Richard Mutimer had strong domestic affections. The English artisan is not demonstrative in such matters, and throughout his life Richard had probably exchanged no word of endearment with any one of his kin, whereas language of the tempestuous kind was common enough from him to one and all of them; for all that he clung closely to the hearth, and nothing in truth concerned him so nearly as the well-being of his mother, his sister, and his brother. For them he had rejoiced as much as for himself in the blessing of fortune. Now that the excitement of change had had time to subside, Richard found himself realising the fact that capital creates cares as well as removes them, and just now the centre of his anxieties lay in the house at Highbury to which his family had removed from Wilton Square.
He believed that as yet both the Princess and 'Arry were ignorant of the true state of affairs. It had been represented to them that he had 'come in for' a handsome legacy from his relative in the Midlands, together with certain business responsibilities which would keep him much away from home; they were given to understand that the change in their own position and prospects was entirely of their brother's making. If Alice Maud was allowed to give up her work, to wear more expensive gowns, even to receive lessons on the pianoforte, she had to thank Dick for it. And when 'Arry was told that his clerkship at the drain-pipe manufactory was about to terminate, that he might enter upon a career likely to be more fruitful of distinction, again it was Dick's brotherly kindness. Mrs. Mutimer did her best to keep up this deception.
But Richard was well aware that the deception could not be lasting, and had the Princess alone been concerned he would probably never have commenced it. It was about his brother that he was really anxious. 'Arry might hear the truth any day, and Richard gravely feared the result of such a discovery. Had he been destined to future statesmanship, he could not have gone through a more profitable course of experience and reasoning than that into which he was led by brotherly solicitude. For 'Arry represented a very large section of Demos, alike in his natural characteristics and in the circumstances of his position; 'Arry, being 'Arry, was on the threshold of emancipation, and without the smallest likelihood that the event would change his nature. Hence the nut to crack: Given 'Arry, by what rapid process of discipline can he be prepared for a state in which the 'Arrian characteristics will surely prove ruinous not only to himself but to all with whom he has dealings?
Richard saw reason to deeply regret that the youth had been put to clerking in the first instance, and not rather trained for some handicraft, clerkships being about the least hopeful of positions for a working-class lad of small parts and pronounced blackguard tendencies. He came to the conclusion that even now it was not too late to remedy this error. 'Arry must be taught what work meant, and, before he came into possession of his means, he must, if possible, be led to devote his poor washy brains to some pursuit quite compatible with the standing of a capitalist, to acquire knowledge of a kind which he could afterwards use for the benefit of his own pocket. Deficient bodily vigour had had something to do with his elevation to the office of the drain-pipe factory, but that he appeared to have outgrown. Much pondering enabled Richard to hit at length on what he considered a hopeful scheme; he would apprentice 'Arry to engineering, and send him in the evenings to follow the courses of lectures given to working men at the School of Mines. In this way the lad would be kept constantly occupied, he would learn the meaning of work and study, and when he became of age would be in a position to take up some capitalist enterprise. Thus he might float clear of the shoals of black- guardism and develop into a tolerable member of society, at all events using his wealth in the direct employment of labour.
We have seen Richard engaged in æsthetic speculation; now we behold him busied in the training of a representative capitalist. But the world would be a terrible place if the men of individual energy were at all times consistent. Richard knew well enough that in planning thus for his brother's future he was inconsistency itself; but then the matter at issue concerned someone in whom he had a strong personal interest, and consequently he took counsel of facts. When it was only the world at large that he was bent on benefiting, too shrewd a sifting of arguments was not called for, and might seriously have interfered with his oratorical effects. In regulating private interests one cares singularly little for anything but hard demonstration and the logic of cause and effect.
It was now more than a month since 'Arry had been removed from the drain-pipes and set going on his new course, and Richard was watching the experiment gravely. Connected with it was his exceptional stay at Wanley over the Sunday; he designed to go up to London quite unexpectedly about the middle of the ensuing week, that he might see how things worked in his absence. It is true there had been another inducement to remain in the village, for Richard had troubles of his own in addition to those imposed upon him by his family. The Manor was now at his disposal; as soon as he had furnished it there was no longer a reason for delaying his marriage. In appearance, that is to say; inwardly there had been growing for some weeks reasons manifold. They tormented him. For the first time in his life he had begun to sleep indifferently; when he had resolutely put from his mind thought of Alice and 'Arry, and seemed ready for repose, there crept out of less obvious lurking-places subtle temptations and suggestions which fevered his blood and only allured the more, the more they disquieted him. This Sunday night was the worst he had yet known. When he left the Walthams, he occupied himself for an hour or two in writing letters, resolutely subduing his thoughts to the subjects of his correspondence. Then be ate supper, and after that walked to the top of Stanbury Hill, hoping to tire himself. But he returned as little prepared for sleep as he had set out. Now he endeavoured to think of Emma Vine; by way of help, he sat down and began a letter to her. But composition had never been so difficult; he positively had nothing to say. Still he must think of her. When he went up to town on Tuesday or Wednesday one of his first duties would be to appoint a day for his marriage. And he felt that it would be a duty harder to perform than any he had ever known. She seemed to have drifted so far from him, or he from her. It was difficult even to see her face in imagination; another face always came instead, and indeed needed no summoning.
He rose next morning with a stern determination to marry Emma Vine in less than a month from that date.
On Tuesday he went to London. A hansom put him down before the house in Highbury about six o'clock. It was a semidetached villa, stuccoed, bow-windowed, of two storeys, standing pleasantly on a wide road skirted by similar dwellings, and with a row of acacias in front. He admitted himself with a latch-key and walked at once into the front room; it was vacant. He went to the dining-room and there found his mother at tea with Alice and 'Arry.
Mrs. Mutimer and her younger son were in appearance very much what they had been in their former state. The mother's dress was of better material, but she was not otherwise outwardly changed. 'Arry was attired nearly as when we saw him in a festive condition on the evening of Easter Sunday; the elegance then reserved for high days and holidays now distinguished him every evening when the guise of the workshop was thrown off. He still wore a waistcoat of pronounced cut, a striking collar, a necktie of remarkable hue. It was not necessary to approach him closely to be aware that his person was sprinkled with perfumes. A recent acquisition was a heavy-looking ring on the little finger of his right hand. Had you been of his intimates, 'Arry would have explained to you the double advantage of this ring; not only did it serve as an adornment, but, as playful demonstration might indicate, it would prove of singular efficacy in pugilistic conflict.
At the sight of his elder brother, 'Arry hastily put his hands beneath the table, drew off the ornament, and consigned it furtively to his waistcoat pocket.
But Alice Maud was by no means what she had been. In all that concerned his sister, Mutimer was weak; he could quarrel with her, and abuse her roundly for frailties, but none the less was it one of his keenest pleasures to see her contented, even in ways that went quite against his conscience. He might rail against the vanity of dress, but if Alice needed a new gown, Richard was the first to notice it. The neat little silver watch she carried was a gift from himself of some years back; with difficulty he had resisted the temptation to replace it with a gold one now that it was in his power to do so. Tolerable taste and handiness with her needle had always kept Alice rather more ladylike in appearance than the girls of her class are wont to be, but such comparative distinction no longer sufficed. After certain struggles with himself, Richard had told his mother that Alice must in future dress 'as a lady'; he authorised her to procure the services of a competent dressmaker, and, within the bounds of moderation, to. expend freely. And the result was on the whole satisfactory. A girl of good figure, pretty face, and moderate wit, who has spent some years m a City showroom, does not need much instruction in the art of wearing fashionable attire becomingly. Alice wore this evening a gown which would not have been out of place at five o'clock in a West-end drawing-room; the sleeves were rather short, sufficiently so to exhibit a very shapely lower arm. She had discovered new ways of doing her hair; at present it was braided on either side of the forehead -- a style which gave almost a thoughtful air to her face. When her brother entered she was eating a piece of sponge-cake, which she held to her lips with peculiar delicacy, as if rehearsing graces.
'Why, there now!' cried Mrs. Mutimer, pleased to see her son. 'If I wasn't saying not five minutes ago as Dick was likely to come some day in the week! Wasn't I, Alice? What'll you have for your tea? There's some chops all ready in the 'ouse, if you'd care for them.'
Richard was not in a cheerful mood. He made no reply immediately, but went and stood before the fireplace, as he had been accustomed to do in the old kitchen.
'Will you have a chop?' repeated his mother.
'No; I won't eat just yet. But you can give me a cup of tea.'
Mrs. Mutimer and Alice exchanged a glance, as the former bent over the teapot. Richard was regarding his brother askance, and it resulted in a question, rather sharply put --
'Have you been to work to-day?'
'Arry would have lied had he dared; as it was, he made his plate revolve, and murmured, 'No; he 'adn't.'
'I didn't feel well,' replied the youth, struggling for self-confidence and doing his best to put on an air of patient suffering.
Richard tapped his tea-cup and looked the look of one who reserves discussion for a more seasonable time.
'Daniel called last night,' remarked Mrs. Mutimer. 'He says he wants to see you. I think it's something particular; he seemed disappointed you weren't at the meeting on Sunday.'
'Did he? I'll see if I can get round to-night. If you like to have something cooked for me about eight o'clock, mother,' he added, consulting his watch, 'I shall be ready for it then.'
He turned to his brother again.
'Is there a class to-night? No? Very well, when they've cleared away, get your books out and show me what you've been doing. What are you going to do with yourself, Alice?'
The two addressed, as well as their mother, appeared to have some special cause for embarrassment. Instead of immediately replying, Alice played with crumbs and stole glances on either side.
'Me and 'Arry are going out,' she said at length, with a rather timid smile and a poise of the head in pretty wilfulness.
'Not 'Arry,' Richard observed significantly.
'Why not?' came from the younger Mutimer, with access of boldness.
'If you're not well enough to go to work you certainly don't go out at night for your pleasure.'
'But it's a particular occasion,' explained Mice, leaning back with crossed arms, evidently prepared to do battle. 'A friend of 'Arry's is going to call and take us to the theatre.'
'Oh, indeed! And what friend is that?'
Mrs. Mutimer, who had been talked over to compliance with a project she felt Richard would not approve -- she had no longer the old authority, and spent her days in trying to piece on the present life to the former -- found refuge in a habit more suitable to the kitchen than the dining-room; she had collected all the teaspoons within reach and was pouring hot-water upon them in the slop-basin, the familiar preliminary to washing up.
'A gen'leman as lives near here,' responded 'Arry. 'He writes for the newspapers. His name's Keene.'
'Oh? And how came you to know him?'
'Met him,' was the airy reply.
'And you've brought him here?'
'Well, he's been here once.'
'He said as he wanted to know you, Dick,' put in Mrs. Mutimer. 'He was really a civil-spoken man, and he gave 'Arry a lot of help with his books.'
'When was he here?'
'And to-night he wants to take you to the theatre?'
The question was addressed to Alice.
'It won't cost him anything,' she replied. 'He says he can always get free passes.'
'No doubt. Is he coming here to fetch you? I shall be glad to see him.'
Richard's tone was ambiguous. He put down his cup, and said to Alice --
'Come and let me hear how you get on with your playing.' Alice followed into the drawing-room. For the furnishing of the new house Richard had not trusted to his own instincts, but had taken counsel with a firm that he knew from advertisements. The result was commonplace, but not intolerable. His front room was regarded as the Princess's peculiar domain; she alone dared to use it freely -- declined, indeed, to sit elsewhere. Her mother only came a few feet within the door now and then; if obliged by A]ice to sit down, she did so on the edge of a chair as near to the door as possible. Most of her time Mrs. Mutimer still spent in the kitchen. She had resolutely refused to keep more than one servant, and everything that servant did she all Alice's objections she opposed an obstinate silence. What herself performed over again, even to the making of beds. To was the poor woman to do? She had never in her life read more than an occasional paragraph of police news, and could not be expected to take up literature at her age. Though she made no complaint, signs were not wanting that she had begun to suffer in health. She fretted through the nights, and was never really at peace save when she anticipated the servant in rising early, and had an honest scrub at saucepans or fireirons before breakfast. Her main discomfort came of the feeling that she no longer had a house of her own; nothing about her seemed to be her property with the exception of her old kitchen clock, and one or two articles she could not have borne to part with. From being a rather talkative woman she had become very reticent; she went about uneasily, with a look of suspicion or of fear. Her children she no longer ventured to command; the secret of their wealth weighed upon her, she was in constant dread on their behalf. It is a bad thing for one such as Mrs. Mutimer to be thrown back upon herself in novel circumstances, and practically debarred from the only relief which will avail her -- free discussion with her own kind. The result is a species of shock to the system, sure to manifest itself before long in one or other form of debility.
Alice seated herself at the piano, and began a finger exercise, laboriously, imperfectly. For the first week or two it had given her vast satisfaction to be learning the piano; what more certain sign of having achieved ladyhood? It pleased her to assume airs with her teacher -- a very deferential lady -- to put off a lesson for a fit of languidness; to let it be understood how entirely time was at her command. Now she was growing rather weary of flats and sharps, and much preferred to read of persons to whom the same nomenclature was very applicable in the books she obtained from a circulating library. Her reading had hitherto been confined to the fiction of the penny papers; to procure her pleasure in three gaily-bound volumes was another evidence of rise in the social scale; it was like ordering your wine by the dozen after being accustomed to a poor chance bottle now and then. At present Alice spent the greater part of her day floating on the gentle milky stream of English romance. Her brother was made a little uneasy by this taste; he had not studied the literature in question.
At half-past six a loud knock at the front door announced the expected visitor. Alice turned from the piano, and looked at her brother apprehensively. Richard rose, and established himself on the hearthrug, his hands behind him.
'What are you going to say to him, Dick?' Alice asked hurriedly.
'He says he wants to know me. I shall say, "Here I am."'
There were voices outside. 'Arry had opened the door himself, and now he ushered his acquaintance into the drawing-room. Mr. Keene proved to be a man of uncertain age -- he might be eight-and-twenty, but was more probably ten years older. He was meagre, and of shrewd visage; he wore a black frock coat -- rather shiny at the back -- and his collar was obviously of paper. Incipient baldness endowed him in appearance with a noble forehead; he carried eye-glasses.
Whilst 'Arry mumbled a form of introduction, the journalist -- so Mr. Keene described himself -- stood in a bowing attitude, one hand to his glasses, seeming to inspect Richard with extreme yet respectful interest. When he spoke, it was in a rather mincing way, with interjected murmurs -- the involuntary overflow, as it were, of his deep satisfaction.
'There are few persons in England whose acquaintance I desire more than that of Mr. Richard Mutimer; indeed, I may leave the statement unqualified and say at once that there is no one. I have heard you speak in public, Mr. Mutimer. My profession has necessarily led me to hear most of our platform orators, and in one respect you distance them all -- in the quality of sincerity. No speaker ever moved me as you did. I had long been interested in your cause; I had long wished for time and opportunity to examine into it thoroughly. Your address -- I speak seriously -- removed the necessity of further study. I am of your party, Mr. Mutimer. There is nothing I desire so much as to give and take the hand of brotherhood.'
He jerked his hand forward, still preserving his respectful attitude. Richard gave his own hand carelessly, smiling as a man does who cannot but enjoy flattery yet has a strong desire to kick the flatterer out of the room.
'Are you a member of the Union?' he inquired.
'With pride I profess myself a member. Some day -- and that at no remote date -- I may have it in my power to serve the cause materially.' He smiled meaningly. 'The press -- you understand?' He spread his fingers to represent wide dominion. 'An ally to whom the columns of the bourgeois press are open -- you perceive? It is the task of my life.'
'What papers do you write for?' asked Mutimer bluntly.
'Several, several. Not as yet in a leading capacity. In fact, I am feeling my way. With ends such as I propose to myself it won't do to stand committed to any formal creed in politics. Politics, indeed! Ha, ha!'
He laughed scornfully. Then, turning to Alice --
'You will forgive me, I am sure, Miss Mutimer, that I address myself first to your brother -- I had almost said your illustrious brother. To be confessed illustrious some day, depend upon it. I trust you are well?'
'Thanks, I'm very well indeed,' murmured Alice, rather disconcerted by such politeness.
'And Mrs. Mutimer? That is well. By-the-by,' he proceeded to Richard, 'I have a piece of work in hand that will deeply interest you. I am translating the great treatise of Marx, "Das capital." It occurs to me that a chapter now and then might see the light in the "Fiery Cross." How do you view that suggestion?'
Richard did not care to hide his suspicion, and even such an announcement as this failed to move him to cordiality.
'You might drop a line about it to Mr. Westlake,' he said.
'Mr. Westlake? Oh! but I quite understood that you had practically the conduct of the paper.'
Richard again smiled.
'Mr. Westlake edits it,' he said.
Mr. Keene waved his hand in sign of friendly intelligence. Then he changed the subject.
'I ventured to put at Miss Mutimer's disposal certain tickets I hold -- professionally -- for the Regent's Theatre to-night -- the dress circle. I have five seats in all. May I have the pleasure of your company, Mr. Mutimer?'
'I'm only in town for a night,' Richard replied; 'and I can't very well spare the time.'
'To be sure, to be sure; I was inconsiderate. Then Miss Mutimer and my friend Harry ----'
'I'm sorry they're not at liberty,' was Richard's answer to the murmured interrogation. 'If they had accepted your invitation be' so good as to excuse them. I happen to want them particularly this evening.'
'In that case, I have of course not a word to say. save to express my deep regret at losing the pleasure of their company. But another time, I trust. I -- I feel presumptuous, but it is my earnest hope to be allowed to stand on the footing not only of a comrade in the cause, but of a neighbour; I live quite near. Forgive me if I seem a little precipitate. The privilege is so inestimable.'
Richard made no answer, and Mr. Keene forthwith took his leave, suave to the last. When he was gone, Richard went to the dining-room, where his mother was sitting. Mrs. Mutimer would have given much to be allowed to sit in the kitchen; she had a room of her own upstairs, but there she felt too remote from the centre of domestic operations, and the dining-room was a compromise. Her chair was always placed in a rather dusky corner; she generally had sewing on her lap, but the consciousness that her needle was not really in demand, and that she might just as well have sat idle, troubled her habits of mind. She often had the face of one growing prematurely aged.
'I hope you won't let them bring anyone they like,' Richard said to her. 'I've sent that fellow about his business; he's here for no good. He mustn't come again.'
'They won't heed me,' replied Mrs. Mutimer, using the tone of little interest with which she was accustomed to speak of details of the new order.
'Well, then, they've got to heed you, and I'll have that understood. -- Why didn't 'Arry go to work to-day?'
'Didn't want to, I s'pose.'
'Has he stayed at home often lately?'
'Not at 'ome, but I expect he doesn't always go to work.'
'Will you go and sit with Alice in the front room? I'll have a talk with him.'
'Arry came whistling at the summons. There was a nasty look on his face, the look which in his character corresponded to Richard's resoluteness. His brother eyed him.
'Look here, 'Arry,' the elder began, 'I want this explaining. What do you mean by shirking your work?'
There was no reply. 'Arry strode to the window and leaned against the side of it, in the attitude of a Sunday loafer waiting for the dram-shop to open.
'If this goes on,' Richard pursued, 'you'll find yourself in your old position again. I've gone to a good deal of trouble to give you a start, and it seems to me you ought to show a better spirit. We'd better have an understanding; do you mean to learn engineering, or don't you?'
'I don't see the use of it,' said the other.
'What do you mean? I suppose you must make your living somehow?'
'Arry laughed, and in such a way that Richard looked at him keenly, his brow gathering darkness.
'What are you laughing at?'
'Why, at you. There's no more need for me to work for a living than there is for you. As if I didn't know that!'
'Who's been putting that into your head?'
No scruple prevented the lad from breaking a promise he had made to Mr. Keene, the journalist, when the latter explained to him the disposition of the deceased Richard Mutimer's estate; it was only that he preferred to get himself credit for acuteness.
'Why, you don't think I was to be kept in the dark about a thing like that? It's just like you to want to make a fellow sweat the flesh off his bones when all the time there's a fortune waiting for him. What have I got to work for, I'd like to know? I don't just see the fun of it, and you wouldn't neither, in my case. You've took jolly good care you don't work yourself, trust you! I ain't a-going to work no more, so there it is, plain and flat.'
Richard was not prepared for this; he could not hit at once on a new course of procedure, and probably it was the uncertainty revealed in his countenance that brought 'Arry to a pitch of boldness not altogether premeditated. The lad came from the window, thrust his hands more firmly into his pockets and stood prepared to do battle for his freeman's rights It is not every day that a youth of his stamp finds himself gloriously capable of renouncing work. There was something like a glow of conscious virtue on his face.
'You're not going to work any more, eh?' said his brother, half to himself. 'And who's going to support you?' he asked, with rather forced indignation.
'There's interest per cent. coming out of my money.'
'Arry must not be credited with conscious accuracy in his use of terms; he merely jumbled together two words which had stuck in his memory.
'Oh? And what are you going to do with your time?'
'That's my business. How do other men spend their time?'
The reply was obvious, but Richard felt the full seriousness of the situation and restrained his scornful impulses.
'Sit down, will you?' he said quietly, pointing to a chair.
His tone availed more than anger would have done.
'You tell me I take good care not to do any work myself? There you're wrong. I'm working hard every day.'
'Oh, we know what kind of work that is!'
'No, I don't think you do. Perhaps it would be as well if you were to see. I think you'd better go to Wanley with me.'
'I dare say I can give you a job for awhile.'
'I tell you I don't want a job.'
Richard's eye wandered rather vacantly. From the first it had been a question with him whether it would not be best to employ 'Arry at Wanley, but on the whole the scheme adopted seemed more fruitful. Had the works been fully established it would have been a different thing. Even now he could keep the lad at work at Wanley, though not exactly in the way he desired. But if it came to a choice between a life of idleness in London and such employment as could be found for him at the works, 'Arry must clearly leave town at once. In a few days the Manor would be furnished; in a few weeks Emma would be there to keep house.
There was the difficulty of leaving his mother and sister alone. It looked as if all would have to quit London. Yet there would be awkwardness in housing the whole family at the Manor; and besides ----
What the 'besides' implied Richard did not make formal even m his own thoughts. It stood for a vague objection to having all his relatives dwelling at Wanley. Alice he would not mind; it was not impossible to picture Alice in conversation with Mrs. and Miss Waltham; indeed, he desired that for her. And yet ----
Richard was at an awkward pass. Whithersoever he looked he saw stumbling-blocks, the more disagreeable in that they rather loomed in a sort of mist than declared themselves for what they were. He had not the courage to approach and examine them one by one; he had not the audacity to imagine leaps over them; yet somehow they had to be surmounted. At this moment, whilst 'Arry was waiting for the rejoinder to his last reply, Richard found himself wrestling again with the troubles which had kept him wakeful for the last two nights. He had believed them finally thrown and got rid of. Behold, they were more stubborn than ever.
He kept silence so long that his brother spoke.
'What sort of a job is it?'
To his surprise, Richard displayed sudden anger.
'If you weren't such a young fool you'd see what's best for you, and go on as I meant you to! What do you mean by saying you won't work? If you weren't such a thickhead you might go to school and be taught how to behave yourself, and how a man ought to live; but it's no use sending you to any such place. Can't you understand that a man with money has to find some sort of position in the world? I suppose you'd like to spend the rest of your life in public-houses and music-halls?'
Richard was well aware that to give way to his temper was worse than useless, and could only defeat every end; but something within him just now gnawed so intolerably that there was nothing for it but an outbreak. The difficulties of life were hedging him in -- difficulties he could not have conceived till they became matter of practical experience. And unfortunately a great many of them were not of an honest kind; they would not bear exposing. For a man of decision, Mutimer was getting strangely remote from practical roads.
'I shall live as I like,' observed 'Arry, thrusting out his legs and bending his body forward, a combination of movements which, I know not why, especially suggests dissoluteness.
Richard gave up the contest for the present, and went in silence from the room. As he joined his mother and sister they suddenly ceased talking.
'Don't cook anything for me,' he said, remaining near the door. 'I'm going out.'
'But you must have something to eat,' protested his mother. 'See' -- she rose hastily -- 'I'll get a chop done at once.'
'I couldn't eat it if you did. I dare say you've got some cold meat. Leave it out for me; I don't know what time I shall get back.'
'You're very unkind, Dick,' here remarked Alice, who wore a mutinous look. 'Why couldn't you let us go to the theatre?'
Her brother vouchsafed no reply, but withdrew from the room, and almost immediately left the house. He walked half a mile with his eyes turned to the ground, then noticed a hansom which was passing empty, and had himself driven to Hoxton. He alighted near the Britannia Theatre, and thence made his way by foul streets to a public-house called the 'Warwick Castle.' Only two customers occupied the bar; the landlord stood in his shirt-sleeves, with arms crossed, musing. At the sight of Mutimer he brightened up, and extended his hand.
'How d'you do; how d'you do, sir?' he exclaimed. 'Glad to see you.'
The shake of the hands was a tribute to old times, the 'sir' was a recognition of changed circumstances. Mr. Nicholas Dabbs, the brother of Daniel, was not a man to lose anything by failure to acknowledge social distinctions. A short time ago Daniel had expostulated with his brother on the use of 'sir' to Mutimer, eliciting the profound reply, 'D'you think he'd have 'ad that glass of whisky if I'd called him Dick?'
'Dan home yet?' Mutimer inquired.
'Not been in five minutes. Come round, sir, will you? I know he wants to see you.'
A portion of the counter was raised, and Richard passed into a parlour behind the bar.
'I'll call him,' said the landlord.
Daniel appeared immediately.
'I want a bit of private talk,' he said to his brother. 'We'll have this door shut, if you don't mind.'
'You may as well bring us a drop of something first, Nick,' put in Richard. 'Give the order, Dan.'
'Wouldn't have 'ad it but for the "sir,"' chuckled Nicholas to himself. 'Never used to when he come here, unless I stood it.'
Daniel drew a chair to the table and stirred his tumbler thoughtfully, his nose over the steam.
'We're going to have trouble with 'Arry,' said Richard, who had seated himself on a sofa in a dispirited way. 'Of course someone's been telling him, and now the young fool says he's going to throw up work. I suppose I shall have to take him down yonder with me.'
'Better do so,' assented Daniel, without much attention to the matter.
'What is it you want to talk about, Dan?'
Mr. Dabbs had a few minutes ago performed the customary evening cleansing of his hands and face, but it had seemed unnecessary to brush his hair, which consequently stood upright upon his forehead, a wiry rampart, just as it had been thrust by the vigorously-applied towel. This, combined with an unwonted lugubriousness of visage, made Daniel's aspect somewhat comical. He kept stirring very deliberately with his sugar-crusher.
'Why, it's this, Dick,' he began at length. 'And understand, to begin with, that I've got no complaint to make of nobody; it's only things as are awk'ard. It's this way, my boy. When you fust of all come and told me about what I may call the great transformation scene, you said, "Now it ain't a-goin' to make no difference, Dan," you said. Now wait till I've finished; I ain't complainin' of nobody. Well, and I tried to 'ope as it wouldn't make no difference, though I 'ad my doubts. "Come an' see us all just as usu'l," you said. Well, I tried to do so, and three or four weeks I come reg'lar, lookin' in of a Sunday night. But somehow it wouldn't work; something 'ad got out of gear. So I stopped it off. Then comes 'Arry a-askin' why I made myself scarce, sayin' as th' old lady and the Princess missed me. So I looked in again; but it was wuss than before, I saw I'd done better to stay away. So I've done ever since. Y' understand me, Dick?'
Richard was not entirely at his ease in listening. He tried to smile, but failed to smile naturally.
'I don't see what you found wrong,' he returned, abruptly.
'Why, I'm a-tellin' you, my boy, I didn't find nothing wrong except in myself, as you may say. What's the good o' beatin' about the bush? It's just this 'ere, Dick, my lad. When I come to the Square, you know very well who it was as I come to see. Well, it stands to reason as I can't go to the new 'ouse with the same thoughts as I did to the old. Mind, I can't say as she'd ever a' listened to me; it's more than likely she wouldn't But now that's all over, and the sooner I forget all about it the better for me. And th' only way to forget is to keep myself to myself, -- see, Dick?'
The listener drummed with his fingers on the table, still endeavouring to smile.
'I've thought about all this, Dan,' he said at length, with an air of extreme frankness. 'In fact, I meant to have a talk with you. Of course I can't speak for my sister, and I don't know that I can even speak to her about it, but one thing I can say, and that is that she'll never be encouraged by me to think herself better than her old friends.' He gave a laugh. 'Why, that 'ud be a good joke for a man in my position! What am I working for, if not to do away with distinctions between capital and labour? You'll never have my advice to keep away, Do you suppose I shall cry off with Emma Vine just because I've and that you know. Why, who am I going to marry myself? got more money than I used to have?'
Daniel's eye was upon him as he said these words, an eye at once reflective and scrutinising. Richard felt it, and laughed yet more scornfully.
'I think we know you better than that,' responded Dabbs. 'But it ain't quite the same thing, you see. There's many a man high up has married a poor girl. I don't know how it is; perhaps because women is softer than men, and takes the polish easier. And then we know very well how it looks when a man as has no money goes after a girl as has a lot. No, no; it won't do, Dick.'
It was said with the voice of a man who emphasises a negative in the hope of eliciting a stronger argument on the other side. But Richard allowed the negative finality in fact, if not in appearance.
'Well, it's for your own deciding, Dan. All I have to say is that you don't stay away with my approval. Understand that.'
He left Daniel idly stirring the dregs of his liquor, and went off to pay another visit. This was to the familiar house in Wilton Square. There was a notice in the window that dress-making and millinery were carried on within.
Mrs. Clay (Emma's sister Kate) opened to him. She was better dressed than in former days, but still untidy. Emma was out making purchases, but could not be many minutes. In the kitchen the third sister, Jane, was busy with her needle; at Richard's entrance she rose from her chair with evident feebleness: her illness of the spring had lasted long, and its effects were grave. The poor girl -- she closely resembled Emma in gentleness of face, but the lines of her countenance were weaker -- now suffered from pronounced heart disease, and the complicated maladies which rheumatic fever so frequently leaves behind it in women. She brightened at sight of the visitor, and her eyes continued to rest on his face with quiet satisfaction.
One of Kate's children was playing on the floor. The mother caught it up irritably, and began lamenting the necessity of washing its dirty little hands and face before packing it off to bed. In a minute or two she went up stairs to discharge these duties. Between her and Richard there was never much exchange of words.
'How are you feeling, Jane?' Mutimer inquired, taking a seat opposite her.
'Better -- oh, very much better! The cough hasn't been not near so troublesome these last nights.'
'Mind you don't do too much work. You ought to have put your sewing aside by now.'
'Oh, this is only a bit of my own. I'm sorry to say there isn't very much of the other kind to do yet.'
'Comes in slowly, does it?' Richard asked, without appearance of much interest.
'It'll be better soon, I dare say. People want time, you see, to get to know of us.'
Richard's eyes wandered.
'Have you finished the port wine yet?' he asked, as if to fill a gap.
'What an idea! Why, there's four whole bottles left, and one as I've only had three glasses out of.'
'Emma was dreadfully disappointed when you didn't come as usual,' she said presently.
'Have you got into your house?' she asked timidly.
'It isn't quite ready yet; but I've been seeing about the furnishing.'
Jane dreamed upon the word. It. was her habit to escape from the suffering weakness of her own life to joy in the lot which awaited her sister.
'And Emma will have a room all to herself?'
Jane had read of ladies' boudoirs; it was her triumph to have won a promise from Richard that Emma should have such a chamber.
'How is it going to be furnished? Do tell me.'
Richard's imagination was not active in the spheres of upholstery.
'Well, I can't yet say,' he replied, as if with an effort to rouse himself. 'How would you like it to be?'
Jane had ever before her mind a vague vision of bright-hued drapery, of glistening tables and chairs, of nobly patterned carpet, setting which her heart deemed fit for that priceless jewel, her dear sister. But to describe it all in words was a task beyond her. And the return of Emma herself saved her from the necessity of trying.
Hearing her enter the house, Richard went up to meet Emma, and they sat together in the sitting-room. This room was just as it had been in Mrs. Mutimer's day, save for a few ornaments from the mantelpiece, which the old lady could not be induced to leave behind her. Here customers were to be received -- when they came; a room upstairs was set apart for work.
Emma wore a slightly anxious look; it showed even through her happiness. None the less, the very perceptible change which the last few months had wrought in her was in the direction of cheerful activity; her motives were quicker, her speech had less of self-distrust, she laughed more freely, displayed more of youthful spontaneity in her whole bearing. The joy which possessed her at Richard's coming was never touched with disappointment at his sober modes of exhibiting affection. The root of Emma's character was steadfast faith. She did not allow herself to judge of Richard by the impulses of her own heart; those, she argued, were womanly; a man must be more independent in his strength. Of what a man ought to be she had but one criterion, Richard's self. Her judgment on this point had been formed five or six years ago; she felt that nothing now could ever shake it. All of expressed love that he was pleased to give her she stored in the shrine of her memory; many a light word forgotten by the speaker as soon as it was uttered lived still as a part of the girl's hourly life, but his reticences she accepted with no less devout humility. What need of repetitions? He had spoken to her the decisive word, and it was a column established for ever, a monument of that over which time had no power. Women are too apt to make their fondness a source of infinite fears; in Emma growth of love meant growth of confidence.
'Does all go well at the works?' was her first question. For she had made his interests her own, and was following in ardent imagination the undertaking which stamped her husband with nobility.
Richard talked on the subject for some moments; it was easier to do so than to come at once to the words he had in mind. But he worked round by degrees, fighting the way hard.
'The house is empty at last.'
'Is it? And you have gone to live there?'
'Not yet. I must get some furniture in first.'
Emma kept silence; the shadows of a smile journeyed trembling from her eyes to her lips.
The question voiced itself from Richard:
'When will you be ready to go thither?'
'I'm afraid -- I don't think I must leave them just yet -- for a little longer.'
He did not look at her. Emma was reading his face; the characters had become all at once a little puzzling; her own fault, of course, but the significance she sought was not readily discoverable.
'Can't they manage without you?' he asked. He believed his tone to express annoyance: in fact, it scarcely did so.
'I think it won't be very long before they can,' Emma replied; 'we have some plain sewing to do for Mrs. Robinson at the "Queen's Head," and she's promised to recommend us. I've just called there, and she really seems anxious to help. If Jane was stronger I shouldn't mind so much, but she mustn't work hard just yet, and Kate has a great deal to do with the children. Besides, Kate can't get out of the slop sewing, and of course that won't do for this kind of work. She'll get the stitch very soon.'
Richard seemed to be musing.
'You see' -- she moved nearer to his side, -- 'it's only just the beginning. I'm so afraid that they wouldn't be able to look about for work if I left them now. Jane hasn't the strength to go and see people; and Kate -- well, you know, Richard, she can't quite suit herself to people's fancies. I'm sure I can do so much in a few weeks; just that'll make all the difference. The beginning's everything, isn't it?'
Richard's eye travelled over her face. He was not without understanding of the nobleness which housed in that plain-clad, simple-featured woman there before him. It had shot a ray to the secret places of his heart before now; it breathed a passing summer along his veins at this present.
'What need is there to bother?' he said, of purpose fixing his eye steadily on hers. 'Work 'll come in time, I dare say. Let them look after their house.'
Perhaps Emma detected something not wholly sincere in this suggestion. She let her eyes fall, then raised them more quickly.
'Oh, but it's far better, Richard; and we really have made a beginning. Jane, I'm sure, wouldn't hear of giving it up. It's wonderful what spirits she has. And she'd be miserable if she wasn't trying to work -- I know so well how it would be. Just a few weeks longer. She really does get much better, and she says it's all "the business." It gives her something to occupy her mind.'
'Well, it's just as you like,' said Richard, rather absently.
'But you do think it best, don't you, dear?' she urged. 'It's good to finish things you begin, isn't it? I should feel rather dissatisfied with myself if I gave it up, and just when everything's promising. I believe it's what you really would wish me to do.'
'All right. I'll get the house furnished. But I can't give you much longer.'
He continued to talk in a mechanical way for a quarter of an hour, principally of the works; then said that he had promised to be home for supper. and took a rather hasty leave. He called good-night to the sisters from the top of the kitchen stairs.
Jane's face was full of joyous questioning as soon as her sister reappeared, but Emma disclosed nothing till they two were. alone in the bed-room. To Emma it was the simplest thing in the world to put a duty before pleasure; she had no hesitation in telling her sister how matters stood. And the other accepted it as pure love.
'I'm sure it'll only be a week or two before we can manage for ourselves,' Jane said. 'Of course, people are far readier to give you work than they would be to me or Kate. But it'll be all right when we're once started.'
'I shall be very sorry to leave you, dear,' murmured Emma. 'You'll have to be sure and let me know if you're not feeling well, and I shall come at once.'
'As if you could do that!' laughed the other. 'Besides, it'll be quite enough to keep me well to know you're happy.'
'I do hope Kate won't be trying.'
'Oh, I'm sure she won't. Why, it's quite a long time since she had one of her worst turns. It was only the hard work and the trouble as worried her. And now that's all over. It's you we have to thank for it all, Em.'
'You'll have to come and be with me sometimes, Jane. I know there'll always be something missing as long as you're out of my sight. And you must see to it yourself that the sheets is always aired; Kate's often so careless about that. You will promise me now, won't you? I shall be dreadfully anxious every washing day, I shall indeed. You know that the least thing'll give you a chill.'
'Yes, I'll be careful,' said the other, half sadly. She was lying in her bed, and Emma sat on a chair by the side. 'But you know it's not much use, love. I don't suppose as I shall live so very long. But I don't care, as soon as I know you're happy.'
'Jane, I should never know happiness if I hadn't my little sister to come and talk to. Don't think like that, don't for my sake, Janey dear!'
They laid their cheeks together upon the pillows.
'He'll be a good husband,' Jane whispered. 'You know that, don't you, Emmy?'
'No better in all this world! Why do you ask so?'
'No -- no -- I didn't mean anything. He said you mustn't wait much longer, didn't he?'
'Yes, he did. But he'd rather see me doing what's right. I often feel myself such a poor thing by him. I must try and show him that I do my best to follow his example. I'm ashamed almost, sometimes, to think I shall be his wife. It ought to be some one better than me.'
'Where would he find any one better, I'd like to know? Let him come and ask me about that! There's no man good enough for you, sister Emmy.'
Richard was talking with his sister Alice; the others had gone to bed, and the house was quiet.
'I wasn't at all pleased to see that man here to-night,' he said. 'You shouldn't have been so ready to say yes when he asked you to go to the theatre. It was like his impudence!'
'Why, what ever's the harm, Dick? Besides, we must have some friends, and -- really he looks a gentleman.'
I'll tell you a secret,' returned her brother, with a half-smile, half-sneer. 'You don't know a gentleman yet, and you'll have to be very careful till you do.'
'How am I to learn, then?'
'Just wait. You've got enough to do with your music and your reading. Time enough for getting acquainted with gentlemen.'
'Aren't you going to let anybody come and see us, then?'
'You have the old friends,' replied Richard, raising his chin.
'You're thinking of Mr. Dabbs, I suppose. What did he want to see you for, Dick?'
Alice looked at him from the corner of her eye.
'I think I'll tell you. He says he doesn't intend to come here again. You've made him feel uncomfortable.'
The girl laughed.
'I can't help how he feels, can I? At all events, Mr. Dabbs isn't a gentleman, is he, now?'
'He's an honest man, and that's saying a good deal, let me tell you. I rather thought you liked him.'
'Liked him? Oh, in a way, of course. But things are different.'
Alice looked up, put her head on one side, smiled her prettiest, and asked --
'Is it true, what 'Arry says -- about the money?'
He had wanted to get at this, and was, on the whole, not sorry to hear it. Richard was studying the derivation of virtue from necessity.
'What if it is?' he asked.
'Well, it makes things more different even than I thought, that's all.'
She sprang to her feet and danced across the room, one hand bent over her head. It was not an ungraceful picture. Her brother smiled.
'Alice, you'd better be guided by me. I know a little of the world, and I can help you where you'd make mistakes. Just keep to yourself for a little, my girl, and get on with your piano and your books. You can't do better, believe me. Never mind whether you've any one to see you or not; there's time enough. And I'll tell you another secret. Before you can tell a gentleman when you see him, you'll have to teach yourself to be a lady. Perhaps that isn't quite so easy as you think.'
'How am I to learn then?'
'We'll find a way before long. Get on with your playing and reading.'
Presently, as they were about to leave the room, the Princess inquired:
'Dick, how soon are you going to be married?'
'I can't tell you,' was the answer. 'Emma wants to put it off.'
The declaration of independence so nobly delivered by his brother 'Arry necessitated Richard's stay in town over the following day. The matter was laid before a family council, held after breakfast in the dining-room. Richard opened the discussion with some vehemence, and appealed to his mother and Alice for support. Alice responded heartily; Mrs. Mutimer was slower in coming to utterance, but at length expressed herself in no doubtful terms.
'If he don't go to his work,' she said sternly, 'it's either him or me'll have to leave this house. If he wants to disgrace us all and ruin himself, he shan't do it under my eyes.'
Was there ever a harder case? A high-spirited British youth asserts his intention of living a life of elegant leisure, and is forthwith scouted as a disgrace to the family. 'Arry sat under the gross injustice with an air of doggish defiance.
'I thought you said I was to go to Wanley?' he exclaimed at length, angrily, glaring at his brother.
Richard avoided the look.
'You'll have to learn to behave yourself first,' he replied. 'If you can't be trusted to do your duty here, you're no good to me at Wanley.'
'Arry would give neither yes nor no. The council broke up after formulating an ultimatum.
In the afternoon Richard had another private talk with the lad. This time he addressed himself solely to 'Arry's self-interest, explained to him the opportunities he would lose if he neglected to make himself a practical man. What if there was money waiting for him? The use of money was to breed money, and nowadays no man was rich who didn't constantly increase his capital. As a great ironmaster, he would hold a position impossible for him to attain in any other way; he would employ hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men; society would recognise him. What could he expect to be if he did nothing but loaf about the streets?
This was going the right way to work. Richard found that he was making an impression, and gradually fell into a kinder tone, so that in the end he brought 'Arry to moderately cheerful acquiescence.
'And don't let men like that Keene make a fool of you,' the monitor concluded. 'Can't you see that fellows like him'll hang on and make their profit out of you if you know no better than to let them? You just keep to yourself, and look after your own future.'
A suggestion that cunning was required of him flattered the youth to some purpose. He had begun to reflect that after all it might be more profitable to combine work and pleasure. He agreed to pursue the course planned for him.
So Richard returned to Wanley, carrying with him a small satisfaction and many great anxieties. Nor did he visit London again until four weeks had gone by; it was understood that the pressure of responsibilities grew daily more severe. New Wanley, as the industrial settlement in the valley was to be named, was shaping itself in accordance with the ideas of the committee with which Mutimer took counsel, and the undertaking was no small one.
In spite of Emma's cheerful anticipations, 'the business' meanwhile made little progress. A graver trouble was the state of Jane's health; the sufferer seemed wasting away. Emma devoted herself to her sister. Between her and Mutimer there was no further mention of marriage. In Emma's mind a new term had fixed itself -- that of her sister's recovery; but there were dark moments when dread came to her that not Jane's recovery, but something else, would set her free. In the early autumn Richard persuaded her to take the invalid to the sea-side, and to remain with her there for three weeks. Mrs. Clay during that time lived alone, and was very content to receive her future brother-in-law's subsidy, without troubling about the work which would not come in.
Autumn had always been a peaceful and bounteous season at Wanley; then the fruit trees bent beneath their golden charge, and the air seemed rich with sweet odours. But the autumn of this year was unlike any that had visited the valley hitherto. Blight had fallen upon all produce; the crop of apples and plums was bare beyond precedent. The west wind breathing up between the hill-sides only brought smoke from newly-built chimneys; the face of the fields was already losing its purity and taking on a dun hue. Where a large orchard had flourished were two streets of small houses, glaring with new brick and slate The works were extending by degrees, and a little apart rose the walls of a large building which would contain library, reading rooms, and lecture-hall, for the use of the industrial community. New Wanley was in a fair way to claim for itself a place on the map.
The Manor was long since furnished, and Richard entertained visitors. He had provided himself with a housekeeper, as well as the three or four necessary servants, and kept a saddle-horse as well as that which drew his trap to and fro when he had occasion to go to Agworth station. His establishment was still & modest one; all things considered, it could not be deemed inconsistent with his professions. Of course, stories to the contrary got about; among his old comrades in London, thoroughgoing Socialists like Messrs. Cowes and Cullen, who perhaps thought themselves a little neglected by. the great light of the Union, there passed occasionally nods and winks, which were meant to imply much. There were rumours of banqueting which went on at Wanley; the Manor was spoken of by some who had not seen it as little less than a palace -- nay, it was declared by one or two of the shrewder tongued that a manservant in livery opened the door, a monstrous thing if true. Worse than this was the talk which began to spread among the Hoxton and Islington Unionists of a certain young woman in a poor position to whom Mutimer had in former days engaged himself, and whom be did not now find it convenient to marry. A few staunch friends Richard had, who made it their business stoutly to contradict the calumnies which came within their hearing, Daniel Dabbs the first of them. But even Daniel found himself before long preferring silence to speech on the subject of Emma Vine. He grew uncomfortable about it, and did not know what to think.
The first of Richard's visitors at the Manor were Mr. and Mrs. Westlake. They came down from London one day, and stayed over till the next. Other prominent members of the Union followed, and before the end of the autumn Richard entertained some dozen of the rank and file, all together, paying their railway fares and housing them from Saturday to Monday. These men. be it noted in passing, distinguished themselves from that day onwards by unsparing detraction whenever the name of Mutimer came up in private talk, though, of course, they were the loudest in applause when platform reference to their leader demanded it. Besides the expressly invited, there was naturally no lack of visitors who presented themselves voluntarily. Among the earliest of these was Mr. Keene, the journalist. He sent in his name one Sunday morning requesting an interview on a matter of business, and on being admitted, produced a copy of the 'Belwick Chronicle,' which contained a highly eulogistic semi-biographic notice of Mutimer.
'I feel I ought to apologise to you for this liberty,' said Keene, in his flowing way, 'and that is why I have brought the paper myself. You will observe that it is one of a seris -- notable men of the day. I supply the "Chronicle" with a London letter, and give them one of these little sketches fortnightly. I knew your modesty would stand in the way if I consulted you in advance, so I can only beg pardon post delictum, as we say.'
There stood the heading in bold type, 'MEN OF THE DAY,' and beneath it 'XI. Mr. Richard Mutimer.' Mr. Keene had likewise brought in his pocket the placard of the newspaper, whereon Richard saw his name prominently displayed. The journalist stayed for luncheon.
Alfred Waltham was frequently at the Manor. Mutimer now seldom went up to town for Sunday; if necessity took him thither, he chose some week-day. On Sunday he always spent a longer or shorter time with the Walthams, frequently having dinner at their house. He hesitated at first to invite the ladies to the Manor; in his uncertainty on social usages he feared lest there might be impropriety in a bachelor giving such an invitation. He appealed to Alfred, who naturally laughed the scruple to scorn, and accordingly Mrs. and Miss Waltham were begged to honour Mr. Mutimer with their company. Mrs. Waltham reflected a little, but accepted. Adela would much rather have remained at home, but she had no choice.
By the end of September this invitation had been repeated, and the Walthams had lunched a second time at the Manor, no other guests being present. On the afternoon of the following day Mrs. Waltham and her daughter were talking together in their sitting-room, and the former led the conversation, as of late she almost invariably did when alone with her daughter, to their revolutionary friend.
'I can't help thinking, Adela, that in all essentials I never knew a more gentlemanly man than Mr. Mutimer. There must be something superior in his family; no doubt we were altogether mistaken in speaking of him as a mechanic.'
'But he has told us himself that he was a mechanic,' replied Adela, in the impatient way in which she was wont to speak on this subject.
'Oh, that is his modesty. And not only modesty; his views lead him to pride himself on a poor origin. He was an engineer, and we know that engineers are in reality professional men. Remember old Mr. Mutimer; he was a perfect gentleman. I have no doubt the family is really a very good one. Indeed, I am all but sure that I remember the name in Hampshire; there was a Sir something Mutimer -- I'm convinced of it. No one really belonging to the working class ever bore himself as Mr. Mutimer does. Haven't you noticed the shape of his hands, my dear?'
'I've only noticed that they are very large, and just what you would expect in a man who had done much rough work.'
Mrs. Waltham laughed noisily.
'My dear child, how can you be so perverse? The shape of the fingers is perfect. Do pray notice them next time.'
'I really cannot promise, mother, to give special attention to Mr. Mutimer's hands.'
Mrs. Waltham glanced at the girl, who had laid down a book she was trying to read, and, with lowered eyes, seemed to be collecting herself for further utterance.
'Why are you so prejudiced, Adela?'
'I am not prejudiced at all. I have no interest of any kind in Mr. Mutimer.'
The words were spoken hurriedly and with a ring almost of hostility. At the same time the girl's cheeks flushed. She felt herself hard beset. A network was being woven about her by hands she could not deem other than loving; it was time to exert herself that the meshes might not be completed, and the necessity cost her a feeling of shame.
'But your brother's friend, my dear. Surely you ought not to say that you have no interest in him at all.'
'I do say it, mother, and I wish to say it so plainly that you cannot after this mistake me. Alfred's friends are very far from being necessarily my friends. Not only have I no interest in Mr. Mutimer, I even a little dislike him.'
'I had no idea of that, Adela,' said her mother, rather blankly.
'But it is the truth, and I feel I ought to have tried to make you understand that sooner. I thought you would see that I had no pleasure in speaking of him.'
'But how is it possible to dislike him? I confess that is very hard for me to understand. I am sure his behaviour to you is perfect -- so entirely respectful, so gentlemanly.'
'No, mother, that is not quite the word to use. You are mistaken; Mr. Mutimer is not a perfect gentleman.'
It was said with much decision, for to Adela's mind this clenched her argument. Granted the absence of certain qualities which she held essential in a gentleman, there seemed to her no reason for another word on the subject.
'Pray, when has he misbehaved himself?' inquired her mother, with a touch of pique.
'I cannot go into details. Mr. Mutimer has no doubt many excellent qualities; no doubt he is really an earnest and a well-meaning man. But if I am asked to say more than that, it must be the truth -- as it seems to me. Please, mother dear, don't ask me to talk about him in future. And there is something else I wish to say. I do hope you won't be offended with me, but indeed I -- I hope you will not ask me to go to the Manor again. I feel I ought not to go. It is painful; I suffer when I am there.'
'How strange you are to-day, Adela! Really, I think you might allow me to decide what is proper and what is not. My experience is surely the best judge. You are worse than unkind, Adela; it's rude to speak to me like that.'
'Dear mother,' said the girl, with infinite gentleness, 'I am very, very sorry. How could I be unkind or rude. to you? I didn't for a moment mean that my judgment was better than yours; it is my feelings that I speak of. You won't ask me to explain -- to say more than that? You must understand me?'
'Oh yes, my dear, I understand you too well,' was the stiff reply. 'Of course I am old-fashioned, and I suppose old-fashioned people are a little coarse; their feelings are not quite as fine as they might be. We will say no more for the present, Adela. I will do my best not to lead you into disagreeable situations through my lack of delicacy.'
There were tears in Adela's eyes.
'Mother, now it is you who are unkind. I am so sorry that I spoke. You won't take my words as they were meant. Must I say that I cannot let Mr. Mutimer misunderstand the way in which. I regard him? He comes here really so very often, and if we begin to go there too ----. People are talking about it, indeed they are; Letty has told me so. How can I help feeling pained?'
Mrs. Waltham drew out her handkerchief and appeared mildly agitated. When Adela bent and kissed her she sighed deeply, then said in an undertone of gentle melancholy:
'I ask your pardon, my dear. I am afraid there has been a little misunderstanding on both sides. But we won't talk any more of it -- there, there!'
By which the good lady of course meant that she would renew the subject on the very earliest opportunity, and that, on the whole, she was not discouraged. Mothers are often unaware of their daughters' strong points, but their weaknesses they may be trusted to understand pretty well.
The little scene was just well over, and Adela had taken a seat by the window, when a gentleman who was approaching the front door saw her and raised his hat. She went very pale.
The next moment there was a knock at the front door.
'Mother,' the girl whispered, as if she could not speak louder, 'it is Mr. Eldon.'
'Mr. Eldon?' Mrs. Waltham drew herself up with dignity, then started from her seat. 'The idea of his daring to come here!'
She intercepted the servant who was going to open the door.
'Jane, we are not at home!'
The maid stood in astonishment. She was not used to the polite fictions of society; never before had that welcome mortal, an afternoon visitor, been refused at Mrs. Waltham's.
'What did you say, please, mum?'
'You will say that we are not at home, neither I nor Miss Waltham.'
Even if Hubert Eldon had not seen Adela at the window he must have been dull not to read the meaning of the servant's singular face and tone. He walked away with a quiet 'Thank you.'
Mrs. Waltham cast a side glance at Adela when she heard the outer door close. The girl had reopened her book.
'I'm not sorry that he came. Was there ever such astonishing impudence? If that is gentlemanly, then I must confess I ---- Really I am not at all sorry he came: it will give him a lesson.'
'Mr. Eldon may have had some special reason for calling,' Adela remarked disinterestedly.
'My dear, I have no business of any kind with Mr. Eldon, and it is impossible that he can have any with me.'
Adela very shortly went from the room.
That evening Richard had for guest at dinner Mr. Willis Rodman; so that gentleman named himself on his cards, and so he liked to be announced. Mr. Rodman was invaluable as surveyor of the works; his experience appeared boundless, and had been acquired in many lands. He was now a Socialist of the purest water, and already he enjoyed more of Mutimer's intimacy than anyone else. Richard not seldom envied the easy and, as it seemed to him, polished manner of his subordinate, and wondered at it the more since Rodman declared himself a proletarian by birth, and, in private, was fond of referring to the hardships of his early life. That there may be no needless mystery about Mr. Rodman, I am under the necessity of stating the fact that he was the son of a prosperous railway contractor, that he was born in Canada, and would have succeeded to a fortune on his father's death, but for an unhappy contretemps in the shape of a cheque, whereof Mr. Rodman senior (the name was not Rodman, but the true one is of no importance) disclaimed the signature. From that day to the present good and ill luck had alternated in the young man's career. His fortunes in detail do not concern us just now; there will be future occasion for returning to the subject.
'Young Eldon has been in Wanley to-day,' Mr. Rodman remarked as he sat over his wine after dinner.
'Has he?' said Richard, with indifference. 'What's he been after?'
'I saw him going up towards the Walthams'.'
Richard exhibited more interest.
'Is he a particular friend of theirs?' he asked. He had gathered from Alfred Waltham that there had been a certain intimacy between the 'two families, but desired more detailed information than his disciple had offered.
'Well, he used to be,' replied Rodman, with a significant smile. 'But I don't suppose Mrs. W. gave him a very affectionate reception to-day. His little doings have rather startled the good people of Wanley, especially since he has lost his standing. It wouldn't have mattered much, I dare say, but for that.'
'But was there anything particular up there?'
Mutimer had a careworn expression as he asked, and he nodded his head as if in the direction of the village with a certain weariness.
'I'm not quite sure. Some say there was, and others deny it, as I gather from general conversation. But I suppose it's at an end now, in any case.'
'Mrs. Waltham would see to that, you mean?' said Mutimer, with a short laugh.
Rodman made his glass revolve, his fingers on the stem.
'Take another cigar. I suppose they're not too well off, the Walthams?'
'Mrs. Waltham has an annuity of two hundred and fifty pounds, that's all. The girl -- Miss Waltham -- has nothing.'
'How the deuce do you get to know so much about people, Rodman?'
The other smiled modestly, and made a silent gesture, as if to disclaim any special abilities.
'So he called there to-day? I wonder whether he stayed long?'
'I will let you know to-morrow.'
On the morrow Richard learnt that Hubert Eldon had been refused admittance. The information gave him pleasure. Yet all through the night he had been earnestly hoping that he might hear something quite different, had tried to see in Eldon's visit a possible salvation for himself. For the struggle which occupied him more and more had by this time declared its issues plainly enough; daily the temptation became stronger, the resources of honour more feeble. In the beginning he had only played with dangerous thoughts; to break faith with Emma Vine had appeared an impossibility, and a marriage such as his fancy substituted, the most improbable of things. But in men of Richard's stamp that which allures the fancy will, if circumstances give but a little encouragement, soon take hold upon the planning brain. His acquaintance with the Walthams had ripened to intimacy, and custom nourished his self-confidence; moreover, he could not misunderstand the all but direct encouragement which on one or two recent occasions he had received from Mrs. Waltham. That lady had begun to talk to him, when they were alone together, in almost a motherly way, confiding to him this or that peculiarity in the characters of her children, deploring her inability to give Adela the pleasures suitable to her age, then again pointing out the advantage it was to a girl to have all her thoughts centred in home.
'I can truly say,' remarked Mrs. Waltham in the course of the latest such conversation, 'that Adela has never given me an hour's serious uneasiness. The dear child has, I believe, no will apart from her desire to please me. Her instincts are so beautifully submissive.'
To a man situated like Mutimer this tone is fatal. In truth it seemed to make offer to him of what he supremely desired. No such encouragement had come from Adela herself, but that meant nothing either way; Richard had already perceived that maidenly reserve was a far more complex matter in a girl of gentle breeding, than in those with whom he had formerly associated; for all he knew, increase of distance in manner might represent the very hope that he was seeking. That hope he sought, in all save the hours when conscience lorded over silence, with a reality of desire such as he had never known. Perhaps it was not Adela, and Adela alone, that inspired this passion; it was a new ideal of the feminine addressing itself to his instincts. Adela had the field to herself, and did indeed embody in almost an ideal degree the fine essence of distinctly feminine qualities which appeal most strongly to the masculine mind. Mutimer was not capable of love in the highest sense; he was not, again, endowed with strong appetite; but his nature contained possibilities of refinement which, in a situation like the present, constituted motive force the same in its effects as either form of passion. He was suffering, too, from the malaise peculiar to men who suddenly acquire riches; secret impulses drove him to gratifications which would not otherwise have troubled his thoughts. Of late he had been yielding to several such caprices. One morning the idea possessed him that he must have a horse for riding, and he could not rest till the horse was purchased and in his stable. It occurred to him once at dinner time that there were sundry delicacies which he knew by name but had never tasted; forthwith he gave orders that these delicacies should be supplied to him, and so there appeared upon his breakfast table a pâté de foie gras. Very similar in kind was his desire to possess Adela Waltham.
And the voice of his conscience lost potency, though it troubled him more than ever, even as a beggar will sometimes become rudely clamorous when he sees that there is no real hope of extracting an alms. Richard was embarked on the practical study of moral philosophy; he learned more in these months of the constitution of his inner being than all his literature of 'free thought' had been able to convey to him. To break with Emma, to cast his faith to the winds, to be branded henceforth in the sight of his intimate friends as a mere traitor, and an especially mean one to boot -- that at the first blush was of the things so impossible that one does not trouble to study their bearings. But the wall of habit once breached, the citadel of conscience laid bare, what garrison was revealed? With something like astonishment, Richard came to recognise that the garrison was of the most contemptible and tatterdemalion description. Fear of people's talk -- absolutely nothing else stood in his way.
Had he, then, no affection for Emma? Hardly a scrap. He had never even tried 'to persuade himself that he was in love with her, and the engagement had on his side been an affair of cool reason. His mother had practically brought it about; for years it had been a pet project of hers, and her joy was great in its realisation. Mrs. Vine and she had been lifelong gossips; she knew that to Emma had descended the larger portion of her parent's sterling qualities, and that Emma was the one wife for such a man as Richard. She talked him into approval. In those days Richard had no dream of wedding above his class, and he understood very well that Emma Vine was distinguished in many ways from the crowd of working girls. There was no one else he wished to marry. Emma would feel herself honoured by his choice, and, what he had not himself observed, his mother led him to see that yet deeper feelings were concerned on the girl's side. This flattered him -- a form of emotion to which he was ever susceptible -- and the match was speedily arranged.
He had never repented. The more he knew of Emma, the more confirmation his favourable judgments received. He even knew at times a stirring of the senses, which is the farthest that many of his kind ever progress in the direction of love. Of the nobler features in Emma's character, he of course remained ignorant; they did not enter into his demands upon woman, and he was unable to discern them even when they were brought prominently before him. She would keep his house admirably, would never contradict him, would mother his children to perfection, and even would, go so far as to take an intelligent interest in the Propaganda. What more could a man look for?
So there was no strife between old love and new; so far as it concerned himself, to put Emma aside would not cost a pang. The garrison was absolutely mere tongue, mere gossip of public-house bars, firesides, etc. -- more serious, of the Socialist lecture-rooms. And what of the girl's own feeling? Was there no sense of compassion in him? Very little. And in saying so I mean anything but to convey that Mutimer was conspicuously hard-hearted. The fatal defect in working people is absence of imagination, the power which may be solely a gift of nature and irrespective of circumstances, but which in most of us owes so much to intellectual training. Half the brutal cruelties perpetrated by uneducated men and women are directly traceable to lack of the imaginative spirit, which comes to mean lack of kindly sympathy. Mutimer, we know, had got for himself only the most profitless of educations, and in addition nature had scanted him on the emotional side. He could not enter into the position of Emma deserted and hopeless. Want of money was intelligible to him, so was bitter disappointment at the loss of a good position; but the former he would not allow Emma to suffer, and the latter she would, in the nature of things, soon get over. Her love for him he judged by his own feeling, making allowance, of course, for the weakness of women in affairs such as this. He might admit that she would 'fret,' but the thought of her fretting did not affect him as a reality. Emma had never been demonstrative, had never sought to show him all that was in her heart; hence he rated her devotion lightly.
The opinion of those who knew him! What of the opinion of Emma herself? Yes, that went for much; he knew shame at the thought, perhaps keener shame than in anticipating the judgment, say, of Daniel Dabbs. No one of his acquaintances thought of him so highly as Emma did; to see himself dethroned, the object of her contempt, was a bitter pill to swallow. In all that concerned his own dignity Richard was keenly appreciative; he felt in advance every pricking of the blood that was in store for him if he became guilty of this treachery. Yes, from that point of view he feared Emma Vine.
Considerations of larger scope did not come within the purview of his intellect. It never occurred to him, for instance, that in forfeiting his honour in this instance he began a process of undermining which would sooner or later threaten the stability of the purposes on which he most prided himself. A suggestion that domestic perfidy was in the end incompatible with public zeal would have seemed to him ridiculous, and for the simple reason that he recognised no 'moral sanctions. He could not regard his nature as a whole; he had no understanding for the subtle network of communication between its various parts. Nay, he told himself that the genuineness and value of his life's work would be increased by a marriage with Adela Waltham; he and she would represent the union of classes -- of the wage-earning with the bourgeois, between which two lay the real gist of the combat. He thought of this frequently, and allowed the thought to inspirit him.
To the question of whether Adela would ever find out what he had done, and, if so, with what result, he gave scarcely a moment. Marriages are not undone by subsequent discovery of moral faults on either side.
This is a tabular exposition of the man's consciousness. Logically, there should result from it a self-possessed state of mind, bordering on cynicism. But logic was not predominant in Mutimer's constitution. So far from contemplating treason with the calm intelligence which demands judgment on other grounds than the common, he was in reality possessed by a spirit of perturbation. Such reason as he could command bade him look up and view with scorn the ragged defenders of the forts; but whence came this hail of missiles which kept him so sore? Clearly there was some element of his nature which eluded grasp and definition, a misty influence making itself felt here and there. To none of the sources upon which I have touched was it clearly traceable; in truth, it arose from them all. The man had never in his life been guilty of offence against his graver conscience; he had the sensation of being about to plunge from firm footing into untried depths. His days were troubled; his appetite was not what it should have been; he could not take the old thorough interest in his work. It was becoming clear to him that the matter must be settled one way or another with brief delay.
One day at the end of September he received a letter addressed by Alice. On opening it he found, with much surprise, that the contents were in his mother's writing. It was so very rarely that Mrs. Mutimer took up that dangerous instrument, the pen, that something unusual must have led to her doing so at present. And, indeed, the letter contained unexpected matter. There were numerous errors of orthography, and the hand was not very legible; but Richard got at the sense quickly enough.
'I write this,' began Mrs. Mutimer, 'because it's a long time since you've been to see us, and because I want to say something that's better written than spoken. I saw Emma last night, and I'm feeling uncomfortable about her. She's getting very low, and that's the truth. Not as she says anything, nor shows it, but she's got a deal on her hands, and more on her mind. You haven't written to her for three weeks. You'll be saying it's no business of mine, but I can't stand by and see Emma putting up with things as there isn't no reason. Jane is in a very bad way, poor girl; I can't think she'll live long. Now, Dick, what I'm aiming at you'll see. I can't understand why you don't get married and done with it. Jane won't never be able to work again, and that Kate 'll never keep up a dressmaking. Why don't you marry Emma, and take poor Jane to live with you, where she could be well looked after? for she won't never part from her sister. And she does so hope and pray to see Emma married before she goes. You can't surely be waiting for her death. Now, there's a good lad of mine, come and marry your wife at once, and don't make delays. That's all, but I hope you'll think of it; and so, from your affectionate old mother,
Richard read the letter several times, and sat at home through the morning in despondency. It had got to the pass that he could not marry Emma; for all his suffering he no longer gave a glance in that direction. Not even if Adela Waltham refused him; to have a 'lady' for his wife was now an essential in his plans for the future, and he knew that the desired possession was purchasable for coin of the realm. No way of retreat any longer; movement must be forward, at whatever cost.
He let a day intervene, then replied to his mother's letter. He represented himself as worked to death and without a moment for his private concerns; it was out of the question for him to marry for a few weeks yet. He would write to Emma, and would send her all the money she could possibly need to supply the sick girl with comforts. She must keep up her courage, and be content to wait a short while longer. He was quite sure she did not complain; it was only his mother's fancy that she was m low spirits, except, of course, on Jane's account.
Another fortnight went by. Skies were lowering towards winter, and the sides of the valley showed bare patches amid the rich-hued death of leaves; ere long a night of storm would leave 'ruined choirs.' Richard was in truth working hard. He had just opened a course of lectures at a newly established Socialist branch in Belwick. The extent of his daily correspondence threatened to demand the services of a secretary in addition to the help already given by Rodman. Moreover, an event of importance was within view; the New Wanley Public Hall was completed, and its formal opening must be made an occasion of ceremony. In that ceremony Richard would be the central figure. He proposed to gather about him a representative company; not only would the Socialist leaders attend as a matter of course, invitations should also be sent to prominent men in the conventional lines of politics. A speech from a certain Radical statesman, who could probably be induced to attend, would command the attention of the press. For the sake of preliminary trumpetings in even so humble a journal as the 'Belwick Chronicle,' Mutimer put himself in communication with Mr. Keene. That gentleman was now a recognised visitor at the house in Highbury; there was frequent mention of him in a close correspondence kept up between Richard and his sister at this time. The letters which Alice received from Wanley were not imparted to the other members of the family; she herself studied them attentively, and with much apparent satisfaction.
For advice on certain details of the approaching celebration Richard had recourse to Mrs. Waltham. He found her at home one rainy morning. Adela, aware of his arrival, retreated to her little room upstairs. Mrs. Waltham had a slight cold; it kept her close by the fireside, and encouraged confidential talk.
'I have decided to invite about twenty people to lunch,' Richard said. 'Just the members of the committee and a few others. It'll be better than giving a dinner. Westlake's lecture will be over by four o'clock, and that allows people to get away in good time. The workmen's tea will be at half-past five.'
'You must have refreshments of some kind for casual comers,' counselled Mrs. Waltham.
'I've thought of that. Rodman suggests that we shall get the "Wheatsheaf" people to have joints and that kind of thing in the refreshment-room at the Hall from half-past twelve to half-past one. We could put up some notice to that effect in Agworth station.'
'Certainly, and inside the railway carriages.'
Mutimer's private line, which ran from the works to Agworth station, was to convey visitors to New Wanley on this occasion.
'I think I shall have three or four ladies,' Richard pursued 'Mrs. Westlake 'll be sure to come', and I think Mrs. Eddlestone -- the wife of the Trades Union man, you know. And I've been rather calculating on you, Mrs. Waltham; do you think you could ----?'
The lady's eyes were turned to the window, watching the sad steady rain.
'Really, you're making a downright Socialist of me, Mr. Mutimer,' she replied, with a laugh which betrayed a touch of sore throat. 'I'm half afraid to accept such an invitation. Shouldn't I be there on false pretences, don't you think?'
Richard mused; his legs were crossed, and he swayed his foot up and down.
'Well, no, I can't see that. But I tell you what would make it simpler: do you think Mr. Wyvern would come if I, asked him?'
'Ah, now, that would be capital! Oh, ask Mr. Wyvern by all means. Then, of course, I should be delighted to accept.'
'But I haven't much hope that he'll come. I rather think he regards me as his enemy. And, you see, I never go to church.'
'What a pity that is, Mr. Mutimer! Ah, if I could only persuade you to think differently about those things! There really are so many texts that read quite like Socialism; I was looking them over with Adela on Sunday. What a sad thing it is that you go so astray t It distresses me more than you think. Indeed, if I may tell you such a thing, I pray for you nightly.'
Mutimer made a movement of discomfort, but laughed off the subject.
'I'll go and see the vicar, at all events,' he said. 'But must your coming depend on his?'
Mrs. Waltham hesitated.
'It really would make things easier.'
'Might I, in that case, hope that Miss Waltham would come?'
Richard seemed to exert himself to ask the question. Mrs. Waltham sank her eyes, smiled feebly, and in the end shook her head.
'On a public occasion, I'm really afraid ----'
'I'm sure she would like to know Mrs. Westlake,' urged Richard, without his usual confidence. 'And if you and her brother ----'
'If it were not a Socialist gathering.'
Richard uncrossed his legs and sat for a moment looking into the fire. Then he turned suddenly.
'Mrs. Waltham, may I ask her myself?'
She was visibly agitated. There was this time no affectation in the tremulous lips and the troublous, unsteady eyes. Mrs. Waltham was not by nature the scheming mother who is indifferent to the upshot if she can once get her daughter loyally bound to a man of money. Adela's happiness was a very real care to her; she would never have opposed an unobjectionable union on which she found her daughter's heart bent, but circumstances had a second time made offer of brilliant advantages, and she had grown to deem it an ordinance of the higher powers that Adela should marry possessions. She flattered herself that her study of Mutimer's character had been profound; the necessity of making such a study excused, she thought, any little excess of familiarity in which she had indulged, for it had long been clear to her that Mutimer would some day make an offer. He lacked polish, it was true, but really he was more a gentleman than a great many whose right to the name was never contested. And then he had distinctly high aims: such a man could never be brutal in the privacy of his home. There was every chance of his achieving some kind of eminence; already she had suggested to him a Parliamentary career, and the idea had not seemed altogether distasteful. Adela herself was as yet far from regarding Mutimer in the light of a future husband; it was perhaps true that she even disliked him. But then a young girl's likes and dislikes have, as a rule, small bearing on her practical content in the married state; so, at least, Mrs. Waltham's experience led her to believe. Only, it was clear that there must be no precipitancy. Let the ground be thoroughly prepared.
'May I advise you, Mr. Mutimer?' she said, in a lowered voice, bending forward. 'Let me deliver the invitation. I think it would be better, really. We shall see whether you can persuade Mr. Wyvern to be present. I promise you to --- n fact, not to interpose any obstacle if Adela thinks she can be present at the lunch.'
'Then I'll leave it so,' said Richard, more cheerfully. Mrs. Waltham could see that his nerves were in a dancing state. Really, he had much fine feeling.
It being only midday, Richard directed his steps at once to the Vicarage, and had the good fortune to find Mr. Wyvern within.
'Be seated, Mr. Mutimer; I'm, glad to see you,' was the vicar's greeting.
Their mutual intercourse had as yet been limited to an exchange of courtesies in public, and one or two casual meetings at the Walthams' house. Richard had felt shy of the vicar, whom he perceived to be a clergyman of other than the weak-brained type, and the circumstances of the case would not allow Mr. Wyvern to make advances. The latter proceeded with friendliness of tone, speaking of the progress of New Wanley.
'That's what I've come to see you about,' said Richard, trying to put himself at ease by mentally comparing his own worldly estate with that of his interlocutor, yet failing as often as he felt the scrutiny of the vicar's dark-gleaming eye. 'We are going to open the Hall.' He added details. 'I shall have a number of friends who are interested in our undertaking to lunch with me on that day. I wish to ask if you will give us the pleasure of your company.'
Mr. Wyvern reflected for a moment.
'Why, no, sir,' he replied at length, using the Johnsonian phrase with grave courtesy. 'I'm afraid I cannot acknowledge your kindness as I should wish to. Personally, I would accept your hospitality with pleasure, but my position here, as I understand it, forbids me to join you on that particular occasion.'
'Then personally you are not hostile to me, Mr. Wyvern?'
'To you personally, by no means.'
'But you don't like the movement?'
'In so far as it has the good of men in view it interests me, and I respect its supporters.'
'But you think we go the wrong way to work?'
'That is my opinion, Mr. Mutimer.'
'What would you have us do?'
'To see faults is a much easier thing than to originate a sound scheme. I am far from prepared with any plan of social reconstruction.'
Nor could Mr. Wyvern be moved from the negative attitude, though Mutimer pressed him.
'Well, I'm sorry you won't come,' Richard said as he rose to take his leave. 'It didn't strike me that you would feel out of place.'
'Nor should I. But you will understand that my opportunities of being useful in the village depend on the existence of sympathetic feeling in my parishioners. It is my duty to avoid any behaviour which could be misinterpreted.'
'Then you deliberately adapt yourself to the prejudices of unintelligent people?'
'I do so, deliberately,' assented the vicar, with one of his fleeting smiles.
Richard went away feeling sorry that he had courted this rejection. He would never have thought of inviting a 'parson' but for Mrs. Waltham's suggestion. After all, it it mattered little whether Adela came to the luncheon or not. He had desired her presence because he wished her to see him as an entertainer of guests such as the Westlakes. whom she would perceive to be people of refinement; it occurred to him, too, that such an occasion might aid his snit by exciting her ambition; for he was anything but confident of immediate success with Adela, especially since recent conversations with Mrs. Waltham. But in any case she would attend the afternoon ceremony, when his glory would be proclaimed.
Mrs. Waltham was anxiously meditative of plans for bringing Adela to regard her Socialist wooer with more favourable eyes. She, too, had hopes that Mutimer's fame in the mouths of men might prove an attraction, yet she suspected a strength of principle in Adela which might well render all such hopes vain. And she thought it only too likely, though observation gave her no actual assurance of this, that the girl still thought of Hubert Eldon in a way to render it doubly hard for any other man to make an impression upon her. It was dangerous, she knew, to express her abhorrence of Hubert too persistently; yet, on the other hand, she was convinced that Adela had been so deeply shocked by the revelations of Hubert's wickedness that her moral nature would be in arms against her lingering inclination. After much mental wear and tear, she decided to adopt the strong course of asking Alfred's assistance. Alfred was sure to view the proposed match with hearty approval, and, though he might not have much influence directly, he could in all probability secure a potent ally in the person of Letty Tew. This was rather a brilliant idea; Mrs. Waltham waited impatiently for her son's return from Belwick on Saturday.
She broached the subject to him with much delicacy.
'I am so convinced, Alfred, that it would be for your sister's happiness. There really is no harm whatever in aiding her inexperience; that is all that I wish to do. I'm sure you understand me?'
'I understand well enough,' returned the young man; 'but if you convince Adela against her will you'll do a clever thing. You've been so remarkably successful in closing her mind against all arguments of reason ----'
'Now, Alfred, do not begin and talk in that way! It has nothing whatever to do with the matter. This is entirely a personal question.'
'Nothing of the kind. It's a question of religious prejudice. She hates Mutimer because he doesn't go to church, there's the long and short of it.'
'Adela very properly condemns his views, but that's quite a different thing from hating him.'
'Oh dear, no; they're one and the same thing. Look at the history of persecution. She would like to see him -- and me too, I dare say -- brought to the stake.'
'Well, well, of course if you won't talk sensibly I had something to propose.'
'Let me hear it, then.'
'You yourself agree with me that there would be nothing to repent in urging her.'
'On the contrary, I think she might consider herself precious lucky. It's only that' -- he looked dubious for a moment -- 'I'm not quite sure whether she's the kind of girl to be content with a husband she found she couldn't convert. I can imagine her marrying a rake on the hope of bringing him to regular churchgoing, but then Mutimer doesn't happen to be a blackguard, so he isn't very interesting to her.'
'I know what you're thinking of, but I don't think we need take that into account. And, indeed, we can't afford to take anything into account but her establishment in a respectable and happy home. Our choice, as you are aware, is not a wide one. I am often deeply anxious about the poor girl.'
'I dare say. Well, what was your proposal?'
'Do you think Letty could help us?'
'H'm, can't say. Might or might not. She's as bad as Adela. Ten to one it'll be a point of conscience with her to fight the project tooth and nail.'
'I don't think so. She has accepted you.'
'So she has, to my amazement. Women are monstrously illogical. She must think of my latter end with mixed feelings.'
'I do wish you were less flippant in dealing with grave subjects, Alfred. I assure you I am very much troubled. I feel that so much is at stake, and yet the responsibility of doing anything is so very great.'
'Shall I talk it over with Letty?'
'If you feel able to. But Adela would be very seriously offended if she guessed that you had done so.'
'Then she mustn't guess, that's all. I'll see what I can do to-night.'
In the home of the Tews there was some difficulty in securing privacy. The house was a small one, and the sacrifice of general convenience when Letty wanted a whole room for herself and Alfred was considerable. To-night it was managed, however; the front parlour was granted to the pair for one hour.
It could not be said that there was much delicacy in Alfred's way of approaching the subject he wished to speak of. This young man had a scorn of periphrases. If a topic had to be handled, why not be succinct in the handling? Alfred was of opinion that much time was lost by mortals in windy talk.
'Look here, Letty; what's your idea about Adela marrying Mutimer?'
The girl looked start]ed.
'She has not accepted him?'
'Not yet. Don't you think it would be a good thing if she did?'
'I really can't say,' Letty replied very gravely, her head aside. 'I don't think any one can judge but Adela herself. Really, Alfred, I don't think we ought to interfere.'
'But suppose I ask you to try and get her to see the affair sensibly?'
'Sensibly? What a word to use!'
'The right word, I think.'
'What a vexatious boy you are! You don't really think so at all. You only speak so because you like to tease me.'
'Well, you certainly do look pretty when you're defending the castles in the air. Give me a kiss.'
'Indeed, I shall not. Tell me seriously what you mean. What does Mrs. Waltham think about it?'
'Give me a kiss, and I'll tell you. If not, I'll go away and leave you to find out everything as best you can.'
'Oh, Alfred, you're a sad tyrant!'
'Of course I am. But it's a benevolent despotism. Well, mother wants Adela to accept him. In fact, she asked me if I didn't think you'd help us. Of course I said you would.'
'Then you were very hasty. I'm not joking now, Alfred. I think of Adela in a way you very likely can't understand. It would be shocking, oh! shocking, to try and make her marry him if she doesn't really wish to.'
'No fear! We shan't manage that.'
'And surely wouldn't wish to?'
'I don't know. Girls often can't see what's best for them. I say, you understand that all this is in confidence?'
'Of course I do. But it's a confidence I had rather not have received. I shall be miserable, I know that.'
'Then you're a little -- goose.'
'You were going to call me something far worse.'
'Give me credit, then, for correcting myself. You'll have to help us, Lettycoco.'
The girl kept silence. Then for a time the conversation became graver. It was interrupted precisely at the end of the granted hour.
Letty went to see her friend on Sunday afternoon, and the two shut themselves up in the dainty little chamber. Adela was in low spirits; with her a most unusual state. She sat with her hands crossed on her lap, and the sunny light of her eyes was dimmed. When she had tried for a while to talk of ordinary things, Letty saw a tear glisten upon her cheek.
'What is the matter, love?'
Adela was in sore need of telling her troubles, and Letty was the only one to whom she could do so. In such spirit-gentle words as could express the perplexities of her mind she told what a source of pain her mother's conversation had been to her of late, and how she dreaded what might still be to come.
'It is so dreadful to think, Letty, that mother is encouraging him. She thinks it is for my happiness; she is offended if I try to say what I suffer. Oh, I couldn't! I couldn't!'
She put her palms before her face; her maidenhood shamed to speak of these things even to her bosom friend.
'Can't you show him, darling, that -- that he mustn't hope anything?'
'How can I do so? It is impossible to be rude, and everything else it is so easy to misunderstand.'
'But when he really speaks, then it will come to an end.'
'I shall grieve mother so, Letty. I feel as if the best of my life had gone by. Everything seemed so smooth. Oh, why did he fall so, Letty? and I thought he cared for me, dear.'
She whispered it, her face on her friend's shoulder.
'Try to forget, darling; try!'
'Oh, as if I didn't try night and day! I know it is so wrong to give a thought. How could he speak to me as he did that day when I met him on the hill, and again when I went just to save him an annoyance? He was almost the same as before, only I thought him a little sad from his illness. He had no right to talk to me in that way! Oh, I feel wicked, that I can't forget; I hate myself for still -- for still ----'
There was a word Letty could not hear, only her listening heart divined it.
'Dear Adela! pray for strength, and it will be sure to come to you. How hard it is to know myself so happy when you have so much trouble!'
'I could have borne it better but for this new pain. I don't think I should ever have shown it; even you wouldn't have known all I felt, Letty. I should have hoped for him -- I don't mean hoped on my own account, but that he might know how wicked he had been. How -- how can a man do things so unworthy of himself, when it's so beautiful to be good and faithful? I think he did care a little for me once, Letty.'
'Don't let us talk of him, pet.'
'You are right; we mustn't. His name ought never to pass my lips, only in my prayers.'
She grew calmer, and they sat hand in hand.
'Try to make your mother understand,' advised Letty. 'Say that it is impossible you should ever accept him.'
'She won't believe that, I'm sure she won't. And to think that, even if I did it only to please her, people would believe I had married him because he is rich!'
Letty spoke with more emphasis than hitherto.
'But you cannot and must not do such a thing to please any one, Adela! It is wrong even to think of it. Nothing, nothing can justify that.'
How strong she was in the purity of her own love, good little Letty! So they talked together, and mingled their tears, and the room was made a sacred place as by the presence of sorrowing angels.
The New Wanley Lecture Hall had been publicly dedicated to the service of the New Wanley Commonwealth, and only in one respect did the day's proceedings fall short of Mutimer's expectations. He had hoped to have all the Waltham family at his luncheon party, but in the event Alfred alone felt himself able to accept the invitation. Mutimer had even nourished the hope that something might happen before that day to allow of Adela's appearing not merely in the character of a guest, but, as it were, ex officio. By this time he had resolutely forbidden his eyes to stray to the right hand or the left, and kept them directed with hungry, relentless steadiness straight along the path of his desires. He had received no second letter from his mother, nor had Alice anything to report of danger-signals at home; from Emma herself came a letter regularly once a week, a letter of perfect patience, chiefly concerned with her sister's health. He had made up his mind to declare nothing till the irretrievable step was taken, when reproaches only could befall him; to Alice as little as to any one else had he breathed of his purposes. And he could no longer even take into account the uncertainty of his success; to doubt of that would have been insufferable at the point which he had reached in self-abandonment. Yet day after day saw the postponement of the question which would decide his fate. Between him and Mrs. Waltham the language of allusion was at length put aside; he spoke plainly of his wishes, and sought her encouragement. This was not wanting, but the mother begged for time. Let the day of the ceremony come and go.
Richard passed through it in a state of exaltation and anxiety which bordered on fever. Mr. Westlake and his wife came down from London by an early train, and he went over New Wanley with them before luncheon. The luncheon itself did not lack festive vivacity; Richard, in surveying his guests from the head of the board, had feelings not unlike those wherein King Polycrates lulled himself of old; there wanted, in truth, one thing to complete his self-complacence, but an extra glass or two of wine enrubied his imagination, and he already saw Adela's face smiling to him from the table's unoccupied end. What was such conquest in comparison with that which fate had accorded him?
There was a satisfactory gathering to hear Mr. Westlake's address; Richard did not fail to note the presence of a few reporters, only it seemed to him that their pencils might have been more active. Here, too, was Adela at length; every time his name was uttered, perforce she heard; every encomium bestowed upon him by the various speakers was to him like a new bud on the tree of hope. After all, why should he feel this humility towards her? What man of prominence, of merit, at all like his own would ever seek her hand? The semblance of chivalry which occasionally stirred within him was, in fact, quite inconsistent with his reasoned view of things; the English working class has, on the whole, as little of that quality as any other people in an elementary stage of civilisation. He was a man, she a woman. A lady, to be sure, but then ----
After Mutimer, Alfred Waltham had probably more genuine satisfaction in the ceremony than any one else present. Mr. Westlake he was not quite satisfied with; there was a mildness and restraint about the style of the address which to Alfred's taste smacked of feebleness; he was for Cambyses' vein. Still it rejoiced him to hear the noble truths of democracy delivered as it were from the bema. To a certain order of intellect the word addressed by the living voice to an attentive assembly is always vastly impressive; when the word coincides with private sentiment it excites enthusiasm. Alfred hated the aristocratic order of things with a rabid hatred. In practice he could be as coarsely overbearing with his social inferiors as that scion of the nobility -- existing of course somewhere -- who bears the bell for feebleness of the pia mater; but that made him none the less a sound Radical. In thinking of the upper classes he always thought of Hubert Eldon, and that name was scarlet to him. Never trust the thoroughness of the man who is a revolutionist on abstract principles; personal feeling alone goes to the root of the matter.
Many were the gentlemen to whom Alfred had the happiness of being introduced in the course of the day. Among others was Mr. Keene the journalist. At the end of a lively conversation Mr. Keene brought out a copy of the 'Belwick Chronicle,' that day's issue.
'You'll find a few things of mine here,' he said. 'Put it in your pocket, and look at it afterwards. By-the-by, there is a paragraph marked; I meant it for Mutimer. Never mind, give it him when you've done with it.'
Alfred bestowed the paper in the breast pocket of his greatcoat, and did not happen to think of it again till late that evening. His discovery of it at length was not the only event of the day which came just too late for the happiness of one with whose fortunes we are concerned.
A little after dark, when the bell was ringing which summoned Mutimer's workpeople to the tea provided for them, Hubert Eldon was approaching the village by the road from Agworth: he was on foot, and had chosen his time in order to enter Wanley unnoticed. His former visit, when he was refused at the Walthams' door, had been paid at an impulse; he had come down from London by an early train, and did not even call to see his mother at her new house in Agworth. Nor did ho visit her on his way back; he walked straight to the railway station and took the first train townwards. To-day he came in a more leisurely way. It was certain news contained in a letter from his mother which brought him, and with her he spent some hours before starting to walk towards Wanley.
'I hear,' Mrs. Eldon had written, 'from Wanley something which really surprises me. They say that Adela Waltham is going to marry Mr. Mutimer. The match is surely a very strange one. I am only fearful that it is the making of interested people, and that the poor girl herself has not had much voice in deciding her own fate. Oh, this money! Adela was worthy of better things.'
Mrs. Eldon saw her son with surprise, the more so that she divined the cause of his coming. When they had talked for a while, Hubert frankly admitted what it was that had brought him.
'I must know,' he said, 'whether the news from Wanley is true'
'But can it concern you, Hubert?' his mother asked gently.
He made no direct reply, but expressed his intention of going over to Wanley.
'Whom shall you visit, dear?'
'The vicar? But you don't know him personally.'
'Yes, I know him pretty well. We write to each other occasionally.'
Mrs. Eldon always practised most reserve when her surprise was greatest -- an excellent rule, by-the-by, for general observation. She looked at her son with a half-smile of wonder, but only said 'Indeed?'
'I had made his acquaintance before his coming to Wanley,' Hubert explained.
His mother just bent her head, acquiescent. And with that their conversation on the subject ended. But Hubert received a tender kiss on his cheek when he set forth in the afternoon.
To one entering the valley after nightfall the situation of the much-discussed New Wanley could no longer be a source of doubt. Two blast-furnaces sent up their flare and lit luridly the devastated scene. Having glanced in that direction Hubert did his best to keep his eyes averted during the remainder of the walk. He was surprised to see a short passenger train rush by on the private line connecting the works with Agworth station; it was taking away certain visitors who had lingered in New Wanley after the lecture. Knowing nothing of the circumstances, he supposed that general traffic had been commenced. He avoided the village street, and reached the Vicarage by a path through fields.
He found the vicar at dinner, though it was only half-past six. The welcome he received was, in Mr. Wyvern's manner, almost silent; but when he had taken a place at the table he saw satisfaction on his host's face. The meal was very plain, but the vicar ate with extraordinary appetite; he was one of those men in whom the demands of the stomach seem to be in direct proportion to the activity of the brain. A question Hubert put about the train led to a brief account of what was going on. Mr. Wyvern spoke on the subject with a gravity which was not distinctly ironical, but suggested criticism.
They repaired to the study. A volume of Plato was open on the reading-table.
'Do you remember Socrates' prayer in the "Phædrus"?' said the vicar, bending affectionately over the page. He read a few words of the Greek, then gave a free rendering. 'Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward be at one. May I esteem the wise alone wealthy, and may I have such abundance of wealth as none but the temperate can carry.'
He paused a moment.
'Ah, when I came hither I hoped to find Pan undisturbed. Well, well, after all, Hephæstus was one of the gods.'
'How I envy you your quiet mind!' said Hubert.
'Quiet? Nay, not always so. Just now I am far from at peace. What brings you hither to-day?'
The equivoque was obviated by Mr. Wyvern's tone.
'I have heard stories about Adela Waltham. Is there any truth in them?'
'I fear so; I fear so.'
'That she is really going to marry Mr. Mutimer?'
He tried to speak the name without discourtesy, but his lips writhed after it.
'I fear she is going to marry him,' said the vicar deliberately.
Hubert held his peace.
'It troubles me. It angers me,' said Mr. Wyvern. 'I am angry with more than one.'
'Is there an engagement?'
'I am unable to say. Tattle generally gets ahead of fact.'
'It is monstrous!' burst from the young man. 'They are taking advantage of her innocence. She is a child. Why do they educate girls like that? I should say, how can they leave them so uneducated? In an ideal world it would be all very well, but see what comes of it here? She is walking with her eyes open into horrors and curses, and understands as little of what awaits her as a lamb led to butchery. Do you stand by and say nothing?'
'It surprises me that you are so affected,' remarked the vicar quietly.
'No doubt. I can't reason about it. But I know that my life will be hideous if this goes on to the end.'
'You are late.'
'Yes, I am late. I was in Wanley some weeks ago; I did not tell you of it. I called at their house; they were not at home to me. Yet Adela was sitting at the window. What did that mean? Is her mother so contemptible that my change of fortune leads her to treat me in that way?'
'But does no other reason occur to you?' asked Mr. Wyvern, with grave surprise.
'Other reason! What other?'
'You must remember that gossip is active.'
'You mean that they have heard abou ----?'
'Somehow it had become the common talk of the village very shortly after my arrival here.'
Hubert dropped his eyes in bewilderment.
'Then they think me unfit to associate with them? She -- Adela will look upon me as a vile creature! But it wasn't so when I saw her immediately after my illness. She talked freely and with just the same friendliness as before.'
'Probably she had heard nothing then.'
'And her mother only began to poison her mind when it was advantageous to do so?'
Hubert laughed bitterly.
'Well, there is an end of it,' he pursued. 'Yes, I was forgetting all that. Oh, it is quite intelligible; I don't blame them. By all means let her be preserved from contagion! Pooh! I don't know my own mind. Old fancies that I used to have somehow got hold of me again If I ever marry, it must be a woman of the world, a woman with brain and heart to judge human nature. It is gone, as if I had never had such a thought. Poor child, to be sure; but that's all one can say.'
His tone was. as far from petulance as could be. Hubert's emotions were never feebly coloured; his nature ran into extremes, and vehemence of scorn was in him the true voice of injured tenderness. Of humility he knew but little, least of all where his affections were concerned, but there was the ring of noble metal in his self-assertion. He would never consciously act or speak a falsehood, and was intolerant of the lies, petty or great, which conventionality and warped habits of thought encourage in those of weaker personality.
'Let us be just,' remarked Mr. Wyvern, his voice sounding rather sepulchral after the outburst of youthful passion. 'Mrs. Waltham's point of view is not inconceivable. I, as you know, am not altogether a man of formulas, but I am not sure that my behaviour would greatly differ from hers in her position; I mean as regards yourself.'
'Yes, yes; I admit the reasonableness of it,' said Hubert more calmly, 'granted that you have to deal with children. But Adela is too old to have no will or understanding. It may be she has both. After all she would scarcely allow herself to be forced into a detestable marriage. Very likely she takes her mother's practical views.'
'There is such a thing as blank indifference in a young girl who has suffered disappointment.'
'I could do nothing,' exclaimed Hubert. 'That she thinks of me at all, or has ever seriously done so, is the merest supposition. There was nothing binding between us. If she is false to herself, experience and suffering must teach her.'
The vicar mused.
'Then you go your way untroubled?' was his next question.
'If I am strong enough to overcome foolishness.'
'And if foolishness persists in asserting itself?'
Hubert kept gloomy silence.
'Thus much I can say to you of my own knowledge,' observed Mr. Wyvern with weight. 'Miss Waltham is not one to speak words lightly. You call her a child, and no doubt her view of the world is childlike; but she is strong in her simplicity. A pledge from her will, or I am much mistaken, bear no two meanings. Her marriage with Mr. Mutimer would be as little pleasing to me as to you, but I cannot see that I have any claim to interpose, or, indeed, power to do so. Is it not the same with yourself?'
'No, not quite the same.'
'Then you have hope that you might still affect her destiny?'
Hubert did not answer.
'Do you measure the responsibility you would incur? I fear not, if you have spoken sincerely. Your experience has not been of a kind to aid you in understanding her, and, I warn you, to make her subject to your caprices would be little short of a crime, whether now -- heed me -- or hereafter.'
'Perhaps it is too late,' murmured Hubert.
'That may well be, in more senses than one.'
'Can you not discover whether she is really engaged?'
'If that were the case, I think I should have heard of it.'
'If I were allowed to see her! So much at least should be granted me. I should not poison the air she breathes.'
'Do you return to Agworth to-night?' Mr. Wyvern inquired.
'Yes, I shall walk back.'
'Can you come to me again to-morrow evening?'
It was agreed that Hubert should do so. Mr. Wyvern gave no definite promise of aid, but the young man felt that he would do something.
'The night is fine,' said the vicar; 'I will walk half a mile with you.'
They left the Vicarage, and ten yards from the door turned into the path which would enable them to avoid the village street. Not two minutes after their quitting the main road the spot was passed by Adela herself, who was walking towards Mr. Wyvern's dwelling. On her inquiring for the vicar, she learnt from the servant that he had just left home. She hesitated, and seemed about to ask further questions or leave a message, but at length turned away from the door and retraced her steps slowly and with bent head.
She knew not whether to feel glad or sorry that the interview she had come to seek could not immediately take place. This day had been a hard one for Adela. In the morning her mother had spoken to her without disguise or affectation, and had told her of Mutimer's indirect proposal. Mrs. Waltham went on to assure her that there was no hurry, that Mutimer had consented to refrain from visits for a short time in order that she might take counsel with herself, and that -- the mother's voice trembled on the words -- absolute freedom was of course left her to accept or refuse. But Mrs. Waltham could not pause there, though she tried to. She went on to speak of the day's proceedings.
'Think what we may, my dear, of Mr. Mutimer's opinions, no one can deny that he is making a most unselfish use of his wealth. We shall have an opportunity to-day of hearing how it is regarded by those who -- who understand such questions.'
Adela implored to be allowed to remain at home instead of attending the lecture, but on this point Mrs. Waltham was inflexible. The girl could not offer resolute opposition in a matter which only involved an hour or two's endurance. She sat in pale silence. Then her mother broke into tears, bewailed herself as a luckless being, entreated her daughter's pardon, but in the end was perfectly ready to accept Adela's self-sacrifice.
On her return from New Wanley, Adela sat alone till tea-time, and after that meal again went to her room. She was not one of those girls to whom tears come as a matter of course on any occasion of annoyance or of grief; her bright eyes had seldom been dimmed since childhood, for the lightsomeness of her character threw off trifling troubles almost as soon as they were felt, and of graver afflictions she had hitherto known none since her father's death. But since the shock she received on that day when her mother revealed Hubert Eldon's unworthiness, her emotional life had suffered a slow change. Evil, previously known but as a dark mystery shadowing far-off regions, had become the constant preoccupation of her thoughts. Drawing analogies from the story of her faith, she imaged Hubert as the angel who fell from supreme purity to a terrible lordship of perdition. Of his sins she had the dimmest conception; she was told that they were sins of impurity, and her understanding of such could scarcely have been expressed save in the general language of her prayers. Guarded jealously at every moment of her life, the world had made no blur on the fair tablet of her mind; her Eden had suffered no invasion. She could only repeat to herself that her heart had gone dreadfully astray m its fondness, and that, whatsoever it cost her, the old hopes, the strength of which was only now proved, must be utterly uprooted. And knowing that, she wept.
Sin was too surely sorrow, though it neared her only in imagination. In a few weeks she seemed to have almost outgrown girlhood; her steps were measured, her smile was seldom and lacked mirth. The revelation would have done so much; the added and growing trouble of Mutimer's attentions threatened to sink her in melancholy. She would not allow it to be seen more than she could help; cheerful activity in the life of home was one of her moral duties, and she strove hard to sustain it. It was a relief to find herself alone each night, alone with her sickness of heart.
The repugnance aroused in her by the thought of becoming Mutimer's wife was rather instinctive than reasoned. From one point of view, indeed, she deemed it wrong, since it might be entirely the fruit of the love she was forbidden to cherish. Striving to read her conscience, which for years had been with her a daily task and was now become the anguish of every hour, she found it hard to establish valid reasons for steadfastly refusing a man who was her mother's choice. She read over the marriage service frequently. There stood the promise -- to love, to honour, and to obey. Honour and obedience she might render him, but what of love? The question arose, what did love mean? Could there be such a thing as love of an unworthy object? Was she not led astray by the spirit of perverseness which was her heritage?
Adela could not bring herself to believe that 'to love' in the sense of the marriage service and to 'be in love' as her heart understood it were one and the same thing. The Puritanism of her training led her to distrust profoundly those impulses of mere nature. And the circumstances of her own unhappy affection tended to confirm her in this way of thinking. Letty Tew certainly thought otherwise, but was not Letty's own heart too exclusively occupied by worldly considerations?
Yet it said 'love.' Perchance that was something which would come after marriage; the promise, observe, concerned the future. But she was not merely indifferent; she shrank from Mutimer.
She returned home from the lecture to-day full of dread -- dread more active than she had yet known. And it drove her to a step she had timidly contemplated for more than a week. She stole from the house, bent on seeing Mr. Wyvern. She could not confess to him, but she could speak of the conflict between her mother's will and her own, and beg his advice; perhaps, if he appeared favourable, ask him to intercede with her mother. She had liked Mr. Wyvern from the first meeting with him, and a sense of trust had been nourished by each succeeding conversation. In her agitation she thought it would not be hard to tell him so much of the circumstances as would enable him to judge and counsel.
Yet it was with relief, on the whole, that she turned homewards with her object unattained. It would be much better to wait and test herself yet further. Why should she not speak with her mother about that vow she was asked to make?
She did not seek solitude again, but joined her mother and Alfred in the sitting-room. Mrs. Waltham made no inquiry about the short absence. Alfred had only just called to mind the newspaper which Mr. Keene had given him; and was unfolding it for perusal. His eye caught a marked paragraph, one of a number under the heading 'Gossip from Town.' As he read it he uttered a 'Hullo!' of surprise.
'Well, here's the latest,' he continued, looking at his companions with an amused eye. 'Something about that fellow Eldon in a Belwick newspaper. What do you think?'
Adela kept still and mute.
'Whatever it is, it cannot interest us, Alfred,' said Mrs. Waltham, with dignity. 'We had rather not hear it.'
'Well, you shall read it for yourself,' replied Alfred on a second thought. 'I think you'd like to know.'
His mother took the paper under protest, and glanced down at the paragraph carelessly. But speedily her attention became closer.
'An item of intelligence,' wrote the London gossiper, 'which I dare say will interest readers in certain parts of --shire. A lady of French extraction who made a name for herself at a leading metropolitan theatre last winter, and who really promises great things in the Thespian art, is back among us from a sojourn on the Continent. She is understood to have spent much labour in the study of a new part, which she is about to introduce to us of the modern Babylon. But Albion, it is whispered, possesses other attractions for her besides appreciative audiences. In brief, though she will of course appear under the old name, she will in reality have changed it for one of another nationality before presenting herself in the radiance of the footlights. The happy man is Mr. Hubert Eldon, late of Wanley Manor. We felicitate Mr. Eldon.'
Mrs. Waltham's hands trembled as she doubled the sheet: there was a gleam of pleasure on her face.
'Give me the paper when you have done with it,' she said.
Alfred laughed, and whistled a tune as he continued the perusal of Mr. Keene's political and social intelligence, on the whole as trustworthy as the style in which it was written was terse and elegant. Adela, finding she could feign indifference no longer, went from the room.
'Where did you get this?' Mrs. Waltham asked with eagerness as soon as the girl was gone.
'From the writer himself,' Alfred replied, visibly proud of his intimacy with a man of letters. 'Fellow called Keene. Had a long talk with him.'
'Oh, no. I've only just come across it. But he said he'd marked something for Mutimer. I'm to pass the paper on to him.'
'I suppose this is the same woman ----?'
'You think it's true?'
'True? Why, of course it is. A newspaper with a reputation to support can't go printing people's names at haphazard. Keene's very thick with all the London actors. He told me some first-class stories about ----'
'Never mind,' interposed his mother. 'Well, to think it should come to this! I'm sure I feel for poor Mrs. Eldon. Really there is no end to her misfortunes.'
'Just how such families always end up,' observed Alfred complacently. 'No doubt he'll drink himself to death, or something of that kind, and then we shall have the pleasure of seeing a new tablet in the church, inscribed with manifold virtues; or even a stained-glass window: the last of the Eldons deserves something noteworthy.'
'I think it's hardly a subject for joking, Alfred. It is very, very sad. And to think what a fine handsome boy he used to be! But he was always dreadfully self-willed.'
'He was always an impertinent puppy! How he'll play the swell on his wife's earnings! Oh, our glorious aristocracy!'
Mrs. Waltham went early to her daughter's room. Adela was sitting with her Bible before her -- had sat so since coming upstairs, yet had not read three consecutive verses. Her face showed no effect of tears, for the heat of a consuming suspense had dried the fountains of woe.
'I don't like to occupy your mind with such things, my dear,' began her mother, 'but perhaps as a warning I ought to show you the news Alfred spoke of. It pleases Providence that there should be evil in the world, and for our own safety we must sometimes look it in the face, especially we poor women, Adela. Will you read that?'
Adela read. She could not criticise the style, but it affected her as something unclean; Hubert's very name suffered degradation when used in such a way. Prepared for worse things than that which she saw, no shock of feelings was manifest in her. She returned the paper without speaking.
'I wanted you to see that my behaviour to Mr. Eldon was not unjustified,' said her mother. 'You don't blame me any longer, dear?'
'I have never blamed you, mother.'
'It is a sad, sad end to what might have been a life of usefulness and honour. I have thought so often of the parable of the talents; only I fear this case is worse. His poor mother! I wonder if I could write to her! Yet I hardly know how to.'
'Is this a -- a wicked woman, mother?' Adela asked falteringly.
Mrs. Waltham shook her head and sighed.
'My love, don't you see that she is an actress?'
'But if all actresses are wicked, how is it that really good people go to the theatre?'
'I am afraid they oughtn't to. The best of us are tempted into thoughtless pleasure. But now I don't want you to brood over things which it is a sad necessity to have to glance at. Read your chapter, darling, and get to bed.'
To bed --but not to sleep. The child's imagination was aflame. This scarlet woman, this meteor from hell flashing before the delighted eyes of men, she, then, had bound Hubert for ever in her toils; no release for him now, no ransom to eternity. No instant's doubt of the news came to Adela; in her eyes imprimatur was the guarantee of truth. She strove to picture the face which had drawn Hubert to his doom. It must be lovely beyond compare. For the first time in her life she knew the agonies of jealousy.
She could not shed tears, but in her anguish she fell upon prayer, spoke the words above her breath that they might silence that terrible voice within. Poor lost lamb, crying in the darkness, sending forth such piteous utterance as might create a spirit of love to hear and rescue.
Rescue -- none. When the fire wasted itself, she tried to find solace in the thought that one source of misery was stopped. Hubert was married, or would be very soon, and if she had sinned in loving him till now, such sin would henceforth be multiplied incalculably; she durst not, as she valued her soul, so much as let his name enter her thoughts. And to guard against it, was there not a means offered her? The doubt as to what love meant was well-nigh solved; or at all events she held it proved that the 'love' of the marriage service was something she had never yet felt, something which would follow upon marriage itself. Earthly love had surely led Hubert Eldon to ruin; oh, not that could be demanded of her! What reason had she now to offer against her mother's desire? Letty's arguments were vain; they were but as the undisciplined motions of her own heart. Marriage with a worthy man must often have been salvation to a rudderless life; for was it not the ceremony which, after all, constituted the exclusive sanction?
Mutimer, it was true, fell sadly short of her ideal of goodness. He was an unbeliever. But might not this very circumstance involve a duty? As his wife, could she not plead with him and bring him to the truth? Would not that be loving him, to make his spiritual good the end of her existence? It was as though a great light shot athwart her darkness. She raised herself in bed, and, as if with her very hands, clung to the inspiration which had been granted her. The light was not abiding, but something of radiance lingered, and that must stead her.
Her brother returned to Belwick next morning after an early breakfast. He was in his wonted high spirits, and talked with much satisfaction of the acquaintances he had made on the previous day, while Adela waited upon him. Mrs. Waltham only appeared as he was setting off.
Adela sat almost in silence whilst her mother breakfasted.
'You don't look well, dear?' said the latter, coming to the little room upstairs soon after the meal.
'Yes, I am well, mother. But I want to speak to you.'
Mrs. Waltham seated herself in expectation.
'Will you tell me why you so much wish me to marry Mr. Mutimer?'
Adela's tone was quite other than she had hitherto used in conversations of this kind. It was submissive, patiently questioning.
'You mustn't misunderstand me,' replied the mother with some nervousness. 'The wish, dear, must of course be yours as well. You know that I --that I really have left you to consult your own ----'
The sentence was unfinished.
'But you have tried to persuade me, mother dear,' pursued the gentle voice. 'You would not do so if you did not think it for my good.'
Something shot painfully through Mrs. Waltham's heart.
'I am sure I have thought so, Adela; really I have thought so. I know there are objections, but no marriage is in every way perfect. I feel so sure of his character -- I mean of his character in a worldly sense. And you might do so much to -- to show him the true way, might you not, darling? I'm sure his heart is good.'
Mrs. Waltham also was speaking with less confidence than on former occasions. She cast side glances at her daughter's colourless face.
'Mother, may I marry without feeling that -- that I love him?'
The face was flushed now for a moment. Adela had never spoken that word to anyone; even to Letty she had scarcely murmured it. The effect upon her of hearing it from her own lips was mysterious, awful; the sound did not die with her voice, but trembled in subtle harmonies along the chords of her being.
Her mother took the shaken form and drew it to her bosom.
'If he is your husband, darling, you will find that love grows. It is always so. Have no fear. On his side there is not only love; he respects you deeply; he has told me so.'
'And you encourage me to accept him, mother? It is your desire? I am your child, and you can wish nothing that is not for my good. Guide me, mother. It is so hard to judge for myself. You shall decide for me, indeed you shall.'
The mother's heart was wrung. For a moment she strove to speak the very truth, to utter a word about that love which Adela was resolutely excluding. But the temptation to accept this unhoped surrender proved too strong. She sobbed her answer.
'Yes, I do wish it, Adela. You will find that I --that I was not wrong.'
'Then if he asks me, I will marry him.'
As those words were spoken Mutimer issued from the Manor gates, uncertain whether to go his usual way down to the works or to pay a visit to Mrs. Waltham. The latter purpose prevailed.
The evening before, Mr. Willis Rodman had called at the Manor shortly after dinner. He found Mutimer smoking, with coffee at his side, and was speedily making himself comfortable in the same way. Then he drew a newspaper from his pocket. 'Have you seen the "Belwick Chronicle" of to-day?' he inquired.
'Why the deuce should I read such a paper?' exclaimed Richard, with good-humoured surprise. He was in excellent spirits to-night, the excitement of the day having swept his mind clear of anxieties.
'There's something in it, though, that you ought to see.'
He pointed out the paragraph relating to Eldon.
'Keene's writing, eh?' said Mutimer thoughtfully.
'Yes, he gave me the paper.'
Richard rekindled his cigar with deliberation, and stood for a few moments with one foot on the fender.
'Who is the woman?' he then asked.
'I don't know her name. Of course it's the same story continued.'
'Well, I don't know about that,' said the other, smiling and shaking his head.
'This may or may not be true, I suppose,' was Richard's next remark.
'Oh, I suppose the man hears all that kind of thing. I don't see any reason to doubt it.'
'May I keep the paper?'
'Oh, yes. Keene told me, by-the-by, that he gave a copy to young Waltham.'
Mr. Rodman spoke whilst rolling the cigar in his mouth. Mutimer allowed the subject to lapse.
There was no impossibility, no improbability even, in the statement made by the newspaper correspondent; yet as Richard thought it over in the night, he could not but regard it as singular that Mr. Keene should be the man to make public such a piece of information so very opportunely. He was far from having admitted the man to his confidence, but between Keene and Rodman, as he was aware, an intimacy had sprung up. It might be that one or the other had thought it worth while to serve him; why should Keene be particular to put a copy of the paper into Alfred Waltham's hands? Well, he personally knew nothing of the affair. If the news effected anything, so much the better. He hoped it might be trustworthy.
Among his correspondence in the morning was a letter from Emma Vine. He opened it last; anyone observing him would have seen with what reluctance he began to read it.
'My dear Richard,' it ran, 'I write to thank you for the money. I would very much rather have had a letter from you, however short a one. It seems long since you wrote a real letter, and I can't think how long since I have seen you. But I know how full of business you are, dear, and I'm sure you would never come to London without telling me, because if you hadn't time to come here, I should be only too glad to go to Highbury, if only for one word. We have got some mourning dresses to make for the servants of a lady in Islington, so that is good news. But poor Jane is very bad indeed. She suffers a great deal of pain, and most of all at night, so that she scarcely ever gets more than half-an-hour of sleep at a time, if that. What makes it worse, dear Richard, is that she is so very unhappy. Sometimes she cries nearly through the whole night. I try my best to keep her up, but I'm afraid her weakness has much to do with it. But Kate is very well, I am glad to say, and the children are very well too. Bertie is beginning to learn to read. He often says he would like to see you. Thank you, dearest, for the money and all your kindness, and believe that I shall think of you every minute with much love. From yours ever and ever,
It would be cruel to reproduce Emma's errors of spelling. Richard had sometimes noted a bad instance with annoyance, but it was not that which made him hurry to the end this morning with lowered brows. When he had finished the letter he crumbled it up and threw it into the fire. It was not heartlessness that made him do so: he dreaded to have these letters brought before his eyes a second time.
He was also throwing the envelope aside, when he discovered that it contained yet another slip of paper. The writing on this was not Emma's: the letters were cramped and not easy to decipher.
'Dear Richard, come to London and see me. I want to speak to you, I must speak to you. I can't have very long to live, and I must, must see you.
This too he threw into the fire. His lips were hard set, his eyes wide. And almost immediately he prepared to leave the house.
It was early, but he felt that he must go to the Walthams'. He had promised Mrs. Waltham to refrain from visiting the house for a week, but that promise it was impossible to keep. Jane's words were ringing in his ears: he seemed to hear her very voice calling and beseeching. So far from changing his purpose, it impelled him in the course he had chosen. There must and should be an end of this suspense.
Mrs. Waltham had just come downstairs from her conversation with Adela, when she saw Mutimer approaching the door. She admitted him herself. Surely Providence was on her side; she felt almost young in her satisfaction.
Richard remained in the house about twenty minutes. Then he walked down to the works as usual.
Shortly after his departure another visitor presented himself. This was Mr. Wyvern. The vicar's walk in Hubert's company the evening before had extended itself from point to point, till the two reached Agworth together. Mr. Wyvern was addicted to night-rambling, and he often covered considerable stretches of country in the hours when other mortals slept. To-night he was in the mood for such exercise; it worked off unwholesome accumulations of thought and feeling, and good counsel often came to him in what the Greeks called the kindly time. He did not hurry on his way back to Wanley, for just at present he was much in need of calm reflection.
On his arrival at the Vicarage about eleven o'clock the servant informed him of Miss Waltham's having called. Mr. Wyvern heard this with pleasure. He thought at first of writing a note to Adela, begging her to come to the Vicarage again, but by the morning he had decided to be himself the visitor.
He gathered at once from Mrs. Waltham's face that events of some agitating kind were in progress. She did not keep him long in uncertainty. Upon his asking if he might speak a few words with Adela, Mrs. Waltham examined him curiously.
'I am afraid,' she said, 'that I must ask you to excuse her this morning, Mr. Wyvern. She is not quite prepared to see anyone at present. In fact,' she lowered her voice and smiled very graciously, 'she has just had an -- an agitating interview with Mr. Mutimer -- she has consented to be his wife.'
'In that case I cannot of course trouble her,' the vicar replied, with gravity which to Mrs. Waltham appeared excessive, rather adapted to news of a death than of a betrothal. The dark searching eyes, too, made her feel uncomfortable. And he did not utter a syllable of the politeness expected on these occasions.
'What a very shocking thing about Mr. Eldon!' the lady pursued. 'You have heard?'
'Shocking? Pray, what has happened?'
Hubert had left him in some depression the night before, and for a moment Mr. Wyvern dreaded lest some fatality had become known in Wanley.
'Ah, you have not heard? It is in this newspaper.'
The vicar examined the column indicated.
'But,' he exclaimed, with subdued indignation, 'this is the merest falsehood!'
'A falsehood! Are you sure of that, Mr. Wyvern?'
'Perfectly sure. There is no foundation for it whatsoever.'
'You don't say so! I am very glad to hear that, for poor Mrs. Eldon's sake.'
'Could you lend me this newspaper for to-day?'
'With pleasure. Really you relieve me, Mr. Wyvern. I had no means of inquiring into the story, of course. But how disgraceful that such a thing should appear in print!'
'I am sorry to say, Mrs. Waltham, that the majority of things which appear in print nowadays are more or less disgraceful. However, this may claim prominence, in its way.'
'And I may safely contradict it? It will be such a happiness to do so.'
'Contradict it by all means, madam. You may cite me as your authority.'
The vicar crushed the sheet into his pocket and strode homewards.
In the church of the Insurgents there are many orders. To rise to the supreme passion of revolt, two conditions are indispensable: to possess the heart of a poet, and to be subdued by poverty to the yoke of ignoble labour. But many who fall short of the priesthood have yet a share of the true spirit, bestowed upon them by circumstances of birth and education, developed here and there by the experience of life, yet rigidly limited in the upshot by the control of material ease, the fatal lordship of the comfortable commonplace. Of such was Hubert Eldon. In him, despite his birth and breeding, there came to the surface a rich vein of independence, obscurely traceable, no doubt, in the characters of certain of his ancestors, appearing at length where nineteenth-century influences had thinned the detritus of convention and class prejudice. His nature abounded in contradictions, and as yet self-study -- in itself the note of a mind striving for emancipation -- had done little for him beyond making clear the manifold difficulties strewn in his path of progress.
You know already that it was no vulgar instinct of sensuality which had made severance between him and the respectable traditions of his family. Observant friends naturally cast him in the category of young men whom the prospect of a fortune seduces to a life of riot; his mother had no means of forming a more accurate judgment. Mr. Wyvern alone had seen beneath the surface, aided by a liberal study of the world, and no doubt also by that personal sympathy which is so important an ally of charity and truth. Mr. Wyvern's early life had not been in smooth waters; in him too revolt was native, tempered also by spiritual influences of the most opposite kind. He felt a deep interest in the young man, and desired to keep him in view. It was the first promise of friendship that had been held out to Hubert, who already suffered from a sense of isolation, and was wondering in what class of society he would have to look for his kith and kin. Since boyhood he had drawn apart to a great extent from the companionships which most readily offered. The turn taken by the circumstances of his family affected the pride which was one of his strongest characteristics; his house had fallen, and it seemed to him that a good deal of pity, if not of contempt, mingled with his reception by the more fortunate of his own standing. He had never overcome a natural hostility to old Mr. Mutimer: the bourgeois virtues of the worthy ironmaster rather irritated than attracted him, and he suffered intensely in the thought that his mother brought herself to close friendship with one so much her inferior just for the sake of her son's future. In this matter he judged with tolerable accuracy. Mrs. Eldon, finding in the old man a certain unexpected refinement over and above his goodness of heart, consciously or unconsciously encouraged herself in idealising him, that the way of interest might approach as nearly as might be to that of honour. Hubert, with no understanding for the craggy facts of life, inwardly rebelled against the whole situation. He felt that it laid him open to ridicule, the mere suspicion of which always stung him to the quick. When, therefore, he declared to his mother, in the painful interview on his return to Wanley, that it was almost a relief to him to have lost the inheritance, he spoke with perfect truth. Amid the tempest which had fallen on his life there rose in that moment the semblance of a star of hope. The hateful conditions which had weighed upon his future being finally cast off, might he not look forward to some nobler activity than had hitherto seemed possible? Was he not being saved from his meaner self, that part of his nature which tended to conventional ideals, which was subject to empty pride and ignoble apprehensions? Had he gone through the storm without companion, hope might have overcome every weakness, but sympathy with his mother's deep distress troubled his self-control. At her feet he yielded to the emotions of childhood, and his misery increased until bodily suffering brought him the relief of unconsciousness.
To his mother perhaps he owed that strain of idealism which gave his character its significance. In Mrs. Eldon it affected only the inner life; in Hubert spiritual strivings naturally sought the outlet of action. That his emancipation should declare itself in some exaggerated way was quite to be expected: impatience of futilities and insincerities made common cause with the fiery spirit of youth and spurred him into reckless pursuit of that abiding rapture which is the dream and the despair of the earth's purest souls. The pistol bullet checked his course, happily at the right moment. He had gone far enough for experience and not too far for self-recovery. The wise man in looking back upon his endeavours regrets nothing of which that can be said.
By the side of a passion such as that which had opened Hubert's intellectual manhood, the mild, progressive attachments sanctioned by society show so colourless as to suggest illusion. Thinking of Adela Waltham as he lay recovering from his illness, he found it difficult to distinguish between the feelings associated with her name and those which he had owed to other maidens of the same type. A week or two at Wanley generally resulted in a conviction that he was in love with Adela; and had Adela been entirely subject to her mother's influences, had she fallen but a little short of the innocence and delicacy which were her own, whether for happiness or the reverse, she would doubtless have been pledged to Hubert long ere this. The merest accident had in truth prevented it. At home for Christmas, the young man had made up his mind to speak and claim her: he postponed doing so till he should have returned from a visit to a college friend in the same county. His friend had a sister, five or six years older than Adela, and of a warmer type of beauty, with the finished graces of the town. Hubert found himself once more without guidance, and so left Wanley behind him, journeying to an unknown land.
Hubert could not remember a time when he had not been in love. The objects of his devotion had succeeded each other rapidly, but each in her turn was the perfect woman. His imagination cast a halo about a beautiful head, and hastened to see in its possessor all the poetry of character which he aspired to worship. In his loves, as in every other circumstance of life, he would have nothing of compromise; for him the world contained nothing but his passion, and existence had no other end. Between that past and this present more intervened than Hubert could yet appreciate; but he judged the change in himself by the light in which that early love appeared to him. Those were the restless ardours of boyhood: he could not henceforth trifle so with solemn meanings. The ideal was harder of discovery than he had thought; perhaps it was not to be found in the world at all. But what less perfect could henceforth touch his heart?
Yet throughout his convalescence he thought often of Adela, perhaps because she was so near, and because she doubtless often thought of him. His unexpected meeting with her on Stanbury Hill affected him strangely: the world was new to his eyes, and the girl's face seemed to share in the renewal; it was not quite the same face that he had held in memory, but had a fresh significance. He read in her looks more than formerly he had been able to see. This impression was strengthened by his interview with her on the following day. Had she too grown much older in a few months?
After spending a fortnight with his mother at Agworth, he went to London, and for a time thought as little of Adela as of any other woman. New interests claimed him, interests purely intellectual, the stronger that his mind seemed just aroused from a long sleep. He threw himself into various studies with more zeal than he had hitherto devoted to such interests; not that he had as yet any definite projects, but solely because it was his nature to be in pursuit of some excellence and to scorn mere acquiescence in a life of every-day colour. He lived all but in loneliness, and when the change had had time to work upon him his thoughts began to revert to Adela, to her alone of those who stood on the other side of the gulf. She came before his eyes as a vision of purity; it was soothing to picture her face and to think of her walking in the spring meadows. He thought of her as of a white rose, dew-besprent, and gently swayed by the sweet air of a sunny morning; a white rose newly spread, its heart virgin from the hands of shaping Nature. He could not decide what quality, what absence of thought, made Adela so distinct to him. Was it perhaps the exquisite delicacy apparent in all she did or said? Even the most reverent thought seemed gross in touching her; the mind flitted round about her, kept from contact by a supreme modesty, which she alone could inspire If her head were painted, it must be against the tenderest eastern sky; all associations with her were of the morning, when heatless rays strike level across the moist earth, of simple devoutness which renders thanks for the blessing of a new day, of mercy robed like the zenith at dawn.
His study just now was of the early Italians, in art and literature. There was more of Adela than he perceived in the impulse which guided him in that direction. When he came to read the 'Vita Nuova,' it was of Adela expressly that he thought. The poet's passion of worship entered his heart; transferring his present feeling to his earlier self, he grew to regard his recent madness as a lapse from the true love of his life. He persuaded himself that he had loved Adela in a far more serious way than any of the others who from time to time had been her rivals, and that the love was now returning to him, strengthened and exalted. He began to write sonnets in Dante's manner, striving to body forth in words the new piety which illumined his life. Whereas love had been to him of late a glorification of the senses, he now cleansed himself from what he deemed impurity and adored in mere ecstasy of the spirit. Adela soon became rather a symbol than a living woman; he identified her with the ends to which his life darkly aspired, and all but convinced himself that memory and imagination would henceforth suffice to him.
In the autumn he went down to Agworth, and spent a few days with his mother. The temptation to walk over to Wanley and call upon the Walthams proved too strong to be resisted. His rejection at their door was rather a shock than a surprise; it had never occurred to him that the old friendly relations had been in any way disturbed; he explained Mrs. Waltham's behaviour by supposing that his silence had offended her, and perhaps his failure to take leave of her before quitting Wanley. Possibly she thought he had dealt lightly with Adela. Offence on purely moral grounds did not even suggest itself.
He returned to London anxious and unhappy. The glimpse of Adela sitting at the window had brought him back to reality; after all it was no abstraction that had become the constant companion of his solitude; his love was far more real for that moment's vision of the golden head, and had a very real power of afflicting him with melancholy. He faltered in his studies, and once again had lost the motive to exertion. Then came the letter from his mother, telling of Adela's rumoured engagement. It caused him to set forth almost immediately.
The alternation of moods exhibited in his conversation with Mr. Wyvern continued to agitate him during the night. Now it seemed impossible to approach Adela in any way; now he was prepared to defy every consideration in order to save her and secure his own happiness. Then, after dwelling for awhile on the difficulties of his position, he tried to convince himself that once again he had been led astray after beauty and goodness which existed only in his imagination, that in losing Adela he only dismissed one more illusion. Such comfort was unsubstantial; he was, in truth, consumed in wretchedness at the thought that she once might easily have been his, and that he had passed her by. What matter whether we love a reality or a dream, if the love drive us to frenzy? Yet how could he renew his relations with her? Even if no actual engagement bound her, she must be prejudiced against him by stories which would make it seem an insult if he addressed her. And if the engagement really existed, what shadow of excuse had he for troubling her with his love?
When he entered his mother's room in the morning, Mrs. Eldon took a small volume from the table at her side.
'I found this a few weeks ago among the books you left with me,' she said. 'How long have you had it, Hubert?'
It was a copy of the 'Christian Year,' and writing on the fly-leaf showed that it belonged, or had once belonged, to Adela Waltham.
Hubert regarded it with surprise.
'It was lent to me a year ago,' he said. 'I took it away with me. I had forgotten that I had it.'
The circumstances under which it had been lent to him came back very clearly now. It was after that visit to his friend which had come so unhappily between him and Adela. When he went to bid her good-bye he found her alone, and she was reading this book. She spoke of it, and, in surprise that he had never read it, begged him to take it to Oxford.
'I have another copy,' Adela said. 'You can return that any time.'
The time had only now come. Hubert resolved to take the book to Wanley in the evening; if no other means offered, Mr. Wyvern would return it to the owner. Might he enclose a note? Instead of that, he wrote out from memory two of his own sonnets, the best of those he had recently composed under the influence of the 'Vita Nuova,' and shut them between the pages. Then he made the book into a parcel and addressed it.
He started for his walk at the same hour as on the evening before. There was frost in the air, and already the stars were bright. As he drew near to Wanley, the road was deserted; his footfall was loud on the hard earth. The moon began to show her face over the dark top of Stanbury Hill, and presently he saw by the clear rays that the figure of a woman was a few yards ahead of him; he was overtaking her. As he drew near to her, she turned her head. He knew her at once, for it was Letty Tew. He had been used to meet Letty often at the Walthams'.
Evidently he was himself recognised; the girl swerved a little, as if to let him pass, and kept her head bent. He obeyed an impulse and spoke to her.
'I am afraid you have forgotten me, Miss Tew. Yet I don't like to pass you without saying a word.'
'I thought it was -- the light makes it difficult ----' Letty murmured, sadly embarrassed.
'But the moon is beautiful.'
They regarded it together. Letty could not help glancing at her companion, and as he did not turn his face she examined him for a moment or two.
'I am going to see my friend Mr. Wyvern,' Hubert proceeded.
A few more remarks of the kind were exchanged, Letty by degrees summoning a cold confidence; then Hubert said --
'I have here a book which belongs to Miss Waltham. She lent it to me a year ago, and I wish to return it. Dare I ask you to put it into her hands?'
Letty knew what the book must be. Adela had told her of it at the time, and since had spoken of it once or twice.
'Oh, yes, I will give it her,' she replied, rather nervously again.
'Will you say that I would gladly have thanked her myself, if it had been possible?'
'Yes, Mr. Eldon, I will say that.'
Something in Hubert's voice seemed to cause Letty to raise her eyes again.
'You wish me to thank her?' she added; inconsequently perhaps, but with a certain significance.
'If you will be so kind.'
Hubert wanted to say more, but found it difficult to discover the right words. Letty, too, tried to shadow forth something that was in her mind, but with no better success.
'If I remember,' Hubert said, pausing in his walk, 'this stile will be my shortest way across to the Vicarage. Thank you much for your kindness.'
He had raised his hat and was turning, but Letty impulsively put forth her hand. 'Good-bye,' he said, in a friendly voice, as he took the little fingers. 'I wish the old days were back again, and we were going to have tea together as we used to.'
Mr. Wyvern's face gave no promise of cheerful intelligence as he welcomed his visitor.
'What is the origin of this, I wonder?' he said, handing Hubert the 'Belwick Chronicle.'
The state of the young man's nerves was not well adapted to sustain fresh irritation. He turned pale with anger.
'Is this going the round of Wanley?'
'Probably. I had it from Mrs. Waltham.'
'Did you contradict it?'
'As emphatically as I could.'
'I will see the man who edits this to-morrow,' cried Hubert hotly. 'But perhaps he is too great a blackguard to talk with.'
'It purports to come, you see, from a London correspondent. But I suppose the source is nearer.'
'You mean -- you think that man Mutimer has originated it?'
'I scarcely think that.'
'Yet it is more than likely. I will go to the Manor at once. At least he shall give me yes or no.'
He had started to his feet, but the vicar laid a hand on his shoulder.
'I'm afraid you can't do that.'
'Consider. You have no kind of right to charge him with such a thing. And there is another reason: he proposed to Miss Waltham this morning, and she accepted him.'
'This morning? And this paper is yesterday's. Why, it makes it more likely than ever. How did they get the paper? Doubtless he sent it them. If she has accepted him this very day ----'
The repetition of the words seemed to force their meaning upon him through his anger. His voice failed.
'You tell me that Adela Waltham has engaged herself to that man?'
'Her mother told me, only a few minutes after it occurred.'
'Then it was this that led her to consent.'
'Surely that is presupposing too much, my dear Eldon,' said the vicar gently.
'No, not more than I know to be true. I could not say that to anyone but you; you must understand me. The girl is being cheated into marrying that fellow. Of her own free will she could not do it. This is one of numberless lies. You are right; it's no use to go to him: he wouldn't tell the truth. But she must be told. How can I see her?'
'It is more difficult than ever. Her having accepted him makes all the difference. Explain it to yourself as you may, you cannot give her to understand that you doubt her sincerity.'
'But does she know that this story is false?'
'Yes, that she will certainly hear. I have busied myself in contradicting it. If Mrs. Waltham does not tell her, she will hear it from her friend Miss Tew, without question.'
Hubert pondered, then made the inquiry:
'How could I procure a meeting with Miss Tew? I met her just now on the road and spoke to her. I think she might consent to help me.'
Mr. Wyvern looked doubtful.
'You met her? She was coming from Agworth?'
'She seemed to be.'
'Her father and mother are gone to spend to-morrow with friends in Belwick; I suppose she drove into Wanley with them. and walked back.'
The vicar probably meant this for a suggestion; at all events, Hubert received it as one.
'Then I will simply call at the house. She may be alone. I can't weigh niceties.'
Mr. Wyvern made no reply. The announcement that dinner was ready allowed him to quit the subject. Hubert with difficulty sat through the meal, and as soon as it was over took his departure, leaving it uncertain whether he would return that evening. The vicar offered no further remark on the subject of their thoughts, but at parting pressed the young man's hand warmly.
Hubert walked straight to the Tews' dwelling. The course upon which he had decided had disagreeable aspects and involved chances anything but pleasant to face; he had, however, abundance of moral courage, and his habitual scorn of petty obstacles was just now heightened by passionate feeling. He made his presence known at the house-door as though his visit were expected. Letty herself opened to him. It was Saturday night, and she thought the ring was Alfred Waltham's. Indeed she half uttered a few familiar words; then, recognising Hubert, she stood fixed in surprise.
'Will you allow me to speak with you for a few moments, Miss Tew?' Hubert said, with perfect self-possession. 'I ask your pardon for calling at this hour. My business is urgent; I have come without a thought of anything but the need of seeing you.'
'Will you come in, Mr. Eldon?'
She led him into a room where there was no fire, and only one lamp burning low.
'I'm afraid it's very cold here,' she said, with extreme nervousness. 'The other room is occupied -- my sister and the children; I hope you ----'
A little girl put in her face at the door, asking 'Is it Alfred?' Letty hurried her away, closed the door, and, whilst lighting two candles on the mantelpiece, begged her visitor to seat himself.
'If you will allow me, I will stand,' said Hubert. 'I scarcely know how to begin what I wish to say. It has reference to Miss Waltham. I wish to see her; I must, if she will let me, have an opportunity of speaking with her. But I have no direct means of letting her know my wish; doubtless you understand that. In my helplessness I have thought of you. Perhaps I am asking an impossibility. Will you -- can you -- repeat my words. to Miss Waltham, and beg her to see me?'
Letty listened in sheer bewilderment. The position in which she found herself was so alarmingly novel, it made such a whirlpool in her quiet life, that it was all she could do to struggle with the throbbing of her heart and attempt to gather her thoughts. She did not even reflect that her eyes were fixed on Hubert's in a steady gaze. Only the sound of his voice after silence aided her to some degree of collectedness.
'There is every reason why you should accuse me of worse than impertinence,' Hubert continued, less impulsively. 'I can only ask your forgiveness. Miss Waltham may very likely refuse to see me, but, if you would ask her ----'
Letty was borne on a torrent of strange thoughts. How could this man, who spoke with such impressive frankness, with such persuasiveness, be the abandoned creature that she had of late believed him? With Adela's secret warm in her heart she could not but feel an interest in Hubert, and the interest was becoming something like zeal on his behalf. During the past two hours her mind had been occupied with him exclusively; his words when he left her at the stile had sounded so good and tender that she began to question whether there was any truth at all in the evil things said about him. The latest story had just been declared baseless by no less an authority than the vicar, who surely was not a man to maintain friendship with a worthless profligate. What did it all mean? She had heard only half an hour ago of Adela's positive acceptance of Mutimer, and was wretched about it; secure in her own love-match, it was the mystery of mysteries that Adela should consent to marry a man she could scarcely endure. And here a chance of rescue seemed to be offering; was it not her plain duty to give what help she might?
'You have probably not seen her since I gave you the book?' Hubert said, perceiving that Letty was quite at a loss for words.
'No, I haven't seen her at all to-day,' was the reply. 'Do you wish me to go to-night?'
'You consent to do me this great kindness?'
Letty blushed. Was she not committing herself too hastily
'There cannot be any harm in giving your message,' she said, half interrogatively, her timidity throwing itself upon Hubert's honour.
'Surely no harm in that.'
'But do you know that she -- have you heard ----?'
'Yes, I know. She has accepted an offer of marriage. It was because I heard of it that I came to you. You are her nearest friend; you can speak to her as others would not venture to. I ask only for five minutes. I entreat her to grant me that.'
To add to her perturbation, Letty was in dread of hearing Alfred's ring at the door; she durst not prolong this interview.
'I will tell her,' she said. 'If I can, I will see her to-night.'
'And how can I hear the result? I am afraid to ask you -- if you would write one line to me at Agworth? I am staying at my mother's house.'
He mentioned the address. Letty, who felt herself caught up above the world of common experiences and usages, gave her promise as a matter of course.
'I shall not try to thank you,' Hubert said. 'But you will not doubt that I am grateful?'
Letty said no more, and it was with profound relief that she heard the door close behind her visitor. But even yet the danger was not past; Alfred might at this moment be approaching, so as to meet Hubert near the house. And indeed this all but happened, for Mr. Waltham presented himself very soon. Letty had had time to impose secrecy on her sisters, such an extraordinary proceeding on her part that they were awed, and made faithful promise of discretion.
Letty drew her lover into the fireless room; she had blown out the candles and turned the lamp low again, fearful lest her face should display signs calling for comment.
'I did so want you to come!' she exclaimed. 'Tell me about Adela.'
'I don't know that there's anything to tell,' was Alfred's stolid reply. 'It's settled, that's all. I suppose it's all right.'
'But you speak as if you thought it mightn't be, Alfred?'
'Didn't know that I did. Well, I haven't seen her since I got home. She's upstairs.'
'Can't I see her to-night? I do so want to.'
'I dare say she'd be glad.'
'But what is it, my dear boy? I'm sure you speak as if you weren't quite satisfied.'
'The mater says it's all right I suppose she knows.'
'But you've always been so anxious for it.'
'Anxious? I haven't been anxious at all. But I dare say it's the wisest thing she could do. I like Mutimer well enough.'
'Alfred, I don't think he's the proper husband for Adela.'
'Why not? There's not much chance that she'll get a better.'
Alfred was manifestly less cheerful than usual. When Letty continued to tax him with it he grew rather irritable.
'Go and talk to her yourself,' he said at length. 'You'll find it's all right. I don't pretend to understand her; there's so much religion mixed up with her doings, and I can't stand that.'
Letty shook her head and sighed.
'What a vile smell of candle smoke there is here!' Alfred cried. 'And the room must be five or six degrees below zero. Let's go to the fire.'
'I think I shall run over to Adela at once,' said Letty, as she followed him into the hall.
'All right. Don't be vexed if she refuses to let you in. I'll stay here with the youngsters a bit.'
The truth was that Alfred did feel a little uncomfortable this evening, and was not sorry to be away from the house for a short time. He was one of those young men who will pursue an end out of mere obstinacy, and who, through default of imaginative power, require an event to declare itself before they can appreciate the ways in which it will affect them. This marriage of his sister with a man of the working class had possibly, he now felt, other aspects than those which alone he had regarded whilst it was merely a matter for speculation. He was not seriously uneasy, but wished his mother had been somewhat less precipitate. Well, Adela could not be such a simpleton as to be driven entirely counter to her inclinations in an affair of so much importance. Girls were confoundedly hard to understand, in short; probably they existed for the purpose of keeping one mentally active.
Letty found Mrs. Waltham sitting alone, she too seemingly not in the best of spirits. There was something depressing in the stillness of the house. Mrs. Waltham had her volume of family prayers open before her; her handkerchief lay upon it.
'She is naturally a little -- a little fluttered,' she said, speaking of Adela. 'I hoped you would look in. Try and make her laugh, my dear; that's all she wants.'
The girl tripped softly upstairs, and softly knocked at Adela's door. At her 'May I come in?' the door was opened. Letty examined her friend with surprise; in Adela's face there was no indication of trouble, rather the light of some great joy dwelt in her eyes. She embraced Letty tenderly. The two were as nearly as possible of the same age, but Letty had always regarded Adela in the light of an elder sister; that feeling was very strong in her just now, as well as a diffidence greater than she had known before.
'Are you happy, darling?' she asked timidly.
'Yes, dear, I am happy. I believe, I am sure, I have done right. Take your hat off; it's quite early. I've just been reading the collect for to-morrow. It's one of those I have never quite understood, but I think it's clear to me now.'
They read over the prayer together, and spoke of it for a few minutes.
'What have you brought me?' Adela asked at length, noticing a little parcel in the other's hand.
'It's a book I have been asked to give you. I shall have to explain. Do you remember lendinglending someone your "Christian Year"?'
The smile left Adela's face, and the muscles of her mouth strung themselves.
'Yes, I remember,' she replied coldly.
'As I was walking back from Agworth this afternoon, he overtook me on the road and asked me to return it to you.'
'Thank you, dear.'
Adela took the parcel and laid it aside. There was an awkward silence. Letty could not look up.
'He was going to see Mr. Wyvern,' she continued, as if anxious to lay stress on this. 'He seems to know Mr. Wyvern very well.'
'Yes? You didn't miss Alfred, I hope. He went out a very short time ago.'
'No, I saw him. He stayed with the others. But I have something more to tell you, about -- about him.'
'About Mr. Eldon.'
Adela looked at her friend with a grave surprise, much as a queen regards a favourite subject who has been over-bold.
'I think we won't talk of him, Letty,' she said from her height.
'Do forgive me, Adela. I have promised toto say something. There must have been a great many things said that were not true, just like this about his marriage; I am so sure of it.'
Adela endeavoured to let the remark pass without replying to it. But her thought expressed itself involuntarily.
'His marriage? What do you know of it?'
'Mr. Wyvern came to see mother this morning, and showed her a newspaper that your mother gave him. It said that Mr. Eldon was going to marry an actress, and Mr. Wyvern declared there was not a word of truth in it. But of course your mother told you that?'
Adela sat motionless. Mrs. Waltham had not troubled herself to make known the vicar's contradiction. But Adela could not allow herself to admit that. Binding her voice with difficulty, she said:
'It does not at all concern me.'
'But your mother did tell you, Adela?' Letty persisted, emboldened by a thought which touched upon indignation.
'Of course she did.'
The falsehood was uttered with cold deliberateness. There was nothing to show that a pang quivered on every nerve of the speaker.
'Who can have sent such a thing to the paper?' Letty exclaimed. 'There must be someone who wishes to do him harm. Adela, I don't believe anything that people have said!'
Even in speaking she was frightened at her own boldness. Adela's eyes had never regarded her with such a look as now.
'Adela, my darling! Don't, don't be angry with me!'
She sprang forward and tried to put her arms about her friend, but Adela gently repelled her.
'If you have promised to say something, Letty, you must keep your promise. Will you say it at once, and then let us talk of something else?'
Letty checked a tear. Her trustful and loving friend seemed changed to someone she scarcely knew. She too grew colder, and began her story in a lifeless way, as if it no longer possessed any interest.
'Just when I had had tea and was expecting Alfred to come, somebody rang the bell. I went to the door myself, and it was Mr. Eldon. He had come to speak to me of you. He said he wanted to see you, that he must see you, and begged me to tell you that. That's all, Adela. I couldn't refuse him; I felt I had no right to; he spoke in such a way. But I am very sorry to have so displeased you, dear. I didn't think you would take anything amiss that I did in all sincerity. I am sure there has been some wretched mistake, something worse than a mistake, depend upon it. But I won't say any more. And I think I'll go now, Adela.'
Adela spoke in a tone of measured gravity which was quite new in her.
'You have not displeased me, Letty. I don't think you have been to blame in any way; I am sure you had no choice but to do as he asked you. You have repeated all he said?'
'Yes, all; all the words, that is. There was something that I can't repeat.'
'And if I consented to see him, how was he to know?'
'I promised to write to him. He is staying at Agworth.'
'You mustn't do that, dear. I will write to him myself, then I can thank him for returning the book. What is his address?'
Letty gave it.
'It is, of course, impossible for me to see him,' pursued Adela, still in the same measured tones. 'If I write myself it will save you any more trouble. Forget it, if I seemed unkind, dear.'
'Adela, I can't forget it. You are not like yourself, not at all. Oh, how I wish this had happened sooner! Why, why can't you see him, darling? I think you ought to; I do really think so.'
'I must be the best judge of that, Letty. Please let us speak of it no more.'
The sweet girl-face was adamant, its expression a proud virginity; an ascetic sternness moulded the small, delicate lips. Letty's countenance could never have looked like that.
Left to herself again, Adela took the parcel upon her lap and sat dreaming. It was long before her face relaxed; when it did so, the mood that succeeded was profoundly sorrowful. One would have said that it was no personal grief that absorbed her, but compassion for the whole world's misery.
When at length she undid the wrapping, her eye was at once caught by the papers within the volume. She started, and seemed afraid to touch the book. Her first thought was that Eldon had enclosed a letter; but she saw that there was no envelope, only two or three loose slips. At length she examined them and found the sonnets. They had no heading, but at the foot of each was written the date of composition.
She read them. Adela's study of poetry had not gone beyond a school-book of selections, with the works of Mrs. Hemans and of Longfellow, and the 'Christian Year.' Hubert's verses she found difficult to understand; their spirit, the very vocabulary, was strange to her. Only on a second reading did she attain a glimmering of their significance. Then she folded them again and laid them on the table.
Before going to her bedroom she wrote this letter:
'DEAR MR, ELDON, -- I am much obliged to you for returning the "Christian Year." Some papers were left in its pages by accident, and I now enclose them.
'Miss Tew also brought me a message from you. I am sorry that I cannot do as you wish. I am unable to ask you to call, and I hope you will understand me when I say that any other kind of meeting is impossible.
'I am, yours truly,
It was Adela's first essay in this vein of composition. The writing cost her an hour, and she was far from satisfied with the final form. But she copied it in a firm hand, and made it ready for posting on the morrow.
'Between Richard Mutimer, bachelor, and Adela Marian Waitham, spinster, both of this parish'
It was the only announcement of the kind that Mr. Wyvern had to make this Sunday. To one of his hearers he seemed to utter the names with excessive emphasis, his deep voice reverberating in the church. The pews were high; Adela almost cowered in her corner, feeling pierced with the eyes, with the thoughts too, of the congregation about her.
She had wondered whether the Manor pew would be occupied to-day, but it was not. When she stood up, her eyes strayed towards it; the red curtains which concealed the interior were old and faded, the wooden canopy crowned it with dreary state. In three weeks that would be her place at service. Sitting there, it would not be hard to keep her thoughts on mortality.
Would it not have been graceful in him to attend church to-day? Would she in future worship under the canopy alone?
No time had been lost. Mr. Wyvern received notice of the proposed marriage less than two hours after Adela had spoken her world-changing monosyllable. She put in no plea for delay, and her mother, though affecting a little consternation at Mutimer's haste, could not seriously object. Wanley, discussing the matter at its Sunday tea-tables, declared with unanimity that such expedition was indecent. By this time the disapproval of the village had attached itself exclusively to Mrs. Waltham; Adela was spoken of as a martyr to her mother's miserable calculations. Mrs. Mewling went about with a story, that only by physical restraint had the unhappy girl been kept from taking flight. The name of Hubert Eldon once more came up in conversation. There was an unauthenticated rumour that he had been seen of late, lurking about Wanley. The more boldly speculative gossips looked with delicious foreboding to the results of a marriage such as this. Given a young man of Eldon's reputation -- ah me!
The Walthams all lunched (or dined) at the Manor. Mutimer was in high spirits, or seemed so; there were moments when the cheerful look died on his face, and his thoughts wandered from the conversation; but if his eye fell on Adela he never failed to smile the smile of inner satisfaction. She had not yet responded to his look, and only answered his questions in the briefest words; but her countenance was resolutely bright, and her beauty all that man could ask. Richard did not flatter himself that she held him dear; indeed, he was a good deal in doubt whether affection, as vulgarly understood, was consistent with breeding and education. But that did not concern him; he had gained his end, and was jubilant.
In the course of the meal he mentioned that his sister would come down from London in a day or two. Christmas was only a week off, and he had thought it would be pleasant to have her at the Manor for that season.
'Oh, that's very nice!' assented Mrs. Waltham. 'Alice, her name is, didn't you say? Is she dark or fair?'
'Fair, and just about Adela's height, I should think. I hope you'll like her, Adela.'
It was unfortunate that Richard did not pronounce the name of his bride elect quite as it sounds on cultured lips. This may have been partly the result of diffidence; but there was a slurring of the second syllable disagreeably suggestive of vulgarity. It struck on the girl's nerves, and made it more difficult for her to grow accustomed to this form of address from Mutimer.
'I'm sure I shall try to,' she replied to the remark about Alice, this time endeavouring to fix her obstinate eyes for a moment on Richard's face.
'Your brother won't come, then?' Mrs. Waltham asked.
'Not just yet, I'm afraid. He's busy studying.'
'To read and write, I fear,' was the lady's silent comment. On the score of Alice, too, Mrs. Waltham nursed a certain anxiety. The damsels of the working class are, or so she apprehended, somewhat more difficult of acceptance than their fathers and brothers, and for several reasons. An artisan does not necessarily suggest, indeed is very distinct from, the footman or even groom; but to dissociate an uneducated maiden from the lower regions of the house is really an exertion of the mind. And then, it is to be feared, the moral tone of such young persons leaves for the most part much to be desired. Mrs. Waltham was very womanly in her distrust of her sex.
After luncheon there was an inspection of the house. Adela did not go farther than the drawing-room; her brother remained with her whilst Mutimer led Mrs. Waltham through the chambers she might care to see. The lady expressed much satisfaction. The furnishing had been performed in a substantial manner, without display; one might look forward to considerable comfort at the Manor.
'Any change that Adela suggests,' said Richard during this tour, 'shall of course be carried out at once. If she doesn't like the paper in any of the rooms, she's only got to say so and choose a better. Do you think she'd care to look at the stables? I'll get a carriage for her, and a horse to ride, if she likes.'
Richard felt strongly that this was speaking in a generous way. He was not aware that his tone hinted as much, but it unmistakably did. The vulgarity of a man who tries hard not to be vulgar is always particularly distressing.
'Oh, how kind!' murmured Mrs. Waltham. 'Adela has never ridden; I should think carriage exercise would be enough for her. We mustn't forget your principles, you know, for I'm sure they are very admirable.'
'Oh, I don't care anything about luxuries myself, but Adela shall have everything she wants.'
Alfred Waltham, who knew the house perfectly, led his mother to inspect the stables, Mutimer remaining with Adela in the drawing-room.
'You've been very quiet all dinner-time,' he said, taking a seat near her and bending forward.
'A little, perhaps. I am thinking of so many things.'
'What are they, I wonder?'
'Will you let me have some books about Socialism, and the other questions in which you are interested?'
'I should think I will! You really mean to study these things?'
'Yes, I will read and think about them. And I shall be glad if you will explain to me more about the works. I have never quite understood all that you wish to do. Perhaps you will have time when you come to see us some evening.'
'Well, if I haven't time, I'll make it,' said Richard, laughing. 'You can't think how glad I am to hear you say this.'
'When do you expect your sister?'
'On Tuesday; at least, I hope it won't be later. I'm sure you'll like her, you can't help. She hasn't such looks as you have, you know, but we've always thought her very fair-looking. What do you think we often call her? The Princess! That's part because of her name, Alice Maud, and part from a sort of way she's always had. Not a flighty way, but a sort of -- well, I can't describe it. I do hope you'll like her.'
It was the first time Adela had heard him speak in a tone which impressed her as entirely honest, not excepting his talk of the Propaganda. Here, she felt, was a side of his character that she had not suspected. His voice was almost tender; the play of his features betokened genuine feeling.
'I can see she is a great favourite with you,' she replied. 'I have no doubt I shall like her.'
'You'll find a good deal that wants altering, I've no doubt,' he pursued, now quite forgetful of himself. 'She hasn't had much education, you know, till just lately. But you'll help her in that, won't you? She's as good-natured as any girl living, and whenever you put her right you may be sure she'll only thank you. I've wanted to have her here before, only I thought I'd wait till I knew whether -- you know what I mean.
As if in a sudden gloom before her eyes Adela saw his face draw nearer. It was a moment's loss of consciousness, in which a ghastly fear flashed upon her soul. Then, with lips that quivered, she began to talk quickly of Socialism, just to dispel the horror.
On the following afternoon Mutimer came, bringing a number of books, pamphlets, and newspapers. Mrs. Waltham had discreetly abandoned the sitting-room.
'I don't want to frighten you,' he said, laying down his bundle. 'You haven't got to read through all these. I was up nearly all last night marking pages that I thought you'd better study first of all. And here's a lot of back numbers of the "Fiery Cross;" I should like you to read all that's signed by Mr. Westlake; he's the editor, you know.'
'Is there anything here of your own writing?' Adela inquired.
'No, I haven't written anything. I've kept to lecturing; it comes easier to me. After Christmas I shall have several lectures to give in London. Perhaps you'll come and hear me?'
'Yes, of course.'
'Then you can get to know Mrs. Westlake, I dare say. She's a lady, you know, like yourself. There's some poetry by her in the paper; it just has her initials, "S. W." She's with us heart and soul, as you'll see by her writing.'
'Is Alice a Socialist?' Adela asked, after glancing fitfully at the papers.
'Oh, she's a princess; it would be too much to expect Socialism of her. But I dare say she'll be beginning to think more now. I don't mean she's been thoughtless in the wrong way; it's just a -- I can't very well describe it. But I hope you'll see her to-morrow night May I bring her to you when she comes?'
'I hope you will.'
'I'm glad your brother won't be here. I only mean, you know, I'd rather she got accustomed just to you first of all. I dare say she'll be a bit timid, you won't mind that?'
Adela returned to the graver subject.
'All the people at New Wanley are Socialists?'
'Yes, all of them. They join the Union when they come to work, and we take a good deal of care in choosing our men.'
'And you pay higher wages than other employers?'
'Not much higher, but the rents of the cottages are very low, and all the food sold at the store is cost price. No, we don't pretend to make the men rich. We've had a good lot coming with quite mistaken ideas, and of course they wouldn't suit us. And you mustn't call me the employer. All I have I look upon as the property of the Union; the men own it as much as I do. It's only that I regulate the work, just because somebody must. We're not making any profits to speak of yet, but that'll only come in time; whatever remains as clear profit, -- and I don't take anything out of the works myself -- goes to the Propaganda fund of the Union.'
'Please forgive my ignorance. I've heard that word "Propaganda" so often, but I don't know exactly what it means.'
Mutimer became patronising, quite without intending it.
'Propaganda? Oh, that's the spreading our ideas, you know; printing paper, giving lectures, hiring places of meeting, and so on. That's what Propaganda means.'
'Thank you,' said Adela musingly. Then she continued, --
'And the workmen only have the advantage, at present, of the low rents and cheap food?'
'Oh, a good deal more. To begin with, they're housed like human beings, and not like animals. Some day you shall see the kind of places the people live in, in London and other big towns. You won't believe your eyes. Then they have shorter hours of work; they're not treated like omnibus horses, calculating just how much can be got out of them without killing them before a reasonable time. Then they're sure of their work as long as they keep honest and don't break any of our rules; that's no slight thing, I can tell you. Why, on the ordinary system a man may find himself and his family without food any week end. Then there's a good school for the children; they pay threepence a week for each child. Then there's the reading-room and library, and the lectures, and the recreation-grounds. You just come over the place with me some day, and talk with the women, and see if they don't think they're well off.'
Adela looked him in the face.
'And it is you they have to thank for all this?'
'Well, I don't want any credit for it,' Mutimer replied, waving his hand. 'What would you think of me if I worked them like niggers and just enjoyed myself on the profits? That's what the capitalists do.'
'I think you are doing more than most men would. There is only one thing.'
She dropped her voice.
'What's that, Adela?'
'I'll speak of it some other time.'
'I know what you mean. You're sorry I've got no religion. Ay, but I have! There's my religion, down there in New Wanley. I'm saving men and women and children from hunger and cold and the lives of brute beasts. I teach them to live honestly and soberly. There's no public-house in New Wanley, and there won't be.' (It just flashed across Adela's mind that Mutimer drank wine himself.) 'There's no bad language if I can help it. The children 'll be brought up to respect the human nature that's in them, to honour their parents, and act justly and kindly to all they have dealings with. Isn't there a good deal of religion in that, Adela?'
'Yes, but not all. Not the most important part'
'Well, as you say, we'll talk over that some other time. And now I'm sorry I can't stay any longer. I've twenty or thirty letters to get written before post-time.'
Adela rose as he did.
'If there's ever anything I can do to help you,' she said modestly, 'you will not fail to ask me?'
'That I won't What I want you to do now is to read what I've marked in those books. You mustn't tire your eyes, you know; there's plenty of time.'
'I will read all you wish me to, and think over it as much as I can.'
'Then you're a right-down good girl, and if I don't think myself a lucky man, I ought to.'
He left her trembling with a strange new emotion, the begin fling of a self-conscious zeal, an enthusiasm forced into being like a hothouse flower. It made her cheeks burn; she could not rest till her study had commenced.
Richard had written to his sister, saying that he wanted her, that she must come at once. To Alice his thoughts had been long turning; now that the time for action had arrived, it was to her that he trusted for aid. Things he would find it impossible to do himself, Alice might do for him. He did not doubt his power of persuading her. With Alice principle would stand second to his advantage. He had hard things to ask of her, but the case was a desperate one, and she would endure the unpleasantness for his sake. He blessed her in anticipation.
Alice received the letter summoning her on Monday morning. Richard himself was expected in Highbury; expected, too, at a sad little house in Hoxton; for he had constantly promised to spend Christmas with his friends. The present letter did not say that he would not come, only that he wanted his sister immediately. She was to bring her best dress for wear when she arrived. He told her the train she was to take on Tuesday morning.
The summons filled Alice with delight. Wanley, whence had come the marvellous fortune, was in her imagination a land flowing with milk and honey. Moreover, this would be her first experience of travel; as yet she had never been farther out of London than to Epping Forest. The injunction to bring her best dress excited visions of polite company. All through Monday she practised ways of walking, of eating, of speaking.
'What can he want you for?' asked Mrs. Mutimer gloomily. 'I sh'd 'a thought he might 'a taken you with him after Christmas. It looks as if he wasn't coming.'
The old woman had been habitually gloomy of late. The reply she had received to her letter was not at all what she wanted; it increased her impatience; she had read it endless times, trying to get at the very meaning of it. Christmas must bring an end to this wretched state of things; at Christmas Dick would come to London and marry Emma; no doubt he had that time in view. Fears which she would not consciously admit were hovering about her night and day. She had begun to talk to herself aloud, a consequence of over-stress on a brain never used to anxious thought; she went about the upper rooms of the house muttering 'Dick's an honest man.' To keep moving seemed a necessity to her; the chair in the dim corner of the dining-room she now scarcely ever occupied, and the wonted employment of her fingers was in abeyance. She spent most of her day in the kitchen; already two servants had left because they could not endure her fidgety supervision. She was growing suspicious of every one; Alice had to listen ten times a day to complaints of dishonesty in the domestics or the tradespeople; the old woman kept as keen a watch over petty expenditure as if poverty had still to be guarded against. And she was constantly visiting the Vines; she would rise at small hours to get her house-work done, so as to be able to spend the afternoon in Wilton Square. That, in truth, was still her home; the new house could never be to her what the old was; she was a stranger amid the new furniture, and sighed with relief as soon as her eyes rested on the familiar chairs and tables which had been her household gods through a lifetime.
'Arry had given comparatively little trouble of late; beyond an occasional return home an hour or so after midnight, his proceedings seemed to be perfectly regular. He saw a good deal of Mr. Keene, who, as Alice gathered from various remarks in Richard's letters, exercised over him a sort of tutorage. It was singular how completely Richard seemed to have changed in his judgment of Mr. Keene. 'His connection with newspapers makes him very useful,' said one letter. 'Be as friendly with him as you like; I trust to your good sense and understanding of your own interest to draw the line.' When at the house Mr. Keene was profoundly respectful; his position at such times was singular, for as often as not Alice had to entertain him alone. Profound, too, was the journalist's discretion in regard to all doings down at Wanley. Knowing he had several times visited the Manor, Alice often sought information from him about her brother's way of life. Mr. Keene always replied with generalities. He was a man of humour in his way, and Alice came to regard him with amusement. Then his extreme respect flattered her; insensibly she took him for her criterion of gentility in men. He supplied her with 'society' journals, and now and then suggested the new novel that it behoved her to read. Richard had even withdrawn his opposition to the theatre-going; about once in three weeks Mr. Keene presented himself with tickets, and Alice, accompanied by her brother, accepted his invitation.
He called this Monday evening. Mrs. Mutimer, after spending a day of fretful misery, had gone to Wilton Square; 'Arry was away at his classes. Alice was packing certain articles she had purchased in the afternoon, and had just delighted her soul with the inspection of a travelling cloak, also bought to-day. When the visitor was announced, she threw the garment over her shoulders and appeared in it.
'Does this look nice, do you think?' she asked, after shaking hands as joyously as her mood dictated.
'About as nice as a perfect thing always does when it's worn by a perfect woman,' Mr. Keene replied, drawing back and inclining his body at what he deemed a graceful angle.
'Oh, come, that's too much!' laughed Alice.
'Not a bit, Miss Mutimer. I suppose you travel in it tomorrow morning?'
'How did you know that?'
'I have heard from your brother to-day. I thought I might perhaps have the great pleasure of doing you some slight service either to-night or in the morning. You will allow me to attend you to the station?'
'I really don't think there's any need to trouble you,' Alice replied. These respectful phrases always stirred her pleasurably: in listening to them she bore herself with dignity, and endeavoured to make answer in becoming diction.
'Trouble? What other object have I in life but to serve you? I'll put it in another way: you won't refuse me the pleasure of being near you for a few minutes?'
'I'm sure you're very kind. I know very well it's taking you out of your way, but it isn't likely I shall refuse to let you come.'
Mr. Keene bowed low in silence.
'Have you brought me that paper?' Alice asked, seating herself with careful arrangement of her dress. 'The Christmas number with the ghost story you spoke of, you know?'
In the course of a varied life Mr. Keene had for some few months trodden the boards of provincial theatres; an occasional turn of his speech, and still more his favourite gestures, bore evidence to that period of his career. Instead of making direct reply to Alice's question, he stood for a moment as if dazed; then flinging back his body, smote his forehead with a ringing slap, and groaned '0 Heaven!'
'What's the matter?' cried the girl, not quite knowing whether to be amused or alarmed.
But Mr. Keene was rushing from the room, and in an instant the house door sounded loudly behind him. Alice stood disconcerted; then, thinking she understood, laughed gaily and ran upstairs to complete her packing. In a quarter of an hour Mr. Keene's return brought her to the drawing-room again. The journalist was propping himself against the mantelpiece, gasping, his arms hanging limp, his hair disordered. As Alice approached he staggered forward, fell on one knee, and held to her the paper she had mentioned.
'Pardon -- forgive!' he panted.
'Why, where ever have you been?' exclaimed Alice.
'No matter! what are time and space? Forgive me, Miss Mutimer! I deserve to be turned out of the house, and never stand in the light of your countenance again.'
'But how foolish! As if it mattered all that. What a state you're in! I'll go and get you a glass of wine.'
She ran to the dining-room, and returned with a decanter and glass on a tray. Mr. Keene had sunk upon a settee, one arm hanging over the back, his eyes closed.
'You have pardoned me?' he murmured, regarding her with weary rapture.
'I don't see what there is to pardon. Do drink a glass of wine! Shall I pour it out for you?'
'Drink and service for the gods!'
'Do you mean the people in the gallery?' Alice asked roguishly, recalling a term in which Mr. Keene had instructed her at their latest visit to the theatre.
'You are as witty as you are beautiful!' he sighed, taking the glass and draining it. Alice turned away to the fire; decidedly Mr. Keene was in a gallant mood this evening; hitherto his compliments had been far more guarded.
They began to converse in a more terrestrial manner. Alice wanted to know whom she was likely to meet at Wanley; and Mr. Keene, in a light way, sketched for her the Waltham family. She became thoughtful whilst he was describing Adela Waltham, and subsequently recurred several times to that young lady. The journalist allowed himself to enter into detail, and Alice almost ceased talking.
It drew on to half-past nine. Mr. Keene never exceeded discretion in the hours of his visits. He looked at his watch and rose.
'I may call at nine?' he said.
'If you really have time. But I can manage quite well by myself, you know.'
'What you can do is not the question. If I had my will you should never know a moment's trouble as long as you lived.'
'If I never have worse trouble than going to the railway station, I shall think myself lucky.'
'Miss Mutimer ----'
'You won't drop me altogether from your mind whilst you're away?'
There was a change in his voice. He had abandoned the tone of excessive politeness, and spoke very much like a man who has feeling at the back of his words. Alice regarded him nervously.
'I'm not going to be away more than a day or two,' she said, smoothing a fold in her dress.
'If it was only an hour or two I couldn't bear to think you'd altogether forgotten me.'
'Why, of course I shan't!'
'But ---- Miss Mutimer, I'm abusing confidence. Your brother trusts me; he's done me a good many kindnesses. But I can't help it, upon my soul. If you betray me, I'm done for. You won't do that? I put myself in your power, and you're too good to hurt a fly.'
'What do you mean, Mr. Keene?' Alice asked, inwardly pleased, yet feeling uncomfortable.
'I can't go away to-night without saying it, and ten to one it means I shall never see you again. You know what I mean. Well, harm me as you like; I'd rather be harmed by you than done good to by any one else. I've got so far, there's no going back. Do you think some day you could -- do you think you could?'
Alice dropped her eyes and shook her pretty head slowly.
'I can't give any promise of that kind,' she replied under her breath.
'You hate me? I'm a disagreeable beast to you? I'm a low ----'
'Oh dear, don't say such things, Mr. Keene! The idea! I don't dislike you a bit; but of course that's a different thing ----'
He held out his hand sadly, dashing the other over his eyes.
'Good-bye, I don't think I can come again. I've abused confidence. When your brother hears of it ----. But no matter, I'm only a -- a sort of crossing-sweeper in your eyes.'
Alice's laugh rang merrily.
'What things you do call yourself! Now, don't go off like that, Mr. Keene. To begin with, my brother won't hear anything about it ----'
'You mean that? You are so noble, so forgiving? Pooh, as if I didn't know you were! Upon my soul, I'd run from here to South Kensington, like the ragamuffins after the cabs with luggage, only just to get a smile from you. Oh, Miss Mutimer ---- oh!'
'Mr. Keene, I can't say yes, and I don't like to be so unkind to you as to say no. You'll let that do for the present, won't you?'
'Bless your bright eyes, of course I will! If I don't love you for your own sake, I'm the wretchedest turnip-snatcher in London. Good-bye, Princess!'
'Who taught you to call me that?'
'Taught me? It was only a word that came naturally to my lips.'
Curiously, this was quite true. It impressed Alice Maud, and she thought of Mr. Keene for at least five minutes continuously after his departure.
She was extravagantly gay as they drove in a four-wheeled cab to the station next morning. Mr. Keene made no advances. He sat respectfully on the seat opposite her, with a travelling bag on his knees, and sighed occasionally. When she had secured her seat in the railway carriage he brought her sandwiches, buns, and sweetmeats enough for a voyage to New York. Alice waved her hand to him as the train moved away.
She reached Agworth at one o'clock; Richard had been pacing the platform impatiently for twenty minutes. Porters were eager to do his bidding, and his instructions to them were suavely imperative.
'They know me,' he remarked to Alice, with his air of satisfaction. 'I suppose you're half frozen? I've got a foot-warmer in the trap.'
The carriage promised to Adela was a luxury Richard had not ventured to allow himself. Alice mounted to a seat by his side, and he drove off.
'Why on earth did you come second-class?' he asked, after examining her attire with approval.
'Ought it to have been first? It really seemed such a lot of money, Dick, when I came to look at the fares.'
'Yes, it ought to have been first. In London things don't matter, but here I'm known, you see. Did mother go to the station with you?'
'No, Mr. Keene did.'
'Keene, eh?' He bent his brows a moment.
'I hope he behaves himself?'
'I'm sure he's very gentlemanly.'
'Yes, you ought to have come first-class. A princess riding second'll never do. You look well, old girl? Glad to come, eh?'
'Well, guess! And is this your own horse and trap, Dick?'
'Of course it is.'
'Who was that man? He touched his hat to you.'
Mutimer glanced back carelessly.
'I'm sure I don't know. Most people touch their hats to me about here.'
It was an ideal winter day. A feathering of snow had fallen at dawn, and now the clear, cold sun made it sparkle far and wide. The horse's tread rang on the frozen highway. A breeze from the north-west chased the blood to healthsome leaping, and caught the breath like an unexpected kiss. The colour was high on Alice's fair cheeks; she laughed with delight.
'Oh, Dick, what a thing it is to be rich! And you do look such a gentleman; it's those gloves, I think.'
'Now we're going into the village,' Mutimer said presently. 'Don't look about you too much, and don't seem to be asking questions. Everybody 'll be at the windows.'
Between the end of the village street and the gates of the Manor, Mutimer gave his sister hasty directions as to her behaviour before the servants.
'Put on just a bit of the princess,' he said. 'Not too much, you know, but just enough to show that it isn't the first time in your life that you've been waited on. Don't always give a 'thank you;' one every now and then'll do. I wouldn't smile too much or look pleased, whatever you see. Keep that all till we're alone together. We shall have lunch at once; I'll do most of the talking whilst the servants are about; you just answer quietly.'
These instructions were interesting, but not altogether indispensable; Alice Maud had by this time a very pretty notion of how to conduct herself in the presence of menials. The trying moment was on entering the house; it was very hard indeed not to utter her astonishment and delight at the dimensions of the hall and the handsome staircase. This point safely passed, she resigned herself to splendour, and was conducted to her room in a sort of romantic vision. The Manor satisfied her idea of the ancestral mansion so frequently described or alluded to in the fiction of her earlier years. If her mind had just now reverted to Mr. Keene, which of course it did not, she would have smiled very royally indeed.
When she entered the drawing-room, clad in that best gown which her brother had needlessly requested her to bring, and saw that Richard was standing on the hearth-rug quite alone, she could no longer contain herself, but bounded towards him like a young fawn, and threw her arms on his neck.
'Oh, Dick,' she whispered, 'what a thing it is to be rich! How ever did we live so long in the old way! If I had to go back to it now I should die of misery.'
'Let's have a look at you,' he returned, holding her at arm's length. 'Yes, I think that'll about do. Now mind you don't let them see that you're excited about it. Sit down here and pretend to be a bit tired. They may come and say lunch is ready any moment.'
'Dick, I never felt so good in my life! I should like to go about the streets and give sovereigns to everybody I met.'
Richard laughed loudly.
'Well, well, there's better ways than that. I've been giving a good many sovereigns for a long time now. I'm only sorry you weren't here when we opened the Hall.'
'But you haven't told me why you sent for me now.'
'All right, we've got to have a long talk presently. It isn't all as jolly as you think, but I can't help that'
'Why, what can be wrong, Dick?'
'Never mind; it'll all come out in time.'
Alice came back upon certain reflections which had occupied her earlier in the morning; they kept her busy through luncheon. Whilst she ate, Richard observed her closely; on the whole he could not perceive a great difference between her manners and Adela's. Difference there was, but in details to which Mutimer was not very sensitive. He kept up talk about the works for the most part, and described certain difficulties concerning rights of way which had of late arisen in the vicinity of the industrial settlement.
'I think you shall come and sit with me in the library,' he said as they rose from table. And he gave orders that coffee should be served to them in that room.
The library did not as yet quite justify its name. There was only one bookcase, and not more than fifty volumes stood on its shelves. But a large writing-table was well covered with papers. There were no pictures on the walls, a lack which was noticeable throughout the house. The effect was a certain severity; there was no air of home in the spacious chambers; the walls seemed to frown upon their master, the hearths were cold to him as to an intruding alien. Perhaps Alice felt something of this; on entering the library she shivered a little, and went to warm her hands at the fire.
'Sit in this deep chair,' said her brother. 'I'll have a cigarette. How's mother?'
'Well, she hasn't been quite herself,' Alice replied, gazing into the fire. 'She can't get to feel at home, that's the truth of it. She goes. very often to the old house.'
'Goes very often to the old house, does she?'
He repeated the words mechanically, watching smoke that issued from his lips. 'Suppose she'll get all right in time.'
When the coffee arrived a decanter of cognac accompanied it. Richard had got into the habit of using the latter rather freely of late. He needed a stimulant in view of the conversation that was before him. The conversation was difficult to begin. For a quarter of an hour he strayed over subjects, each of which, he thought, might bring him to the point. A question from Alice eventually gave him the requisite impulse.
'What's the bad news you've got to tell me, Dick?' she asked shyly.
'Bad news? Why, yes, I suppose it is bad, and it's no use pretending anything else. I've brought you down here just to tell it you. Somebody must know first, and it had better be somebody who'll listen patiently, and perhaps help me to get over it. I don't know quite how you'll take it, Alice. For anything I can tell you may get up and be off, and have nothing more to do with me.'
'Why, what ever can it be, Dick? Don't talk nonsense. You're not afraid of me, I should think.'
'Yes, I am a bit afraid of you, old girl. It isn't a nice thing to tell you, and there's the long and short of it. I'm hanged if I know how to begin.'
He laughed in an irresolute way. Trying to light a new cigarette from the remnants of the one he had smoked, his hands shook. Then he had recourse again to cognac.
Alice was drumming with her foot on the floor. She sat forward, her arms crossed upon her lap. Her eyes were still on the fire.
'Is it anything about Emma, Dick?' she asked, after a disconcerting silence.
'Yes, it is.'
'Hadn't you better tell me at once? It isn't at all nice to feel like this.'
'Well, I'll tell you. I can't marry Emma; I'm going to marry someone else.'
Alice was prepared, but the plain words caused her a moment's consternation.
'Oh, what ever will they all say, Dick?' she exclaimed in a low voice.
'That's bad enough, to be sure, but I think more about Emma herself. I feel ashamed of myself, and that's the plain truth. Of course I shall always give her and her sisters all the money they want to live upon, but that isn't altogether a way out. If only I could have hinted something to her before now. I've let it go on so long. I'm going to be married in a fortnight.'
He could not look Alice in the face, nor she him. His shame made him angry; he flung the half-smoked cigarette violently into the fire-place, and began to walk about the room. Alice was speaking, but he did not heed her, and continued with impatient loudness.
'Who the devil could imagine what was going to happen? Look here, Alice; if it hadn't been for mother, I shouldn't have engaged myself to Emma. I shouldn't have cared much in the old kind of life; she'd have suited me very well. You can say all the good about her you like, I know it'll be true. It's a cursed shame to treat her in this way, I don't need telling that. But it wouldn't do as things are; why, you can see for yourself -- would it now? And that's only half the question: I'm going to marry somebody I do really care for. What's the good of keeping my word to Emma, only to be miserable myself and make her the same? It's the hardest thing ever happened to a man. Of course I shall be blackguarded right and left. Do I deserve it now? Can I help it?'
It was not quite consistent with the tone in which he had begun, but it had the force of a genuine utterance. To this Richard had worked himself in fretting over his position; he was the real sufferer, though decency compelled him to pretend it was not so. He had come to think of Emma almost angrily; she was a clog on him, and all the more irritating because he knew that his brute strength, if only he might exert it, could sweep her into nothingness at a blow. The quietness with which Alice accepted his revelation encouraged him in self-defence. He talked on for several minutes, walking about and swaying his arms, as if in this way he could literally shake himself free of moral obligations. Then, finding his throat dry, he had recourse to cognac, and Alice could at length speak.
'You haven't told me, Dick, who it is you're going to marry.'
'A lady called Miss Waltham -- Adela Waltham. She lives here in Wanley.'
'Does she know about Emma?'
The question was simply put, but it seemed to affect Richard very disagreeably.
'No, of course she doesn't. What would be the use?'
He threw himself into a chair, crossed his feet, and kept silence.
'I'm very sorry for Emma,' murmured his sister.
Richard said nothing.
'How shall you tell her, Dick?'
'I can't tell her!' he replied, throwing out an arm. 'How is it likely I can tell her?'
'And Jane's so dreadfully bad,' continued Alice in the undertone. 'She's always saying she cares for nothing but to see Emma married. What shall we do? And everything seemed so first-rate. Suppose she summonses you, Dick?'
The noble and dignified legal process whereby maidens right themselves naturally came into Alice's thoughts. Her brother scouted the suggestion.
'Emma's not that kind of girl. Besides, I've told you I shall always send her money. She'll find another husband before long. Lots of men 'ud be only too glad to marry her.'
Alice was not satisfied with her brother. The practical aspects of the rupture she could consider leniently, but the tone he assumed was jarring to her instincts. Though nothing like a warm friendship existed between her and Emma, she sympathised, in a way impossible to Richard, with the sorrows of the abandoned girl. She was conscious of what her judgment would be if another man had acted thus; and though this was not so much a matter of consciousness, she felt that Richard might have spoken in a way more calculated to aid her in taking his side. She wished, in fact, to see only his advantage, and was very much tempted to see everything but that.
'But you can't keep her in the dark any longer,' she urged. 'Why, it's cruel!'
'I can't tell her,' he repeated monotonously.
Alice drew in her feet. It symbolised retiring within her defences. She saw what he was aiming at, and felt not at all disposed to pleasure him. There was a long silence; Alice was determined not to be the first to break it.
'You refuse to help me?' Richard asked at length, between his teeth.
'I think it would be every bit as bad for me as for you,' she replied.
'That you can't think,' he argued. 'She can't blame you; you've only to say I've behaved like a blackguard, and you're out of it.'
'And when do you mean to tell mother?'
'She'll have to hear of it from other people. I can't tell her.'
Richard had a suspicion that he was irretrievably ruining himself in his sister's opinion, and it did not improve his temper. It was a foretaste of the wider obloquy to come upon him, possibly as hard to bear as any condemnation to which he had exposed himself. He shook himself out of the chair.
'Well, that's all I've got to tell you. Perhaps you'd better think over it. I don't want to keep you away from home longer than you care to stay. There's a train at a few minutes after nine in the morning.'
He shuffled for a few moments about the writing-table, then went from the room.
Alice was unhappy. The reaction from her previous high spirits, as soon as it had fully come about, brought her even to tears. She cried silently, and, to do the girl justice, at least half her sorrow was on Emma's account. Presently she rose and began to walk about the room; she went to the window, and looked out on to the white garden. The sky beyond the thin boughs was dusking; the wind, which sang so merrily a few hours ago, had fallen to sobbing.
It was too wretched to remain alone; she resolved to go into the drawing-room; perhaps her brother was there. As she approached the door somebody knocked on the outside, then there entered a dark man of spruce appearance, who drew back a step as soon as he saw her.
'Pray excuse me,' he said, with an air of politeness. 'I supposed I should find Mr. Mutimer here.'
'I think he's in the house,' Alice replied.
Richard appeared as they were speaking.
'What is it, Rodman?' he asked abruptly, passing into the library.
'I'll go to the drawing-room,' Alice said, and left the men together.
In half an hour Richard again joined her. He seemed in a better frame of mind, for he came in humming. Alice, having glanced at him, averted her face again and kept silence. She felt a hand smoothing her hair. Her brother, leaning over the back of her seat, whispered to her, --
'You'll help me, Princess?'
She did not answer.
'You won't be hard, Alice? It's a wretched business, and I don't know what I shall do if you throw me over. I can't do without you, old girl.'
'I can't tell mother, Dick. You know very well what it'll be. I daren't do that.'
But even that task Alice at last took upon herself, after another half-hour's discussion. Alas! she would never again feel towards her brother as before this necessity fell upon her. Her life had undergone that impoverishment which is so dangerous to elementary natures, the loss of an ideal.
'You'll let me stay over to-morrow?' she said. 'There's nothing very pleasant to go back to, and I don't see that a day 'll matter.'
'You can stay if you wish. I'm going to take you to have tea with Adela now. If you stay we'll have her to dinner to-morrow.'
'I wonder whether we shall get along?' Alice mused.
'I don't see why not. You'll get lots of things from her, little notions of all kinds.'
This is always a more or less dangerous form of recommendation, even in talking to one's sister. To suggest that Adela would benefit by the acquaintance would have been a far more politic procedure.
'What's wrong with me?' Alice inquired, still depressed by the scene she had gone through.
'Oh, there's nothing wrong. It's only that you'll see differences at first; from the people you've been used to, I mean. But I think you'll have to go and get your things on; it's nearly five.'
In Alice's rising from her chair there was nothing of the elasticity that had marked her before luncheon. Before moving away she spoke a thought that was troubling her.
'Suppose mother tries to stop it?'
Richard looked to the ground moodily.
'I meant to tell you,' he said. 'You'd better say that I'm already married.'
'You're giving me a nice job,' was the girl's murmured rejoinder.
'Well, it's as good as true. And it doesn't make the job any worse.'
As is wont to be the case when two persons come to mutual understanding on a piece of baseness, the tone of brother and sister had suffered in the course of their dialogue. At first meeting they had both kept a certain watch upon their lips, feeling that their position demanded it; a moral limpness was evident in them by this time.
They set forth to walk to the Walthams'. Exercise in the keen air, together with the sense of novelty in her surroundings, restored Alice's good humour before the house was reached. She gazed with astonishment at the infernal glare over New Wanley. Her brother explained the sight to her with gusto.
'It used to be all fields and gardens over there,' he said. 'See what money and energy can do! You shall go over the works in the morning. Perhaps Adela will go with us, then we can take her back to the Manor.'
'Why do they call the house that, Dick?' Alice inquired. 'Is it because people who live there are supposed to have good manners?'
'May be, for anything I know,' was the capitalist's reply. 'Only it's spelt different, you know. I say, Alice, you must be careful about your spelling; there were mistakes in your last letter. Won't do, you know, to make mistakes if you write to Adela.'
Alice gave a little shrug of impatience. Immediately after, they stopped at the threshold sacred to all genteel accomplishments -- so Alice would have phrased it if she could have fully expressed her feeling -- and they speedily entered the sitting. room, where the table was already laid for tea. Mrs. Waltham and her daughter rose to welcome them.
'We knew of your arrival,' said the former, bestowing on Alice a maternal salute. 'Not many things happen in Wanley that all the village doesn't hear of, do they, Mr. Mutimer? Of course we expected you to tea.'
Adela and her future sister-in-law kissed each other. Adela was silent, but she smiled.
'You'll take your things off, my dear?' Mrs. Waltham continued. 'Will you go upstairs with Miss Mutimer, Adela?'
But for Mrs. Waltham's persistent geniality the hour which followed would have shown many lapses of conversation. Alice appreciated at once those 'differences' at which her brother had hinted, and her present frame of mind was not quite consistent with patient humility. Naturally, she suffered much from self-consciousness; Mrs. Waltham annoyed her by too frequent observation, Adela by seeming indifference. The delicacy of the latter was made perhaps a little excessive by strain of feelings. Alice at once came to the conclusion that Dick's future wife was cold and supercilious. She was not predisposed to like Adela. The circumstances were in a number of ways unfavourable. Even had there not existed the very natural resentment at the painful task which this young lady had indirectly imposed upon her, it was not in Alice's blood and breeding to take kindly at once to a girl of a class above her own. Alice had warm affections; as a lady's maid she might very conceivably have attached herself with much devotion to an indulgent mistress, but in the present case too much was asked of her, Richard was proud of his sister; he saw her at length seated where he had so often imagined her, and in his eyes she bore herself well. He glanced often at Adela, hoping for a return glance of congratulation; when it failed to come, he consoled himself with the reflection that such silent interchange of sentiments at table would be ill manners. In his very heart he believed that of the two maidens his sister was the better featured. Adela and Alice sat over against each other; their contrasted appearances were a chapter of social history. Mark the difference between Adela's gently closed lips, every muscle under control; and Alice's, which could never quite close without forming a saucy pout or a self-conscious primness. Contrast the foreheads; on the one hand that tenderly shadowed curve of brow, on the other the surface which always seemed to catch too much of the light, which moved irregularly with the arches above the eyes. The grave modesty of the one face, the now petulant, now abashed, now vacant expression of the other. Richard in his heart preferred the type he had 80 long been familiar with; a state of feeling of course in no way inconsistent with the emotions excited in him by continual observation of Adela.
The two returned to the Manor at half-past seven, Alice rising with evident relief when he gave the signal. It was agreed that the latter part of the next morning should be spent in going over the works. Adela was very willing to be of the party.
'They haven't much money, have they?' was Alice's first question as soon as she got away from the door.
'No, they are not rich,' replied the brother. 'You got on very nicely, old girl.'
'Why shouldn't I? You talk as if I didn't know how to behave myself, Dick.'
'No, I don't. I say that you did behave yourself.'
'Yes, and you were surprised at it.'
'I wasn't at all. What do you think of her?'
'She doesn't say much.'
'No, she's always very quiet. It's her way.'
The monosyllable meant more than Richard gathered from it. They walked on in silence, and were met presently by a gentleman who was coming along the village street at a sharp pace. A lamp discovered Mr. Willis Rodman. Richard stopped.
'Seen to that little business?' he asked, in a cheerful voice.
'Yes,' was Rodman's reply. 'We shall hear from Agworth in the morning.'
'All right. -- Alice, this is Mr. Rodman. -- My sister, Rodman.'
Richard's right-hand man performed civilities with decidedly more finish than Richard himself had at command.
'I am very happy to meet Miss Mutimer. I hope we shall have the pleasure of showing her New Wanley to-morrow.'
'She and Miss Waltham will walk down in the morning. Good night, Rodman. Cold, eh?'
'Why didn't you introduce him this afternoon?' Alice asked as she walked on.
'I didn't think of it -- I was bothered.'
'He seems very gentlemanly.'
'Oh, Rodman's seen a deal of life. He's a useful fellow -- gets through work in a wonderful way.'
'But is he a gentleman? I mean, was he once?'
'I suppose you mean, had he ever money? No, he's made himself what he is.'
Tea having supplied the place of the more substantial evening meal, Richard and his sister had supper about ten o'clock. Alice drank champagne; a few bottles remained from those dedicated to the recent festival, and Mutimer felt the necessity of explaining the presence in his house of a luxury which to his class is more than anything associated with the bloated aristocracy. Alice drank it for the first time in her life, and her spirits grew as light as the foam upon her glass. Brother and sister were quietly confidential as midnight drew near.
'Shall you bring her to London?' Alice inquired, without previous mention of Adela.
'For a week, I think. We shall go to an hotel, of course. She's never seen London since she was a child.'
'She won't come to Highbury?'
'No. I shall avoid that somehow. You'll have to come and see us at the hotel. We'll go to the theatre together one night.'
'What about 'Arry?'
'I don't know. I shall think about it.'
Digesting much at his ease, Richard naturally became dreamful.
'I may have to take a house for a time now and then,' he said.
'I mustn't forget you, you see, Princess. Of course you'll come here sometimes, but that's not much good. In London I dare say I can get you to know some of the right kind of people. I want Adela to be thick with the Westlakes; then your chance'll come. See, old woman?'
Alice, too, dreamed.
'I wonder you don't want me to marry a Socialist working man,' she said presently, as if twitting him playfully.
'You don't understand. One of the things we aim at is to remove the distinction between classes. I want you to marry one of those they call gentlemen. And you shall too, Alice!'
'Well, but I'm not a working girl now, Dick.'
He laughed, and said it was time to go to bed.
The same evening conversation continued to a late hour between Hubert Eldon and his mother. Hubert was returning to London the next morning.
Yesterday there had come to him two letters from Wanley, both addressed in female hand. He knew Adela's writing from her signature in the 'Christian Year,' and hastily opened the letter which came from her. The sight of the returned sonnets checked the eager flow of his blood; he was prepared for what he afterwards read.
'Then let her meet her fate,' -- so ran his thoughts when he had perused the cold note, unassociable with the Adela he imagined in its bald formality. 'Only life can teach her.'
The other letter he suspected to be from Letty Tew, as it was.
'DEAR MR. ELDON, -- I cannot help writing a line to you, lest you should think that I did not keep my promise in the way you understood it. I did indeed. You will hear from her; she preferred to write herself, and perhaps it was better; I should only have had painful things to say. I wish to ask you to have no unkind or unjust thoughts; I scarcely think you could have. Please do not trouble to answer this, but believe me, yours sincerely,
'Good little girl!' he said to himself, smiling sadly. 'I feel sure she did her best.'
But his pride was asserting itself, always restive under provocation. To rival with a man like Mutimer! Better that the severance with old days should be complete.
He talked it all over very frankly with his mother, who felt that her son's destiny was not easily foreseen.
'And what do you propose to do, Hubert?' she asked, when they spoke of the future. i88 Demos
'To study, principally art. In a fortnight I go to Rome.'
Mrs. Eldon had gone thither thirty years ago.
'Think of me in. my chair sometimes,' she said, touching his hands with her wan fingers.
Alice reached home again on Christmas Eve. It was snowing; she came in chilled and looking miserable. Mrs. Mutimer met her in the hall, passed her, and looked out at the open door, then turned with a few white flecks on her gown.
'He couldn't come,' replied the girl briefly, and ran up to her room.
'Arry was spending the evening with friends. Since tea-time the old woman had never ceased moving from room to room, up and down stairs. She had got out an old pair of Richard's slippers, and had put them before the dining-room fire to warm. She had made a bed for Richard, and had a fire burning in the chamber. She had made arrangements for her eldest son's supper. No word had come from Wanley, but she held to the conviction that this night would see Richard in London.
Alice came down and declared that she was very hungry. Her mother went to the kitchen to order a meal, which in the end she prepared with her own hands. She seemed to have a difficulty in addressing any one. Whilst Alice ate in silence, Mrs. Mutimer kept going in and out of the room; when the girl rose from the table, she stood before her and asked:
'Why couldn't he come?'
Alice went to the fireplace, knelt down, and spread her hands to. the blaze. Her mother approached her again.
'Won't you give me no answer, Alice?'
'He couldn't come, mother. Something important is keeping him.'
'Something important? And why did he want you there?'
Alice rose to her feet, made one false beginning, then spoke to the point.
'Dick's married, mother.'
The old woman's eyes seemed to grow small in her wrinkled face, as if directing themselves with effort upon something minute. They looked straight into the eyes of her daughter, but had a more distant focus. The fixed gaze continued for nearly a minute.
'What are you talking about, girl?' she said at length, m a strange, rattling voice. 'Why, I've seen Emma this very morning. Do you think she wouldn't 'a told me if she'd been a wife?'
Alice was frightened by the look and the voice.
'Mother, it isn't Emma at all. It's someone at Wanley. We can't help it, mother. It's no use taking on. Now sit down and make yourself quiet. It isn't our fault.'
Mrs. Mutimer smiled in a grim way, then laughed -- a most unmusical laugh.
'Now what's the good o' joking in that kind o' way? That's like your father, that is; he'd often come 'ome an' tell me sich things as never was, an' expect me to believe 'em. An' I used to purtend I did, jist to please him. But I'm too old for that kind o' jokin'. -- Alice, where's Dick? How long'll it be before he's here? Where did he leave you?'
'Now do just sit down, mother; here, in this chair. Just sit quiet for a little, do.'
Mrs. Mutimer pushed aside the girl's hand; her face had become grave again.
'Let me be, child. And I tell you I have seen Emma to-day. Do you think she wouldn't 'a told me if things o' that kind was goin' on?'
'Emma knows nothing about it, mother. He hasn't told any one. He got me to come because he couldn't tell it himself. It was as much a surprise to me as to you, and I think it's very cruel of him. But it's over, and we can't help it. I shall have to tell Emma, I suppose, and a nice thing too!'
The old woman had begun to quiver; her hands shook by her sides, her very features trembled with gathering indignation.
'Dick has gone an' done this?' she stammered. 'He's gone an' broke his given word? He's deceived that girl as trusted to him an' couldn't help herself?'
'Now, mother, don't take on so! You're going to make yourself ill. It can't be helped. He says he shall send Emma money just the same.'
'Money! There you've hit the word; it's money as 'as ruined him, and as 'll be the ruin of us all. Send her money! What does the man think she's made of? Is all his feelings got as hard as money? and does he think the same of every one else? If I know Emma, she'll throw his money in his face. I knew what 'ud come of it, don't tell me I didn't. That very night as he come 'ome an' told me what had 'appened, there was a cold shiver run over me. I told him as it was the worst news ever come into our 'ouse, and now see if I wasn't right! He was angry with me 'cause I said it, an' who's a right to be angry now? It's my belief as money's the curse o' this world; I never knew a trouble yet as didn't somehow come of it, either 'cause there was too little or else too much. And Dick's gone an' done this? And him with all his preachin' about rights and wrongs an' what not! Him as was always a-cryin' down the rich folks 'cause they hadn't no feelin' for the poor! What feeling's he had, I'd like to know? It's him as is rich now, an' where's the difference 'tween him and them as he called names? No feelin' for the poor! An' what's Emma Vine? Poor enough by now. There's Jane as can't have not a week more to live, an' she a-nursin' her night an' day. He'll give her money! -- has he got the face to say it? Nay, don't talk to me, girl; I'll say what I think. if it's the last I speak in this world. Don't let him come to me! Never a word again shall he have from me as long as I live. He's disgraced himself, an' me his mother, an' his father in the grave. A poor girl as couldn't help herself, as trusted him an' wouldn't hear not a word against him, for all he kep' away from her in her trouble. I'd a fear o' this, but I wouldn't believe it of Dick; I wouldn't believe it of a son o' mine. An' 'Arry 'll go the same way. It's all the money, an a curse go with all the money as ever was made! An' you too, Alice, wi' your fine dresses, an' your piannerin', an' your faldedals. But I warn you, my girl. There 'll no good come of it. I warn you, Alice! You're ashamed o' your own mother -- oh, I've seen it! But it's a mercy if you're not a disgrace to her. I'm thankful as I was always poor; I might 'a been tempted i' the same way.'
The dogma of a rude nature full of secret forces found utterance at length under the scourge of a resentment of very mingled quality. Let half be put to the various forms of disinterested feeling, at least half was due to personal exasperation. The whole change that her life had perforce undergone was an outrage upon the stubbornness of uninstructed habit; the old woman could see nothing but evil omens in a revolution which cost her bodily discomfort and the misery of a mind perplexed amid alien conditions. She was prepared for evil; for months she had brooded over every sign which seemed to foretell its approach; the egoism of the unconscious had made it plain to her that the world must suffer in a state of things which so grievously affected herself. Maternal solicitude kept her restlessly swaying between apprehension for her children and injury in the thought of their estrangement from her. And now at length a bitter shame added itself to her torments. She was shamed in her pride as a mother, shamed before the girl for whom she nourished a deep affection. Emma's injuries she felt charged upon herself; she would never dare to stand before her again. Her moral code, as much a part of her as the sap of the plant and as little the result of conscious absorption, declared itself on the side of all these rushing impulses; she was borne blindly on an exhaustless flux of words. After vain attempts to make herself heard, Alice turned away and sat sullenly waiting for the outburst to spend itself. Herself comparatively unaffected by the feelings strongest in her mother, this ear-afflicting clamour altogether checked her sympathy, and in a great measure overcame those personal reasons which had made her annoyed with Richard. She found herself taking his side, even knew something of his impatience with Emma and her sorrows. When it came to rebukes and charges against herself her impatience grew active. She stood up again and endeavoured to make herself heard.
'What's the good of going on like this, mother? Just because you're angry, that's no reason you should call us all the names you can turn your tongue to. It's over and done with, and there's an end of it. I don't know what you mean about disgracing you; I think you might wait till the time comes. I don't see what I've done as you can complain of.'
'No, of course you don't,' pursued her mother bitterly. 'It's the money as prevents you from seeing it. Them as was good enough for you before you haven't a word to say to now; a man as works honestly for his living you make no account of. Well, well, you must go your own way ----'
'What is it you want, mother? You don't expect me to look no higher than when I hadn't a penny but what I worked for? I've no patience with you. You ought to be glad ----'
'You haven't no patience, of course you haven't. And I'm to be glad when a son of mine does things as he deserves to be sent to prison for! I don't understand that kind o' gladness. But mind what I say; do what you like with your money, I'll have no more part in it. If I had as much as ten shillings a week of my own, I'd go and live by myself, and leave you to take your own way. But I tell you what I can do, and what I will. I'll have no more servants a-waitin' on me; I wasn't never used to it, and I'm too old to begin. I go to my own bedroom upstairs, and there I live, and there 'll be nobody go into that room but myself. I'll get my bits o' meals from the kitchen. 'Tain't much as I want, thank goodness, an' it won't be missed. I'll have no more doin's with servants, understand that; an' if I can't be left alone i' my own room, I'll go an' find a room where I can, an' I'll find some way of earnin' what little I want. It's your own house, and you'll do what you like in it. There's the keys, I've done with 'em; an' here's the money too, I'm glad to be rid of it. An' you'll just tell Dick. I ain't one as says what I don't mean, nor never was, as that you know. You take your way, an' I'll take mine. An' now may be I'll get a night's sleep, the first I've had under this roof.'
As she spoke she took from her pockets the house keys, and from her purse the money she used for current expenses, and threw all together on to the table. Alice had turned to the fireplace, and she stood so for a long time after her mother had left the room. Then she took the keys and the money, consulted her watch, and in a few minutes was walking from the house to a neighbouring cab-stand.
She drove to Wilton Square. Inspecting the front of the house before knocking at the door, she saw a light in the kitchen and a dimmer gleam at an upper window. It was Mrs. Clay who opened to her.
'Is Emma in?' Alice inquired as she shook hands rather coldly.
'She's sitting with Jane. I'll tell her. There's no fire except in the kitchen,' Kate added, in a tone which implied that doubtless her visitor was above taking a seat downstairs.
'I'll go down,' Alice replied, with just a touch of condescension. 'I want to speak a word or two with Emma, that's all.'
Kate left her to descend the stairs, and went to inform her sister. Emma was not long in appearing; the hue of her face was troubled, for she had deceived herself with the belief that it was Richard who knocked at the door. What more natural than for him to have come on Christmas Eve? She approached Alice with a wistful look, not venturing to utter any question, only hoping that some good news might have been brought her. Long watching in the sick room had given her own complexion the tint of ill-health; her eyelids were swollen and heavy; the brown hair upon her temples seemed to droop in languor. You would have noticed that her tread was very soft, as if she still were moving in the room above.
'How's Jane?' Alice began by asking. She could not quite look the other in the face, and did not know how to begin her disclosure.
'No better,' Emma gave answer, shaking her head. Her voice, too, was suppressed; it was weeks since she had spoken otherwise.
'I am so sorry, Emma. Are you in a hurry to go up again?'
'No. Kate will sit there a little.'
'You look very poorly yourself. It must be very trying for you.'
'I don't feel it,' Emma said, with a pale smile. 'She gives no trouble. It's only her weakness now; the pain has almost gone.'
'But then she must be getting better.'
Emma shook her head, looking aside. As Alice kept silence, she continued:
'I was glad to hear you'd gone to see Richard. He wouldn't -- I was afraid he mightn't have time to get here for Christmas.'
There was a question in the words, a timorously expectant question. Emma had learnt the sad lesson of hope deferred, always to meet discouragement halfway. It is thus one seeks to propitiate the evil powers, to turn the edge of their blows by meekness.
'No, he couldn't come,' said Alice.
She had a muff on her left hand, and was turning it round and round with the other. Emma had not asked her to sit down, merely because of the inward agitation which absorbed her.
'He's quite well?'
'Oh yes, quite well.'
Again Alice paused. Emma's heart was beating painfully. She knew now that Richard's sister had not come on an ordinary visit; she felt that the call to Wanley had had some special significance. Alice did not ordinarily behave in this hesitating way.
'Did -- did he send me a message?'
But even now Alice could not speak. She found a way of leading up to the catastrophe.
'Oh, mother has been going on so, Emma! What do you think? She won't have anything to do with the house any longer. She's given me the keys and all the money she had, and she's going to live just in her bedroom. She says she'll get her food from the kitchen herself, and she won't have a thing done for her by any one. I'm sure she means it; I never saw her in such a state. She says if she'd ever so little money of her own, she'd leave the house altogether. She's been telling me I've no feeling, and that I'm going to the bad, that I shall live to disgrace her, and I can't tell you what. Everything is so miserable! She says it's all the money, and that she knew from the first how it would be. And I'm afraid some of what she says is true, I am indeed, Emma. But things happen in a way you could never think. I half wish myself the money had never come. It's making us all miserable.'
Emma listened, expecting from phrase to phrase some word which would be to her a terrible enlightenment But Alice had ceased, and the word still unspoken.
'You say he sent me a message?'
She did not ask directly the cause of Mrs. Mutimer's anger. Instinct told her that to hear the message would explain all else.
'Emma, I'm afraid to tell you. You'll blame me, like mother did.'
'I shan't blame you, Alice. Will you please tell me the message?'
Emma's lips seemed to speak without her volition. The rest o her face was fixed and cold.
'He's married, Emma.'
'He asked you to tell me?'
Alice was surprised at the self-restraint proved by so quiet an interrogation.
'Yes, he did. Emma, I'm so, so sorry! If only you'll believe I'm sorry, Emma! He made me come and tell you. He said if I didn't you'd have to find out by chance, because he couldn't for shame tell you himself. And he couldn't tell mother neither. I've had it all to do. If you knew what I've gone through with mother! It's very hard that other people should suffer so much just on his account. I am really sorry for you, Emma.'
'Who is it he's married?' Emma asked. Probably all the last speech had been but a vague murmur to her ears.
'Some one at Wanley.'
'Yes, I suppose she's a lady.'
'You didn't see her, then?'
'Yes, I saw her. I don't like her.'
Poor Alice meant this to be soothing. Emma knew it, and smiled.
'I don't think she cares much after all,' Alice said to herself.
'But was that the message?'
'Only to tell you of it, Emma. There was something else,' she added immediately; 'not exactly a message, but he told me, and I dare say he thought I should let you know. He said that of course you were to have the money still as usual.'
Over the listener's face came a cloud, a deep, turbid red. It was not anger, but shame which rose from the depths of her being. Her head sank; she turned and walked aside.
'You're not angry with me, Emma?'
'Not angry at all, Alice,' was the reply in a monotone.
'I must say good-bye now. I hope you won t take on much. And I hope Jane 'll soon be better.'
'Thank you. I must go up to her; she doesn't like me to be away long.'
Alice went before up the kitchen stairs, the dark, narrow stairs which now seemed to her so poverty-stricken. Emma did not speak, but pressed her hand at the door.
Kate stood above her on the first landing, and, as Emma came up, whispered:
'Has he come?'
'Something has hindered him.' And Emma added, 'He couldn't help it.'
'Well, then, I think he ought to have helped it,' said the other tartly. 'When does he mean to come, I'd like to know?'
Emma passed into the sick-room. Her sister followed her with eyes of ill-content, then returned to the kitchen.
Jane lay against pillows. Red light from the fire played over her face, which was wasted beyond recognition. She looked a handmaiden of Death.
The atmosphere of the room was warm and sickly. A small green-shaded lamp stood by the looking-glass in front of the window; it cast a disk of light below, and on the ceiling concentric rings of light and shade, which flickered ceaselessly, and were at times all but obliterated in a gleam from the fireplace. A kettle sang on the trivet.
The sick girl's hands lay on the counterpane; one of them moved as Emma came to the bedside, and rested when the warmer fingers clasped it. There was eager inquiry in the sunken eyes; her hand tried to raise itself, but in vain.
'What did Alice say?' she asked, in quick feeble tones. 'Is he coming?'
'Not for Christmas, I'm afraid, dear. He's still very busy.'
'But he sent you a message?'
'Yes. He would have come if he could.'
'Did you tell Alice I wanted to see her? Why didn't she come up? Why did she stay such a short time?'
'She couldn't stay to-night, Jane. Are you easy still, love?'
'Oh, I did so want to see her. Why couldn't she stop, Emma? It wasn't kind of her to go without seeing me. I'd have made time if it had been her as was lying in bed. And he doesn't even answer what I wrote to him. It was such work to write -- I couldn't now; and he might have answered.'
'He very seldom writes to any one, you know, Jane. He has so little time.'
'Little time! I have less, Emma, and he must know that. It's unkind of him. What did Alice tell you? Why did he want her to go there? Tell me everything.'
Emma felt the sunken eyes burning her with their eager look. She hesitated, pretended to think of something that had to be done, and the eyes burned more and more. Jane made repeated efforts to raise herself, as if to get a fuller view of her sister's face.
'Shall I move you?' Emma asked. 'Would you like another pillow?'
'No, no,' was the impatient answer. 'Don't go away from me; don't take your hand away. I want to know all that Alice said. You haven't any secrets from me, Emmy. Why does he stay away so long? It seems years since he came to see you. It's wrong of him. There's no business ought to keep him away all this time. Look at me, and tell me what she said.'
'Only that he hadn't time. Dear, you mustn't excite yourself so. Isn't it all right, Jane, as long as I don't mind it?'
'Why do you look away from me? No, it isn't all right. Oh, I can't rest, I can't lie here! Why haven't I strength to go and say to him what I want to say? I thought it was him. when the knock came. When Kate told me it wasn't, I felt as if my heart was sinking down; and I don't seem to have no tears left to cry. It 'ud ease me a little if I could. And now you're beginning to have secrets. Emmy!'
It was a cry of anguish. The mention of tears had brought them to Emma's eyes, for they lurked very near the surface, and Jane had seen the firelight touch on a moist cheek. For an instant she raised herself from the pillows. Emma folded soft arms about her and pressed her cheek against the heat which consumed her sister's.
'Emmy, I must know,' wailed the sick girl. 'Is it what I've been afraid of? No, not that! Is it the worst of all? You must tell .me now. You don't love me if you keep away the truth. I can't have anything between you and me.'
A dry sob choked her; she gasped for breath. Emma, fearful lest the very life was escaping from her embrace, drew away and looked in anguish. Her involuntary tears had ceased, but she could no longer practise deception. The cost to Jane was greater perhaps than if she knew the truth. At least their souls must be united ere it was too late.
'The truth, Emmy!'
'I will tell it you, darling,' she replied, with quiet sadness. 'It's for him that I'm sorry. I never thought anything could tempt him to break his word. Think of it in the same way as I do, dear-sister; don't be sorry for me, but for him.'
'He's never coming? He won't marry you?'
'He's already married, Jane. Alice came to tell me.'
Again she would have raised herself, but this time there was no strength. Not even her arms could she lift from the coverlets. But Emma saw the vain effort, raised the thin arms, put them about her neck, and held her sister to her heart as if for eternity.
'Darling, darling, it isn't hard to bear. I care for nothing but your love. Live for my sake, dearest dear; I have forgotten every one and everything but you. It's so much better. I couldn't have changed my life so; I was never meant to be rich. It seems unkind of him, but in a little time we shall see it was best. Only you, Janey; you have my whole heart, and I'm so glad to feel it is so. Live, and I'll give every minute of my life to loving you, poor sufferer.'
Jane could not breathe sound into the words she would have spoken. She lay with her eyes watching the fire-play on the ceiling. Her respiration was quick and feeble.
Mutimer's name was not mentioned by either again that night, by one of them never again. Such silence was his punishment.
Kate entered the room a little before midnight. She saw one of Jane's hands raised to impose silence. Emma, still sitting by the bedside, slept; her head rested on the pillows. The sick had become the watcher.
'She'd better go to bed,' Kate whispered. 'I'll wake her.'
'No, no You needn't stay, Kate. I don't want anything. Let her sleep as she is.'
The elder sister left the room. Then Jane approached her head to that of the sleeper, softly, softly, and her arm stole across Emma's bosom and rested on her farther shoulder. The fire burned with little whispering tongues of flame; the circles of light and shade quivered above the lamp. Abroad the snow fell and froze upon the ground.
Three days later Alice Mutimer, as she sat at breakfast, was told that a visitor named Mrs. Clay desired to see her. It was nearly ten o'clock; Alice had no passion for early rising, and since her mother's retirement from the common table she breakfasted alone at any hour which seemed good to her. 'Arry always -- or nearly always -- left the house at eight o'clock.
Mrs. Clay was introduced into the dining-room. Alice received her with an anxious face, for she was anticipating trouble from the house in Wilton Square. But the trouble was other than she had in mind.
'Jane died at four o'clock this morning,' the visitor began, without agitation, in the quick, unsympathetic voice which she always used when her equanimity was in any way disturbed. 'Emma hasn't closed her eyes for two days and nights, and now I shouldn't wonder if she's going to be ill herself. I made her lie down, and then came out just to ask you to write to your brother. Surely he'll come now. I don't know what to do about the burying; we ought to have some one to help us. I expected your mother would be coming to see us, but she's kept away all at once. Will you write to Dick?'
Alice was concerned to perceive that Kate was still unenlightened.
'Did Emma know you were coming?' she asked.
'Yes, I suppose she did. But it's hard to get her to attend to anything. I've left her alone, 'cause there wasn't any one I could fetch at once. Will you write to-day?'
'Yes, I'll see to it,' said Alice. 'Have some breakfast, will you?'
'Well, I don't mind just a cup o' coffee. It's very cold, and I had to walk a long way before I could get a 'bus.'
Whilst Kate refreshed herself, Alice played nervously with her tea-spoon, trying to make up her mind what must be done. The situation was complicated with many miseries, but Alice had experienced a growth of independence since her return from Wanley. All she had seen and heard whilst with her brother had an effect upon her in the afterthought, and her mother's abrupt surrender into her hands of the household control gave her, when she had time to realise it, a sense of increased importance not at all disagreeable. Already she had hired a capable servant in addition to the scrubby maid-of-all-work who had sufficed for Mrs. Mutimer, and it was her intention that henceforth domestic arrangements should be established on quite another basis.
'I'll telegraph to Dick,' she said, presently. 'I've no doubt he'll see that everything's done properly.'
'But won't he come himself?'
'We shall see.'
'Is your mother in?'
'She's not very well; I don't think I must disturb her with bad news. Tell Emma I'm very sorry, will you? I do hope she isn't going to be ill. You must see that she gets rest now. Was it sudden?' she added, showing in her face how little disposed she was to dwell on such gloomy subjects as death and burial.
'She was wandering all yesterday. I don't think she knew anything after eight o'clock last night. She went off in a sleep.'
When the visitor had gone, Alice drove to the nearest telegraph office and despatched a message to her brother, giving the news and asking what should be done. By three o'clock in the afternoon no reply had yet arrived; but shortly after Mr. Keene presented himself at the house. Alice had not seen him since her return. He bowed to her with extreme gravity, and spoke in a subdued voice.
'I grieve that I have lost time, Miss Mutimer. Important business had taken me from home, and on my return I found a telegram from Wanley. Your brother directs me to wait upon you at once, on a very sad subject, I fear. He instructs me to purchase a grave in Manor Park Cemetery. No near relative, I trust?'
'No, only a friend,' Alice replied. 'You've heard me speak of a girl called Emma Vine. It's a sister of hers. She died this morning, and they want help about the funeral.'
'Precisely, precisely. You know with what zeal I hasten to perform your' -- a slight emphasis on this word -- 'brother's pleasure, be the business what it may. I'll see about it at once. I was to say to you that your brother would be in town this evening.'
'Oh, very well. But you needn't look so gloomy, you know, Mr. Keene. I'm very sorry, but then she's been ill for a very long time, and it's really almost a relief -- to her sisters, I mean.'
'I trust you enjoyed your visit to Wanley, Miss Mutimer?' said Keene, still preserving his very respectful tone and bearing.
'Oh yes, thanks. I dare say I shall go there again before very long. No doubt you'll be glad to hear that.'
'I will try to be, Miss Mutimer. I trust that your pleasure is my first consideration in life.'
Alice was, to speak vulgarly, practising on Mr. Keene. He was her first visitor since she had entered upon rule, and she had a double satisfaction in subduing him with airs and graces. She did not trouble to reflect that under the circumstances he might think her rather heartless, and indeed hypocrisy was not one of her failings. Her naïveté constituted such charm as she possessed; in the absence of any deep qualities it might be deemed a virtue, for it was inconsistent with serious deception.
'I suppose you mean you'd really much rather I stayed here?'
Keene eyed her with observation. He himself had slight depth for a man doomed to live by his wits, and he was under the disadvantage of really feeling something of what he said. He was not a rascal by predilection; merely driven that way by the forces which in our social state abundantly make for rascality.
'Miss Mutimer,' he replied, with a stage sigh, 'why do you tempt my weakness? I am on my honour; I am endeavouring to earn your good opinion. Spare me!'
'Oh, I'm sure there's no harm in you, Mr. Keene. I suppose you'd better go and see after your -- your business.'
'You are right. I go at once, Princess. I may call you Princess?'
'Well, I don't know about that. Of course only when there's no one else in the room.'
'But I shall think it always.'
'That I can't prevent, you know.'
'Ah, I fear you mean nothing, Miss Mutimer.'
'Nothing at all.'
He took his leave, and Alice enjoyed reflecting upon the dialogue, which certainly had meant nothing for her in any graver sense.
'Now, that's what the books call flirtation,' she said to herself. 'I think I can do that.'
And on the whole she could, vastly better than might have been expected of her birth and breeding.
At six o'clock a note was delivered for her. Richard wrote from an hotel in the neighbourhood, asking her to come to him. She found him in a private sitting-room, taking a meal.
'Why didn't you come to the house?' she asked. 'You knew mother never comes down-stairs.'
Richard looked at her with lowered brows.
'You mean to say she's doing that in earnest?'
'That she is She comes down early in the morning and gets all the food she wants for the day. I heard her cooking something in a frying-pan to-day. She hasn't been out of the house yet.'
'Does she know about Jane?'
'No. I know what it would be if I went and told her.'
He ate in silence. Alice waited.
'You must go and see Emma,' was his next remark. 'Tell her there's a grave in Manor Park Cemetery; her father and mother were buried there, you know. Keene 'll look after it all and he'll come and tell you what to do.'
'Why did you come up?'
'Oh, I couldn't talk about these things in letters. You'll have to tell mother; she might want to go to the funeral.'
'I don't see why I should do all your disagreeable work, Dick!'
'Very well, don't do it,' he replied sullenly, throwing down his knife and fork.
A scene of wrangling followed, without violence, but of the kind which is at once a cause and an effect of demoralisation. The old disagreements between them had been in another tone, at all events on Richard's side, for they had arisen from his earnest disapproval of frivolities and the like. Richard could no longer speak in that way. To lose the power of honest reproof in consequence of a moral lapse is to any man a wide-reaching calamity; to a man of Mutimer's calibre it meant disaster of which the end could not be foreseen.
Of course Alice yielded; her affection and Richard's superior force always made it a foregone result that she should do so.
'And you won't come and see mother?' she asked.
'No. She's behaving foolishly.'
'It's precious dull at home, I can tell you. I can't go on much longer without friends of some kind. I've a good mind to marry Mr. Keene, just for a change.'
Richard started up, with his fist on the table.
'Do you mean to say he's been talking to you in that way?' he cried angrily.
Alice had spoken with thoughtless petulance. She hastened eagerly to correct her error.
'As if I meant it! Don't be stupid, Dick. Of course he hasn't said a word; I believe he's engaged to somebody; I thought so from something he said a little while ago. The idea of me marrying a man like that!'
He examined her closely, and Alice was not afraid of telltale cheeks.
'Well, I can't think you'd be such a fool. If I thought there was any danger of that, I'd soon stop it.'
'Would you, indeed! Why, that would be just the way to make me say I'd have him. You'd have known that if only you read novels.'
'Novels!' he exclaimed, with profound contempt. 'Don't go playing with that kind of thing; it's dangerous. At least you can wait a week or two longer. I've only let him see so much of you because I felt sure you'd got common sense.'
'Of course I have. But what's to happen in a week or two?'
'I should think you might come to Wanley for a little. We shall see. If mother had only 'Arry in the house, she might come back to her senses.'
'Shall I tell her you've been to London?'
'You can if you like,' he replied, with a show of indifference.
Jane Vine was buried on Sunday afternoon, her sisters alone accompanying her to the grave. Alice had with difficulty obtained admission to her mother's room, and it seemed to her that the news she brought was received with little emotion. The old woman had an air of dogged weariness; she did not look her daughter in the face, and spoke only in monosyllables. Her face was yellow, her cheeks like wrinkled parchment.
Manor Park Cemetery lies in the remote East End, and gives sleeping-places to the inhabitants of a vast district. There Jane's parents lay, not in a grave to themselves, but buried amidst the nameless dead, in that part of the ground reserved for those who can purchase no more than a portion in the foss which is filled when its occupants reach statutable distance from the surface. The regions around were then being built upon for the first time; the familiar streets of pale, damp brick were stretching here and there, continuing London, much like the spreading of a disease. Epping Forest is near at hand, and nearer the dreary expanse of Wanstead Flats.
Not grief, but chill desolation makes this cemetery its abode. A country churchyard touches the tenderest memories, and softens the heart with longing for the eternal rest. The cemeteries of wealthy London abound in dear and great associations, or at worst preach homilies which connect themselves with human dignity and pride. Here on the waste limits of that dread East, to wander among tombs is to go hand in hand with the stark and eyeless emblem of mortality; the spirit falls beneath the cold burden of ignoble destiny. Here lie those who were born for toll; who, when toil has worn them to the uttermost, have but to yield their useless breath and pass into oblivion. For them is no day, only the brief twilight of a winter sky between the former and the latter night For them no aspiration; for them no hope of memory in the dust; their very children are wearied into forgetfulness. Indistinguishable units in the vast throng that labours but to support life, the name of each, father, mother, child, is as a dumb cry for the warmth and love of which Fate so stinted them. The wind wails above their narrow tenements; the sandy soil, soaking in the rain as soon as it has fallen, is a symbol of the great world which absorbs their toil and straightway blots their being.
It being Sunday afternoon the number of funerals was considerable; even to bury their dead the toilers cannot lose a day of the wage week. Around the chapel was a great collection of black vehicles with sham-tailed mortuary horses; several of the families present must have left themselves bare in order to clothe a coffin in the way they deemed seemly. Emma and her sister had made their own funeral garments, and the former, in consenting for the sake of poor Jane to receive the aid which Mutimer offered, had insisted through Alice that there should be no expenditure beyond the strictly needful. The carriage which conveyed her and Kate alone followed the hearse from Hoxton; it rattled along at a merry pace, for the way was lengthy, and a bitter wind urged men and horses to speed. The occupants of the box kept up a jesting colloquy.
Impossible to read the burial service over each of the dead separately; time would not allow it. Emma and Kate found themselves crowded among a number of sobbing women, just in time to seat themselves before the service began. Neither of them had moist eyes; the elder looked about the chapel with blank gaze, often shivering with cold; Emma's face was bent downwards, deadly pale, set in unchanging woe. A world had fallen to pieces about her; she did not feel the ground upon which she trod; there seemed no way from amid the ruins. She had no strong religious faith; a wail in the darkness was all the expression her heart could attain to; in the present anguish she could not turn her thoughts to that far vision of a life hereafter. All day she had striven to realise that a box of wood contained all that was left of her sister. The voice of the clergyman struck her ear with meaningless monotony. Not immortality did she ask for, but one more whisper from the lips that could not speak, one throb of the heart she had striven so despairingly to warm against her own.
Kate was plucking at her arm, for the service was over, and unconsciously she was impeding people who wished to pass from the seats. With difficulty she rose and walked; the cold seemed to have checked the flow of her blood; she noticed the breath rising from her mouth, and wondered that she could have so much whilst those dear lips were breathless. Then she was being led over hard snow, towards a place where men stood, where there was new-turned earth, where a coffin lay upon the ground. She suffered the sound of more words which she could not follow, then heard the dull falling of clods upon hollow wood. A hand seemed to clutch her throat, she struggled convulsively and cried aloud. But the tears would not come.
No memory of the return home dwelt afterwards in her mind. The white earth, the headstones sprinkled with snow, the vast grey sky over which darkness was already creeping, the wind and the clergyman's voice joining in woful chant, these alone remained with her to mark the day. Between it and the days which then commenced lay formless void.
On Tuesday morning Alice Mutimer came to the house. Mrs. Clay chanced to be from home; Emma received the visitor and led her down into the kitchen.
'I am glad you have come,' she said; 'I wanted to see you to-day.'
'Are you feeling better?' Alice asked. She tried in vain to speak with the friendliness of past days; that could never be restored. Her advantages of person and dress were no help against the embarrassment caused in her by the simple dignity of the wronged and sorrowing girl.
Emma replied that she was better, then asked:
'Have you come only to see me; or for something else?'
'I wanted to know how you were; but I've brought you something as well'
She took an envelope from within her muff. Emma shook her head.
'No, nothing more,' she said, in a tone removed alike from resentment and from pathos; 'I want you, please, to say that we can t take anything after this.'
'But what are you going to do, Emma?'
'To leave this house and live as we did before.'
'Oh, but you can't do that What does Kate say?'
'I haven't told her yet; I'm going to do so to-day.'
'But she'll feel it very hard with the children.'
The children were sitting together in a corner of the kitchen. Emma glanced at them, and saw that Bertie, the elder, was listening with a surprised look.
'Yes, I'm sorry,' she replied simply, 'but we have no choice.'
Alice had an impulse of generosity.
'Then take it from me,' she said. 'You won't mind that. You know I have plenty of my own. Live here and let one or two of the rooms, and I'll lend you what you need till the business is doing well. Now you can't have anything to say against that?'
Emma still shook her head.
'The business will never help us. We must go back to the old work; we can always live on that. I can't take anything from you, Alice.'
'Well, I think it's very unkind, Emma.'
'Perhaps so, but I can't help it: It's kind of you to offer, I feel that; but I'd rather work my fingers to the bone than touch one halfpenny now that I haven't earned.'
Alice bridled slightly and urged no more. She left before Kate returned.
In the course of the morning Emma strung herself to the effort of letting her sister know the true state of affairs. It was only what Kate had for a long time suspected, and she freely said as much, expressing her sentiments with fluent indignation.
'Of course I know you won't hear of it,' she said, 'but if I was in your place I'd make him smart. I'd have him up and make him pay, see if I wouldn't. Trust him, he knows you're too soft-hearted, and he takes advantage of you. It's girls like you as encourages men to think they can do as they like. You've no right, you haven't, to let him off. I'd have him in the newspapers and show him up, see if I wouldn't. And he shan't have it quite so easy as he thinks neither; I'll go about and tell everybody as I know. Only let him come a-lecturin' hereabouts, that's all!'
'Kate,' broke in the other, 'if you do anything of the kind, I don't know how I shall speak to you again. Its not you he's harmed; you've no right to spread talk about me It's my affair, and I must do as I think fit. It's all over and there's no occasion for neither you nor me to speak of him again I'm going out this afternoon to find a room for us, and we shall be no worse off than we was before. We've got to work, that's all, and to earn our living like other women do.'
Her sister stared incredulously.
'You mean to say he's stopped sending money?'
'I have refused to take it.'
'You've done what? Well, of all the ----!' Comparisons failed her. 'And I've got to take these children back again into a hole like the last? Not me! You do as you like; I suppose you know your own business. But if he doesn't send the money as usual, I'll find some way to make him, see if I don't! You're off your head, I think.'
Emma had anticipated this, and was prepared to bear the brunt of her sister's anger. Kate was not originally blessed with much sweetness of disposition, and an unhappy marriage had made her into a sour, nagging woman. But, in spite of her wretched temper and the low moral tone induced during her years of matrimony, she was not evil-natured, and her chief safeguard was affection for her sister Emma. This seldom declared itself, for she was of those unhappily constituted people who find nothing so hard as to betray the tenderness of which they are capable, and, as often as not, are driven by a miserable perversity to words and actions which seem quite inconsistent with such feeling. For Jane she had cared far less than for Emma, yet her grief at Jane's death was more than could be gathered from her demeanour. It had, in fact, resulted in a state of nervous irritableness; an outbreak of anger came to her as a relief, such as Emma had recently found in the shedding of tears. On her own account she felt strongly, but yet more on Emma's; coarse methods of revenge naturally suggested themselves to her, and to be thwarted drove her to exasperation. When Emma persisted in steady opposition, exerting all the force of her character to subdue her sister's ignoble purposes, Kate worked herself to frenzy. For more than an hour her voice was audible in the street, as she poured forth torrents of furious reproach and menace; all the time Emma stood patient and undaunted, her own anger often making terrible struggle for mastery, but ever finding itself subdued. For she, too, was of a passionate nature, but the treasures of sensibility which her heart enclosed consecrated all her being to noble ends. One invaluable aid she had in a contest such as this -- her inability to grow sullen. Righteous anger might gleam in her eyes and quiver upon her lips, but the fire always burnt clear; it is smoulder that poisons the air.
She knew her sister, pitied her, always made for her the gentlest allowances. It would have been easy to stand aside, to disclaim responsibility, and let Kate do as she chose, but the easy course was never the one she chose when endurance promised better results. To resist to the uttermost, even to claim and exert the authority she derived from her suffering, was, she knew, the truest kindness to her sister. And in the end she prevailed. Kate tore her passion to tatters, then succumbed to exhaustion. But she did not fling out of the room, and this Emma knew to be a hopeful sign. The opportunity of strong, placid speech at length presented itself, and Emma used it well. She did not succeed in eliciting a promise, but when she declared her confidence in her sister's better self, Kate made no retort, only sat in stubborn muteness.
In the afternoon Emma went forth to fulfil her intention of finding lodgings. She avoided the neighbourhood in which she had formerly lived, and after long search discovered what she wanted in a woful byway near Old Street. It was one room only, but larger than she had hoped to come upon; fortunately her own furniture had been preserved, and would now suffice.
Kate remained sullen, but proved by her actions that she had surrendered; she began to pack her possessions. Emma wrote to Alice, announcing that the house was tenantless; she took the note to Highbury herself, and left it at the door, together with the house key. The removal was effected after nightfall.
Movements which appeal to the reason and virtue of humanity, and are consequently doomed to remain long in the speculative stage, prove their vitality by enduring the tests of schism. A Socialistic propaganda in times such as our own, an insistence upon the principles of Christianity in a modern Christian state, the advocacy of peace and good-will in an age when falsehood is the foundation of the social structure, and internecine warfare is presupposed in every compact between man and man, might anticipate that the test would come soon, and be of a stringent nature. Accordingly it did not surprise Mr. Westlake when he discerned the beginnings of commotion in the Union of which he represented the cultured and leading elements. A comrade named Roodhouse had of late been coming into prominence by addressing himself in fiery eloquence to open-air meetings, and at length had taken upon himself to more than hint that the movement was at a standstill owing to the lukewarmness (in guise of practical moderation) of those to whom its guidance had been entrusted. The reports of Comrade Roodhouse's lectures were of a nature that made it difficult for Mr. Westlake to print them in the 'Fiery Cross;' one such report arrived at length, that of a meeting held on Clerkenwell Green on the first Sunday of the new year, to which the editor refused admission. The comrade who made it his business to pen notes of the new apostle's glowing words, had represented him as referring to the recognised leader in such very uncompromising terms, that to publish the report in the official columns would have been stultifying. In the lecture in question Roodhouse declared his adherence to the principles of assassination; he pronounced them the sole working principles; to deny to Socialists the right of assassination was to rob them of the very sinews of war. Men who affected to be revolutionists, but were in reality nothing more than rose-water romancers, would of course object to anything which looked like business; they liked to sit in their comfortable studies and pen daintily worded articles, thus earning for themselves a humanitarian reputation at a very cheap rate. That would not do; à bas all such penny-a-liner pretence! Blood and iron! that must be the revolutionists' watchword. Was it not by blood and iron that the present damnable system was maintained? To arms, thensecretly, of course. Let tyrants be made to tremble upon their thrones in more countries than Russia. Let capitalists fear to walk in the daylight. This only was the path of progress.
It was thought by the judicious that Comrade Roodhouse would, if he repeated this oration, find himself the subject of a rather ugly indictment. For the present, however, his words were ignored, save in the Socialist body. To them, of course, he had addressed himself, and doubtless he was willing to run a little risk for the sake of a most practical end, that of splitting the party, and thus establishing a sovereignty for himself; this done, he could in future be more guarded. His reporter purposely sent 'copy' to Mr. Westlake which could not be printed, and the rejection of the report was the signal for secession. Comrade Roodhouse printed at his own expense a considerable number of leaflets, and sowed them broadcast in the Socialist meeting-places. There were not wanting disaffected brethren, who perused these appeals with satisfaction. Schism flourished.
Comrade Roodhouse was of course a man of no means, but he numbered among his followers two extremely serviceable men, one of them a practical printer who carried on a small business in Camden Town; the other an oil merchant, who, because his profits had never exceeded a squalid two thousand a year, whereas another oil merchant of his acquaintance made at least twice as much, was embittered against things in general, and ready to assist any subversionary movement, yea, even with coin of the realm, on the one condition that he should be allowed to insert articles of his own composition in the new organ which it was proposed to establish. There was no difficulty in conceding this trifle, and the 'Tocsin' was the result. The name was a suggestion of the oil merchant himself, and no bad name if Socialists at large could be supposed capable of understanding it; but the oil merchant was too important a man to be thwarted, and the argument by which he supported his choice was incontestable. 'Isn't it our aim to educate the people? Very well, then let them begin by knowing what Tocsin means. I shouldn't know myself if I hadn't come across it in the newspaper and looked it up in the dictionary; so there you are!'
And there was the 'Tocsin,' a weekly paper like the 'Fiery Cross.' The first number appeared in the middle of February, so admirably prepared were the plans of Comrade Roodhouse. It appeared on Friday; the next Sunday promised to be a lively day at Commonwealth Hall and elsewhere. At the original head-quarters of the Union addresses were promised from two leading men, Comrades Westlake and Mutimer. Comrade Roodhouse would in the morning address an assembly on Clerkenwell Green; in the evening his voice would summon adherents to the meeting-place in Hoxton which had been the scene of our friend Richard's earliest triumphs. With few exceptions the Socialists of that region had gone over to the new man and the new paper.
Richard arrived in town on the Saturday, and went to the house in Highbury, whither disagreeable business once more summoned him. Alice, who, owing to her mother's resolute refusal to direct the household, had not as yet been able to spend more than a day or two with Richard and his wife, sent nothing but ill news to Wanley. Mrs. Mutimer seemed to be breaking down in health, and 'Arry was undisguisedly returning to evil ways. For the former, it was suspected -- a locked door prevented certainty -- that she had of late kept her bed the greater part of the day; a servant who met her downstairs in the early morning reported that she 'looked very bad indeed.' The case of the latter was as hard to deal with. 'Arry had long ceased to attend his classes with any regularity, and he was once more asserting the freeman's right to immunity from day labour. Moreover, he claimed in practice the freeman's right to get drunk four nights out of the seven. No one knew whence he got his money; Richard purposely stinted him, but the provision was useless. Mr. Keene declared with lamentations that his influence over 'Arry was at an end; nay, the youth had so far forgotten gratitude as to frankly announce his intention of 'knockin' Keene's lights out' if he were further interfered with. To the journalist his 'lights' were indispensable; in no sense of the word did he possess too many of them; so it was clear that he must abdicate his tutorial functions. Alice implored her brother to come and 'do something.'
Richard, though a married man of only six weeks' standing, had troubles altogether in excess of his satisfactions. Things were not as they should have been in that earthly paradise called New Wanley. It was not to be expected that the profits of that undertaking would be worth speaking of for some little time to come, but it was extremely desirable that it should pay its own expenses, and it began to be doubtful whether even this moderate success was being achieved. Various members of the directing committee had visited New Wanley recently, and Richard had talked to them in a somewhat discouraging tone; his fortune was not limitless, it had to be remembered; a considerable portion of old Mutimer's money had lain in the vast Belwick concern of which he was senior partner; the surviving members of the firm were under no specified obligation to receive Richard himself as partner, and the product of the realised capital was a very different thing from the share in the profits which the old man had enjoyed. Other capital Richard had at his command, but already he was growing chary of encroachments upon principal. He began to murmur inwardly that the entire fortune did not lie at his disposal; willingly he would have allowed Alice a handsome portion; and as for 'Arry, the inheritance was clearly going to be his ruin. The practical difficulties at New Wanley were proving considerable; the affair was viewed with hostility by ironmasters in general, and the results of such hostility were felt. But Richard was committed to his scheme; all his ambitions based themselves thereupon. And those ambitions grew daily.
These greater troubles must to a certain extent solve themselves, but in Highbury it was evidently time, as Alice said, to 'do something.' His mother's obstinacy stood in the way of almost every scheme that suggested itself. Richard was losing patience with the poor old woman, and suffered the more from his irritation because he would so gladly have behaved to her with filial kindness. One plan there was to which she might possibly agree, and even have pleasure in accepting it, but it was not easy to propose. The house in Wilton Square was still on his hands; upon the departure of Emma and her sister; a certain Mrs. Chattaway, a poor friend of old times, who somehow supported herself and a grandchild, had been put into the house as caretaker, for Richard could not sell all the furniture to which his mother was so attached, and he had waited for her return to reason before ultimately deciding how to act in that matter. Could he now ask the old woman to return to the Square, and, it might be, live there with Mrs. Chattaway? In that case both 'Arry and Alice would have to leave London.
On Saturday afternoon he had a long talk with his sister. To Alice also it had occurred that their mother's return to the old abode might be desirable.
'And you may depend upon it, Dick,' she said, 'she'll never rest again till she does get back. I believe you've only got to speak of it, and she'll go at once.'
'She'll think it unkind,' Richard objected. 'It looks as if we wanted to get her out of the way. Why on earth does she carry on like this? As if we hadn't bother enough!'
'Well, we can't help what she thinks. I believe it'll be for her own good. She'll be comfortable with Mrs. Chattaway, and that's more than she'll ever be here. But what about 'Arry?'
'He'll have to come to Wanley. I shall find him work there ---- I wish I'd done so months ago.'
There were no longer the objections to 'Arry's appearance at Wanley that had existed previous to Richard's marriage; none the less the resolution was courageous, and proved the depth of Mutimer's anxiety for his brother. Having got the old woman to Wilton Square, and Alice to the Manor, it would have been easy enough to bid Mr. Henry Mutimer betake himself -- whither his mind directed him. Richard could not adopt that rough-and-ready way out of his difficulty. Just as he suffered in the thought that he might be treating his mother unkindly, so he was constrained to undergo annoyances rather than abandon the hope of saving 'Arry from ultimate destruction.
'Will he live at the Manor?' Alice asked uneasily.
Richard mused; then a most happy idea struck him.
'I have it! He shall live with Rodman. The very thing! Rodman's the fellow to look after him. Yes; that's what we'll do.'
'And I'm to live at the Manor?'
'You think Adela won't mind?'
'Mind? How the deuce can she mind it?'
As a matter of form Adela would of course be consulted, but Richard had no notion of submitting practical arrangements in his own household to his wife's decision.
'Now we shall have to see mother,' he said. 'How's that to be managed?'
'Will you go and speak at her door?'
'That be hanged! Confound it, has she gone crazy? Just go up and say I want to see her.'
'If I say that, I'm quite sure she won't come.'
Richard waxed in anger.
'But she shall come! Go and say I want to see her, and that if she doesn't come down I'll force the door. There'll have to be an end to this damned foolery. I've got no time to spend humbugging. It's four o'clock, and I have letters to write before dinner. Tell her I must see her, and have done with it.'
Alice went upstairs with small hope of success. She knocked twice before receiving an answer.
'Mother, are you there?'
'What do you want?' came back in a voice of irritation.
'Dick's here, and wants to speak to you. He says he must see you; it's something very important.'
'I've nothing to do with him,' was the reply.
'Will you see him if he comes up here?'
'No, I won't.'
Alice went down and repeated this. After a moment's hesitation Mutimer ascended the stairs by threes. He rapped loudly at the bedroom door. No answer was vouchsafed.
'Mother, you must either open the door or come downstairs,' he cried with decision. 'This has gone on long enough. Which will you do?'
'I'll do neither,' was the angry reply. 'What right have you to order me about, I'd like to know? You mind your business, and I'll mind mine.'
'All right. Then I shall send for a man at once, and have the door forced.'
Mrs. Mutimer knew well the tone in which these words were spoken; more than once ere now it had been the preliminary of decided action. Already Richard had reached the head of the stairs, when he heard a key turn, and the bedroom door was thrown open with such violence that the walls shook. He approached the threshold and examined the interior.
There was only one noticeable change in the appearance of the bedroom since he had last seen it. The dressing-table was drawn near to the fire, and on it were a cup and saucer, a few plates, some knives, forks, and spoons, and a folded tablecloth. A kettle and a saucepan stood on the fender. Her bread and butter Mrs. Mutimer kept in a drawer. All the appointments of the chamber were as clean and orderly as could be.
The sight of his mother's face all but stilled Richard's anger; she was yellow and wasted; her hair seemed far more grizzled than he remembered it. She stood as far from him as she could get, in an attitude not devoid of dignity, and looked him straight in the face. He closed the door.
'Mother, I've not come here to quarrel with you,' Mutimer began, his voice much softened. 'What's done is done, and there's no helping it. I can understand you being angry at first, but there's no sense in making enemies of us all in this way. It can't go on any longer -- neither for your sake nor ours. I want to talk reasonably, and to make some kind of arrangement.'
'You want to get me out o' the 'ouse. I'm ready to go, an' glad to go. I've earnt my livin' before now, an' I'm not so old but I can do it again. You always was one for talkin', but the fewest words is best. Them as talks most isn't allus the most straightfor'ard.'
'It isn't that kind of talk that'll do any good, mother. I tell you again, I'm not going to use angry words; You know perfectly well I've never behaved badly to you, and I'm not going to begin now. What I've got to say is that you've no right to go on like this. Whilst you've been shutting yourself up in this room, there's Alice living by herself, which it isn't right she should do; and there's 'Arry going to the bad as fast as he can, and just because you won't help to look after him. If you'll only think of it in the right way, you'll see that's a good deal your doing. If 'Arry turns out a scamp and a blackguard, it's you that 'll be greatly to blame for it. You might have helped to look after him. I always thought you'd more common sense. You may say what you like about me, and I don't care; but when you talk about working for your living, you ought to remember that there's work enough near at hand, if only you'd see to it.'
'I've nothing to do neither with you nor 'Arry nor Alice,' answered the old woman stubbornly. 'If 'Arry disgraces his name, he won't be the first as has done it. I done my best to bring you all up honest, but that was a long time ago, and things has changed. You're old enough to go your own ways, an' your ways isn't mine. I told you how it 'ud be, an' the only mistake I made was comin' to live here at all. Now I can't be left alone, an' I'll go. You've no call to tell me a second time.'
It was a long, miserable wrangle, lasting half an hour, before a possibility of agreement presented itself. Richard at length ceased to recriminate, and allowed his mother to talk herself to satiety. He then said:
'I'm thinking of giving up this house, mother. What I want to know is, whether it would please you to go back to the old place again? I ask you because I can think of ud other way for putting you in comfort. You must say and think what you like, only just answer me the one question as I ask it -- that is, honestly and good-temperedly. I shall have to take 'Arry away with me; I can't let him go to the dogs without another try to keep him straight. Alice 'll have to go with me too, at all events for a time. Whether we like it or not, she'll have to accustom herself to new ways, and I see my way to helping her. I don't know whether you've been told that Mrs. Chattaway's been living in the house since the others went away. The furniture's just as you left it; I dare say you'd feel it like going home again.'
'They've gone, have they?' Mrs. Mutimer asked, as if unwilling to show the interest which this proposal had excited in her.
'Yes, they went more than a month ago. We put Mrs. Chattaway in just to keep the place in order. I look on the house as yours. You might let Mrs. Chattaway stay there still, perhaps; but that's just as you please. You oughtn't to live quite alone.'
Mrs. Mutimer did not soften, but, after many words, Richard understood her to agree to what he proposed. She had stood all through the dialogue; now at length she moved to a seat, and sank upon it with trembling limbs. Richard wished to go, but had a difficulty in leaving abruptly. Darkness had fallen whilst they talked; they only saw each other by the light of the fire.
'Am I to come and see you or not, mother, when you get back to the old quarters?'
She did not reply.
'You won't tell me?'
'You must come or stay away, as it suits you,' she said, in a tone of indifference.
'Very well, then I shall come, if it's only to tell you about 'Arry and Alice. And now will you let Alice come up and have some tea with you?'
There was no answer.
'Then I'll tell her she may,' he said kindly, and went from the room.
He found Alice in the drawing-room, and persuaded her to go up.
'Just take it as if there 'd been nothing wrong,' he said to his sister. 'She's had a wretched time of it, I can see that. Take some tea-cakes up with you, and talk about going back to the Square as if she'd proposed it herself. We mustn't be hard with her just because she can't change, poor old soul.'
Socialistic business took him away during the evening. When he returned at eleven o'clock, 'Arry had not yet come in. Shortly before one there were sounds of ineffectual effort at the front-door latch. Mutimer, who happened to be crossing the hall, heard them, and went to open the door. The result was that his brother fell forward at full length upon the mat.
'Get up, drunken beast!' Richard exclaimed angrily.
'Beast yourself,' was the hiccupped reply, repeated several times whilst 'Arry struggled to his feet. Then, propping himself against the door-post, the maligned youth assumed the attitude of pugilism, inviting all and sundry to come on and have their lights extinguished. Richard flung him into the hall and closed the door. 'Arry had again to struggle with gravitation.
'Walk upstairs, if you can!' ordered his brother with contemptuous severity.
After much trouble 'Arry was got to his room, thrust in, and the door slammed behind him.
Richard was not disposed to argue with his brother this time. He waited in the dining-room next morning till the champion of liberty presented himself; then, scarcely looking at him, said with quiet determination:
'Pack your clothes some time to-day. You're going to Wanley to-morrow morning.'
'Not unless I choose,' remarked 'Arry.
'You look here,' exclaimed the elder, with concentrated savageness which did credit to his powers of command. What you choose has nothing to do with it, and that you'll please to understand. At half-past nine to-morrow morning you're ready for me in this room; hear that? I'll have an end to this kind of thing, or I'll know the reason why. Speak a word of impudence to me and I'll knock half your teeth out!'
He was capable of doing it. 'Arry got to his morning meal in silence.
In the course of the morning Mr. Keene called. Mutimer received him in the dining-room, and they smoked together. Their talk was of the meetings to be held in the evening.
'There'll be nasty doings up there,' Keene remarked, indicating with his head the gathering place of Comrade Roodhouse's adherents.
'Of what kind?' Mutimer asked with indifference.
'There's disagreeable talk going about. Probably they'll indulge in personalities a good deal.'
'Of course they will,' assented the other after a short pause. 'Westlake, eh?'
'Not only Westlake. There's a more important man.'
Mutimer could not resist a smile, though he was uneasy. Keene understood the smile; it was always an encouragement to him.
'What have they got hold of?'
'I'm afraid there'll be references to the girl.'
'The girl?' Richard hesitated. 'What girl? What do you know about any girl?'
'It's only the gossip I've heard. I thought it would be as well if I went about among them last night just to pick up hints, you know.'
'They're talking about that, are they? Well, let them. It isn't hard to invent lies.'
'Just so,' observed Mr. Keene sympathisingly. 'Of course I know they'd twisted the affair.'
Mutimer glanced at him and smoked in silence.
'I think I'd better be there to-night,' the journalist continued. 'I shall be more useful there than at the hall.'
'As you like,' said Mutimer lightly.
The subject was not pursued.
Though the occasion was of so much importance, Commonwealth Hall contained but a moderate audience when Mr. Westlake rose to deliver his address. The people who occupied the benches were obviously of a different stamp from those wont to assemble at the Hoxton meeting-place. There were perhaps a dozen artisans of intensely sober appearance, and the rest were men and women who certainly had never wrought with their hands. Near Mrs. Westlake sat several ladies, her personal friends. Of the men other than artisans the majority were young, and showed the countenance which bespeaks meritorious intelligence rather than ardour of heart or brain. Of enthusiasts in the true sense none could be discerned. It needed but a glance over this assembly to understand how very theoretical were the convictions that had brought its members together.
Mr. Westlake's address was interesting, very interesting; he had prepared it with much care, and its literary qualities were admired when subsequently it saw the light in one of the leading periodicals. Now and then he touched eloquence; the sincerity animating him was unmistakable, and the ideal he glorified was worthy of a noble mind. Not in anger did he speak of the schism from which the movement was suffering; even his sorrow was dominated by a gospel of hope. Optimism of the most fervid kind glowed through his discourse; he grew almost lyrical in his anticipation of the good time coming. For to-night it seemed to him that encouragement should be the prevailing note; it was always easy to see the dark side of things. Their work, he told his hearers, was but just beginning. They aimed at nothing less than a revolution, and revolutions were not brought about in a day. None of them would in the flesh behold the reign of justice; was that a reason why they should neglect the highest impulses of their nature and sit contented in the shadow of the world's mourning? He spoke with passion of the millions disinherited before their birth, with infinite tenderness of those weak ones whom our social system condemns to a life of torture, just because they are weak. One loved the man for his great heart and for his gift of moving speech.
His wife sat, as she always. did when listening intently, her body bent forward, one hand supporting her chin. Her eyes never quitted his face.
To the second speaker it had fallen to handle in detail the differences of the hour. Mutimer's exordium was not inspiriting after the rich-rolling periods with which Mr. Westlake had come to an end; his hard voice contrasted painfully with the other's cultured tones. Richard was probably conscious of this, for he hesitated more than was his wont, seeking words which did not come naturally to him. However, he warmed to his work, and was soon giving his audience clearly to understand how he, Richard Mutimer, regarded the proceedings of Comrade Roodhouse. Let us be practical -- this was the burden of his exhortation. We are Englishmen -- and women -- not flighty, frothy foreigners. Besides, we have the blessings of free speech, and with the tongue and pen we must be content to fight, other modes of warfare being barbarous. Those who in their inconsiderate zeal had severed the Socialist body, were taking upon themselves a very grave responsibility; not only had they troubled the movement internally, but they would doubtless succeed in giving it a bad name with many who were hitherto merely indifferent, and who might in time have been brought over. Let it be understood that in this hall the true doctrine was preached, and that the 'Fiery Cross' was the true organ of English Socialism as distinguished from foreign crazes. The strength of England had ever been her sobriety; Englishmen did not fly at impossibilities like noisy children. He would not hesitate to say that the revolutionism preached in the newspaper called the 'Tocsin' was dangerous, was immoral. And so on.
Richard was not at his best this evening. You might have seen Mrs. Westlake abandon her attentive position, and lean back rather wearily; you might have seen a covert smile on a few of the more intelligent faces. It was awkward for Mutimer to be praising moderation in a movement directed against capital, and this was not exactly the audience for eulogies of Great Britain at the expense of other countries. The applause when the orator seated himself was anything but hearty. Richard knew it, and inwardly cursed Mr. Westlake for taking the wind out of his sails.
Very different was the scene in the meeting-room behind the coffee-shop. There, upon Comrade Roodhouse's harangue, followed a debate more stirring than any on the records of the Islington and Hoxton branch. The room was thoroughly full; the roof rang with tempestuous acclamations. Messrs. Cowes and Cullen were in their glory; they roared with delight at each depreciatory epithet applied to Mr. Westlake and his henchmen, and prompted the speakers with words and phrases of a rich vernacular. If anything, Comrade Roodhouse fell a little short of what was expected of him. His friends had come together prepared for gory language, but the murderous instigations of Clerkenwell Green were not repeated with the same crudity. The speaker dealt in negatives; not thus and thus was the social millennium to be brought about, it was open to his hearers to conceive the practical course. For the rest, the heresiarch had a mighty flow of vituperative speech. Aspirates troubled him, so that for the most part he cast them away, and the syntax of his periods was often anacoluthic; but these matters were of no moment.
Questions being called for, Mr. Cowes and Mr. Cullen of course started up simultaneously. The former gentleman got the ear of the meeting. With preliminary swaying of the hand, he looked round as one about to propound a question which would for ever establish his reputation for acumen. In his voice of quiet malice, with his frequent deliberate pauses, with the wonted emphasis on absurd pronunciations, he spoke somewhat thus: --
'In the course of his address -- I shall say nothin' about its qualities, the time for discussion will come presently -- our Comrade has said not a few 'ard things about certain individooals who put themselves forward as perractical Socialists ----'
'Not 'ard enough!' roared a voice from the back of the room.
Mr. Cowes turned his lank figure deliberately, and gazed for a moment in the quarter whence the interruption had come. Then he resumed.
'I agree with that involuntary exclamation. Certainly, not 'ard enough. And the question I wish to put to our Comrade is this: Is he, or is he not, aweer of certain scandalous doin's on the part of one of these said individooals, I might say actions which, from the Socialist point of view, amount to crimes? If our Comrade is aweer of what I refer to, then it seems to me it was his dooty to distinctly mention it. If he was not aweer, then we in this neighbourhood shall be only too glad to enlighten him. I distinctly assert that a certain individooal we all have in our thoughts has proved himself a traitor to the cause of the people. Comrades will understand me. And that's the question I wish to put.'
Mr. Cowes had introduced the subject which a considerable number of those present were bent on publicly discussing. Who it was that had first spread the story of Mutimer's matrimonial concerns probably no one could have determined. It was not Daniel Dabbs, though Daniel, partly from genuine indignation, partly in consequence of slowly growing personal feeling against the Mutimers, had certainly supplied Richard's enemies with corroborative details. Under ordinary circumstances Mutimer's change of fortune would have seemed to his old mates a sufficient explanation of his behaviour to Emma Vine; they certainly would not have gone out of their way to condemn him. But Richard was by this time vastly unpopular with most of those who had once glorified him. Envy had had time to grow, and was assisted by Richard's avoidance of personal contact with his Hoxton friends. When they spoke of him now it was with sneers and sarcasms. Some one had confidently asserted that the so-called Socialistic enterprise at Wanley was a mere pretence, that Mutimer was making money just like any other capitalist, and the leaguers of Hoxton firmly believed this. They encouraged one another to positive hatred of the working man who had suddenly become wealthy; his name stank in their nostrils. This, in a great measure, explained Comrade Roodhouse's success; personal feeling is almost always the spring of public action among the uneducated. In the excitement of the schism a few of the more energetic spirits had determined to drag Richard's domestic concerns into publicity. They suddenly became aware that private morality was at the root of the general good; they urged each other to righteous indignation in a matter for which they did not really care two straws. Thus Mr. Cowes's question was received with vociferous approval. Those present who did not understand the allusion were quickly enlightened by their neighbours. A crowd of Englishmen working itself into a moral rage is as glorious a spectacle as the world can show. Not one of these men but heartily believed himself justified in reviling the traitor to his class, the betrayer of confiding innocence. Remember, too, how it facilitates speech to have a concrete topic on which to enlarge; in this matter a West End drawing-room and the Hoxton coffee-shop are akin. Regularity of procedure was at an end; question grew to debate, and debate was riot. Mr. Cullen succeeded Mr. Cowes and roared himself hoarse, defying the feeble protests of the chairman. He abandoned mere allusion, and rejoiced the meeting by declaring names. His example was followed by those who succeeded him.
Little did Emma think, as she sat working, Sunday though it was, in her poor room, that her sorrows were being blared forth to a gross assembly in venomous accusation against the man who had wronged her. We can imagine that the knowledge would not greatly have soothed her.
Comrade Roodhouse at length obtained a hearing. It was his policy to deprecate these extreme personalities, and in doing so he heaped on the enemy greater condemnation. There was not a little art in the heresiarch's modes of speech; the less obtuse appreciated him and bade him live for ever. The secretary of the branch busily took notes.
When the meeting had broken up into groups, a number of the more prominent Socialists surrounded Comrade Roodhouse on the platform. Their talk was still of Mutimer, of his shameless hypocrisy, his greed, his infernal arrogance. Near at hand stood Mr. Keene; a word brought him into conversation with a neighbour. He began by repeating the prevalent abuse, then, perceiving that his hearer merely gave assent in general terms, he added: --
'I shouldn't wonder, though, if there was some reason we haven't heard of -- I mean, about the girl, you know.'
'Think so?' said the other.
'Well, I have heard it said -- but then one doesn't care to repeat such things.'
'What's that, eh?' put in another man, who had caught the words.
'Oh, nothing. Only the girl's made herself scarce. Dare say the fault wasn't altogether on one side.'
And Mr. Keene winked meaningly.
The hint spread among those on the platform. Daniel Dabbs happened to hear it repeated in a gross form.
'Who's been a-sayin' that?' he roared. 'Where have you got that from, eh?'
The source was already forgotten, but Daniel would not let the calumny take its way unopposed. He harangued those about him with furious indignation.
'If any man's got a word to say against Emma Vine, let him come an' say it to me, that's all I Now look 'ere, all o' you, I know that girl, and I know that anyone as talks like that about her tells a damned lie.'
'Most like it's Mutimer himself as has set it goin',' observed someone.
In five minutes all who remained in the room were convinced that Mutimer had sent an agent to the meeting for the purpose of assailing Emma Vine's good name. Mr. Keene had already taken his departure, and no suspicious character was discernible; a pity for the evening might have ended in a picturesque way.
But Daniel Dabbs went home to his brother's public-house, obtained note-paper and an envelope, and forthwith indited a brief epistle which he addressed to the house in Highbury. It had no formal commencement, and ended with 'Yours, etc.' Daniel demanded an assurance that his former friend had not instigated certain vile accusations against Emma, and informed him that whatever answer was received would be read aloud at next Sunday's meeting.
The one not wholly ignoble incident in that evening's transactions.