* I am deeply indebted to Olivier Lefevre, who have meticulously read the proof of this e-text.
But for domestic warfare, Mrs. Mumbray would often have been at a loss how to spend her time. The year of her husband's Mayoralty supplied, it is true, a good many unwonted distractions, but in the middle of the morning, and late in the evening (if there were no dinner-party), ennui too frequently weighed upon her. For relief in the former case, she could generally resort to a quarrel with Serena; in the latter, she preferred to wrangle with her spouse.
One morning early in December, having indulged her ill-humour with even more than usual freedom among the servants, she repaired to the smaller drawing-room, where, at this hour, her daughter often sat reading. Serena was at a table, a French book and dictionary open before her. After hovering for a few moments with eyes that gathered wrath, the Mayoress gave voice to her feelings.
"So you pay no attention to my wishes, Serena! I will not have you reading such books!"
Her daughter rustled the dictionary, impassive. Conscious of reduced authority, Mrs. Mumbray glared and breathed hard, her spacious bosom working like a troubled sea.
"Your behaviour astonishes me! -- after what you heard Mr. Vialls say."
"Mr. Vialls is an ignorant and foolish man," remarked Serena, without looking up.
Then did the mother's rage burst forth without restraint, eloquent, horrisonous. As if to save her ears, Serena went to the piano and began to play. When the voice was silenced, she turned round.
"You had rather have me play than read that book? That shows how little you understand of either. This is an immoral piece of music! If you knew what it meant you would scream in horror. It is immoral, and I am going to practise it day after day."
The Mayoress stood awhile in mute astonishment, then, with purple face, swept from the room.
The family consisted of four persons. Serena's brother, a young gentleman of nineteen, articled to a solicitor in the town, was accustomed to appear at meals, but seldom deigned to devote any more of his leisure to the domestic circle. After luncheon to-day, as he stood at the window with a sporting newspaper, his mother addressed him.
"We have company this evening, Raglan. Take care that you're not late."
"Who's coming?" asked the young man, without looking up.
"Mr. Eustace Glazzard and Miss Glazzard."
"Any one else?"
"Then you don't catch me here! I have an appointment at eight."
"I insist upon your dining with us! If you are not at dinner, I will have your allowance stopped! I mean what I say. Not one penny more shall you receive until you have learnt to behave yourself!"
"We'll see about that," replied Raglan, with finished coolness; and, folding his newspaper, he walked off.
Nor did the hour of dinner see his return. The expected guests arrived; it was not strictly a dinner-party, but, as Mr. Mumbray described it, "a quiet evening ong fammil." The Rev. Scatchard Vialls carne in at the last moment with perspiring brow, excusing himself on the ground of professional duties. He was thin, yet flabby, had a stoop in the shoulders, and walked without noticeably bending his knees. The crown of his head went to a peak; he had eyes like a ferret's; his speech was in a high, nasal note. For some years he had been a widower, a fact which perhaps accounted for his insinuating manner when he approached Miss Mumbray.
The dinner was portentously dull. Ivy Glazzard scarcely uttered a syllable. Her uncle exerted himself to shape phrases of perfect inoffensiveness, addressing now his hostess, now Serena. The burden of conversation fell upon Mr. Vialls, who was quite equal to its support; he spoke of the evil tendencies of the time as exhibited in a shameful attempt to establish Sunday evening concerts at a club of Polterham workmen. His discourse on this subject, systematically developed, lasted until the ladies withdrew. It allowed him scarcely any attention to his plate, but Mr. Vialls had the repute of an ascetic. In his buttonhole was a piece of blue ribbon, symbol of a ferocious total-abstinence; his face would have afforded sufficient proof that among the reverend man's failings were few distinctly of the flesh.
The Mayor did not pretend to asceticism. He ate largely and without much discrimination. His variously shaped and coloured glasses were not merely for display. When the door had closed behind the Mayoress and her two companions, he settled himself with an audible sigh, and for a few moments wore a look of meditation; then, leaning towards Glazzard, he inquired gravely:
"What is your opinion of the works of Bawlzac?"
The guest was at a loss for an instant, but he quickly recovered himself.
"Ah, the French novelist? A man of great power, but -- hardly according to English tastes."
"Should you consider him suitable reading for young ladies?"
"Well, hardly. Some of his books are unobjectionable."
Mr. Vialls shot a fierce glance at him.
"In my opinion, his very name is pollution! I would not permit a page of his writing, or of that of any French novelist, to enter my house. One and all are drenched with impurity!"
"Certainly many of them are," conceded Glazzard.
"Lamentable," sighed the Mayor, raising his glass, "to think that quite a large number of his books have been put into the Institute library! We must use our influence on all hands, Mr. Vialls. We live in sad times. Even the theatre -- I am told that some of the plays produced in London are disgraceful, simply disgraceful!"
The theatre was discussed, Mr. Vialls assailing it as a mere agent of popular corruption. On the mention of the name of Shakespeare, Mr. Mumbray exclaimed:
"Shakespeare needs a great deal of expurgating. But some of his plays teach a good lesson, I think. There is 'I read Romeo and Juliet,' for instance." Glazzard looked up in surprise. "I read 'Romeo and Juliet' not long ago, and it struck me that its intention was decidedly moral. It points a lesson to disobedient young people. If Juliet had been properly submissive to her parents, such calamities would never have befallen her. Then, again, I was greatly struck with the fate that overtook Mercutio -- a most suitable punishment for his persistent use of foul language. Did you ever see it in that light, Mr. Glazzard?"
"I confess it is new to me. I shall think it over."
The Mayor beamed with gratification.
"No one denies," struck in Mr. Vialls, "that to a pure mind all things are pure. Shakespeare is undoubtedly a great poet, and a soul bent on edification can extract much good from him. But for people in general, especially young people, assuredly he cannot be recommended, even in the study. I confess I have neither time nor much inclination for poetry -- except that of the sacred volume, which is poetry indeed. I have occasionally found pleasure in Longfellow" ----
"Pardon me," interrupted the Mayor -- "Longfellow? -- the author of that poem called 'Excelsior'?"
"Now, really -- I am surprised -- I should have thought -- the fact is, when Raglan was at school, he had to learn 'Excelsior,' and I happened to glance over it. I was slightly acquainted with the piece, but I had quite forgotten that It contained what seems to me very gross indelicacy -- very gross indeed. Do you remember a verse beginning (I must ask your pardon for quoting it, Mr. Vialls) --
Mr. Vialls screwed up his lips and frowned at the table-cloth, but said nothing.
"Our task nowadays," pursued the Mayor, with confidence, "is to preserve the purity of home. Our homes are being invaded by dangerous influences we must resist. The family should be a bulwark of virtue -- of all the virtues -- holiness, charity, peace."
He lingered on the last word, and his gaze became abstracted.
"Very true, very true indeed!" cried the clergyman. "For one thing, how careful a parent should be with regard to the periodical literature which is allowed to enter his house, This morning, in a home I will not mention, my eye fell upon a weekly paper which I should have thought perfectly sound in its teaching; yet, behold, there was an article of which the whole purport was to excuse the vices of the lower classes on the ground of their poverty and their temptations. Could anything be more immoral, more rotten in principle? There is the spirit we have to contend against -- a spirit of accursed lenity in morals, often originating in so-called scientific considerations! Evil is evil -- vice, vice -- the devil is the devil -- be circumstances what they may. I do not care to make mention of such monstrous aberrations as, for instance, the attacks we are occasionally forced to hear on the law of marriage. That is the mere reek of the bottomless pit, palpable to all. But I speak of subtler disguises of evil, such as may recommend themselves to persons well-intentioned but of weak understanding. Happily, I persuaded my friends to discontinue their countenance of that weekly paper, and I shall exert myself everywhere to the same end,"
They rose at length, and went to the drawing-room. There Glazzard succeeding in seating himself by Miss Mumbray, and for a quarter of an hour he talked with her about art and literature. The girl's face brightened; she said little, but that little with very gracious smiles. Then Mr. Vialls approached, and the tête-à-tête was necessarily at an end.
When he was at length alone with his wife, the Mayor saw what was in store for him; in fact, he had foreseen it throughout the evening.
"Yes," began the lady, with flashing eyes, "this is your Mr. Glazzard! He encourages Serena in her shameful behaviour! I overheard him talking to her."
"You are altogether wrong, as usual," replied Mr. Mumbray, with his wonted attempt at dignified self-assertion. "Glazzard distinctly disapproves of Bawlzac, and everything of that kind. His influence is as irreproachable as that of Mr. Vialls."
"Of course! You are determined to overthrow my plans at whatever cost to your daughter's happiness here and hereafter."
"I don't think Vialls a suitable husband for her, and I am not sorry she won't listen to him. He's all very well as a man and a clergyman, but -- pshaw! what's the good of arguing with a pig-headed woman?"
This emphatic epithet had the result which was to be expected. The debate became a scolding match, lasting well into the night. These two persons were not only on ill-terms, they disliked each other with the intensity which can only be engendered by thirty years of a marriage such as, but for public opinion, would not have lasted thirty weeks. Their reciprocal disgust was physical, mental, moral. It could not be concealed from their friends; all Polterham smiled over it; yet the Mumbrays were regarded as a centre of moral and religious influence, a power against the encroaches of rationalism and its attendant depravity. Neither of them could point to dignified ancestry; by steady persistence in cant and snobbishness -- the genuine expression of their natures -- they had pushed to a prominent place, and feared nothing so much as depreciation in the eyes of the townsfolk. Raglan and Serena were causing them no little anxiety; both, though in different ways, might prove an occasion of scandal. When Eustace Glazzard began to present himself at the house, Mr. Mumbray welcomed the significant calls. From his point of view, Serena could not do better than marry a man of honourable name, who would remove her to London. Out of mere contrariety, Mrs. Mumbray thereupon began to encourage the slow advances of her Rector, who thought of Serena's fortune as a means to the wider activity, the greater distinction, for which he was hungering.
Glazzard's self-contempt as he went home this evening was not unmingled with pleasanter thoughts. For a man in his position, Serena Mumbray and her thousands did not represent a future of despair. He had always aimed much higher, but defeat after defeat left him with shaken nerves, and gloomy dialogues with his brother had impressed upon him the necessity of guarding against darkest possibilities. His state of mind was singularly morbid; he could not trust the fixity of his purposes for more than a day or two together; but just at present he thought without distaste of Serena herself, and was soothed by the contemplation of her (to him modest) fortune. During the past month he had been several times to and from London; to-morrow he would return to town again, and view his progress from a distance.
On reaching his brother's house, he found a letter waiting for him; it bore the Paris postmark. The contents were brief.
"I announce to you the fact of our marriage. The L.s will hear of it simultaneously. We are enjoying ourselves.
He went at once to the room where William was sitting, and said, in a quiet voice:
"Quarrier has just got married -- in Paris."
"Oh? To whom?"
"An English girl who has been a governess at Stockholm. I knew it was impending."
"Has he made a fool of himself?" asked William, dispassionately.
"I think not; she seems to be well educated, and good-looking -- according to his report."
"Why didn't you mention it before?"
"Oh, his wish. We talked it all over when he was here. He has an idea that a man about to be married always cuts a ridiculous figure."
The elder man looked puzzled.
"No mysteries -- eh?"
"None whatever, I believe. A decent girl without fortune, that's all. I suppose we shall see them before long."
The subject was shortly dismissed, and Eustace fell to reporting the remarkable conversation in which he had taken part at the Mayor's table. His brother was moved to no little mirth, but did not indulge in such savage contemptuousness as distinguished the narrator. William Glazzard viewed the world from a standpoint of philosophic calm; he expected so little of men in general, that disappointment or vexation could rarely befall him.
"These people," he observed, "think themselves pillars of society, and the best of the joke is, that they really are what they imagine. Without tolerably honest fools, we should fare badly at the hands of those who have neither wits nor honesty. Let us encourage them, by all means. I see no dawn as yet of the millennium of brains."
The weather, for this time of year, was unusually bright in Paris. Each morning glistened with hoar-frost; by noon the sky shone blue over clean, dry streets, and gardens which made a season for themselves, leafless, yet defiant of winter's melancholy. Lilian saw it all with the eyes of a stranger, and often was able to forget her anxiety in the joy of wonderful, new impressions.
One afternoon she was resting in the room at the hotel, whilst Quarrier went about the town on some business or other. A long morning at the Louvre had tired her, and her spirits drooped. In imagination she went back to the days of silence and solitude in London; the memory affected her with something of homesickness, a wish that the past could be restored. The little house by Clapham Common had grown dear to her; in its shelter she had shed many tears, but also had known much happiness: that sense of security which was now lost, the hope that there she might live always, hidden from the world's inquisitive gaze, justified to her own conscience by love and calm. What now was before her? Not only the elaborate deceit, the perpetual risk, weighed upon her heart; she was summoned to a position such as she had never foreseen, for which she had received no training. When Denzil revealed to her his real standing in the world, spoke laughingly of the wealth he had inherited, and of his political ambitions, her courage failed before the prospect. She had not dared to let him see all her despondency, for his impatient and sanguine temper would have resented it. To please him and satisfy his utmost demands was the one purpose of her life. But the task he had imposed seemed to her, in these hours of faintness, no less than terrible.
He entered, gay as usual, ready with tender words, pet names and diminutives, the "little language" of one who was still a lover. Seeing how things were with her, he sat down to look over an English newspaper. Presently his attention strayed, he fell into reverie.
"Well," he exclaimed at length, rousing himself, "they have the news by now."
She gave no answer.
"I can imagine how Mary will talk. 'Oh, nothing that Denzil does can surprise me! Whoever expected him to marry in the ordinary way?' And then they'll laugh, and shrug their shoulders, and hope I mayn't have played the fool -- good, charitable folks!"
Still she said nothing.
"Rather out of sorts to-day, Lily?"
"I wish we were going to stay here -- never to go back to England."
"Live the rest of our lives in a Paris hotel!"
"No, no -- in some quiet place -- a home of our own."
"That wouldn't suit me, by any means. Paris is all very well for a holiday, but I couldn't make a home here. There's no place like England. Don't you ever think what an unspeakable blessing it is to have been born in England? Every time I go abroad, I rejoice that I am not as these foreigners. Even my Scandinavian friends I can't help despising a little -- and as for Frenchmen! There's a great deal of the old island prejudice in me."
Lilian smiled, raising herself slightly upon the sofa.
"These old Latin nations have had their day," he continued, with a wave of the arm. "France, Italy, Spain -- they have played their part in civilization, and have nothing left now but old relics and modern bluster. The future's with us Teutons. If I were not an Englishman, I would be an American. The probability is that we shall have a hard fight one of these days with the Slavs -- and all the better, perhaps; I don't think the world can do without fighting yet awhile."
"I should be sorry to hear you teaching people that," said Lilian.
"Oh," he laughed, "it wouldn't fit into our electoral campaign! No danger of my preaching bloodthirstiness. But how I shall enjoy the bloodless fight down at Polterham! I want you to look forward to it in the same way. Do cheer up, Lily! -- you see I have been gradually moving in this direction. When I found myself a man of means, I knew that the time had come for stirring. Writing about the Sea-Kings is all very well in its way, but I am no born literary man. I must get that book finished and published, though. It might help me with the constituency. A book gives a man distinction."
"You seem to me to have changed very much."
"No; it's only that you didn't know me thoroughly. To tell you the truth, that life of hiding away in London wasn't a very good thing for me. I lived too much to myself. The half-dozen acquaintances I had were not the kind of men to profit me. Glazzard -- well, Glazzard is an odd sort of fellow -- helpful now and then, but on the whole musty. He has no ambition, thinks it enough to doze on among his pictures, and that kind of thing. The fact is, such companionship has made me conceited. I want to get among my equals and my superiors -- as I shall do if I become a Member of Parliament."
"Your equals -- perhaps."
"Confound it! Your influence has tended the same way. You spoil me -- make me think myself a fine fellow. I suppose one's wife ought to talk like that -- I don't dislike it, you know; but if I end by never doing anything at all, I should be confoundedly ashamed of myself. But the more I think of it, the better satisfied I am that a political career is the best thing for me. You see, this is the age of political progress -- that before everything. We English are working out our revolution in a steady and sensible way, -- no shrieking and slaughtering -- we leave that to people who don't really know what they want, and will never get much to speak of. We go ahead soberly on the constitutional highway -- with a little hearty swearing to clear the air now and then."
"Well, I was saying it is a political age, and I think a man ought to go in for the first interest of his time. What have we to do just now with artistic aims? The English, at any time, care little or nothing for art; one has to recognize that. Our task in the world is practical -- to secure all men a sufficiency of beef and beer, and honest freedom. I like to feel that I am on the advancing wave; I don't care for your picturesque ponds; they generally have a bad smell."
The effect of his vigorous talk was manifest in Lilian's face. She yielded her spirit to his, was borne whither he would.
"You talk of living in Paris -- why, if you really knew Paris, you would hate the place. Underneath all this show of civilization, refinement, brilliancy -- I'm glad to say you can't even guess what it covers. The town reeks with abominations. I'm getting sick of it."
The sincerity of his moral disgust was obvious. No one knew so well as Lilian the essential purity -- even the puritanism -- of Quarrier's temper.
"For all that," he added, merrily, "we'll go and dine at the restaurant, and then look in at the Français. They know how to cook here, and they know how to play the fool -- no denying it."
When Lilian went forth with him she had once more succeeded in overcoming her despondent mood. The lights of the Boulevard exercised their wonted effect -- cheering, inspiring. She pressed his arm, laughed at his mirthful talk; and Denzil looked down into her face with pride and delight in its loveliness. He had taken especial care to have her dressed in the manner that became his wife; Parisian science had gone to the making of her costume, and its efforts were not wasted. As they entered the restaurant, many eyes were turned with critical appreciation upon the modest face and figure, as undeniably English, in their way, as Quarrier's robust manhood.
Denzil's French was indifferently good, better perhaps than his capacity for picking out from the bill of fare a little dinner which should exalt him in the eyes of waiters. He went to work, however, with a noble disregard for consequences, whether to digestion or pocket. Where Lilian was concerned there could be no such thing as extravagance; he gloried in obtaining for her the best of everything that money could command. The final "Bien, monsieur," was, after all, sufficiently respectful, and our friend leaned back with the pleasant consciousness of duty performed.
He drank a good deal of wine, and talking with a spontaneity beyond the ordinary Briton. Towards the close of dinner his theme was the coming electoral contest.
"You know," he said, bending over the table, "you will be able to give me important help. The wife of a candidate -- especially of a Radical candidate -- can find plenty of work, if she knows how to go about it. As little humbug as possible; and as little loss of self-respect, but we shall have to shake a good many dirty hands. Your turn for 'slumming' will serve us well, but I know the dangers of it. You'll be coming home éplorée, as they say here. I hope you'll grow stronger in that respect. One has to harden one's heart a little."
"I know it is wiser to do so."
"Of course! It's not only that you are constantly imposed upon; the indulgence of universal sympathy is incompatible with duty to one's self -- unless you become at once a sister of mercy. One is bound, in common sense, to close eyes and ears against all but a trifling fraction of human misery. Why, look, we sit here, and laugh and talk and enjoy ourselves; yet at this instant what horrors are being enacted in every part of the world! Men are perishing by every conceivable form of cruelty and natural anguish. Sailors are gurgling out their life in sea-storms; soldiers are agonizing on battle-fields; men, women, and children are being burnt, boiled, hacked, squashed, rent, exploded to death in every town and almost every village of the globe. Here in Paris, and over there in London, there is no end to the forms of misery our knowledge suggests -- all suffered while we eat and talk. But to sit down and think persistently of it would lead to madness in any one of imagination like yours. We have to say: It doesn't concern us! And no more it does. We haven't the ordering of the world; we can't alter the vile course of things. I like to swear over it now and then (especially when I pass a London hospital), but I soon force myself to think of something else. You must do the same -- even to the swearing, if you like. There's a tendency in our time to excess of humanitarianism -- I mean a sort of lachrymose habit which really does no good. You represent it in some degree, I'm afraid -- eh? Well, well, you've lived too much alone -- you've got into the way of brooding; the habit of social life will strengthen you."
"I hope so, Denzil."
"Oh, undoubtedly! One more little drop of wine before the coffee. Nonsense! You need stimulus; your vitality is low. I shall prescribe for you henceforth. Merciful heavens! how that French woman does talk! A hundred words to the minute for the last half hour."
A letter had arrived for him at the hotel in his absence. It was from Mr. Hornibrook's agent, announcing that the house at Polterham was now vacated, and that Mr. Quarrier might take possession just as soon as he chose.
"That's all right!" he exclaimed, after reading it to Lilian. "Now we'll think of getting back to London, to order our furniture, and all the rest of it. The place can be made habitable in a few weeks, I should say."
An emissary from Tottenham Court Road sped down to Polterham, surveyed the vacant house, returned with professional computations. Quarrier and Lilian abode at the old home until everything should be ready for them, and Mrs. Liversedge represented her brother on the spot -- solving the doubts of workmen, hiring servants, making minor purchases. She invited Denzil to bring his wife, and dwell for the present under the Liversedge roof, but her brother preferred to wait. "I don't like makeshifts; we must go straight into our own house; the dignity of the Radical candidate requires it." So the work glowed, and as little time as possible was spent over its completion.
It was midway in January when the day and hour of arrival were at last appointed. No one was to be in the house but the servants. At four in the afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Quarrier would receive Mr. and Mrs. Liversedge, and thus make formal declaration of their readiness to welcome friends. Since her return to England, Lilian had seen no one. She begged Denzil not to invite Glazzard to Clapham.
They reached Polterham at one o'clock, in the tumult of a snowstorm; ten minutes more, and the whitened cab deposited them at their doorway. Quarrier knew, of course, what the general appearance of the interior would be, and he was well satisfied with the way in which his directions had been carried out. His companion was at first overawed rather than pleased. He led her from room to room, saying frequently, "Do you like it? Will it do?"
"It frightens me!" murmured Lilian, at length. "How shall I manage such a house?"
She was pale, and inclined to tearfulness, for the situation tired her fortitude in a degree Denzil could not estimate. Fears which were all but terrors, self-reproach which had the poignancy of remorse, tormented her gentle, timid nature. For a week and more she had not known unbroken sleep; dreams of fantastic misery awakened her to worse distress in the calculating of her perils and conflict with insidious doubts. At the dead hour before dawn, faiths of childhood revived before her conscience, upbraiding, menacing. The common rules of every-day honour spoke to her with stern reproval. Denzil's arguments, when she tried to muster them in her defence, answered with hollow, meaningless sound. Love alone would stead her; she could but shut her eyes, and breathe, as if in prayer, the declaration that her love was a sacred thing, cancelling verbal untruth.
She changed her dress, and went down to luncheon. The large dining-room seemed to oppress her insignificance; to eat was impossible, and with difficulty she conversed before the servants. Fortunately, Denzil was in his best spirits; he enjoyed the wintery atmosphere, talked of skating on the ice which had known him as a boy, laughed over an old story about a snowball with a stone in it which had stunned him in one of the fights between town and Grammar School.
"Pity the election can't come on just now! -- we should have lively times. A snowball is preferable to an addled egg any day. The Poltram folks" -- this was the common pronunciation of the town's name -- "have a liking for missiles at seasons of excitement."
From table, they went to the library -- as yet unfurnished with volumes -- and made themselves comfortable by the fireside. Through the windows nothing could be seen but a tempestuous whirl of flakes. Lilian's cat, which had accompanied her in a basket, could not as yet make itself at home on the hearthrug, and was glad of a welcome to its mistress's lap. Denzil lit a pipe and studied the political news of the day.
At four o'clock he waited impatiently the call of his relatives. Lilian, unable to command her agitation, had gone into another room, and was there counting the minutes as if each cost her a drop of heart's blood. If this first meeting were but over! All else seemed easy, could she but face Denzil's sister without betrayal of her shame and dread. At length she heard wheels roll up to the door; there were voices in the hall; Denzil came forth with loud and joyous greeting; he led his visitors into the library. Five minutes more of anguish, and the voices were again audible, approaching, at the door.
"Well, Lily, here is my sister and Mr. Liversedge," said Denzil. "No very formidable persons, either of them," he added merrily, as the best way of making apology for Lilian's too obvious tremor.
But she conquered her weakness. The man was of no account to her; upon the woman only her eyes were fixed, for there was the piercing scrutiny, the quick divination, the merciless censure -- there, if anywhere, in one of her own sex. From men she might expect tolerance, justice; from women only a swift choice between the bowl and the dagger. Pride prompted her to hardihood, and when she had well looked upon Mrs. Liversedge's face a soothing confidence came to the support of desperation. She saw the frank fairness of Denzil's lineaments softened with the kindest of female smiles; a gaze keen indeed, but ingenuous as that of a child; an expression impossible to be interpreted save as that of heartfelt welcome, absolutely unsuspecting, touched even with admiring homage.
They kissed each other, and Lilian's face glowed. After that, she could turn almost joyously for Mr. Liversedge's hearty hand-shake.
"You have come like a sort of snow-queen," said Tobias, with unusual imaginativeness, pointing to the windows. "It must have begun just as you got here."
Perhaps the chill of her fingers prompted him to this poetical flight. His wife, who had noticed the same thing, added, with practical fervour:
"I only hope the house is thoroughly dry. We have had great fires everywhere for more than a fortnight. As for the snow and frost, you are pretty well used to that, no doubt."
Painfully on the alert, Lilian of course understood this allusion to the Northern land she was supposed to have quitted recently.
"Even at Stockholm," she replied, with a smile, "there is summer, you know."
"And in Russia, too, I have heard," laughed Mr. Liversedge. "But one doesn't put much faith in such reports. Denzil tries to persuade us now and then that the North Cape has quite a balmy atmosphere, especially from December to March. He is quite safe. We sha'n't go to test his statements."
Instead of a time of misery, this first half-hour proved so pleasant that Lilian all but forgot the shadow standing behind her. When tea was brought in, she felt none of the nervousness which had seemed to her inevitable amid such luxurious appliances. These relatives of Denzil's, henceforth her own, were people such as she had not dared to picture them -- so unaffected, genial, easy to talk with; nor did she suffer from a necessity of uttering direct falsehoods; conversation dealt with the present and the future -- partly, no doubt, owing to Quarrier's initiative. Mr. Liversedge made a report of local affairs as they concerned the political outlook; he saw every reason for hope.
"Welwyn-Baker," he said, "is quite set up again, and I am told he has no inclination to retire in favour of his son, or any one else. An obstinate old fellow -- and may his obstinacy increase! The Tories are beginning to see that they ought to set up a new man; they are quarrelling among themselves. That bazaar at the opening of the new Society's rooms -- the Constitutional Literary, you know -- seems to have been a failure. No one was satisfied. The Mercury printed savage letters from a lot of people -- blaming this, that, and the other person in authority. The Examiner chuckled, and hasn't done referring to the matter yet."
Apart with Lilian, Mrs. Liversedge had begun to talk of the society of Polterham. She did not try to be witty at the expense of her neighbours, but confessed with a sly smile that literature and the arts were not quite so well appreciated as might be wished.
"You are a serious student, I know -- very learned in languages. I wish I had had more time for reading, and a better head. But seven children, you know -- oh dear! Even my little bit of French has got so ragged that I am really ashamed of it. But there is one woman who studies. Has Denzil spoken to you of Mrs. Wade?"
"I don't remember."
"She is no great favourite of his, I believe. You will soon hear of her, and no doubt see her. Denzil admits that she is very clever -- even a Greek scholar!"
"Really! And what fault does he find with her?"
"She is a great supporter of woman's rights, and occasionally makes speeches. It's only of late that I have seen much of her; for some reason she seems to have taken a liking to me, and I feel rather honoured. I'm sure her intentions are very good indeed, and it must be trying to live among people who have no sympathy with you. They make sad fun of her, and altogether misunderstand her -- at least I think so."
The snowstorm still raged. To spare their own horses, the Liversedges had come in a cab, and at half-past five the same vehicle returned to take them home.. Lilian was sorry to see them go.
"Where are all your apprehensions now?" cried Denzil, coming back to her from the hall. "It's over, you see. Not another minute's uneasiness need you have!"
"They were kindness itself. I like them very much."
"As I knew and said you would. Now, no more chalky faces and frightened looks! Be jolly, and forget everything. Let us try your piano."
"Your sister was telling me about Mrs. Wade. Is she one of the people you would like me to be friends with?"
"Oh yes!" he answered, laughing, "Mrs. Wade will interest you, no doubt. Make a friend of her by all means. Did Mary whisper mysterious warnings?"
"Anything but that; she spoke very favourably."
"And she said Mrs. Wade seemed to have taken a liking to her lately."
"Oh! How's that, I wonder? She goes about seeking whom she may secure for the women's-vote movement; I suppose it's Molly's turn to be attacked Oh, we shall have many a lively half-hour when Mrs. Wade calls!"
"What is her husband?"
"Husband! She's a widow. I never thought of such a person as Mr. Wade, to this moment. To be sure, he must have existed. Perhaps she will confide in you, and then ---- By-the-bye, is it right for women to tell their husbands what they learn from female friends?"
He asked it jokingly, but Lilian seemed to reflect in earnest.
"I'm not sure" ----
"Oh, you lily of the valley!" he cried, interrupting her. "Do cultivate a sense of humour. Don't take things with such desperate seriousness! Come and try your instrument. It ought to be a good one, if price-lists mean anything."
The next morning was clear and cold. Assuredly there would be good skating, and the prospect of this enjoyment seemed to engross Denzil's thoughts. After breakfast he barely glanced at the newspapers, then leaving Lilian to enter upon her domestic rule, set forth for an examination of the localities which offered scope to Polterham skaters. Such youthful zeal proved his thorough harmony with the English spirit; it promised far more for his success as a politician than if he had spent the morning over blue-books and statistical treatises.
If only the snow were cleared away, the best skating near at hand was on a piece of water near the road to Rickstead. The origin of this pond or lakelet had caused discussion among local antiquaries; for tradition said that it occupied the site of a meadow which many years ago mysteriously sank, owing perhaps to the unsuspected existence of an ancient mine. It connected with a little tributary of the River Bale, and was believed to be very deep, especially at one point, where the tree-shadowed bank overhung the water at a height of some ten feet. The way thither was by a field-path, starting from the high road within sight of Pear-tree Cottage. At a rapid walk Quarrier soon reached his goal, and saw with satisfaction that men and boys were sweeping the snowy surface, whilst a few people had already begun to disport themselves where the black ice came to view. In the afternoon he would come with Lilian; for the present, a second purpose occupied his thoughts. Standing on the bank of Bale Water (thus was it named), he could see the topmost branches of that pear-tree which grew in the garden behind Mrs. Wade's cottage; two meadows lay between -- a stretch of about a quarter of a mile. It was scarcely the hour for calling upon ladies, but he knew that Mrs. Wade sat among her books through the morning, and he wished especially to see her as soon as possible.
Polterham clocks were counting eleven as he presented himself at the door of the cottage. Once already he had paid a call here, not many days after his meeting with the widow in Mr. Hornibrook's library; he came at three in the afternoon, and sat talking till nearly six. Not a few Polterham matrons would have considered that proceeding highly improper, but such a thought never occurred to Denzil; and Mrs. Wade would have spoken her mind very distinctly to any one who wished to circumscribe female freedom in such respects. They had conversed on a great variety of subjects with unflagging animation. Since then he had not seen his acquaintance.
A young girl opened to him, and left him standing in the porch for a minute or two. She returned, and asked him to walk into the sitting-room, where Mrs. Wade was studying with her feet on the fender.
"Do I come unseasonably?" he asked, offering his hand.
"Not if you have anything interesting to say," was the curious reply.
The widow was not accounted for reception of visitors. She wore an old though quite presentable dress, with a light shawl about her shoulders, and had evidently postponed the arrangement of her hair until the time of going abroad. Yet her appearance could hardly be called disconcerting, for it had nothing of slovenliness. She looked a student, that was all. For some reason, however, she gave Quarrier a less cordial welcome than he had anticipated. Her eyes avoided his, she shook hands in a perfunctory way.
"It depends what you call interesting," was his rejoinder to the unconventional reply. "I got here yesterday, and brought a wife with me -- there, at all events, is a statement of fact."
"You have done me the honour to hasten here with the announcement?"
"I came out to see if Bale Water was skateable, and I thought I might venture to make a friendly call whilst I was so near. But I'm afraid I disturb you?"
"Not a bit Pray sit down and talk. Of course I have heard of your marriage. Why didn't you let me know it was impending?"
"Because I told nobody. I chose to get married in my own way. You, Mrs. Wade, are not likely to find fault with me for that."
"Oh dear no!" she answered, with friendly indifference.
"I am told you see a good deal of the Liversedges?"
"Does my sister give any promise of reaching higher levels? Or is she a hopeless groveller?"
"Mrs. Liversedge is the kind of woman I can respect, independently of her views."
"I like to hear you say that, because I know you don't deal in complimentary phrases. The respect, I am sure, is reciprocated."
Mrs. Wade seemed to give slight attention; she was looking at a picture above the fireplace.
"You will count my wife among your friends, I hope?" he continued.
"I hope so. Do you think we shall understand each other?"
"If not, it won't be for lack of good will on her side. I mustn't begin to praise her, but I think you will find she has a very fair portion of brains."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"Do you imply that you had fears?"
"Men are occasionally odd in their choice of wives."
"Yes," Denzil replied, with a laugh; "I have seen remarkable illustrations of it."
"I didn't feel sure that you regarded brains as an essential."
"Indeed! Then you were a long way from understanding me. How can you say that, after my lecture, and our talks?"
"Oh, theory doesn't go for much. May I call shortly?"
"If you will be so good."
"She's very young, I think?"
"Not much more than one-and-twenty. I have known her for about three years."
There was a short silence, then Mrs. Wade said with some abruptness:
"I think of leaving Polterham before long. It was Mr. and Mrs. Hornibrook who decided me to come here, and now that they are gone I feel as if I too had better stir. I want books that are out of my reach."
"That will be a loss to us, Mrs. Wade. Society in Polterham has its limitations" ----
"I'm aware of it. But you, of course, will have a home in London as well?"
"Well, yes -- if I get sent to Parliament."
"I suppose we shall meet there some day."
Her voice grew careless and dreamy. She folded her hands upon her lap, and assumed a look which seemed to Denzil a hint that he might now depart. He stood up.
"So you are going to skate?" murmured Mrs. Wade. "I won't keep you. Thank you very much for looking in."
Denzil tried once more to read her countenance, and went away with a puzzled feeling. He could not conjecture the meaning of her changed tone.
Last November had turned the scale in the Polterham Town Council. It happened that the retiring members were all Conservatives, with the exception of Mr. Chown, who alone of them obtained re-election, the others giving place to men of the Progressive party. Mr. Mumbray bade farewell to his greatness. The new Mayor was a Liberal. As returning-officer, he would preside over the coming political contest. The Tories gloomed at each other, and whispered of evil omens.
For many years Mr. Mumbray had looked to the Mayoralty as the limit of his ambition. He now began to entertain larger projects, encouraged thereto by the dissensions of Conservative Polterham, and the promptings of men who were hoping to follow him up the civic ladder. He joined with those who murmured against the obstinacy of old Mr. Welwyn-Baker. To support such a candidate would be party suicide. Even Welwyn-Baker junior was preferable; but why not recognize that the old name had lost its prestige, and select a representative of enlightened Conservatism, who could really make a stand against Quarrier and his rampant Radicals? Mr. Mumbray saw no reason why he himself should not invite the confidence of the burgesses.
In a moment of domestic truce the ex-Mayor communicated this thought to his wife, and Mrs. Mumbray gave ready ear. Like the ladies of Polterham in general, she had not the faintest understanding of political principles; to her, the distinction between parties was the difference between bits of blue and yellow ribbon, nothing more. But the social advantages accruing to the wife of an M.P. impressed her very strongly indeed. For such an end she was willing to make sacrifices, and the first of these declared itself in an abandonment of her opposition to Mr. Eustace Glazzard. Her husband pointed out to her that a connection with the family so long established at Highmead would be of distinct value. William Glazzard nominally stood on the Liberal side, but he was very lukewarm, and allowed to be seen that his political action was much swayed by personal considerations. Eustace made no pretence of Liberal learning; though a friend of the Radical candidate (so Quarrier was already designated by his opponents), he joked at popular enthusiasm, and could only be described as an independent aristocrat. Money, it appeared, he had none; and his brother, it was suspected, kept up only a show of the ancestral position. Nevertheless, their names had weight in the borough.
Eustace spent Christmas at Highmead, and made frequent calls at the house of the ex-Mayor. On one of the occasions it happened that the ladies were from home, but Mr. Mumbray, on the point of going out, begged Glazzard to come and have a word with him in his sanctum. After much roundabout talk, characteristically pompous, he put the question whether Mr. Glazzard, as a friend of Mr. Denzil Quarrier, would "take it ill" if he, Mr. Mumbray, accepted an invitation to come forward as the candidate of the Conservative party.
"I hope you know me better," Glazzard replied. "I have nothing whatever to do with politics."
The ex-Mayor smiled thoughtfully, and went on to explain, "in strictest confidence," that there was a prospect of that contingency befalling.
"Of course I couldn't hope for Mr. William's support."
He paused on a note of magnanimous renunciation.
"Oh, I don't know," said Glazzard, abstractedly. "My brother is hardly to be called a Radical. I couldn't answer for the line he will take."
"Indeed? That is very interesting. Ha!"
Silence fell between them.
"I'm sure," remarked Mr. Mumbray, at length, "that my wife and daughter will be very sorry to have missed your call. Undoubtedly you can count on their being at home to-morrow."
The prediction was fulfilled, and before leaving the house Glazzard made Serena a proposal of marriage. That morning there had occurred a quarrel of more than usual bitterness between mother and daughter. Serena was sick of her life at home, and felt a longing, at any cost, for escape to a sphere of independence. The expected offer from Glazzard came just at the right moment; she accepted it, and consented that the marriage should be very soon.
But a few hours of reflection filled her with grave misgivings. She was not in love with Glazzard; personally, he had never charmed her, and in the progress of their acquaintance she had discovered many points of his character which excited her alarm. Serena, after all, was but a half-educated country girl; even in the whirlwind of rebellious moments she felt afraid of the words that came to her lips. The impulses towards emancipation which so grievously perturbed her were unjustified by her conscience; at heart, she believed with Ivy Glazzard that woman was a praying and subordinate creature; in her bedroom she recounted the day's sins of thought and speech, and wept out her desire for "conversion," for the life of humble faith. Accepting such a husband as Eustace, she had committed not only an error, but a sin. The man was without religion, and sometimes made himself guilty of hypocrisy; of this she felt a miserable assurance. How could she hope to be happy with him? What had interested her in him was that air of culture and refinement so conspicuously lacked by the men who had hitherto approached her. He had seemed to her the first gentleman who sought her favour. To countenance him, moreover, was to defy her mother's petty rule. But, no, she did not love him -- did not like him.
Yet to retract her promise she was ashamed. Only girls of low social position played fast and loose in that way. She went through a night of misery.
On the morrow her betrothed, of course, came to see her. Woman-like, she had taken refuge in a resolve of postponement; the marriage must be sooner or later, but it was in her power to put it off. And, with show of regretful prudence, she made known this change in her mind.
"I hardly knew what I was saying. I ought to have remembered that our acquaintance has been very short."
"Yet long enough to enable me to win your promise," urged Glazzard.
"Yes, I have promised. It's only that we cannot be married so very soon."
"I must, of course, yield," he replied, gracefully, kissing her hand. "Decision as to the time shall rest entirely with you."
"Thank you -- that is very kind."
He went away in a mood of extreme discontent. Was this little simpleton going to play with him? There were solid reasons of more than one kind why the marriage should not be long delayed. It would be best if he returned to London and communicated with her by letter. He could write eloquently, and to let her think of him as in the midst of gay society might not be amiss.
Shortly after Quarrier's arrival at Polterham, he was back again. Daily he had repented his engagement, yet as often had congratulated himself on the windfall thus assured to him. Before going to the Mumbrays, he called upon Mrs. Quarrier, whom, as it chanced, he found alone. To Lilian his appearance was a shock, for in the contentment of the past week she had practically forgotten the existence of this man who shared her secret. She could not look him in the face.
Glazzard could be trusted in points of tact. He entered with a bright face, and the greetings of an old friend, then at once began to speak of his own affairs.
"Have you heard that I am going to be married?"
"Denzil told me when he received your letter."
"I am afraid Miss Mumbray will hardly belong to your circle, but as Mrs. Glazzard -- that will be a different thing. You won't forbid me to come here because of this alliance?"
Lilian showed surprise and perplexity.
"I mean, because I am engaged to the daughter of a Tory."
"Oh, what difference could that possibly make?"
"None, I hope. You know that I am not very zealous as a party-man."
In this his second conversation with Lilian, Glazzard analysed more completely the charm which she had before exercised upon him. He was thoroughly aware of the trials her nature was enduring, and his power of sympathetic insight enabled him to read upon her countenance, in her tones, precisely what Lilian imagined she could conceal. Amid surroundings such as those of the newly furnished house, she seemed to him a priceless gem in a gaudy setting; he felt (and with justice) that the little drawing-room at Clapham, which spoke in so many details of her own taste, was a much more suitable home for her. What could be said of the man who had thus transferred her, all (or chiefly) for the sake of getting elected to Parliament? Quarrier had no true appreciation of the woman with whose life and happiness he was entrusted. He was devoted to her, no doubt, but with a devotion not much more clairvoyant than would have distinguished one of his favourite Vikings.
Glazzard, whilst liking Denzil, had never held him in much esteem. Of late, his feelings had become strongly tinged with contempt. And now, with the contempt there blended a strain of jealousy.
True that he himself had caught eagerly at the hope of entering Parliament; but it was the impulse of a man who knew his life to be falling into ruin, who welcomed any suggestion that would save him from final and fatal apathy -- of a man whose existence had always been loveless -- who, with passionate ideals, had never known anything but a venal embrace. In Quarrier's position, with abounding resources, with the love of such a woman as this, what would he not have made of life? Would it ever have occurred to him to wear a mask of vulgar deceit, to condemn his exquisite companion to a hateful martyrdom, that he might attain the dizzy height of M.P.-ship for Polterham?
He compassionated Lilian, and at the same time he was angry with her. He looked upon her beauty, her gentle spirit, with tenderness, and therewithal he half hoped that she might some day repent of yielding to Quarrier's vulgar ambition.
"Have you made many acquaintances?" he asked.
"A good many. Some, very pleasant people; others -- not so interesting."
"Polterham society will not absorb you, I think."
"I hope to have a good deal of quiet time. But Denzil wishes me to study more from life than from books, just now. I must understand all the subjects that interest him."
"Yes -- the exact position, as a force in politics, of the licensed victuallers; the demands of the newly enfranchised classes -- that kind of thing."
He seemed to be jesting, and she laughed good-humouredly.
"Those things are very important, Mr. Glazzard."
He did not stay long, and upon his departure Lilian gave a sigh of relief.
The next day he was to lunch with the Mumbrays. He went about twelve o'clock, to spend an hour with Serena. His welcome was not ardent, and he felt the oppression of a languor be hardly tried to disguise. Yet in truth his cause had benefited whilst he was away. The eloquent letters did not fail of their effect; Serena had again sighed under domestic tyranny, had thought with longing of a life in London, and was once more swayed by her emotions towards an early marriage.
In dearth of matter for conversation (Glazzard sitting taciturn), she spoke of an event which had occupied Polterham for the last day or two. Some local genius had conceived the idea of wrecking an express train, and to that end had broken a portion of the line.
"What frightful wickedness!" she exclaimed. "What motive can there have been, do you think?"
"Probably none, in the sense you mean."
"Yes -- such a man must be mad."
"I don't think that," said Glazzard, meditatively. "I can understand his doing it with no reason at all but the wish to see what would happen. No doubt he would have been standing somewhere in sight."
"You can understand that?"
"Very well indeed," he answered, in the same half-absent way. "Power of all kinds is a temptation to men. A certain kind of man -- not necessarily cruel -- would be fascinated with the thought of bringing about such a terrific end by such slight means."
"Not necessarily cruel? Oh, I can't follow you at all. You are not serious."
"I have shocked you." He saw that he had really done so, and felt that it was imprudent. His tact suggested a use for the situation. "Serena, why should you speak so conventionally? You are not really conventional in mind. You have thoughts and emotions infinitely above those of average girls. Do recognize your own superiority. I spoke in a speculative way. One may speculate about anything and everything -- if one has the brains. You certainly are not made to go through life with veiled eyes and a tongue tuned to the common phrases. Do yourself justice, dear girl. However other people regard you, I from the first have seen what it was in you to become."
It was adroit flattery; Serena reddened, averted her face, smiled a little, and kept silence.
That day he did not follow up his advantage. But on taking leave of Serena early in the afternoon, he looked into her eyes with expressive steadiness, and again she blushed.
A little later, several ladles were gathered in the drawing-room. On Thursdays Mrs. Mumbray received her friends; sat as an embodiment of the domestic virtues and graces. To-day the talk was principally on that recent addition to Polterham society, Mrs. Denzil Quarrier.
"I haven't seen her yet," said Mrs. Mumbray, with her air of superiority. "They say she is pretty but rather childish."
"But what is this mystery about the marriage?" inquired a lady who had just entered, and who threw herself upon the subject with eagerness. (It was Mrs. Roach, the wife of an alderman.) "Why was it abroad? She is English, I think?"
"Oh no!" put in Mrs. Tenterden, a large and very positive person. "She is a Dane -- like the Princess of Wales. I have seen her. I recognized the cast of features at once."
An outcry from three ladies followed. They knew Mrs. Quarrier was English. They had seen her skating at Bale Water. One of them had heard her speak -- it was pure English.
"I thought every one knew," returned Mrs. Tenterden, with stately deliberation, "that the Danes have a special gift for languages. The Princess of Wales" ----
"But, indeed," urged the hostess, "she is of English birth. We know it from Mr. Eustace Glazzard, who is one of their friends."
"Then why were they married abroad?" came in Mrs. Roach's shrill voice. "Can English people be legitimately married abroad? I always understood that the ceremony had to be repeated in England."
"It was at Paris," said Mrs. Walker, the depressed widow of a bankrupt corn-merchant. "There is an English church there, I have heard."
The others, inclined to be contemptuous of this authority, regarded each other with doubt.
"Still," broke out Mrs. Roach again, "why was it at Paris? No one seems to have the slightest idea. It is really very strange!"
Mrs. Mumbray vouchsafed further information.
"I understood that she came from Stockholm."
"Didn't I say she came from Denmark?" interrupted Mrs. Tenterden, triumphantly.
There was a pause of uncertainty broken by Serena Mumbray's quiet voice.
"Dear Mrs. Tenterden, Stockholm is not in Denmark, but in Sweden. And we are told that Mrs. Quarrier was an English governess there."
"Ah! a governess!" cried two or three voices.
"To tell the truth," said Mrs. Mumbray, more dignified than ever after her vindication, "it is probable that she belongs to some very poor family. I should be sorry to think any worse of her for that, but it would explain the private marriage."
"So you think people can be married legally in Paris?" persisted the alderman's wife, whose banns had been proclaimed in hearing of orthodox Polterham about a year ago.
"Of course they can," fell from Serena.
Lilian's age, personal appearance, dress, behaviour, underwent discussion at great length.
"What church do they go to?" inquired some one, and the question excited general interest.
"They were at St. Luke's last Sunday," Mrs. Walker was able to declare, though her wonted timidity again threw some suspicion on the statement.
"St. Luke's! Why St. Luke's?" cried other voices. "It isn't their parish, is it?"
"I think," suggested the widow, "it may be because the Liversedges go to St. Luke's. Mrs. Liversedge is" ----
Her needless information was cut short by a remark from Mrs. Tenterden.
"I could never listen Sunday after Sunday to Mr. Garraway. I think him excessively tedious. And his voice is so very trying."
The incumbent of St. Luke's offered a brief diversion from the main theme. A mention of the Rev. Scatchard Vialls threatened to lead them too far, and Mrs. Roach interposed with firmness.
"I still think it a very singular thing that they went abroad to be married."
"But they didn't go abroad, my dear," objected the hostess. "That is to say, one of them was already abroad."
"Indeed! The whole thing seems very complicated. I think it needs explanation. I shouldn't feel justified in calling upon Mrs. Quarrier until" ----
Her voice was overpowered by that of Mrs. Tenterden, who demanded loudly:
"Is it true that she has already become very intimate with that person Mrs. Wade?"
"Oh, I do hope not!" exclaimed several ladies.
Here was an inexhaustible topic. It occupied more than an hour, until the last tea-cup had been laid aside and the more discreet callers were already on their way home.
There needed only two or three days of life at Polterham to allay the uneasiness with which, for all his show of equanimity, Denzil entered upon so perilous a career. By the end of January he had practically forgotten that his position was in any respect insecure. The risk of betraying himself in an unguarded moment was diminished by the mental habit established during eighteen months of secrecy in London. Lilian's name was seldom upon his lips, and any inquiry concerning her at once awakened his caution. Between themselves they never spoke of the past.
Long ago he had silenced every conscientious scruple regarding the relation between Lilian and himself; and as for the man Northway, if ever he thought of him at all, it was with impatient contempt. That he was deceiving his Polterham acquaintances, and in a way which they would deem an unpardonable outrage, no longer caused him the least compunction. Conventional wrong doing, he had satisfied himself, was not wrong-doing at all, unless discovered. He injured no one. The society of such a person as Lilian could be nothing but an advantage to man, woman, and child. Only the sublimation of imbecile prejudice would maintain that she was an unfit companion for the purest creature living. He had even ceased to smile at the success of his stratagem. It was over and done with; their social standing was unassailable.
Anxious to complete his book on the Vikings, he worked at it for several hours each morning; it would be off his hands some time in February, and the spring publishing season should send it forth to the world. The rest of his leisure was given to politics. Chests of volumes were arriving from London, and his library shelves began to make a respectable appearance; as a matter of principle, he bought largely from the local bookseller, who rejoiced at the sudden fillip to his stagnant trade, and went about declaring that Mr. Denzil Quarrier was evidently the man for the borough.
He fell upon history, economics, social speculation, with characteristic vigour. If he got into the House of Commons, those worthies should speedily be aware of his existence among them. It was one of his favourite boasts that whatever subject he choose to tackle, he could master. No smattering for him; a solid foundation of knowledge, such as would ensure authority to his lightest utterances.
In the meantime, he began to perceive that Lilian was not likely to form many acquaintances in the town. With the Liversedges she stood on excellent terms, and one or two families closely connected with them gave her a welcome from which she did not shrink. But she had no gift of social versatility; it cost her painful efforts to converse about bazaars and curates and fashions and babies with the average Polterham matron; she felt that most of the women who came to see her went away with distasteful impressions, and that they were anything but cordial when she returned their call. A life of solitude and study was the worst possible preparation for duties such as were now laid upon her.
"You are dissatisfied with me," she said to Denzil, as they returned from spending the evening with some empty but influential people who had made her exceedingly uncomfortable.
"Dissatisfied? On the contrary, I am very proud of you. It does one good to contrast one's wife with women such as those."
"I tried to talk; but I'm so ignorant of everything they care about. I shall do better when I know more of the people they refer to."
"Chattering apes! Malicious idiots! Heaven forbid that you should ever take a sincere part in their gabble! That lot are about the worst we shall have to deal with. Decent simpletons you can get along with very well."
"How ought I to speak of Mrs. Wade? When people tell downright falsehoods about her, may I contradict?"
"It's a confoundedly difficult matter, that. I half wish Mrs. Wade would hasten her departure. Did she say anything about it when you saw her the other day?"
It appeared that the widow wished to make a friend of Lilian. She had called several times, and on each occasion behaved so charmingly that Lilian was very ready to meet her advances. Though on intellectual and personal grounds he could feel no objection to such an intimacy, Denzil began to fear that it might affect his popularity with some voters who would take the Liberal side if it did not commit them to social heresies. This class is a very large one throughout England. Mrs. Wade had never given occasion of grave scandal; she was even seen, with moderate regularity, at one or other of the churches; but many of the anti-Tory bourgeois suspected her of sympathy with views so very "advanced" as to be socially dangerous. Already it had become known that she was on good terms with Quarrier and his wife. It was rumoured that Quarrier would reconsider the position he had publicly assumed, and stand forth as an advocate of Female Suffrage. For such extremes Polterham was not prepared.
"Mrs. Wade asks me to go and have tea with her to-morrow," Lilian announced one morning, showing a note. "Shall I, or not?"
"You would like to?"
"Not if you think it unwise."
"Hang it! -- we can't be slaves. Go by all means, and refresh your mind."
At three o'clock on the day of invitation Lilian alighted from her brougham at Pear-tree Cottage. It was close upon the end of February; the declining sun shot a pleasant glow across the landscape, and in the air reigned a perfect stillness. Mrs. Wade threw open the door herself with laughing welcome.
"Let us have half-an-hour's walk, shall we? It's so dry and warm."
"I should enjoy it," Lilian answered, readily.
"Then allow me two minutes for bonnet and cloak."
She was scarcely longer. They went by the hedge-side path which led towards Bale Water. To-day the papers were full of exciting news. Sir Stafford Northcote had brought forward his resolution for making short work of obstructive Members, and Radicalism stood undecided. Mrs. Wade talked of these things in the liveliest strain, Lilian responding with a lighthearted freedom seldom possible to her.
"You skated here, didn't you?" said her companion, as they drew near to the large pond.
"Yes; a day or two after we came. How different it looks now."
They stood on the bank where it rose to a considerable height above the water.
"The rails have spoilt this spot," said Mrs. Wade. "They were only put up last autumn, after an accident. I wonder it was never found necessary before. Some children were gathering blackberries from the bramble there, and one of them reached too far forward, and over she went! I witnessed it from the other side, where I happened to be walking. A great splash, and then a chorus of shrieks from the companions. I began to run forward, though of course I could have done nothing whatever; when all at once I saw a splendid sight. A man who was standing not far off ran to the edge and plunged in -- a magnificent 'header!' He had only thrown away his hat and coat. They say it's very deep just here. He disappeared completely, and then in a few seconds I saw that be had hold of the child. He brought her out where the bank slopes yonder -- no harm done. I can't tell you bow I enjoyed that scene It made me cry with delight."
As usual, when deeply moved, Lilian stood in a reverie, her eyes wide, her lips tremulous. Then she stepped forward, and, with her hand resting upon the wooden rail, looked down. There was no perceptible movement in the water; it showed a dark greenish surface, smooth to the edge, without a trace of weed.
"How I envy that man his courage!"
"His power, rather," suggested Mrs. Wade. "If we could swim well, and had no foolish petticoats, we should jump in just as readily. It was the power over circumstances that I admired and envied."
Lilian smiled thoughtfully.
"I suppose that is what most attracts us in men?"
"And makes us feel our own dependence. I can't say I like that feeling -- do you?"
She seemed to wait for an answer.
"I'm afraid it's in the order of nature," replied Lilian at length with a laugh.
"Very likely. But I am not content with it on that account. I know of a thousand things quite in the order of nature which revolt me. I very often think of nature as an evil force, at war with the good principle of which we are conscious in our souls."
"But," Lilian faltered, "is your ideal an absolute independence?"
Mrs. Wade looked far across the water, and answered, "Yes, absolute!"
"Then you -- I don't quite know what would result from that."
"Nor I," returned the other, laughing. "That doesn't affect my ideal. You have heard, of course, of that lecture your husband gave at the Institute before -- before your marriage?"
"Yes; I wish I could have heard it."
"You would have sympathized with every word, I am sure. Mr. Quarrier is one of the strong men who find satisfaction in women's weakness."
It was said with perfect good-humour, with a certain indulgent kindness -- a tone Mrs. Wade had used from the first in talking with Lilian. A manner of affectionate playfulness, occasionally of caressing protection, distinguished her in this intercourse; quite unlike that by which she was known to people in general. Lilian did not dislike it, rather was drawn by it into a mood of grateful confidence.
"I don't think 'weakness' expresses it," she objected. "He likes women to be subordinate, no doubt of that. His idea is that" ----
"I know, I know!" Mrs. Wade turned away with a smile her companion did not observe. "Let us walk back again; it grows chilly. A beautiful sunset, if clouds don't gather. Perhaps it surprises you that I care for such sentimental things?"
"I think I understand you better."
"Frankly -- do you think me what the French call hommasse? Just a little?"
"Nothing of the kind, Mrs. Wade," Lilian replied, with courage. "You are a very womanly woman."
The bright, hard eyes darted a quick glance at her.
"Really? That is how I strike you?"
"It is, indeed."
"How I like your way of speaking," said the other, after a moment's pause. "I mean, your voice -- accent. Has it anything to do with the long time you have spent abroad, I wonder?"
Lilian smiled and was embarrassed.
"You are certainly not a Londoner?"
"Oh no! I was born in the west of England."
"And I at Newcastle. As a child I had a strong northern accent; you don't notice anything of it now? Oh, I have been about so much. My husband was in the Army. That is the first time I have mentioned him to you, and it will be the last, however long we know each other."
Lilian kept her eyes on the ground. The widow glanced off to a totally different subject, which occupied them the rest of the way back to the cottage.
Daylight lasted until they had finished tea, then a lamp was brought in and the red blind drawn down. Quarrier had gone to spend the day at a neighbouring town, and would not be back before late in the evening, so that Lilian had arranged to go from Mrs. Wade's to the Liversedges'. They still had a couple of hours' talk to enjoy; on Lilian's side, at all events, it was unfeigned enjoyment. The cosy little room put her at ease Its furniture was quite in keeping with the simple appearance of the house, but books and pictures told that no ordinary cottager dwelt here.
"I have had many an hour of happiness in this room," said Mrs. Wade, as they seated themselves by the fire. "The best of all between eleven at night and two in the morning. You know the lines in 'Penseroso.' Most men would declare that a woman can't possibly appreciate them; I know better. I am by nature a student; the life of society is nothing to me; and, in reality, I care very little about politics."
Smiling, she watched the effect of her words.
"You are content with solitude?" said Lilian, gazing at her with a look of deep interest.
"Quite. I have no relatives who care anything about me, and only two or three people I call friends. But I must have more books, and I shall be obliged to go to London."
"Don't go just yet -- won't our books be of use to you?"
"I shall see. Have you read this?"
It was a novel from Smith's Library. Lilian knew it, and they discussed its merits. Mrs. Wade mentioned a book by the same author which had appeared more than a year ago.
"Yes, I read that when it came out," said Lilian, and began to talk of it.
Mrs. Wade kept silence, then remarked carelessly:
"You had them in the Tauchnitz series, I suppose?"
Had her eyes been turned that way, she must have observed the strange look which flashed across her companion's countenance. Lilian seemed to draw in her breath, though silently.
"Yes -- Tauchnitz," she answered.
Mrs. Wade appeared quite unconscious of anything unusual in the tone. She was gazing at the fire.
"It isn't often I find time for novels," she said; "for new ones, that is. A few of the old are generally all I need. Can you read George Eliot? What a miserably conventional soul that woman has!"
"Conventional? But" ----
"Oh, I know! But she is British conventionality to the core. I have heard people say that she hasn't the courage of her opinions; but that is precisely what she has, and every page of her work declares it flagrantly. She might have been a great power -- she might have speeded the revolution of morals -- if the true faith had been in her."
Lilian was still tremulous, and she listened with an intensity which gave her a look of pain. She was about to speak, but Mrs. Wade anticipated her.
"You mustn't trouble much about anything I say when it crosses your own judgment or feeling. There are so few people with whom I can indulge myself in free speech. I talk just for the pleasure of it; don't think I expect or hope that you will always go along with me. But you are not afraid of thinking -- that's the great thing. Most women are such paltry creatures that they daren't look into their own minds -- for fear nature should have put something 'improper' there."
She broke off with laughter, and, as Lilian kept silence, fell into thought.
In saying that she thought her Companion a "womanly woman," Lilian told the truth. Ever quick with sympathy, she felt a sadness in Mrs. Wade's situation, which led her to interpret all her harsher peculiarities as the result of disappointment and loneliness. Now that the widow had confessed her ill-fortune in marriage, Lilian was assured of having judged rightly, and nursed her sentiment of compassion. Mrs. Wade was still young; impossible that she should have accepted a fate which forbade her the knowledge of woman's happiness. But how difficult for such a one to escape from this narrow and misleading way! Her strong, highly-trained intellect could find no satisfaction in the society of every-day people, yet she was withheld by poverty from seeking her natural sphere. With Lilian, to understand a sorrow was to ask herself what she could do for its assuagement. A thought of characteristic generosity came to her. Why should she not (some day or other, when their friendship was mature) offer Mrs. Wade the money, her own property, which would henceforth be lying idle? There would be practical difficulties in the way, but surely they might be overcome. The idea brought a smile to her face. Yes; she would think of this. She would presently talk of it with Denzil.
"Come now," said Mrs. Wade, rousing herself from meditation, "let us talk about the Irish question."
Lilian addressed herself conscientiously to the subject, but it did not really interest her; she had no personal knowledge of Irish hardships, and was wearied by the endless Parliamentary debate. Her thoughts still busied themselves with the hopeful project for smoothing Mrs. Wade's path in life.
When the carriage came for her, she took her leave with regret, but full of happy imaginings. She had quite forgotten the all but self-betrayal into which she was led during that chat about novels.
Two days later Quarrier was again absent from home on business, and Lilian spent the evening with the Liversedges. Supper was over, and she had begun to think of departure, when the drawing-room door was burst open, and in rushed Denzil, wet from head to foot with rain, and his face a-stream with perspiration.
"They dissolve at Easter! " he cried, waving his hat wildly. "Northcote announced it at five this afternoon. Hammond has a telegram; I met him at the station."
"Ho! ho! this is news!" answered Mr. Liversedge, starting up from his easy-chair.
"News, indeed! " said his wife; "but that's no reason, Denzil, why you should make my carpet all ram and mud. Do go and take your coat off, and clean your boots, there's a good boy!"
"How can I think of coat and boots? Here, Lily, fling this garment somewhere. Give me a duster, or something, to stand on, Molly. Toby, we must have a meeting in a day or two. Can we get the Public Hall for Thursday or Friday? Shall we go round and see our committee-men to-night?"
"Time enough to-morrow; most of them are just going to bed. But how is it no one had an inkling of this? They have kept the secret uncommonly well."
"The blackguards! Ha, ha! Now for a good fight! It'll be old Welwyn-Baker, after all, you'll see. They won t have the courage to set up a new man at a moment's notice. The old buffer will come maudling once more, and we'll bowl him off his pins!"
Lilian sat with her eyes fixed upon him. His excitement infected her, and when they went home together she talked of the coming struggle with joyous animation.
The next morning -- Tuesday, March 9th -- there was a rush for the London papers. Every copy that reached the Polterham vendors was snapped up within a few minutes of it arrival. People who had no right of membership ran ravening to the Literary Institute and the Constitutional Literary Society, and peered over the shoulders of legitimate readers, on such a day as this unrebuked. Mr. Chown's drapery establishment presented a strange spectacle. For several hours it was thronged with sturdy Radicals eager to hear their eminent friend hold forth on the situation. At eleven o'clock Mr. Chown fairly mounted a chair behind his counter, and delivered a formal harangue -- thus, as he boasted, opening the political campaign. He read aloud (for the seventh time) Lord Beaconsfield's public letter to the Duke of Marlborough, in which the country was warned, to begin with, against the perils of Home Rule. "It is to be hoped that all men of light and leading will resist this destructive doctrine. . . . Rarely in this century has there been an occasion more critical. The power of England and the peace of Europe will largely depend on the verdict of the country. . . . Peace rests on the presence, not to say the ascendancy, of England in the Councils of Europe."
"Here you have it," cried the orator, as he dashed the newspaper to his feet, "pure, unadulterated Jingoism! 'Ascendancy in the Councils of Europe!' How are the European powers likely to hear that, do you think? I venture to tell my Lord Beaconsfield -- I venture to tell him on behalf of this constituency -- aye, and on behalf of this country -- that it is he who holds 'destructive doctrine'! I venture to tell my Lord Beaconsfield that England is not prepared to endorse any such insolent folly! We shall very soon have an opportunity of hearing how far such doctrine recommends itself to our man 'of light and leading' -- to our Radical candidate -- to our future member, Mr. Denzil Quarrier!"
A burst of cheering echoed from the drapery-laden shelves. Two servant-girls who had come to the door intent on purchase of hair-pins ran frightened away, and spread a report that Mr. Chown's shop was on fire.
At dinner-time the politician was faced by his angry wife.
"I know what the end of this'll be!" cried Mrs. Chown. "You're ruining your business, that's what you're doing! Who do you think'll come to the shop if they find it full of shouting ragamuffins? They'll all go to Huxtable's, that's what they'll do! I've no patience" ----
"There's no need to declare that!" replied Mr. Chown, rolling his great eyes at her with an expression of the loftiest scorn. "I have known it for thirteen years. You will be so good as to attend to your own affairs, and leave me to see to mine! What does a woman care for the interests of the country? Grovelling sex! Perhaps when I am called upon to shoulder a rifle and go forth to die on the field of battle, your dense understanding will begin to perceive what was at stake. -- Not another syllable! I forbid it! Sit down and serve the potatoes!"
At the same hour Denzil Quarrier, at luncheon with Lilian, was giving utterance to his feelings on the great topic of the day.
"Now is the time for women to show whether their judgment is worthy of the least confidence. This letter of Beaconsfield's makes frank appeal to the spirit of Jingoism; he hopes to get at the fighting side of Englishmen, and go back to power on a wave of 'Rule, Britannia' bluster. If it is true that women are to be trusted in politics, their influence will be overwhelming against such irresponsible ambition. I have my serious doubts" ----
He shook his head and laughed.
"I will do my utmost!" exclaimed Lilian, her face glowing with sympathetic enthusiasm. "I will go and talk to all the people we know" ----
"Really! You feel equal to that?"
"I will begin this very afternoon! I think I understand the questions sufficiently. Suppose I begin with Mrs. Powell? She said her husband had always voted Conservative, but that she couldn't be quite sure what he would do this time. Perhaps I can persuade her to take our side."
"Have a try! But you astonish me, Lily -- you are transformed!"
"Oh, I have felt that I might find courage when the time came." She put her head aside, and laughed with charming naïveté. "I can't sit idle at home whilst you are working with such zeal. And I really feel what you say: women have a clear duty. How excited Mrs. Wade must be!"
"Have you written all the dinner-cards?"
"They were all sent before twelve."
"Good! Hammond will be here in half an hour to talk over the address with me. Dinner at seven prompt; I am due at Toby's at eight. Well, it's worth going in for, after all, isn't it? I am only just beginning to live."
"And I, too!"
The meal was over. Denzil walked round the table and bent to lay his cheek against Lilian's.
"I admire you more than ever," he whispered, half laughing. "What a reserve of energy in this timid little girl! Wait and see; who knows what sort of table you will preside at some day? I have found my vocation, and there's no saying how far it will lead me. Heavens! what a speech I'll give them at the Public Hall! It's bubbling over in me. I could stand up and thunder for three or four hours!"
They gossiped a little longer, then Lilian went to prepare for her call upon Mrs. Powell, and Quarrier retired to the library. Here he was presently waited upon by Mr. Hammond, editor of the Polterham Examiner. Denzil felt no need of assistance in drawing up the manifesto which would shortly be addressed to Liberal Polterham; but Hammond was a pleasant fellow of the go-ahead species, and his editorial pen would be none the less zealous for confidences such as this. The colloquy lasted an hour or so. Immediately upon the editor's departure, a servant appeared at the study door.
"Mrs. Wade wishes to see you, sir, if you are at leisure."
The widow entered. Her costume -- perhaps in anticipation of the sunny season -- was more elaborate and striking than formerly. She looked a younger woman, and walked with lighter step.
"I came to see Mrs. Quarrier, but she is out. You, I'm afraid, are frightfully busy?"
"No, no. This is the breathing time of the day with me. I've just got rid of our journalist. Sit down, pray."
"Oh, I won't stop. But tell Lilian I am eager to see her."
"She is off canvassing -- really and truly! Gone to assail Mrs. Powell. Astonishing enthusiasm!"
"I'm delighted to hear it!"
The exclamation lingered a little, and there was involuntary surprise on Mrs. Wade's features. She cast a glance round the room.
"Do sit down," urged Denzil, placing a chair. "What do you think of Dizzy's letter? Did you ever read such bunkum? And his 'men of light and leading' -- ha, ha, ha!"
"He has stolen the phrase," remarked Mrs. Wade. "Where from, I can't say; but I'm perfectly sure I have come across it."
"Ha! I wish we could authenticate that! Search your memory -- do -- and get a letter in the Examiner on Saturday."
"Some one will be out with it before then. Besides, I'm sure you don't wish for me to draw attention to myself just now."
"Why not? I shall be disappointed if you don't give me a great deal of help."
"I am hardly proper, you know."
She looked steadily at him, with an inscrutable smile, then let her eyes again stray round the room.
"Bosh! As I was saying to Lily at lunch, women ought to have a particular interest in this election. If they are worth anything at all, they will declare that England sha'n't go in for the chance of war just to please that Jew phrase-monger. I'm ready enough for a fight, on sound occasion, but I won't fight in obedience to Dizzy and the music-halls! By jingo, no!"
He laughed uproariously.
"You won't get many Polterham women to see it in that light," observed the widow. "This talk about the ascendency of England is just the thing to please them. They adore Dizzy, because he is a fop who has succeeded brilliantly; they despise Gladstone, because he is conscientious and an idealist. Surely I don't need to tell you this?"
She leaned forward, smiling into his face.
"Well," he exclaimed, with a laugh, "of course I can admit, if you like, that most women are not worth anything politically. But why should I be uncivil?"
Mrs. Wade answered in a low voice, strangely gentle.
"Don't I know their silliness and worthlessness? What woman has more reason to be ashamed of her sex?"
"Let us -- hope!"
"For the millennium -- yes." Her eyes gleamed, and she went on in a more accustomed tone. "Women are the great reactionary force. In political and social matters their native baseness shows itself on a large scale. They worship the vulgar, the pretentious, the false. Here they will most of them pester their husbands to vote for Welwyn-Baker just because they hate change with the hatred of weak fear. Those of them who know anything at all about the Irish question are dead set against Ireland -- simply because they are unimaginative and ungenerous; they can't sympathize with what seems a hopeless cause, and Ireland to them only suggests the dirty Irish of Polterham back streets. As for European war, the idiots are fond of drums and fifes and military swagger; they haven't brains enough to picture a battle-field."
"You are severe, Mrs. Wade. I should never have ventured" ----
"You are still afraid of telling me the truth!"
"Well, let us rejoice in the exceptions. Yourself, Lilian, my sister Mary, for instance."
The widow let her eyes fall and kept silence.
"We hope you will dine with us on Friday of next week," said Denzil. "Lilian posted you an invitation this morning. There will be a good many people."
"Seriously then, I am to work for you, openly and vigorously?"
"What a contemptible fellow I should be if I wished you to hold aloof!" He spoke sincerely, having overcome his misgivings of a short time ago. "The fight will be fought on large questions, you know. I want to win, but I have made up my mind to win honestly; it's a fortunate thing that I probably sha'n't be called upon to declare my views on a thousand side-issues."
"Don't be so sure of that. Polterham is paltry, even amid national excitement."
"Confound it! then I will say what I think, and risk it. If they want a man who will fight sincerely for the interests of the people, here he is! I'm on the side of the poor devils; I wish to see them better off; I wish to promote honest government, and chuck the selfish lubbers overboard. Forgive the briny phrase; you know why it comes natural to me."
Mrs. Wade gave him her kindest smile.
"You will win, no doubt of it; and not this battle only."
She rose, and half turned away.
"By-the-bye, shall you be able to finish your book?"
"It is finished. I wrote the last page yesterday morning. Wonderful, wasn't it?"
"A good omen. My love to Lilian."
As they shook hands, Mrs. Wade just raised her eyes for an instant, timorously. The look was quite unlike anything Denzil had yet seen on her face. It caused him to stand for a few moments musing.
From half-past four to half-past six he took a long walk; such exercise was a necessity with him, and the dwellers round about Polterham had become familiar with the sight of his robust figure striding at a great pace about roads and fields. Generally he made for some wayside inn, where he could refresh himself with a tankard of beer, after which he lit his pipe, and walked with it between his teeth. Toby Liversedge, becoming aware of this habit, was inclined to doubt its prudence. "Beware of the teetotalers, Denzil; they are a power among us." Whereto Quarrier replied that teetotalers might be eternally condemned; he would stick by his ale as tenaciously as the old farmer of Thornaby Waste.
"It's the first duty of a Radical to set his face against humbug. If I see no harm in a thing, I shall do it openly, and let people" ----
At this point he checked himself, almost as if he had a sudden stitch in the side. Tobias asked for an explanation, but did not receive one.
On getting home again, he found Lilian in the drawing-room. (As an ordinary thing he did not "dress" for dinner, since his evenings were often spent in the company of people who would have disliked the conspicuousness of his appearance.) She rose to meet him with shining countenance, looking happier, indeed, and more rarely beautiful than he had ever seen her.
"What cheer? A triumph already?"
"I think so, Denzil; I really think so. Mrs. Powell has promised me to do her very best with her husband. Oh, if you could have heard our conversation! I hadn't thought it possible for any one to be so ignorant of the simplest political facts. One thing that she said -- I was talking about war, and suddenly she asked me: 'Do you think it likely, Mrs. Quarrier, that there would be an inscription?' For a moment I couldn't see what she meant. 'An inscription?' 'Yes; if there's any danger of that, and -- my four boys growing up!' Then, of course, I understood. Fortunately, she was so very much in earnest that I had no temptation to smile."
"And did you encourage her alarm?"
"I felt I had no right to do that. To avoid repeating the word, I said that I didn't think that system would ever find favour in England. At the same time, it was quite certain that our army would have to be greatly strengthened if this war-fever went on. Oh, we had an endless talk -- and she was certainly impressed with my arguments."
"Bravo! Why, this is something like!"
"You can't think what courage it has given me! To-morrow I shall go to Mrs. Clifford -- yes, I shall. She is far more formidable; but I want to try my strength."
"Ho, ho! What a pugnacious Lily -- a sword-Lily! You ought to have had an heroic name -- Deborah, or Joan, or Portia! Your eyes gleam like beacons."
"I feel more contented with myself. -- Oh, I am told that Mrs. Wade called this afternoon?"
"Yes; anxious to see you. Burning with wrath against female Toryism. She was astonished when I told her of your expedition."
Lilian laughed merrily. Thereupon dinner was announced, and they left the room hand in hand.
That evening it was rumoured throughout the town that Mr. Welwyn-Baker had telegraphed a resolve not to offer himself for re-election. In a committee-room at the Constitutional Literary Society was held an informal meeting of Conservatives, but no one of them had definite intelligence to communicate. Somebody had told somebody else that Hugh Welwyn-Baker held that important telegram from his father; that was all. Mr. Mumbray's hopes rose high. On the morrow, at another meeting rather differently constituted (miserable lack of organization still evident among the Tories), it was made known on incontestable authority that the sitting Member would offer himself for re-election. Mr. Mumbray and his supporters held high language. "It would be party suicide," they went about repeating. With such a man as Denzil Quarrier on the Radical side, they must have a new and a strong candidate! But all was confusion; no one could take the responsibility of acting.
Already the affairs of the Liberals were in perfect order, and it took but a day or two to decide even the minutiæ of the campaign. To Quarrier's candidature no one within the party offered the least opposition. Mr. Chown, who had for some time reserved his judgment, declared to all and sundry that "all things considered, a better man could scarcely have been chosen." Before thus committing himself he had twice called upon Quarrier, and been closeted with him for a longtime. Now, in these days of arming, he received a card inviting him (and his wife) to dine at the candidate's house on a certain evening a fortnight ahead; it was the second dinner that Denzil had planned, but Mr. Chown was not aware of this, nor that the candidate had remarked of him to Lilian: "We must have that demagogue among his kind, of course." Denzil's agent (Hummerstone by name) instantly secured rooms in admirable situations, and the Public Hall was at the disposal of the party for their first great meeting a few days hence.
In facing that assembly (Toby Liversedge was chairman) Denzil had a very slight and very brief recurrence of his platform nervousness. Determined to risk nothing, he wrote out his speech with great care and committed it to memory. The oration occupied about two hours, with not a moment of faltering. It was true that he had discovered his vocation; he spoke like a man of long Parliamentary experience, to the astonished delight of his friends, and with enthusiastic applause from the mass of his hearers. Such eloquence had never been heard in Polterham. If anything, he allowed himself too much scope in vituperation, but it was a fault on the right side. The only circumstance that troubled him was when his eye fell upon Lilian, and he saw her crying with excitement; a fear passed through his mind that she might be overwrought and fall into hysterics, or faint. The occasion proved indeed too much for her; that night she did not close her eyes, and the next day saw her prostrate in nervous exhaustion. But she seemed to pick up her strength again very quickly, and was soon hard at work canvassing among the electors' wives.
"Don't overdo it," Denzil cautioned her. "Remember, if you are ill, I shall mope by your bedside."
"I can't stop now that I have begun," was her reply. "If I try to sit idle, I shall be ill."
She could read nothing but newspapers; her piano was silent; she talked politics, and politics only. Never was seen such a change in woman, declared her intimates; yet, in spite of probabilities, they thought her more charming than ever. No word of animosity ever fell from her lips; what inspired her was simple ardour for Denzil's cause, and, as she considered it, that of the oppressed multitude. In her way, said Toby Liversedge, she was as eloquent as Quarrier himself, and sundry other people were of the same opinion.
With sullen acquiescence the supporters of Mr. Mumbray and "Progressive Conservatism" -- what phrase is not good enough for the lips of party? -- recognized that they must needs vote for the old name. Dissension at such a moment was more dangerous than an imbecile candidate. Mr. Sam Quarrier had declared that rather than give his voice for Mumbray he would remain neutral. "Old W.-B. is good enough for a figure-head; he signifies something. If we are to be beaten, let it be on the old ground." That defeat was likely enough, the more intelligent Conservatives could not help seeing. Many of them (Samuel among the number) had no enthusiasm for Beaconsfield, and la haute politique as the leader understood it, but they liked still less the principles represented by Councillor Chown and his vociferous regiment. So the familiar bills were once more posted about the streets, and once more the Tory canvassers urged men to vote for Welwyn-Baker in the name of Church and State.
At Salutary Mount (this was the name of the ex-Mayor's residence) personal disappointment left no leisure for lamenting the prospects of Conservatism. Mr. Mumbray shut himself up in the room known as his "study." Mrs. Mumbray stormed at her servants, wrangled with her children, and from her husband held apart in sour contempt -- feeble, pompous creature that he was! With such an opportunity, and unable to make use of it! But for her, he would never even have become Mayor. She was enraged at having yielded in the matter of Serena's betrothal. Glazzard had fooled them; he was an unprincipled adventurer, with an eye only to the fortune Serena would bring him!
"If you marry that man," she asseverated, à propos of a discussion with her daughter on a carpet which had worn badly, "I shall have nothing whatever to do with the affair -- nothing!"
Serena drew apart and kept silence.
"You hear what I say? You understand me?"
"You mean that you won't be present at the wedding?"
"I do!" cried her mother, careless what she said so long as it sounded emphatic. "You shall take all the responsibility. If you like to throw yourself away on a bald-headed, dissipated man -- as I know he is -- it shall be entirely your own doing. I wash my hands of it -- and that's the last word you will hear from me on the subject."
In consequence of which assertion she vilified Glazzard and Serena for three-quarters of an hour, until her daughter, who had sat in abstraction, slowly rose and withdrew.
Alone in her bedroom, Serena shed many tears, as she had often done of late. The poor girl was miserably uncertain how to act. She foresaw that home would be less than ever a home to her after this accumulation of troubles, and indeed she had made up her mind to leave it, but whether as a wife or as an independent woman she could not decide. "On her own responsibility" -- yes, that was the one thing certain. And what experience had she whereon to form a judgment? It might be that her mother's arraignment of Glazzard was grounded in truth, but how could she determine one way or the other? On the whole, she liked him better than when she promised to marry him -- yes, she liked him better; she did rot shrink from the thought of wedlock with him. He was a highly educated and clever man; he offered her a prospect of fuller life than she had yet imagined; perhaps it was a choice between him and the ordinary husband such as fell to Polterham girls. Yet again, if he did not really care for her -- only for her money?
She remembered Denzil Quarrier's lecture on "Woman," and all he had said about the monstrously unfair position of girls who are asked in marriage by men of the world. And thereupon an idea came into her mind. Presently she had dried her tears, and in half-an-hour's time she left the house.
Her purpose was to call upon Mrs. Quarrier, whom she had met not long ago at Highmead. But the lady was not at home. After a moment of indecision, she wrote on the back of her visiting card: "Will you be so kind as to let me know when I could see you? I will come at any hour."
It was then midday. In the afternoon she received a note, hand-delivered. Mrs. Quarrier would be at home from ten to twelve the next morning.
Again she called, and Lilian received her in the small drawing-room. They locked at each other with earnest faces, Lilian wondering whether this visit had anything to do with the election. Serena was nervous, and could not reply composedly to the ordinary phrases of politeness with which she was received. And yet the phrases were not quite ordinary; whomsoever she addressed, Lilian spoke with a softness, a kindness peculiar to herself, and chose words which seemed to have more than the common meaning.
The visitor grew sensible of this pleasant characteristic, and at length found voice for her intention.
"I wished to see you for a very strange reason, Mrs. Quarrier. I feel half afraid that I may even offend you. You will think me very strange indeed."
Lilian trembled. The old dread awoke in her. Had Miss Mumbray discovered something?
"Do let me know what it is," she replied, in a low voice.
"It -- it is about Mr. Eustace Glazzard. I think he is an intimate friend of Mr. Quarrier's?"
"Yes, he is."
"You are surprised, of course. I came to you because I feel so alone and so helpless. You know that I am engaged to Mr. Glazzard?"
Her voice faltered. Relieved from anxiety, Lilian looked and spoke in her kindest way.
"Do speak freely to me, Miss Mumbray. I shall be so glad to -- to help you in any way I can -- so very glad."
"I am sure you mean that. My mother is very much against our marriage -- against Mr. Glazzard. She wants me to break off. I can't do that without some better reason than I know of. Will you tell me what you think of Mr. Glazzard? Will you tell me in confidence? You know him probably much better than I do -- though that sounds strange. You have known him much longer, haven't you?"
"Not much longer. I met him first in London."
"But you know him through your husband. I only wish to ask you whether you have a high opinion of him. How has he impressed you from the first?"
Lilian reflected for an instant, and spoke with grave conscientiousness.
"My husband considers him his best friend. He thinks very highly of him. They are unlike each other in many things. Mr. Quarrier sometimes wishes that he -- that Mr. Glazzard were more active, less absorbed in art; but I have never heard him say anything worse than that. He likes him very much indeed. They have been friends since boyhood."
The listener sat with bowed head, and there was a brief silence.
"Then you think," she said at length, "that I shall be quite safe in -- Oh, that is a bad way of putting it! Do forgive me for talking to you like this. You, Mrs. Quarrier, are very happily married; but I am sure you can sympathize with a girl's uncertainty. We have so few opportunities of ---- Oh, it was so true what Mr. Quarrier said in his lecture at the Institute -- before you came. He said that a girl had to take her husband so very much on trust -- of course his words were better than those, but that's what he meant."
"Yes -- I know -- I have heard him say the same thing."
"I don't ask," pursued the other, quickly, "about his religious opinions, or anything of that kind. Nowadays, I suppose, there are very few men who believe as women do -- as most women do." She glanced at Lilian timidly. "I only mean -- do you think him a good man -- an honourable man?"
"To that I can reply with confidence," said Lilian, sweetly. "I am quite sure he is an honourable man -- quite sure I believe he has very high thoughts. Have you heard him play? No man who hadn't a noble nature could play like that."
Serena drew a sigh of relief.
"Thank you, dear Mrs. Quarrier -- thank you so very much! You have put my mind at rest."
These words gave delight to the hearer. To do good and to receive gratitude were all but the prime necessities of Lilian's heart. Obeying her impulse, she began to say all manner of kind, tender, hopeful things. Was there not a similarity between this girl's position and that in which she had herself stood when consenting to the wretched marriage which happily came to an end at the church door? Another woman might have been disposed to say, in the female parrot-language: "But do you love him or not? That is the whole question." It was not the whole question, even granting that love had spoken plainly; and Lilian understood very well that it is possible for a girl to contemplate wedlock without passionate feeling such as could obscure her judgment.
They talked with much intimacy, much reciprocal good-will, and Serena took her leave with a comparatively cheerful mind. She had resolved what to do.
And the opportunity for action came that afternoon. Glazzard called upon her. He looked rather gloomy, but smiled in reply to the smile she gave him.
"Have you read Mr. Gladstone's address to the electors of Midlothian?" Serena began by asking, with a roguish look.
"Pooh! What is such stuff to me?"
"I knew I should tease you. What do you think of Mr. Quarrier's chances?"
"Oh, he will be elected, no doubt."
Glazzard spoke absently, his eyes on Serena's face, but seemingly not conscious of her expression.
"I hope he will," she rejoined.
"What! -- you hope so?"
"Yes, I do. I am convinced he is the right man. I agree with his principles. Henceforth I am a Radical."
Glazzard laughed mockingly, and Serena joined, but not in the same tone.
"I like him," she pursued, with a certain odd persistence. "If I could do it decently, I would canvass for him. He is a manly man and means what he says. I like his wife, too -- she is very sweet."
He glanced at her and pursed his lips.
"I am sure," added Serena, "you like me to praise such good friends of yours?"
They were in the room where the grand piano stood, for Mrs. Mumbray had gone to pass the day with friends at a distance. Serena said of a sudden:
"Will you please play me something -- some serious piece -- one of the best you know?"
"You mean it?"
"I do. I want to hear you play a really noble piece. You won't refuse."
He eyed her in a puzzled way, but smiled, and sat down to the instrument. His choice was from Beethoven. As he played, Serena stood in an attitude of profound attention. When the music ceased, she went up to him and held out her hand.
"Thank you, Eustace. I don't think many people can play like that."
"No; not very many," he replied quietly, and thereupon kissed her fingers.
He went to the window and looked out into the chill, damp garden.
"Serena, have you any idea what Sicily is like at this time of year?"
"A faint imagination. Very lovely, no doubt."
"I want to go there."
"Do you?" she answered, carelessly, and added in lower tones, "So do I."
"There's no reason why you shouldn't. Marry me next week, and we will go straight to Messina."
"I will marry you in a fortnight from to-day," said Serena, in quivering voice.
Glazzard walked back to Highmead with a countenance which alternated curiously between smiling and lowering. The smile was not agreeable, and the dark look showed his face at its worst. He was completely absorbed in thought, and when some one stopped full in front of him with jocose accost, he gave a start of alarm.
"I should be afraid of lamp-posts," said Quarrier, "if I had that somnambulistic habit. Why haven't you looked in lately? Men of infinite leisure must wait upon the busy."
"My leisure, thank the destinies!" replied Glazzard, "will very soon be spent out of hearing of election tumult."
"When? Going abroad again?"
"Ha! -- that means, I conjecture," said Denzil, searching his friend's face, "that a certain affair will come to nothing after all?"
"And what if you are right?" returned the other, slowly, averting his eyes.
"I sha'n't grieve. No, to tell you the truth, I shall not! So at last I may speak my real opinion. It wouldn't have done, Glazzard; it was a mistake, old fellow. I have never been able to understand it. You -- a man of your standing -- no, no, it was completely a mistake, believe me!"
Glazzard looked into the speaker's face, smiled again, and remarked calmly:
"That's unfortunate. I didn't say my engagement was at an end; and, in fact, I shall be married in a fortnight. We go to Sicily for the honeymoon."
A flush of embarrassment rose to Denzil's face. For a moment he could not command himself; then indignation possessed him.
"That's too bad!" he exclaimed. "You took advantage of me. You laid a trap. I'm damned if I feel able to apologize!"
Glazzard turned away, and it seemed as if he would walk on. But he faced about again abruptly, laughed, held out his hand.
"No, it is I who should apologize. I did lay a trap, and it was too bad. But I wished to know your real opinion."
No one more pliable than Denzil. At once he took the hand that was offered and pressed it heartily.
"I'm a blundering fellow. Do come and spend an hour with me to-night. From eleven to twelve. I dine out with fools, and shall rejoice to see you afterwards."
"Thanks, I can't. I go up to town by the 7.15."
They were in a suburban road, and at the moment some ladies approached. Quarrier, who was acquainted with them, raised his hat and spoke a few hasty words, after which he walked on by Glazzard's side.
"My opinion," he said, "is worth very little. I had no right whatever to express it, having such slight evidence to go upon. It was double impertinence. If you can't be trusted to choose a wife, who could? I see that -- now that I have made a fool of myself."
"Don't say any more about it," replied the other, in a good-natured voice. "We have lived in the palace of truth for a few minutes, that's all."
"So you go to Sicily. There you will be in your element. Live in the South, Glazzard; I'm convinced you will be a happier man than in this mill-smoke atmosphere. You have the artist's temperament; indulge it to the utmost. After all, a man ought to live out what is in him. Your wedding will be here, of course?"
"Yes, but absolutely private."
"You won't reject me when I offer good wishes? There is no man living who likes you better than I do, or is more anxious for your happiness. Shake hands again, old fellow. I must hurry off."
So they parted, and in a couple of hours Glazzard was steaming towards London.
He lay back in the corner of a carriage, his arms hanging loose, his eyes on vacancy. Of course he had guessed Quarrier's opinion of the marriage he was making; he could imagine his speaking to Lilian about it with half-contemptuous amusement. The daughter of a man like Mumbray -- an unformed, scarcely pretty girl, who had inherited a sort of fortune from some soap-boiling family -- what a culmination to a career of fastidious dilettantism! "He has probably run through all his money," Quarrier would add. "Poor old fellow! he deserves better things."
He had come to hate Quarrier. Yet with no vulgar hatred; not with the vengeful rancour which would find delight in annihilating its object. His feeling was consistent with a measure of justice to Denzil's qualities, and even with a good deal of admiration; as it originated in mortified vanity, so it might have been replaced by the original kindness, if only some stroke of fortune or of power had set Glazzard in his original position of superiority. Quarrier as an ingenuous young fellow looking up to the older comrade, reverencing his dicta, holding him an authority on most subjects, was acceptable, lovable; as a self-assertive man, given to patronage (though perhaps unconsciously), and succeeding in life as his friend stood still or retrograded, he aroused dangerous emotions. Glazzard could no longer endure his presence, hated the sound of his voice, cursed his genial impudence; yet he did not wish for his final unhappiness -- only for a temporary pulling-down, a wholesome castigation of over-blown pride.
The sound of the rushing wheels affected his thought, kept it on the one subject, shaped it to a monotony of verbal suggestion. Not a novel suggestion, by any means; something that his fancy had often played with; very much, perhaps, as that ingenious criminal spoken of by Serena amused himself with the picture of a wrecked train long before he resolved to enjoy the sight in reality.
"Live in the South," Quarrier had urged. "Precisely; in ether words: Keep out of my way. You're a good, simple-hearted fellow, to be sure, but it was a pity I had to trust you with that secret. Leave England for a long time."
And why not? Certainly it was good counsel -- if it had come from any one but Denzil Quarrier. Probably he should act upon it after all.
His rooms were in readiness for him, and whilst the attendant prepared a light supper, he examined some letters which had arrived that evening. Two of the envelopes contained pressing invitations -- with reference to accounts rendered and re-rendered; he glanced over the writing and threw them into the fire. The third missive was more interesting; it came from a lady of high social position at whose house he had formerly been a frequent guest. "Why do we never see you?" she wrote. "They tell me yen have passed the winter in England; why should you avoid your friends who have been condemned to the same endurance? I am always at home on Thursday."
He held the dainty little note, and mused over it. At one time the sight of this handwriting had quickened his pulses with a delicious hope; now it stimulated his gloomy reflections. Such a revival of the past was very unseasonable.
Before going to bed he wrote several letters. They were announcements of his coming marriage -- brief, carelessly worded, giving as little information as possible.
The next morning was taken up with business. He saw, among other people, his friend Stark, the picture-collecting lawyer. Stark had letters from Polterham which assured him that the Liberals were confident of victory.
"Confounded pity that Quarrier just got the start of you!" he exclaimed. "You could have kept that seat for the rest of your life."
"Better as it is," was the cheerful reply. "I should have been heartily sick of the business by now."
"There's no knowing. So you marry Miss Mumbray? An excellent choice, I have no doubt. Hearty congratulations! -- Oh, by-the-bye, Jacobs & Burrows have a capital Greuze -- do look in if you are passing."
Glazzard perceived clearly enough that the lawyer regarded this marriage just as Quarrier did, the pisaller of a disappointed and embarrassed man. There was no more interest in his career; he had sunk finally into the commonplace.
At three o'clock he was at home again, and without occupation. The calendar on his writing-table reminded him that it was Thursday. After all, he might as well respond to the friendly invitation of last evening, and say good-bye to his stately acquaintances in Grosvenor Square. He paid a little attention to costume, and presently went forth.
In this drawing-room he had been wont to shine with the double radiance of artist and critic. Here he had talked pictures with the fashionable painters of the day; music with men and women of resonant name. The accomplished hostess was ever ready with that smile she bestowed only upon a few favourites, and her daughter -- well, he had misunderstood, and so came to grief one evening of mid-season. A rebuff, the gentlest possible, but leaving no scintilla of hope. At the end of the same season she gave her hand to Sir Something Somebody, the diplomatist.
And to-day the hostess was as kind as ever, smiled quite in the old way, held his hand a moment longer than was necessary. A dozen callers were in the room, he had no opportunity for private speech, and went away without having mentioned the step he was about to take. Better so; he might have spoken indiscreetly, unbecomingly, in a tone which would only have surprised and shocked that gracious lady.
He reached his rooms again with brain and heart in fiery tumult. Serena Mumbray! -- he was tempted to put an end to his life in some brutal fashion, such as suited with his debasement.
Another letter had arrived during his absence. An hour passed before he saw it, but when his eye at length fell on the envelope he was roused to attention. He took out a sheet of blue note-paper, covered with large, clerkly writing.
"We have at length been able to trace the person concerning whom you are in communication with us. He is at present living in Bristol, and we think is likely to remain there for a short time yet. Will you favour us with a call, or make an appointment elsewhere?
"We have the honour to be, dear Sir,
"TULKS & CROWE."
He paced the room, holding the letter behind his back. It was more than three weeks since the investigation referred to had been committed to Messrs. Tulks & Crowe, private inquiry agents; and long before this he had grown careless whether they succeeded or not. An impulse of curiosity; nothing more. Well, yes; a fondness for playing with secrets, a disposition to get power into his hands -- excited to activity just after a long pleasant talk with Lilian. He was sorry this letter had come; yet it made him smile, which perhaps nothing else would have done just now.
"To be weak is miserable, doing or suffering." The quotation was often in his mind, and he had never felt its force so profoundly as this afternoon. The worst of it was, he did not believe himself a victim of inherent weakness; rather of circumstances which persistently baffled him. But it came to the same thing. Was he never to know the joy of vigorous action? -- of asserting himself to some notable result?
He could do so now, if he chose. In his hand were strings, which, if he liked to pull them, would topple down a goodly edifice, with uproar and dust and amazement indescribable: so slight an effort, so incommensurable an outcome! He had it in his power to shock the conventional propriety of a whole town, and doubtless, to some extent, of all England. What a vast joke that would be -- to look at no other aspect of the matter! The screamings of imbecile morality -- the confusion of party zeal -- the roaring of indignant pulpits!
He laughed outright.
But no; of course it was only an amusing dream. Ho was not malignant enough. The old-fashioned sense of honour was too strong in him. Pooh! He would go and dine, and then laugh away his evening somewhere or other.
Carefully he burnt the letter. To-morrow he would look in at the office of those people, hear their story, and so have done with it.
Next morning he was still in the same mind. He went to TuIks & Crowe's, and spent about an hour closeted with the senior member of that useful firm. "A benevolent interest -- anxious to help the poor devil if possible -- miserable story, that of the marriage -- was to be hoped that the girl would be persuaded to acknowledge him, and help him to lead an honest life -- no idea where she was." The information he received was very full and satisfactory; on the spot he paid for it, and issued into the street again with tolerably easy mind.
To-morrow he must run down to Polterham again. How to pass the rest of to. day? Pressing business was all off his hands, and he did not care to look up any of his acquaintances; he was not in the mood for talk. Uncertain about the future, he had decided to warehouse the furniture, pictures, and so on, that belonged to him. Perhaps it would be well if he occupied himself in going through his papers -- making a selection for the fire.
He did so, until midway in the afternoon. Perusal of old letters will not generally conduce to cheerfulness, and Glazzard once more felt his spirits sink, his brain grow feverishly active. Within reach of where he sat was a railway time-table; he took it up, turned to the Great Western line, pondered, finally looked at his watch.
At two minutes to five he alighted from a cab at Paddington Station -- rushed, bag in hand, to the booking-office -- caught the Bristol train just as the guard had signalled for starting.
He was at Bristol soon after eight. The town being strange ground to him, he bade a cabman drive him to a good hotel, where he dined. Such glimpse as he had caught of the streets did not invite him forth, but neither could he sit unoccupied; as the weather was fair, be rambled for an hour or two. His mind was in a condition difficult to account for; instead of dwelling upon the purpose that had brought him hither, it busied itself with all manner of thoughts and fancies belonging to years long past. He recalled the first lines of a poem he had once attempted; it was suggested by a reading of Coleridge -- and there, possibly, lay the point of association. Coleridge: then he fell upon literary reminiscences. Where, by the way, was St. Mary Redcliffe? He put the inquiry to a passer-by, and was directed. By dreary thoroughfares he came into view of the church, and stood gazing at the spire, dark against a blotchy sky. Then he mocked at himself for acting as if he had an interest in Chatterton, when in truth the name signified boredom to him. Oh, these English provincial towns! What an atmosphere of deadly dulness hung over them all! And people were born, and lived, and died in Bristol -- merciful powers!
He made his way back to the hotel, drank a glass of hot whisky, and went to bed.
After a sound sleep he awoke in the grey dawn, wondered awhile where he could be, then asked himself why on earth he had come here. It didn't matter much; he could strike off by the Midland to Polterham, and be there before noon. And again he slept.
When he had breakfasted, he called to the waiter and asked him how far it was to that part of the town called Hotwells. Learning that the road thither would bring him near to Clifton, he nodded with satisfaction. Clifton was a place to be seen; on a bright morning like this it would be pleasant to walk over the Downs and have a look at the gorge of the Avon.
A cab was called. With one foot raised he stood in uncertainty, whilst the driver asked him twice whither they were to go. At length he said "Hotwells," and named a street in that locality. He lay back and closed his eyes, remaining thus until the cab stopped.
Hastily he looked about him. He was among poor houses, and near to docks; the masts of great ships appeared above roofs. With a quick movement he drew a coin from his pocket, tossed it up, caught it between his hands. The driver had got down and was standing at the door.
"This the place? Thanks; I'll get out."
He looked at the half-crown, smiled, and handed it to the cabman.
In a few minutes he stood before an ugly but decent house, which had a card in the window intimating that lodgings were here to let. His knock brought a woman to the door.
"I think Mr. North lives here?"
"Yes, sir, he do live yere," the woman answered, in a simple tone. "Would you wish for to see him?"
"Please ask him if he could see a gentleman on business -- Mr. Marks."
"But he ben't in, sir, not just now. He" ---- she broke off and pointed up the street. "Why, there he come, I declare!"
"The tall man?"
"That be he, sir."
Glazzard moved towards the person indicated, a man of perhaps thirty, with a good figure, a thin, sallow face, clean-shaven, and in rather shabby clothes. He went close up to him and said gravely:
"Mr. North, I have just called to see you on business."
The young man suppressed a movement of uneasiness, drew in his lank cheeks, and looked steadily at the speaker.
"What name?" he asked, curtly, with the accent which represents some degree of liberal education.
"Mr. Marks. I should like to speak to you in private."
"Has any one sent you?"
"No, I have taken the trouble to find where you were living. It's purely my own affair. I think it will be to your interest to talk with me."
The other still eyed him suspiciously, but did not resist.
"I haven't a sitting-room," he said, "and we can't talk here. We can walk on a little, if you like."
"I'm a stranger. Is there a quiet spot anywhere about here?"
"If we jump on this omnibus that's coming, it'll take us to the Suspension Bridge -- Clifton, you know. Plenty of quiet spots about there."
The suggestion was accepted. On the omnibus they conversed as any casual acquaintances might have done. Glazzard occasionally inspected his companion's features, which were not vulgar, yet not pleasing. The young man had a habit of sucking in his cheeks, and of half closing his eyes as if he suffered from weak sight; his limbs twitched now and then, and he constantly fingered his throat.
"A fine view," remarked Glazzard, as they came near to the great cliffs; "but the bridge spoils it, of course."
"Do you think so? Not to my mind. I always welcome the signs of civilization."
Glazzard looked at him with curiosity, and the speaker threw back his head in a self-conscious, conceited way.
"Picturesqueness is all very well," he added, "but it very often means hardships to human beings. I don't ask whether a country looks beautiful, but what it does for the inhabitants."
"Very right and proper," assented Glazzard, with a curl of the lip.
"I know very well," pursued the moralist, "that civilization doesn't necessarily mean benefit to the class which ought to be considered first. But that's another question. It ought to benefit them, and eventually it must."
"You lean towards Socialism?"
"Christian Socialism if you know what that signifies."
"I have an idea. A very improving doctrine, no doubt."
They dismounted, and began the ascent of the hillside by a path which wound among trees. Not far from the summit they came to a bench which afforded a good view.
"Suppose we stop here," Glazzard suggested. "It doesn't look as if we should be disturbed."
"As you please."
"By-the-bye, you have abbreviated your name, I think?"
The other again looked uneasy and clicked with his tongue.
"You had better say what you want with me, Mr. Marks," he replied, impatiently.
"My business is with Arthur James Northway. If you are he, I think I can do you a service."
"Why should you do me a service?"
"From a motive I will explain if all else is satisfactory."
"How did you find out where I was?"
"By private means which are at my command." Glazzard adopted the tone of a superior, but was still suave. "My information is pretty complete. Naturally, you are still looking about for employment. I can't promise you that, but I daresay you wouldn't object to earn a five-pound note?"
"If it's anything -- underhand, I'll have nothing to do with it."
"Nothing you can object to. In fact, it's an affair that concerns you more than any one else. -- I believe you can't find any trace of your wife?"
Northway turned his head, and peered at his neighbour with narrow eyes.
"It's about her, is it?"
"Yes, about her."
Strangely enough, Glazzard could not feel as if this conversation greatly interested him. He kept gazing at the Suspension Bridge, at the woods beyond, at the sluggish river, and thought more of the view than of his interlocutor. The last words fell from his lips idly.
"You know where she is?" Northway inquired.
"Quite well. I have seen her often of late -- from a distance. To prove I am not mistaken, look at this portrait and tell me if you recognize the person?"
He took from an inner pocket a mutilated photograph; originally of cabinet size, it was cut down to an oval, so that only the head remained. The portrait had been taken in London between Lilian's return from Paris and her arrival at Polterham. Glazzard was one of the few favoured people who received a copy.
Northway examined it and drew in his cheeks, breathing hard.
"There's no mistake, I think?"
The reply was a gruff negative.
"I suppose you do care about discovering her?"
The answer was delayed. Glazzard read it, however, m the man's countenance, which expressed various emotions.
"She has married again -- eh?"
"First, let me ask you another question. Have you seen her relatives?"
"Yes, I have."
"With what result?"
"They profess to know nothing about her. Of course, I don't believe them."
"But you may," said Glazzard, calmly. "They speak the truth, no doubt. From them you must hope for no information. In all likelihood, you might seek her for the rest of your life and never come upon her track."
"Then let me know what you propose."
"I offer to tell you where she is, and how situated, and to enable you to claim her. But you, for your part, must undertake to do this in a certain way, which I will describe when everything is ready, a week or so hence. As I have said, I am willing to reward you for agreeing to act as I direct. My reasons you shall understand when I go into the other details. You will see that I have no kind of selfish object in view -- in fact, that I am quite justified in what looks like vulgar plotting."
Glazzard threw out the words with a careless condescension, keeping his eyes on the landscape.
"I'll take back the portrait, if you please."
He restored it to his pocket, and watched Northway's features, which were expressive of mental debate.
"At present," he went on, "I can do no more than give you an idea of what has been going on. Your wife has not been rash enough to marry a second time; but she is supposed to be married to a man of wealth and position -- is living publicly as his wife. They have deceived every one who knows them."
"Except you, it seems," remarked Northway, with a gleam from between his eyelids.
"Except me -- but that doesn't concern you. Now, you see that your wife has done nothing illegal; you can doubtless divorce her, but have no other legal remedy. I mention this because it might occur to you that -- you will excuse me -- that the situation is a profitable one. It is nothing of the kind. On the threat of exposure they would simply leave England at once. Nothing could induce them to part -- be quite sure of that. The man, as I said, has a high position, and you might be tempted to suppose that -- to speak coarsely -- he would pay blackmail. Don't think it for a moment. He is far too wise to persevere in what would be a lost game; they would at once go abroad. It is only on the stage that men consent to pay for the keeping of a secret which is quite certain not to be kept."
Northway had followed with eager attention, pinching his long throat and drawing in his cheeks.
"Well, what do you want me to do?" he asked.
"To remain hero in Bristol for a week or so longer. I will then telegraph to you, and tell you where to meet me."
"Is it far from here?"
"A couple of hours' journey, or so. If you will allow me, I will pay your fare at once."
He took out a sovereign, which Northway, after a moment's hesitation, accepted.
"Do you take any interest in the elections?" Glazzard asked.
"Not much," replied the other, reassuming his intellectual air. "One party is as worthless as the other from my point of view."
"I'm glad to hear that -- you'll understand why when we meet again. And, indeed, I quite agree with you."
"Politics are no use nowadays," pursued Northway. "The questions of the time are social. We want a party that is neither Liberal nor Tory."
"Exactly. -- Well, now, may I depend upon you?"
"I'll come when you send for me."
"Very well. I have your address."
He stood up, hesitated a moment, and offered his hand, which Northway took without raising his eyes.
"I shall walk on into Clifton; so here we say good-bye for the present. -- A week or ten days."
"I suppose you won't alter your mind, Mr. -- Mr. Marks?"
"Not the least fear of that. I have a public duty to discharge."
So speaking, and with a peculiar smile on his lips, Glazzard walked away. Northway watched him and seemed tempted to follow, but at length went down the hill.
Disappointed in his matrimonial project, the Rev. Scatchard Vialls devoted himself with acrid zeal to the interests of the Conservative party. He was not the most influential of the Polterham clerics, for women in general rather feared than liked him; a sincere ascetic, he moved but awkwardly in the regions of tea and tattle, and had an uncivil habit of speaking what he thought the truth without regard to time, place, or person. Some of his sermons had given offence, with the result that several ladies betook themselves to gentler preachers. But the awe inspired by his religious enthusiasm was practically useful now that he stood forward as an assailant of the political principles held in dislike by most Polterham church-goers. There was a little band of district-visitors who stood by him the more resolutely for the coldness with which worldly women regarded him; and these persons, with their opportunities of making interest in poor households, constituted a party agency not to be despised. They worked among high and low with an unscrupulous energy to which it is not easy to do justice. Wheedling or menacing -- doing everything indeed but argue -- they blended the cause of Mr. Welwyn-Baker and that of the Christian religion so inextricably that the wives of humble electors came to regard the Tory candidate as Christ's vicegerent upon earth, and were convinced that their husbands' salvation depended upon a Tory vote.
One Sunday, Mr. Vialls took for his text, "But rather seek ye the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." He began by pointing out how very improper it would be for a clergyman to make the pulpit an ally of the hustings; far indeed be it from him to discourse in that place of party questions -- to speak one word which should have for its motive the advancements of any electioneering cause. But in these times of social discontent and upheaval it must not be forgotten that eternal verities were at stake. There were men -- there were multitudes, alas! who made it the object of their life-long endeavour to oust Christianity from the world; if not avowedly, at all events in fact. Therefore would he describe to them in brief, clear sentences what really was implied in a struggle between the parties commonly known as Conservative and Liberal. He judged no individual; he spoke only of principles, of a spirit, an attitude. The designs of Russia, the troubles in Ireland -- of these things he knew little and recked less; they were "party shibboleths," and did not concern a Christian minister in his pulpit. But deeper lay the interests for which parties nowadays were in truth contending. It had come to this: are we to believe, or are we not to believe that the "kingdom of God" must have precedence of worldly goods? The working classes of this country -- ah, how sad to have to speak with condemnation of the poor! -- were being led to think that the only object worth striving after was an improvement of their material condition. Marvellous to say, they were encouraged in this view by people whom Providence had blessed with all the satisfactions that earth can give. When the wealthy, the educated thus repudiated the words of Christ, what could be expected of those whom supreme Goodness has destined to a subordinate lot? No! material improvement was not the first thing, even for those unhappy people (victims for the most part of their own improvident or vicious habits) who had scarcely bread to eat and raiment wherewith to clothe themselves. Let them seek the kingdom of God, and these paltry, temporal things shall surely be added unto them.
This sermon was printed at the office of the Polterham Mercury, and distributed freely throughout the town. He had desired no such thing, said Mr. Vialls, but the pressure of friends was irresistible. In private, meanwhile, he spoke fiercely against the Radical candidate, and never with such acrimony as in Mrs. Mumbray's drawing-room when Serena was present. One afternoon he stood up, tea-cup in hand, and, as his habit was, delivered a set harangue on the burning topic.
"In one respect," he urged, after many other accusations, "I consider that Mr. Quarrier is setting the very worst, the most debasing, the most demoralizing example to these working folk, whose best interests he professes to have at heart. I am assured (and the witness of my own eyes in one instance warrants me in giving credit to the charge) that he constantly enters public-houses, taverns, even low dram-shops, to satisfy his thirst for strong liquor in the very face of day, before the eyes of any one who may happen to be passing. This is simply abominable. If an honourable man has one duty -- one social duty -- more incumbent upon him than another, it is to refrain from setting an example of intemperance."
Serena had listened thus far with a look of growing irritation. At length she could resist no longer the impulse to speak out.
"But surely, Mr. Vialls, you don't charge Mr. Quarrier with intemperance?"
"I do, Miss Mumbray," replied the clergyman, sternly. "Intemperance does not necessarily imply drunkenness. It is intemperate to enter public-houses at all hours and in all places, even if the liquor partaken of has no obvious effect upon the gait or speech of the drinker. I maintain" ----
"Mr. Quarrier does not go about as you would have us believe."
"Serena!" interfered her mother. "Do you contradict Mr. Vialls?"
"Yes, mother, I do, and every one ought to who knows that he is exaggerating. I have heard this calumny before, and I have been told how it has arisen. Mr. Quarrier takes a glass of beer when he is having a long country walk; and why he shouldn't quench his thirst I'm sure I can't understand."
"Miss Mumbray," said the clergyman, glaring at her, yet affecting forbearance, "you seem to forget that our cottagers are not so inhospitable as to refuse a glass of water to the weary pedestrian who knocks at their door."
"I don't forget it, Mr. Vialls," replied Serena, who was trembling at her own boldness, but found a pleasure in persevering. "And I know very well what sort of water one generally gets at cottages about here. I remember the family at Rickstead that died one after another of their temperance beverage."
"Forgive me! That is not at all to the point. Granting that the quality of the water is suspicious, are there not pleasant little shops where lemonade can be obtained? But no; it is not merely to quench a natural thirst that Mr. Quarrier has recourse to those pestilent vendors of poison; the drinking of strong liquor has become a tyrant-habit with him."
"I deny it, Mr. Vialls!" exclaimed the girl, almost angrily. (Mrs. Mumbray in vain tried to interpose, and the other ladies present were partly shocked, partly amused, into silence.) "If so, then my father is a victim to the habit of drink -- and so is Mr. Welwyn-Baker himself!"
This was laying a hand upon the Ark. Mrs. Mumbray gave a little scream, and several "Oh's!" were heard. Mr. Vialls shook his head and smiled with grim sadness.
"My dear young lady, I fear we shall not understand each other. I am far from being one of those who deny to ladies the logical faculty, but" ----
"But you feel that I am right, and that party prejudice has carried you too far!" interrupted Serena, rising from her chair. "I had better go away, or I shall say disagreeable things about the Conservatives. I am not one of them, and I should like that to be understood."
She walked quietly from the room, and there ensued an awkward silence.
"Poor Serena!" breathed Mrs. Mumbray, with a deep sigh. "She has fallen under the influence of Mrs. Quarrier -- a most dangerous person. How such things come to pass I cannot understand."
Mrs. Tenterden's deep voice chimed in:
"We must certainly guard our young people against Mrs. Quarrier. From the look of her, no one could have guessed what she would turn out. The idea of so young a woman going to people's houses and talking polities!"
"Oh, I think nothing of that!" remarked a lady who particularly wished to remind the company that she was still youthful. "I canvass myself; it's quite the proper thing for ladies to do. But I'm told she has rather an impertinent way of speaking to every one who doesn't fall down and worship her husband."
"Mrs. Lester," broke in the grave voice of the clergyman, "I trust you will pardon me, but you have inadvertently made use of a phrase which is, or should be, consecrated by a religious significance."
The lady apologized rather curtly, and Mr. Vialls made a stiff bow.
At this same moment the subject of their conversation was returning home from a bold expedition into the camp of the enemy. Encouraged by the personal friendliness that had been shown her in the family of Mr. Samuel Quarrier, Lilian conceived and nourished the hope that it was within her power to convert the sturdy old Tory himself. Samuel made a joke of this, and entertained himself with a pretence of lending ear to her arguments. This afternoon he had allowed her to talk to him for a long time. Lilian's sweetness was irresistible, and she came back in high spirits with report of progress. Denzil, who had just been badgered by a deputation of voters who wished to discover his mind on seven points of strictly non-practical politics, listened with idle amusement.
"Dear girl," he said presently, "the old fellow is fooling you! You can no more convert him than you could the Dalai-Lama to Christianity."
"But he speaks quite seriously, Denzil! He owns that he doesn't like Beaconsfield, and" ----
"Don't waste your time and your patience. It's folly, I assure you. When you are gone he explodes with laughter."
Lilian gazed at him for a moment with wide eyes, then burst into tears.
"Good heavens! what is the matter with you, Lily?" cried Denzil, jumping up. "Come, come, this kind of thing won't do! You are overtaxing yourself. You are getting morbidly excited."
It was true enough, and Lilian was herself conscious of it, but she obeyed an impulse from which there seemed no way of escape. Her conscience and her fears would not leave her at peace; every now and then she found herself starting at unusual sounds, trembling in mental agitation if any one approached her with an unwonted look, dreading the arrival of the post, the sight of a newspaper, faces in the street. Then she hastened to the excitement of canvassing, as another might have turned to more vulgar stimulants. Certainly her health had suffered. She could not engage in quiet study, still less could rest her mind in solitary musing, as in the old days.
Denzil seated himself by her on the sofa.
"If you are to suffer in this way, little girl, I shall repent sorely that ever I went in for politics."
"How absurd of me! I can't think why I behave so ridiculously!"
But still she sobbed, resting her head against him.
"I have an idea," he said at length, rendered clairvoyant by his affection, "that after next week you will feel much easier in your mind."
"After next week?"
"Yes; when Glazzard is married and gone away."
She would not confess that he was right, but her denials strengthened his surmise.
"I can perfectly understand it, Lily. It certainly was unfortunate; and if it had been any one but Glazzard, I might myself have been wishing the man away. But you know as well as I do that Glazzard would not breathe a syllable."
"Not even to his wife?" she whispered.
"Not even to her! I assure you"-- he smiled -- "men have no difficulty in keeping important secrets, Samson notwithstanding. Glazzard would think himself for ever dishonoured. But in a week's time they will be gone; and I shouldn't wonder if they remain abroad for years. So brighten up, dearest dear, and leave Sam alone; he's a cynical old fellow, past hope of mending his ways. See more of Molly; she does you good. And, by-the-bye, it's time you called on the Catesbys. They will always be very glad to see you."
This family of Catesby was one of the few really distinguished in the neighbourhood. Colonel Catesby, a long-retired warrior, did not mingle much with local society, but with his wife and daughter he had appeared at Denzil's first political dinner; they all "took to" their hostess, and had since manifested this liking in sundry pleasant ways.
Indeed, Lilian was become a social success -- that is to say, with people who were at all capable of appreciating her. Herein, as in other things, she had agreeably surprised Denzil. He had resigned himself to seeing her remain a loving, intelligent, but very unambitious woman; of a sudden she proved equal to all the social claims connected with his candidature -- unless the efforts, greater than appeared, were undermining her health. Having learned to trust herself in conversation, she talked with a delightful blending of seriousness and gentle merriment. Her culture declared itself in every thought; there was much within the ordinary knowledge of people trained to the world that she did not know, but the simplicity resulting from this could never be confused with want of education or of tact. When the Catesbys made it evident that they approved her, Quarrier rejoiced exceedingly; he was flattered in his deepest sensibilities, and felt that henceforth nothing essential would be wanting to his happiness -- whether Polterham returned him or not.
That he would be returned, he had no doubt. The campaign proceeded gloriously. Whilst Mr. Gladstone flowed on for ever in Midlothian rhetoric, Denzil lost no opportunity of following his leader, and was often astonished at the ease with which he harangued as long as Polterham patience would endure him. To get up and make a two hours' speech no longer cost him the least effort; he played with the stock subjects of eloquence, sported among original jokes and catch-words, burned through perorations with the joy of an improvisatore in happiest mood. The Examiner could not report him for lack of space; the Mercury complained of a headache caused by this "blatant youthfulness striving to emulate garrulous senility" -- a phrase which moved Denzil to outrageous laughter. And on the whole he kept well within such limits of opinion as Polterham approved. Now and then Mr. Chown felt moved by the spirit to interrogate him as to the "scope and bearing and significance" of an over-bold expression, but the Radical section was too delighted with a prospect of victory to indulge in "heckling," and the milder Progressives considered their candidate as a man of whom Polterham might be proud, a man pretty sure to "make his mark" at Westminster.
In the hostile ranks there was a good deal of loud talk and frequent cheering, but the speeches were in general made by lieutenants, and the shouts seemed intended to make up for the defective eloquence of their chief. Mr. Welwyn-Baker was too old and too stout and too shaky for the toil of personal electioneering. He gave a few dinners at his big house three miles away, and he addressed (laconically) one or two select meetings; for the rest, his name and fame had to suffice. There was no convincing him that his seat could possibly be in danger. He smiled urbanely over the reports of Quarrier's speeches, called his adversary "a sharp lad," and continued through all the excitement of the borough to conduct himself with this amiable fatuity.
"I vow and protest," said Mr. Mumbray, in a confidential ear, "that if it weren't for the look of the thing, I would withhold my vote altogether! W.-B. is in his dotage. And to think that we might have put new life into the party! Bah!"
Conservative canvassers did not fail to make use of the fact that Mr. Welwyn-Baker had always been regardful of the poor. His alms-houses were so pleasantly situated and so tastefully designed that many Polterham people wished they were for lease on ordinary terms. The Infirmary was indebted to his annual beneficence, and the Union had to thank him -- especially through this past winter -- for a lightening of its burden. Aware of these things, Lilian never felt able to speak harshly against the old Tory. In theory she acknowledged that the relief of a few families could not weigh against principles which enslaved a whole population (thus Quarrier put it), but her heart pleaded for the man who allayed suffering at his gates; and could Mr. Chown have heard the admissions she made to Welwyn-Baker's advocates, he would have charged her with criminal weakness, if not with secret treachery. She herself had as yet been able to do very little for the poor of the town; with the clergy she had no intimate relations (church-going was for her and Denzil only a politic conformity); and Polterham was not large enough to call for the organization of special efforts. But her face invited the necessitous; in the by-ways she had been appealed to for charity, with results which became known among people inclined to beg. So it happened that she was one day led on a benevolent mission into the poorest part of the town, and had an opportunity of indulging her helpful instincts.
This was in the afternoon. Between nine and ten that evening, as Denzil and she sat together in the library (for once they were alone and at peace), a servant informed her that Mrs. Wade wished to speak for a moment on urgent business. She went out and found her friend in the drawing-room.
"Can you give me a few minutes?"
"As long as ever you like! No one is here, for a wonder. Do you wish to talk privately, or will you come into the study? We were sitting there."
"It's only politics."
"Oh, then come."
Quarrier would rather have been left in quiet over the proof-sheets of his book -- it was already going through the press -- but he welcomed the visitor with customary friendliness.
"Capital speech of Hartington's yesterday."
"Very good answer to Cross. What do you think of John Bright and the licensed victuallers?"
"Oh," laughed Denzil, "he'll have to talk a good deal before he persuades them that temperance is money in their pockets! I don't see the good of that well-intentioned sophistry. But then, you know, I belong to the habitual drunkards! You have heard that Scatchard Vialls so represents me to all and sundry?"
"I should proceed against him for slander."
"On the contrary, I think it does me good. All the honest topers will rally to me, and the sober Liberals will smile indulgently. Sir Wilfred Lawson would long ago have been stamped out as a bore of the first magnitude but for his saving humour."
Mrs. Wade presently made known her business; but with a preface which disturbed the nerves of both her listeners.
"The enemy have a graver charge against you. I happened, an hour ago, to catch a most alarming rumour. Mr. Quarrier, your wife will be your ruin!"
Notwithstanding the tone of burlesque, Lilian turned pale, and Quarrier stood frowning. Mrs. Wade examined them both, her bright eyes glancing quickly from one face to the other and back again. She did not continue, until Quarrier exclaimed impatiently:
"What is it now?"
"Nothing less than an accusation of bribery and corruption."
Relief was audible in Denzil's laugh.
"It's reported," Mrs. Wade went on, "that Mrs. Quarrier has been distributing money -- money in handfuls, through half-a-dozen streets down by the river."
"You don't really mean" ---- began Lilian, who could not even yet quite command her voice.
"It's positively going about! I thought it my duty to come and tell you at once. What is the foundation?"
"I warned you, Lily," said Denzil, good-humouredly. "The fact is, Mrs. Wade, she gave half-a-crown to some old woman in Water Lane this afternoon. It was imprudent, of course. Who told you about it?"
"Mr. Rook, the stationer. It was talked of up and down High Street, he assures me. We may laugh, but this kind of misrepresentation goes a long way."
"Let the blackguards make the most of it!" cried Quarrier. "I have as good things in store for them. One of Jobson's workmen told me this morning that he and his fellows were being distinctly intimidated; Jobson has told them several times that if the Radicals won, work would be scarce, and that the voters would have only themselves to thank for it. And Thomas Barker has been promising lowered rents at Lady-day."
"But who could have told such falsehoods about me?" asked Lilian.
"Some old woman who didn't get the half-crown, no doubt," replied Mrs. Wade.
"Those poor creatures I went to see have no vote."
"Oh, but handfuls of money, you know! It's the impression made on the neighbourhood. Seriously, they are driven to desperate resources; and I believe there is a good deal of intimidation going on -- especially on the part of district-visitors. Mrs. Alexander told me of several instances. And the wives (of course) are such wretched cowards! That great big carpenter, East, is under his wife's thumb, and she has been imploring him not to vote Liberal for fear of consequences -- she sits weeping, and talking about the workhouse. Contemptible idiot! It would gratify me extremely to see her really going to the workhouse."
"And pray," asked Denzil, with a laugh, "what would be the result of giving the franchise to such women?"
"The result might be that, in time to come, there wouldn't be so many of them."
"In time to come -- possibly. In the meanwhile, send their girls to school to learn a wholesome contempt for their mothers."
"Well, it sounds brutal, but it's very good sense. All progress involves disagreeable necessities."
Mrs. Wade was looking about the room, smiling, absent. She rose abruptly.
"I mustn't spoil your one quiet evening. How do the proofs go on?"
"Would you care to take a batch of them?" asked Quarrier. "These are revises -- you might be able to make a useful suggestion."
She hesitated, but at length held out her band.
"You have rather a long walk," said Lilian. "I hope it's fine."
"No; it drizzles."
"Oh, how kind of you to take so much trouble on our account!"
Mrs. Wade went out into the darkness. It was as disagreeable a night as the time of year could produce; black overhead, slimy under foot, with a cold wind to dash the colder rain in one's face. The walk home took more than half an hour, and she entered her cottage much fatigued. Without speaking to the girl who admitted her, she went upstairs to take off her out-of-door things; on coming down to the sitting-room, she found her lamp lit, her fire burning, and supper on the table -- a glass of milk and some slices of bread and butter. Her friends would have felt astonishment and compassion had they learned how plain and slight was the fare that supported her; only by reducing her household expenditure to the strict minimum could she afford to dress in the manner of a lady, supply herself with a few papers and books, and keep up the appearances without which it is difficult to enjoy any society at all.
To-night she ate and drank with a bitter sense of her poverty and loneliness. Before her mind's eye was the picture of Denzil Quarrier's study -- its luxury, brightness, wealth of volumes; and Denzil's face made an inseparable part of the scene. That face had never ceased to occupy her imagination since the evening of his lecture at the Institute. Its haunting power was always greatest when she sat here alone in the stillness. This little room, in which she had known the pleasures of independence and retirement, seemed now but a prison. It was a mean dwelling, fit only for labouring folk; the red blind irritated her sight, and she had to turn away from it.
What a hope had come to her of a sudden last autumn! How recklessly she had indulged it, and how the disappointment rankled!
A disappointment which she could not accept with the resignation due to fate. At first she had done so; but then a singular surmise crept into her thoughts -- a suspicion which came she knew not whence -- and thereafter was no rest from fantastic suggestions. Her surmise did not remain baseless; evidence of undeniable strength came to its support, yet all was so vague -- so unserviceable.
She opened the printed sheets that Quarrier had given her and for a few minutes read with interest. Then her eyes and thoughts wandered.
Her servant knocked and entered, asking if she should remove the supper-tray. In looking up at the girl, Mrs. Wade noticed red eyes and other traces of weeping.
"What is the matter?" she asked, sharply. "Have you any news?"
The girl answered with a faltering negative. She, too, had her unhappy story. A Polterham mechanic who made love to her lost his employment, went to London with hopes and promises, and now for more than half a year had given no sign of his existence. Mrs. Wade had been wont to speak sympathetically on the subject, but to-night it excited her anger.
"Don't be such a simpleton, Annie! If only you knew anything of life, you would be glad of what has happened. You are free again, and freedom is the one thing in the world worth having. To sit and cry because -- I'm ashamed of you!"
Surprise and misery caused the tears to break forth again.
"Go to bed, and go to sleep!" said the mistress, harshly. "If ever you are married, you'll remember what I said, and look back to the time when you knew nothing worse than silly girlish troubles. Have you no pride? It's girls like you that make men think so lightly of all women -- despise us -- say we are unfit for anything but cooking and cradle-rocking! If you go on in this way you must leave me; I won't have a silly, moping creature before my eyes, to make me lose all patience!"
The girl took up the tray and hurried off. Her mistress sat till late in. the night, now reading a page of the proofs, now brooding with dark countenance.