* I am deeply indebted to Olivier Lefevre, who have meticulously read the proof of this e-text.
The polling would take place on the last day of March. On the day previous to that of nomination Glazzard and Serena Mumbray were to be married. Naturally, not at Mr. Vialls' church; they made choice of St. Luke's, which was blessed with a mild, intellectual incumbent. Mrs. Mumbray, consistently obstinate on this one point, refused to be present at the ceremony.
"There will be no need of me," she said to Serena. "Since you choose to be married as if you were ashamed of it, your father's presence will be quite enough. I have always looked forward to very different things; but when were my wishes and hopes consulted? I am not angry with you; we shall part on perfectly good terms, and I shall wish you every happiness. I hope to hear from you occasionally. But I cannot be a witness of what I so strongly disapprove."
William Glazzard -- who saw nothing amiss in his brother's choice of a wife, and was greatly relieved by the thought of Serena's property -- would readily have gone to the church, but it was decided, in deference to the bride's wish, that Ivy should come in his stead.
Ivy had felt herself neglected lately. Since the announcement that her uncle Eustace was to marry Serena, she had seen very little of the friend with whom alone she could enjoy intimate converse. But on the eve of the wedding-day they spent an hour or two together in Serena's room. Both were in a quiet mood, thoughtful rather than talkative.
"This day week," said Serena, breaking a long silence, "I shall be somewhere in Sicily -- perhaps looking at Mount Etna. The change comes none to soon. I was getting into a thoroughly bad state of mind. Before long you would have refused to associate with me."
"I think not, dear."
"If not, then I should have done you harm -- and that would be a burden on my conscience. I had begun to feel a pleasure in saying and doing things that I believed to be wrong. You never had that feeling?"
Ivy looked up with wonder in her gentle, dreamy eyes.
"It must be very strange."
"I have thought about it, and I believe it comes from ignorance. You know, perhaps what I said and did wasn't really wrong, after all -- if one only understood."
The listener was puzzled.
"But we won't talk about it. Before long I shall understand so many things, and then you shall have the benefit of my experience. I believe I am going to be very happy."
It was said as if on a sudden impulse, with a tremulous movement of the body.
"I hope and believe so, dear," replied the other, warmly.
"And you -- I don't like to think of you being so much alone. There's a piece of advice I should like to give you. Try and make friends with Mrs. Quarrier."
"Yes -- I have a good reason -- I think she would suit you exactly. I had a long talk with her about a fortnight ago, and she seemed to me very nice -- nicer than any one I have ever known, except you."
"Perhaps I shall have an opportunity" ----
"Make one. Go and see her, and ask her to come and see you."
They fell again into musing, and the rest of their talk was mainly about the arrangements for the morrow.
About the time that Ivy Glazzard was going home, her uncle left Polterham by train. He travelled some thirty miles, and alighted at a large station, which, even thus late, was full of noise and bustle. After drinking a cup of coffee in the refreshment-room, he crossed to another platform, and then paced up and down for a quarter of an hour, until the ringing of a bell gave notice that a train which he awaited was just arriving. It steamed into the station, and Glazzard's eye, searching among the passengers who got out, quickly recognized a tall, thin figure.
"So, here you are," he said, holding his hand to Northway, who smiled doubtfully, and peered at him with sleepy eyes. "I have a room at the station hotel -- come along."
They were presently at their ease in a sitting-room, with a hot supper on the table. Northway ate heartily; his entertainer with less gusto, though he looked in excellent spirits, and talked much of the impending elections. The meal dismissed, Glazzard lit a cigar (Northway did not smoke) and broached the topic of their meeting.
"Now, what I am going to propose to you may seem disagreeable. I take it for granted that we deal honourably -- for my own purpose is nothing to be ashamed of; and if, after hearing what I ask, you don't care to undertake it, say so at once, and there's no harm done."
"Well, let me know what it is?" replied the other, plucking at his throat.
"Plainly then, I am engaged in election work. My motives are political."
"The man of whom we spoke the other day is standing as candidate for a borough not very far from here -- not this town. Not long ago I discovered that secret of his private life. I am going to use it against him -- to floor him with this disgrace. You understand?"
"Which side is he?"
"Liberal. But to a man of your large views, that of course makes no difference."
"Not a bit!" Northway replied, obviously flattered. "You are a Conservative, then?"
"Yes; I am Conservative. I think (as I am sure you do) that Liberalism is a mere name, used for the most part by men who want to make tools of the people."
"Yes, I agree with that," said Northway, putting his head aside and drawing in his cheeks.
Glazzard repressed a smile, and smoked for a moment.
"What I want you to do," he continued, "is this. To-morrow, by an early train, you will go down to this borough I speak of. You will find your way to the Court-house, and will get leave to make an appeal for the magistrate's advice. When you come forward, you will say that your wife has deserted you -- that a friend of yours has seen her in that town, and has discovered that she has committed bigamy -- that you wish for the magistrate's help -- his advice how to take proceedings. And, finally, you will state in a particularly clear voice that your wife is Mrs. So-and-so, illegally married to Mr. So-and-so, Liberal candidate."
He spoke in hurrying accents, and as he ceased the cigar fell from his fingers.
"But I thought you said that they weren't married at all?"
"They are not. But you mustn't know it. Your friend -- who informed you (say it was a man casually in the town, a commercial traveller, who knew your wife formerly by sight) -- took it for granted they were married. If you knew she had not broken the law, you would have no excuse for going into Court, you see."
Northway pondered the matter, clicking with his tongue.
"You remember, I hope," pursued Glazzard, "all I told you at Clifton about the position of these people?"
"Yes, I remember. How long have they been together?"
"About two years."
"Has she a child?"
"No. Now, are you disposed to serve me? If you consent, you will gain the knowledge of your wife's whereabouts and the reward I promised -- which I shall pay now. If you take the money and then spoil my scheme, you will find it has been useless dishonesty. To-morrow, in any case, the facts will be made public."
Northway glanced at him ill-humouredly.
"You needn't be so anxious about my honesty, Mr. Marks. But I should like to be made a little surer that you have been telling me the truth. How do I know that my wife is really living as you say? It seems to me I ought to have a sight of her before I go talking to magistrates."
"Nobody," pursued the other, "would make such a charge just on hearsay evidence. It would only be common sense for me to see her first."
"That objection is reasonable. If you knew how well-assured I am of this lady's identity, you would understand why your view of the matter never occurred to me. You must say that you have seen her, that's all -- seen her coming out of her house."
But Northway was still unsatisfied. He desired to know how it was that a public man had succeeded in deceiving all his friends in such an affair as that of his marriage, and put various other questions, which reminded Glazzard how raw a hand he was at elaborate artifice. Whilst the discussion was going on, Northway took from his pocket an envelope, and from the envelope drew a small photograph.
"You showed me one the other day," he said. "Now, do you recognize that?"
"Undoubtedly. That is Miss Lilian Allen -- four years ago, I dare say."
"H'm! not a bad guess. It's four years old, as near as can be. I see you know all about her, though how you found out I can't understand, unless she" ----
He paused, peering at Glazzard suspiciously.
"It doesn't matter how I learnt what I know," said the latter, in a peremptory tone. "Let us stick to the point. It's lucky you have brought this carte-de-visite; it will enable you to assure yourself, before going to the Court-house, that you are not being fooled. As soon as you land in the town, ask your way to the shop of a bookseller called Ridge (make a note of the name) -- tell Mr. Ridge that you have found a pocket-book with that photograph in it, and ask him if he can help you to identify the person. You'll hear his answer. And in this way, by-the-bye, you could dispense with telling the magistrate that you have seen your wife. Produce the portrait in Court, and declare that it has been recognized by people in the town."
Northway appeared content.
"Well, that sounds better. And what am I to do after speaking to the magistrate?"
"I should advise you to have an interview with the man himself, the Liberal candidate, and ask him how it happens that your wife is living with him. In that way -- when he learns what step you have already taken -- you will no doubt get hold of the truth. And then," he smiled, "you can spend the rest of the day in contradicting your statement that Mrs. So-and-so has committed bigamy; making it known that she is merely a counterfeit wife."
"Making known to whom?"
"Why, to the hundreds of people who will crowd about you. My dear sir, you will be the most important person in the town! You will turn an electicn -- overthrow the hopes of a party! Don't you want to know the taste of power? Won't it amuse you to think, and to remember, that in the elections of 1880 you exercised an influence beyond that of Gladstone or Beaconsfield? It's the wish for power that excites all this uproar throughout the country. I myself, now -- do you think I am a political agent just for the money it brings me? No, no; but because I have delight in ruling men! If I am not mistaken, you have it in you to become a leader in your way, and some day you'll remember my words."
Northway opened his eyes very wide, and with a look of gratification.
"You think I'm cut out for that kind of thing?"
"Judging from what I have heard of your talk. But not in England, you understand. Try one of the new countries, where the popular cause goes ahead more boldly. You're young enough yet."
The listener mused, smiling in a self-conscious way that obliged Glazzard to avert his face for a moment lest he should betray contemptuous amusement.
"Shall you be there -- in that town -- to-morrow?" asked the young man.
"No, I have business in quite another part. That election," he added, with an air of importance, "is not the only one I am looking after."
There was silence, then Glazzard continued:
"It's indifferent to me whether it comes out that I planned this stratagem, or not. Still, in the interests of my party, I admit that I had rather it were kept quiet. So I'll tell you what. If, in a month's time, I find that you have kept the secret, you shall receive at any address you like a second five-pound note. It's just as you please. Of course, if you think you can get more by bargaining with the Liberals -- but I doubt whether the secret will be worth anything after the explosion."
"All right. I'll give you an address, so that if you keep in the same mind" ----
He mentioned it. And Glazzard made a note.
"Then we strike a bargain, Mr. Northway?"
"Yes, I'll go through with it," was the deliberate reply.
"Very well. Then you shall have the particulars."
Thereupon Glazzard made known the names he had kept in reserve. Northway jotted them down on the back of an envelope, his hand rather unsteady.
"There's a train to Polterham," said Glazzard, "at nine o'clock in the morning. You'll be there by ten -- see Ridge the bookseller, and be at the Court-house in convenient time. I know there's a sitting to-morrow; and on the second day after comes out the Polterham Tory paper. You will prepare them such an item of news in their police reports as they little look for. By that time the whole truth will be known, of course, and Mr. Quarrier's candidature will be impossible."
"What will the Liberals do?"
"I can't imagine. We shall look on and enjoy the situation -- unprecedented, I should think."
Northway again smiled; he seemed to enter into the jest.
"You sleep here," said Glazzard. "Your expenses are paid. I'll take leave of you now, and I sha'n't see you again, as I have to leave by the 3.40 up-train."
The money he had promised was transferred to Northway's pocket, and they shook hands with much friendliness.
Glazzard quitted the hotel. His train back to Polterham left at 1.14, and it was past midnight.
He went into the station, now quiet and deserted. A footstep occasionally echoed under the vault, or a voice sounded from a distance. The gas was lowered; out at either end gleamed the coloured signal-lights, and above them a few faint stars.
It was bitterly cold. Glazzard began to walk up and down, his eyes straying vaguely. He felt a miserable sinking of the heart, a weariness as if after great exertion.
An engine came rolling slowly along one of the lines; it stopped just beyond the station, and then backed into a siding. There followed the thud of carriage against carriage: a train was being made up, he went to watch the operation. The clang of metal, the hiss of steam, the moving about of men with lanterns held his attention for some time, and so completely that he forgot all else.
Somewhere far away sounded a long-drawn whistle, now faint, now clearer, a modulated wail broken at moments by a tremolo on one high note. It was like a voice lamenting to the dead of night. Glazzard could not endure it; he turned back into the station and tramped noisily on the stone platform.
Then the air was disturbed by the dull roar of an approaching train, and presently a long string of loaded waggons passed without pause. The engine-fire glowed upon heavy puffs of smoke, making them a rich crimson. A freight of iron bars clanged and clashed intolerably. When remoteness at length stilled them, there rose again the long wailing whistle; it was answered by another like it from still greater distance.
Glazzard could stand and walk no longer. He threw himself on a seat, crossed his arms, and remained motionless until the ringing of a bell and a sudden turning on of lights warned him that his train drew near.
On the way to Polterham he dozed, and only a fortunate awaking at the last moment saved him from passing his station. It was now close upon two o'clock, and he had a two-mile walk to Highmead. His brother believed that he was spending the evening with an acquaintance in a neighbouring town; he had said he should probably be very late, and a side door was to be left unbarred that he might admit himself with a latch-key.
But for a policeman here and there, the streets were desolate. Wherever the lamplight fell upon a wall or hoarding, it illumined election placards, with the names of the candidates in staring letters, and all the familiar vulgarities of party advertising. "Welwyn-Baker and the Honour of Old England!" -- "Vote for Quarrier, the Friend of the Working Man!" -- "No Jingoism!" "The Constitution in Danger! Polterham to the Rescue!" These trumpetings to the battle restored Glazzard's self-satisfaction; he smiled once more, and walked on with lighter step.
Just outside the town, in a dark narrow road, he was startled by the sudden rising of a man's figure. A voice exclaimed, in thick, ebrious tones: "Who are you for? What's you're colour?"
"Who are you for?" called out Glazzard, in return, as he walked past.
The politician -- who had seemingly been asleep in the ditch -- raised himself to his full height and waved his arms about.
"I'm a Radical! -- Quarrier for ever! -- Come on, one and all of you -- I'm ready: fist or argument, it's all one to me! -- You and your Welwyn-Baker -- gurr! What's he ever done for the people? -- that's what I want to know! -- Ya-oo-oo-oo! Quarrier for ever! -- Down with the aristocrats as wants to make war at the expense of the working man! What's England coming to? -- tell me that! You've no principles, you haven't, you Tory skunks; you've not half a principle among you. -- I'm a man of principle, I am, and I vote for national morality, I do! -- You're running away, are you? -- Ya-oo-oo! -- stop and fight it out, if you're a man! -- Down with 'em, boys! Down with 'em! -- Quarrier for ever!"
The shouts of hiccoughy enthusiasm came suddenly to an end, and Glazzard, looking back, saw that, in an attempt to run, the orator had measured his length in the mud.
By three o'clock he was seated in his bedroom, very tired but not much disposed to turn into bed. He had put a match to the fire, for his feet were numbed with cold, in spite of a long walk. Travelling-bags and trunks in readiness for removal told of his journey on the morrow. All his arrangements were made; the marriage ceremony was to take place at ten o'clock, and shortly after eleven he and his wife would leave for London on their way to the Continent.
Too soon, of course, to hear the result of Northway's visit to the Court-house. There would be the pleasure of imagining all that he left behind him, and in a day or two the papers would bring news. He had always sympathized with Guy Fawkes and his fellow-conspirators: how delightful to have fired the train, and then, at a safe distance, have awaited the stupendous explosion.
Poor little Lilian! That was the only troublesome thought. Yet was he in truth harming her? Quarrier would take her abroad, and, in a life of retirement, she would have far more happiness than was possible to her under the present circumstances. Northway would sue for a divorce, and thus leave her free to enter upon legitimate marriage. Perhaps he was doing her the greatest kindness in his power.
When his feet were thoroughly warm he went to bed, and slept well until the servant call him at half-past seven. It was a very bright morning; he drew up the blind and let a flood of sunshine into the room. Contrary to his expectations, no despondency weighed upon him; by breakfast time he was more than usually cheerful.
"Ivy," he said to his niece, "I have promised to call at the Quarriers' on our way. We had better start at a quarter to nine; that will give us five minutes with them."
Of his brother he took leave with much cordiality. William would probably not be much longer at Highmead, and might perhaps join his relatives abroad before the end of the year. In that case, Ivy would accompany him; and she thought with timid pleasure of thus renewing her friendship with Serena under brighter skies.
Two vehicles came up to the door -- in one the luggage was despatched to the station; the other carried the bridegroom and his niece into Polterham.
Quarrier awaited them on his threshold, watch in hand, for he had no time to lose on the eve of nomination day.
"Come in!" he cried, joyously. "Such weather as this is a good omen. How do you do, Miss Glazzard? Here is Lilian all excitement to see you; she would give her little finger to go to the wedding."
They entered the house.
"Decidedly," said Denzil, turning to Lilian, "his appearance is a compliment to Miss Mumbray. When did you see him looking so well and animated?"
Lilian coloured, and tried to speak in the same tone, but it was with difficulty that she used her voice at all. Glazzard's departure from Polterham promised her such relief of mind that she could not face him without a sense of shame.
"Telegraph the result, if it is favourable," said Glazzard. "You shall have an address in time for that."
"If it is favourable? Why, my dear fellow, we shall poll two to one, at the lowest computation! I've half lost my pleasure in the fight; I feel ashamed to hit out with all my strength when I make a speech -- it's like pounding an invalid!"
"Then I congratulate you in advance, Mrs. Quarrier. If we are long away from England, the chances are I shall have to make my next call upon you in Downing Street!"
"Some day, old boy -- some day!" assented Denzil, with a superb smile.
There followed much handshaking, and the visitors returned to their carriage. As it moved away, Glazzard put his head out of the window, waved his hand, and cried merrily:
"Quarrier for ever!"
In the interviews with Mr. Marks, Arthur Northway did not show at his best. Whoever that scheming personage might be, his knowledge and his air of condescension oppressed the needy young man, made him conscious of a hang-dog look, and a helpless promptitude to sell himself for a few coins. It was not thus that Northway, even after his unpleasant experiences, viewed himself in relation to the world. He had decidedly more intellect than is often found in commercial clerks -- the class to which he belonged by birth and breeding -- and in spite of checks he believed himself destined to no common career. Long musing had taught him the rashness of his youthful endeavours to live largely; he was now aware that his talents must ally themselves with patience, with a careful scrutiny of possibilities.
Lying awake in the night, he thought with anything but satisfaction of the bargain to which he had pledged himself. To discover the woman who was by law his wife would undoubtedly be a good beginning now that he had every disposition to fix himself in a steady course, but he saw no advantage whatever in coming before a bench of magistrates and re-opening the story of his past. It would be pleasant to deal a blow at this man Quarrier; but, if Marks had told him the truth, Quarrier was in any case doomed to exposure. Was it not possible to act at once with prudence and with self-respect, to gain some solid benefit without practice of rascality? It involved breaking his word, but was he bound to keep faith with a man who proceeded on the assumption that he was ready for any base dealing? The money in his pocket he might find an opportunity of paying back. In this matter before him, he was undeniably an injured man. Lilian was treating him very badly indeed, very unfairly. If she chose to repudiate her marriage with him, it was her duty to afford him the chance of freeing himself from the legal bond. What moralist could defend her behaviour?
He worked himself into a mood of righteous indignation, of self-pity. No; the very least Lilian should have done, in uniting herself to another man, moreover a wealthy man, was to make some provision for her forsaken husband. That little income of hers should have been transferred to him. Her action was unexpected; he had thought her too timid, too religious, too soft-hearted, for anything of this kind. Since the disastrous wedding-day, she had, it was true, declined to hold communication with him; but he always looked forward to a meeting when he regained his freedom, and had faith in his personal influence. It was not solely for the sake of her money that he wooed and won her; other connections notwithstanding, he felt something like genuine tenderness for Lilian, and even now this sentiment was not extinct.
The morning only confirmed his reluctance to follow Mr. Marks's directions. Practically, he lost nothing by taking his own course but a five-pound note. Let the electioneering agent attack Quarrier by some other means. For a few hours, at all events, the secret would remain unpublished, and in that interval the way might be opened for an honest and promising career.
He breakfasted substantially, and left by the train appointed. Arrived at Polterham, after a walk up and down the nearest streets and an inspection of the party placards, he asked his way to the shop of Mr. Ridge, bookseller. At once he was directed thither.
"So far so good," he said to himself. "It seems pretty certain that Marks has not misled me. Shall I go into this shop, and play the trick that was recommended? I think it is hardly worth while. Better to inquire for Quarrier's house, and have a look at it."
He did so, and -- it may be mentioned -- on his way passed the doors of the church in which at that moment Glazzard was being married. At about half-past ten he was in sight of the high wall surrounding Quarrier's garden; he approached the gate, and cautiously took a view of what was within, then walked to a little distance.
His wife had not done badly for a little country girl. Whilst he prowled about the streets with his burden of disgrace, his blank future, Lilian sat at her ease in a mansion -- doubtless had her carriages, perhaps her livened servants -- associated with important people. After all, there was something to be said for that appeal to the magistrate, with its consequence of scandal, ruin, to these people who thought themselves so secure from him. He recovered his mood of last night.
"Boy!" -- an errand-lad was just passing -- "whereabouts is the Court-house?"
He was bidden take a turning within sight and go straight on for about half a mile.
"And I will, too!" he said in his mind. "She shall suffer for it!
He turned away and walked for some twenty yards. Then once more the doubt occurred to him. He had better go to the bookseller's and make sure of Mrs. Quarrier's identity. Turning to take the opposite direction, he saw some one coming forth from the gates by which he had just stood -- a lady -- and it might be ----?
Agitation shook him from head to foot. Was not that Lilian's figure, her walk? She was moving away from him; he must have a glimpse of her face. Drawing carefully nearer, on the side opposite to hers -- carefully -- fearfully -- he at length saw her features, then fell back. Yes, it was Lilian. Much disguised in that handsome walking-costume, but beyond doubt Lilian. Still, as of old, she walked with bowed head, modestly. Who could imagine what she concealed?
His face was moist with perspiration. Following, he could not take his eyes off her. That lady was his wife. He had but to claim her, and all her sham dignity fell to nothing. But he could not command her obedience. He had no more power over her will than any stranger. She might bid him do his worst -- and so vanish with her chosen companion utterly beyond his reach.
Again he thought of the Court-house. For it was too certain that the sight of him would inspire her only with horror. Should he not hold her up to infamy? If he did not, another would; Marks was plainly to be trusted; this day was the last of Mrs. Quarrier's grandeur.
And to remember that was to pause. Could he afford to throw away a great opportunity for the sake of malicious satisfaction?
She walked on, and he followed, keeping thirty or forty paces behind her. He saw at length that she was not going into the town. The fine morning had perhaps invited her to a country walk. So much the better; he would wait till they were in a part where observation was less to be feared; then he would speak to her.
Lilian never looked back. It was indeed the bright sunshine that had suggested a walk out to Pear-tree Cottage, where before noon she would probably find Mrs. Wade among her books. She felt light of heart. Within this hour Glazzard would be gone from Polterham. Four days hence, Denzil would be a Member of Parliament. Had she no claim to happiness -- she whose girlhood had suffered such monstrous wrong? Another reason there was for the impulse of joy that possessed her -- a hope once already disappointed -- a voice of nature bidding her regard this marriage as true and eternal, let the world say what it would.
She was within sight of the cottage, when Mrs. Wade herself appeared, coming towards her. Lilian waved her hand, quickened her step. They met.
"I was going for a walk in the fields," said Mrs. Wade. "Shall we" ----
Lilian had turned round, and at this moment her eyes fell upon Northway, who was quite near. A stifled cry escaped her, and she grasped at her friend's arm.
"What is it, dear?"
Mrs. Wade looked at her with alarm, imagining an attack of illness. But the next instant she was aware of the stranger, who stood in obvious embarrassment. She examined him keenly, then again turned her eyes upon Lilian.
"Is this some one you know?" she asked, in a low voice.
Lilian could not reply, and reply was needless. Northway, who had kept postponing the moment of address, now lost himself between conflicting motives. Seeing Lilian's consternation and her friend's surprise, he nervously raised his hat, drew a step or two nearer, tried to smile.
"Mrs. Wade," Lilian uttered, with desperate effort to seem self-possessed, "I wish to speak to this gentleman. Will you -- do you mind?"
Her face was bloodless and wrung with anguish. The widow again looked at her, then said:
"I will go in again. If you wish to see me, I shall be there."
And at once she turned away.
Northway came forward, a strange light in his eyes.
"I'm the last person you thought of seeing, no doubt. But we must have a talk. I'm sorry that happened before some one else."
"Come with me out of the road. There's a field-path just here."
They crossed the stile, and walked a short distance in the direction of Bale Water. Then Lilian stopped.
"Who told you where to find me?"
Already Northway had decided upon his course of action. Whilst he followed Lilian, watching her every movement, the old amorous feeling had gradually taken strong hold upon him. He no longer thought of revenge. His one desire was to claim this beautiful girl as his wife. In doing so, it seemed to him, he took an unassailable position, put himself altogether in the right Marks's plot did not concern him; he threw it aside, and followed the guidance of his own discretion.
"I have found you," he said, fingering his throat nervously, "by mere chance. I came here in search of employment -- something in a newspaper. And I happened to see you in the streets. I asked who you were. Then, this morning, I watched you and followed you."
"What do you want?"
"That's a strange question, I think."
"You know there can't be anything between us."
"I don't see that."
He breathed hard; his eyes never moved from her face. Lilian, nerved by despair, spoke in almost a steady voice; but the landscape around her was veiled in mist; she saw only the visage which her memory had identified with repugnance and dread.
"If you want my money," she said, "you can have it -- you shall have it at once. I give you it all."
"No, I don't ask for your money," Northway answered, with resentment. "Here's some one coming; let us walk out into the field."
Lilian followed the direction of his look, and saw a man whom she did not recognize. She left the path and moved whither her companion was leading, over the stubby grass; it was wet, but for this she had no thought.
"How long have you been living in this way?" he asked, turning to her again.
"You have no right to question me."
"What! -- no right? Then who has a right I should like to know?"
He did not speak harshly; his look expressed sincere astonishment.
"I don't acknowledge," said Lilian, with quivering voice, "that that ceremony made me your wife."
"What do you mean? It was a legal marriage. Who has said anything against it?"
"You know very well that you did me a great wrong. The marriage was nothing but a form of words."
"On whose part? Certainly not on mine. I meant everything I said and promised. It's true I hadn't been living in the right way; but that was all done with. If nothing had happened, I should have begun a respectable life. I had made up my mind to do so. I shouldn't have deceived you in anything."
"Whether that's true or not, I don't know. I was deceived, and cruelly. You did me an injury you could never have made good."
Northway drew in his cheeks, and stared at her persistently. He had begun to examine the details of her costume -- her pretty hat, her gloves, the fur about her neck. In face she was not greatly changed from what he had known, but her voice and accent were new to him -- more refined, more mature, and he could not yet overcome the sense of strangeness. He felt as though he were behaving with audacity; it was necessary to remind himself again and again that this was no other than Lilian Allen -- nay, Lilian Northway; whose hand he had held, whose lips he had kissed.
A thrill went through him.
"But you are my wife!" he exclaimed, earnestly. "What right have you to call yourself Mrs. Quarrier? Have you pretended to marry that man?"
Lilian's eyes fell; she made no answer.
"You must tell me -- or I shall have no choice but to go and ask him. And if you have committed bigamy" ----
"There has been no marriage," she hastened to say. "I have done what I thought right."
"Right? I don't know how you can call that right. I suppose you were persuaded into it. Does he know all the truth?"
She was racked with doubt as to what she should disclose. Her thoughts would not be controlled, and whatever words she uttered seemed to come from her lips of their own accord.
"What do you expect of me?" she cried, in a voice of utmost distress. "I have been living like this for more than two years. Right or wrong, it can't be changed -- it can't be undone. You know that. It was natural you should wish to speak to me; but why do you pretend to think that we can be anything to each other? You have a right to my money -- it shall be yours at once."
He stamped, and his eyes shot anger.
"What do you take me for? Do you suppose I shall consent to give you up for money? Tell me what I have asked. Does that man know your history?"
"Of course he knows it -- everything."
"And he thinks I shall never succeed in finding you out! Well, he is mistaken, you see -- things of this kind are always found out, as you and he might have known. You can't do wrong and live all your life as if you were innocent."
The admonition came rather inappropriately from him, but it shook Lilian in spite of her better sense.
"It can't be changed," she exclaimed. "It can't be undone."
"That's all nonsense!"
"I will die rather than leave him!"
Hot jealousy began to rage in him. He was not a man of vehement passions, but penal servitude had wrought the natural effect upon his appetites. The egotism of a conceited disposition tended to the same result. He swore within himself a fierce oath that, come what might, this woman should be his. She contrasted him with her wealthy lover, despised him; but right and authority were on his side.
"Leave him you must -- and shall so there's plain speaking! You will never go into that house again."
Lilian turned as if to flee from him. No one was within sight; and how could she have appealed to any one for help? In the distance she saw the roof of Mrs. Wade's cottage; it allayed her despair for the moment. There, at all events, was a friend who would intervene for her, a strong and noble-minded woman, capable of offering the best counsel, of acting with decision. Vain now to think of hiding her secret from that friend -- and who could he more safely trusted with it?
But she still had the resource of entreaty.
"You talk of right and wrong -- is it right to be merciless? What can I ever be to you? Would you take me away by force, and compel me to live with you? I have told you I would die rather. When you think of everything, have you no pity for me? Whatever you intended, wasn't our marriage a terrible injustice to me? Oughtn't you to give a thought to that?"
"You are living an immoral life," replied Northway, with tremulous emphasis. "I could hold you. up to shame. No, I don't ask you to come and live with me at once; I don't expect that. But you must leave that man, and live a respectable life, and -- then in time I shall forgive you, instead of disgracing you in the divorce court. I ask only what is right. You used to be religious" ----
"Oh, how can you talk to me like that! If you really think me wicked and disgraced, leave me to my own conscience! Have you no sins that ask for forgiveness?"
"It isn't for you to speak of them," he retorted, with imbecile circling. "All I know is that you are my wife by law, and it is my duty to save you from this position. I sha'n't let you go back. If you resist my authority, I shall explain everything to any one who asks, that's all. -- Who was that lady you were talking to?"
"She lives in the little house over there. I must go and speak to her."
"Does she know?"
"What have you to say to her, then?"
They looked into each other's eyes for a moment. Northway was gauging the strength of her character, and he half believed that by an exertion of all his energy he might overcome her, lead her away at once. He remembered that before the close of this day Quarrier's secret would be universally known, and when that had come to pass, he would have no hold upon either the man or the woman. They would simply turn their backs upon him, and go beyond his reach.
He laid his hand upon her, and the touch, the look in his eyes, drove Lilian to the last refuge.
"You must go with me, then, to Mr. Quarrier," she said, firmly. "You have no power to stop me. I shall go home, and you must follow me, if you choose."
"No, you will go with me! Do you hear? I command you to come with me!"
It was his best imitation of resistless authority, and he saw, even in speaking, that he had miscalculated. Lilian drew back a step and looked at him with defiance.
"Command me, you cannot. I am as free from your control as any stranger."
"Try, and see. If you attempt to go back into the town, I shall hold you by force, and the consequences will be worse to you than to me. Do as you please."
Again her eyes turned to the distant roof of Peartree Cottage. She, too, had estimated her strength and his She knew by instinct what his face meant -- the swollen, trembling lips, the hot eyes; and understood that he was capable of any baseness. To attempt to reach her home would he an abandonment of all hope, the ruin of Denzil. A means of escape from worst extremity, undiscoverable by her whirling brain, might suggest itself to such a mind as Mrs. Wade's. If only she could communicate with the cottage!
"Then I shall go to my friend here," she said, pointing.
"Who is she?"
"A lady who lives quite alone."
"What's the good of your going there?"
She had recourse to artifice, and acted weakness much better than he had simulated strength.
"I must have some one's advice! I must know how others regard your claim."
He saw no possibility of restraining her, and it might befall that this lady, intentionally or not, would use her influence on his side. Those last words signified a doubt in Lilian's mind. Was it not pretty certain that any respectable woman, on learning how matters stood, must exclaim against that pretended marriage? Northway's experience lay solely among the representatives of English morality, and the frankly vicious; he could hardly imagine a "lady" whose view of the point at issue would admit pleas on Lilian's behalf.
"If you go there," he said, "I must be with you."
Lilian made no answer, but moved away. They passed into the road, tinned towards the cottage. On reaching the gate, Lilian saw Mrs. Wade standing just before her.
"I must speak to you " she said, holding out her hands impulsively.
Mrs. Wade looked from her to the man in the background, who again had awkwardly raised his hat -- a cheap but new cylinder, which, together with his slop-made coat and trousers, classed him among uncertain specimens of humanity.
"Will you let him come in?" Lilian whispered, a sob at length breaking her voice.
The widow was perfectly self-possessed. Her eyes gleamed very brightly and glanced hither and thither with the keenest scrutiny. She held Lilian's hand, answering in a low voice:
"Trust me, dear! I'm so glad you have come. What is his name?"
Mrs. Wade addressed him, and invited him to enter; but Northway, having ascertained that there was no escape from the cottage which he could not watch, drew back.
"Thank you," he said; "I had rather wait out here. If that lady wants me, I shall be within reach."
Mrs. Wade nodded, and drew her friend in. Lilian of a sudden lost her physical strength; she had to be supported, almost carried, into the sitting-room. The words of kindness with which Mrs. Wade sought to recover her had a natural enough effect; they invited an hysterical outbreak, and for several minutes the sufferer wailed helplessly. In the meantime she was disembarrassed of her out-door clothing. A stimulant at length so far restored her that she could speak connectedly.
"I don't know what you will think of me. -- I am obliged to tell you something I hoped never to speak of. Denzil ought to know first what has happened; but I can't go to him. -- I must tell you, and trust your friendship. Perhaps you can help me; you will -- I know you will if you can."
"Anything in my power," replied the listener, soothingly. "Whatever you tell me is perfectly safe. I think you know me well enough, Lily."
Then Lilian began, and told her story from first to last.
Told it rapidly, now and then confusedly, but with omission of nothing essential. So often she had reviewed her life, at successive stages of culture and self-knowledge. Every step had been debated in heart and conscience. She had so much to say, yet might not linger in the narration, and feared to seem eager ill the excuse of what she had done. To speak of these things to one of her own sex was in itself a great relief, yet from time to time the recollection that she was betraying Denzil's Secret struck her with cold terror. Was not this necessity a result of her weakness? A stronger woman would perhaps have faced the situation in some other way.
Mrs. Wade listened intently, and the story seemed to move her in no slight degree. Lilian, anxiously watching her face, found it difficult to interpret the look of suppressed excitement. Censure she could not read there; pain, if ever visible, merely flitted over brow and lips; at moments she half believed that her hearer was exulting in this defiance of accepted morality -- what else could be the significance of that flash in the eyes; that quiver of the nostrils -- all but a triumphant smile? They sat close to each other, Lilian in the low basket-chair, the widow on a higher seat, and when the story came to an end, their hands met.
"How can I save Denzil?" was Lilian's last word. "Anything -- any sacrifice I If this becomes known, his whole life is ruined!"
Mrs. Wade pressed the soft, cold fingers, and kept a thoughtful silence.
"It's a strange coincidence," she said at length, "very strange that this should happen on the eve of the election."
"The secret must be kept until" ----
Lilian's voice failed. She looked anxiously at her friend, and added:
"What would be the result if it were known afterwards-when Denzil is elected?"
"It's hard to say. But tell me, Lily: is there no one who has been admitted to your confidence?"
What purpose would be served by keeping back the name? Lilian's eyes fell as she answered.
"Mr. Glazzard knows."
"Mr. Eustace Glazzard?"
Lilian explained how and when it had become necessary to make him a sharer in the secret.
"Do you believe," Mrs. Wade asked, "that Northway really discovered you by chance?"
"I don't know. He says so. I can only feel absolutely sure that Mr. Glazzard has nothing to do with it."
Mrs. Wade mused doubtfully.
"Oh, how is it possible? If you knew him as well as we do! -- Impossible! -- He came to see us this very morning, on his way to be married, and laughed and talked!"
"You are right, no doubt," returned the other, with quiet reassurance. "If it wasn't chance, some obscure agency has been at work. You must remember, Lily, that only by a miracle could you have lived on in security."
"I have sometimes felt that," whispered the sufferer, her head falling.
"And it almost seems," went on Mrs. Wade, "as if Northway really had no intention of using his power to extort money. To be Sure, your own income is not to be despised by a man in his position; but most rascals would have gone to Mr. Quarrier. -- He is still in love with you, I suppose."
The last words were murmured in a tone which caused the hearer to look up uneasily. Mrs. Wade at once averted her face, which was curiously hard and expressionless.
"What do you think?" she said a moment after. "Would it be any use if I had a talk with him?"
"Will you?" asked Lilian, eagerly. "You may perhaps influence him. You can speak so well -- so persuasively. I don't think he is utterly depraved. As you say, he would have gone first to Denzil. Perhaps he can be moved to have pity on me."
"Perhaps -- but I have more faith in an appeal to his interests."
"It would be dreadful if Denzil had to live henceforth at his mercy."
"It would. But it's a matter of -- of life and death."
Mrs. Wade's voice sank on those words, shaking just a little. She put her face nearer to Lilian's, but without looking at her.
"Suppose no argument will prevail with him, dear?" she continued in that low, tremulous tone. "Suppose he persists in claiming you?"
The voice had a strange effect upon Lilian's nerves. She shook with agitation, and drew away a little.
"He cannot! He has no power to take me! At the worst, we can only be driven back into solitude."
"True, dear; but it would not be the same kind of solitude as before. Think of the huge scandal, the utter ruin of brilliant prospects."
Lilian lay back and moaned in anguish. Her eyes were closed, and in that moment Mrs. Wade gazed at her for a moment only; then the widow rose from her chair, and spoke in a voice of encouragement.
"I will see him, Lily. You remain here; I'll call him into the dining-room."
She stepped to the window, and saw that Northway was standing only at a little distance. After meditating for a minute or two, she left the room very quietly, crossed the passage, and entered the room opposite, where she generally took her meals. Here again she went to the window, and again had a good view of the man on guard. A smile rose to her face.
Then she went out and signalled to Northway, who approached in an embarrassed way, doing his best to hold his head up and look dignified. Mrs. Wade regarded him with contemptuous amusement, but was careful to show nothing of this; her face and tone as she greeted him expressed more than civility -- all but deference.
"Will you do me the kindness to enter for a few minutes, Mr. Northway?"
He doffed his hat, smiled sourly, and followed her into the little dining-room. But as she was closing the door, he interfered.
"Excuse me -- I don't want that lady to go away until I have seen her again."
Mrs. Wade none the less closed the door, holding herself with imperturbable politeness.
"She is resting in the next room. I give you my word, Mr. Northway, that you will find her there when our conversation is over."
He looked about him with sullen uneasiness, but could not resist this lady's manner.
"Pray sit down. Quite a spring day, isn't it?"
Her tone was melancholy, tempered with the consideration of a hostess. Northway seated himself much as if he were in church. He tried to examine Mrs. Wade's face, but could not meet her look. She, in the meantime, had got the young man's visage by heart, had studied the meaning of every lineament -- narrow eyes, sunken cheeks, forehead indicative of conceited intelligence, lips as clearly expressive of another characteristic. Here, at all events, was a creature she could manage -- an instrument -- though to what purpose she was not yet perfectly clear.
"Mr. Northway, I have been listening to a sad, sad story."
"Yes, it is sad," he muttered, feeling his inferiority to this soft-spoken woman, and moving his legs awkwardly.
"I must mention to you that my name is Mrs. Wade. I have known Lilian since she came to live at Polterham -- only since then. That's a very short time ago, but we have seen a good deal of each other, and have become intimate friends. I need not tell you that I never had the faintest suspicion of what I have just learnt."
This was said certainly not in a voice of indignation but with a sadness which implied anything but approval. Northway, after trying to hold his hat in a becoming way, placed it on the floor, clicking with his tongue the while and betraying much nervousness.
"You are of course aware," pursued the lady, "that Mr. Denzil Quarrier is Liberal candidate for this borough?"
"Yes, I know."
"Until to-day, he had every prospect of being elected. It is a shocking thing -- I hardly know how to express myself about it."
"If this gets known," said Northway, "I suppose he has no chance?"
"How would it be possible to vote for a man who has outraged the law on which all social life is based? He would retire immediately -- no doubt."
Regarding this event as certain in any case, the listener merely nodded.
"That, I dare say, doesn't interest you?"
"I take no part in politics."
"And it is quite a matter of indifference to you whether Mr. Quarrier's career is ruined or not?"
"I don't see why I should think much about a man who has injured me as he has."
"No," conceded Mrs. Wade, sadly. "I understand that you have nothing whatever in view but recovering your wife?"
"That's all I want."
"And yet, Mr. Northway, I'm sure you see how very difficult it will be for you to gain this end."
She leaned towards him sympathetically. Northway shuffled, sucked in his cheeks, and spoke in as civil a tone as he could command.
"There are difficulties, I know. I don't ask her to come at once and live with me. I couldn't expect that. But I am determined she sha'n't go back to Mr. Quarrier. I have a right to forbid it."
"Indeed -- abstractly speaking -- I think you have," murmured Mrs. Wade, with a glance towards the door. "But I grieve to tell you that there seems to me no possibility of preventing her return."
"I shall have to use what means I can. You say Mr. Quarrier wouldn't care to have this made public just now."
He knew (or imagined) that the threat was idle, but it seemed to him that Mrs. Wade, already favourably disposed, might be induced to counsel Lilian for the avoidance of a scandal at this moment.
"Mr. Northway," replied the widow, "I almost think that he would care less for such a disclosure before this election than after it."
He met her eyes, and tried to understand her. But whatever she meant, it could be of no importance to him. Quarrier was doomed by the Tory agent; on this knowledge he congratulated himself, in spite of the fact that another state of things would have been more to his interest.
"I have really nothing to do with that," he replied. "My wife is living a life of wickedness -- and she shall be saved from it at once."
Mrs. Wade had much difficulty in keeping her countenance. She looked down, and drew a deep sigh.
"That is only too true. But I fear -- indeed I fear -- that you won't succeed in parting them. There is a reason -- I cannot mention it."
Northway was puzzled for a moment, then his face darkened; he seemed to understand.
"I do so wish," pursued Mrs. Wade, with a smile of sympathy, "that I could be of some use in this sad affair. My advice -- I am afraid you will be very unwilling to listen to it."
She paused, looking at him wistfully.
"What would it be?" he asked.
"I feel so strongly -- just as you do -- that it is dreadful to have to countenance such a state of things; but I am convinced that it would be very, very unwise if you went at once to extremities, Mr. Northway. I am a woman of the world; I have seen a good deal of life; if you allowed yourself to be guided by me, you would not regret it."
"You want to save your friends from the results of their behaviour," he replied, uneasily.
"I assure you, it's not so much that -- no, I have your interests in view quite as much as theirs. Now, seeing that Lilian cannot possibly take her place as your wife in fact, and that it is practically impossible to part her from Mr. Quarrier, wouldn't it be well to ask yourself what is the most prudent course that circumstances allow?"
"If it comes to that, I can always get a divorce."
Mrs. Wade reflected, but with no sign of satisfaction.
"Yes, that is open to you. You would then, of course, be enabled to marry again. -- May I ask if you are quite at ease with regard to your prospects in life?"
The tone was so delicately impertinent that Northway missed its significance.
"I haven't quite decided upon anything yet."
"Judging from your conversation, I should say that you will yet find a place among active and successful men. But the beginning is everything. If I could be of any assistance to you -- I would put it to you frankly, Mr. Northway: is it worth while sacrificing very solid possibilities to your -- your affection for a woman who has deserted you?"
He shuffled on the chair, clicked with his tongue, and looked about him undecidedly.
"I am not to be bribed to act against my conscience," he said at length.
Mrs. Wade heard this with pleasure. The blunt, half-blustering declaration assured her that Northway's "conscience" was on the point of surrender.
"Now, let me tell you what I should like to do," she continued, bending towards him. "Will you allow me to go at once and see Mr. Quarrier?"
"And tell him?"
"Yes, let him know what has happened. I quite understand," she added, caressingly, "how very painful it would be for you to go directly to him. Will you allow me to be your intermediary? That you and he must meet is quite certain; may I smooth away the worst difficulties? I could explain to him your character, your natural delicacy, your conscientiousness. I could make him understand that he has to meet a person quite on his own level -- an educated man of honourable feeling. After that, an interview between you would be comparatively easy. I should be really grateful to you if you would allow me to do you this service."
Northway was like clay in her hands. Every word had precisely the effect on which she calculated. His forehead unwrinkled itself, his lips hung loose like the mouth of a dog that is fondled, he tried not to smile. Though he thought himself as far as ever from renouncing Lilian, he began to like the idea of facing Quarrier -- of exhibiting his natural delicacy, conscientiousness, and so on. Something was in the background, but of that he took no deliberate account.
A few minutes more, and Mrs. Wade had him entirely at her disposal. It was arranged that, whilst she went into the town to discover Quarrier, Northway should remain on guard, either in or about the cottage. Luncheon would be provided for him. He promised not to molest Lilian, on condition that she made no attempt to escape.
"She will stay where she is," Mrs. Wade assured him. "Your natural delicacy will, I am sure, prevent you from seeking to hold conversation with her. She is very weak, poor thing! I do hope no serious illness will follow on this shock."
Thereupon she returned to the sitting-room, where Lilian stood in an anguish of impatience.
"I think I shall manage it, dear," she whispered, in a tone of affectionate encouragement. "He has consented to see Mr. Quarrier, provided I go first and break the news."
"You, Mrs. Wade? You are going to see Denzil?"
"Dearest girl, leave it all in my hands. You cannot think what difficulties I have overcome. If I am allowed to act freely, I shall save you and him."
She explained the articles of truce, Lilian listening with distressful hope.
"And I don't think he will interfere with you meanwhile. But you can keep the door locked, you know. Annie shall bring you something to eat; I will tell her to give him his luncheon first, and then to come very quietly with yours. It is half-past twelve. I can hardly be back in less than an hour and a half. No doubt, Mr. Quarrier will come with me."
"How good you are, dear Mrs. Wade! Oh, if you can save him!"
"Trust me, and try to sit quietly. Now, I will be off at once."
She pressed the hand that was held to her, nodded, and left the room.
It was striking one when Mrs. Wade came in sight of the Quarriers' house. At this hour Quarrier was expected at home for luncheon. He arrived whilst the visitor still waited for an answer to her ring at the door.
"But haven't you seen Lily? She told me" ----
"Yes, I have seen her. She is at the cottage."
A peculiarity in her tone arrested his attention, and the look of joyous excitement which had been fixed upon his face these last few days changed to anxious inquiry.
"What's the matter?"
"She is quite well -- don't imagine accidents. But I must speak to you in private."
The door had opened. Denzil led straightway to the library, where he flung aside hat and overcoat.
"What is it, Mrs. Wade?"
She stood close before him, her eyes on his. The rapid walk had brought colour to her cheek, and perhaps to the same cause was attributable her quickened breathing.
"Lily has been discovered by an enemy of hers and yours. A man named Northway."
He felt far too strongly to moderate his utterance out of regard for the listener. His features were distorted; he stared wrathfully.
"And you have left her with him? Where is she?"
"She is quite safe in my sitting-room -- the key turned to protect her. He, too, is in the house, in another room. I have gained time; I" ----
He could not listen.
"How did it happen? -- You had no right to leave her alone with him! -- How has he found her?"
"Please don't eat me up, Mr. Quarrier I have been doing my very best for you."
And she told him the story of the morning as briefly as possible. Her endeavour to keep a tone of perfect equanimity failed in the course of the narrative; once or twice there was a catching in her breath, and, as if annoyed with herself, she made an impatient gesture.
"And this fellow," cried Quarrier, when she ceased, "imagines that I am at his mercy! Let him do what he likes -- let him go into the market-place and shout his news! -- We'll go back at once."
"You are prepared, then, to have this known all over Polterham?" Mrs. Wade asked, looking steadily at him.
"I don't care a jot! Let the election go to the devil! Do you think I will submit Lily to a day of such torture? This very evening we go to London. How does she bear it?"
"Very well indeed."
"Like a brave, good girl! Do you think I would weigh the chance of election against her misery?"
"It seems to me," was the cold answer, "that you have done so already."
"Has she complained to you?"
"Oh, no! But I understand now what always puzzled me. I understand her" ----
She checked herself, and turned quietly from him. Strategy must always be liable to slips from one cause or another, and Mrs. Wade's prudence had, for the moment, yielded to her impulses.
"You think she has all along been unhappy?"
"No, nothing of the kind. But when we have been speaking of the position of women -- that kind of thing -- I have noticed something strange -- an anxiety. I was only going to say that, after having succeeded thus far, it seems a pity to lose everything when a little prudence "
She waved her hand.
"Do you believe," Denzil asked, "that his story of finding her by mere chance is true?"
"Lilian tells me that only your most intimate friend shared the secret."
"Glazzard? Of course he has nothing to do with it. But some one else may have" ----
He walked apart, brooding. Mrs. Wade seated herself, and became thoughtful.
"What sort of a fellow is this?" Quarrier asked, of a sudden.
"It depends who is dealing with him," she answered, meeting his look with eyes full of sympathetic expression. "I read him at once, and managed him. He is too weak for serious villainy. He doesn't seem to have thought of extorting money from you. Lilian was his only object. He would have taken her away by force."
"Come -- we mustn't lose time."
"Mr. Quarrier, do be calm, and let us talk before we go. She is quite safe. And as for Northway, I am perfectly sure that you can keep him silent."
"You think it possible?"
"If you will consent to follow in the path I have prepared. I have taken no small trouble."
She looked up at him and smiled.
"You have behaved like a true friend, Mrs. Wade -- it is no more than I should have expected of you. But what have you planned? Think how this secret has already spread -- what hope is there of finally hushing it up? Glazzard and you would never breathe a syllable; but how, short of manslaughter, could I assure the silence of a blackguard like this Northway? If I let him blackmail me, I am done for: I should be like the fools in plays and novels, throwing half my possessions away, and all in vain."
"Pray remember," urged the other, "that this Northway is by no means the rascal of melodrama. He has just enough brains to make him conceited, and is at the disposal of any one who plays upon his conceit. With much trouble I induced him to regard you as a source of profit." She broke off and seemed to falter. "I think you won't find fault with me, Mr. Quarrier, for trying to do this?"
"You did it ill the friendliest spirit."
"And not indiscreetly, I hope." She looked at him for a moment, and continued: "He is bribable, but you must go to work carefully. For instance, I think if you offered to give him a good start in a commercial career -- by your personal recommendation, I mean -- that would have more effect than an offer of money. And then, again, in this way you guard yourself against the perils of which you were speaking. Place him well, so that he considers himself a respectable, responsible man, and for his own sake he won't torment you. Couldn't you send him to some one over in Sweden -- some house of business?"
Denzil pondered, with knitted brows.
"I have no faith in it!" he exclaimed at length, beginning to walk about. "Come -- I want to get to Lilian she must be in misery. I will order the carriage; it will be needed to bring her back."
He rang the bell violently; a servant appeared, and hurried away to do his bidding.
"Mrs. Wade," he said, as soon as the door had closed, "shouldn't I do better to throw up the game? I hate these underhand affairs I don't think I could go through with the thing -- I don't, indeed! Speak your whole mind. I am not a slave of ambition -- at bottom I care precious little for going into Parliament. I enjoyed the excitement of it -- I believe I have a knack of making speeches; but what does it all amount to? Tell me your true thought." He drew near to her. "Shall I throw it up and go abroad with my wife? -- my wife! that is her true name!"
He looked a fine fellow as he spoke this; better than he had looked on the platform. Mrs. Wade gazed at him fixedly, as if she could not take away her eyes. She trembled, and her forehead was wrung with pain.
"Do this," she replied, eagerly, "if you wish to make Lilian unhappy for the rest of her life."
"What do you mean?"
"It seems I understand her better than you do -- perhaps because I am a woman. She dreads nothing so much as the thought that she has been the ruin of your prospects. You have taught her to believe that you are made for politics; you can never undo that. The excitement of this election had fixed the belief in her for ever. For her sake, you are bound to make every attempt to choke this scandal! Be weak -- give in -- and (she is weak too) it's all over with her happiness. Her life would be nothing but self-reproach."
"No, no, no! For a short time, perhaps, but security would be the best thing of all for her."
"Try, then -- try, and see the result!"
She spoke with suppressed passion, her voice shaking. Denzil turned away, struggled with his thoughts, again faced her. Mrs. Wade read his features as if her life depended on what he would resolve. Seeing him in a misery of indecision, she repeated, at greater length and more earnestly still, her cogent reasonings. Quarrier argued in reply, and they were still thus engaged when it was announced that the carriage waited.
"Let us go!" He threw his overcoat on to his shoulders.
Mrs. Wade caught his hand.
"Are you bent on doing the hopeless thing?"
"Let us talk in the carriage. I can't wait any longer."
But in the carriage both kept silence. Mrs. Wade, exhausted by stress of emotion, by the efforts of her scheming brain, lay back as if she had abandoned the contest; Denzil, his face working ceaselessly, stared through the windows. When they were nearing their destination, the widow leaned towards him.
"I have done my best for you. I have nothing so much at heart as your welfare -- and Lilian's."
He pressed her hand, too much disturbed to think of the singular way in which she spoke. Then the vehicle stopped. Denzil assisted his companion to alight, and, whilst she was opening the house-door, bade the coachman go up and down till he was summoned. Then he sprang after Mrs. Wade, learnt from her where Lilian was, and at once tried to enter the sitting-room. The door was locked.
"Lily!" he called, in a low voice. "Open, dear! It is I!"
The key turned rapidly. He rushed in, and clasped Lilian in his arms. She could not utter a word, but clung to him sobbing and wailing.
"Don't! -- don't, dear girlie! Try to be quiet -- try to command yourself."
"Can you do anything?" she uttered at length. "Is there any hope?"
"What do you wish, Lily, dearest? What shall I do?"
The common sense of manliness urged him to put no such questions, to carry her away without a word, save of tender devotion, to escape with her into quietness, and let all else go as it would. But Mrs. Wade's warning had impressed him deeply. It went with his secret inclination; for, at this stage of the combat, to lose all his aims would be a bitter disappointment. He thought of the lifelong ostracism, and feared it in a vague way.
"Mrs. Wade thinks he can be persuaded to leave us alone," Lilian replied, hurriedly, using simple words which made her seem childlike, though at the same moment she was nerving herself to heroic effort. "See him, and do what you can, Denzil. I did my utmost, dear. Oh, this cruel chance that brought him here!"
She would have given years of her life to say "Sacrifice all, and let us go!" He seemed even to invite her to say it, but she strove with herself. Sacrifice of his career meant sacrifice of the whole man. Not in her eyes, oh no! -- but she had studied him so well, and knew that he could no longer be content in obscurity. She choked her very soul's desire.
"Shall I try to buy him off, Lily?"
"Do try, darling!"
"But can you face what will come afterwards -- the constant risks?"
"Anything rather than you shall be ruined!"
A syllable would have broken down her heroism. It was on his tongue. He had but to say "Ruin! -- what do I care for ruin in that sense?" and she would have cried with delight. But he kept it back.
"Sit down and wait for me. I will go and see him."
One more embrace, and he left her. Mrs. Wade was talking with Northway in the dining-room, talking hurriedly and earnestly. She heard Quarrier's step and came to the door.
"In here?" Denzil asked.
She nodded and came out. Then the door closed behind him.
Northway stood near the window. He had eaten -- luncheon was still on the table -- and had been smoking to calm his nerves, but at the sight of Quarrier he became agitated They inspected each other. Denzil's impulse was to annihilate his contemptible enemy with fierceness of look and word; and in Northway jealousy fought so strongly with prudence that a word of anger would have driven him to revengeful determination. But a few moments of silence averted this danger. Quarrier said to himself that there was no use in half measures. He had promised Lilian to do his best, and his own desire pointed to the same end. Swallowing his gall, he spoke quietly.
"Mr. Northway, we can't talk as if we were friends; but I must remember that you have never intentionally done me any wrong -- that it is I who am immediately to blame for this state of things. I hope you will talk it over with me" ----
His voice failed, but the first step had been taken. He sat down, motioning the other to a chair.
"I can't allow my wife to live any longer in this way," began the adversary, with blundering attempt at dignified speech.
"My wife" was like a blow to Denzil; he flushed, started, yet controlled himself. What Mrs. Wade had told him of Northway's characteristics came into his mind, and he saw that this address might be mere bluster.
"It's very natural for you to speak in that way; but there is no undoing what has happened. I must say that at once, and as firmly as possible. We may talk of how I can compensate you for -- for the injury; but of nothing else."
He ended with much mental objurgation, which swelled his throat.
"You can't compensate a man," returned Northway, "for an injury of this kind."
"Strictly speaking, no. But as it can't be helped -- as I wronged you without knowing you -- I think I may reasonably offer to do you whatever good turn is in my power. Please to tell me one thing. Have you spoken to any one except Mrs. Wade of what you have discovered?"
"No -- to no one."
It might be true or not. Denzil could only hope it was, and proceed on that assumption.
"I am sure I may trust your word," he said, beginning to use diplomacy, with the immediate result that Northway's look encouraged him. "Now, please tell me another thing, as frankly. Can I, as a man of some means and influence, offer you any acceptable service?"
There was silence. Northway could not shape a reply.
"You have been in commerce, I think?" proceeded the other. "Should you care to take a place in some good house of business on the Continent, or elsewhere abroad? I think it's in my power to open a way for you such as you would not easily make by your own exertions."
The listener was suffering. But for one thing, this offer would have tempted him strongly; but that one thing made it idle for him to think of what was proposed. To-day or to-morrow Quarrier would be exposed by his plotting enemies, and thereupon any bargain made with reference to the future must collapse. If he were to profit by Quarrier at all, it must needs be in the shape of a payment which could not be recovered.
"I don't care to go into business again," he said, with a mingling of real annoyance and affected superiority. "I have other views."
"Can I help to advance them?" asked Denzil, sickening under the necessity of speaking fair.
The dialogue lasted for half an hour more. Jealousy notwithstanding, Northway had made up his mind to gain what was to be gained. Lilian was beyond his reach; it would be foolish to go back to his poverty and cloudy overlook when solid assistance was held out to him. With much posturing and circumlocution, he came at length to the avowal that a sum of ready money would not be refused.
"Are you wise in preferring this to the other kind of help?" Denzil urged.
"I have my own views."
Quarrier ridiculed himself for what he was doing. How could he pretend to trust such a fellow? Again, there was only the hope that a bribe might be efficacious.
"I will give you five hundred pounds," he said, "on condition that you leave England at once."
The bid was too low. Northway would be satisfied with twice as much, provided it were paid forthwith. Pondering, Quarrier decided that he was about to commit an absurdity. A thousand pounds -- and how much more in future? He looked Northway in the eyes.
"Here is my last word. I don't greatly care whether this secret comes out or not. If I am to be at your mercy henceforth, I had rather bid you do what you like; it really doesn't matter much to me. I will give you five hundred pounds at once -- a cheque on a Polterham banker; moreover, if my secret is kept, I will do you the other service I offered. But that's all I have to say. If it doesn't suit you, you must do what you please."
His boldness was successful. Northway could gain nothing by betrayal of the secret -- which he believed to be no secret at all. With show of indifference, he accepted what was obtainable.
"Then come and drive with me into the town," said Denzil.
Thereupon he stepped out and entered the sitting-room, where the two women were together. They looked eager inquiry, and he smiled.
"Managed, I think. He goes with me. Lily, I'll be back for you as soon as possible."
A moment, and they watched the carriage roll away.
This evening there was a great dinner-party at Colonel Catesby's; a political dinner. Lilian had carefully prepared for the occasion. In Quarrier's opinion, she would far outshine her previous appearances; she was to wear certain jewels which he had purchased on a recent visit to town -- at an outlay of which he preferred to say nothing definite. "They are the kind of thing," he remarked, with a significant smile, "that can be passed on to one's children."
But would it be possible for her to keep the engagement? Through the afternoon she lay in her bedroom with drawn blinds, endeavouring to sleep. Once or twice Denzil entered, very softly, and stood by her for a moment; she looked at him and smiled, but did not speak. At half-past six he brought her tea with his own hand. Declaring herself quite recovered, she rose.
"This is no such important affair that you must go at all costs," he said, regarding her anxiously. "Say you feel unable, and I'll send a message at once."
Already she had assured him that it would disappoint her greatly not to go. Lilian meant, of course, that she could not bear to disappoint him, and to make confusion in their hostess's arrangements. There was a weight upon her heart which made it a great effort even to move, to speak; but she hoped to find strength when the time came.
"You are quite sure that he has gone, Denzil -- gone for good?"
"I am perfectly sure of it. You needn't have another moment's fear."
He tried to believe it. By this time, if he had kept his promise, Northway was in London. But what faith was to be put in such a man's declarations? It might be that the secret was already known to other people; between now and polling-day there might come the crowning catastrophe. Yet the man's interest seemed to impose silence upon him, and for Lilian's sake it was necessary to affect absolute confidence.
They went to the dinner, and the evening passed without accident. Lilian was universally admired; pallor heightened her beauty, and the assurance of outlived danger which Denzil had succeeded in imparting gave to her conversation a life and glow that excited interest in all who spoke with her.
"Mr. Quarrier," said the hostess, playfully, in an aside, "if you were defeated at Polterham, I don't think you ought to care much. You have already been elected by such a charming constituency!"
But there followed a night of sleeplessness. If exhaustion pressed down her eyelids for a moment, some image of dread flashed upon her brain and caused her to start up with a cry. Himself worn out and suffering a reaction of despondency, Quarrier more than once repented what he had done. In Lilian's state of health such a shock as this might have results that would endanger her life. She had not a strong constitution; he recalled the illness of a year ago, and grew so anxious that his fits of slumber gave him no refreshment, In the early dawn, finding that she was awake, he spoke to her of the necessity of avoiding excitement during the next few days.
"I wish you could go away till the affair is over."
"Oh, there is no need of that! I couldn't be away from you."
"Then at all events keep quietly at home. There'll be the deuce of an uproar everywhere to-day."
"We shall lunch at Mary's, you know. I had rather be there than sitting alone."
"Well, Molly will be good company for you, I dare say. But do try not to excite yourself. Don't talk much; we'll tell them you are very tired after last night. As soon as ever the fight is done, we'll be off somewhere or other for a few weeks. Don't get up till midday; anything interesting you shall know at once."
At breakfast Denzil received a note from Mrs. Wade, sent by hand. "Do let me know how Lilian is. The messenger will wait for a reply." He wrote an answer of warm friendliness, signing it, "Ever sincerely yours." Mrs. Wade had impressed him with her devotion; he thought of her with gratitude and limitless confidence.
"If it had been Molly, instead," he said to himself; "I can't be at all sure how she would have behaved. Religion and the proprieties might have been too much for her good nature; yes, they would have been. After all, these emancipated women are the most trustworthy, and Mrs. Wade is the best example I have yet known."
When Mrs. Liversedge welcomed her sister-in-law at luncheon, she was stricken with alarm.
"My dear girl, you look like a ghost! This won't do," she added, in a whisper, presently. "You must keep quiet!"
But the Liversedges' house was no place for quietness. Two or three vigorous partisans put in an appearance at the meal, and talked with noisy exhilaration. Tobias himself had yielded to the spirit of the under his notice that morning. One of these concerned hour; he told merry stories of incidents that had come a well-known publican, a stalwart figure on the Tory side.
"I am assured that three voters have been drinking steadily for the last week at his expense. He calculates that delirium tremens will have set in, in each case, by the day after to-morrow."
"Who are these men?" asked Lilian, eagerly. "Why can't we save them in time?"
"Oh, the thing is too artfully arranged. They are old topers; no possibility of interfering."
"I can't see" ----
"Lilian," interposed Mrs. Liversedge, "what was the material of that wonderful dress Mrs. Kay wore last night?"
"I don't know, Mary; I didn't notice it. -- But surely if it is known that these men are" ----
It was a half-holiday for the Liversedge boys, and they were anticipating the election with all the fervour of British youth. That morning there had been a splendid fight at the Grammar School; they described it with great vigour and amplitude, waxing Homeric in their zeal. Dickinson junior had told Tom Harte that Gladstone was a "blackguard"; whereupon Tom smote him between the eyes, so that the vile calumniator measured his length in congenial mud. The conflict spread. Twenty or thirty boys took coloured rosettes from their pockets (they were just leaving school) and pinned them to their coats, then rushed to combat with party war-cries. Fletcher senior had behaved like a brutal coward (though alas! a Gladstonian -- it was sorrowfully admitted), actually throwing a stone at an enemy who was engaged in single fight, with the result that he had cut open the head of one of his own friends -- a most serious wound. An under-master (never a favourite, and now loathed by the young Liversedges as a declared Tory) had interposed in the unfairest way -- what else could be expected of him? To all this Mrs. Liversedge gave ear not without pride, but as soon as possible she drew Lilian apart into a quiet room, and did her best to soothe the feverishness which was constantly declaring itself.
About three o'clock Mrs. Wade called. She had not expected to find Lilian here. There was a moment's embarrassment on both sides. When they sat down to talk, the widow's eyes flitted now and then over Lilian's face, but she addressed herself almost exclusively to Mrs. Liversedge, and her visit lasted only a quarter of an hour. On leaving, she went into the town to make some purchases, and near the Liberal committee-rooms it was her fortune to meet with Quarrier.
"I have wanted to see you," he said, regarding her anxiously. "Lily has got over it much better than I expected; but it won't do -- she can't go on in this excitement."
"I have just seen her at your sister's. She doesn't look very well"
"Could I venture to ask one more kindness of you, Mrs. Wade? May she come to you, say the day after to-morrow, and stay over night, and over polling-day?"
"I shall be very glad indeed," faltered the widow, with something in her face which did not seem to be reluctance, though it was unlike pleasure.
"Are you quite sure that it isn't asking too much of you? At my sister's she is in a perpetual uproar; it's worse than at home. And I don't know where else to send her -- indeed I don't. But I am getting frightened, that's the truth If she could be with you during the polling-day" ----
"How can you hesitate to ask such a simple thing?" broke in Mrs. Wade. "Shall I ask her myself?"
"You are a good friend. Your conversation will have a soothing effect. She likes you so much, and gives such weight to everything you say. Try to set her mind at ease, Mrs. Wade; you can do it if any one can."
"I will write to her, and then call to-morrow."
Again Lilian had a night without thorough rest, and for the greater part of the next day she was obliged to keep her room. There Mrs. Wade visited her, and they talked for a long time; it was decided that Lilian should go to Pear-tree Cottage on the following afternoon, and remain in seclusion until the contest was over.
She came down at five o'clock. Denzil, who had instructed the servants that she was at home to no one, sat with her in the library, holding her hand.
"I am quite well," Lilian declared again and again. "I feel quite easy in mind -- indeed I do. As you wish it, I will go to Mrs. Wade's, but" ----
"It will be very much better. To tell you the truth, girlie, I shall feel so much freer -- knowing you are out of the row, and in such good care."
She looked at him.
"How wretched to be so weak, Denzil! I might have spared you more than half what you have suffered, if I hadn't given way so."
"Nonsense! Most women would have played the coward -- and that you never could! You have stood it bravely, dear. But it's your health I fear for. Take care of it for my sake."
Most of the evening he was away, and again the whole of next morning. But when the time came for her to leave, they were sitting once more, as they had done so often, hand in hand, their love and trust stronger than ever, too strong to find expression in mere words.
"If I go into Parliament," said Denzil, "it's you I have to thank for it. You have faced and borne everything rather than disappoint my aims."
He raised her fingers to his lips. Then the arrival of the carriage was announced, and when the door had closed again, they held each other for a moment in passionate embrace.
"Good-bye for a night and a day at longest," he whispered by the carriage door. "I shall come before midnight to-morrow."
She tried to say good-bye, but could not utter a sound. The wheels grated, and she was driven rapidly away.
Arthur James Northway reached London in a mood of imperfect satisfaction. On the principle that half a cake was better than nothing, he might congratulate himself that he carried in his pocket-book banknotes to the value of five hundred pounds; but it was a bitter necessity that had forbidden his exacting more. The possession of a sum greater than he had ever yet owned fired his imagination; he began to reflect that, after all, Quarrier's defiance was most likely nothing but a ruse; that by showing himself resolved, he might have secured at least the thousand pounds. Then he cursed the man Marks, whose political schemes would betray the valuable secret, and make it certain that none of that more substantial assistance promised by Quarrier would ever be given. And yet, it was not disagreeable to picture Quarrier's rage when he found that the bribe had been expended to no purpose. If he had felt animosity against the wealthy man before meeting him face to face, he now regarded him with a fiercer malevolence. It was hard to relinquish Lilian, and harder still to have no means of revenging himself upon her and her pretended husband. Humiliated by consciousness of the base part he had played, he wished it in his power to inflict upon them some signal calamity.
On the next day, when he was newly arrayed from head to foot, and jingled loose sovereigns in his pocket, this tumult of feelings possessed him even more strongly. Added to his other provocations was the uncertainty whether Marks had yet taken action. Save by returning to Polterham, he knew not how to learn what was happening there. To-morrow a Polterham newspaper would be published; he must wait for that source of intelligence. Going to a news-agent's, he discovered the name of the journal, and at once posted an order for a copy to be sent to him.
In the meantime, he was disposed to taste some of the advantages of opulence. His passions were awakened; he had to compensate himself for years lost in suffering of body and mind. With exultant swagger he walked about the London streets, often inspecting his appearance in a glass; for awhile he could throw aside all thought of the future, relish his freedom, take his licence in the way that most recommended itself to him.
The hours did not lag, and on the following afternoon he received the newspaper for which he was waiting. He tore it open, and ran his eye over the columns, but they contained no extraordinary matter. Nothing unexpected had befallen; there was an account of the nomination, and plenty of rancour against the Radicals, but assuredly, up to the hour of the Mercury's going to press, no public scandal had exploded in Polterham.
What did it mean? Was Marks delaying for some definite reason? Or had he misrepresented his motives? Was it a private enmity he had planned to gratify -- now frustrated by the default of his instrument?
He had given Marks an address in Bristol, that of a shop at which letters were received. Possibly some communication awaited him there. He hastened to Paddington and took the first westward train.
On inquiry next morning, he found he had had his journey for nothing. As he might have anticipated, Marks was too cautious a man to have recourse to writing.
There were still two days before the poll at Polterham. Thither he must return, that was certain; for if the election passed without startling events, he would again be in a position to catch Quarrier by the throat.
To be sure, there was the promise of assistance in a commercial career, but his indulgence of the last day or two had inclined him to prefer sums of ready money. Once elected, Quarrier would not submit to social disgrace for the sake of a thousand pounds -- nor for two thousand -- possibly not for five. Cupidity had taken hold upon Northway. With a few thousands in his pocket, he might aim at something more to his taste than a life of trading. Five thousand it should be, not a penny less! This time he was not to be fobbed off with bluster and posturing.
He spent the day in Bristol, and at nightfall journeyed towards Polterham.
No; even yet nothing had happened. Conversation at an inn to which he betook himself assured him that things were going their orderly way. Had Marks himself been bought off?
The next day -- that before the election -- he wandered about the town and its vicinity, undetermined how to act, thinking on the whole that he had better do nothing till after the morrow. Twice, morning and afternoon, did he view Mrs. Wade's cottage from a distance. Just after sunset he was once more in that neighbourhood, and this time with a purpose.
At that hour Mrs. Wade and her guest were together in the sitting-room. The lamp had just been lighted, the red blind drawn down. Lilian reclined on a couch; she looked worse in health than when she had taken leave of Denzil; her eyes told of fever, and her limbs were relaxed. Last night she had not enjoyed an hour of sleep; the strange room and the recollection of Northway's visit to this house (Quarrier, in his faith that Mrs. Wade's companionship was best for Lilian, had taken no account of the disagreeable association) kept her nerves in torment, and with the morning she had begun to suffer from a racking headache.
Mrs. Wade was talking, seated by the table, on which her arms rested. She, too, had a look of nervous tension. and her voice was slightly hoarse.
"Ambition," she said, with a slow emphasis, "is the keynote of Mr. Quarrier's character. If you haven't understood that, you don't yet know him -- indeed you don't! A noble ambition, mind. He is above all meanness. In wishing to take a foremost part in politics, he cares, at heart, very little for the personal dignity it will bring him; his desire -- I am convinced -- is to advance all causes that appeal to an honest and feeling man. He has discovered that he can do this in a way he had never before suspected -- by the exercise of a splendid gift of eloquence. What a deplorable thing if that possibility had been frustrated!"
Lilian murmured an assent. Silence followed, and she closed her eyes. In a minute or two Mrs. Wade turned to look; the expression which grew upon her face as she watched furtively was one of subtlest malice. Of scorn, too. Had she been in the position of that feeble creature, how differently would she have encountered its perils!
"Is your head any better?" she asked, just above her breath.
"It burns! -- Feel my hand, how hot it is!"
"You are feverish. We have talked too much, I fear."
"No; I like to hear you talk. And it passes the time. Oh, I hope Denzil won't be very late!"
There sounded a knock at the front door, a heavy rap such as would be given by some rustic hand.
"What can that be?" Lilian exclaimed, raising herself.
"Nothing, dear -- nothing. Some errand boy."
The servant was heard in the passage. She brought a letter, and said a messenger waited for the reply. Mrs. Wade looked at the address; the hand was unknown to her.
"From Denzil?" asked Lilian.
The other made no reply. What she found in the envelope was a note from Northway, saying he was close by and wished to see her. After a moment's hesitation she went to the door, where a boy was standing.
"Will you tell the person who gave you this note that he may come here?"
Then she bade her servant put a light in the dining room, and returned to Lilian. Her look excited the sufferer's alarm,
"Has anything happened, Mrs. Wade?"
"Hush! Try to command yourself. He is here again; wishes to see me."
"He is here again?"
Lilian rose to her feet, and moaned despairingly.
"You won't let him come into this room? What does he want? He told us he would never come again. Is he seeking more money?"
"He sha'n't come in here. I'll see him as I did before."
As she spoke, a rat-tat sounded from without, and, having advised Lilian to lock the door, Mrs. Wade crossed to the other room. Northway entered, grave and nervous.
"I hope you will excuse my coming again," he began, as the widow regarded him with silent interrogation. "You spoke to me last time in such a very kind and friendly way. Being in a difficulty, I thought I couldn't do better than ask your advice."
"What is the difficulty, Mr. Northway?"
Her suave tone reassured him, and he seated himself. His real purpose in coming was to discover, if possible, whether Quarrier's position was still unassailed. He had a vague sense that this Mrs. Wade, on whatever grounds, was sympathetically disposed to him; by strengthening the acquaintance, he might somehow benefit himself.
"First, I should like to know if all has gone smoothly since I went away?"
"Smoothly? -- Quite, I think."
"It still seems certain that Mr. Quarrier will be elected to-morrow?"
"Very likely indeed."
"He looked about him, and smoothed his silk hat -- a very different article from that he had formerly worn. Examining him, Mrs. Wade was amused at the endeavour he had made to equip himself like a gentleman."
"What else did you wish to ask me, Mr. Northway?"
"It's a point of conscience. If you remember, Mrs. Wade, it was you who persuaded me to give up all thought of parting those persons."
"I tried to do so," she answered, with a smile. "I thought it best for your interests as well as for theirs."
"Yes, but I fear that I had no right to do it. My conscience rebukes me."
"Does it, really? -- I can't quite see" ----
She herself was so agitated that features and voice would hardly obey her will. She strove to concentrate her attention upon Northway's words, and divine their secret meaning. His talk continued for awhile in the same strain, but confused, uncertain, rambling. Mrs. Wade found it impossible to determine what he aimed at; now and then she suspected that he had been drinking. At length he stood up.
"You still think I am justified in -- in making terms with Mr. Quarrier?"
"What else are you inclined to do?" the widow asked, anxiously.
"I can't be sure yet what I shall eventually do. Perhaps you would let me see you again, when the election is over?"
"If you promise me to do nothing -- but keep out of sight -- in the meanwhile."
"Yes, I'll promise that," he said, with deliberation.
She was loth to dismiss him, yet saw no use in further talk. At the door he shook hands with her, and said that he was going into the town.
Lilian opened the door of the sitting-room.
"He has gone?"
Her companion nodded.
"Where? -- What will he do?"
Mrs. Wade answered with a gesture of uncertainty, and sat down by the table, where she propped her forehead upon her hands. Lilian was standing, her countenance that of one distraught. Suddenly the widow looked up and spoke in a voice hoarser than before.
"I see what he means. He enjoys keeping you both at his mercy. It's like an animal that has tasted blood -- and if his desire is balked, he'll revenge himself in the other way."
"You think he has gone to Denzil?"
"Very likely. If not to-night, he will to-morrow. Will Mr. Quarrier pay him again, do you think?" She put the question in a tone which to Lilian sounded strange, all but hostile.
"I can't say," was the weary, distracted answer.
"Oh, I am sorry for you, Lilian!" pursued the other, in agitation, though again her voice was curiously harsh. "You will reproach yourself so if his life's purpose is frustrated! But remember, it's not your fault. It was he who took the responsibility from the first. It was he who chose to brave this possible danger. If the worst comes, you must strengthen yourself."
Lilian sank upon a chair, and leaned forward with stupefied gaze at the speaker.
"The danger is," pursued Mrs. Wade, in lower tones, "that he may be unjust -- feel unjustly -- as men are wont to. You -- in spite of himself, he may feel that you have been the cause of his failure. You must be prepared for that; I tell it you in all kindness. If he again consents to pay Northway, he will be in constant fear. The sense of servitude will grow intolerable -- embarrassing all he tries to do -- all his public and private life. In that case, too, he must sometimes think of you as in the way of his ambition. A most difficult task is before you -- a duty that will tax all your powers. You will be equal to it, I have no doubt. Just now you see everything darkly and hopelessly, but that's because your health has suffered of late."
"Perhaps this very night," said Lilian, without looking at her companion, "he will tell people."
"He is more likely to succeed in getting money, and then he will keep the threat held over you. He seems to have come at this moment just because he knows that your fear of him will be keenest now. That will always he his aim -- to appear with his threats just when a disclosure would be hardest to bear. But I suppose Mr. Quarrier will rather give up everything than submit to this. Oh, the pity! the pity!"
Lilian let her hands fall and sat staring before her.
She felt as though cast out into a terrible solitude. Mrs. Wade's voice came from a distance; and it was not a voice of true sympathy, but of veiled upbraiding. Unspeakably remote was the image of the man she loved, and he moved still away from her. A cloud of pain fell between her and all the kindly world.
In these nights of sleepless misery she had thought of her old home. The relatives from whom she was for ever parted -- her sister, her kind old aunt -- looked at her with reproachful eyes; and now, in anguish which bordered upon delirium, it was they alone who seemed real to her; all her recent life had become a vague suffering, a confused consciousness of desire and terror. Her childhood returned; she saw her parents and heard them talk. A longing for the peace and love of those dead days rent her heart.
She could neither speak nor move. Torture born in the brain throbbed through every part of her body. But worse was that ghastly sense of utter loneliness, of being forsaken by human sympathy. The cloud about her thickened; it muffled light and sound, and began to obscure even her memories.
For a long time Mrs. Wade had sat silent. At length she rose, glanced at Lilian, and, without speaking left the room.
She went upstairs and into her bed-chamber, and here stood for a few minutes in the dark, purposeless. Then she seated herself in a low chair that was by the bed side. For her, too, the past night had been one of painful watching; her nerves threatened danger if she stayed in the same room with Lilian. Here she could recover something of self-control, and think over the latest aspect of affairs.
Thus had she sat for nearly half an hour, when her reverie was broken by a sound from below. It was the closing of the front door. She sprang up and ran to the window, to see if any one passed out into the road; but no figure became visible. The gate was closed; no one could have gone forth so quickly. A minute or two passed, yet she heard and saw nothing.
Then she quickly descended the stairs. The door of the sitting-room was open; the room was vacant.
"Lilian!" she called aloud, involuntarily.
She sprang to the front door and looked about in the little garden. Some one moving behind caused her to turn round; it was the servant.
"Annie, has Mrs. Quarrier left the house?"
"Yes, m'm, she has. I just had the kitchen door open, and I saw her go out -- without anything on her head."
"Where can she be, then? The gate hasn't been opened; I should have heard it."
One other way there was out of the garden. By passing along a side of the cottage, one came into the back-yard, and thence, by a gate, into one of the fields which spread towards Bale Water. Mrs. Wade remembered that Lilian had discovered this exit one day not long ago.
"I don't understand it," she continued, hurriedly. "You run and put your hat on, and then look up and down the road. I'll go to the back."
Regardless of the cold night air, she hastened in the direction that Lilian must necessarily have taken. Reaching the field, she could at first distinguish no object in the dark space before her. But the sky was clear and starry, and in a few moments, running on the while, she caught sight of a figure not very far in advance. That undoubtedly was Lilian, escaping, speeding over the meadows -- whither?
The ground rose gradually, and at a distance of less than a quarter of a mile cut clearly across the sky. Still advancing, though with less speed, she saw Lilian's form gain the top of the rise, and there stand, a black, motionless projection from the ground. If now she called in a loud voice, the fugitive must certainly hear her; but she kept silence. By running quickly over the grass she might overtake her friend, who still lingered; but, as if her limbs had failed, she crouched down, and so remained until the dark figure all at once disappeared.
Immediately she started to her feet again, and pressed forward. A few minutes, and she was at the top of the field, where Lilian had paused; panting, her heart throbbing, a cold sweat on her forehand. From this point she looked over a grassy slope, towards the trees which shadowed Bale Water. But her eye could discern nothing save outlines against the starry heaven. All the ground before her lay in a wide-spreading hollow, and darkness cloaked it.
Again she crouched down, pressing her hand against her heart, listening. It was a very still night, and few sounds disturbed its peacefulness. Somewhere, far off, a cart rumbled along; presently one of the Polterham clocks began to strike, faintly but clearly. That caused her to look in the direction of the town; she saw the radiance of lights, and thought of what was going on over there -- the shouting, rushing, fighting.
A night-insect buzzed against her, and, almost in the same moment, there came from down in the hollow, from beyond the trees, a sound which chilled her blood, stopped the wild beating of her heart. It seemed to echo with dreadful clearness from end to end of the heavens. A dull splash of water, that was all; in reality, scarcely to be heard at this distance save by an ear straining in dreadful expectation.
She made one effort to rise, but could not. Another, and she was fleeing back to the cottage as if chased for her life.
The back-door was locked; she had to go round into the garden, and there the servant was waiting.
"Have you found her, m'm?"
"No -- I can't think -- go in, Annie."
The girl was frightened; yet more so when, by the light from the sitting-room, she saw her mistress's face.
"Do you think she's gone home, m'm?"
"Yes, no doubt. Go into the kitchen. I'll call you again."
Mrs. Wade entered the parlour, and closed the door. Her dress was in disorder; her hair had in part fallen loose; on her hands were traces of mud. She did not sit down, and remained just within the door; her look and attitude were those of a terrified listener.
Presently she moved towards the fire, and knelt before it -- though she had no need of warmth. Starts and shudders indicated her mental anguish. Yet no sound escape her, until, in a sudden convulsion of her frame, she gave a cry of terror, and threw herself at full length upon the ground. There she lay, struggling with hysterical passion, half choked by sobs, now and then uttering a hoarse wail, at length weeping with the self-abandonment of a child.
It lasted for ten minutes or more, and then followed a long silence. Her body still quivered; she lay with her face half hidden against the hearth-rug, lips parted, but teeth set, breathing heavily.
The clock upon her mantelpiece sounded the third quarter -- a quarter to nine. It drew her attention, and at length she half raised herself. Still she had the look of one who listens. She stood up, mechanically smoothed her hair, and twice walked the length of the room. Nearing the door yet again, she opened it, and went upstairs.
Five minutes, and she had made herself ready to go out. At the foot of the stairs she called to her servant.
"I must go into Polterham, Annie. If Mr. Quarrier should come whilst I'm away, say that Mrs. Quarrier and I have gone out, but shall be back very soon. You understand that?"
Then she set forth, and hurried along the dark road.
Only one vehicle passed her before she came within sight of the streets; it was a carriage and pair, and she recognised the coachman of a family who lived towards Rickstead. Quarrier was doubtless still in the town, but to find him might be difficult. Perhaps she had better go to his house and despatch a servant in search of him. But that was away on the other side of Polterham, and in the meantime he might be starting for Pear-tree Cottage. The polling was long since over; would he linger with his friends at the committee room?
Yet she must go to the house first of all; there was a reason for it which only now occurred to her.
The main thoroughfares, usually silent and forsaken at this hour, were alive with streams of pedestrians, with groups of argumentative electors, with noisy troops of lads and girls who occasionally amused themselves with throwing mud at some unpopular person, or even breaking a window and rushing off with yells into the darkness of byways. Public-houses were doing a brisk trade, not without pugilism for the entertainment of such as lounged about the doors. For these sights and sounds Mrs. Wade had no attention, but frequently her ear was smitten with the name "Quarrier," spoken or roared by partisan or adversary. Her way led her through the open place where stood the Town Hall; here had gathered some hundreds of people, waiting for the result of the poll. As she hurried along the ragged edge of the crowd, a voice from somewhere close at hand checked her.
"If you imagine that Quarrier will do more for the people than any other politician, you will find yourselves mistaken. Party politics are no good -- no good at all. You working men ought to have the sense to form a party of your own."
It was Northway, addressing a cluster of mill-hands, and evidently posing as one of a superior class who deigned to give them disinterested advice. She listened for a minute longer, but heard nothing that could excite her alarm.
When she reached the house it was a quarter to ten. This part of the town lay in obscurity and quietness; not a shout sounded in her hearing.
Mr. Quarrier had not been at home since early in the afternoon.
"He must be found at once," said Mrs. Wade, adding quickly, "I suppose Mrs. Quarrier hasn't come?"
The servant gave a surprised negative.
"You must please send some one to find Mr. Quarrier, without a moment's delay. I will come in and wait."
The coachman happened to be in the kitchen. Mrs. Wade had him summoned, and despatched him for his master. Though her limbs shook with fatigue, she could not remain seated for more than a few minutes at a time; she kept the drawing-room door open, and kept going out to listen. Her suspense lasted for more than half an hour; then at length she heard a cab rattle up the drive, and in another moment Quarrier stood before her. This was the second time within a few days that her face had been of ill omen to him; he frowned an anxious inquiry.
"You haven't seen Lilian?" she began.
"She has gone -- left the cottage -- I can't find her."
"Gone? When did she go?"
"I have bad news for you. Northway has come back; he called at the cottage about seven o'clock. I didn't let him know Lilian was there, and soon got rid of him; he said he would have to see you again. Lilian was dreadfully agitated, and when I happened to leave the room, she went out -- disappeared -- I thought she must have come home " ----
"What do the servants say?"
"They haven't seen her."
"But she may have gone to Mary's?"
Arrested in the full flow of his jubilant spirits by this extraordinary announcement, Denzil could not admit grave alarm. If Lilian had fled from the proximity of her pursuer, she must of course have taken refuge with some friend.
"Let us go to the Liversedges'," he exclaimed. "I have a cab" ----
"Stop, Mr. Quarrier. -- I haven't told you the worst. She ran from the house just as she was, without her hat" ----
"What do you mean? Why should she ----?"
"She was in a dreadful state. I had done my best to soothe her. I was just going to send for you. My servant saw her run out from the sitting-room into the garden, and the gate wasn't opened -- she must have gone the back way -- into the fields."
"Into the fields ----?"
He stared at her with a look of gathering horror, and his tongue failed him.
"I followed that way. I searched everywhere. I went a long way over towards" ----
She broke off, quivering from head to foot.
"But she must have gone somewhere for refuge -- to some one's house."
"I hope so! Oh, I hope so!"
Her voice choked; tears started from her eyes.
"What do you fear? Tell me at once, plainly!"
She caught his hand, and replied with sobs of anguish.
"Why should she have gone into the fields? -- without anything on her head -- into the fields that lead over to" ----
"To -- you don't mean to -- the water?"
Still clinging to his hand, she sobbed, tried to utter words of denial, then again of fear. For the instant Denzil was paralyzed, but rapidly he released himself, and in a voice of command bade her follow. They entered the cab and were driven towards the Town Hall.
"Did you go to the water," he asked, "and look about there?"
"Yes," she answered, "I did. -- I could see nothing.
As they drew near, a roar of triumphant voices became audible; presently they were in the midst of the clamour, and with difficulty their vehicle made its way through a shouting multitude. It stopped at length by the public building, and Quarrier alighted. At once he was recognized. There rose yells of "Quarrier for ever!" Men pressed upon him, wanted to shake hands with him, bellowed congratulations in his ear. Heedless, he rushed on, and was fortunate enough to find very quickly the man he sought, his brother-in-law.
"Toby!" he whispered, drawing him aside, "we have lost Lilian! She may be at your house; come with us!"
Voiceless with astonishment, Mr. Liversedge followed, seated himself in the cab. Five minutes brought them to his house.
"Go in and ask," said Quarrier.
Toby returned in a moment, followed by his wife.
"She hasn't been here. What the deuce does it all mean? I can't understand you. Why, where should she have gone?"
Again Denzil drew him aside.
"Get a boatman, with lights and drags, and row round as fast as possible to Bale Water!"
"Good heavens! What are you talking about?"
"Do as I tell you, without a minute's delay! Take this cab. I shall be there long before you."
Mrs. Liversedge was talking with Mrs. Wade, who would say nothing but that Lilian had disappeared. At Denzil's bidding the cab was transferred to Toby, who, after whispering with his wife, was driven quickly away. Quarrier refused to enter the house.
"We shall find another cab near the Town Hall," he said to Mrs. Wade. "Good-night, Molly! I can't talk to you now."
The two hastened off. When they were among the people again, Mrs. Wade caught sentences that told her the issue of the day. "Majority of over six hundred! -- Well done, Quarrier! -- Quarrier for ever!" Without exchanging a word, they gained the spot where one or two cabs still waited, and were soon speeding along the Rickstead Road.
"She may be at the cottage," was all Denzil said on the way.
But no; Lilian was not at the cottage. Quarrier stood in the porch, looking about him as if he imagined that the lost one might be hiding somewhere near.
"I shall go -- over there," he said. "It will take a long time."
"Liversedge is rowing round, with drags. -- Go in and wait. -- You may be wrong."
"I didn't say I thought it! It was only a fear -- a dreadful possibility."
Again she burst into tears.
"Go in and rest, Mrs. Wade," he said, more gently. "You shall know -- if anything" ----
And, with a look of unutterable misery, he turned away.
Lilian might have taken refuge somewhere in the fields. It seemed a wild unlikelihood, but he durst not give up hope. Though his desire was to reach the waterside as quickly as possible, he searched on either hand as he went by the path, and once or twice he called in a loud voice "Lilian!" The night was darker now than when Mrs. Wade had passed through the neighbouring field; clouds had begun to spread, and only northwards was there a space of starry brilliance.
He came in sight of the trees along the bank, and proceeded at a quicker step, again calling Lilian's name more loudly. Only the soughing wind replied to him.
The nearest part of the water was that where it was deepest, where the high bank had a railing; the spot where Mrs. Wade and Lilian had stood together on their first friendly walk. Denzil went near, leaned across the rail, and looked down into featureless gloom. Not a sound beneath.
He walked hither and thither, often calling and standing still to listen. The whole sky was now obscured, and the wind grew keener. Afraid of losing himself, he returned to the high bank and there waited, his eyes fixed in the direction whence the boat must come. The row along the river Bale from Polterham would take more than an hour.
As he stood sunk in desperate thoughts, a hand touched him. He turned round, exclaiming "Lilian!"
"It is I," answered Mrs. Wade's voice.
"Why have you come? What good can you do here?"
"Don't be angry with me!" she implored. "I couldn't stay at home -- I couldn't!"
"I don't mean to speak angrily. -- Think," he added, in low shaken voice, "if that poor girl is lying" ----
A sob broke off his sentence; he pointed down into the black water. Mrs. Wade uttered no reply, but he heard the sound of her weeping.
They stood thus for a long time, then Denzil raised his hand.
"Look! They are coming!"
There was a spot of light far off, moving .slowly.
"I can hear the oars," he added presently.
It was in a lull of the soughing wind. A minute after there came a shout from far across the black surface. Denzil replied to it, and so at length the boat drew near.
Mr. Liversedge stood up, and Quarrier talked with him in brief, grave sentences. Then a second lantern was lighted by the boatman, and presently the dragging began.
Wrapped in a long cloak, Mrs. Wade stood at a distance, out of sight of the water, but able to watch Denzil. When cold and weariness all but overcame her, she first leaned against the trunk of a tree, then crouched there on the ground. For how long, she had no idea. A little rain fell, and afterwards the sky showed signs of clearing; stars were again visible here and there. She had sunk into a half-unconscious state, when Quarrier's voice spoke to her.
"You must go home," he said, hoarsely. "It's over."
She started up.
"Have they found" ----
"Yes. -- Go home at once."
He turned away, and she hurried from the spot with bowed head.
"Oh, depend upon it," said Mrs. Tenterden, in her heavy, consequential way, "there's more behind than we shall ever know! 'Unsound mind,' indeed She was no more of unsound mind than I am!"
It was after church, and Mrs. Mumbray, alone this morning, had offered the heavy lady a place in her brougham. The whole congregation had but one topic as they streamed into the unconsecrated daylight. Never was such eagerness for the strains of the voluntary which allowed them to start up from attitudes of profound meditation, and look round for their acquaintances. Yesterday's paper -- the Polterham Examiner unfortunately -- reported the inquest, and people had to make the most of those meagre paragraphs -- until the Mercury came out, when fuller and less considerate details might be hoped for. The whispering, the nodding, the screwing up of lips, the portentous frowning and the shaking of heads -- no such excitement was on record!
"To me," remarked Mrs. Mumbray, with an air of great responsibility, "the mystery is too plain. I don't hint at the worst -- it would be uncharitable -- but the poor creature had undoubtedly made some discovery in that woman's house which drove her to despair."
Mrs. Tenterden gave a start.
"You really think so? That has occurred to me. Mrs. Wade's fainting when she gave her evidence -- oh dear, oh dear! I'm afraid there can be only one explanation."
"That is our honourable member, my dear!" threw out Mrs. Mumbray. "These are Radical principles -- in man and woman. Why, I am told that scarcely a day passed without Mrs. Wade calling at the house."
"And they tell me that he was frequently at hers!"
"That poor young wife! Oh, it is shameful! The matter oughtn't to end here. Something ought to be done. If that man is allowed to keep his seat" ----
Many were the conjectures put forward and discussed throughout the day, but this of Mrs. Mumbray's -- started of course in several quarters -- found readiest acceptance in Conservative circles. Mrs. Wade was obviously the cause of what had happened -- no wonder she fainted at the inquest; no wonder she hid herself in her cottage! When she ventured to come out, virtuous Polterham would let her know its mind. Quarrier shared in the condemnation, but not even political animosity dealt so severely with him as social opinion did with Mrs. Wade.
Mr. Chown -- who would on no account have been seen in a place of worship -- went about all day among his congenial gossips, and scornfully contested the rumour that Quarrier's relations with Mrs. Wade would not bear looking into. At the house of Mr. Murgatroyd, the Radical dentist, he found two or three friends who were very anxious not to think evil of their victorious leader, but felt wholly at a loss for satisfactory explanations. Mr. Vawdrey, the coal-merchant, talked with gruff discontent.
"I don't believe there's been anything wrong; I couldn't think it -- neither of him nor her. But I do say it's a lesson to you men who go in for Female Suffrage Now, this is just the kind of thing that 'ud always be happening. If there isn't wrong-doing, there'll be wrong-speaking. Women have no business in politics, that's the plain moral of it. Let them keep at home and do their duty."
"Humbug!" cried Mr. Chown, who cared little for the graces of dialogue. "A political principle is not to be at the mercy of party scandal. I, for my part, have never maintained that women were ripe for public duties but Radicalism involves the certainty that they some day will be. The fact of the matter is that Mrs. Quarrier was a woman of unusually feeble physique. We all know -- those of us, at all events, who keep up with the science of the day -- that the mind is entirely dependent upon the body -- entirely!" He looked round, daring his friends to contradict this. "Mrs. Quarrier had overtaxed her strength, and it's just possible -- I say its just possible -- that her husband was not very prudent m sending her for necessary repose to the house of a woman so active-minded and so excitable as Mrs. Wade We must remember the peculiar state of her health. As far as I am concerned, Dr. Jenkins's evidence is final, and entirely satisfactory. As for the dirty calumnies of dirty-minded reactionists, I am not the man to give ear to them!"
One man there was who might have been expected to credit such charges, yet surprised his acquaintances by what seemed an unwonted exercise of charity. Mr. Scatchard Vialls, hitherto active in defamation of Quarrier, with amiable inconsistency refused to believe him guilty of conduct which had driven his wife to suicide. It was some days before the rumour reached his ears. Since the passage of arms with Serena, he had held aloof from Mrs. Mumbray's drawing-room, and his personality did not invite the confidence of ordinary scandal-mongers. When at length his curate hinted to him what was being said, he had so clearly formulated his own theory of Mrs. Quarrier's death that only the strongest evidence would have led him to reconsider it. Obstinacy and intellectual conceit forbade him to indulge his disposition to paint an enemy's character in the darkest colours.
"No, Mr. Blenkinsop," he replied to the submissive curate, standing on his hearth-rug at full height and regarding the cornice as his habit was when he began to monologize -- "no, I find it impossible to entertain such an accusation. I have little reason to think well of Mr. Quarrier; he is intemperate, in many senses of the word, and intemperance, it is true, connects closely with the most odious crimes. But in this case censure has been too quick to interpret suspicious circumstances -- suspicious, I admit. Far be it from me to speak in defence of such a person as Mrs. Wade; I think she is a source of incalculable harm to all who are on friendly terms with her -- especially young and impressionable women; but you must trust my judgment in this instance: I am convinced she is not guilty. Her agitation in the coroner's court has no special significance. No; the solution of the mystery is not so simple; it involves wider issues -- calls for a more profound interpretation of character and motives. Mrs. Quarrier -- pray attend to this, Mr. Blenkinsop -- represents a type of woman becoming, I have reason to think, only too common in our time, women who cultivate the intellect at the expense of the moral nature, who abandon religion and think they have found a substitute for it in the so-called humanitarianism of the day. Strong-minded women, you will hear them called; in truth, they are the weakest of their sex. Let their energies be submitted to any unusual strain, let their nerves (they are always morbid) be overwrought, and they snap!" He illustrated the catastrophe with his hands. "Unaided by religion, the female nature is irresponsible, unaccountable." Mr. Vialls had been severe of late in his judgment of women. "Mrs. Quarrier, poor creature, was the victim of immoderate zeal for worldly ends. She was abetted by her husband and by Mrs. Wade; they excited her to the point of frenzy, and in the last moment she -- snapped! Mrs. Wade's hysterical display is but another illustration of the same thing. These women have no support outside themselves -- they have deliberately cast away everything of the kind."
"Let me exhibit my meaning from another point of view. Consider, Mr. Blenkinsop" ----
Quarrier, in the meantime, was very far from suspecting the accusation which hostile ingenuity had brought against him. Decency would in any ease have necessitated his withdrawal for the present from public affairs, and, in truth, he was stricken down by his calamity. The Liversedges had brought him to their house; he transacted no business, and saw no one beyond the family circle. At the funeral people had thought him strangely unmoved; pride forbade him to make an exhibition of grief, but in secret he suffered as only a strong man can. His love for Lilian was the deepest his life would know. Till now, he had not understood how unspeakably precious she was to him; for the most part he had treated her with playful good-humour, seldom, if ever, striking the note of passion in his speech. With this defect he reproached himself. Lilian had not learnt to trust him sufficiently; she feared the result upon him of such a blow as Northway had it in his power to inflict. It was thus he interpreted her suicide, for Mrs. Wade had told him that Lilian believed disaster to be imminent. Surely he was to blame for it that, at such a pass, she had fled away from him instead of hastening to his side. How perfectly had their characters harmonized! He could recall no moment of mutual dissatisfaction, and that in spite of conditions which, with most women, would have made life very difficult. He revered her purity; her intellect he esteemed far subtler and nobler than his own. With such a woman for companion, he might have done great things; robbed for ever of her beloved presence, he felt lame, purposeless, indifferent to all but the irrecoverable past.
In a day or two he was to leave Polterham. Whether Northway would be satisfied with the result of his machinations remained to be seen; as yet nothing more had been heard of him. The fellow was perhaps capable of demanding more hush-money, of threatening the memory of the woman he had killed. Quarrier hoped more earnestly than ever that the secret would not he betrayed; he scorned vulgar opinion, so far as it affected himself, but could not bear the thought of Lilian's grave being defiled by curiosity and reprobation. The public proceedings had brought to light nothing whatever that seemed in conflict with medical evidence and the finding of the coroner's jury. One dangerous witness had necessarily come forward -- Mrs. Wade's servant; but the girl made no kind of allusion to Northway's visit -- didn't, in her own mind, connect it with Mrs. Quarrier's behaviour. She was merely asked to describe in what way the unfortunate lady had left the house. In Glazzard and Mrs. Wade, Denzil of course reposed perfect confidence. Northway, if need were, could and should be bought off.
Toby Liversedge got wind of the scandal in circulation, and his rage knew no bounds. Lest his wife should somehow make the discovery, he felt obliged to speak to her -- representing the change in its mildest form.
"There's a vile story going about that Lilian was jealous of Mrs. Wade's influence with Denzil; that the two quarrelled that day at the cottage, and the poor girl drowned herself in despair."
Mary looked shocked, but was silent.
"I suppose," added her husband, "we must be prepared for all sorts of rumours. The thing is unintelligible to people in general. Any one who knew her, and saw her those last days, can understand it only too well."
"Yes," murmured Mrs. Liversedge, with sad thoughtfulness.
She would not speak further on the subject, and Toby concluded that the mere suggestion gave her offence.
On the day after Denzil departed, leaving by a night train for London.
He was in town for a week, then took a voyage to Madeira, where he remained until there was only time enough to get back for the opening of Parliament. The natural plea of shaken health excused him to his constituents, many of whom favoured him with their unsolicited correspondence. (He had three or four long letters from Mr. Chown, who thought it necessary to keep the borough member posted in the course of English politics.) From Glazzard he heard twice, with cheerful news. "How it happened," he had written to his newly-married friend, in telling of Lilian's death, "I will explain some day; I cannot speak of it yet." Glazzard's response was full of manly sympathy. "I don't pretend," wrote the connoisseur, "that I am ideally mated, but my wife is a good girl, and I understand enough of happiness in marriage to appreciate to the full how terrible is your loss. Let confidences be for the future; if they do not come naturally, be assured I shall never pain you by a question."
Denzil's book had now been for several weeks before the public; it would evidently excite little attention. "A capital present for a schoolboy," was one of the best things the critics had yet found to say of it. He suffered disappointment, but did not seriously resent the world's indifference. Honestly speaking, was the book worth much? The writing had at first amused him; in the end it had grown a task. Literature was not his field.
Back, then, to politics! There he knew his force. He was looking to the first taste of Parliament with decided eagerness.
In Madeira he chanced to make acquaintance with an oldish man who had been in Parliament for a good many years; a Radical, an idealist, sore beset with physical ailments. This gentleman found pleasure in Denzil's society, talked politics to him with contagious fervour, and greatly aided the natural process whereby Quarrier was recovering his interest in the career before him.
"My misfortune is," Denzil one day confided to this friend, "that I detest the town and the people that have elected me."
"Indeed?" returned the other, with a laugh. "Then lay yourself out to become my successor at ---- when a general election comes round again. I hope to live out this Parliament, but sha'n't try for another."
About the same time he had a letter from Mrs. Wade, now in London, wherein, oddly enough, was a passage running thus:
"You say that the thought of representing Polterham spoils your pleasure in looking forward to a political life. Statesmen (and you will become one) have to be trained to bear many disagreeable things. But you are not bound to Polterham for ever -- the gods forbid! Serve them in this Parliament, and in the meantime try to find another borough."
It was his second letter from Mrs. Wade; the first had been a mere note, asking if he could bear to hear from her, and if he would let her know of his health. He replied rather formally, considering the terms on which they stood; and, indeed, it did not gratify him much to be assured of the widow's constant friendship.
Something less than a year after his marriage, Glazzard was summoned back to England by news of his brother's death. On the point of quitting Highmead, with Ivy, for a sojourn abroad, William Glazzard had an apoplectic seizure and died within the hour. His affairs were in disorder; he left no will; for some time it would remain uncertain whether the relatives inherited anything but debt.
Eustace and his wife took a house in the north of London, a modest temporary abode. There, at the close of March, Serena gave birth to a child.
During the past year Glazzard had returned to his old amusement of modelling in clay. He drew and painted, played and composed, at intervals; but plastic art seemed to have the strongest hold upon him. Through April he was busy with a head for which he had made many studies -- a head of Judas; in Italy he had tried to paint the same subject, but ineffectually. The face in its latest development seemed to afford him some satisfaction.
One morning, early in May, Serena was sitting with him in the room he used as a studio. Experience of life, and a certain measure of happiness, had made the raw girl a very pleasing and energetic woman; her face was comely, her manner refined, she spoke softly and thoughtfully, but with spirit.
"It is wonderful," she said, after gazing long, with knitted brows, at the Judas, "but horrible. I wish it hadn't taken hold of you so."
"Taken hold of me? I care very little about it."
"Oh, nonsense! That's your worst fault, Eustace. You seem ashamed of being in earnest. I wish you had found a pleasanter subject, but I am delighted to see you do something. Is it quite finished?"
A servant appeared at the door.
"Mr. Quarrier wishes to see you, sir."
Denzil entered, and had a friendly greeting. The Glazzards did not see much of him, for he was over head and ears in politics, social questions, philanthropic undertakings -- these last in memory of Lilian, whose spirit had wrought strongly in him since her death. He looked a much riper and graver man than a year ago. His language was moderate; he bore himself reservedly, at moments with diffidence. But there was the old frank cordiality undiminished. To Serena he spoke with the gentle courtesy which marks a man's behaviour to women when love and grief dwell together in his heart.
"Our friend Judas?" he said, stepping up to the model. "Finished at last?"
"Something like it." Glazzard replied, tapping the back of his hand with a tool.
"Discontented, as usual! I know nothing about this kind of thing, but I should say it was very good. Makes one uncomfortable -- doesn't it, Mrs. Glazzard? Do something pleasanter next time."
"Precisely what I was saying," fell from Serena.
They talked awhile, and Mrs. Glazzard left the room.
"I want to know your mind on a certain point," said Denzil. "Mrs. Wade has been asking me to bring her together with your wife and you. Now, what is your feeling?"
The other stood in hesitation, but his features expressed no pleasure.
"What is your feeling?" he asked, in return.
"Why, to tell you the truth, I can't advise you to make a friend of her. I'm sorry to say she has got into a very morbid state of mind. I see more of her than I care to. She has taken up with a lot of people I don't like -- rampant women -- extremists of many kinds. There's only one thing: it's perhaps my duty to try and get her into a more sober way of life, and if all steady-going people reject her ---- Still, I don't think either you or your wife would like to have her constantly coming here."
"I think not," said Glazzard, with averted face.
"Well, I shall tell her that she would find you very unsympathetic. I'm sorry for her; I wish she could recover a healthy mind."
He brooded for a moment, and the lines that came into his face gave it an expression of unrest and melancholy out of keeping with its natural tone.
In a few minutes he was gone, and presently Serena returned to the studio. She found her husband in a dark reverie, a mood to which he often yielded, which she always did her best to banish.
"Do you think, Eustace," she asked, "that Mr. Quarrier will marry again?"
"Oh, Some day, of course."
"I shall he sorry. There's something I have often meant to tell you about his wife; I will now."
He looked up attentively. Serena had never been admitted to his confidence regarding Lilian's story; to her, the suicide was merely a woeful result of disordered health.
"But for her," she continued, smiling archly, "I should perhaps not have married you. I was with doubts about myself and about you. Then I went to Mrs. Quarrier, and -- what a thing to do! -- asked her what she thought of you! She told me, and I came away without a doubt left. -- That's why I cried so much when we heard of her death. I should have told you then if you hadn't got vexed with me -- I'm sure I don't know why."
Glazzard laughed, and dismissed the subject carelessly.
Not long after, he was alone. After much pacing about the room, he came to a stand before his clay masterpiece, and stared at it as though the dull eyes fascinated him. Of a sudden he raised his fist and with one blow beat the head into a shapeless mass.
Then he went out, locking the door behind him.
On leaving the Glazzards, Quarrier pursued the important business that had brought him into this part of London. He drove to a hospital, newly opened, with which he was connected in the capacity of treasurer. Talk with the secretary occupied him for half an hour; about to set forth again, he encountered on the staircase two ladies, the one a hospital nurse, the other Mrs. Wade.
"Could you grant me five minutes?" asked the widow, earnestly. "I didn't hope to see you here, and must have called upon you -- but you are so busy."
There was a humility in her suppressed voice which, had the speaker been another person, would have prepared Denzil for some mendicant petition of the politer kind. She spoke hurriedly, as if fearing a rebuff.
"Let us step this way," he said, opening a door which led into an unoccupied room.
Mrs. Wade was dressed rather more simply than had been her wont when she lived at Polterham. One conjectured that her circumstances were not improved. She looked tired, harassed; her eyes wanted something of their former brightness, and she had the appearance of a much older woman.
There were no seats in the room. Quarrier did not refer to the fact, but stood in an attitude of friendly attention.
"I saw Northway yesterday," Mrs. Wade began.
The listener's face expressed annoyance.
"Need we speak of him?" he said, briefly.
"I am obliged to. He told me something which I had long suspected -- something you certainly must learn."
"Is it a fresh attack on my pocket?" asked Denzil, with resignation.
"No, but something that will grieve you far more. I have been trying for a long time to get it out of him, and now that I have succeeded I almost wish the thought had never occurred to me."
"Pray, pray don't keep me in suspense, Mrs. Wade."
"Northway did not make his discovery by chance. You were betrayed to him -- by a seeming friend."
Denzil looked steadily at her.
"A friend? -- He has deceived you. Only one acquaintance of mine knew."
"Mr. Glazzard. It was he who laid a plot for your downfall."
Quarrier moved impatiently.
"Mrs. Wade, you are being played upon by this scoundrel. There is no end to his contrivances."
"No, he has told me the truth," she pursued, with agitated voice. "Listen to the story, first of all."
She related to him, in accurate detail, all that had passed between Northway and Mr. Marks.
"And Mr. Marks was Mr. Glazzard, undoubtedly. His description tallies exactly."
Denzil broke out indignantly.
"The whole thing is a fabrication I not only won't believe it, but simply can't. You say that you have suspected this?"
"I have -- from the moment when Lilian told me that Mr. Glazzard knew."
"That's astounding! -- Then why should you have desired to be on friendly terms with the Glazzards?"
Mrs. Wade sank her eyes.
"I hoped," she made answer, "to find out something. I had only in view to serve you."
"You have deluded yourself, and been deluded, in the strangest way. Now, I will give you one reason (a very odd, but a very satisfactory one) why it is impossible to believe Glazzard guilty of such baseness -- setting aside the obvious fact that he had no motive. He goes in for modelling in clay, and for some time he has been busy on a very fine head. What head do you think? -- That of Judas Iscariot."
"Now, a man guilty of abominable treachery would not choose for an artistic subject the image of an arch-traitor."
Mrs. Wade smiled strangely as she listened to his scornful demonstration.
"You have given me," she said, "a most important piece of evidence in support of Northway's story."
Denzil was ill at ease. He could not dismiss this lady with contempt. Impossible that he should not have learnt by this time the meaning of her perpetual assiduity on his behalf; the old friendliness (never very warm) had changed to a compassion which troubled him. Her image revived such painful memories that he would have welcomed any event which put her finally at a distance from him. The Polterham scandal, though not yet dead, had never come to his ears; had he known it, he could scarcely have felt more constrained in her society.
"Will you oblige me," he said, with kindness, "by never speaking of this again?"
"If you will first grant me one test of my opinion. Will you meet Northway in some public place where Mr. Glazzard can be easily seen, and ask the man to point out his informant -- Mr. Marks?"
After much debate, and with great reluctance, he consented. From his conversation of an hour ago he knew that Glazzard would be at the Academy on the morrow. He had expressed a hope for a meeting there. At the Academy, accordingly, the test should be applied. It was all a fabrication; Northway, laying some new plot, might already know Glazzard by sight. But the latter should be put on his guard, and Mrs. Wade should then be taught that henceforth she was forbidden to concern herself with his -- Quarrier's -- affairs.
He went home and passed a cheerless time until the next morning. Suspicion, in spite of himself, crept into his thoughts. He was sick at heart under the necessity, perhaps life-long, of protecting Lilian's name against a danger which in itself was a sort of pollution. His sanguine energy enabled him to lose the thought, at ordinary times, of the risks to which he himself was exposed; but occasionally he reflected that public life might even yet be made impossible for him, and then he cursed the moral stupidity of people in general.
At eleven o'clock next morning he entered Burlington House. In the vestibule at the head of the stairs stood Mrs. Wade, and Northway, indistinguishable from ordinary frequenters of the exhibition, was not far off. This gentleman had a reason for what he was doing; he wished to discover who Mr. Marks really was, and what (since the political plea could no longer be credited) had been his interest in Lilian.
"He is here already," said Mrs. Wade, as she joined Denzil. "Among the sculpture -- the inner room."
"Then I shall follow you at a distance. Challenge that fellow to go up to Glazzard and address him as Mr. Marks."
The widow led in the direction she had indicated, through the central hall, then to the right, Northway following close. Denzil had, of course, to take it for granted that Mrs. Wade was acting honourably; he did not doubt her good faith. If it came to a mere conflict of assertions between his friend and Northway, he knew which of them to believe. But he was much perturbed, and moved forward with a choking in his throat.
Arrived at the threshold of the Lecture Room, he saw that only some dozen people were standing about. No sooner had he surveyed them than he became aware that Northway was sauntering directly towards the place where Glazzard stood; Mrs. Wade remained in the doorway. Unperceived, the informer came close behind his confederate and spoke quietly.
Glazzard turned as if some one had struck him.
It was forcible evidence, confirmed moreover by the faces of the two men as they exchanged a few words.
Seeing Northway retire, Quarrier said to Mrs. Wade:
"Please to go away. You have done your part."
With a look of humble entreaty, she obeyed him. Denzil, already observed by Glazzard, stepped forward.
"Do you know that man?" he asked, pointing to Northway, who affected a study of some neighbouring work of art.
"I have met him," was the subdued answer.
It was necessary to speak so that attention should not be drawn hither. Though profoundly agitated, Quarrier controlled himself sufficiently to use a very low tone.
"He has told an incredible story, Glazzard. I sha'n't believe it unless it is confirmed by your own lips."
"I have no doubt he has told the truth."
Denzil drew back.
"But do you know what he has said?"
"I guess from the way he addressed me -- as Mr. Marks."
Glazzard was deadly pale, but he smiled persistently, and with an expression of relief.
"You -- you -- betrayed us to him?"
Each could hear the other's breathing.
"Why did you do that?" asked Denzil, the excess of his astonishment declaring itself in a tone which would have suited some every-day inquiry. He could not speak otherwise.
"I can't tell you why I did it. I'm not sure that I quite understand now. I did it, and there's no more to be said."
Denzil turned away, and stood with his eyes fixed on the ground. A minute passed, and Glazzard's voice again sounded close to him.
"Quarrier, you can't forgive me, and I don't wish you to. But may I hope that you won't let my wife know of it?"
"You are safe from me," answered Denzil, barely glancing at him, and at once walked away.
He returned to the vestibule, descended the stairs, went out into the court. There, aside from vehicles and people, he let his thoughts have their way. Presently they summed themselves in a sentence which involuntarily he spoke aloud:
"Now I understand the necessity for social law!"