Part 2 out of 5
"Oh! you silly boy!" she said, holding him, with her head on one side.
"Who's been cross and nasty to his poor old mammy? Who wants cheering up
a bit before he settles down to his horrid work? Who would take his
mammy to a nice party at a nice house, if he were prettily asked--eh?
She pinched his cheek before he could escape.
"Well, mother, of course you will do what you like," said George, walking
off to supply himself with ham. "I shall not leave home again, just yet."
Lady Tressady smiled.
"Well, anyhow, you can read Aspasia Corfield's letter," she said, holding
it out to him. "You know, really, that house isn't bad. They took over
the Dryburghs' _chef_, and Aspasia knows how to pick her people."
"Aspasia!" The tone of patronising intimacy! George blushed, if his
mother did not.
Yet he took the letter. He read it, then put it down, and walked to the
window to look at a crowd of birds that had been collecting round a plate
of food he had just put out upon the snow.
"Well, will you go?" said his mother.
"If you particularly wish it," he said, after a pause, in an
Lady Tressady's dimples were in full play as she settled herself into her
seat and began to gather a supply of provisions. But as he returned to
his place, and she glanced at him, she saw that he was not in a mood to
be bantered, and understood that he was not going to let her force his
confidence, however shrewdly she might guess at his affairs. So she
controlled herself, and began to chatter about the Corfields and their
party. He responded, and by the end of breakfast they were on much better
terms than they had been for some weeks.
That morning also he wrote a cheque for her immediate necessities, which
made her--for the time--a happy woman; and she overwhelmed him with
grateful tears and embraces, which he did his best to bear.
Early in December he and she became the Corfields' guests. They found a
large party collected, and Letty Sewell happily established as the spoilt
child of the house. At the first touch of her hand, the first glance of
her eyes, George's cloud dispersed.
"Why did you run away?" George asked her on the first possible occasion.
Letty laughed, fenced with the question for four days, during which
George was never dull for a single instant, and then capitulated. She
allowed him to propose to her, and was graciously pleased to accept him.
The following week Tressady went down with Letty to her home at Helbeck.
He found an invalid father, a remarkably foolish, inconsequent mother,
and a younger sister, Elsie, on whom, as it seemed to him, the burdens of
the house mainly rested.
The father, who was suffering from a slow but incurable disease, had the
remains of much natural ability and acuteness. He was well content with
Tressady as a son-in-law; though in the few interviews that Tressady was
able to have with him on the question of settlements the young man took
pains to state his money affairs as carefully and modestly as possible.
Letty was not often in her father's room, and Mr. Sewell treated her,
when she did come, rather like an agreeable guest than a daughter. But he
was evidently extremely proud of her--as also was the mother--and he
would talk much to George, when his health allowed it, of her good looks
and her social success.
With the younger sister Tressady did not find it easy to make friends.
She was plain, sickly, and rather silent. She seemed to have scientific
tastes and to be a great reader. And, so far as he could judge, the two
sisters were not intimate.
"Don't hate me for taking her away!" he said, as he was bidding good-bye
to Elsie, and glancing over her shoulder at Letty on the stairs.
The girl's quiet eyes were crossed by a momentary look of amusement. Then
she controlled herself, and said gently:
"We didn't expect to keep her! Good-bye."
"Oh, Tully, look at my cloak! You've let it fall! Hold my fan, please,
and give me the opera-glasses."
The speaker was Miss Sewell. She and an elderly lady were sitting side by
side in the stalls, about halfway down St. James's Hall. The occasion was
a popular concert, and, as Joachim was to play, every seat in the hall
was rapidly filling up.
Letty rose as she asked for the opera-glasses, and scanned the crowds
streaming in through the side-doors.
"No--no signs of him! He must have been kept at the House, after all,"
she said, with annoyance. "Really, Tully, I do think you might have got a
programme all this time! Why do you leave everything to me?"
"My dear!" said her companion, protesting, "you didn't tell me to."
"Well, I don't see why I should _tell_ you everything. Of course I want a
programme. Is that he? No! What a nuisance!"
"Sir George must have been detained," murmured her companion, timidly.
"What a very original thing to say, wasn't it, Tully?" remarked Miss
Sewell, with sarcasm, as she sat down again.
The lady addressed was silent, instinctively waiting till Letty's nerves
should have quieted down. She was a Miss Tulloch, a former governess of
the Sewells, and now often employed by Letty, when she was in town, as a
convenient chaperon. Letty was accustomed to stay with an aunt in
Cavendish Square, an old lady who did not go out in the evenings. A
chaperon therefore was indispensable, and Maria Tulloch could always be
had. She existed somewhere in West Kensington, on an income of seventy
pounds a year. Letty took her freely to the opera and the theatre, to
concerts and galleries, and occasionally gave her a dress she did not
want. Miss Tulloch clung to the connection as her only chance of relief
from the boarding-house routine she detested, and was always abjectly
ready to do as she was told. She saw nothing she was not meant to see,
and she could be shaken off at a moment's notice. For the rest, she came
of a stock of gentlefolk; and her invariable black dress, her bits of
carefully treasured lace, the weak refinement of her face, and her timid
manner did no discredit to the brilliant creature beside her.
When the first number of the programme was over, Letty got up once more,
opera-glass in hand, to search among the late-comers for her missing
lover. She nodded to many acquaintances, but George Tressady was not to
be seen; and she sat down finally in no mood either to listen or to
enjoy, though the magician of the evening was already at work.
"There's something very special, isn't there, you want to see Sir George
about to-night?" Tully inquired humbly when the next pause occurred.
"Of course there is!" said Letty, crossly. "You do ask such
foolish questions, Tully. If I don't see him to-night, he may let
that house in Brook Street slip. There are several people after
it--the agents told me."
"And he thinks it too expensive?"
"Only because of _her_. If she makes him pay her that preposterous
allowance, of course it will be too expensive. But I don't mean him
to pay it."
"Lady Tressady is terribly extravagant," murmured Miss Tulloch.
"Well, so long as she isn't extravagant with his money--_our_ money--I
don't care a rap," said Letty; "only she sha'n't spend all her own and
all ours too, which is what she has been doing. When George was away he
let her live at Ferth, and spend almost all the income, except five
hundred a year that he kept for himself. And _then_ she got so shamefully
into debt that he doesn't know when he shall ever clear her. He gave her
money at Christmas, and again, I am _sure_, just lately. Well! all I know
is that it must be _stopped_. I don't know that I shall be able to do
much till I'm married, but I mean to make him take this house."
"Is Lady Tressady nice to you? She is in town, isn't she?"
"Oh yes! she's in town. Nice?" said Letty, with a little laugh. "She
can't bear me, of course; but we're quite civil."
"I thought she tried to bring it on?" said the confidante, anxious, above
all things, to be sympathetic.
"Well, she brought him to the Corfields, and let me know she had. I don't
know why she did it. I suppose she wanted to get something out of him.
Ah! _there_ he is!"
And Letty stood up, smiling and beckoning, while Tressady's tall thin
figure made its way along the central passage.
"Horrid House! What made you so late?" she said, as he sat down between
her and Miss Tulloch.
George Tressady looked at her with delight. The shrewish contractions in
the face, which had been very evident to Tully a few minutes before, had
all disappeared, and the sharp slight lines of it seemed to George the
height of delicacy. At sight of him colour and eyes had brightened. Yet
at the same time there was not a trace of the raw girl about her. She
knew very well that he had no taste for _ingénues_, and she was neither
nervous nor sentimental in his company.
"Do you suppose I should have stayed a second longer than I was obliged?"
he asked her, smiling, pressing her little hand under pretence of taking
The first notes of a new Brahms quartette mounted, thin and sweet, into
the air. The musical portion of the audience, having come for this
particular morsel, prepared themselves eagerly for the tasting and trying
of it. George and Letty tried to say a few things more to each other
before yielding to the general silence, but an old gentleman in front
turned upon them a face of such disdain and fury they must needs laugh
Not that George was unwilling. He was tired; and silence with Letty
beside him was not only repose, but pleasure. Moreover, he derived a
certain honest pleasure of a mixed sort from music. It suggested literary
or pictorial ideas to him which stirred him, and gave him a sense of
enjoyment. Now, as the playing flowed on, it called up delightful images
in his brain: of woody places, of whirling forms, of quiet rivers, of
thin trees Corot-like against the sky--scenes of pleading, of frolic,
reproachful pain, dissolving joy. With it all mingled his own story, his
own feeling; his pride of possession in this white creature touching him;
his sense of youth, of opening life, of a crowded stage whereon his "cue"
had just been given, his "call" sounded. He listened with eagerness,
welcoming each fancy as it floated past, conscious of a grain of
self-abandonment even--a rare mood with him. He was not absorbed in love
by any means; the music spoke to him of a hundred other kindling or
enchanting things. Nevertheless it made it doubly pleasant to be there,
with Letty beside him. He was quite satisfied with himself and her; quite
certain that he had done everything for the best. All this the music in
some way emphasised--made clear.
When it was over, and the applause was subsiding, Letty said in his ear:
"Have you settled about the house?"
He smiled down upon her, not hearing what she said, but admiring her
dress, its little complication and subtleties, the violets that perfumed
every movement, the slim fingers holding the fan. Her mere ways of
personal adornment were to him like pleasant talk. They surprised and
amused him--stood between him and ennui.
She repeated her question.
A frown crossed his brow, and the face changed wholly.
"Ah!--it is so difficult to see one's way," he said, with a little sigh
Letty played with her fan, and was silent.
"Do you so much prefer it to the others?" he asked her.
Letty looked up with astonishment.
"Why, it is a house!" she said, lifting her eyebrows; "and the others--"
"Hovels? Well, you are about right. The small London house is an
abomination. Perhaps I can make them take less premium."
Letty shook her head.
"It is not at all a dear house," she said decidedly.
He still frowned, with the look of one recalled to an annoyance he had
"Well, darling, if you wish it so much, that settles it. Promise to be
still nice to me when we go through the Bankruptcy Court!"
"We will let lodgings, and I will do the waiting," said Letty, just
laying her hand lightly against his for an instant. "Just think! That
house would draw like anything. Of course, we will only take the eldest
sons of peers. By the way, do you see Lord Fontenoy?"
They were in the middle of the "interval," and almost everyone about
them, including Miss Tulloch, was standing up, talking or examining their
George craned his neck round Miss Tulloch, and saw Fontenoy sitting
beside a lady, on the other side of the middle gangway.
"Who is the lady?" Letty inquired. "I saw her with him the other night at
the Foreign Office."
"_That_--if you want to know--is Fontenoy's story!"
"Oh, but tell me at once!" said Letty, imperiously. "But he hasn't got a
story, or a heart. He's only stuffed with blue-book."
"So I thought till a few weeks ago. But I know a good deal more now about
Master Fontenoy than I did."
"But who is she?"
"She is a Mrs. Allison. Isn't that white hair beautiful? And her
face--half saint, I always think--you might take her for a
mother-abbess--and half princess. Did you ever see such diamonds?"
George pulled his moustaches, and grinned as he looked across at
"Tell me quick!" said Letty, tapping him on the arm--"Is she a
widow?--and is he going to marry her? Why didn't you tell me before?--why
didn't you tell me at Malford?"
"Because I didn't know," said George, laughing. "Oh! it's a strange
story--too long to tell now. She is a widow, but he is not going to marry
her, apparently. She has a grown-up son, who hasn't yet found himself a
wife, and thinks it isn't fair to him. If Fontenoy wants to introduce
her, don't refuse. She is the mistress of Castle Luton, and has
delightful parties. Yes!--if I'd known at Malford what I know now!"
And he laughed again, remembering Fontenoy's nocturnal incursion upon
him, and its apparent object. Who would have imagined that the preacher
of that occasion had ever given one serious thought to woman and woman's
arts--least of all that he was the creation and slave of a woman!
Letty's curiosity was piqued, and she would have plied George with
questions, but that she suddenly perceived that Fontenoy had risen, and
was coming across to them.
"Gracious!" she said; "here he comes. I can't think why; he
doesn't like me."
Fontenoy, however, when he had made his way to them, greeted Miss Sewell
with as much apparent cordiality as he showed to anyone else. He had
received George's news of the marriage with all decorum, and had since
sent a handsome wedding-present to the bride-elect. Letty, however, was
never at ease with him, which, indeed, was the case with most women.
He stood beside the _fiances_ for a minute or two, exchanging a few
commonplaces with Letty on the performers and the audience; then he
turned to George with a change of look.
"No need for us to go back to-night, I think?"
"What, to the House? Dear, no! Grooby and Havershon may be trusted to
drone the evening out, I should hope, with no trouble to anybody but
themselves. The Government are just keeping a house, that's all. Have you
been grinding at your speech all day?"
Fontenoy shrugged his shoulders.
"I sha'n't get anything out that I want to say. Are you coming to the
House on Friday, Miss Sewell?"
"Friday?" said Letty, looking puzzled.
"I told you. You must plead trousseau if you want to save yourself!"
Amusement shone in his blue eyes as they passed from Letty to Fontenoy.
He had long ago discovered that Letty was incapable of any serious
interest in his public life. It did not disturb him at all. But it
tickled his sense of humour that Letty would have to talk politics all
the same, and to talk them with people like Fontenoy.
"Oh! you mean your Resolution!" cried Letty. "Isn't it a Resolution? Yes,
of course I'm coming. It's very absurd, for I don't know anything about
it. But George says I must, and till I promise to obey, you see, I don't
mind being obedient!"
Archness, however, was thrown away on Fontenoy. He stood beside her,
awkward and irresponsive. Not being allowed to be womanish, she could
only try once more to be political.
"It's to be a great attack on Mr. Dowson, isn't it?" she asked him. "You
and George are mad about some things he has been doing? He's Home
Secretary, isn't he? Yes, of _course_! And he's been driving trade away,
and tyrannising over the manufacturers? I _wish_ you'd explain it to me!
I ask George, and he tells me not to talk shop."
"Oh, for goodness' sake," groaned George, "let it alone! I came to meet
you and hear Joachim. However, I may as well warn you, Letty, that I
sha'n't have time to be married once Fontenoy's anti-Maxwell campaign
begins; and it will go on till the Day of Judgment."
"Why anti-Maxwell," said Letty, puzzled. "I thought it was Mr. Dowson you
are going to attack?"
George, a little vexed that she should require it, began to explain that
as Maxwell was "only a miserable peer," he could have nothing to do with
the House of Commons, and that Dowson was the official mouthpiece of the
Maxwell group and policy in the Lower House. "The hands were the hands of
Esau," etc. Letty meanwhile, conscious that she was not showing to
advantage, flushed, began to play nervously with her fan, and wished that
George would leave off.
Fontenoy did nothing to assist George's political lesson. He stood
impassive, till suddenly he tried to look across his immediate
neighbours, and then said, turning to Letty:
"The Maxwells, I see, are here to-night." He nodded towards a group on
the left, some two or three benches behind them. "Are you an admirer of
Lady Maxwell's, Miss Sewell?--you've seen her, of course?"
"Oh yes, _often_!" said Letty, annoyed by the question, standing,
however, eagerly on tiptoe. "I know her, too, a little; but she never
remembers me. She was at the Foreign Office on Saturday, with such a
_hideous_ dress on--it spoilt her completely."
"Hideous!" said Fontenoy, with a puzzled look. "Some artist--I forget
who--came and raved to me about it; said it was like some Florentine
picture--I forget what--don't think I ever heard of it."
Letty looked contemptuous. Her expression said that in this matter, at
any rate, she knew what she was talking about. Nevertheless her eyes
followed the dark head Fontenoy had pointed out to her.
Lady Maxwell was at the moment the centre of a large group of people,
mostly men, all of whom seemed to be eager to get a word with her, and
she was talking with great animation, appealing from time to time to a
tall, broad-shouldered gentleman, with greyish hair, who stood, smiling
and silent, at the edge of the group. Letty noticed that many glasses
from the balcony were directed to this particular knot of persons; that
everybody near them, or rather every woman, was watching Lady Maxwell, or
trying to get a better view of her. The girl felt a secret pang of envy
The figure of a well-known accompanist appeared suddenly at the head of
the staircase leading from the artists' room. The interval was over, and
the audience began to subside into attention.
Fontenoy bowed and took his leave.
"You see, he _didn't_ introduce me," said Letty, not without chagrin,
as she settled down. "And how plain he is! I think him uglier every
time I see him."
George made a vague sound of assent, but did not really agree with her in
the least. Fontenoy's air of overwork was more decided than ever; his
eyes had almost sunk out of sight; the complexion of his broad strong
face had reddened and coarsened from lack of exercise and sleep; his
brown hair was thinning and grizzling fast. Nevertheless a man saw much
to admire in the ungainly head and long-limbed frame, and did not think
any the better of a woman's intelligence for failing to perceive it.
After the concert, as George and Letty stood together in the crowded
vestibule, he said to her, with a smile:
"So I take that house?"
"If you want to do anything disagreeable," she retorted, quickly, "don't
_ask_ me. Do it, and then wait till I am good-tempered again!"
"What a tempting prospect! Do you know that when you put on that
particular hood that I would take Buckingham Palace to please you? Do you
know also that my mother will think us very extravagant?"
"Ah, we can't all be economical!" said Letty.
He saw the little toss of the head and sharpening of the lips. They only
amused him. Though he had never, so far, discussed his mother and her
affairs with Letty in any detail, he understood perfectly well that her
feeling about this particular house in some way concerned his mother, and
that Letty and Lady Tressady were rapidly coming to dislike each other.
Well, why should Letty pretend? He liked her the better for not
There was a movement in the crowd about them, and Letty, looking up,
suddenly found herself close to a tall lady, whose dark eyes were
bent upon her.
"How do you do, Miss Sewell?"
Letty, a little fluttered, gave her hand and replied. Lady Maxwell
glanced across her at the tall young man, with the fair, irregular face.
George bowed involuntarily, and she slightly responded. Then she was
swept on by her own party.
"Have you sent for your carriage?" George heard someone say to her.
"No; I am going home in a hansom. I've tired out both the horses
to-day. Aldous is going down to the club to see if he can hear anything
"Oh! the election?"
She nodded, then caught sight of her husband at the door beckoning, and
"What a head!" said George, looking after her with admiration.
"Yes," said Letty, unwillingly. "It's the hair that's so splendid, the
long black waves of it. How ridiculous to talk of tiring out her
horses--that's just like her! As though she mightn't have fifty horses if
she liked! Oh, George, there's our man! Quick, Tully!"
They made their way out. In the press George put his arm half round
Letty, shielding her. The touch of her light form, the nearness of her
delicate face, enchanted him. When their carriage had rolled away, and he
turned homewards along Piccadilly, he walked absently for a time,
conscious only of pulsing pleasure.
It was a mild February night. After a long frost, and a grudging thaw,
westerly winds were setting in, and Spring could be foreseen. It had been
pouring with rain during the concert, but was now fair, the rushing
clouds leaving behind them, as they passed, great torn spaces of blue,
where the stars shone.
Gusts of warm moist air swept through the street. As George's moment of
intoxication gradually subsided, he felt the physical charm of the soft
buffeting wind. How good seemed all living!--youth and capacity--this
roaring multitudinous London--the future with its chances! This common
pleasant chance of marriage amongst them--he was glad he had put out his
hand to it. His wife that was to be was no saint and no philosopher. He
thanked the fates! He at least asked for neither--on the hearth. "Praise,
blame, love, kisses"--for all of those, life with Letty would give scope;
yet for none of them in excess. There would be plenty of room left for
other things, other passions--the passion of political power, for
instance, the art of dealing with and commanding other men. He, the
novice, the beginner, to talk of "commanding!" Yet already he felt his
foot upon the ladder. Fontenoy consulted him, and confided in him more
and more. In spite of his engagement, he was informing himself rapidly on
a hundred questions, and the mental wrestle of every day was
exhilarating. Their small group in the House, compact, tireless,
audacious, was growing in importance and in the attention it extorted
from the public. Never had the whole tribe of factory inspectors shown a
more hawk-like, a more inquisitorial, a more intolerable vigilance than
during the past twelve months. All the persons concerned with matches and
white-lead, with certain chemical or metal-working industries, with
"season" dressmaking or tailoring, were up in arms, rallying to
Fontenoy's support with loud wrath and lamentations, claiming to speak
not only for themselves, but for their "hands," in the angry protest
that things had gone and were going a great deal too far, that trade was
simply being harassed out of the country. A Whiggish group of
manufacturers on the Liberal side were all with Fontenoy; while the
Socialists, on whom the Government should have been able in such a matter
to count to the death, had a special grievance against the Cabinet at the
moment, and were sulking in their tents. The attack and defence would
probably take two nights; for the Government, admitting the gravity of
the assault, had agreed, in case the debate should not be concluded on
Friday, to give up Monday to it. Altogether the affair would make a
noise. George would probably get in his maiden speech on the second
night, and was, in truth, devoting a great deal of his mind to the
prospect; though to Letty he had persistently laughed at it and belittled
it, refusing altogether to let her come and hear him.
Then, after Easter would come Maxwell's Bill, and the fat in the fire!
Poor little Letty!--she would get but few of the bridal observances due
to her when _that_ struggle began. But first would come Easter and their
wedding; that one short fortnight, when he would carry her off--soft,
willing prey!--to the country, draw a "wind-warm space" about himself and
her, and minister to all her whims.
He turned down St. James's Street, passed Marlborough House, and
entered the Mall, on the way to Warwick Square, where he was living
with his mother.
Suddenly he became aware of a crowd, immediately in front of him, in the
direction of Buckingham Palace. A hansom and horse were standing in the
roadway; the driver, crimson and hatless, was bandying words with one of
the policemen, who had his notebook open, and from the middle of the
crowd came a sound of wailing.
He walked up to the edge of the circle.
"Anybody hurt?" he said to the policeman, as the man shut his notebook.
"Little girl run over, sir."
"Can I be of any assistance? Is there an ambulance coming?"
"No, sir. There was a lady in the hansom. She's just now bandaging the
child's leg, and says she'll take it to the hospital."
George mounted on one of the seats under the trees that stood handy, and
looked over the heads of the crowd to the space in the centre which the
other policeman was keeping clear. A little girl lay on the ground, or
rather on a heap of coats; another girl, apparently about sixteen, stood
near her, crying bitterly, and a lady--
"Goodness!" said Tressady; and, jumping down, he touched the policeman on
"Can you get me through? I think I could be some help. That lady"--he
spoke a word in the policeman's ear.
The man touched his hat.
"Stand back, please!" he said, addressing the crowd, "and let this
The crowd divided unwillingly. But at the same moment it parted from the
inside, and a little procession came through, both policemen joining
their energies to make a free passage for it. In front walked the
policeman carrying the little girl, a child apparently of about twelve
years old. Her right foot lay stiffly across his arm, held straight and
still in an impromptu splint of umbrellas and handkerchiefs. Immediately
behind came the lady whom George had caught sight of, holding the other
girl's hand in hers. She was bareheaded and in evening dress. Her
opera-cloak, with its heavy sable collar, showed beneath it a dress of
some light-coloured satin, which had already suffered deplorably from the
puddles of the road, and, as she neared the lamp beneath which the cab
had stopped, the diamonds on her wrists sparkled in the light. During her
passage through the crowd, George perceived that one or two people
recognised her, and that a murmur ran from mouth to mouth.
Of anything of the sort she herself was totally unconscious. George saw
at once that she, not the policeman, was in command. She gave him
directions, as they approached the cab, in a quick, imperative voice
which left no room for hesitation.
"The driver is drunk," he heard her say; "who will drive?"
"One of us will drive, ma'am."
"What--the other man? Ask him to take the reins at once, please, before I
get in. The horse is fresh, and might start. That's right. Now, when I
say the word, give me the child."
She settled herself in the cab. George saw the policeman somewhat
embarrassed, for a moment, with his burden. He came forward to his help,
and between them they handed in the child, placing her carefully on her
Then, standing at the open door of the cab, George raised his hat. "Can I
be of any further assistance to you, Lady Maxwell? I saw you just now at
She turned in some astonishment as she heard her name, and looked at the
speaker. Then, very quickly, she seemed to understand.
"I don't know," she said, pondering. "Yes! you could help me. I am going
to take the child to hospital. But there is this other girl. Could you
take her home--she is very much upset? No!--first, could you bring her
after me to St. George's? She wants to see where we put her sister."
"I will call another cab, and be there as soon as you."
"Thank you. Just let me speak to the sister a moment, please."
He put the weeping girl forward, and Lady Maxwell bent across the burden
on her knee to say a few words to her--soft, quick words in another
voice. The girl understood, her face cleared a little, and she let
Tressady take charge of her.
One of the policemen mounted the box of the hansom, amid the "chaff" of
the crowd, and the cab started. A few hats were raised in George's
neighbourhood, and there was something of a cheer.
"I tell yer," said a voice, "I knowed her fust sight--seed her picture
lots o' times in the papers, and in the winders too. My word, ain't she
good-lookin! And did yer see all them diamonds?"
"Come along!" said George, impatiently, hurrying his charge into the
four-wheeler the other policeman had just stopped for them.
In a few more seconds he, the girl, and the policeman were pursuing Lady
Maxwell's hansom at the best speed of an indifferent horse. George tried
to say a few consoling things to his neighbour; and the girl, reassured
by his kind manner, found her tongue, and began to chatter in a tearful
voice about the how and when of the accident: about the elder sister in a
lodging in Crawford Street, Tottenham Court Road, whom she and the little
one had been visiting; the grandmother in Westminster with whom they
lived; poor Lizzie's place in a laundry, which now she must lose; how the
lady had begged handkerchiefs and umbrellas from the crowd to tie up
Lizzie's leg with--and so on through a number of other details incoherent
George heard her absently. His mind all the time was absorbed in the
dramatic or ironic aspects of what he had just seen. For dramatic they
were--though perhaps a little cheap. Could he, could anyone, have made
acquaintance with this particular woman in more characteristic fashion?
He laughed to think how he would tell the story to Fontenoy. The
beautiful creature in her diamonds, kneeling on her satin dress in the
mud, to bind up a little laundrymaid's leg--it was so extravagantly in
keeping with Marcella Maxwell that it amused one like an overdone
coincidence in a clumsy play.
What made her so beautiful? The face had marked defects; but in colour,
expression, subtlety of line incomparable! On the other hand, the
manner--no!--he shrugged his shoulders. The remembrance of its
mannish--or should it be, rather, boyish?--energy and assurance somehow
set him on edge.
In the end, they were not much behind the hansom; for the hospital porter
was only just in the act of taking the injured child from Lady Maxwell as
Tressady dismounted and went forward again to see what he could do.
But, somewhat to his chagrin, he was not wanted. Lady Maxwell and the
porter did everything. As they went into the hospital, George caught a
few of the things she was saying to the porter as she supported the
child's leg. She spoke in a rapid, professional way, and the man
answered, as the policeman had done, with a deference and understanding
which were clearly not due only to her "grand air" and her evening dress.
George was puzzled.
He and the elder sister followed her into the waiting-room. The
house-surgeon and a nurse were summoned, and the injured leg was put into
a splint there and then. The patient moaned and cried most of the time,
and Tressady had hard work to keep the sister quiet. Then nurse and
doctor lifted the child.
"They are going to put her to bed," said Lady Maxwell, turning to George.
"I am going up with them. Would you kindly wait? The sister"--she dropped
her business tone, and, smiling, touched the elder girl on the arm--"can
come up when the little one is undressed."
The little procession swept away, and George was left with his charge. As
soon as the small sister was out of sight, the elder one began to
chatter again out of sheer excitement, crying at intervals. George did
not heed her much. He walked up and down, with his hands in his pockets,
conscious of a curious irritability. He did not think a woman should take
a strange man's service quite so coolly.
At the end of another quarter of an hour a nurse appeared to summon the
sister. Tressady was told he might come too if he would, and his charge
threw him a quick, timid look, as though asking him not to desert her in
this unknown and formidable place. So they followed the nurse up white
stone stairs, and through half-lit corridors, where all was silent, save
that once a sound of delirious shrieking and talking reached them
through a closed door, and made the sister's consumptive little face
turn whiter still.
At last the nurse, putting her finger on her lip, turned a handle, and
George was conscious of a sudden feeling of pleasure.
They were standing on the threshold of a children's ward. On either hand
was a range of beds, bluish-white between the yellow picture-covered
walls and the middle-way of spotless floor. Far away, at the other end, a
great fire glowed. On a bare table in the centre, laden with bottles and
various surgical necessaries, stood a shaded lamp, and beside it the
chair where the night-nurse had been sitting. In the beds were sleeping
children of various ages, some burrowing, face downward, animal-like,
into their pillows; others lying on their backs, painfully straight and
still. The air was warm, yet light, and there was the inevitable smell of
antiseptics. Something in the fire-lit space and comfort of the great
room, its ordered lines and colours, the gentleness of the shaded light
as contrasted with the dim figures in the beds, seemed to make a poem of
it--a poem of human tenderness.
Two or three beds away to the right, Lady Maxwell was standing with the
night-nurse of the ward. The little girl had been undressed, and was
lying quiet, with a drawn, piteous face that turned eagerly as her sister
came in. The whole scene was new and touching to Tressady. Yet, after the
first impression, his attention was perforce held by Lady Maxwell, and he
saw the rest only in relation to her. She had slipped off her heavy
cloak, in order, perhaps, that she might help in the undressing of the
child. Beneath, she wore a little shawl or cape of some delicate lace
over her low dress. The dress itself was of a pale shade of green; the
mire and mud with which it was bedabbled no longer showed in the half
light; and the satin folds glistened dimly as she moved. The poetic
dignity of the head, so finely wreathed with its black hair, of the full
throat and falling shoulders, received a sort of special emphasis from
the wide spaces, the pale colours and level lines of the ward. Tressady
was conscious again of the dramatic significant note as he watched her,
yet without any softening of his nascent feeling of antagonism.
She turned and beckoned to the sister as they entered:
"Come and see how comfortable she is! And then you must give this lady
your name and address."
The girl timidly approached. Whilst she was occupied with her sister and
with the nurse, Lady Maxwell suddenly looked round, and saw Tressady
standing by the table a yard or two from her.
A momentary expression of astonishment crossed her face. He saw that, in
her absorption with the case and the two sisters, she had clean forgotten
all about him. But in a flash she remembered, and smiled.
"So you are really going to take her home? That is very kind of you. It
will make all the difference to the grandmother that somebody should go
and explain. You see, they leave her in the splint for the night, and
to-morrow they will put the leg in plaster. Probably they won't keep her
in hospital more than about three weeks, for they are very full."
"You seem to know all about it!"
"I was a nurse myself once, for a time," she said, but with a certain
stiffness which seemed to mark the transition from the professional to
the great lady.
"Ah! I should have remembered that. I had heard it from Edward Watton."
She looked up quickly. He felt that for the first time she took notice of
him as an individual.
"You know Mr. Watton? I think you are Sir George Tressady, are you not?
You got in for Market Malford in November? I recollect. I didn't like
She laughed. So did he.
"Yes, I got in just in time for a fighting session."
Her laugh disappeared.
"An odious fight!" she said gravely.
"I am not so sure. That depends on whether you like fighting, and how
certain you are of your cause!"
She hesitated a moment; then she said:
"How can Lord Fontenoy be certain of his cause!"
The slight note of scorn roused him.
"Isn't that what all parties say of their opponents?"
She glanced at him again, curiously. He was evidently quite
young--younger than herself, she guessed. But his careless ease and
experience of bearing, contrasted with his thin boy's figure, attracted
her. Her lip softened reluctantly into a smile.
"Perhaps," she said. "Only sometimes, you know, it must be true! Well,
evidently we can't discuss it here at one o'clock in the morning--and
there is the nurse making signs to me. It is really very good of you. If
you are in our neighbourhood on Sunday, will you report?"
"Certainly--with the greatest pleasure. I will come and give you a full
account of my mission."
She held out a slim hand. The sister, red-eyed with crying, was handed
over to him, and he and she were soon in a cab, speeding towards the
Westminster mews whither she directed him.
Well, was Maxwell to be so greatly envied? Tressady was not sure. Such a
woman, he thought, for all her beauty, would not have greatly stirred his
The week which had opened thus for Tressady promised to be one of lively
interest for such persons as were either concerned in or took notice of
the House of Commons and its doings. Fontenoy's onslaught upon the
administration of the Home Office, and, through the Home Secretary, on
the Maxwell group and influence, had been long expected, and was known to
have been ably prepared. Its possible results were already keenly
discussed. Even if it were a damaging attack, it was not supposed that it
could have any immediate effect on the state of parties or the strength
of the Government. But after Easter Maxwell's factory Bill--a special
Factory Act for East London, touching the grown man for the first time,
and absolutely prohibiting home-work in certain specified industries--was
to be brought forward, and could not fail to provide Maxwell's
adversaries with many chances of red and glorious battle. It was
disputable from end to end; it had already broken up one Government; it
was strongly pressed and fiercely opposed; and on the fate of each clause
in Committee might hang the life or death of the Ministry--not so much
because of the intrinsic importance of the matter, as because Maxwell was
indispensable to the Cabinet, and it was known that neither Maxwell nor
his close friend and henchman, Dowson, the Home Secretary, would accept
defeat on any of the really vital points of the Bill.
The general situation was a curious one. Some two years before this time
a strong and long-lived Tory Government had come to an end. Since then
all had been confusion in English politics. A weak Liberal Government,
undermined by Socialist rebellion, had lasted but a short time, to be
followed by an equally precarious Tory Ministry, in which Lord
Maxwell--after an absence from politics of some four years or
so--returned to his party, only to break it up. For he succeeded in
imposing upon them a measure in which his own deepest convictions and
feelings were concerned, and which had behind it the support of all the
more important trade unions. Upon that measure the Ministry fell; but
during their short administration Maxwell had made so great an impression
upon his own side that when they returned, as they did return, with an
enlarged majority, the Maxwell Bill retained one of the foremost places
in their programme, and might be said, indeed, at the present moment to
hold the centre of the political field.
That field, in the eyes of any middle-aged observer, was in strange
disarray. The old Liberal party had been almost swept away; only a few
waifs and strays remained, the exponents of a programme that nobody
wanted, and of cries that stirred nobody's blood. A large Independent
Labour and Socialist party filled the empty benches of the Liberals--a
revolutionary, enthusiastic crew, of whom the country was a little
frightened, and who were, if the truth were known, a little frightened
at themselves. They had a coherent programme, and represented a
formidable "domination" in English life. And that English life itself, in
all that concerned the advance and transformation of labour, was in a
singularly tossed and troubled state. After a long period of stagnation
and comparative industrial peace, storms at home, answering to storms on
the Continent, had been let loose, and forces both of reaction and of
revolution were making themselves felt in new forms and under the command
of new masters.
At the head of the party of reaction stood Fontenoy. Some four years
before the present session the circumstances of a great strike in the
Midlands--together, no doubt, with some other influence--had first drawn
him into public life, had cut him off from racing and all his natural
pleasures. The strike affected his father's vast domain in North Mercia;
it was marked by an unusual violence on the part of the men and their
leaders; and Fontenoy, driven, sorely against his will, to take a part by
the fact that his father, the hard and competent administrator of an
enormous fortune, happened at the moment to be struck down by illness,
found himself before many weeks were over taking it with passion, and
emerged from the struggle a changed man. Property must be upheld;
low-born disorder and greed must be put down. He sold his race-horses,
and proceeded forthwith to throw into the formation of a new party all
the doggedness, the astuteness, and the audacity he had been accustomed
to lavish upon the intrigues and the triumphs of the Turf.
And now in this new Parliament his immense labour was beginning to tell.
The men who followed him had grown in number and improved in quality.
They abhorred equally a temporising conservatism and a plundering
democracy. They stood frankly for birth and wealth, the Church and the
expert. They were the apostles of resistance and negation; they were
sworn to oppose any further meddling with trade and the personal liberty
of master and workman, and to undo, if they could, some of the meddling
that had been already carried through. A certain academic quality
prevailed among them, which made them peculiarly sensitive to the
absurdities of men who had not been to Oxford or Cambridge; while some,
like Tressady, had been travellers, and wore an Imperialist heart upon
their sleeve. The group possessed an unusual share of debating and
oratorical ability, and they had never attracted so much attention as now
that they were about to make the Maxwell Bill their prey.
Meanwhile, for the initiated, the situation possessed one or two points
of special interest. Lady Maxwell, indeed, was by this time scarcely less
of a political force than her husband. Was her position an illustration
of some new power in women's hands, or was it merely an example of
something as well known to the Pharaohs as to the nineteenth century--the
ability of any woman with a certain physique to get her way? That this
particular woman's way happened to be also her husband's way made the
case less interesting for some observers. On the other hand, her obvious
wifely devotion attracted simple souls to whom the meddling of women in
politics would have been nothing but repellent had it not been
recommended to them by the facts that Marcella Maxwell was held to be
good as well as beautiful; that she loved her husband; and was the
excellent mother of a fine son.
Of her devotion, in the case of this particular Bill, there was neither
concealment nor doubt. She was known to have given her husband every
assistance in the final drafting of the measure: she had seen for herself
the working of every trade that it affected; she had innumerable friends
among wage-earners of all sorts, to whom she gave half her social life;
and both among them and in the drawing-rooms of the rich she fought her
husband's cause unceasingly, by the help of beauty, wits, and something
else--a broad impulsiveness and charm--which might be vilified or
scorned, but could hardly be matched, by the enemy.
Meanwhile Lord Maxwell was a comparatively ineffective speaker, and
passed in social life for a reserved and difficult personality. His
friends put no one else beside him; and his colleagues in the Cabinet
were well aware that he represented the keystone in their arch. But
the man in the street, whether of the aristocratic or plebeian sort,
knew comparatively little about him. All of which, combined with the
special knowledge of an inner circle, helped still more to concentrate
public attention on the convictions, the temperament, and the beauty
of his wife.
Amid a situation charged with these personal or dramatic elements the
Friday so keenly awaited by Fontenoy and his party arrived.
Immediately after question-time Fontenoy made his speech. In reply, the
Home Secretary, suave, statistical, and conciliatory, poured a stream of
facts and reports upon the House. The more repulsive they were, the
softer and more mincing grew his voice in dealing with them. Fontenoy had
excited his audience, Dowson succeeded in making it shudder.
Nevertheless, the effect of the evening lay with Fontenoy.
George stayed to hear the official defence to its end. Then he hurried
upstairs in search of Letty, who, with Miss Tulloch, was in the Speaker's
private gallery. As he went he thought of Fontenoy's speech, its halting
opening, the savage force of its peroration. His pulses tingled:
"Magnificent!" he said to himself; "_magnificent!_ We have found a man!"
Letty was eagerly waiting for him, and they walked down the corridor
together. "Well?" he said, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, and
looking down upon her with a smile. "Well?"
Letty saw that she was expected to praise, and she did her best, his
smile still bent upon her. He was perfectly aware all the time of the
fatuity of what she was saying. She had caught up since her engagement a
certain number of political phrases, and it amused him to note the cheap
and tinkling use she made of them. Nevertheless she was chatting,
smiling, gesticulating, for his pleasure. She was posing for him, using
her grey eyes in these expressive ways, all for him. He thought her the
most entertaining plaything; though it did occur to him sometimes that
when they were married he would give her instruction.
"Ah, well, you liked it--that's good!" he said at last, interrupting her.
"We've begun well, any way. It'll be rather hard, though, to have to
speak after that on Monday!"
"As if you need be afraid! You're not, you know--it's only mock modesty.
Do you know that Lady Maxwell was sitting two from me?"
"No! Well, how did she like Fontenoy?"
"She never moved after he got up. She pressed her face against that
horrid grating, and stared at him all the time. I thought she was very
flushed--but that may have been the heat--and in a very bad temper,"
added Letty, maliciously. "I talked to her a little about your
"Did she remember my existence?"
"Oh dear, yes! She said she expected you on Sunday. She never asked _me_
to come." Letty looked arch. "But then one doesn't expect her to have
pretty manners. People say she is shy. But, of course, that is only your
friends' way of saying that you're rude."
"She wasn't rude to you?" said George, outwardly eager, inwardly
sceptical. "Shall I not go on Sunday?"
"But of course you must go. We shall have to know them. She's not a
woman's woman--that's all. Now, are we going to get some dinner, for
Tully and I are famishing?"
"Come along, then, and I'll collect the party."
George had asked a few of his acquaintance in the House to meet his
betrothed, together with an old General Tressady and his wife who were
his distant cousins. The party were to assemble in the room of an
under-secretary much given to such hospitable functions; and thither
accordingly George led the way.
The room, when they reached it, was already fairly full of people, and
alive with talk.
"Another party!" said George, looking round him. "Benson is great at this
sort of thing."
"Do you see Lady Maxwell?" said Letty, in his ear.
George looked to his right, and perceived the lady in question. She also
recognised him at once, and bowed, but without rising. She was the centre
of a group of people, who were gathered round her and the small table on
which she was leaning, and they were so deeply absorbed in the
conversation that had been going on that they hardly noticed the entrance
of Tressady and his companion.
"Leven has a party, you see," said the under-secretary. "Blaythwaite was
to have taken them in--couldn't at the last moment; so they had to come
in here. This is _your_ side of the room! But none of your guests have
come yet. Dinner at the House in the winter is a poor sort of business,
Miss Sewell. We want the Terrace for these occasions."
He led the young girl to a sofa at the further end of the room, and made
himself agreeable, to him the easiest process in the world. He was a
fashionable and charming person, in the most irreproachable of
frock-coats, and Letty was soon at her ease with him, and mistress of
all her usual arts and graces.
"You know Lady Maxwell?" he said to her, with a slight motion of the head
towards the distant group.
Letty replied; and while she and her companion chattered, George, who was
standing behind them, watched the other party.
They were apparently in the thick of an argument, and Lady Maxwell, whose
hands were lightly clasped on the table in front of her, was leaning
forward with the look of one who had just shot her bolt, and was waiting
to see how it would strike.
It struck apparently in the direction of her _vis-à-vis,_ Sir Frank
Leven, for he bent over to her, making a quick reply in a half-petulant
boy's voice. He had been three years in the House, but had still the air
of an Eton "swell" in his last half.
Lady Maxwell listened to what he had to say, a sort of silent passion in
her face all the time--a noble passion nobly restrained.
When he stopped, George caught her reply.
"He has neither _seen_ nor _felt_--every sentence showed it--that is all
one can say. How can one take his judgment?"
George's mouth twitched. He slipped, smiling, into a place beside Letty.
"Did you hear that?" he inquired.
"Fontenoy's speech, of course," said the under-secretary, looking round.
"She's pitching into Leven, I suppose. He's as cranky and unsound as he
can be. Shouldn't wonder if you got him before long."
He nodded good-temperedly to Tressady, then got up to speak to a man on
the edge of the further group.
"How amusing!" said George, his satirical eyes still watching Lady
Maxwell. "How much that set has 'seen and felt' of sweaters, and
white-lead workers, and that ilk! Don't they look like it?"
"Who are they?"
Letty was now using all her eyes to find out, and especially for the
purpose of carrying away a mental photograph of Lady Maxwell's black hat
"Oh! the Maxwells' particular friends in the House--most of them as well
provided with family and goods as they make 'em: a philanthropic,
idealist lot, that yearns for the people, and will be the first to be
kicked downstairs when the people gets its own. However, they aren't all
quite happy in their minds. Frank Leven there, as Benson says, is
decidedly shaky. He is the member for the Maxwells' division--Maxwell, of
course, put him in. He has a house there, I believe, and he married Lady
Maxwell's great friend, Miss Macdonald--an ambitious little party, they
say, who simply insisted on his going into Parliament. Oh, then, Bennett
is there--do you see?--the little dark man with a frock-coat and
spectacles? He's Lady Maxwell's link with the Independents--oldest
workman member--been in the House a long time, so that by now he isn't
quite as one-eyed and one-eared as the rest of them. I suppose she hopes
to make use of him at critical moments--she takes care to have tools of
all sorts. Gracious--listen!"
There was, indeed, a very storm of discussion sweeping through the rival
party. Lady Maxwell's penetrating but not loud voice seemed to pervade
it, and her eyes and face, as she glanced from one speaker to another,
drew alternately the shafts and the sympathy of the rest.
Tressady made a face.
"I say, Letty, promise me one thing!" His hand stole towards hers. Tully
discreetly looked the other way. "Promise me not to be a political woman,
there's a dear!"
Letty hastily withdrew her fingers, having no mind at all for caresses
"But I _must_ be a political woman--I shall have to be! I know heaps of
girls and married women who get up everything in the papers--all the
stupidest things--not because they know anything about it, or because
they care a rap, but because some of their men friends happen to be
members; and when they come to see you, you must know what to talk to
"Must you?" said George, "How odd! As though one went to tea with a woman
for the sake of talking about the very same things you have been doing
all day, and are probably sick to death of already."
"Never mind," said Letty, with her little air of sharp wisdom. "I _know_
they do it, and I shall have to do it too. I shall pick it up."
"Will you? Of course you will! Only, when I've got a big Bill on, let me
do a little of it for myself--give me some of the credit!"
Letty laughed maliciously.
"I don't know why you've taken such a dislike to her," she said, but in
rather a contented tone, as her eye once more travelled across to Lady
Maxwell. "Does she trample on her husband, after all?"
Tressady gave an impatient shrug.
"Trample on him? Goodness, no! That's all part of the play, too--wifely
affection and the rest of it. Why can't she keep out of sight a little?
We don't want the women meddling."
"Thank you, my domestic tyrant!" said Letty, making him a little bow.
"How much tyranny will you want before you accept those sentiments?" he
asked her, smiling tenderly into her eyes. Both had a moment's pleasant
thrill; then George sprang up.
"Ah, here they are at last!--the General, and all the lot. Now, I hope,
we shall get some dinner."
Tressady had, of course, to introduce his elderly cousins and his three
or four political friends to his future wife; and, amid the small flutter
of the performance, the break-up and disappearance of the rival party
passed unnoticed. When Tressady's guests entered the dining-room which
looks on the terrace, and made their way to the top table reserved for
them, the Leven dinner, near the door, was already half through.
George's little banquet passed merrily enough. The grey-haired General
and his wife turned out to be agreeable and well-bred people, quite able
to repay George's hospitality by the dropping of little compliments on
the subject of Letty into his half-yielded ear. For his way of taking
such things was always a trifle cynical. He believed that people say
habitually twice what they mean, whether in praise or blame; and he did
not feel that his own view of Letty was much affected by what other
people thought of her.
So, at least, he would have said. In reality, he got a good deal of
pleasure out of his _fiancée's_ success. Letty, indeed, was enjoying
herself greatly. This political world, as she had expected, satisfied her
instinct for social importance better than any world she had yet known.
She was determined to get on in it; nor, apparently, was there likely to
be any difficulty in the matter. George's friends thought her a pretty,
lively creature, and showed the usual inclination of the male sex to
linger in her society. She mostly wanted to be informed as to the House
and its ways. It was all so new to her!--she said. But her ignorance was
not insipid; her questions had flavour. There was much talk and laughter;
Letty felt herself the mistress of the table, and her social ambitions
swelled within her.
Suddenly George's attention was recalled to the Maxwell table by the
break-up of the group around it. He saw Lady Maxwell rise and look
round her as though in search of someone. Her eyes fell upon him, and
he involuntarily rose at the same instant to meet the step she made
"I must say another word of thanks to you"--she held out her hand. "That
girl and her grandmother were most grateful to you."
"Ah, well!--I must come and make my report. Sunday, I think you said?"
She assented. Then her expression altered:
"When do you speak?"
The question fell out abruptly, and took George by surprise.
"I? On Monday, I believe, if I get my turn. But I fear the British Empire
will go on if I don't!"
She threw a glance of scrutiny at his thin, whimsical face, with its fair
moustache and sunburnt skin.
"I hear you are a good speaker," she said simply. "And you are entirely
with Lord Fontenoy?"
He bowed lightly, his hands on his sides.
"You'll agree our case was well put? The worst of it--"
Then he stopped. He saw that Lady Maxwell had ceased to listen to him.
She turned her head towards the door, and, without even saying good-bye
to him, she hurried away from him towards the further end of the room.
"Maxwell, I see!" said Tressady to himself, with a shrug, as he returned
to his seat. "Not flattering--but rather pretty, all the same!"
He was thinking of the quick change that had remade the face while he was
talking to her--a change as lovely as it was unconscious.
Lord Maxwell, indeed, had just entered the dining-room in search of his
wife, and he and she now left it together, while the rest of the Leven
party gradually dispersed. Letty also announced that she must go home.
"Let me just go back into the House and see what is going on," said
George. "Ten to one I sha'n't be wanted, and I could see you home."
He hurried off, only to return in a minute with the news that the debate
was given up to a succession of superfluous people, and he was free, at
any rate for an hour. Letty, Miss Tulloch, and he accordingly made their
way to Palace Yard. A bright moon shone in their faces as they emerged
into the open air, which was still mild and spring-like, as it had been
all the week.
"I say--send Miss Tulloch home in a cab!" George pleaded in Letty's ear,
"and walk with me a bit. Come and look at the moon over the river. I will
bring you back to the bridge and put you in a cab."
Letty looked astonished and demure. "Aunt Charlotte would be
shocked," she said.
George grew impatient, and Letty, pleased with his impatience, at last
yielded. Tully, the most complaisant of chaperons, was put into a hansom
As the pair reached the entrance of Palace Yard they were overtaken by a
brougham, which drew up an instant in the gateway itself, till it should
find an opening in the traffic outside.
"Look!" said George, pressing Letty's arm.
She looked round hurriedly, and, as the lamps of the gateway shone into
the carriage, she caught a vivid glimpse of the people inside it. Their
faces were turned towards each other as though in intimate
conversation--that was all. The lady's hands were crossed on her knee;
the man held a despatch-box. In a minute they were gone; but both Letty
and George were left with the same impression--the sense of something
exquisite surprised. It had already visited George that evening, only a
few minutes earlier, in connection with the same woman's face.
Letty laughed, rather consciously.
George looked down upon her as he guided her through the gate.
"Some people seem to find it pleasant to be together!" he said, with a
vibration in his voice. "But why did we look?" he added, discontentedly.
"How could we help it, you silly boy?"
They walked to wards the bridge and down the steps, happy in each other,
and freshened by the night breeze. Over the river the moon, hung full and
white, and beneath it everything--the silver tracks on the water, the
blaze of light at Charing Cross Station, the lamps on Westminster Bridge
and in the passing steamers, a train of barges, even the darkness of the
Surrey shore--had a gentle and poetic air. The vast city had, as it were,
veiled her greatness and her tragedy; she offered herself kindly and
protectingly to these two--to their happiness and their youth.
George made his companion wait beside the parapet and look, while he
himself drew in the air with a sort of hunger.
"To think of the hours we spend in this climate," he said, "caged up in
abominable places like the House of Commons!"
The traveller's distaste for the monotony of town and indoor life spoke
in his vehemence. Letty raised her eyebrows.
"I am very glad of my furs, thank you! You seem to forget that it is
"Never mind!--since Monday it has had the feel of April. Did you see my
"Yes. She caught me just after luncheon, and we talked for an hour."
"Poor darling! I ought to have been there to protect you. But she vowed
she would have her say about that house."
He looked down upon her, trying to see her expression in the shifting
light. He had gone through a disagreeable little scene with his mother at
breakfast. She had actually lectured him on the rashness of taking the
Brook Street house!--he understanding the whole time that what the odd
performance really meant was, that if he took it he would have a smaller
margin of income wherefrom to supplement her allowance.
"Oh, it was all right!" said Letty, composedly. "She declared we should
get into difficulties at once, that I could have no idea of the value
of money, that you always _had_ been extravagant, that everybody would
be astonished at our doing such a thing, etcetera, etcetera. I
_think_--you don't mind?--I think she cried a little. But she wasn't
really very unhappy."
"What did you say?"
"Well, I suggested that when we were married, we and she should both set
up account-books; and I promised faithfully that if she would let us see
hers, we would let her see ours."
George threw back his head with a gurgle of laughter.
"She was afraid," said Letty, demurely, "that I didn't take things
seriously enough. Then I asked her to come and see my gowns."
"And that, I suppose, appeased her?"
"Not at all. She turned up her nose at everything, by way of punishing
me. You see, she had on a new-Worth--the third since Christmas. My poor
little trousseau rags had no chance."
"H'm!" said George, meditatively. "I wonder how my mamma is going to
manage when we are married," he added, after a pause.
Letty made no reply. She was walking firmly and briskly; her eyes, full
of a sparkling decision, looked straight before her; her little mouth was
close set. Meanwhile through George's mind there passed a number of
fragmentary answers to his own question. His feeling towards his mother
was wholly abnormal; he had no sense of any unseemliness in the
conversation about her which was gradually growing common between himself
and Letty; and he meant to draw strict lines in the future. At the same
time, there was the tie of old habit, and of that uneasy and unwelcome
responsibility with regard to her which had descended upon him at the
time of his father's death. He could not honestly regard himself as an
affectionate son; but the filial relationship, even in its most imperfect
aspect, has a way of imposing itself.
"Ah, well! I daresay we shall pull through," he said, dismissing the
familiar worry with a long breath. "Why, how far we have come!" he added,
looking back at Charing Cross and the Westminster towers. "And how
extraordinarily mild it is! We can't turn back yet, and you'll be tired
if I race you on in this way. Look, Letty, there's a seat! Would you be
afraid--just five minutes?"
Letty looked doubtful.
"It's so absurdly late. George, you _are_ funny! Suppose somebody came by
who knew us?"
He opened his eyes.
"And why not? But see! there isn't a carriage, and hardly a person, in
sight. Just a minute!"
Most unwillingly Letty let herself be persuaded. It seemed to her a
foolish and extravagant thing to do; and there was now no need for either
folly or extravagance. Since her engagement she had dropped a good many
of the small audacities of the social sort she had so freely allowed
herself before it. It was as though, indeed, now that these audacities
had served their purpose, some stronger and perhaps inherited instincts
emerged in her, obscuring the earlier self. George was sometimes
astonished by an ultra-conventional note, of which certainly he had heard
nothing in their first days of intimacy at Malford.
However, she sat down beside him, protesting. But he had no sooner stolen
her hand, than the moonlight showed her a dark, absent look creeping over
his face. And to her amazement he began to talk about the House of
Commons, about the Home Secretary's speech, of all things in the world!
He seemed to be harking back to Mr. Dowson's arguments, to some of the
stories the Home Secretary had told of those wretched people who
apparently enjoy dying of overwork and phosphorus, and white-lead, who
positively will die of them, unless the inspectors are always harrying
them. He still held her hand, but she saw he was not thinking of her;
and a sudden pique rose in her small mind. Generally, she accepted his
love-making very coolly--just as it came, or did not come. But to-night
she asked herself with irritation--for what had he led her into his silly
escapade, but to make love to her? And now here were her fingers slipping
out of his, while he harangued her on things she knew and cared nothing
about, in a voice and manner he might have addressed to anybody!
"Well, I don't understand--I really _don't!_" she interrupted sharply. "I
thought you were all against the Government--I thought you didn't believe
a word they say!"
"The difference between them and us, darling, is only that _they_ think
the world can be mended by Act of Parliament, and _we_ think it can't. Do
what you will, _we_ say the world is, and must be, a wretched hole for
the majority of those that live in it; _they_ suppose they can cure it by
quack meddlings and tyrannies."
He looked straight before him, absorbed, and she was struck with the
harsh melancholy of his face.
What on earth had he kept her here for to talk this kind of talk!
"George, I really _must_ go!" she began, flushing, and drawing her
Instantly he turned to her, his look brightening and melting.
"Must you? Well, the world sha'n't be a wretched hole for us, shall it,
darling? We'll make a little nest in it--we'll forget what we can't
help--we'll be happy as long as the fates let us--won't we, Letty?"
His arm slipped round behind her. He caught her hands.
He had recollected himself. Nevertheless Letty was keenly conscious that
it was all most absurd, this sitting on a seat in a public thoroughfare
late at night, and behaving like any 'Arry and 'Arriet.
"Why, of course we shall be happy," she said, rising with decision as she
spoke; "only somehow I don't always understand you, George. I wish I knew
what you were really thinking about."
"_You!_" he said, laughing, and drawing her hand within his arm, as they
turned backwards towards the bridge.
She shook her head doubtfully. Whereupon he awoke fully to the situation,
and during the short remainder of their walk he wooed and flattered her
as usual. But when he had put her safely into a hansom at the corner of
the bridge, and smiled good-bye to her, he turned to walk back to the
House in much sudden flatness of mood. Her little restless egotisms of
mind and manner had chilled him unawares. Had Fontenoy's speech been so
fine, after all? Were politics--was anything--quite worth while? It
seemed to him that all emotions were small, all crises disappointing.
The following Sunday, somewhere towards five o'clock, George rang the
bell of the Maxwells' house in St. James's Square. It was a very fine
house, and George's eye, as he stood waiting, ran over the facade with an
amused, investigating look.
He allowed himself the same expression once or twice in the hall, as one
mute and splendid person relieved him of his coat, and another, equally
mute and equally unsurpassable, waited for him on the stairs, while
across a passage beyond the hall he saw two red-liveried footmen
"When one is a friend of the people," he pondered as he went upstairs,
"is one limited in horses but not in flunkeys? These things are obscure."
He was ushered first into a stately outer drawing-room, filled with
old French furniture and fine pictures; then the butler lifted a
velvet curtain, pronounced the visitor's name with a voice and
emphasis as perfectly trained as the rest of him, and stood aside for
George to enter.
He found himself on the threshold of a charming room looking west, and
lit by some last beams of February sun. The pale-green walls were covered
with a medley of prints and sketches. A large writing-table, untidily
heaped with papers, stood conspicuous on the blue self-coloured carpet,
which over a great part of the floor was pleasantly void and bare. Flat
earthenware pans, planted with hyacinths and narcissus, stood here and
there, and filled the air with spring scents. Books ran round the lower
walls, or lay piled where-ever there was a space for them; while about
the fire at the further end was gathered a circle of chintz-covered
chairs--chairs of all shapes and sizes, meant for talking. The whole
impression of the pretty, disorderly place, compared with the stately
drawing-room behind it, was one of intimity and freedom; the room made a
friend of you as you entered.
Half a dozen people were sitting with Lady Maxwell when Tressady was
announced. She rose to meet him with great cordiality, introduced him to
little Lady Leven, an elfish creature in a cloud of fair hair, and with a
pleasant "You know all the rest," offered him a chair beside herself and
"The rest" were Frank Leven, Edward Watton, Bayle, the Foreign Office
private secretary who had been staying at Malford House at the time of
Tressady's election, and Bennett, the "small, dark man" whom George had
pointed out to Letty in the House as a Labour member, and one of the
Maxwells' particular friends.
"Well?" said Lady Maxwell, turning to her new visitor as she handed him
some tea, "were you as much taken with the grandmother as the grandmother
was taken with you? She told me she had never seen a 'more haffable
gentleman, nor one as she'd a been more willin to ha done for'!"
George laughed. "I see," he said, "that my report has been anticipated."
"Yes--I have been there. I have found a 'case' in them indeed--alack! The
granny--I am afraid she is an unseemly old woman--and the elder girl both
work for the Jew son-in-law on the first floor--homework of the most
abominable kind--that girl will be dead in a year if it goes on."
George was rapidly conscious of two contradictory impressions--one of
pleasure, one of annoyance--pleasure in her tall, slim presence, her
white hand, and all the other flashing points of a beauty not to be
denied--and irritation that she should have talked "shop" to him with her
first breath. Could one never escape this altruistic chatter?
But he was not left to grapple with it alone, for Lady Leven looked
"Mr. Watton, will you please take Lady Maxwell's tea away if she mentions
the word 'case' again? We gave her fair warning."
Lady Maxwell hastily clasped both her hands round her tea-cup.
"Betty, we have discussed the opera for at least twenty minutes."
"Yes--at peril of our lives!" said Lady Leven. "I never talked so fast
before. One felt as though one _must_ say everything one had to say about
Melba and the de Reszkes, all in one breath--before one's poor little
subject was torn from one--one would never have such a chance again."
Lady Maxwell laughed, but coloured too.
"Am I such a nuisance?" she said, dropping her hands on her knee with a
little sigh. Then she turned to Tressady.
"But Lady Leven really makes it out worse than it is. We haven't even
_approached_ a Factory Act all the afternoon."
Lady Leven sprang forward in her chair. "Because! _because_, my dear, we
simply declined to let you. We made a league--didn't we, Mr.
Bennett?--even you joined it."
"Lady Maxwell overworks herself--we all know that," he said, his look, at
once kind, honest, and perennially embarrassed, passing from Lady Leven
to his hostess.
"Oh, don't sympathise, for Heaven's sake!" cried Betty. "Wage war upon
her--it's our only hope."
"Don't you think Sunday at least ought to be frivolous?" said Tressady,
smiling, to Lady Maxwell.
"Well, personally, I like to talk about what interests me on Sunday as
well as on other days," she said with a frank simplicity; "but I know I
ought to be kept in order--I become a terrible bore."
Frank Leven roused himself from the sofa on which he had languidly
"Bores?" he said indignantly, "we're all bores. We all have been bores
since people began to think about what they're pleased to call 'social
work.' Why should I love my neighbour?--I'd much rather hate him. I
"Doesn't it all depend," said Tressady, "on whether he happens to be able
to make it disagreeable for you in return?"
"That's just it," said Betty Leven, eagerly. "I agree with Frank--it's
all so stupid, this 'loving' everybody. It makes one positively hot. We
sit under a clergyman, Frank and I, who talks of nothing every Sunday but
love--_love_--like that, long-drawn-out--how our politics should be
'love,' and our shopping should be 'love'--till we long simply to
bastinado somebody. I want to have a little real nice cruelty--something
sharp and interesting. I should like to stick pins into my maid, only
unfortunately, as she has more than once pointed out to me, it would be
so much easier for her to stick them into me!"
"You want the time of Miss Austen's novels back again," said young Bayle,
stooping to her, with his measured and agreeable smile--"before even the
clergy had a mission."
"Ah! but it would be no good," said Lady Leven, sighing, "if _she_
She threw out her small hand towards her hostess, and everybody laughed.
Up to the moment of the laugh, Lady Maxwell had been lying back in her
chair listening, the beautiful mouth absently merry, and the eyes
speaking--Tressady thought--of quite other things, of some hidden
converse of her own, going on in the brain behind the eyes. A certain
prophetess-air seemed natural to her. Nevertheless, that first impression
of her he had carried away from the hospital scene was being somehow
blurred and broken up.
She joined in the laugh against herself; then, with a little nod towards
her assailant, she said to Edward Watton, who was sitting on her right
hand. "_You're_ not taken in, I know."
"Oh, if you mean that I go in for 'cases' and 'causes' too," cried Lady
Leven, interrupting, "of course I do--I can't be left alone. I must dance
as my generation pipes."
"Which means," said her husband, drily, "that she went for two days
filling soda-water bottles the week before last, and a day's shirt-making
last week. From the first, I was told that she would probably return to
me with an eye knocked out, she being totally inexperienced and absurdly
rash. As to the second, to judge from the description she gave me of the
den she had been sitting in when she came home, and the headache she had
next day, I still expect typhoid. The fortnight isn't up till Wednesday."
There was a shout of mingled laughter and inquiry.
"How did you do it?--and whom did you bribe?" said Bayle to Lady Leven.
"I didn't bribe anybody," she said indignantly. "You don't understand. My
friends introduced me."
Then, drawn out by him, she plunged into a lively account of her workshop
experiences, interrupted every now and then by the sarcastic comments of
her husband and the amusement of the two younger men who had brought
their chairs close to her. Betty Leven ranked high among the lively
chatterboxes of her day and set.
Lady Maxwell, however, had not laughed at Frank Leven's speech. Rather,
as he spoke of his wife's experiences, her face had clouded, as though
the blight of some too familiar image, some sad ever-present vision, had
descended upon her.
Beimett also did not laugh. He watched the Levens indulgently for a few
minutes, then insensibly he, Lady Maxwell, Edward Watton, and Tressady
drew together into a circle of their own.
"Do you gather that Lord Fontenoy's speech on Friday has been much
taken up in the country?" said Bennett, bending forward and addressing
Lady Maxwell. Tressady, who was observing him, noticed that his dress
was precisely the "Sunday best" of the respectable workman, and was,
moreover, reminded by the expression of the eyes and brow that Bennett
was said to have been a well-known "local preacher" in his
Lady Maxwell smiled, and pointed to Tressady.
"Here," she said, "is Lord Fontenoy's first-lieutenant."
Bennett looked at George.
"I should be glad," he said, "to know what Sir George thinks?"
"Why, certainly--we think it has been very warmly taken up," said George,
promptly--"to judge from the newspapers, the letters that have been
pouring in, and the petitions that seem to be preparing."
Lady Maxwell's eyes gleamed. She looked at Bennett silently a moment,
then she said:
"Isn't it amazing to you how strong an impossible case can be made to
"It is inevitable," said Bennett, with a little shrug, "quite
inevitable. These social experiments of ours are so young--there is
always a strong case to be made out against any of them, and there will
be for years to come."
"Well and good," said George; "then we cavillers are inevitable too.
Don't attack us--praise us rather; by your own confession, we are as much
a part of the game as you are."
Bennett smiled slightly, but did not in reality quite follow. Lady
Maxwell bent forward.
"Do you know whether Lord Fontenoy has any _personal_ knowledge of the
trades he was speaking about?" she said, in her rich eager voice; "that
is what I want so much to find out."
George was nettled by both the question and the manner.
"I regard Fontenoy as a very competent person," he said drily. "I imagine
he did his best to inform himself. But there was not much need; the
persons concerned--whom you think you are protecting--were so very eager
to inform us!"
Lady Maxwell flushed.
"And you think that settles it--the eagerness of the cheap life to be
allowed to maim and waste itself? But again and again English law has
stepped in to prevent it--and again and again everybody has been
"It is all a question of balance, of course," said George. "Must a
few unwise people be allowed to kill themselves--or thousands lose
His blue eyes scanned her beautiful impetuous face with a certain cool
hardness. Internally he was more and more in revolt against a "monstrous
regiment of women" and the influence upon the most complex economic
problems of such a personality as that before him.
But his word "liberty" pricked her. The look of feeling passed away. Her
eyes kindled as sharply and drily as his own.
"Freedom?--let me quote you Cromwell! 'Every sectary saith, "O give me
liberty!" But give it him, and to the best of his power he will yield it
to no one else.' So with your careless or brutal employer--give him
liberty, and no one else shall get it."
"Only by metaphor--not legally," said George, stubbornly. "So long as men
are not slaves by law there is always a chance for freedom. Any way _we_
stand for freedom--as an end, not a means. It is not the business of the
State to make people happy--not at all!--at least that is our view--but
it _is_ the business of the State to keep them free."
"Ah!" said Bennett, with a long breath, "there you've hit the nail--the
whole difference between you and us."
George nodded. Lady Maxwell did not speak immediately. But George was
conscious that he was being observed, closely considered. Their glances
crossed an instant, in antagonism, certainly, if not in dislike.
"How long is it since you came home from India?" she asked him suddenly.
"About six months."
"And you were, I think, a long time abroad?"
"Nearly four years. Does that make you think I have not had much time to
get up the things I am going to vote about?" said the young man,
laughing. "I don't know! On the broadest issues of politics, one makes up
one's mind as well in Asia as in Europe--better perhaps."
"On the Empire, I suppose--and England's place in the world? That's a
side which--I know--I remember much too little. You think our life
depends on a governing class--and that _we_ and democracy are weakening
that class too much?"
"That's about it. And for democracy it is all right. But _you_--you are
His thrust, however, did not rouse her to any corresponding rhetoric. She
smiled merely, and began to question him about his travels. She did it
with great deftness, so that after an answer or two both his temper and
manner insensibly softened, and he found himself talking with ease and
success. His mixed personality revealed itself--his capacity for certain
veiled enthusiasms, his respect for power, for knowledge, his pessimist
beliefs as to the average lot of men.
Bennett, who listened easily, was glad to help her make her guest talk.
Frank Leven left the group near the sofa and came to listen, too.
Tressady was more and more spurred, carried out of himself. Lady
Maxwell's fine eyes and stately ways were humanised after all by a quick
responsiveness, which for most people, however critical, made
conversation with her draw like a magnet. Her intelligence, too, was
competent, left the mere feminine behind in these connections that
Tressady offered her, no less than in others. She had not lived in the
world of high politics for nearly five years for nothing; so that
unconsciously, and indeed quite against his will, Tressady found himself
talking to her, after a while, as though she had been a man and an equal,
while at the same time taking more pains than he would ever have taken
for a man.
"Well, you _have_ seen a lot!" said Frank Leven at last, with a rather
Bennett's modest face suddenly reddened.
"If only Sir George will use his eyes to as good purpose at home--" he
said involuntarily, then stopped. Few men were more unready and awkward
in conversation; yet when roused he was one of the best platform speakers
of his day.
"One sees best what appeals to one, I am afraid," he said, only to be
instantly conscious that he had made a rather stupid admission in face of
Lady Maxwell's lip twitched; he saw the flash of some quick thought cross
her face. But she said nothing.
Only when he got up to go, she bade him notice that she was always at
home on Sundays, and would be glad that he should remember it. He made a
rather cold and perfunctory reply. Inwardly he said to himself, "Why does
she say nothing of Letty, whom she knows--and of our marriage--if she
wants to make friends?"
Nevertheless, he left the house with the feeling of one who has passed
an hour not of the common sort. He had done himself justice, made his
mark. And as for her--in spite of his flashes of dislike he carried
away a strong impression of something passionate and vivid that clung
to the memory. Or was it merely eyes and pose, that astonishingly
beautiful colour, and touch of classic dignity which she got--so the
world said--from some remote strain of Italian blood? Most probably!
All the same, she had fewer of the ordinary womanly arts than he had
imagined. How easy it would have been to send that message to Letty she
had not sent! He thought simply that for a clever woman she might have
been more adroit.
* * * * *
The door had no sooner closed behind Tressady than Betty Leven, with
a quick look after him, bent across to her hostess, and said in a
"Who? Post me up, please."
"One of Fontenoy's gang," said her husband, before Lady Maxwell could
answer. "A new member, and as sharp as needles. He's been exactly to all
the places where I want to go, Betty, and you won't let me."
He glanced at his wife with a certain sharpness. For Tressady had spoken
in passing of nilghai-shooting in the Himalayas, and the remark had
brought the flush of an habitual discontent to the young man's cheek.
Betty merely held out a white child's wrist.
"Button my glove, please, and don't talk. I have got ever so many
questions to ask Marcella."
Leven applied himself rather sulkily to his task while Betty pursued her
"Isn't he going to marry Letty Sewell?"
"Yes," said Lady Maxwell, opening her eyes rather wide. "Do you
"Why, my dear, she's Mr. Watton's cousin--isn't she?" said Betty, turning
towards that young man. "I saw her once at your mother's."
"Certainly she is my cousin," said that young man, smiling, "and she is
going to marry Tressady at Easter. So much I can vouch for, though I
don't know her so well, perhaps, as the rest of my family do."
"Oh!" said Betty, drily, releasing her husband and crossing her small
hands across her knee. "That means--Miss Sewell isn't one of Mr. Watton's
_favourite_ cousins. You don't mind talking about your cousins, do you?
You may blacken the character of all mine. Is she nice?"
"Who--Letty? Why, of course she is nice," said Edward Watton, laughing.
"All young ladies are."
"Oh goodness!" said Betty, shaking her halo of gold hair. "Commend me to
cousins for letting one down easy."
"Too bad, Lady Leven!" said Watton, getting up to escape. "Why not ask
Bayle? He knows all things. Let me hand you over to him. He will sing you
all my cousin's charms."
"Delighted!" said Bayle as he, too, rose--"only unfortunately I ought at
this moment to be at Wimbledon."
He had the air of a typical official, well dressed, suave, and infinitely
self-possessed, as he held out his hand--deprecatingly--to Lady Leven.
"Oh! you private secretaries!" said Betty, pouting and turning
away from him.
"Don't abolish us," he said, pleading. "We must live."
"_Je n'en vois pas la nécessité!_" said Betty, over her shoulder.
"Betty, what a babe you are!" cried her husband, as Bayle, Watton, and
Bennett all disappeared together.
"Not at all!" cried Betty. "I wanted to get some truth out of somebody.
For, of course, the real truth is that this Miss Sewell is--"
"Is what?" said Leven, lost in admiration all the time, as Lady Maxwell
saw, of his wife's dainty grace and rose-leaf colour.
"Well--a--_minx!_" said Betty, with innocent slowness,
opening her blue eyes very wide; "a mischievous--rather
"Really, Betty!" cried Lady Maxwell. "Where have you seen her?"
"Oh, I saw her last year several times at the Wattons' and other places,"
said Betty, composedly. "And so did you too, please, madam. I remember
very well one day Mrs. Watton brought her into the Winterbournes' when
you and I were there, and she chattered a great deal."
"Oh yes!--I had forgotten."
"Well, my dear, you'll soon have to remember her! so you needn't talk
in that lofty tone. For they're going to be married at Easter, and if
you want to make friends with the young man, you'll have to realise
"Married at Easter? How do you know?"
"In the first place Mr. Watton said so, in the next there are such
things as newspapers. But of course you didn't notice such trifles, you
"Betty, you're very cross with me to-day!" Lady Maxwell looked up at her
friend with a little pleading air.
"Oh no! only for your good. I know you're thinking of nothing in the
world but how to make that man take a reasonable view of Maxwell's Bill.
And I want to impress upon you that _he's_ probably thinking a great deal
more about getting married than about Factory Bills. You see, _your_
getting married was a kind of accident. But other people are different.
And oh, dear, you do know so little about them when they don't live hi
four pair backs! There, don't defend yourself--you sha'n't!"
And, stooping, Betty stifled her friend's possible protest by
"Now then, come along, Frank--you've got your speech to write--and I've
got to copy it out. Don't swear! you know you're going to have two whole
days' golfing next week. Good-bye, Marcella! My love to Aldous--and tell
him not to be so late next time I come to tea. Good-bye!"
And off she swept, pausing, however, on the landing to open the door
again and put in an eager face.
"Oh! and, by the way, the young man has a mother--Frank reminded me. His
womenkind don't seem to be his strong point--but as she doesn't earn
_even_ four-and-sixpence a week--very sadly the contrary--I won't tell
you any more now, or you'll forget. Next time!"
When Marcella Maxwell was at last left alone, she began to pace slowly up
and down the large bare room, as it was very much her wont to do.
She was thinking of George Tressady, and of the personality his talk had
seemed to reveal.
"His heart is all in _power_--in what he takes for magnificence." she
said to herself. "He talks as if he had no humanity, and did not care a
rap for anybody. But it is a pose--I _think_ it is a pose. He is
interesting--he will develop. One would like--to show him things."
After another pensive turn or two she stopped beside a photograph that
stood upon her writing-table. It was a photograph of her husband--a tall,
smoothfaced man, with pleasant eyes, features of no particular emphasis,
and the free carriage of the country-bred Englishman. As she looked at it
her face relaxed unconsciously, inevitably; under the stimulus of some
habitual and secret joy. It was for his sake, for his sake only that she
was still thinking of George Tressady, still pondering the young man's
character and remarks.
So much at least was true--no other member of Fontenoy's party had as
yet given her even the chance of arguing with him. Once or twice in
society she had tried to approach Fontenoy himself, to get somehow into
touch with him. But she had made no way. Lord Fontenoy had simply turned
his square-jawed face and red-rimmed eyes upon her with a stupid
irresponsive air, which Marcella knew perfectly well to be a mask, while
it protected him none the less effectively for that against both her
eloquence and her charm. The other members of the party were young
aristocrats, either of the ultra-exclusive or of the sporting type. She
had made her attempts here and there among them, but with no more
success. And once or twice, when she had pushed her attack to close
quarters, she had been suddenly conscious of an underlying insolence in
her opponent--a quick glance of bold or sensual eyes which seemed to
relegate the mere woman to her place.
But this young Tressady, for all his narrowness and bitterness, was of a
different stamp--or she thought so.
She began to pace up and down again, lost in reverie, till after a few
minutes she came slowly to a stop before a long Louis Quinze
mirror--her hands clasped in front of her, her eyes half consciously
studying what she saw.
Her own beauty invariably gave her pleasure--though very seldom for the
reasons that would have affected other women. She felt instinctively that
it made life easier for her than it could otherwise have been; that it
provided her with a natural and profitable "opening" in any game she
might wish to play; and that even among the workmen, unionist leaders,
and officials of the East End it had helped her again and again to score
the points that she wanted to make. She was accustomed to be looked at,
to be the centre, to feel things yielding before her; and without
thinking it out, she knew perfectly well what it was she gained by this
"fair seeming show" of eye and lip and form. Somehow it made nothing seem
impossible to her; it gave her a dazzling self-confidence.
The handle of the door turned. She looked round with a smiling start,
A tall man in a grey suit came in, crossed the room quickly, and put his
arms round her. She leant back against his shoulder, putting up one hand
to touch his cheek caressingly.
"Why, how late you are! Betty left reproaches for you."
"I had a walk with Dowson. Then two or three people caught me on the
way back--Rashdell among others." (Lord Rashdell was Foreign
Secretary.) "There are some interesting telegrams from Paris--I copied
them out for you."
The country happened to be at the moment in the midst of one of its
periodical difficulties with France. There had been a good deal of
diplomatic friction, and a certain amount of anxiety at the Foreign
Office. Marcella lit the silver kettle again and made her man some fresh
tea, while he told her the news, and they discussed the various points of
the telegrams he had copied for her, with a comrade's freedom and
vivacity. Then she said:
"Well, I have had an interesting time too! That young Tressady has
been to tea."
"Oh! has he? They say there is a lot of stuff in him, and he may do us a
great deal of mischief. How did you find him?"
"Oh, very clever, very limited--and a mass of prejudices," she said,
laughing. "I never saw an odder mixture of knowledge and ignorance."
"What? Knowledge of India and the East?--that kind of thing?"
"Knowledge of everything except the subject he has come home to fight