced Faulkner's
to be open--in order to oblige Mr. Fores.
"Because," said Louis casually, "I've no luggage, not a rag, and I
want to buy a few things, and no other place'll be open."
"Yes, sir," said Krupp, mysterious and quite incurious. He did not
even ask, "Do you wish a room, sir?"
"Heard about my accident, I suppose?" Louis went on, a little
surprised that Krupp should make no sympathetic reference to his
Krupp became instantly sympathetic, yet keeping his customary reserve.
"Yes, sir. And I am pleased to see you are recovered," he said, with
the faint, indefinable foreign accent and the lack of idiom which
combined to deprive his remarks of any human quality.
"Well," said Louis, not quite prepared to admit that the affair had
gone so smoothly as Krupp appeared to imply, "I can tell you I've
had a pretty bad time. I really ought not to be here now, but--" He
"Strange it should happen to you, sir. A gentleman who was in here
the other day said that in his opinion you were one of the cleverest
cyclists in the Five Towns."
Louis naturally inquired, "Who was that?"
"I could not say, sir. Not one of our regular customers, sir," with a
touch of mild depreciation. "A dark gentleman, with a beard, a little
lame, I fancy." As Krupp had invented the gentleman and his opinion
to meet the occasion, he was right in depriving him of the rank of a
"Oh!" murmured Louis. "By the way, has Mr. Gibbs come yet?"
"Mr. Gibbs, sir?"
"Yes, an American. I have an appointment with him this afternoon. If
he comes in while I am over at Faulkner's just tell him, will you? I
think he's stopping at the Majestic."
The Majestic being the latest rival hotel at Hanbridge, Krupp raised
his eyebrows in a peculiar way and nodded his head.
Just as Krupp had invented a gentleman, so now Louis was inventing
one. Neither Krupp nor Louis guessed the inventive act of the other.
Krupp's act was a caprice, a piece of embroidery, charming and
unnecessary. But Louis was inventing with serious intent, for he had
to make his presence at the Five Towns Hotel on Easter Saturday seem
natural and inevitable.
"And also I want the Cunard list of sailings, and the White Star, too.
There's a Cunard boat from Liverpool on Monday, isn't there?"
"I don't _think_ so, sir," said Krupp, "but I'll see."
"I understood from Mr. Gibbs there was. And I'm going to Liverpool by
that early train to-morrow."
"Yes, I must be in Liverpool to-morrow night."
Louis went across to the station to Faulkner's. He considered that
he was doing very well. And after all, why not go to America--not on
Monday, for he was quite aware that no boat left on Monday--but in a
few days, after he had received the whole sum that Thomas Batchgrew
held for him. He could quite plausibly depart on urgent business
connected with new capitalistic projects. He could quite plausibly
remain in America as long as convenient. America beckoned to him. He
remembered all the appetizing accounts that he had ever heard
from American commercial travellers of Broadway and Fifth
Avenue--incredible streets. In America he might treble, quadruple, his
already vast capital. The romance of the idea intoxicated him.
When he got back from Faulkner's with a parcel (which he threw to the
cloak-room attendant to keep) he felt startlingly hungry, and, despite
the early hour, he ordered a steak in the grill-room; and not a steak
merely, but all the accoutrements of a steak, with beverages to match.
And to be on the safe side he paid for the meal at once, with a cheque
for ten pounds, receiving the change in gold and silver, and thus
increasing his available cash to about thirty pounds. Then in the
lounge, with Cuban cigar-smoke in his eyes, and Krupp discoursing to
him of all conceivable Atlantic liners, he wrote a letter to Thomas
Batchgrew and marked it "Very urgent"--which was simple prudence on
his part, for he had drawn a cheque for ten pounds on a non-existent
bank-balance. At last, as Mr. Gibbs had not arrived, he said he should
stroll up to the Majestic. He had not yet engaged a room; he seemed to
hesitate before that decisive act....
Then it was that, in the corridor immediately outside the lounge, he
encountered Jim Horrocleave. The look in Jim Horrocleave's ferocious
eye shocked him. Louis had almost forgotten his employer, and the
sudden spectacle of him was disconcerting.
"Hello, Fores!" said Horrocleave very sardonically, with no other
greeting. "I thought ye were too ill to move." No word of sympathy
in the matter of the accident! Simply the tone of an employer somehow
"I'm out to-day for the first time. Had to come down here on a
Horrocleave spoke lower, and even more sardonically. "I hear ye're off
Louis looked through the fretted partition at the figure of Krupp
alone in the lounge. And Horrocleave also looked at Krupp. And
Krupp looked back with his enigmatic gaze, perhaps scornful, perhaps
indifferent, perhaps secretly appreciative--but in any case profoundly
foreign and aloof and sinister.
"Well--" Louis began at a disadvantage. "Who says I'm off to America?"
Horrocleave advanced his chin and clenched a fist.
"Don't you go!" said he. "If ye did, ye might be brought back by
the scruff o' the neck. You mark my words and come down to the works
to-morrow morning--_to-morrow_, ye understand!" He was breathing
quickly. Then a malicious grin seemed to pass over his face as his
glance rested for an instant on Louis' plasters. The next instant he
walked away, and Louis heard him at the cloak-room counter barking the
one word, "Mackintosh."
Louis understood, only too completely. During his absence from the
works Horrocleave had amused himself by critically examining the old
petty-cash book. That was all, and it was enough. Good-bye to romance,
to adventure, to the freedom of the larger world! The one course to
pursue was to return home, to deny (as was easy) that the notion
of going to America had ever occurred to him, or even the notion of
putting up at the hotel, and with such dignity as he could assume to
restore to Horrocleave the total sum abstracted. With care and luck
he might yet save his reputation. It was impossible that Horrocleave
should prosecute. And what was seventy odd pounds, after all? He was
master of thousands.
If he could but have walked straight out of the hotel! But he could
not. His dignity, the most precious of all his possessions, had to be
maintained. Possibly Krupp had overheard the conversation, or divined
its nature. He strolled back into the lounge.
"A benedictine," he ordered casually, and, neatly pulling up his
trousers at the knee, sank into a basket-chair and crossed his legs,
while blowing forth much smoke.
When Krupp brought the tiny glass, Louis paid for it without looking
at him, and gave a good tip. Ah! He would have liked to peer into
Krupp's inmost mind and know exactly how Krupp had been discussing
him with Jim Horrocleave. He would have liked to tell Krupp in cutting
tones that waiters had no right to chatter to one customer about
another. And then he would have liked to destroy Krupp. But he could
not. His godlike dignity would not permit him to show by even the
slightest gesture that he had been inconvenienced. The next moment he
perceived that Providence had been watching over him. If he had gone
to America unknown to Horrocleave, Horrocleave might indeed have
proved seriously awkward.... Extradition--was there such a word, and
such a thing? He finished the benedictine, went to the cloak-room
and obtained his hat, coat, stick, and parcel; and the hovering Krupp
helped him with his overcoat; and as Destiny cast him out of the dear
retreat which a little earlier he had entered with such pleasurable
anticipations, he was followed down the corridor by the aloof,
disinterested gaze of the Swiss whose enigma no Staffordshire man had
MRS. TAMS'S STRANGE BEHAVIOUR
In the house at Bycars, where he arrived tardily after circuitous
wanderings, Louis first of all dropped the parcel from Faulkner's into
the oak chest, raising and lowering the lid without any noise. Once,
in the train in Bleakridge tunnel, he had almost thrown the parcel out
of the carriage on to the line, as though it were in some subtle way
a piece of evidence against him; but, aided by his vanity, he had
resisted the impulse. Why, indeed, should he be afraid of a parcel of
linen? Had he not the right to buy linen when and how he chose? Then
he removed his hat and coat, hung them carefully in their proper
place, smoothed his hair, and walked straight into the parlour. He had
a considerable gift of behaving as though nothing out of the ordinary
had happened when the contrary was the case. Nobody could have guessed
from his features that he was calculating and recalculating
the chances of immediate imprisonment, and that each successive
calculation disagreed with the previous one; at one moment the chances
were less than one in a hundred, less than one in a million;
at another they increased and multiplied themselves into tragic
When Rachel heard him in the lobby her sudden tears were tears of joy
and deliverance. She did not try to restrain them. As she stole back
to her chair she ignored all her reasonings against him, and lived
only in the fact that he had returned. And she was triumphant. She
thought: "Now that he is in the house, he is mine. I have him. He
cannot escape me. In a caress I shall cancel all the past since his
accident. So long as I can hold him I don't care." Her soul dissolved
in softness towards him; even the body seemed to melt also, till,
instead of being a strong, sturdy girl, she was a living tentacular
endearment and naught else.
But when, with disconcerting quickness, he came into the room, she
hardened again in spite of herself. She simply could not display her
feelings. Upbringing, habit, environment were too much for her, and
spontaneity was checked. Had she been alone with a dog she would have
spent herself passionately on the dog, imaginatively transforming the
dog into Louis; but the sight of Louis in person congealed her, so
that she became a hard mass with just a tiny core of fire somewhere
"Why cannot I jump up and fall on his neck?" she asked herself
angrily. But she could not.
She controlled her tears, and began to argue mentally whether Louis
had come home because he could not keep away from her, or for base
purposes of his own. She was conscious of a desire to greet him
sarcastically with the remark, "So you've come back, after all!" It
was a wilful, insensate desire; but there it was. She shut her lips on
it, not without difficulty.
"I've kept some supper for you," she said, with averted head. She
wanted to make her voice kind, but it would not obey her. It was
neither kind nor unkind. There were tears in it, however.
They did not look at each other.
"Why did you keep supper for me?" he mumbled.
"I thought you might find you weren't well enough to travel," she
answered thoughtfully, with her face still bent over the work which
she was spoiling with every clumsy, feverish stitch.
This surprising and ingenious untruth came from her without the
slightest effort. It seemed to invent itself.
"Well," said Louis, "I don't happen to want any supper." His accent
was slightly but definitely inimical. He perceived that he had an
advantage, and he decided to press it.
Rachel also perceived this, and she thought resentfully: "How cruel
he is! How mean he is!" She hated and loved him simultaneously. She
foresaw that peace must be preceded by the horrors of war, and she was
discouraged. Though determined that he should not escape from the room
unreconciled, she was ready to inflict dreadful injuries on him, as
he on her. They now regarded each other askance, furtively, as dire
Louis, being deficient in common sense, thought of nothing but
immediate victory. He well knew that, in case of trouble with Jim
Horrocleave, he might be forced to humble himself before his wife, and
that present arrogance would only intensify future difficulties. Also,
he had easily divined that the woman opposite to him was a softer
Rachel than the one he had left, and very ready for pacific
compromise. Nevertheless, in his polite, patient way, he would
persist in keeping the attitude of an ill-used saint with a most
clear grievance. And more than this, he wanted to appear absolutely
consistent, even in coming home again. Could he have recalled the
precise terms of his letter, he would have contrived to interpret them
so as to include the possibility of his return that night. He fully
intended to be the perfect male.
Drawing his cigarette-case and match-box from his hip pocket, by means
of the silver cable which attached them to his person, he carefully
lit a cigarette and rose to put the spent match in the fire. While at
the hearth he looked at his plastered face in the glass, critically
and dispassionately, as though he had nothing else in the world to do.
Then his eye caught some bits of paper in the fender--fragments of his
letter which Rachel had cast into the fire and on to the hearth. He
stooped, picked up one white piece, gazed at it, dropped it, picked up
another, gazed at it, dropped it fastidiously.
"Hm!" he said faintly.
Then he stood again at his full height and blew smoke profusely about
the mantelpiece. He was very close to Rachel, and above her. He
could see the top of her bent, mysterious head; he could see all the
changing curves of her breast as she breathed. He knew intimately
her frock, the rings on her hand, the buckle on her shoe. He knew the
whole feel of the room--the buzz of the gas, the peculiarities of the
wall-paper, the thick curtain over the door to his right, the folds of
the table-cloth. And in his infelicity and in his resentment against
Rachel he savoured it all not without pleasure. The mere inviolable
solitude with this young, strange, provocative woman in the night
beyond the town stimulated him into a sort of zest of living.
There was a small sound from the young woman; her breathing was
checked; she had choked down a dry sob. This signal, so faint and
so dramatic in the stillness of the parlour, at once intimidated and
"What have you done with that money?" he asked, in a cold voice.
"What money?" Rachel replied, low, without raising her head. Her hand
had ceased to move the needle.
"You know what money."
"I took it to Julian, of course."
"Why did you take it to Julian?"
"We agreed I should, last week--you yourself said so--don't you
remember?" Her tones acquired some confidence.
"No, I don't remember. I remember something was said about letting him
have half of it. Did you give him half or all of it?"
"I gave him all of it."
"I like that! I like that!" Louis remarked sarcastically. "I like
your nerve. You do it on the sly. You don't say a word to me; and not
content with that, you give him all of it. Why didn't you tell me? Why
didn't you ask me for the money?"
Rachel offered no answer.
Louis proceeded with more vivacity. "And did he take it?"
"I made him."
"What? All of it? What reason did you give? How did you explain
"I told him you'd had the rest of the money, of course, so it was all
right. It wouldn't have been fair to him if some one hadn't told him."
Louis now seriously convinced himself that his grievance was
tremendous, absolutely unexampled in the whole history of marriage.
"Well," said he, with high, gloomy dignity, "it may interest you to
know that I didn't have the rest of the money.... If I'd had it,
what do you suppose I've done with it?... Over five hundred pounds,
"I don't think I want any of your 'Then what's.' You wouldn't listen
before, so why should you be told now? However, I expect I must teach
you a lesson--though it's too late."
Rachel did not move. She heard him say that he had discovered the
bank-notes at night, under the chair on the landing. "I took charge of
them. I collared them, for the time being," he said. "I happened to
be counting them when you knocked at my bedroom door. I admit I was
rather taken aback. I didn't want you to see the notes. I didn't see
any reason why you should know anything about my aunt's carelessness.
You must remember you were only a paid employee then. I was close to
the fireplace. I just scrunched them up in my hand and dropped them
behind the fire-screen. Of course I meant to pick them up again
instantly you'd gone. Well, you didn't go. You seemed as if you
wouldn't go. I had to run for the doctor. There was no help for it.
Even then I never dreamt you intended to light the fire in that room.
It never occurred to me for a second.... And I should have thought
anybody lighting a fire couldn't have helped seeing a thing like a
ball of bank-notes on the top of the grate. I should have thought so.
But it seems I was wrong. When I got back of course the whole blooming
thing was up the chimney. Well, there you are! What was I to do? I ask
He paused. Rachel sobbed.
"Of course," he continued, with savage quietude, "you may say I might
have forced you to listen to me this last week. I might. But why
should I? Why should I beg and pray? If you didn't know the whole
story a week ago, is it my fault? I'm not one to ask twice. I can't go
on my knees and beg to be listened to. Some fellows could perhaps, but
Rachel was overwhelmed. The discovery that it was she herself,
Pharisaical and unyielding, who had been immediately responsible
for the disappearance of the bank-notes almost dazed her. And
simultaneously the rehabilitation of her idol drowned her in bliss.
She was so glad to be at fault, so ravished at being able to respect
him again, that the very ecstasy of existing seemed likely to put an
end to her existence. Her physical sensations were such as she might
have experienced if her heart had swiftly sunk away out of her bosom
and left an empty space there that gasped. She glanced up at Louis.
"I'm so sorry!" she breathed.
Louis did not move, nor did his features relax in the slightest.
With one hand raised in appeal, surrender, abandonment and the other
on the arm of her chair, and her work slipping to the floor, she half
rose towards him.
"You can't tell how sorry I am!" she murmured. Her eyes were liquid.
"And well you may be, if you'll excuse me saying so!" answered Louis
He was confirmed in his illusory but tremendous grievance. The
fundamental lack of generosity in him was exposed. Inexperienced
though he was in women, he saw in Rachel then, just as if he had been
twenty years older, the woman who lightly imagines that the past
can be wiped out with a soft tone, an endearment, a tear, a touching
appeal. He would not let her off so easily. She had horribly lacerated
his dignity for a week--he could recall every single hurt--and he
was not going to allow himself to recover in a minute. His dignity
required a gradual convalescence. He was utterly unaffected by her
Rachel moved her head somewhat towards his, and then hesitated. The
set hardness of his face was incredible to her. Her head began to
swim. She thought, "I shall really die if this continues."
"Louis--don't!" she besought him plaintively.
He walked deliberately away and nervously played with an "ornament" on
"And let me tell you another thing," said he slowly. "If you think I
came back to-night because I couldn't do without you, you're mistaken.
I'm going out again at once."
She said to herself, "He has killed me!" The room circled round her,
gathering speed, and Louis with it. The emptiness in her bosom was
Louis saw her face turning paler and paler, till it was, really,
almost as white as the table-cloth. She fell back into the chair, her
arms limp and lifeless.
"Confound the girl!" he thought. "She's going to faint now! What an
Compunction, instead of softening him, made him angry with himself. He
felt awkward, at a loss, furious.
"Mrs. Tams!" he called out, and hurried from the room. "Mrs. Tams!" As
he went out he was rather startled to find that the door had not been
In the lobby he called again, "Mrs. Tams!"
The kitchen gas showed a speck of blue. He had not noticed it when he
came into the house: the kitchen door must have been shut, then. He
looked up the stairs. He could discern that the door of Mrs. Tams's
bedroom, at the top, was open, and that there was no light in the
room. Puzzled, he rushed to the kitchen, and snatched at his hat as he
went, sticking it anyhow on his head.
"Eh, mester, what ever's amiss?"
With these alarmed words Mrs. Tams appeared suddenly from behind the
kitchen door; she seemed a little out of breath, as far as Louis could
hear; he could not see her very well. The thought flashed through his
mind. "She's been listening at doors."
"Oh! There you are," he said, with an effort at ordinariness of
demeanour. "Just go in to Mrs. Fores, will you? Something's the matter
with her. It's nothing, but I have to go out."
Mrs. Tams answered, trembling: "Nay, mester, I'm none going to
interfere. I go into no parlour."
"But I tell you she's fainting."
"Ye'd happen better look after her yerself, Mr. Louis," said Mrs. Tams
in a queer voice.
"But don't you understand I've got to go out?"
He was astounded and most seriously disconcerted by Mrs. Tams's very
"If ye'll excuse me being so bold, sir," said Mrs. Tams, "ye ought
for be right well ashamed o' yeself. And that I'll say with my dying
She dropped on to the hard Windsor chair, and, lifting her apron,
began to whimper.
Louis could feel himself blushing.
"It seems to me you'd better look out for a fresh situation," he
remarked curtly, as he turned to leave the kitchen.
"Happen I had, mester," Mrs. Tams agreed sadly; and then with fire:
"But I go into no parlour. You get back to her, mester. Going out
again at this time o' night, and missis as her is! If you stop where a
husband ought for be, her'll soon mend, I warrant."
He went back, cursing all women, because he had no alternative but to
go back. He dared not do otherwise.... It was only a swoon. But was
it only a swoon? Suppose ...! He was afraid of public opinion; he
was afraid of Mrs. Tams's opinion. Mrs. Tams had pierced him. He went
back, dashing his hat on to the oak chest.
Rachel was lying on the hearth-rug, one arm stretched nonchalantly
over the fender and the hand close to the fire. Her face was whiter
than any face he had ever seen, living or dead. He shook; the
inanimate figure with the disarranged clothes and hair, prone and
deserted there in the solitude of the warm, familiar room, struck
terror into him. He bent down; he knelt down and drew the arm away
from the fire. He knew not in the least what was the proper thing to
do; and naturally the first impulse of his ignorance was to raise
her body from the ground. But she was so heavy, so appallingly inert,
that, fortunately, he could not do so, and he let her head subside
Then he remembered that the proper thing to do in these cases was to
loosen the clothes round the neck; but he could not loosen her bodice
because it was fastened behind and the hooks were so difficult. He
jumped to the window and opened it. The blind curved inward like a
sail under the cold entering breeze. When he returned to Rachel
he thought he noticed the faintest pinky flush in her cheeks. And
suddenly she gave a deep sigh. He knelt again. There was something
about the line of her waist that, without any warning, seemed to him
ineffably tender, wistful, girlish, seductive. Her whole figure began
to exert the same charm over him. Even her frock, which nevertheless
was not even her second best, took on a quality that in its simplicity
bewitched him. He recalled her wonderful gesture as she lighted his
cigarette on the night when he first saw her in her kitchen; and his
memory of it thrilled him.... Rachel opened her eyes and sighed deeply
once more. He fanned her with a handkerchief drawn from his sleeve.
"Louis!" she murmured in a tired baby's voice, after a few moments.
He thought: "It's a good thing I didn't go out, and I'm glad Mrs.
Tarns isn't here blundering about."
"You're better?" he said mildly.
She raised her arms and clasped him, dragging him to her with a force
that was amazing under the circumstances. They kissed; their faces
were merged for a long time. Then she pushed him a little away, and,
guarding his shoulders with her hands, examined his face, and smiled
"Call me Louise," she whispered.
"Silly little thing! Shall I get you some water?"
"Call me Louise!"
RACHEL AND MR. HORROCLEAVE
The next morning, Sunday, Rachel had a fancy to superintend in person
the boiling of Louis' breakfast egg. For a week past Louis had not
been having his usual breakfast, but on this morning the ideal
life was recommencing in loveliest perfection for Rachel. The usual
breakfast was to be resumed; and she remembered that in the past the
sacred egg had seldom, if ever, been done to a turn by Mrs. Tams. Mrs.
Tams, indeed, could not divide a minute into halves, and was apt
to regard a preference for a certain consistency in a boiled egg as
merely finicking and negligible. To Mrs. Tams a fresh egg was a fresh
egg, and there was no more to be said.
Rachel entered the kitchen like a radiance. She was dressed with
special care, rather too obviously so, in order that she might be
worthy to walk by Louis' side to church. She was going with him to
church gladly, because he had rented the pew and she desired to please
him by an alert gladness in subscribing to his wishes; it was not
enough for her just to do what he wanted. Her eyes glittered above the
darkened lower lids; her gaze was self-conscious and yet bold; a faint
languor showed beneath her happy energy. But there was no sign that on
the previous evening she had been indisposed.
Mrs. Tams was respectfully maternal, but preoccupied. She fetched the
egg for Rachel, and Rachel, having deposited it in a cooking-spoon,
held it over the small black saucepan of incontestably boiling water
until the hand of the clock precisely covered a minute mark, whereupon
she deftly slipped the egg into the saucepan; the water ceased to boil
for a few seconds and then bubbled up again. And amid the heavenly
frizzling of bacon and the odour of her own special coffee Rachel
stood sternly watching the clock while Mrs. Tams rattled plates and
did the last deeds before serving the meal. Then Mrs. Tarns paused and
"I don't hardly like to tell ye, ma'm--I didn't hardly like to tell ye
last night when ye were worried like--no, and I dunna like now like,
but its like as if what must be--I must give ye notice to leave. I
canna stop here no longer."
Rachel turned to her, protesting--
"Now, Mrs. Tams, what _are_ you talking about? I thought you were
perfectly happy here."
"So I am, mum. Nobody could wish for a better place. I'm sure I've no
fault to find. But it's like as if what must be."
"But what's the matter?"
"Well, ma'am, it's Emmy." (Emmy was Mrs. Tams's daughter and the
mother of her favourite grandchild.) "Emmy and all on' em seem to
think it'll be better all round if I don't take a regular situation,
so as I can be more free for 'em, and they'll all look after me i' my
old age. I s'll get my old house back, and be among 'em all. There's
so many on 'em."
Every sentence contained a lie. And the aged creature went on lying
to the same pattern until she had created quite a web of convincing
detail--more than enough to persuade her mistress that she was in
earnest, foolishly in earnest, that she didn't know on which side
her bread was buttered, and that the poorer classes in general had no
"You're all alike," said the wise Rachel.
"I'm very sorry, ma'm."
"And what am I to do? It's very annoying for me, you know. I thought
you were a permanency."
"I should like to give your daughters and daughters-in-law a piece of
my mind.... Good heavens! Give me that cooking-spoon, quick!"
She nipped the egg out of the saucepan; it was already several seconds
"It isn't as if I could keep you on as a charwoman," said Rachel. "I
must have some one all the time, and I couldn't do with a charwoman as
"No, ma'am! It's like as if what must be."
"Well, I hope you'll think it over. I must say I didn't expect this
from you, Mrs. Tams."
Mrs. Tams put her lips together and bent obstinately over a tray.
Rachel said to herself: "Oh, she really means to leave! I can see
that. She's made up her mind.... I shall never trust any servant
She was perhaps a little hurt (for she considered that she had much
benefited Mrs. Tams), and a little perturbed for the future. But in
her heart she did not care. She would not have cared if the house had
fallen in, or if her native land had been invaded and enslaved by a
foreign army. She was at peace with Louis. He was hers. She felt that
her lien on him was strengthened.
The breakfast steaming and odorous on the table, and Rachel all
tingling in front of her tray, awaited the descent of the master of
the house. The Sunday morning post, placed in its proper position by
Mrs. Tams, consisted of a letter and a post-card. Rachel stretched her
arm across the table to examine them. The former had a legal aspect.
It was a foolscap envelope addressed to Mrs. Maldon. Rachel opened it.
A typewritten circular within respectfully pointed out to Mrs. Maldon
that if she had only followed the writers' advice, given gratis a few
weeks earlier, she would have made one hundred and twenty-five pounds
net profit by spending thirty-five pounds in the purchase of an option
on Canadian Pacific Railway shares. The statement was supported by
the official figures of the Stock Exchange, which none could question.
"Can you afford to neglect such advice in future?" the writers
asked Mrs. Maldon, and went on to suggest that she should send them
forty-five pounds to buy an option on "Shells," which were guaranteed
to rise nine points in less than a month.
Mystified, half sceptical, and half credulous, Rachel reflected
casually that the world was full of strange phenomena. She wondered
what "Shells" were, and why the writers should keep on writing to
a woman who had been dead for ages. She carefully burnt both the
circular and the envelope.
And then she looked at the post-card, which was addressed to "Louis
Fores, Esq." As it was a post-card, she was entitled to read it.
She read: "Shall expect you at the works in the morning at ten. Jas.
Horrocleave." She thought it rather harsh and oppressive on the part
of Mr. Horrocleave to expect Louis to attend at the works on Bank
Holiday--and so soon after his illness, too! How did Mr. Horrocleave
know that Louis was sufficiently recovered to be able to go to the
works at all?
Louis came, rubbing his hands, which for an instant he warmed at the
fire. He was elegantly dressed. The mere sight of him somehow thrilled
Rachel. His deportment, his politeness, his charming good-nature were
as striking as ever. The one or two stripes (flesh-coloured now,
not whitish) on his face were not too obvious, and, indeed, rather
increased the interest of his features. The horrible week was
forgotten, erased from history, though Rachel would recollect that
even at the worst crisis of it Louis had scarcely once failed in
politeness of speech. It was she who had been impolite--not once,
but often. Louis had never raged. She was contrite, and her penitence
intensified her desire to please, to solace, to obey. When she
realized that it was she who had burnt that enormous sum in
bank-notes, she went cold in the spine.
Not that she cared twopence for the enormous sum, really, now that
concord was established! No, her little flutters of honest remorse
were constantly disappearing in the immense exultant joy of being
alive and of contemplating her idol. Louis sat down. She smiled at
him. He smiled back. But in his exquisite demeanour there was a faint
reserve of melancholy which persisted. She had not yet that morning
been able to put it to flight; she counted, however, on doing so very
soon, and in the meantime it did not daunt her. After all, was it not
"I say, what do you think? Mrs. Tams has given me notice."
She pretended to be aggrieved and to be worried, but essential joy
shone through these absurd masks. Moreover, she found a certain
naive satisfaction in being a mistress with cares, a mistress to whom
"notice" had to be given, and who would have to make serious inquiry
into the character of future candidates for her employment.
Louis raised his eyebrows.
"Don't you think it's a shame?"
"Oh," said he cautiously, "you'll get somebody else as good,
_and_ better. What's she leaving for?"
Rachel repeated Mrs. Tams's rigmarole.
"Ah!" murmured Louis.
He was rather sorry for Mrs. Tams. His good-nature was active enough
this morning. But he was glad that she had taken the initiative. And
he was content that she should go. After the scene of the previous
night, their relations could not again have been exactly what the
relations between master and servant ought to be. And further, "you
never knew what women wouldn't tell one another," even mistress and
maid, maid and mistress. Yes, he preferred that she should leave. He
admired her and regretted the hardship on the old woman--and that was
an end of it! What could he do to ease her? The only thing to do would
be to tell her privately that so far as he was concerned she might
stay. But he had no intention of doing aught so foolish. It was
strange, but he was entirely unconscious of any obligation to her for
the immense service she had rendered him. His conclusion was that some
people have to be martyrs. And in this he was deeply right.
Rachel, misreading his expression, thought that he did not wish to be
bothered with household details. She recalled some gratuitous advice
half humorously offered to her by a middle-aged lady at her reception,
"Never talk servants to your men." She had thought, at the time, "I
shall talk everything with _my_ husband." But she considered that
she was wiser now.
"By the way," she said in a new tone, "there's a post-card for you.
I've read it. Couldn't help."
Louis read the post-card. He paled, and Rachel noticed his pallor. The
fact was that in his mind he had simply shelved, and shelved again,
the threat of James Horrocleave. He had sincerely desired to tell a
large portion of the truth to Rachel, taking advantage of her soft
mood; but he could not; he could not force his mouth to open on the
subject. In some hours he had quite forgotten the danger--he was
capable of such feats--then it reasserted itself and he gazed on it
fascinated and helpless. When Rachel, to please him and prove her
subjugation, had suggested that they should go to church--"for the
Easter morning service"--he had concurred, knowing, nevertheless,
that he dared not fail to meet Horrocleave at the works. On the whole,
though it gave him a shock, he was relieved that Horrocleave had sent
the post-card and that Rachel had seen it. But he still was quite
unable to decide what to do.
"It's a nice thing, him asking you to go to the works on a Bank
Holiday like that!" Rachel remarked.
Louis answered: "It's not to-morrow he wants me. It's to-day."
"Sunday!" she exclaimed.
"Yes. I met him for a second yesterday afternoon, and he told me then.
This was just a reminder. He must have sent it off last night. A good
thing he did send it, though. I'd quite forgotten."
"But what is it? What does he want you to go on Sunday for?"
Louis shrugged his shoulders, as if to intimate that nothing that
Horrocleave did ought to surprise anybody.
"Then what about church?"
Louis replied on the spur of the moment--
"You go there by yourself. I'll meet you there. I can easily be there
"But I don't know the pew."
"They'll show you your pew all right, never fear."
"I shall wait for you in the churchyard."
"Very well. So long as it isn't raining."
She kissed him fervently when he departed.
Long before it was time to leave for church she had a practical and
beautiful idea--one of those ideas that occur to young women in love.
Instead of waiting for Louis in the churchyard she would call for him
at the works, which was not fifty yards off the direct route to St.
Luke's. By this means she would save herself from the possibility of
inconvenience within the precincts of the church, and she would also
prevent the conscienceless Mr. Horrocleave from keeping Louis in the
office all the morning. She wondered that the idea had not occurred
to Louis, who was very gifted in such matters as the arrangement of
She started in good time because she wanted to walk without hurry, and
to ponder. The morning, though imperfect and sunless, had in it some
quality of the spring, which the buoyant youth of Rachel instantly
discovered and tasted in triumph. Moreover, the spirit of a festival
was abroad, and visible in the costume and faces of passers-by; and
it was the first festival of the year. Rachel responded to it eagerly,
mingling her happiness with the general exultation. She was intensely,
unreasonably happy. She knew that she was unreasonably happy; and she
did not mind.
When she turned into Friendly Street the big black double gates of
the works were shut, but in one of them a little door stood ajar.
She pushed it, stooped, and entered the twilight of the archway. The
office door was shut. She walked uncertain up the archway into the
yard, and through a dirty window on her left she could dimly discern
a man gesticulating. She decided that he must be Horrocleave. She
hesitated, and then, slightly confused, thought, "Perhaps I'd better
go back to the archway and knock at the office door."
In the inner office, among art-lustre ware, ink-stained wood, dusty
papers, and dirt, Jim Horrocleave banged down a petty-cash book on to
Louis' desk. His hat was at the back of his head, and his eyes blazed
at Louis, who stood somewhat limply, with a hesitant, foolish, faint
smile on his face.
"That's enough!" said Horrocleave fiercely. "I haven't had patience to
go all through it. But that's enough. I needn't tell ye I suspected ye
last year, but ye put me off. And I was too busy to take the trouble
to go into it. However, I've had a fair chance while you've been
away." He gave a sneering laugh. "I'll tell ye what put me on to ye
again, if you've a mind to know. The weekly expenses went down as soon
as ye thought I had suspicions. Ye weren't clever enough to keep 'em
up. Well, what have ye got to say for yeself, seeing ye are on yer way
"I never meant to go to America," said Louis. "Why should I go to
"Ask me another. Then ye confess?"
"I don't," said Louis.
"Oh! Ye don't!" Horrocleave sat down and put his hands on his
"There may be mistakes in the petty-cash book. I don't say there
aren't. Any one who keeps a petty-cash book stands to lose. If he's
too busy at the moment to enter up a payment, he may forget it--and
there you are! He's out of pocket. Of course," Louis added, with a
certain loftiness, "as you're making a fuss about it I'll pay up for
anything that's wrong ... whatever the sum is. If you make it out to
be a hundred pounds I'll pay up."
Horrocleave growled: "Oh, so ye'll pay up, will ye? And suppose I
won't let ye pay up? What shall ye do then?"
Louis, now quite convinced that Horrocleave was only bullying
"It's I that ought to ask you that question."
The accuser was exasperated.
"A couple o' years in quod will be about your mark, I'm thinking," he
Whereupon Louis was suddenly inspired to answer:
"Yes. And supposing I was to begin to talk about illicit commissions?"
Horrocleave jumped up with such ferocious violence that Louis drew
back, startled. The recent Act of Parliament, making a crime of secret
commissions to customers' employees, had been a blow to the trade
in art-lustre ware, and it was no secret in the inner office that
Horrocleave, resenting its interference with the natural course
of business, had more than once discreetly flouted it, and thus
technically transgressed the criminal law. Horrocleave used to defend
and justify himself by the use of that word "technical." Louis' polite
and unpremeditated threat enraged him to an extreme degree. He was the
savage infuriate. He cared for no consequences, even consequences to
himself. He hated Louis because Louis was spick and span, and quiet,
and because Louis had been palmed off on him by Louis' unscrupulous
respectable relatives as an honest man.
"Now thou'st done for thyself!" he cried, in the dialect. "Thou'st
done for thyself! And I'll have thee by the heels for embezzlement,
and blackmail as well." He waved his arms. "May God strike me if I
give thee any quarter after that! I'll--"
He stopped with open mouth, disturbed by the perception of a highly
strange phenomenon beyond the window. He looked and saw Rachel in the
yard. For a moment he thought that Louis had planned to use his wife
as a shield in the affair if the worst should come to the worst. But
Rachel's appearance simultaneously showed him that he was wrong. She
was the very mirror of happy confidence. And she seemed so young, and
so obviously just married; and so girlish and so womanish at the same
time; and her frock was so fresh, and her hat so pert against the
heavy disorder of the yard, and her eyes were unconsciously so
wistful--that Horrocleave caught his breath. He contrasted Rachel with
Mrs. Horrocleave, her complete antithesis, and at once felt very sorry
for himself and very scornful of Mrs. Horrocleave, and melting with
worshipful sympathy for Rachel.
"Yer wife's in the yard," he whispered in a different tone.
"My wife!" Louis was gravely alarmed; all his manner altered.
"Hast told her anything of this?"
"I should think I hadn't."
"Ye must pay me, and I'll give ye notice to leave," said Horrocleave,
quickly, in a queer, quiet voice. The wrath was driven out of him. The
mere apparition of Rachel had saved her husband.
Rachel had disappeared. Then there was a distant tapping. Neither of
the men spoke nor moved. They could hear the outer door open and light
footfalls in the outer office.
"Anybody here?" It was Rachel's voice, timid.
"Come in, come in!" Horrocleave roared.
She entered, blushing, excusing herself, glancing from one to the
other, and by her spotless Easter finery emphasizing the squalor of
In a few minutes Horrocleave was saying to Rachel, rather
"Louis and I are going to part company, Mrs. Fores. I can't keep him
on. His wages are too high for me. It won't run to it. Th' truth is,
I'm going to chuck this art business. It doesn't pay. Art, as they
call it, 's no good in th' pottery trade."
Rachel said, "So that's what you wanted to see him about on a Sunday
morning, is it, Mr. Horrocleave?"
She was a little hurt at the slight on her husband, but the wife
in her was persuaded that the loss would be Mr. Horrocleave's.
She foresaw that Louis would now want to use his capital in some
commercial undertaking of his own; and she was afraid of the prospect.
Still, it had to be faced, and she would face it. He would probably do
well as his own master. During a whole horrible week her judgment on
him had been unjustly severe, and she did not mean to fall into the
same sin again. She thought with respect of his artistic gifts, which
she was too inartistic to appreciate. Yes, the chances were that he
would succeed admirably.
She walked him off to church, giving Horrocleave a perfunctory
good-bye. And as, shoulder to shoulder, they descended towards St.
Luke's, she looked sideways at Louis and fed her passion stealthily
with the sight. True, even in those moments, she had heart enough left
to think of others besides.
She hoped that John's Ernest would find a suitable mate. She
remembered that she had Julian's curtains to attend to. She continued
to think kindly of Thomas Batchgrew, and she chid herself for having
thought of him in her distant inexperienced youth, of six months
earlier, as _that man_. And, regretting that Mrs. Tams--at her
age, too!--could be so foolish, she determined to look after Mrs.
Tams also, if need should arise. But these solicitudes were mere downy
trifles floating on the surface of her profound absorption in Louis.
And in the depths of that absorption she felt secure, and her courage
laughed at the menace of life (though the notion of braving a church
full of people did intimidate the bride). Yet she judged Louis
realistically and not sentimentally. She was not conspicuously blind
to any aspect of his character; nor had the tremendous revulsion of
the previous night transformed him into another and a more heavenly
being for her. She admitted frankly to herself that he was not
blameless in the dark affair of the bank-notes. She would not deny
that in some ways he was untrustworthy, and might be capable of acts
of which the consequences were usually terrible. His irresponsibility
was notorious. And, being impulsive herself, she had no mercy for
his impulsiveness. As for his commonsense, was not her burning of the
circular addressed to Mrs. Maldon a sufficient commentary on it?
She was well aware that Louis' sins of omission and commission might
violently shock people of a certain temperament--people of her own
temperament in particular. These people, however, would fail to see
the other side of Louis. If she herself had merely heard of Louis,
instead of knowing him, she would probably have set him down as
undesirable. But she knew him. His good qualities seemed to her to
overwhelm the others. His charm, his elegance, his affectionateness,
his nice speech, his courtesy, his quick wit, his worldliness--she
really considered it extraordinary that a plain, blunt girl, such
as she, should have had the luck to please him. It was indeed almost
If he had faults--and he had--she preferred them (proudly and
passionately) to the faults of scores of other women's husbands. He
was not a brute, nor even a boor nor a savage--thousands of savages
ranged free and terror-striking in the Five Towns. Even when vexed and
furious he could control himself. It was possible to share his daily
life and see him in all his social moods without being humiliated. He
was not a clodhopper; watch him from the bow-window of a morning as he
walked down the street! He did not drink; he was not a beast. He was
not mean. He might scatter money, but he was not mean. In fact, except
that one sinister streak in his nature, she could detect no fault.
There was danger in that streak.... Well, there was danger in every
man. She would accept it; she would watch it. Had she not long since
reconciled herself to the prospect of an everlasting vigil?
She did not care what any one said, and she did not care! He was the
man she wanted; the whole rest of the world was nothing in comparison
to him. He was irresistible. She had wanted him, and she would always
want him, as he was. She had won him and she would keep him, as
he was, whatever the future might hold. The past was the past; the
opening chapter of her marriage was definitely finished and its drama
done. She was ready for the future. One tragedy alone could overthrow
her--Louis' death. She simply could not and would not conceive
existence without him. She would face anything but that.... Besides,
he was not _really_ untrustworthy--only weak! She faltered and
recovered. "He's mine and I wouldn't have him altered for the world. I
don't want him perfect. If anything goes wrong, well, let it go wrong!
I'm his wife. I'm his!" And as, slightly raising her confident chin
in the street, she thus undertook to pay the price of love, there was
something divine about Rachel's face.