In the partial reconciliation between Mrs. Mutimer and her children there was no tenderness on either side. The old conditions could not be restored, and the habits of the family did not ]end themselves to the polite hypocrisy which lubricates the wheels of the refined world. There was to be a parting, and probably it would be for life. In Richard's household his mother could never have a part, and when Alice married, doubtless the same social difficulty would present itself. It was not the future to which Mrs. Mutimer had looked forward, but, having said her say, she resigned herself and hardened her heart. At least she would die in the familiar home.
Richard had supper with his sister on his return from Commonwealth Hall, and their plans were discussed in further detail.
'I want you,' he said, 'to go to the Square with mother to-morrow, and to stay there till Wednesday. You won't mind doing that?'
'I think she'd do every bit as well without me,' said Alice.
'Never mind; I should like you to go. I'll take 'Arry down to-morrow morning, then I'll come and fetch you on Wednesday. You'll just see that everything's comfortable in the house, and buy her a few presents, the kind of things she'd like.'
'I don't suppose she'll take anything.'
'Try, at all events. And don't mind her talk; it does no harm.'
In the morning came the letter from Daniel Dabbs. Richard read it without any feeling of surprise, still less with indignation, at the calumny of which it complained. During the night he had wondered uneasily what might have occurred at the Hoxton meeting, and the result was a revival of his ignoble anger against Emma. Had he not anxiety enough that she must bring him new trouble when he believed that all relations between him and her were at an end? Doubtless she was posing as a martyr before all who knew anything of her story; why had she refused his money, if not that her case might seem all the harder? It were difficult to say whether he really believed this; in a nature essentially egoistic, there is often no line to be drawn between genuine convictions and the irresponsible charges of resentment. Mutimer had so persistently trained himself to regard Emma as in the wrong, that it was no wonder if he had lost the power of judging sanely in any matter connected with her. Tier refusal to benefit by his generosity had aggravated him; actually, no doubt, because she thus deprived him of a defence against his conscience.
He was not surprised that libellous rumours were afloat, simply because since his yesterday's conversation with Keene the thought of justifying himself in some such way -- should it really prove necessary -- had several times occurred to him, suggested probably by Keene's own words. That the journalist had found means of doing him this service was very likely indeed. He remembered with satisfaction that no hint of such a thing had escaped his own lips. Still, he was uneasy. Keene might have fallen short of prudence, with the result that Daniel Dabbs might be in a position to trace this calumny to him, Mutimer. It would not be pleasant if the affair, thus represented, came to the ears of his friends, particularly of Mr. Westlake.
He had just finished his breakfast, and was glancing over the newspaper in a dull and irritable mood, when Keene himself arrived. Mutimer expected him. Alice quitted the dining-room when he was announced, and 'Arry, who at the same moment came in for breakfast, was bidden go about his business, and be ready to leave the house in half-an-hour.
'What does this mean?' Richard asked abruptly, handing the letter to his visitor.
Keene perused the crabbed writing, and uttered sundry 'Ah's' and 'Hum's.'
'Do you know anything about it?' Mutimer continued, in a tone between mere annoyance and serious indignation.
'I think I had better tell you what took place last night,' said the journalist, with side glances. He had never altogether thrown off the deferential manner when conversing with his patron, and at present he emphasised it. 'Those fellows carry party feeling too far; the proceedings were scandalous. It really was enough to make one feel that one mustn't be too scrupulous in trying to stop their mouths. If I'm not mistaken, an action for defamation of character would lie against half-a-dozen of them.'
Mutimer was unfortunately deficient in sense of humour. He continued to scowl, and merely said: 'Go on; what happened?'
Mr. Keene allowed the evening's proceedings to lose nothing in his narration. He was successful in exciting his hearer to wrath, but, to his consternation, it was forthwith turned against himself.
'And you tried to make things better by going about telling what several of them would know perfectly well to be lies?' exclaimed Mutimer, savagely. 'Who the devil gave you authority to do so?'
'My dear sir,' protested the journalist, 'you have quite mistaken me. I did not mean to admit that I had told lies. How could I for a moment suppose that a man of your character would sanction that kind of thing? Pooh, I hope I know you better! No, no; I merely in the course of conversation ventured to hint that, as you yourself had explained to me, there were reasons quite other than the vulgar mind would conceive for -- for the course you had pursued. To my own apprehension such reasons are abundant, and, I will add, most conclusive. You have not endeavoured to explain them to me in detail; I trust you felt that I was not so dull of understanding as to be incapable of -- of appreciating motives when sufficiently indicated. Situations of this kind are never to be explained grossly; I mean, of course, in the case of men of intellect. I flatter myself that I have come to know your ruling principles; and I will say that beyond a doubt your behaviour has been most honourable. Of course I was mistaken in trying to convey this to those I talked with last night; they misinterpreted me, and I might have expected it. We cannot give them the moral feelings which they lack. But I am glad that the error has so quickly come to light. A mere word from you, and such a delusion goes no farther. I regret it extremely.'
Mutimer held the letter in his hand, and kept looking from it to the speaker. Keene's subtleties were not very intelligible to him, but, even with a shrewd suspicion that he was being humbugged, he could not resist a sense of pleasure in hearing himself classed with the superior men whose actions are not to be explained by the vulgar. Nay, he asked himself whether the defence was not in fact a just one. After all, was it not possible that his conduct had been praiseworthy? He recovered the argument by which he had formerly tried to silence disagreeable inner voices; a man in his position owed it to society to effect a union of classes, and private feeling must give way before the higher motive. He reflected for a moment when Keene ceased to speak.
'What did you say?' he then asked, still bluntly, but with less anger. 'Just tell me the words, as far as you can remember.'
Keene was at no loss to recall inoffensive phrases; in another long speech, full of cajolery sufficiently artful for the occasion, he represented himself as having merely protested against misrepresentations obviously sharpened by malice.
'It is just possible that I made some reference to her character,' he admitted, speaking more slowly, and as if desirous that no word should escape his hearer; 'but it did not occur to me to guard against misunderstandings of the word. I might have remembered that it has such different meanings on the lips of educated and of uneducated men. You, of course, would never have missed my thoughts.'
'If I might suggest,' he added, when Mutimer kept silence, I think, if you condescend to notice the letter at all, you should reply only in the most general terms. Who is this man Dabbs, I wonder, who has the impudence to write to you in this way?'
'Oh, one of the Hoxton Socialists, I suppose,' Mutimer answered carelessly. 'I remember the name.'
'A gross impertinence! By no means encourage them in thinking you owe explanations. Your position doesn't allow anything of the kind.'
'All right,' said Richard, his ill-humour gone; 'I'll see to it.'
He was not able, after all, to catch the early train by which he had meant to take his brother to Wanley. He did not like to leave without some kind of good-bye to his mother, and Alice said that the old woman would not be ready to go before eleven o'clock. After half an hour of restlessness he sat down to answer Daniel's letter. Keene's flattery had not been without its fruit. From anger which had in it an element of apprehension he passed to an arrogant self-confidence which character and circumstances were conspiring to make his habitual mood. It was a gross impertinence in Daniel to address him thus. What was the use of wealth if it did not exempt one from the petty laws binding on miserable hand to mouth toilers! He would have done with Emma Vine; his time was of too much value to the world to be consumed in wranglings about a work-girl. What if here and there someone believed the calumny? Would it do Emma any harm? That was most unlikely. On the whole, the misunderstanding was useful; let it take its course. Men with large aims cannot afford to be scrupulous in small details. Was not New Wanley a sufficient balance against a piece of injustice, which, after all, was only one of words?
'DEAR SIR, -- I have received your letter, but it is impossible for me to spend time in refuting idle stories. What's more, I cannot see that my private concerns are a fit subject for discussion at a public meeting, as I understand they have been made. You are at liberty to read this note when and where you please, and in that intention let me add that the cause of Socialism will not be advanced by attacks on the character of those most earnestly devoted to it. I remain, yours truly,
It seemed to Richard that this was the very thing, alike in tone and phrasing. A week or two previously a certain statesman had written to the same effect in reply to calumnious statements, and Richard consciously made that letter his model. The statesman had probably been sounder in his syntax, but his imitator had, no doubt, the advantage in other points. Richard perused his composition several times, and sent it to the post.
At eleven o'clock Mrs. Mutimer descended to the hall, ready for her journey. She would not enter any room. Her eldest son came out to meet her, and got rid of the servant who had fetched a cab.
'Good-bye for the present, mother,' he said, giving his hand 'I hope you'll find everything just as you wish it.'
'If I don't, I shan't complain,' was the cold reply.
The old woman had clad herself, since her retreat, in the garments of former days; and the truth must be told that they did not add to the dignity of her appearance. Probably no costume devisable could surpass in ignoble ugliness the attire of an English working-class widow when she appears in the streets. The proximity of Alice, always becomingly clad, drew attention to the poor mother's plebeian guise. Richard, watching her enter the cab, felt for the first time a distinct shame. His feelings might have done him more credit but for the repulse he had suffered.
'Arry contented himself with standing at the front-room window, his hands in his pockets.
Later in the same day Daniel Dabbs, who had by chance been following the British workman's practice and devoting Monday to recreation, entered an omnibus in which Mrs. Clay was riding. She had a heavy bundle on her lap, shopwork which she was taking home. Daniel had already received Mutimer's reply, and was nursing a fit of anger. He seated himself by Kate's side, and conversed with her.
'Heard anything from him lately?' he asked, with a motion of the head which rendered mention of names unnecessary.
'Not we,' Kate replied bitterly, her eyes fixing themselves in scorn.
'No loss,' remarked Daniel, with an expression of disgust.
'He'll hear from me some day,' said the woman, 'and in a way as he won't like.'
The noise of the vehicle did not favour conversation. Daniel waited till Kate got out, then he too descended, and walked along by her side. He did not offer to relieve her of the bundle in primitive societies woman is naturally the burden-bearer.
'I wouldn't a' thought it o' Dick,' he said, his head thrust forward, and his eyes turning doggedly from side to side. They say as how too much money ain't good for a man, but it's changed him past all knowin'.'
'He always had a good deal too much to say for himself,' remarked Mrs. Clay, speaking with difficulty through her quickened breath, the bundle almost more than she could manage.
'I wish just now as he'd say a bit more,' said Daniel. 'Now, see, here's a letter I've just got from him. I wrote to him last night to let him know of things as was goin' round at the lecture. There's one or two of our men, you know, think he'd ought to be made to smart a bit for the way he's treated Emma, and last night they up an' spoke -- you should just a' 'eard them. Then someone set it goin' as the fault wasn't Dick's at all. See what I mean? I don't know who started that. I can't think as he'd try to blacken a girl's name just to excuse himself; that's goin' a bit too far.'
Mrs. Clay came to a standstill.
'He's been saying things of Emma?' she cried. 'Is that what you mean?'
'Well, see now. I couldn't believe it, an' I don't rightly believe it yet. I'll read you the answer as he's sent me.'
Daniel gave forth the letter, getting rather lost amid its pretentious periods, with the eccentric pauses and intonation of an uneducated reader. Standing in a busy thoroughfare, he and Kate almost blocked the pavement; impatient pedestrians pushed against them, and uttered maledictions.
'I suppose that's Dick's new way o' sayin' he hadn't nothin' to do with it,' Daniel commented at the end. 'Money seems always to bring long words with it somehow. It seems to me he'd ought to speak plainer.'
'Who's done it, if he didn't?' Kate exclaimed, with shrill anger. 'You don't suppose there's another man 'ud go about telling coward lies? The mean wretch! Says things about my sister, does he? I'll be even with that man yet, never you mind.'
'Well, I can't believe it o' Dick,' muttered Dabbs. 'He says 'ere, you see, as he hasn't time to contradict "idle stories." I suppose that means he didn't start 'em.'
'If he tells one lie, won't he tell another?' cried the woman. She was obliged to put down her bundle on a doorstep, and used the moment of relief to pour forth vigorous vituperation. Dick listened with an air half of approval, half doggedly doubtful. He was not altogether satisfied with himself.
'Well, I must get off 'ome,' he said at length. 'It's only right as you should know what's goin' on. There's no one believes a word of it, and that you can tell Emma. If I hear it repeated, you may be sure I'll up an' say what I think. It won't go no further if I can stop it. Well, so long! Give my respects to your sister.'
Daniel waved his arm and made off across the street. Kate, clutching her bundle again, panted along by-ways; reaching the house-door she rang a bell twice, and Emma admitted her. They climbed together to an upper room, where Kate flung her burden on to the floor and began at once to relate with vehemence all that Daniel had told her. The calumny lost nothing in her repetition. After listening in surprise for a few moments, Emma turned away and quietly began to cut bread and butter for the children, who were having their tea.
'Haven't you got anything to say?' cried her sister. 'I suppose he'll be telling his foul lies about me next. Oh, he's a good-'earted man, is Mutimer! Perhaps you'll believe me now. Are you going to let him talk what he likes about you?'
Since the abandonment of the house in Wilton Square, Kate had incessantly railed in this way; it was a joy to her to have discovered new matter for invective. Emma's persistent silence maddened her; even now not a word was to be got from the girl.
'Can't you speak?' shrilled Mrs. Clay. 'If you don't do something, I let you know that I shall! I'm not going to stand this kind o' thing, don't think it. If they talk ill of you they'll do the same of me. It's time that devil had something for himself. You might be made o' stone! I only hope I may meet him in the streets, that's all! I'll show him up, see if I don't! I'll let all the people know what he is, the cur! I'll do something to make him give me in charge, and then I'll tell it all out before the magistrates. I don't care what comes, I'll find some way of paying out that beast!'
Emma turned angrily.
'Hold your tongue, Kate! If you go on like this day after day we shall have to part; I can't put up with it, so there now! I've begged and prayed you to stop, and you don't pay the least heed to me; I think you might have more kindness. You'll never make me say a single word about him, do what you will; I've told you that many a time, and I mean what I say. Let him say what he likes and do what he likes. It's nothing to me, and it doesn't concern you. You'll drive me out of the house again, like you did the other night. I can't bear it. Do you understand, Kate? -- I can't bear it!'
Her voice shook, and there were tears of uttermost shame and misery in her eyes. The children sitting at the table, though accustomed to scenes of this kind, looked at the disputants with troubled faces, and at length the younger began to cry. Emma at once turned to the little one with smiles of re-assurance. Kate would have preferred to deal slaps, but contented herself with taking a cup of tea to the fireside, and sulking for half an hour.
Emma unrolled the bundle of work, and soon the hum of the sewing-machine began, to continue late into the night.
You remember that one side of the valley in which stood New Wanley was clad with trees. Through this wood a public path made transverse ascent to the shoulder of the bill, a way little used save by Wanley ramblers in summer time. The section of the wood above the path was closed against trespassers; among the copses below anyone might freely wander. In places it was scarcely possible to make a way for fern, bramble, and underwood, but elsewhere mossy tracks led one among hazels or under arches of foliage which made of the mid-day sky a cool, golden shimmer. One such track, abruptly turning round a great rock over the face of which drooped the boughs of an ash, came upon a little sloping lawn, which started from a high hazel-covered bank. The bank itself was so shaped as to afford an easy seat, shaded even when the grass in front was all sunshine.
Adela had long known this retreat, and had been accustomed to sit here with Letty, especially when she needed to exchange deep confidences with her friend. Once, just as they were settling themselves upon the bank, they were startled by a movement among the leaves above, followed by the voice of someone addressing them with cheerful friendliness, and making request to be allowed to descend and join them. It was Hubert Eldon, just home for the long vacation. Once or twice subsequently the girls had met Hubert on the same spot; there had been a picnic here, too, in which Mrs. Eldon and Mrs. Waltham took part. But Adela always thought of the place as peculiarly her own. To others it was only a delightfully secluded corner of the wood, fresh and green; for her it had something intimately dear, as the haunt where she had first met her own self face to face and had heard the whispering of secrets as if by another voice to her tremulous heart.
She sat here one morning in July, six months after her marriage. It was more than a year since she had seen the spot, and on reaching it to-day it seemed to her less beautiful than formerly; the leafage was to her eyes thinner and less warm of hue than in earlier years, the grass had a coarser look and did not clothe the soil so completely. An impulse had brought her hither, and her first sense on arriving had been one of disappointment. Was the change in her way of seeing? or had the retreat indeed suffered, perchance from the smoke of New Wanley? The disappointment was like that we experience in revisiting a place kept only in memory since childhood. Adela had not travelled much in the past year, but her growth in experience had put great tracts between her and the days when she came here to listen and wonder. It was indeed a memory of her childhood that led her into the wood.
She had brought with her a German book on Socialism and a little German dictionary. At the advice of Mr. Westlake, given some months ago on the occasion of a visit to the Manor, she had applied herself diligently to this study. But it was not only with a view to using the time that she had selected these books this morning. In visiting a scene which would strongly revive the past, instinct -- rather than conscious purpose -- had bidden her keep firm hold upon the present. On experiencing her disillusion a sense of trouble had almost led her to retrace her steps at once, but she overcame this, and, seating herself on the familiar bank, began to toil through hard sentences. Such moments of self-discipline were of daily occurrence in her life; she kept watch and ward over her feelings and found in efforts of the mind a short way out of inner conflicts which she durst not suffer to pass beyond the first stage.
Near at hand there grew a silver birch Hubert Eldon, on one of the occasions when he talked here with Adela and Letty, had by chance let his eyes wander from Adela to the birch tree, and his fancy, just then active among tender images, suggested a likeness between that graceful, gleaming stem with its delicately drooping foliage and the sweet-featured girl who stood before him with her head bowed in unconscious loveliness. As the silver birch among the trees of the wood, so was Adela among the men and women of the world. And to one looking upon her by chance such a comparison might still have occurred. But in face she was no longer what she had then been. Her eyebrows, formerly so smooth and smiling, now constantly drew themselves together as if at a thought of pain or in some mental exertion. Her cheeks had none of their maiden colour. Her lips were closed too firmly, and sometimes trembled like those of old persons who have known much trouble.
In spite of herself her attention flagged from the hard, dull book; the spirit of the place was too strong for her, and, as in summers gone by, she was lost in vision. But not with eyes like these had she been wont to dream on the green branches or on the sward that lay deep in sunlight. On her raised lids sat the heaviness of mourning; she seemed to strain her sight to something very far off, something which withdrew itself from her desire, upon which her soul called and called in vain. Her cheeks showed their thinness, her brow foretold the lines which would mark it when she grew old. It was a sob in her throat which called her back to consciousness, a sob which her lips, well-trained warders, would not allow to pass.
She forced herself to the book again, and for some minutes plied her dictionary with feverish zeal. Then there came over her countenance a strange gleam of joy, as if she triumphed in self-conquest. She smiled as she continued her work, clearly making a happiness of each mastered sentence. And, looking up with the smile still fixed, she found that her solitude was invaded. Letty Tew had just appeared round the rock which sheltered the green haven.
'You here, Adela?' the girl exclaimed. 'How strange!'
'Why strange, Letty?'
'Oh, only because I had a sort of feeling that perhaps I might meet you. Not here, particularly,' she added, as if eager to explain herself, 'but somewhere in the wood. The day is so fine; it tempts one to walk about.'
Letty did not approach her friend as she would have done when formerly they met here. Her manner was constrained, almost timid; it seemed an afterthought when she bent forward for the kiss. Since Adela's marriage the intercourse between them had been comparatively slight. For the first three months they had seen each other only at long intervals, in part owing to circumstances. After the fortnight she spent in London at the time of her marriage, Adela had returned to Wanley in far from her usual state of health; during the first days of February there had been a fear that she might fall gravely ill. Only in advanced spring had she begun to go beyond the grounds of the Manor, and it was still unusual for her to do so except in her carriage. Letty had acquiesced in the altered relations; she suffered, and for various reasons, but did not endeavour to revive an intimacy which Adela seemed no longer to desire. Visits to the Manor were from the first distressing to her; the natural subjects of conversation were those which both avoided, and to talk in the manner of mere acquaintances was scarcely possible. Of course this state of things led to remark. Mrs. Waltham was inclined to suspect some wrong feeling on Letty's side, though of what nature it was hard to determine. Alfred, on the other hand, took his sister's behaviour ill, more especially as he felt a distinct change in her manner to himself. Was the girl going to be spoilt by the possession of wealth? What on earth did she mean by her reserve, her cold dignity? Wasn't Letty good enough for her now that she was lady of the Manor? Letty herself, when the subject was spoken of, pretended to recognise no change beyond what was to be expected. So far from being hurt, her love for Adela grew warmer during these months of seeming estrangement; her only trouble was that she could not go often and sit by her friend's side -- sit silently, hand holding hand. That would have been better than speech, which misled, or at best was inadequate. Meantime she supported herself with the hope that love might some day again render her worthy of Adela's confidence. That her friend was far above her she had always gladly confessed; she felt it more than ever now that she tried in vain to read Adela's secret thoughts. The marriage was a mystery to her; to the last moment she had prayed that something might prevent it. Yet, now that Adela was Mrs. Mutimer, she conscientiously put away every thought of discontent, and only wondered what high motive had dictated the choice and -- for such she knew it must be -- the sacrifice.
'What are you reading?' Letty asked, sitting down on the bank at a little distance.
'It's hardly to be called reading. I have to look out every other word. It's a book by a man called Schaeffle, on the "Social Question."'
'Oh yes,' said the girl, hazarding a conjecture that the work had something to do with Socialism. 'Of course that interests you.'
'I think I'm going to write a translation of it. My husband doesn't read German, and this book is important.'
'I suppose you are quite a Socialist, Adela?' Letty inquired, in a tone which seemed anxious to presuppose the affirmative answer. She had never yet ventured to touch on the subject.
'Yes, I am a Socialist,' said Adela firmly. 'I am sure anyone will be who thinks about it, and really understands the need for Socialism. Does the word still sound a little dreadful to you? I remember so well when it did to me. It was only because I knew nothing about it.'
'I don't think I have that excuse,' said the other. 'Alfred is constantly explaining. But, Adela ----'
She paused, not quite daring to speak her thoughts. Adela smiled an encouragement.
'I was going to say ---- I'm sure you won't be offended. But you still go to church?'
'Oh yes, I go to church. You mustn't think that everything Alfred insists upon belongs to Socialism. I believe that all Christians ought to be Socialists; I think it is part of our religion, if only we carry it out faithfully.'
'But does Mr. Wyvern think so?'
'Yes, he does; he does indeed. I talk with Mr. Wyvern frequently, and I never knew, before he showed me, how necessary it is for a Christian to be a Socialist.'
'You surprise me, Adela. Yet he doesn't confess himself a Socialist.'
'Indeed, he does. When did you hear Mr. Wyvern preach a sermon without insisting on justice and unselfishness and love of our neighbour? If we try to be just and unselfish, and to love our neighbour as ourself, we help the cause of Socialism. Mr. Wyvern doesn't deal with politics -- it is not necessary he should. That is for men like my husband, who give their lives to the practical work. Mr. Wyvern confines himself to spiritual teaching. He would injure his usefulness if he went beyond that.'
Letty was awed by the exceeding change which showed itself not only in Adela's ways of thought, but in her very voice and manner of speaking. The tone was so authoritative, so free from the diffidence which had formerly kept Adela from asserting strongly even her cherished faiths. She felt, too, that with the maiden hesitancy something else had gone, at all events in a great degree; something that it troubled her to miss; namely, that winning persuasiveness which had been one of the characteristics that made Adela so entirely lovable. At present Mrs. Mutimer scarcely sought to persuade; she uttered her beliefs as indubitable. A competent observer might now and then have surmised that she felt it needful to remind herself of the creed she had accepted.
'You were smiling when I first caught sight of you,' Letty said, after reflecting for a moment. 'Was it something in the book?'
Adela again smiled.
'No, something in myself,' she replied with an air of confidence.
'Because you are happy, Adela?'
'Yes, because I am happy.'
'How glad I am to hear that, dear!' Letty exclaimed, for the first time allowing herself to use the affectionate word. 'You will let me be glad with you?'
Her hands stole a little forward, but Adela did not notice it; for she was gazing straight before her, with an agitated look.
'Yes, I am very happy, I have found something to do in life. I was afraid at first that I shouldn't be able to give my husband any help in his work; I seemed useless. But I am learning, and I hope soon to be of real use, if only in little things. You know that I have begun to give a tea to the children every Wednesday? They're not in need of food and comforts, I'm glad to say; nobody wants in New Wanley; but it's nice to bring them together at the Manor, and teach them to behave gently to each other, and to sit properly at table, and things like that. Will you come and see them to-day?'
'I shall be very pleased.'
'To-day I'm going to begin something new. After tea we shall have a reading. Mr. Wyvern sent me a book this morning -- "Andersen's Fairy Tales."'
'Oh, I've read them. Yes, that'll do nicely. Read them "The Ugly Duckling," Adela; it's a beautiful story. I thought perhaps you were going to read something -- something instructive, you know.'
Adela laughed. It was Adela's laugh still, but not what it used to be.
'No, I want to amuse them. They get enough instruction in school. I hope soon to give another evening to the older girls. I wonder whether you would like to come and help me then?'
'If only you would let me! There is nothing I should like more than to do something for you.'
'But you mustn't do it for me. It must be for the girls' sake.'
'Yes, for theirs as well, but ever so much more for yours, dear. You can't think how glad I am that you have asked me.'
Again the little hand was put forward, and this time Adela took it. But she did not soften as she once would have done. With eyes still far away, she talked for some minutes of the hopes with which her life was filled. Frequently she made mention of her husband, and always as one to whom it was a privilege to devote herself. Her voice had little failings and uncertainties now and then, but this appeared to come of excessive feeling.
They rose and walked from the wood together.
'Alfred wants us to go to Malvern for a fortnight,' Letty said, when they were near the gates of the Manor. 'We were wondering whether you could come, Adela?'
'No, I can't leave Wanley,' was the reply. 'My husband' -- she never referred to Mutimer otherwise than by this name -- 'spoke of the seaside the other day, but we decided not to go away at all. There is so much to be done.'
When Adela went to the drawing-room just before luncheon, she found Alice Mutimer engaged with a novel. Reading novels had become an absorbing occupation with Alice. She took them to bed with her so as to read late, and lay late in the morning for the same reason. She must have been one of Mr. Mudie's most diligent subscribers. She had no taste for walking in the country, and could only occasionally be persuaded to take a drive. It was not surprising that her face had not quite the healthy colour of a year ago; there was negligence, too, in her dress, and she had grown addicted to recumbent attitudes. Between her and Adela no semblance of friendship had yet arisen, though the latter frequently sought to substitute a nearer relation for superficial friendliness. Alice never exhibited anything short of good-will, but her first impressions were lasting; she suspected her sister-in-law of a desire to patronise, and was determined to allow nothing of the kind. With a more decided character, Alice's prepossessions would certainly have made life at the Manor anything but smooth; as it was, nothing ever occurred to make unpleasantness worth her while. Besides, when not buried in her novels, she gave herself up to absentmindedness; Adela found conversation with her almost impossible, for Alice would answer a remark with a smiling 'Yes' or 'No,' and at once go off into dreamland, so that one hesitated to disturb her.
'What time is it?' she inquired, when she became aware of Adela moving about the room.
'All but half-past one.'
'Really? I suppose I must go and get ready for lunch. What a pity we can't do without meals!'
'You should go out in the morning and get an appetite. Really, you are getting very pale, Alice. I'm sure you read far too much.'
Adela had it on her lips to say 'too many novels,' but was afraid to administer a direct rebuke.
'Oh, I like reading, and I don't care a bit for going out.'
'What about your practising?' Adela asked, with a playful shake of the head.
'Yes, I know it's very neglectful, but really it is such awful work.'
'And your French?'
'I'll make a beginning to-morrow. At least, I think I will. I don't neglect things wilfully, but it's so awfully hard to really get at it when the time comes.'
The luncheon-bell rang, and Alice, with a cry of dismay, sped to her room. She knew that her brother was to lunch at home to-day, and Richard was terrible in the matter of punctuality.
As Soon as the meal was over Alice hastened back to her low chair in the drawing-room. Richard and his wife went together into the garden.
'What do you think Rodman's been advising me this morning?' Mutimer said, speaking with a cigar in his mouth. 'It's a queer idea; I don't quite know what to think of it. You know there'll be a general election some time next year, and he advises me to stand for Belwick.'
He did not look at his wife. Coming to a garden-seat, he put up one foot upon it, and brushed the cigar ash against the back. Adela sat down; she had not replied at once, and was thoughtful.
'As a Socialist candidate?' she asked, when at length he turned his eyes to her.
'Well, I don't know. Radical rather, I should think. It would come to the same thing, of course, and there'd be no use in spoiling the thing for the sake of a name.'
Adela had a Japanese fan in her hand; she put it against her forehead, and still seemed to consider.
'Do you think you could find time for Parliament?'
'That has to be thought of, of course; but by then I should think we might arrange it. There's not much that Rodman can't see to.'
'You are inclined to think of it?'
Adela's tone to her husband was not one of tenderness, but of studious regard and deference. She very seldom turned her eyes to his, but there was humility in her bent look. If ever he and she began to speak at the same time, she checked herself instantly, and Mutimer had no thought of giving her precedence. This behaviour in his wife struck him as altogether becoming.
'I almost think I am,' he replied. 'I've a notion I could give them an idea or two at Westminster. It would be news to them to hear a man say what he really thinks.'
Adela smiled faintly, but said nothing.
'Would you like me to be in Parliament?' Richard asked, putting down his foot and leaning back his head a little.
'Certainly, if you feel that it is a step gained.'
'That's just what I think it would be. Well, we must talk about it again. By-the-by, I've just had to send a fellow about his business.'
'To discharge a man?' Adela asked, with pain.
'Yes. It's that man Rendal; I was talking about him the other day, you remember. He's been getting drunk; I'll warrant it's not the first time.'
'And you really must send him away? Couldn't you give him another chance?'
'No. He was impudent to me, and I can't allow that. He'll have to go.'
Richard spoke with decision. When the fact of impudence was disclosed Adela felt that it was useless to plead. She looked at her fan and was sorrowful.
'So you are going to read to the youngsters to-day?' Mutimer recommenced.
'Yes; Mr. Wyvern has given me a book that will do very well indeed.'
'Oh, has he? ' said Richard doubtfully. 'Is it a religious book? That kind of thing won't do, you know.'
'No, it isn't religious at all. Only a book of fairy tales.'
'Fairy tales!' There was scorn in his way of repeating the words. 'Couldn't you find something useful? A history book, you know, or about animals, or something of that kind. We mustn't encourage them in idle reading. And that reminds me of Alice. You really must get her away from those novels. I can't make out what's come to the girl. She seems to be going off her head. Did you notice at lunch? -- she didn't seem to understand what I said to her. Do try and persuade her to practise, if nothing else.'
'I am afraid to do more than just advise in a pleasant way,' said Adela.
'Well, I shall lose my temper with her before long.'
'How is Harry doing? 'Adela asked, to pass over the difficult subject.
'He's an idle scamp! If some one 'ud give him a good thrashing, that's what he wants.'
'Shall I ask him to dinner to-morrow?'
'You can if you like, of course,' Richard replied with hesitation. 'I shouldn't have thought you cared much about having him.'
'Oh, I am always very glad to have him. I have meant to ask you to let him dine with us oftener. I am so afraid he should think we neglect him, and that would be sure to have a bad effect.'
Mutimer looked at her with satisfaction, and assented to her reasoning.
'But about the fairy tales,' Adela said presently, when Richard had finished his cigar and was about to return to the works. 'Do you seriously object to them? Of course I could find another book.'
'What do you think? I am rather surprised that Wyvern suggested reading of that kind; he generally has good ideas.'
'I fancy he wished to give the children a better kind of amusement,' said Adela, with hesitation.
'A better kind, eh? Well, do as you like. I dare say it's no great harm.'
'But if you really ----'
'No, no; read the tales. I dare say they wouldn't listen to a better book.'
It was not very encouraging, but Adela ventured to abide by the vicar's choice. She went to her own sitting-room and sought the story that Letty had spoken of. From 'The Ugly Duckling' she was led on to the story of the mermaid, from that to the enchanted swans. The book had never been in her hands before, and the delight she received from it was of a kind quite new to her. She had to make an effort to close it and turn to her specified occupations. For Adela had so systematised her day that no minute's margin was left for self-indulgence. Her reading was serious study. If ever she was tempted to throw open one of the volumes which Alice left about, a glance at the pages was enough to make her push it away as if it were impure. She had read very few stories of any kind, and of late had felt a strong inclination towards such literature; the spectacle of Alice's day-long absorption was enough to excite her curiosity, even if there had not existed other reasons. But these longings for a world of romance she crushed down as unworthy of a woman to whom life had revealed its dread significances: and, though she but conjectured the matter and tone of the fiction Alice delighted in, instinctive fear would alone have restrained her from it. For pleasure in the ordinary sense she did not admit into her scheme of existence; the season for that had gone by. Henceforth she must think, and work, and pray. Therefore she had set herself gladly to learn German; it was a definite task to which such and such hours could be devoted, and the labour would strengthen her mini Her ignorance she represented as a great marsh which by toil had to be filled up and converted into solid ground. She had gone through the library catalogue and made a list of books which seemed needful to be read; and Mr. Wyvern had been of service in guiding her, as well as in lending volumes from his own shelves. The vicar, indeed, had surprised her by the zealous kindness with which he entered into all her plans; at first she had talked to him with apprehension, remembering that chance alone had prevented her from appealing to him to save her from this marriage. But Mr. Wyvern, with whose philosophy we have some acquaintance, exerted himself to make the best of the irremediable, and Adela already owed him much for his unobtrusive moral support. Even Mutimer was putting aside his suspicions and beginning to believe that the clergyman would have openly encouraged Socialism had his position allowed him to do so. He was glad to see his wife immersed in grave historical and scientific reading; he said to himself that in this way she would be delivered from her religious prejudices, and some day attain to 'free thought.' Adela as yet had no such end in view, but already she understood that her education, in the serious sense, was only now beginning. As a girl, her fate had been that of girls in general; when she could write without orthographical errors, and could play by rote a few pieces of pianoforte music, her education had been pronounced completed. In the profound moral revolution which her nature had recently undergone her intellect also shared; when the first numbing shock had spent itself, she felt the growth of an intellectual appetite formerly unknown. Resolutely setting herself to exalt her husband, she magnified his acquirements, and, as a duty, directed her mind to the things he deemed of importance. One of her impulses took the form of a hope which would have vastly amused Richard had he divined it. Adela secretly trusted that some day her knowledge might be sufficient to allow her to cope with her husband's religious scepticism. It was significant that she could face in this way the great difficulty of her life; the stage at which it seemed sufficient to iterate creeds was already behind her. Probably Mr. Wyvern' 5 conversation was not without its effect in aiding her to these larger views, but she never spoke to him on the subject directly. Her native dignity developed itself with her womanhood, and one of the characteristics of the new Adela was a reserve which at times seemed to indicate coldness or even spiritual pride.
The weather made it possible to spread the children's tea in the open air. At four o'clock Letty came, and was quietly happy in being allowed to superintend one of the tables. Adela was already on affectionate terms with many of the little ones, though others regarded her with awe rather than warmth of confidence. This was strange, when we remember how childlike she had formerly been with children. But herein, too, there was a change; she could not now have caught up Letty's little sister and trotted with her about the garden as she was used to do. She could no longer smile in the old simple, endearing way; it took some time before a child got accustomed to her eyes and lips. Her movements, though graceful as ever, were subdued to matronly gravity; never again would Adela turn and run down the hill, as after that meeting with Hubert Eldon. But her sweetness was in the end irresistible to all who came within the circle of its magic. You saw its influence in Letty, whose eyes seemed never at rest save when they were watching Adela, who sprang to her side with delight if the faintest sign did but summon her. You saw its influence, moreover, when, the tea over, the children ranged themselves on the lawn to hear her read. After the first few sentences, everywhere was profoundest attention; the music of her sweetly modulated voice, the art which she learnt only from nature, so allied themselves with the beauty of the pages she read that from beginning to end not a movement interrupted her.
Whilst she was reading a visitor presented himself at the Manor, and asked if Mrs. Mutimer was at home. The servant explained how and where Mrs. Mutimer was engaged, for the party was held in a quarter of the garden hidden from the approach to the front door.
'Is Miss Mutimer within?' was the visitor's next inquiry.
Receiving an affirmative reply, he begged that Miss Mutimer might be informed of Mr. Keene's desire to see her. And Mr. Keene was led to the drawing-room.
Alice was reposing on a couch; she did not trouble herself to rise when the visitor entered, but held a hand to him, at the same time scarcely suppressing a yawn. Novel reading has a tendency to produce this expression of weariness. Then she smiled, as one does in greeting an old acquaintance.
'Who ever would have expected to see you!' she began, drawing away her hand when it seemed to her that Mr. Keene had detained it quite long enough. 'Does Dick expect you?'
'Your brother does not expect me, Miss Mutimer,' Keene replied. He invariably began conversation with her in a severely formal and respectful tone, and to-day there was melancholy in his voice.
'You've just come on your own -- because you thought you would?'
'I have come because I could not help it, Miss Mutimer. It is more than a month since I had the happiness of seeing you.'
He stood by the couch, his body bent in deference, his eyes regarding her with melancholy homage.
'Mrs. Mutimer has a tea-party of children from New Wanley,' said Alice with a provoking smile. 'Won't you go and join them? She's reading to them, I believe; no doubt it's something that would do you good.'
'Of course I will go if you send me. I would go anywhere at your command.'
'Then please do. Turn to the right when you get out into the garden.'
Keene stood for an instant with his eyes on the ground, then sighed deeply -- groaned, in fact -- smote his breast, and marched towards the door like a soldier at drill. As soon as he had turned his back Alice gathered herself from the couch, and, as soon as she stood upright, called to him.
He halted and faced round.
'You needn't go unless you like, you know.'
He almost ran towards her.
'Just ring the bell, will you? I want some tea, and I'll give you a cup if you care for it.'
She took a seat, and indicated with a finger the place where he might repose. It was at a three yards' distance. Then they talked as they were wont to, with much coquetry on Alice's side, and on Keene's always humble submissiveness tempered with glances and sighs. They drank tea, and Keene used the opportunity of putting down his cup to take a nearer seat.
'Miss Mutimer ----'
'Is there any hope for me? You remember you said I was to wait a month, and I've waited longer.'
'Yes, you have been very good,' said Alice, smiling loftily.
'Is there any hope for me?' he repeated, with an air of encouragement.
'Less than ever,' was the girl's reply, lightly given, indeed, but not to be mistaken for a jest.
'You mean that? Come, now, you don't really mean that? There must be, at all events, as much hope as before.'
'There isn't. There never was so little hope. There's no hope at all, not a scrap!'
She pressed her lips and looked at him with a grave face. He too became grave, and in a changed way.
'I am not to take this seriously?' he asked with bated breath.
'You are. There's not one scrap of hope, and it's better you should know it.'
'Then -- there -- there must be somebody else?' he groaned, his distress no longer humorous.
Alice continued to look him in the face for a moment, and at length nodded twice.
'There is somebody else?'
She nodded three times.
'Then I'll go. Good-bye, Miss Mutimer. Yes, I'll go.'
He did not offer to shake hands, but bowed and moved away dejectedly.
'But you're not going back to London?' Alice asked.
'You'd better not do that. They'll know you've called. You'd far better stay and see Dick; don't you think so?'
He shook his head and still moved towards the door.
'Mr. Keene!' Alice raised her voice. 'Please do as I tell you. It isn't my fault, and I don't see why you should pay no heed to me all at once. Will you attend to me, Mr. Keene?'
'What do you wish me to do?' he asked, only half turning.
'To go and see Mrs. Mutimer in the garden, and accept her invitation to dinner.'
'I haven't got a dress-suit,' he groaned.
'No matter. If you go away I'll never speak to you again, and you know you wouldn't like that.'
He gazed at her miserably -- his face was one which lent itself to a miserable expression, and the venerable appearance of his frockcoat and light trousers filled in the picture of mishap.
'Have you been joking with me?'
'No, I've been telling you the truth. But that's no reason why you should break loose all at once. Please do as I tell you; go to the garden now and stop to dinner. I am not accustomed to ask a thing twice.'
She was almost serious. Keene smiled in a sickly way, bowed, and went to do her bidding.
Among the little girls who had received invitations to the tea-party were two named Rendal, the children of the man whose dismissal from New Wanley had been announced by Mutimer. Adela was rather surprised to see them in the garden. They were eight and nine years old respectively, and she noticed that both had a troubled countenance, the elder showing signs of recent tears. She sought them out particularly for kind words during tea-time. After the reading she noticed them standing apart, talking to each other earnestly; she saw also that they frequently glanced at her. It occurred to her that they might wish to say something and had a difficulty in approaching. She went to them, and a question or two soon led the elder girl to disclose that she was indeed desirous of speaking in private. Giving a hand to each, she drew them a little apart. Then both children began to cry, and the elder sobbed out a pitiful story. Their mother was wretchedly ill and had sent them to implore Mrs. Mutimer's good word that the father might be allowed another chance. It was true he had got drunk -- the words sounded terrible to Adela from the young lips -- but he vowed that henceforth he would touch no liquor. It was ruin to the family to be sent away; Rendal might not find work for long enough; there would be nothing for it but to go to a Belwick slum as long as their money lasted, and thence to the workhouse. For it was well understood that no man who had worked at New Wanley need apply to the ordinary employers; they would have nothing to do with him. The mother would have come herself, but could not walk the distance.
Adela was pierced with compassion.
'I will do my best,' she said, as soon as she could trust her voice. 'I promise you I will do my best.'
She could not say more, and the children evidently hoped she would have been able to grant their father's pardon forthwith. They had to be content with Adela's promise, which did not sound very cheerful, but meant more than they could understand.
She could not do more than give such a promise, and even as she spoke there was a coldness about her heart. The coldness became a fear when she met her husband on his return from the works. Richard was not in the same good temper as at mid-day. He was annoyed to find Keene in the house -- of late he had grown to dislike the journalist very cordially -- and he had heard that the Rendal children had been to the party, which enraged him. You remember he accused the man of impudence in addition to the offence of drunkenness. Rendal, foolishly joking in his cups, had urged as extenuation of his own weakness the well-known fact that 'Arry Mutimer had been seen one evening unmistakably intoxicated in the street of Wanley village. Someone reported these words to Richard, and from that moment it was all over with the Rendals.
Adela, in her eagerness to plead, quite forgot (or perhaps she had never known) that with a certain order of men it is never wise to prefer a request immediately before dinner. She was eager, too, to speak at once; a fear, which she would not allow to become definite, drove her upon the undertaking without delay. Meeting Richard on the stairs she begged him to come to her room.
'What is it?' he asked with small ceremony, as soon as the door closed behind him.
She mastered her voice, and spoke with a sweet clearness of advocacy which should have moved his heart to proud and noble obeisance. Mutimer was not very accessible to such emotions.
'It's like the fellow's impertinence,' he said, 'to send his children to you. I'm rather surprised you let them stay after what I had told you. Certainly I shall not overlook it. The thing's finished I it's no good talking about it.'
The fear had passed, but the coldness about her heart was more deadly. For a moment it seemed as if she could not bring herself to utter another word; she drew apart, she could not raise her face, which was beautiful in marble pain. But there came a rush of such hot anguish as compelled her to speak again. Something more than the fate of that poor family was at stake. Is not the quality of mercy indispensable to true nobleness? Had she voiced her very thought, Adela would have implored him to exalt himself in her eyes, to do a good deed which cost him some little effort over himself. For she divined with cruel certainty that it was not the principle that made him unyielding.
'Richard, are you sure that the man has offended before?'
'Oh, of course he has. I've no doubt of it. I remember feeling uncertain when I admitted him first of all. I didn't like his look.'
'But you have not really had to complain of him before. Your suspicions may be groundless. And he has a good wife, I feel sure of that. The children are very clean and nicely dressed. She will help him to avoid drink in future. It is impossible for him to fail again, now that he knows how dreadful the results will be to his wife and his little girls.'
'Pooh! What does he care about them? If I begin letting men off in that way, I shall be laughed at. There's an end of my authority. Don't bother your head about them. I must go and get ready for dinner.'
An end of my authority. Yes, was it not the intelligence of her maiden heart returning to her? She had no pang from the mere refusal of a request of hers; Richard had never affected tenderness -- not what she understood as tenderness -- and she did not expect it of him. The union between them had another basis. But the understanding of his motives was so terribly distinct in her! It had come all at once; it was like the exposure of something dreadful by the sudden raising of a veil. And had she not known what the veil covered? Yet for the poor people's sake, for his own sake, she must try the woman's argument.
'Do you refuse me, Richard? I will be guarantee for him. I promise you he shall not offend again. He shall apologise humbly to you for his -- his words. You won't really refuse me?'
'What nonsense! How can you promise for him, Adela? Ask for something reasonable, and you may be sure I shan't refuse you. The fellow has to go as a warning. It mustn't be thought we're only playing at making rules. I can't talk any more; I shall keep dinner waiting.'
Pride helped her to show a smooth face through the evening, and in the night she conquered herself anew. She expelled those crying children from her mind; she hardened her heart against their coming misery. It was wrong to judge her husband so summarily; nay, she had not judged him, but had given way to a wicked impulse, without leaving herself a moment to view the case. Did he not understand better than she what measures were necessary to the success of his most difficult undertaking? And then was it certain that expulsion meant ruin to the Rendals? Richard would insist on the letter of the regulations, just, as he said, for the example's sake; but of course he would see that the man was put in the way of getting new employment and did not suffer in the meantime. In the morning she made atonement to her husband.
'I was wrong in annoying you yesterday,' she said as she walked with him from the house to the garden gate. 'In such things you are far better able to judge. You won't let it trouble you?'
It was a form of asceticism; Adela had a joy in humbling herself and crushing her rebel instincts. She even raised her eyes to interrogate him. On Richard's face was an uneasy smile, a look of puzzled reflection. It gratified him intensely to hear such words, yet he could not hear them without the suspicions of a vulgar nature brought in contact with nobleness.
'Well, yes,' he replied, 'I think you were a bit too hasty: you're not practical, you see. It wants a practical man to manage those kind of things.'
The reply was not such as completes the blessedness of pure submission. Adela averted her eyes. Another woman would perchance have sought to assure herself that she was right in crediting him with private benevolence to the family he was compelled to visit so severely. Such a question Adela could not ask. It would have been to betray doubt; she imagined a replying glance which would shame her. To love, to honour, to obey: -- many times daily she repeated to herself that threefold vow, and hitherto the first article had most occupied her striving heart. But she must not neglect the second; perhaps it came first in natural order.
At the gate Richard nodded to her kindly.
'Good-bye. Be a good girl.'
What was it that caused a painful flutter at her heart as he spoke so? She did not answer, but watched him for a few moments as he walked away.
Did he love her? The question which she had not asked herself for a long time came of that heart-tremor. She had been living so unnatural a life for a newly wedded woman, a life in which the intellect and the moral faculties held morbid predominance. 'Be a good girl.' How was it that the simple phrase touched her to emotion quite different in kind from any thing she had known since her marriage, more deeply than any enthusiasm, as with a comfort more sacred than any she had known in prayer? As she turned to go back to the house a dizziness affected her eyes; she had to stand still for a moment. Involuntarily she clasped her hands upon her bosom and looked away into the blue summer sky. Did he love her? She had never asked him that, and all at once she felt a longing to hasten after him and utter the question. Would he know what she meant?
Was it the instantaneous reward for having conscientiously striven to honour him? That there should be love on his side had not hitherto seemed of so much importance; probably she had taken it for granted; she had been so preoccupied with her own duties. Yet now it had all at once become of moment that she should know. 'Be a good girl.' She repeated the words over and over again, and made much of them. Perhaps she had given him no opportunity, no encouragement, to say all he felt; she knew him to be reserved in many things.
As she entered the house the dizziness again troubled her. But it passed as before.
Mr. Keene, who had stayed over-night, was waiting to take leave of her; the trap which would carry him to Agworth station had just driven up. Adela surprised the poor journalist by the warmth with which she shook his hand, and the kindness of her farewell. She was not deceived as to the motive of his visit, and just now she allowed herself to feel sympathy for him, though in truth she did not like the man.
This morning she could not settle to her work. The dreaming mood was upon her, and she appeared rather to encourage it, seeking a quiet corner of the garden and watching for a whole hour the sun-dappled trunk of a great elm. At times her face seemed itself to be a source of light, so vivid were the thoughts that transformed it Her eyes were moist once or twice, and then no dream of artist-soul ever embodied such passionate loveliness, such holy awe, as came to view upon her countenance. At lunch she was almost silent, but Alice, happening to glance at her, experienced a surprise; she had never seen Adela so beautiful and so calmly bright.
After lunch she attired herself for walking, and went to the village to see her mother. Lest Mrs. Waltham should be lonely, it had been arranged that Alfred should come home every evening, instead of once a week. Even thus, Adela had frequently reproached herself for neglecting her mother. Mrs. Waltham, however, enjoyed much content. The material comforts of her life were considerably increased, and she had many things in anticipation. Adela's unsatisfactory health rendered it advisable that the present year should pass in quietness, but Mrs. Waltham had made up her mind that before long there should be a house in London, with the delights appertaining thereto. She did not feel herself at all too old to enjoy the outside view of a London season; more than that it would probably be difficult to obtain just yet. To-day she was in excellent spirits, and welcomed her daughter exuberantly.
'You haven't seen Letty yet?' she asked. 'To-day, I mean.'
'No. Has she some news for me?'
'Alfred has an excellent chance of promotion. That old Wilkinson is dead, and he thinks there's no doubt he'll get the place. It would be two hundred and fifty a year.'
'That's good news, indeed.'
Of course it would mean Letty's immediate marriage. Mrs. Waltham discussed the prospect in detail. No doubt the best and simplest arrangement would be for the pair to live on in the same house. For the present, of course. Alfred was now firm on the commercial ladder, and in a few years his income would doubtless be considerable; then a dwelling of a very different kind could be found. With the wedding, too, she was occupying her thoughts.
'Yours was not quite what it ought to have been, Adela. I felt it at the time, but then things were done in such a hurry. Of course the church must be decorated. The breakfast you will no doubt arrange to have at the Manor. Letty ought to have a nice, a really nice trousseau; I know you will be kind to her, my dear.'
As Alice had done, Mrs. Waltham noticed before long that Adela was far brighter than usual. She remarked upon it.
'You begin to look really well, my love. It makes me happy to see you. How much we have to be thankful for! I've had a letter this morning from poor Lizzie Henbane; I must show it you. They're in such misery as never was. Her husband's business is all gone to nothing, and he is cruelly unkind to her. How thankful we ought to be!'
'Surely not for poor Lizzie's unhappiness!' said Adela, with a return of her maiden archness.
'On our own account, my dear. We have had so much to contend against. At one time, just after your poor father's death, things looked very cheerless: I used to fret dreadfully on your account. But everything, you see, was for the best'
Adela had something to say and could not find the fitting moment. She first drew her chair a little nearer to her mother.
'Yes, mother, I am happy,' she murmured.
'Silly child! As if I didn't know best. It's always the same, but you had the good sense to trust to my experience.'
Adela slipped from her seat and put her arms about her mother.
'What is it, dear?'
The reply was whispered. Adela's embrace grew closer; her face was hidden, and all at once she began to sob.
'Love me, mother! Love me, dear mother!'
Mrs. Waltham beamed with real tenderness. For half an hour they talked as mother and child alone can. Then Adela walked back to the Manor, still dreaming. She did not feel able to call and see Letty.
There was an afternoon postal delivery at Wanley, and the postman had just left the Manor as Adela returned. Alice, who for a wonder had been walking in the garden, saw the man going away, and, thinking it possible there might be a letter for her, entered the house to look. Three letters lay on the hall table; two were for Richard, the other was addressed to Mrs. Mutimer. This envelope Alice examined curiously. Whose writing could that be? She certainly knew it; it was a singular hand, stiff, awkward, untrained. Why, it was the writing of Emma's sister, Kate, Mrs. Clay. Not a doubt of it. Alice had received a note from Mrs. Clay at the time of Jane Vine's death, and remembered comparing the hand with her own and blessing herself that at all events she wrote with an elegant slope, and not in that hideous upright scrawl. The post-mark? Yes, it was London, E.C. But if Kate addressed a letter to Mrs. Mutimer it must be with sinister design, a design not at all difficult to imagine. Alice had a temptation. To take this letter and either open it herself or give it secretly to her brother? But the servant might somehow make it known that such a letter had arrived.
'Anything for me, Alice?'
It was Adela's voice. She had approached unheard; Alice was so intent upon her thoughts.
'Yes, one letter.'
There was no help for it. Alice glanced at her sister-in-law, and strolled away again into the garden.
Adela examined the envelope. She could not conjecture from whom the letter came; certainly from some illiterate person. Was it for her husband? Was not the 'Mrs.' a mistake for 'Mr.' or perhaps mere ill-writing that deceived the eye? No, the prefix was so very distinct. She opened the envelope where she stood.
'Mrs. Mutimer, I dare say you don't know me nor my name, but I write to you because I think it only right as you should know the truth about your husband, and because me and my sister can't go on any longer as we are. My sister's name is Emma Vine. She was engaged to be married to Richard M. two years before he knew you, and to the last he put her off with make-believe and promises, though it was easy to see what was meant. And when our sister Jane was on her very death-bed, which she died not a week after he married you, and I know well as it was grief as killed her. And now we haven't got enough to eat for Emma and me and my two little children, for I am a widow myself. But that isn't all. Because he found that his friends in Hoxton was crying shame on him, he got it said as Emma had misbehaved herself, which was a cowardly lie, and all to protect himself. And now Emma is that ill she can't work; it's come upon her all at once, and what's going to happen God knows. And his own mother cried shame on him, and wouldn't live no longer in the big house in Highbury. He offered us money -- I will say so much -- but Emma was too proud, and wouldn't hear of it. And then he went giving her a bad name. What do you think of your husband now, Mrs. Mutimer? I don't expect nothing, but it's only right you should know. Emma wouldn't take anything, not if she was dying of starvation, but I've got my children to think of. So that's all I have to say, and I'm glad I've said it. -- Yours truly, KATE CLAY.'
Adela remained standing for a few moments when she had finished the letter, then went slowly to her room.
Alice returned from the garden in a short time. In passing through the hall she looked again at the two letters which remained. Neither of them had a sinister appearance; being addressed to the Manor they probably came from personal friends. She went to the drawing-room and glanced around for Adela, but the room was empty. Richard would not be home for an hour yet; she took up a novel and tried to pass the time so, but she had a difficulty in fixing her attention. In the end she once more left the house, and, after a turn or two on the lawn, strolled out of the gate.
She met her brother a hundred yards along the road. The sight of her astonished him.
'What's up now, Princess?' he exclaimed. 'House on fire? Novels run short?'
'Something that I expect you won't care to hear. Who do you think's been writing to Adela? Someone in London.'
Richard stayed his foot, and looked at his sister with the eyes which suggested disagreeable possibilities.
'Who do you mean?' he asked briefly. 'Not mother?'
The change in him was very sudden. He had been merry and smiling.
'No; worse than that. She's got a letter from Kate.'
'From Kate? Emma's sister?' he asked in a low voice of surprise which would have been dismay had he not governed himself.
'I saw it on the hall table; I remember her writing well enough. Just as I was looking at it Adela came in.'
'Have you seen her since?'
Alice shook her head. She had this way of saving words. Richard walked on. His first movement of alarm had passed, and now he affected to take the matter with indifference. During the week immediately following his marriage he had been prepared for this very incident; the possibility had been one of the things he faced with a certain recklessness. But impunity had set his mind at ease, and the news in the first instant struck him with a trepidation which a few minutes' thought greatly allayed. By a mental process familiar enough he at first saw the occurrence as he had seen it in the earlier days of his temptation, when his sense of honour yet gave him frequent trouble; he had to exert himself to recover his present standpoint. At length he smiled.
'Just like that woman,' he said, turning half an eye on Alice.
'If she means trouble, you'll have it,' returned the girl sententiously.
'Well, it's no doubt over by this time.'
'Over? Beginning, I should say,' remarked Alice, swinging her parasol at a butterfly.
They finished their walk to the house in silence, and Richard went at once to his dressing-room. Here he sat down. After all, his mental disquiet was not readily to be dismissed; it even grew as he speculated and viewed likelihoods from all sides. Probably Kate had made a complete disclosure. How would it affect Adela?
You must not suppose that his behaviour in the case of the man Rendal had argued disregard for Adela's opinion of him. Richard was incapable of understanding how it struck his wife, that was all. If he reflected on the matter, no doubt he was very satisfied with himself, feeling that he had displayed a manly resolution and consistency. But the present difficulty was grave. Whatever Adela might say, there could be no doubt as to her thought; she would henceforth -- yes, despise him. That cut his thick skin to the quick; his nature was capable of smarting when thus assailed. For he had by no means lost his early reverence for Adela; nay, in a sense it had increased. His primitive ideas on woman had undergone a change since his marriage. Previously he had considered a wife in the light of property; intellectual or moral independence he could not attribute to her. But he had learnt that Adela was by no means his chattel. He still knew diffidence when he was inclined to throw a joke at her, and could not take her hand without involuntary respect -- a sensation which occasionally irritated him. A dim inkling of what was meant by woman's strength and purity had crept into his mind; he knew -- in his heart he knew -- that he was unworthy to touch her garment. And, to face the whole truth, he all but loved her; that was the meaning of his mingled sentiments with regard to her. A danger of losing her in the material sense would have taught him that better than he as yet knew it; the fear of losing her respect was not attributable solely to his restless egoism. He had wedded her in quite another frame of mind than that in which he now found himself when he thought of her. He cared much for the high opinion of people in general; Adela was all but indispensable to him. When he said, 'My wife,' he must have been half-conscious that the word bore a significance different from that he had contemplated. On the lips of those among whom he had grown up the word is desecrated, or for the most part so; it has contemptible, and ridiculous, and vile associations, scarcely ever its true meaning. Formerly he would have laughed at the thought of standing in awe of his wife; nay, he could not have conceived the possibility of such a thing; it would have appeared unnatural, incompatible with the facts of wedded life. Yet he sat here and almost dreaded to enter her presence.
A man of more culture might have thought: A woman cannot in her heart be revolted because another has been cast off for her. Mutimer could not reason so far. It would have been reasoning inapplicable to Adela, but from a certain point of view it might have served as a resource. Richard could only accept his instincts.
But it was useless to postpone the interview; come of it what would, he must have it over and done with. He could not decide how to speak until he knew what the contents of Kate's letter were. He was nervously anxious to know.
Adela sat in her boudoir, with a book open on her lap. After the first glance on his entering she kept her eyes down. He sauntered up and stood before her in an easy attitude.
'Who has been writing to you from London?' he at once asked, abruptly in consequence of the effort to speak without constraint.
Adela was not prepared for such a question. She remembered all at once that Alice had seen the letter as it lay on the table. Why had Alice spoken to her brother about it? There could be only one explanation of that, and of his coming thus directly. She raised her eyes for a moment, and a slight shock seemed to affect her.
She was unconscious how long she delayed her reply.
'Can't you tell me?' Richard said, with more roughness than he intended. He was suffering, and suffering affected his temper.
Adela drew the letter from her pocket and in silence handed it to him. He read it quickly, and, before the end was reached, had promptly chosen his course.
'What do you think of this?' was his question, as he folded the letter and rolled it in his hand. He was smiling, and enjoyed complete self-command.
'I cannot think,' fell from Adela's lips. 'I am waiting for jour words.'
He noticed at length, now he was able to inspect her calmly, that she looked faint, pain-stricken.
'Alice told me who had written to you,' Richard pursued, in his frankest tones. 'It was well she saw the letter; you might have said nothing.'
'That would have been very unjust to you,' said Adela in a low regular voice. 'I could only have done that if -- if I had believed it.'
'You don't altogether believe it, then?'
She looked at him with full eyes and made answer:
'You are my husband.'
It echoed in his ears; not to many men does it fall to hear those words so spoken. Another would have flung himself at her feet and prayed to her. Mutimer only felt a vast relief, mingled with gratitude. The man all but flattered himself that she had done him justice.
'Well, you are quite right,' he spoke. 'It isn't true, and if you knew this woman you would understand the whole affair. I dare say you can gather a good deal from the way she writes. It's true enough that I was engaged to her sister, but it was broken off before I knew you, and for the reasons she says here. I'm not going to talk to you about things of that kind; I dare say you wouldn't care to hear them. Of course she says I made it all up. Do you think I'm the kind of man to do that?'
Perhaps she did not know that she was gazing at him. The question interrupted her in a train of thought which was going on in her mind even while she listened. She was asking herself why, when they were in London, he had objected to a meeting between her and his mother. He had said his mother was a crotchety old woman who could not make up her mind to the changed circumstances, and was intensely prejudiced against women above her own class. Was that a very convincing description? She had accepted it at the time, but now, after reading this letter ----? But could any man speak with that voice and that look, and lie? Her agitation grew intolerable. Answer she must; could she, could she say 'No' with truth? Answer she must, for he waited. In the agony of striving for voice there came upon her once more that dizziness of the morning, but in a more severe form. She struggled, felt her breath failing, tried to rise, and fell back unconscious.
At the same time Alice was sitting in the drawing-room, in conversation with Mr. Willis Rodman. 'Arry having been invited for this evening, Rodman was asked with him, as had been the case before. 'Arry was at present amusing himself in the stables, exchanging sentiments with the groom. Rodman sat near Alice, or rather he knelt upon a chair, so that at any moment he could assume a standing attitude before her. He talked in a low voice.
'You'll come out to-night?'
'No, not to-night. You must speak to him to-night.'
'Why shouldn't you?' resumed the girl eagerly, in a tone as unlike that she used to Mr. Keene as well could be. She was in earnest; her eyes never moved from her companion's face; her lips trembled. 'Why should you put it off? I can't see why we keep it a secret. Dick can't have a word to say against it; you know he can't. Tell him to-night after dinner. Do! do!'
Rodman frowned in thought.
'He won't like it.'
'But why not? I believe he will. He will, he shall, he must! I'm not to depend on him, surely?'
'A day or two more, Alice.'
'I can't keep up the shamming!' she exclaimed. 'Adela suspects, I feel sure. Whenever you come in I feel that hot and red.' She laughed and blushed. 'If you won't do as I tell you, I'll give you up, I will indeed!'
Rodman stroked his moustache, smiling.
'You will, will you?'
'See if I don't. To-night! It must be to-night! Shall I call you a pretty name? it's only because I couldn't bear to be found out before you tell him.'
He still stroked his moustache. His handsome face was half amused, half troubled. At last he said:
'Very well; to-night.'
Shortly after, Mutimer came into the room.
'Adela isn't up to the mark,' he said to Alice. 'She'd better have dinner by herself, I think; but she'll join us afterwards.'
Brother and sister exchanged looks.
'Oh, it's only a headache or something of the kind,' he continued. 'It'll be all right soon.'
And he began to talk with Rodman cheerfully, so that Alice felt it must really be all right. She drew aside and looked into a novel.
Adela did appear after dinner, very pale and silent, but with a smile on her face. There had been no further conversation between her and her husband. She talked a little with 'Arry, in her usual gentle way, then asked to be allowed to say goodnight. 'Arry at the same time took his leave, having been privately bidden to do so by his sister. He was glad enough to get away; in the drawing-room his limbs soon began to ache, from inability to sit at his ease.
Then Alice withdrew, and the men were left alone.
Adela did not go to bed. She suffered from the closeness of the evening and sat by her open windows, trying to read a chapter in the New Testament. About eleven o'clock she had a great desire to walk upon the garden grass for a few minutes before undressing; perhaps it might help her to the sleep she so longed for yet feared she would not obtain. The desire became so strong that she yielded to it, passed quietly downstairs, and out into the still night. She directed her steps to her favourite remote corner. There was but little moonlight, and scarcely a star was visible. When she neared the laburnums behind which she often sat or walked, her ear caught the sound of voices. They came nearer, on the other side of the trees. The first word which she heard distinctly bound her to the spot and forced her to listen.
'No, I shan't put it off.' It was Alice speaking. 'I know what comes of that kind of thing. I am old enough to be my own mistress.'
'You are not twenty-one,' replied Richard in an annoyed voice. 'I shall do everything I can to put it off till you are of age. Rodman is a good enough fellow in his place; but it isn't hard to see why he's talked you over in this way.'
'He hasn't talked me over!' cried Alice, passionately. 'I needn't have listened if I hadn't liked.'
'You're a foolish girl, and you want someone to look after you. If you'll only wait you can make a good marriage. This would be a bad one, in every sense.'
'I shall marry him.'
'And I shall prevent it. It's for your own sake, Alice.'
'If you try to prevent it -- I'll tell Adela everything about Emma I I'll tell her the whole plain truth, and I'll prove it to her. So hinder me if you dare!'
Alice hastened away.
In the month of September Mr. Wyvern was called upon to unite in holy matrimony two pairs in whom we are interested. Alice Mutimer became Mrs. Willis Rodman, and Alfred Waltham took home a bride who suited him exactly, seeing that she was never so happy as when submitting herself to a stronger will. Alfred and Letty ran away and hid themselves in South Wales. Mr. and Mrs. Rodman fled to the Continent.
Half Alice's fortune was settled upon herself, her brother and Alfred Waltham being trustees. This was all Mutimer could do. He disliked the marriage intensely, and not only because he had set his heart on a far better match for Alice; he had no real confidence in Rodman. Though the latter's extreme usefulness and personal tact had from the first led Richard to admit him to terms of intimacy, time did not favour the friendship. Mutimer, growing daily more ambitious and more punctilious in his intercourse with all whom, notwithstanding his principles, he deemed inferiors from the social point of view, often regretted keenly that he had allowed any relation between himself and Rodman more than that of master and man. Experience taught him how easily he might have made the most of Rodman without granting him a single favour. The first suggestion of the marriage enraged him; in the conversation with Rodman, which took place, moreover, at an unfavourable moment, he lost his temper and flung out very broad hints indeed as to the suitor's motives. Rodman was calm; life had instructed him in the advantages of a curbed tongue; but there was heightened colour on his face, and his demeanour much resembled that of a proud man who cares little to justify himself, but will assuredly never forget an insult. It was one of the peculiarities of this gentleman that his exterior was most impressive when the inner man was most busy with ignoble or venomous thoughts.
But for Alice's sake Mutimer could not persist in his hostility. Alice had a weapon which he durst not defy, and, the marriage being inevitable, he strove hard to see it in a more agreeable light, even tried to convince himself that his prejudice against Rodman was groundless. He loved his sister, and for her alone would put up with things otherwise intolerable. It was a new exasperation when he discovered that Rodman could not be persuaded to continue his work at New Wanley. All inducements proved vain. Richard had hoped that at least one advantage might come of the marriage, that Rodman would devote capital to the works; but Rodman's Socialism cooled strangely from the day when his ends were secured. He purposed living in London, and Alice was delighted to encourage him. The girl had visions of a life such as the heroines of certain novels rejoice in. For a wonder, her husband was indispensable to the brightness of that future. Rodman had inspired her with an infatuation. Their relations once declared, she grudged him every moment he spent away from her. It was strangely like true passion, the difference only marked by an extravagant selfishness. She thought of no one, cared for no one, but herself, Rodman having become part of that self. With him she was imperiously slavish; her tenderness was a kind of greed; she did not pretend to forgive her brother for his threatened opposition, and, having got hold of the idea that Adela took part against Rodman, she hated her and would not be alone in her company for a moment. On her marriage day she refused Adela's offered kiss and did her best to let everyone see how delighted she was to leave them behind.
The autumn was a time of physical suffering for Adela. Formerly she had sought to escape her mother's attentions, now she accepted them with thankfulness. Mrs. Waltham had grave fears for her daughter; doctors suspected some organic disease, one summoned from London going so far as to hint at a weakness of the chest. Early in November it was decided to go south for the winter, and Exmouth was chosen, chiefly because Mrs. Westlake was spending a month there. Mr. Westlake, whose interest in Adela had grown with each visit he paid to the Manor, himself suggested the plan. Mrs. Waltham and Adela left Wanley together; Mutimer promised visits as often as be could manage to get away. Since Rodman's departure Richard found himself overwhelmed with work. None the less he resolutely pursued the idea of canvassing Belwick at the coming general election. Opposition, from whomsoever it came, aggravated him. He was more than ever troubled about the prospects of New Wanley; there even loomed before his mind a possible abandonment of the undertaking. He had never contemplated the sacrifice of his fortune, and though anything of that kind was still very far off, it was daily more difficult for him to face with equanimity even moderate losses. Money had fostered ambition, and ambition full grown had more need than ever of its nurse. New Wanley was no longer an end in itself, but a stepping-stone You must come to your own conclusions in judging the value of Mutimer's social zeal; the facts of his life up to this time are before you, and you will not forget how complex a matter is the mind of a strong man with whom circumstances have dealt so strangely. His was assuredly not the vulgar self-seeking of the gilded bourgeois who covets an after-dinner sleep on Parliamentary benches. His ignorance of the machinery of government was profound; though he spoke scornfully of Parliament and its members, he had no conception of those powers of dulness and respectability which seize upon the best men if folly lures them within the precincts of St. Stephen's. He thought, poor fellow! that he could rise in his place and thunder forth his indignant eloquence as he did in Commonwealth Hall and elsewhere; he imagined a conscience-stricken House, he dreamed of passionate debates on a Bill which really had the good of the people for its sole object. Such Bill would of course bear his name; shall we condemn him for that?
Adela was at Exmouth, drinking the mild air, wondering whether there was in truth a life to come, and, if so, whether it was a life wherein Love and Duty were at one. A year ago such thoughts could not have entered her mind. But she had spent several weeks in close companionship with Stella Westlake, and Stella's influence was subtle. Mrs. Westlake had come here to regain strength after a confinement; the fact drew her near to Adela, whose time for giving birth to a child was not far off.
Adela at first regarded this friend with much the same feeling of awe as mingled with Letty's affection for Adela herself. Stella Westlake was not only possessed of intellectual riches which Adela had had no opportunity of gaining; her character was so full of imaginative force, of dreamy splendours, that it addressed itself to a mind like Adela's with magic irresistible and permanent. No rules of the polite world applied to Stella; she spoke and acted with an independence so spontaneous that it did not suggest conscious opposition to the received ways of thought to which ordinary women are confined, but rather a complete ignorance of. them. Adela felt herself startled, but never shocked, even when the originality went. most counter to her own prejudices; it was as though she had drunk a draught of most unexpected flavour, the effect of which was to set her nerves delightfully trembling, and make her long to taste it again. It. was not an occasional effect, the result of an effort on Stella's part to surprise or charm; the commonest words had novel meanings when uttered in her voice; a profound sincerity seemed to inspire every lightest question or remark. Her presence was agitating; she had but to enter the room and sit in silence, and Adela forthwith was raised from the depression of her broodings to a vividness of being, an imaginative energy, such as she had never known. Adela doubted for some time whether Stella regarded her with affection; the little demonstrations in which women are wont to indulge were incompatible with that grave dreaminess, and Stella seemed to avoid even the common phrases of friendship. But one day, when Adela had not been well enough to rise, and as she lay on the borderland of sleeping and waking, she half dreamt, half knew, that a face bent over her, and that lips were pressed against her own; and such a thrill struck through her that, though now fully conscious, she had not power to stir, but lay as in the moment of some rapturous death. For when the presence entered into her dream, when the warmth melted upon her lips, she imagined it the kiss which might once have come to her but now was lost for ever. It was pain to open her eyes, but when she did so, and met Stella's silent gaze, she knew that love was offered her, a love of which it was needless to speak.
Mrs. Waltham was rather afraid of Stella; privately she doubted whether the poor thing was altogether in her perfect mind. When the visitor came the mother generally found occupation or amusement elsewhere, conversation with Stella was so extremely difficult. Mr. Westlake was also at Exmouth, but much engaged in literary work. There was, too, an artist and his family, with whom the Westlakes were acquainted, their name Boscobel. Mrs. Boscobel was a woman of the world, five-and-thirty, charming, intelligent; she read little, but was full of interest in literary and artistic matters, and talked as only a woman can who has long associated with men of brains. To her Adela was interesting, personally and still more as an illustration of a social experiment.
'How young she is!' was her remark to Mr. Westlake shortly after making Adela's acquaintance. 'It will amuse you, the thought I had; I really must tell it you. She realises my idea of a virgin mother. Haven't you felt anything of the kind?'
Mr. Westlake smiled.
'Yes, I understand. Stella said something evidently traceable to the same impression; her voice, she said, is full of forgiveness.'
'Excellent! And has she much to forgive, do you think?'
'I hope not.'
'Yet she is not exactly happy, I imagine?'
Mr. Westlake did not care to discuss the subject. The lady had recourse to Stella for some account of Mr. Mutimer.
'He is a strong man,' Stella said in a tone which betrayed the Socialist's enthusiasm. 'He stands for earth-subduing energy. I imagine him at a forge, beating fire out of iron.'
'H'm! That's not quite the same thing as imagining him that beautiful child's husband. No education, I suppose?'
'Sufficient. With more, he would no longer fill the place he does. He can speak eloquently; he is the true voice of the millions who cannot speak their own thoughts. If he were more intellectual he would become commonplace; I hope he will never see further than he does now. Isn't a perfect type more precious than a man who is neither one thing nor another?'
'Artistically speaking, by all means.'
'In his case I don't mean it artistically. He is doing a great work.'
'A friend of mine -- you don't know Hubert Eldon, I think? -- tells me he has ruined one of the loveliest valleys in England.'
'Yes, I dare say he has done that. It is an essential part of his protest against social wrong. The earth renews itself, but a dead man or woman who has lived without joy can never be recompensed.'
'She, of course, is strongly of the same opinion?'
'Adela is a Socialist.'
Mrs. Boscobel laughed rather satirically.
'I doubt it.'
Stella, when she went to sit with Adela, either at home or by the sea-shore, often carried a book in her hand, and at Adela's request she read aloud. In this way Adela first came to know what was meant by literature, as distinguished from works of learning. The verse of Shelley and the prose of Landor fell upon her ears; it was as though she had hitherto lived in deafness. Sometimes she had to beg the reader to pause for that day; her heart and mind seemed overfull; she could not even speak of these new things, but felt the need of lying back in twilight to marvel and repeat melodies.
Mrs. Boscobel happened to approach them once whilst this reading was going on.
'You are educating her?' she said to Stella afterwards.
'Perhaps -- a little,' Stella replied absently.
'Isn't it just a trifle dangerous?' suggested the understanding lady.
'The wife of the man who makes sparks fly out of iron? The man who is on no account to learn anything?'
Stella shook her head, saying, 'You don't know her.'
'I should much like to,' was Mrs. Boscobel's smiling rejoinder.
In Stella's company it did not seem very likely that Adela would lose her social enthusiasm, yet danger there was, and that precisely on account of Mrs. Westlake's idealist tendencies. When she spoke of the toiling multitude, she saw them in a kind of exalted vision; she beheld them glorious in their woe, ennobled by the tyranny under which they groaned. She had seen little if anything of the representative proletarian, and perchance even if she had the momentary impression would have faded in the light of her burning soul. Now Adela was in the very best position for understanding those faults of the working class which are ineradicable in any one generation. She knew her husband, knew him better than ever now that she regarded him from a distance; she knew 'Arry Mutimer; and now she was getting to appreciate with a thoroughness impossible hitherto, the monstrous gulf between men of that kind and cultured human beings. She had, too, studied the children and the women of New Wanley, and the results of such study were arranging themselves in her mind. All unconsciously, Stella Westlake was cooling Adela's zeal with every fervid word she uttered; Adela at times with difficulty restrained herself from crying, 'But it is a mistake! They have not these feelings you attribute to them. Such suffering as you picture them enduring comes only of the poetry-fed soul at issue with fate.' She could not as yet have so expressed herself, but the knowledge was growing within her. For Adela was not by nature a social enthusiast. When her heart leapt at Stella's chant, it was not in truth through contagion of sympathy, but in admiration and love of the noble woman who could thus think and speak. Adela -- and who will not be thankful for it? -- was, before all things, feminine; her true enthusiasms were personal. It was a necessity of her nature to love a human being, this or that one, not a crowd. She had been starving, killing the self which was her value. This home on the Devon coast received her like an earthly paradise; looking back on New Wanley, she saw it murky and lurid; it was hard to believe that the sun ever shone there. But for the most part, she tried to keep it altogether from her mind, tried to dissociate her husband from his public tasks, and to remember him as the man with whom her life was irrevocably bound up. When delight in Stella's poetry was followed by fear, she strengthened herself by thought of the child she bore beneath her heart; for that child's sake she would accept the beautiful things offered to her, some day to bring them, as rich gifts to the young life. Her own lot was fixed; she might not muse upon it, she durst not consider it too deeply. There were things in the past which she had determined, if by any means it were possible, utterly to forget. For the future, there was her child.
Mutimer came to Exmouth when she had been there three weeks, and he stayed four days. Mrs. Boscobel had an opportunity of making his acquaintance.
'Who contrived that marriage?' she asked of Mr. Westlake subsequently. 'Our lady mother, presumably.'
'I have no reason to think it was not well done,' replied Mr. Westlake with reserve.
'Most skilfully done, no doubt,' rejoined the lady.
But at the end of the year, the Westlakes returned to London, the Boscobels shortly after. Mrs. Waltham and her daughter had made no other close connections, and Adela's health alone allowed of her leaving the house for a short drive on sunny days. At the end of February the child was born prematurely; it entered the world only to leave it again. For a week they believed that Adela would die. Scarcely was she pronounced out of danger by the end of March. But after that she recovered strength.
May saw her at Wanley once more. She had become impatient to return. The Parliamentary elections were very near at hand, and Mutimer almost lived in Belwick; it seemed to Adela that duty required her to be near him, as well as to supply his absence from New Wanley as much as was possible. She was still only the ghost of her former self, but disease no longer threatened her, and activity alone could completely restore her health. She was anxious to recommence her studies, to resume her readings to the children; and she desired to see Mr. Wyvern. She understood by this time why he had chosen Andersen's Tales for her readings; of many other things which he had said, causing her doubt, the meaning was now clear enough to her. She had so much to talk of with the vicar, so many questions to put to him, not a few of a kind that would -- she thought -- surprise and trouble him. None the less, they must be asked and answered. Part of her desire to see him again was merely the result of her longing for the society of well-read and thoughtful people. She knew that he would appear to her in a different light from formerly; she would be far better able to understand him.
She began by seeking his opinion of her husband's chances in Belwick. Mr. Wyvern shook his head and said frankly that he thought there was no chance at all. Mutimer was looked upon in the borough as a mischievous interloper, who came to make disunion in the Radical party. The son of a lord and an ironmaster of great influence were the serious candidates. Had he seen fit, Mr. Wyvern could have mentioned not a few lively incidents in the course of the political warfare; such, for instance, as the appearance of a neat little pamphlet which purported to give a full and complete account of Mutimer's life. In this pamphlet nothing untrue was set down, nor did it contain anything likely to render its publisher amenable to the law of libel; but the writer, a gentleman closely connected with Comrade Roodhouse, most skilfully managed to convey the worst possible impression throughout. Nor did the vicar hesitate to express his regret that Mutimer should be seeking election at all. Adela felt with him.
She found Richard in a strange state of chronic excitement. On whatever subject he spoke it was with the same nervous irritation, and the slightest annoyance set him fuming. To her he paid very little attention, and for the most part seemed disinclined to converse with her; Adela found it necessary to keep silence on political matters; once or twice he replied to her questions with a rough impatience which kept her miserable throughout the day, so much had it revealed of the working man. As the election day approached she suffered from a sinking of the heart, almost a bodily fear; a fear the same in kind as that of the wretched woman who anticipates the return of a brute-husband late on Saturday night. The same in kind; no reasoning would overcome it. She worked hard all day long, that at night she might fall on deep sleep. Again she had taken up her hard German books, and was also busy with French histories of revolution, which did indeed fascinate her, though, as she half perceived, solely by the dramatic quality of the stories they told. And at length the morning of her fear had come.
When he left home Mutimer bade her not expect him till the following day. She spent the hours in loneliness and misery. Mr. Wyvern called, but even him she begged through a servant to excuse her; her mother likewise came, and her she talked with for a few minutes, then pleaded headache. At nine o'clock in the evening she went to her bedroom. She had a soporific at hand, remaining from the time of her illness, and in dread of a sleepless night she had recourse to it.
It seemed to her that she had slept a very long time when a great and persistent noise awoke her. It was someone knocking at her door, even, as she at length became aware, turning the handle and shaking it. Being alone, she had locked herself in. She sprang from bed, put on her dressing-gown, and went to the door. Then came her husband's voice, impatiently calling her name. She admitted him.
Through the white blind the morning twilight just made objects visible in the room; Adela afterwards remembered noticing the drowsy pipe of a bird near the window. Mutimer came in, and, without closing the door, began to demand angrily why she had locked him out. Only now she quite shook off her sleep, and could perceive that there was something unusual in his manner. He smelt strongly of tobacco, and, as she fancied, of spirits; but it was his staggering as he moved to draw up the blind that made her aware of his condition. She found afterwards that he had driven all the way from Belwick, and the marvel was that he had accomplished such a feat; probably his horse deserved most of the credit. When he had pulled the blind up, he turned, propped himself against the dressing-table, and gazed at her with terribly lack-lustre eyes. Then she saw the expression of his face change; there came upon it a smile such as she had never seen or imagined, a hideous smile that made her blood cold. Without speaking, he threw himself forward and came towards her. For an instant she was powerless, paralysed with terror; but happily she found utterance for a cry, and that released her limbs. Before he could reach her, she had darted out of the room, and fled to another chamber, that which Alice had formerly occupied, where she locked herself against him. To her surprise he did not discover her retreat; she heard him moving about the passages, stumbling here and there, then he seemed to return to his bedroom. She wrapped herself in a counterpane, and sat in a chair till it was full morning.
He was absent for a week after that. Of course his polling at the election had been ridiculously small compared with that of the other candidates. When he returned he went about his ordinary occupations; he was seemingly not in his usual health, but the constant irritableness had left him. Adela tried to bear herself as though nothing unwonted had come to pass, but Mutimer scarcely spoke when at home; if he addressed her it was in a quick, off-hand way, and without looking at her. Adela again lived almost alone. Her mother and Letty understood that she preferred this. Letty had many occupations; before long she hoped to welcome her first child. The children of New Wanley still came once a week to the Manor; Adela endeavoured to amuse them, to make them thoughtful, but it had become a hard, hard task. Only with Mr. Wyvern did she occasionally speak without constraint, though not of course without reserve; speech of that kind she feared would never again be possible to her. Still she felt that the vicar saw far into her life. On some topics she was more open than she had hitherto ventured to be; a boldness, almost a carelessness, for which she herself could not account, possessed her at such times.
Late in June she received from Stella Westlake a pressing invitation to come and spend a fortnight in London. It was like sunshine to her heart; almost without hesitation she re solved to accept it. Her husband offered no objection, seemed to treat the proposal with indifference. Later in the day he said:
'If you have time, you might perhaps give Alice a call.'
'I shall do that as soon as ever I can.'
He had something else to say.
'Perhaps Mrs. Westlake might ask her to come, whilst you are there.'
'Very likely, I think,' Adela replied, with an attempt at confidence.
It was only her second visit to London: the first had been in winter time, and under conditions which had not allowed her to attend to anything she saw. But for Stella's presence there she would have feared London; her memory of it was like that of an ill dream long past; her mind only reverted to it in darkest hours, and then she shuddered. But now she thought only of Stella; Stella was light and joy, a fountain of magic waters. Her arrival at the house in Avenue Road was one of the most blissful moments she had ever known. The servant led her upstairs to a small room, where the veiled sun made warmth on rich hangings, on beautiful furniture, on books and pictures, on ferns and flowers. The goddess of this sanctuary was alone; as the door opened the notes of a zither trembled into silence, and Adela saw a light-robed loveliness rise and stand before her. Stella took both her hands very gently, then looked into her face with eyes which seemed to be new from some high vision, then drew her within the paradise of an embrace. The kiss was once more like that first touch of lips which had come to Adela on the verge of sleep; she quivered through her frame.
Mr. Westlake shortly joined them, and spoke with an extreme kindness which completed Adela's sense of being at home. No one disturbed them through the evening; Adela went to bed early and slept without a dream.
Stella and her husband talked of her in the night. Mr. Westlake had, at the time of the election, heard for the first time the story of Mutimer and the obscure work-girl in Hoxton, and had taken some trouble to investigate it. It had not reached his ears when the Hoxton Socialists made it a subject of public discussion; Comrade Roodhouse had inserted only a very general report of the proceedings in his paper the 'Tocsin, and even this Mr. Westlake had not seen. But a copy of the pamphlet which circulated in Belwick came into his hands, and when he began to talk on the subject with an intimate friend, who, without being a Socialist, amused himself with following the movement closely, he heard more than he liked. To Stella he said nothing of all this. His own ultimate judgment was that you cannot expect men to be perfect, and that great causes have often been served by very indifferent characters.
'She looks shockingly ill,' he began to-night when alone with Stella. 'Wasn't there something said about consumption when she was at Exmouth? Has she any cough?'
'No, I don't think it is that,' Stella answered.
'She seems glad to be with you.'
'Very glad, I think.'
'Did the loss of her child affect her deeply?'
'I cannot say. She has never spoken of it.'
Stella made no reply to the exclamation.
The next day Adela went to call on Mrs. Rodman. It was a house in Bayswater, not large, but richly furnished. Adela chose a morning hour, hoping to find her sister-in-law alone, but in this she was disappointed. Four visitors were m the drawing-room, three ladies and a man of horsey appearance, who talked loudly as he leaned back with his legs crossed, a walking-stick held over his knee, his hat on the ground before him. The ladies were all apparently middle-aged; one of them had a great quantity of astonishingly yellow hair, and the others made up for deficiency in that respect with toilets in very striking taste. The subject under discussion was a recent murder. The gentleman had the happiness of being personally acquainted with the murderer, at all events had frequently met him at certain resorts of the male population. When Mrs. Rodman had briefly welcomed Adela, the discussion continued. Its tone was vulgar, but perhaps not more so than the average tone among middle-class people who are on familiar terms with each other. The gentleman, still leading the conversation, kept his eyes fixed on Adela, greatly to her discomfort.
In less than half an hour these four took their departure.
'So Dick came a cropper!' was Alice's first remark, when alone with her sister-in-law.
Adela tried in vain to understand.
'At the election, you know. I don't see what he wanted to go making himself so ridiculous. Is he much cut up?'
'I don't think it troubles him much,' Adela said; 'he really had no expectation of being elected. It was just to draw attention to Socialism.'
'Of course he'll put it in that way. But I'd no idea you were in London. Where are you living?'
Alice had suffered, had suffered distinctly, in her manners, and probably in her character. It was not only that she affected a fastness of tone, and betrayed an ill-bred pleasure in receiving Adela in her fine drawing-room; her face no longer expressed the idle good-nature which used to make it pleasant to contemplate, it was thinner, less wholesome in colour, rather acid about the lips. Her manner was hurried, she seemed to be living in a whirl of frivolous excitements. Her taste in dress had deteriorated; she wore a lot of jewellery of a common kind, and her headgear was fantastic.
'We have a few friends to-morrow night,' she said when the conversation had with difficulty dragged itself over ten minutes. 'Will you come to dinner? I'm sure Willis will be very glad to see you.'
Adela heard the invitation with distress. Fortunately it was given in a way which all but presupposed refusal.
'I am afraid I cannot,' she answered. 'My health is not good; I never see people. Thank you very much.'
'Oh, of course I wouldn't put you out,' said Alice, inspecting her relative's face curiously. And she added, rather more in her old voice, 'I'm sorry you lost your baby. I believe you're fond of children? I don't care anything about them myself; I hope I shan't have any.'
Adela could not make any reply; she shook hands with Alice and took her leave, only breathing freely when once more in the street. All the way back to St. John's Wood she was afflicted by the thought that it would be impossible to advise a meeting between Stella and Mrs. Rodman. Yet she had promised Richard to do so. Once more she found herself sundered from him in sympathies. Affection between Alice and her there could be none, yet Alice was the one person in the world whom Richard held greatly dear.
The enchanted life of those first weeks at Exmouth was now resumed. The golden mornings passed with poetry and music; in the afternoon visits were paid to museums and galleries, or to the studios of artists who were Mrs. Westlake's friends, and who, as Adela was pleased to see, always received Stella with reverential homage. The evening, save when a concert called them forth, was generally a time of peaceful reading and talking, the presence of friends making no difference in the simple arrangements of the home. If a man came to dine at this house, it was greatly preferred that he should not present himself in the. costume of a waiter, and only those came who were sufficiently intimate with the Westlakes to know their habits. One evening weekly saw a purely Socialist gathering; three or four artisans were always among the guests. On that occasion Adela was sorely tempted to plead a headache, but for several reasons she resisted. It was a trial to her, for she was naturally expected to talk a good deal with the visitors, several of whom she herself had entertained at Wanley. Watching Stella, she had a feeling which she could not quite explain or justify; she was pained to see her goddess in this company, and felt indignant with some of the men who seemed to make themselves too much at their ease. There was no talk of poetry.
Among the studios to which Stella took her was that of Mr. Boscobel. Mrs. Boscobel made much of them, and insisted on Adela's coming to dine with her. An evening was appointed. Adela felt reproofs of conscience, remembering the excuse she had offered to Alice, but in this case it was impossible to decline. Stella assured her that the party would be small, and would be sure to comprise none but really interesting people. It was so, in fact. Two men whom, on arriving, they found in the drawing-room Adela knew by fame, and the next to enter was a lady whose singing she had heard with rapture at a concert on the evening before. She was talking with this lady when a new announcement fell upon her ear, a name which caused her to start and gaze towards the door. Impossible for her to guard against this display of emotion; the name she heard so distinctly seemed an unreal utterance, a fancy of her brain, or else it belonged to another than the one she knew. But there was no such illusion; he whom she saw enter was assuredly Hubert Eldon.
A few hot seconds only seemed to intervene before she was called upon to acknowledge him, for Mrs. Boscobel was presenting him to her.
'I have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Mutimer before,' Hubert said as soon as he saw that Adela in voice and look recognised their acquaintance.
Mrs. Boscobel was evidently surprised. She herself had met Hubert at the house of an artist in Rome more than a year ago, but the details of his life were unknown to her. Subsequently, in London, she happened once to get on the subject of Socialism with him, and told him, as an interesting story, what she heard from the Westlakes about Richard Mutimer. Hubert admitted knowledge of the facts, and made the remark about the valley of Wanley which Mrs. Boscobel repeated at Exmouth, but he revealed nothing more. Having no marriageable daughter, Mrs. Boscobel was under no necessity of searching into his antecedents. He was one of ten or a dozen young men of possible future whom she liked to have about her.
Hubert seated himself by Adela, and there was a moment of inevitable silence.
'I saw you as soon as I got into the room,' he said, in the desperate necessity for speech of some kind. 'I thought I must have been mistaken; I was so unprepared to meet you here.'
Adela replied that she was staying with Mrs. Westlake.
'I don't know her,' said Hubert, 'and am very anxious to Boscobel's portrait of her -- I saw it in the studio just before it went away -- was a wonderful thing.'
This was necessarily said in a low tone; it seemed to establish confidence between them.
Adela experienced a sudden and strange calm; in a world so entirely new to her, was it not to be expected that things would happen of which she had never dreamt? The tremor with which she had faced this her first evening in general society had allayed itself almost as soon as she entered the room, giving place to a kind of pleasure for which she was not at all prepared, a pleasure inconsistent with the mood which governed her life. Perhaps, had she been brought into this world in those sunny days before her marriage, just such pleasure as this, only in a more pronounced degree, would have awoke in her and have been fearlessly indulged. The first shock of the meeting with Hubert having passed, she was surprised at her self-control, at the ease with which she found she could converse. Hubert took her down to dinner; on the stairs he twice turned to look at her face, yet she felt sure that her hand had betrayed no agitation as it lay on his arm. At table he talked freely; did he know -- she asked herself -- that this would relieve her? And his conversation was altogether unlike what it had been two years and a half ago -- so long it was since she had talked with him under ordinary conditions. There was still animation, and the note of intellectual impatience was touched occasionally, but the world had ripened him, his judgments were based on sounder knowledge, he was more polished, more considerate -- 'gentler,' Adela afterwards said to herself. And decidedly he had gained in personal appearance; a good deal of the bright, eager boy had remained with him in his days of storm and stress, but now his features had the repose of maturity and their refinement had fixed itself in lines of strength.
He talked solely of the present, discussed with her the season's pictures, the books, the idle business of the town. At length she found herself able to meet his glance without fear, even to try and read its character. She thought of the day when her mother told her of his wickedness. Since then she had made acquaintance with wickedness in various forms, and now she marvelled at the way in which she had regarded him. 'I was a child, a child,' she repeated to herself. Thinking thus, she lost none of his words. He spoke of the things which interested her most deeply; how much he could teach her, were such teaching possible!
At last she ventured upon a personal question.
'How is Mrs. Eldon?'
She thought he looked at her gratefully; certainly there was a deep kindness in his eyes, a look which was one of the new things she noted in him.
'Very much as when you knew her,' he replied. 'Weaker, I fear. I have just spent a few days at Agworth.'
Doubtless he had often been at Agworth; perchance he was there, so close by, in some of the worst hours of her misery.
When the ladies withdrew Mrs. Boscobel seated herself by Adela for a moment.
'So you really knew Mr. Eldon?'
'Yes, but it is some time since I saw him,' Adela replied simply, smiling in the joy of being so entirely mistress of herself.
'You were talking pictures, I heard. You can trust him there; his criticism is admirable. You know he did the Grosvenor for the ----?'
She mentioned a weekly paper.
'There are so many things I don't know,' Adela replied laughingly, 'and that is one of them.'
Hubert shortly after had his wish in being presented to Mrs. Westlake. Adela observed them as they talked together. Gladness she could hardly bear possessed her when she saw on Stella's face the expression of interest which not everyone could call forth. She did not ask why she was so glad; for this one evening it might be allowed her to rest and forget and enjoy.
There was singing, and the sweetest of the songs went home with her and lived in her heart all through a night which was too voiceful for sleep. Might she think of him henceforth as a friend? Would she meet him again before her return to -- to the darkness of that ravaged valley? Her mood was a strange one; conscience gave her no trouble, appeared suspended. And why should conscience have interfered with her? Her happiness was as apart from past and future as if by some magic she had been granted an intermezzo of life wholly distinct from her real one. These people with whom she found living so pleasant did not really enter her existence; it was as though she played parts to give her pleasure; she merely looked on for the permitted hour.
But Stella was real, real as that glorious star whose name she knew not, the brightest she could see from her chamber window. To Stella her soul clung with passion and worship. Stella's kiss had power to make her all but faint with ecstasy; it was the kiss which woke her from her dream, the kiss which would for ever be to her a terror and a mystery.
Her waking after a short morning sleep was dark and troubled. The taste of last night's happiness was like ashes on her tongue; fearing to face the daylight, she lay with lids heavily closed on a brain which ached in its endeavour to resume the sensations of a few hours ago. The images of those with whom she had talked so cheerfully either eluded her memory, or flitted before her unexpectedly, mopping and mowing, so that her heart was revolted. It is in wakings such as these that Time finds his opportunity to harry youth; every such unwinds from about us one of the veils of illusion, bringing our eyes so much nearer to the horrid truth of things. Adela shrank from the need of rising; she would have abandoned herself to voiceless desolation, have lain still and dark whilst the current of misery swept over her, deeper and deeper. When she viewed her face, its ring-eyed pallor fascinated her with incredulity. Had she looked at all like that whilst Hubert Eldon and the others were talking to her? What did they secretly think of her? The others might attribute to her many more years than she had really seen; but Hubert knew her age. Perhaps that was why he glanced at her twice or thrice on the stairs.
For the first time she wished not to be alone with Stella, fearing lest the conversation should turn on Hubert. Yet, when they had sat together for nearly an hour, and Stella had not named him, she began to suffer from a besieging desire to speak of him, a recurrent impulse to allude to him, however distantly, so that her companion might be led to the subject. The impulse grew to a torment, more intolerable each time she resisted it. And at last she found herself uttering the name involuntarily, overcome by something stronger than her dread.
'I was surprised to meet Mr. Eldon.'
'Did you know him?' Stella asked simply.
'He used to live at Wanley Manor.'
Stella seemed to revive memories.
'Oh, that was how I knew the name. Mr. Westlake told me of him, at the time when the Manor passed to Mr. Mutimer.'
Her husband was from home, so had not been at the Boscobels' last evening.
Adela could rest now that she had spoken. She was searching for a means of leading the conversation into another channel, when Stella continued, --
'You knew him formerly?'
'Yes, when he still lived at Wanley. I have not met him since he went away.'
'I suppose he came to live in London?'
'I understood so.'
At length Adela succeeded in speaking of something else. Mental excitement had set her blood flowing more quickly, as though an obstruction were removed. Before long the unreasoning lightness of heart began to take possession of her again. It was strangely painful. To one whom suffering has driven upon self-study the predominance of a mere mood is always more or less a troublesome mystery; in Adela's case it was becoming a source of fear. She seemed to be losing self-control; in looking back on last evening she doubted whether her own will had been at all operative in the state of calm enjoyment to which she had attained. Was it physical weakness which put her thus at the mercy of the moment's influences?
There came a letter from Mutimer to-day; in it he mentioned Alice and reminded Adela of her promise. This revived a trouble which had fallen out of activity for a day or two. She could not come to any decision. When at Alice's house she had not even suggested a return visit; at the moment it had seemed so out of the question for Alice to meet Mrs. Westlake. In any case, was it worth while exposing Stella to the difficulties of such a meeting when it could not possibly lead to anything further? One reason against it Adela was ashamed to dwell upon, yet it weighed strongly with her: she was so jealous of her friend's love, so fearful of losing anything in Stella's estimation, that she shrank from the danger of becoming associated with Mrs. Rodman in Stella's mind. Could she speak freely of Alice? Mutimer's affectionate solicitude was honourable to him, and might veil much that was disagreeable in Alice. But the intimacy between Adela and Mrs. Westlake was not yet of the kind which permits a free disclosure of troubles to which, rightly or wrongly, there attaches a sense of shame. Such troubles are always the last to be spoken of between friends; friendship must be indeed far-reaching before it includes them within its scope. They were still but learning to know each other, and that more from silent observation, from the sympathy of looks, from touchings of hands and lips, than by means of direct examination or avowal. The more she strove with her difficulty the less able Adela felt herself to ask Mrs. Rodman to come or to mention her to Stella. The trouble spoilt her enjoyment of a concert that evening, and kept her restless in the night, for, though seemingly a small matter, it had vital connection with the core of her life's problem; it forced her relentlessly to a consciousness of many things from which she had taught herself to avert her eyes.
Another thing there was which caused her anxious debate -- a project which had been in her mind for nearly a year. You will not imagine that Adela had forgotten the letter from Mrs. Clay. The knowledge it brought her made the turning-point of her life. No word on the subject passed between her and Mutimer after the conversation which ended in her fainting-fit. The letter he retained, and the course he had chosen made it advisable that he should pay no heed to its request for assistance. Adela remembered the address of the writer, and made a note of it, but it was impossible to reply. Her state of mind after overhearing the conversation between Richard and his sister was such that she durst not even take the step of privately sending money, lest her husband should hear of it and it should lead to further question. She felt that, hard as it was to live with that secret, to hear Mutimer repeat his calumnies would involve her in yet worse anguish, leading perhaps to terrible things; for, on her return to the house that night, she suffered a revelation of herself, which held her almost mute for the following days. In her heart there fought passions of which she had not known herself capable; above all a scorn so fierce, that had she but opened her lips it must have uttered itself. That she lived down by the aid of many strange expedients; but she formed a purpose, which seemed indeed nothing less than a duty, to use the opportunity of her first visit to London to seek for means of helping Emma Vine and her sister. Her long illness had not weakened this resolve; but now that she was in London the difficulties of carrying it out proved insuperable. She had always imagined herself procuring the services of some agent, but what agent was at hand? She might go herself to the address she had noted, but it was to incur a danger too great even for the end in view. If Mutimer heard of such a visit -- and she had no means of assuring herself that communication between him and those people did not still exist -- how would it affect him?
Adela's position would not suffer the risk of ever so slight a difference between herself and her husband. She had come to fear him, and now there was growing in her a yet graver fear of herself.
The condition of her health favoured remissness and postponement. An hour of mental agitation left her with headache and a sense of bodily feebleness. Emma Vine she felt in the end obliged to dismiss from her thoughts; the difficulty concerning Alice she put off from day to day.
The second week of her visit was just ending, and the return to Wanley was in view, when, on entering the drawing-room in the afternoon, she found Hubert Eldon sitting there with Mrs. Westlake. If it had been possible to draw back her foot and escape unnoticed! But she was observed; Hubert had already risen. Adela fancied that Stella was closely observing her; it was not so in reality, but the persuasion wrung her heart to courage. Hubert, who did make narrow observance of her face, was struck with the cold dignity of her smile. In speaking to him she was much less friendly than at the Boscobels'. He thought he understood, and was in a measure right. A casual meeting in the world was one thing; a visit which might be supposed half intended to herself called for another demeanour. He addressed a few remarks to her, then pursued his conversation with Mrs. Westlake. Adela had time to consider his way of speaking; it was entirely natural, that of a polished man who has the habit of society, and takes pleasure in it. With utter inconsistency she felt pain that he could be so at his ease in her presence. In all likelihood he had come with no other end save that of continuing his acquaintance with Mrs. Westlake. As she listened to his voice, once more an inexplicable and uncontrollable mood possessed her -- a mood of petulance, of impatience with him and with herself; with him for almost ignoring her presence, with herself for the distant way in which she had met him. An insensate rebellion against circumstances encouraged her to feel hurt; by a mystery of the mind intervening time was cancelled, and it seemed unnatural, hard to bear, that Hubert should by preference address another than herself. An impulse similar to that which had forced her to speak his name in conversation with Stella now constrained her to break silence, to say something which would require a reply. Her feeling became a sort of self-pity; he regarded her as beneath his notice, he wished her to see that his indifference was absolute; why should he treat her so cruelly?
She added a few words to a remark Mrs. Westlake made, and, the moment she had spoken, was sensible that her tone had been strangely impulsive. Stella glanced at her. Hubert, too, turned his eyes, smiled, and made some reply; she had no understanding of what he said. Had not force failed her she would have risen and left the room. Her heart sank in yet crueller humiliation; she believed there were tears in her eyes, yet had no power to check them. He was still addressing Mrs. Westlake; herself he deemed incapable of appreciating what he said. Perhaps he even -- the thought made clanging in her ears, like a rude bell -- perhaps he even regarded her as a social inferior since her marriage. It was almost hysteria, to such a pitch of unreason was she wrought. Her second self looked on, anguished, helpless. The voices in the room grew distant and confused.
Then the door was opened and the servant announced --
It saved her. She saw her husband enter, and an ice-cold breath made frigid her throbbing veins. She fixed her eyes upon him, and could not remove them; they followed him from the door to where Stella stood to receive him. She saw that he almost paused on recognising Eldon, that his brows contracted, that involuntarily he looked at her.
'You know Mr. Eldon,' Stella said, perhaps in not quite her ordinary voice, for the meeting could in no case be a very happy one.
'Oh yes,' replied Mutimer, scarcely looking at Hubert, and making an idle effort at a bow.
Hubert did not reseat himself. He took leave of Stella cordially; to Adela he inclined himself at respectful distance.
Mrs. Westlake supplied conversation. Adela, leaving her former chair, took a seat by her friend's side, but could not as yet trust her voice. Presently her husband addressed her; it was for the first time; he had not even given his hand.
'Alice is very anxious that you should dine with her before you go home. Do you think Mrs. Westlake could spare you this evening?'
And, on Stella's looking an inquiry, he added:
'My sister, Mrs. Rodman. I don't think you know her?'
Adela had no choice but to procure her hostess's assent to this arrangement.
'I'll call for you at seven o'clock,' Mutimer said.
Adela knew that he was commanding himself; his tone was not quite discourteous, but he had none of the genial satisfaction which he ordinarily showed in the company of refined people. She attributed his displeasure to her neglect of Alice. But it did not affect her as it had been wont to; she was disposed to resent it.
The time between his departure and seven o'clock she spent by herself, unoccupied, sitting as if tired. She put off the necessary changing of garments till there was scarcely time for it. When at length she was summoned she went down with flushed face.
'I feel as if I were going to have a fever,' she said to Stella in the drawing-room. She could not help uttering the words, but laughed immediately.
'Your hand is really very hot,' Stella replied.
Mutimer had a cab at the door, and was waiting in the hall.
'You're a long time,' was his greeting, with more impatience than he had ever used to her.
When they were together in the hansom:
'Why did you refuse Alice's invitation before?' he asked with displeasure.
'I didn't think she really wished me to accept it.'
She spoke without misgiving, still resenting his manner.
'Didn't think? Why, what do you mean?'
She made no reply.
'You didn't ask her to call, either?'
'I ought to have done so. I am very sorry to have neglected it.'
He looked at her with surprise which was very like a sneer, and kept silence till they reached the house.
One of the ladies whom Adela had already met, and a gentleman styled Captain something, were guests at dinner. Alice received her sister-in-law with evident pleasure, though not perhaps that of pure hospitableness.
'I do hope it won't be too much for you,' she said. 'Pray leave as soon as you feel you ought to. I should never forgive myself if you took a cold or anything of the kind.'
Really, Alice had supplied herself with most becoming phrases. The novels had done much; and then she had been living in society. At dinner she laughed rather too loud, it might be, and was too much given to addressing her husband as 'Willis;' but her undeniable prettiness in low-necked evening dress condoned what was amiss in manner. Mr. Rodman looked too gentlemanly; he reminded one of a hero of polite melodrama on the English-French stage. The Captain talked stock-exchange, and was continually inquiring about some one or other, 'Did he drop much?'
Mutimer was staying at the house over-night. After dinner he spoke aside with Adela.
'I suppose you go back to-morrow?'
'Yes, I meant to.'
'We may as well go together, then. I'll call for you at two o'clock.'
He considered, and changed the hour.
'No, I'll come at ten. I want you to go with me to buy some things. Then we'll have lunch here.'
'And go back for my luggage?'
'We'll take it away at ten o'clock and leave it at the station. I suppose you can be ready?'
'Yes, I can be ready,' Adela answered mechanically.
He drove back with her to Avenue Road in the Rodmans' carriage, and left her at the door.
Mr. Westlake was expected home to-night, but had telegraphed to say that he would return in the morning. Stella had spent the evening alone; Adela found her in the boudoir with a single lamp, reading.
'Are you still feverish?' Stella asked, putting to her cheek the ungloved hand.
'I think not -- I can't say.'
Stella waited to hear something about the evening, but Adela broke the silence to say:
'I must leave at ten in the morning. My husband will call for me.'
There was silence again.
'Will you come and see me before long, Stella?'
'I will,' was the gentle reply.
'Thank you. I shall look forward to it very much.'
Then Adela said good-night, speaking more cheerfully.
In her bedroom she sat as before dinner. The fever had subsided during the past two hours, but now it crept into her blood again, insidious, tingling. And with it came so black a phantom of despair that Adela closed her eyes shudderingly, lay back as one lifeless, and wished that it were possible by the will alone to yield the breath and cease. The night pulsed about her, beat regularly like a great clock, and its pulsing smote upon her brain.
To-morrow she must follow her husband, who would come to lead her home. Home? what home had she? What home would she ever have but a grave in the grassy churchyard of Wanley? Why did death spare her when it took the life which panted but for a moment on her bosom?
She must leave Stella and go back to her duties at the Manor; must teach the children of New Wanley; must love, honour, obey her husband. Returning from Exmouth, she was glad to see her house again; now she had rather a thousand times die than go back. Horror shook her like a palsy; all that she had borne for eighteen months seemed accumulated upon her now, waited for her there at Wanley to be endured again. Oh! where was the maiden whiteness of her soul? What malignant fate had robbed her for ever of innocence and peace?
Was this fever or madness? She rose and flung her arms against a hideous form which was about to seize her. It would not vanish, it pressed upon her. She cried, fled to the door, escaped, and called Stella's name aloud.
A door near her own opened, and Stella appeared. Adela clung to her, and was drawn into the room. Those eyes of infinite pity gazing into her own availed to calm her.
'Shall I send for some one?' Stella asked anxiously, but with no weak bewilderment.
'No; it is not illness. But I dread to be alone; I am nervous.'
'Will you stay with me, dear?'
'Oh, Stella, let me, let me! I want to be near to you whilst I may!'
Stella's child slept peacefully in a crib; the voices were too low to wake it. Almost like another child, Adela allowed herself to be undressed.
'Shall I leave a light?' Stella asked.
'No, I can sleep. Only let me feel your arms.'
They lay in unbroken silence till both slept.
In a character such as Mutimer's there will almost certainly be found a disposition to cruelty, for strong instincts of domination, even of the nobler kind, only wait for circumstances to develop crude tyranny -- the cruder, of course, in proportion to the lack of native or acquired refinement which distinguishes the man. We had a hint of such things in Mutimer's progressive feeling with regard to Emma Vine. The possibility of his becoming a tyrannous husband could not be doubted by any one who viewed him closely.
There needed only the occasion, and this at length presented itself in the form of jealousy. Of all possible incentives it was the one most calamitous, for it came just when a slow and secret growth of passion was making demand for room and air. Mutimer had for some time been at a loss to understand his own sensations; he knew that his wife was becoming more and more a necessity to him, and that too when the progress of time would have led him to expect the very opposite. He knew it during her absence at Exmouth, more still now that she was away in London. It was with reluctance that he let her leave home, only his satisfaction in her intimacy with the Westlakes and his hopes for Alice induced him to acquiesce in her departure. Yet he could show nothing of this. A lack of self-confidence, a strange shyness, embarrassed him as often as he would give play to his feelings. They were intensified by suppression, and goaded him to constant restlessness. When at most a day or two remained before Adela's return, he could no longer resist the desire to surprise her in London.
Not only did he find her in the company of the man whom he had formerly feared as a rival, but her behaviour seemed to him distinctly to betray consternation at his arrival. She was colourless, agitated, could not speak. From that moment his love was of the quality which in its manifestations is often indistinguishable from hatred. He resolved to keep her under his eye, to enforce to the uttermost his marital authority, to make her pay bitterly for the freedom she had stolen. His exasperated egoism flew at once to the extreme of suspicion; he was ready to accuse her of completed perfidy. Mrs. Westlake became his enemy; the profound distrust of culture, which was inseparable from his mental narrowness, however ambition might lead him to disguise it, seized upon the occasion to declare itself; that woman was capable of conniving at his dishonour, even of plotting it. He would not allow Adela to remain in the house a minute longer than he could help. Even the casual absence of Mr. Westlake became a suspicious circumstance; Eldon of course chose the time for his visit.
Adela was once more safe in the Manor, under lock and key, as it were. He had not spoken of Eldon, though several times on the point of doing so. It was obvious that the return home cost her suffering, that it was making her ill. He could not get her to converse; he saw that she did not study. It was impossible to keep watch on her at all moments of the day; yet how otherwise discover what letters she wrote or received? He pondered the practicability of bribing her maid to act as a spy upon her, but feared to attempt it. He found opportunities of secretly examining the blotter on her writing-desk, and it convinced him that she had written to Mrs. Westlake. It maddened him that he had not the courage to take a single open step, to forbid, for instance, all future correspondence with London. To do so would be to declare his suspicions. He wished to declare them; it would have gratified him in. tensely to vomit impeachments, to terrify her with coarseness and violence; but, on the other hand, by keeping quiet he might surprise positive evidence, and if only he did!
She was ill; he had a distinct pleasure in observing it. She longed for quiet and retirement; he neglected his business to force his company upon her, to laugh and talk loudly. She with difficulty read a page; he made her read aloud to him by the hour, or write translations for him from French and German. The pale anguish of her face was his joy; it fascinated him, fired his senses, made him a demon of vicious cruelty. Yet he durst not as much as touch her hand when she sat before him. Her purity, which was her safeguard, stirred his venom; he worshipped it, and would have smothered it in foulness.
'Hadn't you better have the doctor to see you?' he began one morning when he had followed her from the dining-room to her boudoir.
'The doctor? Why?'
'You don't seem up to the mark,' he replied, avoiding her look.
Adela kept silence.
'You were well enough in London, I suppose?'
'I am never very strong.'
'I think you might be a bit more cheerful.'
'I will try to be.'
This submission always aggravated his disease -- by what other name to call it? He would have had her resist him, that he might know the pleasure of crushing her will.
He walked about the room, then suddenly:
'What is that man Eldon doing?'
Adela looked at him with surprise. It had never entered her thoughts that the meeting with Eldon would cost him more than a passing annoyance -- she knew he disliked him -- and least of all that such annoyance would in any way be connected with herself. It was possible, of course, that some idle tongue had gossiped of her former friendship with Hubert, but there was no one save Letty who knew what her feelings really had been, and was not the fact of her marriage enough to remove any suspicion that Mutimer might formerly have entertained? But the manner of his question was so singular, the introduction of Eldon's name so abrupt, that she could not but discern in a measure what was in his mind.
She made reply:
'I don't understand. Do you mean how is he engaged?'
'How comes he to know Mrs. Westlake?'
'Through common friends -- some people named Boscobel. Mr. Boscobel is an artist, and Mr. Eldon appears to be studying art.'
Her voice was quite steady through this explanation. The surprise seemed to have enabled her to regard him unmoved, almost with curiosity.
'I suppose he's constantly there -- at the Westlakes'?'
'That was his first visit. We met him a few evenings before at the Boscobels', at dinner. It was then he made Mrs. Westlake's acquaintance.'
Mutimer moved his head as if to signify indifference. But Adela had found an unexpected relief in speaking thus openly; she was tempted to go further.
'I believe he writes about pictures. Mrs. Boscobel told me that he had been some time in Italy.'
'Well and good; I don't care to hear about his affairs. So you dined with these Boscobel people?'
He smiled disagreeably.
'I thought you were rather particular about telling the truth. You told Alice you never dined out.'
'I don't think I said that,' Adela replied quietly.
He paused; then:
'What fault have you to find with Alice, eh?'
Adela was not in the mood for evasions; she answered in much the same tone as she had used in speaking of Hubert.
'I don't think she likes me. If she did, I should be able to be more friendly with her. Her world is very different from ours.'
'Different? You mean you don't like Rodman?'
'I was not thinking of Mr. Rodman. I mean that her friends are not the same as ours.'
Mutimer forgot for a moment his preoccupation in thought of Alice.
'Was there anything wrong with the people you met there?'
She was silent.
'Just tell me what you think. I want to know. What did you object to?'
'I don't think they were the best kind of people.'
'The best kind? I suppose they are what you call ladies and gentlemen?'
'You must have felt that they were not quite the same as the Westlakes, for instance.'
He named them sneeringly, to Adela's astonishment. And he added as he walked towards the door:
'There isn't much to be said for some of the people you meet there.'
A new complexity was introduced into her life. Viewed by this recent light, Mutimer's behaviour since the return from London was not so difficult to understand; but the problem of how to bear with it became the harder. There were hours when Adela's soul was like a bird of the woods cage-pent: it dashed itself against the bars of fate, and in anguish conceived the most desperate attempts for freedom. She could always die, but was it not hard to perish in her youth and with the world's cup of bliss untasted? Flight? Ah! whither could she flee? The thought of the misery she would leave behind her, the disgrace that would fall upon her mother -- this would alone make flight impossible. Yet could she conceive life such as this prolonging itself into the hopeless years, renunciation her strength and her reward, duty a grinning skeleton at her bedside? It grew harder daily. More than a year ago she thought that the worst was over, and since then had known the solace of self-forgetful idealisms, of ascetic striving. It was all illusion, the spinning of a desolate heart. There was no help now, for she knew herself and the world. Foolish, foolish child, who with her own hand had flung away the jewel of existence like a thing of no price! Her lot appeared single in its haplessness. She thought of Stella, of Letty, even of Alice; they had not been doomed to learn in suffering. To her, alone of all women, knowledge had come with a curse.
A month passed. Since Rodman's departure from Wanley, 'Arry Mutimer was living at the Manor. Her husband and 'Arry were Adela's sole companions; the former she dreaded, the approach of the latter always caused her insuperable disgust. To Letty there was born a son; Adela could not bend to the little one with a whole heart; her own desolate motherhood wailed the more bitterly.
Once more a change was coming. Alice and her husband were going to spend August at a French watering-place, and Mutimer proposed to join them for a fortnight; Adela of course would be of the party. The invitation came from Rodman, who had reasons for wishing to get his brother-in-law aside for a little quiet talk. Rodman had large views, was at present pondering a financial scheme in which he needed a partner -- one with capital of course. He knew that New Wanley was proving anything but a prosperous concern, commercially speaking; he divined, moreover, that Mutimer was not wholly satisfied with the state of affairs. By judicious management the Socialist might even be induced to abandon the non-paying enterprise, and, though not perhaps ostensibly, embark in one that promised very different results -- at all events to Mr. Rodman. The scheme was not of mushroom growth; it dated from a time but little posterior to Mr. Rodman's first meeting with Alice Mutimer. 'Arry had been granted appetising sniffs at the cookery m progress, though the youth was naturally left without precise information as to the ingredients. The result was a surprising self-restraint on 'Arry's part. The influence which poor Keene had so bunglingly tried to obtain over him, the more astute Mr. Rodman had compassed without difficulty; beginning with the loan of small sums, to be repaid when 'Arry attained his majority, he little by little made the prospective man of capital the creature of his directions; in something less than two more years Rodman looked to find ample recompense for his expenditure. and trouble. But that was a mere parergon; to secure Richard Mutimer was the great end steadily held in view.
Rodman and his wife came to Wanley to spend three days before all together set out for the Continent. Adela accepted the course of things, and abandoned herself to the stream. For a week her husband had been milder; we know the instinct that draws the cat's paws from the flagging mouse.
Alice, no longer much interested in novels, must needs talk with some one; she honoured Adela with much of her confidence, seeming to forget and forgive, in reality delighted to recount her London experiences to her poor tame sister-in-law. Alice, too, had been at moments introduced to her husband's kitchen; she threw out vague hints of a wonderful repast in preparation.
'Willis is going to buy me a house in Brighton,' she said, among other things. 'I shall run down whenever I feel it would do me good. You've no idea how kind he is.'
There was, in fact, an 'advancement clause' in Alice's deed of settlement. If Mr. Rodman showed himself particularly anxious to cultivate the friendship of Mr. Alfred Waltham, possibly one might look for the explanation to the terms of that same document.
There came a Sunday morning. Preparations for departure on the morrow were practically completed. The weather was delightful. Adela finished breakfast in time to wander a little about the garden before it was the hour for church; her husband and Rodman breakfasted with her, and went to smoke in the library. Alice and 'Arry did not present themselves till the church bells had ceased.
Adela was glad to be alone in the dusky pew. She was the first of the congregation to arrive, and she sat, as always, with the curtains enclosing her save in front. The bells ringing above the roof had a soothing effect upon her, and gave strange turns to her thought. So had their summoning rung out to generation after generation; so would it ring long after she was buried and at rest. Where would her grave be? She was going for the first time to a foreign country; perhaps death might come to her there. Then she would lie for ever among strangers, and her place be forgotten. Would it not be the fitting end of so sad and short a life?
In the front of the pew was a cupboard; the upper portion, which contained the service books, was closed with a long, narrow door, opening downwards on horizontal hinges; the shelf on which the books lay went back into darkness, being, perhaps, two feet broad. Below this shelf was the door of the lower and much larger receptacle; it slid longitudinally, and revealed a couple of buffets, kept here to supplement the number in the pew when necessary. Adela had only once opened the sliding door, and then merely to glance into the dark hollows and close it again. Probably the buffets had lain undisturbed for years.
On entering the pew this morning she had as usual dropped the upper door, and had laid her large church service open on the shelf, where she could reach it as soon as Mr. Wyvern began to read. Then began her reverie. From thoughts of the grave she passed to memories of her wedding-day. How often the scene of that morning had re-enacted itself in her mind! Often she dreamed it all over, and woke as from a nightmare. She wished it had not taken place in this church; it troubled the sacred recollections of her maiden peace. She began to think it over once more, attracted by the pain it caused her, and, on coming to the bestowal of the ring, an odd caprice led her to draw the circlet itself from her finger. When she had done it she trembled. The hand looked so strange. Oh, her hand, her hand! Once ringless indeed, once her own to give, to stretch forth in pledge of the heart's imperishable faith! Now a prisoner for ever; but, thus ringless, so like a maiden hand once more. There came a foolish sense of ease. She would keep her finger free yet a little, perhaps through the service. She bent forward and laid the ring on the open book.
More dreams, quite other than before; then the organ began its prelude, a tremor passing through the church before the sound broke forth. Adela sank deeper in reverie. At length Mr. Wyvern's voice roused her; she stood up and reached her book; but she had wholly forgotten that the ring lay upon it, and was only reminded by a glimpse of it rolling away on the shelf, rolling to the back of the cupboard. But it did not stop there; surely it was the ring that she heard fall down below, behind the large sliding door. She had a sudden fright lest it should be lost, and stooped at once to search for it.
She drew back the door, pushed aside the buffets, then groped in the darkness. She touched the ring. But something else lay there; it seemed a long piece of thick paper, folded. This too she brought forth, and, having slipped the ring on her finger, looked to see what she had found.
It was parchment She unfolded it, and saw that it was covered with writing in a clerkly hand. How strange!
'This is the last will and testament of me, RICHMOND MUTIMER ----'
Her hand shook. She felt as if the sides of the pew were circling about her, as if she stood amid falling and changing things.
She looked to the foot of the sheet.
'In witness whereof I, the said Richard Mutimer, have hereunto set my hand this seventeenth day of October, 187-.'
The date was some six months prior to old Richard Mutimer's death. This could be nothing but the will which every one believed him to have destroyed.
Adela sank upon the seat. Her ring! Had she picked it up? Yes; it was again upon her finger. How had it chanced to fall down below? She rose again and examined the cupboard; there was a gap of four or five inches at the back of the upper shelf.
Had the will fallen in the same way? Adela conjectured that thus it had been lost, though when or under what circumstances she could not imagine. We, who are calmer, may conceive the old man to have taken his will to church with him on the morning of his death, he being then greatly troubled about the changes he had in view. Perhaps he laid the folded parchment on the shelf and rested one of the large books in front of it. He breathed his last. Then the old woman, whose duty it was to put the pews in order, hurriedly throwing the books into the cupboard as soon as the dead man was removed, perchance pushed the document so far back that it slipped through the gap and down behind the buffets.
At all events, no one has ever hit upon a likelier explanation.
She could not sit through the service, yet to leave the church she would have to walk the whole length of the aisle. What did it matter? It would very soon be known why she had gone away, and to face for a moment the wonder of Sunday-clad villagers is not a grave trial. Adela opened the pew door and quitted the church, the parchment held beneath her mantle.
As she issued from the porch the sun smote warm upon her face; it encouraged a feeling of gladness which had followed her astonishment. She had discovered the tenor of the will; it affected her with a sudden joy, undisturbed at first by any reflection. The thought of self was slow in coming, and had not power to trouble her greatly even when she faced it. Befall herself what might, she held against her heart a power which was the utmost limit of that heart's desire. So vast, so undreamt, so mysteriously given to her, that it seemed preternatural. Her weakness was become strength; with a single word she could work changes such as it had seemed no human agency could bring about.
To her, to her it had been given! What was all her suffering, crowned with power like this?
She durst not take the will from beneath her mantle, though burning to reassure herself of its contents. Not till she was locked in her room. If any one met her as she entered the house, her excuse would be that she did not feel well.
But as she hurried toward the Manor, she all at once found herself face to face with her brother. Alfred was having a ramble, rather glad to get out of hearing of the baby this Sunday morning.
'Hollo, what's up?' was his exclamation.
Adela feared lest her face had betrayed her. She was conscious that her look could not be that of illness.
'I am obliged to go home,' she said, 'I have forgotten something.'
'I should have thought you'd rather have let the house burn down than scutter away in this profane fashion. All right, I won't stop you.'
She hesitated, tempted to give some hint. But before she could speak, Alfred continued:
'So Mutimer's going to throw it up.'
'What?' she asked in surprise.
He nodded towards New Wanley.
'Throw it up?'
'So I understand. Don't mention that I said anything; I supposed you knew.'
'I knew nothing. You mean that he is going to abandon the works?'
'Something of the kind, I fancy. I don't know that it's decided, but that fellow Rodman -- well, time enough to talk about it. It's a pity, that's all I can say. Still, if he's really losing ----'
'Losing? But he never expected to make money.'
'No, but I fancy he's beginning to see things in a different light. I tell you what it is, Adela; I can't stand that fellow Rodman. I've got an idea he's up to something. Don't let him lead Mutimer by the nose, that's all. But this isn't Sunday talk. Youngster rather obstreperous this morning.'
Adela had no desire to question further: she let her brother pass on, and continued her own walk at a more moderate pace.
Alfred's words put her in mind of considerations to which in her excitement she had given no thought. New Wanley was no longer her husband's property, and the great Socialist undertaking must come to an end. In spite of her personal feeling, she could not view with indifference the failure of an attempt which she had trained herself to regard as nobly planned, and full of importance to the world at large. Though she no longer saw Mutimer's character in the same light as when first she bent her nature to his direction, she still would have attributed to him a higher grief than the merely self-regarding; she had never suspected him of insincerity in his public zeal. Mutimer had been scrupulous to avoid any utterance which might betray half-heartedness; in his sullen fits of late he had even made it a reproach against her that she cared little for his own deepest interests. To his wife last of all he would have confessed a failing in his enthusiasm: jealousy had made him discourteous, had lowered the tone of his intercourse with her; but to figure as a hero in her eyes was no less, nay more, than ever a leading motive in his life. But if what Alfred said was true, Adela saw that in this also she had deceived herself: the man whose very heart was in a great cause would sacrifice everything, and fight on to the uttermost verge of hope. There was no longer room for regret on his account.
On reaching the Manor gates she feared to walk straight up to the house; she felt that, if she met her husband, she could not command her face, and her tongue would falter. She took a path which led round to the gardens in the rear. She had remembered a little summer-house which stood beyond the kitchen-garden, in a spot sure to be solitary at this hour. There she could read the will attentive]y, and fix her resolution before entering the house.
Trees and bushes screened her. She neared the summerhouse, and was at the very door before she perceived that it was occupied. There sat 'Arry and a kitchenmaid, very close to each other, chatting confidentially. 'Arry looked up, and something as near a blush as he was capable of came to his face. The kitchen damsel followed the direction of his eyes, and was terror-stricken.
Adela hastened away. An unspeakable loathing turned her heart. She scarcely wondered, but pressed the parchment closer, and joyed in the thought that she would so soon be free of this tainted air.
She no longer hesitated to enter, and was fortunate enough to reach her room without meeting any one. She locked the door, then unfolded the will and began to peruse it with care.
The testator devised the whole of his real estate to Hubert Eldon; to Hubert also he bequeathed his personal property, subject to certain charges. These were -- first, the payment of a legacy of one thousand pounds to Mrs. Eldon; secondly, of a legacy of five hundred pounds to Mr. Yottle, the solicitor; thirdly, of an annuity of one hundred and seven pounds to the testator's great-nephew, Richard Mutimer, such sum being the yearly product of a specified investment. The annuity was to extend to the life of Richard's widow, should he leave one; but power was given to the trustee to make over to Richard Mutimer, or to his widow, any part or the whole of the invested capital, if he felt satisfied that to do so would be for the annuitant's benefit. 'It is not my wish' -- these words followed the directions -- 'to put the said Richard Mutimer above the need of supporting himself by honest work, but only to aid him to make use of the abilities which I understand he possesses, and to become a credit to the class to which he belongs.'
The executors were Hubert Eldon himself and the lawyer Mr. Yottle.
A man of the world brought face to face with startling revelations of tbis.kind naturally turns at once to thought of technicalities, evasions, compromises. Adela's simpler mind fixed itself upon the plain sense of the will; that meant restitution to the uttermost farthing. For more than two years Hubert Eldon had been kept out of his possessions; others had been using them, and lavishly. Would it be possible for her husband to restore? He must have expended great sums, and of his own he had not a penny.
Thought for herself came last. Mutimer must abandon Wanley, and whither he went, thither must she go also. Their income would be a hundred and seven pounds. Her husband became once more a working man. Doubtless he would return to London; their home would be a poor one, like that of ordinary working folk.
How would he bear it? How would he take this from her?
Fear crept insidiously about her heart, though she fought to banish it. It was a fear of the instinct, clinging to trifles in the memory, feeding upon tones, glances, the impressions of forgotten moments. She was conscious that here at length was the crucial test of her husband's nature, and in spite of every generous impulse she dreaded the issue. To that dread she durst not abandon herself; to let it grow even for an instant cost her a sensation of faintness, a desire to flee for cover to those who would naturally protect her. To give up all -- and to Hubert Eldon! She recalled his voice when the other day he spoke of Hubert. He had not since recurred to the subject, but his manner still bore the significance with which that conversation had invested it. No dream of suspicions on his part had come to her, but it was enough that something had happened to intensify his dislike of Hubert. Of her many fears, here was one which couched dark and shapeless in the background.
A feeble woman would have chosen anyone -- her mother, her brother -- rather than Mutimer himself for the first participant in such a discovery. Adela was not feeble, and the very danger, though it might chill her senses, nerved her soul. Was she not making him too ignoble? Was she not herself responsible for much of the strangeness in his behaviour of late? The question she had once asked herself, whether he loved her, she could not answer doubtfully; was it not his love that had set her icily against him? If she could not render him love in return, that was the wrong she did him, the sin she had committed in becoming his wife. Adela by this time knew too well that, in her threefold vows, love had of right the foremost place; honour and obedience could not exist without love. Her wrong was involuntary, none the less she owed him such reparation as was possible; she must keep her mind open to his better qualities. A man might fall, yet not be irredeemably base. Oh, that she had never known of that poor girl in London! Base, doubly and trebly base, had been his behaviour there, for one ill deed had drawn others after it. But his repentance, his humiliation, must have been deep, and of the kind which strengthens against ill-doing in the future.
It had to be done, and had better be done quickly. Adela went to her boudoir and rang the bell. The servant who came told her that Mutimer was in the house. She summoned him.
It was five minutes before he appeared. He was preoccupied, though not gloomily so.
'I thought you were at church,' he said, regarding her absently.
'I came away -- because I found something -- this!'
She had hoped to speak with calmness, but the interval of waiting had agitated her, and the fear which no effort could allay struck her heart as he entered. She held the parchment to him.
'What is it?' he asked, his attention gradually awakened by surprise. He did not move forward to meet her extended hand.
'You will see -- it is the will that we thought was destroyed -- old Mr. Mutimer's will.'
She rose and brought it to him. He looked at her with a sceptical smile, which was involuntary, and lingered on his face even after he had begun to read the document.
Adela seated herself again; she had scarcely power to stand. There was a long silence.
'Where did you find this?' Mutimer inquired at length. His tone astonished her; it was almost indifferent. But he did not raise his eyes.
She explained. It was needless, she thought, to give a reason for her search in the lower cupboard; but the first thing that occurred to Mutimer was to demand such reason.
A moment's hesitation; then:
'A piece of money rolled down behind the shelf on which the books are; there is a gap at the back. I suppose that is how the will fell down.'
His eye was now steadily fixed upon her, coldly scrutinising, as one regards a suspected stranger. Adela was made wretched by the inevitable falsehood. She felt herself reddening under his gaze.
He seemed to fall into absent-mindedness, then re-read the document. Then he took out his watch.
'The people are out of church. Come and show me where it was.'
With a deep sense of relief she went away to put on her bonnet. To escape for a moment was what she needed, and the self-command of his voice seemed to assure her against her worst fears. She felt grateful to him for preserving his dignity. The future lost one of its terrors if only she could respect him.
They walked side by side to the church in silence: Mutimer had put the will into his pocket. At the wicket he paused.
'Will Wyvern be in there?'
The question was answered by the appearance of the vicar himself, who just then came forth from the front doorway. He approached them, with a hope that Adela had not been obliged to leave through indisposition.
'A little faintness,' Mutimer was quick to reply. 'We are going to look for something she dropped in the pew.'
Mr. Wyvern passed on. Only the pew-opener was moving about the aisles. She looked with surprise at the pair as they entered.
'Tell her the same,' Mutimer commanded, under his breath.
The old woman was of course ready with offers of assistance, but a word from Richard sufficed to keep her away.
The examination was quickly made, and .they returned as they had come, without exchanging a word on the way. They went upstairs again to the boudoir.
'Sit down,' Mutimer said briefly.
He himself continued to stand, again examining the will.
'I should think,' he began slowly, 'it's as likely as not that this is a forgery.'
'A forgery? But who could have ----'
Her voice failed.
'He's not likely to have run the risk himself, I suppose,' Mutimer pursued, with a quiet sneer, 'but no doubt there are people who would benefit by it.'
Adela had an impulse of indignation. It showed intself in her cold, steady reply.
'The will was thick with dust. It has been lying there a long time.'
'Of course. They wouldn't bungle over an important thing like this.'
He was once more scrutinising her. The suspicion was a genuine one, and involved even more than Adela could imagine. If there had been a plot, such plot assuredly included the discoverer of the document. Could he in his heart charge Adela with that? There were two voices at his ear, and of equal persuasiveness. Even to look into her face did not silence the calumnious whispering. Her beauty was fuel to his jealousy, and his jealousy alone made the supposition of her guilt for a moment tenable. It was on his lips to accuse her, to ease himself with savage innuendoes, those 'easy things to understand' which come naturally from such a man in such a situation. But to do that would be to break with her for ever, and the voice that urged her innocence would not let him incur such risk. The loss of his possessions was a calamity so great that as yet he could not realise its possibility; the loss of his wife impressed his imagination more immediately, and was in this moment the more active fear.
He was in the strange position of a man who finds all at once that he dare not believe that which he has been trying his best to believe. If Adela were guilty of plotting with Eldon, it meant that he himself was the object of her utter hatred, a hideous thought to entertain. It threw him back upon her innocence. Egoism had to do the work of the finer moral perceptions.
'Isn't it rather strange,' he said, not this time sneeringly, but seeking for support against his intolerable suspicions, 'that you never moved those buffets before?'
'I never had need of them.'
'And that hole has never been cleaned out?'
'Never; clearly never.'
She had risen to her feet, impelled by a glimmering of the thought in which he examined her. What she next said came from her without premeditation. Her tongue seemed to speak independently of her will.
'One thing I have said that was not true. It was not money that slipped down, but my ring. I had taken it off and laid it on the Prayer-book.'
'Your ring?' he repeated, with cold surprise. 'Do you always take your ring off in church, then?'
As soon as the words were spoken she had gone deadly pale. Was it well to say that? Must there follow yet more explanation? She with difficulty overcame an impulse to speak on and disclose all her mind, the same kind of impulse she had known several times of late. Sheer dread this time prevailed. The eyes that were upon her concealed fire; what madness tempted her to provoke its outburst?
'I have never done so before,' she replied confusedly.
'Why to-day, then?'
She did not answer.
'And why did you tell -- why did you say it was money?'
'I can't explain that,' she answered, her head bowed. 'I took off the ring thoughtlessly; it is rather loose; my finger is thinner than it used to be.'
On the track of cunning Mutimer's mind was keen enough; only amid the complexities of such motives as sway a pure heart in trouble was he quite at a loss. This confession of untruthfulness might on the face of it have spoken in Adela's favour; but his very understanding of that made him seek for subtle treachery. She saw he suspected her; was it not good policy to seem perfectly frank, even if such frankness for the moment gave a strengthening to suspicion? What devilish ingenuity might after all be concealed in this woman, whom he had taken for simplicity itself!
The first bell for luncheon disturbed his reflections.
'Please sit down,' he said, pointing to the chair. 'We can't end our talk just yet.'
She obeyed him, glad again to rest her trembling limbs.
'If you suspect it to be a forgery,' she said, when she had waited in vain for him to speak further, 'the best way of deciding is to go at once to Mr. Yottle. He will remember; it was he drew up the will.'
He flashed a glance at her.
'I'm perfectly aware of that. If this is forged, the lawyer has of course given his help. He would be glad to see me.'
Again the suspicion was genuine. Mutimer felt himself hedged in; every avenue of escape to which his thoughts turned was closed in advance. There was no one he would not now have suspected. The full meaning of his position was growing upon him; it made a ferment in his mind.
'Mr. Yottle!' Adela exclaimed in astonishment. 'You think it possible that he ---- Oh, that is folly!'
Yes, it was folly; her voice assured him of it, proclaiming at the same time the folly of his whole doubt. It was falling to pieces, and, as it fell, disclosing the image of his fate, inexorable, inconceivable.
He stood for more than five minutes in silence. Then he drew a little nearer to her, and asked in an unsteady voice:
'Are you glad of this?'
'Glad of it?' she repeated under her breath.
'Yes; shall you be glad to see me lose everything?'
'You cannot wish to keep what belongs to others. In that sense I think we ought to be glad that the will is found.'
She spoke so coldly that he drew away from her again. The second bell rang.
'They had better have lunch without us,' he said.
He rang and bade the servant ask Mr. and Mrs. Rodman to lunch alone. Then he returned to an earlier point of the discussion.
'You say it was thick with dust?'
'It was. I believe the lower cupboard has never been open since Mr. Mutimer's death.'
'Why should he take a will to church with him?'
Adela shook her head.
'If he did,' Mutimer pursued, 'I suppose it was to think over the new one he was going to make. You know, of course, that he never intended this to be his will?'
'We do not know what his last thoughts may have been,' Adela replied, in a low voice but firmly.
'Yes, I think we do. I mean to say, we are quite sure he meant to alter this. Yottle was expecting the new will.'
'Death took him before he could make it. He left this.'
Her quiet opposition was breath to the fire of his jealousy. He could no longer maintain his voice of argument.
'It just means this: you won't hear anything against the will, and you're glad of it.'
'Your loss is mine.'
He looked at her and again drew nearer.
'It's not very likely that you'll stay to share it.'
'Stay?' She watched his movements with apprehension. 'How can I separate my future from yours?'
He desired to touch her, to give some sign of his mastery, whether tenderly or with rude force mattered little.
'It's easy to say that, but we know it doesn't mean much.'
His tongue stammered. As Adela rose and tried to move apart, he caught her arm roughly, then her waist, and kissed her several times about the face. Released, she sank back upon the chair, pale, tern fled; her breath caught with voiceless sobs. Mutimer turned away and leaned his arms upon the mantelpiece. His body trembled.
Neither could count the minutes that followed. An inexplicable shame kept Mutimer silent and motionless. Adela, when the shock of repugnance had passed over, almost forgot the subject of their conversation in vain endeavours to understand this man in whose power she was. His passion was mysterious, revolting -- impossible for her to reconcile with his usual bearing, with his character as she understood it. It was more than a year since he had mingled his talk to her with any such sign of affection, and her feeling was one of outrage. What protection had she? The caresses had followed upon an insult, and were themselves brutal, degrading. It was a realisation of one of those half-formed fears which had so long haunted her in his presence.
What would life be with him, away from the protections of a wealthy home, when circumstances would have made him once more the London artisan, and in doing so would have added harshness to his natural temper; when he would no longer find it worth while to preserve the semblance of gentle breeding? Was there strength in her to endure that?
Presently he turned, and she heard him speak her name. She raised her eyes with a half-smile of abashment. He approached and took her hand.
'Have you thought what this means to me?' he asked, in a much softer voice.
'I know it must be very hard.'
'I don't mean in that way. I'm not thinking of the change back to poverty. It's my work in New Wanley; my splendid opportunity of helping on Socialism. Think, just when everything is fairly started! You can't feel it as I do, I suppose. You haven't the same interest in the work. I hoped once you would have had.'
Adela remembered what her brother had said, but she could not allude to it. To question was useless. She thought of a previous occasion on which he had justified himself when accused.
He still held her hand.
'Which would do the most good with this money, he or I?'
'We cannot ask that question.'
'Yes, we can. We ought to. At all events, I ought to. Think what it means. In my hands the money is used for the good of a suffering class, for the good of the whole country in the end. He would just spend it on himself, like other rich men. It isn't every day that a man of my principles gets the means of putting them into practice. Eldon is well enough off; long ago he's made up his mind to the loss of Wanley. It's like robbing poor people just to give money where it isn't wanted.'
She withdrew her hand, saying coldly:
'I can understand your looking at it in this way. But we can't help it.'
'Why can't we?' His voice grew disagreeable in its effort to be insinuating. 'It seems to me that we can and ought to help it. It would be. quite different if you and I had just been enjoying ourselves and thinking of no one else.' He thought it a skilful stroke to unite their names thus. 'We haven't done anything of the kind; we've denied ourselves all sorts of things just to be able to spend more on New Wanley. You know what I've always said, that I hold the money in trust for the Union. Isn't it true? I don't feel justified in giving it up. The end is too important. The good of thousands, of hundreds of thousands, is at stake.'
Adela looked him in the face searchingly.
'But how can we help it? There is the will.'
Mutimer met her eyes.
'No one knows of it but ourselves, Adela.'
It was not indignation that her look expressed, but at first a kind of shocked surprise and then profound trouble. It was with difficulty that she found words.
'You are not speaking in earnest?'
'I am!' he exclaimed, almost hopefully. 'In downright earnest. There's nothing to be ashamed of.' He said it because he felt that her gaze was breeding shame in him. 'It isn't for myself, it's for the cause, for the good of my fellowmen. Don't say anything till you've thought. Look, Adela, you're not hardhearted, and you know how it used to pain you to read of the poor wretches who can't earn enough to keep themselves alive. It's for their sake. If they could be here and know of this, they'd go down on their knees to you. You can't rob them of a chance! It's like snatching a bit of bread out of their mouths when they're dying of hunger.'
The fervour with which he pleaded went far to convince himself; for the moment he lost sight of everything but the necessity of persuading Adela, and his zeal could scarcely have been greater had he been actuated by the purest unselfishness. He was speaking as Adela had never heard him speak, with modulations of the voice which were almost sentimental, like one pleading for love. In his heart he despaired of removing her scruples, but he overcame this with vehement entreaty. A true instinct forbade him to touch on her own interests; he had not lived so long with Adela without attaining some perception of the nobler ways of thought. But as often as he raised his eyes to hers he saw the futility of all his words. Her direct gaze at length brought him to unwilling silence.
'Would you then,' Adela asked gravely, 'destroy this will?'
The monosyllable was all he cared to reply.
'I can scarcely believe you. Such a thing is impossible. You could not do it.'
'It's my duty to do it.'
'This is unworthy of you. It is a crime, in law and in conscience. How can you so deceive yourself? After such an act as that, whatever you did would be worthless, vain.'
'Because no one can do great work of the kind you aim at unless he is himself guided by the strictest honour. Every word you spoke would be a falsehood. Oh, can't you see that, as plainly as the light of day? The results of your work! Why, nothing you could possibly do with all this money would be one-half as good as to let everyone know that you honourably gave it up when it was in your power dishonestly to keep it! Oh, surely that is the kind of example that the world needs! What causes all the misery but dishonesty and selfishness? If you do away with that, you gain all you are working for. The example! You should prize the opportunity. You are deceiving yourself; it is a temptation that you are yielding to. Think a moment; you will see that I am right. You cannot do a thing so unworthy of yourself.'
He stood for a moment doggedly, then replied:
'I can and I shall do it.'
'Never!' Adela rose and faced him. 'You shall listen to me till you understand. You, who pride yourself on your high motives! For your own sake scorn this temptation. Let me take the will away. I will put it somewhere till to-morrow. You will see clearly by then. I know how dreadful this loss seems to you, but you must be stronger.'
He stood between her and the table on which the parchment lay, and waved her back as she approached. Adela's voice trembled, but there was not a note in it that he could resent.
'You wrong yourself, and you are cruel to me. How could I live with you if you did such a thing? How could I remain m this house when it was no longer yours? It is impossible, a thousand times impossible. You cannot mean it! If you do this in spite of everything I can say, you are more cruel than if you raised your hand and struck me. You make my life a shame; you dishonour and degrade me.'
'That's all nonsense,' he replied sullenly, the jealous motive possessing him again at the sight of her gleaming eyes. 'It's you who don't understand, and just because you have no sympathy with my work. Any one would think you cared for nothing but to take the money from me, just to ----'
Even in his access of spiteful anger he checked himself, and dropped to another tone.
'I take all the responsibility. You have nothing to do with it. What seems right to me, I shall do. I am your husband, and you've no voice in a thing like this.'
'No voice? Have I no right to save you from ruin? Must a wife stand by and see her husband commit a crime? Have you no duty to me? What becomes of our married life if you rob me of all respect for you?'
'I tell you I am doing it with a good motive. If you were a thorough Socialist, you would respect me all the more. This money was made out of overworked ----'
He was laying his hand on the will; she sprang forward and grasped his arm.
'Richard, give it to me!'
'No, I shall not.'
He had satisfied himself that if the will was actually destroyed she would acquiesce in silence; the shame she spoke of would constrain her. He pushed her away without violence, and moved towards the door. But her muteness caused him to turn and regard her. She was leaning forward, her lips parted, her eyes fixed in despair.
'Are you trying me?'
'What do you mean?'
'Do you believe that I should let you do that and help you to hide it?'
'You will come to see that I was right, and be glad that I paid no heed to you.'
'Then you don't know me. Though you are my husband I would make public what you had done. Nothing should silence me. Do you drive me to that?'
The absence of passion in her voice impressed him far more than violence could have done. Her countenance had changed from pleading to scorn.
He stood uncertain.
'Now indeed,' Adela continued, 'I am doing what no woman should have to do.' Her voice became bitter. 'I have not a man's strength; I can only threaten you with shame which will fall more heavily on myself.'
'Your word against mine,' he muttered, trying to smile.
'You could defend yourself by declaring me infamous?'
Did he know the meaning of that flash across her face? Only when the words were uttered did their full significance strike Adela herself.
'You could defend yourself by saying that I lied against you?'
He regarded her from beneath his eyebrows as she repeated the question. In the silence which followed he seated himself on the chair nearest to him. Adela too sat down.
For more than a quarter of an hour they remained thus, no word exchanged. Then Adela rose and approached her husband.
'If I order the carriage,' she said softly, 'will you come with me at once to Belwick?'
He gave no answer. He was sitting with his legs crossed, the will held over his knee.
'I am sorry you have this trial,' she continued, 'deeply sorry. But you have won, I know you have won!'
He turned his eyes in a direction away from her, hesitated, rose.
'Get your things on.'
He was going to the door.
She held her hand for the parchment.
'You can't trust me to the bottom of the stairs?' he asked bitterly.
She all but laughed with glad confidence.
'Oh, I will trust you!'
Adela and her husband did not return from Belwick till eight o'clock in the evening. In the first place Mr. Yottle had to be sent for from a friend's house in the country, where he was spending Sunday; then there was long waiting for a train back to Agworth. The Rodmans, much puzzled to account for the disorder, postponed dinner. Adela, however, dined alone, and but slightly, though she had not eaten since breakfast. Then fatigue overcame her. She slept an unbroken sleep till sunrise.
On going down next morning she found 'Arry alone in the dining-room; he was standing at the window with hands in pocket, and, after a glance round, averted his face again, a low growl his only answer to her morning salutation. Mr. Rodman was the next to appear. He shook hands as usual. In his 'I hope you are well?' there was an accent of respectful sympathy. Personally, he seemed in his ordinary spirits. He proceeded to talk of trifles, but in such a tone as he might have used had there been grave sickness in the house. And presently, with yet lower voice and a smile of good-humoured resignation, he said --
'Our journey, I fear, must be postponed.'
Adela smiled, not quite in the same way, and briefly assented.
'Alice is not very well,' Rodman then remarked. 'I advised. her to have breakfast upstairs. I trust you excuse her?'
Mutimer made his appearance. He just nodded round, and. asked, as he seated himself at table --
'Who's been letting Freeman loose? He's running about the garden.'
The dog furnished a topic for a few minutes' conversation, then there was all but unbroken silence to the end of the meal. Richard's face expressed nothing in particular, unless it were a bad night. Rodman kept up his smile, and, eating little himself, devoted himself to polite waiting upon Adela. When he rose from the table, Richard said to his brother --
'You'll go down as usual. I shall be at the office in half-an-hour.'
Adela presently went to the drawing-room. She was surprised. to find Alice sitting there. Mrs. Rodman had clearly not enjoyed the unbroken rest which gave Adela her appearance of freshness and calm; her eyes were swollen and red, her lips hung like those of a fretful child that has tired itself with sobbing, her hair was carelessly rolled up, her attire slatternly. She sat in sullen disorder. Seeing Adela, she dropped her eyes, and her. lips drew themselves together. Adela hesitated to approach her, but was moved to do so by sheer pity.
'I'm afraid you've had a bad night,' she said kindly.
'Yes, I suppose I have,' was the ungracious reply.
Adela stood before her for a moment, but could find nothing else to say. She was turning when Alice looked up, her red eyes almost glaring, her breast shaken with uncontrollable passion.
'I think you might have had some consideration,' she exclaimed. 'If you didn't care to speak a word for yourself, you might have thought about others. What are we to do, I. should like to know?'
Adela was struck with consternation. She had been prepared for petulant bewailing, but a vehement outburst of this kind was the last thing she could have foreseen, above all to have it directed against herself.
'What do you mean, Alice?' she said with pained surprise.
'Why, it's all your doing, I suppose,' the other pursued, in the same voice. 'What right had you to let him go off in that. way without saying a word to us? If the truth was known, I expect you were at the bottom of it; he wouldn't have been such a fool, whatever he says. What right had you, I'd like to know?'
Adela calmed herself as she listened. Her surprise at the attack was modified and turned into another channel by Alice's words.
'Has Richard told you what passed between us?' she inquired. It cost her nothing to speak with unmoved utterance; the difficulty was not to seem too indifferent.
'He's told us as much as he thought fit. His duty! I like that! As if you couldn't have stopped him, if you'd chosen! You might have thought of other people.'
'Did he tell you that I tried to stop him?' Adela asked, with the same quietness of interrogation.
'Why, did you?' cried Alice, looking up scornfully.
'Of course not! Talk about duty! I should think that was plain enough duty. I only wish he'd come to me with his talk about duty. It's a duty to rob people, I suppose? Oh, I understand him well enough. It's an easy way of getting out of his difficulties; as well lose his money this way as any other. He always thinks of himself first, trust him! He'll go down to New Wanley and make a speech, no doubt, and show off -- with his duty and all the rest of it! What's going to become of me? You'd no right to let him go before telling us.'
'You would have advised him to say nothing about the will?'
'Advised him!' she laughed angrily. 'I'd have seen if I couldn't do something more than advise.'
'I fear you wouldn't have succeeded in making your brother act dishonourably,' Adela replied.
It was the first sarcasm that had ever passed her lips, and as soon as it was spoken she turned to leave the room, fearful lest she might say things which would afterwards degrade her in her own eyes. Her body quivered. As she reached the door Rodman opened it and entered. He bowed to let her pass, searching her face the while.
When she was gone he approached to Alice, whom he had at once observed:
'What have you been up to?' he asked sternly.
Her head was bent before him, and she gave no answer.
'Can't you speak? What's made her look like that? Have you been quarrelling with her?'
'You know what I mean well enough. Just tell me what you said. I thought I told you to stay upstairs? What's been going on?'
'I told her she ought to have let us know,' replied Alice, timorous, but affecting the look and voice of a spoilt child.
'Then you've made a fool of yourself!' he exclaimed with subdued violence. 'You've got to learn that when I tell you to do a thing you do it -- or I'll know the reason why! You'd no business to come out of your room. Now you'll just find her and apologise. You understand? You'll go and beg her pardon at once.'
Alice raised her eyes in wretched bewilderment.
'Beg her pardon?' she faltered. 'Oh, how can I? Why, what harm have I done, Willis? I'm sure I shan't beg her pardon.'
'You won't? If you talk to me in that way you shall go down on your knees before her. You won't?'
His voice had such concentrated savagery in its suppression that Alice shrank back in terror.
'Willis! How can you speak so! What have I done?'
'You've made a confounded fool of yourself, and most likely spoilt the last chance you had, if you want to know. In future, when I say a thing understand that I mean it; I don't give orders for nothing. Go and find her and beg her pardon. I'll wait here till you've done it'
'But I can't! Willis, you won't force me to do that? I'd rather die than humble myself to her.'
'Do you hear me?'
She stood up, almost driven to bay. Her eyes were wet, her poor, crumpled prettiness made a deplorable spectacle.
'I can't, I can't! Why are you so unkind to me? I have only said what any one would. I hate her! My lips won't speak the words. You've no right to ask me to do such a thing.'
Her wrist was caught in a clutch that seemed to crush the muscles, and she was flung back on to the chair. Terror would not let the scream pass her lips: she lay with open mouth and staring eyes.
Rodman looked at her for an instant, then seemed to master his fury and laughed.
'That doesn't improve your beauty. Now, no crying out before you're hurt. There's no harm done. Only you've to learn that I mean what I say, that's all. Now I haven't hurt you, so don't pretend.'
'Oh, you have hurt me!' she sobbed wretchedly, with her fingers round her injured wrist. 'I never thought you could be so cruel. Oh, my hand! What harm have I done? And you used to say you'd never be unkind to me, never! Oh, how miserable I am! Is this how you're going to treat me? As if I could help it! Willis, you won't begin to be cruel? Oh, my hand!'
'Let me look at it. Pooh, what's amiss?' He spoke all at once in his usual good-natured voice. 'Now go and find Adela, whilst I wait here.'
'You're going to force me to do that?'
'You're going to do it. Now don't make me angry again.'
She rose, frightened again by his look. She took a step or two, then turned back to him.
'If I do this, will you be kind to me, the same as before?'
'Of course I will. You don't take me for a brute?'
She held her bruised wrist to him.
'Will you -- will you kiss it well again?'
The way in which she said it was as nearly pathetic as anything from poor Alice could be. Her misery was so profound, and this childish forgiveness of an outrage was so true a demonstration of womanly tenderness which her character would not allow to be noble. Her husband laughed rather uneasily, and did her bidding with an ill grace. But yet she could not go.
'You'll promise never to speak ----'
'Yes, yes, of course I promise. Come back to me. Mind, shall know how you did it.'
'But why? What is she to us?'
'I'll tell you afterwards.'
There was a dawning of jealousy in her eyes.
'I don't think you ought to make your wife lower herself ----'
His brow darkened.
'Will you do as I tell you?'
She moved towards the door, stopped to dry her wet cheeks, half looked round. What she saw sped her on her way.
Adela was just descending the stairs, dressed to go out. Alice let her go past without speaking, but followed her through the hall and into the garden. Adela turned, saying gently --
'Do you wish to speak to me?'
'I'm sorry I said those things. I didn't mean it. I don't think it was your fault.'
The other smiled; then in that voice which Stella had spoken of as full of forgiveness --
'No, it is not my fault, Alice. It couldn't be otherwise.'
'Don't think of it another moment.'
Alice would gladly have retreated, but durst not omit what seemed to her the essential because the bitterest words.
'I beg your pardon.'
'No, no!' exclaimed Adela quickly. 'Go and lie down a little; you look so tired. Try not to be unhappy, your husband will not let harm come to you.'
Alice returned to the house, hating her sister-in-law with a perfect hatred.
The hated one took her way into Wanley. She had no pleasant mission -- that of letting her mother and Letty know what had happened. The latter she found in the garden behind the house dancing her baby-boy up and down in the sunlight. Letty did not look very matronly, it must be confessed; but what she lacked in mature dignity was made up in blue-eyed and warm-checked happiness. At the sight of Adela she gave a cry of joy.
'Why, mother's just getting ready to go and say good-bye to you. As soon as she comes down and takes this little rogue I shall just slip my own things on. We didn't think you'd come here.'
'We're not going to-day,' Adela replied, playing with the baby's face.
'Business prevents Richard.'
'How you frightened us by leaving church yesterday! I was on my way to ask about you, but Mr. Wyvern met me and said there was nothing the matter. And you went to Agworth, didn't you?'
'To Belwick. We had to see Mr. Yottle, the solicitor.'
Mrs. Waltham issued from the house, and explanations were again demanded.
'Could you give baby to the nurse for a few minutes?' Adela asked Letty. 'I should like to speak to you and mother quietly.'
The arrangement was effected and all three went into the sitting-room. There Adela explained in simple words all that had come to pass; emotionless herself, but the cause of utter dismay in her hearers. When she ceased there was blank silence.
Mrs. Waltham was the first to find her voice.
'But surely Mr. Eldon won't take everything from you? I don't think he has the power to -- it wouldn't be just; there must be surely some kind of provision in the law for such a thing. What did Mr. Yottle say?'
'Only that Mr. Eldon could recover the whole estate.'
'The estate!' exclaimed Mrs. Waltham eagerly. 'But not the money?'
'The estate includes the money, mother. It means everything.'
'Oh, Adela!' sighed Letty, who sat with her hands on her lap, bewildered.
'But surely not Mrs. Rodman's settlement?' cried the elder lady, who was rapidly surveying the whole situation.
'Everything,' affirmed Adela.
'But what an extraordinary, what an unheard-of thing! Such injustice I never knew! Oh, but Mr. Eldon is a gentleman -- he can never exact his legal rights to the full extent. He has too much delicacy of feeling for that.' Adela glanced at her mother with a curious openness of look -- the expression which by apparent negation of feeling reveals feeling of special significance. Mrs. Waltham caught the glance and checked her flow of speech.
'Oh, he could never do that!' she murmured the next moment, in a lower key, clasping her hands together upon her knees. 'I am sure he wouldn't.'
'You must remember, mother,' remarked Adela with reserve, 'that Mr. Eldon's disposition cannot affect us.'
'My dear child, what I meant was this: it is impossible for him to go to law with your husband to recover the uttermost farthing. How are you to restore money that is long since spent? and it isn't as if it had been spent in the ordinary way -- it has been devoted to public purposes. Mr. Eldon will of course take all these things into consideration. And really one must say that it is very strange for a wealthy man to leave his property entirely to strangers.'
'Not entirely,' put in Adela rather absently.
'A hundred and seven pounds a year!' exclaimed her mother protestingly. 'My dear love, what can be done with such a paltry sum as that!'
'We must do a good deal with it, dear mother. It will be all we have to depend upon until Richard finds -- finds some position.'
'But you are not going to leave the Manor at once?'
'As soon as ever we can. I don't know what arrangement my husband is making. We shall see Mr. Yottle again to-morrow.'
'Adela, this is positively shocking! It seems incredible I never thought such things could happen. No wonder you looked white when you went out of church. How little I imagined! But you know you can come here at any moment. You can sleep with me, or we'll have another bed put up in the room. Oh, dear; oh, dear! It will take me a long time to understand it. Your husband could not possibly object to your living here till he found you a suitable home. What will Alfred say? Oh, you must certainly come here. I shan't have a moment's' rest if you go away somewhere whilst things are in this dreadful state.'
'I don't think that will be necessary,' Adela replied with. a reassuring smile. 'It might very well have happened that we had nothing at all, not even the hundred pounds; but a wife can't run away for reasons of that kind -- can she, Letty?'
Letty gazed with her eyes of loving pity, and sighed, 'I suppose not, dear.'
Adela sat with them for only a few minutes more. She did not feel able to chat at length on a crisis such as this, and the tone of her mother's sympathy was not soothing to her. Mrs. Waltham had begun to put a handkerchief to her eyes.
'You mustn't take it to heart,' Adela said as she bent and kissed her cheek. 'You can't think how little it troubles me -- on my own account. Letty, I look to you to keep mother cheerful. Only think what numbers of poor creatures would dance for joy if they had a hundred a year left them! We must be philosophers, you see. I couldn't shed a tear if I tried ever so hard. Good-bye, dear mother!'
Mrs. Waltham did not rise, but Letty followed her friend into the hall. She had been very silent and undemonstrative; now she embraced Adela tenderly. There was still something of the old diffidence in her manner, but the effect of her mother. hood was discernible. Adela was childless -- a circumstance in itself provocative of a gentle sense of protection in Letty's heart.
'You'll let us see you every day, darling?'
'As often as I can, Letty. Don't let mother get low-spirited. There's nothing to grieve about.'
Letty returned to the sitting-room; Mrs. Waltham was still pressing the handkerchief on this cheek and that alternately.
'How wonderful she is!' Letty exclaimed. 'I feel as if I could never again fret over little troubles.'
'Adela has a strong character,' assented the mother with mournful pride.
Letty, unable to sit long without her baby, fetched it from the nurse's arms. The infant's luncheon-hour had arrived, and the nourishment was still of Letty's own providing. It was strange to see on her face the slow triumph of this ineffable bliss over the grief occasioned by the recent conversation. Mrs. Waltham had floated into a stream of talk.
'Now, what a strange thing it is!' she observed, after many other reflections, and when the sound of her own voice had had time to soothe. 'On the very morning of the wedding I had the most singular misgiving, a feeling I couldn't explain. One would almost think I had foreseen this very thing. And you know very well, my dear, that the marriage troubled me in many ways. It was not the match for Adela, but then ----. Adela, as you say, has a strong character; she is not very easy to reason with. I tried to make both sides of the question clear to her. But then her prejudice against Mr. Eldon was very strong, and how naturally, poor child! Young people don't like to trust to time; they think everything must be done quickly. If she had been one to marry for reasons of interest it might look like a punishment; but then it was so far otherwise. How much better it would have been to wait a few years! One really never knows what is going to happen. Young people really ought to trust others' experience.'
Letty was only lending half an ear. The general character of her mother-in-law's monologues did not encourage much attention. She was conscious of a little surprise, even now and then of a mild indignation; but the baby sucking at her breast lulled her into a sweet maternal apathy. She could only sigh from time to time and wonder whether it was a good thing or the contrary that Adela had no baby in her trials.
Mutimer did not come to the Manor for luncheon. Rodman, who had been spending an hour at the works, brought word that business pressed; a host of things had to be unexpectedly finished off and put in order. He, Alice, and Adela made pretence of a midday meal; then he went into the library to smoke a cigar and meditate. The main subject of his meditation was an interview with Adela which he purposed seeking in the course of the afternoon. But he had also half-a-dozen letters of the first importance to despatch to town by the evening post, and these it was well to get off hand. He had finished them by half-past three. Then he went to the drawing-room, but found it vacant. He sought his wife's chamber. Alice was endeavouring to read a novel, but there was recent tear-shedding about her eyes, which had not come of the author's pathos.
'You'll be a pretty picture soon if that goes on,' Rodman remarked, with a frankness which was sufficiently brutal in spite of his jesting tone.
'I can't think how you take it so lightly,' Alice replied with utter despondency, flinging the book aside.
'What's the good of taking it any other way? Where's Adela?'
'Adela?' She looked at him as closely as her eyes would let her. 'Why do you want her?'
'I asked you where she was. Please to get into the habit of answering my questions at once. It'll save time in future.'
She seemed about to resent his harshness, but the effort cost her too much. She let her head fall forward almost upon her knees and sobbed unrestrainedly.
Rodman touched her shoulder and shook her, but not roughly.
'Do not be such an eternal fool!' he grumbled. 'Do you know where Adela is or not?'
'No, I don't,' came the smothered reply. Then, raising her head, 'Why do you think so much about Adela?'
He leaned against the dressing-table and laughed mockingly.
'That's the matter, eh? You think I'm after her! Don't be such a goose.'
'I'd rather you call me a goose than a fool, Willis.'
'Why, there's not much difference. Now if you'll sit up and behave sensibly, I'll tell you why I want her.'
'Really? Will you give me a kiss first?'
'Poor blubbery princess! Pah! your lips are like a baby's. Now just listen, and mind you hold your tongue about what I say. You know there used to be something between Adela and Eldon. I've a notion it went farther than we know of. Well, I don't see why we shouldn't get her to talk him over into letting you keep your money, or a good part of it. So you see it's you I'm thinking about after all, little stupid.'
'Oh, you really mean that! Kiss me again -- look, I've wiped my lips, You really think you can do that, Willis?'
'No, I don't think I can, but it's worth having a try. Eldon has a soft side, I know. The thing is to find her soft side. I'm going to have a try to talk her over. Now, where is she likely to be? -- out in the garden?'
'Perhaps she's at her mother's.'
'Confound it! Well, I'll go and look about; I can't lose time.'
'You'll never get her to do anything for me, Willis.'
'Very likely not. But the things that you succeed in are always the most unlikely, as you'd understand if you'd lived my life.'
'At all events, I shan't have to give up my dresses?'
'Hang your dresses ---- on the wardrobe pegs!'
He went downstairs again and out into the garden, thence to the entrance gate. Adela had passed it but a few minutes before, and he saw her a little distance off. She was going in the direction away from Wanley, seemingly on a mere walk. He decided to follow her and only join her when she had gone some way. She walked with her head bent, walked slowly and with no looking about her. Presently it was plain that she meant to enter the wood. This was opportune. But he lost sight of her as soon as she passed among the trees. He quickened his pace; saw her turning off the main path among the copses. In his pursuit he got astray; he must have missed her track. Suddenly he was checked by the sound of voices, which seemed to come from a lower level just in front of him. Cautiously he stepped forward, till he could see through hazel bushes that there was a steep descent before him. Below, two persons were engaged in conversation, and he could hear every word.
The two were Adela and Hubert Eldon. Adela had come to sit for the last time in the green retreat which was painfully dear to her. Her husband's absence gave her freedom; she used it to avoid the Rodmans and to talk with herself. She F was, as we may conjecture, far from looking cheerfully into the future. Nor was she content with herself, with her behaviour in the drama of these two days. In thinking over the scene with her husband she experienced a shame before her conscience which could not at first be readily accounted for, for of a truth she had felt no kind of shame in steadfastly resisting Mutimer's dishonourable impulse. But she saw now that in the judgment of one who could read all her heart she would not come off with unmingled praise. Had there not been another motive at work in her besides zeal for honour? Suppose the man benefiting by the will had been another than Hubert Eldon? Surely that would not have affected her behaviour? Not in practice, doubtless; but here was a question of feeling, a scrutiny of the soul's hidden velleities. No difference in action, be sure; that must ever be upright But what of the heroism in this particular case? The difference declared itself; here there had been no heroism whatever. To strip herself and her husband when a moment's winking would have kept them well clad? Yes, but on whose behalf? Had there not been a positive pleasure in making herself poor that Hubert might be rich? There was the fatal element in the situation. She came out of the church palpitating with joy; the first assurance of her husband's ignominious yielding to temptation filled her with, not mere scorn, but with dread. Had she not been guilty of mock nobleness in her voice, her bearing? At the time she did not feel it, for the thought of Hubert was kept altogether in the background. Yes, but she saw now how it had shed light and warmth upon her; the fact was not to be denied, because her consciousness had not then included it She was shamed.
A pity, is it not? It were so good to have seen her purely noble, indignant with unmixed righteousness. But, knowing our Adela's heart, is it not even sweeter to bear with her? You will go far before you find virtue in which there is no dear sustaining comfort of self. For my part, Adela is more to me for the imperfection, infinitely more to me for the confession of it in her own mind. How can a woman be lovelier than when most womanly, or more precious than when she reflects her own weakness in clarity of soul?
As she made her way through the wood her trouble of conscience was lost in deeper suffering. The scent of undergrowths, which always brought back to her the glad days of maidenhood, filled her with the hopelessness of the future. There was no return on the path of life; every step made those memories of happiness more distant and thickened the gloom about her. She could be strong when it was needful, could face the world as well as any woman who makes a veil of pride for her bleeding heart; but here, amid the sweet wood-perfumes, in silence and secrecy, self-pity caressed her into feebleness. The light was dimmed by her tears; she rather felt than saw her way. And thus, with moist eyelashes, she came to her wonted resting-place. But she found her seat occupied, and by the man whom in this moment she could least bear to meet.
Hubert sat there, bareheaded, lost in thought. Her light footfall did not touch his ear. He looked up to find her standing before him, and he saw that she had been shedding tears. For an instant she was powerless to direct herself; then sheer panic possessed her and she turned to escape.
Hubert started to his feet.
'Mrs. Mutimer! Adela!'
The first name would not have stayed her, for her flight was as unreasoning as that of a fawn. The second, her own name, uttered with almost desperate appeal, robbed her of the power of movement. She turned to bay, as though an obstacle had risen in her path, and there was terror in her white face.
Hubert drew a little nearer and spoke hurriedly.
'Forgive me! I could not let you go. You seem to have come in answer to my thought; I was wishing to see you. Do forgive me!'
She knew that he was examining her moist eyes; a rush of blood passed over her features
'Not unless you are willing,' Hubert pursued, his voice at its gentlest and most courteous. 'But if I might speak to you for a few minutes ----?'
'You have heard from Mr. Yottle?' Adela asked, without raising her eyes, trying her utmost to speak in a merely natural way.
'Yes. I happened to be at my mother's house. He came last night to obtain my address.'
The truth was, that a generous impulse, partly of his nature, and in part such as any man might know in a moment of unanticipated good fortune, had bade him put aside his prejudices and meet Mutimer at once on a footing of mutual respect. Incapable of ignoble exultation, it seemed to him that true delicacy dictated a personal interview with the man who, judging from Yottle's report, had so cheerfully acquitted himself of the hard task imposed by honour. But as he walked over from Agworth this zeal cooled. Could he trust Mutimer to appreciate his motive? Such a man was capable of acting honourably, but the power of understanding delicacies of behaviour was not so likely to be his. Hubert's prejudices were insuperable; to his mind class differences necessarily argued a difference in the grain. And it was not only this consideration that grew weightier as he walked. In the great joy of recovering his ancestral home, in the sight of his mother's profound happiness, he all but forgot the thoughts that had besieged him since his meetings with Adela in London. As he drew near to Wanley his imagination busied itself almost exclusively with her; distrust and jealousy of Mutimer became fear for Adela's future. Such a change as this would certainly have a dire effect upon her life. He thought of her frail appearance; he remembered the glimpse of her face that he had caught when her husband entered Mrs. Westlake's drawing-room, the startled movement she could not suppress. It was impossible to meet Mutimer with any show of good-feeling; he wondered how he could have set forth with such an object. Instead of going to the Manor he turned his steps to the Vicarage, and joined Mr. Wyvern at luncheon. The vicar had of course heard nothing of the discovery as yet. In the afternoon Hubert started to walk back to Agworth, but instead of taking the direct road he strayed into the wood. He was loth to leave the neighbourhood of the Manor; intense anxiety to know what Adela was doing made him linger near the place where she was. Was she already suffering from brutal treatment? What wretchedness might she not be undergoing within those walls!
He said she seemed to have sprung up in answer to his desire. In truth, her sudden appearance overcame him; her tearful face turned to irresistible passion that yearning which, consciously or unconsciously, was at all times present in his life. Her grief could have but one meaning; his heart went out to her with pity as intense as its longing. Other women had drawn his eyes, had captured him with the love of a day; but the deep still affection which is independent of moods and impressions flowed ever towards Adela. As easily could he have become indifferent to his mother as to Adela. As a married woman she was infinitely more to him than she had been as a girl; from her conversation, her countenance, he knew how richly she had developed, how her intelligence had ripened how her character had established itself in maturity. In that utterance of her name the secret escaped him before he could think how impossible it was to address her so familiarly. It was the perpetual key-word of his thoughts; only when he had heard it from his own lips did he realise what he had done.
When he had given the brief answer to her question he could find no more words. But Adela spoke.
'What do you wish to say to me, Mr. Eldon?'
Whether or no he interpreted her voice by his own feelings, she seemed to plead with him to be manly and respect her womanhood.
'Only to say the common things which anyone must say in my position, but to say them so that you will believe they are not only a form. The circumstances are so strange. I want to ask you for your help; my position is perhaps harder than yours and Mr. Mutimer's. We must remember that there is justice to be considered. If. you will give me your aid in doing justice as far as r am able ----'
In fault of any other possible reply he had involved himself in a subject which he knew it was far better to leave untouched. He could not complete his sentence, but stood before her with his head bent.
Adela scarcely knew what he said; in anguish she sought for a means of quitting him, of fleeing and hiding herself among the trees. His accent told her that. she was the object of his compassion, and she had invited it by letting him see her tears. Of necessity he must think that she was sorrowing on her own account. That was true, indeed, but how impossible for him to interpret her grief rightly? The shame of being misjudged by him all but drove her to speak, and tell him that she cared less than nothing for the loss that had befallen her. Yet she could not trust herself to speak such words. Her heart was beating insufferably; all the woman in her rushed towards hysteria and sell-abandonment. It was well that Hubert's love was of quality to stand the test of these terrible moments. Something he must say, and the most insignificant phrase was the best.
'Will you sit -- rest after your walk?'
She did so; scarcely could she have stood longer. And with the physical ease there seemed to come a sudden mental relief. A thought sprang up, opening upon her like a haven of refuge.
'There is one thing I should like to ask of you,' she began, forcing herself to regard him directly. 'It is a great thing, I am afraid; it may be impossible.'
'Will you tell me what it is?' he said, quietly filling the pause that followed.
'I am thinking of New Wanley.'
She saw a change in his face, slight, but still a change. She spoke more quickly.
'Will you let the works. remain as they are, on the same plan? Will you allow the workpeople to live under the same rules? I have been among them constantly, and I am sure that nothing but good results have come of -- of what my husband has done. There is no need to ask you to deal kindly with them, I know that. But if you could maintain the purpose ----? It will be such a grief to my husband if all his work comes to nothing. There cannot be anything against your principles in what I ask. It is so simply for the good of men and women whose lives are so hard. Let New Wanley remain as an example. Can you do this?'
Hubert, as he listened, joined his hands behind his back, and turned his eyes to the upper branches of the silver birch, which once in his thoughts he had likened to Adela. What he heard from her surprised him, and upon surprise followed mortification. He knew that she had in appearance adopted Mutimer's principles, but his talk with her in London at Mrs. Boscobel's had convinced him that her heart was in far other things than economic problems and schemes of revolution. She had listened so eagerly to his conversation on art and kindred topics; it was so evident that she was enjoying a temporary release from a mode of life which chilled all her warmer instincts. Yet she now made it her entreaty that he would continue Mutimer's work. Beginning timidly, she grew to an earnestness which it was impossible to think feigned. He was unprepared for anything of the kind; his emotions resented it. Though consciously harbouring no single unworthy desire, he could not endure to find Adela zealous on her husband's behalf.
Had he misled himself? Was the grief that he had witnessed really that of a wife for her husband's misfortune? For whatever reason she had married Mutimer -- and that could not be love -- married life might have engendered affection. He knew Adela to be deeply conscientious; how far was it in a woman's power to subdue herself to love at the bidding of duty?
He allowed several moments to pass before replying to her. Then he said, courteously but coldly:
'I am very sorry that you have asked the one thing I cannot do.'
Adela's heart sank. In putting a distance between him and herself she had obeyed an instinct of self-preservation; now that it was effected, the change in his voice was almost more than she could bear.
'Why do you refuse?' she asked, trying, though in vain, to look up at him.
'Because it is impossible for me to pretend sympathy with Mr. Mutimer's views. In the moment that I heard of the will my action with regard to New Wanley was determined. What I purpose doing is so inevitably the result of my strongest convictions that nothing could change me.
'Will you tell me what you are going to do?' Adela asked, in a tone more like his own.
'It will pain You.'
'Yet I should like to know.'
'I shall sweep away every trace of the mines and the works and the houses, and do my utmost to restore the valley to its former state.'
He paused, but Adela said nothing. Her fingers played with the leaves which grew beside her.
'Your associations with Wanley of course cannot be as strong as my own. I was born here, and every dearest memory of my life connects itself with the, valley as it used to be. It was one of the loveliest spots to be found in England. You can have no idea of the feelings with which I saw this change fall upon it, this desolation and defilement -- I must use the words which come to me. I might have overcome that grief if I had sympathised with the ends. But, as it is, I should act in the same way even if I had no such memories. I know all that you will urge. It may be inevitable that the green and beautiful spots of the world shall give place to furnaces and mechanics' dwellings. For my own part, in this little corner, at all events, the rum shall be delayed. In this matter I will give my instincts free play. Of New Wanley not one brick shall remain on another. I will close the mines, and grass shall again grow over them; I will replant the orchards and mark out the fields as they were before.'
He paused again.
'You see why I cannot do what you ask.'
It was said in a gentler voice, for insensibly his tone had become almost vehement.
He found a strange pleasure in emphasising his opposition to her. Perhaps he secretly knew that Adela hung upon his words, and in spite of herself was drawn into the current of his enthusiasm. But he did not look into her face. Had he done so he would have seen it fixed and pale.
'Then you think grass and trees of more importance than human lives?'
She spoke in a voice which sounded coldly ironical in its attempt to be merely calm.
'I had rather say that I see no value in human lives in a world from which grass and trees have vanished. But, in truth, I care little to make my position logically sound. The ruling motive in my life is the love of beautiful things; I fight against ugliness because it's the only work in which I can engage with all my heart. I have nothing of the enthusiasm of humanity. In the course of centuries the world may perhaps put itself right again; I am only concerned with the present, and I see that everywhere the tendency is towards the rule of mean interests, ignoble ideals.'
'Do you call it ignoble,' broke in Adela, 'to aim at raising men from hopeless and degrading toil to a life worthy of human beings?'
'The end which you have in mind cannot be ignoble. But it is not to be reached by means such as these.' He pointed down to the valley. 'That may be the only way of raising the standard of comfort among people who work with their hands; I take the standpoint of the wholly unpractical man, and say that such efforts do not concern me. From my point of view no movement can be tolerated which begins with devastating the earth's surface. You will clothe your workpeople better, you will give them better food and more leisure; in doing so you injure the class that has finer sensibilities, and give power to the class which not only postpones everything to material well-being, but more and more regards intellectual refinement as an obstacle in the way of progress. Progress -- the word is sufficient; you have only to think what it has come to mean. It will be good to have an example of reaction.'
'When reaction means misery to men and women and little children?'
'Yes, even if it meant that. As far as I am concerned, I trust it will have no such results. You must distinguish between humanity and humanitarianism. I hope I am not lacking in the former; the latter seems to me to threaten everything that is most precious in the world.'
'Then you are content that the majority of mankind should be fed and clothed and kept to labour?'
'Personally, quite content; for I think it very unlikely that the majority will ever be fit for anything else. I know that at present they desire nothing else.'
'Then they must be taught to desire more.'
Hubert again paused. When he resumed it was with a smile which strove to be good-humoured.
'We had better not argue of these things. If I said all that I think you would accuse me of brutality. In logic you will overcome me. Put me down as one of those who represent reaction and class-prejudice. I am all prejudice.'
'We have talked a long time,' she said, trying to speak lightly. 'We have such different views. I wish there were less class-prejudice.'
Hubert scarcely noticed her words. She was quitting him, and he clung to the last moment of her presence.
'Shall you go -- eventually go to London?' he asked.
'I can't say. My husband has not yet been able to make plans.'
The word irritated him. He half averted his face.
'Good-bye, Mr. Eldon.'
She did not offer her hand -- durst not do so. Hubert bowed without speaking.
When she was near the Manor gates she heard footsteps behind her. She turned and saw her husband. Her cheeks flushed, for she had been walking in deep thought. It seemed to her for an instant as if the subject of her preoccupation could be read upon her face.
'Where have you been?' Mutimer asked, indifferently.
'For a walk. Into the wood.'
He was examining her, for the disquiet of her countenance could not escape his notice.
'Why did you go alone? It would have done Alice good to get her out a little.'
'I'm afraid she wouldn't have come.'
'Has she been saying anything to you?'
'Only that she is troubled and anxious.'
They walked on together in silence, Mutimer with bowed head and knitted brows.
The making a virtue of necessity, though it argues lack of ingenuousness, is perhaps preferable to the wholly honest demonstration of snarling over one's misfortunes. It may result in good even to the hypocrite, who occasionally surprises himself with the pleasure he finds in wearing a front of nobility, and is thereby induced to consider the advantages of upright behaviour adopted for its own sake. Something of this kind happened in the case of Richard Mutimer. Seeing that there was no choice but to surrender his fortune, he set to work to make the most of abdication, and with the result that the three weeks occupied in settling his affairs at New Wanley and withdrawing from the Manor were full of cheerful activity. He did not meet Hubert Eldon, all business being transacted through Mr. Yottle. When he heard from the latter that it was Eldon's intention to make a clean sweep of mines, works, and settlements, though for a moment chagrined, he speedily saw that such action, by giving dramatic completeness to his career at Wanley and investing its close with something of tragic pathos, was in truth what he should most have desired. It enabled him to take his departure with an air of profounder sadness; henceforth no gross facts would stand in the way of his rhetoric when he should enlarge on the possibilities thus nipped in the bud. He was more than ever a victim of cruel circumstances; he could speak with noble bitterness of his life's work having been swept into oblivion.
He was supported by a considerable amount of epistolary sympathy. The local papers made an interesting story of what had happened in the old church at Wanley, and a few of the London journals reported the circumstances; in this way Mutimer became known to a wider public than had hitherto observed him. Not only did his fellow-Unionists write to encourage and moralise, but a number of those people who are ever ready to indite letters to people of any prominence, the honestly admiring and the windily egoistic, addressed communications either to Wanley Manor or to the editor of the 'Fiery Cross.' Mutimer read eagerly every word of each most insignificant scribbler; his eyes gleamed and his cheeks grew warm. All such letters he brought to Adela, and made her read them aloud; he stood with his hands behind his back, his face slightly elevated and at a listening angle. At the end he regarded her, and his look said: 'Behold the man who is your husband!'
But at length there came one letter distinct from all the rest; it had the seal of a Government office. With eyes which scarcely credited what they saw Mutimer read some twenty or thirty words from a Minister of the Crown, a gentleman of vigorously Radical opinions, who had 'heard with much regret that the undertaking conceived and pursued with such single-hearted zeal' had come to an untimely end. Mutimer rushed to Adela like a schoolboy who has a holiday to announce.
'Read that now! What do you think of that? Now there's some hope of a statesman like that!'
Adela gave forth the letter in a voice which was all too steady. 7 But she said:
'I am very glad. It must gratify you. He writes very kindly.'
'You'll have to help me to make an answer.'
Adela smiled, but said nothing.
The ceremonious opening of the hall at New Wanley had been a great day; Mutimer tried his best to make the closing yet more effective. Mr. Westlake was persuaded to take the chair, but this time the oration was by the founder himself. There was a numerous assembly. Mutimer spoke for an hour and a quarter, reviewing what he had done, and enlarging on all that he might and would have done. There was as much applause as even he could desire. The proceedings closed with the reading of an address which was signed by all the people of the works, a eulogium and an expression of gratitude, not without one or two sentences of fiery Socialism. The spokesman was a fine fellow of six feet two, a man named Redgrave, the ideal of a revolutionist workman. He was one of the few men at the works whom Adela, from observation of their domestic life, had learnt sincerely to respect. Before reading the document he made a little speech of his own, and said in conclusion:
'Here's an example of how the law does justice in a capitalist society. The man who makes a grand use of money has it all taken away from him by the man who makes no use of it at all, except to satisfy his own malice and his own selfishness. If we don't one and all swear to do our utmost to change such a state of things as that, all I can say is we're a poor lot, and deserve to be worse treated than the animals, that haven't the sense to use their strength!'
In his reply to the address Richard surpassed himself. He rose in excitement; the words that rushed to his lips could scarcely find articulate flow. After the due thanks:
'To-morrow I go to London; I go as poor as the poorest of you, a mechanical engineer in search of work. Whether I shall find it or not there's no saying. If they turned me out because of my opinions three years ago, it's not very likely that they've grown fonder of me by this time. As poor as the poorest of you, I say. Most of you probably know that a small legacy is left to me under the will which gives this property into other hands. That money will be used, every penny of it, for the furtherance of our cause!'
It was a magnificent thought, one of those inspirations which reveal latent genius. The hall echoed with shouts of glorification. Adela, who sat with her mother and Letty (Mrs. Westlake had not accompanied her husband), kept her eyes fixed on the ground; the uproar made her head throb.
All seemed to be over and dispersal was beginning, when a gentleman stood up in the middle of the hall and made signs that he wished to be heard for a moment. Mutimer aided him in gaining attention. It was Mr. Yottle, a grizzle-headed, ruddy-cheeked veteran of the law.
'I merely desire to use this opportunity of reminding those who have been employed at the works that Mr. Eldon will be glad to meet them in this hall at half-past ten o'clock to-morrow morning. It will perhaps be better if the men alone attend, as the meeting will be strictly for business purposes.'
Adela was among the last to leave the room. As she was moving between the rows of benches Mr. Westlake approached her. He had only arrived in time to take his place on the platform, and he was on the point of returning to London.
I have a note for you from Stella, he said. 'She has been ailing for a fortnight; it wasn't safe for her to come. But she will soon see you, I hope.'
'I hope so,' Adela replied mechanically, as she took the letter.
Mr. Westlake only added his 'good-bye,' and went to take leave of Mutimer, who was standing at a little distance.
Among those who remained to talk with the hero of the day was our old friend Keene. Keene had risen in the world, being at present sub-editor of a Belwick journal. His appearance had considerably improved, and his manner was more ornate than ever. He took Mutimer by the arm and led him aside.
'A suggestion -- something that occurred to me whilst you were speaking. You must write the history of New Wanley Not too long; a thing that could be printed in pamphlet form and sold at a penny or twopence. Speak to Westlake see if the Union won't publish. Some simple title: "My Work in New Wanley," for instance. I'll see that it's well noticed in our rag.'
'Not a bad idea!' Mutimer exclaimed, throwing back his head.
'Trust me, not half bad. Be of use in the propaganda. Just think it over, and, if you care to, allow me to read it in manuscript. There's a kind of art -- eh? you know what I mean; it's only to be got by journalistic practice. Yes, "My Work in New Wanley"; I think that would do.'
'I'm going to lecture at Commonwealth Hall next Sunday,' Mutimer observed. 'I'll take that for my title.'
'By-the-bye how -- what was I going to say? Oh yes, how is Mrs. Rodman?'
'Tolerable, I believe.'
'In London, presumably?'
'Not much -- not taking it to heart much, I hope?'
'Not particularly? I think.'
'I should be glad to be remembered -- a word when you see her. Thanks, Mutimer, thanks. I must be off.'
Adela was making haste to Teach the Manor, that she might read Stella's letter She and her husband were to dine this evening with the Walthams -- a farewell meal. With difficulty she escaped from her mother and Letty; Stella's letter demanded a quarter of an hour of solitude.
She reached her room, and broke the envelope. Stella never wrote at much length, but to-day there were only a few lines.
'My love to you, heart's darling. I am not well enough to come, and I think it likely you had rather I did not. But in a few hours you will be near me. Come as soon as ever you can. I wait for you like the earth for spring. 'STELLA.'
She kissed the paper and put it in the bosom of her dress. It was already time to go to her mother's.
She found her mother and Letty with grave faces; something seemed to have disturbed them. Letty tried to smile and appear at ease, but Mrs. Waltham was at no pains to hide the source of her dissatisfaction.
'Did you know of that, Adela?' she asked, with vexation. 'About the annuity, I mean. Had Richard spoken to you of his intention?'
Adela replied with a simple negative. She had not given the matter a thought.
'Then he certainly should have done. It was his duty, I consider, to tell me. It is in express contradiction of all he has led me to understand. What are you going to live on, I should like to know? It's very unlikely that he will find a position immediately. He is absolutely reckless, wickedly thoughtless! My dear, it is not too late even now. I insist on your staying with us until your husband has found an assured income. The idea of your going to live in lodgings in an obscure part of London is more than I can bear, and now it really appals me. Adela, my child, it's impossible for you to go under these circumstances. The commonest decency will oblige him to assent to this arrangement.'
'My dear mother,' Adela replied seriously, 'pray do not reopen that. It surely ought to be needless for me to repeat that it is my duty to go to London.'
'But, Adela darling,' began Letty, very timorously, 'wouldn't it be relieving your husband? How much freer he would be to look about, knowing you are here safe and in comfort. I really -- I do really think mother is right.'
Before Adela could make any reply there sounded a knock at the front door; Richard came in. He cast a glance round at the three. The others might have escaped his notice, but Mrs. Waltham was too plainly perturbed.
'Has anything happened?' he asked in an offhand way.
'I am distressed, more than I can tell you,' began his mother-in-law. 'Surely you did not mean what you said about the money ----'
'Mother!' came from Adela's lips, but she checked herself.
Mutimer thrust his hands into his pockets and stood smiling.
'Yes, I meant it.'
'But, pray, what are you and Adela going to live upon?'
'I don't think we shall have any difficulty.'
'But surely one must more than think in a matter such as this. You mustn't mind me speaking plainly, Richard. Adela is my only daughter, and the thought of her undergoing needless hardships is so dreadful to me that I really must speak. I have a plan, and I am sure you will see that it is the very best for all of us. Allow Adela to remain with me for a little while, just till you have -- have made things straight. It certainly would ease your mind. She is so very welcome to a share of our home. You would feel less hampered. I am sure you will consent to this.'
Mutimer's smile died away. He avoided Mrs. Waltham's face, and let his eyes pass in a cold gaze from Letty, who almost shrank, to Adela, who stood with an air of patience.
'What do you say to this?' he asked of his wife, in a tone civil indeed, but very far from cordial.
'I have been trying to show mother that I cannot do as she wishes. It is very kind of her, but, unless you think it would be better for me to stay, I shall of course accompany you.'
'You can stay if you like.'
Adela understood too well what that permission concealed.
'I have no wish to stay.'
Mutimer turned his look on Mrs. Waltham, without saying anything.
'Then I can say no more,' Mrs. Waltham replied. 'But you must understand that I take leave of my daughter with the deepest concern. I hope you will remember that her health for a long time has been anything but good, and that she was never accustomed to do hard and coarse work.'
'We won't talk any more of this, mother,' Adela interposed firmly. 'I am sure you need have no fear that I shall be tried beyond my strength. You must remember that I go with my husband.'
The high-hearted one! She would have died rather than let her mother perceive that her marriage was less than happy. To the end she would speak that word 'my husband,' when it was necessary to speak it at all, with the confidence of a woman who knows no other safeguard against the ills of life. To the end she would shield the man with her own dignity, and protect him as far as possible even against himself.
Mutimer smiled again, this time with satisfaction.
'I certainly think we can take care of ourselves,' he remarked briefly.
In a few minutes they were joined by Alfred, who had only just returned from Belwick, and dinner was served. It was not a cheerful evening. At Adela's request it had been decided in advance that the final leave-taking should be to-night; she and Mutimer would drive to Agworth station together with Alfred the first thing in the morning. At ten o'clock the parting came. Letty could not speak for sobbing; she just kissed Adela and hurried from the room. Mrs. Waltham preserved a rather frigid stateliness.
'Good-bye, my dear,' she said, when released from her daughter's embrace. 'I hope I may have good news from you.'
With Mutimer she shook hands.
It was a starry and cold night. The two walked side by side without speaking. When they were fifty yards on their way, a figure came out of a corner of the road, and Adela heard Letty call her name.
'I will overtake you,' she said to her husband.
'Adela, my sweet, I couldn't say good-bye to you in the house!'
Letty hung about her dear one's neck. Adela choked; she could only press her cheek against that moist one.
'Write to me often -- oh, write often,' Letty sobbed. 'And tell me the truth, darling, will you?'
'It will be all well, dear sister,' Adela whispered.
'Oh, that is a dear name! Always call me that. I can't say good-bye, darling. You will come to see us as soon as ever you can?'
'As soon as I can, Letty.'
Adela found her husband awaiting her.
'What did she want?' he asked, with genuine surprise.
'Only to say good-bye.'
'Why, she'd said it once.'
The interior of the Manor was not yet disturbed, but all the furniture was sold, and would be taken away on the morrow. They went to the drawing room. After some insignificant remarks Mutimer asked:
'What letter was that Westlake gave you?'
'It was from Stella -- from Mrs. Westlake.'
He paused. Then:
'Will you let me see it?'
'Certainly, if you wish.'
She felt for it in her bosom and handed it to him. It shook in her fingers.
'Why does she think you'd rather she didn't come?'
'I suppose because the occasion seems to her painful.'
'I don't see that it was painful at all. What did you think of my speech?'
'The first one or the second?'
'Both, if you like. I meant the first.'
'You told the story very well.'
'You'll never spoil me by over-praise.'
Adela was silent.
'About this,' he resumed, tapping the note. which he still held. 'I don't think you need go there very often. It seems to me you don't get much good from them.'
She looked at him inquiringly.
'Theirs isn't the kind of Socialism I care much about,' he continued, with the air of giving a solid reason. 'It seems to me that Westlake's going off on a road of his own, and one that leads nowhere. All that twaddle to-day about the development of society! I don't think he spoke of me as he might have done. You'll see there won't be half a report in the "Fiery Gross."'
Adela was still silent.
'I don't mean to say you're not to see Mrs. Westlake at all, if you want to,' he pursued. 'I shouldn't have thought she was the kind of woman to suit you. If the truth was known, I don't think she's a Socialist at all. But then, no more are you, eh?'
'There is no one with a more passionate faith in the people than Mrs. Westlake,' Adela returned.
'Faith! That won't do much good.'
He was silent a little, then went to another subject.
'Rodman writes that he's no intention of giving up the money. I knew it would come to that.'
'But the law will compel him,' Adela exclaimed.
'It's a roundabout business. Eldon's only way of recovering it is to bring an action against me. Then I shall have to go to law with Rodman.'
'But how can he refuse? It is ----'
She checked herself, remembering that words were two-edged.
'Oh, he writes in quite a friendly way -- makes a sort of joke of it. We've to get what we can of him, he says. But he doesn't get off if I can help it. I must see Yottle on our way tomorrow.'
'Keene wants me to write a book about New Wanley,' he said presently.
'Well, a small one. It could be called, "My Work at New Wanley." It might do good.'
'Yes, it might,' Adela assented absently.
'You look tired. Get off to bed; you'll have to be up early in the morning, and it'll be a hard day.'
Adela went, hopeful of oblivion till the 'hard day' should dawn.
The next morning they were in Belwick by half-past nine. Alfred took leave of them and went off to business. He promised to 'look them up' in London before very long, probably at Christmas. Between him and Mutimer there was make-believe of cordiality at parting; they had long ceased to feel any real interest in each other.
Adela had to spend the time in the railway waiting-room whilst her husband went to see Yottle. It was a great bare place; when she entered, she found a woman in mourning, with a little boy, sitting alone. The child was eating a bun, his mother was silently shedding tears. Adela seated herself as far from them as possible, out of delicacy, but she saw the woman look frequently towards her, and at last rise as if to come and speak. She was a feeble, helpless-looking being of about thirty; evidently the need of sympathy overcame her, for she had no other excuse for addressing Adela save to tell that her luggage had gone astray, and that she was waiting in the hope that something might be heard of it. Finding a gentle listener, she talked on and on, detailing the wretched circumstances under which she had recently been widowed, and her miserable prospects in a strange town whither she was going. Adela made an effort to speak in words of comfort, but her own voice sounded hopeless in her ears. In the station was a constant roaring and hissing, bell-ringing and the shriek of whistles, the heavy trundling of barrows, the slamming of carriage-doors; everywhere a smell of smoke. It impressed her as though all the 'world had become homeless, and had nothing to do but journey hither and thither in vain search of a resting-place. And her waiting lasted more than an hour. But for the effort to dry another's tears it would have been hard to restrain her own.
The morning had threatened rain; when at length the journey to London began, the black skies yielded a steady downpour Mutimer was .anything but cheerful; establishing himself in a corner of the third-class carriage, he for a time employed himself with a newspaper; then, throwing it on to Adela's lap, closed his eyes as if he hoped to sleep. Adela glanced up and down the barren fields of type, but there was nothing that could hold her attention, and, by chance looking at her husband's face, she continued to examine it. Perhaps he was asleep, perhaps only absorbed in thought. His lips were sullenly loose beneath the thick reddish moustache his eyebrows had drawn themselves together, scowling. She could not avert her gaze; it seemed to her that she was really scrutinising his face for the first time, and it was as that of a stranger. Not one detail had the stamp of familiarity: the whole repelled her. What was the meaning now first revealed to her in that countenance? The features had a massive regularity; there was nothing grotesque, nothing on the surface repulsive; yet, beholding the face as if it were that of a man unknown to her, she felt that a whole world of natural antipathies was between it and her.
It was the face of a man by birth and breeding altogether beneath her.
Never had she understood that as now; never had she conceived so forcibly the reason which made him and her husband and wife only in name. Suppose that apparent sleep of his to be the sleep of death; he would pass from her consciousness like a shadow from the field, leaving no trace behind. Their life of union was a mockery; their married intimacy was an unnatural horror. He was not of her class, not of her world; only by violent wrenching of the laws of nature had they come together. She had spent years in trying to convince herself that there were no such distinctions, that only an unworthy prejudice parted class from class. One moment of true insight was worth more than all her theorising on abstract principles. To be her equal this man must be born again, of other parents, in other conditions of life. 'I go back to London a mechanical engineer in search of employment.' They were the truest words he had ever uttered; they characterised him, classed him.
She had no claims to aristocratic descent, but her parents were gentlefolk; that is to say, they were both born in a position which encouraged personal refinement rather than the contrary, which expected of them a certain education in excess of life's barest need, which authorised them to use the service of ruder men and women in order to secure to themselves a margin of life for life's sake. Perhaps for three generations her ancestors could claim so much gentility; it was more than enough to put a vast gulf between her and the Mutimers. Favourable circumstances of upbringing had endowed her with delicacy of heart and mind not inferior to that of any woman living; mated with an equal husband, the children born of her might hope to take their place among the most beautiful and the most intelligent. And her husband was a man incapable of understanding her idlest thought.
He opened his eyes, looked at her blankly for a moment, stirred his limbs to make his position easier.
Pouring rain in London streets. The cab drove eastward, but for no great distance. Adela found herself alighting at a lodging-house not far from the reservoir at the top of Pentonville Hill. Mutimer had taken these rooms a week ago.
A servant fresh from the blackleading of a grate opened the door to them, grinning with recognition at the sight of Mutimer. The latter had to help the cabman to deposit the trunks in the passage. Then Adela was shown to her bedroom.
It was on the second floor, the ordinary bedroom of cheap furnished lodgings, with scant space between the foot of the bed and the fireplace, with a dirty wall-paper and a strong musty odour. The window looked upon a backyard.
She passed from the bedroom to the sitting-room; here was the same vulgar order, the same musty smell. The table was laid for dinner.
Mutimer read his wife's countenance furtively. He could not discover how the abode impressed her, and he put no question. When he returned from the bedroom she was sitting before the fire, pensive.
'You're hungry, I expect?' he said.
Her appetite was far from keen, but in order not to appear discontented she replied that she would be glad of dinner.
The servant, her hands and face half washed, presently appeared with a tray on which were some mutton-chops, potatoes, and a cabbage. Adela did her best to eat, but the chops were ill-cooked, the vegetables poor in quality. There followed a rice-pudding; it was nearly cold; coagulated masses of rice appeared beneath yellowish water. Mutimer made no remark about the food till the table was cleared. Then he said:
'They'll have to do better than that. The first day, of course ---- You'll have a talk with the landlady whilst I'm out to-night. Just let her see that you won't be content with anything; you have to talk plainly to these people.'
'Yes, I'll speak about it,' Adela replied.
'They made a trouble at first about waiting on us,' Mutimer pursued. 'But I didn't see how we could get our own meals very well. You can't cook, can you?'
He smiled, and seemed half ashamed to ask the question.
'Oh yes; I can cook ordinary things,' Adela said. 'But -- we haven't a kitchen, have we?'
'Well, no. If. we did anything of that kind, it would have to be on this fire. She charges us four shillings a week more for cooking the dinner.'
He added this information in a tone of assumed carelessness.
'I think we might save that,' Adela said. 'If I had the necessary things ---- I should like to try, if you will let me.'
'Just as you please. I don't suppose the stuff they send us up will ever be very eatable. But it's too bad to ask you to do work of that kind.'
'Oh, I shan't mind it in the least! It will be far better, better in every way.'
Mutimer brightened up.
'In that case we'll only get them to do the housemaid work. You can explain that to the woman; her name is Mrs. Gulliman.'
'Think you can make yourself at home, here?'
'That's all right. I shall go out now for an hour or so. You can unpack your boxes and get things in order a bit.'
Adela had her interview with Mrs. Gulliman in the course of the evening, and fresh arrangements were made, not perhaps to the landlady's satisfaction, though she made a show of absorbing interest and vast approval. She was ready to lend her pots and pans till Adela should have made purchase of those articles.
Adela had the satisfaction of saving four shillings a week.
Two days later Mutimer sought eagerly in the 'Fiery Gross' for a report of the proceedings at New Wanley. Only half a column was given to the subject, the speeches being summarised. He had fully expected that the week's 'leader' would be concerned with his affairs, but there was no mention of him.
He bought the 'Tocsin.' Foremost stood an article headed, 'The Bursting of a Soap Bubble.' It was a satirical review of the history of New Wanley, signed by Comrade Roodhouse. He read in one place: 'Undertakings of this kind, even if pursued with genuine enthusiasm, are worse than useless; they are positively pernicious. They are half measures, and can only result in delaying the Revolution. It is assumed that working .men can be kept in a good temper with a little better housing and a little more money. That is to aid the capitalists, to smooth over huge wrongs with petty concessions, to cry peace where there is no peace. We know this kind of thing of old. It is the whole system of wage-earning that must be overthrown -- the ideas which rule the relations of employers and employed. Away with these palliatives; let us rejoice when we see working men starving and ill-clad, for in that way their eyes will be opened. The brute who gets the uttermost farthing out of the toil of his wage-slaves is more a friend to us and our cause than any namby-pamby Socialist, such as the late Dukeling of New Wanley. Socialist indeed! But enough. We have probably heard the last of this parvenu and his loudly trumpeted schemes. No true friend of the Revolution can be grieved.'
Mutimer bit his lip.
'Heard the last of me, have they? Don't be too hasty, Roodhouse.'
A week later; the scene, the familiar kitchen in Wilton Square. Mrs. Mutimer, upon whom time has laid unkind hands since last we saw her, is pouring tea for Alice Rodman, who has just come all the way from the West End to visit her. Alice, too, has suffered from recent vicissitudes; her freshness is to seek, her bearing is no longer buoyant, she is careless in attire. To judge from the corners of her mouth, she is confirmed in querulous habits; her voice evidences the same.
She was talking of certain events of the night before.
'It was about half-past twelve -- I'd just got into bed -- when the servant knocks at my door. "Please, mum," she says, "there's a policeman wants to see master." You may think if I wasn't frightened out of my life! I don't think it was two minutes before I got downstairs, and there the policeman stood in the hall. I told him I was Mrs. Rodman, and then he said a young man called Henry Mutimer had got locked up for making a disturbance outside a music hall, and he'd sent to my husband to bail him out. Well, just as we were talking in comes Willis. Rare and astonished he was to see me with all my things huddled on and a policeman in the house. We did so laugh afterwards; he said he thought I'd been committing a robbery. But he wouldn't bail 'Arry, and I couldn't blame him. And now he says 'Arry 'll have to do as best he can. He won't get him another place.'
'He's lost his place too?' asked the mother gloomily.
'He was dismissed yesterday. He says that's why he went drinking too much. Out of ten days that he's been in the place he's missed two and hasn't been punctual once. I think you might have seen he got off at the proper time in the morning, mother.'
'What's the good o' blamin' me?' exclaimed the old woman fretfully. 'A deal o' use it is for me to talk. If I'm to be held 'countable he doesn't live here no longer; I know that much.'
'Dick was a fool to pay his fine. I'd have let him go to prison for seven days; it would have given him a lesson.'
Mrs. Mutimer sighed deeply, and lost herself in despondent thought. Alice sipped her tea and went on with her voluble talk.
'I suppose he'll show up some time to-night unless Dick keeps him. But he can't do that, neither, unless he makes him sleep on the sofa in their sitting-room. A nice come-down for my lady, to be living in two furnished rooms! But it's my belief they're not so badly off as they pretend to be. It's all very well for Dick to put on his airs and go about saying he's given up every farthing; he doesn't get me to believe that. He wouldn't go paying away his pounds so readily. And they have attendance from the landlady; Mrs. Adela doesn't soil her fine finger's, trust her. You may depend upon it, they've plenty. She wouldn't speak a word for us; if she cared to, she could have persuaded Mr. Eldon to let me keep my money, and then there wouldn't have been all this law bother.'
'What bother's that?'
'Why, Dick says he'll go to law with my husband to recover the money he paid him when we were married. It seems he has to answer for it, because he's what they call the administrator, and Mr. Eldon can compel him to make it all good again.'
'But I thought you said you'd given it all up?'
'That's my own money, what was settled on me. I don't see what good it was to me; I never had a penny of it to handle. Now they want to get all the rest out of us. How are we to pay back the money that's spent and gone, I'd like to know? Willis says they'll just have to get it if they can. And here's Dick going on at me because we don't go into lodgings! I don't leave the house before I'm obliged, I know that much. We may as well be comfortable as long as we can.
'The mean thing, that Adela!' she pursued after a pause. 'She was to have married Mr. Eldon, and broke it off when she found he wasn't going to be as rich as she thought; then she caught hold of Dick. I should like to have seen her face when she found that will! -- I wish it had been me!'
Alice laughed unpleasantly. Her mother regarded her with an air of curious inquiry, then murmured:
'Dick and she did the honest thing. I'll say so much for them.'
'I'll be even with Mrs. Adela yet,' pursued Alice, disregarding the remark. 'She wouldn't speak for me, but she's spoken for herself, no fear. She and her airs!'
There was silence; then Mrs. Mutimer said:
'I've let the top bedroom for four-and-six.'
''Arry's room? What's he going to do then?'
'He'll have to sleep on the chair-bedstead, here in the kitchen. That is, if I have him in the 'ouse at all. And I don't know yet as I shall.'
'Have you got enough money to go on with?' Alice asked.
'Dick sent me a pound this morning. I didn't want it'
'Has he been to see you yet, mother?'
The old woman shook her head.
'Do you want him to come, or don't you?'
There was silence. Alice looked at her mother askance. The leathern mask of a face was working with some secret emotion.
'He'll come if he likes, I s'pose,' was her abrupt answer.
In the renewed silence they heard some one enter the house and descend the kitchen stairs. 'Arry presented himself. He threw his hat upon a chair, and came forward with a swagger to seat himself at the tea-table.
His mother did not look at him.
'Anything to eat?' he asked, more loudly than was necessary, as if he found the silence oppressive.
'There's bread and butter,' replied Alice, with lofty scorn.
'Hullo! Is it you?' exclaimed the young man, affecting to recognise his sister. 'I thought you was above coming here Have they turned you out of your house?'
'That's what'll happen to you, I shouldn't wonder.'
'Arry cast a glance towards his mother. Seeing that her eyes were fixed in another direction, he began pantomimic interrogation of Alice. The latter disregarded him.
'Arry presented an appearance less than engaging. He still bore the traces of last night's debauch and of his sojourn in the police-cell. There was dry mud on the back of his coat, his shirt-cuffs and collar were of a slaty hue, his hands and face filthy. He began to eat bread and butter, washing down each morsel with a gulp of tea. The spoon remained in the cup whilst he drank. To 'Arry it was a vast relief to be free from the conventionalities of Adela's table.
'That lawyer fellow Yottle's been to see them to-day,' he remarked presently.
Alice looked at him eagerly.
'There was talk about you and Rodman.'
'What did they say?'
'Couldn't hear. I was in the other room. But I heard Yottle speaking your name.'
He had, in fact, heard a few words through the keyhole, but not enough to gather the sense of the conversation, which had been carried on in discreet tones.
'There you are!' Alice exclaimed, addressing her mother. 'They're plotting against us, you see.'
'I don't think it 'ud be Dick's wish to do you harm,' said Mrs. Mutimer absently.
'Dick 'll do whatever she tells him.'
'Adela, eh?' observed 'Arry. 'She's a cat.'
'You mind your own business!' returned his sister.
'So it is my business. She looked at me as if I wasn't good enough to come near her 'igh-and-mightiness. I'm glad to see her brought down a peg, chance it!'
Alice would not condescend to join her reprobate brother, even in abuse of Adela. She very shortly took leave of her mother, who went up to the door with her.
'Are you going to see Dick?' Mrs. Mutimer said, in the passage.
'I shan't see him till he comes to my house,' replied Alice sharply.
The old woman stood on the doorstep till her daughter was out of sight, then sighed and returned to her kitchen.
Alice returned to her more fashionable quarter by omnibus. Though Rodman had declined to make any change in their establishment, he practised economy in the matter of his wife's pin-money. Gone were the delights of shopping, gone the little lunches in confectioners' shops to which Alice, who ate sweet things like a child, had been much addicted. Even the carriage she could seldom make use of, for Rodman had constant need of it -- to save cab-fares, he said. It was chiefly employed in taking him to and from the City, where he appeared to have much business at present.
On reaching home Alice found a telegram from her husband.
'Shall bring three friends to dinner. Be ready for us at half-past seven.'
Yet he had assured her that he would dine quietly alone with her at eight o'clock. Alice, who was weary of the kind of men her husband constantly brought, felt it as a bitter disappointment. Besides, it was already after six, and there were no provisions in the house. But for her life she durst not cause Rodman annoyance by offering a late or insufficient dinner. She thanked her stars that her return had been even thus early.
The men when they presented themselves were just of the kind she expected -- loud-talking -- their interests divided between horse-racing and the money-market; she was a cipher at her own table, scarcely a remark being addressed to her. The conversation was meaningless to her; it seemed, indeed, to be made purposely mysterious; terms of the stock-exchange were eked out with nods and winks. Rodman was in far better spirits than of late, whence Alice gathered that some promising rascality was under consideration.
The dinner over, she was left to amuse herself as she could in the drawing-room. Rodman and his friends continued their talk round the table, and did not break up till close upon mid night. Then she heard the men take their departure. Rodman presently came up to her and threw himself into a chair. His face was very red, a sign with which Alice was familiar; but excessive potations apparently had not produced the usual effect, for he was still in the best of tempers.
'Seen that young blackguard?' he began by asking.
'I went to see mother, and he came while I was there.'
'He'll have to look after himself in future. You don't catch me helping him again.'
'He says Mr. Yottle came to see them to-day.'
'To see who?'
'Dick and his wife. He heard them talking about us.'
'Let 'em go ahead! I wish them luck.'
'But can't they ruin us if they like?'
'It's all in a life. It wouldn't be the first time I've been ruined, old girl. Let's enjoy ourselves whilst we can. There's nothing like plenty of excitement.'
'It's all very well for you, Willis. But if you had to sit at home all day doing nothing, you wouldn't find it so pleasant.'
'Get some novels.'
'I'm tired of novels,' she replied, sighing.
'So Yottle was with them?' Rodman said musingly, a smile still on his face. 'I wish I knew what terms they've come to with Eldon.'
'I wish I could do something to pay out that woman!' exclaimed Alice bitterly. 'She's at the bottom of it all. She hates both of us. Dick 'ud never have gone against you but for her.'
Rodman, extended in the low chair at full length, fixed an amused look on her.
'You'd like to pay her out, eh?'
'Wouldn't I just!'
'Ha! ha! what a vicious little puss you are! It's a good thing I don't tell you everything, or you might do damage.'
Alice turned to him with eagerness.
'What do you mean?'
He let his head fall back, and laughed with a drunken man's hilarity. Alice persisted with her question.
'Come and sit here,' Rodman said, patting his knee.
Alice obeyed him.
'What is it, Willis? What have you found out? Do tell me, there's a dear!'
'I'll tell you one thing, old girl: you're losing your good looks. Nothing like what you were when I married you.'
She flushed and looked miserable.
'I can't help my looks. I don't believe you care how I look.'
'Oh, don't I, though! Why, do you think I'd have stuck to you like this if I didn't? What was to prevent me from realising all the cash I could and clearing off, eh? 'Twouldn't have been the first ----'
'The first what?' Alice asked sharply.
'Never mind. You see I didn't do it. Too bad to leave the Princess in the lurch, wouldn't it be?'
Alice seemed to have forgotten the other secret. She searched his face for a moment, deeply troubled, then asked:
'Willis, I want to know who Clara is?'
He moved his eyes slowly, and regarded her with a puzzled look.
'Clara? What Clara?'
'Somebody you know of. You've got a habit of talking in your sleep lately. You were calling out "Clara!" last night, and that's the second time I've heard you.'
He was absent for a few seconds, then laughed and shook his head.
'I don't know anybody called Clara. It's your mistake.'
'I'm quite sure it isn't,' Alice murmured discontentedly.
'Well, then, we'll say it is,' he rejoined in a firmer voice. 'If I talk in my sleep, perhaps it'll be better for you to pay no attention. I might find it inconvenient to live with you.'
Alice looked frightened at the threat.
'You've got a great many secrets from me,' she said despondently.
'Of course I have. It is for your good. I was going to tell you one just now, only you don't seem to care to bear it.'
'Yes, yes, I do!' Alice exclaimed, recollecting. 'Is it something about Adela?'
'Wouldn't it delight you to go and get her into a terrible row with Dick?'
'Oh, do tell me! What's she been doing?'
'I can't quite promise you the fun,' he replied, laughing. 'It may miss fire. What do you think of her meeting Eldon alone in the wood that Monday afternoon, the day after she found the will, you know?'
'You mean that?'
'I saw them together.'
'But she -- you don't mean she ----?'
Even Alice, with all her venom against her brother's wife, had a difficulty in attributing this kind of evil to Adela. In spite of herself she was incredulous.
'Think what you like,' said Rodman. 'It looks queer, that's all.'
It was an extraordinary instance of malice perpetrated out of sheer good-humour. Had he not been assured by what he heard in the wood of the perfectly innocent relations between Adela and Eldon, he would naturally have made some profitable use of his knowledge before this. As long as there was a possibility of advantage in keeping on good terms with Adela, he spoke to no one of that meeting which he had witnessed. Even now he did not know but that Adela had freely disclosed the affair to her husband. But his humour was genially mischievous. If he could gratify Alice and at the same time do the Mutimers an ill turn, why not amuse himself?
'I'll tell Dick the very first thing in the morning!' Alice declared, aglow with spiteful anticipation.
Rodman approved the purpose, and went off to bed laughing uproariously.