by Arnold Bennett
Author of The Grand Babylon Hotel, The Gates of Wrath,
Anna of the Five Towns, etc.
THE HOUSEHOLD AT
CHAPTER III. THE
CHAPTER IV. AN
CHAPTER V. THE
CHAPTER VII. THE
CHAPTER IX. A
DEATH IN THE
CHAPTER X. IN
CHAPTER XI. THE
CHAPTER XII. IN
CHAPTER I. THE HOUSEHOLD AT HILLPORT
She was walking, with her customary air of haughty and rapt leisure,
across the market-place of Bursley, when she observed in front of her,
at the top of Oldcastle Street, two men conversing and gesticulating
vehemently, each seated alone in a dog-cart. These persons, who had met
from opposite directions, were her husband, John Stanway, the
earthenware manufacturer, and David Dain, the solicitor who practised
at Hanbridge. Stanway's cob, always quicker to start than to stop, had
been pulled up with difficulty, drawing his cart just clear of the
other one, so that the two portly and middle-aged talkers were most
uncomfortably obliged to twist their necks in order to see one another;
the attitude did nothing to ease the obvious asperity of the
discussion. She thought the spectacle undignified and silly; and she
marvelled, as all women marvel, that men who conduct themselves so
magisterially should sometimes appear so infantile. She felt glad that
it was Thursday afternoon, and the shops closed and the streets empty.
Immediately John Stanway caught sight of her he said a few words to
the lawyer in a somewhat different key, and descended from his vehicle.
As she came up to them Mr. Dain saluted her with bashful abruptness,
and her proud face broke as if by the loosing of a spell into a
generous and captivating smile; Mr. Dain blushed, the vision was too
much for his composure; he moved his horse forward a yard or two, and
then jerked it back again, gruffly advising it to stand still. Stanway
turned to her bluntly, unceremoniously, as to a creature to whom he
owed nothing. She noticed once more how the whole character of his face
was changed under annoyance.
'Here, Nora!' he said, speaking with the raw anger of a man with a
new-born grievance, 'run this home for me. I'm going over to Hanbridge
with Mr. Dain.'
'Very well,' she agreed with soothing calmness, and taking the reins
she climbed up to the high driving-seat.
'And I say, Nora—Wo-back!' he flamed out passionately to the
impatient cob, 'where're your manners, you idiot? I say, Nora, I doubt
I shall be late for tea—half-past six. Tell Milly she must be in. The
others too.' He gave these instructions in a lower tone, and emphasised
them by a stormy and ominous frown. Then with an injured 'Now, Dain!'
he got into the equipage of his legal adviser and departed towards
Hanbridge, trailing clouds of vexation.
Leonora drove smartly but cautiously down the steep slope of
Oldcastle Street; she could drive as well as a woman may. A group of
clay-soiled girls lounging in the archway of a manufactory exchanged
rude but admiring remarks about her as she passed. The paces of the
cob, the dazzle of the silver-plated harness, the fine lines of the
cart, the unbending mien of the driver, made a glittering cynosure for
envy. All around was grime, squalor, servitude, ugliness; the
inglorious travail of two hundred thousand people, above ground and
below it, filled the day and the night. But here, as it were suddenly,
out of that earthy and laborious bed, rose the blossom of luxury,
grace, and leisure, the final elegance of the industrial district of
the Five Towns. The contrast between Leonora and the rough creatures in
the archway, between the flower and the phosphates which nourished it,
was sharp and decisive: and Leonora, in the September sunshine, was
well aware of the contrast. She felt that the loud-voiced girls were at
one extremity of the scale and she at the other; and this arrangement
seemed natural, necessary, inevitable.
She was a beautiful woman. She had a slim perfect figure; quite
simply she carried her head so high and her shoulders so square that
her back seemed to be hollowed out, and no tightness on the part of a
bodice could hide this charming concavity. Her face was handsome with
its large regular features; one noticed the abundant black hair under
the hat, the thick eyebrows, the brown and opaque skin, the teeth
impeccably white, and the firm, unyielding mouth and chin. Underneath
the chin, half muffling it, came a white muslin bow, soft, frail,
feminate, an enchanting disclaimer of that facial sternness and the
masculinity of that tailor-made dress, a signal at once provocative and
wistful of the woman. She had brains; they appeared in her keen dark
eyes. Her judgment was experienced and mature. She knew her world and
its men and women. She was not too soon shocked, not too severe in her
verdicts, not the victim of too many illusions. And yet, though
everything about her witnessed to a serene temperament and the
continual appeasing of mild desires, she dreamed sadly, like the girls
in the archway, of an existence more distinguished than her own; an
existence brilliant and tender, where dalliance and high endeavour,
virtue and the flavour of sin, eternal appetite and eternal
satisfaction, were incredibly united. Even now, on her fortieth
birthday, she still believed in the possibility of a conscious state of
positive and continued happiness, and regretted that she should have
The imminence and the arrival of this dire birthday, this day of
wrath on which the proudest woman will kneel to implacable destiny and
beg a reprieve, had induced the reveries natural to it—the
self-searching, the exchange of old fallacies for new, the dismayed
glance forward, the lingering look behind. Absorbed though she was in
the control of the sensitive steed, the field of her mind's eye seemed
to be entirely filled by an image of the woman of forty as imagined by
herself at the age of twenty. And she was that woman now! But she did
not feel like forty; at thirty she had not felt thirty; she could only
accept the almanac and the rules of arithmetic. The interminable years
of her marriage rolled back, and she was eighteen again, ingenuous and
trustful, convinced that her versatile husband was unique among his
sex. The fading of a short-lived and factitious passion, the descent of
the unique male to the ordinary level of males, the births of her three
girls and their rearing and training: all these things seemed as
trifles to her, mere excrescences and depressions in the vast tableland
of her monotonous and placid career. She had had no career. Her
strength of will, of courage, of love, had never been taxed; only her
patience. 'And my life is over!' she told herself, insisting that her
life was over without being able to believe it.
As the dog-cart was crossing the railway bridge at Shawport, at the
foot of the rise to Hillport, Leonora overtook her eldest daughter. She
drew up. From the height of the dog-cart she looked at her child; and
the girlishness of Ethel's form, the self-consciousness of
newly-arrived womanhood in her innocent and timid eyes, the virgin
richness of her vitality, made Leonora feel sad, superior, and
'Oh, mother! Where's father?' Ethel exclaimed, staring at her,
struck with a foolish wonder to see her mother where her father had
been an hour before.
'What a schoolgirl she is! And at her age I was a mother twice
over!' thought Leonora; but she said aloud: 'Jump up quickly, my dear.
You know Prince won't stand.'
Ethel obeyed, awkwardly. As she did so the mother scrutinised the
rather lanky figure, the long dark skirt, the pale blouse, and the
straw hat, in a single glance that missed no detail. Leonora was not
quite dissatisfied; Ethel carried herself tolerably, she resembled her
mother; she had more distinction than her sisters, but her manner was
'Your father was very vexed about something,' said Leonora, when she
had recounted the meeting at the top of Oldcastle Street. 'Where's
'I don't know, mother—I think she went out for a walk.' The girl
added apprehensively: 'Why?'
'Oh, nothing!' said Leonora, pretending not to observe that Ethel
had blushed. 'If I were you, Ethel, I should let that belt out one hole
... not here, my dear child, not here. When you get home. How was Aunt
Every day one member or another of John Stanway's family had to pay
a visit to John's venerable Aunt Hannah, who lived with her brother,
the equally venerable Uncle Meshach, in a little house near the parish
church of St. Luke's. This was a social rite the omission of which
nothing could excuse. On that day it was Ethel who had called.
'Auntie was all right. She was making a lot of parkin, and of course
I had to taste it, all new, you know. I'm simply stodged.'
'Don't say “stodged.”'
'Oh, mother! You won't let us say anything,' Ethel dismally
protested; and Leonora secretly sympathised with the grown woman in
'Oh! And Aunt Hannah wishes you many happy returns. Uncle Meshach
came back from the Isle of Man last night. He gave me a note for you.
Here it is.'
'I can't take it now, my dear. Give it me afterwards.'
'I think Uncle Meshach's a horrid old thing!' said Ethel.
'My dear girl! Why?'
'Oh! I do. I'm glad he's only father's uncle and not ours. I do hate
that name. Fancy being called Meshach!'
'That isn't uncle's fault, anyhow,' said Leonora.
'You always stick up for him, mother. I believe it's because he
flatters you, and says you look younger than any of us.' Ethel's tone
was half roguish, half resentful.
Leonora gave a short unsteady laugh. She knew well that her age was
plainly written beneath her eyes, at the corners of her mouth, under
her chin, at the roots of the hair above her ears, and in her cold,
confident gaze. Youth! She would have forfeited all her experience, her
knowledge, and the charm of her maturity, to recover the irrecoverable!
She envied the woman by her side, and envied her because she was
lightsome, thoughtless, kittenish, simple, unripe. For a brief moment,
vainly coveting the ineffable charm of Ethel's immaturity, she had a
sharp perception of the obscure mutual antipathy which separates one
generation from the next. As the cob rattled into Hillport, that
aristocratic and plutocratic suburb of the town, that haunt of
exclusiveness, that retreat of high life and good tone, she thought how
commonplace, vulgar, and petty was the opulent existence within those
tree-shaded villas, and that she was doomed to droop and die there,
while her girls, still unfledged, might, if they had the sense to use
their wings, fly away.... Yet at the same time it gratified her to
reflect that she and hers were in the picture, and conformed to the
standards; she enjoyed the admiration which the sight of herself and
Ethel and the expensive cob and cart and accoutrements must arouse in
the punctilious and stupid breast of Hillport.
She was picking flowers for the table from the vivid borders of the
lawn, when Ethel ran into the garden from the drawing-room. Bran, the
St. Bernard, was loose and investigating the turf.
'Mother, the letter from Uncle Meshach.'
Leonora took the soiled envelope, and handing over the flowers to
Ethel, crossed the lawn and sat down on the rustic seat, facing the
house. The dog followed her, and with his great paw demanded her
attention, but she abruptly dismissed him. She thought it curiously
characteristic of Uncle Meshach that he should write her a letter on
her fortieth birthday; she could imagine the uncouth mixture of wit,
rude candour, and wisdom with which he would greet her; his was a
strange and sinister personality, but she knew that he admired her. The
note was written in Meshach's scraggy and irregular hand, in three
lines starting close to the top of half a sheet of note paper. It ran:
'Dear Nora, I hear young Twemlow is come back from America. You had
better see as your John looks out for himself.' There was nothing else,
As she read it, she experienced precisely the physical discomfort
which those feel who travel for the first time in a descending lift.
Fifteen quiet years had elapsed since the death of her husband's
partner William Twemlow, and a quarter of a century since William's
wild son, Arthur, had run away to America. Yet Uncle Meshach's letter
seemed to invest these far-off things with a mysterious and
disconcerting actuality. The misgivings about her husband which long
practice and continual effort had taught her how to keep at bay,
suddenly overleapt their artificial barriers and swarmed upon her.
The long garden front of the dignified eighteenth-century house,
nearly the last villa in Hillport on the road to Oldcastle, was
extended before her. She had played in that house as a child, and as a
woman had watched, from its windows, the years go by like a procession.
That house was her domain. Hers was the supreme intelligence brooding
creatively over it. Out of walls and floors and ceilings, out of stairs
and passages, out of furniture and woven stuffs, out of metal and
earthenware, she had made a home. From the lawn, in the beautiful
sadness of the autumn evening, any one might have seen and enjoyed the
sight of its high French windows, its glowing sun-blinds, its
faintly-tinted and beribboned curtains, its creepers, its glimpses of
occasional tables, tall vases, and dressing-mirrors. But Leonora, as
she sat holding the letter in her long white hand, could call up and
see the interior of every room to the most minute details. She, the
housemistress, knew her home by heart. She had thought it into
existence; and there was not a cabinet against a wall, not a rug on a
floor, not a cushion on a chair, not a knicknack on a mantelpiece, not
a plate in a rack, but had come there by the design of her brain.
Without possessing much artistic taste, Leonora had an extraordinary
talent for domestic equipment, organisation, and management. She was so
interested in her home, so exacting in her ideals, that she could never
reach finality; the place went through a constant succession of
improvements; its comfort and its attractiveness were always on the
increase. And the result was so striking that her supremacy in the
woman's craft could not be challenged. All Hillport, including her
husband, bowed to it. Mrs. Stanway's principles, schemes, methods, even
her trifling dodges, were mentioned with deep respect by the ladies of
Hillport, who often expressed their astonishment that, although the
wheels of Mrs. Stanway's household revolved with perfect smoothness,
Mrs. Stanway herself appeared never to be doing anything. That
astonishment was Leonora's pride. As her brain marshalled with ease the
thousand diverse details of the wonderful domestic machine, she could
appreciate, better than any other woman in Hillport, without vanity and
without humility, the singular excellence of her gifts and of the
organism they had perfected. And now this creation of hers, this
complex structure of mellow brick-and-mortar, and fine chattels, and
nice and luxurious habit, seemed to Leonora to tremble at the whisper
of an enigmatic message from Uncle Meshach. The foreboding caused by
the letter mingled with the menace of approaching age and with the
sadness of the early autumn, and confirmed her mood.
Millicent, her youngest, ran impulsively to her in the garden.
Millicent was eighteen, and the days when she went to school and wore
her hair in a long plait were still quite fresh in the girl's mind. For
this reason she was often inordinately and aggressively adult.
'Mamma! I'm going to have my tea first thing. The Burgesses have
asked me to play tennis. I needn't wait, need I? It gets dark so soon.'
As Millicent stood there, ardently persuasive, she forgot that adult
persons do not stand on one leg or put their fingers in their mouths.
Leonora looked fondly at the sprightly girl, vain, self-conscious,
and blonde and pretty as a doll in her white dress. She recognised all
Millicent's faults and shortcomings, and yet was overcome by the charm
of her presence.
'No, Milly, you must wait.' Throned on the rustic seat, inscrutable
and tyrannous Leonora, a wistful, wayward atom in the universe, laid
her command upon the other wayward atom; and she thought how strange it
was that this should be.
'Father specially said you must be in for tea. You know you have far
too much freedom. What have you been doing all the afternoon?'
'I haven't been doing anything, Ma.'
Leonora feared for the strict veracity of her youngest, but she said
nothing, and Milly retired full of annoyance against the inconceivable
caprices of parents.
At twenty minutes to seven John Stanway entered his large and
handsome dining-room, having been driven home by David Dain, whose
residence was close by. Three languorous women and the erect and
motionless parlourmaid behind the door were waiting for him. He went
straight to his carver's chair, and instantly the women were alert,
galvanised into vigilant life. Leonora, opposite to her husband, began
to pour out the tea; the impassive parlourmaid stood consummately ready
to hand the cups; Ethel and Millicent took their seats along one side
of the table, with an air of nonchalance which was far from sincere; a
chair on the other side remained empty.
'Turn the gas on, Bessie,' said John. Daylight had scarcely begun to
fail; but nevertheless the man's tone announced a grievance, that, with
half-a-dozen women in the house, he the exhausted breadwinner should
have been obliged to attend to such a trifle. Bessie sprang to pull the
chain of the Welsbach tap, and the white and silver of the tea-table
glittered under the yellow light. Every woman looked furtively at
John's morose countenance.
Neither dark nor fair, he was a tall man, verging towards obesity,
and the fulness of his figure did not suit his thin, rather handsome
face. His age was forty-eight. There was a small bald spot on the crown
of his head. The clipped brown beard seemed thick and plenteous, but
this effect was given by the coarseness of the hairs, not by their
number; the moustache was long and exiguous. His blue eyes were never
still, and they always avoided any prolonged encounter with other eyes.
He was a personable specimen of the clever and successful manufacturer.
His clothes were well cut, the necktie of a discreet smartness. His
grandfather had begun life as a working potter; nevertheless John
Stanway spoke easily and correctly in a refined variety of the broad
Five Towns accent; he could open a door for a lady, and was noted for
his neatness in compliment.
It was his ambition always to be calm, oracular, weighty; always to
be sure of himself; but his temperament was incurably nervous,
restless, and impulsive. He could not be still, he could not wait.
Instinct drove him to action for the sake of action, instinct made him
seek continually for notice, prominence, comment. These fundamental
appetites had urged him into public life—to the Borough Council and
the Committee of the Wedgwood Institution. He often affected to be
buried in cogitation upon municipal and private business affairs, when
in fact his attention was disengaged and watchful. Leonora knew that
this was so to-night. The idea of his duplicity took possession of her
mind. Deeps yawned before her, deeps that swallowed up the solid and
charming house and the comfortable family existence, as she glanced at
that face at once strange and familiar to her. 'Is it all right?' she
kept thinking. 'Is John all that he seems? I wonder whether he has ever
committed murder.' Yes, even this absurd thought, which she knew to be
absurd, crossed her mind.
'Where's Rose?' he demanded suddenly in the depressing silence of
the tea-table, as if he had just discovered the absence of his second
'She's been working in her room all day,' said Leonora.
'That's no reason why she should be late for tea.'
At that moment Rose entered. She was very tall and pale, her dress
was a little dowdy. Like her father and Millicent, she carried her head
forward and had a tendency to look downwards, and her spine seemed
flaccid. Ethel was beautiful, or about to be beautiful; Millicent was
pretty; Rose plain. Rose was deficient in style. She despised style,
and regarded her sisters as frivolous ninnies and gadabouts. She was
the serious member of the family, and for two years had been studying
for the Matriculation of London University.
'Late again!' said her father. 'I shall stop all this exam work.'
Rose said nothing, but looked resentful.
When the hot dishes had been partaken of, Bessie was dismissed, and
Leonora waited for the bursting of the storm. It was Millicent who drew
'I think I shall go down to Burgesses, after all, mamma. It's quite
light,' she said with audacious pertness.
Her father looked at her.
'What were you doing this afternoon, Milly?'
'I went out for a walk, pa.'
'Didn't I see you on the canal-side with young Ryley?'
'Yes, father. He was going back to the works after dinner, and he
just happened to overtake me.'
Milly and Ethel exchanged a swift glance.
'Happened to overtake you! I saw you as I was driving past, over the
canal bridge. You little thought that I saw you.'
'Well, father, I couldn't help him overtaking me. Besides——'
'Besides!' he took her up. 'You had your hand on his shoulder. How
do you explain that?'
Millicent was silent.
'I'm ashamed of you, regularly ashamed ... You with your hand on his
shoulder in full sight of the works! And on your mother's birthday
Leonora involuntarily stirred. For more than twenty years it had
been his custom to give her a kiss and a ten-pound note before
breakfast on her birthday, but this year he had so far made no mention
whatever of the anniversary.
'I'm going to put my foot down,' he continued with grieved majesty.
'I don't want to, but you force me to it. I'll have no goings-on with
Fred Ryley. Understand that. And I'll have no more idling about. You
girls—at least you two—are bone-idle. Ethel shall begin to go to the
works next Monday. I want a clerk. And you, Milly, must take up the
housekeeping. Mother, you'll see to that.'
Leonora reflected that whereas Ethel showed a marked gift for
housekeeping, Milly was instinctively averse to everything merely
domestic. But with her acquired fatalism she accepted the ukase.
'You understand,' said John to his pert youngest.
'No more carrying-on with Fred Ryley—or any one else.'
'I've got quite enough to worry me without being bothered by you
Rose left the table, consciously innocent both of sloth and of light
'What are you going to do now, Rose?' He could not let her off
'Read my chemistry, father.'
'You'll do no such thing.'
'I must, if I'm to pass at Christmas,' she said firmly. 'It's my
'Christmas or no Christmas,' he replied, 'I'm not going to let you
kill yourself. Look at your face! I wonder your mother——'
'Run into the garden for a while, my dear,' said Leonora softly, and
the girl moved to obey.
'Rose,' he called her back sharply as his exasperation became
fidgetty. 'Don't be in such a hurry. Open the window—an inch.'
* * * * *
Ethel and Millicent disappeared after the manner of young
fox-terriers; they did not visibly depart; they were there, one looked
away, they were gone. In the bedroom which they shared, the door well
locked, they threw oft all restraints, conventions, pretences, and
discussed the world, and their own world, with terrible candour. This
sacred and untidy apartment, where many of the habits of childhood
still lingered, was a retreat, a sanctuary from the law, and the
fastness had been ingeniously secured against surprise by the peculiar
position of the bedstead in front of the doorway.
'Father is a donkey!' said Ethel.
'And ma never says a word!' said Milly.
'I could simply have smacked him when he brought in mother's
birthday,' Ethel continued, savagely.
'So could I.'
'Fancy him thinking it's you. What a lark!'
'Yes. I don't mind,' said Milly.
'You are a brick, Milly. And I didn't think you were, I didn't
'What a horrid pig you are, Eth!' Milly protested, and Ethel
'Did you give Fred my note all right?' Ethel demanded.
'Yes,' answered Milly. 'I suppose he's coming up to-night?'
'I asked him to.'
'There'll be a frantic row one day. I'm sure there will,' Milly said
meditatively, after a pause.
'Oh! there's bound to be!' Ethel assented, and she added: 'Mother
does trust us. Have a choc?'
Milly said yes, and Ethel drew a box of bonbons from her pocket.
They seemed to contemplate with a fearful joy the probable exposure
of that life of flirtations and chocolate which ran its secret course
side by side with the other life of demure propriety acted out for the
benefit of the older generation. If these innocent and inexperienced
souls had been accused of leading a double life, they would have denied
the charge with genuine indignation. Nevertheless, driven by the
universal longing, and abetted by parental apathy and parental lack of
imagination, they did lead a double life. They chafed bitterly under
the code to which they were obliged ostensibly to submit. In their
moods of revolt, they honestly believed their parents to be dull and
obstinate creatures who had lost the appetite for romance and ecstasy
and were determined to mortify this appetite in others. They desired
heaps of money and the free, informal companionship of very young men.
The latter—at the cost of some intrigue and subterfuge—they contrived
to get. But money they could not get. Frequently they said to each
other with intense earnestness that they would do anything for money;
and they repeated passionately, 'anything.'
'Just look at that stuck-up thing!' said Milly laughing. They stood
together at the window, and Milly pointed her finger at Rose, who was
walking conscientiously to and fro across the garden in the gathering
Ethel rapped on the pane, and the three sisters exchanged friendly
'Rosie will never pass her exam, not if she lives to be a hundred,'
said Ethel. 'And can you imagine father making me go to the works? Can
you imagine the sense of it?'
'He won't let you walk up with Fred at nights,' said Milly, 'so you
'And your housekeeping!' Ethel exclaimed. 'What a treat father will
have at meals!'
'Oh! I can easily get round mother,' said Milly with confidence. 'I
can't housekeep, and ma knows that perfectly well.'
'Well, father will forget all about it in a week or two, that's one
comfort,' Ethel concluded the matter. 'Are you going down to Burgesses
to see Harry?' she inquired, observing Milly put on her hat.
'Yes,' said Milly. 'Cissie said she'd come for me if I was late.
You'd better stay in and be dutiful.'
'I shall offer to play duets with mother. Don't you be long. Let's
try that chorus for the Operatic before supper.'
* * * * *
That night, after the girls had kissed them and gone to bed, John
and Leonora remained alone together in the drawing-room. The first fire
of autumn was burning in the grate, and at the other end of the long
room dark curtains were drawn across the French window. Shaded candles
lighted the grand piano, at which Leonora was seated, and a single gas
jet illuminated the region of the hearth, where John, lounging almost
at full length in a vast chair, read the newspaper; otherwise the room
was in shadow. John dropped the 'Signal,' which slid to the hearthrug
with a rustle, and turned his head so that he could just see the left
side of his wife's face and her left hand as it moved over the keys of
the piano. She played with gentle monotony, and her playing seemed
perfunctory, yet agreeable. John watched the glinting of the four rings
on her left hand, and the slow undulations of the drooping lace at her
wrist. He moved twice, and she knew he was about to speak.
'I say, Leonora,' he said in a confidential tone.
'Yes, my dear,' she responded, complying generously with his appeal
for sympathy. She continued to play for a moment, but even more softly;
and then, as he kept silence, she revolved on the piano-stool and
looked into his face.
'What is it?' she asked in a caressing voice, intensifying her
femininity, forgiving him, excusing him, thinking and making him think
what a good fellow he was, despite certain superficial faults.
'You knew nothing of this Ryley business, did you?' he murmured.
'Oh, no. Are you sure there's anything in it? I don't think there is
for an instant.' And she did not. Even the placing of Milly's hand on
Fred Ryley's shoulder in full sight of the street, even this she
regarded only as the pretty indiscretion of a child. 'Oh! there's
nothing in it,' she repeated.
'Well, there's got to be nothing in it. You must keep an eye
on 'em. I won't have it.'
She leaned forward, and, resting her elbows on her knees, put her
chin in her long hands. Her bangles disappeared amid lace.
'What's the matter with Fred?' said she. 'He's a relation; and
you've said before now that he's a good clerk,'
'He's a decent enough clerk. But he's not for our girls.'
'If it's only money——' she began.
'Money!' John cried. 'He'll have money. Oh! he'll have money right
enough. Look here, Nora, I've not told you before, but I'll tell you
now. Uncle Meshach's altered his will in favour of young Ryley.'
John Stanway stood up, gazing at his wife with an air of martyrised
virtue which said: 'There! what do you think of that as a specimen of
the worries which I keep to myself?'
She raised her eyebrows with a gesture of deep concern. And all the
time she was asking herself: 'Why did Uncle Meshach alter his will? Why
did he do that? He must have had some reason.' This question troubled
her far more than the blow to their expectations.
John's maternal grandfather had married twice. By his first wife he
had had one son, Shadrach; and by his second wife two daughters and a
son, Mary (John's mother), Hannah, and Meshach. The last two had never
married. Shadrach had estranged all his family (except old Ebenezer) by
marrying beneath him, and Mary had earned praise by marrying rather
well. These two children, by a useful whim of the eccentric old man,
had received their portions of the patrimony on their respective
wedding-days. They were both dead. Shadrach, amiable but incompetent,
had died poor, leaving a daughter, Susan, who had repeated, even more
reprehensibly, her father's sin of marrying beneath her. She had
married a working potter, and thus reduced her branch of the family to
the status from which old Ebenezer had originally raised himself. Fred
Ryley, now an orphan, was Susan's only child. As an act of charity John
Stanway had given Fred Ryley a stool in the office of his manufactory;
but, though Fred's mother was John's first cousin, John never
acknowledged the fact. John argued that Fred's mother and Fred's
grandfather had made fools of themselves, and that the consequences
were irremediable save by Fred's unaided effort. Such vicissitudes of
blood, and the social contrasts resulting therefrom, are common enough
in the history of families in democratic communities.
Old Ebenezer's will left the residue of his estate, reckoned at some
fifteen thousand pounds, to Meshach and Hannah as joint tenants with
the remainder absolutely to the survivor of them. By this arrangement,
which suited them excellently since they had always lived together,
though neither could touch the principal of their joint property during
their joint lives, the survivor had complete freedom to dispose of
everything. Both Meshach and Hannah had made a will in sole favour of
'Yes,' John said again, 'he's altered it in favour of young Ryley.
David Dain told me the other day. Uncle told Dain he might tell me.'
'Why has he altered it?' Leonora asked aloud at last.
John shook his head. 'Why does Uncle Meshach do anything?' He spoke
with sarcastic irritation. 'I suppose he's taken a sudden fancy for
Susan's child, after ignoring him all these years.'
'And has Aunt Hannah altered her will, too?'
'No. I'm all right in that quarter.'
'Then if your Aunt Hannah lives longest, you'll still come in for
everything, just as if your Uncle Meshach hadn't altered his will?'
'Yes. But Aunt Hannah won't live for ever. And Uncle Meshach will.
And where shall I be if she dies first?' He went on in a different
tone. 'Of course one of 'em's bound to die soon. Uncle's sixty-four if
he's a day, and the old lady's a year older. And I want money.'
'Do you, Jack, really?' she said. Long ago she had suspected it,
though John never stinted her. Once more the solid house and their
comfortable existence seemed to shiver and be engulfed.
'By the way, Nora,' he burst out with sudden bright animation, 'I've
been so occupied to-day I forgot to wish you many happy returns. And
here's the usual. I hadn't got it on me this morning.'
He kissed her and gave her a ten-pound note.
'Oh! thanks, Jack!' she said, glancing at the note with a factitious
curiosity to hide her embarrassment.
'You're good-looking enough yet!' he exclaimed as he gazed at her.
'He wants something out of me. He wants something out of me,' she
thought as she gave him a smile for his compliment. And this idea that
he wanted something, that circumstances should have forced him into the
position of an applicant, distressed her. She grieved for him. She saw
all his good qualities—his energy, vitality, cleverness, facile
kindliness, his large masculinity. It seemed to her, as she gazed up at
him from the music-stool in the shaded solitude or the drawing-room,
that she was very intimate with him, and very dependent on him; and she
wished him to be always flamboyant, imposing, and successful.
'If you are at all hard up, Jack——' She made as if to reject the
'Oh! get out!' he laughed. 'It's not a tenner that I'm short of. I
tell you what you can do,' he went on quickly and lightly. 'I
was thinking of raising a bit temporarily on this house. Five hundred,
say. You wouldn't mind, would you?'
The house was her own property, inherited from an aunt. John's
suggestion came as a shock to her. To mortgage her house: this was what
'Oh yes, certainly, if you like,' she acquiesced quietly. 'But I
thought—I thought business was so good just now, and——'
'So it is,' he stopped her with a hint of annoyance. 'I'm short of
capital. Always have been.'
'I see,' she said, not seeing. 'Well, do what you like.'
'Right, my girl. Now—roost!' He extinguished the gas over the
The familiar vulgarity of some of his phrases always vexed her, and
'roost' was one of these phrases. In a flash he fell from a creature
engagingly masculine to the use-worn daily sharer of her monotonous
'Have you heard about Arthur Twemlow coming over?' she demanded,
half vindictively, as he was preparing to blow out the last candle on
the piano. He stopped.
'Who's Arthur Twemlow?'
'Mr. Twemlow's son, of course,' she said. 'From America.'
'Oh! Him! Coming over, did you say? I wonder what he looks like. Who
'Uncle Meshach. And he said I was to say you were to look out for
yourself when Arthur Twemlow came. I don't know what he meant. One of
his jokes, I expect.' She tried to laugh.
John looked at her, and then looked away, and immediately blew out
the last candle. But she had seen him turn pale at what Uncle Meshach
had said. Or was that pallor merely the effect on his face of raising
the coloured candle-shade as he extinguished the candle? She could not
'Uncle Meshach ought to be in the lunatic asylum, I think,' John's
voice came majestically out of the gloom as they groped towards the
'We shall have to be polite to Arthur Twemlow, when he comes, if he
is coming,' said John after they had gone upstairs. 'I understand he's
quite a reformed character.'
* * * * *
Because she fancied she had noticed that the window at the end of
the corridor was open, she came out of the bedroom a few minutes later,
and traversed the dark corridor to satisfy herself, and found the
window wide open. The night was cloudy and warm, and a breeze moved
among the foliage of the garden. In the mysterious diffused light she
could distinguish the forms of the poplar trees. Suddenly the bushes
immediately beneath her were disturbed as though by some animal.
'Good night, Ethel.'
'Good night, Fred.'
She shook with violent agitation as the amazing adieu from the
garden was answered from the direction of her daughter's window. But
the secondary effect of those words, so simply and affectionately
whispered in the darkness, was to bring a tear to her eye. As the
mother comprehended the whole staggering situation, the woman envied
Ethel for her youth, her naughty innocence, her romance, her incredibly
foolish audacity in thus risking the disaster of parental wrath.
Leonora heard cautious footsteps on the gravel, and the slow closing of
a window. 'My life is over!' she said to herself. 'And hers beginning.
And to think that this afternoon I called her a schoolgirl! What
romance have I had in my life?'
She put her head out of the window. There was no movement now, but
above her a radiance streaming from Rose's dormer showed that the
serious girl of the family, defying commands, plodded obstinately at
her chemistry. As Leonora thought of Rose's ambition, and Ethel's
clandestine romance, and little Millicent's complicity in that romance,
and John's sinister secrets, and her own ineffectual repining—as she
thought of these five antagonistic preoccupied souls and their
different affairs, the pathos and the complexity of human things surged
over her and overwhelmed her.
CHAPTER II. MESHACH AND HANNAH
The little old bachelor and spinster were resting after dinner in
the back-parlour of their house near the top of Church Street. In that
abode they had watched generations pass and manners change, as one list
hearthrug succeeded another in the back-parlour. Meshach had been born
in the front bedroom, and he meant to die there; Hannah had also been
born in the front bedroom, but it was through the window of the back
bedroom that the housewife's soul would rejoin the infinite. The house,
which Meshach's grandfather, first of his line to emerge from the grey
mass of the proletariat, had ruined himself to build, was a six-roomed
dwelling of honest workmanship in red brick and tile, with a beautiful
pillared doorway and fanlight in the antique taste. It had cost two
hundred pounds, and was the monument of a life's ambition. Mortgaged by
its hard-pressed creator, and then sold by order of the mortgagee, it
had ultimately been bought again in triumph by Meshach's father, who
made thirty thousand pounds out of pots without getting too big for it,
and left it unspoilt to Meshach and Hannah. Only one alteration had
ever been made in it, and that, completed on Meshach's fiftieth
birthday, admirably exemplified his temperament. Because he liked to
observe the traffic in Church Street, and liked equally to sit in the
back-parlour near the hob, he had, with an oriental grandeur of
self-indulgence, removed the dividing wall between the front and the
back parlours and substituted a glass partition: so that he could
simultaneously warm the fire and keep an eye on the street. The town
said that no one but Meshach could have hit on such a scheme, or would
have carried it out with such an object: it crowned his reputation.
John Stanway's maternal uncle was one of those individuals whose
character, at once strong, egotistic, and peculiar, so forcibly
impresses the community that by contrast ordinary persons seem to be
without character; such men are therefore called, distinctively,
'characters'; and it is a matter of common experience that, whether
through the unconscious prescience of parents or through that
felicitous sense of propriety which often guides the hazards of
destiny, they usually bear names to match their qualities. Meshach
Myatt! Meshach Myatt! What piquant curious syllables to roll glibly off
the tongue, and to repeat for the pleasure of repetition! And what a
vision of Meshach their utterance conjured up! At sixty-four,
stereotyped by age, fixed and confirmed in singularity, Meshach's
figure answered better than ever to his name. He was slight of bone and
spare in flesh, with a hardly perceptible stoop. He had a red, seamed
face. Under the small, pale blue eyes, genial and yet frigid, there
showed a thick, raw, red selvedge of skin, and below that the skin was
loose and baggy; the wrinkled eyelids, instead of being shaped to the
pupil, came down flat and perpendicular. His nose and chin were
witch-like, the nostrils large and elastic; the lips, drawn tight
together, curved downwards, indifferently captious; a short white beard
grew sparsely on the chin; the skin of the narrow neck was
fantastically drawn and creased. His limbs were thin, the knees and
elbows sharpened to a fine point; the hands very long, with blue,
corded veins. As a rule his clothes were a distressing combination of
black and dark blue; either the coat, the waistcoat, or the trousers
would be black, the rest blue; the trousers had the old-fashioned
flap-pockets, like a sailor's, with a complex apparatus of buttons. He
wore loose white cuffs that were continually slipping down the wrist, a
starched dickey, a collar of too lenient flexure, and a black necktie
with a 'made' bow that was fastened by means of a button and
button-hole under the chin to the right; twenty times a day Meshach had
to secure this precarious cravat. Lastly, the top and bottom buttons of
his waistcoat were invariably loose.
He was of that small and lonely minority of men who never know
ambition, ardour, zeal, yearning, tears; whose convenient desires are
capable of immediate satisfaction; of whom it may be said that they
purchase a second-rate happiness cheap at the price of an incapacity
for deep feeling. In his seventh decade, Meshach Myatt could look back
with calm satisfaction at a career of uninterrupted nonchalance and
idleness. The favourite of a stern father and of fate, he had never
done a hard day's work in his life. When he and Hannah came into their
inheritance, he realised everything except the house and invested the
proceeds in Consols. With a roof, four hundred a year from the British
Empire, a tame capable sister, and notoriously good health, he took
final leave of care at the age of thirty-two. He wanted no more than he
had. Leisure was his chief luxury; he watched life between meals, and
had time to think about what he saw. Being gifted with a vigorous and
original mind that by instinct held formulas in defiance, he soon
developed a philosophy of his own; and his reputation as a 'character'
sprang from the first diffident, wayward expressions of this
philosophy. Perceiving that the town not unadmiringly deemed him odd,
he cultivated oddity. Perceiving also that it was sometimes astonished
at the extent of his information about hidden affairs, he cultivated
mystery, the knowledge of other people's business, and the trick of
unexpected appearances. At forty his fame was assured; at fifty he was
an institution; at sixty an oracle.
'Meshach's a mixture,' ran the local phrase; but in this mixture
there was a less tedious posturing and a more massive intellect than
usually go to the achievement of a provincial renown such as Meshach's.
The man's externals were deceptive, for he looked like a local
curiosity who might never have been out of Bursley. Meshach, however,
travelled sometimes in the British Isles, and thereby kept his ideas
from congealing. And those who had met him in trains and hotels knew
that porters, waiters, and drivers did not mistake his shrewdness for
that of a simpleton determined not to be robbed; that he wanted the
right things and had the art to get them; in short, that he was an
expert in travel. Like many old provincial bachelors, while frugal at
home he could be profuse abroad, exercising the luxurious freedom of
the bachelor. In the course of years it grew slowly upon his fellow
pew-holders at the big Sytch Chapel that he was worldly-minded and
possibly contemptuous of their codes; some, who made a specialty of
smelling rats, accused him of gaiety.
'You'd happen better get something extra for tea, sister,' said
Meshach, rousing himself.
'Why, brother?' demanded Hannah.
'Some sausage, happen,' Meshach proceeded.
'Is any one coming?' she asked.
'Or a bit of fish,' said Meshach, gazing meditatively at the fire.
Hannah rose and interrogated his face. 'You ought to have told me
before, brother. It's past three now, and Saturday afternoon too!' So
saying, she hurried anxiously into the kitchen and told the servant to
put her hat on.
'Who is it that's coming, brother?' she inquired later, with timid,
'I see you'll have it out of me,' said Meshach, who gave up
mysteries as a miser parts with gold. 'It's Arthur Twemlow from New
York; and let that stop your mouth.'
Thus, with the utterance of this name in the prim, archaic, stuffy
little back-parlour, Meshach raised the curtain on the last act of a
drama which had slumbered for fifteen years, since the death of William
Twemlow, and which the principal actors in it had long thought to be
concluded or suppressed.
The whole matter could be traced back, through a series of
situations which had developed one out of another, to the character of
old Twemlow; but the final romantic solution was only rendered possible
by the peculiarities of Meshach Myatt. William Twemlow had been one of
those men in whom an unbridled appetite for virtue becomes a vice. He
loved God with such virulence that he killed his wife, drove his
daughter into a fatuous marriage, and quarrelled irrevocably with his
son. The too sensitive wife died for lack of joy; Alice escaped to
Australia with a parson who never accomplished anything but a large
family; and Arthur, at the age of seventeen, precociously cursed his
father and sought in America a land where there were fewer
commandments. Then old Twemlow told his junior partner, John Stanway,
that the ways of Providence were past finding out. Stanway sympathised
with him, partly from motives of diplomacy, and partly from a genuine
misunderstanding of the case; for Twemlow, mild, earnest, and a
generous supporter of charities, was much respected in the town, and
his lonely predicament excited compassion; most people looked upon
young Arthur as a godless and heartless vagabond.
Alice's husband was a fool, impulsive and vain; and, despite
introductions, no congregation in Australia could be persuaded to
listen to his version of the gospel; Alice gave birth to more children
than bad sermons could keep alive, and soon the old man at Bursley was
regularly sending remittances to her. Twemlow desired fervently to do
his duty, and moreover the estrangement from his son increased his
satisfaction in dealing handsomely with his daughter; the son would
doubtless learn from the daughter how much he had lost by his impiety.
Seven years elapsed so, and then the parson gave up his holy calling
and became a tea-blender in Brisbane. Twemlow was shocked at this
defection, which seemed to him sacrilegious, and a chance phrase in a
letter of Alice's requesting capital for the new venture—a too assured
demand, an insufficient gratitude for past benefits, Alice never quite
knew what—brought about a second breach in the Twemlow family. The
paternal purse was closed, and perhaps not too early, for the
improvidence of the tea-blender and Alice's fecundity were a gulf whose
depth no munificence could have plumbed. Again John Stanway sympathised
with the now enfeebled old man. John advised him to retire, and Twemlow
decided to do so, receiving one-third of the net profits of the
partnership business during life. In two years he was bedridden and the
miserable victim of a housekeeper; but, though both Alice and Arthur
attempted reconciliation, some fine point of conscience obliged him to
ignore their overtures. John Stanway, his last remaining friend, called
often and chatted about business, which he lamented was far from being
what it ought to be. Twemlow's death was hastened by a fire at the
works; it happened that he could see the flames from his bedroom
window; he survived the spectacle five days. Before entering into his
reward, the great pietist wrote letters of forgiveness to Alice and
Arthur, and made a will, of which John Stanway was sole executor, in
favour of Alice. The town expressed surprise when it learnt that the
estate was sworn at less than a thousand pounds, for the dead man's
share in the profits of Twemlow &Stanway was no secret, and Stanway had
been living in splendour at Hillport for several years. John, when
questioned by gossips, referred sadly to Alice's husband and to the
depredations of housekeepers. In this manner the name and memory of the
Twemlows were apparently extinguished in Bursley.
But Meshach Myatt had witnessed the fire at the works; he had even
remained by the canal side all through that illuminated night; and an
adventure had occurred to him such as occurs only to the Meshach Myatts
of this world. The fire was threatening the office, and Meshach saw his
nephew John running to a place of refuge with a drawer snatched out of
an American desk; the drawer was loaded with papers and books, and as
John ran a small book fell unheeded to the ground. Meshach cried out to
John that he had dropped something, but in the excitement and confusion
of the fire his rather high-pitched voice was not heard. He left the
book lying where it fell; half-an-hour afterwards he saw it again,
picked it up, and put it in his pocket. It contained some interesting
informal private memoranda of the annual profits of the firm. Now
Meshach did not return the book to its owner. He argued that John
deserved to suffer for his carelessness in losing it, that John ought
to have heard his call, and that anyhow John would surely inquire for
it and might then be allowed to receive it with a few remarks upon the
need of a calm demeanour at fires; but John never did inquire for it.
When William Twemlow's will was proved a few weeks later, Meshach
Myatt made no comment whatever. From time to time he heard news of
Arthur Twemlow: that he had set up in New York as an earthenware and
glassware factor, that he was doing well, that he was doing extremely
well, that his buyer had come over to visit the more aristocratic
manufactories at Knype and Cauldon, that some one from Bursley had met
Arthur at the Leipzig Easter Fair and reported him stout, taciturn, and
Americanised. Then, one morning in Lord Street, Liverpool, fifteen
years after the death of old Twemlow and the misappropriation of the
little book, Meshach encountered Arthur Twemlow himself; Meshach was
returning from his autumn holiday in the Isle of Man, and Arthur had
just landed from the 'Servia.' The two men were mutually impressed by
each other's skill in nicely conducting an interview which ninety-nine
people out of a hundred would have botched; for they had last met as
boy of seventeen and man of forty. They lunched richly at the Adelphi,
and gave news for news. Arthur's buyer, it seemed, was dead, and after
a day or two in London Arthur was coming to the Five Towns to buy a
little in person. Meshach inquired about Alice in Australia, and was
told that things were in a specially bad way with the tea-blender. He
said that you couldn't cure a fool, and remarked casually upon the
smallness of the amount left by old Twemlow. Arthur, unaware that
Meshach Myatt was raising up an idea which for fifteen years had been
buried but never forgotten in his mind, answered with nonchalance that
the amount certainly was rather small. Arthur added that in his dying
letter of forgiveness to Alice the old man had stated that his income
from the works during the last years of his life had been less than two
hundred per annum. Meshach worked his shut thin lips up and down and
then began to discuss other matters. But as they parted at Lime Street
Station the observer of life said to Arthur with presaging calm:
'You'll be i' th' Five Towns at the end of the week. Come and have a
cup o' tea with me and Hannah on Saturday afternoon. The old spot, you
know it, top of Church Street. I've something to show you as 'll
interest you.' There was a pause and an interchange of glances.
'Right!' said Arthur Twemlow. 'Thank you! I'll be there at a quarter
after four or thereabouts.' 'It's like as if what must be!' Meshach
murmured to himself with almost sad resignation, in the enigmatic idiom
of the Five Towns. But he was highly pleased that he, the first of all
the townsfolk, should have seen Arthur Twemlow after twenty-five years'
When Hannah, in silk, met the most interesting and disconcerting
American stranger in the lobby, the sound and the smell of Bursley
sausage frizzling in the kitchen added a warm finish to her confused
welcome. She remembered him perfectly, 'Eh! Mr. Arthur,' she said, 'I
remember you that well....' And that was all she could say,
except: 'Now take off your overcoat and do make yourself at home, Mr.
'I guess I know you,' said Twemlow, touched by the girlish
shyness, the primeval innocence, and the passionate hospitality of the
little grey-haired thing.
As he took off his glossy blue overcoat and hung it up he seemed to
fill the narrow lobby with his large frame and his quiet but
penetrating attractive American accent. He probably weighed fourteen
stone, but the elegance of his suit and his boots, the clean-shaven
chin, the fineness of the lines of the nose, and the alert eyes set
back under the temples, redeemed him from grossness. He looked under
rather than over forty; his brown hair was beginning to recede from the
forehead, but the heavy moustache, which entirely hid his mouth and was
austerely trimmed at the sides, might have aroused the envy of a
colonel of hussars.
'Come in, wut,' cried Meshach impatiently from the hob, 'come in
and let's be pecking a bit,' and as Arthur and Hannah entered the
parlour, he added: 'She's gotten sausages for you. She would get 'em,
though I told her you'd take us as you found us. I told her that. But
women—well, you know what they are!'
 Wut = wilt.
'Eh, Meshach, Meshach!' the old damsel protested sadly, and escaped
into the kitchen.
And when Meshach insisted that the guest should serve out the
sausages, and Hannah, passing his tea, said it was a shame to trouble
him, Twemlow slipped suddenly back into the old life and ways and
ideas. This existence, which he thought he had utterly forgotten,
returned again and triumphed for a time over all the experiences of his
manhood; it alone seemed real, honest, defensible. Sensations of his
long and restless career in New York flashed through his mind as he
impaled Hannah's sausages in the curious parlour—the hysteric industry
of his girl-typist, the continuous hot-water service in the bedroom of
his glittering apartment at the Concord House, youthful nights at
Coster and Bial's music-hall, an insanely extravagant dinner at
Sherry's on his thirtieth birthday, a difficulty once with an emissary
of Pinkerton, the incredible plague of flies in summer. And during all
those racing years of clangour and success in New York, the life of
Bursley, self-sufficient and self-contained, had preserved its
monotonous and slow stolidity. Bursley had become a museum to him; he
entered it as he might have entered the Middle Ages, and was astonished
to find that beautiful which once he had deemed sordid and commonplace.
Some of the streets seemed like a monument of the past, a picturesque
survival; the crate-floats, drawn by swift shaggy ponies and driven by
men who balanced themselves erect on two thin boards while flying round
corners, struck him as the quaintest thing in the world.
'And what's going on nowadays in old Bosley, Miss Myatt?' he asked
expansively, trying to drop his American accent and use the dialect.
'Eh, bless us!' exclaimed Hannah, startled. 'Nothing ever happens
here, Mr. Arthur.'
He felt that nothing did happen there.
'Same here as elsewhere,' said Meshach. 'People living, and getting
childer to worry 'em, and dying. Nothing'll cure 'em of it seemingly.
Is there anything different to that in New York? Or can they do without
Twemlow laughed, and again he had the illusion of having come back
to reality after a long, hurried dream. 'Nothing seems to have changed
here,' he remarked idly.
'Nothing changed!' said Meshach. 'Nay, nay! We're up in the world.
We've got the steam-car. And we've got public baths. We wash oursen
nowadays. And there's talk of a park, and a pond with a duck on it.
We're moving with the times, my lad, and so's the rates.'
It gave him pleasure to be called 'my lad' by old Meshach. It was
piquant to him that the first earthenware factor in New York, the
Jupiter of a Fourteenth Street office, should be addressed as a
stripling. 'And where is the park to be?' he suavely inquired.
'Up by the railway station, opposite your father's old works as
was—it's a row of villas now.'
'Well,' said Twemlow. 'That sounds pretty nice. I believe I'll get
you to come around with me and show off the sights. Say!' he added
suddenly, 'do you remember being on that works one day when my poor
father was on to me like half a hundred of bricks, and you said, “The
boy's all right, Mr. Twemlow”? I've never forgotten that. I've thought
of it scores of times.'
'Nay!' Meshach answered carelessly, 'I remember nothing o' that.'
Twemlow was dashed by this oblivion. It was his memory of the minute
incident which more than anything else had encouraged him to respond so
cordially to Meshach's advances in Liverpool; for he was by no means
facile in social intercourse. And Meshach had rudely forgotten the
affecting scene! He felt diminished, and saw in the old bachelor a
personification of the blunt independent spirit of the Five Towns.
* * * * *
'Milly's late to-day,' said Hannah to her brother, timorously
breaking the silence which ensued.
'Milly?' questioned Twemlow.
'Millicent her proper name is,' Hannah said quickly, 'but we call
her Milly. My nephew's youngest.'
'Yes, of course,' Twemlow commented, when the Myatt family-tree had
been sketched for him by the united effort of brother and sister, 'I
recollect now you told me in Liverpool that Mr. Stanway was married.
Who did he marry?'
Meshach Myatt pushed back his chair and stood up. 'John catched on
to Knight's daughter, the doctor at Turnhill,' he said, reaching to a
cigar-cabinet on the sideboard. 'Best thing he ever did in his life.
John's among the better end of folk now. People said it were a
come-down for her, but Leonora isn't the sort that comes down. She's
got blood in her. That!' He snapped his fingers. 'She's a good
bred 'un. Old Knight's father came from up York way. Ah! She's a cut
above Twemlow &Stanway, is Leonora.'
Twemlow smiled at this persistence of respect for caste.
'Have a weed,' said Meshach, offering him a cigar. 'You'll find it
all right; it's a J.S. Murias. Yes,' he resumed, 'maybe you don't
remember old Knight's sister as had that far house up at Hillport? When
she died she left it to Leonora, and they've lived there this dozen
year and more.'
'Well, I guess she's got a handsome name to her,' Twemlow remarked
perfunctorily, rising and leaving Hannah alone at the table.
'And she's the handsomest woman in the Five Towns: that I do know,'
said Meshach as, in the grand manner of a connoisseur, he lighted his
cigar. 'And her was forty, day afore yesterday,' he added with caustic
'Meshach!' cried Hannah, 'for shame of yourself!' Then she turned to
Twemlow smiling and blushing a little. 'Oughtn't he? Eh, but Mrs.
John's a great favourite of my brother's. And I'm sure her girls are
very good and attentive. Not a day but one or another of them calls to
see me, not a day. Eh, if they missed a day I should think the world
was coming to an end. And I'm expecting Milly to-day. What's made the
dear child so late——'
'I will say this for John,' asserted Meshach, as though the little
housewife had not been speaking, 'I will say this for John,' he
repeated, settling himself by the hob. 'He knew how to pick up a d——d
'Meshach!' Hannah expostulated again.
Something in the excellence of Meshach's cigars, in his way of
calling a woman fine, in the dry, aloof masculinity of his attitude
towards Hannah, gave Twemlow to reflect that in the fundamental deeps
of experience New York was perhaps not so far ahead of the old Five
Towns after all.
There was a fluttering in the lobby, and Millicent ran into the
parlour, hurriedly, negligently.
'I can't stay a minute, auntie,' the vivacious girl burst out in the
unmistakable accents of condescending pertness, and then she caught
sight of the well-dressed, good-looking man in the corner, and her
bearing changed as though by a conjuring trick. She flushed
sensitively, stroked her blue serge frock, composed her immature
features to the mask of the finished lady paying a call, and summoned
every faculty to aid her in looking her best. 'So this chit is the
daughter of our admired Leonora,' thought Twemlow.
'I suppose you don't remember old Mr. Twemlow, my dear?' said Hannah
after she had proudly introduced her niece.
'Oh, auntie! how silly you are! Of course I remember him quite well.
I really can't stay, auntie.'
'You'll stay and drink this cup of tea with me,' Hannah insisted
firmly, and Milly was obliged to submit. It was not often that the old
lady exercised authority; but on that afternoon the famous New York
visitor was just as much an audience for Hannah as for Hannah's
Twemlow could think of nothing to say to this pretty pouting
creature who had rushed in from a later world and dissipated the
atmosphere of mediaevalism, and so he addressed himself to Meshach upon
the eternal subject of the staple trade. The women at the table talked
quietly but self-consciously, and Twemlow saw Milly forced to taste
parkin after three refusals. Even while still masticating the viscid
unripe parkin, Milly rose to depart. She bent down and dutifully grazed
with her lips the cheek of the parkin-maker. 'Good-bye, auntie;
good-bye, uncle.' And in an elegant, mincing tone, 'Good afternoon, Mr.
'I suppose you've just got to be on time at the next place?' he said
quizzically, smiling at her vivid youth in spite of himself. 'Something
'Oh, very important!' she laughed archly, reddening, and then was
gone; and Aunt Hannah followed her to the door.
'What th' old folks lose,' murmured Meshach, apparently to the fire,
as he put his half-consumed cigar into a meerschaum holder, 'goes to
the profit of young Burgess, as is waiting outside the Bank at top o'
'I see,' said Twemlow, and thought primly that in his day such
laxities were not permitted.
Hannah and the servant cleared the tea-table, and the two men were
left alone, each silently reducing an J.S. Murias to ashes. Meshach
seemed to grow smaller in his padded chair by the hob, to become
torpid, and to lose that keen sense of his own astuteness which alone
gave zest to his life. Arthur stared out of the window at the confined
backyard. The autumn dusk thickened.
Suddenly Meshach sprang up and lighted the gas, and as he adjusted
the height of the flame, he remarked casually: 'So your sister Alice is
as poorly off as ever?'
Twemlow assented with a nod. 'By the way,' he said, 'you told me on
Wednesday you had something interesting to show me.'
Meshach made no answer, but picked up the poker and struck several
times a large pewter platter on the mantelpiece.
'Do you want anything, brother?' said Hannah, hastening into the
'Go up into my bedroom, sister, and in the left-hand pigeon-hole in
the bureau you'll see a little flat tissue-paper parcel. Bring it me.
It's marked J.S.'
'Yes, brother,' and she departed.
'You said as your father had told your sister as he never got no
more than two hundred a year from th' partnership after he retired.'
'Yes,' Twemlow replied. 'That's what she wrote me. In fact she sent
me the old chap's letter to read. So I reckoned it cost him most all he
got to live.'
'Well,' the old man said, and Hannah returned with the parcel, which
he carefully unwrapped. 'That'll do, sister.' Hannah disappeared.
'Sithee!' He mysteriously drew Arthur's attention to a little green
book whose cover still showed traces of mud and water.
'And what's this?' Twemlow asked with assumed lightness.
Meshach gave him the history of his adventure at the fire, and then
laboriously displayed and expounded the contents of the book, peering
into the yellow pages through the steel-rimmed spectacles which he had
put on for the purpose.
'And you've kept it all this time?' said Twemlow.
'I've kept it,' answered the old man grimly, and Twemlow felt that
that was precisely what Meshach Myatt might have been expected to do.
'See,' said Meshach, and their heads were close together,' that's
the year before your father's death—eight hundred and ninety-two
pounds. And year afore that—one thousand two hundred and seven pounds.
And year afore that—bless us! Have I turned o'er two pages at once?'
And so he continued.
Twemlow's heart began to beat heavily as Meshach's eyes met his. He
seemed to see his father as a pathetic cheated simpleton, and to hear
the innumerable children of his sister crying for food; he remembered
that in the old Bursley days he had always distrusted John Stanway,
that conceited fussy imposing young man of twenty-two whom his father
had taken into partnership and utterly believed in. He forgot that he
had hated his father, and his mind was obsessed by a sentimental and
pure passion for justice.
'Say! Mr. Myatt,' he exclaimed with sudden gruffness, 'do you
suggest that John Stanway didn't do my father right?'
'My lad, I'm doing no suggesting.... You can keep the book if you've
a mind to. I've said nothing to no one, and if I had not met you in
Liverpool, and you hadn't told me that your sister was poorly off
again, happen I should ha' been mum to my grave. But that's how things
'He's your own nephew, you know,' said Twemlow.
'Ay!' said the old man, 'I know that. What by that? Fair's fair.'
Meshach's tone, frigidly jocular, almost frightened the American.
'According to you,' said he, determined to put the thing into words,
'your nephew robbed my father each year of sums varying from one to
three hundred pounds—that's what it comes to.'
'Nay, not according to me—according to that book, and what your
father told your sister Alice,' Meshach corrected.
'But why should he do it? That's what I want to know.'
'Look here,' said Meshach quietly, resuming his chair. 'John's as
good a man of business as you'd meet in a day's march. But never sin'
he handled money could he keep off stocks and shares. He speculates,
always has, always will. And now you know it—and 'tisn't everybody as
'Then you think——'
'Nay, my lad, I don't,' said Meshach curtly.
'But what ought I to do?'
Meshach cackled in laughter. 'Ask your sister Alice,' he replied,
'it's her as is interested, not you. You aren't in the will.'
'But I don't want to ruin John Stanway,' Twemlow protested.
'Ruin John!' Meshach exclaimed, cackling again. 'Not you! We mun
have no scandals in th' family. But you can go and see him, quiet-like,
I reckon. Dost think as John'll be stuck fast for six or seven hundred,
or eight hundred? Not John! And happen a bit of money'll come in handy
to th' old parson tea-blender, by all accounts.'
'Suppose my father—made some mistake—forgot?'
'Ay!' said Meshach calmly. 'Suppose he did. And suppose he didna'.'
'I believe I'll go and talk to Stanway,' said Twemlow, putting the
book in his pocket. 'Let me see. The works is down at Shawport?'
'On th' cut,' said Meshach.
 Cut = canal.
'I can say Alice had asked me to look at the accounts. Oh! Perhaps I
can straighten it out neat——' He spoke cheerfully, then stopped. 'But
it's fifteen years ago!'
'Fifteen!' said Meshach with gravity.
'I'm d——d if I can make you out!' thought Twemlow as he walked
along King Street towards the steam-tram for Knype, where he was
staying at the Five Towns Hotel. Hannah had sped him, with blushings,
and rustlings of silk, from Meshach's door. 'I'm d——d if I can make
you out, Meshach.' He said it aloud. And yet, so complex and
self-contradictory is the mind's action under certain circumstances, he
could make out Meshach perfectly well; he could discern clearly that
Meshach had been actuated partly by the love of chicane, partly by a
quasi-infantile curiosity to see what he should see, and partly by an
almost biblical sense of justice, a sense blind, callous, cruel.
CHAPTER III. THE CALL
It was the Trust Anniversary at the Sytch Chapel, and two sermons
were to be delivered by the Reverend Dr. Simon Quain; during fifteen
years none but he had preached the Trust sermons. Even in the morning,
when pillars of the church were often disinclined to assume the
attitude proper to pillars, the fane was almost crowded. For it was
impossible to ignore the Doctor. He was an expert geologist, a renowned
lecturer, the friend of men of science and sometimes their foe, a
contributor to the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' and the author of a book
of travel. He did not belong to the school of divines who annihilated
Huxley by asking him, from the pulpit, to tell them, if protoplasm was
the origin of all life, what was the origin of protoplasm. Dr. Quain
was a man of genuine attainments, at which the highest criticism could
not sneer; and when he visited Bursley the facile agnostics of the
town, the young and experienced who knew more than their elders, were
forced to take cover. Dr. Quain, whose learning exceeded even
theirs—so the elders sarcastically ventured to surmise—was not
ashamed to believe in the inspiration of the Old Testament; he could
reconcile the chronology of the earth's crust with the first chapter of
Genesis; he had a satisfactory explanation of the Johannine gospel; and
his mere existence was an impregnable fortress from which the adherents
of the banner of belief could not be dislodged. On this Sunday morning
he offered a simple evangelical discourse, enhanced by those occasional
references to palaeozoic and post-tertiary periods which were expected
from him, and which he had enough of the wisdom of the serpent to
supply. His grave and assured utterances banished all doubts, fears,
misgivings, apprehensions; and the timid waverers smiled their relief
at being freed, by the confidence of this illustrious authority, from
the distasteful exertion of thinking for themselves.
The collection was immense, and, in addition to being immense, it
provided for the worshippers an agreeable and legitimate excitement of
curiosity; for the plate usually entrusted to Meshach Myatt was passed
from pew to pew, and afterwards carried to the communion rails, by a
complete stranger, a man extremely self-possessed and well-attired,
with a heavy moustache, a curious dimple in his chin, and melancholy
eyes, a man obviously of considerable importance somewhere. 'Oh,
mamma,' whispered Milly to her mother, who was alone with her in the
Stanway pew, 'do look; that's Mr. Twemlow.' Several men in the
congregation knew his identity, and one, a commercial traveller, had
met him in New York. Before the final hymn was given out, half the
chapel had pronounced his name in surprise. His overt act of assisting
in the offertory was favourably regarded; it was thought to show a nice
social feeling on his part; and he did it with such distinction! The
older people remembered that his father had always been a collector;
they were constrained now to readjust their ideas concerning the son,
and these ideas, rooted in the single phrase, ran away from home, and set fast by time, were difficult of adjustment. The impressiveness
of Dr. Quain's sermon was impaired by this diversion of interest.
The members of the Stanway family, in order to avoid the crush in
the aisles and portico, always remained in their pew after service,
until the chapel had nearly emptied itself; and to-day Leonora chose to
sit longer than usual. John had been too fatigued to rise for
breakfast; Rose was struck down by a sick headache; and Ethel had
stayed at home to nurse Rose, so far as Rose would allow herself to be
nursed. Leonora felt no desire to hurry back to the somewhat perilous
atmosphere of Sunday dinner, and moreover she shrank nervously from the
possibility of having to make the acquaintance of Mr. Twemlow. But when
she and Milly at length reached the outer vestibule, a concourse of
people still lingered there, and among them Arthur was just bidding
good-bye to the Myatts. Hannah, rather shortsighted, did not observe
Leonora and Milly; Meshach gave them his curt quizzical nod, and the
aged twain departed. Then Millicent, proud of her acquaintance with the
important stranger, and burning to be seen in converse with him, left
her mother's side and became an independent member of society.
'How do you do, Mr. Twemlow?' she chirped.
'Ah!' he replied, recognising her with a bow the sufficiency of
which intoxicated the young girl. 'Not in such a hurry this morning?'
'Oh! no!' she agreed with smiling effusion, and they both glanced
with furtive embarrassed swiftness at Leonora. 'Mamma, this is Mr.
Twemlow. Mr. Twemlow my mother.' The dashing modish air of the child
was adorable. Having concluded her scene she retired from the centre of
the stage in a glow.
Arthur Twemlow's manner altered at once as he took Leonora's hand
and saw the sudden generous miracle which happened in her calm face
when she smiled. He was impressed by her beautiful maturity, by the
elegance born of a restrained but powerful instinct transmitted to her
through generations of ancestors. His respect for Meshach rose higher.
And she, as she faced the self-possessed admiration in Arthur's eyes,
was conscious of her finished beauty, even of the piquancy of the angle
of her hat, and the smooth immaculate whiteness of her gloves; and she
was proud, too, of Millicent's gracile, restless charm. They walked
down the steps side by side, Leonora in the middle, watched curiously
from above and below by little knots of people who still lingered in
front of the chapel.
'You soon got to work here, Mr. Twemlow,' said Leonora lightly.
He laughed. 'I guess you mean that collecting box. That was Mr.
Myatt's game. He didn't do me right, you know. He got me into his pew,
and then put the plate on to me.'
Leonora liked his Americanism of accent and phrase; it seemed
romantic to her; it seemed to signify the quick alertness, the
vivacious and surprising turns, of existence in New York, where the
unexpected and the extraordinary gave a zest to every day.
'Well, you collected perfectly,' she remarked.
'Oh, yes you did, really, Mr. Twemlow,' echoed Millicent.
'Did I?' he said, accepting the tribute with frank satisfaction. 'I
used to collect once at Talmage's Church in Brooklyn—you've heard
Talmage over here of course.' He faintly indicated contempt for
Talmage. 'And after my first collection he sent for me into the church
parlour, and he said to me: “Mr. Twemlow, next time you collect, put
some snap into it; don't go shuffling along as if you were dead.” So
you see this morning, although I haven't collected for years, I thought
of that and tried to put some snap into it.'
Milly laughed obstreperously, Leonora smiled.
At the corner they could see Mrs. Burgess's carriage waiting at the
vestry door in Mount Street. The geologist, escorted by Harry Burgess,
got into the carriage, where Mrs. Burgess already sat; Harry followed
him, and the stately equipage drove off. Dr. Quain had married a cousin
of Mrs. Burgess's late husband, and he invariably stayed at her house.
All this had to be explained to Arthur Twemlow, who made a point of
being curious. By the time they had reached the top of Oldcastle
Street, Leonora felt an impulse to ask him without ceremony to walk up
to Hillport and have dinner with them. She knew that she and Milly were
pleasing him, and this assurance flattered her. But she could not
summon the enterprise necessary for such an unusual invitation; her
lips would not utter the words, she could not force them to utter the
He hesitated, as if to leave them; and quite automatically, without
being able to do otherwise, Leonora held her hand to bid good-bye; he
took it with reluctance. The moment was passing, and she had not even
asked him where he was staying: she had learnt nothing of the man of
whom Meshach had warned her husband to beware.
'Good morning,' he said, 'I'm very glad to have met you.
'Won't you come and see us this afternoon, if you aren't engaged?'
she suggested quickly. 'My husband will be anxious to meet you, I
He appeared to vacillate.
'Oh, do, Mr. Twemlow!' urged Milly, enchanted.
'It's very good of you,' he said, 'I shall be delighted to call.
It's quite a considerable time since I saw Mr. Stanway.' He laughed.
This was his first reference to John.
'I'm so glad you asked him, ma,' said Milly, as they walked down
'Your father said we must be polite to Mr. Twemlow,' her mother
'He's frightfully rich, I'm sure,' Milly observed.
At dinner Leonora told John that Arthur Twemlow was coming.
'Oh, good!' he said: nothing more.
* * * * *
In the afternoon the mother and her eldest and youngest, supine and
exanimate in the drawing-room, were surprised into expectancy by the
sound of the front-door bell before three o'clock.
'He's here!' exclaimed Milly, who was sitting near Leonora on the
long Chesterfield. Ethel, her face flushed by the fire, lay like a
curving wisp of straw in John's vast arm-chair. Leonora was reading;
she put down the magazine and glanced briefly at Ethel, then at the
aspect of the room. In silence she wished that Ethel's characteristic
attitudes could be a little more demure and sophisticated. She wondered
how often this apparently artless girl had surreptitiously seen Fred
Ryley since the midnight meeting on Thursday, and she was amazed that a
child of hers, so kindly disposed, could be so naughty and deceitful.
The door opened and Ethel sat up with a bound.
'Mr. Burgess,' the parlourmaid announced. The three women sank back,
disappointed and yet relieved.
Harry Burgess, though barely of age, was one of the acknowledged
dandies of Hillport. Slim and fair, with a frank, rather simple
countenance, he supported his stylistic apparel with a natural grace
that attracted sympathy. Just at present he was achieving a spirited
effect by always wearing an austere black necktie fastened with a small
gold safety-pin; he wore this necktie for weeks to a bewildering
variety of suits, and then plunged into a wild polychromatic debauch of
neckties. Upon all the niceties of masculine dress, the details of
costume proper to a particular form of industry or recreation or
ceremonial, he was a genuine authority. His cricketing flannels—he was
a fine cricketer and lawn-tennis player of the sinuous oriental
sort—were the despair of other dandies and the scorn of the sloven; he
caused the material, before it was made up, to be boiled for many hours
by the Burgess charwoman under his own superintendence. He had
extraordinary aptitudes for drawing corks, lacing boots, putting
ferrules on walking-sticks, opening latched windows from the outside,
and rolling cigarettes; he could make a cigarette with one hand, and
not another man in the Five Towns, it was said, could do that. His
slender convex silver cigarette-case invariably contained the only
cigarettes worthy of the palate of a connoisseur, as his pipes were
invariably the only pipes fit for the combustion of truly high-class
tobacco. Old women, especially charwomen, adored him, and even
municipal seigniors admitted that Harry was a smart-looking youth.
Fatherless, he was the heir to a tolerable fortune, the bulk of which,
during his mother's life, he could not touch save with her consent; but
his mother and his sister seemed to exist chiefly for his convenience.
His fair hair and his facile smile vanquished them, and vanquished most
other people also; and already, when he happened to be crossed, there
would appear on his winning face the pouting, hard, resentful lines of
the man who has learnt to accept compliance as a right. He had small
intellectual power, and no ambition at all. A considerable part of his
prospective fortune was invested in the admirable shares of the
Birmingham, Sheffield and District Bank, and it pleased him to sit on a
stool in the Bursley branch of this bank, since he wanted, pro
tempore, a dignified avocation without either the anxieties of
trade or the competitive tests of a profession. He was a beautiful bank
clerk; but he had once thrown a bundle of cheques into the office fire
while aiming at a basket on the mantelpiece; the whole banking world
would have been agitated and disorganised had not another clerk
snatched the bundle from peril at the expense of his own fingers: the
incident, still legendary behind the counter of the establishment at
the top of St. Luke's Square, kept Harry awake to the seriousness of
life for several weeks.
'Well, Harry,' said Leonora with languid good nature. He paid his
homage in form to the mistress of the house; raised his eyebrows at
Milly, who returned the gesture; smiled upon Ethel, who feebly waved a
hand as if too exhausted to do more; and then sat down on the
piano-stool, carefully easing the strain on his trousers at the knees
and exposing an inch of fine wool socks above his American boots. He
was a familiar of the house, and had had the unconditional entree
since he and the Stanway girls first went to the High Schools at
'I hope I haven't disturbed your beauty sleep—any of you,' was his
'Yes, you have,' said Ethel.
He continued: 'I just came in to seek a little temporary relief from
the excellent Quain. Quain at breakfast, Quain at chapel, Quain at
dinner.... I got him to slumber on one side of the hearth and mother on
the other, and then I slipped away in case they awoke. If they do, I've
told Cissie to say that I've gone out to take a tract to a sick
friend—back in five minutes.'
'Oh, Harry, you are silly!' Millicent laughed. Every one, including
the narrator, was amused by this elaborate fiction of the managing of
those two impressive persons, Mrs. Burgess and the venerable Christian
geologist, by a kind, indulgent, bored Harry. Leonora, who had resumed
her magazine, looked up and smiled the guarded smile of the mother.
'I'm afraid you're getting worse,' she murmured, and his candid
seductive face told her that while he was on no account not to be
regarded as a gay dog, and a sad dog, and a worldly dog, yet
nevertheless he and she thoroughly appreciated and understood each
other. She did indeed like him, and she found pleasure in his presence;
he gratified the eye.
'I wish you'd sing something, Milly,' he began again after a pause.
'No,' said Milly, 'I'm not going to sing now.'
'But do. Can't she, Mrs. Stanway?'
'Well, what do you want me to sing?'
'Sing “Love is a plaintive song,” out of the second act.'
Harry was the newly appointed secretary of the Bursley Amateur
Operatic Society, of which both Ethel and Millicent were members. In a
few weeks' time the Society was to render Patience in the Town
Hall for the benefit of local charities, and rehearsals were occurring
'Oh! I'm not Patience,' Milly objected stiffly; she was only Ella.
'Besides, I mayn't, may I, mamma?'
'Your father might not like it,' said Leonora.
'The dad has taken Bran out for a walk, so it won't trouble him,'
Ethel interjected sleepily under her breath.
'Well, but look here, Mrs. Stanway,' said Harry conclusively, 'the
organist at the Wesleyan chapel actually plays the sextet from
Patience for a voluntary. What about that? If there's no harm in
that——' Leonora surrendered. 'Come on, Mill,' he commanded. 'I shall
have to return to my muttons directly,' and he opened the piano.
'But I tell you I'm not Patience.'
'Come on! You know the music all right. Then we'll try Ella's
bit in the first act. I'll play.'
Millicent arose, shook her hair, and walked to the piano with the
mien of a prima donna who has the capitals of Europe at her feet,
exultant in her youth, her charm, her voice, revelling unconsciously in
the vivacity of her blood, and consciously in her power over Harry,
which Harry strove in vain to conceal under an assumed equanimity.
And as Millicent sang the ballad Leonora was beguiled, by her
singing, into a mood of vague but overpowering melancholy. It seemed
tragic that that fresh and pure voice, that innocent vanity, and that
untested self-confidence should change and fade as maturity succeeded
adolescence and decay succeeded maturity; it seemed intolerable that
the ineffable charm of the girl's youth must be slowly filched away by
the thefts of time. 'I was like that once! And Jack too!' she thought,
as she gazed absently at the pair in front of the piano. And it
appeared incredible to her that she was the mother of that tall womanly
creature, that the little morsel of a child which she had borne one
night had become a daughter of Eve, with a magic to mesmerise errant
glances and desires. She had a glimpse of the significance of Nature's
eternal iterance. Then her mood developed a bitterness against
Millicent. She thought cruelly that Millicent's magic was no part of
the girl's soul, no talent acquired by loving exertion, but something
extrinsic, unavoidable, and unmeritorious. Why was it so? Why should
fate treat Milly like a godchild? Why should she have prettiness, and
adorableness, and the lyric gift, and such abounding confident youth?
Why should circumstances fall out so that she could meet her
unacknowledged lover openly at all seasons? Leonora's eyes wandered to
the figure of Ethel reclining with shut eyes in the arm-chair. Ethel in
her graver and more diffident beauty had already begun to taste the
sadness of the world. Ethel might not stand victoriously by her lover
in the midst of the drawing-room, nor joyously flip his ear when he
struck a wrong note on the piano. Ethel, far more passionate than the
active Milly, could only dream of her lover, and see him by stealth.
Leonora grieved for Ethel, and envied her too, for her dreams, and for
her solitude assuaged by clandestine trysts. Those trysts lay heavy on
Leonora's mind; although she had discovered them, she had done nothing
to prevent them; from day to day she had put off the definite parental
act of censure and interdiction. She was appalled by the serene
duplicity of her girls. Yet what could she say? Words were so trivial,
so conventional. And though she objected to the match, wishing with
ardour that Ethel might marry far more brilliantly, she believed as
fully in the honest warm kindliness of Fred Ryley as in that of Ethel.
'And what else matters after all?' she tried to think.... Her reverie
shifted to Rose, unfortunate Rose, victim of peculiar ambitions, of a
weak digestion, and of a harsh temperament that repelled the sympathy
it craved but was too proud to invite. She felt that she ought to go
upstairs and talk to the prostrate Rose in the curt matter-of-fact tone
that Rose ostensibly preferred, but she did not wish to talk to Rose.
'Ah well!' she reflected finally with an inward sigh, as though to
whisper the last word and free herself of this preoccupation, 'they
will all be as old as me one day.'
'Mr. Twemlow,' said the parlourmaid.
Milly deliberately lengthened a high full note and then stopped and
turned towards the door.
'Bravo!' Arthur Twemlow answered at once the challenge of her whole
figure; but he seemed to ignore the fact that he had caused an
interruption, and there was something in his voice that piqued the
cantatrice, something that sent her back to the days of short frocks.
She glanced nervously aside at Harry, who had struck a few notes and
then dropped his hands from the keyboard. Twemlow's demeanour towards
the blushing Ethel when Leonora brought her forward was much more
decorous and simple. As for Harry, to whom his arrival was a surprise,
at first rather annoying, Twemlow treated the young buck as one man of
the world should treat another, and Harry's private verdict upon him
was extremely favourable. Nevertheless Leonora noticed that the three
young ones seemed now to shrink into themselves, to become passive
instead of active, and by a common instinct to assume the character of
'May I choose this place?' said Twemlow, and sat down by Leonora in
the other corner of the Chesterfield and looked round. She could see
that he was admiring the spacious room and herself in her beautiful
afternoon dress, and the pensive and the sprightly comeliness of her
daughters. His wandering eyes returned to hers, and their appreciation
pleased her and increased her charm.
'I am expecting my husband every minute,' she said.
'Papa's gone out for a walk with Bran,' Milly added.
'Oh! Bran!' He repeated the word in a voice that humorously appealed
for further elucidation, and both Ethel and Harry laughed.
'The St. Bernard, you know,' Milly explained, annoyed.
'I wouldn't be surprised if that was a St. Bernard out there,' he
said pointing to the French window. 'What a fine fellow! And what a
Bran was to be seen nosing low down at the window; and alternately
lifting two huge white paws in his futile anxiety to enter the room.
'Then I dare say John is in the garden,' Leonora exclaimed, with
sudden animation, glad to be able to dismiss the faint uneasy suspicion
which had begun to form in her mind that John meant after all to avoid
Arthur Twemlow. 'Would you like to look at the garden?' she demanded,
half rising, and lifting her brows to a pretty invitation.
'Very much indeed,' he replied, and he jumped up with the
impulsiveness of a boy.
'It's quite warm,' she said, and thanked Harry for opening the
window for them.
'A fine severe garden!' he remarked enthusiastically outside, after
he had descanted to Bran on Bran's amazing perfections, and the dog had
greeted his mistress. 'A fine severe garden!' he repeated.
'Yes,' she said, lifting her skirt to cross the lawn. 'I know what
you mean. I wouldn't have it altered for anything, but many people
think it's too formal. My husband does.'
'Why! It's just English. And that old wall! and the yew trees! I
She expanded once more to his appreciation, which she took to
herself; for none but she, and the gardener who was also the groom, and
worked under her, was responsible for the garden. But as she displayed
the African marigolds and the late roses and the hardy outdoor
chrysanthemums, and as she patted Bran, who dawdled under her hand, she
looked furtively about for John. She hoped he might be at the stables,
and when in their tour of the grounds they reached the stables and he
was not there, she hoped they would find him in the drawing-room on
their return. Her suspicion reasserted itself, and it was strengthened,
against her reason, by the fact that Arthur Twemlow made no comment on
John's invisibility. In the dusk of the spruce stable, where an
enamelled name-plate over the manger of a loose box announced that
'Prince' was its pampered tenant, she opened the cornbin, and, entering
the loose-box, offered the cob a handful of crushed oats. And when she
stood by the cob, Twemlow looking through the grill of the door at this
picture which suggested a beast-tamer in the cage, she was aware of her
beauty and the beauty of the animal as he curved his neck to her
jewelled hand, and of the ravishing effect of an elegant woman seen in
a stable. She smiled proudly and yet sadly at Twemlow, who was pulling
his heavy moustache. Then they could hear an ungoverned burst of
Milly's light laughter from the drawing-room, and presently Milly
resumed her interrupted song. Opposite the outer door of the stable was
the window of the kitchen, whence issued, like an undertone to the
song, the subdued rattle of cups and saucers; and the glow of the
kitchen fire could be distinguished. And over all this complex domestic
organism, attractive and efficient in its every manifestation, and
vigorously alive now in the smooth calm of the English Sunday, she was
queen; and hers was the brain that ruled it while feigning an aloof
quiescence. 'He is a romantic man; he understands all that,' she felt
with the certainty of intuition. Aloud she said she must fasten up the
When they returned to the drawing-room there was no sign of John.
'Hasn't your father come in?' she asked Ethel in a low voice; Milly
was still singing.
'No, mother, I thought he was with you in the garden.' The girl
seemed to respond to Leonora's inquietude.
Milly finished her song, and Twemlow, who had stationed himself
behind her to look at the music, nodded an austere approval.
'You have an excellent voice,' he remarked, 'and you can use it.' To
Leonora this judgment seemed weighty and decisive.
'Mr. Twemlow,' said the girl, smiling her satisfaction, 'excuse me
asking, but are you married?'
'No,' he answered, 'are you?'
'Mr. Twemlow!' she giggled, and turning to Ethel, who in
anticipation blushed once again: 'There! I told you.'
'You girls are very curious,' Leonora said perfunctorily.
Bessy came in and set a Moorish stool before the Chesterfield, on
the stool an inlaid Sheraton tray with china and a copper kettle
droning over a lamp, and near it a cakestand in three storeys. And
Leonora, manoeuvring her bangles, commenced the ritual of refection
with Harry as acolyte. 'If he doesn't come—well, he doesn't come,' she
thought of her husband, as she smiled interrogatively at Arthur
Twemlow, holding a lump of sugar aloft in the tongs.
'The Reverend Simon Quain asked who you were, at dinner to-day,'
said Harry. During the absence of Leonora and her guest, Harry had
evidently acquired information concerning Arthur.
'Oh, Mr. Twemlow!' Milly appealed quickly, 'do tell Harry and Ethel
what Dr. Talmage said to you. I think it's so funny—I can't do the
'What accent?' he laughed.
She hesitated, caught. 'Yours,' she replied boldly.
'Very amusing!' Harry said judicially, after the episode of the
Brooklyn collection had been related. 'Talmage must be a caution.... I
suppose you're staying at the Five Towns Hotel?' he inquired, with an
implication in his voice that there was no other hotel in the district
fit for the patronage of a man of the world. Twemlow nodded.
'What! At Knype?' Leonora exclaimed. 'Then where did you dine
'I had dinner at the Tiger, and not a bad dinner either,' he said.
'Oh dear!' Harry murmured, indicating an august sympathy for Arthur
Twemlow in affliction.
'If I had only known—I don't know what I was thinking of not to ask
you to come here for dinner,' said Leonora. 'I made sure you would be
'Fancy you eating all alone at the Tiger, on Sunday too!' remarked
'Tut! tut!' Twemlow protested, with a farcical exactness of
pronunciation; and Ethel laughed.
'What are you laughing at, my dear?' Leonora asked mildly.
'I don't know, mother—really I don't.' Whereupon they all laughed
together and a state of absolute intimacy was established.
'I hadn't the least notion of being at Bursley to-day,' Twemlow
explained. 'But I thought that Knype wasn't much of a place—I always
did think that, being a native of Bursley. I wouldn't be surprised if
you've noticed, Mrs. Stanway, how all the five Five Towns kind of sit
and sniff at each other. Well, I felt dull after breakfast, and when I
saw the advertisement of Dr. Quain at the old chapel, I came right
away. And that's all, except that I'm going to sup with a man at Knype
There were sounds in the hall, and the door of the drawing-room
opened; but it was only Bessie coming to light the gas.
'Is that your master just come in?' Leonora asked her.
'At last,' said Leonora, and they waited. With noiseless precision
Bessie lit the gas, made the fire, drew the curtains, and departed.
Then they could hear John's heavy footsteps overhead.
Leonora began nervously to talk about Rose, and Twemlow showed a
polite interest in Rose's private trials; Ethel said that she had just
visited the patient, who slept. Harry asseverated that to remain a
moment longer away from his mother's house would mean utter ruin for
him, and with extraordinary suddenness he made his adieux and went,
followed to the front door by Millicent. The conversation in the room
dwindled to disconnected remarks, and was kept alive by a series of
separate little efforts. Footsteps were no longer audible overhead. The
clock on the mantelpiece struck five, emphasising a silence, and amid
growing constraint several minutes passed. Leonora wanted to suggest
that John, having lost the dog, must have been delayed by looking for
him, but she felt that she could not infuse sufficient conviction into
the remark, and so said nothing. A thousand fears and misgivings took
possession of her, and, not for the first time, she seemed to discern
in the gloom of the future some great catastrophe which would swallow
up all that was precious to her.
At length John came in, hurried, fidgetty, nervous, and Ethel
slipped out of the room.
'Ah! Twemlow!' he broke forth, 'how d'ye do? How d'ye do? Glad to
see you. Hadn't given me up, had you? How d'ye do?'
'Not quite,' said Twemlow gravely as they shook hands.
Leonora took the water-jug from the tray and went to a chrysanthemum
in the farthest corner of the room, where she remained listening, and
pretending to be busy with the plant. The men talked freely but vapidly
with the most careful politeness, and it seemed to her that Twemlow was
annoyed, while Stanway was determined to offer no explanation of his
absence from tea. Once, in a pause, John turned to Leonora and said
that he had been upstairs to see Rose. Leonora was surprised at the
change in Twemlow's demeanour. It was as though the pair were fighting
a duel and Twemlow wore a coat of mail. 'And these two have not seen
each other for twenty-five years!' she thought. 'And they talk like
this!' She knew then that something lay between them; she could tell
from a peculiar well-known look in her husband's eyes.
When she summoned decision to approach them where they stood side by
side on the hearthrug, both tall, big, formal, and preoccupied, Twemlow
at once said that unfortunately he must go; Stanway made none but the
merest perfunctory attempt to detain him. He thanked Leonora stiffly
for her hospitality, and said good-bye with scarcely a smile. But as
John opened the door for him to pass out, he turned to glance at her,
and smiled brightly, kindly, bowing a final adieu, to which she
responded. She who never in her life till then had condescended to such
a device softly stepped to the unlatched door and listened.
'This one yours?' she heard John say, and then the sound of a hat
bouncing on the tiled floor.
'My fault entirely,' said Twemlow's voice. 'By the way, I guess I
can see you at your office one day soon?'
'Yes, certainly,' John answered with false glib lightness. 'What
about? Some business?'
'Well, yes—business,' drawled Twemlow.
They walked away towards the outer hall, and she heard no more,
except the indistinct murmur of a sudden brief dialogue between the
visitor and the two girls, who must have come in from the garden. Then
the front door banged heavily. He was gone. The vast and arid tedium of
her life closed in upon her again; she seemed to exist in a colourless
void peopled only by ominous dim elusive shapes of disaster.
But as involuntarily she clenched her hands the formidable thought
swept through her brain that Arthur Twemlow was not so calm, nor so
impassive, nor so set apart, but that her spell over him, if she chose
to exert it, might be a shield to the devious man her husband.
CHAPTER IV. AN INTIMACY
'Does father really mean it about me going to the works to-morrow?'
Ethel asked that night.
'I suppose so, my dear,' replied Leonora, and she added: 'You must
do all you can to help him.'
Ethel's clear gift of interpreting even the most delicate
modulations in her mother's voice, instantly gave her the first faint
sense of alarm.
'Why, mamma! what do you mean?'
'What I say, dear,' Leonora murmured with neutral calm. 'You must do
all you can to help him. We look on you as a woman now.'
'You don't, you don't!' Ethel thought passionately as she went
upstairs. 'And you never will. Never!'
The profound instinctive sympathy which existed between her mother
and herself was continually being disturbed by the manifest insincerity
of that assertion contained in Leonora's last sentence. The girl was in
arms, without knowing it, against a whole order of things. She could
scarcely speak to Millicent in the bedroom. She was disgusted with her
father, and she was disgusted with Leonora for pretending that her
father was sagacious and benevolent, for not admitting that he was
merely a trial to be endured. She was disgusted with Fred Ryley because
he was not as other young men were—Harry Burgess for instance. The
startling hint from Leonora that perhaps all was not well at the works
exasperated her. She held the works in abhorrence. With her sisters,
she had always regarded the works as a vague something which John
Stanway went to and came away from, as the mysterious source of food,
raiment, warmth. But she was utterly ignorant of its mechanism, and she
wished to remain ignorant. That its mechanism should be in danger of
breaking down, that it should even creak, was to her at first less a
disaster than a matter for resentment. She hated the works as one is
sometimes capable of unreasonably hating a benefactor.
On Monday morning, rising a little earlier than usual, she was
surprised to find her mother alone at a disordered breakfast-table.
'Has dad finished his breakfast already?' she inquired, determined
to be cheerful. Sleep, and her fundamental good-nature, had modified
her mood, and for the moment she meant to play the role of dutiful
daughter as well as she could.
'He has had to go off to Manchester by the first train,' said
Leonora. 'He'll be away all day. So you won't begin till to-morrow.'
She smiled gravely.
'Oh, good!' Ethel exclaimed with intense momentary relief.
But now again in Leonora's voice, and in her eye, there was the soft
warning, which Ethel seized, and which, without a relevant word spoken,
she communicated to her sisters. John Stanway's young women began to
reflect apprehensively upon the sudden irregularities of his recent
movements, his conferences with his lawyer, his bluffing air; a hundred
trifles too insignificant for separate notice collected themselves
together and became formidable. A certain atmosphere of forced and
false cheerfulness spread through the house.
'Not gone to bed!' said Stanway briskly, when he returned home by
the late train and discovered his three girls in the drawing-room. They
allowed him to imagine that his jaunty air deceived them; they were
jaunty too; but all the while they read his soul and pitied him with
the intolerable condescension of youth towards age.
The next day Ethel had a further reprieve of several hours, for
Stanway said that he must go over to Hanbridge in the morning, and
would come back to Hillport for dinner, and escort Ethel to the works
immediately afterwards. None asked a question, but everyone knew that
he could only be going to Hanbridge to consult with David Dain. This
time the programme was in fact executed. At two o'clock Ethel found
herself in her father's office.
As she took off her hat and jacket in the hard sinister room, she
looked like a violet roughly transplanted and bidden to blossom in the
mire. She knew that amid that environment she could be nothing but
incapable, dull, stupid, futile, and plain. She knew that she had no
brains to comprehend and no energy to prevail. Every detail repelled
her—the absence of fire-irons in the hearth, the business almanacs on
the discoloured walls, the great flat table-desk, the dusty samples of
tea-pots in the window, the vast green safe in the corner, the glimpses
of industrial squalor in the yard, the sound of uncouth voices from the
clerks' office, the muffled beat of machinery under the floor, and the
strange uninhabited useless appearance of a small room seen through a
half-open door near the safe. She would have given a year of life, in
that first moment, to be helping her mother in some despised monotonous
household task at Hillport.
She felt that she was being outrageously deprived of a natural
right, hitherto enjoyed without let, to have the golden fruits of
labour brought to her in discreet silence as to their origin.
Stanway struck a bell with determination, and the manager appeared,
a tall, thin, sandy-haired man of middle age, who wore a grey
tailed-coat and a white apron.
'Ha! Mayer! That you?'
'Yes, sir.... Good afternoon, miss.'
'Good afternoon,' Ethel simpered foolishly, and she had it in her to
have slain both men because she felt such a silly schoolgirl.
'I wanted Ryley. Where is he?'
'He's somewhere on the bank, sir—speaking to the mouldmaker, I
 Bank = earthenware manufactory. But here the word is used in a
limited sense, meaning the industrial, as distinguished from
bureaucratic, part of the manufactory.
'Well, just bring me in that letter from Paris that came on
Saturday, will you?' Stanway requested.
'I've several things to speak to you about,' said Mr. Mayer, when he
had brought the letter.
'Directly,' Stanway answered, waving him away, and then turning to
Ethel: 'Now, young lady, I want this letter translating.' He placed it
before her on the table, together with some blank paper.
'Yes, father,' she said humbly.
Three hours a week for seven years she had sat in front of French
manuals at the school at Oldcastle; but she knew that, even if the
destiny of nations turned on it, she could not translate that letter of
ten lines. Nevertheless she was bound to make a pretence of doing so.
'I don't think I can without a dictionary,' she plaintively
murmured, after a few minutes.
'Oh! Here's a French dictionary,' he replied, producing one from a
drawer, much to her chagrin; she had hoped that he would not have a
Then Stanway began to look through a pile of correspondence, and to
scribble in a large saffron-coloured diary. He went out to Mr. Mayer;
Mr. Mayer came in to him; they called to each other from room to room.
The machinery stopped beneath and started again. A horse fell down in
the yard, and Stanway, watching from the window, exclaimed: 'Tsh! That
Various persons unceremoniously entered and asked questions, all of
which Stanway answered with equal dryness and certainty. At intervals
he poked the fire with an old walking-stick, Ethel never glanced up. In
a dream she handled the dictionary, the letter, the blank paper, and
wrote unfinished phrases with the thick office pen.
'Done it?' he inquired at last.
'I—I—can't make out the figures,' she stammered. 'Is that a 5 or a
7?' She pushed the letter across.
'Oh! That's a French 7,' he replied, and proceeded to make shots at
the meaning of sentences with a flair far surpassing her own
skill, though it was notorious that he knew no French whatever. She had
a sudden perception of his cleverness, his capacity, his force, his
mysterious hold on all kinds of things which eluded her grasp and
'Let's see what you've done,' he demanded. She sighed in despair,
hesitating to give up the paper.
'Mr. Twemlow, by appointment,' announced a clerk, and Arthur Twemlow
walked into the office.
'Hallo, Twemlow!' said Stanway, meeting him gaily. 'I was just
expecting you. My new confidential clerk. Eh?' He pointed to Ethel, who
flushed to advantage. 'You've plenty of them over there, haven't
Twemlow assented, and remarked that he himself employed a 'lady
'Yes,' Stanway eagerly went on. 'That's what I mean to do. I mean to
buy a type-writer, and Miss shall learn shorthand and type-writing.'
Ethel was astounded at the glibness of invention which could
instantly bring forth such an idea. She felt quite sure that until that
moment her father had had no plan at all in regard to her attendance at
'I'm sure I can't learn,' she said with genuine modesty, and as she
spoke she became very attractive to Twemlow, who said nothing, but
smiled at her sympathetically, protectively. She returned the smile. By
a swift miracle the violet was back again in its native bed.
'You can go in there and finish your work, we shall disturb you,'
said her father, pointing to the little empty room, and she meekly
disappeared with the letter, the dictionary, and the piece of paper.
* * * * *
'Well, how's business, Twemlow? By the way, have a cigar.'
Ethel, at the dusty table in the little room, could just see her
father's broad back through the door which, in her nervousness, she had
forgotten to close. She felt that the door ought to have been latched,
but she could not find courage deliberately to get up and latch it now.
'Thanks,' said Arthur Twemlow. 'Business is going right along.'
She heard the striking of a match, and the pleasant twang of
cigar-smoke greeted her nostrils. The two men seemed splendidly
masculine, important, self-sufficient. The triviality of feminine atoms
like herself, Rose, and Millicent, occurred to her almost as a new
fact, and she was ashamed of her existence.
'Buying much this trip?' asked Stanway.
'Not much, and not your sort,' said Twemlow. 'The truth is, I'm
fixing up a branch in London.'
'But, my dear fellow, surely there's no American business done
through London in English goods?'
'No, perhaps not,' said Twemlow. 'But that don't say there isn't
going to be. Besides, I've got a notion of coming in for a share of
your colonial shipping trade. And let me tell you there's a lot of
business done through London between the United States and the
Continent, in glass and fancy goods.'
'Oh, yes, I know there is,' Stanway conceded. 'And so you think
you're going to teach the old country a thing or two?'
'On whether the old country's made up her mind yet to sit down and
learn.' He laughed.
Ethel saw by the change of colour in her father's neck that the
susceptibilities of his patriotism had been assailed.
'What do you mean?' Stanway asked pugnaciously.
'I mean that you are falling behind here,' said Twemlow with cold,
nonchalant firmness. 'Every one knows that. You're getting left. Look
how you're being cut out in cheap toilet stuff. In ten years you won't
be shipping a hundred dollars' worth per annum of cheap toilet to the
'But listen, Twemlow,' said Stanway impressively.
Twemlow continued, imperturbable: 'You in the Five Towns stick to
old-fashioned methods. You can't cut it fine enough.'
'Old-fashioned? Not cut it fine enough?' Stanway exclaimed, rising.
Twemlow laughed with real mirth. 'Yes,' he said.
'Give me one instance—one instance,' cried Stanway.
'Well,' said Twemlow, 'take firing. I hear you still pay your
firemen by the oven, and your placers by the day, instead of settling
all oven-work by scorage.'
'Tell me about that—the Trenton system. I'd like to hear about
that. It's been mentioned once or twice,' said Stanway, resuming his
Ethel perceived vaguely that the forceful man who held her in the
hollow of his hand had met more than his match. Over that spectacle she
rejoiced like a small child; but at the same time Arthur Twemlow's
absolute conviction that the Five Towns was losing ground frightened
her, made her feel that life was earnest, and stirred faint longings
for the serious way. It seemed to her that she was weighed down by
knowledge of the world, whereas gay Millicent, and Rose with her silly
examinations.... She plunged again into the actuality of the letter
'I called really to speak to you about my father's estate.'
Ethel was startled into attention by the sudden careful politeness
in Arthur Twemlow's manner and by a quivering in his voice.
'What of it?' said Stanway. 'I've forgotten all the details. Fifteen
years since, you know.'
'Yes. But it's on behalf of my sister, and I haven't been over
before. Besides, it wasn't till she heard I was coming to England that
'Well,' said Stanway. 'Of course I was the sole executor, and it's
'That's it,' Twemlow broke in. 'That's what makes it a little
awkward. No one's got the right to go behind you as executor. But the
fact is, my sister—we—my sister was surprised at the smallness of the
estate. We want to know what he did with his money, that is, how much
he really received before he died. Perhaps you won't mind letting me
look at the annual balance-sheets of the old firm, say for 1875, 6, and
7. You see——'
Twemlow stopped as Stanway half-turned to look at the door between
the two rooms.
'Go on, go on,' said Stanway in his grandiose manner. 'That's all
Ethel knew in a flash that her father would have given a great deal
to have had the door shut, and equally that nothing on earth would have
induced him to shut it.
'That's all right,' he repeated. 'Go on.'
Twemlow's voice regained steadiness. 'You can perhaps understand my
sister's feelings.' Then a long pause. 'Naturally, if you don't care to
show me the balance-sheets——'
'My dear Twemlow,' said John stiffly, 'I shall be delighted to show
you anything you wish to see.'
'I only want to know——'
'Certainly, certainly. Quite justifiable and proper. I'll have them
'Any time will do.'
'Well, we're rather busy. Say a week to-day—if you're to be here
'I guess that'll suit me,' said Twemlow.
His tone had a touch of cynical cruel patience.
The intangible and shapeless suspicions which Ethel had caught from
Leonora took a misty form and substance, only to be immediately
dispelled in that inconstant mind by the sudden refreshing sound of
Milly's voice: 'We've called to take Ethel home, papa—oh, mother,
here's Mr. Twemlow!'
In another moment the office was full of chatter and scent, and
Milly had run impulsively to Ethel: 'What has father given you
'Oh dear!' Ethel sighed, with a fatigued gesture of knowing nothing
'It's half-past five,' said Leonora, glancing into the inner room,
after she had spoken to Mr. Twemlow.
Three hours and a half had Ethel been in thrall! It was like a
century to her. She could have dropped into her mother's arms.
'What have you come in, Nora?' asked Stanway, 'the trap?'
'No, the four-wheeled dog-cart, dear.'
'Well, Twemlow, drive up and have tea with us. Come along and have a
Five Towns high-tea.'
'Oh, Mr. Twemlow, do!' said Milly, nearly drowning Leonora's
'Come along,' Stanway insisted genially. 'Of course you
'Thank you,' was the rather feeble answer. 'But I shall have to
leave pretty early.'
'We'll see about that,' said Stanway. 'You can take Mr. Twemlow and
the girls, Nora, and I'll follow as quick as I can. I must dictate a
letter or two.'
The three women, Twemlow in the midst, escaped like a pretty cloud
out of the rude, dingy office, and their bright voices echoed
diminuendo down the stair. Stanway rang his bell fiercely. The
dictionary and the letter and Ethel's paper lay forgotten on the dusty
table of the inner room.
* * * * *
Arthur Twemlow felt that he ought to have been annoyed, but he could
do no more than keep up a certain reserve of manner. Neither the memory
of his humiliating clumsy lies about his sister in broaching the matter
of his father's estate to Stanway, nor his clear perception that
Stanway was a dishonest and a frightened man, nor his strong
theoretical objection to Stanway's tactics in so urgently inviting him
to tea, could overpower the sensation of spiritual comfort and
complacency which possessed him as he sat between Leonora and Ethel at
Leonora's splendidly laden table. He fought doggedly against this
sensation. He tried to assume the attitude of a philosopher observing
humanity, of a spider watching flies; he tried to be critical, cold,
aloof. He listened as one set apart, and answered in monosyllables. But
despite his own volition the monosyllables were accompanied by a smile
that destroyed the effect of their curtness. The intimate charm of the
domesticity subdued his logical antipathies. He knew that he was making
a good impression among these women, that for them there was something
romantic and exciting about his history and personality. And he liked
them all. He liked even Rose, so pale, strange, and contentious. In
regard to Milly, whom he had begun by despising, he silently admitted
that a girl so vivacious, supple, sparkling, and pretty, had the right
to be as pertly foolish as she chose. He took a direct fancy to Ethel.
And he decided once for ever that Leonora was a magnificent creature.
In the play of conversation on domestic trifles, the most ordinary
phrases seemed to him to be charged with a peculiar fascination. The
little discussions about Milly's attempts at housekeeping, about the
austere exertions of Rose, Ethel's first day at the office, Bran's new
biscuits, the end of the lawn-tennis season, the propriety of hockey
for girls, were so mysteriously pleasant to his ears that he felt it a
sort of privilege to have been admitted to them. And yet he clearly
perceived the shortcomings of each person in this little world of which
the totality was so delightful. He knew that Ethel was languidly
futile, Rose cantankerous, Milly inane, Stanway himself crafty and
meretricious, and Leonora often supine when she should not be. He dwelt
specially on the more odious aspects of Stanway's character, and swore
that, had Stanway forty womenfolk instead of four, he, Arthur Twemlow,
should still do his obvious duty of finishing what he had begun. In
chatting with his host after tea, he marked his own attitude with much
care, and though Stanway pretended not to observe it, he knew that
Stanway observed it well enough.
The three girls disappeared and returned in street attire. Rose was
going to the science classes at the Wedgwood Institution, Ethel and
Millicent to the rehearsal of the Amateur Operatic Society. Again, in
this distribution of the complex family energy, there reappeared the
suggestion of a mysterious domestic charm.
'Don't be late to-night,' said Stanway severely to Millicent.
'Now, grumbler,' retorted the intrepid child, putting her gloved
hand suddenly over her father's mouth; Stanway submitted. The picture
of the two in this delicious momentary contact remained long in
Twemlow's mind; and he thought that Stanway could not be such a brute
'Play something for us, Nora,' said the august paterfamilias,
spreading at ease in his chair in the drawing-room, when the girls were
gone. Leonora removed her bangles and began to play 'The Bees'
Wedding.' But she had not proceeded far before Milly ran in again.
'A note from Mr. Dain, pa.'
Milly had vanished in an instant, and Leonora continued to play as
if nothing had happened, but Arthur was conscious of a change in the
atmosphere as Stanway opened the letter and read it.
'I must just go over the way and speak to a neighbour,' said Stanway
carelessly when Leonora had struck the final chord. 'You'll excuse me,
I know. Sha'n't be long.'
'Don't mention it,' Arthur replied with politeness, and then, after
Stanway had gone, leaving the door open, he turned to Leonora at the
piano, and said: 'Do play something else.'
Instead of answering, she rose, resumed her jewellery, and took the
chair which Stanway had left. She smiled invitingly, evasively,
inscrutably at her guest.
'Tell me about American women,' she said: 'I've always wanted to
He thought her attitude in the great chair the most enchanting thing
he had ever seen.
* * * * *
Leonora had watched Twemlow's demeanour from the moment when she met
him in her husband's office. She had guessed, but not certainly, that
it was still inimical at least to John, and the exact words of Uncle
Meshach's warning had recurred to her time after time as she met his
reluctant, cautious eyes. Nevertheless, it was by the sudden uprush of
an instinct, rather than by a calculated design, that she, in her home
and surrounded by her daughters, began the process of enmeshing him in
the web of influences which she spun ceaselessly from the bright
threads of her own individuality. Her mind had food for sombre
preoccupation—the lost battle with Milly during the day about Milly's
comic-opera housekeeping; the tale told by John's nervous, effusive,
guilty manner; and especially the episode of the letter from Dain and
John's disappearance: these things were grave enough to the mother and
wife. But they receded like negligible trifles into the distance as she
rose so suddenly and with such a radiant impulse from the piano. In the
new enterprise of consciously arousing the sympathy of a man, she had
almost forgotten even the desperate motive which had decided her to
undertake it should she get the chance.
'Tell me about American women,' she said. All her person was a
challenge. And then: 'Would you mind shutting the door after Jack?' She
followed him with her gaze as he crossed and recrossed the room.
'What about American women?' he said, dropping all his previous
reserve like a garment. 'What do you want to know?'
'I've never seen one. I want to know what makes them so charming.'
The fresh desirous interest in her voice flattered him, and he
smiled his content.
'Oh!' he drawled, leaning back in his chair, which faced hers by the
fire. 'I never noticed they were so specially charming. Some of them
are pretty nice, I expect, but most of the young ones put on too much
lugs, at any rate for an Englishman.'
'But they're always marrying Englishmen. So how do you explain that?
I did think you'd be able to tell me about the American women.'
'Perhaps I haven't met enough of just the right sort,' he said.
'You're too critical,' she remarked, as though his case was a
peculiarly interesting one and she was studying it on its merits.
'You only say that because I'm over forty and unmarried, Mrs.
Stanway. I'm not at all critical.'
'Over forty!' she exclaimed, and left a pause. He nodded. 'But you
are too critical,' she went on. 'It isn't that women don't interest
'I should think they did,' he murmured, gratified.
'But you expect too much from them.'
'Look here!' he said, 'how do you know?'
She smiled with an assumption of the sadness of all knowledge; she
made him feel like a boy again: 'If you didn't expect too much from
them, you would have married long ago. It isn't as if you hadn't seen
'Seen the world!' he repeated. 'I've never seen anything half so
charming as your home, Mrs. Stanway.'
Both were extremely well satisfied with the course of the
conversation. Both wished that the interview might last for indefinite
hours, for they had slipped, as into a socket, into the supreme topic,
and into intimacy. They were happy and they knew it. The egotism of
each tingled sensitively with eager joy. They felt that this was
'life,' one of the justifications of existence.
She shook her head slowly.
'Yes,' he continued, 'it's you who stay quietly at home that are to
'And you, a free bachelor, say that! Why, I should have thought——'
'That's just it. You're quite wrong, if you'll let me say so. Here
am I, a free bachelor, as you call it. Can do what I like. Go where I
like. And yet I would sell my soul for a home like this. Something ...
you know. No, you don't. People say that women understand men and what
men feel, but they can't—they can't.'
'No,' said Leonora seriously, 'I don't think they can—still, I have
a notion of what you mean.' She spoke with modest sympathy.
'Have you?' he questioned.
She nodded. For a fraction of an instant she thought of her husband,
stolid with all his impulsiveness, over at David Dain's.
'People say to me, “Why don't you get married?”' Twemlow went on,
drawn by the subtle invitation of her manner. 'But how can I get
married? I can't get married by taking thought. They make me tired. I
ask them sometimes whether they imagine I keep single for the fun of
the thing.... Do you know that I've never yet been in love—no, not the
He presented her with this fact as with a jewel, and she so accepted
'What a pity!' she said, gently.
'Yes, it's a pity,' he admitted. 'But look here. That's the worst of
me. When I get talking about myself I'm likely to become a bore.'
Offering him the cigarette cabinet she breathed the old, effective,
sincere answer: 'Not at all, it's very interesting.'
'Let me see, this house belongs to you, doesn't it?' he said in a
different casual tone as he lighted a cigarette.
Shortly afterwards he departed. John had not returned from Dain's,
but Twemlow said that he could not possibly stay, as he had an
appointment at Hanbridge. He shook hands with restrained ardour. Her
last words to him were: 'I'm so sorry my husband isn't back,' and even
these ordinary words struck him as a beautiful phrase. Alone in the
drawing-room, she sighed happily and examined herself in the large
glass over the mantelpiece. The shaded lights left her loveliness
unimpaired; and yet, as she gazed at the mirror, the worm gnawing at
the root of her happiness was not her husband's precarious situation,
nor his deviousness, nor even his mere existence, but the one thought:
'Oh! That I were young again!'
* * * * *
'Mother, whatever do you think?' cried Millicent, running in eagerly
in advance of Ethel at ten o'clock. 'Lucy Turner's sister died to-day,
and so she can't sing in the opera, and I am to have her part if I can
learn it in three weeks.'
'What is her part?' Leonora asked, as though waking up.
'Why, mother, you know! Patience, of course! Isn't it splendid?'
'Where are father and Mr. Twemlow? Ethel inquired, falling into a
CHAPTER V. THE CHANCE
Leonora was aware that she had tamed one of the lions which menaced
her husband's path; she could not conceive that Arthur Twemlow,
whatever his mysterious power over John, would find himself able to
exercise it now; Twemlow was a friend of hers, and so disarmed. She
wished to say proudly to John: 'I neither know nor wish to know the
nature of the situation between you and Arthur Twemlow. But be at ease.
He is no longer dangerous. I have arranged it.' The thing was
impossible to be said; she was bound to leave John in ignorance; she
might not even hint. Nevertheless, Leonora's satisfaction in this
triumph, her pleasure in the mere memory of the intimate talk by the
fire, her innocent joyous desire to see Twemlow again soon, emanated
from her in various subtle ways, and the household was thereby soothed
back into a feeling of security about John. Leonora ignored, perhaps
deliberately, that Stanway had still before him the peril of financial
embarrassment, that he was mortgaging the house, and that his
colloquies with David Dain continued to be frequent and obviously
disconcerting. When she saw him nervous, petulant, preoccupied, she
attributed his condition solely to his thought of the one danger which
she had secretly removed. She had a strange determined impulse to be
happy and gay.
An episode at an extra Monday night rehearsal of the Amateur
Operatic Society seemed to point to the prevalence of certain sinister
rumours about Stanway's condition. Milly, inspired by dreams of the
future, had learnt her part perfectly in five days. She sang and acted
with magnificent assurance, and with a vivid theatrical charm which
awoke enthusiasm in the excitable breasts of the male chorus. Harry
Burgess lost his air of fatigued worldliness, and went round naively
demanding to be told whether he had not predicted this miracle. Even
the conductor was somewhat moved.
'She'll do, by gad!' said that man of few illusions to his crony the
But it is not to be imagined that such a cardinal event as the
elevation of a chit like Millicent Stanway to the principal role could
achieve itself without much friction and consequent heat. Many ladies
of the chorus thought that the committee no longer deserved the
confidence of the society. At least three suspected that the conductor
had a private spite against themselves. And one, aged thirty-five, felt
convinced that she was the victim of an elaborate and scandalous plot.
To this maid had been offered Milly's old part of Ella; it was a final
insult—but she accepted it. In the scene with Angela and Bunthorne in
the first act, the new Ella made the same mistake three times at the
words, 'In a doleful train,' and the conductor grew sarcastic.
'May I show you how that bit goes, Miss Gardner?' said Milly
afterwards with exquisite pertness.
'No, thank you, Milly,' was the freezing emphasised answer; 'I dare
say I shall be able to manage without your assistance.'
'Oh, ho!' sang Milly, delighted to have provoked this exhibition,
and she began a sort of Carmen dance of disdain.
'Girls grow up so quick nowadays!' Miss Gardner exclaimed, losing
control of herself; 'who are you, I should like to know!' and
she proceeded with her irrelevant inquiries: 'who's your father?
Doesn't every one know that he'll have gone smash before the night of
the show?' She was shaking, insensate, brutal.
Millicent stood still, and went very white.
The rival divas faced each other, murderous, for a few seconds, and
then Milly turned, laughing, to Harry Burgess, who, consciously
secretarial, was standing near with several others.
'Either Miss Gardner apologises to me at once,' she said lightly,
'at once, or else either she or I leave the Society.'
Milly tapped her foot, hummed, and looked up into Miss Gardner's
eyes with serene contempt. Ethel was not the only one who was amazed at
the absolute certitude of victory in little Millicent's demeanour.
Harry Burgess spoke apart with the conductor upon this astonishing
contretemps, and while he did so Milly, still smiling, hummed rather
more loudly the very phrase of Ella's at which Miss Gardner had
stumbled. It was a masterpiece of insolence.
'We think Miss Gardner should withdraw the expression,' said Harry
after he had coughed.
'Never!' said Miss Gardner. 'Good-bye all!'
Thus ended Miss Gardner's long career as an operatic artist—and not
without pathos, for the ageing woman sobbed as she left the room from
which she had been driven by a pitiless child.
* * * * *
According to custom Harry Burgess set out from the National School,
where the rehearsals were held, with Ethel and Milly for Hillport. But
at the bottom of Church Street Ethel silently fell behind and joined a
fourth figure which had approached. The two couples walked separately
to Hillport by the field-path. As Harry and Milly opened the wicket at
the foot of Stanway's long garden, Ethel ran up, alone again.
'That you?' cried a thin voice under the trees by the gate. It was
Rose, taking late exercise after her studies.
'Yes, it's us,' replied Harry. 'Shall you give me a whisky if I come
And he entered the house with the three girls.
'I'm certain Rose saw you with Fred in the field, and if she did
she's sure to split to mother,' Milly whispered as she and Ethel ran
upstairs. They could hear Harry already strumming on the piano.
'I don't care!' said Ethel callously, exasperated by three days of
futility at the office, and by the manifest injustice of fate.
'My dear, I want to speak to you,' said Leonora to Ethel, when the
informal supper was over, and Harry had buckishly departed, and Rose
and Milly were already gone upstairs. Not a word had been mentioned as
to the great episode of the rehearsal.
'Well, mother?' Ethel answered in a tone of weary defiance.
Leonora still sat at the supper-table, awaiting John, who was out at
a meeting; Ethel stood leaning against the mantelpiece like a boy.
'How often have you been seeing Fred Ryley lately?' Leonora began
with a gentle, pacific inquiry.
'I see him every day at the works, mother.'
'I don't mean at the works; you know that, Ethel.'
'I suppose Rose has been telling you things.'
'Rose told me quite innocently that she happened to see Fred in the
'Oh, yes!' Ethel sneered with cold irony. 'I know Rose's innocence!'
'My dear girl,' Leonora tried to reason with her. 'Why will you talk
like that? You know you promised your father——'
'No, I didn't, ma,' Ethel interrupted her sharply. 'Milly did; I
never promised father anything.'
Leonora was astonished at the mutinous desperation in Ethel's tone.
It left her at a loss.
'I shall have to tell your father,' she said sadly.
'Well, of course, mother,' Ethel managed her voice carefully. 'You
tell him everything.'
'No, I don't, my dear,' Leonora denied the charge like a girl. 'A
week last night I heard Fred Ryley talking to you at your window. And I
have said nothing.'
Ethel flushed hotly at this disclosure.
'Then why say anything now?' she murmured, half daunted and half
'Your father must know. I ought to have told him before. But I have
been wondering how best to act.'
'What's the matter with Fred, mother?' Ethel demanded, with a catch
in her throat.
'That isn't the point, Ethel. Your father has distinctly said that
he won't permit any'—she stopped because she could not bring herself
to say the words; and then continued: 'If he had the slightest
suspicion that there was anything between you and Fred Ryley he
would never have allowed you to go to the works at all.'
'Allowed me to go! I like that, mother! As if I wanted to go to the
works! I simply hate the place—father knows that. And yet—and
yet——' She almost wept.
'Your father must be obeyed,' Leonora stated simply.
'Suppose Fred is poor,' Ethel ran on, recovering herself.
'Perhaps he won't be poor always. And perhaps we shan't be rich always.
The things that people are saying——' She hesitated, afraid to
'What do you mean, dear?'
'Well!' the girl exclaimed, and then gave a brief account of the
'My child,' was Leonora's placid comment, 'you ought to know that
Florence Gardner will say anything when she is in a temper. She is the
worst gossip in Bursley. I only hope Milly wasn't rude. And really this
has got nothing to do with what we are talking about.'
'Mother!' Ethel cried hysterically, 'why are you always so calm?
Just imagine yourself in my place—with Fred. You say I'm a woman, and
I am, I am, though you don't think so, truly. Just imagine——No, you
can't! You've forgotten all that sort of thing, mother.' She burst into
gushing tears at last. 'Father can kill me if he likes! I don't care!'
She fled out of the room.
'So I've forgotten, have I!' Leonora said to herself, smiling
faintly, as she sat alone at the table waiting for John.
She was not at all hurt by Ethel's impassioned taunt, but rather
amused, indulgently amused, that the girl should have so misread her.
She felt more maternal, protective, and tender towards Ethel than she
had ever felt since the first year of Ethel's existence. She seemed
perfectly to comprehend, and she nobly excused, the sudden outbreak of
violence and disrespect on the part of her languid, soft-eyed daughter.
She thought with confidence that all would come right in the end, and
vaguely she determined that in some undefined way she would help Ethel,
would yet demonstrate to this child of hers that she understood and
sympathised. The interview which had just terminated, futile,
conflicting, desultory, muddled, tentative, and abrupt as life itself,
appeared to her in the light of a positive achievement. She was not
unhappy about it, nor about anything. Even the scathing speech of
Florence Gardner had failed to disturb her.
'I want to tell you something, Jack,' she began, when her husband at
length came home.
'Who's been drinking whisky?' was Stanway's only reply as he glanced
at the table.
'Harry brought the girls home. I dare say he had some. I didn't
notice,' she said.
'H'm!' Stanway muttered gloomily, 'he's young enough to start that
'I'll see it isn't offered to him again, if you like,' said Leonora.
'But I want to tell you something, Jack.'
'Well?' He was thoughtlessly cutting a piece of cheese into small
squares with the silver butter-knife.
'Only you must promise not to say a word to a soul.'
'I shall promise no such thing,' he said with uncompromising
She smiled charmingly upon him. 'Oh yes, Jack, you will, you must.'
He seemed to be taken unawares by her sudden smile. 'Very well,' he
She then told him, in the manner she thought best, of the relations
between Ethel and Fred Ryley, and she pointed out to him that, if he
had reflected at all upon the relations between Harry Burgess and
Millicent, he would not have fallen into the error of connecting Milly,
instead of her sister, with Fred.
'What relations between Milly and young Burgess?' he questioned
'Why, Jack,' she said, 'you know as much as I do. Why does Harry
come here so often?'
'He'd better not come here so often. What's Milly? She's nothing but
Leonora made no attempt to argue with him. 'As for Ethel,' she said
softly, 'she's at a difficult age, and you must be careful——'
'As for Ethel,' he interrupted, 'I'll turn Fred Ryley out of my
She tried to look grave and sympathetic, to use all her tact. 'But
won't that make difficulties with Uncle Meshach? And people might say
you had dismissed him because Uncle Meshach had altered his will.'
'D——n Fred Ryley!' he swore, unable to reply to this. 'D——n
He walked to and fro in the room, and all his secret, profound
resentment against Ryley surged up, loose and uncontrolled.
'Wouldn't it be better to take Ethel away from the works?' Leonora
'No,' he answered doggedly. 'Not for a moment! Can't I have my own
daughter in my own office because Fred Ryley is on the place? A pretty
'It is awkward,' she admitted, as if admitting also that what
puzzled his sagacity was of course too much for hers.
'Fred Ryley!' he repeated the hateful syllables bitterly. 'And I
only took him out of kindness! Simply out of kindness! I tell you what,
Leonora!' He faced her in a sort of bravado. 'It would serve 'em d——n
well right if Uncle Meshach died to-morrow, and Aunt Hannah the day
after. I should be safe then. It would serve them d——n well right,
all of 'em—Ryley and Uncle Meshach; yes, and Aunt Hannah too! She
hasn't altered her will, but she'd no business to have let uncle alter
his. They're all in it. She's bound to die first, and they know it....
Well, well!' He was a resigned martyr now, and he turned towards the
'Jack!' she exclaimed, 'what's the matter?'
'Ruin's the matter,' he said. 'That's what's the matter. Ruin!'
He laughed sourly, undecided whether to pretend that he was not
quite serious, or to divulge his real condition.
Her calm confident eyes silently invited him to relieve his mind,
and he could not resist the temptation.
'You know that mortgage on the house,' he said quickly. 'I got it
all arranged at once. Dain was to have sent the deed in last Tuesday
night for you to sign, but he sent in a letter instead. That's why I
had to go over and see him. There was some confounded hitch at the last
moment, a flaw in the title——'
'A flaw in the title!' It was the phrase only that alarmed her.
'Oh! It's all right,' said Stanway, wondering angrily why
women should always, by the trick of seizing on trifles, destroy the
true perspective of a business affair. 'The title's all right, at least
it will be put right. But it means delay, and I can't wait. I must have
money at once, in three days. Can you understand that, my girl?'
By an effort she conquered the impulses to ask why, and why, and
why; and to suggest economy in the house. Something came to her
mysteriously out of her memory of her own father's affairs, a sudden
inspiration; and she said:
'Can't you deposit my deeds at the bank and get a temporary
advance?' She was very proud of this clever suggestion.
He shook his head: 'No, the bank won't.'
The fact was that the bank had long been pressing him to deposit
security for his over-draft.
'I tell you what might be done,' he said, brightening as her idea
gave birth to another one in his mind. 'Uncle Meshach might lend some
money on the deeds. You shall go down to-morrow morning and ask him,
'Me!' She was scared at this result.
'Yes, you,' he insisted, full of eagerness. 'It's your house. Ask
him to let you have five hundred on the house for a short while. Tell
him we want it. You can get round him easily enough.'
'Jack, I can't do it, really.'
'Oh yes, you can,' he assured her. 'No one better. He likes you. He
doesn't like me—never did. Ask him for five hundred. No, ask him for a
thousand. May as well make it a thousand. It'll be all the same to him.
You go down in the morning, and do it for me.'
Stanway's animation became quite cheerful.
'But about the title—the flaw?' she feebly questioned.
'That won't frighten uncle,' said Stanway positively. 'He knows the
title is good enough. That's only a technical detail.'
'Very well,' she agreed, 'I'll do what I can, Jack.'
'That's good,' he said.
And even now, the resolve once made, she did not lose her sense of
tranquil optimism, her mild happiness, her widespreading benevolence.
The result of this talk with John aroused in her an innocent vanity,
for was it not indirectly due to herself that John had been able to see
a way out of his difficulties?
They soon afterwards dismissed the subject, put it with care away in
a corner; and John finished his supper.
'Is Mr. Twemlow still in the district?' she asked vivaciously.
'Yes,' said John, and there was a pause.
'You're doing some business together, aren't you, Jack?' she
John hesitated. 'No,' he said, 'he only wanted to see me about old
Twemlow's estate—some details he was after.'
'I felt it,' she mused. 'I felt all the time it was that that was
wrong. And John is worrying over it! But he needn't—he needn't—and he
She could read plainly the duplicity in his face. She knew that he
had done some wicked thing, and that all his life was a maze of more or
less equivocal stratagems. But she was so used to the character of her
husband that this aspect of the situation scarcely impressed her. It
was her new active beneficent interference in John's affairs that
seemed to occupy her thoughts.
'I told you I wouldn't say anything about Ethel's affair,' said John
later, 'and I won't.' He was once more judicial and pompous. 'But, of
course, you will look after it. I shall leave it to you to deal with.
You'll have to be firm, you know.'
'Yes,' she said.
* * * * *
Not till after breakfast the next day did Leonora realise the utter
repugnance with which she shrank from the mission to Uncle Meshach. She
had declined to look the project fairly in the face, to examine her own
feelings concerning it. She had said to herself when she awoke in the
dark: 'It is nothing. It is a mere business matter. It isn't like
begging.' But the idea, the absurd indefensible idea, of its similarity
to begging was precisely what troubled her as the moment approached for
setting forth. She pondered, too, upon the intolerable fact that such a
request as she was about to prefer to Uncle Meshach was a tacit
admission that John, with all his ostentations, had at last come to the
end of the tether. She felt that she was a living part of John's
meretriciousness. She had the fancy that she should have dressed for
the occasion in rusty black. Was it not somehow shameful that she, a
suppliant for financial aid, should outrage the ugly modesty of the
little parlour in Church Street by the arrogant and expensive
perfection of her beautiful skirt and street attire?
Moreover, she would fail.
The morning was fine, and with infantile pusillanimity she began to
hope that Uncle Meshach would be taking his walks abroad. In order to
give him every chance of being out she delayed her departure, upon one
domestic excuse or another, for quite half an hour. 'How silly I am!'
she reflected. But she could not help it, and when she had started down
the hill towards Bursley she felt sick. She had a suspicion that her
feet might of their own accord turn into a by-road and lead her away
from Uncle Meshach's. 'I shall never get there!' she exclaimed. She
called at the fishmonger's in Oldcastle Street, and was delighted
because the shop was full of customers and she had to wait. At last she
was crossing St. Luke's Square and could distinguish Uncle Meshach's
doorway with its antique fanlight. She wished to stop, to turn back, to
run, but her traitorous feet were inexorable. They carried her an
unwilling victim to the house. Uncle Meshach, by some strange accident,
was standing at the window and saw her. 'Ah!' she thought, 'if he had
not been at the window, if he had not caught sight of me, I should have
walked past!' And that chance of escape seemed like a lost bliss.
Uncle Meshach himself opened the door.
'Come in, lass,' he said, looking her up and down through his
glasses. 'You're the prettiest thing I've seen since I saw ye last.
Your aunt's out, with the servant too; and I'm left here same as a dog
on the chain. That's how they leave me.'
She was thankful that Aunt Hannah was out: that made the affair
'Well, uncle,' she said, 'I haven't seen you since you came back
from the Isle of Man, have I?'
Some inspiration lent her a courage which rose far beyond
embarrassment. She saw at once that the old man was enchanted to have
her in the house alone, and flattered by the apparatus of feminine
elegance which she always displayed for him at its fullest. These two
had a sort of cult for each other, a secret sympathy, none the less
sincere because it seldom found expression. His pale blue eyes, warmed
by her presence, said: 'I'm an old man, and I've seen the world, and I
keep a few of my ideas to myself. But you know that no one understands
a pretty woman better than I do. A glance is enough.' And in reply to
this challenge she gave the rein to her profoundest instincts. She
played the simple feminine to his masculine. She dared to be the
eternal beauty who rules men, and will ever rule them, they know not
'My lass,' he said in a tone that granted all requests in advance,
after they had talked a while, 'you're after something.'
His wrinkled features, ironic but benevolent, intimated that he knew
she wished to take an unfair advantage of the gifts which Nature had
bestowed on her, and that he did not object.
She allowed herself to smile mysteriously, provocatively at him.
'Yes,' she admitted frankly, 'I am.'
'Well?' He waited indulgently for the disclosure.
She paused a moment, smiling steadily at him. The contrast of his
wizened age made her feel deliciously girlish.
'It's about my house, at Hillport,' she began with assurance. 'I
And she told him, with no more than a sufficiency of detail, what
she wanted. She did not try to conceal that the aim was to help John,
that, in crude fact, it was John who needed the money. But she
emphasised 'my house,' and 'I want you to lend me.' The thing was well done, and she knew it was well done, and felt
satisfied accordingly. As for Meshach, he was decidedly caught
unawares. He might, perhaps, have suspected from the beginning that she
was only an emissary of John's, but the form and magnitude of her
proposal were a violent surprise to him. He hesitated. She could see
clearly that he sought reasons by which to justify himself in
'It's your affair?' he questioned meditatively.
'Quite my own,' she assured him.
'Let me see——'
'I shall get it!' she said to herself, and she was astounded at the
felicitous event of the enterprise. She could scarcely believe her good
luck, but she knew beyond any doubt that she was not mistaken in the
signs of Meshach's demeanour. She thought she might even venture to ask
him for an explanation of his warning letter about Arthur Twemlow.
At that moment Aunt Hannah and the middle-aged servant re-entered
the house, and the servant had to pass through the parlour to reach the
kitchen. The atmosphere which Meshach and Leonora had evolved in
solitude from their respective individualities was dissipated
instantly. The parlour became nothing but the parlour, with its glass
partition, its antimacassars, its Meshach by the hob, and its
diminutive Hannah uttering fatuous, affectionate exclamations of
Leonora's heart was pierced by a sudden stab of doubt, as she waited
for the result.
'Sister,' said Meshach, 'what dost think? Here's your nephew been
speculating in stocks and shares till he can't hardly turn round——'
'Uncle!' Leonora exclaimed horrified, 'I never said such a thing!'
'Sh!' said Hannah in an awful whisper, as she shut the kitchen door.
'Till he can't hardly turn round,' Meshach continued; 'and now he
wants Leonora here to mortgage her house to get him out of his
difficulties. Haven't I always told you as John would find himself in a
rare fix one of these days?'
Few human beings could dominate another more completely than Meshach
dominated his sister. But here, for Leonora's undoing, was just a case
where, without knowing it, Hannah influenced her brother. He had a
reputation to keep up with Hannah, a great and terrible reputation, and
in several ways a loan by him through Leonora to John would have
damaged it. A few minutes later, and he would have been committed both
to the loan and to the demonstration of his own consistency in the
humble eyes of Hannah; but the old spinster had arrived too soon. The
spell was broken. Meshach perceived the danger of his position, and
'Nay, nay!' Hannah protested. 'That's very wrong of John. Eh, this
'But, really, uncle,' Leonora said as convincingly as she could.
'It's capital that John wants.'
She saw that all was lost.
'Capital!' Meshach sarcastically flouted the word, and he turned
with a dubious benevolence to Leonora. 'No, my lass, it isn't,' he
said, pausing. 'John'll get out of this mess as he's gotten out of many
another. Trust him. He's your husband, and he's in the family, and I'm
saying nothing against him. But trust him for that.'
'No,' Hannah inserted, 'John's always been a good nephew.... If it
Meshach quelled her and proceeded: 'I'll none consent to John
raising money on your property. It's not right, lass. Happen this'll be
a lesson to him, if anything will be.'
'Five hundred would do,' Leonora murmured with mad foolishness.
Of what use to chronicle the dreadful shame which she endured before
she could leave the house, she who for a quarter of an hour had been a
queen there, and who left as the pitied wife of a wastrel nephew?
'You're not short, my dear?' Hannah asked at the end in an
'Not he!' Uncle Meshach testily ejaculated, fastening the button of
that droll necktie of his.
'Oh dear no!' said Leonora, with such dignity as she could assume.
As she walked home she wondered what 'speculation' really was. She
could not have defined the word. She possessed but a vague idea of its
meaning. She had long apprehended, ignorantly and indifferently and
uneasily, that John was in the habit of tampering with dangerous things
called stocks and shares. But never before had the vital import of
these secret transactions been revealed to her. The dramatic swiftness
of the revelation stunned her, and yet it seemed after all that she
only knew now what she had always known.
When she reached home John was already in the hall, taking off his
overcoat, though the hour of one had not struck. Was this a
coincidence, or had he been unable to control his desire to learn what
she had done?
In silence she smiled plaintively at him, shaking her head.
'What do you mean?' he asked harshly.
'I couldn't arrange it,' she said. 'Uncle Meshach refused.'
John gave a scarcely perceptible start. 'Oh! That!' he exclaimed.
'That's all right. I've fixed it up.'
'Eh? Yes, this morning.'
During dinner he showed a certain careless amiability.
'You needn't go to the works any more to-day,' he said to Ethel.
To celebrate this unexpected half-holiday, Ethel and Millicent
decided that they would try to collect a scratch team for some hockey
practice in the meadow.
'And, mother, you must come,' said Millicent. 'You'll make one more
'Yes,' John agreed, 'it will do your mother good.'
'He will never know, and never guess, and never care, what I have
been through!' she thought.
Before leaving for the works John helped the girls to choose some
When he reached his office, the first thing he did was to build up a
good fire. Next he looked into the safe. Then he rang the bell, and
Fred Ryley responded to the summons.
This family connection, whom he both hated and trusted, was a rather
thickset, very neatly dressed man of twenty-three, who had been mature,
serious, and responsible for eight years. His fair, grave face, with
its short thin beard, showed plainly his leading qualities of industry,
order, conscientiousness, and doggedness. It showed, too, his mild
benevolence. Ryley was never late, never neglectful, never wrong; he
never wasted an hour either of his own or his employer's time. And yet
his colleagues liked him, perhaps because he was unobtrusive and
good-natured. At the beginning of each year he laid down a programme
for himself, and he was incapable of swerving from it. Already he had
acquired a thorough knowledge of both the manufacturing and the
business sides of earthenware manufacture, and also he was one of the
few men, at that period, who had systematically studied the chemistry
of potting. He could not fail to 'get on,' and to win universal
respect. His chances of a truly striking success would have been
greater had he possessed imagination, humour, or any sort of personal
distinction. In appearance, he was common, insignificant; to be
appreciated, he 'wanted knowing'; but he was extremely sensitive and
proud, and he could resent an affront like a Gascon. He had apparently
no humour whatever. The sole spark of romance in him had been fanned
into a small steady flame by his passion for Ethel. Ryley was a man who
could only love once for all.
'Did you find that private ledger for me out of the old safe?'
'Yes,' said Ryley, 'and I put it in your safe, at the front, and
gave you the key back this morning.'
'I don't see it there,' Stanway retorted.
'Shall I look?' Ryley suggested quietly, approaching the safe, of
which the key was in the lock.
'Never mind, now! Never mind, now!' Stanway stopped him. 'I don't
want to be bothered now. Later on in the afternoon, before Mr. Twemlow
comes.... Did you write and ask him to call at four thirty?'
'Yes,' said Ryley, departing without a sign on his face, the model
'Fool!' whispered Stanway. It would have been impossible for Ryley
to breathe without irritating his employer, and the fact that his
plebeian cousin's son was probably the most reliable underling to be
got in the Five Towns did not in the slightest degree lessen Stanway's
dislike of him; it increased it.
Stanway had been perfectly aware that the little ledger was in his
safe, and as soon as Ryley had shut the door he jumped up, unlatched
the safe, removed the book, and after tearing it in two stuck first one
half and then the other into the midst of the fire.
'That ends it, anyhow!' he thought, when the leaves were consumed.
Then he selected some books of cheque counterfoils, a number of
prospectuses of companies, some share certificates (exasperating relic
of what rich dreams!), and a lot of letters. All these he burnt with
much neatness and care, putting more coal on the fire so as to hide
every trace of their destruction. Then he opened a drawer in the desk,
and took out a revolver which he unloaded and loaded again.
'I'm pretty cool,' he flattered himself.
He was the sort of flamboyant man who keeps a loaded revolver in
obedience to the theory that a loaded revolver is a necessary and
proper part of the true male's outfit, like a gold watch and chain, a
gold pencil case, a razor for every day in the week, and a cigar-holder
with a bit of good amber to it. He had owned that revolver for years,
with no thought of utilising the weapon. But in justice to him, it must
be said that when any of his contemporaries—Titus Price, for
instance—had made use of revolvers or ropes in a particular way, he
had always secretly justified and commended them.
He put the revolver in his hip-pocket, the correct location, and
donned his 'works' hat. He did not reflect. Memories of his past life
did not occur to him, nor visions of that which was to come. He did not
feel solemn. On the contrary he felt cross with everyone, and
determined to pay everyone out; in particular he was vexed, in a mean
childish way, with Uncle Meshach, and with himself for having fancied
for a moment that an appeal to Uncle Meshach could be successful. One
other idea struck him forcibly by reason of its strangeness: namely,
that the works was proceeding exactly as usual, raw material always
coming in, finished goods always going out, the various shops hot and
murmurous with toil, money tinkling in the petty cash-box, the very
engine beneath his floor beating its customary monotonous stroke; and
his comfortable home was proceeding exactly as usual, the man hissing
about the stable yard, the servants discreetly moving in the immaculate
kitchens, Leonora elegant with sovereigns in her purse, the girls
chattering and restless; not a single outward sign of disaster; and yet
he was at the end, absolutely at the end at last. There was going to be
a magnificent and unparalleled sensation in the town of Bursley ... He
seemed for an instant dimly to perceive ways, or incomplete portions of
ways, by which he might still escape ... Then with a brusque gesture he
dismissed such futile scheming and yielded anew to the impulse which
had suddenly and piquantly seized him, three hours before, when Leonora
said: 'Uncle Meshach won't,' and he replied, 'I've fixed it up.' His
dilemma was too complicated. No one, not even Dain, was aware of its
intricacies; Dain knew a lot, Leonora a little, and sundry other
persons odd fragments. But he himself could scarcely have drawn the
outlines of the whole sinister situation without much reference to
books and correspondence. No, he had finished. He was bored, and he was
irritable. The impulse hurried him on.
'In half an hour that ass Twemlow will be here,' he thought, looking
at the office dial over the mantelpiece.
And then he left his room, calling out to the clerks' room as he
passed: 'Just going on to the bank. I shall be back in a minute or
At the south-western corner of the works was a disused enamel-kiln
which had been built experimentally and had proved a failure. He walked
through the yard, crept with some difficulty into the kiln, and closed
the iron door. A pale silver light came down the open chimney. He had
decided as he crossed the yard that he should place the mouth of the
revolver between his eyes, so that he had nothing to do in the kiln but
to put it there and touch the trigger. The idea of this simple action
preoccupied him. 'Yes,' he reflected, taking the revolver from his
pocket, 'that is where I must put it, and then just touch the trigger.'
He thought neither of his family, nor of his sins, nor of the grand
fiasco, but solely of this physical action. Then, as he raised the
revolver, the fear troubled him that he had not burnt a particular
letter from a Jew in London, received on the previous day. 'Of course I
burnt it,' he assured himself. 'Did I, though?' He felt that a
mysterious volition over which he had no control would force him to
return to his office in order to make sure. He gave a weary curse at
the prospect of having to put back the revolver, leave the kiln, enter
the kiln again, and once more raise the revolver.
As he passed by the archway near the packing house the afternoon
postman appeared and gave him a letter. Without thinking he halted on
the spot and opened it. It was written in haste, and ran: 'My Dear
Stanway,—I am called away to London and may have to sail for
New York at once. Sorry to have to break the appointment. We must leave
that affair over. In any case it could only be a mere matter of form.
As I told you, I was simply acting on behalf of my sister. My kindest
regards to your wife and your daughters. Believe me, yours very
He read the letter a second time in his office, standing up against
the shut door. Then his eye wandered to the desk and he saw that an
envelope had been placed with mathematical exactitude in the middle of
his blotting-pad. 'Ryley!' he thought. This other letter was marked
private, and as the envelope said 'John Stanway, Esq.,' without an
address, it must have been brought by special messenger. It was from
David Dain, and stated that the difficulty as to the title of the house
had been settled, that the mortgage would be sent in for Mrs. Stanway
to sign that night, and that Stanway might safely draw against the
'My God!' he exclaimed, pushing his hat back from his brow. 'What a
In five minutes he was drawing cheques, and simultaneously planning
how to get over the disappearance of the old private ledger in case
Twemlow should after all, at some future date, ask to see original
'What a chance!' The thought ran round and round in his brain.
As he left the works by the canal side, he paused under Shawport
Bridge and furtively dropped the revolver into the water. 'That's done
with!' he murmured.
He saw now that his preparations for departure, which at the moment
he had deemed to be so well designed and so effective, were after all
ridiculous. No amount of combustion could have prevented the disclosure
at an inquest of the ignominious facts.
* * * * *
During tea he laughed loudly at Milly's descriptions of the hockey
match, which had been a great success. Leonora had kept goal with
distinction, and admitted that she rather enjoyed the game.
'So it is arranged?' said Leonora, with a hint of involuntary
surprise, when he handed her the mortgage to sign.
'Didn't I tell you so this morning?' he answered loftily. There is
always a despicable joy in resuscitating a lie which events have
changed into a truth.
He insisted on retiring early that night. In the bedroom he
remarked: 'Your friend Twemlow's had to go to London to-day, and may
return straight from there to New York. I had a note from him. He sent
you his kindest regards and all that sort of thing.'
'Then we mayn't see him again?' she said, delicately fingering her
hair in front of the pier-glass.
CHAPTER VI. COMIC OPERA
Early one evening a few weeks later, Leonora, half attired for the
gala night of the operatic performance, was again delicately fingering
her hair in that large bedroom whose mirrors daily reflected the
leisured process of her toilette. Her black skirt trimmed with yellow
made a sudden sharp contrast with the pale tints of her corset and her
long bare arms. The bodice lay like a trifling fragment on the
blue-green eiderdown of her bed, a pair of satin shoes glistened in
front of the fire, and two chairs bore the discarded finery of the day.
The dressing-table was littered with silver and ivory. A faint and
charming odour of violets mingled mysteriously with the warmth of the
fire as Leonora moved away from the pier-glass between the two
curtained windows where the light was centred, and with accustomed
hands picked up the bodice apparently so frail that a touch might have
The door was brusquely opened, and some one entered.
'Not dressed, Rose?' said Leonora, a little startled. 'We ought to
be going in ten minutes.'
'Oh, mother! I mustn't go. I mustn't really!'
The tall slightly-stooping girl, with her flat figure, her plain
shabby serge frock, her tired white face, and the sinister glance of
the idealist in her great, fretful eyes, seemed to stand there and
accuse the whole of Leonora's existence. Utterly absorbed in the
imminent examination, her brain a welter of sterile facts, Rose found
all the seriousness of life in dates, irregular participles, algebraic
symbols, chemical formulas, the altitudes of mountains, and the areas
of inland seas. To the cruelty of the too earnest enthusiast she added
the cruelty of youth, and it was with a merciless justice that she
judged everyone with whom she came into opposition.
'But, my dear, you'll be ill if you keep on like this. And you know
what your father said.'
Rose smiled, bitterly superior, at the misguided creature whose
horizons were bounded by domesticity on one side and by dress on the
'I shall not be ill, mother,' she said firmly, sniffing at the scent
in the room. 'I can't help it. I must work at my chemistry again
to-night. Father knows perfectly well that chemistry is my weak point.
I must work. I just came in to tell you.'
She departed slowly, as it were daring her mother to protest
Leonora sighed, overpowered by a feeling of impotence. What could
she do, what could any person do, when challenged by an individuality
at once so harsh and so impassioned? She finished her toilette with
minute care, but she had lost her pleasure in it. The sense of the
contrariety of things deepened in her. She looked round the circle of
her environment and saw hope and gladness nowhere. John's affairs were
perhaps running more smoothly, but who could tell? The shameful fact
that the house was mortgaged remained always with her. And she was
intimately conscious of a soilure, a moral stain, as the result of her
recent contacts with the man of business in her husband. Why had she
not been able to keep femininely aloof from those puzzling and
repellent matters, ignorant of them, innocent of them? And Ethel, too!
Twelve days of the office had culminated for Ethel in a slight illness,
which Doctor Hawley described as lack of tone. Her father had said
airily that she must resume her clerkship in due season, but the entire
household well knew that she would not do so, and that the experiment
was one of the failures which invariably followed John's interference
in domestic concerns. As for Milly's housekeeping, it was an admitted
absurdity. Millicent had lived of late solely for the opera, and John
resented any preoccupation which detached the girls' interest from
their home. When Ethel recovered in the nick of time to attend the
final rehearsals, he grew sarcastic, and irrelevantly made cutting
remarks about the letter from Paris which Ethel had never translated
and which she thought he had forgotten. Finally he said he probably
could not go to the opera at all, and that at best he might look in at
it for half an hour. He was careful to disclaim all interest in the
Carpenter had driven the two girls to the Town Hall at seven
o'clock, and at a quarter to eight he returned to fetch his mistress.
Enveloped in her fur cloak, Leonora climbed silently into the cart.
'I did hear,' said Carpenter, respectfully gossiping, 'as Mr.
Twemlow was gone back to America; but I seed him yesterday as I was
coming back from taking the mester to that there manufacturers' meeting
at Knype.... Wonderful like his mother he is, mum.'
'Oh, indeed!' said Leonora.
Her first impatient querulous thought was that she would have
preferred Mr. Twemlow to be in America.
The illuminated windows of the Town Hall, and the knot of excited
people at the principal portico, gave her a sort of preliminary
intimation that the eternal quest for romance was still active on
earth, though she might have abandoned it. In the corridor she met
Uncle Meshach, wearing an antique frock-coat. His eye caught hers with
quiet satisfaction. There was no sign in his wrinkled face of their
'Your aunt's not very well,' he answered her inquiry. 'She wasn't
equal to coming, she said. I bid her go to bed. So I'm all alone.'
'Come and sit by me,' Leonora suggested. 'I have two spare tickets.'
'Nay, I think not,' he faintly protested.
'Yes, do,' she said, 'you must.'
As his trembling thin hands stole away her cloak, disclosing the
perfection and dark magnificence of her toilette, and as she perceived
in his features the admiration of a connoisseur, and in the eyes of
other women envy and astonishment, she began to forget her
despondencies. She lived again. She believed again in the possibility
of joy. And perhaps it was not strange that her thought travelled at
once to Ethel—Ethel whom she had not questioned further about her
lover, Ethel whom till then she had figured as the wretched victim of
love, but whom now she saw wistfully as love's elect.
* * * * *
The front seats of the auditorium were filled with all that was
dashing, and much that was solidly serious, in Bursley. Hoarded wealth,
whose religion was spotless kitchens and cash down, sat side by side
with flightiness and the habit of living by credit on rather more than
one's income. The members of the Society had exerted themselves in
advance to impress upon the public mind that the entertainment would be
nothing if not fashionable and brilliant; and they had succeeded. There
was not a single young man, and scarcely an old one, but wore
evening-dress, and the frocks of the women made a garden of radiant
blossoms. Supreme among the eminent dandies who acted as stewards in
that part of the house was Harry Burgess, straight out of Conduit
Street, W., with a mien plainly indicating that every reserved seat had
been sold two days before. From the second seats the sterling middle
classes, half envy and half disdain, examined the glittering
ostentation in front of them; they had no illusions concerning it;
their knowledge of financial realities was exact. Up in the gloom of
the balcony the crowded faces of the unimportant and the obscure rose
tier above tier to the organ-loft. Here was Florence Gardner, come
incognito to deride; here was Fred Ryley, thief of an evening's time;
and here were sundry dressmakers who experienced the thrill of the
creative artist as they gazed at their confections below.
The entire audience was nervous, critical, and excited: partly
because nearly every unit of it boasted a relative or an intimate
friend in the Society, and partly because, as an entity representing
the town, it had the trepidations natural to a mother who is about to
hear her child say a piece at a party. It hoped, but it feared. If any
outsider had remarked that the youthful Bursley Operatic Society could
not expect even to approach the achievements of its remarkable elder
sister at Hanbridge, the audience would have chafed under that
invidious suggestion. Nevertheless it could not believe that its native
talent would be really worth hearing. And yet rumours of a surprising
excellence were afloat. The excitement was intensified by the tuning of
instruments in the orchestra, by certain preliminary experiments of a
too anxious gasman, and most of all by a delay in beginning.
At length the Mayor entered, alone; the interesting absence of the
Mayoress had some connection with a silver cradle that day ordered from
Birmingham as a civic gift.
'Well, Burgess,' the Mayor whispered benevolently, 'what sort of a
show are we to have?'
'You will see, Mr. Mayor,' said Harry, whose confident smile
expressed the spirit of the Society.
Then the conductor—the man to whom twenty instrumentalists and
thirty singers looked for guidance, help, encouragement, and the
nullifying of mistakes otherwise disastrous; the man on whose nerve and
animating enthusiasm depended the reputation of the Society and of
Bursley—tapped his baton and stilled the chatter of the audience with
a glance. The footlights went up, the lights of the chandelier went
down, and almost before any one was aware of the fact the overture had
commenced. There could be no withdrawal now; the die was cast; the
boats were burnt. In the artistic history of Bursley a decisive moment
In a very few seconds people began to realise, slowly, timidly, but
surely, that after all they were listening to a real orchestra. The
mere volume of sound startled them; the verve and decision of the
players filled them with confidence; the bright grace of the well-known
airs laid them under a spell. They looked diffidently at each other, as
if to say: 'This is not so bad, you know.' And when the finale was
reached, with its prodigious succession of crescendos, and its
irresistible melody somehow swimming strongly through a wild sea of
tone, the audience forgot its pose of critical aloofness and became
unaffectedly human. The last three bars of the overture were smothered
The conductor, as pale as though he had seen a ghost, turned and
bowed stiffly. 'Put that in your pipe and smoke it,' his unrelaxing
features said to the audience; and also: 'If you have ever heard the
thing better played in the Five Towns, be good enough to inform me
There was a hesitation, the brief murmur of a hidden voice, and the
curtains of the fit-up stage swung apart and disclosed the roseate
environs of Castle Bunthorne, ornamented by those famous maidens who
were dying for love of its aesthetic owner. The audience made no
attempt to grasp the situation of the characters until it had
satisfactorily settled the private identity of each. That done, it
applied itself to the sympathetic comprehension of the feelings of a
dozen young women who appeared to spend their whole existence in
statuesque poses and plaintive but nonsensical lyricism. It failed,
honestly; and even when the action descended from song to banal
dialogue, it was not reassured. 'Silly' was the unspoken epithet on a
hundred tongues, despite the delicate persuasion of the music, the
virginal charm of the maidens, and the illuminated richness of costumes
and scene. The audience understood as little of the operatic convention
as of the aestheticism caricatured in the roseate environs of Castle
Bunthorne. A number of people present had never been in a theatre,
either for lack of opportunity or from a moral objection to theatres.
Many others, who seldom missed a melodrama at the Hanbridge Theatre
Royal, avoided operas by virtue of the infallible instinct which caused
them to recoil from anything exotic enough to disturb the calm of their
lifelong mental lethargy. As for the minority which was accustomed to
opera, including the still smaller minority which had seen Patience
itself, it assumed the right that evening critically to examine the
convention anew, to reconsider it unintimidated by the crushing
prestige of the Savoy or of D'Oyly Carte's No. 1 Touring Company. And
for the most part it found in the convention small basis of common
Then Patience appeared on the eminence. She was a dairymaid, and she
could not understand the philosophy prevalent in the roseate environs
of Castle Bunthorne. The audience hailed her with joy and relief. The
dairymaid and her costume were pretty in a familiar way which it could
appreciate. She was extremely young, adorably impudent, airy, tripping,
and supple as a circus-rider. She had marvellous confidence. 'We are
friends, are we not, you and I?' her gestures seemed to say to the
audience. And with the utmost complacency she gazed at herself in the
eyes of the audience as in a mirror. Her opening song renewed the
triumph of the overture. It was recognisably a ballad, and depended on
nothing external for its effectiveness. It gave the bewildered
listeners something to take hold of, and in return for this gift they
acclaimed and continued to acclaim. Milly glanced coolly at the
conductor, who winked back his permission, and the next moment the
Bursley Operatic Society tasted the delight of its first encore. The
pert fascinations of the heroine, the bravery of the Colonel and his
guards, the clowning of Bunthorne, combined with the continuous
seduction of the music and the scene, very quickly induced the audience
to accept without reserve this amazing intrigue of logical absurdities
which was being unrolled before it. The opera ceased to appear
preposterous; the convention had won, and the audience had lost. Small
slips in delivery were unnoticed, big ones condoned, and nervousness
encouraged to depart. The performance became a homogeneous whole, in
which the excellence of the best far more than atoned for the clumsy
mediocrity of the worst. When the curtains fell amid storms of applause
and cut off the stage, the audience perceived suddenly, like a
revelation, that the young men and women whom it knew so well in
private life had been creating something—an illusion, an ecstasy, a
mood—which transcended the sum total of their personalities. It was
this miracle, but dimly apprehended perhaps, which left the audience
impressed, and eager for the next act.
* * * * *
'That madam will go her own road,' said Uncle Meshach under cover of
Leonora's smile was embarrassed. 'What do you mean?' she asked him.
He bent his head towards her, looking into her face with a sort of
'I mean she'll go her own road,' he repeated.
And then, observing that most of the men were leaving their seats,
he told Leonora that he should step across to the Tiger if she would
let him. As he passed out, leaning forward on a stick lightly clutched
in the left hand, several people demanded his opinion about the
spectacle. 'Nay, nay——' he replied again and again, waving one after
another out of his course.
In the bar-parlour of the Tiger, the young blades, the genuine fast
men, the deliberate middle-aged persons who took one glass only, and
the regular nightly customers, mingled together in a dense and noisy
crowd under a canopy of smoke. The barmaid and her assistant enjoyed
their brief minutes of feverish contact with the great world. Behind
the counter, walled in by a rampart of dress-shirts, they conjured with
bottles, glasses, and taps, heard and answered ten men at once,
reckoned change by a magic beyond arithmetic, peered between shoulders
to catch the orders of their particular friends, and at the same time
acquired detailed information as to the progress of the opera. Late
comers who, forcing a way into the room, saw the multitude of men
drinking and smoking, and the unapproachable white faces of these two
girls distantly flowering in the haze and the odour, had that
saturnalian sensation of seeing life which is peculiar to saloons
during the entr'actes of theatrical entertainments. The success of the
opera, and of that chit Millicent Stanway, formed the staple of the
eager conversation, though here and there a sober couple would be
discussing the tramcars or the quinquennial assessment exactly as if
Gilbert and Sullivan had never been born. It appeared that Milly had a
future, that she was the best Patience yet seen in the district amateur
or professional, that any burlesque manager would jump at her, that
in five years, if she liked, she might be getting a hundred a week, and
that Dolly Chose, the idol of the Tivoli and the Pavilion, had not half
her style. It also appeared that Milly had no brains of her own, that
the leading man had taught her all her business, that her voice was
thin and a trifle throaty, that she was too vulgar for the true Savoy
tradition, and that in five years she would have gone off to nothing.
But the optimists carried the argument. Sundry men who had seen Meshach
in the second row of the stalls expressed a keen desire to ask the old
bachelor point-blank what he thought of his nephew's daughter; but
Meshach did not happen to come into the Tiger.
When the crowd had thinned somewhat, Harry Burgess entered hurriedly
and called for a whisky and potass, which the barmaid, who fancied him,
served on the instant.
'I wanted to get a wreath,' he confided to her. 'But Pointon's is
'Why, Mr. Burgess,' she said smiling, 'there's a lot of flowers in
the coffee-room, and with them and the leaves off that laurel down the
yard, and a bit of wire, I could make you one in no time.'
'Can you?' He seemed doubtful.
'Can I!' she exclaimed. 'I should think I could, and a beauty! As
soon as these gentleman are gone——'
'It's awfully kind of you,' said Harry, brightening. 'Can you send
it round to me at the artists' entrance in half an hour?'
She nodded, beaming at the prospect. The manufacture of that wreath
would be a source of colloquial gratification to her for days.
Harry politely responded to such remarks as 'Devilish good show,
Burgess,' drank in one gulp another whisky and potass, and hastened
away. The remainder of the company soon followed; the barmaid
disappeared from the bar, and her assistant was left languidly to watch
a solitary pair of topers who would certainly not leave till the clock
* * * * *
The auditorium during the entr'acte was more ceremonious, but not
less noisy, than the bar-parlour of the Tiger. The pleasant warmth, the
sudden increase of light after the fall of the curtain, the certainty
of a success, and the consciousness of sharing in the brilliance of
that success—all these things raised the spirits, and produced the
loquacity of an intoxication. The individuality of each person was set
free from its customary prison and joyously displayed its best side to
the company. The universal chatter amounted to a din.
But Leonora, cut off by empty seats on either hand, sat silent. She
was glad to be able to do so. She would have liked to be at home in
solitude, to think. For she was, if not unhappy, at any rate disturbed
and dubious. She felt embarrassed amid this glare and this bright
murmur of conversation, as though she were being watched, discussed,
and criticised. She was the mother of the star, responsible for the
star, guilty of all the star's indiscretions. And it was a timorous,
reluctant pride which she took in her daughter's success. The truth was
that Milly had astonished and frightened her. When Ethel and Milly were
allowed to join the Society, the possible results of the permission had
not been foreseen. Both Leonora and John had thought of the girls as
modest members of the chorus in an affair unmistakably and confessedly
amateur. Ethel had kept within the anticipation. But here was Milly an
actress, exploiting herself with unconstrained gestures and arch
glances and twirlings of her short skirt, to a crowded and
miscellaneous audience. Leonora did not like it; her susceptibilities
were outraged. She blushed at this amazing public contradiction of
Milly's bringing-up. It seemed to her as if she had never known the
real Milly, and knew her now for the first time. What would the other
mothers think? What would all Hillport think secretly, and say openly
behind the backs of the Stanways? The girl was as innocent as a fawn,
she had the free grace of extreme youth; no one could utter a word
against her. But she was rouged, her lips were painted, several times
she had shown her knees, and she seemed incapable of shyness. She was
at home on the stage, she faced a thousand people with a pert, a brazen
attitude, and said, 'Look at me; enjoy me, as I enjoy your fervent
glances; I am here to tickle your fancy.' Patience! She was no more
Patience than she was Sister Dora or a heroine of Charlotte Yonge's.
She was the eternal unashamed doll, who twists 'men' round her little
finger, and smiles on them, always with an instinct for finance.
'Quite a score for Milly!' said a polite voice in Leonora's ear. It
was Mrs. Burgess, who sat in the next row.
'Do you think so?' Leonora replied, perceptibly reddening.
'Oh, yes!' said Mrs. Burgess with smooth insistence. 'And dear Ethel
is very sweet in the chorus, too.'
Leonora tried to fix her thoughts on the grateful figure of mild,
nervous, passionate Ethel, the child of her deepest affection.
She turned sharply. Arthur Twemlow was standing in the shadow of the
side-aisle near the door. She knew he was there before her eyes saw
him. He was evidently rather at a loss, unnoticed, and irresolute. He
caught sight of her and bowed. She said to herself that she wished to
be alone in her embarrassment, that she could not bear to talk to any
one; nevertheless, she raised her finger, and beckoned to him, while
striving hard to refrain from doing so. He approached at once. 'He is
not in America,' she reflected in sudden agitation, 'He is here,
actually here. In an instant we shall speak.'
'I quite understood you had gone back to New York,' she said,
looking at him, as he stood in front of her, with the upward feminine
appealing gesture that men love.
'What!' he exclaimed. 'Without saying good-bye? No! And how are you
all? It seems just about a year since I saw you last.'
'All well, thanks,' she said, smiling. 'Won't you sit here? It's
John's seat, but he isn't coming.'
'Then you are alone?' He seemed to apologise for the rest of his
She told him that Uncle Meshach was with her, and would return
directly. When he asked how the opera was going, and she learnt that,
being detained at Knype, he had not seen the first act, she was
relieved. He would make the discovery concerning Millicent gradually,
and by her side; it was better so, she thought—less disconcerting. In
a slight pause of their talk she was startled to feel her heart beating
like a hammer against her corsage. Her eyes had brightened. She
conversed rapidly, pleased to be talking, pleased at his sympathetic
responsiveness, ignoring the audience, and also forgetting the uneasy
preoccupations of her recent solitude. The men returned from the Tiger
and elsewhere, all except Uncle Meshach. The lights were lowered. The
conductor's stick curtly demanded silence and attention. She sank back
in her seat.
'A peremptory conductor!' remarked Twemlow in a whisper.
'Yes,' she laughed. And this simple exchange of thought, effected,
as it were, surreptitiously in the gloom and contrary to the rules,
gave her a distinct sensation of joy.
Then began, in Bursley Town Hall, a scene similar to the scenes
which have rendered famous the historic stages of European capitals.
The verve and personal charm of a young debutante determined to
triumph, and the enthusiasm of an audience proudly conscious that it
was making a reputation, reacted upon and intensified each other to
such a degree that the atmosphere became electric, delirious, magical.
Not a soul in the auditorium or on the stage but what lived
consummately during those minutes—some creatively, like the conductor
and Millicent; some agonised with jealousy, like Florence Gardner and a
few of the chorus; one maternally in tumultuous distress of spirit; and
the great naive mass yielding with rapture to a sensuous spell.
The outstanding defect in the libretto of Patience is the
decentralisation of interest in the second act. The alert ones who
remembered that in that act the heroine has only one song, and certain
passages of dialogue not remarkable for dramatic force, had predicted
that Millicent would inevitably lose ground as the evening advanced.
They were, however, deceived. Her delivery of the phrase 'I am
miserable beyond description' brought the house down by its coquettish
artificiality; and the renowned ballad, 'Love is a plaintive song,'
established her unforgettably in the affections of the audience. Her
'exit weeping' was a tremendous stroke, though all knew that she meant
them to see that these tears were simply a delightful pretence. The
opera came to a standstill while she responded to an imperative call.
She bowed, laughing, and then, suddenly affecting to cry again, ran
off, with the result that she had to return.
'D——n it! She hasn't got much to learn, has she?' the conductor
murmured to the first violin, a professional from Manchester.
But her greatest efforts she reserved for the difficult and critical
prose conversations which now alone remained to her, those dialogues
which seem merely to exist for the purpose of separating the numbers
allotted to all the other principals. It was as though, during the
entr'acte, surrounded by the paint-pots, the intrigues, and the wild
confusion of the dressing-room, Millicent had been able to commune with
herself, and to foresee and take arms against the peril of an
anti-climax. By sheer force, ingenuity, vivacity, flippancy, and
sauciness, she lifted her lines to the level, and above the level, of
the rest of the piece. She carried the audience with her; she knew it;
all her colleagues knew it, and if they chafed they chafed in secret.
The performance went better and better as the end approached. The
audience had long since ceased to notice defects; only the conductor,
the leader, and a few discerning members of the troupe were aware that
a catastrophe had been escaped by pure luck two minutes before the
descent of the curtains.
And at that descent the walls of the Town Hall, which had echoed to
political tirades, the solemn recitatives of oratorios, the mercantile
uproar of bazaars, the banal compliments of prize-givings, the arid
utterances of lecturers on science and art, and the moans of sinners
stricken with a sense of guilt at religious revivals—those walls
resounded to a gay and frenzied ovation which is memorable in the town
for its ungoverned transports of approval. The Operatic Society as a
whole was first acclaimed, all the performers posing in rank on the
stage. Then, as the deafening applause showed no sign of diminution,
the curtains were drawn back instead of being raised again, and the
principals, beginning with the humblest, paraded in pairs in front of
the footlights. Milly and her fortunate cavalier came last. The
cavalier advanced two paces, took Milly's hand, signed to her to cross
over, and retired. The child was left solitary on the stage—solitary,
but unabashed, glowing with delight, and smiling as pertly as ever. The
leader of the orchestra stood up and handed her a wreath, which she
accepted like an oath of fealty; and the wreath, hurriedly manufactured
by the barmaid of the Tiger out of some cut flowers and the old laurel
tree in the Tiger yard, became, when Milly grasped it, a mysterious and
impressive symbol. Many persons in the audience wanted to cry as they
beheld this vision of the proud, confident, triumphant child holding
the wreath, while the fierce upward ray of the footlights illuminated
her small chin and her quivering nostrils. She tripped off backwards,
with a gesture of farewell. The applause continued. Would she return?
Not if the ferocious jealousies behind could have paralysed her as she
hesitated in the wings. But the world was on her side that night; she
responded again, she kissed her hands to her world, and disappeared
still kissing them; and the evening was finished.
* * * * *
'Well,' said Twemlow calmly, 'I guess you've got an actress in the
Leonora and he remained in their seats, waiting till the press of
people in the aisles should have thinned, and also, so far as Leonora
was concerned, to avoid the necessity of replying to remarks about
Milly. The atmosphere was still charged with excitement, but Leonora
observed that Arthur Twemlow did not share it. Though he had applauded
vigorously, there had been no trace of emotional transport in his
demeanour. He spoke at once, immediately the lights were turned up,
giving her no chance to collect herself.
'But do you think so?' she said. She remembered she had made the
same foolish reply to Mrs. Burgess. With Twemlow she wished to be
unconventional and sincere, but she could not succeed.
'Don't you?' He seemed to regard the situation as rather amusing.
'You surely can't mean that she would do for the stage?'
'Ask any one here whether she isn't born for it,' he answered.
'This is only an amateurs' affair,' Leonora argued.
'And she's only an amateur. But she won't be an amateur long.'
'But a girl like Milly can't be clever enough——'
'It depends on what you call clever. She's got the gift of making
the audience hug itself. You'll see.'
'See Milly on the stage?' Leonora asked uneasily. 'I hope not.'
'Why, my dear lady? Isn't she built for it? Doesn't she enjoy it?
Isn't she at home there? What's the matter with the stage anyhow?'
'Her father would never hear of such a thing,' said Leonora. Towards
the close of the opera she had seen John, in morning attire, propped
against a side-wall and peering at the stage and his daughter with a
bewildered, bored, unsympathetic air.
'Ah!' Twemlow ejaculated grimly.
A moment later, as he was putting her cloak over her shoulders, he
said in a different, kinder, more soothing tone: 'I guess I know just
how you feel.'
She looked at him, raising her eyebrows, and smiling with melancholy
In the corridor, Stanway came hurrying up to them, obviously
'Oh, you're here, Nora!' he burst out. 'I've been hunting for you
everywhere. I've just been told that a messenger came for Uncle Meshach
a the interval to say that Aunt Hannah was ill. Do you know anything
'No,' she said. 'Uncle only told me that aunt wasn't equal to
coming. I wondered where uncle had got to.'
'Well,' Stanway continued, 'you'd better go to Church Street at
once, and see after things.'
Leonora seemed to hesitate.
'As quick as you can,' he said with irritation and increasing
excitement. 'Don't waste a moment. It may be serious. I'll drive the
girls home, and then I'll come and fetch you.'
'If Mrs. Stanway cares, I will walk down with her,' said Arthur
'Yes, do, Twemlow, there's a good chap,' he welcomed the idea. And
with that he wafted them impulsively into the street.
Then Stanway stood waiting by his equipage for Ethel and Milly. He
spoke to no one, but examined the harness critically, and put some curt
question to Carpenter about the breeching. It was a chilly night, and
the glare of the lamps showed that Prince steamed a little under his
rug. Ten minutes elapsed before Ethel came.
'Here we are, father,' she said with pleasant satisfaction. 'Where's
'I should think so!' he returned. 'The horse taking cold, and me
waiting and waiting. Your mother's had to go to Aunt Hannah's. What's
become of Milly?' He was losing his temper.
Milly had to traverse the whole length of the corridor. The Mayor
heartily congratulated her. The middle-aged violinist from Manchester
spoke to her amiably as one public artist to another, and the
conductor, who was with him, told her, in an unusual and indiscreet
mood of candour, that she had simply made the show. Others expressed
the same thought in more words. Near the entrance stood Harry Burgess,
patently expectant. He was flushed, and looked handsomely dandiacal and
rakish as he rolled a cigarette in those quick fingers of his. He meant
to explain to her that the happy idea of the wreath was his own.
He accosted her unceremoniously, confidently, but she drew away,
with a magnificent touch of haughtiness.
'Good-night, Harry,' she said coldly, and passed on.
The rash and conceited boy had not divined, as he should have done,
that a prima donna is a prima donna, whether on the stage in a
brilliant costume, or traversing a dingy corridor in the plain blue
serge and simple hat of a manufacturer's daughter aged eighteen.
Offering no reply to her formal salutation, he remained quite still for
a moment, and then swaggered off to the Tiger.
'Look here, my girl,' said Stanway furiously to his youngest. 'Do
you suppose we're going to wait for you all night? Jump in.'
Milly's lips did not move, but she faced the rude blusterer with a
frigid, angry, insolent gaze. And her girlish eyes said: 'You've got me
under your thumb now, you horrid beast! But never mind! Long after you
are dead and buried and rotten, I shall be famous and pretty and rich,
and if you are remembered it will only be because you were my father.
Do your worst, odious man; you can't kill me!'
And all the way home the cruel, just, unmerciful thoughts of
insulted youth mingled with the generous and beautiful sensations of
* * * * *
'Nay, it's all over,' said Meshach when Twemlow and Leonora entered.
'What!' Leonora exclaimed, glancing quickly at Arthur Twemlow as if
for support in a crisis.
'Doctor's gone but just this minute. Her's gotten over it.'
For a moment she had thought that Aunt Hannah was dead. John's
anxious excitement had communicated itself to her; she had imagined the
worst possibilities. Now the sensation of relief took her unawares, and
she was obliged to sit down suddenly.
In the little parlour wizened Meshach sat by the hob as he always
sat, warming one hand at the fire, and looking round sideways at the
tall visitors in their rich evening attire. Leonora heard Twemlow say
something about a heart attack, and the thick hard veins on Aunt
'Ay!' Meshach went on, employing the old dialect, a sign with him of
unusual agitation. 'I brought Dr. Hawley with me, he was at yon show.
And when us got here Hannah was lying on th' floor, just there, with
her head on this 'ere hearthrug. Susan, th' woman, told us as th'
missis said she felt as if she were falling down, and then down her
falls. She was staring hard at th' ceiling, with eyes fit to burst, and
her face as white as a sheet. Doctor lifts her up and puts her in a
chair. Bless us! How her did gasp! And her lips were blue. “Hannah!” I
says. Her heard but her couldna' answer. Her limbs were all of a
tremble. Then her sighed, and fetched up a long breath or two. “Where
am I, Meshach?” her says, “what's amiss?” Doctor told her for stick her
tongue out, and her could do that, and he put a candle to her eyes.
Her's in bed now. Susan's sitting with her.'
'I'll go up and see if I can do anything,' said Leonora, rising.
'No,' Meshach stopped her. 'You'll happen excite her. Doctor said
her was to go to sleep, and he's to send in a soothing draught. There's
no danger—not now—not till next time. Her mun take care, mun Hannah.'
'Then it is the heart?' Leonora asked.
'Ay! It's the heart.'
Twemlow and Leonora sat silent, embarrassed in the little parlour
with its antimacassars, its stiff chairs, its high mantelpiece, and the
glass partition which seemed to swallow up like a pit the rays from the
hissing gas-jet over the table. The image of the diminutive frail
creature concealed upstairs obsessed them, and Leonora felt guilty
because she had been unwittingly absorbed in the gaiety of the opera
while Aunt Hannah was in such danger.
'I doubt I munna' tap that again,' Meshach remarked with a short dry
plaintive laugh, pointing to the pewter platter on the mantelpiece by
means of which he was accustomed to summon his sister when he wanted
The visitors looked at each other; Leonora's eyes were moist.
'But isn't there anything I can do, uncle?' she demanded.
'I'll see if her's asleep. Sit thee still,' said Meshach, and he
crept out of the room, and up the creaking stair.
'Poor old fellow!' Twemlow murmured, glancing at his watch.
'What time is it?' she asked, for the sake of saying something.
'It's no use me staying.'
'Five to eleven. If I run off at once I can catch the last train.
Good-night. Tell Mr. Myatt, will you?'
She took his hand with a feeling of intimacy.
It seemed to her that they had shared many emotions that night.
'I'll let you out,' she suggested, and in the obscurity of the
narrow lobby they came into contact and shook hands again; she could
not at first find the upper latch of the door.
'I shall be seeing you all soon,' he said in a low voice, on the
step. She nodded and closed the door softly.
She thought how simple, agreeable, reliable, honest, good-natured,
and sympathetic he was.
'Her's sleeping like a babby,' Meshach stated, returning to the
parlour. He lighted his pipe, and through the smoke looked at Leonora
in her dark magnificent dress.
Then John arrived, pompous and elaborately calm; but he had driven
Prince to Hillport and back in twenty-five minutes. John listened to
the recital of events.
'You're sure there's no danger now?' He could disguise neither his
present relief nor his fear for the future.
'Thou'rt all right yet, nephew,' said Meshach with an ironic
inflection, as he gazed into the dying fire. 'Her may live another ten
year. And I might flit to-morrow. Thou'rt too anxious, my lad. Keep it
John, deeply offended, made no reply.
'Why shouldn't I be anxious?' he exclaimed angrily as they drove
home. 'Whose fault is it if I am? Does he expect me not to be?'
CHAPTER VII. THE DEPARTURE
As I approach the crisis in Leonora's life, I hesitate, fearing lest
by an unfit phrase I should deprive her of your sympathies, and fearing
also that this fear may incline me to set down less than the truth
She was possessed by a mysterious sensation of content. She wished
to lie supine—except in her domestic affairs—and to dream that all
was well or would be well. It was as though she had determined that
nothing could extinguish or even disturb the mild flame of happiness
which burned placidly within her. And yet the anxieties of her
existence were certainly increasing again. On the morning after the
opera, John had departed on one of his sudden flying visits to London;
these journeys, formerly frequent, had been in abeyance for a time, and
their resumption seemed to point to some renewal of his difficulties.
He had called at Church Street on his way to Knype, and Carpenter had
brought back word that Miss Myatt was wonderfully better; but when
Leonora herself called at Church Street later in the morning and at
last saw Aunt Hannah, she was impressed by the change in the old
creature, whose nervous system had the appearance of being utterly
disorganised. Then there was the difficult case of Ethel and Fred
Ryley, in which Leonora had done nothing whatever; and there was the
case of Rose, whose alienation from the rest of the household became
daily more marked. Finally there was the new and portentous case of
Millicent, probably the most disconcerting of the three. Nevertheless,
amid all these solicitudes, Leonora remained equable, optimistic, and
quietly joyous. Her state of mind, so miraculously altered in a few
hours, gave her no surprise. It seemed natural; everything seemed
natural; she ceased for a period to waste emotion in the futile desire
for her lost youth.
On the second day after the opera she was sitting at her Sheraton
desk in the small nondescript room which opened off the dining-room. In
front of her lay a large tablet with innumerable names of things
printed on it in three columns; opposite each name a little hole had
been drilled, and in many of the holes little sticks of wood stood
upright. Leonora uprooted a stick, exiling it to a long horizontal row
of holes at the top of the tablet, and then wrote in a pocket-book; she
uprooted another stick and wrote again, so continuing till only a few
sticks were left in the columns; these she spared. Then she rang the
bell for the parlourmaid and relinquished to her the tablet; the
peculiar rite was over.
'Is dinner ready?' she asked, looking at the small clock which she
usually carried about with her from room to room.
'Then ring the gong. And tell Carpenter I shall want the trap at a
quarter past two, for two. I'm going to shop in Hanbridge and then to
meet Mr. Stanway at Knype. We shall be in before four. Have some tea
ready. And don't forget the eclairs to-day, Bessie.' She smiled.
'No 'm. Did you think on to write about them new dog-biscuits,
'I'll write now,' said Leonora, and she turned to the desk.
The gong sounded; the dinner was brought in. Through the doorway
between the two rooms—there was no door, only a portiere—Leonora
heard Ethel's rather heavy footsteps. 'I don't think mother will want
you to wait to-day, Bessie,' Ethel's voice said. Then followed, after
the maid's exit, the noise of a dish-cover being lifted and dropped,
and Ethel's exclamation: 'Um!' And then the voices of Rose and
Millicent approached, in altercation.
'Come along, mother,' Ethel called out.
'Coming,' answered Leonora, putting the note in an envelope.
'The idea!' said Rose's voice scornfully.
'Yes,' retorted Milly's voice. 'The idea.'
Leonora listened as she wrote the address.
'You always were a conceited thing, Milly, and since this wonderful
opera you're positively ridiculous. I almost wish I'd gone to it now,
just to see what you were like.'
'Ah well! You just didn't, and so you don't know.'
'No indeed! I'd got something better to do than watch a pack of
amateurs——' There was a pause for silent contempt.
'Well? Keep it up, keep it up.'
'Anyhow I'm perfectly certain father won't let you go.'
'I shall go.'
'And besides, I want to go to London, and you may be
absolutely certain, my child, that he won't let two of us go.'
'I shall speak to him first.'
'Oh no, you won't.'
'Shan't I? You'll see.'
'No, you won't. Because it just happens that I spoke to him the
night before last. And he's making inquiries and he'll tell me
to-night. So what do you think of that?'
Leonora drew aside the portiere.
'My dear girls!' she protested benevolently, standing there.
The feud, always apt thus to leap into a perfectly Corsican fury of
bitterness, sank back at once to its ordinary level of passive mutual
repudiation. Rose and Millicent were not bereft of the finer feelings
which distinguish humanity from the beasts of the jungle; sometimes
they could be almost affectionate. There were, however, moments when to
all appearance they hated each other with a tigerish and crouching
hatred such as may be found only between two opposing feminine
temperaments linked together by the family tie.
'What's this about your going to London, Rosie?' Leonora asked in a
voice soothing but surprised, when the meal had begun.
'You know, mamma. I mentioned it to you the other day.' The girl's
tone implied that what she had said to Leonora perhaps went in at one
ear and out at the other.
Leonora remembered. Rose had in fact casually told her that a school
friend in Oldcastle who was studying for the same examination as
herself had gone to London for six weeks' final coaching under what
Rose called a 'lady-crammer.'
'But you didn't tell me that you wanted to go as well,' Leonora
'Yes, mother, I did,' Rose affirmed with calm. 'You forget. I'm sure
I shan't pass if I don't go. So I asked father while you were all at
this opera affair.'
'And what did he say?' Ethel demanded.
'He said he would make inquiries this morning and see.'
Ethel gave a laugh of good-natured derision. 'Yes,' she exclaimed,
'and you'll see, too!'
In response to this oracular utterance, Rose merely bent lower over
Millicent, conscious of a brilliant vocation and of an impassioned
resolve, refrained from the discussion, and the sense of her ineffable
superiority bore hard on that lithe, mercurial youthfulness. The
'Signal,' in praising Millicent's performance at the opera, had
predicted for her a career, and had thoughtfully quoted instances of
well-born amateurs who had become professionals and made great names on
the stage. Millicent knew that all Bursley was talking about her. And
yet the family life was unaltered; no one at home seemed to be much
impressed, not even Ethel, though Ethel's sympathy could be depended
upon; Milly was still Milly, the youngest, the least important, the
chit of a thing. At times it appeared to her as though the triumph of
that ecstatic and glorious night was after all nothing but an illusion,
and that only the interminable dailiness of family life was real. Then
the ruthless and calculating minx in her shut tight those pretty lips
and coldly determined that nothing should stand against ambition.
'I do hope you will pass,' said Leonora cordially to Rose. 'You
certainly deserve to.'
'I know I shan't, unless I get some outside help. My brain isn't
that sort of brain. It's another sort. Only one has to knuckle down to
these wretched exams first.'
Leonora did not understand her daughter. She knew, however, that
there was not the slightest chance of Rose being allowed to go to
London alone for any lengthened period, and she wondered that Rose
could be so blind as not to perceive this. As for Millicent's vague
notions, which the child had furtively broached during her father's
absence, the more Leonora thought upon them, the more fantastically
impossible they seemed. She changed the subject.
The repast, which had commenced with due ceremony, degenerated into
a feminine mess, hasty, informal, counterfeit. That elaborate and
irksome pretence that a man is present, with which women when they are
alone always begin to eat, was gradually dropped, and the meal ended
abruptly, inconclusively, like a bad play.
'Let's go for a walk,' said Ethel.
'Yes,' said Milly, 'let's.'
* * * * *
'Mamma!' Milly called from the drawing-room window.
Leonora was walking about the misty garden, where little now
remained that was green, save the yews, the cypresses, and the
rhododendrons; Bran, his white-and-fawn coat glittering with minute
drops of water, plodded heavily and content by her side along the
narrow damp paths. She was dressed for driving, and awaited Carpenter
with the trap.
In reply to Leonora's gesture of attention, Milly, instead of
speaking from the window, ran quickly to her across the sodden lawn.
And Milly's running was so girlish, simple, and unaffected, that
Leonora seemed by means of it to have found her daughter again, the
daughter who had disappeared in the adroit and impudent creature of the
footlights. She was glad of the reassurance.
'Here's Mr. Twemlow, mamma,' said Milly, with a rather embarrassed
air; and they looked at each other, while Bran frowned in glancing
At the same moment, Arthur Twemlow and Ethel entered the garden
together. The social atmosphere was rendered bracing by this invasion
of the masculine; every personality awoke and became vigilantly itself.
'We met Mr. Twemlow on the marsh, mother, walking from Oldcastle to
Bursley,' said Ethel, after the ritual of greeting, 'and so we brought
As Leonora was on the point of leaving the house, the situation was
somewhat awkward, and a slight hesitation on her part showed this.
'You're going out?' he said.
'Oh, mamma,' Milly cried quickly, 'do let me go and meet father
instead of you. I want to.'
'What, alone?' Leonora exclaimed in a kind of dream.
'I'll go too,' said Ethel.
'And suppose you have the horse down?'
'Well then, we'll take Carpenter,' Milly suggested. 'I'll run and
tell him to put his overcoat on and put the back-seat in.' And she
Twemlow was fondling the dog with an air of detachment.
In the fraction of an instant, a thousand wild and disturbing
thoughts swept through Leonora's brain. Was it possible that Arthur
Twemlow had suggested this change of plan to the girls? Or had the
girls already noticed with the keen eyes of youth that she and Arthur
Twemlow enjoyed each other's society, and naively wished to give her
pleasure? Would Arthur Twemlow, but for the accidental encounter on the
Marsh, have passed by her home without calling? If she remained, what
conclusion could not be drawn? If she persisted in going, might not he
want to come with her? She was ashamed of the preposterous inward
'And my shopping?' she smiled, blushing.
'Give me the list, mater,' said Ethel, and took the morocco book out
of her hand.
Never before had Leonora felt so helpless in the sudden clutch of
fate. She knew she was a willing prey. She wished to remain, and
politeness to Arthur Twemlow demanded that this wish should not be
disguised. Yet what would she not have given even to have felt herself
able to disguise it?
'How incredibly stupid I am!' she thought.
No sooner had the two girls departed than Twemlow began to laugh.
'I must tell you,' he said, with candid amusement, 'that this is a
plant. Those two daughters of yours calculated to leave you and me here
'Yes?' she murmured, still constrained.
'Miss Milly wants me to talk you round about her going in for the
stage. When I met them on the Marsh, of course I began to pay her
compliments, and I just happened to say I thought she was a born
comedienne, and before I knew it T was blindfolded, handcuffed, and
carried off, so to speak.'
This was the simple, innocent explanation! 'Oh, how incredibly
stupid, stupid, stupid, I was!' she thought again, and a feeling of
exquisite relief surged into her being. Mingled with that relief was
the deep joy of realising that Ethel and Milly fully shared her
instinctive predilection for Arthur Twemlow. Here indeed was the
'I must say my daughters get more and more surprising every day,'
she remarked, impelled to offer some sort of conventional apology for
her children's unconventional behaviour.
'They are charming girls,' he said briefly.
On the surface of her profound relief and joy there played like a
flying fish the thought: 'Was he meaning to call in any case? Was he on
his way here?'
They talked about Aunt Hannah, whom Twemlow had seen that morning
and who was improving rapidly. But he agreed with Leonora that the old
lady's vitality had been irretrievably shattered. Then there was a
pause, followed by some remarks on the weather, and then another pause.
Bran, after watching them attentively for a few moments as they stood
side by side near the French window, rose up from off his haunches, and
walked gloomily away.
'Bran, Bran!' Twemlow cried.
'It's no use,' she laughed. 'He's vexed. He thinks he's being
neglected. He'll go to his kennel and nothing will bring him out of it,
except food. Come into the house. It's going to rain again.'
* * * * *
'Well,' the visitor exclaimed familiarly.
They were seated by the fire in the drawing-room. Leonora was
removing her gloves.
'Well?' she repeated. 'And so you still think Milly ought to be
allowed to go on the stage?'
'I think she will go on the stage,' he said.
'You can't imagine how it upsets me even to think of it.' Leonora
seemed to appeal for his sympathy.
'Oh, yes, I can,' he replied. 'Didn't I tell you the other night
that I knew exactly how you felt? But you've got to get over that, I
guess. You've got to get on to yourself. Mr. Myatt told me what he said
'So Uncle Meshach has been talking about it too?' she interrupted.
'Why, yes, certainly. Of course he's quite right. Milly's bound to
go her own way. Why not make up your mind to it, and help her, and
straighten things out for her?'
'Look here, Mrs. Stanway,' he leaned forward; 'will you tell me just
why it upsets you to think of your daughter going on the stage?'
'I don't know. I can't explain. But it does.'
She smiled at him, smoothing out her gloves one after the other on
'It's nothing but superstition, you know,' he said gently, returning
'Yes,' she admitted. 'I suppose it is.'
He was silent for a moment, as if undecided what to say next. She
glanced at him surreptitiously, and took in all the details of his
attire—the high white collar, the dark tweed suit obviously of
American origin, the thin silver chain that emerged from beneath his
waistcoat and disappeared on a curve into the hip pocket of his
trousers, the boots with their long pointed toes. His heavy moustache,
and the smooth bluish chin, struck her as ideally masculine.
'No parents,' he burst out, 'no parents can see things from their
children's point of view.'
'Oh!' she protested. 'There are times when I feel so like my
daughters that I am them.'
He nodded. 'Yes,' he said, abandoning his position at once, 'I can
believe that. You're an exception. If I hadn't sort of known all the
time that you were, I wouldn't be here now talking like this.'
'It's so accidental, the whole business,' she remarked, branching
off to another aspect of the case in order to mask the confusion caused
by the sincere flattery in his voice. 'It was only by chance that Milly
had that particular part at all. Suppose she hadn't had it. What then?'
'Everything's accidental,' he replied. 'Everything that ever
happened is accidental, in a way—in another it isn't. If you look at
your own life, for instance, you'll find it's been simply a series of
coincidences. I'm sure mine has been. Sheer chance from beginning to
'Yes,' she said thoughtfully, and put her chin in the palm of her
'And as for the stage, why, nearly every one goes on the stage by
chance. It just occurs, that's all. And moreover I guarantee that the
parents of fifty per cent. of all the actresses now on the boards began
by thinking what a terrible blow it was to them that their
daughters should want to do that. Can't you see what I mean?' He
emphasised his words more and more. 'I'm certain you can.'
She signified assent. It seemed to her, as he continued to talk,
that for the first time she was listening to natural convincing common
sense in that home of hers, where existence was governed by precedent
and by conventional ideas and by the profound parental instinct which
meets all requests with a refusal. It seemed to her that her children,
though to outward semblance they had much freedom, had never listened
to anything but 'No,' 'No, dear,' 'Of course you can't,' 'I think you
had better not,' and 'Once for all, I forbid it.' She wondered why this
should have been so, and why its strangeness had not impressed her
before. She had a distant fleeting vision of a household in which
parents and children behaved like free and sensible human beings,
instead of like the virtuous and the martyrised puppets of a terrible
system called 'acting for the best.' And she thought again what an
extraordinary man Arthur Twemlow was, strong-minded, clear-headed,
sympathetic, and delightful. She enjoyed intensely the sensation of
'Jack will never agree,' she said, when she could say nothing else.
'Ah! “Jack!”' He slightly imitated her tone. 'Well, that remains to
'Why do you take all this trouble for Milly?' she asked him. 'It's
very good of you.'
'Because I'm a fool, a meddling ass,' he replied lightly, standing
up and stroking his clothes.
'You aren't,' her eyes said, 'you are a dear.'
'No,' he went on, in a serious tone, 'Milly just wanted me to speak
to you, and after all I didn't see why I shouldn't. It's no earthly
business of mine, but—oh, well! Good-bye, I must be getting along.'
'Have you got an appointment to keep?' she questioned him.
'No—not an appointment.'
'Well then, you will stay a little longer. The trap will be back
quite soon.' Her voice seemed playfully to indicate that, as she had
submitted to his domination, so he must submit now to hers. 'And if you
will excuse me one moment, I will go and take off this thick jacket.'
Up in the bedroom, as she removed her coat in front of the
pier-glass, she smiled at her image timorously, yet in full content.
Milly's prospects did not appear to her to have been practically
improved, nor could she piece out of Arthur Twemlow's conversation a
definite argument; nevertheless she felt that he had made her see
something more clearly than heretofore, that he had induced in her, not
by logic but by persuasiveness, a mood towards her children which was
brighter, more sanguine, and even more loving, than any in her previous
experience. She was glad that she had left him alone for a minute,
because such familiar treatment of him somehow established definitely
his status as a friend of the house.
'Listen, Twemlow,' said Stanway loudly, 'I meant to run down to the
office for an hour this afternoon, but if you'll stay, I'll stay.
That's a bargain, eh?'
* * * * *
John had returned from London blusterously cheerful, and Twemlow
stood in the centre of his vehement noisy hospitality as in the centre
of a typhoon. He consented to stay, because the two girls, with hair
blown and still in their wet macintoshes, took him by the arm and said
he must. He was not the first guest in that house whom the apparent
heartiness of the host had failed to convince. Always there was
something sinister, insincere, and bullying in the invitations which
John gave, and in his reception of visitors. Hence it was, perhaps,
that visitors did not abound under his roof, despite the richness of
the table and the ordered elegance of every appointment. Women paid
calls; the girls, unlike Leonora, had their intimates, including Harry;
but men seldom came; and it was not often that the principal meals of
the day were shared by an outsider of either sex.
Arthur's presence on a second occasion was therefore the more
stimulating. It affected the whole house, even to the kitchen, which,
indeed, usually vibrates in sympathy with the drawing-room. In Bessie's
vivacious demeanour as she served the high-tea at six o'clock might be
observed the symptoms of the agreeable excitation which all felt. Even
Rose unbent, and Leonora thought how attractive the girl could be when
she chose. But towards the end of the meal, it became evident that Rose
was preoccupied. Leonora, Ethel, and Millicent passed into the
drawing-room. John pulled out his immense cigar-case, and the two men
began to smoke.
'Come along,' said Stanway, speaking thickly with the cigar in his
'Papa,' said Rose ominously, just as he was following Twemlow out of
the door. She spoke with quiet, cold distinctness.
'What is it?'
'Did you inquire about that?'
He paused. 'Oh yes, Rose,' he answered rapidly.' I inquired. She
seemed a very clever woman, I must say. But I've been thinking it over,
and I've come to the conclusion that it won't do for you to go. I don't
like the idea of it—you in London for six weeks or more alone. You
must do what you can here. And if you fail this time you must try
'But I can stay in the same lodgings as Sarah Fuge. The house is
kept by her cousin or some relation.'
'And then there's the expense,' he proceeded.
'Father, I told you the other night I didn't want to put you to any
expense. I've got thirty-seven pounds of my own, and I will pay; I
prefer to pay.'
'Oh, no, no!' he exclaimed.
'Well, why can't I go?' she demanded bluntly.
'I'll think it over again—but I don't like it, Rose, I don't like
'But there isn't a day to waste, father!' she complained.
Bessie entered to clear the table.
'Hum! Well! I'll think it over again.' He breathed out smoke, and
departed. Rose set her lips hard. She was seen no more that evening.
In the drawing-room, Stanway found Twemlow and Millicent talking in
low voices on the hearthrug. Ethel lounged on the sofa. Leonora was not
present, but she came in immediately.
'Let's have a game at solo,' John suggested. And because five was a
convenient number they all played. Twemlow and Milly were the best
performers; Milly's gift for card-playing was notorious in the family.
'Do you ever play poker?' Twemlow asked, when the other three had
been beggared of counters.
'No,' said John, cautiously. 'Not here.'
'It's lots of fun,' Twemlow went on, looking at the girls.
'Oh, Mr. Twemlow,' Milly cried. 'It's awfully gambly, isn't it? Do
In a quarter of an hour Milly was bluffing her father with success.
She said that in future she should never want to play at any other
game. As for Leonora, though she lost and gained counters with happy
equanimity, she did not like the game; it frightened her. When Milly
had shown a straight flush and scooped the kitty she sent the child out
of the room with a message to the kitchen concerning coffee and
'Won't Milly sing?' Twemlow asked.
'Certainly, if you wish,' Leonora responded.
'Ay! Let's have something,' said Stanway, lazily.
And when Millicent returned, she was told that she must sing before
eating. She sang 'Love is a Plaintive Song,' to Ethel's inert
accompaniment, and she gave it exactly as though she had been on the
stage, with all the dramatic action, all the freedom, all the
allurements, which she had lavished on the audience in the Town Hall.
'Very good,' said her father. 'I like that. It's very pretty. I
didn't hear it the other night.' Twemlow merely thanked the artist.
Leonora was silently uncomfortable.
After coffee both the girls disappeared. Twemlow looked round, and
then spoke to Stanway.
'I've been very much impressed by your daughter's talent,' he said.
His tone was extremely serious. It implied that, now the children were
gone, the adults could talk with freedom.
Stanway was a little startled, and more than a little flattered.
'Really?' he questioned.
'Really,' said Twemlow, emphasising still further his seriousness.
'Has she ever been taught?'
'Only by a local teacher up here at Hillport,' Leonora told him.
'She ought to have lessons from a first-class master.'
'Why?' asked Stanway abruptly.
'Well,' Twemlow said, 'you never know——'
'You honestly think her voice is worth cultivating?' John demanded,
impelled to participate in Twemlow's gravity.
'I do. And not only her voice——'
'Ah,' Stanway mused, 'there's no first-class masters in this
'Why, I met a man from Manchester at the Five Towns Hotel last
night,' said Twemlow, 'who comes down to Knype once a week to give
lessons. He used to sing in opera. They say he's the best man about,
and that he's taught a lot of good people. I forget his name.'
'I expect you mean Cecil Corfe,' Leonora said cheerfully. She had
been amazed at the compliance of John's attitude.
'Yes, that's it.'
At the same moment there was a faint noise at the French window.
John went to investigate. As soon as his back was turned, Twemlow
glanced at Leonora with eyes full of a private amusement which he
invited her to share. 'Can't I just handle him?' he seemed to say. She
smiled, but cautiously, less she should disclose too fully her intense
appreciation of his personality.
'Why, it's the dog!' Stanway proclaimed, 'and wet through! What's he
doing loose? It's raining like the devil.'
'I'm afraid I didn't fasten him up this afternoon. I forgot,' said
Leonora. 'Oh! my new rug!'
Bran plunged into the room with a glad deafening bark, his tail
thwacking the furniture like the flat of a sword.
'Get out, you great brute!' Stanway ordered, and then, on the step,
he shouted into the darkness for Carpenter.
Twemlow rose to look on.
'I can't let you walk to the station to-night, Twemlow,' said
Stanway, still outside the room. 'Carpenter shall drive you. Yes, he
shall, so don't argue. And while he's about it he may as well take you
straight to Knype. You can go in the buggy—there's a hood to it.'
When the time came for departure, John insisted on lending to
Twemlow a large driving overcoat. They stood in the hall together,
while Twemlow fumbled with the complicated apparatus of buttons.
'By the way,' he said, 'when are you coming in to look through those
'Oh, I don't know,' Twemlow answered, somewhat taken by surprise.
'I tell you what I'll do—I'll send you copies of them, eh?'
'I think you needn't trouble,' said Twemlow, carelessly. 'I guess I
shall write to my sister, and tell her I can't see any use in trying to
worry out the old man's finances at this time of day.'
'However,' Stan way repeated, 'I'll send you the copies all the
same. And when you write to your sister, will you give her my kindest
The whole family, except Rose, came into the porch to bid him
good-night. In the darkness and the heavy rain could dimly be seen the
rounded form of the buggy; the cob's flanks shone in the glittering ray
of the lamps; Carpenter was hidden under the hood; his mysterious hand
raised the apron, and Twemlow stepped quickly in.
'Good-night,' said Ethel.
'Good-night, Mr. Twemlow,' said Milly. 'Be good.'
'You'll see us again before you leave, Twemlow?' said John's
'You aren't going back to America just yet, are you?' Leonora asked,
from the back.
No reply came from within the hood.
'Mother says you aren't going back to America just yet, are you, Mr.
Twemlow?' Milly screamed in her treble.
Arthur Twemlow showed his face. 'No, not yet, I think,' he called.
'See you again, certainly.... And thanks once more.'
'Tchick!' said Carpenter.
* * * * *
The next evening, after tea, John, Leonora, and Rose were in the
drawing-room. Milly had run down to see her friend Cissie Burgess,
having with fine cruelty chosen that particular night because she
happened to know that Harry would be out. Ethel was invisible. Rose had
returned with bitter persistence to the siege of her father's
'I should have six weeks clear,' she was saying.
John consulted his pocket-calendar.
'No,' he corrected her, 'you would only have a month. It isn't worth
'I should have six weeks,' she repeated. 'The exam isn't till
January the seventh.'
'But Christmas, what about Christmas? You must be here for
'Why?' demanded Rose.
'Oh, Rosie!' Leonora protested.' You can't be away for Christmas!'
'Why not?' the girl demanded again, coldly.
Both parents paused.
'Because you can't,' said John angrily. 'The idea's absurd.'
'I don't see it,' Rose persevered.
'Well, I do,' John delivered himself. 'And let that suffice.'
Rose's face indicated the near approach of tears.
It was at this juncture that Bessie opened the door and announced
'I just called to bring back that magnificent great-coat,' he said.
'It's hanging up on its proper hook in the hall.'
Then he turned specially to Leonora, who sat isolated near the fire.
She was not surprised to see him, because she had felt sure that he
would at once return the overcoat in person; she had counted on him
doing so. As he came towards her she languorously lifted her arm,
without rising, and the two bangles which she wore slipped tinkling
down the wide sleeve. They shook hands in silence, smiling.
'I hope you didn't take cold last night?' she said at length.
'Not I,' he replied, sitting down by her side.
He was quick to detect the disturbance in the social atmosphere, and
though he tried to appear unconscious of it, he did not succeed in the
impossible. Moreover, Rose had evidently decided that despite his
presence she would finish what she had begun.
'Very well, father,' she said. 'If you'll let me go at once I'll
come down for two days at Christmas.'
'Yes,' John grumbled, 'that's all very well. But who's to take you?
You can't go alone. And you know perfectly well that I only came back
yesterday.' He recited this fact precisely as though it constituted a
grievance against Rose.
'As if I couldn't go alone!' Rose exclaimed.
'If it's London you're talking about,' Twemlow said, 'I will be
going up to-morrow by the midday flyer, and could look after any lady
that happened to be on that train and would accept my services.' He
glanced pleasantly at Rose.
'Oh, Mr. Twemlow!' the girl murmured. It was a ludicrously
inadequate expression of her profound passionate gratitude to this
knight; but she could say no more.
'But can you be ready, my dear?' Leonora inquired.
'I am ready,' said Rose.
'It's understood then,' Twemlow said later. 'We shall meet at the
depot. I can't stop another moment now. I've got a cab waiting
Leonora wished to ask him whether, notwithstanding his partial
assurance of the previous evening, his journey would really end at
Euston, or whether he was not taking London en route for New
York. But she could not bring herself to put the question. She hoped
that John might put it; John, however, was taciturn.
'We shall see Rose off to-morrow, of course,' was her last utterance
* * * * *
Leonora and her three daughters stood in the crowd on the platform
of Knype railway station, waiting for Arthur Twemlow and for the London
express. John had brought them to the station in the waggonette, had
kissed Rose and purchased her ticket, and had then driven off to a
creditors' meeting at Hanbridge. All the women felt rather mournful
amid that bustle and confusion. Leonora had said to herself again and
again that it was absurd to regard this absence of Rose for a few weeks
as a break in the family existence. Yet the phrase, 'the first break,
the first break,' ran continually in her mind. The gentle sadness of
her mood noticeably affected the girls. It was as though they had all
suddenly discovered a mutual unsuspected tenderness. Milly put her hand
on Rose's shoulder, and Rose did not resent the artless gesture.
'I hope Mr. Twemlow isn't going to miss it,' said Ethel, voicing the
secret apprehension of all.
'I shan't miss it, anyhow,' Rose remarked defiantly.
Scarcely a minute before the train was due, Milly descried Twemlow
coming out of the booking office. They pressed through the crowd
'Ah!' he exclaimed genially. 'Here you are! Baggage labelled?'
'We thought you weren't coming, Mr. Twemlow,' Milly said.
'You did? I was kept quite a few minutes at the hotel. You see I
only had to walk across the road.'
'We didn't really think any such thing,' said Leonora.
The conversation fell to pieces.
Then the express, with its two engines, its gilded luncheon-cars,
and its post-office van, thundered in, shaking the platform, and
seeming to occupy the entire station. It had the air of pausing
nonchalantly, disdainfully, in its mighty rush from one distant land of
romance to another, in order to suffer for a brief moment the assault
of a puny and needlessly excited multitude.
'First stop Willesden,' yelled the porters.
'Say, conductor,' said Twemlow sharply, catching the luncheon-car
attendant by the sleeve, 'you've got two seats reserved for
'Twemlow? Yes, sir.'
'Come along,' he said, 'come along.'
The girls kissed at the steps of the car: 'Good-bye.'
'Well, good-bye all!' said Twemlow. 'I hope to see you again some
time. Say next fall.'
'You surely aren't——' Leonora began.
'Yes,' he resumed quickly, 'I sail Saturday. Must get back.'
'Oh, Mr. Twemlow!' Ethel and Milly complained together.
Rose was standing on the steps. Leonora leaned and kissed the pale
girl madly, pressing her lips into Rose's cheek. Then she shook hands
with Arthur Twemlow.
'Good-bye!' she murmured.
'I guess I shall write to you,' he said jauntily, addressing all
three of them; and Ethel and Milly enthusiastically replied: 'Oh, do!'
The travellers penetrated into the car, and reappeared at a window,
one on either side of a table covered with a white cloth and laid for
'Oh, don't I wish I was going!' Milly exclaimed, perceiving them.
Rose was now flushed with triumph. She looked at Twemlow, her lips
moved, she smiled. She was a woman in the world. Then they nodded and
The guard unfurled his green flag, the engine gave a curt, scornful
whistle, and lo! the luncheon-car was gliding away from Leonora, Ethel,
and Milly! Lo! the station was empty!
'I wonder what he will talk to her about,' thought Leonora.
They had to cross the station by the under-ground passage and wait
twenty minutes for a squalid, shambling local train which took them to
Shawport, at the foot of the rise to Hillport.
CHAPTER VIII. THE DANCE
About three months after its rendering of Patience, the
Bursley Amateur Operatic Society arranged to give a commemorative dance
in the very scene of that histrionic triumph. The fete was to surpass
in splendour all previous entertainments of the kind recorded in the
annals of the town. It was talked about for weeks in advance; several
dressmakers nearly died of it; and as the day approached the difficulty
of getting one's self invited became extreme.
'You know, Mrs. Stanway,' said Harry Burgess when he met Leonora one
afternoon in the street, 'we are relying on you to be the best-dressed
woman in the place.'
She smiled with a calmness which had in it a touch of gentle
cynicism. 'You shouldn't,' she answered.
'But you're coming, aren't you?' he inquired with eager concern. Of
late, owing to the capricious frigidity of Millicent's attitude towards
him, he had been much less a frequenter of Leonora's house, and he was
no longer privy to all its doings.
'Oh, yes,' she said, 'I suppose I shall come.'
'That's all right,' he exclaimed. 'If you come you conquer.' They
passed on their ways.
Leonora's existence had slipped back into its old groove since the
departure of Twemlow, and the groove had deepened. She lived by the
force of habit, hoping nothing from the future, but fearing more than a
little. She seemed to be encompassed by vague and sinister portents.
After another brief interlude of apparent security, John's situation
was again disquieting. Trade was good in the Five Towns; at least the
manufacturers had temporarily forgotten to complain that it was very
bad, and the Monday afternoon football-matches were magnificently
attended. Moreover, John had attracted favourable attention to himself
by his shrewd proposals to the Manufacturers' Association for reform in
the method of paying firemen and placers; his ability was everywhere
recognised. At the same time, however, the Five Towns looked askance at
him. Rumour revived, and said that he could not keep up his juggling
performance for ever. He was known to have speculated heavily for a
rise in the shares of a great brewery which had falsified the
prophecies of its founders when they benevolently sold it to the
investing public. Some people wondered how long John could hold those
shares in a falling market. Leonora had no definite knowledge of her
husband's affairs, since neither John nor any other person breathed a
word to her about them. And yet she knew, by certain vibrations in the
social atmosphere as mysterious and disconcerting as those discovered
by Roentgen in the physical, that disaster, after having been repelled,
was returning from afar. Money flowed through the house as usual;
nevertheless often, as she drove about Bursley, consciously exciting
the envy and admiration which a handsome woman behind a fast cob is
bound to excite, her shamed fancy pictured the day when Prince should
belong to another and she should walk perforce on the pavement in
attire genteelly preserved from past affluence. Only women know the
keenest pang of these secret misgivings, at once desperate and
Nor did she find solace in her girls. One Saturday afternoon Ethel
came back from the duty-visit to Aunt Hannah and said as it were
confidentially to Leonora: 'Fred called in while I was there, mother,
and stayed for tea.' What could Leonora answer? Who could deny Fred the
right to visit his great-aunt and his great-uncle, both rapidly ageing?
And of what use to tell John? She desired Ethel's happiness, but from
that moment she felt like an accomplice in the furtive wooing, and it
seemed to her that she had forfeited both the confidence of her husband
and the respect of her daughter. Months ago she had meant by force of
some initiative to regularise this idyll which by its stealthiness
wounded the self-respect of all concerned. Vain aspiration! And now the
fact that Fred Ryley had begun to call at Church Street appeared to
indicate between him and Uncle Meshach a closer understanding which
could only be detrimental to the interests of John.
As for Rose, that child of misfortune did well during the first four
days of the examination, but on the fifth day one of her chronic
sick-headaches had in two hours nullified all the intense and ceaseless
effort of two years. It was precisely in chemistry that she had failed.
She arrived from London in tears, and the tears were renewed when the
formal announcement of defeat came three weeks later by telegraph and
John added gaiety to the occasion by remarking: 'What did I tell you?'
The girl's proud and tenacious spirit, weakened by the long strain, was
daunted at last. She lounged in the house and garden, listless, supine,
torpid, instinctively waiting for Nature's recovery.
Millicent alone in the house was unreservedly cheerful and
light-hearted. She had the advantage of Mr. Corfe's instruction for two
hours every Wednesday, and expressed herself as well satisfied with his
methods. Her own intimate friends knew that she quite intended to go on
the stage, but they were enjoined to say nothing. Consequently John
Stanway was one of the few people in Bursley unaware of the
definiteness of Milly's private plans; Leonora was another. Leonora
sometimes felt that Milly's assertive and indestructible vivacity must
be due to some specific cause, but Mr. Cecil Corfe's reputation for
seriousness and discretion precluded the idea that he was encouraging
the girl to dream dreams without the consent of her parents.
Leonora might have questioned Milly, but she perceived the futility
of doing so. It became more and more clear to her that she did not
possess the confidence of her daughters. They loved her and they
admired her; and she for her part made a point of trusting them; but
their confidence was withheld. Under the influence of Arthur Twemlow
she had tried to assuage the customary asperities of home life, so far
as possible, by a demeanour of generous quick acquiescence, and she had
not entirely failed. Yet the girls, with all the obtuseness and
insensibility of adolescence, never thought of giving her the one
reward which she desired. She sought tremulously to win their intimacy,
but she sought too late. Rose and Milly simply ignored her diffident
advances, and even Ethel was not responsive. Leonora had trained up her
children as she herself had been trained. She saw her error only when
it could not be retrieved. The dear but transient vision of four women
who had no secrets from each other, who understood each other, was
Amid the secret desolation of a life which however was not without
love, amid her vain regrets for an irrecoverable youth and her horror
of the approach of age, amid the empty lassitudes which apparently were
all that remained of the excitement caused by Arthur Twemlow's
presence, Leonora found a mournful and sweet pleasure in imagining that
she had a son. This son combined the best qualities of Harry Burgess
and Fred Ryley. She made him tall as herself, handsome as herself, and
like herself elegant. Shrewd, clever, and passably virtuous, he was
nevertheless distinctly capable of follies; but he told her everything,
even the worst, and though sometimes she frowned he smiled away the
frown. He adored her; he appreciated all the feminine in her; he
yielded to her whims; he kissed her chin and her wrist, held her
sunshade, opened doors for her, allowed her to beat him at tennis, and
deliciously frightened her by driving her very fast round corners in a
very high dog-cart. And if occasionally she said, 'I am not as young as
I was, Gerald,' he always replied: 'Oh rot, mater!'
When Ethel or Milly remarked at breakfast, as they did now and then,
that Mr. Twemlow had not fulfilled his promise of writing, Leonora
would answer evenly, 'No, I expect he's forgotten us.' And she would go
and live with her son for a little.
* * * * *
She summoned this Gerald—and it was for the last time—as she stood
irresolutely waiting for her husband at the door of the ladies'
cloak-room in the Town Hall. She was dressed in black mousseline de
soie. The corsage, which fitted loosely except at the waist and the
shoulders, where it was closely confined, was not too low, but it
disclosed the beautiful diminutive rondures above the armpits, and,
behind, the fine hollow of her back. The sleeves were long and full
with tight wrists, ending in black lace. A band of pale pink silk,
covered with white lace, wandered up one sleeve, crossed her breast in
strict conformity with the top of the corsage, and wandered down the
other sleeve; at the armpits, below the rondures, this band was
punctuated with a pink rose. An extremely narrow black velvet ribbon
clasped her neck. From the belt, which was pink, the full skirt ran
down in a thousand perpendicular pleats. The effect of the loose
corsage and of the belt on Leonora's perfect figure was to make her
look girlish, ingenuous, immaculate, and with a woman's instinct she
heightened the effect by swinging her programme restlessly on its
They had arrived somewhat late, owing partly to John's indecision
and partly to an accident with Rose's costume. On reaching the Town
Hall, not only Ethel and Milly, but Rose also, had deserted Leonora
eagerly, impatiently, as ducklings scurry into a pond; they passed
through the cloak-room in a moment, Rose first; Rose was human that
evening. Leonora did not mind; she anticipated the dance with neither
joy nor melancholy, hoping nothing from it in her mood of neutral calm.
John was talking with David Dain at the entrance to the gentlemen's
cloak-room, further down the corridor. Presently, old Mr. Hawley, the
doctor at Hillport, joined the other two, and then Dain moved away,
leaving John and the doctor in conversation. Dain approached and
saluted his client's wife with characteristic sheepishness.
'Large company, I believe,' he said awkwardly. In evening dress he
was always particularly awkward.
She smiled kindly on him, thinking the while what a clumsy and
objectionable fat little man he was. She knew he admired her, and would
have given much to dance with her; but she did not care for his heavy
eyes, and she despised him because he could not screw himself up to
demand a place on her programme.
'Yes, very large company, I believe,' he said again, moving about
nervously on his toes.
'Do you know how many invitations?' she asked.
'No, I don't.'
'Dain!' John called out, 'come and listen to this.' And the lawyer
escaped from her presence like a schoolboy running out of school.
'What men!' she thought bitterly, standing neglected with all her
charm and all her distinction. 'What chivalry! What courtliness! What
style!' Her son belonged to a different race of beings.
Down the corridor came Harry Burgess deep in converse with a male
friend; the two were walking quickly. She did not choose to greet them
waiting there alone, and so she deliberately turned and put her head
within the curtains of the cloak-room as if to speak to some one
'Twemlow was saying——'
It seemed to her that Harry in passing had uttered that phrase to
his companion. She flushed, and shook from head to foot. Then she
reflected that Twemlow was a name common to dozens of people in the
Five Towns. She bit her lip, surprised and angered at her own
agitation. At the same time she remembered—and why should she
remember?—some gossip of John's to the effect that Harry Burgess was
under a cloud at the Bank because he had gone to London by a day-trip
on the previous Thursday without leave. London ... perhaps....
'Am I forty—or fourteen?' she contemptuously asked herself.
She heard John and Dain laugh loudly, and the jolly voice of the old
doctor: 'Come along into the refreshment-room for a minute.' Determined
not to linger another moment for these boors, she moved into the
At the end of the vista of red carpet and gas-jets rose the grand
staircase, and on the lowest stair stood Arthur Twemlow. She had begun
to traverse the corridor and she could not stop now, and fifty feet lay
'Oh!' her heart cried in the intolerable spasm of a swift and
mysterious convulsion. 'Why do you thus torture me?' Every step was an
He moved towards her, and she noticed that he was extremely pale.
They met. His hand found hers. Then it was that she perceived, with a
passionate gratitude, how heaven had been watching over her. If John
had not hesitated about coming, if her daughters had not deserted her
in the cloak-room, if the old doctor had not provided himself with a
new supply of naughty stories, if indeed everything had not occurred
exactly as it had occurred—she would have been forced to undergo in
the presence of witnesses the shock which she had just experienced; and
she would have died. She felt that in those seconds she had endured
emotion to the last limit of her capacity. She traced a providence even
in Harry's chance phrase, which had warned her and so broken the force
of the stroke.
'Why, cruel one, did you play this trick on me? Can you not see what
I suffer!' It was her sad glittering eyes that reproachfully appealed
'Did I know what would happen?' his answered. 'Am I not equally a
She smiled pensively, and her lips murmured: 'Well, wonders will
Such were the first words.
'I found I had to come back to London,' he was soon explaining. 'And
I met young Burgess at the Empire on Thursday night, and he told me
about this affair and gave me a ticket, and so I thought as I had been
at the opera I might as well——' He hesitated.
'Have you seen the girls?' she inquired.
He had not.
On the flower-bordered staircase her foot slipped; she felt like a
convalescent trying to walk after a long illness. Arthur with a silent
questioning gesture offered his arm.
'Yes, please,' she said, gladly. She wished not to say it, but she
said it, and the next instant he was supporting her up the steps.
Anything might happen now, she thought; the most impossible things
might come to pass.
At the top of the staircase they paused. They could hear the music
faintly through closed doors. They had the precious illusion of being
aloof, apart, separated from the world, sufficient to themselves and
gloriously sufficient. Then some one opened the doors from within; the
sound of the music, suddenly freed, rushed out and smote them; and they
entered the ball-room. She was acutely conscious of her beauty, and of
the distinction of his blanched, stern face.
* * * * *
The floor was thronged by entwined couples who, under the rhythmic
domination of the music, glided and revolved in the elaborate pattern
of a mazurka. With their rapt gaze, and their rigid bodies floating
smoothly over a hidden mechanism of flying feet, they seemed to be the
victims of some enchantment, of which the music was only a mode, and
which led them enthralled through endless curves of infallible beauty
and grace. Form, colour, movement, melody, and the voluptuous galvanism
of delicate contacts were all combined in this unique ritual of the
dance, this strange convention whose significance emerged from one
mystery deeper than the fundamental notes of the bass-fiddle, and lost
itself in another more light than the sudden flash of a shirt-front or
the tremor of a lock of hair. The goddess reigned. And round about the
hall, the guardians of decorum, the enemies of Aphrodite, enchanted
too, watched with the simplicity of doves the great Aphrodisian
festival, blind to the eternal verities of a satin slipper, a drooping
eyelash, a parted lip.
The music ceased, the spell was lifted for a time. And while old
alliances were being dissolved and new ones formed in the eager
promiscuity of this interval, all remarked proudly on the success of
the evening; in the gleam of every eye the sway of the goddess was
acknowledged. Romance was justified. Life itself was justified. The
shop-girl who had put ten thousand stitches into the ruching of her
crimson skirt well symbolised the human attitude that night. As leaning
heavily on a man's arm she crossed the floor under the blazing
chandelier, she secretly exulted in each stitch of her incredible
labour. Two hours, and she would be back in the cold, celibate bedroom,
littered with the shabby realities of existence; and the spotted glass
would mirror her lugubrious yawn! Eight hours, and she would be in the
dreadful shop, tying on the black apron! The crimson skirt would never
look the same again; such rare blossoms fade too soon! And in exchange
for the toil, the fatigue, and the distressing reaction, what had she
won? She could not have said what she had won, but she knew that it was
worth the ruinous cost—this bright fallacy, this fleeting chimera,
this delusive ecstasy, this shadow and counterfeit of bliss which the
goddess vouchsafed to her communicants.
* * * * *
So thick and confused was the crowd that Leonora and Arthur, having
inserted themselves into a corner near the west door, escaped the
notice of any of their friends. They were as solitary there as on the
landing outside. But Leonora saw quite near, in another corner, Ethel
talking to Fred Ryley; she noticed how awkward Fred looked in his new
dress-suit, and she liked him for his awkwardness; it seemed to her
that Ethel was very beautiful. Arthur pointed out Rose, who was
standing up with the lady member of the School Board. Then Leonora
caught sight of Millicent in the distance, handing her programme to the
conductor of the opera; she recalled the notorious boast of the
conductor that he never knowingly danced with a bad dancer, whatever
her fascinations. Always when they met at a ball the conductor would
ask Leonora for a couple of waltzes, and would lead her out with an air
of saying to the company: 'Now see what fine dancing is!' Like herself,
he danced with the frigidity of a professor. She wondered whether
Arthur could dance really well.
The placard by the orchestra said, 'Extra.'
'Shall we?' Arthur whispered.
He made a way for her through the outer fringe of people to the
middle space where the couples were forming. Her last thoughts as she
gave him her hand were thoughts half-pitiful and half-scornful of John,
David Dain, and the doctor, brutishly content in the refreshment-room.
There stole out, troubling the expectant air, softly, alluringly,
invocatively, the first warning notes of that unique classic of the
ball-room, that extraordinary composition which more than any other
work of art unites all western nations in a common delight, which is
adored equally by profound musicians and by the lightest cocottes, and
which, unscathed and splendid, still miraculously survives the deadly
ordeal of eternal perfunctory reiterance: the masterpiece of Johann
'Why,' Leonora exclaimed, her excitement straining impatiently in
the leash, 'The Blue Danube!'
He laughed, quietly gay.
While the chords, with tantalising pauses and deliberation,
approached the magic moment of the waltz itself, she was conscious that
his hold of her became firmer and more assertive, and she surrendered
to an overmastering influence as one surrenders to chloroform,
desperately, but luxuriously.
And when at the invitation of the melody the whole company in the
centre of the floor broke into movement, and the spell was resumed, she
lost all remembrance of that which had passed, and all apprehension of
that which was to come. She lived, passionately and yet languorously,
in the vivid present. Her eyes were level with his shoulder, and they
looked with an entranced gaze along his arm, seeing automatically the
faces, the lights, and the colours which swam in a rapid confused
procession across their field of vision. She did not reason nor
recognise. These fleeting images, appearing and disappearing on the
horizon of Arthur's elbow, produced no effect on her. She had no
thoughts. Her entire being was absorbed in a transport of obedience to
the beat of the music, and to Arthur's directing pressures. She was
happy, but her bliss had in it that element of stinging pain, of
intolerable anticipation, which is seldom absent from a felicity too
intense. 'Surely I shall sink down and die!' said her heart, seeming to
faint at the joyous crises of the music, which rose and fell in tides
of varying rapture. Nevertheless she was determined to drink the cup
slowly, to taste every drop of that sweet and excruciating happiness.
She would not utterly abandon herself. The fear of inanition was only a
wayward pretence, after all, and her strong nature cried out for
further tests to prove its fortitude and its power of dissimulation. As
the band slipped into the final section of the waltz, she wilfully
dragged the time, deepening a little the curious superficial languor
which concealed her secrets, and at the same time increasing her
consciousness of Arthur's control. She dreaded now that what had been
intolerable should cease; she wished ardently to avert the end. The
glare of lights, the separate sounds of the instruments, the slurring
of feet on the smooth floor, the lineaments of familiar faces, all the
multitudinous and picturesque detail of gyrating humanity around
her—these phenomena forced themselves on her unwilling perception; and
she tried to push them back, and to spend every faculty in savouring
the ecstasy of that one physical presence which was so close, so
enveloping, and so inexplicably dear. But in vain, in vain! The band
rioted through the last bars of the waltz, a strange, disconcerting
silence and inertia supervened, and Arthur loosed her.
* * * * *
As she sat down on the cane chair which Arthur had found, Leonora's
characteristic ease of manner deserted her. She felt conspicuous and
embarrassed, and she could neither maintain her usual cold nonchalant
glance in examining the room, nor look at Arthur in a natural way. She
had the illusion that every one must be staring at her with amazed
curiosity. Yet her furtive searching eye could not discover a single
person except Arthur who seemed to notice her existence. All were
preoccupied that night with immediate neighbours.
'Will you come down into the refreshment-room?' Arthur asked. She
observed with annoyance that he too was confused, nervous, and still
She shook her head, without meeting his gaze. She wished above all
things to behave simply and sincerely, to speak in her ordinary voice,
and to use familiar phrases. But she could not. On the contrary she was
seized with a strong impulse to say to him entreatingly: 'Leave me,' as
though she were a person on the stage. She thought of other phrases,
such as 'Please go away,' and 'Do you mind leaving me for a while?' but
her tongue, somehow insisting on the melodramatic, would not utter
'Leave me!' She was frightened by her own words, and added hastily,
with the most seductive smile that her lips had ever-framed: 'Do you
'I shall call to-morrow,' he said anxiously, almost gruffly. 'Shall
you be in?'
She nodded, and he left her; she did not watch him depart.
'May I have the honour, gracious lady?'
It was the conductor of the opera who addressed her in his even,
apparently sarcastic tones.
'I'm afraid I must rest a bit,' she said, smiling quite naturally.
'I've hurt my foot a little—Oh, it's nothing, it's nothing. But I must
sit still for a bit.'
She could not comprehend why, unintentionally and without design,
she should have told this stupid lie, and told it so persuasively. She
foresaw how the tedious consequences of the fiction might continue
throughout the evening. For a moment she had the idea of announcing a
sprained ankle and of returning home at once. But the thought of old
Dr. Hawley's presence in the building deterred her. She perceived that
her foot must get gradually better, and that she must be resigned.
'Oh, mamma!' cried Rose, coming up to her. 'Just fancy Mr. Twemlow
being back again! But why did you let him leave?'
'Has he gone?'
'Yes. He just saw me on the stairs, and told me he must catch the
last car to Knype.'
'Our dance, I think, Miss Rose,' said a young man with a gardenia,
and Rose, flushed and sparkling, was carried off. The ball proceeded.
* * * * *
John Stanway had a singular capacity for not enjoying himself on
those social occasions when to enjoy one's self is a duty to the
company. But this evening, as the hour advanced, he showed the symptoms
of a sharp attack of gaiety such as visited him from time to time. He
and Dr. Hawley and Dain formed an ebullient centre of high spirits, and
they upheld the ancient traditions; they professed a liking for
old-fashioned dances, and for old-fashioned ways of dancing the steps
which modern enthusiasm for the waltz had not extinguished. And they
found an appreciable number of followers. The organisers of the ball,
the upholders of correctness, punctilio, and the mode, fretted and
fought against the antagonistic influence. 'Ass!' said the conductor of
the opera bitterly when Harry Burgess told him that Stanway had
suggested Sir Roger de Coverley for an extra, 'I wonder what his wife
thinks of him!' Sir Roger de Coverley was not danced, but twenty or
thirty late stayers, with Stanway and Dain in charge, crossed hands in
a circle and sang 'Auld Lang Syne' at the close. It was one of those
incredible things that can only occur between midnight and cock-crow.
During this revolting rite, the conductor and his friends sought
sanctuary in the refreshment-room. Leonora, Ethel, and Milly were also
there, but Rose and the lady-member of the School Board had remained
upstairs to sing 'Auld Lang Syne.'
'Now, girls,' said Stanway with loud good humour, invading the
select apartment with his followers, 'time to go. Carpenter's been
waiting half-an-hour. Your foot all right again, Nora?'
'Quite,' she replied. 'Are you really ready?'
She had so interminably waited that she could not believe the
evening to be at length actually finished.
They all exchanged adieux, Stanway and his cronies effusively, the
opposing and outraged faction with a certain fine acrimony.
'Good-night, Fred,' said John, throwing a backward patronising glance
at Ryley, who had strolled uneasily into the room. The young man paused
before replying. 'Good-night,' he said stiffly, and his demeanour
indicated: 'Do not patronise me too much.' Fred could not dance, but he
had audaciously sat out four dances with Ethel, at this his first ball,
and the serious young man had the strange agreeable sensation of
feeling a dog. He dared not, however, accompany Ethel to the carriage,
as Harry Burgess accompanied Millicent. Harry had been partially
restored to favour again during the latter half of the entertainment,
just in time to prevent him from getting tipsy. The fact was that
Millicent had vaguely expected, in view of her position as prima donna,
to be 'the belle of the ball'; but there had been no belle, and
Millicent was put to the inconvenience of discovering that she could do
nothing without footlights.
'I asked Twemlow to come up to-morrow night, Nora,' said John, still
elated, turning on the box-seat as the waggonette rattled briskly over
the paved crossing at the top of Oldcastle Street.
She mumbled something through her furs.
'And is he coming?' asked Rose.
'He said he'd try to.' John lighted a cigar.
'He's very queer,' said Millicent.
'How?' Rose aggressively demanded.
'Well, imagine him going off like that. He's always going off
suddenly.' Millicent stopped and then added: 'He only danced with
mother. But he's a good dancer.'
'I should think he was!' Ethel murmured, roused from lethargy.
'Isn't he just, mother?'
Leonora mumbled again.
'Your mother's knocked up,' said John drily. 'These late nights
don't suit her. So you reckon Mr. Twemlow's a good dancer, eh?'
No one spoke further. John threw his cigar into the road.
Under the rug Leonora could feel the knees of all her daughters as
they sat huddled and limp with fatigue in the small body of the
waggonette. Her shoulders touched Ethel's, and every one of Milly's
fidgety movements communicated itself to her. Mother and children were
so close that they could not have been closer had they lain in the same
grave. And yet the girls, and John too, had no slightest suspicion how
far away the mother was from them, how blind they were, how amazingly
they had been deceived. They deemed Leonora to be like themselves, the
victim of reaction and weariness; so drowsy that even the joltings of
the carriage could not prevent a doze. She marvelled, she could not
help marvelling, that her spiritual detachment should remain unnoticed;
the phenomenon frightened her as something full of strange risks. Was
it possible that none had caught a glimpse of the intense illumination
and activity of her brain, burning and labouring there so conspicuously
amid the other brains sombre and dormant? And was it possible that the
girls had observed the qualities of Arthur's dancing and had observed
nothing else? Common sense tried to reassure her, and did not quite
succeed. Her attitude resembled that of a person who leans against a
firm rail over the edge of a precipice: there is no danger, but the
precipice is so deep that he fears; and though the fear is a torture
the sinister magnetism of the abyss forbids him to withdraw. She lived
again in the waltz; in the gliding motions of it, the delicious
fluctuations of the reverse, the long trance-like union, the
instinctive avoidances of other contact. She whispered the music,
endlessly repeating those poignant and voluptuous phrases which linger
in the memory of all the world. And she recalled and reconstituted
Arthur's physical presence, and the emanating charm of his disposition,
and dwelt on them long and long. Instead of lessening, the secret
commotion within her increased and continued to increase. While
brooding with feverish joy over the immediate past, her mind reached
forward and existed in the appalling and fatal moment, for whose
reality however her eagerness could scarcely wait, when she should see
him once more. And it asked unanswerable questions about his surprising
return from New York, and his pallor, and the tremor in his voice, and
his swift departure. Suddenly she knew that she was planning to have
the girls out of the house to-morrow afternoon between four and five
o'clock.... Her spine shivered, she grew painfully hot, and tears
rushed to her eyes. She pitied herself profoundly. She said that she
did not know what was the matter with her, or what was going to happen.
She could not give names to things. She only felt that she was too
'Now, missis,' John roused her. The carriage had stopped and he had
already descended. She got out last, and Carpenter drove away while
John was still fumbling in his hip-pocket for the latchkey. The night
was humid and very dark. Leonora and the girls stood waiting on the
gravel, and John groped his way into the blackness of the portico to
unfasten the door. A faint gleam from the hall-gas came through the
leaded fanlight. This scarcely perceptible glow and the murmur of
John's expletives were all that came to the women from the mystery of
the house. The key grated in the lock, and the door opened.
'G——d d——n!' Stanway exclaimed distinctly, with fierce
annoyance. He had fallen headlong into the hall, and his silk hat could
be heard hopping towards the staircase.
'Pa! 'Milly protested, shocked.
John sprang up, fuming, turned the gas on to the full, and rushed
back to the doorway.
'Ah!' he shouted. 'I knew it was a tramp lying there. Get up. Is the
They all bent down, startled into gravity, to examine a form which
lay in the portico, nearly parallel with the step and below it.
'It's Uncle Meshach,' said Ethel. 'Oh! mother!'
'Then my aunt's had another attack,' cried John, 'and he's come up
to tell us, and—Milly, run for Carpenter.'
It seemed to Leonora, as with sudden awe she vaguely figured an
august and capricious power which conferred experience on mortals like
a wonderful gift, that that bestowing hand was never more full than
when it had given most.
CHAPTER IX. A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
While Prince, tethered summarily outside the stable-door with all
his harness on, was trying in vain to understand this singular caprice
on the part of Carpenter, Carpenter and the head of the house lifted
Uncle Meshach's form and carried it into the hall. The women watched,
ceasing their wild useless questions.
'Into the breakfast-room, on the sofa,' said John, breathing hard,
to the man.
'No, no,' Leonora intervened, 'you had better take him upstairs at
once, to Ethel and Milly's bedroom.'
The procession, undignified and yet impressive, came to a halt, and
Carpenter, who was holding Meshach's feet, glanced with canine anxiety
from his master to his mistress.
'But look here, Nora,' John began.
'Yes, father, upstairs,' said Rose, cutting him short.
Preoccupied with the cumbrous weight of Meshach's shoulders, John
could not maintain the discussion; he hesitated, and then Carpenter
moved towards the stairs. The small dangling body seemed to say: 'I am
indifferent, but it is perhaps as well that you have done arguing.'
'Run over to Dr. Hawley's, and ask him to come across at once, John instructed Carpenter, when they had steered Uncle Meshach round
the twist of the staircase, and insinuated him through a doorway, and
laid him at length, in his overcoat and his muffler and his quaint
boots, on Ethel's virginal bed.
'But has the doctor come home, Jack?' Leonora inquired.
'Of course he has,' said John. 'He drove up with Dain, and they
passed us at Shawport. Didn't you hear me call out to them?'
'Oh yes,' she agreed.
Then John, hatless but in his ulster, and the women, hooded and
shawled, drew round the bed; but Ethel and Milly stood at the foot. The
inanimate form embarrassed them all, made them feel self-conscious and
afraid to meet one another's eyes.
'Better loosen his things,' said Leonora, and Rose's fingers were
instantly at work to help her.
Uncle Meshach was white, rigid, and stonecold; the stiff 'Myatt' jaw
was set; the eyes, wide open, looked upwards, and strangely outwards,
in a fixed stare. And his audience thought, as they gazed in a sort of
foolish astonishment at the puny, grotesque, and unfamiliar thing, 'Is
this really Uncle Meshach?' John lifted the wrist and felt for the
pulse, but he could distinguish no beat, and he shook his head
accordingly. 'Try the heart, mother,' Rose suggested, and Leonora,
after penetrating beneath garment after garment, placed her hand on
Meshach's icy and tranquil breast. And she too shook her head. Then
John, with an air of finality, took out his gold repeater and when he
had polished the glass he held it to Uncle Meshach's parted lips. 'Can
you see any moisture on it?' he asked, taking it to the light, but none
of them could detect the slightest dimness.
'I do wish the doctor would be quick,' said Milly.
'Doctor'll be no use,' John remarked gruffly, returning to gaze
again at the immovable face. 'Except for an inquest,' he added.
'I think some one had better walk down to Church Street at once, and
tell Aunt Hannah that uncle is here,' said Leonora. 'Perhaps she is
ill. Anyhow, she'll be very anxious.' But she faltered before the
complicated problem. 'Rose, go and wake Bessie, and ask her if uncle
called here during the evening, and tell her to get up at once and
light the gas-stove and put some water on to boil, and then to light a
'And who's to go to Church Street?' John asked quickly.
Leonora looked for an instant at Rose, as the girl left the room.
She felt that on such an occasion she could more easily spare Ethel's
sweet eagerness to help than Rose's almost sinister self-possession.
'Ethel and Milly,' she said promptly. 'At least they can run on first.
And be very careful what you say to Aunt Hannah, my dears. And one of
you must hurry back at once in any case, by the road, not by the
fields, and tell us what has happened.'
Rose came in to say that Bessie and the other servants had seen
nothing of Uncle Meshach, and that they were all three getting up, and
then she disappeared into the kitchen. Ethel and Milly departed, a
little scared, a little regretful, but inspirited by the dreadful charm
and fascination of the whole inexplicable adventure.
'Aunt Hannah's had another attack, depend on it,' said John, 'that's
'I hope not,' Leonora murmured perfunctorily. Now that she had
broken the spell of futile inactivity which the discovery of Uncle
Meshach's body seemed for a few dire moments to have laid upon them,
she was more at ease.
'I fancy you'd better go down there yourself as soon as the doctor's
been,' John continued. 'You're perhaps more likely to be useful there
than here. What do you think?'
She looked at him under her eyelids, saying nothing, and reading all
his mind. He had obstinately determined that Uncle Meshach was dead,
and he was striving to conceal both his satisfaction on that account
and his rapidly growing anxiety as to the condition of Aunt Hannah. His
terrible lack of frankness, that instinct for the devious and the
underhand which governed his entire existence, struck her afresh and
seemed to devastate her heart. She felt that she could have tolerated
in her husband any vice with less effort than that one vice which was
specially his, that vice so contemptible and odious, so destructive of
every noble and generous sentiment. Her silent, measured indignation
fed itself on almost nothing—on a mere word, a mere inflection of his
voice, a single transient gleam of his guilty eye. And though she was
right by unerring intuition, John, could he have seen into her soul,
might have been excused for demanding, 'What have I said, what have I
done, to deserve this scorn?'
Rose returned, bearing materials for a fire; she had changed her
Liberty dress for the dark severe frock of her studious hours, and she
had an irritating air of being perfectly equal to the occasion. John,
having thrown off his ulster, endeavoured to assist her in lighting the
fire, but she at once proved to him that his incapacity was a hindrance
to her; whereupon he wondered what in the name of goodness Carpenter
and the doctor were doing to be so long. Leonora began to tidy the
room, which bore witness to the regardless frenzy of anticipation with
which its occupants had cast aside the soiled commonplaces of life six
'But look!' Rose cried suddenly, examining Uncle Meshach anew, after
the fire was lighted.
'What?' John and Leonora demanded together, rushing to the bed.
'His lips weren't like that!' the girl asserted with eagerness.
All three gazed long at the impassive face.
'Of course they were,' said John, coldly discouraging. Leonora made
The unblinking eyes of Uncle Meshach continued to stare upwards and
outwards, indifferently, interested in the ceiling. Outside could be
heard the creaking of stairs, and the affrighted whisper of the maids
as they descended in deshabille from their attics at the bidding of
this unconscious, cynical, and sardonic enigma on the bed.
* * * * *
'His heart is beating faintly.'
Old Dr. Hawley dropped the antique stethoscope back into the pocket
of his tight dress coat, and, still bending over Uncle Meshach, but
turning slightly towards John and Leonora, smiled with all his
'Is it, by Jove?' John exclaimed.
'You thought he was dead?' said the doctor, beaming.
'Well, he isn't,' the doctor announced with curt cheerfulness.
'That's good,' said John.
'But I don't think he can get over it,' the doctor concluded, with
undiminished brightness, his eyes twinkling.
While he spoke he was busy with the hot water and the cloths which
Leonora and Rose had produced immediately upon demand. In a few minutes
Uncle Meshach was covered almost from head to foot with cloths drenched
in hot mustard-and-water; he had hot-water bags under his arms, and he
was swathed in a huge blanket.
'There!' said the rotund doctor. 'You must keep that up, and I'll
send a stimulant at once. I can't stop now; not another minute. I was
called to an obstetric case just as I started out. I'll come back the
moment I'm free.'
'What is it—this thing?' John inquired.
'What is it!' the doctor repeated genially. 'I'll tell you what it
is. Put your nose there.' He indicated Uncle Meshach's mouth. 'Do you
notice that ammoniacal smell? That's due to uraemia, a sequel of
'Bright's disease?' John muttered.
'Bright's disease,' affirmed the doctor, dwelling on the famous and
striking syllables. 'Your uncle is the typical instance of the man who
has never been ill in his life. He walks up a little slope or up some
steps to a friend's house, and just as he is lifting his hand to the
knocker, he has a convulsion and falls down unconscious. That's
Bright's disease. Never been ill in his life! Not so far as he
knew! Not so far as he knew! Nearly all you Myatts had weak
kidneys. Do you remember your great-uncle Ebenezer? You've sent down to
Miss Myatt, you say? Good.... Perhaps he was lying on your steps for
two or three hours. He may pull round. He may. We must hope so.'
The doctor put on his overcoat, and his cap with the ear-flaps, and
after a final glance at the patient and a friendly, reassuring smile at
Leonora, he went slowly to the door. Girth and good humour and funny
stories had something to do with his great reputation in Bursley and
Hillport. But he possessed shrewdness and sagacity; he belonged to a
dynasty of doctors; and he was deeply versed in the social traditions
of the district. Men consulted him because their grandfathers had
consulted his father, and because there had always been a Dr. Hawley in
Bursley, and because he was acquainted with the pathological details of
their ancestral history on both sides of the hearth. His patients,
indeed, were not individuals, but families. There were cleverer doctors
in the place, doctors of more refined appearance and manners, doctors
less monotonously and loudly gay; but old Hawley, with his knowledge of
pedigrees and his unique instinctive sympathy with the idiosyncrasies
of local character, could hold his own against the most assertive young
M.D. that ever came out of Edinburgh to monopolise the Five Towns.
'Can you send some one round with me for the medicine?' he asked in
the doorway. 'Happen you'll come yourself, John?'
There was a momentary hesitation.
'I'll come, doctor,' said Rose. 'And then you can give me all your
instructions. Mother must stay here.' She completely ignored her
'Do, my dear; come by all means.' And the doctor beamed again
suddenly with the maximum of cheerfulness.
* * * * *
Meshach had given no sign of life; his eyes, staring upwards and
outwards, were still unchangeably fixed on the same portion of the
ceiling. He ignored equally the nonchalant and expert attentions of the
doctor, the false solicitude of John, Leonora's passionate anxiety, and
Rose's calm self-confidence. He treated the fomentations with the
apathy which might have been expected from a man who for fifty years
had been accustomed to receive the meek skilled service of women in
august silence. One could almost have detected in those eyes a glassy
and profound secret amusement at the disturbance which he had caused—a
humorous appreciation of all the fuss: the maids with their hair down
their backs bending and whispering over a stove; Ethel and Milly
trudging scared through the nocturnal streets; Rose talking with demure
excitement to old Hawley in his aromatic surgery; John officiously
carrying kettles to and fro, and issuing orders to Bessie in the
passage; Leonora cast violently out of one whirlpool into another; and
some unknown expectant terrified pair wondering why the doctor, who had
been warned months before, should thus culpably neglect their urgent
summons. As he lay there so grim and derisive and solitary, so fatigued
with days and nights, so used up, so steeped in experience, and so
contemptuously unconcerned, he somehow baffled all the efforts of
blankets, cloths, and bags to make his miserable frame look ridiculous.
He had a majesty which subdued his surroundings. And in this room
hitherto sacred to the charming mysteries of girlhood his cadaverous
presence forced the skirts and petticoats on Milly's bed, and the
disordered apparatus on the dressing-table, and the scented soaps on
the washstand, and the row of tiny boots and shoes which Leonora had
arranged near the wardrobe, to apologise pathetically and wistfully for
their very existence.
'Is that enough mustard?' John inquired idly.
'Yes,' said Leonora.
She realised—but not in the least because he had asked a banal
question about mustard—that he was perfectly insensible to all
spiritual significances. She had been aware of it for many years, yet
the fact touched her now more sharply than ever. It seemed to her that
she must cry out in a long mournful cry: 'Can't you see, can't you
feel!' And once again her husband might justifiably have demanded:
'What have I done this time?'
'I wish one of those girls would come back from Church Street,' he
burst out, frowning. 'They're here!' He became excited as he listened
to light rapid footsteps on the stair. But it was Rose who entered.
'Here's the medicine, mother,' said Rose eagerly. She was flushed
with running. 'It's chloric ether and nitrate of potash, a highly
diffusible stimulant. And there's a chance that sooner or later it may
put him into a perspiration. But it will be worse than useless if the
hot applications aren't kept up, the doctor said. You must raise his
head and give it him in a spoon in very small doses.'
And then Meshach impassively submitted to the handling of his head
and his mouth. He gurgled faintly in accepting the medicine, and soon
his temples and the corners of his lips showed a very slight
perspiration. But though the doses were repeated, and the fomentations
assiduously maintained, no further result occurred, save that Meshach's
eyes, according to the shifting of his head, perused new portions of
* * * * *
As the futile minutes passed, John grew more and more restless. He
was obliged to admit to himself that Uncle Meshach was not dead, but he
felt absolutely sure that he would never revive. Had not the doctor
said as much? And he wanted desperately to hear that Aunt Hannah still
lived, and to take every measure of precaution for her continuance in
this world. The whole of his future might depend upon the hazard of the
'Look here, Nora,' he said protestingly, while Rose was on one of
her journeys to the kitchen. 'It's evidently not much use you stopping
here, whereas there's no knowing what hasn't happened down at Church
'Do you mean you wish me to go down there?' she asked coldly.
'Well, I leave it to your common sense,' he retorted.
'Your father thinks I ought to go down to Church Street,' said
'What! And leave uncle?' Rose added nothing to this question, but
proceeded with her tasks.
'Certainly,' John insisted.
Leonora was conscious of an acute resentment against her husband.
The idea of her leaving Uncle Meshach at such a crisis seemed to her to
be positively wicked. Had not John heard what Rose said to the doctor:
'Mother must stay here'? Had he not heard that? But of course he
desired that Uncle Meshach should die. Yes, every word, every gesture
of his in the sick-room was an involuntary expression of that desire.
'Why don't you go yourself, father?' Rose demanded of him bluntly,
after a pause.
'Simply because, if there is any illness, I shouldn't be any
use.' John glared at his daughter.
Then, quite suddenly, Leonora thought how vain, how pitiful, how
unseemly, were these acrimonious conflicts of opinion in presence of
the strange and awe-inspiring riddle in the blanket. An impulse seized
her to give way, and she found a dozen reasons why she should desert
Uncle Meshach for Aunt Hannah.
'Can you manage?' she asked Rose doubtfully.
'Oh yes, mother, we can manage,' answered Rose, with an exasperating
manufactured sweetness of tone.
'Tell Carpenter to put the horse in,' John suggested. 'I expect he's
waiting about in the kitchen.'
'No,' said Leonora, 'I'll pin my skirt up and walk. I shall be half
way there before he's ready to start.'
When Leonora had departed, John redoubled his activity as a nurse.
'There's no object in changing the cloths as often as that,' said Rose.
But his suspense forbade him to keep still. Rose annoyed him
excessively, and the nervous energy which should have helped towards
self-control was expended in concealing that annoyance. He felt as
though he should go mad unless something decisive happened very soon.
To his surprise, just after the hall clock (which was always kept
half-an-hour fast) had sounded three through the dark passages of the
apprehensive house, Rose left the room. He was alone with what remained
of Uncle Meshach. He moved the blanket, and touched the cloth which lay
on Meshach's heart. 'Not too hot, that,' he said aloud. Taking the
cloth he walked to the fire, where was a large saucepan full of nearly
boiling water. He picked up the lid of the saucepan, dropped it,
crossed over to the washstand with a brusque movement, and plunged the
cloth into the cold water of the ewer. Holding it there, he turned and
gazed in a sort of abstract meditation at Uncle Meshach, who steadily
ignored him. He was possessed by a genuine feeling of righteous
indignation against his uncle.... He drew the cloth from the ewer,
squeezed it a little, and approached the bed again. And as he stood
over Meshach with the cloth in his hand, he saw his wife in the
doorway. He knew in an instant that his own face had frightened her and
prevented her from saying what she was about to say.
'How you startled me, Nora!' he exclaimed, with his surpassing
genius for escaping from an apparently fatal situation.
She ran up to the bed. 'Don't keep uncle uncovered like that,' she
said; 'put it on.' And she took the cloth from his hand. 'Why,' she
cried, 'it's like ice! What on earth are you doing? Where's Rose?'
'I was just taking it off,' he replied. 'What about aunt?'
'I met the girls down the road,' she said. 'Your aunt is dead.'
* * * * *
A few minutes later Uncle Meshach's rigid frame suffered a
convulsion; the whole surface of his skin sweated abundantly; his eyes
wavered, closed, and opened again; his mouth made the motion of
swallowing. He had come back from unconsciousness. He was no longer an
enigma, wrapped in supercilious and inflexible calm; but a sick,
shrivelled little man, so pitiably prostrate that his condition drew
the sympathy out of Leonora with a sharp violent pain, as very cold
metal burns the fingers. He could not even whisper; he could only look.
Soon afterwards Dr. Hawley returned, explaining that the anxiety of a
husband about to be a father had called him too soon by several hours.
The doctor, who had been informed of Aunt Hannah's death as he entered
the house, said at once, on seeing him, that Uncle Meshach had had a
marvellous escape. Then, when he had succoured the patient further, he
turned rather formidably to Leonora.
'I want to speak to you,' he said, and he led her out of the room,
leaving Rose, Ethel, and John in charge of Meshach.
'What is it, doctor?' she asked him plaintively on the landing.
'Which is your bedroom? Show it me,' he demanded. She opened a door,
and they both went in. 'I'll light the gas,' he said, doing so. 'And
now,' he proceeded, 'you'll kindly retire to bed, instantly. Mr. Myatt
is out of danger.' He smiled warmly, just as he had smiled when he
predicted that Meshach would probably not recover.
'But, doctor,' Leonora protested.
'Instantly,' he said, forcing her gently on to the sofa at the foot
of the two beds.
'But some one ought to go down to Church Street to look after
things,' she began.
'Church Street can wait. There's no hurry at Church Street now.'
'And uncle hasn't been told yet ... I'm not at all over-tired,
'Yes, mother dear, you are, and you must do as the doctor orders.'
It was Ethel who had come into the room; she touched Leonora's arm
'And where are you girls to sleep? The spare room isn't——'
'Oh, mother!——Just listen to her, doctor!' said Ethel, stroking
her mother's hand, as though she and the doctor were two old and sage
persons, and Leonora was a small child.
'They think I'm ill! They think I'm going to collapse!' The idea
struck her suddenly. 'But I'm not. I'm quite well, and my brain is
perfectly clear. And anyhow, I'm sure I can't sleep.' She said aloud:
'It wouldn't be any use; I shouldn't sleep.'
'Ah! I'll attend to that, I'll attend to that!' the doctor laughed.
'Ethel, help your mother to bed.' He departed.
'This is really most absurd,' Leonora reflected. 'It's ridiculous.
However, I'm only doing it to oblige them.'
Before she was entirely undressed, Rose entered with a powder in a
white paper, and a glass of hot milk.
'You are to swallow this, mother, and then drink this.
Here, Eth, hold the glass a second.'
And Leonora accepted the powder from Rose and the milk from Ethel,
as they stood side by side in front of her. Great waves seemed to surge
through her brain. In walking to the bed, she saw herself all white in
the mirror of the wardrobe.
'My face looks as if it was covered with flour,' she said to Ethel,
with a short laugh. It did not occur to her that she was pale. 'Don't
forget to——' But she had forgotten what Ethel was not to forget. Her
head reeled as it lay firmly on the pillow. The waves were waves of
sound now, and they developed into a rhythm, a tune. She had barely
time to discover that the tune was the Blue Danube Waltz, and that she
was dancing, when the whole world came to an end.
* * * * *
She awoke to feel the radiant influence of the afternoon sun through
the green blinds. Impregnated with a delicious languor, she slowly
stretched out her arms, and, lifting her head, gazed first at the
intricate tracery of the lace on her silk nightgown, and then into the
silent dreamy spaces of the room. Everything was in perfect order; she
guessed that Ethel must have trod softly to make it tidy before leaving
her, hours ago. John's bed was turned down, and his pyjamas laid out,
with all Bessie's accustomed precision. Presently she noticed on her
night-table a sheet of note-paper, on which had been written in pencil,
in large letters: 'Ring the bell before getting up.' She could not be
sure whether the hand was Ethel's or Rose's. 'Oh!' she thought, 'how
good my girls are!' She was quite well, quite restored, and slightly
hungry. And she was also calm, content, ready to commence existence
'I suppose I had better humour them,' she murmured, and she rang the
Bessie entered. The treasure was irreproachably neat and prim in her
black and white.
'What time is it, Bessie?' Leonora inquired.
'It's a straight-up three, ma'am.'
'Then I must have slept for eleven hours! How is Mr. Myatt going
Bessie dropped her hands, and smiled benevolently: 'Oh! He's much
better, ma'am. And when the doctor told him about poor Miss Myatt,
ma'am, he just said the funeral must be on Saturday because he didn't
like Sunday funerals, and it wouldn't do to wait till Monday. He didn't
say nothing else. And he keeps on telling us he shall be well enough to
go to the funeral, and he's sent master down to Guest's in St. Luke's
Square to order it, and the hearse is to have two horses, but not the
coaches, ma'am. He's asleep just now, ma'am, and I'm watching him, but
Miss Rose is resting on Miss Milly's bed in case, so I can come in here
for a minute or two. He told the doctor and master that Miss Myatt was
took with one of them attacks at half-past eleven o'clock, and he went
for Dr. Adams as lives at the top of Oldcastle Street. Dr. Adams wasn't
in, and then he saw a cab—it must have been coming from the ball,
ma'am, but Mr. Myatt didn't know as there was any ball—and he drove up
to Hillport for Dr. Hawley, him being the family doctor. And then he
said he felt bad-like, and he thought he'd come here and send master
across the way for Dr. Hawley. And he got out of the cab and paid the
cabman, and then he doesn't remember no more. Wasn't it dreadful,
ma'am? I don't believe he rightly knew what he was doing, the poor old
Leonora listened. 'Where are Miss Ethel and Miss Milly?' she asked.
'Master said they was to go to Oldcastle to order mourning, ma'am.
They've but just gone. And master said he should be back himself about
six. He never slept a wink, ma'am; nor even sat down. He just had his
bath, and Miss Ethel crept in here for his clothes.'
'And have you been to bed, Bessie?'
'Me? No, ma'am. What should I go to bed for? I'm as well as well,
ma'am. Miss Milly slept in Miss Rose's bedroom, for a bit, and Miss
Ethel on the sofy in the drawing-room—not as you might call that
sleeping. Miss Rose said you was to have some tea before you got up,
ma'am. Shall I tell cook to get it now?'
'I really think I should prefer to have it downstairs, Bessie,
thanks,' said Leonora.
'Very well, ma'am. But Miss Rose said——'
'Yes, but I will have it downstairs. In three-quarters of an hour,
'Very well, ma'am. Now is there anything I can do for you, ma'am?'
While dressing, very placidly and deliberately, and while thinking
upon all the multitudinous things that seemed to have happened in her
world during her long slumber, Leonora dwelt too upon the extraordinary
loving kindness of this hireling, who got twenty pounds a year,
half-a-day a week, and a day a month. On the first of every month
Leonora handed to Bessie one paltry sovereign, thirteen shillings, and
the odd fourpence in coppers. She wondered fancifully if she would have
the effrontery to requite the girl in coin on the next pay-day; and she
was filled with a sense of the goodness of humanity. And then there
crossed her mind the recollection that she had caught John in a wicked
act on the previous night. Yes; he had not imposed on her for a moment;
and she perceived clearly now that murder had been in his heart. She
was not appalled nor desolated. She thought: 'So that is murder, that
little thing, that thing over in a minute!' It appeared to her that
murder in the concrete was less dreadful than murder in the abstract,
far less horrible than the strident sound of the word on the lips of a
newsboy, or the look of it in the 'Signal.' She felt dimly that she
ought to be shocked, unnerved, terrified, at the prospect of living,
eating, and sleeping with a man who had meant to kill. But she could
not summon these sensations. She merely experienced a kind of pity for
John. She put the episode away from her, as being closed, accidental,
and unimportant. Uncle Meshach was alive.
A few minutes before four o'clock, she went quietly into the
sick-room. Bessie, sitting upright between the beds, put her finger to
her lips. Uncle Meshach was asleep on Ethel's bed, and on the other bed
lay Rose, also asleep, stretched in a negligent attitude, but fully
dressed and wearing an old black frock that was too tight for her. The
fire burned brightly.
'Tea is ready in the drawing-room, ma'am,' Bessie whispered, 'and
Mr. Twemlow has just called. He's waiting to see you.'
* * * * *
'So you know what has happened to us?'
'Yes,' he said, 'I met your husband on St. Luke's Square. But I
heard something before that. At one o'clock, a man told me at Knype
Station that Mr. Myatt had cut his throat on your doorstep. I didn't
believe it. So I called up Twemlow &Stanway over the 'phone and got on
to the facts.'
'What things people say!' she exclaimed.
'I guess you've stood it very well,' he remarked, gazing at her, as
with quick, sure movements of her gracile hands she poured out the tea.
'Ah!' she murmured, flushing, 'they sent me to bed. I have only just
'I know exactly when you went to bed,' he smiled.
His tone filled her with satisfaction. She had hoped and expected
that he would behave naturally, that he would not adopt the desolating
attitude of gloom prescribed by convention for sympathisers with the
bereaved; and she was not disappointed. He spoke with an easy and
cheerful sincerity, and she was exquisitely conscious of the flattery
implied in that simple, direct candour which seemed to say to her, 'You
and I have no need of convention—we understand each other.' Perhaps
never in her life, not even in the wonderful felicities of girlhood,
had Leonora been more peacefully content than during those moments of
calm succeeding stress, as she met Arthur's eyes in the intimacy of a
fraternal confidence. The large room was so tranquil, the curtains so
white, and the sunlight so benignant in the caress of its amber
horizontal rays. Rose lay asleep upstairs, Ethel and Millicent were at
Oldcastle, John would not return for two hours; and she and Arthur were
alone together in the middle of the long quiet chamber, talking
quietly. She was happy. She had no fear, neither for herself nor for
him. As innocent as Rose, and more innocent than Ethel, she now
regarded the feverish experience of the dance as accidental, a thing to
be forgotten, an episode of which the repetition was merely to be
avoided; Death and the fear of Death had come suddenly and written over
its record in the page of existence. Her present sanity and calmness
and mild bliss and self-control—these were to last, these were the
real symptoms of her condition, and of Arthur's condition. No! The
memory of the ball did not trouble her; it had not troubled her since
she awoke after the sedative. She had entered the drawing-room without
a qualm, and the instant of their meeting, anticipated on the previous
night as much in terror as in joy, had passed equably and serenely.
Relying on his strength, and exulting in her own, she had given him her
hand, and he had taken it, and that was all. She knew her native force.
She knew that she had the precious and rare gift of common sense, and
she was perfectly convinced that this common sense, which had never
long deserted her in the past, could never permanently desert her in
the future. She imagined that nothing was stronger than common sense;
she had small suspicion that in their noblest hours men and women have
invariably despised common sense, and trampled it underfoot as the most
contemptible of human attributes. Therefore she was content and
unalarmed. And she found pleasure even in trifles, as, for example,
that the maid had set two cups-and-saucers and two only; the duality
struck her as delicious. She looked close at Arthur's sagacious,
shrewd, and kindly face, with the heavy, clipped moustache, and the
bluish chin, and those grey hairs at the sides of the forehead. 'We
belong to the same generation, he and I,' she thought, eating bread and
butter with relish, 'and we are not so very old, after all!' Aunt
Hannah was incomparably older, ripe for death. Who could be profoundly
moved by that unimportant, that trivial, demise? She felt very sorry
for Uncle Meshach, but no more than that. Such sentiments may have the
appearance of callousness, but they were the authentic sentiments of
Leonora, and Leonora was not callous. The financial aspect of Aunt
Hannah's death, as it affected John and herself and the girls and their
home, did not disturb her. She was removed far above finance, far above
any preoccupation about the latter years, as she sat talking quietly
and blissfully with Arthur in the drawing-room.
'Yes,' she was telling him, 'it was just opposite the
Clayton-Vernons' that I met them.'
'Where the elm-trees spread over the road?' he questioned.
She nodded, pleased by his minute interest in her narrative and by
his knowledge of the neighbourhood. 'I saw them both a long way off,
walking quickly, under a gas-lamp. And it's very curious, but although
I was so anxious to know what had happened, I couldn't go on to meet
them—I was obliged to wait until they came up. And they didn't notice
me at first, and then Ethel shrieked out: “Oh, it's mother!” And Milly
said: “Aunt Hannah's dead, mother. Is Uncle Meshach dead?” You can't
understand how queer I felt. I felt as if Milly would go on asking and
asking: “Is father dead? Is Bessie dead? Is Bran dead? Are you dead?”'
'I know,' he said reflectively.
She guessed that he envied her the strange nocturnal adventure. And
her secret pride in the adventure, which hitherto she had endeavoured
to suppress, suddenly became open and legitimate. She allowed her face
to disclose the thought: 'You see that I too have lived through crises,
and that I can appreciate how wonderful they are.' And she proceeded to
give him all the details of Aunt Hannah's death, as she had learnt them
from Ethel and Milly during the walk home through sleeping Hillport:
how the servant had grown alarmed, and had called a neighbour by
breaking a bedroom window with a broomstick, leaning from Aunt Hannah's
window, and how the neighbour's eldest boy had run for Dr. Adams and
had caught him in the street just as he was returning home, and how
Aunt Hannah was gone before the boy came back with Dr. Adams, and how
no one could guess what had happened to Uncle Meshach, and no one could
suggest what to do, until Ethel and Milly knocked at the door.
'Isn't it all strange? Don't you think it's strange?' Leonora
'No,' he said. 'It seems strange, but it isn't really. Such things
are always happening.'
'Are they?' She spoke naively, with a girlish inflection and a
'Well, of course!' He smiled gravely, and yet humorously. And his
eyes said: 'What a charming simple thing you are!' And she liked to
think of his superiority over her in experience, knowledge,
imperturbability, breadth of view, and all those kindred qualities
which women give to the men they admire.
They could not talk further on the subject.
'By the by, how's your foot?' he inquired.
'Yes. You hurt it last night, didn't you, after I'd gone?'
She had completely forgotten the trifling fiction, until it thus
rather startlingly reappeared on his lips. She might easily have let it
die naturally, had she chosen; but she could not choose. She had a whim
to kill it violently, romantically.
'No,' she said, 'I didn't hurt it.'
'It was your husband was telling me.'
She went on joyously and fearfully: 'Some one asked me to dance,
after—after the Blue Danube. And I didn't want to; I couldn't. And so
I said I had hurt my foot. It was just one of those things that one
says, you know!'
He was embarrassed; he had no remark ready. But to preserve
appearances he lowered the corners of his lips and glanced at the
copper tea-kettle through half-closed eyes, feigning to suppress a
private amusement. She was quite aware, however, that she had
embarrassed him. And just as, a minute earlier, she had liked him for
his lordly, masculine, philosophic superiority, so now she liked him
for that youthful embarrassment. She felt that all men were equally
child-like to women, and that the most adorable were the most
child-like. 'How little you understand, after all!' she thought. 'Poor
boy, I unlatched the door, and you dared not push it open! You were
afraid of committing an indiscretion. But I will guide and protect you,
and protect us both.'
This was the woman who, half an hour ago, had been exulting in the
adequacy of her common sense. Innocent and enchanting creature, with
the rashness of innocence!
'I guess I couldn't dance again after the Blue Danube, either,' he
said at length, boldly.
She made no answer; perhaps she was a little intimidated; but she
looked at him with eyes and lips full of latent vivacity.
'That was why I left,' he finished firmly. There was in his tone a
hint of that engaging and piquant antagonism which springs up between
lovers and dies away; he had the air of telling her that since she had
invited a confession she was welcome to it.
She retreated, still admiring, and said evenly that the ball had
been a great success.
Soon afterwards Ethel and Milly unexpectedly entered the room. They
had put on the formal aspect of dejection which they deemed proper for
them, but on perceiving that their elders were talking quite naturally,
they at once abandoned constraint and became natural too. From the
sight of their unaffected pleasure in seeing Arthur Twemlow again,
Leonora drew further sustenance for her mood of serene content.
'Just fancy, Mr. Twemlow,' Millicent burst out. 'We walked all the
way to Oldcastle, and we never thought, and no one reminded us. It's
father's fault, really.'
'What is father's fault, really?'
'It's Thursday afternoon and the shops were all shut. We shall have
to go to-morrow morning.'
'Ah!' he said. 'The stores don't shut on Thursday afternoon in New
'Mother will be able to come with us to-morrow morning,' said Ethel,
and approaching Leonora she asked: 'Are you all right, mother?'
This simple, familiar conversation, and the free movements of the
girls, and the graver suavity of Arthur and herself, seemed to Leonora
to constitute a picture, a scene, of mysterious and profound charm.
Arthur rose to depart. The girls wished him to stay, but Leonora did
not support them. In a house where an aged relative lay ill, and that
relative so pathetically bereaved, it was not meet that a visitor
should remain too long. Immediately he had gone she began to anticipate
their next meeting. The eagerness of that anticipation surprised her.
And, moreover, the environment of her life closed quickly round her;
she could not ignore it. She demanded of herself what was Arthur's
excuse for calling, and how it was that she should be so happy in the
midst of woe and death. Her joyous confidence was shaken. Feeling that
on such a day she ought to have been something other than a delicate
chatelaine idly dispensing tea in a drawing-room, she went upstairs,
determined to find some useful activity.
The light was failing in the sick-room, and the fire shone brighter.
Bessie had disappeared, and Rose sat in her place. Uncle Meshach still
'Have you had a good rest, my dear?' she whispered, kissing Rose
fondly. 'You had better go downstairs. I've had some tea, and I'll take
charge here now.'
'Very well,' the girl assented, yawning. 'Who's that just gone?'
'Oh, mother!' Rose exclaimed in angry disappointment. 'Why didn't
some one tell me he was here?'
* * * * *
'The cortege will move at 2.15,' said the mourning invitation cards,
and on Saturday at two o'clock Uncle Meshach, dressed in deep black,
sat on a cane-chair against the wall in the bedroom of his late sister.
He had not been able to conceive Hannah's funeral without himself as
chief mourner, and therefore he had accomplished his own recovery in
the amazing period of fifty hours; and in addition to accomplishing his
recovery he had given an uninterrupted series of the most minute
commands concerning the arrangements for the obsequies. Protests had
been utterly useless. 'It will kill him,' said Leonora to the doctor as
Meshach, risen straight out of bed, was getting into a cab at Hillport
that morning to drive to Church Street. 'It may,' old Hawley answered.
'But what can one do?' Smiling, first at Meshach, and then at Leonora,
the doctor had joined his aged patient in the cab and they had gone off
Next to the cane-chair was Hannah's mahogany bed, which had been
stripped. On the bed lay a massive oaken coffin, and, accurately fitted
into the coffin, lay the withered remains of Meshach's slave. The prim
and spotless bedroom, with its chest of drawers, its small glass, its
three-cornered wardrobe, its narrow washstand, its odd bonnet-boxes,
its trunk, its skirts hung inside-out behind the door, its Bible with
the spectacle-case on it, its texts, its miniature portraits, its
samplers, framed in maple, and its engraving of the infant John Wesley
being saved from the fire at Epworth Vicarage, framed in gold, was
eloquent of the habits of the woman who had used it, without ambition,
without repining, and without hope, save an everlasting hope, for more
than fifty years.
Into this room, obedient to the rigid etiquette of an old-fashioned
Five Towns funeral, every person asked to the burial was bound to come,
in order to take a last look at the departed, and to offer a few words
of sympathy to the chief mourner. As they entered—Stanway, David Dain,
Fred Ryley, Dr. Hawley, Leonora, the servant, and lastly Arthur
Twemlow—unwillingly desecrating the almost saecular modesty of the
chamber, Meshach received them one by one with calmness, with
detachment, with the air of the curator of the museum. 'Here she is,'
his mien indicated. 'That is to say, what's left. Gaze your fill.'
Beyond a monotonous 'Thank ye, thank ye,' in response to expressions of
sympathy for him, and of appreciation of Hannah's manifold excellences,
he made no remarks to any one except Leonora and Arthur Twemlow.
'Has that ginger wine come?' he asked Leonora anxiously. The feast
after the sepulture was as important, and as strictly controlled by
etiquette, as the lying-in-state. Leonora, who had charge of the meal,
was able to give him an affirmative.
'I'm glad as you've come,' he said to Twemlow. 'I had a fancy for
you to see her again as soon as they told me you was back. Her makes a
good corpse, eh?'
Twemlow agreed. 'To die suddenly, that's the best,' he murmured
awkwardly; he did not know what to say.
'Her was a good sister, a good sister!' Meshach pronounced with an
emotion which was doubtless genuine and profound, but which
superficially resembled that of an examiner awarding pass-marks to a
pupil. 'By the way, Twemlow,' he added as Arthur was leaving the room,
'didst ever thrash that business out wi' our John? I've been thinking
over a lot of things while I was fast abed up yon'.'
Arthur stared at him.
'Thou knowst what I mean?' continued Meshach, putting his thin
tremulous hand on the edge of the coffin in order to rise from the
'Yes,' Arthur replied, 'I know. I haven't settled it yet, I haven't
'I should ha' thought thou'dst had time enough, lad,' said Meshach.
Then the undertaker's men adjusted the lid of the coffin, hiding
Aunt Hannah's face, and screwed in the eight brass screws, and clumped
down the dark stairs with their burden, and so across the pavement
between two rows of sluttish sightseers, to the hearse. Uncle Meshach,
with the aid only of his stick, entered the first coach; John Stanway
and Fred Ryley—the rules of precedence were thus inflexible!—occupied
the second; and Arthur Twemlow, with the family lawyer and the family
doctor, took the third. Leonora remained in the house with the servant
to spread the feast.
The church was barely four hundred yards away, and in less than half
an hour they were all in the house again; all save Aunt Hannah, who had
already, in the vault of the Myatts, passed the first five minutes of
the tedium of waiting for the Day of Judgment. And now, as they
gathered round the fish, the fowl, the ham, the cake, the preserves,
the tea, the wines and the spirits, etiquette demanded that they should
be cheerful, should show a resignation to the will of heaven, and
should eat heartily. And although the rapid-ticking clock on the
mantelpiece in the parlour pointed only to a little better than three
o'clock they were obliged to eat heartily, for fear of giving pain to
Uncle Meshach; to drink much was not essential, but nothing could have
excused abstention from the solid fare. The repast, actively conducted
by the mourning host, was not finished until nearly half-past four.
Then Twemlow and the doctor said that they must leave.
'Nay, nay,' Meshach complained. 'There's the will to be read. It's
right and proper as all the guests should hear the will, and it'll take
nobbut a few minutes.'
The enfeebled old man talked more and more the dialect which his
father and mother had talked over his cradle.
'Better without us, old friend!' the doctor said jauntily. 'Besides,
my patients!' And by dint of blithe obstinacy he managed to get away,
and also to cover the retreat of Twemlow.
'I shall call in a day or two,' said Arthur to Uncle Meshach as they
'Ay! call and see th' old ruin!' Meshach replied, and dropping back
into his chair, 'Now, Dain!' he ordered.
David Dain drew a long white envelope from his breast pocket.
'“This is the last will and testament of me, Hannah Margaret
Myatt,”' the lawyer began to read quickly in his thick voice, '“of
Church Street, Bursley, in the county of Stafford, spinster. I commit
my body to the grave and my soul to God in the sure hope of a blessed
resurrection through my Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ. I bequeath ten
pounds each to my dear nephew John Stanway, and to his wife Leonora, to
purchase mourning at my decease, and five pounds each for the same
purpose to my dear great-nephew Frederick Wellington Ryley, and to my
great-nieces Ethel, Rosalys, and Millicent Stanway, and to any other
children of the said John and Leonora Stanway should they have such,
and should such children survive me.” This will is dated twelve years
ago,' the lawyer stopped to explain. He continued: '“I further bequeath
to my great-nephew Frederick Wellington Ryley the sum of two hundred
and fifty pounds.”'
'Something for you there, Frederick Wellington Ryley!' exclaimed
Stanway in a frigid tone, biting his thumb and looking up at the
Ryley blushed. He had scarcely spoken during the meal, and he did
not break his silence now.
With much verbiage the will proceeded to state that the testatrix
left the residue of her private savings to Meshach, 'to dispose of
absolutely according to his own discretion,' in case he should survive
her; and that in case she should survive him she left her private
savings and the whole of the estate of which she and Meshach were joint
tenants to John Stanway.
'There is a short codicil,' Dain added, 'which revokes the legacy of
two hundred and fifty pounds to Mr. Ryley in case Mr. Myatt should
survive the testatrix. It is dated some six months ago.'
'Kindly read it,' said Stanway coldly.
'With pleasure,' the lawyer agreed, and he read it.
'Then, as it turns out,' Stanway remarked, looking defiantly at his
uncle, 'Ryley gets nothing but five pounds under this will.'
'Under this will, nephew,' the old man assented.
'And may one inquire,' Stanway persisted, 'the nature of your
intentions in regard to aunt's savings which she leaves you to dispose
of according to your discretion?'
'What dost mean, nephew?'
Leonora saw with anxiety that her husband, while intending to be
calm, pompous, and superior, was, in fact, losing control of himself.
'I mean,' said John, 'are you going to distribute them?'
'No, nephew. They're well enough where they lie. I shall none touch
Stanway gave the sigh of a martyr who has sufficient spirit to be
disdainful. Throwing his serviette on the disordered table, he pushed
back his chair and stood up. 'You'll excuse me now, uncle,' he said,
bitterly polite, 'I must be off to the works. Ryley, I shall want you.'
And without another word he left the room and the house.
* * * * *
Leonora was the last to go. Meshach would not allow her to stay
after the tea-things were washed up. He declined firmly every offer of
help or companionship, and since the middle-aged servant made no
objection to being alone with her convalescent master, Leonora could
only submit to his wishes.
When she was gone he lighted his pipe. At seven o'clock, the servant
came into the parlour and found him dozing in the dark; his pipe hung
loosely from his teeth.
'Eh, mester,' she cried, lighting the gas. 'Hadn't ye better go to
bed? Ye've had a worriting day.'
'Happen I'd better,' he answered deliberately, taking hold of the
pipe and adjusting his spectacles.
'Can ye undress yeself?' she asked him.
'Ay,' he said, 'I can do that, wench. My candle!'
And he went carefully up to bed.
CHAPTER X. IN THE GARDEN
'Father's in a horrid temper. Did anything go wrong?' said Rose,
when Leonora reached Hillport.
'No,' Leonora replied. 'Where is he?'
'In the drawing-room. He says he won't have any tea.'
'You must remember, my dear, that your father has been through a
great deal this last day or two.'
'So have all of us, as far as that goes,' Rose stated ruthlessly.
'However——' She turned away, shrugging her shoulders.
Leonora wondered by means of what sad experience Rose would
ultimately discover that, whereas men have the right to cry out when
they are hurt, it is the whole business of a woman's life to suffer in
cheerful silence. She sat with the girls during tea, drinking a cup for
the sake of form, and giving them disconnected items of information
about the funeral, which at their own passionate request they had been
excused from attending. The talk was carried on in low tones, so that
the rattle of a spoon in a saucer sounded loud and distinct. And in the
drawing-room John steadily perused the 'Signal,' column by column, from
the announcement of 'Pink Dominoes' at the Hanbridge Theatre Royal on
the first page, to the bait of a sporting bookmaker in Holland at the
end of the last. The evening was desolating, but Leonora endured it
with philosophy, because she appreciated John's state of mind.
It was the disclosure of the legacy of two hundred and fifty pounds
to Fred Ryley, and of the recent conditional revocation of that legacy,
which had galled her husband's sensibilities by bringing home to him
what he had lost through Aunt Hannah's sudden death and through the
senile whim of Uncle Meshach to alter his will. He could well have
tolerated Meshach's refusal to distribute Aunt Hannah's savings
immediately (Leonora thought), had the old man's original testament
remained uncancelled. Once upon a time, Ryley, the despised poor
relation, the offspring of an outcast from the family, was to have been
put off with two hundred and fifty pounds, and the bulk of the Myatt
joint fortune was to have passed in any case to John. The withdrawal of
the paltry legacy, as shown in the codicil, was the outward and
irritating sign that Ryley had been lifted from his humble position to
the level of John himself. John, of course, had known months ago that
he and Ryley stood level in the hazard of gaining the inheritance, but
the history of the legacy, revealed after the funeral, aroused his
disgusted imagination, as it had not been roused before.
He was beaten; and, more important, he knew it now; he had the
incensed, futile, malevolent, devil-may-care feeling of being beaten.
He bitterly invited Fate not to stop at half-measures but to come on
and do her worst. And Fate, with that mysterious responsiveness which
often distinguishes her movements, came on. 'Of course! I might have
expected it!' John exclaimed savagely, two days later, when he received
a circular to the effect that a small and desperate minority of
shareholders were trying to put the famous brewery company into
liquidation under the supervision of the Court. The shares fell another
five in twenty-four hours. The Bursley Conservative Club knew
positively the same night that John had 'got out' at a ruinous loss,
and this episode seemed to give vigorous life to certain rumours,
hitherto faint, that John and his uncle had violently quarrelled at his
aunt's funeral, and that when Meshach died Fred Ryley would be found to
be the heir. Other rumours, that Ethel Stanway and Fred Ryley were
about to be secretly married, that Dain would have been the owner of
Prince but for the difference between guineas and pounds, and that the
real object of Arthur Twemlow's presence in the Five Towns was to buy
up the concern of Twemlow &Stanway, were received with reserve, though
not entirely discredited. The town, however, was more titillated than
perturbed, for every one said that old Meshach, for the sake of the
family's good name, would never under any circumstances permit a
catastrophe to occur. The town saw little of Meshach now—he had almost
ceased to figure in the streets; it knew, however, the Myatt pride in
the Myatt respectability.
* * * * *
Leonora sympathised with John, but her sympathy, weakened by his
surliness, was also limited by her ignorance of his real plight, and by
the secret preoccupation of her own existence. From the evening of the
funeral the desire to see Arthur again, to study his features, to hear
his voice, definitely took the uppermost place in her mind. She thought
of him always, and she ceased to pretend to herself that this was not
so. She continually expected him to call, or to meet some one who had
met him, or to receive a letter from him. She forced her memory to
reconstitute in detail his last visit to Hillport, and all the
exacerbating scene of the funeral feast, in order that she might dwell
tenderly upon his gestures, his glances, his remarks, the inflections
of his voice. The eyes of her soul were ever beholding his form. Even
at breakfast, after the disappointment of the post, she would indulge
in ridiculous hopes that he might be abroad very early and would look
in, and not until bedtime did she cease to listen for his ring at the
front door. No chance of a meeting was too remote for her wild fancy.
But she dared not breathe his name, dared not even adumbrate an
inquiry; and her husband and daughters appeared to have entered into a
compact not to mention him. She did not take counsel with herself,
examine herself, demand from herself what was the significance of these
symptoms; she could not; she could only live from one moment to the
next engrossed in an eternal expectancy which instead of slackening
became hourly more intense and painful. Towards the close of the
afternoon of the third day, in the drawing-room, she whispered that
something decisive must happen soon, soon.... The bell rang; her ears
caught the distant sound for which they had so long waited. Shuddering,
she thanked heaven that she was alone. She could hear the opening and
closing of the front door. In three seconds Bessie would appear. She
heard the knob of the drawing-room door turn, and to hide her agitation
she glanced aside at the clock. It was a quarter to six. 'He will stay
the evening,' she thought.
'Mr. Dain,' Bessie proclaimed.
'Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Stanway? Stanway not come in yet, eh?' said
the stout lawyer, approaching her hurriedly with his fussy, awkward
She could have laughed; but the visit was at any rate a distraction.
A few minutes later John arrived.
'Dain will stay for tea, Nora. Eh, Dain?' he said.
'Well—thanks,' was Dain's reply.
She asked herself, with sudden misgiving, what new thing was afoot.
After tea, the two men were left together at the table.
'Mother,' Ethel inquired eagerly, coming into the drawing-room, 'why
are father and Mr. Dain measuring the dining-room?'
'I don't know,' said Leonora. 'Are they?'
'Yes, Mr. Dain has got ever such a long tape.'
Leonora went into the kitchen and talked to the cook.
The next morning an idea occurred to her. Since the funeral, the
girls had been down to see Uncle Meshach each afternoon, and Leonora
had called at Church Street in the forenoon, so that the solitude of
the old man might be broken at least twice a day. When she had
suggested the arrangement to her husband, John had answered stiffly,
with an unimpeachable righteousness, that everything possible must be
done for his uncle. On this fourth day, Leonora sent Ethel and Milly in
the morning, with a message that she herself would come in the
afternoon, by way of change. The phrase that sang in her head was
Arthur's promise to Meshach: 'I shall call in a day or two.' She knew
that he had not yet called. 'Don't wait tea, if I should be late,
dears,' she said smilingly to the girls; 'I may stay with uncle a
while.' And she nearly ran out of the house.
* * * * *
When they had had tea, and when Leonora had performed the delicate
feat of arranging Uncle Meshach's domestic affairs without affronting
his servant, she sat down opposite to him before the fire in the
'You're for stopping a bit, eh?' he said, as if surprised.
'Well,' she laughed, 'wouldn't you like me to?'
'Oh, ay!' he admitted readily, 'I'st like it well enough. I don't
know but what you aren't all on ye very good—you and th' wenches, and
Fred as calls in of nights. But it's all one to me, I reckon. I take no
pleasure i' life. Nay,' he went on, 'it isn't because of her.
I've felt as I was done for for months past. I mun just drag on.'
'Don't talk like that, uncle.' She tried conventionally to cheer
him. 'You must rouse yourself.'
She sought a good answer to this conundrum. 'For all of us,' she
said lamely, at length.
'Leonora, my lass,' he remarked drily, 'you're no better than the
rest of 'em.'
And as she sat there in the age-worn parlour, and thought of the
distant days of his energy, when with his own hands he had pulled down
a wall and replaced it by a glass partition, and of the night when he
lay like a corpse on Ethel's bed at the mercy of his nephew, and of
Aunt Hannah resting in the cold tomb just at the end of the street, her
heart was filled for a moment with an awful, ineffable, devastating
sadness. It seemed to her that every grief, anxiety, apprehension was
joy itself compared to this supreme tragedy of natural decay.
'Shall I light the gas?' she suggested. The room was always obscure,
and that evening happened to be a sombre one.
'There!' she said brightly, when the gas flared, 'that's better,
isn't it? Aren't you going to smoke?'
In reaching a second spill from the spill-jar on the mantelpiece she
noticed the clock. It was only a quarter past five. 'He may call yet,'
she dreamed, and then a more piquant thought: 'He may be at home when I
There was a perfunctory knock at the house-door. She started.
'It's the “Signal” lad,' Meshach explained. 'He keeps on bringing
it, but I never look at it.'
She went into the lobby for the paper, and then read aloud to Uncle
Meshach the items of local news. The clock showed a quarter to six.
Suddenly it struck her that Arthur Twemlow might have called quite
early in the afternoon and that Meshach might have forgotten to tell
her. If he had perchance called, and perchance informed Meshach that he
was going on to Hillport, and if he had walked up by the road while she
came down by the fields! The idea was too dreadful.
'Has Mr. Twemlow been to see you yet?' she demanded, after a long
silence, pretending to be interested in the 'Signal.'
'No,' said Meshach; 'why dost ask?'
'I remembered he said he should.'
'He'll come, he'll come,' Meshach murmured confidently. 'Dain's been
in,' he added, 'wi' papers to sign, probate o' Hannah's will. Seemingly
John's not satisfied, from what Dain hints.'
'Not satisfied with what?' Flushing a little, she dropped the paper;
but she was still busily employed in expecting Arthur to arrive.
'Eh, I canna' tell you, lass.' Meshach gave a grim sigh. 'You know
as I altered my will?'
'Jack mentioned it.'
'Me and her, we thought it over. It was her as first said that Fred
was getting a nice young chap, and very respectable, and why should he
be left out in the cold? And so I says to her, I says, “Well, you can
make your will i' favour o' Fred, if you've a mind.” “Nay, Meshach,”
her says, “never ask me to cut out our John's name.” “Well,” I says to
her, “if you won't, I will. It'll give 'em both an even chance. Us'n
die pretty near together, me and you, Hannah, it'll be a toss-up,” I
says. Wasn't that fair?' Leonora made no reply. 'Wasn't that fair?' he
She could not be sure, even then, whether Uncle Meshach had devised
in perfect seriousness this extraordinary arrangement for dealing
justly between the surviving members of the Myatt family, or whether he
had always had a private humorous appreciation of the fantastic element
'I don't know,' she said.
'Well, lass,' he continued persuasively, sitting up in his chair,
'us ignored young Fred for more till twenty year. And it wasna' right.
Hannah said it wasna' right as Fred should suffer for his mother and
his grandfeyther. And then us give Fred and your John an equal chance,
and John's lost, and now John isna' satisfied, by all accounts.' She
gazed at him with a gentle smile. 'Why dostna' speak, lass?'
'What am I to say, uncle?'
'Wouldst like me to make a new will, and halve it between John and
Fred? It wouldna' be fair to Fred, not rightly fair, because he's run
his risk for th' lot. But wouldst like it, lass?'
There was a trace of the old vitality in his shrivelled features, as
he laid this offering on the altar of her feminine charm.
'Oh, do, uncle!' she was about to say eagerly, but she thought in
the same instant of John standing over Meshach's body, with the
ice-cold cloth in his hand, and something, some dim instinct of a
fundamental propriety, prevented her from uttering those words. 'I
would like you to do whatever you think right,' she answered with
Meshach was evidently disappointed.
'I shall see,' he ejaculated. And after a pause, 'John's i' smooth
water again, isn't he? I meant to ask Dain.'
'I think so,' said Leonora.
She had become restive. Soon afterwards she bade him good-night and
departed. And all the way up to Hillport she speculated upon the
chances of finding Arthur in her drawing-room when she got home.
* * * * *
As she passed through the hall she knew at once that Arthur was not
in the house and had not been there; and the agitation of her heart
subsided suddenly into the melancholy stillness of defeated hope. She
sadly admitted that she no longer knew herself, and that the Leonora of
old had been supplanted by a creature of incalculable moods, a feeble
victim of strange crises of secret folly. Through the open door of the
drawing-room she could see Rose reading, and Millicent searching among
a pile of music on the piano. Bessie emerged from the dining-room with
a white cloth and the crumb-tray.
'Master's in there,' said Bessie; 'they didn't wait tea, ma'am.'
Leonora went into the dining-room, where John sat alone at the bare
mahogany, smoking. With her deep knowledge of him, she detected
instantly that he had been annoyed by her absence from tea. The
condition of the sharp end of his cigar showed that he was perturbed,
fretful, and perhaps in a state of suspense. 'Well,' she thought with
resignation, 'I may as well play the wife,' and she sat down in a chair
near him, put her purse on the table, and smiled generously. Then she
raised her veil, loosed the buttons of her new black coat, and began to
draw off her gloves.
'I've been waiting for you,' he said, and to her surprise his tone
was extremely pacific.
'Have you?' she answered, intensifying all her alluring grace. 'I
'Yes, I wanted to ask you——' He stopped, ostensibly to put the
cigar into his meerschaum holder.
She perceived that the desire to ingratiate fought within him
against his vexation, and she wondered, with a touch of cynicism, what
new scheme had got possession of him, and how her assistance was
necessary to it.
'Would you like to go and live in the country, Nora?' He looked at
her audaciously for a moment and then his eyes shifted.
'For the summer, you mean?'
'Yes,' he said, 'for the summer and the winter too. Somewhere out
'And leave here?'
'But what about the house, Jack?'
'Sell it, if you like,' said John lightly.
'Oh, no! I shouldn't like that at all,' she replied, nervously but
amiably. She wished to believe that his suggestion about selling the
house was merely an idle notion thrown out on the spur of the moment,
but she could not.
She shook her head. 'What has made you think of going to live in the
country?' she asked him, using a tone of gentle, mild curiosity. 'How
should you get to the works in the morning?'
'There's a very good train service from Sneyd to Knype,' he said.
'But look here, Nora, why wouldn't you care to sell the house?'
It was perfectly clear to her that, having mortgaged her house, he
had now made up his mind to sell it. He must therefore still be in
financial difficulties, and she had unwittingly misled Uncle Meshach.
'I don't know,' she answered coldly. 'I can't explain to you why.
But I shouldn't.' And she privately resolved that nothing should induce
her to assent to this monstrous proposal. Her heart hardened to steel.
She felt prepared to suffer any unpleasantness, any indignity, rather
than give way.
'It isn't as if Hillport wasn't changing,' he went on, politely
argumentative. 'It is changing. In another ten years all the decent
estates will have been broken up, and we shall be left alone in the
middle of streets of villas rented at nineteen guineas to escape the
house duty. You know the sort of thing.... And I've had a very fair
offer for the place.'
'Well, Dain. I know he's wanted the house a long time. Of course,
he's a hard nut to crack, is Dain. But he went up to two thousand, and
yesterday I got him to make it guineas. That's a good price, Nora.'
'Is it?' she exclaimed absently.
'I should just imagine it was!' said John.
So it was expected of her that she should surrender her home, her
domain, her kingdom, the beautiful and mellow creation of her
intelligence; and that she should surrender it to David Dain, and to
the impossible Mrs. Dain, and to their impossible niece. She remembered
one of Milly's wicked tales about Mrs. Dain and the niece. Milly had
met Mrs. Dain in the street, and in response to an inquiry about the
health of the hypochondriacal niece, Mrs. Dain, gorgeously attired, had
replied: 'Her had but just rallied up off th' squab as I come out.'
These were the people who wanted to evict her from her house. And they
would cover its walls with new papers, and its floors with new carpets,
in their own appalling taste; and they would crowd the rooms with
furniture as fat, clumsy, and disgusting as themselves. And Mrs. Dain
would hold sewing meetings in the drawing-room, and would stand
chattering with tradesmen at the front door, and would drive out to
Sneyd to pay a call on Leonora and tell her how pleased they all
were with the place!
'Do you absolutely need the money, John?' She came to the point with
a frank, blunt directness which angered him.
'I don't absolutely need anything,' he retorted, controlling
himself. 'But Dain made the offer——'
'Because if you do,' she proceeded, 'I dare say Uncle Meshach——'
'Look here, my girl,' he interrupted in turn, 'I've had exactly as
much of Uncle Meshach as I can stand. I know all about Uncle Meshach,
what I wanted to know was whether you cared to sell the house.' And
then he added, after hesitating, and with a false graciousness, 'To
There was a marked pause.
'I really shouldn't like to sell the house, John,' she answered
quietly. 'It was aunt's, and——'
'Enough said! enough said!' he cried. 'That finishes it. I suppose
you don't mind my having asked you!'
He walked out of the room in a rage.
Tears came into her eyes, the tears of a wounded and proud heart.
Was it conceivable that he expected her to be willing to sell her
house?... He must indeed be in serious straits. She would consult Uncle
The front door banged. And then Rose entered the room.
Leonora drove back the tears.
'Your father has been suggesting that we sell this house, and go and
live at Sneyd,' she said to the girl in a trembling voice. 'Aren't you
surprised?' She seldom talked about John to her daughters, but at that
moment a desire for sympathy overwhelmed her.
'I should never be surprised at anything where father was
concerned,' said Rose coldly, with a slight hint of aloofness and of
mental superiority. 'Not at anything.'
Leonora got up, and, leaving the room, went into the garden through
the side door opposite the stable. She could hear Millicent practising
the Jewel Song from Gounod's Faust. As she passed down the
sombre garden the sound of the piano and of Milly's voice in the
brilliant ecstatic phrases of the song grew fainter. She shook
violently, like a child who is recovering from a fit of sobs, and
without thinking she fastened her coat. 'What a shame it is that he
should want to sell my house! What a shame!' she murmured, full of an
aggrieved resentment. At the same time she was surprised to find
herself so suddenly and so deeply disturbed.
* * * * *
At the foot of the long garden was a low fence separating it from
the meadow, and in the fence a wicket from which ran a faint track to
the main field-path. She leaned against the fence, a few yards away
from the wicket, at a spot where a clump of bushes screened the house.
No one could possibly have seen her from the house, even had the bushes
not been there; but she wished to isolate herself completely, and to
find tranquillity in the isolation. The calm spring night, chill but
not too cold, cloudy but not too dark, favoured her intention. She
gazed about her at the obscure nocturnal forms of things, at the silent
trees, and the mysterious clouds gently rounded in their vast shape,
and the sharp slant of the meadow. Far below could be seen the red
signal of the railway, and, mapped in points of light on the opposite
slope, the streets of Bursley. To the right the eternal conflagration
of the Cauldon Bar furnaces illumined the sky with wavering amber. And
on the keen air came to her from the distance noises, soft but
impressive, of immense industrial activities.
She thought she could decipher a figure moving from the field-path
across the gloom of the meadow, and as she strained her eyes the figure
became an indubitable fact. Presently she knew that it was Arthur. 'At
last!' her heart passionately exclaimed, and she was swept and drenched
with happiness as a ship by the ocean. She forgot everything in the
tremendous shock of joy. She felt as though she could have waited no
more, and that now she might expire in a bliss intense and fatal, in a
sigh of supreme content. She could not stir nor speak, and he was
striding towards the wicket unconscious of her nearness! She coughed, a
delicate feminine cough, and then he turned aside from the direction of
the wicket and approached the fence, peering.
'Is that you?' he asked.
Across the fence they clasped hands. And in spite of her great wish
not to do so she clutched his hand tightly in her long fingers, and
held it for a moment. And as she felt the returning pressure of his
large, powerful, protective grasp, she covered—but in imagination
only—she covered his face, which she could shadowily see, with brave
and abandoned kisses; and she whispered to him, but unheard: 'Admit
that I am made for love.' She feared, in those beautiful and shameless
instants, neither John, nor Ethel and Milly, nor even Rose. She knew
suddenly why men and women leave all—honour, duty, and affection—and
follow love. Then her arm dropped, and there was silence.
'What are you doing here?' She was unable to speak in an ordinary
tone, but she spoke. Her voice exquisitely trembled, and its vibrations
said everything that the words did not say.
'Why,' he answered, and his voice too bore strange messages, 'I
called at Church Street and Mr. Myatt said you had only been gone a few
minutes, and so I came right away. I guessed I should overtake you. I
don't know what he would think.' Arthur laughed nervously.
She smiled at him, satisfied. And how well she knew that her smiling
face, caught by him dimly in the obscurity of the night, troubled him
like an enchanting and enigmatic vision!
After they had looked at each other, speechless, for a while, the
strong influence of convention forced them again into unnecessary,
'What's this about you selling this place?' he inquired in a low,
'Have you heard?'
'Yes,' he said, 'I did hear something.'
'Ah!' she murmured, wrinkling her forehead in a pretty make-believe
of woe—the question of the sale had ceased to be acute: 'I just came
out here to think about it.'
'But you aren't really going to——'
'No, of course not.'
She had no desire to discuss the tedious affair, because she was
infallibly certain of his entire sympathy. Explanations on her side,
and assurances on his, were equally superfluous.
'But won't you come into the house?' She invited him as a sort of
'Why?' he demanded bluntly.
She hesitated before replying: 'It will look so queer, us staying
here like this.' As soon as she had uttered the words she suspected
that she had said something decisive and irretrievable.
He put his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and walked several
times to and fro a few paces. Then he stopped in front of her.
'I guess we are bound to look queer, you and I, some day. So it may
as well be now,' he said.
It was in this exchange of sentences that their mutual passion
became at length articulate. A single discreet word spoken quickly, and
she might even yet perhaps have withdrawn from the situation. But she
did not speak; she could not speak; and soon she knew that her own
silence had bound her. She yielded herself with poignant and
magnificent joy to the profound drama which had been magically created
by this apparently commonplace dialogue. The climax had been achieved,
and she was conscious of being lifted into a sublime exultation, and of
being cut off from all else in the world save him. She looked at him
intently with a sadness that was the cloak of celestial rapture. 'How
courageous you are!' her soft eyes said. 'I should never have dared.
What a man!' It seemed to her that her heart would break under
the strain of that ecstasy. She had not imagined the possibility of
'Listen!' he proceeded. 'I ought to be in New York—I oughtn't to be
here. I must tell you. Scarcely a fortnight ago, one afternoon while I
was working in my office in Fourteenth Street, I had a feeling I would
be bound to come over. I said to myself the idea was preposterous. But
the next thing I knew I was arranging to come. I couldn't believe I was
coming. Not even when I had booked my berth and boarded the steamer,
not even when the steamer was actually passing Sandy Hook, could I
believe that I was really coming. I said to myself I was mad. I said to
myself that no man in his senses could behave as I was behaving. And
when I got to Southampton I said I would go right back. And yet I
couldn't help getting into the special for London. And when I got to
London I said I would act sensible and go back. But I met young
Burgess, and the next thing I knew I was at Euston. And here I am
pretending that it's my new London branch that brings me over, and
doing business I don't want to do in Knype and Cauldon and Bursley. And
I'm killing myself—yes, I am; I tell you I couldn't stand much
more—and I wouldn't be sure I wasn't killing you. Some folks would say
the whole thing was perfectly dreadful, but I don't care so long as
you—so long as you don't. I'm not conceited really, but it looks like
conceit—me talking like this and assuming that you're ready to stand
and listen. I assure you it isn't conceit. I only know—that's all.
It's difficult for you to say anything—I can feel that—but I'd like
you just to tell me you're glad I came and glad I've spoken. I'd just
like to hear that.'
She gazed fondly at him, at the male creature in whom she could find
only perfection, and she was filled with glorious pride that her image
should have drawn this strong, shrewd self-possessed man across the
Atlantic. It was incredible, but it was true. 'And,' said the secret
feminine in her, 'why not?'
He waited for her answer, facing her.
'Oh, yes!' she breathed. 'Oh, yes!... I'm glad—I'm so glad.'
'I wish,' he broke out, 'I wish I could explain to you what I think
of you, what I feel about you. You're so quiet and simple and direct
and yet—you don't know it, but you are. You're absolutely the
most—Oh! it's no use.'
She saw that he was growing very excited, and this, too, gave her
'We're in a hell of a fix!' he sighed.
Like many women, she took a fearful, almost thrilling joy in hearing
a man swear earnestly and religiously.
'That's it,' she said, 'there's nothing to be done?'
'Nothing to be done?' he demanded, imperiously. 'Nothing to be
She examined his face, which was close to hers, with a meditative,
expectant smile. She loved to see him out of repose, eager, masterful,
and daring. 'What is there to be done?' she asked.
'I don't know yet,' he said firmly, 'I must think.' Then, in a
delicious surrender, she felt towards him as though they were on the
brink of a rushing river, and he was about to pick her up in his arms,
like a trifle, and carry her safely through the flood; and she had the
illusion of pressing her face, which she knew he adored, against his
'Oh, you innocent angel!' he cried, seizing her hand (she let it lie
inert), 'do you suppose I'm the sort of man to sit down and cross my
legs and say that fate, or whatever you call it, hasn't done me right?
Do you suppose that two sensible persons like you and me are going to
be beaten by a mere set of circumstances? We aren't children, and we
'You're not afraid, are you?' He drank in her charm.
'It's when you aren't there,' she murmured tenderly. She really
thought, then, that by some marvellous plan he would perform the
impossible feat of reconciling the duty of fulfilling love with all the
'I shall reckon it up,' he said. 'Ah!'
Silence fell. And with the feel of the grass under her feet, and the
soft clouds overhead, and the patient trees, and the glare in the
southern smoke, and the lamps of Bursley, and the solitary red signal
in the valley, she breathed out her spirit like an aerial essence, and
merged into unity with him. And the strange far-off noises of nocturnal
industry wandered faintly across the void and seemed fraught with a
mysterious significance. Everything, in that unique hour, had the same
'Mother!' Millicent's distant voice, fresh and strong and pure in
the night, chanted the word startlingly to the first notes of a phrase
from the Jewel Song. 'Mother! Aren't you coming in?' The girl finished
the phrase with inviting gaiety, holding the final syllable. And the
sound faded, went out, like the flare of a rocket in the sky, and the
dark stillness was emphasised.
They did not move; they did not speak; but Leonora pressed his hand.
The passing thought of the orderly, multifarious existence of the house
behind her, of the warmed and lighted rooms, of the preoccupied lives,
only increased the felicity of her halcyon dream. And in the dreamy and
brooding silence all things retreated and gradually lapsed away, and
the pair were left sole amid the ineffable spaces of the universe to
listen to the irregular beatings of their own hearts. Time itself had
'Mother!' Millicent sang again, nearer, more strongly and purely in
the night. 'We are waiting for you to come in!' She varied a little the
phrase from the Jewel Song. 'To come in!' The long sustained notes
seemed to become a beautiful warning, and then the sound expired.
Leonora withdrew her hand.
'I shall think it out, and write you to-morrow,' Arthur whispered,
and was gone.
* * * * *
The next day, after a futile morning of hesitations, Leonora decided
in the afternoon that she would go out for a walk and return in some
definite state of mind. She loosed Bran, and the dog, when he had
finished his elephantine gambades, followed her close at heel, with all
stateliness, to the wide marsh on the brow of the hill. Here she began
actively and seriously to cogitate.
John was sulking; and it was seldom that he sulked. He had not
spoken to her again, neither on the previous evening nor at breakfast;
he had said nothing whatever to any one, except to tell Bessie that he
should not be at home for dinner; on committee-meeting days, when he
was engaged at the Town Hall, John sometimes dined at the Tiger. His
attitude produced small effect on Leonora. She was far too completely
absorbed in herself to be perturbed by the offensive symptoms of her
husband's wrath. She had neglected even to call on Uncle Meshach; and
as she strolled about the marsh she thought vaguely and perfunctorily
that she must see Uncle Meshach soon and acquaint him with John's
Pride as much as joy and alarm filled her heart. She was proud of
her perilous love; she would have liked proudly to confide it to some
friend, some mature and brilliant woman who knew the world and
understood things, and who would talk rationally; it seemed to her that
this secret idyll, at once tender and sincere and rather dashing, was
worthy of pride. She knew that many women, languishing in the greyness
of an impeccable and frigid domesticity, would be capable of envying
her; she remembered that, in reading the newspapers, she had sometimes
timidly envied the heroines of the matrimonial court who had bought
romance at the price of esteem and of peace. Then suddenly the whole
matter slipped into unreality, and she could not credit it. Was it
possible that she, a respectable matron, a known figure, the mother of
adult daughters, had fallen in love with a man not her husband, had had
a secret interview with her lover, and was anticipating, not a retreat,
but an advance? And she thought, as every honest woman has thought in
like case: 'This may happen to others; one hears of it, one reads about
it; but surely it cannot have happened to me!' And when she had
admitted that it had in fact happened to her, and had perceived with a
kind of shock that the heroines of the matrimonial court were real
persons, everyday creatures of flesh-and-blood, she thought, again like
the rest: 'Ah! But my affair is different from all the others. There is
something in it, something indefinable and precious, which makes it
She said: 'Can one help falling in love? Can one be blamed for
For John she had little compassion, and the gay and feverish
existence of New York spread out invitingly before her in a vision full
of piquant contrasts with the death-in-life of the Five Towns! But her
beloved girls! They were an insuperable barrier. She could not leave
them; she could not forfeit the right to look them in the eyes without
embarrassment ... And then the next moment—somehow, she did not know
how—the difficulty of the girls was arranged. And she had departed.
She had left the Five Towns for ever. And she was in the train, in the
hotel, on the steamer; she saw every detail of the escape. Oh! The
rapture! The tremors! The long sigh! The surrender! The intense living!
Surely no price could be too great....
No! Common sense, the acquirement of forty years, supervened, and
informed her wild heart, with all the cold arrogance of sagacity, that
these imaginings were vain. She felt that she must write a brief and
firm letter to Arthur and tell him to desist. She saw with
extraordinary clearness that this course was inevitable. And lest her
resolution might slacken, she turned instantly towards home and began
to hurry. The dog glanced up questioningly, and hurried too.
'Why!' she reflected. 'People would say: “And her husband's aunt
scarcely cold in her grave!”' She laughed scornfully.
A carriage overtook her. It was Mrs. Dain's, coming from the
direction of Oldcastle.
'Good afternoon to you,' Mrs. Dain shouted, without stopping, and
then, when she caught sight of Bran: 'Bless us! The dog hasn't brukken
his leg after all!'
'Broken his leg!' Leonora repeated, astonished. The carriage was now
in front of her.
'Our Polly come in this morning and sat hersen down on a chair and
told us as your dog had brukken his leg. What tales one hears!' Mrs.
Dain had to twist her stout neck dangerously in order to finish the
'I should think so!' was Leonora's private comment, her gaze fixed
on the scarlet of Mrs. Dain's nodding bonnet.
In the little room off the dining-room Leonora dipped pen in ink to
write to Arthur. She wrote the date, and she wrote the word 'Dear.' And
she could not proceed. She knew that she could not compose a letter
which would be effective. She went to the window and looked out, biting
the pen. 'What am I to do?' she whispered, in terror. 'What am I to
do?' Then she saw Ethel running hard down the drive to the front door.
'Oh, mother!' The pale girl burst into the room. 'Father's done
something to himself. Fred's come up. They're bringing him.'
* * * * *
John Stanway had called at the chemist's in the Market Place and had
given a circumstantial description of an accident to Bran. It appeared
that while Carpenter was washing the waggonette, Bran being loose in
the stable-yard, the groom had suddenly slipped the lever of the
carriage-jack and the off hind wheel had caught Bran's hind leg and
snapped it like a piece of wood. The chemist had suggested prussic
acid, and John had laughingly answered that perhaps the chemist would
be good enough to come up and show them how to administer prussic acid
to a dog of Bran's size in great pain. John explained that the animal
was now fast by the collar, and he had demanded a large dose of
morphia, together with a hypodermic instrument. Having obtained these,
and precise instructions for their use, John had hurried away. It was
not till three hours had elapsed that a startling suspicion had
disturbed the chemist's easy mind. By that time, his preparations
completed, John had dropped unconscious from the arm-chair in his
office at the works, and Bursley was provided with one of those morbid
sensations which more than joy or triumph electrify the stagnant pulses
of a provincial town. Scores of persons followed the cab which conveyed
Stanway from the works to his house; and on the route most of the
inhabitants seemed to know in advance, by some strange intuition, that
the vehicle was coming, and at their windows or at their gates
(according to social status) they stood ready to watch it pass. And
even after John had entered his home and had been carried upstairs, and
the cab and the policeman had gone, and the doctor had gone, and Fred
Ryley and Mr. Mayer, the works manager, had gone, a crowd still
remained on the footpath, staring at the gravelled drive and at the
front door, silent, patient, implacable.
The doctor had tried hot coffee, artificial respiration, and other
remedies, but without the least success, and he had reluctantly
departed, solemn for once, leaving four women to understand that there
was nothing to do save to wait for the final sigh. The inactivity was
dreadful for them. They could only look at each other and think, and
move to and fro aimlessly in the large bedroom, and light the gas at
dusk, and examine from moment to moment those contracted pupils and
that damp white brow, and listen for the faint occasional breaths. They
did not think the thoughts which, could they have foreseen the
situation, they might have expected to think. It did not occur to them
to search for the causes of the disaster, nor to speculate upon its
results in regard to themselves: they surrendered to the supreme fact.
They were all incapable of logical and ordered reflections, and in the
hushed torpor of their secret hearts there wandered, loosely, little
disconnected ideas and sensations; as that the Stanway family was at
length getting its full share of vicissitude and misfortune, that John
was after all more important and more truly dominant and more
intimately a part of their lives than they had imagined, that this
affair was a thousand miles removed from that of Uncle Meshach, that
they were fully supplied with mourning, and that suicide was
mysteriously different from their previous notion of it. The impressive
thoughts, the obvious thoughts—that if their creeds were sound, a soul
was about to enter into eternal torment, and that their lives would be
violently changed, and that they would be branded before the world as
the wife and the daughters of a defaulter and a self-murderer—did not
by any means absorb their minds in those first hours.
In the attitude of the girls towards Leonora there was a sort of
religious deference, as of priestesses to one soon to be sacrificed.
'She is the central figure of the tragedy,' they had the air of saying
to each other. 'We feel the affliction, but it cannot be demanded from
us that we should feel it as she feels it. We are only beginning to
live; we have the future; but she—she will have nothing. She will be
the widow.' And the significance of that terrible word—all that it
implied of social diminishment, of feeding on memory, and of mere
waiting for death—seemed to cling about Leonora as she stood
restlessly observant by the bed. And when Rose urged her to drink some
tea, she could not help drinking the tea humbly, from a sense of the
duty of doing what she was told. It was not Rose's fault that Rose was
superior, and that only twenty-four hours ago she had coldly informed
her mother that no act of her father's would surprise her. Leonora
resigned herself to humility.
'Mamma,' said Millicent, creeping into the room after an absence,
'Uncle Meshach is here with Mr. Twemlow, and he says he's coming in.
'Of course, darling,' Leonora answered, without turning her head.
Uncle Meshach appeared, leaning on his stick and on Arthur's arm. He
wore his overcoat and even his hat, and a white knitted muffler
encircled his shrivelled neck in loose folds. No one spoke as the old
and feeble man, with short uncertain steps, drew Arthur towards the bed
and gazed at his dying nephew. Meshach looked long, and sighed.
Suddenly he demanded of Leonora in a whisper:
'Is he unconscious?'
Drawing a little nearer to the bed, Meshach signed to Millicent to
approach, and gave her his stick. Then he unbuttoned his overcoat, and
his coat, and the flap-pocket of his trousers, and after much searching
found a box of matches. He shook out a match clumsily, and struck it,
and came still nearer to the bed. All wondered apprehensively what the
old man was going to do, but none dared interfere or protest because he
was so old, and so precariously attached to life, and because he was
the head of the family. With his thin, veined, trembling hand, he
passed the lighted match close across John's eyeballs; not a muscle
twitched. Then he extinguished the match, put it in the box, returned
the box to his pocket, and buttoned the pocket and his coats.
'Ay!' he breathed. 'The lad's unconscious right enough. Let's be
Taking his stick from Milly, he clutched Arthur's arm again, and
very slowly left the room.
After a moment's hesitation Leonora followed and overtook them at
the bottom of the stairs; it was the first time she had forsaken the
bedside. She was surprised to see Fred Ryley in the hall,
self-conscious but apparently determined to be quite at home. She
remembered that he said he should come up again as soon as he had
arranged matters at the works.
'Just take Mr. Myatt to the cab, will you?' said Twemlow quietly to
Fred. 'I'll follow.'
'Certainly,' Fred agreed, pulling his moustache nervously. 'Now, Mr.
Myatt, let me help you.'
'Ay!' said Meshach. 'Thou shalt help me if thou'n a mind.' As he was
feeling for the step with his stick he stopped and looked round at
Leonora. 'Lass!' he exclaimed, 'thou toldst me John was i' smooth
water.' Then he departed and they could hear his shuffling steps on the
Twemlow glanced inquiringly at Leonora.
'Come in here,' she said briefly, pointing to the drawing-room. They
entered; it was dark.
'Your uncle made me drive up with him,' Arthur explained, as if in
She ignored the remark. 'You must go back to New York—at once,' she
told him, in a dry, curt voice.
'Yes,' he assented, 'I suppose I'd better.'
'And don't write to me—until after I have written.'
'Oh, but——' he began.
She thought wildly: 'This man, with his reason and his judgment, has
not the slightest notion how I feel, not the slightest!'
'I must write,' he said in a persuasive tone.
'No!' she cried passionately and vehemently. 'You aren't to write,
and you aren't to see me. You must promise, absolutely.'
'For how long?' he asked.
She shook her head. 'I don't know, I can't tell.'
'But isn't that rather——'
'Will you promise?' she cried once more, quite loudly and almost
fiercely. And her accents were so full of entreaty, of command, and of
despair, that Arthur feared a nervous crisis for her.
'If you wish it,' he said, forced to yield.
And even then she could not be content.
'You give me your word to do nothing at all until you hear from me?'
He paused, but he saw no alternative to submission. 'Yes.'
She thanked him, and without shaking hands or saying good-night she
went upstairs and resumed her place by the bedside. She could hear
Uncle Meshach's cab drive away.
'How came Mr. Twemlow to be here, mother?' Rose demanded quietly.
'I don't know,' Leonora replied. 'He must have been at uncle's.'
When the doctor had been again and gone, and various neighbours and
the 'Signal' reporter had called to inquire for news, and the hour was
growing late, Ethel said to her mother, 'Fred thinks he had better stay
'But why?' Leonora asked.
'Well, mother,' said Milly, 'it's just as well to have a man in the
'He can rest on the Chesterfield in the drawing-room,' Ethel added.
'Then if he's wanted——'
'Yes, yes,' Leonora agreed. 'And tell him he's very kind.'
At midnight, Fred was reading in the drawing-room, the man in the
house, the ultimate fount of security for seven women. Bessie, having
refused positively to go to bed, slept in a chair in the kitchen, her
heels touching the scrap of hearthrug which lay like a little island on
the red tiles in front of the range. Rose and Millicent had retired to
bed till three o'clock. Ethel, as the eldest, stayed with her mother.
When the hall-clock sounded one, meaning half past twelve, Leonora
glanced at her daughter, who reclined on the sofa at the foot of the
beds; the girl had fallen into a doze.
John's condition was unchanged; the doctor had said that he might
possibly survive for many hours. He lay on his back, with open eyes,
and damp face and hair; his arms rested inert on the sheet; and
underneath that thin covering his chest rose and fell from time to
time, with a scarcely perceptible movement. It seemed to Leonora that
she could realise now what had happened and what was to happen. In the
nocturnal solemnity of the house filled with sleeping and quiescent
youth, she who was so mature and so satiate had the sensation of being
alone with her mate. Images of Arthur Twemlow did not distract her.
With the full strength of her mind she had shut an iron door on the
episode in the garden; it was as though it had never existed. And she
gazed at John with calm and sad compassion. 'I would not sell my home,'
she reflected, 'and here is the consequence of refusal.' She wished she
had yielded—and she could perceive how unimportant, comparatively,
bricks-and-mortar might be—but she did not blame herself for not
having yielded. She merely regretted her sensitive obstinacy as a
misfortune for both of them. She had a vision of humanity in a hurried
procession, driven along by some force unseen and ruthless, a
procession in which the grotesque and the pitiable were always
occurring. She thought of John standing over Meshach with the cold
towel, and of Meshach passing the flame across John's dying eyes, and
these juxtapositions appeared to her intolerably mournful in their
Impelled by a physical curiosity, she lifted the sheet and
scrutinised John's breast, so pallid against the dark red of his neck,
and bent down to catch the last tired efforts of the heart within. And
the idea of her extraordinary intimacy with this man, of the incessant
familiarity of more than twenty years, struck her and overwhelmed her.
She saw that nothing is so subtly influential as constant uninterrupted
familiarity, nothing so binding, and perhaps nothing so sacred. It was
a trifle that they had not loved. They had lived. Ah! she knew him so
profoundly that words could not describe her knowledge. He kept his own
secrets, hundreds of them; and he had, in a way, astounded and shocked
her by his suicide. Yet, in another way, this miserable termination did
not at all surprise her; and his secrets were petty, factual things of
no essential import, which left her mystic omniscience of him
She looked at his eyes, and thought pitifully: 'These eyes cannot
see that I uncover him.' Then she looked again at his breast, which
heaved in shallow respirations. And at the moment he exhaled a sigh, so
softly delicate and gentle that it might have been the sigh of an
infant sinking to sleep. She put her ear quickly to the still breast,
as to a sea-shell, and listened intently, and caught no rumour of life
there. Startled, she glanced at the jaw, which had dropped, and then at
Ethel dozing on the sofa.
The room was filled for her with the majestic sound of trumpets,
loud, sustained, and thrilling, but heard only by the soul; a noble and
triumphant fanfare announcing the awful advent of those forces which
are beyond the earthly sense. John's body lay suddenly deserted and
residual; that deceitful brain, and that lying tongue, and that
murderous hand had already begun to decay; and the informing fragment
of eternal and universal energy was gone to its next manifestation and
its next task, unconscious, irresponsible, and unchanged. The
ineptitude of human judgments had been once more emphasised, and the
great excellence of charity.
'Ethel,' said Leonora timorously, waking with a touch the young and
beautiful girl whose flushed cheek was pressed against the cushion of
the sofa. 'He's gone.... Call Fred.'
CHAPTER XI. THE REFUSAL
Fifteen months after John's death, and the inquest on his body, and
the clandestine funeral, Leonora sat alone one evening in the garden of
the house at Hillport. She wore a black dress trimmed with jet; a
narrow band of white muslin clasped her neck, and from her shoulders
hung a long thin antique gold chain, once the ornament of Aunt Hannah.
Her head was uncovered, and the mild breeze which stirred the new
leaves of the poplars moved also the stray locks of her hair. Her calm
and mature beauty was unchanged; it was a common remark in the town
that during the past year she had looked handsomer than ever, more
content, radiant, and serene. 'And it's not surprising, either!' people
added. The homestead appeared to be as of old. Carpenter was feeding
Prince in the stable; Bran lay huge and benign at the feet of his
mistress; the borders of the lawn were vivid with bloom; and within the
house Bessie still ruled the kitchen. No luxury was abated, and no
custom altered. Time apparently had nothing to show there, save an
engagement ring on Bessie's finger. Many things, however, had occurred;
but they had seemed to occur so placidly, and the days had been so
even, that the term of her widowhood was to Leonora more like three
months than fifteen, and she often reminded herself: 'It was last
spring, not this, that he died.'
'The business is right enough!' Fred Ryley had said positively, with
an emphasis on the word 'business,' when he met Leonora and Uncle
Meshach in family council, during the first week of the disaster; and
Meshach had replied: 'Thou shalt prove it, lad!' The next morning Mr.
Mayer, the manager, and everybody on the bank, learned that Fred, with
old Myatt at his back, was in sole control of the works at Shawport;
creditors breathed with relief; and the whole of Bursley remembered
that it had always prophesied that Fred's sterling qualities were bound
to succeed. Meshach lent several thousands of pounds to Fred at five
per cent., and Fred was to pay half the net profits of the business to
Leonora as long as she lived. The youth did not change his lodgings,
nor his tailor, nor his modest manners; but he became nevertheless
suddenly important, and none appreciated this fact better than Mr.
Mayer, whose sandy hair was getting grey, and who, having six children
but no rich great-uncle, could never hope to earn more than three
pounds a week. Fred was now an official member of the Myatt clan, and,
in the town, men of position, pompous individuals who used to ignore
him, greeted the sole principal of Twemlow &Stanway's with a certain
cordiality. After an interval his engagement to Ethel was announced.
Every evening he came up to Hillport. The couple were ardently and
openly in love; they expected always to have the dining-room at their
private disposal, and they had it. Ethel simply adored him, and he was
immeasurably proud of her. Even in presence of the family they would
sit hand in hand, making no attempt to conceal their bliss. For the
rest Fred's attitude to Leonora was very affectionate and deferential;
it touched her, though she knew he worshipped her ignorantly. Rose and
Millicent wondered 'what Ethel could see in him'; he was neither
amusing nor smart nor clever, nor even vivacious; he had little
acquaintance with games, music, novels, or the feminist movement; he
was indeed rather dull; but they liked him because he was fundamentally
and invariably 'nice.' At the close of the year of Stanway's death,
Fred had paid to Leonora four hundred and fifty pounds as her share of
the profits of the firm for nine months. But long before that Leonora
was rich. Uncle Meshach had died and left her the Myatt fortune for
life, with remainder to the three girls absolutely in equal shares.
Fred was the executor and trustee, and Fred's own share of the bounty
was a total remission of Meshach's loan to him. Thus it is that
providence watches over the wealthy, the luxurious, and the
well-connected, and over the lilies of the field who toil not.
Aroused from lethargy by the dramatic circumstances of her father's
death, Rose had resumed her reading with a vigour that amounted almost
to fury. In the following January she miraculously passed the
Matriculation examination of London University in the first division,
and on returning home she informed Leonora that she had decided to go
back to London and study medicine at a hospital for women.
But of the three girls, it was Millicent who had made the most
history. Millicent was rapidly developing the natural gift, so precious
to the theatrical artist, of existing picturesquely in the eye of the
public. When the rehearsals of Princess Ida began for the annual
performance of the Operatic Society Milly confidently expected to
receive the principal part, despite the fact that Lucy Turner, who had
the prescriptive right to it, was once more in a position to sing; and
Milly was not disappointed. As a heroine of comic opera she now
accounted herself an extremely serious person, and it soon became
apparent that the conductor and his prima donna would have to decide
between them who was to control the rehearsals while Milly was on the
stage. One evening a difference of opinion as to the tempo of a
song and chorus reached the condition of being acute. Exasperated by
the pretty and wayward child, the conductor laid down his stick and
lighted a cigarette, and those who knew him knew that the rehearsal
would not proceed until the duel had been fought to a finish. Milly
thought hard and said: 'Mr. Corfe says the Hanbridge people would jump
at me!' 'My good girl,' the conductor replied, 'Mr. Corfe's views on
the acrobatic propensities of the Hanbridge people are just a shade off
the point.' Every one laughed, except Milly. She possessed little
appreciation of wit, and she had scarcely understood the remark; but
she had an objection to the laughter, and a very strong objection to
being the conductor's good girl. The instant result was that she vowed
never again to sing or act under his baton, and took the entire Society
to witness; her place was filled by Lucy Turner. The Hanbridge Society
happened to be doing Patience that year, and they justified Mr.
Corfe's prediction. Moreover, they hired the Hanbridge Theatre Royal
for six nights. On the first night Milly was enthusiastically applauded
by two thousand people, and in addition to half a column of praise in
the 'Signal,' she had the happiness of being mentioned in the district
news of the 'Manchester Guardian' and the 'Birmingham Daily Post.' She
deemed it magnificent for her; Leonora tried to think so too. But on
the fourth day the Hanbridge conductor was in bed with influenza; and
the Bursley conductor, upon a flattering request, undertook his work
for the remaining nights. Milly broke her vow; her practical common
sense was really wonderful. On the last and most glorious night of the
six, after responding to several frenzied calls, Milly was inspired to
seize the conductor in the wings and drag him with her before the
curtain. The effect was tremendous. The conductor had won, but he very
willingly admitted that, in losing, the adorable chit had triumphed
over him. The episode was gossip for many days.
And this was by no means the end of the matter. The agent-in-advance
of one of the touring musical-comedy companies of Lionel Belmont, the
famous Anglo-American manager, was in Hanbridge during that week, and
after seeing Milly in the piece he telegraphed to Liverpool, where his
company was, and the next day the manager visited Hanbridge incognito.
Then Harry Burgess began to play a part in Millicent's history. Harry
had abandoned his stool at the Bank, expressing his intention to
undertake some large commercial enterprise; he had persuaded his mother
to find the capital. The leisurely search for a large commercial
enterprise precisely suited to Harry's tastes necessitated frequent
sojourns in London. Harry became a man-about-town and a member of the
renowned New Fantastics Club. The New Fantastics were powerful
supporters of the dramatic art, and the roll of the club included
numerous theatrical stars of magnitudes varying from the first to the
tenth. It was during one of the club's official excursions—in
pantechnicon vans—to a suburban theatre where a good French actress
was performing, that Harry made the acquaintance of that important man,
Louis Lewis, Belmont's head representative in Europe. Louis Lewis, over
champagne, asked Harry if he knew a Millicent Stanway of Bursley. The
effect of the conversation was that Harry came home and astounded Milly
by telling her what Louis Lewis had authorised him to say. There were
conferences between Leonora and Milly and Mr. Cecil Corfe, a journey to
Manchester, hesitations, excitations, thrills, and in the end an
arrangement. Millicent was to go to London to be finally appraised, and
probably to sign a contract for a sixteen-weeks provincial tour at
three pounds a week.
* * * * *
Leonora's prevailing mood was the serenity of high resolve and of
resignation. She had renounced the chance of ecstasy. She was sad, but
she was not unhappy. The melancholy which filled the secret places of
her soul was sweet and radiant, and she had proved the ancient truth
that he who gives up all, finds all. Still in rich possession of beauty
and health, she nevertheless looked forward to nothing but old age—an
old age of solitude and sufferance. Hannah and Meshach were gone; John
was gone; and she alone seemed to be left of the elder generations. In
four days Ethel was to be married. Already for more than three months
Rose had been in London, and in a fortnight Leonora was to take
Millicent there. And when Ethel was married and perhaps a mother, and
Rose versed and absorbed in the art and craft of obstetrics, and the
name of Millicent familiar in the mouths of clubmen, what was Leonora
to do then? She could not control her daughters; she could scarcely
guide them. Ethel knew only one law, Fred's wish; and Rose had too much
intellect, and Millicent too little heart, to submit to her. Since
John's death the house had been the abode of peace and amiability, but
it had also been Liberty Hall. If sometimes Leonora regretted that she
could not more dominantly impress herself upon her children, she never
doubted that on the whole the new republic was preferable to the old
tyranny. What then had she to do? She had to watch over her girls, and
especially over Rose and Milly. And as she sat in the garden with Bran
at her feet, in the solitude which foreshadowed the more poignant
solitude to come, she said to herself with passionate maternity: 'I
shall watch over them. If anything occurs I shall always be ready.' And
this blissful and transforming thought, this vehement purpose, allayed
somewhat the misgivings which she had long had about Millicent, and
which her recent glimpses into the factitious and erratic world of the
theatre had only served to increase.
It was Milly's affair which had at length brought Leonora to the
point of communicating with Arthur Twemlow. In the first weeks of
widowhood, the most terrible of her life, she could not dream of
writing to him. Then the sacrifice had dimly shaped itself in her mind,
and while actually engaged in fighting against it she hesitated to send
any message whatever. And when she realised that the sacrifice was
inevitable for her, when she inwardly knew that Arthur and the splendid
rushing life of New York must be renounced in obedience to the double
instinct of maternity and of repentance, she could not write. She felt
timorous; she was unable to frame the sentences. And she
procrastinated, ruled by her characteristic quality of supineness. Once
she heard that he had been over to London and gone back; she drew a
deep breath as though a peril had been escaped, and procrastinated
further. Then came the overtures from Lionel Belmont, or at least from
his agents, to Milly. Belmont was a New Yorker, and the notion suddenly
struck her of writing to Arthur for information about Belmont. It was a
capricious notion, but it provided an extrinsic excuse for a letter
which might be followed by another of more definite import. In the end
she was obliged to yield to it. She wrote, as she had performed every
act of her relationship with Arthur, unwillingly, in spite of her
reason, governed by a strange and arbitrary impulse. No sooner was the
letter in the pillar-box than she began to wonder what Arthur would say
in his response, and how she should answer that response. She grew
impatient and restless, and called at the chief Post Office in Bursley
for information about the American mails. On this evening, as Leonora
sat in the garden, Milly was reciting at a concert at Knype, and Ethel
and Fred had accompanied her. Leonora, resisting some pressure, had
declined to go with them. Assuming that Arthur wrote on the day he
received her missive, his reply, she had ascertained, ought to be
delivered in Hillport the next morning, but there was just a chance
that it might be delivered that night. Hence she had stayed at home,
expectant, and—with all her serenity—a little nervous and excited.
Carpenter emerged from the region of the stable and began to water
some flower-beds in the vicinity of her seat.
'Terrible dry month we've had, ma'am,' he murmured in his quiet
pastoral voice, waving the can to and fro.
She agreed perfunctorily. Her mind was divided between suspense
concerning the postman, contemplation of the placid vista of the
remainder of her career, and pleasure in the languorous charm of the
Bran moved his head, and rising ponderously walked round the seat
towards the house. Then Carpenter, following the dog with his eyes,
smiled and touched his cap. Leonora turned sharply. Arthur Twemlow
himself stood on the step of the drawing-room window, and Bessie's
white apron was just disappearing within.
In the first glance Leonora noticed that Arthur was considerably
thinner. She was overcome by a violent emotion that contained both fear
and joy. And as he approached her, agitated and unsmiling, the joy
said: 'How heavenly it is to see him again!' But the fear asked: 'Why
is he so worn? What have you been doing to him all these months,
Leonora?' She met him in the middle of the lawn, and they shook hands
timidly, clumsily, embarrassed. Carpenter, with that inborn delicacy of
tact which is the mark of a simple soul, walked away out of sight, and
Bran, receiving no attention, followed him.
'Were you surprised to see me?' Arthur lamely questioned.
In their hearts a thousand sensations struggled, some for
expression, others for concealment; and speech, pathetically unequal to
the swift crisis, was disconcerted by it almost to the verge of
'Yes,' she said. 'Very.'
'You ought not to have been,' he replied.
His tone alarmed her. 'Why?' she said. 'When did you get my letter?'
'Just after one o'clock to-day.'
'I was in London. It was sent on to me from New York.'
She was relieved. When she saw him first at the window, she had a
lightning vision of him tearing open her letter in New York, jumping
instantly into a cab, and boarding the English steamer. This had
frightened her. It was, if not exactly reassuring, at any rate less
terrifying, to learn that he had flown to her only from London.
'Well,' he exclaimed, 'how's everybody? And where are the girls?'
She gave the news, and then they walked together to the seat and sat
down, in silence.
'You don't look too well,' she ventured. 'You've been working too
He passed his hand across his forehead and moved on the seat so as
to meet her eyes directly.
'Quite the reverse,' he said. 'I haven't been working half hard
'Not half hard enough?' she repeated mechanically.
As his eyes caught hers and held them she was conscious of an
exquisite but mortal tremor; her spine seemed to give way. The old
desire for youth and love, for that brilliant and tender existence in
which were united virtue and the flavour of sin, dalliance and high
endeavour, eternal appetite and eternal satisfaction, rushed wondrously
over her. The life which she had mapped out for herself suddenly
appeared miserable, inadequate, even contemptible. Was she, with her
rich blood, her perfect health, her proud carriage, her indestructible
beauty, and her passionate soul, to wither solitary in the cold shadow?
She felt intensely, as every human heart feels sometimes, that the
satisfactions of duty were chimerical, and that the only authentic
bliss was to be found in a wild and utter abandonment to instinct. No
matter what the cost of rapture, in self-respect or in remorse, it was
worth the cost. Why did not mankind rise up and put an end to this
endless crucifixion of instinct which saddened the whole earth, and say
gloriously, 'Let us live'? And in a moment dalliance without endeavour,
and the flavour of sin without virtue, were beautiful ideals for her.
She could have put her arms round Arthur's neck and drawn him to her,
and blotted out all the past and sullied all the future with one kiss.
She wondered what recondite force dissuaded her from doing so. 'I have
but to lift my arms and smile,' she thought.
'You've been very cruel,' said Arthur. 'I wouldn't have believed you
could have been so cruel. I guess you didn't know how cruel you were.
Why didn't you write before?'
'I couldn't,' she answered submissively. 'Didn't you understand?'
The question was not quite ingenuous, but she meant it well.
'I understood at first,' he said. 'I knew you would want to wait. I
knew how upset you'd be—I—I think I knew all you'd feel.... But it
will soon be eighteen months ago.' His voice was full of emotion. Then
he smiled, gravely and charmingly.' However, it's finished now, and I'm
His indictment was very kind, very mild; but she could see how he
had suffered, and that his wrath against her had been none the less
genuine because it was the wrath of love. She grew more and more humble
before his gaze so adoring and so reproachful. She knew that she had
been selfish, and that she had ransomed her conscience as much at his
expense as at her own. She perceived the vital inferiority of women to
men—that quality of callousness which allows them to commit all
cruelties in the name of self-sacrifice, and that lack of imagination
by which they are blinded to the wounds they deal. Women have brief
moods in which they judge themselves as men judge them, in which they
escape from their sex and know the truth. Such a mood came then to
Leonora. And she wished ardently to compensate Arthur for the martyrdom
which she had inflicted on him. They were close to one another. The
atmosphere between them was electric. And the darkness of a calm and
delicious night was falling. Could she not obey her instinct, and in
one bright word, one word laden with the invitation and acquiescence of
femininity, atone for her sin against him? Could she not shatter the
images of Rose and Milly, who loved her after their hard fashion, but
who would never thank her for her watchful affection—would even resent
it? Vain hope!
'Oh!' she exclaimed grievously, trying uselessly to keep the dream
of joyous indulgence from fading away. 'I must tell you—I cannot leave
'The girls—Rose and Milly. I daren't. You don't know what I went
through after John's death—and I can't desert them. I should have told
you in my next letter.'
Her tones moved not only him but herself. He was obliged at once to
receive what she said with the utmost seriousness, as something fully
weighed and considered.
'Do you mean,' he demanded, 'that you won't marry me and come to New
'I can't, I can't,' she replied.
He got up and walked along the garden towards the meadow, so far
that in the twilight her eyes could scarcely distinguish his figure
against the bushes. Then he returned.
'Just let me hear all about the girls.' He stood in front of her.
'You see,' she said entreatingly, when she had hurried through her
recital, 'I couldn't leave them, could I?'
But instead of answering, he questioned her further about Milly's
projects, and made suggestions, and they seemed to have been discussing
the complex subject for an hour before she found a chance to reassert,
plaintively: 'I couldn't leave them.'
'You're entirely wrong,' he said firmly and authoritatively. 'You've
just got an idea fixed in your head, and it's all wrong, all wrong.'
'It isn't as if they were going to be married,' she obstinately
pursued the sequence of her argument. 'Ethel now——'
'Married!' he cried, roused. 'Are we to wait patiently, you and I,
until Rose and Milly choose to get married?' He was bitterly scornful.
'Is that our role? I fancy I know something about Rose and Milly, and
allow me to tell you they never will get married, neither of them. They
aren't the marrying sort. Not but what that's beside the point!...
Yes,' he continued, 'and if there ever were two girls in this world
able to look after themselves without parental assistance Rose and
Milly are those two.'
'You don't understand women; you don't know, you don't understand,'
she murmured. She was shocked and hurt by this candid and hostile
expression of opinion concerning Rose and Milly, whom hitherto he had
always appeared to like.
'No,' he retorted with solemn resentment. 'And no other man
either!... Before, when they needed your protection perhaps, when your
husband was alive, you would have left Rose and Milly then, wouldn't
you?... Wouldn't you?'
'Oh!' the exclamation escaped her unawares. She burst into a sob.
She had not meant to cry, but she was crying.
He sat down close to her, and put his hand on her shoulder, and
leaned over her. 'My dearest girl,' he whispered in a new voice of
infinite softness, 'you've forgotten that you have a duty to yourself,
and to me, as well as to Rose and Milly. Our lives want looking after,
too. We're human creatures, you know, you and I. This row that we're
having now has occurred thousands of times before, but this time it's
going to be settled with common sense, isn't it?' And he kissed her
with a kiss as soft as his voice.
She sighed. Still perplexed and unconvinced, she was nevertheless in
those minutes acutely happy. The mysterious and profound affinity of
the flesh had made a truce between the warring principles of the male
and of the female; a truce only. To the left of the house, over the
Marsh, the last silver relics of day hung in the distant sky. She
looked at the dying light, so provocative of melancholy in its
reluctance to depart, and at the timidly-appearing stars and the sombre
trees, and her thought was: 'World, how beautiful and sad you are!'
Bran emerged forlorn from the gloom, and rested his great chin
confidingly on her knees.
'Bran!' she condoled with him through her tears, stroking the dog's
head tenderly, 'Ah! Bran!'
Arthur stood up, resolute, victorious, but prudent and magnanimous
too. He put one foot on the seat beside her, and leaned forward on the
raised knee, tapping his stick. 'I've hired a flat over there,' he said
low in her ear, 'such as can't be gotten outside of New York. And in my
thoughts I've made a space for you in New York, where it's life and no
mistake, and where I'm known, and where my interests are. And if you
didn't come I don't know what I should do. I tell you fair I don't know
what I should do. And wouldn't your life be spoilt? Wouldn't it? But it
isn't the flat I've got, and it isn't the space I've sort of cleared,
and it isn't the ruin and smash for you and me—it isn't so much these
things that make me feel wicked when I think of the mere possibility of
you refusing to come, as the fundamental injustice of the thing to both
of us. My dear girl, no one ever understood you as I do. I can see it
all as well as if I'd been here all the time. You took fright
after—after his death. Women are always more frightened after the
danger's over than at the time, especially when they're brave. And you
thought, “I must do something very good because it was on the cards I
might have been very wicked.” And so it's Rose and Milly that mustn't
be left ... I'm not much of an intellect, outside crocks, you know, but
there's one thing I can do, I can see clear?... Can't I see
Their hands met in the dog's fur. She was still crying, but she
smiled up at him admiringly and appreciatively.
'If Rose and Milly want a change any time,' he continued, 'let 'em
come over. And we can come to Europe just as often as you feel that way
'Why,' she meditated, 'cannot this last for ever?' She felt so
feminine and illogical, and the masculine, masterful rationality of his
appeal touched her so intimately, that she had discovered in the woe
and the indecision of her situation a kind of happiness. And she wished
to keep what she had got. At length a certain courage and resolution
visited her, and summoning all her sweetness she said to him: 'Don't
press me, please, please! In a fortnight I shall be in London with
Milly.... Will you wait a fortnight? Will you wait that long? I know
that what you say is—You will wait that long, won't you? You'll be in
London then to meet us?'
'God!' he exclaimed, deeply moved by the fainting, beseeching
poignancy of her voice, 'I will wait forty fortnights. And I guess I
shall be in London.'
She sank back on the reprieve as on a pillow.
'Of course I'll wait,' he repeated lightly, and his tone said: 'I
understand. Life isn't all logic, and allowances must be made. Women
are women—that's what makes them so adorable—and I'm not in a hurry.'
They did not speak further.
A moving patch of white on the path indicated Bessie.
'If you please, ma'am, shall I set supper for five?' she asked
vivaciously in the summer darkness.
There was a silence.
'I'm not staying, Bessie,' said Twemlow.
'Thank you, sir. Come along, Bran, come kennel.'
The great beast slouched off, and left them together.
* * * * *
'Guess who's been!' Leonora demanded of her girls and Fred, with
feverish gaiety, when they returned from the concert. The dining-room
was very cheerful, and brightly lit; outside lay the dark garden and
Bran reflective in his kennel. No one could guess Arthur, and so
Leonora had to tell. They were surprised; and they were interested, but
not for long. Millicent was preoccupied with her successful performance
at the concert; and Ethel and Fred had had a brilliant idea. This
couple were to commence married life modestly in Uncle Meshach's house;
but the place was being repaired and redecorated, and there seemed to
be an annoying probability that it would not be finished for immediate
occupation after the short honeymoon—Fred could only spare 'two
week-ends' from the works. Why should they not return on the very day
when Leonora and Milly were to go to London and keep house at Hillport
during Leonora's absence? Such was the brilliant idea, one of those
domestic ideas whose manifold excellences call for interminable
explanation and discussion. The name of Arthur Twemlow was not again
CHAPTER XII. IN LONDON
The last day of the dramatic portion of Leonora's life was that on
which she went to London with Milly. They were up early, in order to
catch the morning express, and, before leaving, Leonora arranged with
the excited Bessie all details for the reception of Ethel and Fred, who
were to arrive in the afternoon from their honeymoon. 'I will drive,'
she said to Carpenter when the cart was brought round, and Carpenter
had to sit behind among the trunks. Bessie in her morning print and her
engagement ring stood at the front door, and sped them beneficently
away while clinging hard to Bran.
As the train rushed smoothly across the vast and rich plain of
Middle England, Leonora's thoughts dwelt on the house at Hillport, on
her skilled and sympathetic servants, on Prince and Bran, and on the
calm and the orderliness and the high decency of everything. And she
pictured the homecoming of Ethel and Fred from Wales—Fred stiff and
nervous, and Ethel flushed, beautiful, and utterly bewitching in the
self-consciousness of the bride. 'May I call her Mrs. Fred, ma'am?'
Bessie had asked, recoiling from the formality of 'Mrs. Ryley,' and
aware that 'Miss Ethel' was no longer possible. Leonora saw them in the
dining-room consuming the tea which Bessie had determined should be the
final word of teas; and she saw Bessie, in that perfect black of hers
and that miraculous muslin, waiting at table with a superlative and
cold primness that covered a desire to take Ethel in her arms and kiss
her. And she saw the pair afterwards, dallying on the lawn with Bran at
dusk, simple, unambitious, unassuming, content; and, still later, Fred
meticulously locking up the great house, so much too large and
complicated for one timid couple, and Ethel standing at the top of the
stairs as he extinguished the hall-gas. These visions of them made her
feel sad—sad because Ethel could never again be that which she had
been, and because she was so young, inexperienced, confiding, and
beautiful, and would gradually grow old and lose the ineffable grace of
her years and situation; and because they were both so innocent of the
meaning of life. Leonora yearned for some magic to stay the destructive
hand of time and keep them ever thus, young, naive, trustful, and
unspoilt. And knowing that this could not be, she wanted intensely to
shield, and teach, and advise them. She whispered, thinking of Ethel:
'Ah! I must always be near, within reach, within call, lest she should
'Mother, shall you go with me to see Mr. Louis Lewis to-morrow?'
Milly demanded suddenly when the train halted at Rugby.
'Yes, of course, dear. Don't you wish me to?'
'Oh! I don't mind,' said Milly grandly.
Two well-dressed, middle-aged men entered the compartment, which,
till then, Leonora and Milly had had to themselves; and while duly
admiring Leonora, they could not refrain from looking continually at
Millicent; they talked to one another gravely, and they made a pretence
of reading newspapers, but their eyes always returned furtively to
Milly's corner. The girl was not by any means confused by the
involuntary homage, which merely heightened her restless vitality. She
chattered to her mother; she was pert; she looked out of the window;
she tapped the floor with her brown shoes. In the unconscious process
of displaying her individuality for admiration, she was never still.
The fair, pretty face under the straw hat responded to each
appreciative glance, and beneath her fine blue coat and skirt the
muscles of the immature body and limbs played perpetually in graceful
and free movement. She was adorable; she knew it, Leonora knew it, the
two middle-aged men knew it. Nothing—no pertness, no audacity, no
silliness, no affectation—could impair the extraordinary charm.
Leonora was exceedingly proud of her daughter. And yet she reflected
impartially that Millicent was a little fool. She trembled for
Millicent; she feared to let her out of sight; the idea of Millicent
loose in the world, with no guide but her own rashness and no
protection but her vanity, made Leonora feel sick. Nevertheless,
Millicent would soon be loose in the world, and at the best Leonora
could only stand in the background, ready for emergency.
At Euston they were not surprised to see Harry. The young man was
more dandiacal and correct than ever, and he could cut a figure on the
platform; but Leonora observed the pallor of his thin cheeks and the
watery redness of his eyes. He had come to meet them, and he insisted
on escorting them to their hotel in South Kensington.
'Look here,' he said in the cab, 'I've one dying request to make
before the luggage drops through the roof. I want you both to come and
dine with me at the Majestic to-night, and then we'll go to the
Regency. Lewis has given me a box. By the way, I told him he might rely
on me to take you up to see him to-morrow.'
'Shall we, mother?' Milly asked carelessly; but it was obvious that
she wished to dine at the Majestic.
'I don't know,' said Leonora. 'There's Rose. We're going to fetch
Rose from the hospital this afternoon, Harry, and she will spend the
evening with us.'
'Well, Rose must come too, of course,' Harry replied quickly, after
a slight hesitation. 'It will do her good.'
'We will see,' said Leonora. She had known Harry from his infancy,
and when she encountered him in these latter days she was always
subject to the illusion that he could not really be a man, but was
rather playing at manhood. Moreover, she had warned Arthur Twemlow of
their arrival and expected to find a letter from him at the hotel, and
she could make no arrangements until she had seen the letter.
They drove into the courtyard of the select and austere
establishment where John Stanway had brought his wife on her wedding
journey. Leonora found that it had scarcely changed; the dark entrance
lounge presented the same appearance now as it had done more than
twenty years ago; it had the same air of receiving visitors with
condescension; the whole street was the same. She grew thoughtful; and
Harry's witticisms, as he ceremoniously superintended their induction
into the place, served only to deepen the shadow in her heart.
'Any letters for me?' she asked the hall porter, loitering behind
while Millicent and Harry went into the salle a manger.
'What name, madam? No, madam.'
But during luncheon, to which Harry stayed, a flunkey approached
bearing a telegram on silver. 'In a moment,' she thought, 'I shall know
when we are to meet.' And she trembled with apprehension. The flunkey,
however, gave the telegram to Millicent, who accepted it as though she
had been accepting telegrams at the hands of flunkeys all her life.
'Miss Stanway,' she smiled superiorly with her chin forward,
perceiving the look on Leonora's face. She tore the envelope. 'Lewis
says I am to go to-day at four, instead of to-morrow. Hooray! the
sooner it's over, the sooner to sleep, though the harbour bar be
mo—oaning. Ma, that's the very time you have to meet Rose at the
hospital. Harry, you shall take me.'
Leonora would have preferred that Harry and Millicent should not go
alone together to see Mr. Louis Lewis. But she could not bring herself
to break the appointment with Rose, who was extremely sensitive; nor
could she well inform Harry, at this stage of his close intimacy with
the family, that she no longer cared to entrust Milly to his charge.
She left the hotel before the other two, because she had further to
drive. The hansom had scarcely got into the street when she instructed
the driver to return.
'Of course you will settle nothing definitely with Mr. Lewis,' she
said to Milly. 'Tell him I wish to see him first.'
'Oh, mother!' the girl cried, pouting.
* * * * *
At the New Female and Maternity Hospital in Lamb's Conduit Street
Leonora was shown to a bench in the central hall and requested to sit
down. The clock over the first landing of the double staircase
indicated three minutes to four. During the drive she had begun by
expecting to meet Arthur on his way to the hotel, and even in
Piccadilly, where delays of traffic had forced upon her attention the
glittering opulence and afternoon splendour of the London season, she
had still thought of him and of the interview which was to pass between
them. But here she was obsessed by her immediate environment. The
approach to the hospital, through sombre squalid streets, past narrow
courts in which innumerable children tumbled and yelled, disturbed and
desolated her. It appeared that she had entered the secret
breeding-quarter of the immense city, the obscene district where misery
teemed and generated, and where the revolting fecundity of nature was
proved amid surroundings of horror and despair. And the hospital itself
was the very centre, the innermost temple of all this ceaseless
parturition. In a corner of the hall, near a door, waited a small crowd
of embossed women, young and middle-aged, sad, weary, unkempt, lightly
dressed in shabby shapeless clothes, and sweltering in the summer heat;
a few had babies in their arms. In the doorway two neatly attired
youngish women, either doctors or students, held an animated and
interminable conversation, staring absent-mindedly at the attendant
crowd. A pale nurse came hurrying from the back of the hall and
vanished through the doorway, squeezing herself between the doctors or
students, who soon afterwards followed her, still talking; and then one
by one the embossed women began to vanish through the doorway also. The
clock gently struck four, and Leonora, sighing, watched the hand creep
to five minutes and to ten beyond the hour. She gazed up the well of
the staircases, and in imagination saw ward after ward, floor above
floor of beds, on which lay repulsive and piteous creatures in fear, in
pain, in exhaustion. And she thought with dismay how many more poor
immortal souls went out of that building than ever went into it. 'Rose
is somewhere up there,' she reflected. At a quarter past four a stout
white-haired lady briskly descended the stairs, and, after being
accosted twice by officials, spoke to Leonora.
'You are Mrs. Stanway? My name is Smithson. I dare say your daughter
has mentioned it in her letters.' The famous dean of the hospital
smiled, and paused while Leonora responded. 'Just at the moment,' Miss
Smithson continued, 'dear Rosalys is engaged, but I hope she will be
down directly. We are very, very busy. Are you making a long stay in
London, Mrs. Stanway? The season is now in full swing, is it not?'
Leonora could find little to say to this experienced spinster, whom
she unwillingly admired but with whom she was not in accord. Miss
Smithson uttered amiable banalities with an evident intention to do
nothing more; her demeanour was preoccupied, and she made no further
reference to Rose. Soon a nurse respectfully called her; she hastened
away full of apologies, leaving Leonora to meditate upon her own
shortcomings as a serious person, and upon the futility of her
existence of forty-one years.
Another quarter of an hour elapsed, and then Rose ran impetuously
down the stone steps.
'Mother, I'm so glad to see you! Where's Milly?' she exclaimed
eagerly, and they kissed twice.
As she answered the greeting Leonora noticed the lines of fatigue in
Rose's face, the brilliancy of her eyes, the emaciation of the body
beneath her grey alpaca dress, and that air of false serenity masking
hysteric excitement which she seemed to have noticed too in all the
other officials—the doctors or students, the nurses, and even the
'Are you ready now, dear?' she asked.
'Oh, I can't possibly come to-day, mother. Didn't Miss Smithson tell
you? I'm awfully sorry I can't. But there's a very important case on. I
can only stay a minute.'
'But, my child, we have arranged to take you to the theatre,'
Leonora was on the point of expostulating. She checked herself, and
placidly replied: 'I'm sorry, too. When shall you be free?'
'Might be able to get off to-morrow. I'll slip out in the morning
and send you a telegram.'
'I should like you to try and be free to-morrow, my dear. You seem
as if you needed a rest. Do you take any exercise?'
'As much as I can.'
'But you know, Rose——'
'That's all right, mater,' Rose interrupted confidently, patting her
mother's arm. 'We can look after ourselves here, don't you worry. Have
you seen Mr. Twemlow yet?'
'Not yet. Why?'
'Nothing. But he called to see me yesterday. We're great friends. I
must run back now.'
Leonora departed with the girl's hasty kiss on her lips, realising
that she had fallen to the level of a mere episodic interest in Rose's
life. The impassioned student of obstetrics had disappeared up the
staircase before Leonora could reach the double-doors of the entrance.
The mother was dashed, stricken, a little humiliated. But as she
arranged the folds of her beautiful dress in the hansom which was
carrying her away from Lamb's Conduit Street towards South Kensington,
she said to herself firmly, 'I am not a ninny, after all, and I know
that Rose will be ill soon. And there are things in that hospital that
I could manage better.'
'Mr. Twemlow came to see you just after you left,' said Harry when
he restored Milly to her mother at half-past five. 'I asked him to join
us at dinner, but he said he couldn't. However, he's coming to the
theatre, to our box.'
'You must excuse us from dining with you to-night, Harry,' was
Leonora's reply. 'We'll meet you at the theatre.'
'Yes, Harry,' said Millicent coldly. 'We really can't come to-day.'
'The hand of the Lord is heavy upon me,' Harry murmured. And he
repeated the phrase on leaving the hotel.
Neither he nor Millicent had shown much interest in Rose's
defection. The dandy seemed to be relieved, and Millicent said, 'How
stupid of her!' Milly had returned from the visit to Mr. Louis Lewis in
a state of high self-satisfaction. Leonora was told that Mr. Lewis was
simply the most delightful and polite man that Milly had ever met; he
would be charmed to see Mrs. Stanway, and would make an appointment.
Meanwhile Milly gave her mother to understand that the affair was
practically settled. She knew the date when the tour of Princess
Puck started, and the various towns which it would include; and Mr.
Lewis had provided her with a box for the next afternoon at the Queen's
Theatre, where the piece had been most successfully produced a month
ago; the music she would receive by post; and the first rehearsal of
the No. I. Company would occur within a week or so. Millicent walked in
flowery paths. She saw herself covered with jewels and compliments,
flattered, adored, worshipped, and leading always a life of superb
luxury. And this prophetic dream was not the conception of a credulous
fancy, but the product of the hard and calculating shrewdness which she
possessed. She was aware of the importance of Mr. Louis Lewis, who, on
behalf of Lionel Belmont, absolutely controlled three West End
theatres; and she was also aware of the effect which she had had upon
him. She knew that in her personality there was a mysterious something
which intoxicated, not all the men with whom she came in contact, but
most of them, and men of utterly different sorts. She did not trouble
to attempt any analysis of that quality; she accepted it as a natural
phenomenon; and she meant to use it ruthlessly, for she was almost
incapable of pity or gratitude. It was, for instance, her intention to
drop Harry; she had no further use for him now. She was learning to
forget her childish awe of Leonora: a very little time, and she would
implacably force her mother to recognise that even the semblance of
parental control must cease.
'And I am to have my photograph taken, mamma!' she exclaimed
triumphantly. 'Mr. Lewis says that Antonios in Regent Street will be
only too glad to take it for nothing. He's going to send them a line.'
Leonora was silent. Deep in her heart she made a gesture of appeal
to each of her daughters—to Ethel who was immersed in love, to Rose
who was absorbed by a vocation, and to this seductive minx whose venal
lips would only smile to gain an end—and each seemed to throw her a
glance indifferent or preoccupied, and to say, 'Presently, presently.
When I can spare a moment.' And she thought bitterly how Rose had been
content to receive her mother in the public hall of the hospital.
* * * * *
They were late in arriving at the theatre because the cab could not
get through Piccadilly, and Harry was impatiently expecting them in the
foyer. His brow smoothed at once when he caught sight of them, and he
admired their dresses, and escorted them up the celebrated marble
stairs with youthful pride.
'I thought no one was going to supervene,' he smiled. 'I was afraid
you'd all been murdered in patent asphyxiating hansoms. I don't know
what's happened to Twemlow. I must leave word with the people here
which box he's to come to.'
'Perhaps he won't come,' thought Leonora. 'Perhaps I shall not see
him till to-morrow.'
Harry's box was exactly in the middle of the semi-circle of boxes
which surround the balcony of the Regency Theatre. They were ushered
into it with the precautions of silence, for the three hundred and
fifty-fifth performance of The Dolmenico Doll, the unique
musical comedy from New York, had already commenced. Leonora and Milly
sat in front, and Harry drew up a chair so that he might whisper in
their ears; he was very talkative. Leonora could see nothing clearly at
first. Then gradually the crowded auditorium arranged itself in her
mind. She perceived the semi-circle of boxes, each exactly like their
own, and each filled with women quite as elegantly gowned as she and
Millicent, and men as dandiacal and correct as Harry; and in the
balcony and in the stalls were serried regular rows of elaborate
coiffures and shining bald heads; and all the seats seemed to be
pervaded by the glitter of gems, the wing-like beating of fans, and the
restless curving of arms. She had not visited London for many years,
and this multitudinous and wholesale opulence startled her. Under other
circumstances she would have enjoyed it intensely, and basked in it as
a flower in the sunshine; to-night, however, she could not dismiss the
image of Rose in the gaunt hospital in Lamb's Conduit Street. She knew
the comparison was crude; she assured herself that there must always be
rich and poor, idle and industrious, gay and sorrowful, elegant and
shabby, arrogant and meek; but her discomfort none the less persisted,
and she had the uneasy feeling that the whole of civilisation was
wrong, and that Rose and the earnest ones were justified in their scorn
of such as her. And concurrently she dwelt upon Ethel and Fred at that
hour, and listened with anxiety for the opening of the box-door and the
entry of Arthur Twemlow.
She imagined that owing to their late arrival she must have missed
the one essential clue to the plot of The Dolmenico Doll, and as
the gorgeously decorated action was developed on the dazzling stage she
tried in vain to grasp its significance. The fall of the curtain came
as a surprise to her. The end of the first act had left her with
nothing but a confused notion of the interior of a confectioner's shop,
and young men therein getting tipsy and stealing kisses, and
marvellously pretty girls submitting to the robbery with a nonchalance
born of three hundred and fifty four similar experiences; and old men
grotesque in a dissolute senility; and sudden bursts of orchestral
music, and simpering ballads, and comic refrains and crashing choruses;
and lights, lingerie, picture-hats and short skirts; and over
all, dominating all, the set, eternal, mechanical, bored smile of the
'Awfully good, isn't it?' said Harry, when the generous applause had
'It's simply lovely,' Milly agreed, fidgeting on her chair in
'Yes,' Leonora admitted. And she indeed thought that parts of it
were amusing and agreeable.
'Of course,' Harry remarked hastily to Leonora, 'Princess Puck
isn't at all like this. It's an idyll sort of thing, you know. By the
way, hadn't I better go out and offer a reward for the recovery of
He returned just as the curtain went up, bringing a faint odour of
whisky, but without Twemlow.
A few moments later, while the principal pretty girl was warbling an
invitation to her lover amid the diversions of Narragansett Pier, the
latch of the door clicked and Arthur noiselessly entered the box. He
nodded cheerfully, murmuring 'Sorry I'm so late,' and then shook hands
with Leonora. She could not find her voice. In the hazard of
rearranging the seats, an operation which Harry from diffidence
conducted with a certain clumsiness, Arthur was placed behind Milly
while Leonora had Harry by her side.
'You've missed all the first act, and everyone says it's the best,'
Milly remarked, leaning towards Arthur with an air of intimacy. And
Harry expressed agreement.
'But you must remember I saw it in New York two years ago,' Leonora
heard him whisper in reply.
She liked his avuncular, slightly quizzical attitude to them. He
reinforced the elder generation in the box, reducing by his mere
presence the two young and callow creatures to their proper position in
the scheme of things.
And now the question of her future relations with Arthur, which
hitherto she had in a manner shunned, at once became peremptory for
Leonora. She was conscious of a passionate tenderness for him; he
seemed to her to have qualities, indefinable and exquisite touches of
character, which she had never observed in any other human being. But
she was in control of her heart. She had chosen, and she knew that she
could abide by her choice. She was uplifted by the force of one of
those tremendous and invincible resolutions which women alone, with
their instinctive bent towards martyrdom, are capable of making. And
the resolution was not the fruit of the day, the result of all that she
had recently seen and thought. It was a resolution independent of
particular circumstances, a simple admission of the naked fact that she
could not desert her daughters. If Ethel had been shrewd and worldly,
and Rose temperate in her altruism, and Milly modest and sage, the
resolution would not have been modified. She dared not abandon her
daughters: the blood in her veins, the stern traits inherited from her
irreproachable ancestors, forbade it. She might be convinced in
argument—and she vividly remembered everything that Arthur had
said—she might admit that she was wrong, that her sacrifice would be
futile, and that she was about to be guilty of a terrible injustice to
Arthur and to herself. No matter! She would not leave the girls. And if
in thus obstinately remaining at their service she committed a sin, she
could only ask pardon for that sin. She could only beg Arthur to
forgive her, and assure him that he would forget, and submit to his
reproaches in silence and humility. Now and then she gazed at him, but
his eyes were always fixed on the stage, and the corners of his mouth
turned down into a slightly ironic smile. She wondered if he expected
to be able to persuade her, and whether an opportunity to convince him
and so end the crisis would occur that evening, or whether she would be
compelled to wait through another night.
At last the adventures of the Dolmenico Doll were concluded, the
naughty kisses regularised, the old men finally befooled, the glory
extinguished, the music hushed. The audience stood up and began to
chatter, and the women curved their long arms backward to receive white
cloaks from the men. Arthur led the way out with Milly, and as the
party slowly proceeded through the crush into the foyer, Leonora could
hear the impetuous and excited child delivering to him her professional
views on the acting and the singing.
'Well, Burgess,' Arthur said, in the portico, 'I guess we'll see
these ladies home, eh?' And he called to a commissionaire: 'Say, two
In a minute Leonora and Arthur were driving together along the
scintillating nocturnal thoroughfare; he had put Harry and Millicent
into the other hansom like school children. And in the sudden privacy
of the vehicle Leonora thought: 'Now!' She looked up at him furtively
from beneath her eyelashes. He caught the glance and shook his head
'Why do you shake your head?' she timidly began.
His kind shrewd eyes caressed her. 'You mustn't look at me so,' he
'I can't stand it,' he replied. 'It's too much for me. You don't
know—you don't know. You think I'm calm enough, but I tell you the top
of my head has nearly come off to-day.'
'Listen here,' he ran on. 'Let me finish up. What I said a fortnight
ago was quite right. It was absolutely unanswerable. But there was
something about your letter that upset me. I can't tell you what it
was—only it made my heart beat. And then yesterday I happened to go
and worry out Rose at that awful hospital. And then Milly to-night! I
know how you feel. I've got it to the eighth of an inch. And I've
thought: “Suppose I do get her to New York, and she isn't happy?” Well,
it's right here: I've settled to sell my business over there, and fix
up in London. What do I care for New York, anyway? I don't care for
anything so long as we can be happy. I've been a bachelor too long. And
if I can be alone with you in this London, lost in it, just you and me!
Oh, well! I want a woman to think about—one woman all mine. I'm simply
mad for it. And we can only live once. We shan't be short of money. Now
don't look at me any more like you did. Say yes, and let's begin right
away and be happy.'
'Do you really mean——?' She was obliged thus, in weak unfinished
phrases, to gain time in order to recover from the shock.
'I'm going to cable to-morrow morning,' he said, joyously. 'Not that
there's so much hurry as all that, but I shall feel better after I've
cabled. I'm silly, and I want to be silly.... I wouldn't live in New
York for a million now. And don't you think we can keep an eye on Rose
and Millicent, between us?'
She breathed a long, deep sigh, shutting her eyes for an instant;
and then the beautiful creature, with all her elegance and her
appearance of impassive and fastidious calm, permitted herself to move
infinitesimally, but perceptibly, closer to him in the hansom; and her
spirit performed the supreme feminine act of acquiescence and
surrender. She thought passionately: 'He has yielded to me—I will be
'I shall call you Leo,' he murmured fondly. 'It occurred to me last
She smiled, as if to say: 'How charmingly boyish you are!'
'And I must tell you—but see here, we shall be at your hotel too
soon.' He pushed at the trap-door. 'Say, driver, go up Park Lane and
along Oxford Street a bit.'
Then he explained to her how he had refused Harry's invitation to
dinner, and had arrived late at the theatre, solely that he might not
have to talk to her until they could talk in solitude.
As, later, the cab rolled swiftly southwards through the mysterious
dark avenues of Hyde Park, Leonora had the sensation of being really
alone with him in the very heart of that luxurious, voluptuous, and
decadent civilisation for which she had always yearned, and in which
she was now to participate. The feeling of the beauty of the world, and
of its catholicity and many-sidedness, returned to her. She gave play
to her instincts. And, revelling in the self-confidence and the
masterful ascendency which underlay Arthur's usual reticent demeanour,
she resumed with exquisite relief her natural supineness. She began to
depend on him. And she foresaw how he would reason diplomatically with
Rose, and watch between Milly and Mr. Louis Lewis, and perhaps assist
Fred Ryley, and do in the best way everything that ought to be done;
and how she would reward him with the consolations of her grace and
charm, her feminine arts, and her sweet acquiescence.
'So you've come,' exclaimed Milly, rather desolate in the
drawing-room of the hotel.
'Yes, Miss Muffet,' said Arthur, 'we've come. Where is the youth?'
'Harry? I made him go home.'
Leonora smiled indulgently at Millicent with her pretty pouting face
and her adorable artificiality, lounging on one of the sofas in the
vast garish chamber. And her thoughts flew to Ethel, and existence in
Bursley. The Myatt family had risen, flourished, and declined. Some of
its members were dead, in honour or in dishonour; others were scattered
now. Only Ethel and Fred remained; and these two, in the house at
Hillport (which Leonora meant to give them), were beginning again the
eternal effort, and renewing the simple and austere traditions of the
Five Towns, where luxury was suspect and decadence unknown.