Part 4 out of 5
What were those voices on the slope above him?
He was walking along a road which skirted his own group of pits. To his
left rose a long slope of refuse, partly grown over, ending in the "bank"
whereon stood the engine-house and winding-apparatus. A pathway climbed
the slope and made the natural ascent to the pit for people dwelling in
the scattered cottages on the farther side of it.
Two men, he saw, were standing high up on the pathway, violently
disputing. One was Madan, his own manager, an excellent man of business
and a bitter Tory. The other was Valentine Burrows.
As Tressady neared the road-entrance to the pathway the two men parted.
Madan climbed on towards the pit. Burrows ran down the path.
As he approached the gate, and saw Tressady passing on the road, the
"Sir George Tressady!"
Burrows came quickly up to him, his face crimson.
"Is it by your orders, Sir George, that Mr. Madan insults and browbeats
me when he meets me on a perfectly harmless errand to one of the men in
"Perhaps Mr. Madan was not so sure as you were, Mr. Burrows, that the
errand _was_ a harmless one," said George, with a cool smile.
By this time, however, Burrows was biting his lip, and very conscious
that he had made an impulsive mistake.
"Don't imagine for a moment," he said hotly, "that Madan's opinion of
anything I may be doing matters one brass farthing to me! Only I give you
and him fair warning that if he blackguards me again in the way he has
done several times lately, I shall have him bound over."
"He might survive it," said George. "But how will you manage it? You have
had ill-luck, rather, with the magistrates--haven't you?"
He stood drawn up to his full height, thin, venomous, alert, rather
enjoying the encounter, which "let off the steam" of his previous
Burrows threw him a furious look.
"You think that a damaging thing to say, do you, Sir George? Perhaps the
day will come--not so far off, neither--when the magistrates will be no
longer your creatures, but ours. Then we shall see!"
"Well, prophecy is cheap," said George. "Console yourself with it, by
The two men measured each other eye to eye.
Then, unexpectedly, after the relief of his outburst, the philosopher's
instincts which were so oddly interwoven with the rest of Tressady's
nature reasserted themselves.
"Look here," he said, in another manner, advancing a step. "I think this
is all great nonsense. If Madan has exceeded his duty, I will see to it.
And, meanwhile, don't you think it would be more worthy of us, as a
couple of rational beings, if, now we have met, we had a few serious
words on the state of things in this valley? You and I fought a square
fight at Malford--you at least said as much. Why can't we fight a square
Burrows eyed him doubtfully. He was leaning on his stick, recovering
breath and composure. George noticed that since the Malford election,
even he had lost youth and looks. He had the drunkard's skin and the
drunkard's eyes. Yet there were still the make and proportions of the
handsome athlete. He was now a man of about thirty-two; but in his first
youth he had carried the miner's pick for some four or five years, and
during the same period had been one of the most famous football-players
of the county. As George knew, he was still the idol of the local clubs,
and capable in his sober spells of amazing feats both of strength and
"Well, I have no objection to some conversation with you," said Burrows,
at last, slowly.
"Let's walk on, then," said George.
And they walked past the gate of Ferth, towards the railway-station,
which was some two miles off.
About an hour later the two men returned along the same road. Both had an
air of tension; both were rather pale.
"Well, it comes to this," said George, as he stopped beside his own gate,
"you believe our case--the badness of trade, the disappearance of
profits, pressure of contracts, and all the rest of it--and you still
refuse on your part to bear the smallest fraction of the burden? You will
claim all you can get in good times--you will give back nothing in bad?"
"That is so," said Burrows, deliberately; "that is so, _precisely_. We
will take no risks; we give our labour and in return the workman must
live. Make the consumer pay, or pay yourselves out of your good
years"--he turned imperceptibly towards the barrack-like house on the
hill. "We don't care a ha'porth which it is!--only don't you come on
the man who risks his life, and works like a galley-slave five days a
week for a pittance of five-and-twenty shillings, or thereabouts, to
pay--for he _won't_. He's tired of it. Not till you starve him into it,
at any rate!"
"One of the best men in the village has been giving me his opinion this
afternoon that there isn't a man in that place"--he pointed to it--"that
couldn't live, and live well--aye, and take the masters' terms
to-morrow--but for the drink!"
His keen look ran over Burrows from head to foot.
"And I know who _that_ is," said Burrows, with a sneer. "Well, I can tell
you what the rest of the men in that place think, and it's this: that the
man in that village who _doesn't_ drink is a mean skunk, who's betraying
his own flesh and blood to the capitalists! Oh! you may preach at us till
you're black in the face, but drink we _shall_ till we get the control of
our own labour. For, look here! Directly we cease to drink--directly we
become good boys on your precious terms--the standard of life falls, down
come wages, and _you_ sweep off our beer-money to spend on your
champagne. Thank you, Sir George! but we're not such fools as we
look--and that don't suit us! Good-day to you."
And he haughtily touched his hat in response to George's movement, and
walked quickly away.
* * * * *
George slowly mounted his own hill. The chequered April day was
declining, and the dipping sun was flooding the western plain with quiet
light. Rooks were circling round the hill, filling the air with
long-drawn sound. A cuckoo was calling on a tree near at hand, and the
evening was charged with spring scents--scents of leaf and grass, of
earth and rain. Below, in an oak copse across the road, a stream rushed;
and from a distance came the familiar rattle and thud of the pits.
George stood still a moment under a ragged group of Scotch firs--one of
the few things at Ferth that he loved--and gazed across the Cheshire
border to the distant lines of Welsh hills. The excitement of his talk
with Burrows was subsiding, leaving behind it the obstinate resolve of
the natural man. He should tell his uncles there was nothing for it but
to fight it out. Some blood must be let; somebody must be master.
What poor limited fools, after all, were the best of the working men--how
incapable of working out any serious problem, of looking beyond their own
noses and the next meal! Was he to spend his life in chronic battle with
them--a set of semi-civilised barbarians--his countrymen in nothing but
the name? And for what cause--to what cry? That he might defend against
the toilers of this wide valley a certain elegant house in Brook Street,
and find the means to go on paying his mother's debts?--such debts as he
carried the evidence of, at that moment, in his pocket.
Suddenly there swept over his mind with pricking force the thought of
Mary Batchelor at her door, blind with weeping and pain--of the poor boy,
dead in his prime. Did those two figures stand for the _realities_ at
the base of things--the common labours, affections, agonies, which
uphold the world?
His own life looked somehow poor and mean to him as he turned back to it.
The Socialist of course--Burrows--would say that he and Letty and his
mother were merely living, and dressing, and enjoying themselves, paying
butlers, and starting carriages out of the labour and pain of
others--that Jamie Batchelor and his like risked and brutalised their
strong young lives that Lady Tressady and her like might "jig and amble"
Pure ignorant fanaticism, no doubt! But he was not so ready as usual to
shelter himself under the big words of controversy. Fontenoy's favourite
arguments had momentarily no savour for a kind of moral nausea.
"I begin to see it was a 'cursed spite' that drove me into the business
at all," he said to himself, as he stood under the trees.
What he was really suffering from was an impatience of new
conditions--perhaps surprise that he was not more equal to them. Till his
return home--till now, almost--he had been an employer and a coal-owner
by proxy. Other people had worked for him, had solved his problems for
him. Then a transient impulse had driven him home--made him accept
Fontenoy's offer--worse luck!--at least, Letty apart! The hopefulness and
elation about himself, his new activities, and his Parliamentary
prospects, that had been his predominant mood in London seemed to him at
this moment of depression mere folly. What he really felt, he declared to
himself, was a sort of cowardly shrinking from life and its tests--the
recognition that at bottom he was a weakling, without faiths, without
Then the quick thought-process, as it flowed on, told him that there are
two things that protect men of his stamp from their own lack of moral
stamina: perpetual change of scene, that turns the world into a
spectacle--and love. He thought with hunger of his travel-years; holding
away from him, as it were, for a moment the thought of his marriage.
But only for a moment. It was but a few weeks since a woman's life had
given itself wholly into his hands. He was still thrilling under the
emotion and astonishment of it. Tender, melting thoughts flowed upon him.
His little Letty! Had he ever thought her perfect, free from natural
covetousness and weaknesses? What folly! _He_ to ask for the grand style
He looked at his watch. How long he had left her! Let him hurry, and make
However, just as he was turning, his attention was caught by something
that was passing on the opposite hillside. The light from the west was
shining full on a white cottage with a sloping garden. The cottage
belonged to the Wesleyan minister of the place, and had been rented by
Burrows for the last six months. And just as George was turning away he
saw Burrows come out of the door with a burden--a child, or a woman
little larger than a child--in his arms. He carried her to an armchair
which had been placed on the little grass-plat. The figure was almost
lost in the chair, and sat motionless while Burrows brought cushions and
a stool. Then a baby came to play on the grass, and Burrows hung over the
back of the chair, bending so as to talk to the person in it.
"Dying?" said George to himself. "Poor devil! he must hate something."
* * * * *
He sped up the hill, and found Letty still on the sofa and in the last
pages of her novel. She did not resent his absence apparently,--a
freedom, so far, from small exaction for which he inwardly thanked her.
Still, from the moment that she raised her eyes as he came in, he saw
that if she was not angry with him for leaving her alone, her mind was
still as sore as ever against him and fortune on other accounts--and his
revived ardour drooped. He gave her an account of his adventures, but she
was neither inquiring nor sympathetic; and her manner all the evening had
a nervous dryness that took away the pleasure of their _tÍte-ŗ-tÍte._ Any
old friend of Letty's, indeed, could hardly have failed to ask what had
become of that small tinkling charm of manner, that girlish flippancy and
repartee, that had counted for so much in George's first impressions of
her? They were no sooner engaged than it had begun to wane. Was it like
the bird or the flower, that adorns itself only for the wooing time, and
sinks into relative dinginess when the mating effort is over?
On this particular evening, indeed, she was really absorbed half the time
in gloomy thoughts of Lady Tressady's behaviour and the poorness of her
own prospects. She lay on the sofa again after dinner--her white slimness
and bright hair showing delicately against the cushions--playing still
with her novel, while George read the newspapers. Sometimes she glanced
at him unsteadily, with a pinching of the lips. But it was not her way to
invite a scene.
Late at night he went up to his dressing-room.
As he entered it Letty was talking to her maid. He stopped involuntarily
in the darkness of his own room, and listened. What a contrast between
this Letty and the Letty of the drawing-room! They were chattering fast,
discussing Lady Tressady, and Lady Tressady's gowns, and Lady Tressady's
affairs. What eagerness, what malice, what feminine subtlety and
acuteuess! After listening for a few seconds, it seemed to him as though
a score of new and ugly lights had been thrown alike upon his mother and
on human nature. He stole away again without revealing himself.
When he returned the room was nearly dark, and Letty was lying high
against her pillows, waiting for him. Suddenly, after she had sent her
maid away, she had felt depressed and miserable, and had begun to cry.
And for some reason hardly clear to herself she had lain pining for
George's footstep. When he came in she looked at him with eyes still
wet, reproaching him gently for being late.
In the dim light, surrounded with lace and whiteness, she was a pretty
vision; and George stood beside her, responding and caressing.
But that black depth in his nature, of which he had spoken to her--which
he had married to forget--was, none the less, all ruffled and vocal. For
the first time since Letty had consented to marry him he did not think or
say to himself, as he looked at her, that he was a lucky man, and had
done everything for the best.
Thus, with the end of the honeymoon, whatever hopes or illusions George
Tressady had allowed himself in marrying, were already much bedimmed. His
love-dream had been meagre and ordinary enough. But even so, it had not
Nevertheless, such impressions and emotions pass. The iron fact of
marriage outstays them, tends always to modify, and, at first, to
Upon the Tressadys' return to London, Letty, at any rate, endeavoured
to forget her great defeat of the honeymoon in the excitement of
furnishing the house in Brook Street. Certainly there could be no
question, in spite of all her high speech to Miss Tulloch and others,
that in her first encounter with Lady Tressady, Lady Tressady had won
easily. Letty had forgotten to reckon on the hard realities of the
filial relation, and could only think of them now, partly with
exasperation, partly with despair.
Lady Tressady, however, was for the moment somewhat subdued, and on the
return of the young people to town she did her best to propitiate Letty.
In Letty's eyes, indeed, her offence was beyond reparation. But, for the
moment, there was outward amity at least between them; which for Letty
meant chiefly that she was conscious of making all her purchases for the
house and planning all her housekeeping arrangements under a constant
critical inspection; and, moreover, that she was liable to find all her
afternoon-teas with particular friends, or those persons of whom she
wished to make particular friends, broken up by the advent of the
overdressed and be-rouged lady, who first put the guests to flight, and
was then out of temper because they fled.
Meanwhile George found the Shapetsky matter extremely harassing. He put
on a clever lawyer; but the Shapetsky would have scorned to be
overmatched by anybody else's abilities, and very little abatement could
be obtained. Moreover, the creditor's temper had been roughened by a
somewhat unfortunate letter George had written in a hurry from Perth, and
he showed every sign of carrying matters with as high a hand as possible.
Meanwhile, George was discovering, like any other landowner, how easy it
is to talk of selling land, how difficult to sell it. The buyer who would
once have bought was not now forthcoming; the few people who nibbled
were, naturally, thinking more of their own purses than Tressady's; and
George grew red with indignation over some of the offers submitted to him
by his country solicitor. With the payment of a first large instalment to
Shapetsky out of his ordinary account, he began to be really pressed for
money, just as the expenses of the Brook Street settling-in were at their
height. This pecuniary strain had a marked effect upon him. It brought
out certain features of character which he no doubt inherited from his
father. Old Sir William had always shown a scrupulous and petty temper
in money matters. He could not increase his possessions: for that he had
apparently neither brains nor judgment; nor could he even protect himself
from the more serious losses of business, for George found heavy debts in
existence--mortgages on the pits and so forth--when he succeeded. But as
the head of a household Sir William showed extraordinary tenacity and
spirit in the defence of his petty cash; and the exasperating
extravagance of the wife whom, in a moment of infatuation, he had been
cajoled into marrying, intensified and embittered a natural
George so far resembled him that both at school and college he had been a
rather careful and abstemious boy. Probably the spectacle of his mother's
adventures had revealed to him very early the humiliations of the debtor.
At any rate, during his four years abroad he had never exceeded the
modest yearly sum he had reserved for himself on leaving England; and the
frugality of his personal expenditure had counted for something in the
estimates formed of him during his travels by competent persons.
Nevertheless, at this beginning of household life he was still young and
callow in all that concerned the management of money; and it had never
occurred to him that his somewhat uncertain income of about four thousand
a year would not be amply sufficient for anything that he and Letty might
need; for housekeeping, for children--if children came--for political
expenses, and even for those supplementary presents to his mother which
he had all along recognised as inevitable. Now, however, what with the
difficulty he found in settling the Shapetsky affair, what with Letty's
demands for the house, and his revived dread of what his mother might be
doing, together with his overdrawn account and the position of his
colliery property, a secret fear of embarrassment and disaster began to
torment him, the offspring of a temperament which had never perhaps
possessed any real buoyancy.
Occasionally, under the stimulus of this fear, he would leave the House
of Commons on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon, walk to Warwick Square,
and appear precipitately in his mother's drawing-room, for the purpose of
examining the guests--or possible harpies--who might be gathered there.
He did his best once or twice to dislodge the "singer-fellow"--an elderly
gentleman with a flabby face and long hair, who seemed to George to be
equally boneless, physically and morally. Nevertheless, he was not to be
dislodged. The singer, indeed, treated the young legislator with a
mixture of deference and artistic; condescension, which was amusing or
enraging as you chose to take it. And once, when George attempted very
plain language with his mother, Lady Tressady went into hysterics, and
vowed that she would not be parted from her friends, not even by the
brutality of young married people who had everything they wanted, while
she was a poor lone widow, whose life was not worth living. The whole
affair was, so to speak, sordidly innocent. Mr. Fullerton--such was the
gentleman's name--wanted creature-comforts and occasional loans; Lady
Tressady wanted company, compliments, and "musical sketches'" for her
little tea-parties. Mrs. Fullerton was as ready as her husband to supply
the two former; and even the children, a fair-haired, lethargic crew,
painfully like their boneless father in Tressady's opinion, took their
share in the general exploitation of Tressady's mamma. Lady Tressady
meanwhile posed as the benefactor of genius in distress; and vowed,
moreover, that "poor dear Fullertori" was in no way responsible for her
recent misfortunes. The "reptile," and the "reptile" only, was to blame.
After one of these skirmishes with his mother, George, ruffled and
disgusted, took his way home, to find Letty eagerly engaged in choosing
silk curtains for the drawing-room.
"Oh! how lucky!" she cried, when she saw him. "Now you can help me
decide--_such_ a business!"
And she led him into the drawing-room, where lengths of pink and green
brocade were pinned against the wall in conspicuous places.
George admired, and gave his verdict in favour of a particular green.
Then he stooped to read the ticket on the corner of the pattern, and his
"How much will you want of this stuff, Letty?" he asked her.
"Oh! for the two rooms, nearly fifty yards," said Letty, carelessly,
opening another bundle of patterns as she spoke.
"It is twenty-six shillings a yard!" said George, rather gloomily, as he
fell, tired, into an armchair.
"Well, yes, it _is_ dear. But then, it is so good that it will last an
age. I think I must have some of it for the sofa, too," said Letty,
George made no reply.
Presently Letty looked up.
"Why, George?--George, what _is_ the matter? Don't you want anything
pretty for this room? You never take any interest in it at all."
"I'm only thinking, darling, what fortunes the upholsterers must make,"
said George, his hands penthouse over his eyes.
Letty pouted and flushed. The next minute she came to sit on the edge
of his chair. She was dressed--rather overdressed, perhaps--in a pale
blue dress whereof the inventive ruffles and laces pleased her own
critical mind extremely. George, well accustomed by now to the items in
his mother's bills, felt uncomfortably, as he looked at the elegance
beside him, that it was a question of guineas--many guineas. Then he
hated himself for not simply admiring her--his pretty little bride--in
her new finery. What was wrong with him? This beastly money had put
Letty guessed shrewdly at what was the matter. She bit her lip, and
looked ready to cry.
"Well, it is hard," she said, in a low, emphatic voice, "that we can't
please ourselves in a few trifles of this sort--when one thinks _why_!"
George took her hand, and kissed it affectionately.
"Darling, only just for a little--till I get out of this brute's
clutches. There are such pretty, cheap things nowadays--aren't there?"
"Oh! if you want to have a South Kensington drawing-room," said Letty,
indignantly, "with four-penny muslin curtains and art pots, you can do
_that_ for nothing. But I'd rather go back to horsehair and a mahogany
table in the middle at once!"
"You needn't wear 'greenery-yallery' gowns, you know." said George,
laughing; "that's the one unpardonable thing. Though, if you did wear
them, you'd become them."
And he held her at arm's length that he might properly admire her
Letty, however, was not to be flattered out of her lawful dues in the
matter of curtains--that Lady Tressady's debts might be paid the sooner.
She threw herself into a long wrestle with George, half angry, half
plaintive, and in the end she wrung out of him much more considerable
matters than the brocades originally in dispute. Then George went down to
his study, pricked in his conscience, and vaguely sore with Letty. Why?
Women in his eyes were made for silken gauds and trinkets: it was the
price that men were bound to pay them for their society. He had watched
the same sort of process that had now been applied to himself many times
already in one or more of the Anglo-Indian households with which he had
grown familiar, and had been philosophically amused by it. But the little
comedy, transferred to his own hearth, seemed somehow to have lost humour
* * * * *
Still, with two young people, under thirty, just entering upon that
fateful second act of the play of life which makes or mars us all,
moments of dissatisfaction and depression--even with Shapetskys and Lady
Tressadys in the background--were but rare specks in the general sum of
pleasure. George had fallen once more under the Parliamentary illusion,
as soon as he was again within reach of the House of Commons and in
frequent contact with Fontenoy. The link between him and his strange
leader grew daily stronger as they sat side by side, through some
hard-fought weeks of Supply, throwing the force of their little group now
on the side of the Government, now on that of the Opposition, always
vigilant, and often successful. George became necessary to Fontenoy in a
hundred ways; for the younger man had a mass of _connaissances_,--to use
the irreplaceable French word,--the result of his more normal training
and his four years of intelligent travel, which Fontenoy was almost
wholly without. Many a blunder did George save his chief; and no one
could have offered his brains for the picking with a heartier goodwill.
On the other hand, the instinctive strength and acuteness of Fontenoy's
judgment were unmatched, according to Tressady's belief, in the House of
Commons. He was hardly ever deceived in a man, or in the significant
points of a situation. His followers never dreamt of questioning his
verdict on a point of tactics. They followed him blindly; and if the gods
sent defeat, no one blamed Fontenoy. But in success his grunt of approval
or congratulation rewarded the curled young aristocrats who made the
nucleus of his party as nothing else did; while none of his band ever
affronted or overrode him with impunity. He wielded a natural kingship,
and, the more battered and gnarled became his physical presence, the more
remarkable was his moral ascendency.
One discouragement, however, he and his group suffered during the weeks
between Easter and Whitsuntide. They were hungry for battle, and the
best of the battle was for the moment denied them; for, owing to a number
of controverted votes in Supply and the slipping-in of two or three
inevitable debates on pressing matters of current interest, the Second
Reading of the Maxwell Bill was postponed till after Whitsuntide, when it
was certainly to take precedence. There was a good deal of grumbling in
the House, led by Fontenoy; but the Government could only vow that they
had no choice, and that their adversaries could not possibly be more
eager to fight than they were to be fought.
Life, then, on this public side, though not so keen as it would be
presently, was still rich and stirring. And meanwhile society showed
itself gracious to the bride and bridegroom. Letty's marriage had made
her unusually popular for the time with her own acquaintance. For it
might be called success; yet it was not of too dazzling a degree. What,
therefore, with George's public and Parliamentary relations, the calls of
officials, the attentions of personal friends, and the good offices of
Mrs. Watton, who was loftily determined to "launch" her niece, Letty was
always well pleased with the look of her hall-table and the cards upon it
when she returned home in her new brougham from her afternoon round. She
left them there for George to see, and it delighted her particularly if
Lady Tressady came in during the interval.
Meanwhile they dined with many folk, and made preliminary acquaintance
with the great ones of the land. Letty's vanity Dwelled within her as she
read over the list of her engagements. Nevertheless, she often came home
from her dinner-parties flat and disappointed. She did not feel that she
made way; and she found herself constantly watching the triumphs of other
women with annoyance or perplexity. What was wrong with her? Her dress
was irreproachable, and, stirred by this great roaring world, she
recalled for it the little airs and graces she had almost ceased to spend
on George. But she constantly found herself, as she thought, neglected;
while the slightest word or look of some happy person in a simple gown,
near by, had power to bring about her that flattering crowd of talkers
and of courtiers for which Letty pined.
The Maxwells called very early on the newly wedded pair, and left an
invitation to dinner with their cards. But, to Letty's chagrin, she and
George were already engaged for the evening named, and when they duly
presented themselves at St. James's Square on a Sunday afternoon, it was
to find that the Maxwells were in the country. Once or twice in some
crowded room Letty or George had a few hurried words with Lady Maxwell,
and Marcella would try to plan a meeting. But what with her engagements
and theirs, nothing that she suggested could be done.
"Ah! well, after Whitsuntide," she said, smiling, to Letty one evening
that they had interchanged a few words of polite regret on the stairs at
some official party. "I will write to you in the country, if I may. Ferth
Place, is it not?"
"No," said Letty, with easy dignity; "we shall not be at home,--not at
first, at any rate. We are going for two or three days to Mrs. Allison,
at Castle Luton."
"Are you? You will have a pleasant time. Such a glorious old house!"
And Lady Maxwell swept on; not so fast, however, but that she found time
to have a few words of Parliamentary chat with Tressady on the landing.
Letty made her little speech about Castle Luton with a delightful sense
of playing the rare and favoured part. Nothing in her London career, so
far, had pleased her so much as Mrs. Allison's call and Mrs. Allison's
invitation. For, although on the few occasions when she had seen this
gentle, white-haired lady, Letty had never felt for one moment at ease
with her, still, there could be no question that Mrs. Allison was,
socially, distinction itself. She had a following among all parties.
For although she was Fontenoy's friend and inspirer, a strong
Church-woman, and a great aristocrat, she had that delicate,
long-descended charm which shuts the lions' mouths, and makes it
possible for certain women to rule in any company. Even those who were
most convinced that the Mrs. Allisons of this world are the chief
obstacles in the path of progress, deliberated when they were asked to
Castle Luton, and fell--protesting. And for a certain world, high-born,
cultivated, and virtuous, she was almost a figure of legend, so
widespread was the feeling she inspired, and so many were the
associations and recollections that clustered about her.
So that when her cards, those of her son Lord Ancoats, and a little
accompanying note in thin French handwriting--Mrs. Allison had been
brought up in Paris--arrived, Letty had a start of pleasure. "To meet a
few friends of mine"--that meant, of course, one of _the_ parties. She
supposed it was Lord Fontenoy's doing. He was said to ask whom he would
to Castle Luton. Under the influence of this idea, at any rate, she bore
herself towards her husband's chief at their next meeting with an
effusion which made Fontenoy supremely uncomfortable.
The week before Whitsuntide happened to be one of special annoyance for
Tressady. His reports from Ferth were steadily more discouraging; his
attempts to sell his land made no way; and he saw plainly that, if he was
to keep their London life going, to provide for Shapetsky's claims, and
to give Letty what she wanted for renovations at Ferth, he would have to
sell some of the very small list of good securities left him by his
father. Most young men in his place, perhaps, would have taken such a
thing with indifference; he brooded over it. "I am beginning to spend my
capital as income," he said to himself. "The strike will be on in July;
next half-year I shall get almost nothing from the pits; rents won't come
to much; Letty wants all kinds of things. How long will it be before I,
too, am in debt, like my mother, borrowing from this person and that?"
Then he would make stern resolutions of economy, only to be baffled by
Letty's determination to have everything that other people had; above
all, not to allow her own life to be stinted because he had so foolishly
adopted his mother's debts. She said little; or said it with smiles and a
bridal standing on her rights not to be answered. But her persistence in
a particular kind of claim, and her new refusal to be taken into his
confidence and made the partner of his anxieties, raised a miserable
feeling in his mind as the weeks went on.
"No!" she said to herself, all the time resenting bitterly what had
happened at Ferth; "if I let him talk to me about it, I shall be giving
in, and letting _her_ trample on me! If George will be so weak, he must
find the money somehow. Of course he can! I am not in the _least_
extravagant. I am only doing what everybody expects me to do."
Meanwhile this state of things did not make Lady Tressady any more
welcome in Brook Street, and there were symptoms of grievances and
quarrels of another sort. Lady Tressady heard that the young couple had
already given one or two tiny dinner-parties, and to none of them had she
been invited. One day that George had been obliged to go to Warwick
Square to consult her on business, he was suddenly overwhelmed with
reproaches on this point.
"I suppose Letty thinks I should spoil her parties! She is ashamed of me,
perhaps"--Lady Tressady gave an angry laugh. "Oh! very well; but I should
like you and her to understand, George, that I have been a good deal more
admired in my time than ever Letty need expect to be!"
And George's mother, in a surprising yellow tea-gown, threw herself back
on her chair, bridling with wrath and emotion. George declared, with good
temper, that he and Letty were well aware of his mother's triumphs;
whereupon Lady Tressady, becoming tearful, said she knew it wasn't a
pretty thing to say--of course it wasn't--but if one was treated unkindly
by one's only son and his wife, what could one do but assert oneself?
George soothed her as best he could, and on his return home said
tentatively to Letty, that he believed it would please his mother if they
were to ask her to a small impromptu dinner of Parliamentary friends
which they were planning for the following Friday.
"George!" exclaimed Letty, her eyes gleaming, "we can't ask her! I don't
want to say anything disagreeable, but you must see that people don't
like her--her dress is so _extraordinary_, and her manners--it sets
people against the house. I do think it's too bad that--"
She turned aside with a sudden sob. George kissed her, and sympathised
with her; for he himself was never at ease now for an instant while his
mother was in the room. But the widening of the breach which Letty's
refusal brought about only made his own position between the two women
the more disagreeable to a man whose ideal of a home was that it should
be a place of perpetual soothing and amusement.
On the very morning of their departure for Castle Luton matters reached a
small crisis. Letty, tired with some festivity of the night before, took
her breakfast in bed; and George, going upstairs toward the middle of the
morning to make some arrangement with her for the journey, found her just
come down, and walking up and down the drawing-room, her pale pink dress
sweeping the floor, her hands clasped behind her. She was very pale, and
her small lips were tightly drawn.
He looked at her with astonishment.
"What is the matter, darling?"
"Oh! nothing," said Letty, trying to speak with sarcasm. "Nothing at all.
I have only just been listening to an account of the way in which your
mother speaks of me to her friends. I ought to be flattered, of course,
that she notices me at all! But I think I shall have to ask you to
_request_ her to put off her visit to Ferth a little. It could hardly
give either of us much enjoyment."
George first pulled his moustaches, then tried, as usual, to banter or
kiss her into composure. Above all, he desired not to know what Lady
Tressady had said. But Letty was determined he should know. "She was
heard "--she began passionately, holding him at arm's length--"she was
heard saying to a _whole roomful_ of people yesterday, that I was
'pretty, of course--rather pretty--but _so_ second rate--and so
provincial! It was such a pity dear George had not waited till he had
been a few months in London. Still, of course, one could only make the
best of it!'"
Letty mimicked her mother-in-law's drawling voice, two red spots burning
on either cheek the while, and her little fingers gripping George's arm.
"I don't believe she ever said such things. Who told you so?" said
George, stiffening, his arm dropping from her waist.
Letty tossed her head.
"Never mind! I _ought_ to know, and it doesn't really matter how I know.
She _did_ say them."
"Yes, it does matter," said George, quickly, walking away to the other
side of the room. "Letty! if you would only send away that woman Grier,
you can't think how much happier we should both be."
Letty stood still, opening her blue eyes wide.
"You want me--to get rid--of Grier," she said, "my own particular pet
maid? And why--please?"
George had the courage to stick to his point, and the result was a heated
and angry scene--their first real quarrel--which ended in Letty's rushing
upstairs in tears, and declaring she would go _no_where. _He_ might go to
Castle Luton, if he pleased; she was far too agitated and exhausted to
face a houseful of strangers.
The inevitable reconciliation, with its usual accompaniments of headache
and eau de cologne, took time, and they only just completed their
preparations and caught their appointed train.
Meanwhile the storm of the day had taken all savour from Letty's
expectations, and made George feel the whole business an effort and a
weariness. Letty sat pale and silent in her corner, devoured with regrets
that she had not put on a thicker veil to hide the ravages of the
morning; while George turned over the pages of a political biography, and
could not prevent his mind from falling back again and again into dark
places of dread and depression.
* * * * *
"You are my earliest guests," said Mrs. Allison, as she placed a chair
for Letty beside herself, on the lawn at Castle Luton. "Except, indeed,
that Lady Maxwell and her little boy are here somewhere, roaming about.
But none of our other friends could get down till later. I am glad we
shall have a little quiet time before they come."
"Lady Maxwell!" said Letty. "I had no idea they were coming. Oh, what a
lovely day! and how beautiful it all is!" she cried, as she sat down and
looked round her. The colour came back into her cheeks. She forgot her
determination to keep her veil down, and raised it eagerly.
Mrs. Allison smiled.
"We never look so well as in May--the river is so full, and the swans are
so white. Ah! I see Edgar has already taken Sir George to make friends
And Letty, looking across the broad green lawn, saw the flash of a
brimming river and a cluster of white swans, beside which stood her
husband and a young man in a serge suit, who was feeding the swans with
bread--Lord Ancoats, no doubt, the happy owner of all this splendour. To
the left of their figures rose a stone bridge with a high, carved
parapet, and beyond the river she saw green hills and woods against a
radiant sky. Then, to her right was this wonderful yellowish pile of the
old house. She began to admire and exclaim about it with a great energy
and effusion, trying hard to say the correct and cultivated thing, and,
in fact, repeating with a good deal of exactness what she had heard said
of it by others.
Her hostess listened to her praises with a gentle smile. Gentleness,
indeed, a rather sad gentleness, was the characteristic of Mrs. Allison.
It seemed to make an atmosphere about her--her delicate blanched head and
soft face, her small figure, her plain black dress, her hands in their
white ruffles. Her friends called it saintliness. At any rate, it set her
apart, giving her a peculiar ethereal dignity which made her formidable
in society to many persons who were not liable to shyness. Letty from the
beginning had felt her formidable.
Yet nothing could be kinder or simpler than her manner. In response to
Letty's enthusiasms she let herself be drawn at once into speaking of her
own love for the house, and on to pointing out its features.
"I am always telling these things to newcomers," she said, smiling. "And
I am not clever enough to make variations. But I don't mind, somehow, how
often I go through it. You see, this front is Tudor, and the south front
is a hundred years later, and both of them, they say, are the finest of
their kind. Isn't it wonderful that two men, a hundred years apart,
should each have left such a noble thing behind him. One inspired the
other. And then we--we poor moderns come after, and must cherish what
they left us as we best can. It's a great responsibility, don't you
think? to live in a beautiful house."
"I'm afraid I don't know much about it," said Letty, laughing; "we live
in such a very ugly one."
Mrs. Allison looked sympathetic.
"Oh! but then, ugly ones have character; or they are pretty inside, or
the people one loves have lived in them. That would make any place a
House Beautiful. Aren't you near Perth?"
"Yes; and I am afraid you'll think me _dreadfully_ discontented,"
said Letty, with one of her little laughing airs; "but there really
isn't anything to make up in our barrack of a place. It's like a
blackened brick set up on end at the top of a hill. And then the
villages are so hideous."
"Ah! I know that coal-country," said Mrs. Allison, gravely--"and I know
the people. Have you made friends with them yet?"
"We were only there for our honeymoon. George says that next month the
whole place will be out on strike. So just now they hate us--they will
hardly look at us in the street. But, of course, we shall give away
things at Christmas."
Mrs. Allison's lip twitched, and she shot a glance at the bride which
betrayed, for all her gentleness, the woman of a large world and much
converse with mankind. What a curious, hard little face was Lady
Tressady's under the outer softness of line and hue, and what an amazing
costume! Mrs. Allison had no quarrel with beautiful gowns, but the
elaboration, or, as one might say, the research of Letty's dress struck
her unpleasantly. The time that it must have taken to think out!
Aloud she said:
"Ah! the strike. Yes, I fear it is inevitable. Ancoats has some property
not very far from you, and we get reports. Poor fellows! if it weren't
for the wretched agitators who mislead them--but there, we mustn't talk
of these things. I see Lady Maxwell coming."
And Mrs. Allison waved her hand to a tall figure in white with a child
beside it that had just emerged on the far distance of the lawn.
"Is Lord Maxwell here, too?" asked Letty.
"He is coming later. It seems strange, perhaps, that you should find them
here this Sunday, for Lord Fontenoy comes to-morrow, and the great fight
will be on so soon. But when I found that they were free, and that
Maxwell would like to come, I was only too glad. After all, rival
politicians in England can still meet each other, even at a crisis.
Besides, Maxwell is a relation of ours, and he was my boy's guardian--the
kindest possible guardian. Politics apart, I have the greatest respect
for him. And her too. Why is it always the best people in the world that
do the most mischief?"
At the mention of Lord Fontenoy it had been Letty's turn to throw a
quick side look at Mrs. Allison. But the name was spoken in the quietest
and most natural way; and yet, if one analysed the tone, in a way that
did imply something exceptional, which, however, all the world knew, or
"Is Lady Maxwell an old friend of yours, too?" asked Letty, longing to
pursue the subject, and vexed to see how fast the mother and child were
"Only since her marriage. To see her and Maxwell together is really a
poem. If only she wouldn't identify herself so hotly, dear woman! with
everything he does and wishes in politics. There is no getting her to
hear a word of reason. She is another Maxwell in petticoats. And it
always seems to me so unfair. Maxwell without beauty and without
petticoats is quite enough to fight! Look at that little fellow with his
flowers!--such an oddity of a child!"
Then she raised her voice.
"My dear, what a ramble you must have made. Come and have a shady chair
and some tea."
For answer Marcella, laughing, held up a glorious bunch of cuckoo-pint
and marsh marigold, while little Hallin at her skirts waved another
trophy of almost equal size. The mother's dark face was flushed with
exercise and pleasure. As she moved over the grass, the long folds of a
white dress falling about her, the flowers in her hand, the child beside
her, she made a vision of beauty lovely in itself and lovely in all that
it suggested. Frank joy and strength, happiness, purity of heart--these
entered with her. One could almost see their dim heavenly shapes in the
air about her.
Neither Letty nor Mrs. Allison could take their eyes from her. Perhaps
she knew it. But if she did, it made no difference to her perfect ease of
bearing. She greeted Letty kindly.
"You didn't expect to see me here, did you, Lady Tressady? But it is the
unexpected that happens."
Then she put her hand on Mrs. Allison's shoulder, bending her height to
her small hostess.
"What a day, and what a place! Hallin and I have been over hill and dale.
But he is getting such a botanist, the little monkey! He will hardly
forgive me because I forgot one of the flowers we found out yesterday in
his botany book."
"She said it was 'Robin-run-in-the-'edge,' and it isn't--it's 'edge
mustard," said Hallin, severely, holding up a little feathery stalk.
Mrs. Allison shook her head, endeavouring to suit her look to the gravity
of the offence.
"Mother must learn her lessons better, mustn't she? Go and shake hands,
little man, with Lady Tressady."
Hallin went gravely to do as he was told. Then he stood on one foot, and
looked Letty over with a considering eye.
"Are you going to a party?" he said suddenly, putting out a small and
grimy finger, and pointing to her dress.
"Hallin! come here and have your tea," said his mother, hastily. Then she
turned to Letty with the smile that had so often won Maxwell a friend.
"I am sorry to say that he has a rooted objection to anything that isn't
rags in the way of clothes. He entirely declined to take me across the
river till I had rolled up my lace cloak and put it in a bush. And he
won't really be friends with me again till we have both got back to the
scarecrow garments we wear at home."
"Oh! children are so much happier when they are dirty," said Letty,
graciously, pleased to feel herself on these easy terms with her two
companions. "What beautiful flowers he has! and what an astonishing
little botanist he seems to be!"
And she seated herself beside Hallin, using all her blandishments to make
friends with him, which, however, did not prove to be an easy matter. For
when she praised his flowers, Hallin only said, with his mouth full: "Oh!
but mammy's bunch is _hever_ so much bigger;" and when she offered him
cake, the child would sturdily put the cake away, and hold it and her at
arm's length till his mute look across the table had won his mother's nod
Letty at last thought him an odd, ill-mannered child, and gave up
courting him, greatly to Hallin's satisfaction. He edged closer and
closer to his mother, established himself finally in her pocket, and
browsed on all the good things with which Mrs. Allison provided him,
"How late they are!" said Marcella, looking at her watch. "Tell me
the names again, dear lady"--she bent forward, and laid her hand
affectionately on Mrs. Allison's knee. "Your parties are always a
work of art."
Mrs. Allison flushed a little, as though she liked the compliment, and
ran laughingly through the names.
"Lord and Lady Maxwell."
"Ah!" said Marcella, "the least said about them the soonest
mended. Go on."
"Lord and Lady Cathedine."
Marcella made a face.
"Poor little thing! I always think of the remark about the Queen in
'Alice in Wonderland.' 'A little kindness, and putting her hair in
curl-papers, would do wonders for her.' She is so limp and thin and
melancholy. As for him--isn't there a race or a prize-fight we can
send him to?"
Mrs. Allison tapped her lightly on the lips.
"I won't go on unless my guests are taken prettily."
Marcella kissed the delicate wrinkled hand.
"I'll be good. What do you keep such an air here for? It gets into
Letty Tressady, indeed, was looking on with a feeling of astonishment.
These merry, childlike airs had absolutely no place in her conception of
Lady Maxwell. Nor could she know that Mrs. Allison was one of the very
few people in the world to whom Marcella was ever drawn to show them.
"Sir Philip Wentworth," pursued Mrs. Allison, smiling. "Say anything
malicious about him, if you can!"
"Don't provoke me. What a mercy I brought a volume of 'Indian Studies' in
my bag! I will go up early, before dinner, and finish them."
"Then there is Madeleine Penley, and Elizabeth Kent."
A quick involuntary expression crossed Marcella's face. Then she drew
herself up with dignity, and crossed her hands primly on her lap.
"Let me understand. Are you going to protect me from Lady Kent this time?
Because, last time you threw me to the wolves in the most dastardly way."
Mrs. Allison laughed out.
"On the contrary, we all enjoyed your skirmish with her in November so
much, we shall do our best to provoke another in May."
Marcella shook her head.
"I haven't the energy to quarrel with a fly. And as for Aldous--please
warn his lady at dinner that he may go to sleep upon her shoulder!"
"You poor thing!"--Mrs. Allison put out a sympathetic hand. "Are you so
tired? Why will you turn the world upside down?"
Marcella took the hand lightly in both hers.
"Why will you fight reform?"
And the eyes of the two women met, not without a sudden grave passion.
Then Marcella dropped the hand, and said, smiling:
"Castle Luton isn't full yet. Who else?"
"Oh! some young folk--Charlie Naseby."
"A nice boy--a very nice boy--not half such a coxcomb as he looks. Then
the Levens--I know the Levens are coming, for Betty told me that she got
out of two other engagements as soon as you asked her."
"Oh! and, by the way, Mr. Watton--Harding Watton," said Mrs. Allison,
turning slightly towards Lady Tressady.
The exclamation on Lady Maxwell's lips was checked by something she saw
on her hostess's face, and Letty eagerly struck in:
"Harding coming?--my cousin? I am so glad. I suppose I oughtn't to say
it, but he is such a _clever_, such an _agreeable_, creature. But you
know the Wattons, don't you, Lady Maxwell?"
Marcella was busying herself with Hallin's tea.
"I know Edward Watton," she said, turning her beautiful clear look on
Letty. "He is a real friend of mine."
"Oh! but Harding is _much_ the cleverer," said Letty. And pleased both
to find the ball of talk in her hands, and to have the chance of
glorifying a relation in this world of people so much bigger than
herself, she plunged into an extravagant account--all adjectives and
superlatives--of Harding Watton's charms and abilities, to which Lady
Maxwell listened in silence.
"Tactless!" thought Mrs. Allison, with vexation, but she did not know
how to stop the stream. In truth, since she had given Lord Fontenoy
leave to invite Harding Watton she had had time to forget the
invitation, and she was sorry now to think of his housing with the
Maxwells. For Watton had been recently Lord Fontenoy's henchman and
agent in a newspaper attack upon the Bill, and upon Maxwell personally,
that even Mrs. Allison had thought violent and unfair. Well, it was not
her fault. But Lady Tressady ought to have better information and better
sense than to be chattering like this. She was just about to interpose,
when Marcella held up her hand.
"I hear the carriages!"
The hostess hastened towards the house, and Marcella followed her, with
Hallin at her skirts. Letty looked after Lady Maxwell with the same
mixture of admiration and jealous envy she had felt several times
before. "I don't feel that I shall get on with her," she said to
herself, impatiently. "But I don't think I want to. George took her
measure at once."
Part of this reflection, however, was not true. Letty's ambition would
have been very glad to "get on" with Marcella Maxwell.
* * * * *
Just as his wife was ready for dinner, and Grier had disappeared, George
entered Letty's room. She was standing before a tall glass, putting the
last touches to her dress--smoothing here, pinning there, turning to this
side and to that. George, unseen himself, stood and watched her--her
alternate looks of anxiety and satisfaction, her grace, the shimmering
folds of the magnificent wedding-dress in which she had adorned herself.
He, however, was neither happy nor gay. But he had come in feeling that
he must make an effort--many efforts, if their young married life was to
be brought back to that level of ease and pleasure which he had once
taken for granted, and which now seemed so hard to maintain. If that ease
and pleasure were ultimately to fail him, what should he do? He shrank
impatiently from the idea. Then he would scoff at himself. How often had
he read and heard that the first year of marriage is the most difficult.
Of course it must be so. Two individualities cannot fuse without turmoil,
without heat. Let him only make his effort.
So he walked up to her and caught her in his arms.
"Oh, George!--my hair!--and my flowers!"
"Never mind," he said, almost with roughness. "Put your head there. Say
you hate the thought of our day, as I do! Say there shall never be one
like it again! Promise me!"
She felt the beating of his heart beneath her cheek. But she stood
silent. His appeal, his unwonted agitation, revived in her all the anger
and irritation that had begun to prey upon her thoughts. It was all very
well, but why were they so pinched and uncomfortable? Why must
everybody--Mrs. Allison, Lady Maxwell, a hundred others--have more
wealth, more scope, more consideration than she? It was partly his fault.
So she gradually drew herself away, pushing him softly with her small
"I am sure I hate quarrelling," she said. "But there! Oh, George! don't
let's talk of it any more! And look what you have done to my poor hair.
You dear, naughty boy!"
But though she called him "Dear," she frowned as she took off her gloves
that she might mend what he had done.
George thrust his hands into his pockets, walked to the window, and
waited. As he descended the great stairs in her wake he wished Castle
Luton and its guests at the deuce. What pleasure was to be got out of
grimacing and posing at these country-house parties? And now, according
to Letty, the Maxwells were here. A great _gÍne_ for everybody!
"That lady sitting by Sir George? What! Lady Maxwell? No--the other side?
Oh! that's Lady Leven. Don't you know her? She's tremendous fun!"
And the dark-eyed, rosy-cheeked young man who was sitting beside Letty
nodded and smiled across the table to Betty Leven, merely by way of
reminding her of his existence. They had greeted before dinner--a
greeting of comrades.
Then he turned back, with sudden decorum, to this Lady Tressady, whom he
had been commissioned to take in to dinner. "Quite pretty, but
rather--well, ordinary!" he said to himself, with a critical coolness
bred of much familiarity with the best things of Vanity Fair. He had been
Ancoats's friend at Cambridge, and was now disporting himself in the
Guards, but still more--as Letty of course assumed--in the heart of the
English well-born world. She knew that he was Lord Naseby, and that some
day he would be a marquis. A halo, therefore, shone about him. At the
same time, she had a long experience of young men, and, if she flattered
him, it was only indirectly, by a sort of teasing aggression that did not
allow him to take his attention from her.
"I declare you are better than any peerage!" she said to him presently,
when he had given her a short biography, first of Lord Cathedine, who was
sitting opposite, then of various other members of the company. "I should
like to tie you to my fan when I go out to dinner."
"Would you?" said the young man, drily. "Oh! you will soon know all you
want to know."
"How are poor little people from Yorkshire to find their way about in
this big world? You are all so dreadfully absorbed in each other. In the
first place, you all marry each other."
"Do we?--though I don't quite understand who 'we' means. Well, one
must marry somebody, I suppose, and cousins are less trouble than
Involuntarily, the young man's eyes travelled along the table to a fair
girl on the opposite side, dazzlingly dressed in black. She was wielding
a large fan of black feathers, which threw both hair and complexion into
amazing relief; and she seemed to be amusing herself in a nervous,
spasmodic way with Sir Frank Leven. Letty noticed his glance.
"Oh! you have not earned your testimonial yet, not by any manner of
means," she said. "That is Lady Madeleine Penley, isn't it? Is she a
relation of Mrs. Allison's?"
"She is a cousin. That is her mother, Lady Kent, sitting beside poor
Ancoats. Such an old character! By the end of dinner she will have got to
the bottom of Ancoats, or know the reason why."
"Is Lord Ancoats such a mystery?" said Letty, running an inquisitive
eye over the black front, sharp nose, and gorgeously bejewelled neck
of a somewhat noisy and forbidding old lady sitting on the right hand
of the host.
Young Naseby's expression in answer rather piqued her. There was a quick
flash of something that was instantly suppressed, and the youth said
"Oh! we are all mysteries for Lady Kent."
But Letty noticed that his eyes strayed back to Lord Ancoats, and then
again to Lady Madeleine. He seemed to be observing them, and Letty's
sharpness at once took the hint. No doubt the handsome, large-featured
girl was here to be "looked at." Probably a good many maidens would be
passed in review before this young Sultan made his choice! By the way he
must be a good deal older than George had imagined. Clearly he left
college some time ago. What a curious face he had--a small, crumpled
face, with very prominent blue eyes; curly hair of a reddish colour,
piled high, as though for effect, above his white brow; together with a
sharp chin and pointed moustache, which gave him the air of an old French
portrait. He was short in stature, but at the same time agile and
strongly built. He wore one or two fine old rings, which drew attention
to the delicacy of his hands; and his manner struck her as at once morose
and excitable. Letty regarded him with involuntary respect as the son of
Mrs. Allison--much more as the master of Castle Luton and fifty thousand
a year. But if he had not been the master of Castle Luton she would have
probably thought, and said, that he had a disagreeable Bohemian air.
"Haven't you really made acquaintance with Lady Kent?" said Lord Naseby,
returning to the charge his laziness was somewhat at a loss for
conversation. "I should have thought she was the person one could least
escape knowing in the three kingdoms."
"I have seen her, of course," said Letty, lightly, though, alas! untruly.
"But I am afraid you can hardly realise that I have only been three short
seasons in London--two with an old aunt, who never goes out, in Cavendish
Square, poor dull old dear! and another with Mrs. Watton, of Malford."
"Oh! with Mrs. Watton, of Malford," said Lord Naseby, vaguely. Then he
became suddenly aware that Lady Leven, on the other side of the table,
was beckoning to him. He leant across, and they exchanged a merry war of
words about something of which Letty knew nothing.
Letty, rather incensed, thought him a puppy, drew herself up, and looked
round at the ex-Governor beside her. She saw a fine head, the worn yellow
face and whitened hair of a man who has suffered under a hot climate, and
an agreeable, though somewhat courtly, smile. Sir Philip Wentworth was
not troubled with the boyish fastidiousness of Lord Naseby. He perceived
merely that a pretty young woman wished to make friends with him, and met
her wish at once. Moreover, he identified her as the wife of that
"promising and well-informed fellow, Tressady," with whom he had first
made friends in India, and had now--just before dinner--renewed
acquaintance in the most cordial fashion.
He talked graciously to the wife, then, of Tressady's abilities and
Tressady's career. Letty at first liked it. Then she was seized with a
curious sense of discomfort.
Her eyes wandered towards the head of the table, where George was
talking--why! actually talking earnestly, and as though he were enjoying
himself, to Lady Maxwell, whose noble head and neck, rising from a silver
white dress, challenged a great Genoese Vandyck of a Marehesa Balbi which
was hanging just behind her, and challenged it victoriously.
So other people thought and said these things of George? Letty
was for a moment sharply conscious that they had not occupied much
place in her mind since her marriage, or, for the matter of that,
since her engagement. She had taken it for granted that he was
"distinguished"--that was part of the bargain. Only, she never seemed as
yet to have had either time or thought to give to those parts and
elements in his life which led people to talk of him as this old Indian
Curtains, carpets, gowns, cabinets; additions to Ferth; her own effect in
society; how to keep Lady Tressady in her place--of all these things she
had thought, and thought much. But George's honourable ambitions, the
esteem in which he was held, the place he was to make for himself in the
world of men--in thinking of _these_ her mind was all stiff and
unpractised. She was conscious first of a moral prick, then of a certain
irritation with other people.
Yet she could not help watching George wistfully. He looked tired and
pale, in spite of the animation of his talk. Well! no doubt she looked
pale too. Some of the words and phrases of their quarrel flashed across
her. In this beautiful room, with its famous pictures and its historical
associations, amid this accumulated art and wealth, the whole thing was
peculiarly odious to remember. Under the eyes of Vandyck's Marchesa one
would have liked to think of oneself as always dignified and refined,
always elegant and calm.
Then Letty had a revulsion, and laughed at herself.
"As if these people didn't have tempers, and quarrel about money! Of
course they do! And if they don't--well, we all know how easy it is to be
amiable on fifty thousand a year."
* * * * *
After dinner Mrs. Allison led the way to the "Green Drawing-room." This
room, hung with Gainsborough portraits, was one of the sights of the
house, and tonight Marcella Maxwell especially looked round her on
entering it, with enchantment.
"You happy people!" she said to Mrs. Allison. "I never come into this
room without anxiously asking myself whether I am fit to make one of the
company. I look at my dress, or I am doubtful about my manners, or I wish
someone had taught me to dance the minuet!"
"Yes," said Betty Leven, running up to a vast picture, a life-size family
group, which covered the greater part of the farther wall of the room.
"What a vulgar, insignificant chit one feels oneself without cap or
powder!--without those ruffles, or those tippets, or those quilted
petticoats! Mrs. Allison, _may_ my maid come down to-morrow while we are
at dinner and take the pattern of those ruffles? No--no! she sha'n't!
Sacrilege! You pretty thing!" she said, addressing a figure--the figure
of a girl in white with thin virginal arms and bust, who seemed to be
coming out of the picture, almost to be already out of it and in the
room. "Come and talk to me. Don't think any more of your father and
mother there. You have been curtsying to them for a hundred years; and
they are rather dull, stupid people, after all. Come and tell us secrets.
Tell us what you have seen in this room--all the foolish people making
love, and the sad people saying good-bye."
Betty was kneeling on a carved chair, her pretty arms leaning on the back
of it, her eyes fixed half-in laughter, half in sentiment, on the figure
in the picture.
Lady Maxwell suddenly moved closer to her, and Letty heard her say in a
low voice, as she put her hand on Lady Leven's arm:
"Don't, Betty! _don't!_ It was in this room he proposed to her, and
it was in this room he said goodbye. Maxwell has often told me. I
believe she never comes in here alone--only for ceremony and when
there is a crowd."
A look of consternation crossed Lady Leven's lively little face. She
glanced shyly towards Mrs. Allison. That lady had moved hastily away from
the group in front of the picture. She was sitting by herself, looking
straight before her, with a certain stiffness, her thin hands crossed on
her knee. Betty impetuously went towards her, and was soon sitting on a
stool beside her, chattering to her and amusing her.
Meanwhile Marcella invited Lady Tressady to come and sit with her on a
sofa beneath the great picture.
Letty followed her, settled her satin skirts in their most graceful
folds, put one little foot on a Louis Quinze footstool which seemed
to invite it, and then began to inform herself about the house and
At the beginning of their talk it was clear that Lady Maxwell wished to
ingratiate herself. A friendly observer would have thought that she was
trying to make a stranger feel more at ease in this house and circle,
where she herself was a familiar guest. Betty Leven, catching sight of
the pair from the other side of the room, said to herself, with inward
amusement, that Marcella was "realising the wife."
At any rate, for some time Lady Maxwell talked with sympathy, with
effusion even, to her companion. In the first place she told her the
story of their hostess.
Thirty years before, Mrs. Allison, the daughter and heiress of a
Leicestershire squire, had married Henry Allison, old Lord Ancoats's
second son, a young captain in the Guards. They enjoyed three years of
life together; then the chances of a soldier's career, as interpreted by
two high-minded people, took Henry Allison out to an obscure African
coast, to fight one of the innumerable "little wars" of his country. He
fell, struck by a spear, in a single-file march through some nameless
swamp; and a few days afterwards the words of a Foreign Office telegram
broke a pining woman's heart.
Old Lord Ancoats's death, which followed within a month or two, was
hastened by the shock of his son's loss; and before the year was out the
eldest son, who was sickly and unmarried, also died, and Mrs. Allison's
boy, a child of two, became the owner of Castle Luton. The mother saw
herself called upon to fight down her grief, to relinquish the
quasi-religious life she had entered upon, and instead to take her boy to
the kingdom he was to rule, and bring him up there.
"And for twenty-two years she has lived a wonderful life here," said
Marcella; "she has been practically the queen of a whole countryside,
doing whatever she pleased, the mother and friend and saint of everybody.
It has been all very paternal and beautiful, and--abominably Tory and
tyrannous! Many people, I suppose, think it perfect. Perhaps I don't. But
then, I know very well I can't possibly disagree with her a tenth part as
strongly as she disagrees with me."
"Oh! but she admires you so much," cried Letty, with effusion; "she
thinks you mean so nobly!"
Marcella opened her eyes, involuntarily wondering a little what Lady
Tressady might know about it.
"Oh! we don't hate each other," she said, rather drily, "in spite of
politics. And my husband was Ancoats's guardian."
"Dear me!" said Letty. "I should think it wasn't easy to be guardian to
fifty thousand a year."
Marcella did not answer--did not, indeed, hear. Her look had stolen
across to Mrs. Allison--a sad, affectionate look, in no way meant for
Lady Tressady. But Letty noticed it.
"I suppose she adores him," she said.
"There was never anything like it. It frightens one to see."
"And that, of course, is why she won't marry Lord Fontenoy?"
Marcella started, and drew away from her companion.
"I don't know," she said stiffly; "and I am sure that no one ever dared
to ask her."
"Oh! but of course it's what everyone says," said Letty, gay and
unabashed. "That's what makes it so exciting to come here, when one knows
Lord Fontenoy so very well."
Marcella met this remark with a discouraging silence.
Letty, however, was determined this time to make her impression. She
plunged into a lively and often audacious gossip about every person in
the room in turn, asking a number of intimate or impertinent questions,
and yet very seldom waiting for Marcella's reply, so anxious was she to
show off her own information and make her own comments. She let Marcella
understand that she suspected a great deal, in the matter of that
handsome Lady Madeleine. It was _immensely_ interesting, of course; but
wasn't Lord Ancoats a trifle wild?--she bent over and whispered in
Marcella's ears; was it likely that he would settle himself so
soon?--didn't one hear sad tales of his theatrical friends and the rest?
And what could one expect! As if a young man in such a position was not
certain to have his fling! And his mother would have to put up with it.
After all, men quieted down at last. Look at Lord Cathedine!
And with an air of boundless knowledge she touched upon the incidents of
Lord Cathedine's career, hashing up, with skilful deductions of her own,
all that Lord Naseby had said or hinted to her at dinner. Poor Lady
Cathedine! didn't she look a walking skeleton, with her strange,
melancholy face, and every bone showing? Well, who could wonder! And when
one thought of their money difficulties, too!
Lady Tressady lifted her white shoulders in compassion.
By this time Marcella's black eyes were wandering insistently round the
room, searching for means of escape. Betty, far away, noticed her air,
and concluded that the "realisation" was making rapid, too rapid,
progress. Presently, with a smiling shake of her little head, she left
her own seat and went to her friend's assistance.
At the same moment Mrs. Allison, driven by her conscience as a hostess,
got up for the purpose of introducing Lady Tressady to a lady in grey who
had been sitting quiet, and, as Mrs. Allison feared, lonely, in a corner,
looking over some photographs. Marcella, who had also risen, put out a
hand to Betty, and the two moved away together.
* * * * *
They stopped on the threshold of a large window at the side of the room,
which stood wide open to the night. Outside, beyond a broad flight of
steps, stretched a formal Dutch garden. Its numberless small beds,
forming stiff scrolls and circles on a ground of white gravel, lay in
bright moonlight. Even the colours of the hyacinths and tulips with which
they were planted could be seen, and the strong scent from them filled
the still air. At the far end of this flat-patterned place a group of
tall cypress and ilex, black against the sky, struck a note of Italy and
the South; while, through the yew hedges which closed in the little
garden, broad archways pierced at intervals revealed far breadths of
silvery English lawn and the distant gleam of the river.
"Well, my dear," said Betty, laughing, and slipping her arm through
Marcella's as they stood in the opening of the window, "I see you have
been doing your duty for once. Let me pat you on the back. All the more
that I gather you are not exactly enchanted with Lady Tressady. You
really should keep your face in order. From the other end of the room I
know exactly what you think of the person you are talking to."
"Do you?" said Marcella, penitently. "I wish you didn't."
"Well you may wish it, for it doesn't help the political lady to get what
she wants. However, I don't think that Lady Tressady has found out yet
that you don't like her. She isn't thin-skinned. If you had looked like
that when you were talking to me, I would have paid you out somehow. What
is the matter with her?"
"Oh! I don't know," said Marcella, impatiently, raising her shoulders.
"But she jarred. I pined to get away--I don't think I ever want to talk
to her again."
"No," said Betty, ruminating; "I'll tell you what it is--she isn't a
gentleman! Don't interrupt me! I mean exactly what I say--_she isn't a
gentleman_. She would do and say all the things that a nice man squirms
at. I always have the oddest fancy about that kind of person. I see them
as they must be at night--all the fine clothes gone--just a little black
soul scrawled between the bedclothes!"
"_You_ to call me censorious!" said Marcella, laughing, and pinching her
"My dear, as I have often before remarked to you, _I_ am not a great
lady, with a political campaign to tight. If you knew your business, you
would make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness in the shape of
Lady Tressadys. _I_ may do what I please--I have only a husband to
manage!" and Betty's light voice dropped into a sigh.
"Poor Betty!" said Marcella, patting her hand. "Is Frank as
discontented as ever?"
"He told me yesterday he hated his existence, and thought he would try
whether the Serpentine would drown him. I said I was agreeable, only he
would never achieve it without me. I should have to 'tice away the police
while he looked for the right spot. So he has promised to take me into
partnership, and it's all right so far."
Then Betty fell to sighing in earnest.
"It's all very well 'chaffing,' but I am a miserable woman. Frank says
I have ruined his life; that it's all my ambition; that he might have
made a decent country gentleman if I hadn't sown the seed of every vice
in him by driving him into politics. Pleasant, isn't it, for a model
wife like me?"
"You'll have to let him give it up," said Marcella, smiling; "I don't
believe he'll ever reconcile himself to the grind and the town life."
Betty clenched her small hands.
"My dear! I never promised to marry a sporting boor, and I can't yet
make up my mind to sink to it. Don't let's talk of it! I only hope he'll
vote straight in the next few months. But the thought of being kept
through August drives him desperate already. Ah! here they are--plagues
of the human race!--" and she waved an accusing hand towards the incoming
stream of gentlemen. "Now, I'll prophesy, and you watch. Lady Tressady
will make two friends here--Harding Watton--oh! I forgot, he's her
cousin!--and Lord Cathedine. Mark my words. By the way--" Betty caught
Marcella's arm and spoke eagerly into her friend's ear. Her eyes
meanwhile glanced over her shoulder towards Lady Madeleine and her
mother, who were seated on the further side of the room.
Marcella's look followed Betty's, but she showed no readiness to answer
Betty's questions. When Letty had made her astonishing remarks on the
subject of Madeleine Penley, Lady Maxwell had tried to stop her with a
hauteur which would have abashed most women, though it had but small
effect on the bride. And now, even to Betty, who was Madeleine Penley's
friend, Marcella was not communicative; although when Betty was carried
off by Lord Naseby who came in search of her as soon as he entered the
drawing-room, the elder woman stood for a moment by the window, watching
the girl they had been talking of with a soft serious look.
But the softness passed. A slight incident disturbed it. For the
spectator saw Lady Kent, who was sitting beside her daughter, raise a
gigantic fan and beckon to Lord Ancoats. He came unwillingly, and she
made some bantering remark. Lady Madeleine meanwhile was bending over a
book of photographs, with a flushed cheek and a look of constraint.
Ancoats stood near her for a moment uneasily, frowning and pulling at his
moustache. Then with an abrupt word to Lady Kent, he turned away and
threw himself on a sofa beside Lord Cathedine. Lady Madeleine bent lower
over her book, her beautiful hair making a spot of fire in the room.
Marcella caught the expression of her profile, and her own face took a
look of pain. She would have liked to go instantly to the girl's side,
with some tenderness, some caress. But that gorgon Lady Kent, now looking
extremely fierce, was in the way, and moreover other young men had
arrived to take the place Ancoats had apparently refused.
Meanwhile Letty saw the arrival of the gentlemen with delight. She had
found but small entertainment in the lady to whom Mrs. Allison had
introduced her. Miss Paston, the sister of Lord Ancoats's agent, was a
pleasant-looking spinster of thirty-five in a Quakerish dress of grey
silk. Her face bore witness that she was capable and refined. But Letty
felt no desire whatever to explore capability and refinement. She had not
come to Castle Luton to make herself agreeable to Miss Paston.
So the conversation languished. Letty yawned a little, and flourished her
fan a great deal, till the appearance of the men brought back the flush
to her cheek and animation to her eye. She drew herself up at once,
hungry for notice and success. Mrs. Hawkins, the vicar's wife at
Malford, would have been avenged could she have watched her old tyrant
under these chastening circumstances.
Harding Watton crossed the room when he saw his cousin, and took the
corner of the sofa beside her. Letty received him graciously, though she
was perhaps disappointed that it was not Lord Ancoats or Lord Cathedine.
Looking round before she gave herself to conversation with him, she saw
that George was standing near the open window with Lord Maxwell and Sir
Philip Wentworth, the ex-Governor. They were talking of India, and Sir
Philip had his hand on George's arm.
"Yes, I saw Dalliousie go," he said eagerly. "I was only a lad of twenty,
but I can't think of it now without a lump in my throat. When he limped
on to the Hooghly landing-stage on his crutches we couldn't cheer him--I
shall never forget that sudden silence! In eight years he had made a new
India, and there we saw him,--our little hero,--dying of his work at
forty-six before our eyes! ... Well, I couldn't have imagined that a
young man like you would have known or cared so much about that time.
What a talk we have had! Thank you!"
And the veteran tightened his grip cordially for a moment on Tressady's
arm, then dropped it and walked away.
Tressady threw his wife a bright glance, as though to ask her how she
fared. Letty smiled graciously in reply, feeling a sudden softening
pleasure in being so thought of. As her eyes met her husband's she saw
Marcella Maxwell, who was still standing by the window, turn towards
George and call to him. George moved forward with alacrity. Then he and
Lady Maxwell slowly walked down the steps to the garden, and disappeared
through one of the archways to the left.
"That great lady and George seem at last to have made friends," said
Harding Watton to Letty, in a laughing undertone. "I have no doubt she is
trying to win him over. Well she may! Before the next few weeks are over
the Government will be in a fix with this Bill; and not even their
'beautiful lady' will help them out. Maxwell looks as glum as an owl
Letty laughed. The situation pleased her vanity a good deal. The
thought of Lady Maxwell humiliated and defeated--partly by George's
means--was decidedly agreeable to her. Which would seem to show that
she was, after all, more sensitive or more quick-eyed than Betty Leven
had been ready to allow.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Marcella and George Tressady were strolling slowly towards the
river, along a path that crossed the great lawns. In front of them the
stretches of grass, bathed in silvery light and air, ran into far
distances of shade under majestic trees just thickening to a June wealth
of foliage. Below, these distant tree-masses made sharp capes and
promontories on the white grass; above, their rounded tops rose dark
against a blue, light-breathing sky. At one point the river pierced the
blackness of the wood, and in the space thus made the spire of a noble
church shot heavenward. Swans floated dimly along the stream and under
the bridge. The air was fresh, but the rawness of spring was gone. It was
the last week of May; the "high midsummer pomps" were near--a heavenly
prophecy in wood and field.
And not even Tressady's prejudice--which, indeed, was already
vanishing--could fail to see in the beautiful woman beside him the
fitting voice and spirit of such a scene.
To-night he said to himself that one must needs believe her simple, in
spite of report. During their companionship this evening she had shown
him more and more plainly that she liked his society; her manner towards
him, indeed, had by now a soft surrender and friendliness that no man
could possibly have met with roughness, least of all a man young and
ambitious. But at the same time he noticed again, as he had once noticed
with anger, that she was curiously free from the usual feminine arts and
wiles. After their long talk at dinner, indeed, he began, in spite of
himself, to feel her not merely an intellectual comrade,--that he had
been conscious of from the first,--but rather a most winning and
attaching companion. It was a sentiment of friendly ease, that seemed to
bring with it a great relief from tension. The sordid cares and frictions
of the last few weeks, and the degrading memories of the day itself,
alike ceased to wear him.
Yet all the time he said to himself, with inward amusement, that he must
take care! They had not talked directly of the Bill at dinner, but they
had talked round and about it incessantly. It was clear that the Maxwells
were personally very anxious; and George knew well that the public
position of the Ministry was daily becoming more difficult. There had
been a marked cooling on the subject of the Bill among their own
supporters; one or two London members originally pledged to it were even
believed to be wavering; and this campaign lately started by Fontenoy and
Watton against two of the leading clauses of the measure, in a London
"daily," bought for the purpose, had been so far extremely damaging. The
situation was threatening indeed, and Maxwell might well look harassed.
Yet Tressady had detected no bitterness in Lady Maxwell's mood. Her
temper rather seemed to him very strenuous, very eager, and a little sad.
Altogether, he had been touched, he knew not exactly why, by his
conversation with her. "We are going to win," he said to himself, "and
she knows it." Yet to think thus gave him, for the first time, no
As they strolled along they talked a little of some of the topics that
had been started at dinner, topics semi-political and semi-social, till
suddenly Lady Maxwell said, with a change of voice:
"I heard some of your conversation with Sir Philip just now. How
differently you talk when you talk of India!"
"I wonder what that means," said George, smiling. "It means, at any rate,
that when I am not talking of India, but of English labour, or the poor,
you think I talk like a brute."
"I shouldn't put it like that," she said quietly. "But when you talk of
India, and people like the Lawrences or Lord Dalhousie, then it is that
one sees what you really admire--what stirs you--what makes you feel."
"Well, ought I not to feel? Is there to be no gratitude towards the
people that have made one's country?"
He looked down, upon her gaily, perfectly conscious of his own
tickled vanity. To be observed and analysed by such a critic was in
"That have made one's country?" she repeated, not without a touch of
irony. Then suddenly she became silent.
George thrust his hands into his pockets and waited a little.
"Well?" he said presently. "Well? I am waiting to hear you prove that
the Dalhousies and the Lawrences have done nothing for the country,
compared to--what shall we say?--some trade-union secretary whom you
She laughed, but he did not immediately draw his answer. They had reached
the river-bank and the steps of the little bridge. Marcella mounted the
bridge and paused midway across it, hanging over the parapet. He followed
her, and both stood gazing at the house. It rose from the grass like some
fabric of yellowish ivory cut and scrolled and fretted by its Tudor
architect, who had been also a goldsmith. There were lights like jewels
in its latticed windows; the dark fulness of the trees, disposed by an
artist-hand, enwrapped or fell away from it as the eye required; and on
the dazzling lawns, crossed by soft bands of shadow, scattered forms
moved up and down--women in trailing dresses, and black-coated men.
There were occasional sallies of talk and laughter, and from the open
window of the drawing-room came the notes of a violin.
"Brahms!" said Marcella, with delight. "Nothing but music and he could
express this night--or the river--or the rising glow and bloom of
As she spoke George felt a quick gust of pleasure and romance sweep
across him. It was as though senses that had been for long on the
defensive, tired, or teased merely by the world, gave way in a moment to
joy and poetry. He looked from the face beside him to the pictured scene
in which they stood--the soft air filled his lungs--what ailed him?--he
only knew that after many weeks he was, somehow, happy and buoyant again!
Lady Maxwell, however, soon forgot the music and the moonlight.
"That have made one's country?" she repeated, pausing on the words.
"And of course that house appeals to you in the same way? Famous people
have lived in it--people who belong to history. But for _me_, the real
making of one's country is done out of sight, in garrets and workshops
and coalpits, by people who die every minute--forgotten--swept into
heaps like autumn leaves, their lives mere soil and foothold for the
generation that comes after them. All yesterday morning, for instance,
I spent trying to feed a woman I know. She is a shirtmaker; she has
four children, and her husband is a docker out of work. She had sewed
herself sick and blind. She couldn't eat, and she couldn't sleep. But
she had kept the children alive--and the man. Her life will flicker
out in a month or two; but the children's lives will have taken root,
and the man will be eating and earning again. What use would your
Dalhousies and Lawrences be to England without her and the hundreds of
thousands like her?"
"And yet it is you," cried George, unable to forbear the chance she gave
him, "who would take away from this very woman the power of feeding her
children and saving her husband--who would spoil all the lives in the
clumsy attempt to mend one of them. How can you quote me such an
instance! It amazes me."
"Not at all. I have only to use my instance for another purpose, in
another way. You are thinking of the Bill, of course? But all we do is to
say to some of these victims, 'Your sacrifice, as it stands, is _too_
costly; the State in its own interest cannot go on exacting or allowing
it. We will help you to serve the community in ways that shall exhaust
and wound it less.'"
"And as a first step, drive you all comfortably into the workhouse!" said
George. "Don't omit that."
"Many individuals must suffer," she said steadily. "But there will be
friends to help--friends that will strain every nerve to help."
All her heart showed itself in voice and emphasis. Almost for the first
time in their evening's talk her natural passionateness came to
sight--the Southern, impulsive temper, that so often made people laugh at
or dislike her. Under the lace shawl she had thrown round her on coming
out he saw the quick rise and fall of the breast, the nervous clasp of
the hands lying on the stonework of the bridge. These were her prophetess
airs again. To-night they still amused him, but in a gentler and more
"And so, according to your own account, you will protect your tailoress
and unmake your country. I am sorry for your dilemma," he said, laughing.
"Ah! well,"--she shrugged her shoulders with a sigh,--"don't let's talk
of it. It's all too pressing--and sore--and hot. And to think of the
weeks that are just coming on!"
George, hanging over the parapet beside her, felt reply a little
awkward, and said nothing. For a minute or two the night made itself
heard, the gentle slipping of the river, the fitful breathings from the
trees. A swan passed and repassed below them, and an owl called from the
Presently Marcella lifted a white finger and pointed to the house.
"One wouldn't want a better parable," she said. "It's like the State as
you see it--magnificent, inspiring, a thing of pomp and dignity. But we
women, who have to drive and keep going a house like that--_we_ know what
it all rests upon. It rests upon a few tired kitchen-maids and boot-boys
and scullery-girls, hurrying, panting creatures, whom a guest never sees,
who really run it all. I know, for I have tried to unearth them, to
organise them, to make sure that no one was fainting while we were
feasting. But it is incredibly hard; half the human race believes itself
born to make things easy for the other half. It comes natural to them to
ache and toil while we sit in easy chairs. What they resent is that we
should try to change it."
"Goodness!" said George, pulling at his moustaches. "I don't recognise my
own experience of the ordinary domestic polity in that summary."
"I daresay. You have to do with the upper servant, who is always a
greater tyrant than his master," she retorted, her voice expressing a
curious medley of laughter and feeling. "I am speaking of the people
that are not seen, like the tailoress and shirtmaker, in your
"Well, you may be right," said George, drily. "But I confess--if I may
be quite frank--that I don't altogether trust you to judge. I want at
least, before I strike the balance between my Dalhousie and your
tailoress, to hear what those people have to say who have not crippled
their minds--by pity!"
"Pity!" she said, her lip trembling in spite of herself. "Pity!--you
count pity a disease?"
"As you--and others--practise it," he replied coolly, turning round upon
her. "It is no good; the world can't be run by pity. At least, living
always seems to me a great brutal, rushing, rough-and-tumble business,
which has to be carried on whether we like it or no. To be too careful,
too gingerly over the separate life, brings it all to a standstill.
Meddle too much, and the Demiurge who set the machine going turns sulky
and stops working. Then the nation goes to pieces--till some strong
ruffian without a scruple puts it together again."
"What do you mean by the Demiurge?"
"Why do you make me explain my flights? Well, I suppose, the natural
daimonic power in things, which keeps them going and set them off; which
is not us, or like us, and cares nothing for us."
His light voice developed a sudden energy during his little speech.
"Ah!" said Marcella, wistfully. "Yes, if one thought that, I could
understand. But, even so, if the power behind things cares nothing for
us, I should only regard it as challenging us to care more for each
other. Do you mind my asking you a few plain questions? Do you know
anything personally of the London poor? I mean, have you any real friends
among them, whose lives you know?"
"Well, I sit with Fontenoy while he receives deputations from all those
tailoresses and shirtmakers and fur-sewers that _you_ want to put in
order. The harassed widow streams through his room perpetually--wailing
to be let alone!"
Marcella made a sound of amused scorn.
"Oh! you think that nothing," said George, indignant. "I vow I could draw
every type of widow that London contains--I know them intimately."
She shook her head.
"I give up London. Then, in the North, aren't you a coal-owner? Do you
know your miners?"
"Yes, and I detest them!" said George, shortly; "pig-headed brutes! They
will be on strike next month, and I shall be defrauded of my lawful
income till their lordships choose to go back. Pity _me_, if you
"So I do," she said with spirit--"if you hate the men by whom you live!"
There was silence. Then suddenly George said, in another tone:
"But sometimes, I don't deny, the beggars wring it out of one--your pity.
I saw a mother last week--Suppose we stroll on a little. I want to see
how the river gets out of the wood."
They descended the bridge, and turned again into the river-path. George
told the story of Mary Batchelor in his half-ironic way, yet so that here
and there Marcella shivered. Then gradually, as though it were a relief
to him to talk, he slipped into a half-humorous, half-serious discussion
of his mine-owner's position and its difficulties. Incidentally and
unconsciously a good deal of his history betrayed itself in his talk: his
bringing-up, his mother; the various problems started in his mind since
his return from India; even his relations to his wife. Once or twice it
flashed across him that he was confessing himself with an extraordinary
frankness to a woman he had made up his mind to dislike. But the
reflection did not stop him. The balmy night, the solitude, this
loveliness that walked beside him so willingly and kindly--with every
step they struck his defences from him; they drew; they penetrated.
With her, too, everything was simple and natural. She had felt his
attraction at their first meeting; she had determined to make a friend of
him; and she was succeeding. As he disclosed himself she felt a strange
compassion for him. It was plain to her woman's instinct that he was at
heart lonely and uncompanioned. Well, what wonder with that hard, mean
little being for a wife! Had she captured him, or had he thrown himself
away upon her in mere wantonness, out of that defiance of sentiment which
appeared to be his favourite _parti-pris?_ In any case, it seemed to this
happy wife that he had done the one fatal and irreparable thing; and she
was genuinely sorry for him. She felt him very young, too. As far as she
could gather, he was about two years her junior; but her feeling made the
gap much greater.
Yet, of course, the situation,--Maxwell, Fontenoy,--all that those names
implied to him and her, made a thrilling under-note in both their minds.
She never forgot her husband and his straits; and in George's mind
Fontenoy's rugged figure stood sentinel. Given the circumstances, both
her temperament and her affections drove her inevitably into trying,
first to attract, then to move and influence her companion. And given the
circumstances, he could but yield himself bit by bit to her woman's
charm; while full all the time of a confident scorn for her politics.
Insensibly, the stress upon them drew them back to London and to current
affairs, and at last she said to him, with vehemence:
"You _must_ see these people in the flesh--and not in your house, but in
theirs. Or, first come and meet them in mine?"
"Why, please, should you think St. James's Square a palace of truth
compared to Carlton House Terrace?" he asked her, with amusement.
Fontenoy lived in Carlton House Terrace.
"I am not inviting you to St. James's Square," she said quietly. "That
house is only my home for one set of purposes. Just now my true home is
not there at all. It is in the Mile End Road."
George asked to be informed, and opened his eyes at her account of the
way in which she still divided her time between the West End and the
East, spending always one or two nights a week among the trades and the
work-people she had come to know so intimately, whose cause she was
fighting with such persistence.
"Maxwell doesn't come now," she said. "He is too busy, and his work there
is done. But I go because I love the people, and to talk with them and
live with them part of every week keeps one's mind clear as to what one
wants, and why. Well,"--her voice showed that she smiled,--"will you
come? My old maid shall give you coffee, and you shall meet a roomful of
tailors and shirtmakers. You shall see what people look like in the
flesh--not on paper--after working fourteen hours at a stretch, in a room
where you and I could not breathe!"
"Charming!"--he bowed ironically. "Of course I will come."
They had paused under the shadow of a grove of beech-trees, and were
looking back towards the moonlit garden and the house. Suddenly George
said, in an odd voice:
"Do you mind my saying it? You know, nobody is ever
In the darkness her flush could not be seen. But he felt the mingled
pride and soreness in her voice, under its forced brightness.
"I know. How long is it since a speech turned a vote in the House of
Commons! One wonders why people take the trouble to speak. Shall we go
back? Ah! there is someone pursuing us--my husband and Ancoats!"
And two figures, dark for an instant against the brightness of the lawns,
plunged into the shadow of the wood.
"You wanderers!" said Maxwell, as he distinguished his wife's white
dress. "Is this path quite safe in this darkness? Suppose we get
out of it."
The river, indeed, beneath a steep bank, ran close beside them, and
the trees meeting overhead all but shut out the moon. Maxwell, in some
anxiety, caught his wife's arm, and made her pause till his eye should
be once more certain of the path. Meanwhile Ancoats and Tressady
walked quickly back to the lawn, Ancoats talking and laughing with
* * * * *
The Maxwells did not hurry themselves. As they emerged from the wood
Marcella slipped her hand into her husband's. It was her characteristic
caress. The slim, strong hand loved to feel itself in the shelter of
his; while to him that seeking touch was the symbol of all that she
brought him--the inventive, inexhaustible arts of a passion which was a
kind of genius.
"Don't go in!" she pleaded. "Why should we?"
"No!--why should we?" he repeated, sighing. "Why are we here at
all?--that is what I have been asking myself all the evening. And now
more than ever since my walk with that boy Ancoats."
"Tell me about it," she said eagerly. "Could you get nothing out of
Maxwell shrugged his shoulders.
"Nothing. He vows that everything is all right; that he knows a pack of
slanderers have been 'yelping at him,' and he wishes both they and his
mother would let him alone."
"His mother!" cried Marcella, outraged.
"Well, I suppose I said to him the kind of thing you would evidently like
to say. But with no result. He merely laughed, and chattered about
everything under the sun--his race-horses, new plays, politics--Heaven
knows what! He is in an excited state--feverish, restless, and, I should
think, unhappy. But he would tell nothing--to me."
"How much do you think she knows?"
"His mother? Nothing, I should say. Every now and then I detect a note of
extra anxiety when she talks to him; and there is evidently something in
her mind, some impression from his manner, perhaps, which is driving her
more keenly than ever towards this marriage. But I don't believe a single
one of the stories that have reached us has reached her. And now--here is
this poor girl--and even my dull eyes have noticed that to-night he has
purposely, markedly, avoided her."
Marcella felt her cheek flame.
"And when one thinks of his behaviour in the winter!" she cried.
They wandered on along a path that skirted the wood, talking anxiously
about the matter which had in truth brought them to Castle Luton. In
spite of the comparative gentleness of English political relations,
neither Maxwell nor Marcella, perhaps, would willingly have become
Charlotte Allison's guests at a moment when her house was actually the
headquarters of a violent and effective opposition to Maxwell's policy,
when moreover the leader of that opposition was likely to be of the
party. But about a fortnight before Whitsuntide some tales of young
Ancoats had suddenly reached Maxwell's ears, with such effect that on his
next meeting with Ancoats's mother he practically invited himself and
Marcella--greatly to Mrs. Allison's surprise--to Castle Luton for
For the boy had been Maxwell's ward, and Henry Allison had been the
intimate friend and comrade of Maxwell's father. And Maxwell's feeling
for his father, and for his father's friends, was of such a kind that his
guardian's duties had gone deep with him. He had done his best for the
boy, and since Ancoats had reached his majority his ex-guardian had still
kept him anxiously in mind.
Of late indeed Ancoats had troubled himself very little about his
guardian, or his guardian's anxieties. He seemed to have been devoting a
large share of his mind to the avoidance of his mother's old friends; and
the Maxwells, for months, in spite of many efforts on their part, had
seen little or nothing of him. Maxwell for various reasons had begun to
suspect a number of uncomfortable things with regard to the young
fellow's friends and pleasures. Yet nothing could be taken hold of till
this sudden emergence of a particular group of stories, coupling
Ancoats's name with that of a notorious little actress whose adventures
had already provided a certain class of newspaper with abundant copy.
Then Maxwell, who cared personally very little for the red-haired youth
himself, took alarm for the mother's sake. For in the case of Mrs.
Allison a scandal of the kind suggested meant a tragedy. Her passion for
her son was almost a tragedy already, so closely mingled in it were the
feelings of the mother and those of the Christian, to whom "vice" is not
an amusement, but an agony.